Sunday, September 30, 2007

As Much About The Unions As About The Labour Party

The decision of Labour Party conference to stop trade unions (and CLPs) submitting contemporary motions to the conference should tell us as much about the union bureaucracies as it does about the Labour Party.

Agreeing to give up their own right to even raise issues was a gobsmackingly spineless thing to do. If Gordon Brown said "Come on, lads, we can't have a row in the run-up to a General Election", the least they could have said was "Good point - withdraw your bloody proposals then".

Gobsmacked maybe. But on another level, we should perhaps not be surprised that the union leaders willing to give away the pension rights of future generations are also willing to give away the political voice of workers.

Those people and groups who argue for trade unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party will gain a new impetus. More rank-and-file union members will be prepared to listen to them - and who can blame them? I will doubtless continue to argue against this (although my union, RMT, has already been kicked out of the Labour Party, it is still by rule affiliated, and there may be a new drive to change this), although I feel less impassioned about taking a strong stand against disaffiliation.

The problem with 'disaffiliate' as a response is that it is one-sided. Not only is there is no replacement workers' party to affiliate to, nor a strong movement in the direcion of one, the disaffiliation call implicitly demands that union members draw conclusions about the Labour Party but not about their own union leaderships. It implies that if Unite, CWU, GMB etc. leave Labour and set up something new, then that something new will solve all our problems. But it seems to me that a 'new workers' party' set up by the very people who gave away the workers' voice in the old one would be doomed to repeat the 100-year history of the Labour Party. And perhaps if Stroppyblog is still going in 2107, my grand-daughter can post a blog entry saying "we told you so".

So attempts to re-found a working-class party have to also take on the bureaucratic nature of the unions. When unions set up a political party, they do so in their own image. If you want a socialist, rank-and-file-controlled, accountable, militant, no-sell-out workers' party, then you need socialist, rank-and-file-controlled, accountable, militant, no-sell-out trade unions.

So yes, there should be a fight in the Labour-affiliated to condemn the leaders for voting away their democratic rights. But that should be part of a fight to break up the power of the bureaucracy, democratise the unions, and put the unions in the hands of their rank-and-file members.

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"Oil wealth belongs to the Iraqi people"

There is an excellent piece by Ewa Jasiewicz in today's Sunday Independent about the big oil multinationals in Iraq aren't having an easy time getting their thieving paws on the oil.

There has been resistence by the Iraqi people to stop this happening especially from the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (Ifou) who went on strike in June this year.

Hassan Jumaa Awad, Ifou president: "We will continue our efforts to serve our members and defend our oil wealth, no matter what the cost."


What is to be done about the Labour Left..?

As a supporter of Labour Briefing and on the editorial board, I thought I would plug this article in this week's Weekly Worker by Briefing editor, Graham Bash. It is an interesting piece and I agree with a lot of the sentiments and the conclusion he puts forward. I think it is useful to the ongoing discussion about the Labour Left and what is to be done....

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lowering the tone...

I am suffering from brain exhaustion so can't think of anything of great political substance to write so trying to overcome this disorder I was flicking through today's Guardian Guide and came across this website. I am addicted, as a boring movie geek, to the Internet Movie Data Base (INMb) so this kinda fascinated me. Who's Dated Who in Hollywood is pretty much what it says on the tin.

The sexual shenanigans of Hollywood movie stars (past and present) and have been spending my rainy Saturday afternoon gawping voyeuristically at a kind of sexual 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon (he too is on there). It is tacky, eye fodder, and very Channel 5 but hey it's fun! I am addicted already... I mean, Drew Barrymore and Courtney Love. Zsa Zsa Gabor...where did she get the time...? And no wonder JFK had a bad back. Sheesh!

You could use this template to come up with "Who's dated Who on the Left".... Yes, it will be based on gossip and innuendo with a tiny, tiny, smidgen of truth. And from my own experience, the Left is so darn gossipy. If the editors of Weekly Worker are reading this, you know this is a runner. I mean, you are not called "Worker's Hello" for nowt. I can just envision Jack Conrad as in house "agony uncle" or the intrepid Eddie Ford sniffing out gossip for his "after the pub closes" column (or whatever "chucking out" time is now..).
Here's another idea, who needs Soulmates (Guardian's lonely hearts page) when the WW could have Comrades In Need of A Shag section. You can find the One(s) by separating the wheat from the chaff, or should that be separating the degenerated from the state caps? Or vice versa.
Anyway, the potential is there to find a comrade-in-arms who finds talking dirty kinky and sexy (when I say "talking dirty" I mean quoting great chunks from Lenin and Trotsky), or discussing the intricacies of sugar production in Cuba floats your boat or maybe discovering someone else out there in Trot land has also read all of the back copies of Intercontinental Press. The potential is great for hooking up comrades with specific tastes....
C'mon you know it makes sense, comrades!!
Anyway, back to my fix of Hollywood gossip. Hopefully, normal service will resume and I will write something intelligent soon. Oh hum......

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Meet Moonlight

Sorry I've not blogged for a while, but no matter - Louise has been keeping the blog lively! I'm pondering various thought-provoking political pieces, but while they gestate in my mind, I'll just let you know that I and my family have adopted a dolphin. She's called Moonlight and lives in the Moray Firth - one of 130 bottle-nosed dolphins who live there. Oh, and that's her in the picture.

I thought I'd pass this information on so as to interest those of you who share my love of wildlife, and to wind up Southpaw Punch and give him another pretext to condemn this blog for being apolitical and more like National Geographical than a serious socialist blog. And there was me thinking enjoying and preserving the beauties of the world's environment would be of some interest to socialists.


Burma protests

I am still drying out as it was a very wet protest outside the embassy today. There was around 100+ people. We were handed red pieces of material to wear by the organisers.
A couple of Socialist Worker paper sellers, lots of Amnesty placards, ITF banners and 1 Unison banner. There may have been individual trade unionists/lefties (like myself) but presence not that visible. Nobody from the TUC I could spot.

Protest songs were song in Burmese and explanation why people are protesting worldwide.

On another point, the letter from the TUC to David Miliband states:

"The TUC therefore welcomes the Prime Minister's statement, calling for restraint by the authorities and urging the EU to warn the junta of tougher sanctions were it to choose repression instead. We agree that the situation requires immediate international action and a strong position from the UN Security Council."

What kind of "immediate international action"? What kind of sanctions..? And what is meant by "strong position from the UN Security Council"?

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Solidarity with the people of Burma

Just quickly, the TUC are calling on trade unionists to support a demonstration outside the Burmese Embassy tomorrow between 12-1pm. And every lunch time onwards.

TUC calls on the military government to restore democracy and refrain from violence.
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
Nearest tube: Green Park

I am hoping to go so may you there.....

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Focus on this David Miliband.....

Like everything else stage managed and choreographed at LP conference, David Miliband, in his first speech as foreign secretary, admitted that the government was "scarred" due to their decision to invade Iraq.

"Whatever the rights and wrongs - and there have been both - we have got to focus on the future. We need to continue to support the development of an effective Iraqi security force. We need to keep our promise to all Iraqis that they will have an economic stake in the future of the country."

What Miliband elects to keep out of his speech is what a devastated state Iraq is in. His speech was full of grand gestures and like any imperialist supporting warmonger, glosses over the very very big wrongs of this conflict by telling us to look to the future. Well, tell that to the Iraqis.

Oxfam published a report in the summer about the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Four million people are in dire need of assistance. More than two million people are displaced in Iraq and another 2 million displaced in neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Syria.

Some Iraqis are refused asylum in the UK and sent back yet there was media attention given to 91 Iraqi interpreters who worked for the occupiers to be given asylum. Before anyone condemns me I agree these interpreters should be given asylum but there are double standards at play as why not give asylum to other Iraqis?

