Save Our NHS: Portsmouth!

June 13, 2011

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Andrew Lansley Must Resign!

June 9, 2011

 

‘Were I Andrew Lansley I would resign over this issue.” So claimed Mike Hancock, Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South when presented with a ‘Save Our NHS’ petition by local anti-cuts campaigners, health workers and trade unionists.

Hancock, who sat on the committee which scrutinised the government’s bill to cut and privatise the National Health Service, was unable to answer why the Health Secretary of his government had failed to consult the public during the recent ‘listening exercise’, and was presented with evidence that the original consultancy process had been stage managed to avoid dissent from health workers.

The campaigners also demanded a full public enquiry into Andrew Lansley’s connections to the private health companies which stand to profit from the proposed bill.

While Hancock wished to distance himself from the bill, and the policies of his Government, he is no politician of principle; having achieved the rare political hat trick of  having defected from Labour to the SDP to form the Liberal Democrats before being the first MP to appear on national news to praise the coalition agreement with the Conservatives.  

The campaigners are following this event with petitioning of Tory MPs Penny Mordant of Portsmouth North and Caroline Dinenage of Gosport while building up to the launch of a new ‘Save Our NHS Portsmouth’ campaign, which is backed by the City’s Trades Council, to  stand against all cuts and privatisation to the National Health Service.

Campaign Launch Meeting: Thursday 23rd June, Portsmouth Central Library, 7.30pm

More Info: SaveourNHSportsmouth@gmail.com

Picture Credit:  Sarah Standing/Portsmouth News (112021-8056)

Nuclear Crisis: A Socialist Solution for Energy and the Environment

April 4, 2011

In scenes reminiscent of the desperate attempts by BP to stem last year’s oil spill, emergency workers at Japan’s Fukushima power plant have begun pouring a mixture of sawdust, absorbent polymers and newspapers into a pit connected to the damaged reactor to stop leaking radioactive water pouring into the ocean.

 Tragically the bodies of two workers have also been recovered from the site, yet as workers die and evacuees from towns in the shadow of the plant face the invisible threat of radiation the world has been split on the issue of nuclear power.  

 In Germany mass protests have led Chancellor Merkel to announce a freeze on the development of future power stations, while in the UK liberal-environmentalist George Monbiot writes: “As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.”

 Monbiot has turned towards nuclear energy as he believes that renewable energy is not a realistic alternative under capitalism. Nuclear power, Monbiot argues, is better for the environment when it goes wrong, than a coal power station when it’s working right.

 If the world’s energy is to be left to the anarchy of the profit driven free market than Monbiot may be right. Yet why should the issue of energy, fundamental to the workings of modern society yet potentially disastrous for the environment, be left to a system which puts the profit of the few before the needs of the millions?

 This catastrophic drive for profit is typified by Tepco, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, which not only owns the nuclear plant at Fukushima, but holds the monopoly over power to Tokyo and eight of Japan’s prefectures.

 Tepco is the forth largest power company in the world, yet as the ongoing crisis continues to prove, it has a deplorable record of placing profits before safety.

 In 2002 it was revealed that Tepco had forged safety inspection reports for its nuclear plants, while according to CNN the seismologist Yukinobu Okamura warned Tepco safety executives that the aging Fukushima plant was vulnerable to damage from a tsunami.

 The solution, over the head of Monbiot’s debate about what can be achieved within the constraints of capitalism, is to reject the free market in favour of a socialist plan for energy as part of a wider democratically planned economy.

 With a socialist planed economy, with democratic worker’s control at its heart, energy production can be determined by social need, not by profiteering executives.

The nationalisation of the energy giants, under worker’s control, would allow for a massive investment in renewable sources of energy which are environmentally friendly, but are deemed ‘unprofitable’ by the executives. 

 As the crisis at Fukushima continues to unfold with tragic consequences, it is vital that we not only reject the technology which has threatened and failed communities from Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, but reject the mismanagement of our energy supply inherent under capitalism, in favour of a socialist alternative which fulfils the needs of both our society and the environment. 

