Biggest rent strike for years

At the start of this week (26 October) around 1,300 students at Bristol University withheld their rent for uni accommodation, amounting to around £2 million. This is the biggest student rent strike for many years.

Bristol students, who pay up to £8,000 a year, were promised the “full university experience” only to be locked down for weeks without adequate support.

The Bristol strike is more advanced than others that are being planned around the UK. Strikers are demanding the right to end accommodation contracts early and a 30% rebate if they chose to stay.

A policy based in realities

Donald Trump is “setting the stage for an authoritarian Second Term”, putting people in place, putting down markers for street violence and for the rigging or flouting of elections.

Branko Marketic gives some recent detail in an article for Jacobin. In our debate in Solidarity, I think everyone has agreed that Trump and his base are at least “pre-fascist”, or “proto-fascist”, or “could develop in a fascist direction” after the 3 November election.

How the major parties spoil the election

By Angela Walker (candidate for Vice President on the Hawkins/Walker Green Party US ticket)

Republicans spoil elections by suppressing the Democratic vote and the Black vote. They orchestrate voter roll purges, most notably in the 2000 election in Florida, and restrict the number of polling places in Black and Brown communities. The GOP encourages voter intimidation at polling places, which seems to be higher this year.

Poland's fight for abortion rights

Thousands of people have marched in cities across Poland in protests against a near-total ban on abortion. Poland already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world.

There are fewer than 2,000 legal abortions a year in Poland, and the vast majority take place because of malformed foetuses, which would be illegal following the court ruling such abortions were unconstitutional. The new ruling restricts abortions to circumstances of rape, incest, or if there is a threat to the woman’s life.

Belarus: solidarity and "imperialism"

A few days ago, following up on a suggestion I made to LabourStart’s mailing list that people try out the secure messaging app Telegram, I received an interesting question. I had mentioned that pro-democracy protestors in Belarus and Hong Kong were using the app intensively.

The question I received was: “Is Telegram also being used in Bolivia?” When I replied that I didn’t know, my correspondent replied: “It’s just that it’s used in two places where the imperialist states are very much involved against the government.”

Nick Wright and "the powerful intellect"

Nick Wright is a member of the Communist Party of Britain and frequent contributor to the Morning Star — often writing on Labour Party matters.

Two themes recur in Wright’s articles: that Labour’s changed position on Brexit (no longer promising “to honour” the referendum outcome) was the “fatal surrender” that cost it the 2019 election and that allegations of antisemitism within Labour under Corbyn were “manifestly untrue and malicious” — the work of “not only British and Israeli state actors but an unscrupulous assembly of reactionary forces of all kinds”.

"If Trump attempts a coup, all bets are off"

David Van Deusen is president of the Vermont State Labor Council AFL-CIO, the state's union federation. He spoke to Sacha Ismail from Solidarity about how the labour movement can resist a Trump coup.

There’s a real possibility that Donald Trump will lose this election, outright, but manipulate the process and use his powers as President to refuse to go. This is not a fringe idea – our United States Senator, Bernie Sanders, is rightly banging the drum about it too. It’s a real possibility, and no joke.

Brexit: make Labour speak out

As we go to press on 27 October, talks between the UK and EU for a deal for Brexit are continuing in London and are due to move to Brussels on Thursday 29 October.

Brexit is due to happen on 31 December.

The Tories bluster about being happy to settle for “no deal”, and may yet lurch us into that, but will probably prefer to get some sort of deal, at the last minute, which can be rushed through with the minimum of scrutiny and the maximum of us all being distracted by other concerns.

Against poverty, against the virus: social support

At last, Labour has begun to speak out against the Tories on the pandemic, though only to demand free school meals in school holidays and to back the scientists’ idea of a new brief “circuit-breaker” lockdown.

On 21 October the Labour left began, mildly also, to speak out against the leadership on the issue. An appeal coordinated by the big trade union Unite demanded:

• an extension of the job retention scheme with 80% wage support

• action to support incomes

Unions must stay active

In light of the developing surge in coronavirus cases, a Covid-19 subcommittee of the IWGB Union’s Executive Committee has issued a ruling stating that all face-to-face union activities – picketing, meetings, recruitment, leafleting – must be suspended, even if they were previously being carried out in a covid-distanced manner. This move is similar to a decision taken by the USDAW shop-workers’ union earlier in the year. In both cases, we think it is mistaken. Unions are an essential service.

