A true crime story

The Great Post Office Scandal

By Nick Wallis

Published by Bath Publishing Ltd, 2021, £25

Reviewed by Bill Mullins

Just before the start of the new millennium the post office, or to give it its full title, Post Office Limited (POL), introduced a new computer system for all its sub-post offices throughout the country. The system, known as the Horizon system, linked up 40,000 terminals at 18,000 sub-post offices with head office in London and the IT company Fujitsu in Bracknell. 

As the book makes clear, despite all the lies, arrogance and bluster of the Post Office and Fujitsu bosses, the system was fatally flawed. As Nick Willis spells out in great detail, this led to a human tragedy of massive proportions for hundreds (if not thousands, as evidence continues to come out) of sub postmasters. 

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Black Friday and the 1921 miners’ lockout

The Great Betrayal: Black Friday and the 1921 miners’ lockout

By Michael Borodin, translated by Pete Dickenson

Published by Mentmore Press, 2021, £10-99

Reviewed by Ross Saunders

Pete Dickenson has translated into English for the first time The Great Betrayal, written following the events of ‘Black Friday’ in 1921 when conservative trade union leaders betrayed the miners who were battling against a national lockout organised by the private owners of the coal mine industry.

Written shortly after the events which it describes, the book is an attempt by an active participant in the fight for socialism to understand and explain a workers’ struggle of world significance. As the introduction says, “many of the lessons drawn about revolutionary tactics and winning over the working class are very relevant for today’s generation of activists”.

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Letter: Corbyn’s Labour and anti-Semitism

Responding to the review of his book, Labour, Anti-Semitism, and the Destroying of an MP, in the December-January edition of Socialism Today (No.254), Lee Garratt disagrees with Judy Beishon’s insistence that what was needed was a broad fightback by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left leadership against the Blairites. Instead, he says, “a very simple step would have been for the left to call out blatant lies as lies. It is my opinion that, if the left leadership in the PLP had done this consistently, the whole issue would have never gained momentum… no organised ‘fightback’ would have been needed as it would have been a non-issue”. (Socialism Today No.255, February 2022)

I fully agree with Judy’s stance but rather than simply repeat it I will endeavour to add to it within the context of the book’s remit, namely, ‘the anti-Semitism crisis’.

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Letter: The struggle for the NHS

No one under retirement age can remember health in Britain before the NHS. Such as it was, the service consisted of a mishmash of provisions a little like that in the USA today.

People in salaried employment paid into health insurance. There were independent hospitals, funded by charity, including sending nurses out collecting on ‘flag days’. GPs charged for services and for prescriptions, as did dentists and oculists. The National Insurance Act of 1911 had provided for ‘panel patients’. Men and women in work could receive free medical treatment, but not their families and the service was often second class. Anyway, fewer than half the country’s medical practices had signed up to this system. This was the patchwork system that the Labour government of 1945 inherited.

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Where is Britain heading?

As Boris Johnson’s premiership teeters on the brink, the underlying weakness of British capitalism will leave little room for manoeuvre for whoever replaces him, whether from within the divided Tory party or Sir Keir Starmer. Taking the necessary steps towards a mass working class political vehicle is ever more vital. These are the themes of the draft British Perspectives document for the Socialist Party’s national congress in March, written by HANNAH SELL, from which we print edited extracts.

In every country the pandemic has thrown all aspects of society into flux. It has created enormous economic uncertainty and increased tensions between nation states, different sections of ruling elites and, above all, between classes. At the start of the pandemic, governments were generally able to temporarily increase their support under the banner of ‘national unity’ against the virus. But this has now turned into its opposite, nowhere more so than in Britain. The new period we are going into will be one of class conflict and growing instability, with the current turmoil in the Tory Party a signaler of the stormy events that lie ahead.

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The end of Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity party

At its conference on 4 December, Solidarity – ‘Scotland’s Socialist Movement’ – voted to effectively dissolve as a party. This followed a recommendation from its national executive committee (NEC), which includes Tommy Sheridan. Solidarity is now deregistered and can no longer stand in elections. Instead, it is now a ‘network’ helping to build Alba – the populist, pro-capitalist nationalist party led by former Scottish National Party (SNP) first minister, Alex Salmond. This is just the latest step in the long-term nationalist trajectory by Tommy Sheridan, formerly a significant reference point for fighting socialist ideas in Scotland.