The infrastructure as well as health and education has been trashed. No reconstruction of water supplies. There are ecological and health implications with the impact of depleted uranium and there has been no practical clear-up of cluster bombs.The occupiers brought about divide and rule as Iraqis have to carry ID cards differentiating between Shia and Sunni muslims. The operation of death squads in Iraq with the likes of John Negroponte in the background (and he has much experience of organising death squads!) and the occupiers stoking sectarian violence.

There has been blackout on media coverage on air strikes in built up areas such as Sadr City in Baghdad (and the terrible war crimes committed in Fallujah). And now we see the purging of natural resources with the West arm twisting the Iraqi government to push through the Hydrocarbon Law and allow production sharing agreements to go through.

We must demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq (unlike the mealy-mouthed demands that came out of the toothless Iraq Commission) and keep their thieving paws off the oil.

That's what Miliband should focus on.............

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rape: no means NO!

“If a woman goes to a man’s apartment on the first time she meets him, she is consenting to sex. That’s what it means”. (Camille Paglia- Interview with the Vamp, 1996).

The reason I quote Paglia, who is to feminism what George Bush is to diplomacy, is because rape is back on the agenda. Vera Baird (Solicitor General for England and Wales) has announced that the government is to abandon a proposal to use expert witnesses to brief juries on the “myths” surrounding rape.

Judges have argued that the plan could lead to miscarriages of justice. An article by Yvonne Roberts criticises Baird’s decision and argues for:

“Vera Baird should order an inquiry; collate the plentiful research that already exists; monitor the courts; study how juries reach their verdicts; talk to serial rapists who have had years of successful activity before, perhaps, finally being convicted.”

I agree with Vera Baird as this proposal could indeed scupper rape trials and actually backfire. There was once upon a time a nasty piece of misogyny called the Corroboration Rule where a judge would remind the jury in a rape case of a woman’s dishonesty and that she may have a tendency to lie. This wasn’t scrapped until 1994. There was research carried out regarding this rule and the results showed that jurors felt annoyed by being told this and actually the warning from the judge backfired.

The bringing in of expert witnesses would have absolutely nothing to do with the evidence in the case and could prejudice things. People are innocent until proven guilty and have a right to a fair trial. These expert witnesses could potentially complicate the case.

But I have absolutely no qualms in supporting what Roberts argues regarding ordering an enquiry. I think it could prove fruitful in analysing the way rape is treated and understood, from the initial reporting of the attack to gathering evidence to court procedures. One in 20 rapes is reported that lead to conviction. We need to know why.

Today another article appeared by David Cox that attacks the proposal of any kind of enquiry. I found the second half of his article full throttle misogyny. He is tilting at windmills when he writes about the burden and standard of proof. He also uses a “contributory negligence” argument:
“Why shouldn’t they (women) be advised that to get themselves into a drunken stupor in the company of a frisky male could carry risks”?

He puts the onus firmly on the woman and therefore abdicates any responsibility for the man. It is the woman’s fault. Again, as Camille Pagilia argued that when a woman goes on a date there is a possibility of “mixed messages”. Again, a man’s responsibility for his behaviour is lost and let off the hook.

The magazine, Cosmo recently wrote about “grey rape” where a woman is in a situation where she never intended to have sex but wound-up being forced into it, “because until that point, they’d been a willing participant”. Again, the onus of responsibility is on the woman. And so what? The woman may have been a willing participant but she still has every right to say "No"!

Irma Kurtz (Cosmo agony aunt) gave very patronising, insulting and appalling advice to a young woman, a couple of years ago, who had been raped. Kurtz’s advice was that the woman had “asked for it”.. Fortunately, Cosmo was inundated with complaints.

A hierarchy of rape is being created here and it seems that “sexual familiarity” (where the woman knows the attacker) is treated with more leniency and is used in mitigation. Majority of rapes happen with someone the woman is acquainted with.

There is a major problem with reporting, evidence gathering and conviction rates for rape. We are seeing an increase in blaming the woman ‘cos she was drunk, ‘cos she had been a willing participant, she was wearing a thong and so on and so on. These excuses reflect dominant sexist ideology that women still “ask for it”. It also creates ambiguities that aren’t there and de-politicises rape as well.

And they wonder why women don’t report rape.

It is simple, “no means no….”


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jeremy Kyle: human bear baiting...

Now I have watched the Jeremy Kyle show along with Trisha when I have been at home. I am not usually picky with my telly as I watch, well, anything really. Name any crap telly programme and I have probably watched it and hey, probably liked it.

But even I am horrified by the antics of the Jeremy Kyle Show, it's depressing stuff. The programme has come under a lot of criticism lately by a judge who described it as "human bear baiting". I suppose you could describe Kyle's show as a second-rate Jerry Springer. The spectator entertainment involves either a couple where a. is shagging the neighbour and b. either knows/is suspicious and/ or wants to have a DNA test on the child. And the anti-climax part of the show is where Jeremy will be presented with the results of the DNA test. There will be the inevitable gasps from the audience, tutting from Kyle and shouting from the people on the stage.
It is the same stories repackaged (family unit scenario where mum or dad doesn't like drug pusher boyfriend. Or other titles include: "I don't like my neighbour", "Why does my boyfriend hang around with loads of women..."). One set of people are pitched against another set of people, which includes screaming, shouting and sometimes physical violence.
It has the very pungent whiff of the gladiatorial games where spectators lap up the agression and violence. What exactly is played out here is human misery for everyone to watch like some cheap voyeur. I suppose the audience can feel good by judging, moralising and making assumptions about the people on show.
The other question is, why the hell does anyone appear on this? Maybe 'cos people want to be heard and their point of view listened to? Maybe they just want to scream and shout and get whatever off their chest? Exhibitionists? Having that famous Andy Warhol 15mins? Or is it to make the viewers feel better about their lives (I thought my life was crap but theirs is a nightmare)?

It is false, highly choreographed, full of stereotypes and anti-working class. I have never ever heard of some middle class person on one of these shows.

The politics of the show has that "feeding time at the zoo" quality to it where the viewer points and watches the antics of these people. It is a cheap shot and also making cheap telly at the cost of ridiculing peoples lives. But I do wonder why anyone would put themselves through that humiliating experience.
And there's Jeremy Kyle, Master of Ceremonies, with his sneering contempt for these people. He pretends to be understanding and caring giving them tough advice but it is false, an insult to their intelligence and patronising.

Actually, I find this kinda telly pernicious and horrible. I think its politics and ideology is worse than, say, Death Proof and a lot of the tacky violent movies.

If people need help, support and guidance... ring the Samaritans. Jeremy Kyle's show is a human car crash, cheap and exploitative telly....

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The Ian Dale top 100 leftie blogs...

Well, here's the list everyone has been waiting for (slight exaggeration probably... more of a case of who cares and Dale is a Tory afterall).

Anyway, muzak maestro....

Way hey.....Stroppyblog confidently strides in clad in fishnets and attitude as a new entry at 77.

Shiraz Socialist is a new entry at 35. Good to see Unison comrade Jon Rogers on the list at 45.

Plus the union blog Tigmoo coming in at a respectable 44.

Mike's Little Red Page is a new entry at 90. Oh, and Dave Osler's blog is in the top ten.

Anyway, lists are subjective and based on taste, aren't they? And there has been complaints that there aren't many blogs from outside Labour.

Dunno what else to say 'cept.....Congratulations, comrades?

PS: Well done to Susan (Grimmer Up North) who entered the list at 33.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Is this the end...?

Gordon Brown got what he wanted and railroaded through changes to Labour Party democracy. Around 84.5% voted in favour of Gordie's reforms. And no protest from the unions.

Well, as John McDonnell said: if Brown "forces his proposals through, could the last Labour party delegate leaving the Bournemouth conference hall turn off the lights please, they will be the lights of democracy".

The GMB union and Remploy workers were angry as their 12 motions opposing factory closures had been ruled out of order for debate this week. And a motion on the possible attack on Iran was removed.

This is the things to come... Democracy, Gordon Brown style.

