Issue 239 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2000 Copyright Socialist Review

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LONDON MAYOR

The real splitters

Right through Labour's history the union block vote has been used to defeat the left
Ken Livingstone

The stitch-up of Labour's nomination for mayor is symptomatic of the way the party works to prevent the democratic wishes of ordinary members being heard. Ken Livingstone won the popular vote in every area of the party's affiliates which held a ballot (with the exception of the Fabian Society and Poale Zion). All the unions which balloted showed clear and often massive majorities for Livingstone on relatively high turnouts.

Had the election been conducted on the basis of one member one vote, Tony Blair's preferred system for most contests, then Livingstone would have been the undisputed winner. Instead the wishes of the members and any semblance of a democratic process were subsumed to the worst sort of machine politics. Right wing trade union leader Ken Jackson, the unelected candidates for the Greater London Assembly, London MEPs and MPs who were bribed and bullied into submission were the people who decided the outcome. Ordinary Londoners were faced with a situation where their combined voice counted for less.

That this has led to a huge crisis inside the Labour Party, with a real possibility of splits and mass abstentions in the May mayoral election, is absolutely obvious. Labour has squandered the goodwill that it had less than three years ago when its landslide in London was even bigger than in many other parts of the country. The divisions between rich and poor, the terrible state of public transport, the decline of public housing and the wreckage of the NHS all led to a lurch to the left among millions of people in London. It is this feeling which Ken Livingstone has benefited from and it is the reason why so many see his candidacy as hitting the government and forcing it to adopt policies which favour working class people.

No wonder, then, that Blair has resorted to traditional Labour methods to suppress and deny a voice to such feelings. The latest stitch-up is nothing new. It represents the way that the Labour leadership has always worked with the trade union bureaucracy to ensure the domination of the right. Right through Labour's history the union block vote has been used to defeat the left.

The Labour leadership is now trying to present a united face and is calling for its members to unite behind Frank Dobson, even though he won only a minority of their votes. Ordinary Labour members are angry, however, because they see this not as a fair contest where the best man won, but as a completely unfair contest where the favoured candidate had little chance of ever winning.

If Livingstone decides to stand as an independent--and all the polls show that he has a good chance of winning if he does--then Blair and his supporters will try to portray him as a splitter. In fact, the Blairites are the people responsible for any split. They have refused to acknowledge any democratic process and would rather see the Tories victorious in May's election than see Livingstone win. Indeed, a number of the Blairites were urging a vote for Dobson on the basis that if Livingstone won then Labour's right would be forced to back the Tory candidate, Steven Norris.

Again this is nothing new. The right inside Labour has always preferred to split the party rather than let the left win. This was true in 1931 when Ramsay MacDonald joined with the Tories to form a coalition to attack workers. It was true in the 1980s when the right split away to form the Social Democratic Party because the left was making gains. This ensured that Labour remained in opposition throughout the 1980s and that the Thatcher government--which never won a majority of votes in elections--was triumphant. The SDP was a disaster politically, yet many of its leading lights are now close advisers to Blair. It was this, rather than the left wing policies of those like Ken Livingstone, which was responsible for Labour electoral failures.

Since Blair came to office he has repeatedly manoeuvred to defeat the left. In Wales, Scotland, and now in London, popular candidates have been excluded from the ballot paper with disastrous consequences for Labour. In Wales the imposition of Alun Michael led to a minority Labour assembly and the eventual no-confidencing of Michael. In Scotland former Labour MP Dennis Canavan stood as an independent against the Labour machine and won. Electoral disaster and internal crisis loom for Labour in London.

Livingstone should stand as an independent. He would almost certainly win on this basis. But even if he did not, his candidacy would provide a rallying point for all those who want to fight tube privatisation, council house sell offs, attacks on the NHS and the pro-business policies of Labour. This would also represent a fundamental breach in Labour's support. There are many inside the Labour Party, and more importantly in the unions, who are asking why they should support a party whose leaders act against working class people and deny them any democratic rights.

Blair is planning to mark the hundredth anniversary of Labour's formation by claiming that the party's whole basis was a mistake and that the unions and the left should never have broken with the Liberals and formed their own party. The division between Blair and the left has never been clearer, and the Blairites' determination to block the left has never been more obvious. That is why so many who voted Labour in 1997 are now looking towards an alternative.


