What does the sacking of Davie Moyes say about us?

David-Moyes..Imagine being Davie Moyes right now, having your face splashed across the media for days in the wake of your very public dismissal from the biggest job in football, evidence of your failure analysed, dissected, and held up for the entire world to ponder and gloat over.

Most of us, if honest, will have enjoyed watching the public demise of this man we have never met, don’t know, but yet have been invited to excoriate over the duration of his tortured reign at Old Trafford. What does this public and ritual flogging of a man whose only crime was to be selected to manage Manchester United by its previous manager – the most successful occupant of a dugout in British football history, Sir Alex Ferguson – only to flounder and steer last year’s champions into the shallow waters of average and below average: what does this say about us?

Football has traditionally played the role of a pressure valve for the working class, an all too brief escape from the grinding pressure to make ends meet and an opportunity to experience the vicarious glory of a team on the up and up, or else let off steam by giving star players ninety minutes of verbal as an antidote to the stifling constraints and frustrations experienced during the course of the working week. In no other arena are people afforded the license to vent their anger without fear of recrimination or consequence as they are at a football match. Making the experience more salutary is doing so in the company of tens of thousands of other fans in a packed stadium as you watch twenty two millionaires and multi millionaires strut their stuff.

The love-hate relationship between major clubs and their supporters in the modern era lends itself to serious psychological analysis. Given the inordinate money earned by even your average Premier League player, resentment is never far from the emotions of the average supporter, whose season ticket is a luxury and who will not hesitate to turn on any player or manager they believe isn’t up to the task and worth the huge money they’re on.

Think about it: Moyes has gone in ten months from being the ‘chosen one’, Fergie’s dauphin, basking in the kind of endorsement bestowed on adopted sons by Roman emperors when choosing a successor, to being the most ridiculed, loathed, and derided public figure in the country this past week. With every passing and excruciating minute in the job towards his inevitable end, how he must have cursed the day Alex Ferguson called to invite him round to his house to personally offer the opportunity of his life – the opportunity to leave a job for life at Everton, where expectations were low, and fall flat on his arse at Old Trafford, the reputation he dedicated himself to attaining over the long years spent working long hours at the less than salubrious footballing environs of Preston North End and Everton trashed.

The sullen and serious features of the Glaswegian teetotaller he carries are an instant giveaway. Nothing achieved in David Moyes’ life ever came easy. He comes over as a poster boy for the virtues of corporal punishment in a child’s development – a man who, to judge by a demeanour that is so rigid and stiff he makes a lamppost appear animated by comparison, grew up expecting life to be hard and became hard as a consequence.

Unfortunately for Davie Moyes, surrounded as he was at Old Trafford by a history of near neverending success and the sense of expectation and entitlement that goes with it, the capacity and appetite for hard work was never going to be enough on its own. The paucity of flair and creativity he exudes on a personal level has been evident in United’s performances on the pitch all season. It was as if a brickie had been handed the conductor’s baton of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, such was the laboured and disjointed performances of his team. His inherent conservatism and lack of tactical nous when it came to making adjustments during matches, you could tell, had a negative influence on the confidence and performances of the team as a whole.

The man who appointed him, Alex Ferguson, was obviously drawn to Scottish working class characteristics of hard work, persistence, and grit that he himself possessed in abundance as a young manager making his way in the game. But the modern game is about more than that; it’s also about being able to connect with a squad of very rich young men used to being lauded as latter day divinities at one end of the spectrum, and derided as useless idiots and clowns at the other end. Seen in this light, a talent for man management is essential if there is going to be any chance of success in forging the bonds required to motivate players to give it their all throughout a long season.

The failure of Davie Moyes to slot in at Man Utd is the story of the rejection with which both he and his methods were met by a group of players who’ve been instilled with the values of the gambler and not the artisan. Moyes came up against a tradition of excellence and success built on the repetition of magic rather than the methodical. It’s a realisation that will provide little comfort as he weathers a media storm of vilification, criticism, and outright hostility – the ritual and very public humiliation that comes with the crime of failing to make 75,000 people happy every week.