Union Futures and Grimmer Up North have posts on RIP LP conference.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Is the Left up the creek without a paddle…?

With all the debate swirling around the left blog world about Respect to the tune of Should I Stay or Should I Go, it has made me wonder just how bad a state the Left is in. Can we resuscitate it in its current fragmented and shattered state? And will it remain on life support for a little longer?

The New Right of the 1970’s developed a coherent offensive led by the bourgeoisie. It is now called neo-liberalism. For the past 30 years there have been a systematic attack on the working class though there have been fight backs (Miners’ Strike, Wapping, Poll Tax). These attacks have been “full spectrum": ideological, economic, political, industrial, military , educational and in the United States religious.

This offensive has been so relentless it has shattered opposition. This Frankenstein monster will doubtlessly continue for a couple of more decades at least. The full spectrum approach takes into account all aspects of life and society and how things inter-relate with each other (rather same method Marxism takes but with a different conclusion).

I think we have to recognise that the enemy is utterly different from 40-50 years ago. The Left needs to organise differently and fundamentally we need to abandon the old templates of democratic centralism and party discipline. We are light years from a coup d’etat and we cannot formulate a Bolshevik Party # 2 however we much we dream of being the next Lenin and learn the texts.

We need to build more fluid and democratic organisations that are open to people and follow a more educative role as opposed to finding a line for people to follow. People these days like to hear the debates and the different ideas on offer. This is how you learn about ideas and how ideas get tested against each other and against the experiences of the class struggle. Indeed a criticism of the British SWP is that they take people who have had educationally privileged backgrounds and turn them into political yobbos. The top down approach may have been feasible in the context of clumsy and slow information technology and low cultural and educational level.

The Left needs a style of politics that aims for the development of intelligent confident comrades. We need something that allows open and free debate and involves people in all of the struggles against the neo-liberal onslaught. This is how to spread political ideas and to engage with people.

How do we get from where we are now to the sort of political forms I have described above?

As I have argued before, it makes more sense to be in the LP and active on the Left. New Labour is steeped in neo-liberalism but at the same time is a bourgeois workers party (I still believe Lenin was right on that). I am sure Brown would like to steer New Labour into a neo-liberal sunset but there are still expectations as it's a social democratic party which, has roots in the trade union movement. Of course Brown would dearly love to forget that.

The labour left still exists and still has an audience both within the LP and the trade unions. The McDonnell campaign, derided by those outside of the LP, is evidence of this. All the informal polls indicated this. The campaign foundered on the parliamentary party, handed-picked by the leadership and under heavy pressure from the whips. There is always the example of Walter Wolfgang: you could almost say that being in the LP is ultra-left!

Sooner or later Brown will need to purge the LP. Maybe this will be done in dribs and drabs and will not allow much for mobilising against, maybe it will stumble and there will be a chance of hitting back.

Whatever the nature of the Left of the future a vital component will be what is left of the LP and the unions. In order that there is a left in the labour movement there needs to be an active left in the LP and unions now. If you are outside the LP and outside the unions you will never have any chance of doing anything in either.

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Sunday rant.....

I used to work in the Manuscripts department at the British Library years ago. There were some fine pieces on show such as the Lindisfarne Gospels. And collecting these wonderful priceless manuscripts from the cabinets and vaults (the vaults were adjusted temperature wise to cold to protect the most precious manuscripts... and it was a great place to cool off esp. as when I worked there during summer it was hot and humid) as requested by readers.

I remember Germaine Greer would turn up all bright eyed and bushy tailed and be the first through the door handing her request through the hatch of the department. The manuscipts I enjoyed perusing were the medieval anatomical ones. Crude drawings of the human bodies using a Galenic interpretation of illness and disease. Beautifully artistically inscribed and embossed.

So it kinda saddened me reading this piece today. The British Library are being asked to make cuts of around 5% to 7% by the government.

"The prognosis was chilling. Substantial cuts would restrict access to our collections as reading rooms reduced their opening hours and imposed charges for services that are currently free to users".

Having worked in the BL and also having contact as part of previous employment, I know what a vast resource they are. They don't charge any entrance fee (though you do have to prove your academic interest and research). Instead if they have to start charging it won't be about merit it will be about whether you have the cash.

Looking at the wider picture there has been systematic attacks on libraries during the past number of years. Councils looking for easy targets to cut usually go for libraries or simply run it down so it doesn't look inviting and interesting to the public. Last year 107 libraries faced closure though government minister David Lammy argued that it was only a fraction of the 3,500 libraries in the country! But what happens if this becomes the norm for the next couple of years, libraries will dwindle in numbers.

Having worked in academic libraries I only know too well that it was the first port of call for cuts. Reduced budget meant less books, videos/CDs, increased charges, cuts in staff (evenings and weekends) and therefore complaints from staff and students about inadequate resources. And as a Unison activist we were constantly fighting a rear guard action against these cuts.

There have been protests from ordinary people against cuts in library services. The other problem is that money seems to being poured into IT and not books. This should not be seen as a competition for cash but that the two compliment each other. I have seen the consequences of cuts in libraries and when I visit my local libraries the architecture, interiors and buildings are in bad shape and sometimes dilapidated. Drab paint work, books in terrible condition, CDs/videos falling to bits and too few staff. This does invite or encourage people to use their local libraries.

North Yorkshire county council conducted a survey in 2002 to ask people what they thought of the library facilities and results were negative. The result was not shutting them down the council poured £6million to refurbish and revamp. Library usage has increased between 30% to 150%. Also there has been a 6% increased of children using the library.

When I was a kid I visited my local library and was utterly fascinated by books (actually back then I wanted to be a librarian..). It was a place where I could escape to and be surrounded by words and stories. A place where I could conjure up ideas and use it to express my own imagination and creativity.

And it is not just Britain where libraries are closing but Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal and, in Europe, Cyprus, Serbia, Georgia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Libraries have already closed in Kuwait, Turkey, Italy, Germany and Belgium.

The politics of neo-liberalism isn't concerned with learning and reading. It is about profit. And the way libraries function isn't about making money but altruism and collectivity: things certainly not in the lexicon of neo-liberalism.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Off to Paris

Just a quick post to say I will be gone for a week. I'm off to Paris with Dave.

I have been promised romantic moonlight strolls by the Seine, culture , pootling between bars and coffee shops...and if I am really really lucky a night out with some French Trots. The selling point apparently is the men are more dashing and handsome than Denham. Pah, don't believe that. Seems whenever we go away we fit in a piss up with some lefties and the sad thing is its my idea of fun as well.

Talking of fun, a quick reminder that the next leftie bloggers piss up is on Saturday 6th October. 4pm onwards at the Euston Flyer, opposite Euston Station in London.

Meanwhile I'm sure there will be posts here from the other Stroppybloggers and I might post from Paris.

Anyway, back to the packing...

Death Proof: misogyny unbound...?

(Alternative title: What a woman can do with a piece of scaffolding...)

“Quentin Tarantino makes guy movies, and great ones at that. He's a lad's lad, a cinephile's cinephile, a geek's geek, the thinking man's actioneer... who usually, it must be said, has very little on offer for any woman who happens to find herself in his cinematic space”. (B.Ruby Rich, “Day of the Woman” – Sight and Sound, June 2004)

Being a movie geek, I kinda like Quentin Tarantino. I get a perverse thrill from watching his films and usually that’s about who he is paying homage to, the quaint nods to different film genre, the in-jokes, punchy sharp dialogue and so on. The geek in me was impressed with the scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1, when Ellie Driver was dispatched to kill The Bride and while walking down the hospital corridor holding a deadly syringe she whistles the chilling but distinctive tune from the schlock-horror 60s British cult film, “The Twisted Nerve” and the nod to Sergio Leone by reversing The Man with No Name to The Woman with No Name (known as The Bride) seeking revenge. A common thread is now emerging regarding the woman avenger...

