The Scottish Government Should Investigate Atos

The controversy surrounding the role of French company ATOS in carrying out the government’s assessments of people on sickness and disability benefit, illustrates the barbaric and callous nature of the Tory attacks on the poor and most vulnerable section of society in response to the economic crisis.

The Scottish Daily Record is playing a lead role in highlighting the injustices being perpetrated by ATOS, but now it is time for the Scottish Government to step in and nail its colours to the mast when it comes to standing on the side of the victims of this despicable process. Joyce Drummond, a former nurse and an active socialist, worked for ATOS carrying out assessments, but resigned in protest. Her story was covered by the Daily Record back in September, and now she’s calling for the Scottish Government to carry out its own investigation.

Solidarity issued the following press release:

BEGINS

A former nurse has called on Alex Salmond and the SNP Government to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the performance of ATOS, the private company used by the Coalition Government to carry out controversial Work Capability Assessments on the sick and disabled. The results of these tests determine whether or not people continue to receive benefits or are forced to find work. The French company has received a barrage of criticism from disability campaigners, trade unions and health professionals.

ATOS has declared that over 70% of disabled people assessed in Scotland should no longer receive benefits and instead need to seek employment. The remainder of those assessed and deemed to be unfit for work are told to expect to be put through the process again as they attempt to shave millions of pounds from the welfare bill. The company’s methods however have been called into question with up to 40% of claimants having the original ATOS decision overturned on appeal. In addition, disability campaigners claim that some of the verdicts delivered by ATOS have resulted in the death of claimants forced back to work.

The Black Triangle Campaign and other disability rights activists have protested against the company, The British Pain Society have recently published a report saying that ATOS are failing chronic pain patients whilst the STUC will debate a motion at their annual congress in April calling for ATOS to be removed from the list of sponsors from the Commonwealth Games.

Joyce Drummond, a Solidarity member from Glasgow, resigned from her job after ATOS employed the former nurse to carry out assessments.

“The assessments are a farce designed to trick sick and disabled people out of benefits they are entitled to. Simply by turning up for an interview, being well dressed, pushing a pram, admitting to owning a pet or being able to complete forms would count against a claimant.”
I could not stomach the job any longer after bosses told me I was being “too nice”. All I wanted to do was help those who needed it most. I had worked for over 20 years in the Southern General Hospital and I knew sick people when I saw them. The company had no interest in my professional or clinical opinion, their only interest was in getting as many claimants as possible deemed to be fit for work.”

Joyce quit her job with ATOS but the stress she suffered as a result of her experiences has meant she has not been able to work since. The former staff nurse wants to see the Scottish Government do more to protect the vulnerable people undergoing Work Capability Assessments.

“The sick and disabled are being discriminated against and people are dying in a bid to save money. The poorest and most vulnerable are again being scapegoated by this government of millionaires. The methods and procedures used by ATOS need to come under proper scrutiny. The UK Government won’t do it so the Scottish Government needs to act here and bring more pressure to bear on the ConDems. Even if welfare and benefits are reserved to Westminster there must be more Holyrood can do to expose the scandal of these assessments. This needs more than a committee. If an inquiry can be set up to look at the cost of the Parliament Building then something could be done to help the tens of thousands suffering at the hands of ATOS. Evidence could be heard from health professionals, claimants and campaign groups.”

“It’s time to kill off ATOS before ATOS kills off anymore sick, vulnerable and disabled people.”

Media Release – George Galloway (respect): Coalition Against the Cuts

March 12, 2011

George Galloway today announced he had reached agreement with community and trade union activists and organisations, including Solidarity, to stand as a Coalition Against Cuts in the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections.

“I’m very pleased we have been able to come to an agreement on a common programme against the cuts. These will devastate our public services and blight thousands of lives,” said George Galloway.

“We have a full slate of candidates, a very strong team including Angela McCormick, a longstanding anti-war and anti-poverty campaigner, Brian Smith who is Branch Secretary of Glasgow Unison and leader of the Defend Glasgow Services Campaign as well as students and community activists. “

“We will be campaigning to resist these cruelly unnecessary and counter-productive cuts. We will provide a range of proposals to take Glasgow and Scotland forward.”

“In the coming days we will launch our campaign. One of the first targets will be the vicious education cuts atGlasgow University. More than 200 staff have already ‘revolted’ against the Muscatelli pogrom and I can promise the principal a hot time in the coming weeks. We will also be campaigning for democratic oversight and accountability at our universities.”

Notice of the formal launch of the campaign – which will be standing as George Galloway (Respect) – Coalition Against Cuts – will be announced shortly.

Ends.

Defending Public Services and Jobs

The Spring issue of SOLIDARITY is now available. This is an article from it.

