Sunday, July 31, 2022

Workers fight while Starmer does nothing

Tens of thousands of railway workers walked out in another 24 hour strike over pay, jobs, pensions and working conditions bring most of the national rail network to a halt this week. The employers are planning the biggest attack on railway workers pay and working conditions for 20 years, in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. The Tories threaten to bring in new laws to outlaw strikes that do not provide a guaranteed ‘minimum service’ to limit disruption to passengers and a new hate campaign has begun in the bourgeois media to vilify the leaders of the railway unions. But what is Sir Keir Starmer doing?
    Nothing, or at least nothing to help the railway workers. The Labour leader refuses to support the railway unions’ strikes and he’s ordered his front-benchers to stay away from the picket lines. Shadow transport minister Sam Tarry has been kicked off the Labour front-bench for defying the Starmer diktat and joining striking rail workers outside London’s Euston station. Starmer now washes his hands on the modest renationalisation pledges that included the railways that he made during his party leadership bid claiming they may not be possible in the current economic climate.
    Starmer and his Blairite clique think that the way back to power is by wooing a mythical “middle England” and seeking some sort of partnership with the Liberal Democrats. But disaffected Tories are, by and large, always going to turn to the Lib-Dems and the Liberal Democrats preferred coalition partner will inevitably be the Tories – not Labour.
    Labour’s only hope is to mobilise its traditional working class support but there’s not much chance of that with Starmer at the helm.
    One transport union leader, Mick Lynch of the RMT, says Labour will only be able to reclaim its traditional heartlands if it could “identify with working class people’s needs and their campaigns”. Another, Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, said his union was “ashamed” of Labour and suggested it was “deluded” to think the party could defeat the Conservatives without the support of union members. Many others would agree.
    Ominously the leader of the giant Unite union, Sharon Graham, told the media that: “the Labour sacking of Sam Tarry for supporting working people on strike, against cuts to their jobs and pay, is another insult to the trade union movement. Quite frankly, it would be laughable if it were not so serious.
    “At a time when people are facing a cost of living crisis, and on the day when the Conservative Government has launched a new wave of attacks on the rights of working people, the Labour Party has opted to continue to indulge in old factional wars.
    “Labour is becoming more and more irrelevant to ordinary working people who are suffering. Juvenile attacks on trade unionists will do absolutely nothing to further Labour’s prospects for power.”
    At the moment Labour is eight or nine points ahead of the Tories in the opinion polls. That’s still not enough to give them an overall majority in parliament. Labour needs a much bigger swing to take back the “Red Wall” seats in the north or make inroads north of the border.
    The Tories know when to dump a lame-duck leader. It’s time Labour did the same.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Jurassic World Dominion

by Ben Soton

Jurassic World Dominion (2022). Dir: Colin Trevorrow; Writers: Derek Connolly (story), Emily Carmichael & Colin Trevorrow (screenplay); Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Laura Dern, DeWanda Wise, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill. 12A 207 mins.

The Jurassic Park franchise, where scientists employed by a faceless corporation create cloned dinosaurs for a wild-life theme park built as an attraction for wealthy tourists, has reached its finale with Jurassic World Dominion. The film sees the return of the some of the original Jurassic Park stars, including Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neil, who meet the heroes of the later Jurassic World series, Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt. If two sets of species, separated by 66 million years can be brought back to life, why can’t two sets of actors separated by three decades do the same?
    In Dominion, Claire Deering (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) are living in hiding shielding a cloned child; whilst their pet velociraptor ‘Blue’ lives in a nearby forest with a child of its own. Meanwhile, Cretaceous-era locusts destroy whole swathes of the world’s grain crop.
    The villain of the film is Biosyn; the faceless corporation that created the locusts and kidnaps the child and the baby velociraptor. At this point Deering and Grady embark on a global search to rescue both missing infants. In their travels they meet up with Kayla Watts (played by DeWanda Wise), a free-lance pilot whose wreck of an aircraft is reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.
    Their journey takes them to the Biosyn headquarters and dinosaur sanctuary in the Italian Dolomites. There Deering and Grady meet up with the stars of the original series: Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill), Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). One of the features of the original Jurassic Park series was to make intellectuals look glamorous; a process possibly started with the Indiana Jones franchise. Grant and Sattler are both pal├Žontologists whilst Malcolm is a specialist in Chaos Theory.
    The notion of out-of-control corporations is a theme in Michael Creighton’s original Jurassic Park novel and many of his other works. This has obvious progressive undertones; however, this needs to come with a health warning. Some on the utopian right believe that capitalism has been superseded by a bizarre system referred to as Corporatocracy; this concept is popular amongst Trump supporters in the USA and has been echoed by Tory weirdo Michael Gove. In other words, the existence of monopolies is not the logical evolution of capitalism but diversion from it.
    Meanwhile Dominion raises several highly important issues, including climate change, the illegal trade in endangered species and cloning. Not to mention who should have control over these activities and who should put a stop to them.
    The film contains a number of brilliant and realistic action scenes, as well as the compulsory dinosaur fight where the T-Rex comes out on top. I almost laughed out loud when the closing scenes showed pterodactyls co-existing with birds, mosasaurs swimming along with Blue whales and triceratops walking with elephants – maybe I should not take things so literally but as an analogy to existing species facing extinction.