This can be seen as thoroughly irritating but as a film buff, I love spotting them. Tarantino picks and mixes different concepts, creates a montage and reinvents ideas. There usually is nothing new under Tarantino’s sun but I like how he re-develops a story, dialogue and action. I like what ideas he conjures up and I make no apology, I like his work. Taste is subjective.

And now Tarantino is paying homage to the exploitation film. Double features of the ‘B’ movie kind playing at the local Grindhouse. Unfortunately, the two films aren’t shown back to back. Death Proof has been released first. The film is shot like a cheap exploitation flick with dodgy cinematography, interchanging colour and badly spliced.

It revolves around a story of women drivers being terrorised by a man called Stuntman Mike who drives around in a death proof car. The first half of the film is slow and the dialogue is overblown (one gripe I have with Tarantino is since he parted company with partner-in-crime, writer Roger Avary, there’s so much superfluous dialogue that needs to be slashed with a razor sharp blade!).

We see 4 young women who are friends on a road journey and their stop-off at a bar where they encounter Stuntman Mike. One of them, Butterfly, gives Mike an impromptu lap dance. The women are kinda cautious of Mike as Butterfly thinks he has been following them and we, the viewer, know he has been closely watching them with voyeuristic curiosity, and intensity. There is something unnerving, creepy and hostile about Mike.

The way Mike views these women is utter loathing. Loathing for their sexuality and asserting their sexuality. In context of the lap dance, Butterfly is the one in control. Mike is a misogynist and a serial killer (as we see later) who needs to feel in charge and have power over these women.

The violent scenes are actually understated though shocking all the same and not the usual gore fest you get from Tarantino. The car crash is brutal but quick and no slobbering enjoyment of twisted limbs and severed heads. It also reminded me of Cronenberg’s Crash, Thelma and Louise and Spielberg’s Duel (being pursued by a shapeless deadly entity). There’s also elements of the road movie overall. Stuntman Mike gets away with murder but he shunts a car too far with stuntwomen inside and that’s a recipe for revenge where Stuntman Mike gets his final comeuppance…..And the hunter becomes the hunted. A reversal of fortunes and roles.

The car cashes are utterly fantastic and that last 30 minutes are breathtaking. It seems finally film makers are going back to good old fashion stunts and eschewing CGI. I thought Zoë Bell (real life stuntwoman aka Zoë the Cat) doing the Ship’s Mast stunt on a 1970 Dodge Challenger was awesome and fantastic to watch. Pure visual entertainment. And as the viewer, you want these women to get their revenge and there is identification with them (and the final scene in the film a cheer went up in the audience and it wasn’t only women cheering...). And it makes a change from “woman in peril” being rescued by man. These women can hold their own, thanks-very-much!

What of the film’s political message? The film is a parody of exploitation films and tongue in cheek. There has been pickets at the screenings of Death Proof and of Quentin Tarantino when he was in the UK recently promoting the film.

The message from the protesters is that Tarantino's depicting women by objectifying and degrading them. And glorifying violence against women. But isn’t that the whole meaning of this kind of film genre? You can also argue that these women are strong and expressing their own sexuality.

Stuntman Mike is a misogynist who has to be in control yet Tarantino doesn’t choose to revel in it as he exposes Mike as the cowardly loser he is when pursued by confident and strong women. The man is only in power and control when he hides behind his death proof car.

Radical feminists and other supporters of censorship take a literal interpretation of violent films. As Lynne Segal argues that pro-censorship supporters see porn as “literally harming women and creating gender inequality”, can equally be applied to the depiction of women in violent movies or "gorno".

I also think there’s merit in Carol Clover’s view of the “Final Girl” narrative that can be applied in this film where the women are precisely fighting back and not becoming victims. I think it is more important to seek understanding and analyse the politics of these films. An analysis that reflects the power relations in this society and which are expressed in film. If we want to challenge patriarchal norms then in order to create strong loud vibrant confident women challenging the status quo then we need to oppose knee jerk reactions. And this one-dimensional view of "once a victim always a victim"..

Again, taking a literal understanding of violence and sex ignores fantasy and imagination: do men really want to do this to women? I enjoy Tarantino films, what contradictory message does that say about me as a socialist feminist? I identified with those women and sorely wanted them to get their revenge. Watching violent movies can be cathartic as well.

It is easy to point at some film and blame it for violence against women (though violence against women has been around longer than the flicks!) and that argument removes culpability for violent male behaviour; "the movie made me do it, guv".
As Linda Williams rightly states: “Sexual politics must be aware of the diversity of sexual fantasies which cannot be over simplified into an easy scapegoatable aggressive perversion or evil”

The film actually isn’t Tarantino at his best, it is kinda boring and only the last 30mins saves it. Why waste time picketing it? And before anyone accuses me of not being a “real” feminist ‘cos I don’t appear to be taking these issues seriously, I do. It’s just that there are more scary oppressive violent things happening to women in the real world as opposed to the celluloid imaginary world.

Btw: there’s the argument that Tarantino is turning into Michael Winner. But Winner never has cool soundtracks in his films unlike Tarantino. I had forgotten how cool Marc Bolan was………….

There is a sensible and impressive post about the film from Mind the Gap

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday rant....

I am a regular swimmer as it relaxes me as just the mindless laps up and down the pool sends me into a trance. Unfortunately the chlorine play havoc with my hair and skin, and the lanes are usually called "slow", "medium" and "fast" though should be known as "a tortoise could overtake you", "mediocre" and "show-off".. And another downer, lots of Speedo...
But I like it and have always liked swimming since childhood. And it is the best form of exercise as you use all your muscles, apparently.

So...for my morning endorphin fix (Wow, that first rush is better than sex!) I wandered off but when I got there the pool was closed. It was explained to me that the swimming pool won't be opened again until June 2008 as it is being refurbished. And the nearest swimming pool for me is over 2 miles. Bloody marvellous...

Fine, it is being refurbished but where are people meant to go as it is a popular pool? So many swimming pools are closing around London and in other parts of the UK. The government bang on about obesity rates and health issues but they would rather plunder cash into that elitist monstrosity known as the 2012 Olympics.
Many swimming pools are indeed old and in need of refurbishment (the pool I go to was built around 1960s) but many councils seem to close them as opposed to replace them. And some of these swimming pools have beautiful 1930s architecture (for example, the now defunct Marshall Street Baths).

The government has claimed that it is unsustainable to run many of these swimming pools due to subsidies and there are many private swimming pools. Well yeah, there are but they cost a lot especially gym membership. This has an dramatic impact on poorer sections of society who can ill afford these rates. Cheap and affordable council run sport centres are needed.

So the government will carry on pouring money into the Olympics yet council run sports centres are usually the first to get its budget slashed and also selling off the swimming pool sites is rather similar to selling off green spaces as it makes a massive profit. That's what it's all about!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Freedom of speech ?

Couple of blogs have this you tube of a student being tasered.

I watched it and was shocked. OK, perhaps that is naive, but this guy was not threatening in an way,it was just some awkward questions. He may have gone on or been annoying, but that did not justify in anyway the response.
As Liam points out on his blog :

When I was at university politicians, particularly the Unionist ones, expected their meetings to be rowdy with some mild violence of the pushing, shoving, egg and chair throwing sort.

No one was throwing anything , it was just some awkward guy .He may have been annoying but pretty sure that isn't a public order offence !

It was not so much the American police heavy handedness that shocked, nor Kerry standing by, it was the reaction of the rest of the audience.No one seemed that bothered that the supposed American freedom of speech was being stamped upon and silenced. Initially a few people cheered and it was only when the guy cried out whilst being tasered that a few people objected . Why didn't people stand up and do something ? This was a hall full of students and they stayed glued to their seats. Would this level of apathy happen here at a University ? I would hope not.
Its a far cry from the student radicalism of the past in the US.

Still, if the Labour Party can allow the manhandling of an elderly man who heckles, why should I be shocked by anything really. Tasers at conference ?

Hat tip : Liam and John A.

John A in the comments says it was a private security form employed by the university. So tasers in the hands of people with even less accountability .


