As members of Unite prepare to elect a new executive council ROB WILLIAMS assesses how far the union has come under Sharon Graham’s leadership, and what steps need to be taken now to build on that progress.
The first Unite executive council (EC) elections are taking place since the election of Sharon Graham as union general secretary in August 2021. Socialist Party members are standing on the slate of candidates supporting Sharon’s leadership, looking to consolidate her victory and continue the transformation of Unite into a more fighting and democratic union.
This is vital because of the industrial and political conjuncture. The election takes place during the most extensive strike wave for a whole period, in the midst of the cost-of-living squeeze and the threat of new Tory anti-union laws. Action on the scale of a 24-hour general strike is being posed. Unite has been to the fore in the strike movement in all the sectors of the economy in which it has members. It has invariably found itself clashing with Starmer’s New Labour leadership, which is intent on proving its ‘fitness to govern’ to big business and the capitalist establishment.
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Weekly mass protests in Tel Aviv, settler violence in the West Bank, increasing Israeli state repression of Palestinians, AMNON COHEN analyses an unprecedented crisis for the Israeli ruling class.
On Sunday 26 February, hundreds of ultra-right Israeli settlers rampaged through the West Bank town of Hawarwa, torching homes and cars and killing one Palestinian – in what the Israeli press correctly described as a pogrom.
Tens of thousands of Israelis are demonstrating every week against the new ultra-right Israeli government and its ‘judicial reforms’. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the pro-democracy demonstrators as ‘anarchists’. The police have used mounted police, water cannon and percussion grenades and arrests in an attempt to intimidate the demonstrators into staying at home. But the number of demonstrators has only increased further, with 200,000 coming out on 11 March – one of the biggest protests in Israeli history. And while Netanyahu has a narrow majority in the Knesset, polls show only 35% of the public support his ‘reforms’.
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NIALL MULHOLLAND explains the background to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and how the 25 years since its signing have not overcome the fundamental problems underpinning sectarian division in Northern Ireland.
Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, British prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the ‘Windsor Framework’. The deal amends the ‘Northern Ireland protocol’, which caused significant trade problems for Northern Ireland and the collapse, last year, of the power-sharing Stormont Assembly after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) walked out of the Executive.
No doubt with an eye on the powerful Irish-American lobby in the Democratic party, US president Joe Biden was quick to welcome the Windsor Framework. Biden stated he was “proud of the role the United States has played for decades to help achieve, preserve and strengthen” the Good Friday Agreement. Chris Coons, a Democratic senator and close ally of Biden, introduced legislation that if approved by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by Biden would give the president the authority to negotiate a free trade agreement with the UK.
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Not all capitalist economists have confidence in their system. TONY SAUNOIS reviews Megathreats by the US economist Nouriel Roubini.
Megathreats: The Ten Trends that Imperil Our Future, and How to Survive Them
By Nouriel Roubini, Hachette UK, 2022, £15
Many bourgeois economists have tended to put a gloss on the deep systemic crisis facing world capitalism. They have often seized upon this or that marginal piece of ‘good’ news to empirically conclude that this or that problem has been fixed – until the next one arises. Now faced with the convergence of a series of multiple crises, economic and political, many have finally been compelled to catch up with what the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) has argued – that a devastating situation confronts global capitalism.
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As trade union activists in Britain were preparing for February’s escalation of the movement against the cost-of-living crisis here, news came from across the Atlantic that, in the words of The Independent newspaper headline, ‘Kshama Sawant America’s highest profile socialist won’t seek re-election’ later this year.
The autumn election would have seen Kshama, described by The Independent as “America’s highest-ranking elected socialist”, compete for a fourth term on Seattle city council, the eighteenth biggest city by population in the USA.
The statement from Kshama herself explaining the decision not to stand referenced events in Britain, contrasting the role of “much of the union leadership” in the US – “closely tied to the Democratic Party establishment, afraid to call out the Democrats, afraid to run independent candidates” – with what she perceives to be a different situation in Britain.
“It should be progressive labor unions using their resources” to launch a movement against the might of big business and the political establishment, she argued, “as unions have in the UK with the Enough is Enough campaign. But that has not happened” in the US, she said, because of the unions’ ties with the Democrats. (The Seattle Stranger, 20 January 2023)
And so Kshama’s conclusion is to step back when her term ends in December from the city councilmember position she has held since her victory in 2013, to help, she says, launch “a national movement, Workers Strike Back, instead of myself running for re-election again in Seattle’s District 3”.
