Fighting racism today

Fighting racism today

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American footballer Colin Kaepernick has protested against racism (Photo Mike Morebeck/Creative Commons)

The following article was written by Hugo Pierre of the Socialist Party. Hugo is also a member of the National Executive of the UNISON trade union representing black members (writing here in a personal capacity). We believe this article raises some key issues for those wanting to fight back against racism.


Fighting racism means fighting capitalism

Solidarity with Black Lives Matter

By Hugo Pierre, Socialist Party black and Asian group

The police killing spree in the United States has unleashed a mass movement.

As in the 1950s and 1960s with the civil rights movement, a new generation of black youth has been forced into action against racism. First in the belly of the beast – the US – but also other parts of the world, particularly the UK.

This movement is not limited to the narrow confines of police brutality. It has spread its wings to tackle all the political issues facing black people and oppressed racial groups. Some are drawing the conclusion that capitalism itself is the root of the problem.

The federal investigation into Ferguson Police Department following the police murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown shines a spotlight on the real issues facing blacks in particular. In a city where 69% of the population is black, the investigation found a justice system riddled with institutionalised racism:

  • 93% of all arrests were black – and in 90% of these arrests, force was used
  • Black drivers made up 85% of all vehicles stopped, even though these searches revealed they were 25% less likely to be carrying anything illegal
  • 95% of those jailed for more than two days were black
  • Blacks were 68% less likely to have their case dismissed

But the findings also revealed a corrupt justice system that had become focused on bringing in income from fines. This income was necessary to maintain the whole justice system, as it had become commercialised through a succession of cuts and sell-offs.

For-profit justice

Meanwhile, a system operated where white people who faced fines would be let off by friends, acquaintances, neighbours – and even themselves – working in the court system. Racist emails, even by senior staff, were a matter of course.

This profit-driven approach had lethal consequences for Michael Brown. But the picture is repeated one way or another in police forces around the US. And a black US President and countless black city mayors have failed to take action against a for-profit justice system.

Jails are full of young black men. They are typecast because of petty misdemeanours in school, fallen foul of ‘zero tolerance’ policies. They end up being statistics in privatised US jails which have to meet their quotas to get government payments.

More young black men are in US jails than on US college campuses. Black communities are blighted by poverty, unemployment and de facto segregation. Growing filming of racist incidents shows how brutal police action is, as testified recently by the killing of Philando Castile in his car in front of his girlfriend and her young child.

Resistance

But black youth across the US have organised mass civil disobedience in response. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has acted as a lightning rod for the discontent and anger of the many. Demonstrations are now a feature following almost any police killing.

Protests in cities have shut down freeways, closed city centres. Some have been attacked by police. Some have led to uprisings against state forces. In Ferguson, the chief of police was forced to resign. But no officer responsible for killing unarmed black men or women has been found guilty of murder.

Rallies, demonstrations and direct action are not limited just to tackling police murders. And the outrage against police killings isn’t limited to the US.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations started in sympathy in London, Birmingham, Sheffield and other cities. Of course, black workers and youth in the UK have our own victims. The killings this year alone of Mzee Mohammed and Dalian Atkinson at the hands of British police have caused outrage.

These anti-racist campaigns have brought to the surface the often-hidden inequalities that face young black people: higher rates of unemployment, lower access to higher education, lower access to graduate jobs.

Figures released by the Trade Union Congress showed that London, often considered to be diverse and tolerant, had one of the highest gaps between black and white youth unemployment rates. This was not simply an issue of ‘skills mismatch’. When looking at workers with comparable qualifications, black youth could be two to three times more likely to be unemployed.

Studies by UK trade unions have also found that during the post-2007 ‘Great Recession’ and its mass shedding of jobs, black workers were more likely to face redundancy. Some local councils have sacked black workers five or six times as fast as their white workmates. Shamefully, there is little difference in the outcome for black workers whichever party controls the council.

