Reading Len McCluskey’s autobiography will provide today’s activists with an invaluable insight into developments in the British labour movement during his term of office as the Unite union general secretary, argues PETER TAAFFE, and be an important preparation for future battles.
By Len McCluskey
Published by OR Books, 2021, £16-99
Always Red by Len McCluskey, the recently retired general secretary of Unite, is a powerful and interesting autobiographical account of his life. It demonstrates the huge effect he has had on members of both Unite, the biggest trade union in Britain and Ireland, and the broader labour movement generally. It is vital for understanding the events in the British labour movement during his term of office. They encompass developments both in the trade unions and on the political terrain. His book is particularly relevant for helping to understand the tumultuous events in the Labour Party with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to leader.
Christmas is coming early this year for Socialism Today. Or is it? In examining the social roots of the mid-winter festival, NORMAN HALL shows that Christmas, and the different ways it has been celebrated, has always been very much a movable feast.
Readers of Socialism Today may view the coming mid-winter festivities with joyful anticipation or with a dismay born of poverty. But whatever your personal view or circumstances may be, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to ignore Christmas.
To most socialists, it will come as a no surprise to find that Christmas is the continuation of very ancient traditions of mid-winter festivals. However, it may be a surprise to learn just how relatively new our Christmas is. In fact, there are serious arguments to say that this year marks only the two hundredth anniversary of Christmas and not the two thousandth or so.
The victory of Sharon Graham as general secretary of Unite, amongst the biggest trade unions in the UK and Ireland and undoubtedly the most influential industrially and politically, has struck the labour movement as a thunderbolt. The Socialist Party and our sister parties in Scotland and Ireland supported Sharon and campaigned for her election. In the midst of the Covid crisis, this can be a pivotal moment for the trade union movement.
The roots for Sharon’s election are in the acute capitalist crises that have opened up that can be traced back to the Great Recession of 2007-08, the subsequent cuts barrage of Cameron and Osborne, and now the Covid pandemic. Workers have literally had to fight for their lives over the last 18 months but increasingly now have to struggle for their livelihoods as the bosses and their Tory government begin to go on the offensive.
As support for president Jair Bolsonaro rapidly declines and he faces the prospect of defeat in the elections scheduled for 2022, CWI secretary TONY SAUNOIS reviews a compelling new book exposing the reality of capitalist democracy in Brazil.
Securing Democracy: My fight for press freedom and justice in Bolsonaro’s Brazil
By Glenn Greenwald
Published by Haymarket Boos, 2021, £19-99
It was the North American writer, Mark Twain, who declared, “truth is stranger than fiction. It has to be! Fiction has to be possible and truth doesn’t”. This assertion could possibly be apt for Glenn Greenwald’s gripping account of the dramatic events in Brazil prior to and during Bolsonaro’s ascent to the presidency. The book, while not a rounded out Marxist analysis, is a page turning read of amazing events, on occasions reading like a political espionage thriller. Yet it is a factual account with stunning revelations about the state, the media, the ruling class, and the reality of Brazilian capitalism. It confirms Glenn Greenwald as one of the most insightful investigative journalists of today.
Preston council has been presented as an example of ‘municipal socialism that works’, a model for how to transfer economic and political power back to working class communities. But a new book co-authored by the council’s Labour leader profoundly disappoints, argues CLIVE HEEMSKERK.
Paint Your Town Red: How Preston Took Back Control and Your Town Can Too
By Matthew Brown and Rhian E Jones
Published by Repeater Books, 2021, £10-99
“This book is everything we need right now”, the radical author and occasional Guardian columnist Owen Hatherley wrote earlier this year, in pre-publication publicity for the new book, Paint Your Town Red: How Preston Took Back Control and Your Town Can Too. It provides a “how-to guide to municipal socialism that works” in the here and now, he argued, and “should be mandatory reading for all socialists”.
The book’s cover summary promises “a blueprint for the wholesale transformation of our currently failing economic system”. Equally enthusiastic, the former Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell says that Preston is a “reminder that despite years of austerity and neoliberalism, there are now genuine economic alternatives emerging in many towns, cities and regions across the UK”.
