Solidarity 609, 13 October 2021

Trade union struggle and political struggle - an interview with John McDonnell

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and former Shadow Chancellor, spoke to Sacha Ismail. After Labour Party conference, what do you think will happen with Starmer’s leadership? Do you think he’ll be around for a long time? It’s impossible to tell at the moment. At the conference he used the traditional Blairite, Mandelson playbook. Attack your own party to demonstrate you’re a strong leader; do a big personal speech to try to demonstrate you’re a normal human being; make banal statements instead of policy commitments. It didn’t work: the bounce in the polls didn’t happen. The...

High wages? Start with strong unions

The Tories want to present anti-migrant policies and the labour shortages caused by those by policies, by Brexit and by poor wages and conditions in key industries like road haulage and social care as a boon for workers. That was the pitch of Boris Johnson’s speech to Conservative Party conference, promising a “high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy” in place of “the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills, and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration.” The Tories are being aided in this misdirection by the lack of serious...

New Zealand readjusts on Covid

New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern On 4 October, New Zealand, the poster child of the “Zero Covid” idea, announced that it would shift to a new approach. NZ had a Covid case count of literally zero briefly in June 2020, and then kept the count low by rigid border-closure and repeated short lockdowns. Since mid-August, however, lockdowns have not quelled a new rise in the Covid count, with the Delta variant. The government’s strategy now is to keep looser restrictions, vaccinate fast, and look to reopening the country and accepting the virus as “endemic” (always there, at least in the...

NHS and council pay: organising to win

The big public services union Unison has a live dispute on pay in both its major sectors — Local Government and Health. Consultative ballots in both areas have returned high percentages for rejection of the employers’ offer and award — 79% in local government, 80% in health. In the context of rapidly rising costs of living, including food, fuel, national insurance, and council tax, the stage should be set for a huge confrontation with the government on pay. However, both sectors have had relatively low turnouts in their ballots. On the basis of the consultative ballots, neither sector would...

MI becomes "Labour Left Internationalists"

The Labour left group Momentum Internationalists (MI) met by Zoom on Sunday 10 October to plan activity after the 25-29 September Labour Party conference. The discussion started with reports on the conference itself and on MI activity around it. Despite its small resources (compare Momentum, which has 20 paid staff), MI was the most active group at conference on left-wing policy issues. Momentum largely limited its comment to rule changes, explicitly eschewed comment on the several moves to refer back parts of the National Policy Forum report (some of which succeeded), and constructed its The...

Leftists who agree with Johnson?

Johnson has hit on the idea of posing as the friend of workers and the champion of higher wages. For weeks ministers have been insisting that shortages had nothing to do with Brexit, but now Johnson claims that it was all part of the Brexit “plan” to push higher pay by restricting the supply of labour: he claims his government wants to make Britain a high-wage economy by ending supposedly “uncontrolled” immigration. . With typical opportunism, Johnson has seized upon a few limited and short-term wage rises to suggest that Brexit and tighter immigration controls benefit British workers. It is...

PR as code for Lib-Dem coalition

I agree with Billy Hayes (interview in Solidarity 608) that proportional representation is more democratic than First Past The Post (FPTP). I think he’s closing his eyes, though, to the political drift shown in many of the PR motions to Labour conference: “In 19 of the last 20 general elections [back to 1950] parties to the left of the Conservatives won the popular vote yet the Tories have governed for two-thirds of that time”. The exception would be 2015, when Tories plus Ulster Unionists plus UKIP added to over 50%. (Going back further, the Tories alone got 50.2% in 1900). But in every...

Italy: complete the anti-fascist revolution

Of the three aggressor nations that made up the Axis during the Second World War, only one saw its population rise up and topple a dictatorship. While the populations of Germany and Japan remained largely supportive of the regimes right up to the surrender, the Italians ousted Mussolini in 1943, bringing an end to the fascist era. And in 1945, the former dictator was captured and killed by Italian partisans. Italians are rightly proud of this fact, but there’s another side to the story — one which we saw in action this last weekend, 9-10 October — and that’s the continuing presence of openly...

In defence of "Gillick competence" on blockers

The decision in the Gillick case allowed doctors to decide when children were able to consent to medical treatment. Doctors are also generally trusted to decide which treatments would be of benefit to their patients. In the case of puberty blockers, the practice established by the NHS specifies that both the child and the parents must consent to treatment. Jack McDonough (Solidarity 608) argues that in defending the idea that children can consent to medical treatment including puberty blockers (Gillick competence), I am also proposing that under 16s should be able to consent to sexual...

Protests organised for COP26

Far more important, arguably, than what will be discussed and decided by world leaders and delegates in the COP 26 climate conference itself — almost certainly very little — is what the environmental and labour movements make of this opportunity. The event provides an impetus and focal point for environmental activism to reboot post-lockdowns, in a world where the severity of environmental devastation is increasingly hard to hide from. Friday 22 October will be a Youth Climate Strike, Friday 5 November will be a “Workers’ Mobilisation day” around the country, Saturday 6 a “Global day of action...

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