The strength of the unions depends on the consciousness, organisation, and active involvement of their members …”

As we approach a General Election, whatever the outcome, we can be sure that public sector workers and the services they provide, are facing cuts across the board. For instance, even if the current government were to somehow hang on, the NHS would face cuts in spending of between £15 and £20 billion by 2014. Ken Clarke, for the Tories has promised deeper cuts than those made by Thatcher.

Whichever sector you look at management are seeking to cut jobs or services, or some measure of both. So the trades unions are going to face a severe test of their ability to defend their members and the services. In London the FBU is facing a stiff battle against management which wants to save money by unilaterally imposing new shifts (see Page 12).

Whilst UK union membership is comprised of 40.3% in the private sector, and 59.7% in the public sector there is no comparison in unity density. As Gregor Gall reports (see page 13) union density in the private sector is down to a meagre 15%, whilst in the public sector it is 57.1%. Those covered by collective agreements were 18.7% in the private sector and 70.5% in the public sector.

This shows the scope for recruitment in the public sector where collective agreements apply. Yet, in the case of Health and social work, despite an increase in staff numbers over the period of the New Labour government, union density has declined from 46.1% to 40.7%. Why? The reasons are surely connected with the collaboration of the Health unions with the government rather than mobilising their members against its market driven ‘reforms’. If they have criticised the introduction of the ‘health market’ they have nonetheless signed up to a partnership agreement designed to deliver ‘modernisation’.

This partnership was agreed in the context of the introduction of a ‘health market’ which has opened up the NHS to private companies, demanded Trusts break even year on year, and introduced ‘payment by results’. It has replaced cooperation with competition. This partnership has undermined union independence and meant they have failed to challenge the government’s agenda, despite their criticisms of it. If you look at the NHS Social Partnership Forum website you can read examples of ‘best practice’. Just to take one example, the report waxes lyrical about cooperation between management and unions at the Blackpool Trust, enabling 523 jobs to be cut! There is as yet no movement within the health service unions to break this partnership arrangement. Without such a break there can be no effective rebuilding of independent union organisation opposed to the fragmentation of the NHS.

Yet as the example of the North Devon UNISON strike shows, with determined leadership, even the lowest paid and downtrodden workers can be organised successfully if their interests are not identified with those of the management. As Mark Harper shows in his article (page 4) the key to building union strength is the involvement of union members. Or, as he puts it “a union is at its strongest when the distinction between activist and member is at its most blurred”.

Like the health unions, the CWU in Royal Mail has accepted the need for ‘modernisation’ as good coin. The leadership of the union seeks a partnership with Royal Mail, but the resistance of their membership to the impact of liberalisation on the job, and the service, is an obstacle to reaching one. Ironically a single CWU member, the pseudonymous Roy Mayall, on his own initiative in breaking into the mass media, has done more to explain the issues behind the dispute than the union apparatus has been able to do. As Roy explains (see page 5), there needs to be a campaign to end the ‘downstream access’ which is nothing other than a rigged market in which RM has to deliver the mail of its competitors. The strategy of the CWU – ‘modernisation’ of RM so it can compete with the private companies – can only lead to the destruction of jobs and a worsening of the service.

Defending public services requires an alliance between public sector workers and users of the services they provide. As the campaign in defence of Council housing has shown, such an alliance (in this case between council workers and Council tenants) has delivered successes despite the odds being stacked against them. Of course, there is the advantage of having a ballot of tenants to decide on transfer to the private sector. Other privatisations do not have to go through a ballot. But the principle remains the same. Public sector workers bolster their chances if they win the support of service users.

Local government workers have long been used to the annual budget crisis in which cuts are distributed across departments. Pressure is now being stepped up. For example, 2,000 job cuts have been announced in Birmingham. At the same time the ‘Single Status’ process draws to a messy end, with open discussion barred on the basis of ‘advice’ from the union solicitors.

The weakness of union organisation in local government is reflected by the fact that in only one local authority (Birmingham – see page 9) has there been strike action across all departments against pay cuts resulting from ‘Single Status’. In some areas there has been sectional action from groups with some industrial muscle such as the Leeds refuse workers (page 7). In some areas there was a not surprising outrage from members when local government unions have recommended acceptance of agreements which include wage cuts for a substantial group of their members. Now the situation seems to be that unions are making no recommendation whatsoever, for fear of the legal consequences; leaving their members leaderless.

During the period from 1980 the response of the union apparatuses to the defeats the movement suffered was ‘partnership’ and the ‘service model’ – the provision of individual services. This strategy tied the unions to their employers and encouraged a passive outlook amongst members. All that they had to do was pay their subscription and miraculously a service was provided for them. This reinforced the impact of the defeats on collective union organisation. Yet even when such an approach was abandoned, or half abandoned, the unions were left with the consequence of encouraging a passive membership rather than building collective organisation.