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Au revoir Labour Party democracy...?

Well, the union leaderships were against the radical changes to Labour Party democracy but hey, a week is a long time in politics. So guess what? The bureaucrats have capitulated.

What made them change their mind? Was it a free bag of crisps...? A year's supply of Ferrero Rocher....? A Blankety-Blank cheque book and pen? Or couple of gongs sent next-day-delivery?

Whatever it was, the union bureaucrats are now saying they have won some "major concession" where the procedures will be reviewed in two years.

Way hey... so in other words in 2 years time there will be the so-called review and probably more proposals to eradicate party democracy overall. Brown and Co. will continue the attacks and the union bureaucrats have helped to achieve this.
And what is the betting that party conference will be reduced to a rally where everything will be scripted and properly choreographed. This is the start of the death knell for LP democracy.

Being an old misery guts (it is a standard state of mind on the Left...) to say the Left is weak is an understatement. It is going to be an uphill struggle for whichever strategy you choose in terms of orientation towards the LP (inside or outside). But what is obvious, there needs to be a fight in the unions.

Grimmer Up North has a post on this as well.

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Blessed Are the Poor?

A report has revealed what many of us long suspected - that faith schools are able to 'cherry-pick' their intake and thus boost their exam results and league table places. Faith schools, it seems, take in kids from families who are "significantly more affluent" than the average for the area in which they are located.

Using government figures for schools across London, the report - produced by academics from the London School of Economics and the University of London - found that only 17% of faith school pupils qualify for free school meals, much less than the average 25%, and that the schools educate fewer than 20% of the lowest-ability kids compared with 31% at secular schools.

Defenders of faith schools often point to their better-then-average exam results as some kind of 'proof' that being schooled in superstition is good for kids. Now we know how they do it - not through moral rigour but through immoral manipulation of the system. I look forward to their next declaration of their spiritual superiority to the rest of us.

And yet, despite this, the government is paving the way for more religious schools. Heaven forbid.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Amnesty International , the 'Life League' and deviants !

Amnesty International has upset the old men in the Vatican by saying that woman have a right to control their own bodies. Its not exactly abortion on demand they are asking for ,nope, they say if a woman has been raped (often used in war as a means of terrorising women ) or their life is in danger then they should have access to free safe abortion. Often the anti abortionists try to appear reasonable and argue around time limits,when of course the majority of them want all abortion illegal. Yep, woman can die , that's sanctity of life for you .

Anyway I notice, via Emmazone, that the Life League are up in arms on this. They have published the addresses and phone numbers of Directors of Amnesty International and called on their nice Christian members to harass them.

This group is a particularly unpleasant bunch. Its not just controlling women that occupies them, they also hold forth on a selection of rabid bigoted god bothering views .

For example , contraception:

Contraception is the basis for the degradation of western society as a whole. Once contraception became acceptable in the churches and mainstream society, the link between monogamous sexual relationships within marriage and procreation was broken. From then on, facilitated by contraception, sex primarily became a recreational pursuit.

In addition to promoting abortion - widespread contraception has (in the popular mind) produced ‘sex without consequences, accountability and responsibility’. This in turn has spawned:

(1) The Rise of Feminism: By breaking the central role of motherhood, and thus facilitating non-appropriate economic and social roles.

(2) The Rise of Extra-marital sex: Facilitated by contraception removing any ‘unintended consequences’ from recreational sex.

(3) The Rise of Homosexuality and perverted lifestyles: Once it is accepted that sex is for pleasure, base lusts cannot be refused.

(4) The Rising Divorce Rate: Resultant from the breakdown of the family order and greater potential for promiscuity (see points 1 and 2).

(5) The Decline of the Family: Brought about by points 1, 2, 3 and 4. Once the family goes, society does also.

If you are single, abstinence is always your best and only morally acceptable choice. It is not always easy, but it always works. By abstaining from sex, you eliminate the possibility of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

My favourite bits are :

sex primarily became a recreational pursuit. and
The Rise of Homosexuality and perverted lifestyles: Once it is accepted that sex is for pleasure, base lusts cannot be refused.

They say that like its a bad thing!
Lets just say if I was ever listed in 'Who's Who' I would have no problem as listing sex as one of my hobbies. Honestly, what business is it of their's if people do not see sex primarily in terms of having kids. As someone who 1) does not want them and 2) has no intention of getting married, am I supposed to practise abstinence ?? I would be even more Stroppy if that were the case. It is so tempting to say what they all seem to need is a good fuck and perhaps they would have less interest in prying into other people's sex lives!

Look, god botherers, accept it, some of us quite like sex for 'purely recreational purposes'. As the saying goes, get over it !

Oh and more on their views about 'deviant homosexuals':

The Life League has a simple policy regarding homosexuality. We regard it as sexual deviance, and believe that it flies in the face of the natural Order purposed by God for humankind. Homosexuals are not born “gay”, and lead a “gay lifestyle” through choice, not heredity.

Whilst we believe homosexuality to be an anti-life aberration, we do not hate homosexuals. The charge of “homophobia”, in the sense of a vicious hatred targeted at homosexuals, cannot be laid at our door as we feel it is our duty to love those who have been lured into this lifestyle, and to inform them of the folly of their ways. We utterly abhor all anti-homosexual violence, but similarly condemn the tendency of government policy to favour minority rights over the rights of the majority.

We will be including various articles about our stance on homosexuality and it’s anti-life destructiveness in the coming months.

Yep, all that deviant sex and no procreation. Can't be having that.
I'm sure LGBT parents must fuck with their heads .

And finally, they aim to keep young people in ignorance , because of course if you aren't told about sex then surely you won't do it :

It is in the light of these facts, that the Life League opposes sex education in it’s various forms and guises, in the full knowledge that it is amoral, has a destructive effect on society and contributes to the overall problem of sexual promiscuity and perversion in the UK.

As they seem so fond of direct action , perhaps some of us deviants could tell them what we think of them .

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More idiocy

Another story that makes me despair of humanity :

The Minneapolis airport toilet where US senator Larry Craig was arrested for allegedly soliciting gay sex is now attracting tourists, say airport staff.

"People are taking pictures," Karen Evans, an information officer at Minneapolis-St Paul international airport, told Associated Press.

Mr Craig was arrested on 11 June by an undercover airport police officer.

Now it seems that tourists passing through the airport cannot resist the temptation to have a look at the scene.

"We had to just stop and check out the bathroom," said Sally Westby of Minneapolis, on her way to Guatemala with her husband Jon.

"In fact, it's Jon's second time - he was here last week already."

Royal Zino, who works at the shoeshine shop next to the public lavatory, said "it's been crazy".

"People have been going inside, taking pictures of the stall, taking pictures outside the bathroom door."

The politician, who has a record of hostility to gay rights and is a married father-of-three, insists he is not homosexual.

He says police misconstrued his actions at the airport.

I mean, never mind the usual hypocritical homophobe story, but the fact that people want to photograph the toilet !!!!! Twice !!!!!

There must be something more interesting to do in Minneapolis, surely ??

Pic : upstanding married senator .

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Peace in the Middle East sorted !!

Yep, all it takes is wearing a wrist band and a few songs and voila...we have peace.

Madonna and assorted airheads take themselves much too seriously ,finding spirituality in their shallow pampered existence ... and other such bollocks.Also known as Bono syndrome, delusions that your opinion is made more important by being a celeb.

Please stick to the day job !

pic: Madonna with Israel President Shimon Peres .


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Must get out more

Not been posting for a while. Lazy .

I thought blogging was sad enough until I found myself chatting with Kit, on facebook ,on a Sunday evening. Not that Kit is sad, weird but not sad. Nope, it was the fact the subject matter involved Denham ,Zionist fishnets,small dogs and stroppy women .

Date for the diary , there is a piss up for leftie bloggers who want to venture off the web and into the semi real world of a pub full of social misfits.
Saturday 6th October, 'The Euston Flyer', Euston . Starts 4pm.
All welcome.
There will of course be a delegation from Dolls4Jim.