The ‘Movement for Black Lives’ campaign in the US is drawing political conclusions.

This has come not long after the anti-establishment Occupy movement. It’s hot on the heels of the outline of a political campaign against the super-rich represented by self-described socialist Bernie Sanders’ presidential nomination campaign. Young people have lifted their sights.

Demands

The Movement for Black Lives has started to raise many political demands around which various campaign groups can organise political action. These include “an end to the war on black people”, “economic justice”, and investment in education and health rather than “the criminalising, caging and harming of black people”.

These are the beginnings of a programme for a political alternative. This is very welcome. But although it highlights many issues seriously, it also currently has some limitations.

The campaign’s platform recognises the fundamental right of workers to organise, and the need for collective action. There is criticism of the weakness of current US legislation which enshrines the right to organise, but then is toothless when employers refuse to allow workers to exercise that right. It notes the strength of unionised workers in raising the living standards of black people in both the public and private sectors.

Calling for tougher pro-union legislation, and the repeal of anti-union legislation, is right – but alone will not lead to a change in the situation.

The trade unions will be crucial in developing bold, campaigning organisations to bring workers of all races together to fight for rights at work, against discrimination, and against poverty pay and conditions. Especially in the US – but also in the UK – changing the rotten, pro-capitalist leadership of many of those unions, and widening union democracy, are crucial to this task.

The need to challenge the racist capitalist state will also be central to any successful programme. But simple reforms aimed at encouraging full participation in the current ‘democratic’ process will not lead to a fundamental shift in the balance of power from the super-rich 1% to the 99%. For that, we need to take economic power from the capitalists.

Anti-establishment

As in the 1960s, campaigns around voter registration could mobilise substantial numbers to engage. But voter dissatisfaction with both Clinton and Trump means these campaigns will have to break with establishment politics to make real headway.

The two successful Seattle City Council elections campaigns for Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Party’s US co-thinkers Socialist Alternative, show what achievements are possible when workers have socialist representatives to back their campaigns.

Sawant helped win a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle, the first major US city to adopt it. She plays a leading role in fighting poor housing conditions and anti-working class housing regulations. These are major gains, and have helped to inspire a new generation of black and white young people into political activity.

Corbyn

Similarly, in the UK, the campaign to keep Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party has given some political expression to the millions who want a fight against austerity. Some blacks have taken part, but many more will be wary at this stage, because of the right-wing Labour establishment blocking their participation.

Momentum, the ‘official’ Corbyn support group, must not fall into the traps Labour’s right wing has set. Blocking forces outside the Labour Party from getting involved, and backing down to establishment Labour politicians, will blunt or blot out the mobilising effect Corbynism could have.

In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the mass civil rights movement was initiated by trade unionists and socialists. They enlisted the services of the churches and the broader community to help organise mass campaigns throughout the US.

The leaders that came through this movement were forced to change their views – and ended by groping towards the ideas of genuine socialism. Figures like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King started their political lives with a religious fervour, but were assassinated because they took the side of the working class.

Socialism

Malcolm X said “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” Martin Luther King said “There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” He was assassinated a day after marching with striking sanitation workers. The Black Panther Party correctly adopted the ideas of socialism – but unfortunately, without a thorough understanding of what it would take to achieve a socialist society.

Black youth have opened a new chapter of struggle against racism. New movements like Black Lives Matter could play a key role in bringing young people to participate in this essential struggle. The conditions they face will force them to fight to the end.

The lessons of previous movements will have to be learnt quickly. The key lesson is that the struggle to end racism is linked at every level to the struggle against the rule of an economic and political elite which relies on racism to justify exploitation and keep workers divided against each other. That means the struggle against racism must also be the struggle for a socialist society.

If you agree with us, we urge you to join the struggle

Packed meeting discusses Trotskyism, Corbyn and socialist change

Packed meeting discusses Trotskyism, Corbyn and socialist change

Militant

It was “standing room only” at a packed Coventry Socialist Party public meeting on Thursday 25th August.