Chinese Ambassador visits Cardiff University

A sweatshirt for old times!
by New Worker correspondent

The Chinese ambassador recalled his student days in Wales when he returned to the Welsh capital on 7th July to meet Colin Riordan, the President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University to discuss deepening exchanges and co-operation between the university and People’s China.
    Prof Riordan warmly welcomed Zheng Zeguang back to his alma mater after 36 years and updated the Ambassador on the University's progress in teaching, scientific research and co-operation with Chinese universities in recent years.
    Cardiff University has established long-term co-operative relations with Xiamen University, Beijing Normal University and Peking University in China. These projects have played an important role in the improvement of teaching and scientific research capabilities on both sides.
    Some 4,000 Chinese students currently attend Cardiff University, which would like even more to come and study in the future. The University is also willing to strengthen co-operation with Chinese industry to promote the transformation and application of scientific research results.
    Zheng congratulated his alma mater on the great changes that have taken place over the years. Calling it a first-class research university, the Ambassador commended its profound historical heritage and its open and diverse campus culture. The Chinese side appreciated Cardiff University's firm commitment to promoting China–UK educational exchanges and co-operation, and the attention and care given to Chinese students during the epidemic.
    He recalled his experience as a student at Cardiff University College in the 1980s, when China was in the early years of reform and opening-up. China has undergone tremendous changes since then. China's comprehensive strength and the people's living standards have improved significantly, and socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era.
    China adheres to comprehensive and deeper reforms and higher-level opening-up to the outside world, and will continue to encourage Chinese universities to deepen exchanges and co-operation with Cardiff University. He hoped that Cardiff University would continue to play an exemplary role in China–UK educational exchanges and co-operation.

Tolpuddle returns!

By New Worker correspondent

Thousands of people braved the soaring temperatures to take part in the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival after a two year Covid break and remember the pioneers of the labour movement unjustly transported to Australia in 1834 for setting up a union.
    This year we heard rail workers’ leader Mick Lynch and Angela Rayner, the deputy head of the Labour Party, talk about the cost of living crisis and the way forward for the labour movement.
    The Tolpuddle spirit has been recalled every year since the Thirties, apart from the second world war and the recent Covid crisis, in the village where the modern union movement began.
    In 1834 six agricultural labourers from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, England were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. They were arrested on charges under an obscure law during a labour dispute against cutting wages and sentenced to penal transportation in Australia. Mass protests led to their pardon in 1836 and they returned to England between 1837 and 1839.
    There has been an annual gathering since the 1930s. It began as a Sunday afternoon event with wreaths laid on the grave of one of the Martyrs, James Hammett, followed by a procession of union banners and a rally . Today, the annual event sees thousands of trade unionists from around the world descend on the small village of Tolpuddle, to celebrate the legacy they left behind.
    A Martyrs monument was erected in Tolpuddle in 1934, and a sculpture of the martyrs, made in 2001, stands in the village in front of the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum.
    The annual Tolpuddle Martyrs festival is usually held in the third week of July, organised by the TUC and featuring a parade of banners from many trade unions, a memorial service, speeches and mus

Westward Ho!