  • Nationalise Tepco and the giant energy corporations under democratic worker’s control
  • For investment in sources of renewable energy, based on needs not profit
  • For a socialist plan for energy as part of a wider democratically planned economy

The Promise: Review

February 25, 2011

To make a TV series about the origins of the state of Israel is to walk into the lion’s den, so inevitable are the criticisms made by supporters, armchair and actual, of each ‘side’. It is then no small achievement that Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise (Channel 4) largely succeeds in drawing out the key themes of the conflict through a compelling drama which gives the conflict a human face.

 The four part series is split between two moments in history, the twilight years of the British mandate of Palestine in 1946 and the second Intifada of 2005. To tie the two the narrative is divided between Sergeant Len Matthews, part of the British occupying force, and his granddaughter Erin.

The opening shots reveal that Len, a paratrooper, took part in the Liberation of Bergan Belsen concentration camp, unflinchingly showing footage of the camps to highlight the huge role that the industrial slaughter of the Holocaust played on the collective memory of the Jewish people post-1945.

From Belsen Len is moved to Mandate Palestine, where he is forced to guard camps of Jewish refugees that are teeming off ships such as the Exodus, carrying refugees from Europe to their promised land. To say Len is pro-Jewish or pro-Zionist at this point would be too clear cut, but it is clear that after witnessing the horrors of Nazism he believes the survivors deserve something better.

From here Len is thrust into the developing Jewish insurgency, led by the underground Irgun. As the series develops he survives the bombing of the British HQ at the King David Hotel, an ambush by guerillas, and a betrayal by his Zionist girlfriend before he is finally held hostage while his friends are executed.

For Len the story arc is clear, his sympathies great as they were for the Zionist cause turn to hatred of the Irgun and leads to his own tragedy, which isn’t revealed until the final part.

As an example of storytelling The Promise falls to some of the predicable plot devices which beset many historical dramas. Characters inevitably fall in love, discover unknown historical connections and consistently find themselves at the centre of unfolding events.

From a historical perspective it also sidesteps some hugely significant aspects of the conflict. The central story arc throughout the Mandate section of the drama frames the conflict between the Zionist guerilla group, the Irgun and the British occupies. This ignores the fact the British army initially armed and trained the official Jewish defense force, the Hagganah and that the Jewish Agency of David Ben-Gurion operated as a semi-open shadow government, while it was the more extreme groups such as Irgun and the Stern Gang which carried out terror attacks, such as the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946.

The most important aspect of the conflict from this period which is missing is of course the Palestinian Arab population, portrayed by a single family. This not only ignores the fact that the Arab population formed the overwhelming majority of Palestine at this time, but similarly overlooks the role Arabic groups played in the struggle against both British occupiers and the Zionist movement. Indeed the British decision to limit Jewish immigration in 1946 was not, as the film implies, a decision taken in London alone, but was a concession to Arab rioting. The story also ignores the Arabic guerilla movement which carried out attacks on both British forces and the Jewish Agency, revealing that like their Jewish adversaries, the Arabs played the roles of victim and fighter both.

In the modern scenes the major flaw, beyond the contrived relationships and coincidences used to drive the plot, is the character of Erin, who seems at best indifferent to her environment and at worst willfully ignorant to its complexities as she shops in Tel Aviv and stomps around the West Bank.

Erin’s story begins with the discovery of her now ailing grandfather’s diary, days before she is to take a tenuous journey to Israel to spend her gap year living with the parents of her best friends, who has been called up for national service with the IDF.

From start to end Erin is intent to strop her way through cultural and political sensitivities; inviting a former Palestinian prisoner to dine with her host, who is a retired general; forcing an elderly Palestinian man to visit the home he left 60-years before and of course becoming romantically connected to both the former militant and an Ex-soldier.

She, perhaps inevitably, is also witness to the suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv cafe, making the not at all subtle, but important, demand for the viewer to consider the parallels between the Irgun terror campaign, and that of Hamas. Thankfully Kosminsky doesn’t use the parallel to justify the latter, but to condemn both.

The set up of Erin’s story, based around her discovery of Len’s diary, is quite a jarring cliché, already done in numerous novels and more successfully in Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom. In Land and Freedom the entire story of the International Brigader is told through the diary, which is being read by a granddaughter after he has died.

