Left Unity – the limits of the personal and the political

You will recall that we recently discussed controversy in group, Left Unity, over the attempts by some members to seek clarification of the role played by Bianca Todd as an employer in the past, where her employees successfully took her to a Employment Tribunal.

Ms Todd has subsequently resigned as principal speaker of Left Unity, saying she’s going to re-stand in order to get a vote of confidence. She claims she’s been under sustained personal attack (because of course, worries about her withholding workers’ wages are just personal rather than political).

Below is the email sent out to Left Unity National Council.

Position of Principal Speaker

Following from what I can only describe as a systematic sustained attack on me for over the past six months. I have come to the decision that in order to remain true to the principles of the party, which for me is about accountability, doing politics differently and ensuring that members have a real voice within the party I feel that it is essential for me, to resign from the position of principal speaker.

I take this decision in order that the party can remain true to its principles, it will also allow those who have been my critics to nominate a person who they feel will meet the needs of the post, although it is my intention to stand for this position again at the re-election.

I apologise for the additional work that this re-election will create, however it is the only way that I can currently see to address the issues that have arisen and enable the focus of the work to move from personalities back to politics.

Yours in Solidarity,
Bianca Todd

Syrian Kurds need support

Morning Star Editorial

Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) battling to defend Kobane are effectively fighting on two fronts — against both Isis terrorist forces and Turkey’s corrupt government.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who presides over a big business administration with an Islamist tinge, has announced baldly that Kobane will fall.

He is urged by Washington to help defeat Isis but remains indifferent because his priority is to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Erdogan makes clear that Turkish intervention will have clear guidelines — a Turkish buffer area on Syrian territory to corral refugees, a no-fly zone to ground Syrian warplanes and the explicit aim of replacing the Assad regime.

Millions of Kurds and their supporters are in the streets of Turkey and other countries demanding that Ankara ends its de facto collaboration with Isis.

The BBC informs us that the demonstrators demand Turkish army action to relieve Kobane.

Nothing like it. The last thing that the Kurds of Kobane or Kurdish regions of Turkey now subject to a state of emergency need or want is Turkish troops marching over them.

Kobane needs reinforcements and weapons supplies, but Ankara has closed the border to obstruct Turkey’s Kurds from assisting their cousins in Syria.

What a contrast to the Turkish government’s earlier stance of allowing thousands of jihadists, trained and financed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, free entry into Syria to join the anti-Assad struggle.

US Vice-President Joe Biden hit the nail on the head last week when he told a Harvard University meeting that these states had “poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons against anyone who would fight Assad.”

All these supplies, together with the military assets surrendered by the corrupt and unmotivated Iraqi army, have ended up in the hands of Isis and the al-Qaida-affiliated Al-Nusra Front.

That’s why the siege of Kobane is fought between one side that has tanks, artillery and mortars and another with automatic rifles and grenades.

Washington’s much-touted anti-Isis military alliance has launched some air strikes around Kobane and may have eased the tightening stranglehold on the town, but it is window dressing that covers up a lack of clear thinking.

Nato-led imperialist forces, including Britain, have been up to their necks in boosting Isis and other obscurantist elements because of their hostility to Assad, Iran and their allies in Lebanon and Iraq.

If David Cameron had had his way, British bombers would have played the role of the Isis air force a year ago.

Barack Obama appears now to view Isis as a greater threat to the US than Assad, even though he forced Biden to apologise so as not to alienate his Turkish and Arab allies.

The US president understands what a propaganda boost it would be for Isis to capture Kobane in the face of US air strikes and what a humiliation it would be for Washington and its allied air armada.

Kobane will not be saved by token air strikes. Nor will they rid Syria and Iraq of Isis.

The Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi governments are key to resolving this issue, as is the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is falsely labelled a terrorist organisation.

Nato member states, including the US, have to rethink previous self-defeating positions, drop their sanctions against the anti-Isis alliance and send arms to those in the front line of this epic struggle.

A breath of fresh air

Mark Perryman reviews an exceptionally strong list of autumn political reading

This autumn has been dominated already by two lots of morbid symptoms. The unseemly sight of Labour Unionism cosying up to theTories, Lib­Dems, the financial and media establishment in defence of the ancien regime. Accompanied by Ukip’s spectacularand seemingly irresistible rise, now fracturing the Tory Right’s vote more effectively than ever, the protest vote that just won’t go away.

What possible cause for any optimism then? Because outside of the parliamentary parties’ mainstream there is a revived freshness ofideas. Two writers in particular serve to symbolise such brightness of purpose. Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things is the latest collection of her writing. The spiky subversiveness of Laurie’s journalism best summed up by her book’s sub­title ‘sex, lies and revolution’. This is feminism with no apologies given, no compromises surrendered and a sharp­edged radicalism all the better for both. The Establishment by Owen Jones is every bit as much a reason for igniting readers’ optimism but also the cause of a quandary. Owen is an unrepentant Bennite, a body of ideas and activists with next to no influence in Miliband Labour. The organised Left outside of Labour in England at any rate, borders on the non-existent. Owen is described on the book’s cover by Russell Brand no less as ‘Our generation’s Orwell’ a bold yet fitting accolade. Yet Owen’s writing aims, like Laurie’s, at something beyond being simply a critical media voice. Quite how, is the quandary for both.
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The spirit of 1945 revisited

Politics is a cruel game, and there is a developing narrative from some in the Labour Party that next year’s general election campaign is in trouble. According to this sorry tale, all the money has been spent in Scotland, Ed didn’t make a good enough conference speech, and the party is either to rash or too cautious on policy depending on your preference. It is therefore worth stepping back and looking for some perspective.

First of all, while it is fashionable to nostalgically look back at the landslide of 1945, which with the benefit of hindsight was our greatest achievement, how did that election look before the event.

The 1944 conference had a particularly flat mood, as the party was pessimistic about its prospects. And the period of 1943 and 1944 had seen the party riven by factionalism. In 1943 the party had a furious row over the implementation of Beveridge that led to Ernest Bevin withdrawing entirely from party life, and effectively withdrawing the support from the biggest union, TGWU, from the party. This rift was not healed until March 1945. Bevin continued in government, but not as part of the Labour Party.
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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.