Oh and if you turn up I'll tell you the story that involves chihuahuas, disturbed schoolboys and Jim Denham...


Respect: things can only get better?

Most people would have served Thatcher a cup of hemlock to hasten her demise and a chance for her to see her old mucker, Pinochet. Instead Gordon Brown gave her PG Tips (or whatever the quality of tea they have at No. 10) and spent chatting for a couple of hours. I imagine they were exchanging tips in how to screw the workers.

Just how far will Gordon Brown go…?

Inviting every Tory on the block as an adviser, private equity pals and not a socialist in sight. Brown is marking his territory by pissing on the Left. His self-styled government of “all talents” is going back to an old-fashion concept of politics. It echoes an 18th century understanding of political parties where groupings of the ruling class were looser and informal. Unlike modern day political parties, the 18th century style of governance was much more fluid and made up of coalitions of individual members of the ruling class. They were closed from and not amenable to ordinary people.

Overall they were out of touch and democracy was a pipedream: rather like what we have with Gordon Brown. And his further attacks on LP democracy only further emphasise this.

We are gearing up for LP conference with the union leaderships, at the moment, against these proposals. Public sector workers possibly striking over pay claims, the impact of the credit crunch on the economy (which is an attack on the working class because borrowers will pay for it through higher interest rates and low interest rates for savers). It is all heating up for Brown.

Therefore the best place for socialists is the LP. There is a fight to be had with the LP and also with the union bureaucracy. What amazes me somewhat is that comrades prefer to battle it out in Respect. Alan Thornett’s piece in Socialist Resistance gives a list of modest proposals. One being: “We have to accept that Respect is a start, but only a start in building a genuinely broad left wing alternative to New Labour.” And, “It must have clear socialist politics”.

That fact that Alan is still arguing for this after 2-3 years of Respect is amazing though unsurprising. My view is that if you still have to reiterate the same old demands year in then if it aint happening now then it kinda won’t! How can Respect have the capacity to build, grow and recruit when it is run by two unstable political forces that piss on democracy and transparency? And of course we are seeing the tensions betweens these two forces at the same time as attacks on the working class increase.

And there’s a prospect of a faction fight come the conference in November. How is that appealing to disillusioned lefties? If perhaps Galloway gets his way and the SWP become marginalized then will the bland progressive demands, ironically, disappear altogether?

The SWP opted for a popular front style operation and have accommodated to and capitulated to religion. Instead of fighting for socialist policies (like the SA, for example) they have simply sold-out though they have initially offered a couple of sops to appease the discontented (Lesbian and Gay rights, woman’s right to choose). Also, why does Galloway go on about Gay Pride in his letter? Why has Respect not broken out of its ghetto?

Respect’s composition is based on two conflicting political forces, religion and socialism. It gives rise to instability and this exposes why the popular front is utterly disastrous in this situation. It will inevitably lead to implosion and destruction.
And comrades, what is so wrong with secularism, something in the past socialists had no problem supporting?

The Left in Respect believes that some left alternative to Labour will draw the masses towards itself. The International Marxist Group in the 1970’s used the expression “revolutionary pole of attraction” to sum up this thinking. It does not work. The experience is similar to Ground Hog Day; the SLP, the Socialist Alliance, the Campaign for a New Workers Party and of course Respect.

The lessons are never learned and there is no analysis of why this method fails. Just charge into the next grouping hoping this will be the One. It never is. The same template is used possibly with minor alternations; stuck in the same sectarian mindset with some democratic centralist group running the show with the argument that it is plural and socialist yet it stays stunted growth wise. There’s no cool analysis or balance sheet written about these experiences instead we have a “fools rush in” mentality. No wonder this fails whether it is the SA, SLP, CNWP and in all probability Respect.

Surely we need to adjust our political interventions by rethinking our strategy such as what are people out in the big wide world interested in? Not to hector and lecture people about the revolutionary party etc.

I wrote some months ago why Socialists should be in the LP and got earache from the comrades outside the LP who, funnily enough, didn’t convince me to leave the LP.

My conclusions remain the same.

"Why hang around outside when you could be inside fighting with other socialists and making a big noise in British politics?"

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TUC Congress: Wednesday morning

Last night’s bad news was that Bob Crow was voted off the TUC General Council. He was on last year, off the year before, on the year before that, so they are obviously going to have to fit a revolving door with his name above it. Despite my several criticisms of Brother Crow, it is obvious that he was voted off by right-wing union leaders’ votes because he doesn’t accept the TUC bureaucracy’s kissing of newLabour’s arse, and because he quite likes strikes. So yes, it is bad news, not least so because his exit may strengthen those isolationist voices with the RMT who would have us pull out of the TUC altogether.

Sadly, in an attempt to come out fighting this morning, Bob – seconding a Prison Officers’ Association resolution about prison officers’ union rights – made a comment about electing banjo players above strikers which misfired as an insult at the Musicians’ Union which had won the seat he used to occupy. Next time, Bob, stick to the subject of the resolution you are speaking on.

The next resolution was about the Shrewsbury pickets, 24 building workers convicted in 1973 under the 1875 Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, who have still not had justice. Congress unanimously demanded a Parliamentary enquiry into their conviction, imprisonment and treatment behind bars.

Next up was an NUT resolution entitled ‘organising and independent trade unionism’. Although it didn’t explicitly say so, I think this is about NUT’s isolation following its correct decision not to sign up to a ‘partnership’ agreement that other education unions signed up to thus neutering themselves and helping the employers to attack their members. It was odd, then, that the GMB managed to second the resolution by doing a speech in favour of ‘partnership’. Honestly, I think their speaker would have claimed that a pork chop was a pig and butcher partnership (to paraphrase someone else’s joke).

The debate on migrant workers saw a TUC video and some determined speeches from the rostrum, the most notable of which was NUT delegate Kevin Courtney’s, as he pointed out that migrant workers are exploited not just by gangmasters and cowboy outfits, but by large corporate agencies and by governments.

On to minimum wage enforcement. After much welcoming of Gordon Brown’s pledge on Monday to improve enforcement, a PCS speaker reminded us that Brown made much the same promise last year, and told us what had happened to it. A promise to increase enforcement resources by 50% has translated in reality to the 80 compliance officers in post last December soon to be increased by a measly 8. HM Revenue and Customs has the resources to bring only six prosecutions per year, leaving all other cases for individual workers to challenge alone through the Tribunals. The poverty-paying employers must be well and truly not shaking in their shoes.

The snottily-named First Division Association had a wee moan at the PCS for daring to criticise HMRC management for failing to deliver enforcement. Apparently the senior managers are union members, and apparently that makes them immune from criticism. All I can say is that there are bosses where I work who hold trade union membership cards, but I won’t hold my tongue on their mistreatment of workers just on account of that.

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TUC Congress: Will Unions Co-ordinate Action Against Pay Cuts?

Following Monday's debate on trade union freedom, the other biggy of the week was on Tuesday afternoon, on public services and public sector pay. The TUC had attempted to sedate us all in advance, with guest speeches from not just the CBI but also government ministers Jacqui Smith and Peter Hain - the latter telling us that the government, trade unions and employers had reached an "historic consensus" on pension reform, prompting me to heckle "I didn't!".

The two main composites were 12, on public serivces, and 13, on public sector pay. There was never any doubt that they would pass unanimously, but the content and fire of the speeches would also give a clue as to union leaders' commitment to see the fight through.

Proposing Composite 13, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka challenged Gordon Brown's argument that you need to restrain workers' pay to defeat inflation. He quoted Brown in saying that "The price of a job should never be substandard pay", pointing out poverty pay levels among civil servants. Mark announced to great cheers that yesterday, workers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had voted by 76% to reject their pay offer. He might have mentioned (but didn't) the ironic fact that those workers' boss, John Hutton, would be given a big chunk of Congress time tomorrow to tell us what a good bloke he is.