by Ben Soton

Why is West Country drama all the rage these days? The English West Country; the region starting in Dorset and heading west across Devon, Cornwall, while including Somerset and Avon and ending around Gloucestershire is often seen as a rural backwater but the area includes major cities such as Bristol, once the home of the slave trade, as well as the cathedral city of Bath.
    It seems ironic that in recent months both major terrestrial television channels have screened Sunday night dramas set in this English region. The BBC recently hosting the second series of The Outlaws, Stephen Merchants black comedy set in his native Bristol; whilst ITV showed the third series McDonald & Dobbs set in Bath.
    However, these two dramas could not be more different. In the case of McDonald & Dobbs the focus is on the relationship between two very contrasting police officers. Jason Watkins plays Detective Sergeant Dodds a somewhat OCD officer in his fifties whilst Tala Gouveia plays Detective Sergeant McDonald, aged around thirty, on secondment from the Met with a desire for promotion. Whilst McDonald & Dobbs focuses on the police The Outlaws, perhaps by its very name, focuses on the criminal.
    The overriding theme of The Outlaws is anti-crime but pro-criminal. It’s heroes are a diverse group of minor offenders ranging from a black civil rights campaigner and a business man sacked by his own father while another leading character is a drug dealer forced into crime by lack of job opportunities. All of these characters are victims of a London based gangster known as The Dean.
    This is an obvious reference to the so-called County Lines operations where London based criminals are taking over business from local drug dealers. The Outlaws is set in the ethnically diverse, city of Bristol; a mayor seaport once noted for its aircraft industry; whilst the city came to fame in recent years when a group of its residents through the statue of slave owner, Edward Colston, into the Bristol Channel.
    On the other hands McDonald & Dobbs is essentially a whodunit with complex plots; the level of complexity resembles Jonathan Creek from the 1990s. In the series both the victims and suspects are a mix of social-media celebrities, Formula One drivers and high-level academics. Scenes are interlaced with panoramic shots of the city of Bath; with its unique eighteenth century architecture as well as views of the surrounding countryside. This unique mixture gives the show a touch of Agatha Christie meets Death in Paradise.
    It is good to see television series set outside of London once in a while although regional crime dramas are not unique. Morse and Endeavour were set in Oxford, Life on Mars and Line of Duty set in Manchester to name but a few. I can even recall the fictional television presenter suggesting a detective series based in Norwich!
    But as a Sotonian I suggest maybe it’s time we had a series based in Southampton…

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Bye Bye Boris

Boris Johnson thought the world was his oyster back in 2019 when he first set foot in Downing Street as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative & Unionist Party. He said he was going to deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn – but although he did beat Labour and carry out the wish of the people to leave the European Union, he never united his own party let alone the country he led for the last three years.
    An incorrigible liar, he was surrounded by hand-picked people lesser than himself who proved incapable of dealing with the crises that beset his Government from the start. Tens of thousands died when Johnson took his lead from Donald Trump and embraced the crackpot theory of ‘herd immunity’ during the Covid pandemic. He only came to his senses after mass pressure from his own grass-roots supporters to do something forced him to impose the draconian lock-downs that held the plague in check until the vaccine breakthrough in 2021.
    Whilst the Johnson team used subsidies and “furlough” money to stave-off mass unemployment and economic collapse during the coronavirus crisis, it returned to its true-blue colours this year with draconian energy bill hikes and proposed new anti-union laws to curb the already limited right to take industrial action.
    The Tory rank-and-file could put up with his cronyism and scandalous private life as long as it kept the Corbynistas in their place. But they’re not so happy when the value of their property and their juicy pensions are threatened. Inflation has risen for the ninth month in a row; it now stands at 9.4 per cent.
    At recent by-elections some flocked to the Liberal Democrats in their droves. Others supported the long-standing moves to dump Johnson that have nothing to do with his disreputable private life nor his endless deceptions.
    Like all vain men, Boris Johnson was incapable of seeing himself as others see him. BoJo, as he liked to be called, certainly got Brexit done. But what did he do afterwards?
    Johnson put all his eggs in one basket, hoping that a Trump re-election would lead to a new trans-Atlantic free trade agreement – a Treaty of Washington to replace the Treaty of Rome, which would be paid for by selling off the NHS to American interests. It didn’t happen and Johnson had no fall-back position.
    A few paltry trade deals with friendly members of the British Commonwealth but no real exploitation of the freedom that was on the table when Britain finally left the European Union. Instead of broadening our trade with People’s China, Johnson slavishly followed Trump in restricting Chinese investment in the UK. The ‘golden age’ of trade with China is over and it may not come again.
    ‘Britain’s Trump’ imagined that he was the second Churchill, posing with Zelensky and other third-rate Eastern European politicians, and making empty threats to Putin from the safety of his armchair in Downing Street.
    The reality was that Putin never took any notice of anything Johnson said. Nor, more importantly for British imperialism, did the leaders of Franco-German imperialism let alone Joe Biden in Washington.
    Whoever takes over from Johnson will have to immediately try to restore the bridge with Europe and the ‘special relationship’ with the USA. Upholding the Northern Ireland Protocol that Johnson signed up to in the first place would be the best place to start.

