GMB cleaners strike over pay

GMB members employed by contractor ISS at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich are taking part in 24 hours of strike action which started at 6am this morning.

Over 200 GMB members are employed by ISS at the hospital as cleaners, security, ward hostesses, caterers, on the switchboard and as porters. Members want the same pay rates and weekend enhancements and unsocial hours rates as the staff directly employed by the Trust.

ISS workers are paid between £7.10 and £7.32 per hour. The lowest rate for directly employed staff is £7.33 ph which moves in yearly increments to £7.51 and £7.69 under the current NHS pay progression system.
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Philosophy Football: 20 years of success

perryman's 20 years

The predecessor project to the Socialist Unity, the Socialist Unity Network website started about ten years ago, and there have been a number of political collaborations along the way. Those associated with the project at one time or another, have included Salman Shaheen and Jim Jepps, Louise Whittle, John Nicholson, and others.

One of the most lasting relationships has been with Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football, and I am delighted to see that the literally self-styled “outfitters of intellectual distinction” are celebrating their 20th anniversary. One of the distinctive traits that SU has tried to champion, is that despite sharp debate, we have never believed that any single part of the left has privileged access to the truth, and there have been a few times when Mark has sharply disagreed with articles or comments on this blog. I regard that as a good thing.

One of the great strengths of Hugh Tisdale and Mark Perryman is that they have robustly ploughed their own furrow, and demonstrated that politics is not one-size-fits-all endeavour. Not only have they produced a huge number of T-shirts that allow people to demonstrate their left wing sensibilities (including a number worn by Tommy Sheridan on Celebrity Big Brother), but they have combined this with organizing a regular series of cultural events. As Mark himself says “The revolution is just a T-shirt away? Sadly not though by working with the TUC, Unison, Unite, GMB, FBU, RMT and others we’ve found a T-shirt is perhaps one of the best ways to wear our hearts on our sleeves, or to be strictly accurate on our chests! ”
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Men and women fighters of the YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Unit) are literally fighting for their lives resisting an attempt by the forces of Islamic State (IS) to take the town of Kobane in northern Syria, just across the border from Turkey. They are doing so with light weapons against an enemy which has tanks and heavy artillery, and at time of writing their prospects look bleak. Indeed, if the most recent reports are to be believed the Kurds’ resistance in Kobane is about to be drowned in blood.

The sheer bankruptcy of Western policy vis-a-vis the region and with regard to IS is now laid bare. In northern Iraq we are talking about a Sunni uprising in response to the Western puppet and corrupt government of Nouri al-Maliki, which extended itself whilst in power in excluding Iraq’s Sunni majority in central and northern Iraq from the political process, as it set about imposing Shia control over the government and the Iraqi economy. The irony here is that it was only with the cooperation of the very same Sunni tribes in the north of the country that the US occupation forces were able to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq between 2005-09.

Those same tribes are now supporting IS, viewing the Baghdad government as the greater enemy. The Iraqi Army, moreover, after the US spent a fortune building, equipping, and training it, has proved utterly inept – to the point where IS are almost at the gates of Baghdad.
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Scottish Left Review looks back at the Scottish independence referendum

This month’s Scottish Left Review is well worth a read. It brings together a considerable array of voices from both the Yes and No sides of the argument to analyse the referendum and ponder where the left in Scotland goes next.

Among those contributing are the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood, Labour’s Neil Findlay and Tommy Kane, Colin Fox, John Foster, John McDonnell MP, and Cat Boyd from RIC.

I also contribute a piece (below).

You can obtain a copy either by downloading the PDF from the website or by purchasing a hard copy, again via the website. If accessing the PDF please consider making a donation.

A close call and a considerable challenge


John Wight

The telling aspect of the most historic election in UK political history was not the unprecedented 85 percent turnout. Nor was it the achievement of the Yes campaign in mobilising and bringing thousands of people across Scotland into political engagement and activity. It was not even the resignation of SNP leader Alex Salmond the day after the election, which added a Shakespearean quality to what had already been a dramatic period in Scottish history.
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Destabilizing UNITE is helping the bosses and the Tories

I was disappointed to see in the Times yesterday, that unsuccessful UNITE leadership candidate, Jerry Hicks, had persevered with his complaint to the certification officer about alleged misconduct in the UNITE general secretary election, seeking to force a rerun.

Union politics is often complicated, and some people did criticise me for previously publicizing the difficulties with UCATT’s GS elections, but in that case more than half of those eligible to vote had not been balloted in accordance with the union’s rule book. The argument for not balloting them may have been sound, but elections must be conducted within the rules, if they are not to bring the union’s democracy into question, and the difference between those entitled to vote and those who could vote was huge. In that case the Certification Office agreed, as UCATT claimed 130000 members, but only balloted 56,867. In that case, the Certification officer David Cockburn said: “In my judgement the election was so flawed as to be a nullity.”

However, in the very different case of Len McCluskey’s reelection, the disputed issue is about 158000 out of compliance electors who were sent ballot papers, of whom only 3% voted, roughly 5000 voters.

McCluskey won the election by a margin of some 60000, and there is no reason to suppose that the overall election result would have been decisively affected.

The benchmark should be whether or not an action leaves the union movement stronger or weaker. To be honest, Jerry Hicks seems to have lost the plot here, and challenging the GS result now can only be a weakening distraction, while hundreds of thousands of Unite members are struggling with precarious employment, low wages, and being squeezed by rising bills and bullying managers.