The strength of the unions depends on the consciousness, organisation and active involvement of their members in the workplace and on the industrial level. It depends also, on their independence from management and government, and a recognition that their interests require a struggle. A break with ‘partnership’ in the NHS and elsewhere and the promotion of a vision of public services which are not turned into commodities, is necessary means of changing the unions from service providers to fighting collective organisations.

As Kim Moody shows (page 14) from the experience of the NUHW in the USA, a union with virtually no apparatus can be successful to the degree that it is literally a union of the members. There is a lesson for us there and from North Devon. The enthusiasm of workers for an organisation which they consider theirs, which brings them together in struggle for their interests develops a collective and combative spirit.

People’s Solidarity with Haiti

Peoples Solidarity with Haiti

Statement from the International Action Center – www.IACenter.org

Justice for Haiti means immediate aid, reparations, debt cancelation, restoration of President Aristide, asylum for all Haitians and self-determination not military occupation.

The International Action Center expresses its full solidarity with the Haitian people at this time of greatest crisis following the devastating Jan.12 earthquake. In the Haitian capital, tens of thousands of lives have been lost and the lives of hundreds of thousands of additional people are at stake. It is essential that there be an all-out effort for immediate and massive humanitarian relief effort.

Tons of supplies could be parachuted to desperate people in immediate need of food and especially water. The delivery of this essential aid, plus the placement of rescue and medical teams must be the priority. Dozens of countries from all over the world, rich and poor, immediately sent hundreds of doctors and emergency medical teams and search and rescue teams and supplies. Cuba already had 344 health workers in Haiti and is ready to send 152 more.

Because the United States is the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world and is so near to Haiti , it is almost inevitable that many will look to Washington to lead the rescue effort. And with all concerned for immediate relief for the Haitians, it will be easy to ignore the political realities both before the calamity and in its aftermath. These realities, however, will continue to affect the future of Haiti , and all of us should keep them in mind.

1. Haiti is the poorest and least developed country in the hemisphere, everyone repeats. That is true, but it is because Haiti has been occupied by U.S. imperialism again and again. In 2004 in a coup, planned from Washington and supported by troops from France and Canada , President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a president democratically elected by over 75 % of the vote was kidnapped and removed. The U.S. still prevents President Aristide from returning to Haiti from South Africa , where he is exiled. The U.S. set up an occupation of Haiti under UN command. Six years of this UN occupation has done nothing to develop Haiti or improve its infrastructure. Instead it has led to still greater poverty and hunger and higher debt.

2. The Pentagon is controlling the U.S. intervention in the disaster. Its priority is not the rapid delivery of food and water, but the establishment of a beachhead of 2,200 Marines and 3,500 paratroopers, now increased to 10,000 military to police the Haitian population. This military has a dual role that includes delivery of aid, but its main role is repression and control, just as it is in Afghanistan , Iraq and other occupied countries. Jarry Emmanuel of World Food Organization stated: “There are 200 flights going in and out every day. But most of those flights are for the U.S. military. Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed.”

3. President Barack Obama has appointed not only Bill Clinton but also George W. Bush in charge of raising support for the U.S. relief effort. It was Bush — probably the most hated of U.S. presidents worldwide — who cynically delayed relief efforts and allowed the people of New Orleans to drown following the Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and who presided over the kidnapping and enforced exile of President Aristide.

4. From 1804, when the first successful slave revolution in history drove out the French colonialists and slave masters, until the present, Washington has continually imposed sanctions, debt repayments and military intervention in an attempt to crush Haitian independence. The U.S. directly occupied the country from 1915 to 1934 and again in the last 20 years.

5. The $100 million President Obama promised sounds like a lot of money, but it is tiny compared to the amount the rulers of France and the United States stole from Haiti and its people over centuries. It is a fraction of the $1 billion that Haitian workers in the diaspora send home to their families every year. It is less than what the U.S. spends in 5 hours for the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq . It is far less than 1% of the $18 billion that Goldman Sacks executives will receive in bonuses after a $700 billion bailout of the banks.

6. The IMF immediately gave a $100 million loan to Haiti . This is an outrage and a crime. Haiti ’s debts are already unsustainable. Hundreds of millions in debts remain from the U.S. imposed Pap Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier dictatorships. IMF required ‘structural adjustments’ have forced Haiti from sustainable agriculture to cash crops for the rich, raised the price of electricity, leaving millions in the dark and frozen pay on vital social services of doctors, nurses, teachers, public transit and infrastructure.