Boris tries to dodge the flak

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is taking an unusual interest in foreign affairs at present. This is partly because he needs an excuse to get out of the country as often as possible to avoid awkward questions and attacks from his opponents.
    These opponents are not the ineffective ‘Opposition’ from the spineless Opposition front-bench team headed, rather than lead, by Sir Keir Starmer, but from Johnson’s own parliamentarians.
    The fact that the Tories have lost two recent by-elections will only have strengthened this particular opposition, with even the most loyal Johnson supporters fearful of losing their seats. As both by-elections were caused by sex scandals it was almost inevitable that the Tories would lose these seats, even Tiverton where a 24,000 majority was overturned. But a Liberal revival is, of course one of these traditional signs of the coming of summer that do not herald any great positive change. Losing the much more marginal Wakefield was probably less of a surprise than was the winning of that traditional Labour seat at the last General Election.
    Jonson being replaced by another Tory, who will be a Remainer, or later by a right-wing Labour government led by Starmer, will not be much or even any improvement.
    More positive opposition is to be found in the upsurge of industrial action. One small example of these struggles is that of the striking parking enforcement officers in the south London borough of Wandsworth who are striking to not just to secure pay parity with those in other councils but for their jobs to be brought back in house, which would ensure that parking fines are reinvested locally rather than used to pay dividends. If successful, this action will benefit all local people and not just the enforcement officers.
    Train strikes have dominated recent headlines. It is noteworthy that despite the disruption they cause and repeated attacks by the right-wing media against RMT, public opinion, admitted by the same right-wing media, is on the side of the striking railway workers.
    As a small stop press: it is pleasing to note that David Lammy, who was criticised in our trade union news for refusing to support the Heathrow Airport British Airways strikers, has backtracked. He claims that he was misled into thinking the workers were fighting for a pay rise rather than the reversal of a previous reduction – but this change of heart might be due to his local party rebelling and him being forced to think again. It is perhaps telling that Starmer has taken no action against those MPs, including a few front-benchers, who defied his instructions not to visit RMT picket lines.
    Industrial militancy is stepping up in the most unexpected places. The British Medical Association, which is the main trade union for medical doctors, has launched a campaign to secure a 30 per cent pay rise.
    This figure is not absurd. Dr Emma Runswick, in her speech urging support for the figure, mentioned a long list of recent inflation busting rises: “All around us workers are coming together in trade unions and winning big, last month bin men in Manchester 22 per cent; Gatwick airport workers won a 21 per cent pay increase two weeks ago; and in March cleaners and porters at Croydon hospital won a 24 per cent pay rise.”
    It is not just those in the medical profession who should carefully heed her closing words: “Those workers got together and used a key tool that trade unions have – the ability to collectively organise, collectively negotiate and collectively withdraw our labour… vote for this motion and I’ll see you on the picket lines.”

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Support the Rail Workers

Tens of thousands of rail and tube workers will be striking over pay, jobs and pensions this week. Thousands of jobs are threatened by Management’s proposals. Proposed cuts put passenger safety at risk.
    These disputes are all down to the decision by the Tory Government to cut four billion pounds worth of funding from our transport systems – two billion from national rail and two billion from Transport for London.
    A victory for the RMT will be a victory for all workers and for all trade unions. It will help us all in the fight to stop the Government-driven race to the bottom on pay and working conditions. We’ve lived under the austerity regime for far too long. Working people should not pay the economic price for the capitalist crisis while corporations make record profits and billionaires grow richer every year.
    Stand with rail workers; stand with the RMT. Show your support and get down to a picket line near you!

