Solidarity 582, 17 February 2021

Democrats will only tinker

Part of an ongoing debate: see here for all the contributions In his letter to Solidarity 581, Barrie Hardy delves a little further into some of the wider differences that have been discussed in Solidarity in the run-up to the 2020 US Presidential election. I want to pick up one in particular. Barrie says that I make a wrong-headed claim by dismissing Biden’s or the Democrats’ desire for democratic reform. I think what Biden has said and the record of the Democrats is proof that any such commitment is cynical rather than real. As Howie Hawkins said in his interview in Solidarity 567, the US...

The USA in the light of the impeachment hearing

Part of an ongoing debate: see here for all the contributions To an outsider, or to this outsider, anyway, the most striking thing about American political life is the saturation-level, all-pervasive, complacent chauvinism. It’s almost innocent-seeming, almost endearing, like the boasting of a five year old. The Stars and Stripes everywhere. The custom of always, in public life, referring to any state that has to be mentioned as “the great state of Wyoming”, or whatever. And the ancestor worship! Everything about the creaking, labyrinthine, 230-year-old constitution is as sacred as it is...

Covid: the science and social context of testing

Testing, especially rapid testing, was the subject of the third of the “Covid: known unknowns” webinars, held on 11 February 2021. These webinars are organised by the British Medical Journal in cooperation with George Davey Smith at Bristol University and the Integrative Epidemiology Unit there. George Davey Smith has also discussed the pandemic a couple of times directly with Solidarity, in July and in November 2020. The first webinar was a broad survey of “known unknowns”; the second was on Covid and schools; the next two, on 25 February and 11 March, will be about vaccines and “Zero Covid”...

What we owe to Ernie Tate

Ernie Tate, who died from cancer on 5 February at the age of 86, was once well-known among revolutionary socialists across the world as the central figure of “the Tate affair”. He was an active Trotskyist from his early 20s, in Canada. He moved to London in 1965-9, and that was where the “Tate affair” happened, in 1966. Back in Canada, he quit the organised Trotskyist movement about 1980, but remained active on the broader left until his last years. I last met him in 2015, at a conference at the University of East Anglia. An obituary by John Riddell gives more of the story here. The “Tate...

"Pre-bunking" and debunking conspiracy theories

Readers of the “Diary of a Tube Worker” in Solidarity will have noticed that since the beginning of the pandemic I have spent a lot of my time arguing against Covid-19 conspiracy theories in my workplace. More recently the shift is to anti-vaxx conspiracies and vaccine-hesitancy. I don’t think I have been entirely successful in my endeavour. I have been a known sceptic about “nonsense” since I started on the job, being the first to say vocally, I don’t believe in any God, I don’t take notice of any horoscopes, I don’t believe in juju or ghosts, etc. I don’t think I am wrong in being strident...

Big issues, clumsy film

Deepa Mehta’s coming-of-age tale of a gay Tamil boy growing up in 1970s Sri Lanka, and in the post-1983 civil war between the country’s Tamil minority and ruling Sinhalese majority, is an ambitious one, aiming to wrangle with some heavy politicised themes. It opens with a group of children from wealthy families playing happily, amongst them an eight year old Arjie playing dress-up as a bride with makeup. The tense family dynamic is established instantly by Arjie’s father’s disapproval of Arjie. He warns his wife against encouraging this “nonsense”. He is set up as the oppressive patriarchal...

School cleaners docked pay

The United Voices of the World union is asking supporters to email the headteacher of La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School in south west London, and the boss of the company to which it outsources cleaning, to protest at the withdrawal of pay from 13 cleaners at the school. The cleaners exercised their rights under Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act to refuse unsafe work. UVW says that after weeks of pressure, cleaners resumed work on 8 February. Ecocleen, the outsourced cleaning contractor, had agreed to implement “improved supply of PPE and hand gel, staggered start and finish...

£10 for a night when app blocks work

Valentine’s Day 2021 was a busy time for the food delivery trade. Because food delivery couriers working on apps like JustEat, Deliveroo and UberEats are all piece-rate workers, they rely on busy nights to make the bulk of their weekly or monthly earnings. So it was a big problem for couriers that for a period of several hours on 14 February the Deliveroo rider app was down across at least much of the UK. When they logged in to get work on what should have been one of the best-paid nights of the year, they got a message saying “We’ll be back soon”. Many found themselves parked up or cycling...

Diary of an engineer: In the cold snap

February’s snow storm is colder and dryer than January’s. The snow is fine and the wind is biting, but it doesn’t stick to the gritted roads for long. I set my alarm early each morning to check the roads are clear for cycling, then snooze for an extra half hour. I find if I get dressed rapidly and layer up, I can get out the door and on the road before I feel the cold. The bakers in my back yard start work at midnight, and give me a second heads-up on the roads. “Be careful,” M says, “It’s clear but it’s icy in places – just be careful.” At the plant gates, someone has drawn a smiley face in...

DVLA ballot starts 18 February (John Moloney's column)

On 18 February, PCS will begin balloting our members at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea for strikes over health and safety concerns. Bosses there have forced workers to work in unsafe conditions, with more than 2,000 workers coming into work. There have been over 500 positive Covid cases at the site since September 2020. The ballot will close on 11 March. In the meantime, we have written to every member to remind them of their Section 44 rights to refuse unsafe work. We’re continuing to press the Department for Transport, the UK government, the Welsh...

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