Building on Rochdale

“Beyond alarming” is how Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak declared George Galloway’s victory in the Rochdale by-election, at a specially convened press conference on the steps of Downing Street. Labour leader Keir Starmer appeared equally alarmed as he apologised for having to withdraw support for the Labour candidate in the by-election, giving Galloway an easier path to victory.

Clearly, George Galloway and the Workers’ Party’s campaign in Rochdale succeeded in shaking the establishment. Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems were only able to muster a combined 26.7% of the vote. The by-election was a graphic illustration of bone-deep disillusionment with all the mainstream pro-capitalist parties. Galloway was victorious with almost 40% of the vote, and the second place candidate, with 21%, was an independent campaigning to reopen maternity and A&E services in the town.

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Women and the revolution

The Communist Women’s Movement inspired tens of thousands of women following the Russian revolution. CHRISTINE THOMAS looks at the latest volume in an ongoing series regarding the Communist International that pulls together previously unpublished material about this relatively unknown international women’s movement in the period 1920-22.

The Communist Women’s Movement 1920-1922: Proceedings, Resolutions, and Reports

Edited by Mike Taber and Daria Dyakonova

Published by Haymarket Books, 2023, £40

“On the evening of 30 July 1920… a chorus of women’s voices singing The Internationale fills the streets of Moscow. Women proletarians, in an orderly and elated procession celebrate the opening of the International Conference of Communist Women at the Bolshoi Theatre. At about 8 o’clock that evening, the hall is filled from top to bottom… The stage is occupied by women delegates from Germany, France, Britain, the United States, Mexico, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, Finland, Norway, Latvia, Bulgaria, India, Georgia, the Caucuses and Turkestan, as well as representatives of various organisations and institutions welcoming the First International Conference of Communist Women”.

It’s hard for us today to appreciate the profound international significance of the Russian revolution in the immediate post-revolutionary period, but this report gives a glimpse of the inspirational effect it had on socialist women. Those in capitalist countries struggling to end their double oppression as workers and as women now had a living example of what the overthrow of capitalism could achieve.

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The P&O warning

March 17th 2022 will now always be synonymous with P&O as far as trade union activists are concerned, with the vicious assault on the workers’ jobs and contracts carried out on that day. The company informed 800 workers by zoom that they were being instantly made redundant, without notice or consultation. To back this up, they employed security guards to forcibly remove workers from ferries, consciously using brutal ‘shock and awe’ methods. There are reports that some of the hired security guards had handcuffs and were wearing balaclavas. P&O had already lined up a new workforce on exploitation wages of less than £2 per hour.

The sacked workers and their unions, the RMT and Nautilus International, launched an immediate campaign of protests and demonstrations, particularly at the ferry ports of Dover, Hull, Liverpool, Larne and Cairnryan. Most of the workers had signed up to the enhanced redundancy by the March 31 deadline. Nevertheless the struggle continues, for reinstatement and more generally against the super-exploitation of seafarers so that the industry bosses are not able to benefit from P&O’s brutal tactics.

But this is also a struggle for the whole trade union movement as the economy shows signs of faltering after the initial post-Covid recovery. The first stage of the Covid pandemic saw a severe contraction which was exploited by a whole series of companies to impose worse pay, terms and conditions through vicious ‘fire and rehire’, which rapidly became the favoured weapon of choice for the bosses during the pandemic. Disgracefully, this included the New Labour council of Tower Hamlets, which triggered a dispute with Unison members. British Gas workers took 43 days of strike action in a bruising battle which ended with their annual income cut by over £10,000.

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Class and gender war story

Common Cause

By Kate Hunter

Published by Fledgling Press, 2019, £9.99

Reviewed by Heather Rawling

Set during the first world war, Common Cause continues the story of Iza, a skilled compositor in Edinburgh (see Women in the Workplace 1910, a review of The Caseroom, in Socialism Today 218, May 2018). Kate Hunter has placed the story around real events and trade union struggles with her in-depth knowledge of the print industry. As with her first novel, there are graphic descriptions of working-class life – the poverty, overcrowding and disease, as well as the feeling of community and common cause. The characters are sketchy as the author prioritises recounting the events.

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