Just when I began to fear that Mark's speech would be all rumbustious fat-cat- and government-bashing, but nothing on how we would fight back, he set out the case for co-ordinated industrial action, civil servants alongside health workers, posties, teachers and others. 200 people had attended PCS's fringe meeting on the subject, and he called for the TUC to call a meeting to co-ordinate action immediately Congress finished. Good stuff.

Seconding, Christine Blower offered the solidarity of the NUT to other public sector unions. She stated that if in November, the teachers' pay review body failed to deliver decent pay rises, then the NUT would call industrial action co-ordinated with other unions. Christine did not explain why this had to wait until November - after all, how likely is it that the pay review body will go against government policy and give teachers the rise they deserve?!

A speaker from the Prison Officers' Association pointed out that Prison Service managers will be getting their pay rise in full, whilst the lowest-paid workers in the service - ancillary staff - will have their rise staged, pegged to 10p per hour instead of 15p. "How will that 5p difference fuel inflation, while tax breaks to private equity won't?!", he asked. The POA also joined the call for co-ordinated industrial action.

A UCU speaker expressed gratitude to the PCS and POA for demonstrating that members can be won to a programme of strike action. However, I see more grounds for concern as to whether union leaders can be won to strike action, especially strike action of more than token days. Rank-and-file members will always be willing to fight, especially when given leadership they can be confident in.

And to me, that is now the issue. The Congress debate was welcome - a clear declaration of intent for co-ordinated industrial action to break Brown's public sector pay cuts. But the demand for co-ordinated action must not become an excuse for union leaders not to fight unless every other union is doing so too. And the action they co-ordinate must be more than isolated days out to show token protests rather than a strategy to win. Now we have the Congress policy, we need rank-and-file pressure to make the union leaders deliver.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

World Hearing Voices Day - 14/09/07

"In our culture voices represent something that is to be feared. For ordinary people the experience has become inextricably bound up with unpredictability, being out of control and general issue of danger" (Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity - Phil Thomas and Ivan Leudar).

Rather like World Mental Health Day, which happens in October, World Hearing Voices Day (in its second year) is happening on the 14 September. I am giving it the heads-up as rather like WMHD it is dedicated to develop awareness, challenge the stereotypes and psychiatric orthodoxy that surrounds voice hearing. This year's day is around stigma and secrecy and there's conference in London. Up to 14 countries are hosting events to explore and understand voice hearing.

The way voice hearing is viewed is bound up with media attention around the "mad, bad and dangerous to know" myth which is peddled routinely. Recently a storyline in a medical soap (only too prevalent) revolved around a mental health user who heard voices culminating with him stabbing one of the medics 'cos the "voices told him to do it". Many voice hearers are scared to talk about their voices for fear of negative reaction and this day will challenge the present orthodoxy.

During the past 20 years there has been alternatives to the reductionist psychiatric explanation for voice hearing, which pathologises and labels them as "schizophrenic" and looks towards medication as a solution. It is based on social control, coercion, power and conformity. It can have a dehumanising impact on someone.

Alternatives which looks at the history of voice hearing, and questions the validity of a solely biological determinist view instead psychiatrists like Marius Romme and Phil Thomas have argued that it can be a symptom of life experiences that can manifest into voice hearing. Is voice hearing a symptom of mental distress? Life experiences that include trauma and internalising oppression. This has been shown to empower the user to come to terms, with support, the voices, and be able to contextualise them.

As regards to medication it should be left up to the user to decide but other ways of dealing with voices should also be explored such as looking at coping strategies, support groups and understanding the voices.The activist based organisation Hearing Voices Network has done so much to challenge the stigma and been at the forefront of the mental health user movement.

As human beings are complex reducing behaviour to mere biochemistry can not explain our complexity. We do need to go beyond biological interpretations and look at the alternatives as well. Alternatives that encompass the whole person and their material experiences which may gain us more insight.

I have included a link to the Critical Psychiatry network that does have some good articles and there's also the Campaign for Abolition of the Schizophrenia Label


TUC Tuesday Morning: Transport – Debate, Demo and Fringe

This morning, the TUC invited the class enemy into its living room. We found the need to have an RMT delegation meeting outside the congress hall at the time.

Later was a session on rail and transport. We are, as usual, in favour of freight on rail, in favour of public railways, and aware of the environmental benefits thereof. And it was very welcome to see the General Secretaries of TSSA and ASLEF speak clearly in defence of the RMT against the media witch-hunt during the Metronet strike last week. This was particularly important given Brendan Barber’s silence on the issue, but that said, TSSA did not explain why, despite defending our strike, they called off their own. RMT President John Leach thumped the tub for the ending of Tube privatization, waking up some of the sleeping delegates.

Then I got up to make a point and this is what I said …

I’ve got up here to ask for your support for an important campaign we are waging on London Underground. London Underground Ltd plans savage attacks on its ticket office, closing 39 and cutting the opening hours of most of the rest.

The company claims this is because more and more people are using Oyster – the new smartcard ticketing system. But we know that passengers still need ticket office. Not everyone uses Oyster; it’s a complex system and people need help; there are already long queues at our ticket offices; several types of transaction can only be carried out at a ticket office; stations without ticket offices are hostile places to be, especially at night; and sometimes, phonelines, websites and touchscreens are no substitute for human contact.

The truth is that LUL is not simply responding to changes in ticket-buying behaviour but trying to force that change by driving you away through closing its ticket offices.

I am no Luddite. I believe that new technology is good – but it must be introduced in the interests of workers and service users not in the interests of maximising profits. London Underground already charges you some of the highest underground rail fares in the world – it could at least make it easier for you to pay, or better still, cut the fares.

The attack on ticket offices will also see over 270 staff posts cut; workers displaced; promotion opportunities lost; part-time and family-friendly working opportunities lost; increased workload and stress; and increased vulnerability to assault against workers on a system where 77% of assaults are ticketing-related.

Don’t let Ken Livingstone come to this Congress telling you he is the champion of working people when he is doing this to his own staff and his own passengers.

RMT and TSSA are campaigning against this. A week on Thursday, we are holding a public rally to which you are all invited. I believe that we will have to strike to save our ticket offices, and I am asking for all unions in this hall to support us, and for the General Council to support us too.

Outside the Congress hall, RMT members waved banners and posed in front of a hired display lorry adorned with the demand that Metronet be returned to public ownership now.

After taking part in the demo for a while, I went to a fringe meeting about transport, arriving late to hear Jack Dromey extol the virtues of Ken Livingstone. I had to chip in and mention Livingstone calling on RMT member to cross their own union’s picket lines, presiding over the de-staffing of London Underground stations, and now ushering in ticket office closures (I could also have mentioned East London line privatisation, the multiple fat cats he employs, and many more sins, but you get the point.) Jack replied that Ken may have his faults, but he’s moving in the right direction on bus policy and at least he’s not Boris Johnson.


TUC Monday afternoon - Trade Union freedom

Here at Congress, debates have to squeeze their way in between speeches from visiting worthies and TUC back-slapping sessions. But on Monday afternoon, a very important debate did squeeze its way in - on trade union rights and freedom.

Proposing, Bob Crow pointed out that Gordon Brown's speech had made not one promise to extend trade union rights. He plugged the forthcoming RMT strike on One rail in defence of a sacked guard, and pointed out that the employer will be using managers from different sections and companies to help them break the strike through scabbing. If bosses have the right to take solidarity action, then so should workers. Bob also encouraged delegates to come to the rally against the anti-union laws on 18th October.

Seconding, Brian Caton of the Prison Officers Association quoted Gordon Brown's speech from earlier in the day - "no injustice can last forever". Prison officers are denied trade union rights, but are still determined to fight privatisation and underfunding of the prison service. Interestingly, Brian blamed violent reoffending on the lack of government funding and support for rehabilitation programmes in prisons.