In Erin’s case however the diary is used more like a treasure map, making her travel throughout the West Bank to piece the story together, allowing the viewer to see the modern repercussions of the mandate era. The obvious flaw here is that you’d be forgiven for thinking Eric could simply read the entire diary or just call up and talk to Len, who we’re told has been making a fine recovery in her absence. Of course this wouldn’t allow for the slowly developing narrative.

These flaws however are forgivable, used as they are to help signpost key points or explain context. Indeed it would take a writer/director of some genius to explain the Arab-Israeli conflict to a new audience without them. Only the harshest critic would condemn the director for making a film which doesn’t pander to the purest political analysis, but is able to frame the conflict progressively, and more importantly, with a human face.

Throughout four episodes Kosminsky succeeds in drawing out the key themes of this unending modern tragedy; the post-war decline of Empire, the gradual transformation of a brutalised people from the role of victims to oppressor, and the fact that no matter the side or allegiance the people of each side play the roles of victim and fighter both.

People’s Supermarket: Right Problem, Wrong Solution

February 21, 2011

At first Channel Four’s latest crusading documentary The People’s Supermarket seemed to strike the right tones. A community unite to turn their collective backs on the big business supermarkets that dominate the food industry and set up their own shop – groceries for the people by the people. However, as David Cameron swiftly spotted, the idea has more in kin with his ‘Big Society’ then it does with collective ownership.

The series follows the efforts of unknown-celebrity chef Arthur Potts Dawson as he takes a defiant aim at the goliaths of the food industry, which dominate over 80% of the market, leaving independent stores with just 2.2 per cent of food sales in the UK.

In the first episode Potts Dawson meets a dairy farmer who is being forced out of business. His problem is that supermarkets will only pay him 15 pence per litre of milk, yet it costs 29 pence a litre to produce. Both farmer and host lament that the likes of Tesco buy cheap and sell cheap, while smaller shops cannot afford to compete or buy the produce at a fairer cost.

Here Potts Dawson hits upon the central problem, not only for the food industry but for capitalism at large. As a shop manager he cannot afford to pay the farmer the 29 pence a litre if he is to make a profit and pay his staff a decent wage, yet if he pays less for the milk it is the farmer who is out of pocket.

To solve this traditional problem of capitalism Potts Dawson turns to the traditional solution, if he wants to pay the farmer a fairer deal he’s going to have to cut his staff’s wages.

With an epiphany which would make Phillip Green proud he realises that if he can cut labour costs to sell the food cheaper and give the producers a fairer deal, what would happen if he just didn’t pay his staff anything at all?  

The result is for Potts Dawson to proclaim that any member who buys into the project must pay him a £25 entry fee and promise to work for free for at least four hours a month. In return they will get a discount to his – and it remains his – barren shelved corner shop and if they are lucky they may find themselves featured on TV.

Hoping for exactly that David Cameron visited the shop last week to explain that this is a prime example of his ‘Big Society’ idea made reality. Presumably he didn’t explicitly mean people working for nothing for little result to satisfy the crusade of one wealthy cost cutting zealot.

As the series unfolds our hosts decries the waste generated by big business and battles the bureaucracy of his local council, yet by the third episode he discovers that ‘people aren’t getting it’ and his store is failing to attract the membership, and money, it needs to survive.

The reality is that like the ‘Big Society’ people understand and  reject the suggestion that after a full working day they might like to run a supermarket, a care home, a fire station or any other service where the management have discovered Potts Dawson’s magical formula of abolishing pay and promoting volunteerism as a cover to cut costs.

As well intentioned as Potts Dawson may be to encourage community unity or to promote ethical food production his sole achievement, beyond enhancing his TV credentials, is to demonstrate that under capitalism the circle of production, profit and labour costs cannot be squared for a fair deal for all.  It remains to be seen how long the venture will continue and if the support of the Prime Minister will attract new converts. Perhaps if membership begins to nosedive Cameron might chip in his own four hours worth once a month?

Capitalism 2011: Space exploration takes place in sheds while libraries are closed

February 16, 2011

Writing about space once can safely be ruled a one-off, but writing about space twice – while the Middle East is in open revolt and our Irish comrades are entrenched on the electoral battlefields – well that almost makes it a hobby. Nether the less, the sight of six men pretending to explore Mars from inside a suburban Muscovite shed on a Monday morning should not be a moment which passes without judgement.