Millions of people in solidarity with the Haitian people are making great efforts to send emergency supplies. The Haitian people themselves are organizing and gathering desperately needed supplies. Along with emergency peoples relief efforts there must be peoples’ demands on the U.S. government and the powerful corporations.

In light of the above points, the International Action Center proposes the following demands:

* Immediate delivery of food, water and medical supplies, not military occupation;
* Allow the return of democratically elected President Aristide to Haiti and restore his government,
* Reparations from the U.S. , France and Canada so that Haitians can take charge of the relief effort and invite the international assistance of their choice;
* Immediate Cancelation of Haiti ’s debts
* Immediate asylum for all Haitians in the United States
* Permission for Haitian residents of the U.S. to go to Haiti to help their families and to return to the U.S. ;
* Self-determination for Haiti .

International Action Center
55 W. 17th St, # 5C, New York , NY 10011
212-633-6646 www.IACenter.org

Edinburgh Solidarity Action with Binmen

For the past 2 weeks activists have been engaging in solidarity work with Edinburgh’s binmen. The binmen’s terms and conditions are under attack by the local council. Under the rubric of implementing the Single Status Agreement, designed to harmonise wages and conditions for all council workers, the binmen are facing a cut in their yearly wage of around $5,000 – from around £19,000 to between £12,000-£14,000.

In addition, Edinburgh City Council are attempting to introduce shift patterns that would signifcantly impact on the families of those involved.

The council are saying that the new wage settlement will be protected for 3 years. In reality, this means a 3-year wage freeze, which is likely tantamount to a real term wage cut.

This pay modernisation is not only affecting workers in the cleansing department. It affects all manual workers employed by the council – toilet attendants, bucket men, gravediggers, roadworkers, etc.

Over the 13 weeks of this ongoing dispute, the council have increasingly resorted to bullying and harassment in an attempt to break the resolve of the workers. Some 30 men have had their wages docked after management has accused them of not doing enough work, leaving, it is reported, some of the men in tears.

Since the start of the Edinburgh Festival, the council has imported scab labour to clear the backlog of rubbish and refuse, particularly in the city centre. Dozens of these were being brought in from England and put up at the Hilton Hotel at Edinburgh Airport. With accommodation at the Hilton costing £102 per night, it’s estimated that up to 10 Sept the council has shelled out between £40-50,000 in accomodation expenses alone for scab labour. It appears that now the scabs are comprised of local workers, no doubt due to budgetary concerns.

It has to be said that the union representing the binmen, Unite, has been almost impotent. Hiding behind anti-union legislation, they have failed to coordinate industrial action with other local authority cleansing workers under attack in Falkirk, Glasgow, Dundee, and in Leeds. They should have used the opportunity to raise money at the TUC Conference to help the men who’ve had their wages docked, and they should by now have implemented a press campaign to fight the battle of hearts and minds among the general public.

The solidarity action, involving around 25-30 activists made the front page of the local paper last week.

Last night, whilst blockading the scab trucks in the centre of Edinburgh, the scabs were abusive, taunting the activists and flashing their wallets. Many of them are agency workers, pressganged by the Jobcentre under threat of having their benefits cut if they refuse to take the job. Those workers at the Jobcentre, most of whom are members of the PCS, should be ashamed of themselves for engaging in such tactics.

In fact, representation should be made to the PCS to instruct their members to refuse to implement what are disgraceful government attempts to bully and intimidate some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. The PCS are public sector workers too, and it is in the interests of all public sector workers to resist what will be a concerted and ongoing wave of attacks on the wages and terms and conditions in an attempt to make the working class pay for the massive baillout to the financial and banking elite.

I’ve posted the reports of the action below, along with links to various pictures, letters and the Evening News report.

————————————————————————————————–

UPCOMING ACTIVITY IN SOLIDARITY WITH EDINBURGH COUNCIL WORKERS RESISTING WAGE CUTS. EDINBURGH MUCKRAKER news-sheet now out, 2,500 copies at ace ready for distro, plus 2,000 more stickersACTIVISTS AMBUSH PRIVATE BIN LORRIES – front page Evening News today tuesday

http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/topstories/Placardwaving-protesters-ambush-private-bin.5667202.jp
 

Please go to site and add your commentsBin worker contact been in touch to say action “brilliant”——————————————————–With the massive publicity in the Evening News we have a great chance to make a really big impact. 
Our bin worker contacts have written to say: “Saw the news, brilliant, cheers, let’s hope more activists get involved, that would scare the council shitless” and “Keep up the good work”So would be great if loads of folk could make it on Friday, tell your friends…..Already someone who read Eve News has e mailed ECAP to say they want to get involved

