Preparing for struggle in post-Covid Britain

Far from an era of sustained economic upswing, social peace and a Tory ascendency opening up for post-Covid Britain, the prospects ahead are for heightened class conflict and turbulent political times, argues HANNAH SELL.

The last fifteen months have been unprecedented in the history of capitalism. In Britain a total failure to deal effectively with Covid in its early stages left the government struggling to cope with a developing health catastrophe, via belated and inadequate lockdowns, leading to the deepest economic recession in 300 years. As in other major economies, only levels of state aid unprecedented outside of wartime prevented worse disaster.

The population has been through a deeply traumatic experience. Almost 130,000 have died of Covid, with many more suffering long term health problems. Over six million were claiming Universal Credit in May 2021. Eleven and a half million have been furloughed at some point, usually resulting in a 20% pay cut. Despite a formal ban on evictions, 130,000 families have lost their homes so far.

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Tories stoke sectarian instability in Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots resigned as leader of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on June 17, just three weeks after he won the position.

Poots was forced to quit after an internal revolt in the DUP over concessions he made to keep the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly in place. He agreed to appoint a new DUP First Minister, Paul Givan, alongside Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and appeared to concede to Sinn Féin’s call for the quick introduction of Irish language legislation that was agreed upon previously.

This is the latest twist in the turbulence fuelled by Brexit, which has caused a crisis in Unionism by creating a customs border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.

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For a fighting programme and a new left in Unite

The Socialist Party is supporting Sharon Graham for Unite general secretary. The ballot opens on 5 July. Many of the most combative workers are increasingly being drawn towards her campaign as they look to resist the growing offensive of the bosses.

It is no accident that the lead reps in the successful strikes on Manchester buses and Thurrock bins against their employers’ attacks, such as ‘fire and rehire’, are supporting Sharon, as are the rank-and-file construction electricians, recently victorious in their battle against the bosses’ deskilling agenda.

We argued throughout the long pre-election period and during the nomination stage for there to be one fighting left candidate. We have not accepted that the United Left (UL) candidate Steve Turner is capable of playing this role.

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Global Warning: car tax not the route to clean air

In Birmingham a new tax has been forced on the city that will hit the poorest hardest, takes no account of income or ability to pay, and which is causing growing anger amongst the community.

On 1 June the Labour-led city council introduced the Birmingham Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which requires drivers of older and more polluting vehicles to pay an £8 charge to use the roads in central Birmingham.

The CAZ is supposedly an attempt to drive down the levels of air pollution in the city, in particular the ‘fine air particles’ which can cause numerous very serious diseases such as strokes and cancer. Birmingham suffers from very high levels of these pollutants, at the maximum limit recommended by the World Health Organisation.

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Law against workers: the Shrewsbury pickets, political policing and the state

PAUL HERON looks at the recent victory in the battle for justice for the Shrewsbury pickets, the landmark case from the 1970s of political policing against the working class movement.  Paul is a solicitor and founder of the Public Interest Law Centre. He is a Socialist Party member and sits on the executive committee of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.

On Tuesday 23 March 2021, the Court of Appeal, London, made the following judgement in the case of our clients Ricky Tomlinson, Arthur Murray[i] and the ‘Shrewsbury 24’.

“It follows that under Ground One, the convictions of all the appellants are unsafe. Their appeals are allowed and all the verdicts in relation to them are quashed”. (pt.99 of the Court judgement)

The convictions of the ‘Shrewsbury 24’ were quashed. The convictions were ruled unsafe, and as such the pickets walked from the court – as they have always been – innocent men.

They are however victims of police corruption, they are victims of a political trial, and they are victims of a Tory government – who at the time were looking to take revenge against the trade union movement.

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Thirty years since the Walton by-election

In July 1991 Militant, the predecessor organisation of the Socialist Party, stood its first parliamentary candidate independently of the Labour Party, in the Walton by-election that took place following the death of the stalwart left-wing Liverpool MP Eric Heffer. We reprint below edited extracts of an article by CLIVE HEEMSKERK from the Summer 1991 edition (No.46) of the Militant International Review, the forerunner of Socialism Today, placing Walton in the context of the heroic struggle of the 1983-87 Liverpool city council and its aftermath.
The reprinted article shows that not all the far-reaching consequences of the collapse of Stalinism on workers’ consciousness and their organisations were fully anticipated at the time – with the quantitative steps that would lead to the future qualitative transmutation of Labour into a capitalist party mooted but not with definitive conclusions drawn. This process and its culmination has been extensively analysed elsewhere in Socialism Today, a recent example being the special edition (No.239) devoted to the lessons of the Corbyn experience published in June 2020.
Nevertheless the article from 1991 still stands as a real time defence of the Walton campaign – as an example of the tenacious will to act, even in the most difficult circumstances, that is a vital prerequisite for success in the historic struggle for socialism.
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The life and legacy of Bob Marley

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the untimely early death of the celebrated Jamaican reggae musician and political activist Bob Marley. HUGO PIERRE, Socialist Party member and black members’ rep on Unison’s national executive council (personal capacity), looks at Marley’s music  and the political backdrop which shaped it.

The opening track of the final album Burnin’ (1973) by the original line-up of The Wailers, which included Bob Marley, articulated the militancy of oppressed black youth in Jamaica and in the UK, and reflected some of the preceding civil rights movement in the US.

The track, Get Up Stand Up, is used as a chant that could have come from any demonstration against racism and brutality from Kingston to Harlem, to London, to Johannesburg during the 1960s and 1970s.

Bob Marley drew on his experiences to put together an album that articulated the revolutionary mood in many black communities, and also the colonial revolution sweeping through much of the developing world, including Jamaica.

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Rewriting history

Mrs Thatcher vs the miners: the Battle for Britain

Channel 5 documentary, 2021. Available on my5

Reviewed by Eric Segal

Mrs Thatcher vs The Miners: the Battle for Britain, a documentary recently screened on Channel 5, is a transparent attempt by the bosses to rewrite history. History is written by the victors, but this account demands scrutiny by workers.

Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), came to prominence as a miners’ leader in 1972 when he organised ‘flying pickets’ of the Midlands’ Saltey Gate coking depot during the six week-long miners’ strike of that year. Having won this dispute, the NUM struck again in February 1974, which forced the Tory government of Ted Heath to call a general election under the slogan, ‘who governs Britain?’. After losing that election, and another in October 1974, the Tories chose a new leader, Mrs Thatcher, who was elected as prime minister in 1979. The documentary presents the miners’ strike as a personal struggle between Thatcher and Scargill.

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