The experiment, if it can be called that, is entitled the Mars500 project and seeks to test the limits of human endurance – by forcing 6 strangers to spend 520 days living in a series of tunnels that may have been purchased from Pets at Home.

The results, filmed like a cross between Big Brother and Event Horizon for no one’s viewing pleasure, is being heralded as the first full-duration simulation of a manned flight to Mars. This ‘spectacle’ culminated at the half way point when Russia’s mission control centre, clearly not under the same pressure to appease budget constraints as their American counterparts, broadcast live footage of Russian Alexander Smoleyevsky and Italian-Colombian Diego Urbina bumbling around in a mock Martian sand pit wearing 70-pound spacesuits .

“Europe has for centuries explored Earth, led by people like Columbus and Magellan. Today, looking at this red landscape, I can feel how inspiring it will be to look through the eyes of the first human to step foot on Mars,” said Urbina with no detectable hint of irony. “I salute all the explorers of tomorrow and wish them godspeed.”

While this ultimately pointless experiment in Russian humour was going on another event came to pass without the blitz of media attention. In a quiet suburban neighbourhood of Strasberg a 74-year-old man named Sigmund Jahn celebrated his birthday.

While Herr Jahn’s thoughts on events in the Martian-Russian warehouse are unknown what is known is that on this particular school day his youngest grandchild had the best ‘show and tell’ of her class because her grandfather was a Cosmonaut and in 1978 he became the first German in space.

It is difficult to eulogise a cosmonaut without having to hastily add disclaimers about the societies which propelled them into space. The German Democratic Republic, like all the deformed workers states surrounding the USSR, suffered from the faults of its superpower patron – Stalinist bureaucracy, militarism, the secret police. Yet, as a walk down East Berlin’s Karl Marx Allee reveals, the GDR still represents what socialism, even in its most deformed state, could achieve, inevitably prompting the question: if this is what can be achieved in spite of these flaws, what could we achieve without them?This is why a 74-year-old retired Cosmonaut remains important; he is a symbol of what can be done. 

Yuri Gagarin became the first man into space in 1961 only four decades since his nation was little more than a feudal monarchy and only 16 years after it was devastated by the Second World War. If any more testimony were needed of the merits of a planned economy over the markets then consider that when the Soviets began looking to space the British, with their still mightily Empire, were enforcing post-war rationing.

If the example of the USSR can be a benchmark for economic transformation then East Germany’s is no less impressive, for the economy of the GDR had to be completely rebuilt after losing the most destructive war in human history, and it should be added, having its surviving assets stripped away by the Stalinists as post-war reparations.

Regardless of the numerous faults of the USSR and the GDR, and there were many, the achievements of Gagarin and Jahn are undeniably inspirational; yet it also begs the question: if Stalinism can do this following such devastation what has capitalism done in the decades of its unchallenged rule?

In this age of austerity when capitalist governments are cutting education budgets, closing libraries and making further education ever more unreachable, the likelihood of mankind progressing through the bold scientific feats typified by the achievements by Gagarin and Jahn are null to void. Yuri Gagarin was a son of a peasant family from the Urals. Jahn was the son of a working family from Vogtland. Following the cuts in education and scientific research could a child born in Stratford, Portsmouth or the Bronx even dream of following in their footsteps?

This is why the closest thing that capitalism can conjure to a manned mission to mars, the most ambitious voyage of exploration ever conceived by mankind, is to place 6 men in a hamster cage in a Russian warehouse.

As socialists, we should respect the achievements of men like Sigmund Jahn and we should not hesitate to proclaim that while capitalism is looking to save itself by crushing the living standards and life opportunities of working people; an alternative society with the values of progress, science and bold endeavour for the betterment of humanity at its heart is not only possible, but could allow us all to reach out into the stars.

As Tories, Lib Dems and Labour Vote to Cut: Portsmouth’s Anti- Cuts Campaign Present the Alternative

February 10, 2011

As Portsmouth City Council voted on Tuesday for a budget to make over £20 million worth of cuts the only voice of opposition came from Portsmouth Against Cuts Together (PACT), the community group supported by the city’s trade union movement, which presented an alternative budget to the council meeting.