Women's Fightback: Pandemic hits women's mental health

New studies indicate that the pandemic has caused a crisis in mental health in women and girls.  CARE spoke to 6,200 women and 4,000 men in nearly 40 countries around the world. They found 27% of women had reported increased mental health challenges. This compared to 10% of men.

They identified increased unpaid work in the home and worries about food, work and health care. Women were almost twice as likely to report that accessing quality healthcare services that they needed had been harder during the pandemic.

Howie Hawkins interview, part 2: "We need a left party that organises in the unions"

Howie Hawkins, a socialist running in the US presidential election on the ticket of the Green Party, spoke to Stephen Wood from Solidarity. Part 1 of this interview was in Solidarity 567. Workers’ Liberty backs Hawkins in the election.

Bernie Sanders, during the Democratic primaries, was clear about his policies. But it looks like now he’s making almost no demands on Biden?

Bernie Sanders is saying if we get Joe Biden in there, we can push him. But in the course of this campaign, he’s compromised on his signature issue, Medicare for All.

Build student rent strikes

At Manchester University a total of 171 students have pledged to withhold £307,000 in rent. At Bristol 850 students have pledged to strike. Students at many other places are discussing taking such action after being signed up to move into halls of residence and pay rent and then finding almost no teaching other than online.

There are many issues besides lack of support over Covid. At Manchester student accommodation is unsafe, in poor repair, and pest-infected.

Priorities to curb the virus

Because the Tories bungled and wasted the summer virus-lull, Britain is heading for new lockdowns.

Solidarity defers to majority scientific opinion that some sort of new lockdowns will be needed.

We insist, too, that sustainable control of virus-spread, and escape from having both infections and lockdowns hit the worst-off hardest, requires social measures to underpin greater social solidarity.

Brexit: break Labour's silence

As the threats posed by the Tories’ Brexit policy become more serious and more imminent, the labour movement is not speaking up but saying even less.

In the first half of the year, supporters of Keir Starmer argued his refusal to call for a delay to Brexit, despite the chaos caused by Covid-19, was savvy tactics. “Keir” would speak out at an appropriate time. Now, with the end of the Brexit transition ten weeks away, and a No Deal Brexit a strong and growing possibility, Labour is pretty much silent.

Make the NHS open to all!

Research from the group Doctors of the World UK illustrates how anti-migrant policies implanted in the NHS over years were causing serious suffering, even before the pandemic hit.

Their report found migrants waiting much longer to access the health service than non-migrants, with an average wait of 37 weeks. For those requiring “urgent” or “immediately necessary” treatment, the average was 36 weeks. Delays of years were not uncommon, with one respondent with a serious heart complaint waiting four years.

Deliveroo workers strike again

Deliveroo workers in the IWGB union in Sheffield have voted to take two days of industrial action on 14-15 October, as they continue to push Deliveroo nationally on pay and unfair sackings.

Following several weeks of boycotts and organising in Sheffield, the union is continuing to grow. And now, workers from nearby towns have reached out to the Sheffield union branch.

Belarus: crackdown and gestures

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, opposition candidate in Belarus’s rigged 9 August election, declared on Telegram on 13 October:

“The regime has 13 days to fulfill three main requirements: 1. Lukashenko must leave. 2. Street violence must stop completely. 3. All political prisoners must be released. If our demands are not met by 25 October, the whole country will peacefully take to the streets with the People’s Ultimatum.” Evidently the opposition assesses that it is strong enough at least to have a chance of this “ultimatum” having at least some force.

Wave of wildcats

Since the start of March there have been over 1,000 strikes in the US, many related to the Covid-19 crisis and some to the Black Lives Matter struggle. Most are wildcat strikes, without formal vote or official union endorsement. In some cases they have taken place in workplaces where there is no union.

The crowd-funded website Payday Report has put together a map tracking these strike. It argues that its tracker probably underestimates the actual numbers.

Nagorno-Karabakh: too complex?