People came from all over Coventry to hear Socialist Party General Secretary Peter Taaffe speak on “Trotskyism, the Militant tendency,  the Corbyn insurgency and the struggle for socialist change.

Introducing the meeting former Coventry  Labour MP Dave Nellist put the current attacks on the Socialist Party, formerly Militant, in their historial context.

Peter Taaffe outlined the role of Trotskyism in the 21st century, the role of Militant and its successes in Liverpool and Coventry, how Militant led the campaign against the poll tax which brought down the Thatcher Government, while also discussing the current Corbyn insurgency and the Socialist Party’s role now and in the future.

Peter discussed the role of the Militant leadership in Liverpool City Council in the 1980’s who refused to make cuts, redundancies and closures, instead setting a needs budget with the support of a mass movement of local trade unions and communities against the Tories to fight for the money the city needed. The  council won, with the Thatcher Government providing millions more to Liverpool council, allowing them to build 5000 more houses and created thousands of jobs, with not one job lost!

Compare the fighting stand taken by Liverpool Council who took on Thatcher, building homes and community facilities with Coventry City Council who are closing libraries, public toilets and children’s centres. Quite a contrast!

On the issue of the Poll Tax Peter outlined how it was the Militant that mobilised the mass non-payment which eventually led to the downfall of Thatcher.

Both Dave Nellist in his introduction and Peter in his speech made clear that it was these huge victories of the working class, aided by the leadership of the Militant, that have fuelled the attempts of the establishment and right wing of Labour to whitewash history and attempt to discredit Trotskyism and the history of the Socialist Party.

He also discussed the success of Dave Nellist and the precedent he set as Coventry MP in only taking the average wage of skilled workers within his constituency, with Peter highlighting that you can only represent working people if you’re going through the same struggles they are, which came up within the contributions with many commending him for doing so.

Talking about the role of the Socialist Party after being expelled from the Labour Party, Peter set out how we have been the only 100% anti austerity alternative within politics. While many would agree that the election of Corbyn was a massive victory for the labour movement, this is undermined when the likes of Sadiq Khan aren’t helping those being evicted in Walthamstow by rip off landlords and it is the Socialist Party that is organising occupations and protests to help these people.

However, Peter argued that the Socialist Party would welcome affiliation to the Labour Party similar to that of the Co-operative Party, if the Labour Party was to open up its structures to a more democratic and federal structure and was to become a truly anti-austerity party as Corbyn and the Socialist Party both want.

Following Peter’s remarks there were many interesting contributions from the floor, from Labour voters arguing for deselection of right-wing MP’s and their disgust at Labour councillors passing on Tory cuts to working people. With another attendee stating that “if [he] hadn’t have joined [the SP] last week, [he] definitely would have tonight!”

The discussion brought forward many good contributions and questions for example the campaign for a £10/hr minimum wage and whether this was “idealistic”, to which Peter argued that in reality tax credits are used to subsidize big companies who, whilst making massive profits, say they can’t afford a proper wage for their workers.

The key question for socialists is the question of the system itself, capitalism. We are a very rich country (and world), the problem is the wealth is concentrated at the top. We support all reforms and campaigns that fight for greater equality and for a better life for working class people. At the same time, we point out that we need to get rid of the capitalist system and replace it with socialism.

As well as this there was resounding support for the demand that Coventry City Council should set a no cuts budget and stop the cuts being passed on to working people, and instead building a movement much like the Liverpool council and taking on the Tories instead of doing their job for them, with this tying in to how to further build the movement against austerity.

The meeting highlighted that the attacks on Trotskyism and the Militant have not deterred people, but have increased the interest in our ideas and organisation with the meeting filled with many young people and also people of all ages. They were not put off by the term ‘Trot’ or ‘entryist’ and instead wanted to learn more about it. One union rep from the railways commented afterwards “I have learnt so much today and am definitely looking forward to Socialism 2016 in November!”