Muckraker news-sheet now out, 2,500 copies at ACE ready for distro, plus 2,000 more stickersYou can pick up copies at Friday action, also ACE should be open thurs 6-8pm and sat 11-6pm and tues 1-4pmPlus we need to give them out at bin and cleansing lorry depots, and at main council offices, eg Market St, can anyone make thursday and friday mornings? And/or late afternoon, especially at Market St. Please get in touch if u can, so we can sort something out
 

Solidarity Statement on Glasgow North East

Solidarity To Seek Socialist Unity in Glasgow North East

Solidarity has agreed to renew efforts to foster left unity across Scotland and specifically to encourage a single left candidate in the forthcoming Glasgow North by-election. Solidarity will contact the leading left trade unions in Scotland again to appeal to them to gather the left groups and forces together with a view to knocking heads together in time for the likely November by-election poll.

Solidarity also agreed that if the left unity process does not develop in time for the by-election then our national co-convenor and former MSP, Tommy Sheridan, should be nominated as the Solidarity candidate. A final decision on this process is to be taken in early September.

Tommy Sheridan said today;

“My preference would be to campaign in support of a trade union backed left unity candidate instead of several socialist parties competing against one and other. If the timescale available does not allow that process to ferment in time then I will fight hard to win the seat. With 11 years as a city councillor and 8 years as an MSP representing Glasgow under my belt I would probably be the most politically experienced and qualified candidate on the ballot paper.

“If I am the Solidarity candidate the fight against the jobs massacre and the relentless cycle of low pay and poverty spawned by the rigged free market bosses system will be our priority. The system of private ownership and control of our lives is bust and broken. The big business parties want to try and repair that system. We in Solidarity want to replace it. We want social ownership and control geared to maximum satisfaction of society’s needs and provision for the many not the few. That is the essence of our socialist vision.

“We will also campaign for a new written contract for all elected politicians which will regulate behaviour to ensure responsiveness to constituent’s needs, the ability to trigger recall and re-election via proper petition and a rate of pay set at that of an average skilled worker and transparent and basic expenses”.

Motion Agreed at the Solidarity Glasgow All Members Meeting 30/06/09

Preamble

This meeting notes the collapse of the Labour Party’s vote at the recent European elections, the record low turn out and the election of two members of the Nazi BNP as MEPs.

We applaud the recent victories by workers at Visteon, Linamar and Lindsey – whose success has been based on unofficial action that defied the anti-union laws. This represents a significant step forward for working class confidence and resistance to the attacks on our jobs, conditions and living standards.

We recognise that a great opportunity exists for a united left electoral challenge to Labour. We welcome both Bob Crow’s call for “urgent discussions involving socialist organisations, campaigns and trade unions to build a concerted response following the election of two fascists from the BNP to the European Parliament” and “The Open Letter” on left unity from The Socialist Workers Party.

In light of the latest information concerning the likely delay in the timing of the Glasgow North By-Election to November 12th instead of late July or August this Glasgow Solidarity meeting agrees;

1.) To continue and where necessary seek to renew efforts to secure a united left candidate able to maximize the socialist vote across the constituency and generate significant trade union and community backing.

2.) Write again to the trade union executives of the left unions of the FBU, RMT, PCS and NUJ in Scotland with a view to encourage them once again to take the initiatives towards left unity in this by-election and beyond; continue to participate in the RMT led initiative which is discussing a left alliance to participate in the Westminster Elections and raise concretely at the next meeting the likely timing of any convention and how this could tie in with the Glasgow North East by-election and whether such a coalition could stand.

3.) Appeal again to the other left parties in Scotland not to select candidates for this election until the end of August to allow left unity discussions and meetings to progress.

4.) Agree to re-convene our Glasgow wide membership in September, either separately or as part of a Scottish wide congress, to agree support for an identified left unity candidate in the election or to endorse Tommy Sheridan, our Co-Convenor, as our candidate with a mandate to not only champion the cause of socialism but also to continue to promote the left unity agenda in the course of the campaign.

Solidarity on Left Unity

Where Now For The Left?

by Solidarity National Secretary – Graeme McIver

If ever there was a wake up call for the left it came in the early hours of the morning on Monday 8th June when Nick Griffin mounted the podium at the North West regional count in Manchester City Hall. The BNP leader basked in the glory that had seen himself and fellow racist Andrew Brons elected to the European Parliament.

In the early 90’s the left and anti-fascists had mobilised to stop the growth of the BNP following the election of Derek Beacon as a councilor in the Isle of Dogs. Yet some 15 years later the BNP have 2 MEP’s, almost 1 million votes across the UK, as much publicity as they want and millions of pounds of resources at their disposal over the next 5 years. Whilst Labour may have faced electoral losses at the polls last week it is communities up and down the country where the BNP spread their poison that will be the real losers. Figures show that wherever they are successful you see a rise in racist attacks and in community tensions.