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter’s fight for justice will live on after him

Rubin CarterThe death, at 76, of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter reminds us of the racism which underpins the US justice system, even today.

Carter spent 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, despite a campaign to release him which involved the endorsement and support of various celebrities, including Muhammad Ali. One of Bob Dylan’s most iconic protest songs – Hurricane – was written and released in tribute to Carter and his fight for justice in 1975, featuring heavily in the singer’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour of the same year and on into 1976. He also played a couple of benefit concerts for the former middleweight contender.

In 1999 Denzel Washington starred in The Hurricane, a dramatisation of Rubin Carter’s story, which won the actor an Oscar nomination.

Among the books written about Rubin Carter and his case was his own critically acclaimed autobiography – The Sixteenth Round - in 1974.

Carter moved to Canada upon his final release from prison in 1985 (he was briefly released on parole in 1976 before being retried and returned to prison), where he worked with an organisation highlighting the plight of people wrongfully convicted of crimes and imprisoned.

It is impossible to imagine the despair suffered by Carter whilst incarcerated and the moral courage it took to continue his long struggle for justice in the midst of that despair. The fact that his case constituted and constitutes just one among many hundreds, thousands, of cases involving wrongful conviction and incarceration stands as a brutal indictment of what passes for justice in the United States.

The value of Christianity

jesus-christ-crucifixion-525In a recent article for the Church Times, the Prime Minister David Cameron,argued that Christians should be more confident and evangelical about a “faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to peoples’ lives”

In response, the Lib Dem MP, Evan Harris, argued that this was offensive to non-religious people to argue that Christians have any special moral code that leads them to community involvement.

Setting aside the distraction of whether the Christian religion is particularly virtuous compared to other faiths, there would certainly be many activists in the labour movement who would challenge the idea that religious faith is the only moral force that inspires people towards altruism and social solidarity.

Nevertheless, the recent report from the Tressell Trust shows that food-banks have delivered support to almost a million people in need over the last year, and food-banks are largely  run by Christians, for whom the act of charity in support of the disadvantaged is its own reward. Of course Muslims also give to the needy through zakat. Just one Islamic charity, the National Zakat Foundation has, for example, aided prison leavers, supported the victims of domestic violence, and assisted the homeless.

Democracy, the healthy shaping of the society we live in, and the opinion, values and philosophy that guides us as citizens should not be mistaken only for the narrow electoral focus of political parties. Voting, and representative democracy are of course foundations of our social values and liberties, but in between elections, democratic debate and social activism continues. Food-banks, more that the efforts of trade unions. socialist activists or Labour politicians, have captured the public imagination as a condemnation of austerity, and highlighted the damaging lack of compassion by the Conservative led government.

The Right Reverend Mark Davis, Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, makes a valid point that while welcoming the acknowledgement from politicians of the positive role of Christianity, “the difference Christianity makes must not be simply confused with the effectiveness of community projects and the generous spirit of service”

The values of the Christian faith are also socially beneficial in advancing the concept that there is purpose to life beyond individual consumerism, and that because everyone is of equal value to God, every citizen is entitled to equality of respect. For those of us in the labour movement who do not necessarily share the belief in Divine Revelation, the value of the faith driven impetus towards developing communities of social solidarity should be recognised as complementary to our own efforts.

 

Springing into action

A hot summer beckons but perhaps not on the political front? Mark Perryman from Philosophy Football finds some books sure to cheer up our inner pessimist.

UKIP riding high in the opinion polls, what could be a more dismal sign of the state of opposition outside the Westminster bubble. Whether or not Farage’s party of English poujadists manage to top the Euro Election poll in May and make a further dent in the 3-party domination of the local government elections on the same day too the dragging of political debate rightwards remains UKiP’s biggest achievement. There remains few signs of any similar success from the outside Left.