BETWEEN THE LINES

  • Remember John Prescott's pledge that money would be no object to improve safety standards after the Paddington rail crash? Now it has been revealed that the safer ATP system will only be introduced on new trains for some routes, 'saving' £700 million.
  • Bosses at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent are considering charging a £2 entrance fee for customers to shop there. The income would then be used to scrap rents for stores. Director Roy Caldwell described it as 'a fee for entertainment'. The scheme could be extended to Gateshead Metro Centre, Meadowhall in Sheffield, and Lakeside in Essex.
  • The income gap in the US is getting greater. Over the last 20 years the average income of the lowest income families fell by more than 6 percent, whereas that of the highest income families increased by more than 30 percent.
  • The NHS has less than a third of the intensive care beds that it needs, according to a new study in the Lancet. It shows that 172 'critical' beds are needed per million people--but England has just 55 per million.

  • Building the vote: Labour's distortion meant that if an ordinary party member's vote was equivalent to five feet each MP or GLA candidate's vote was equivalent to twice the height of the EMpire State Building

    The electoral college did its work. The candidate with mass popular support lost and the official imposed candidate won by a margin. The Labour leadership has convinced no one that there was any reason to use the electoral college other than to rig the vote to disenfranchise the majority who supported Ken Livingstone.

    In London the procedure so distorted the value of individual votes that the Observer noted that if you were to translate the weight of each vote into height, each Labour Party member would measure 5 feet, a GMB member 26 inches, an AEEU delegate 325 feet (the height of St Paul's Cathedral) and each MEP, MP or candidate for the Greater London Assembly an incredible 2,250 feet--twice the height of the Empire State Building!

    One thing could not be hidden in the voting results, however, and that is the huge support Livingstone got in trade unions that balloted their members. He won a total of 72 percent of trade union votes, while Dobson only got 28 percent. In the constituency section Livingstone also won the majority, 55 percent of first preferences, and 59.9 percent after Glenda Jackson's second preferences were transferred. Dobson, on the other hand, only received 35 percent of first preferences, rising to 40.1 percent after Jackson's elimination.

    The results show that trade union members voted for Livingstone in greater numbers than constituency Labour Party members, challenging the view that the constituencies represent the natural home of the left of the party. This may reflect in part the changing class composition of local Labour parties. Ordinary workers who have borne the brunt of New Labour's business policies in London feel they have the most to lose from Dobson as mayor.

    Dobson was seen to stand for privatising the tube, continuing hospital cuts and strengthening the police, policies which the majority of ordinary Londoners rejected--and what a majority it was. Livingstone won around 80,000 votes to Dobson's 25,000 votes. No amount of fixing can change what that result means about people's mood on the ground.


    LIVINGSTONE'S CAMPAIGN

    Avoiding the issue

    What London needs is a campaign about the gap between rich and poor

    If Livingstone is to stand as an independent, he should learn some of the lessons of his campaign to win Labour's mayoral nomination. That campaign started at a high point towards the end of last year. Livingstone has been able to symbolise the grievances which millions of Londoners feel, and which increasing numbers believe the Blair government is ignoring. He is identified with greater spending on public transport, with defence of the NHS and other public services, and with a commitment to equality and against racism. When Livingstone spoke at a rally of London firefighters to defend 11 of them victimised by management he was given standing ovations. Anyone who attended that rally would not have been surprised at the overwhelming 94 percent of votes he won from FBU members.

    But that meeting was the exception, not the rule--and not only because it involved workers in struggle. Most of the time Livingstone made little attempt to organise among such groups of workers. Indeed, the hustings that were organised were often attended only by Glenda Jackson, with neither Livingstone nor Dobson turning up. This showed callous disregard for the hundreds who did turn up at these meetings, who expected and deserved a serious debate on the political issues surrounding the mayoral contest.