PACT Press Conference: Jon Woods and Ben Norman

In the first wave of cuts the Lib Dem led council proposed over £15 million of cuts, including £3,210,800 from children’s services and £2,599,500 from the education budget. Over three years the proposed budget seeks to make £22 million of cuts.

This translates into 183 initial job losses, while the GMB union reported that over 400 workers are under threat, either from redundancy or attacks on their terms and conditions.

While the Conservatives, the city’s official opposition, refused to offer an alternative budget they did propose an amendment to abolish the right for council workers to appeal to councillors about their employment and sought to limit the rights of elected trade union reps to organise in the workplace.

The two Labour councillors were noted for their silence as they too refused to offer an alternative budget. However, in comparison PACT proposed a programme for a ‘needs budget’, calling for the council to take ‘the Liverpool Road’ as an alternative fighting strategy to defeat the cuts.

This alternative strategy called for the council to reject the proposed cuts in favour of using the reserve funds, some of the largest held by any council in the country, as well as the substantial profits made from assets such as the city’s port, to delay cuts in the short term.

The council was then invited to work alongside community groups and the trade union movement to draft a new budget for job creation and investment, before launching a mass campaign to demand the finance from central government.

This strategy, proven by history, is the path which won £60 million for Liverpool city council in the 1980s’ when a socialist council put the needs of working people before the demands of Thatcher.

Prior to Tuesday’s council meeting a copy of PACT’s alternative budget was emailed to each of the city councillors with an open letter calling for them to vote against the cuts and side with their community.

A press conference was then held in the City’s Guildhall before the council meeting where representatives from PACT and the Trades Council outlined the alternative strategy to the media.

This was followed by a lobby of over 100 people, including council workers, museum and library staff, pensioners groups, students and local trade unionists.

Lobby Outside Council Meeting

15 deputations where then made to the council meeting on behalf of these groups, including testimonies from Alzheimer’s suffers seeking to defend their vital support services and a former council worker who had just been made redundant.

On behalf of PACT, socialist party member Ben Norman presented the alternative strategy to the council meeting saying:

“Today you have a choice. You can vote for cuts and be on the side of the austerity agenda which seeks to make working people pay for the crisis of the financial sector, or you can take a principled stand for your community to defend jobs and vital services.”

“The question is what matters more to you, your careers or your community? Because you can be certain that if you vote against us today, we will be standing against you in May.”

Lib Dem Leader of the Council Gerald Vernon Jackson reacted to PACTs alternative strategy by claiming in his opening remarks: “‘We’re using £4m of our reserves but can’t keep spending them. Confrontation with the government would leave the city with enormous debts. It would be irresponsible.”

Yet the following day Jackson was signatory to a letter to The Times criticising the speed of government cuts.  The Lib Dems in Portsmouth cannot propose a savage cuts package and then offer false protest 24 hours later simply for electoral purposes. Similarly the Conservatives councillors cannot claim they have no responsibility for the cuts when it is their party leading the cuts coalition.

Now that the cuts budget has been passed it is clear to all in the city’s anti-cuts movement that a line has been drawn and that we cannot look to the parties in the council chamber to defend our jobs and services.

Instead PACT must be expanded by establishing localised campaigns across the city, emulating the model of the Anti-Poll tax campaign twenty years ago.

Simultaneously PACT will continue to work with the Trades Council, which passed a motion this week pledging to support any industrial action council workers may take, while supporting calls for coordinated action and promising to lobby the TUC to call a one day public sector general strike.

Finally, anti-cuts candidates will now be encouraged to stand on the programme that the PACT alternative budget represented.

“The lobby sent out a clear message to the councillors who think they can cut jobs and services while claiming to represent us that our movement is watching them,” said Andy Waterman, RMT activist and Socialist Party member. “If they remove our services we will remove them from office. The accountants and strategists of the ruling class claim there is no alternative to cuts, but the budget released by PACT proves that there is.”

The next PACT meeting is 21st February 2011 – 7:00 PM, Kingston Co-Op Club, Portsmouth

PACT: Gig Against the Cuts: 3rd March, 7.30pm, Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

For more information contact Portsmouthagainstcuts@gmail.com

The Community Unites to Defend Council Jobs!