We on the left have to accept that we have lost a battle in our bid to halt the rise of the BNP and have to learn some important lessons (and quickly) if we are to avoid losing the war.

At the time of the activity to stop the BNP following Beacon’s election the Labour party was experiencing a rise in support and membership as it headed for success at the 1997 General Election. A campaign to urge voters to vote for anybody but the BNP would often logically lead to arguing for votes for New Labour who, despite their drift to the right were still seen as a party who broadly represented the needs and aspirations of working class communities. Yet in 2009 to go into places that historically were Labour heartlands like Barnsley, Burnley and Oldham and advocate a vote for Labour would be treated with derision by working class people who feel abandoned by Labour and the other parties. Channel 4 this week reported on the findings of a YouGov poll that interviewed over 1,000 BNP voters. They reported;

“Yet, depending on how the term “racist” is precisely defined, our survey suggests that the label applies to only around a half of BNP voters. On their own, these votes would not have been enough to give the BNP either of the seats they won last night. There are two telling pieces of evidence that suggest wider causes of disenchantment. Seven out of 10 BNP voters (and almost as many Green and Ukip voters) think that “there is no real difference these between Britain’s three main parties”.

But perhaps the most startling finding came when we tested anecdotal reports that many BNP voters were old Labour sympathisers who felt that the party no longer speaks up for them. It turns out to be true. As many as 59 per cent of BNP voters think that Labour “used to care about the concerns of people like me but doesn’t nowadays”.

What is more worrying for Labour is that this sentiment is shared by millions of voters, way beyond the ranks of BNP voters. Overall, 63 per cent of the British public think Labour used to care about their concerns – and only 19 per cent think it does today.”

The BNP has occupied ground abandoned by the New Labour project. It is their failure to properly represent the needs and aspirations of what used to be Labour’s core vote that has seen the far right elected and Labour’s national share of the vote fall to under 16%. This sense of abandonment, allied to the greed and corruption displayed by many politicians during the expenses scandal in particular has also seen a sharp rise in the numbers of people abstaining in this and all other elections.

Whilst this trend gives us much cause for concern it also gives an insight into why a united left challenge in elections, involving all the different sections of the left, trade unionists, greens, other environmentalists and progressives could be successful. It would also provide a concrete option to propose to voters who refuse to vote Labour as a viable alternative to the BNP.

It is right that we challenge the growth of the BNP but we should not be obsessive as seeing combating them as our only strategy in the period ahead. We can best undermine the politics of racism, division and hate by promoting a different kind of agenda by concentrating on economic issues and socialist policies that can rejuvenate communities and pose a real alternative to the failures of capitalism. We can prove in action and deed that socialists active in their communities, united with others can offer a solution to the hopelessness and betrayal that drives people to either vote BNP or not vote at all.

Here in Scotland we are not faced with an imminent far right threat. Whilst we must remain vigilant we also must keep the levels of support for the BNP in perspective. The real battles ahead will come when the governments at Westminster and Holyrood increase their attacks on the public sector, public services and working class people in order to pay for the crisis in capitalism. This will see sharp increases in unemployment, attacks on standards of living, on wages and conditions and on the trade union movement.

In order to best resist these attacks then the left has a duty to seek ways in which we can work together.

This does not mean that we must immediately all rush to join a new party of the left here in Scotland. It is clear that there are deep divisions that cannot be healed in the short term. Given that a court case has still to take place it is folly to suggest that at this time the SSP and Solidarity can set aside differences and once again unite into the one party. However, there is absolutely no reason that we cannot discuss, along with the SLP, environmentalists and other progressive forces ways in which we ensure we do not stand against each other in elections. There is no reason where good relations exist between socialist activists locally that they cannot work and campaign together whilst remaining members of their own organisation.

More than that we can examine the possibility of uniting behind candidates that may be acceptable to all the different groups on the left whether they be a trade unionist, a community activist or a well known local campaigner. There are initiatives like the various charters that have been pulled together that we could unite behind creating a minimal programme that we can all agree on and support whilst retaining our individual identities and groupings.

The last NSC Management Committee instructed me to write to some trade union leaders in Scotland asking them to broker a meeting where all the different groups could come together and at least discuss the possibility of unity behind a candidate at the Glasgow North East by-election caused by the resignation of Michael Martin.

In that e-mail I said;

“We (in Solidarity) believe that this by-election offers an unrivaled opportunity for the left to try and put aside differences and unify in a temporary electoral pact or coalition. This will not be an easy task. It will require negotiation and compromise by all involved. There are deep divisions amongst groups on the left that make this kind of joint working difficult. Never the less, we believe we have a duty to working class communities like Glasgow North East to put aside those differences.