    Part of the problem here is that Livingstone was often keen to avoid the political issues, believing that by appealing as a media-friendly personality he could cut across traditional left-right divisions, and so build a base that way. So he downplayed his socialist politics, yet seemed inordinately proud of a poll which put his rating among city businessmen higher than that of Frank Dobson. His policy on the tube and public transport generally is well to the right of what it was during the days of the GLC, and he repeatedly made it clear that he could work with Tony Blair and his New Labour henchmen.

    Unfortunately he seems likely to make the same mistakes as an independent. Livingstone's plan appears to be to build a slate and a campaign around him which appeals to businessmen, Tories and Liberals as well as Labour's traditional constituency. Yet what is needed in London is a campaign about the gap between rich and poor, the desperate poverty of pensioners, the shortage of housing, and all the other issues which so affect working class people. Their situation has been made worse by the City and the businessmen who support low wages and privatisation.

    A clear socialist platform--which spells out the need for redistribution of wealth, renationalisation, public housing, and a decent transport and health service--can galvanise many of the people who feel so strongly about Blair's stitch-up not just to vote left but to act to change things.


    NEW LABOUR'S FAILURES

    A bad start to Blair's year

    Campaign for a living wage


    LONDON SOCIALIST ALLIANCE

    Raising the socialist voice in London

    The LSA is well placed to make a significant impact on the election
    Nearly 1,000 turned up at the LSA central London launch meeting

    Voters in London will have the opportunity to vote for a serious socialist alternative to the Tories, Liberals and New Labour in the May elections.

    The London Socialist Alliance (LSA) brings together all the significant socialist organisations outside the Labour Party together with independent socialists, ex-Labour-Party members, trade unionists and community activists. It has received the endorsement of many high profile people on the left such as John Pilger, Tariq Ali, Ken Loach, Michael Rosen and Jeremy Hardy. The LSA has also attracted considerable media publicity.

    During the first two weeks of February almost 1,000 activists attended a dozen public meetings across London to launch the LSA campaign, and nearly 1,000 attended a central London rally held two days after the announcement of the rigged mayoral selection of Frank Dobson. Support has also been received from a number of union branches, and many others are organising hustings with LSA and New Labour speakers. The overwhelming vote for Ken Livingstone in the union section of Labour's electoral college means LSA supporters in the unions are pushing at an open door.

    The LSA will be standing for the Greater London Authority Assembly. The assembly will comprise 14 members elected by first past the post to represent constituencies of two, three and, in one case, four London boroughs, and 11 members elected across London from 'top-up' party lists to provide a chamber roughly proportional in party representation. The government has imposed a 5 percent threshold for the first candidate to be elected from a party list. The LSA intends to put up candidates in every constituency, and for the 11 places on the list as well.

    There is an enormous contrast between the candidates standing for the LSA and New Labour candidates. The latter include millionaires, one lord, candidates who have pushed through cuts and closures, and presided over the victimisation of trade union activists. In the North East constituency, covering Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest, New Labour candidate Meg Hillier used her casting vote on Islington council to close an old people's home she had been specifically elected to keep open.

    The London-wide LSA top-up list, on the other hand, includes Greg Tucker, a train driver and left candidate against RMT general secretary Jimmy Knapp last year who received one third of rail workers' votes. There is also Janine Booth, a tube worker and political officer for the RMT London Underground regional council, who was a founder member of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation. The LSA will be campaigning hard to oppose tube privatisation and demand the renationalisation of the railways.

    The LSA also has a primary and a secondary teacher standing--Christine Blower, who is a former Labour Party member and president of the NUT, and Kate Ford, who was recently elected vice-president of Hackney Teachers' Association. Both have a long history of campaigning against the iniquitous education policies of the Tory and New Labour governments over many years.

    In Camden and Barnet, health service worker Candy Udwin, who has been fighting NHS privatisation, cuts and closures over the last 25 years, will be facing New Labour's Helen Gordon, Candy's personnel manager at UCLH hospitals in central London. Helen Gordon has been a key figure behind the scenes encouraging the New Labour Unison leadership to victimise Candy and UCLH Unison branch chair Dave Carr for doing no more than carry out their branch's policy of fighting cuts and closures.