January 19, 2011

Over 300 trade unionists, students and community organisers marched through the centre of Portsmouth on Saturday in support of city council workers who face losing their jobs as the government’s cuts agenda begins to bite.

The march, organised by Portsmouth Against the Cuts Together (PACT) began at the University Library before passing through the centre of town and ending with a rally outside the city’s civic offices.

“We are marching in solidarity with the 400 council workers who face losing their jobs is a direct result of the government’s austerity plans,” Socialist Party member Andy Waterman told BBC radio. “Students in this city are already fighting to defend their education and the crucial thing now is to unite these two movements to defeat the cuts.”

PACT has called a lobby of the Council’s budget setting meeting at 1.30pm on the 8th February at the Civic offices where campaigners will demand that councillors refuse to vote for cuts passed down by central government.

While the march, the first large event organised by PACT since its official launch in late November, was a success it is clear that marching and lobbying alone will not defeat these cuts.

PACT is a community group supported by the Trades Council with a clear mandate to oppose all cuts.  To develop the campaign PACT must work alongside the city’s trade union members, particularly council workers, to support a strategy of industrial action.

PACTs strength is its ability to unite the local anti-cuts movement under a clear banner against all cuts. Yet as the May elections draws nearer it must be made clear that the anti-cuts movement is not simply a proxy support group for the pro-cuts Labour Party, it is a campaign for uniting working people, students and pensioners to defeat the cuts and save our community.

Tottenham Fans: Defend Your Club!

January 17, 2011

The latest plans by Tottenham Hotspur owners to move the club to the new Olympic stadium in Stratford are nothing but a further attempt by billionaire owners to take football away from the supporters in the name of profit.

 Football clubs, with their historic roots in the working class, can be a genuine focal point for a community. A match is one of the few times in modern society that thousands of working people can unite together under a common banner to support their team, not only as a release from everyday life, but as an expression of community unity.  

Last year Portsmouth FC, ravaged by financial ineptitude and profiteering by the owners, was facing administration and a winding up order from HM Revenue. The fans were faced with not only losing their club, but losing the name, the community heritage it represented and Fratton Park itself. This was resisted by grassroots campaign run by supporters, including members of the Socialist Party.

Portsmouth fans had to fight to save the club because the community were being forced to pay for the crisis of the owners. Now Tottenham fans are facing the same prospect thanks to the owner’s greed.

Before their team become Stratford FC, Tottenham fans must join the growing number of football supporters across the country who are realising that their game can and must be reclaimed.

Further reading:

Workers and Students Unite to Launch Portsmouth Anti-Cuts Campaign

November 19, 2010

Over 150 Trade Unionists and Community activists packed into a university lecture theatre last night to officially launch the Portsmouth Anti-Cuts Campaign. The meeting, hosted by Portsmouth Trades Council, sought to use the momentum generated by recent local anti-cuts marches and public meetings to build a community wide campaign prepared to take on every single proposed cut.

To open the discussion on the way forward the meeting was addressed by Laurie Heselden South East representative of the Trades Union Congress, who said: ‘These cuts are a massive experiment. No country has ever cut its way out of a recession. These cuts are not being made because they have to be. They are doing this because they want to do it.’

However, after Heselden proceeded to read the charge sheet of cuts which the public sector will be facing he then outlined the limited TUC strategy of training union reps and building for a national demonstration in March.

In contrast Ben Norman, speaking on behalf of ‘Youth Fight for Jobs: South’ challenged Heselden by proposing that the campaign should back the PCS call for a national trade union demonstration before Christmas, a proposal greeted by the first round of applause of the evening.

‘The 50,000 students who marched to defend education were but the tip of the Iceberg, a litmus test for the nation’s anger.” Norman said. “If we wait for four more months before taking national action any march may just become a funeral procession for the jobs which will have been lost and the futures which will have been blighted.’

The Youth Fight for Jobs speaker also called for the campaign to be committed to fighting all cuts and proposed standing Anti-cuts candidates in the upcoming local elections.

Contributions from the floor included discussion on the

The meeting also elected a steering committee including trade union reps, student’s union officers, and school students from the Portsmouth Save Our Schools campaign and delegates from the Pensioners Association.

The campaign will next meet on Monday, November 29 at 6pm at a venue to be decided.

 **More to follow **