A new history of Unite the Union begins with the formation of a predecessor union, the Transport and General Workers’ Union, forged in the turbulent ‘new normal’ that developed after the first world war. ROB WILLIAMS draws out some key lessons, still with resonance for the movement today.
Unite History, Volume One (1880-1931)
By Mary Davis and John Foster
Published by Liverpool University Press, 2021, £6-99
Unite is producing a series of six books on its history. The union is now one of the biggest in the UK and Ireland, formed through the merger of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU or the T&G) and Amicus in 2007. The first volume, titled The Transport and General Workers’ Union: Representing A Mass Trade Union Movement, details the formation of the T&G in 1922.
While outlining the years from 1880, which led to the creation of the TGWU through the amalgamation of fourteen unions, the book mainly deals with the time from the end of the first world war to the formation of the National Government in 1931. This was the stormiest period in the history of the working-class in Britain, with huge confrontations between the workers’ movement and the capitalists and their political representatives, reaching its highest expression in the nine-day general strike in 1926.
A recent book by Nigerian historian Max Siollun looks at how the brutal history of British imperialism’s ‘conquest and rule’ has shaped the country. SOPHIE SIMCOX draws out its relevance today.
What Britain Did To Nigeria: A Short History of Conquest and Rule
By Max Siollun
Published by C Hurst and Co, 2021, £20
‘Nigeria is a failed state’. This was the headline of an article in the May 2021 edition of the US Foreign Affairs magazine, as two US academics, one of them previously US ambassador to Nigeria, attempted to warn the US ruling class that Nigeria is becoming “a fully failed state of critical geopolitical concern”. They went on: “All failed states harbour some form of internal strife, such as civil war or insurgency. Nigeria now confronts six or more internal insurrections and the inability of the Nigerian state to provide peace and instability has tipped a hitherto very weak state into failure”.
The authors are panicking about crisis in Nigeria because of its importance. One of the two biggest economies in Africa, its population is already estimated at over 200 million, making it the seventh most populous country in the world. By 2050 it is predicted to surpass 400 million. GDP has been falling every year since 2015 and, according to the World Bank, by the end of this year real income per person will have fallen to the same level it was in the 1980s. More than half of all Nigerians, and two thirds of the young, are unemployed or underemployed.
Within days of telling the Financial Times (August 5) how “very proud” he was of the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 1997 to 2010, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made it clear that his left-wing predecessor Jeremy Corbyn would remain suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) unless he engaged in an abject renunciation of his own past.
These moves came shortly after July’s marathon meeting of Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC), which had taken further steps to consolidate the grip of the right-wing.
Corbyn was suspended in November 2020 for responding to the outrageously tendentious report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into antisemitism in the Labour Party under his leadership (see The Establishment HRC Does The Job, in Socialism Today No.244, December-January 2020/21).
Why would a UK trade union not support a struggle against low pay and excessive workload by trade unionists in another country? In a meeting of Unison’s national executive council on 14 July, hands were raised in support of a motion moved by Socialist Party member April Ashley to support a strike being prepared by hospital ancillary workers in Israel. The motion was quickly declared invalid by a leading Unison officer, however, on the grounds that the hospital workers are organised by the Histadrut trade union federation, which Unison does not support.
Unison’s rejection of formal bilateral relations with the Histadrut shouldn’t have prevented a solidarity message from being sent to the rank-and-file hospital workers. But apart from that, is the union right to be boycotting the Histadrut?
Edited extracts from articles first published, as events unfolded, on SocialistWorld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), chart the ignominious collapse of the puppet Kabul regime and outline the consequences for Afghanistan and globally.
On Sunday 15 August, the Taliban reached the capital of Kabul, forcing the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani from power. Thousands of residents tried desperately to board planes to flee the hard-line Islamic force. After Ghani fled the country, Taliban fighters took control of the empty presidential palace and abandoned police posts in Kabul. The Taliban released thousands of inmates from the notorious Bagram airbase prison, a hated symbol of western occupation.
After decades of western imperialist military occupation backing up puppet regimes, the capital fell without a battle. Such was the lack of support of the Ghani regime among the population, as a whole, and the deep unpopularity of decades of Western troops on the ground.