    In Lambeth and Southwark black LSA candidate and anti-racist activist Theresa Bennett will be challenging Valerie Shawcross, New Labour leader of Croydon council, which is busy privatising old people's homes in the face of enormous local anger. In Greenwich and Lewisham socialist councillor Ian Page will be facing New Labour's Len Duvall, who voted to end the special needs provision in Greenwich that he himself benefited from. And in Wandsworth the LSA candidate will be Sarbani Mazumdar, Wandsworth council Unison branch secretary and a leading figure in the strikes against attempts by Wandsworth council to deduct sick pay from council workers.

    LSA candidates also include black community activist Weyman Bennett, who has played a leading role in campaigns against police racism and miscarriages of justice. He is joined by Jim Stanley, a former transport workers' union convenor, whose brother Harry was gunned down by police in Hackney for the crime of carrying the leg of a broken coffee table.

    Having established itself with a significant activist base and a growing public profile, the LSA is well placed to make a very significant impact on the London election.

    Although winning votes will be an important part of the campaign, the LSA will primarily be concerned with raising the socialist case in London, and will play an important role in giving support to any progressive campaign. Already LSA posters and leaflets have been produced to support Sarah Friday, Waterloo RMT drivers' health and safety rep, who has been summarily dismissed by South West Trains for 'failing to advise a supervisor that she required to use the toilet'.

    The LSA will be trying to raise £40,000 to ensure we can put up the candidates and produce publicity. The major parties can spend over £1.5 million on the London elections. The LSA will be raising its financial contributions not from fat cat bosses but from the donations of ordinary working class trade unionists and socialists enthusiastic to deliver a serious socialist challenge to Blair and his Tory policies.

    Features on London mayor campaign compiled by Lindsey German, Peter Morgan, Judith Orr and Rob Hoveman


    THE WALRUS

    Keep on truckin'

    Try as you might, it's becoming increasingly difficult to open up a newspaper or turn on the telly these days without being accosted by some crazed internet e-vangelist. The big money has finally woken up to the astronomical rates of return being earned by some e-ntrepreneurs and has been pumping billions into internet start-ups as if there was no tomorrow.

    Although the risks are also immense, there's always the chance you might just hit the jackpot. Recent role models include Labour MEP Alan Donnelly. He invested £1,250 in a new internet start-up, Just2clicks, on 20 December last year, and by the middle of February the value of his stake had risen to £1.5 million--on paper at least.

    The internet has not only launched innumerable get-rich-quick schemes, it also provides the forums where traders can discuss stocks and egg each other on to trade in a certain way. Few seem to be all that fussed that fewer major companies on the technology-obsessed stock market of America have been paying dividends than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    Five of the largest companies (Microsoft, Cisco Systems, AOL, Oracle and MCI) have never paid any dividends, a trend which can only last as long as the current stock market boom continues. The last time there was a trend of non-payment, in the 1960s, one or two firms emerged in one piece but hundreds of others crashed disastrously.

    So it may be share millions for the few, but it's more likely to be mere shillings for the people who actually work in the industry. Though they hate to admit it, the new growth area of online shopping relies almost entirely on the efficient working of some tremendously old technologies, like warehouses, lorries and the post. The main hub of the John Menzies home delivery system in the UK, for example, is a 300,000 square feet warehouse at Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire. An entire army of 'picker-packers' is needed to get the orders out on time, and then fleets of trucks and vans, with drivers, are needed to deliver them.

    A recent report in the Financial Times goes as far as to say that 'trucking is the life-blood pumping through the arteries of e-commerce as well as more traditional retail'. As internet shopping edges more towards the mainstream, albeit for a fairly well-heeled clientele, the Financial Times notes that 'the new retail atmosphere has created increasing hiring difficulties for American shipping and trucking companies'. Shippers are struggling to fill jobs, there is an acute shortage of truck drivers and, according to the chief executive of United Shipping and Technology, 'the situation has just gone haywire'.

    Similar pressures have started to emerge in Silicon Valley. Most of the 30,000 workers who are employed by Microsoft, Intel or Amazon, for example, can only be employed and paid through employment agencies. Up to now these agencies have been getting away with shaving labour costs by as much as 50 percent. They mainly cut back on such inconveniences as holiday pay, overtime rates, sick pay, health insurance and other fringe benefits.