The Morning Star editorial of Monday 5 October was entitled “Nagorno-Karabakh: a complex conflict that must be seen in context”. In fact the editorial gave little factual information and no political steer whatsoever on the dispute.

After an initial, inconclusive, section on Nagorno-Karabakh, the rest of the editorial was a rambling discourse on internationalism in general, often virtually indecipherable.

However, I suspect that the following gives a significant clue as to the true meaning of the editorial:

Keeping schools as safe as possible

Schools are large institutions which are fully open. In most there is little possibility of social distancing and the wearing of face-coverings is impossible during lessons and difficult at other times. The virus is being spread in schools, albeit at possibly a lower rate than other institutions.

Last week in my London borough there were around 15-20 schools where Year Group bubbles had been closed, the majority with more than one Year Group closed. We have had already had two schools in the borough closing entirely for two weeks.

Lessons from Spain

“I really enjoyed working in the NHS”, said a Spanish nurse quoted by the Financial Times on 7 October.”You get longer holidays, more breaks. And workers’ rights are much better”.

His comment tells us less about excellences in the NHS and more about problems in Spain. Those led big protests on 19-20 September about virus measures in Madrid to demand “More healthcare, fewer police”, and are a factor in why Spain’s hospitals have had great trouble coping with the pandemic, and an exceptionally high number of health workers infected.

To curb the virus, reverse the cuts

The UK’s virus infections are now rising faster than France’s and Spain’s, and are at a higher level (relative to population) than Spain’s.

The government’s measures, since infections started rising fast again in early August, have had little effect. The Tories are set to close bars and cafés again, in large areas at least, and maybe soon for a new lockdown similar to spring’s. In Ireland, which has a lower rate of infection increase than the UK, the government’s scientific advisers have already proposed a new general lockdown, not yet implemented.

Different in two ways

• See here for other articles debating the US election, Trump, etc.

This US presidential election is different in two ways.

It narrows down to a contest between a fascistic demagogue with a militant and part-militarised mass base, and a standard-issue neoliberal.

And recent years have seen a sizeable though diffuse new US socialist current round Sanders’ campaigns and the Democratic Socialists of America.

Scrap GCSEs for 2021 now!

The conference on 10 October of the Socialist Educational Association decided to call on the government to stop SATs and other high-stakes primary assessments this year. It also demanded that moderated teacher assessment be used instead of examinations for GCSE and A levels in 2021, and that the Labour front bench take up that policy.

The Scottish government has already decided to replaced Scotland’s equivalents of GCSEs with moderated teacher assessment.

Universal Credit blights women's autonomy

Some women claiming welfare benefits are finding that the system compromises their financial autonomy.

If a woman claims benefits, and lives with a partner who also claims benefits, then the system requires them to make a joint claim. Because this is a new claim, she is moved onto Universal Credit. Both her and her partner have individual ‘claimant commitments’, and if her partner doesn’t fulfil his or her ‘claimant commitment’ correctly then the partner will be sanctioned. But because this is a joint claim, she will also lose money, up to half of their joint income.

Social solidarity to slow the virus

The "local lockdowns" aren't working. The Tories' helter-skelter mess of virus-control measures may do more harm, by disrupting social solidarity, than good.

Despite the Tories paying vast amounts to private contractors, and achieving high total test numbers, the virus test-and-trace system is nowhere near doing what it needs to do: identify infections and contacts promptly and get efficient quarantining.

NHS workers are weary and resentful, denied the 15% pay rise which they have demanded. Elderly-care workers are mostly still denied isolation pay.

Hawkins-Walker: socialist candidates

• See here for other articles debating the US election, Trump, etc.

Workers’ Liberty supports Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker in the 2020 US presidential election: socialists, standing as the candidates of the Green Party. We also carry debate about that stance and on assessment of Trump. Below is how Hawkins and Walker sum up their pitch, from a statement on the hospitalisation on Donald Trump.

Making anti-racism a union issue

Two years ago, activists in the Lambeth branch of the public services union Unison launched a campaign to fight institutional racism at Lambeth Council.

We knew our employer had a huge race pay gap. We were hearing from our members that they were experiencing more racism at work, since the Brexit vote. We launched a survey and our black workers told us about their experiences of discrimination at work.

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