Trotskyism, the Militant tendency and the Corbyn insurgency – Coventry public meeting

Trotskyism, the Militant tendency and the Corbyn insurgency – Coventry public meeting

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A leaflet we have been distributing for the meeting – text below

Thursday 25th August, 7.30pm, Coventry Methodist Central Hall. Warwick Lane, Coventry City Centre, CV1 2HA

The Socialist Party has had a lot of media coverage over the last few weeks, after Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson claimed that Trotskyists were joining the Labour Party and “twisting young arms” to support Jeremy Corbyn. He then submitted a “dossier” to back up his claims, which included reports from Socialist Party members about events they had spoken at. All these reports showed that, rather than secretly joining the party, we are openly attending events as the Socialist Party and putting forward our views – but this didn’t stop the media widely sharing Watson’s claims. These attacks on the Socialist Party, and our predecessor organisation Militant, show how scared the Labour Party right-wing are of genuine socialist ideas.

We have organised a public meeting in Coventry on Thursday 25th August, with former Militant Editorial Board member and Socialist Party General Secretary Peter Taaffe speaking – as seen on Channel 4 news! If you want to hear about the real ideas of the Socialist Party, rather than media distortions, come to the meeting and find out what we stand for.

The deputy leader of the Labour Party has laid the responsibility of Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity at the feet of supposed Trotskyist infiltrators.

Why has the Labour Party right wing and the media suddenly become interested in the influence of Leon Trotsky; one of the leaders of the Russian revolution who dedicated his life fighting for socialism and against Stalinism?

The Socialist Party proudly stands in the tradition of Trotsky in fighting for the working class and fighting for democratic socialism.

It was the Socialist Party, then Militant, who led the mass non-payment of the poll tax which was scrapped and led to the defeat of Thatcher.

In recent years Socialist Party members have been at the forefront of fights against privatisation, the bedroom tax and attacks on workers and young people.

It is these ideas that the right are scared of and are trying to discredit.

A programme to improve the lives of majority and a strategy to win. We’re fighting for a different kind of society – a socialist society where the world’s resources are controlled and planned for the good of all not for the profits of a few.

Thursday 25th August, 7.30pm, Coventry Methodist Central Hall. Warwick Lane, Coventry City Centre, CV1 2HA

Tories plan further fee hikes for uni students

Tories plan further fee hikes for uni students

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Aidan (second from right) campaigning with TUC Young Workers

The below article by Coventry Socialist Students member Aidan O’Toole was carried in this weeks issue of The Socialist newspaper. The Tories have planned further attacks on students – students need to organise to fight back.

The Tories want universities that meet their backbreaking ‘teaching excellence framework’ targets to be allowed to increase the cost of their courses with inflation. Universities including Manchester have already announced their fees will rise to £9,250 in 2017, before parliament has even considered the measure.

The future is looking bleak for young people. Houses are unaffordable, jobs are low-paid and insecure, and education is becoming more and more elitist.

Universities received £9 billion in tuition fees last year, the highest amount ever. The government has cut central funding to £3 billion.

Rising tuition fees, along with the end of student grants, are increasingly pushing working class people out of higher education. Working class and some middle class students have to decide if a life of debt is worth a degree, which isn’t a guarantee of employment. And that’s only if they can afford to rent accommodation and feed themselves during the course.

It is no surprise that Jeremy Corbyn’s call last year to scrap tuition fees resonates with so many young people. Anger is clear among students who feel like they are putting themselves in a lot of debt for not much gain. The 2016 Student Academic Experience Survey found that two thirds of students felt their degree didn’t give value for money.

The Socialist Party says education is a right and should be free for all. It should not just be a privilege for the super-rich who can afford extortionate fees and high living costs, relying of the bank of mum and dad. We fight for an end to fees, cuts and closures in higher education, for a living grant for all students, and for the return of EMA student payments in further education.