20th Century CommunismJohn Harris has recently argued that the Left is trapped in the past. Perhaps, but part of the reason for that is that the Left’s past is a tad more interesting than its present. Backward-looking? Yes, sometimes. But a modernisation founded on an ahistorical politics fails to account for the pluses and minuses of history and has proved itself wilfully incapable of grappling with today’s fast-changing world. As an alternative take a look at the approach adopted by the hugely impressive Oxford Handbook of The History of Communism which is as comprehensive as it is challenging. Rich in scope while sharply analytical in its understanding of one of the twentieth century’s grand narratives. So grand in fact that it sparked a counter all of its own making ‘anti-communism’ which is carefully dissected by the latest, now twice-yearly, volume of one of the most startlingly original political history initiatives of recent years, the journal Twentieth Century Communism. French revolutionry of the ‘68 vintage, Daniel Bensaid’s excellent memoir An Impatient Life provides more than enough passion for even the most hardened cynic. Of course history never stands still, to treat it as such absolutely locks the Left into past, not present. Paul Kelemen’s account The British Left and Zionism carefully chronicles a changing position on Israel and Palestine that he describes as a ‘history of a divorce’. The altered circumstances, loyalties and issues given the kind of weight of understanding they deserve yet are all too rarely afforded. On the other hand history needs endless and unchanging principle sometimes too, a point well-made by the welcome appearance of contemporary writings against the First World War, Not Our War. Click to continue reading

By the day I grow more implacably opposed to Scottish independence

The event to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield this week was as moving and inspiring as it gets. The sight of those remarkable people gathered together to mark one of the defining events of my lifetime reminded me that for working people unity really is strength, that solidarity is the key to victory against seemingly insurmountable odds, and that regardless of race, creed, religion or nationality, the things that unite working people are much greater than anything that could possibly divide them.

And yet, as a Scot, I am being invited by an increasingly bitter and intolerant Yes campaign for Scottish independence to cast a vote on September 18 that will separate working people in Scotland from working people in Liverpool and every other town and city in England and Wales, and instead express an affinity with any number of rich and affluent Scots on the basis of nothing more than the fact I happen to live in the same part of this island as them.

How can this possibly be described as progressive? And how is it that so many socialists and progressives in Scotland have swung in behind a nationalist project that offers constitutional change but not the social and economic change required to transform the lives of working class people not only in Scotland but throughout Britain?

Fighting the Tories by vacating the field of battle, abandoning other working class people to their fate in the process, can be called many things but socialism is not one of them. Just as a border cannot keep out bad weather, it won’t keep out neoliberalism, and there is nothing progressive in pretending that the SNP – with its desire for an independent Scotland to reduce corporation tax to 12.5 percent, retain an unelected monarch as head of state, and join the nuclear-armed military alliance of NATO – offers anything better than the status quo.

Many on the left of the Yes campaign assert that the upcoming referendum isn’t about Alex Salmond or the SNP. But this is about as absurd as claiming that a tree is a lamppost in disguise. Scottish independence and the SNP constitute two sides of the same coin in the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people. It is the SNP’s vision that is dominating this campaign and whether socialists in the Yes campaign care to admit it or not, people in September will be casting a vote either for or against the vision set out in the SNP’s White Paper, launched at the tail end of last year.

As for the Better Together campaign, being led by Alistair Darling, this does not speak for me or for any Scot who knows better. The sight of Tories, Lib Dems, and New Labour dinosaurs preaching to the Scottish people as to why they should vote No is both unedifying and political manna from heaven for the SNP. Indeed, with every utterance these people merely increase support for a Yes campaign which by now has clearly lost the economic and political argument in favour of independence, and is now focused on accentuating a regressive emotional argument involving the painting of Scotland as victims of perfidious Albion.

