George Galloway pays tribute to Tony Benn

Tony-BennI was a “Bennite” (which became a considerable term of abuse in the 1980s) since the 1960s. I was brought up in a Labour household in which the premiership of Harold Wilson was the sun and in his constellation Mr Benn was the brightest of the many stars clustered around that Labour cabinet. There were so many stars – James Callaghan Roy Jenkins Barbara Castle Tony Crosland Richard Crossman Dennis Healey George Brown – but even in that company, the young, fresh-faced, bursting with ideas Wedgwood-Benn (as he was then known) stood out.

For us he seemed to exemplify the “white-hot heat” of the “technological revolution” – Mr Wilson’s wheeze for disguising his socialist purpose from a hostile media and the “Gnomes of Zurich” who, even then with their financial power had the means of destroying any real Labour government. Mr Benn was brimful of innovative unorthodoxy, and seemed just what the doctor ordered.
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SNP councillor pleads guilty to Threatening and Abusive Behaviour towards a disabled campaigner

SNP Councillor Billy McAllister has entered a guilty plea to acting in a threatening, abusive and aggressive manner towards disabled anti-bedroom tax campaigner John Park, who is a member of the Scottish political party, Solidarity.

Glasgow Sherriff Court heard earlier this week that the Councillor for the City’s Canal Ward and Deputy Leader of the SNP Group was so aggressive when he shouted to Mr Park that he was “almost spitting” and had to be forcefully held back and was eventually dragged away. McAllister pleaded guilty to acting in a threatening or abusive manner and shouting, swearing and gesticulating aggressively towards Mr Park at an Anti-Bedroom Tax meeting held in Possilpark on May 29, last year.

Tommy Sheridan has added his voice to those calling for Councillor McAllister to be removed from his position by the SNP. Mr Sheridan who has spoken at over 90 meetings against the bedroom tax over the past year said;

“John Park’s only ‘crime’ was attending an anti-bedroom tax meeting and building opposition to that vile attack on the poor and disabled. As a bedroom tax victim himself John Park knows what he is talking about and the way he was subjected to threats of violence from Billy McAllister is totally unacceptable and deserves to be unconditionally condemned by all who believe in democracy and a tolerant society. Hopefully ordinary SNP members will join in condemnation of McAllister’s behaviour just as they did with Labour MP Eric Joyce.”

“Councillor McAllister admitted to acting like a thug and threatening John with physical violence. Yet in June of 2013 when he was interviewed by Radio Free Scotland he made a series of unfounded and scurrilous claims against John Park and Solidarity stating that it was “he” who had been the victim of violence, threats and intimidation. Strange then to find when he appeared in court he did not contest the charge that it was he who had threatened John Park and acted in a manner unbefitting of an elected representative of Glasgow City Council. Nowhere in that extensive interview did Councillor McAllister indicate that he had been the aggressor, or, as he stated in court that he had behaved in this manner in response to Mr Park making reference to the suicide of his brother. John Park did not know who Billy McAllister was never mind know about his family history. For McAllister to suggest this reflects further on the very poor character of the man.”
“The SNP should act now and remove Councillor McAllister. If serious disciplinary action is not now taken by the SNP against their member and councillor then their professed belief in zero tolerance of violence will lie in tatters. Time will tell.”

Farewell to Tony Benn

tony-benn

Enoch Powell once said that all political careers end in failure; this is certainly not true of Tony Benn who never wavered from his commitment to peace, social justice and parliamentary socialism, and continued to passionately promote his beliefs throughout the ups and downs of his career, and who did not give up active politics even after leaving parliament. What is more, Benn triumphed over the mean spirited campaign of vilification that he endured from the tabloid press.

Benn’s greatest strength was his complete confidence that the power of popular democracy would triumph, and that while the vicissitudes of political fortune might wax or wane, and that the reputations of individual politicians may ebb and flow; the democratic instinct of ordinary people was a foundation of rock upon which progressive politics can be built, now, and in the future.

He will be greatly missed.

picture credit from this interview with Benn about the Middle East

79% fall in Employment Tribunal cases due to new fees

Charging £250 to issue a claim and between £960 and £1,060 for a hearing has priced workers out of tribunals since 29th July last year.

New figures from the government show that for employment tribunals the number of claims received in October to December 2013 was 9,801 – 79% fewer than in the same period of 2012, and 75% fewer than last quarter. Justice Minister Shailesh Vara claims that this sudden and dramatic fall is due to “long term trends”

Maria Ludkin, GMB’s National Corporate Affairs and Legal Officer said, “These figures confirm our fears that government changes to time limits and introduction of fees has had devastating impact on access to justice for working people. To suggest a 79% reduction is part of a long term declining trend is frankly laughable. Charging £250 to issue a claim and between £960 and £1,060 for a hearing has priced workers out of tribunals since 29th July last year. We predicted that this would happen but it fell on deaf ears in a government made up of the multimillionaire elite.”

