It is now over six months since the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic, and two weeks later, that Britain went into lockdown.
After retreating from his government’s original ‘let them get herd immunity’ strategy – the existence of which was confirmed in August by Jeremy Corbyn reporting Cabinet Office briefings he attended in the spring on Privy Council confidentiality terms – Boris Johnson initially benefited from a rally round the prime minister mood as the public health crisis escalated.
The enforced government U-turns over the grading of this summer’s school exams has shone a spotlight on the inbuilt class inequality inherent in education under capitalism.
The disputed algorithm at the heart of the grading controversy had inequality programmed into it. With school students unable to sit written examinations because of the Covid crisis, schools were asked to provide estimated grades for their GCSE and A-level students based on their knowledge of the students’ work. But the exam authorities decided that these predictions then had to be processed through an algorithm that prioritised the previous overall exam performance of the school, rather than that of an individual student.
At the beginning of the lockdown, the government’s mantra was ‘we’re all in this together’. The experience of the pandemic has exposed for many that no such unity exists. Instead governments around the world have put the interests of capitalism before people’s health. To varying degrees they have largely failed to protect people in the workplace and the vulnerable in the community.
“We are measuring the pulse of the ice sheet”, said the lead author of a recent Ohio University study, Michalea King, referring to the annual changes in Greenland’s three kilometre-thick ice covering. And that pulse is weakening – the patient is bleeding out.
King has demonstrated that Greenland’s vast ice sheets are melting so fast that even if global warming was to end today, not enough snow would fall to replenish the ice sheets. The yearly pulse of snowfall and melting, measured by King and her team over decades, shows a sudden change.
Unlike some other unions that have grown during the Covid crisis, the PCS civil servants’ union has not reversed a pre-pandemic trend of declining membership. The debate now under way on the union’s future structure, assessed here by NEC member DAVE SEMPLE (in a personal capacity), has relevance for all trade unionists in the struggle against the capitalists’ attempts to pass the costs of the crisis onto the working class.
Meetings of the PCS national executive committee (NEC) over the summer have discussed two papers which laid out ‘strategic options’ for the union. The two options were potential merger with an unspecified other union; and restructuring, which expressly included the idea of voluntary redundancies of union staff. Neither paper explained how these options would address the problem of a membership base that is still shrinking while the civil service as a whole has been growing since the EU referendum in 2016. This lack of analysis is a theme that runs through everything the formerly left leadership of the union have said or done on the ‘strategic options’ so far.
Eighty years after the assassination of Leon Trotsky by an agent of Stalin a new book is being produced by the Committee for a Workers’ International, Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary Whose Ideas Couldn’t be Killed. It contains a series of articles looking at the continuing relevance of Trotsky’s ideas, including the article below by HANNAH SELL on the role of a revolutionary party today.
Leon Trotsky, in the preface to his masterpiece, The History of the Russian Revolution, summed up a revolution as “the direct interference of the masses into historical events”. He explained how “at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime”. Trotsky explained the crucial role of the revolutionary party in this process as constituting “not an independent, but nevertheless a very important, element in the process. Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam”.
The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality
By Bhaskar Sunkara
Published by Verso, 2020 (pbk), £9-99
Reviewed by Mark Best
Bhaskar Sunkara is the editor of Jacobin magazine, a publication orientated to the Democratic Socialists of America, and behind the attempt to relaunch Tribune in 2018 as a magazine aimed at Corbynistas.
His book, published as a hardback last year but now released in paperback, attempts to explain what socialism is, to give a history of the socialist movement, and point a way forward for young people looking towards socialist ideas today.
An absorbing new book looks at the changing patterns of women’s work
in Britain since the industrial revolution. With Covid-19 potentially marking a
new pivotal moment in the history of women’s employment, it could not have been
published at a more opportune moment, writes CHRISTINE THOMAS.
Double Lives: a history of working motherhood
By Helen McCarthy
Published by Bloomsbury, 2020, £21
There is hardly any aspect of society that has not been seriously impacted
by the coronavirus pandemic. One of its main consequences has been to magnify
and exacerbate all of the existing inequalities in capitalist society. The
interplay of class and race, for example, has influenced who catches the virus,
its severity, and how likely people are to die from it. The same factors
determine who suffers from the economic fallout.
interaction between class and gender inequalities has also been highlighted and
intensified. While it’s true that men with coronavirus are more likely to
become seriously ill or die, women – working-class women in particular – are
more likely to work in areas where there is a greater exposure to Covid-19. They
have been 30% more likely to be furloughed, 47% more likely to have lost their
jobs, and 50% more likely to have had their hours cut.
The 2020 TUC congress takes place at perhaps the most critical time
facing workers since the second world war, meeting six months after the Covid-19
pandemic forced the UK into lockdown. The recessionary features that were
already visible by the start of the year have been transformed into the deepest
economic downturn since the 2008 great recession and possibly the 1930s. Workers’
lives and livelihoods are on the line.
The TUC congress
has been stripped down because of coronavirus restrictions but union activists
and reps will be looking for it to give a lead in the face of this crisis. The
slogan for the conference is ‘Jobs, Security, Dignity’. But this totally
understates the scale of the emergency and, unfortunately, the vast majority of
motions are inadequate in mapping what is necessary to both protect the health
of workers and their families and secure an economic future.
After four years of disastrous, corporate, racist
policies, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are running in November’s
elections against Trump – and not much else. They are not promising to fight
for crucial improvements in our living standards like free healthcare for all.
They hope to win by being the ‘lesser evil’.
Americans are continually bombarded by the idea that the only way to defeat Donald Trump and the Republicans is to ‘vote blue no matter who’ (blue is the Democratic Party’s colour). But has this ever actually worked? After the repression and right-wing policies of the Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, did the Democratic president Jimmy Carter champion the working class? No, in fact he maintained the capitalist status quo by deregulating major industries, busting unions, and facilitating huge wage cuts, paving the way for the openly right-wing policies of Ronald Reagan. After the ‘trickle-down economics’ policies of Reagan that ushered in the modern era of neo-liberalism – in which basic social services were cut to death and tax breaks for the rich were handed out like candy – did Bill Clinton, with Democratic control of the legislature and the presidency, reverse these anti-worker policies? Not even close. He and his fellow Democrats slashed welfare spending along with the then senator Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats authoring the 1994 Crime Bill, a major leap into the disproportionate mass incarceration of black and brown workers.