To the simple minded it is compelling stuff, providing an opportunity to brush up on Mel Gibson’s speech to the troops in Braveheart. However to the rest of us it is transparent and reductive nonsense. The Scots are not and never have been colonised by England or the English. On the contrary, Scots played a key role when it came to forging a British Empire which stands to this day as a badge of shame to any right thinking citizen of this country.

No, I just won’t have it. Nor will I have being told that progress for ordinary people in Scotland means turning the people of Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester and London into the citizens of a foreign country on September 18.

While the emergence of nationalism as a viable alternative to the status quo may be rooted in understandable despair over one of the most vicious Tory governments we’ve ever seen, my hope for the people of Scotland and throughout this island remains with the kind of solidarity and unity we witnessed being displayed in Liverpool this week and over the past 25 years..

Working people are only as strong as they are united, and as weak as they are divided.

A Tribute to Tony Benn (meeting in Bristol)

tony-bennThanks to South West TUC for organizing what looks like a fantastic event in tribute to Tony Benn

Date and time of event: Thu 1 May 2014 – 19:00 to 21:00
Venue and town/city: The New Room – John Wesley’s Chapel, 36 The Horsefair, Bristol, BS1 3JE
Costs: free, but pre-registration is essential

Tony Benn was the Labour MP for Bristol South East for over thirty years. During his time in the city he fought for his right to stay in Parliament, he championed many progressive causes and opposed racism. He ensured that Concorde was built in Bristol and helped many individuals with their issues.

He was a towering figure of British politics and inspired thousands through his speeches and books.

The Tribute to Tony Benn will hear people talk about Tony Benn’s legacy in Bristol including Kerry McCarthy MP; Dawn Primarolo MP and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons; Paul Stephenson, leader of the Bristol bus boycott; David Worthington, New Rooms; Harold Clarke, Methodist (tbc); Lew Gray, ex Aerospace Convenor; Nigel Costley, South West TUC Regional Secretary; Helen Holland, Labour Leader on Bristol City Council; Roger James, Oxfam and CND (tbc) and others plus a short film (tbc); Miles Chambers, poet and the Red Notes choir

Battle with Balfour Beatty over union derecognition.

From the Western Daily Press:

Roadworkers given the massive task of filling thousands of potholes in Wiltshire, the West’s largest local authority, are considering industrial action after council chiefs sold their jobs to a new firm that refuses to recognise their trade union.

Some 300 Wiltshire Council highways and maintenance workers were told last year that they were now employed by Balfour Beatty as part of a £50 million deal which sees the large plc in charge of all ground works, parks and roads.

After two harsh winters, council chiefs decided to spend another £100 million fixing potholes on the county’s roads after they were labelled “a disgrace” by residents, and claims for damage to cars soared.

But the workers given the job of repairing them are said to be furious after Balfour Beatty told them they no longer recognised their union – and would organise their own “staff associations and employee forums” to handle agreements over pay rises.

The three unions who represent the new Balfour Beatty employees at Wiltshire Council are Unison, the GMB and Unite – and all three have now signed a joint letter expressing their fury at the move, while opposition Liberal Democrat councillors have branded the situation “outrageous”.

The ruling Conservative group at Wiltshire Council said that the staff were transferred with their rights to have the same pay and conditions intact, but union recognition was not part of the deal.

“This is simply outrageous,” said Lib Dem leader Jon Hubbard. “Staff should have the right to choose whether they are represented by a union and not have the choice taken away from them at the whim of contractors.

“The rights of staff have been ripped up and thrown in the bin.

“The Conservative administration’s policy of privatising out council services has meant that the rights of council staff are being stripped away.

“This will severely damage the support staff get when it comes to negotiations over pay and conditions,” he added.

Carole Vallelly, the GMB rep for Wiltshire, said: “This means that our members have lost all their collective bargaining as well as pay and condition negotiations support.