Some thoughts on the sad passing of Brother Crow

Bob CrowA personal aspect in how shocked I was at Bob Crow’s early death is that he is almost exactly the same age as me, born just one day earlier, and indeed not many miles distant.

I didn’t know the man personally, although we had spoken on a few occasions over the years.

Now is not the time to debate the complex issues of whether the RMT’s industrial and political strategy has been an overall success; although there is a debate to be had there. The RMT’s strategy has of course also not sprung from the head of one man: it has also been shaped by other leading members of that union, and endorsed by their elected governing committees.

Bob Crow was the leader of an industrial transport union with particular strengths and opportunities, and he played the hand of cards he was dealt, with no small skill. Exhortations from some commentators that other unions should learn from the RMT model need to be contextualised by recognising the different membership demographics, membership densities, and economic and social clout.

However, the sad occasion of Brother Crow’s passing is a fitting time to reflect on the personal strengths of the man. There is enormous personal responsibility in trade union leadership, especially as general secretary. Every industrial dispute is pregnant not only with the possibility of victory, but also of defeat. Every industrial dispute requires the membership to be held together: inspired, persuaded and motivated to act. Every industrial dispute involves danger that the management has developed plans for a counter-attack on the union. The stakes are high as the livelihoods of members and activists are in the balance.

Bob Crow never believed that trade unionism was all about cultivating a comfortable affinity with management; though of course he understood that all trades disputes are ultimately resolved by negotiation, and industrial action is just the pursuit of negotiation by other means. Crow therefore recognized the importance of outlining areas of common ground with management, and of the travelling public, for example a commitment to the public service aspects of the transport industry.

The skills behind successful trade unionism require some unglamorous work of networking, capacity building, training and building loyalty, trust and identity with the union from the members. But it also requires qualities of psychology and combativity. Bob Crow was adept at using the media, knowing that every strike ballot is a news story. He also had the skill which military experts used to call coup d’oeil – the ability to quickly assess the point of weakness to attack.

Above all, Bob Crow had moral courage. He was prepared to take responsibility, and to maintain resolution, even when he was the target of extraordinary hostile media attention, and even in the face of set-backs. This is a genius of leadership that is rare and also necessary.

Bob probably dealt with this hostile media pressure, as many do, by adopting a public persona as a carapace, he also of course had the respect and support of other RMT leaders and members; but nevertheless it takes a strong person to resist, and no one that faces the bullying of the tabloids comes away unscathed. Bob Crow was also subject to more insidious pressures to conform even within our movement, which he admirably resisted.

It is not surprising that the response to Bob’s death has seen such strong expressions of affection and respect. He was a truly admirable trade union leader who has left us too early, unbowed and undefeated.

The regretable closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF)

In November 2013 a successful appeal was made to the High Court to stop the government from closing down the Independent Living Fund (ILF).

The ILF allows around 18,000 disabled people with complex care and support needs the opportunity to more easily interact within the wider community.

On March 6th it was announced that following an equality impact assessment the government felt confident to justify their decision to close the scheme.

The Trade Union Disability Alliance strongly condemns the government for choosing to take this route.

In taking this course they have:

  • expressed a complete disregard for disabled people;
  • shown an indifference to the Court of Appeal decision; and,
  • flouted the right of independent living that is enshrined as one of the principles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

TUDA believes that due to postcode lotteries and an ever dwindling public purse that local authorities would not be able to offer the same level of support and care afforded by the ILF.

And that as a result a shortfall in care packages will result in many thousands of disabled people facing a loss of independence which could result in:

  • unemployment;
  • economic exclusion;
  • social exclusion; and,
  • personal loneliness.

Yet again, the Liberal-Democrat and Conservative government has not only failed to protect vulnerable people, but has specifically targeted them. It is shameful.

Andrew Murray’s reply to Richard Seymour on the Ukrainian crisis

Andrew Murray

21st Century Manifesto

Richard Seymour is a busy man – in the last year alone he has organised a split from the SWP and then, in time-honoured fashion, a warp-speed split from the split. The former was over rape allegations, the latter over (I may not have this completely right) the analysis of a chair, a dominatrix and people generally being rude to one another. The class nature of the GDR no longer provides enough juice for far-left divisions, it seems, but their enterprise in finding new energy sources is admirable.

Stepping out of this Wolfie Smith-comes-over-all-intersectional world, Seymour takes issue with Lindsey German’s article on the Ukraine crisis. Click to continue reading