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The current strike wave has come off the back of a historic cost-of-living crisis facing workers and their families, with real household income set to shrink by 7% in the next two years, the largest fall since records began.
For university students, this historic collapse in living standards has come at twice the pace. While inflation soared towards a 41-year high of 14% in the autumn, student maintenance loans for 2022/23 increased by just 2.3%. This amounts to a 7% cut in the value of maintenance support over one year. As a result, the average monthly shortfall between students’ loans and living costs has risen to £439 this year, up from £340 in 2021/22, and £223 in 2020/21.
With pay from part-time jobs and parents’ income also squeezed, an unprecedented number of students this year have been pushed to extremes to compensate for a record gap between government maintenance support and living costs. Sixty-two percent of students are now cutting back on essentials, while 52% are using their savings, and a staggering 25% have reported taking on new debt to finance their living costs. Polls have also consistently reported around 10% of students using food banks this year.
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“We quit” declared a New Year’s Day resolution from climate protest group Extinction Rebellion (XR). After just over four years of existence, XR has decided to “temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic”. CHRISTINE THOMAS looks at this change of tactic and how it fits in with the struggle needed to end the threat of climate change.
At the opening of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt in November last year, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned that humanity is on a “highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”. “We are in the fight for our lives and we are losing… our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible”. In the 2006 Stern report, commissioned by the UK government, climate change was described as a consequence of “the greatest market failure the world has seen”. In other words, it is the capitalist profit system that is the root cause of environmental destruction and is hurtling us towards ‘hell’.
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One year on from the outbreak of the brutal war in Ukraine HANNAH SELL reviews Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War, a book that looks back at roots of the current conflict.
A year ago, on 24 February 2022, the world awoke to discover that the Russian president Vladimir Putin had launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine. Initially, the US offered to airlift the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky out of the capital Kyiv to safety, and in the early hours and days of the invasion most commentators expected a quick and relatively easy victory for Russian forces. Reality turned out very differently. Putin’s miscalculation, and the determined Ukrainian resistance, have revealed that the seemingly mighty Russian military machine is far weaker than it appeared. US imperialism, once it realised that the war offered an opportunity to undermine or even humiliate Putin’s Russia, has provided huge amounts of advanced weaponry to the Ukrainian forces, as have, to a lesser degree, other Western powers. There is, therefore, a large element of a proxy war between Western imperialism, the US in particular, and Putin’s gangster-capitalist regime.
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With corporate profits piling up as living standards for the majority fall, there is an inevitable erosion of the idea that the powers that be have society’s best interests at heart. There is dwindling confidence in all the institutions that uphold the capitalist system, including political parties, the media, the judiciary, and the police. Recent events have accelerated this process in the Metropolitan Police, including discussion about its abolition. SARAH SACHS ELDRIDGE debates what programme socialists should put forward.
A February 2023 YouGov survey found that by 51% to 42% Londoners don’t trust the Metropolitan Police. Only 6% say they trust them “a lot”. In 2022, City Hall research found that 57% of Londoners believed the Met could be relied on when you need it and 62% agreed the Met treats everyone fairly. Both measures represent record lows for public perceptions of the Met, down from 77% and 74% respectively in 2014, when the figures were first published.
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To commemorate International Women’s Day (8 March) we are publishing an article written for Solidarität, the newspaper of the German section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).
‘Woman, life, freedom’, ‘Black lives matter’, ‘#Metoo’, ‘Ni una menos’ – protests against shared oppression have been a salient feature of the post-2008 ‘Great Recession’ world. Women in the US, Poland, Ireland and Latin America have risen up to defend and extend abortion rights. Protests against gender violence have swept countries from India to Mexico. Low-paid women workers in Scotland have taken strike action and won an important struggle for equal pay. All of these movements have thrown up different theories and strategies about how women’s oppression can be successfully fought.
One of those ideas is intersectionality. Like many theories of oppression, it is open to different interpretations, but is generally understood as a recognition that individuals and groups can experience multiple oppressions – gender, race, class, sexuality, ability etc – and that those oppressions ‘intersect’ and impact each other.
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