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..

Ultimately, 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.

Public Meeting on Ukrainian crisis

What's behind the crisis?

6.30pm, Tuesday 15 April
The Wesley Hotel, Euston Street, London NW1 2EZ

The crisis in the Ukraine continues, with tensions between the big powers growing day by day. There are several factors militating against war in the immediate future, including Russia’s nuclear arsenal and trade links with EU countries. But as the establishment think-tank Stratfor has argued, it would be naive to rule out a conflagration.

Already NATO air drills are taking place over the Baltics, and the UK and US are sending extra jets to patrol the skies. Poland has requested 10,000 NATO troops to be stationed on its territory and MPs in Kiev have voted to hold joint military exercises with NATO. In the medium to long term, NATO is looking at establishing permanent military bases in Ukraine.


Swindon Borough Council adopts tough anti-blacklisting stance

Moved and seconded by Labour, passed with Conservative support last Thursday:

Swindon Motion – Opposition to Companies that Operate Blacklists

“That Swindon Council deplores the illegal practice of blacklisting and requests that the Lead Cabinet Member and Officers seek a way to ensure that any company tendering for construction and civil engineering contracts to be awarded by Swindon Council will be asked to provide information that they have not conducted any “grave misconduct” by way of blacklisting. This will include questions in relation to:
1. Membership of the Consulting Association.
2. Employment of individuals who were named contacts for The Consulting Association.”

This follows the successful motion passed through Wiltshire:

‘That Wiltshire Council deplores the illegal practice of “Blacklisting” within the Construction& Civil Engineering Industry and will ensure that any company tendering for Construction & Civil Engineering contracts by Wiltshire Council will be asked to provide information that they have not conducted any “grave misconduct” by way of blacklisting. This will include questions in relation to;

1. Membership of The Consulting Association.
2. Employment of individuals who were named contacts for The Consulting Association.
3. Identifying the steps taken to remedy blacklisting for affected workers.
4. Identifying the steps taken to ensure blacklisting will not happen again’.

Chippenham radical history

jeremy corbyn in chippenham

Jeremy Corbyn MP, originally from Chippenham, pictured on Saturday with Andy Newman and Pete Baldrey, the Labour parliamentary candidates for Chippenham and North Wiltshire constituencies.

Saturday’s radical history event in Chippenham, organised by the White Horse Trades Council was a spectacular success, with around 100 people attending to hear talks about Dame Florence Hancock, (the leader of the 1913 Nestles strike in the town, and later a woman organiser for the Workers Union, and later the TGWU, before becomming president of the TUC), about Angela Gradwell-Tuckett, (an indefatigable Communist, who was also one of the country’ first women solicitors, a folk singer and concertina player, and who played hockey for England, famously refusing to give a Nazi salute in 1935 at an international match in Berlin, and who later settled in Swindon).

Jeremy Corbyn spoke powerfully about his parents and childhood in Chippenham, and about his lifelong desire for social justice. Other talks were given on the role of hangings and the gibbet in Hanoverian Wiltshire, and about West Country rebels.

The speakers alongside Jeremy Corbyn were Melissa Bartlett from Chippenham Museum, Rosie MacGregor, chair of the South West TUC, Nigel Costley, Regional Secretary of the SW TUC, and Steve Poole from the University of the West of England. The mixture of professional academicians, trade unionists, politicians, and local historians proved as potent as the earlier event organised in Bradford on Avon in 2011; not only drawing in diverse audiences, but also fusing contemporary political debate with a sense of history and geographical content.

The organisers will be arranging a third event probably in Melksham in the future.

Venezuela: coup attempt foiled

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro announced yesterday that three generals of the Venezuelan Air Force have been arrested, after they were denounced by lower-ranking officials for their involvement in alleged coup plans. “Last night we captured three Air Force generals that we had been investigating thanks to the powerful moral force of our National Bolivarian Armed Forces: three generals that aimed to rise the Air Force against the legitimately constituted government,” he said. Maduro argued that those arrested “have direct links with the opposition, and said that this week was decisive”.

According to the president, the alleged coup plot involves creating “psychological” chaos through attacking electricity and other services, and then striking against the government. The three generals are now under custody and will face an investigation.

The announcement was made on the same day that foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) arrive in the country to support dialogue efforts between the government and opposition.
Venezuela has been subject to a wave of opposition protests, riots and roadblocks since early February. The violence has left 35 dead, including National Guard officers, opposition activists and government supporters. Several hard-line opposition leaders openly call for the government’s resignation.

In his speech Maduro asked the country and UNASUR to support the Truth Commission established by the National Assembly last week to investigate the recent acts of violence. Opposition parliamentarians have not yet decided if they will participate in the commission, which would have five pro-government and four opposition legislators as members.

It remains to be seen whether the presence of UNASUR ministers will encourage the opposition to join peace talks, which have been underway between the government and business, religious, and a few moderate opposition politicians since last month. So far the majority of the opposition leadership has refused to dialogue, stating that political concessions, or “conditions”, must be satisfied first.

“We hope that in its 48 hour visit the UNASUR commission can reach conclusions that help Venezuela strengthen the climate of peace and defend democracy even more, and likewise to collaborate with the people so that they can consolidate all mechanisms of social and political dialogue,” Maduro stated.

* Text based on an original article by Correo del Orinoco, translated and edited by Venezuelanalysis.com. Additional information added by VA.com.