Hobson’s choice

Covid, golden wall-paper, partygate – the writing’s certainly on the wall for Boris Johnson. And, so it seems, for the useless leader of the Labour Party. While Johnson’s rivals plot his downfall in the shadows of the corridors of power similar scenes are taking place in Labour’s committee rooms amid talk that Starmer is finally going to throw in the towel – possibly even before Labour’s annual conference in September.
    Though former Labour premier Gordon Brown is backing him, saying Mr Starmer should "ignore" criticism "because what's exciting about the possibility of Keir Starmer's leadership is he will have a plan for Britain" Brown’s support is usually the kiss of death for any ambitious Labour politician these days.
    Starmer’s vendetta against the Corbynistas has driven hundreds of thousands of members out of the party. His poor personal ratings in the opinion polls and his dismal performance on the street show how hopeless he is at campaigning.
    It’s said that Sir Keir Starmer has already told his followers to prepare the succession if he is forced to resign over claims that he, and deputy leader Angela Rayner, broke the Covid lock-down rules last year.
    An alleged friend of Starmer's told the media that the Labour leader reportedly told colleagues: “I will not let this party become a basket case again. I will not let our hard-won gains be squandered so we will need to be ready in the unlikely event that the worst comes to the worst”.
    Starmer’s apparently told the Blairites to get ready for a new leadership contest to stop even the hint of a Corbynista comeback and he’s apparently given his blessing to Lisa Nandy and Wes Streeting who, according to the Sunday Times, have been told to prepare bids for the top job. Both have dismissed these reports as nonsense – a wise move given that premature lobbying often proves fatal in the leadership stakes.
    There are, of course, others who covet the Labour crown. Angela Rayner may step down over “beergate” but that doesn’t stop her for running for the leadership. Andy Burnham is equally ambitious though he will need to get back into Parliament to enter the race. But clearly the worst is still to come if Remainers like Streeting or Lisa Nandy get to lead Labour.

How the East wasn’t won

by Ben Soton

Russia – A Thousand Year History of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith Hardback: Harry N Abrams (reissue edition 2012); 611pp; Softback:‎ BBC Books (reprint edition 2012);‎ 624pp; RRP £12.99.

In August 1991 I was unemployed, little more than a teenager and living in a flat above a newsagent. One morning I woke to the news that a coup was taking place against the traitorous Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov. On realising what was going on I was ecstatic with joy. Meanwhile in Moscow someone from a more privileged background was covering the same events. That person was Martin Sixsmith, the BBC’s Moscow Correspondent.
    In this book first published in 2011 he regurgitates numerous reactionary misconceptions about that country and its people. According to Sixsmith Russians are not proper Europeans; pointing out that for around two hundred years (1237 - 1480) Russia lived under the Mongols as part of what came to be known as the Khanate of the Golden Horde. He makes childish references to Lenin having slanted shaped eyes as evidence of some possible Mongolian heritage. Imagine the (totally justified) outcry if a writer was to make reference to another ethnic group having hooked shaped noses.
    The section on Ivan the Terrible (1533-85) shows how similar Russia is to western Europe. Ivan was a tyrannical absolute monarch; however, the sixteenth century also saw the growth of absolute monarchy across Europe. The period saw the rise of the Tudor dynasty in England; with Henry VIII executing two of his wives and two chief ministers, not to mention numerous lesser people. Absolute monarchies were also established in Spain and France.
    On reading about various false claimants to the Russian throne, the so-called ‘False Dimitris’ in the early seventeenth century I was reminded of the false claimants to Henry VII’s throne namely Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel. The only difference with Russia was that absolute monarchy lasted longer than in most of western Europe.
    Sixsmith shows his real ignorance when it comes to the Soviet era. He makes the nonsensical claim that during the Stalin era as many as sixty million people lost their lives as a result of the Soviet government’s policies. But he can’t explain how the population of the Soviet Union managed to increase by around fifty million in that period. A death toll of this magnitude would not only have led to a population decrease but would have also caused a massive birth deficit resulting a population decline. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Joseph Stalin; when he took the helm of the Soviet Union after the civil war it was in ruins. He left a superpower on the verge of space exploration.
    Meanwhile Sixsmith praises Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as champions of human rights. No concern for the victims of Latin American death squads and striking British miners. When I thought he couldn’t stoop any lower, Sixsmith praises the Soviet traitor Andrey Vlasov, who fought for Hitler in World War II. Maybe his next book will be an attempt to rehabilitate William Joyce, the British fascist dubbed “Lord Haw Haw” who went to Germany to broadcast Nazi propaganda during the war who was hanged in 1946 for treason.
    The later chapters cover the period from the rise of Gorbachev to the present day. Sixsmith says he was excited in the early days of Perestroika when entrepreneurs were setting up small taxi firms, restaurants and bakeries. However, he is now disappointed that the Russian economy is dominated by oligarchs. It was at this point when I stopped being angry and started laughing. Capitalism is not about individuals setting up restaurants and taxi firms; it is about a drive toward monopoly which inevitably results in an economy dominated by yes, oligarchs, who are not unique to Russia. You only have to watch the TV series The Apprentice, where the highlight of the show is an oligarch telling twenty somethings that they are fired.
    I do not approve of book burning and nor do I believe does this newspaper; however, with rising energy costs and the need to make ends meet…needs must.