If the call for such unity was to come from either ourselves or one of the various parties of the left in Scotland then there is the likelihood that it would be treated with suspicion and be rejected by the others.

If however the call came from respected trade unionist then there is a much greater chance of the initiative succeeding.”

Our NSC will have to discuss this issue as a matter or urgency.

At the forthcoming General Election it is unlikely that any group would be in a position to seriously hope to win a seat. Therefore it should be perfectly reasonable to assume that agreements could be reached to ensure that only one left wing/socialist or progressive candidate is standing in any one seat. At the Scottish Elections this may prove more problematic on the list system. However given that election is still a few years away then a lot can happen before then.

This approach requires cool heads and a willingness to compromise for the good of the class. If the different groups go off and reach the conclusion that their party or sect or organisation provides the one true way forward then any initiative is doomed to failure.

We must look seriously at the failures of the left, even in this time of economic crisis to make any kinds of inroads. We in Solidarity were genuinely hopeful that No2EU could provide a unified left challenge at the Euro elections however that was not the case and we have to learn lessons from that experience.

As outlined above No2EU polled less than 1% in Scotland. The SLP, polled only 2% technically making them the largest of the socialist parties. However, despite having a handful of no doubt dedicated individuals they have absolutely no activist base in Scotland. Any name that includes both the terms “Socialist” and “Labour” means that despite lack of members, no profile and virtually no activity they will always pick up a residual left wing vote. In previous elections that has been enough to deprive the then unified SSP seats in areas like Fife. (2003 Scottish Elections.)

It is to be hoped that the SLP leadership do not draw the wrong conclusions from the results either last week or at the previous election in the Glasgow North East constituency. In the absence of the Labour party name on the ballot paper (it was the “speakers” constituency) the SLP polled a large number of votes that clearly were mistakenly meant for New Labour. The SLP enjoyed no similare success anywhere else during that election and could not even find a candidate from the city of Glasgow.

Despite having at least some activist base, more media coverage than all of the other small parties and continuity of a name that previously had been successful, the SSP polled less that 1% of the vote last week. This is a poor result for the party that cannot be explained away by constantly and simply blaming Solidarity and the split for the position they find themselves in.

Yet there were signs of what could be achieved by the left during last weeks poll. In Ireland we saw the fantastic election of Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party who received 13% of first preference votes whilst the People Before Profit coalition was successful in getting 5 councillors elected in the same country. Joe Higgins has proved that by having an outstanding record of fighting on behalf of his class and concentrating on issues that are relevant to people and putting forward socialist arguments success can be achieved.

We owe it to the working class of Scotland to make sure that we are seen to be trying to work with others to provide a coherent and viable socialist alternative to the chaos caused by capitalism. A by-election in Glasgow North East constituency would provide a perfect platform for a united left candidate, backed by trade unionists, the SLP, the SSP, Solidarity, left Greens and other progressive forces to unite on a minimal broad left programme and present the electorate with a clear left choice.

http://www.solidarityscotland.org/

The European Elections in Scotland

by Gregor Gall

We can expect that two fundamental themes will assert themselves in the forthcoming Euro elections. The first is that the Labour government does not care about working people and has presided over a recession where it has been unwilling (rather than unable) to help those who are the victims and punish those who are the culprits. The second is that with the continuing scandal of MPs’ expenses that all politicians are pretty much corrupt. Rather than one rotten apple in a barrel, the feeling is you’d be lucky to find one good and as yet uncontaminated apple amongst the rotten ones.

Of course, this may not lead voters to vote (or even be registered to vote). European elections – despite the importance of the European Union for the overall neo-liberal project – seem distant to many voters. The MPs’ expenses issue (which is habitual and writ large in the European Parliament already) may lead even more to register a protest by not voting.

Thus in the Euro (and local) elections, it is likely that Labour will receive a pounding and there be no clear beneficiary amongst the major mainstream parties. All this is true across the length and breadth of Britain. But in addition to this, there are two overlying features in Scotland. The first is the SNP and the second is the now fractured, and once relatively influential, left of Labour project.

After a honeymoon lasting about a year, the SNP minority government began to encounter its first substantial problems. None of this meant that it became a lame duck government but the problems it encountered did mean that it began to look less surefooted and less credible. Nonetheless, and because this was obviously not the result of the work of any other political parties, other political parties were not immediate beneficiaries. For example, there was no resurgent challenge from Labour which was still stuck within an internal debate about how it lost the 2007 election and what it could do to get itself out of its hole.