The break-up of Yugoslavia

Fifteen years ago NATO launched an air war against the remaining territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without either the approval of the UN Security Council or any basis in international law. Nineteen NATO member states were involved in a bombing campaign lasting 78 days. The Serbian Government estimated that 2,500 people were killed, with around 12,500 injured, while Serbia’s infrastructure was decimated after schools, hospitals, airports, bridges, and other civilian targets were attacked from the air by F17 and F16 military aircraft and from the sea with cruise missiles.

The war was launched in response to Serbia’s refusal to allow foreign troops on its territory on the basis of a decision taken at the Rambouillet Peace Conference in Paris prior to the bombing campaign in 1999. The conference had been organised to resolve the conflict between Serbia and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which led to the secession of Kosovo from Serbia and its eventual establishment as an independent state in 2008.

To understand the West’s role in this conflict, the most brutal in Europe since the Second World War, it is important to understand something of the history of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and why its destruction was so important to the Western powers.

The six Balkan republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia were brought together after the Second World War in 1945 to form the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, a Croat who led the communist partisans against the Nazi occupation of the Balkans and the old monarchist kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Between 1960 and 1980 Yugoslavia enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth that funded its commitment to social and economic justice. Free health care and education was provided as a right for all its citiziens regardless of ethnicity, as was the right to work, a living wage, affordable housing and utilities, while most of its economy came under state ownership.

As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement of nations that refused to be subsumed into either the Soviet or Western blocs during the cold war, Yugoslavia had influence and prestige on the international stage.Tito was an astute and a respected leader committed to the principle of self determination and to the forging of alliances with the world’s developing nations for mutual advancement.

Yet despite Tito’s refusal to be subsumed into the Soviet bloc, Yugoslavia remained safe from capitalist penetration while the Soviet Union existed as a countervailing force to US-led imperialism. As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, however, this protective cloak was removed and the die was cast.

Fuelling the economic growth enjoyed by Yugoslavia during the ’60s and ’70s was its decision to borrow heavily from the West in order to invest in industry and the production of both export and consumer goods. This proved a disastrous course, as it rendered Yugoslavia’s economy vulnerable to the fluctuations of global markets. As a result of the world recession of the 1970s, export markets contracted with the result that Yugoslavia’s export production dried up along with its ability to service its debts. In response the IMF demanded a restructuring of Yugoslavia’s economy to prioritise debt repayment. Stuck between the hammer of indebtedness and the anvil of continued borrowing in order to subsidise its commitment to the provision of education, health care, housing and social security for its citizens, by the late 1980s, the Yugoslav economy was in free fall.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, central banks moved in at the behest of policy-makers in Washington, London and Bonn. Determined to break up the last socialist country in Europe, they threatened to institute an economic blockade unless the Yugoslav government agreed to hold separate elections in each of its six republics. The passing of the US Foreign Operations Appropriations law 101-513 in 1991 contained a section relating specifically to Yugoslavia, stipulating that all loans, aid and credits would be cut off within six months unless elections were held.

Given the extent of US control over the IMF and the World Bank, this legislation was a de facto death sentence for the Yugoslav federal republic.

The most devastating provision of the law stipulated that only the forces within Yugoslavia deemed democratic by Washington would now receive loans from the US. Various right-wing factions in each of the six republics benefited directly from this provision and became the recipients of US largesse. It was a measure designed to bring to the fore and exacerbate differences along ethnic lines throughout the six republics that made up Yugoslavia and, in a climate of economic hardship, it was a measure which proved successful.

Germany recognised the secession of Croatia in 1991. Civil war ensued. It lasted for the next eight years until a three-month NATO campaign of air strikes against the recalcitrant Serbs, who’d refused from the outset to toe the line and acquiesce in the break-up of the federal republic, brought it to an end.

Led by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian people were demonised for their refusal to bend the knee, with accusations of genocide and Nazi-like atrocities being levelled against their military forces and against their government. It should be noted that during the Second World War more Serbs were killed per capita than any other nationality fighting the Nazis.

After the war ended, Milosevic was arrested and charged with war crimes and genocide. As in any war, and certainly in fratricidal civil wars, atrocities are committed by all sides involved. Certainly, Serbian military forces did commit war crimes, most notably with thesiege of Sarajevo and the massacre of Srebrenica in 1995, and it was right that those responsible were held to account. However the Serbian people found themselves on the losing side and as such at the sharp end of victors’ justice relative to the justice received by various other factions and military forces involved in the fighting, particulary the KLA.

During Milosevic’s trial in The Hague evidence of genocide against his government was never produced. This was despite the scouring of the countryside and towns and villages by international investigators searching for evidence in the form of mass graves and witnesses willing and able to corroborate such allegations. In fact, before his premature death, which remains shrouded in mystery, Milosevic had managed to turn proceedings in the International Criminal Court into a trial of his accusers, successfully exposing their role and culpability in the break-up of his country.

As for the former Yugoslavia, with its collapse came the inevitable shock therapy in the form of the privatisation of public services, utilities and state-run industries and, like a pack of rabid dogs feasting on a carcass, the arrival of global corporations. As night follows day, this resulted in severe economic hardship and the scourge of unemployment, which led directly to the dislocation of communities, mass migration to the West and, on the back of all this, the rise of criminal gangs involved in people trafficking, the sex and drugs trades and other illegalities.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 completed the process of the break-up of a nation founded as a vision of brotherhood, peace and unity in a region of the world traditionally beset by war and strife.