The TUC Congress motion on TTIP

The following motion was passed two weeks ago at TUC Congress. While this is old news, I have been meaning to write something about TTIP, and simply have not had the time. Hope you find this useful:

Congress is extremely concerned about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade treaty, a wide-ranging trade deal giving unprecedented power and influence to transnational corporations that would become the benchmark for all future trade agreements, currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA and recognises the threat posed. While there may be economic benefits in reducing trade tariffs and reviewing regulation for certain industrial sectors, Congress believes that the primary purpose of TTIP is to extend corporate investor rights.

A key element of the TTIP is the introduction of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, which would act as a tribunal/arbitration. The ISDS could see millions of pounds paid out to those big private sector corporations should NHS services be brought back into the public sector in the future.

As with all trade agreements, TTIP is being negotiated mainly in secret. The current negotiations lack transparency and proper democratic oversight.

TTIP would:

a) allow corporations to sue sovereign states, elected governments and other authorities legislating in the public interest where this curtails their ability to maximise their profits, by recourse to an Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism;

b) threaten the future of our NHS and other key public services;
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ISIS at the gates of Baghdad

Patrick Cockburn’s latest article in The Independent is a sobering wake up call as to the extent of the collapse of the Iraqi Army against ISIS and the very real prospect of the group entering Baghdad sooner rather than later.

If they do the ensuing bloodbath would be of a magnitude we haven’t yet seen in this part of the world, which given its recent history is saying something.
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The road to Damascus

Paradoxically, it is unusually difficult in a democratic society for politicians to oppose wars. I know that it is hard to envisage an elected government lying to take a country to war unlawfully, but this really did happen when President Polk invaded Mexico in 1846.

The war stood in stark contrasts to the ideals of the American republic, and the Whig party opposed the war. Indeed Whig Congressman Abraham Lincoln from Illinois brilliantly exposed the lies and inaccuracies that the government had used to hoodwink the public. Consequently, despite his manifest talents, he lost his Illinois seat at the next election, and its opposition to the war deeply weakened the Whig party, contributing to its extinction not long after.

British participation in a war against the soi-disant “Islamic State” is undoubtedly popular. It is also undoubtedly legal, as the Iraqi government has asked for military assistance within its sovereign territory. Even were the war to extend into Syria, this could be legally justified if it were to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe; and it could be argued that IS operates only in areas where the writ of sovereign authority of the Syrian government does not hold.

It is also true that only military action can contain and defeat ISIS. I have written before that it is a warlord polity, that has grown into a vacuum where the sovereign states have lost their monopoly of the use of armed force. As a warlord polity it has no civic infrastructure, and a coalition of interests holds together a military force through momentum, patronage and charisma. Military reverses may well see the whole structure collapse. (Historically, warlord polities have also sometimes been ended through absorption back into the state – but sectarian Jihadi ideology, global ambitions and political unacceptablity means that this simply cannot happen with ISIS)

However, this does not mean that British military action is right nor appropriate, nor that the US led coalition is going to succeed. There are real dangers in entering any war where the military objectives are open ended, and the political objectives are unclear.

General Lord Richards, former head of the UK military, today said that ISIS cannot be defeated without ground forces. Indeed, a global coalition of air power arrayed against ISIS, including the Western powers may enhance the “lost cause glamour” and defiant rebel charisma of the terrorists; unless ISIS can also be defeated on the ground.

But whose ground troops would they be, and what would their objective be? The US led coalition includes states like Qatar and UAE who themselves have backed Islamist movements, and many of the military allies assembled may regard the Damascus government of Assad as a greater enemy than ISIS. Would Turkey be happy to see ISIS defeated by Kurdish forces in northern Syria?

The USA has entered into a war that will almost inevitably be shaped by the regional aspirations of its allies; and the tail will wag the dog, as the US gets embroiled in the complexities of civil war in Syria and embroiled again in confessional division in Iraq.
It was a mistake for the British government to make an open ended military commitment without any pre-defined criteria for success, and no exit strategy. ISIS does need to be defeated, but that can only be done by first agreeing a regional political framework, and agreed military and political objectives; and this cannot be done by pretending that the Syrian government of Assad does not exist.

Not for the first time, Peter Oborne at the Telegraph has been a beacon of common sense.

The literal-minded Americans are determined to destroy ISIS, and are ready to make the necessary compromises. This is why they have opened up unofficial lines of communication with Assad through intermediaries in Damascus and elsewhere. However, Saudi Arabia (which carried on backing ISIS up to the early spring of this year, almost certainly with the tacit approval of Britain and America) remains preoccupied with the destruction of Assad. 
[... ...]

For [ISIS], the Saudi role in this week’s air attack gives fresh credibility to [ISIS leader, Al Baghdadi's] claim that the regime in Riyadh is a catspaw of the United States. No wonder that the Saudis contributed only four F-16s to the attack. Meanwhile, Qatar (owner of the Shard and the Olympic Village, host of the 2022 World Cup and all-round friend of Britain) deployed its Mirages, but dropped no bombs. Turkey has done its best to remain on good terms with all sides, including ISIS. Meanwhile, Israel is reported to be cooperating with the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra against Assad, thus consolidating its quiet alliance with the Arab states. (The shooting down of a Syrian plane by the Israelis should probably be seen in the context of this unlikely friendship.)

Amid this military and political shambles, one central fact is obvious: the coalition has no reliable partner on the ground. Three armed groups have proved themselves capable of confronting ISIS on the battlefield – the Syrian army; Hezbollah; and the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia. America and others are not prepared to work openly with any of these, because doing so would destroy the alliance with Saudi Arabia, and hence the anti-ISIS coalition.

There is a terrible logic here that air war will lead to ground war, and that ground war extending into Syria will involve conflict against Assad’s forces, and further chaos, war and destablisation.