    But a combination of fantastic rates of growth, slash and burn management techniques, and often draconian working conditions has started to produce a backlash. At the end of January the Washington Post reported that industrial tensions between gung-ho managers and disaffected employees at Amazon.com had reached breaking point. After one incident, when 150 Amazon employees were sacked with an hour's notice, a company spokesman sensitively explained that this was a process of 'matching skills with our mission'. Antagonisms have been further fuelled by the stark contrast between the rates paid to picker-packers and the fortunes being earned by stock-option millionaires: 'In the new economy, the promise of speed still rests heavily with rote-work employees--the men and women who spend their days and nights boxing books at Amazon's distribution centres and those who answer e-mail.'

    The upshot of all this has been the formation of a grassroots campaign for union recognition organised by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, or WashTech.

    Last December, WashTech published a report called 'Holiday in Amazonia', listing a range of grievances, including The Walrus overcrowding, low wages and heavy reliance on overtime working at Amazon. Thanks to the internet a full transcript can be found at www.washtech.org, the Wash Tech website, along with news of other campaigns inside Microsoft and Intel.


    HOUSING

    The great sell-off

    Campaign to defend council housing grows

    The end of council housing within a decade--this is what will happen if New Labour's plans to transfer council stock to the private sector go ahead. The Labour government and local councils refuse to fund the current outstanding £20 billion repair bill. The result is that a record 25 English local authorities have applied to transfer 300,000 council homes next year.

    This figure is almost a tenth of the remaining council housing stock in England, and it comes close to matching the total to have switched ownership over the last decade. It also compares to the 120,000 expected to transfer this year and the 30,000 transferred last year. Since coming to office New Labour has presided over the privatisation of more homes than the Tories did in all their years in office.

    Now John Prescott wants to set annual targets for the sell-off of housing. Some of the boroughs which want to offload council stock include the some of the big inner-city authorities such as Southwark and Lambeth in London, as well as Manchester, Sunderland and Sheffield. Labour-controlled Birmingham wants to get rid of a staggering 93,000 homes.

    It is estimated the private sector will need to find over £40 billion over the next ten to 15 years if all council stock is transferred. The result will be large increases in rents and greater pressure to evict tenants who fall behind with their payments.

    The government has to give the transfers the go-ahead in March, and then tenants have the right to vote for or against the deals, so there is still time to build resistance to Labour's great sell off. Over the last two years tenants have organised in a number of areas against Labour's plans. In Sandwell, Cambridge, Camden and Tower Hamlets tenants have delivered resounding no votes in ballots for privatisation. Out of such campaigns has emerged a national grouping, Defend Council Housing, which has recently announced a national campaign to fight Labour's latest scam. This could provide the springboard for further resistance and bring a halt to New Labour's latest attack on working people.

    Contact: Defend Council Housing, c/o Haggerston Tenants Association, 179 Haggerston Road, London E8 4JA. Phone: 020 7254 2312. Website: www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk


    SPANISH ELECTIONS

    Few principles behind the pact

    The PSOE believes it can win elections by presenting a left face
    Socialist politician Fernanado Buesa was killed recently in a car bomb blamed on ETA

    For the first time since the 1930s the main left parties in Spain have come together to try to defeat the right. The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Communist Party (PCE)--through the United Left coalition (IU)--have agreed to form a joint government after the 12 March elections. There is now a clear alternative to the ruling conservative People's Party (PP). The PSOE believes that it can win the elections by presenting a left face. The right understands that the agreement is a threat to its own position. Prime minister Jose Maria Aznar immediately announced that the 'sociocommunist' pact would 'wreck Spain'. The church attacked the left's plan to liberalise abortion law, and the employers' federation has predicted an end to the economic 'achievements' of the last four years.

    Bosses have little to fear from a PSOE government. Between 1982 and 1996 the party presided over attacks on working class living standards, and introduced a programme of privatisation and cuts in public spending which the PP is still carrying through. It also dragged Spain into Nato after promising to do the opposite, organised a death squad to murder Basque radicals and was steeped in corruption.