Then Labour did land its first body blow on the SNP. Labour ‘s Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy MP, skilfully translated in the light of the financial crisis and the recession the SNP’s independence strategy slogan of Scotland becoming part of the ‘arc of prosperity’ into Scotland becoming part of the ‘arc of insolvency’.

As the SNP had championed the Irish and Icelandic deregulated economies (and not the more social democratic Danish, Finnish, Swedish or Norwegian) as the exemplars to be emulated in Scotland’s drive to become an independent nation, suddenly the SNP looked like the emperor without any clothes, new or old.

But since then, and with consecutive Labour government actions having shown that Brown has not been able to ‘save the world’ – as his slip of the tongue suggested – the SNP has regained some of its confidence and credibility.

An article last week in the Financial Times, commemorating the tenth anniversary of devolution, compiled a poll of polls over the last decade which showed that the recent dip in support for both the SNP and independence has been reversed and is again strong. This indicates that there has been a move back to the sense that Labour is to blame for the economic mess and that the union is not the saviour of economic well-being in Scotland.

Although the SNP has not been immune to the MPs’ expenses scandals, it has been a minnow by comparison to the Labour and Tory parties here and it has not been rocked by any such scandals concerning its MSPs in Holyrood.

So the SNP can expect to do reasonably well in the Euro elections and thus be in a strong position to mount a challenge – notwithstanding future events – in the general election next year and the Scottish elections in 2011. The underlying rationale it has on the independence front has been to prove that it is sensible party of government so that voters should not fear independence (or independence under an SNP government).

The fault line in its project here is probably the tension between it social democratic leaning social policies and its neo-liberal, big business supporting economic policies. As the centre of political gravity in Scotland is to the left, the SNP may up disappointing many of its supporters here, who turned to it as a result of anger and dismay with the Scottish Labour Party.

Now turning to the second particular aspect of the Scottish situation, the same situation for the SNP of ‘steady as she goes’ cannot be said for the SSP and Solidarity. Both have failed – and/or been unable – to regain credibility and momentum since the wipe out of 2007 and the events preceding this.

Last August, the SSP national council decided to contest the Euro elections but this decision was reversed at a national council in January 2009 when activists around former MSP Frances Curran argued that the SSP would be better to spend the money involved in contesting the election on other campaigns, the party could not afford to mount a campaign and that the decision to contest the elections was not a representative one.

Subsequently, this decision was reversed by many of the activists who voted to not stand changing their mind and voting to stand when the issue was considered again at the party’s annual conference in April. What led to the change of heart? Was it that the arguments of those for standing won through?

Maybe they did reflect on those arguments but the catalyst to generating the reflection was the announcement of the No2EU slate and Solidarity’s – and specifically Tommy Sheridan’s – involvement within the slate. Although CPB member, John Foster, heads the slate in Scotland, Tommy Sheridan is number two and Leah Ganley (another Solidarity member) number three respectively. To the press, the lead candidate is actually Tommy Sheridan and thus to many people this will also be their perception.

Whilst there are policy differences between the SSP and No2EU – certainly more than there are between the SSP and Solidarity – there are still no compelling reasons as to why, in this time of the most serious crisis of neo-liberalism and all that this entails, that the socialist and radical left should again present a divided and self-ridiculing front to the electorate. (It is also the case that the Socialist Labour Party will stand).

This is another act of political suicide which merely reinforces the perception – and thus to a large extent actuality – that the left in Scotland outside Labour is a basket case. For the SSP, it will be lucky to get 1% of the vote. Whether it beats No2EU is immaterial. As Colin Fox has remarked before – in the run up to the 2007 elections- this will thus be a case again of ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’.

What are the longer term outcomes of this? Without applying themselves to community and workplaces campaigns or more general campaigns that have a resonance to and presence in these (and in more conducive conditions which are largely out of their control), standing in the European elections appears as a form of activity which makes the SSP and Solidarity look like they are doing something. But in this situation, it is neither a substitute nor alternative for the much harder tasks of rebuilding themselves, both internally and externally. It will not provide the lift-off for the 2010 and 2011 elections for the left of Labour project.

The process of rebuilding this left in Scotland is likely to take up to a decade and it may take place in a different form. One reason for saying this is that the PCS union is likely to begin a process this week coming at its annual conference of undertaking a year-long consultation with members which leadership hopes will result in a situation of PCS standing public service candidates in elections from mid-2010 onwards. This could provide a means of providing a productive and organising focus for the discontent amongst the left led unions in a way that the RMT-backed No2EU initiative is unlikely to be able to do in the longer term.

Gregor Gall is Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Hertfordshire but lives in Edinburgh and is a member of the SSP and an editorial board member of the Scottish Left Review.