Solidarity’s current political outlook is underlined in the concluding points in the NEC statement which says their key aim is “pushing them [Alba] from left of centre towards our left and socialist vision… a socially just, fair and equal nuclear free independent Scotland”. The long-term political abandonment of a principled socialist position by Tommy Sheridan and Solidarity has, unfortunately, been taken to a new level.

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The battle for higher education

The rising discontent of students and university workers that has been brought to a head during the pandemic presages a broader questioning of the role of higher education in an era of globalised neo-liberal capitalism, argues BEA GARDNER.

University workers and students are concluding that a fundamental shift is needed in how universities are funded and organised, including ending the marketisation of higher education which has proliferated in the neo-liberal era that followed the end of the long post-war boom.

The neo-liberal agenda pioneered by Margaret Thatcher and the US president Ronald Reagan, and given added impetus by the ideological triumphalism of capitalism that followed the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe from the late-1980s, included the deregulation of markets, cutting public expenditure, privatising state-run goods and services, and replacing the idea of collective or public goods with the notion of individual responsibility. This agenda has had multiple, interrelated impacts on universities, affecting the models on which the sector is organised as well as the character of those participating within it.

Firstly was the process of marketisation, leading to the emergence of a higher education marketplace in Britain and globally, based on universities directly competing for their share of students and research funding.  

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The history of humankind

CHRISTINE THOMAS reviews a new book which, despite the author’s reluctance to use Marxist terminology, vindicates the method of interpreting historical and social change that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed.

The Story of Work: A New History of Humankind

By Jan Lucassen

Published by Yale University Press, 2021, £25

The disruptive effect of the Covid pandemic has sparked a wide-ranging discussion about the nature of work in the ‘new normal’. Viewed in that context, Jan Lucassen’s recent book is very timely. However, while the main heading is ‘The Story of Work’, it is the subhead, ‘A New History of Humankind’, which really sums up the book’s subject matter. A well-researched and detailed work of enormous scope, it covers the rise of humanity to ‘late capitalism’, with work at its core. While its overall analysis is flawed from a Marxist point of view, it does nonetheless incorporate new discoveries and material, and covers in some detail those areas of the world that are often ignored or superficially skirted over in other books.

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Global Warning: Food production and the climate crisis

It is increasingly recognised that the food industry is among the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In the run up to last November’s COP26 summit, but also due to the Tory Brexit shambles, the way our food system works was once again under the spotlight.

We witnessed food shortages in supermarkets at the same time as dairy farmers were pouring away milk, both due to a lack of HGV drivers to distribute foods, while hundreds of thousands of pigs were killed and burnt because there were no butchers or abattoir workers available. It all pointed to the chaotic and criminally wasteful capitalist food industry, and specifically to the parasitic nature of the food system in Britain. Together with the capitalist intensive model of agriculture, the wastefulness and reliance on imports and super-exploited foreign labour in Britain itself, all makes the British food system completely unsustainable, both ecologically and in its ability to feed the population.

In the Summer 2021 issue of Landworker (the magazine for rural workers produced by Unite the Union) Unite campaigner Dr Charlie Clutterbuck explains that Britain’s biggest food footprint is actually not in this country: “Seventy percent of the land needed to produce our food is abroad; 64% of our greenhouse gas emissions from producing our food is abroad. People don’t talk about this much but it is really significant”.

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Letter: The great anti-Semitism smear campaign

I want to start by thanking the Socialist Party for such a thorough response to my recent book, Labour, the Anti-Semitism Crisis, and the Destroying of an MP, reviewed in the December-January 2021/22 edition of Socialism Today, No.254. As I noted in the book itself, one of the fundamental problems has been the censoring of opinions different from the mainstream narrative. Repeatedly the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and its outriders were allowed to air their dishonest arguments on a friendly media while those of us who disagreed were left to stew on the social media side-lines. Indeed it was my frustration with this state of affairs that led to me (a teacher) to writing the book in the first place.

However, somewhat to my surprise, the actual writing of the book proved, in many ways, to be the easiest part. Finding a publisher willing to take on such a vexed matter was challenging to say the least, with most, even supposedly ‘left wing’ companies such as Verso, rejecting my book on political rather than literary grounds.

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