    The pact signed by the PSOE and IU promises little apart from generalised statements about the need to promote public services and create employment without any pledge to raise taxes for the rich. It claims to be modelled on the 'plural left' government in France, but rather than introduce a 35 hour week by law a PSOE-IU administration will provide 'incentives' for employers to reduce working hours. The hated temporary employment agencies will not be abolished, and there is no commitment to end privatisation. It treats the struggle for Basque national rights as a law and order rather than a political problem, and is committed to continuing Spain's Nato membership.

    Speaking to businessmen, PSOE leader Joaquin Almunia proudly said that it was the PSOE that had 'liberalised' the economy in the 1980s; his only 'regret' was not having developed such policies 'into a theory like Tony Blair has'.

    In the mid-1990s, IU representatives refused to vote for the PSOE in scores of town halls, thus letting in the PP. Their argument was that without a programmatic agreement they saw no difference between the Socialists and the right. This policy has since lost IU nearly half its vote. The pact is an attempt by IU to regain some of its electoral influence, but it also reflects the desire of most left wing voters for unity. Once IU realised that the PSOE offer was serious, it jettisoned more or less all of its main policies: for an obligatory 35 hour week, the closing of temporary work agencies, opposition to Nato, and a political solution to the Basque question.

    If the right wins the elections--a real possibility--it is clear that collaboration between the PSOE and IU will continue. This will open up new possibilities for activists. This year there have been a number of significant mobilisations: in response to the racist pogrom in El Ejido, the pitched battles of striking shipyard workers with the riot police in Gijon, massive demonstrations in defence of public education and the growing campaign to abolish the foreign debt. For the left, especially for the thousands of activists who look to IU, what should matter is whether these struggles can be taken forward, regardless of what happens at the polls.
    Andy Durgan


    WELFARE TO WORK

    Welcome to the profit zone

    The longterm unemployed in Liverpool, Sefton, Doncaster, Haringey and Newham will shortly be issued with pagers so that they can be notified of job vacancies and interviews. This forms part of New Labour's 'Welfare to Work' programme and mirrors some of the most draconian Workfare schemes in the US. Under the scheme in Riverside, California, the unemployed must give up chewing gum and be up, dressed and ready for work even though they have no work to go to!

    This forms part of a programme known as 'Employment Zones', which are planned to start in unemployed blackspots from April of this year. All of the zones in which contracts have been awarded are banded to private companies who now stand to make profits out of unemployment.

    The five zones mentioned above will be run by the private employment agency Reeds, whose chairman, Alec Reed, donated £100,000 to New Labour in 1997! In South Wales, Plymouth, Southwark, Brent, Brighton, Nottingham, Middlesborough, Glasgow and Tower Hamlets the work has been won by 'Working Links'. This is a private company set up by the Employment Service, the accountants Ernst and Young--well known as privatisers in the civil service--and Manpower. A private employment agency, Manpower has now surpassed General Motors as the world's biggest employer. When British Airways were faced with a stewards' strike in 1997, Manpower handled the job of recruiting scabs. Another private agency, Pertemps, will run the Employment Zone in Birmingham.

    It is, however, the involvement of Reeds which is causing most concern The company already runs the New Deal 18-24 programme in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. In these areas it appears that around 700 'overstayers' on the New Deal Gateway were never seen by Reeds, even though the company received £380 for each client--which represents some £250,000 in public money.

    In Hackney, Reeds also proposed setting up a scheme called 'Helping Hand' which would have given them access to a government subsidy of £1,560, plus £750 towards training. They also intended to charge employers between £265 and £385 for supplying clients. The scheme was dropped following protests from the PCS civil servants' union.

    Employment Zones will allow even more money to be made out of unemployment. Each unemployed person in the zones will have a personal job account which equals six months Jobseeker's Allowance. If the jobless are placed in work before the end of the six month period the company keeps the balance as profit. Since participation will be compulsory, people will have little choice but to take any minimum wage job offered.

    There will also be a system of bonuses which means the quicker claimants are forced off the unemployment register, the greater the profit.

    The selling of 50,000 people to private companies represents a new departure in this country. Ironically, the prototype Employment Zones were both voluntary and run by JobCentre workers; they also proved popular with claimants and workers alike. Despite this, the government has pressed ahead with the American-style scheme without waiting for the evaluation from these pilots.
    Dave Owens


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