Coventry Socialists campaign against library closures

Coventry Socialists campaign against library closures

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Campaigning in the City Centre

Members of Coventry Socialist Party were campaigning against library closures over the weekend, with a campaign stall in the City Centre and supporting the Save Coventry Libraries campaign at Arena Park Library.

Over 800 people signed the petition over the day, showing how strongly people object to the councils plan to close libraries across Coventry. Some libraries are threatened with closure altogether while some will be closed unless volunteers come forward to run them. Many staff will lose their jobs.

Arena Park is a well used library, but is scheduled to close on August 27th. While campaigning there on Saturday we found that many service users were not aware that it was closing and that there is no alternative provision.

More than 1000 people have signed the petition in total – Coventry Council should listen and not close libraries!

Save Coventry Libraries campaigner Sarah Smith (left) collecting signatures

Leading trade unionist condemns ‘lunch isolation’ letter

Leading trade unionist condemns ‘lunch isolation’ letter

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The letter

We publish below comments from Jane Nellist concerning the disgusting letter circulating on social media addressed to parents of children at a ‘Free school’. Jane is a member of the national executive of the National Union of Teachers and joint secretary of Coventry NUT. She writes here in a personal capacity.


‘Every day almost, there are articles about the disgraceful behaviour of Academy and Free School Headteachers and CEOs who take it upon themselves to abuse their power in our schools.

The latest incident is of a so-called ‘Superhead’ of a London Free School, Katharine Birbalsingh.  She came to prominence in 2010 at the Tory Party Conference when she criticised the state education system, drawing on examples from her own school which resulted in her losing her job.

She went on to set up her own Free School and was praised by Michael Gove.  Her most recent claim to noteriety is to punish pupils whose parents have fallen behind with lunch payments by segregating them in isolation and giving them only a sandwich and a piece of fruit as well as extra lessons.

It’s ironic that her Twitter profile (@Miss_Snuffy) states that she “believes in justice for the poor and discipline+traditional teaching = social mobility.”  Her policies though mean that the pupils are being punished due to their financial situation which is completely unacceptable. The school incidentally does not allow pupils to take their own packed lunch which may be a cheaper option for many families on low wages but who do not qualify for free school meals.

Evidence shows that many children are going to school hungry and that having a breakfast and proper school lunch can help to ensure that children are more able to learn.  By withdrawing these children from their friends and limiting their food, this head is stigmatising them and punishing them.

As a teacher, I believe that all pupils should have a free breakfast and free high quality lunch.  We need to ensure that families have sufficient money to feed their children properly by ensuring that benefits and wages are raised above poverty levels.

This headteacher demonstrates all that is bad about the ethos of some schools that the Tories are praising as good models of education.

It’s time that we put an end to these educational ‘experiments’ and bring all Academies and Free Schools back under local authority control where they can be democratically accountable to the communities they serve.’

70 people join lobby of Coventry Council against library closures

70 people join lobby of Coventry Council against library closures

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Lobbying the council – save our libraries!

Around 70 people braved the rain yesterday and joined a lobby of Coventry Labour Council organised by Save Coventry Libraries.

A number of councillors passed the demo and spoke to protesters saying that while they appreciate that libraries are a crucial service, they have no choice but to make cuts and close libraries. Let’s be clear, they do have a choice – the council could use the £84million+ that they have in reserves to fund services for a year, while building a campaign to demand the money back from central Government.

It is unfortunate but not surprising that most of the Labour councillors who voted to close these libraries are opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. It is a sad state of affairs when they spend more time attacking socialists on Twitter than they do defending the jobs and services of people in Coventry!

Save Coventry Libraries is encouraging people to write to their local councillors and MPs and tell them what your libraries mean to you, and that libraries are a necessity and a basic human right, not a luxury.

The campaign has three upcoming events – “Love Willenhall Library day” on Monday July 25th at 1pm, “Love Arena Park Library day” on Saturday July 30th at 12 noon, and a further lobby of Coventry Council on September 6th at 1pm.