“In theory, this allows Balfour Beatty to decide not to give pay rises out with no form of redress.”

Balfour Beatty Living Places has stated its intention not to recognise unions for collective bargaining on council contracts, and has I understand derecognised unions not just in Wiltshire, but also in Southampton.

Wiltshire branch of GMB has a motion to this year’s Congress deploring Balfour Beatty’s anti-union stance, and calling for a national campaign against Balfour Beatty Living Places getting future public services contracts, until they change their policy.

The role of PCS members in the bullying of benefit claimants

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are engaged in the widespread bullying and intimidation of benefit claimants in Jobcentres up and down the country. The evidence can no longer be denied and the union’s leadership must now take steps to educate its members that solidarity is more than just a word on a leaflet during a PCS pay dispute, or else face the accusation of collaborating with the government’s vicious assault on the most economically vulnerable in society under the rubric of austerity.

The upsurge in the number of claimants having their benefits sanctioned for increasingly minor infractions correlates to the upsurge in the demand for the services of the nation’s food banks. This shocking revelation was contained in a report by MPs in January, the result of an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which called for an independent review into the rules for sanctioning claimants to ensure that the rules are being applied “fairly and appropriately”.

Among its findings the report stated:

Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied.

The report continued:

Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions.

The majority of Jobcentre staff are members of the 270,000 strong PCS, the sixth largest trade union in the country, which represents thousands of Britain’s civil servants and public sector workers. The PCS has been a strong critic of the coalition’s austerity policies, making the case for an investment led recovery from recession and calling for mass opposition to spending cuts that have ravaged the public sector and been accompanied by a concerted campaign of demonisation of the unemployed and economically vulnerable that is unparalleled in its viciousness. This only makes the role some of its members are playing in intensifying the hardship faced by the unemployed and people on out of work benefits even more deplorable.

It is unconscionable that any trade union would allow its members to engage in the wilful and systematic sanctioning of benefit claimants without offering any meaningful resistance. It flies in the face of the very principle of social solidarity that is the cornerstone of a movement founded on the understanding that the interests of working people – employed and unemployed – are intrinsically the same.

The human despair not to mention humiliation being inflicted on people in the nation’s Jobcentres is evidence that the Tory campaign of dividing working people section by section has borne fruit. It has reached the point where the oppressive atmosphere found in your average Jobcentre is on a par with the oppressive atmosphere associated with a district or sheriff court. Jobseekers are not criminals and those sanctioning them so readily are not parole officers, yet you could be easily mistaken in thinking they are after spending just a few minutes in a Jobcentre anywhere in the country.

Enough is enough.

This culture of bullying, harassment, and intimidation against the unemployed must be confronted by the leadership of the leadership of the PCS as a matter of urgency. By no means are all PCS members working in Jobcentres guilty of this shameful practice – indeed many are low paid workers reliant on various benefits to survive themselves – but enough are involved in the practice to leave no doubt that we are talking about an institutional problem rather than the actions of a few rotten apples.

Many of those being sanctioned are being trapped due to mental health issues or language issues making them more vulnerable to violating the plethora of rules regarding the obligations they must fulfil when it comes to searching for work. Many are being sanctioned for turning up five minutes late to a scheduled appointment, regardless of the reason why. In some cases suicide has been the result.

You would hope that the leadership of the PCS would at least acknowledge the despair their members are inflicting on the most economically vulnerable people in society. You’d be wrong. In an article which appeared on the PCS website back in February, addressing the volume of criticism being levelled at the DWP over sanctioning, the union denied culpability in the process. On the contrary they assert in the article:

PCS believes our members do the best job they can in very difficult circumstances. Rather than face criticism, this work should be recognised and valued by management and they should start by ensuring a proper pay increase for DWP staff in 2014.

Any trade union member who allows him or herself to be used as an instrument to attack the poor and the unemployed is deserving of contempt. And any trade union leadership that fails to act to prevent it happening is reactionary.