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.