Steve Kemp of the National Union of Mineworkers argued that because of the anti-union laws, "Unions have been taken over by lawyers and judges". He reminded Congress of the Gate Gourmet strike two years ago - when Heathrow baggage handlers took solidarity action, the anti-union laws "came to the rescue of the employer". While the media decries 'wildcat strikes', Steve decried 'wildcat employers' and 'wildcat judges'.

A CWU speaker described how the anti-union laws were affecting their current dispute. The employer can use scab labour, but it is illegal for the union to picket the depot that labour comes from to dissuade the scabs, because that would count as 'secondary picketing'.

This subject comes back to Congress every year. Two reasons. One, its continuing importance. Two, the TUC does so little about it from one Congress year to the next. The POA had some text in the composite that asserted that the TUC must campaign for its policies even when the government opposes them (especially when the government opposes them, you might think). It shouldn't need to be said, but it strikes at the core of where the TUC is going wrong. Whether it is on the Trade Union Freedom Bill, the minimum wage, agency workers, Trident replacement or a host of other policies, the TUC must stop acting like a beaten dog that keeps crawling back to its abusive owner.

Oh, and the composite on trade union rights and freedom was passed unanimously. Most things do. Mostly, the General Council 'supports'. Sometimes it 'supports with reservations'. Occasionally, it 'opposes'. I wonder whether there should be a new category: 'supports with no intention of implementing'.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

TUC Congress Monday Morning: Barber and Brown

It was a morning of Speeches By Important People, interspersed with some awards and the odd resolution. First up was TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, who began by welcoming “another year of solid progress for our movement”. He cited the TUC’s work fighting the BNP, congratulated ASLEF for its landmark legal victory securing the right of unions to expel fascists, and welcomed the formation of Unite. He also offered support for the industrial battles currently being waged by the CWU, Prison Officers’ Association and GMB/Unite/Unity in Remploy. Somehow, he ‘forgot’ to mention RMT’s strike on Metronet just a few days ago.

Telling us that Gordon Brown would be speaking later, Brendan described the PM as “an old friend and a good friend” (isn’t there some saying that starts “with friends like these …”?), and pleaded that “it’s not easy to be a Labour Prime Minister addressing a TUC Congress”. My heart positively does not bleed. Of course, it’s also not easy being a contracted-out public services worker on poverty pay, or a victim of the war on Iraq, or a young person more likely to get an ASBO than an apprenticeship. But Brendan seemed determined to be Gordon’s warm-up act.

There was some criticism – there could hardly not be – but it was all polite, all muted, all timidly whimpering from under the shadow of our gratitude for the plethora of fabulous things that newLabour has done for us. It was part Oliver Twist, part Uriah Heep.

Brendan rightly denounced vulnerable employment as “the dark underbelly of British life”, and described meeting many of its victims – workers who are super-exploited by long hours, poverty pay, insecure employment, workplace bullying and more. It’s a veritable scandal. But isn’t the real scandal that this situation persists ten years into a Labour government? Brendan didn’t mention that.

I watched Gordon Brown’s speech from the balcony, holding aloft ‘End Tube Privatisation’ placards along with several fellow delegates from RMT and TSSA.

Brown pushed all the right buttons to get himself a sympathetic hearing – his former life as a trade union tutor, praise for union learning, name-dropping of Nelson Mandela. He talked about oppression and poverty in other countries.

He also said many of those phrases that trade unionists like to hear, but left them suitably vague and ignored the fact that his own government’s policy contradicted them. How about “dignity and security in retirement” (despite attacks on pensions), “raising standards in the workplace” (despite the ravages of privatisation) and “a better NHS” (that’ll be the one that’s laying off workers as funding rushes into the hands of privateers and away from patient care).

But Brown’s main theme was jobs, and his main message was that British trade unions must help British employers to compete with foreigners. His subtext was that we must accept changes, no doubt meaning giving up important rights and agreements, accepting less secure employment, always feeding our employers’ need for more ‘flexibility’.

He is going to fast-track British workers into British jobs, and asked the unions to enter into partnership with the employers to help oil the wheels. And while he didn’t defend his privatisation policies or his attacks on pensions, he was prepared to defend his public sector pay cuts, justified by the need to “defeat inflation”. As usual, no such restraint is expected from the fat-cat bosses, only from low-paid workers. I shouted “rubbish!”, then fell silent in shock as not a whimper emanated from the public sector unions whose members are being told to accept below-inflation pay rises. To give them credit, PCS had produced some posters demanding decent pay for public servants, which plenty of delegates held up, but I expected at least a few verbal outbursts when Brown positively advocated holding back pay, and my gob was duly smacked.

Brown is trying to shackle the British labour movement to the British ruling class, enlisting us to help our exploiters extract more value from our labour. What is this – The Bridge Over The River Kwai?! To resist this, both the right and sections of the left of the labour movement need to drop their decades-long embrace of nationalism and insist that the workers of the world will not ‘compete’ with each other in a race to the bottom, but unite with each other to end exploitation.

“Some people”, said Brown, “think the 21st century will be a Chinese century. I think it can be a British century.” What about a workers’ century?!


Lone parents and the green paper on welfare reform

Article for next month's Labour Left Briefing
Peter Hain recently insisted that getting lone parents back into work, was, apparently a respectable socialist cause.
According to Hain, full employment and conquering child poverty, in his opinion are socialist statements and “nobody can argue with them”.
But Peter, penalising and coercing people back into work with threat of benefit loss is something socialists would reject.

The proposals outlined in the green paper on welfare reform have a dishonest ideological basis with the emphasis on “culture of dependency”. With various legislative attacks on the poor in this society (Welfare Reform Act and Freud Review) this green paper and its contents comes at no surprise.

What comes across is that worklessness in marginalised groups such as single parents is seen by the government as the result of individual failure. If it is anything collective at all, in the government’s view, it is about culture of dependency and low expectation.

A real progressive socialist government, contrary to Hain’s recent pronouncements, would envision a more inclusive society that has affordable housing and good quality childcare as opposed to the free market view of work as simply being as much productivity as possible for as little wage as possible.

The aspiration behind the green paper is full employment for disadvantaged groups. A noble goal but to be pursued by ignoble means: More mandatory requirements on Jobseekers and tighter job search conditions before benefit is paid.

Nowhere in the green paper is there any mention of universal childcare be provided; a traditional socialist demand that would immediately free up single parents to study and work.
John Hutton earlier this year sited Sweden, which has around 80% of lone parents back at work as opposed to over 56% in the UK. Hutton failed to mention that money has been invested in the childcare system in Sweden.
Many European countries spend 3 or 4 times more than the UK on child care provision. In Sweden the early system is an almost universal public service and in Finland every child has the right to childcare from birth. While in the UK childcare is fragmented and beset with uncoordinated initiatives.
As Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) recently argued, lone parents need good supportive and flexible working conditions (certainly the pay gap is amplified for women workers who return to the workplace).
For example nowhere is there a proposal to help fund study so lone parents can increase their chances of getting better paid work. Instead the list of companies the green paper boasts as “partners” suggests careers of badly paid drudgery in the retail, hospitality and care home trades…the jobs nobody else wants. Many of these jobs would vanish over night in a recession. It would people from disadvantaged groups that would be laid off first if the firms are hit by the fallout from the credit crunch or a similar crisis courtesy of the merchant banks.
A recent book (Collapsing Careers by Joanna Grigg) reveals that every year 30,000 women in Britain are sacked, made redundant or leave their job because of pregnancy discrimination.

And further stigmatising of lone parents is David Cameron’s support for tax breaks for married couples as Britain must “lose its anti-marriage bias" if the UK's "broken society is to be fixed”. Cameron has back peddled over this as last year he said the, “Tory war on single parents was over”. He is surging towards to the right and championing the ideology, once again, of the heterosexual nuclear family (married of course). The same old Tories!
The culture of dependency is an invention of right-wing ideologies and those who go along with this thesis demonises the powerless. Socialists have to challenge this ideology.

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