Issue 273 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
|Blowing the whistle on Blair|
In the past few weeks tens of thousands of school students have made an extraordinary entrance into political activism. On the day war broke out waves of walkouts, sit-ins and protests against the attack on Iraq swept the country, completely confounding journalistic stereotypes of 'apathetic youth'.
A series of wildcat student strikes began on 28 February, when 800 Glasgow school students walked out of classes to shut down an army recruitment office. On the same day about 1,000 school students in Northern Ireland and 400 more in Wales also struck.
News of the strikes spread throughout Britain. Student members of the Stop the War Coalition coordinated a national day of action on 5 March to coincide with 'books not bombs' protests in the US. An estimated 6,000 students took part, and many others were prevented from leaving school to join them. Hundreds of London students blocked the streets around Parliament and Downing Street. Impressive as the day was, it was eclipsed by the wave of protests as war broke out. On 19 March the protests included 5,000 Birmingham students surrounding the main council building and 3,000 pupils blocking Manchester city centre. The movement swelled further after the bombs began falling that night, School pupils were joined by older students and striking workers as 5,000 protested in Glasgow, 2,500 blockaded Sheffield's major roundabout, 2,000 protested in Brighton and 1,000 more in Leeds. School students dominated the 3,000-strong demonstration that wound through east London to Whitehall, where they joined thousands more from throughout London in shutting down Parliament Square.
In many places students have had to confront the issue of school and even police authority. Even many teachers sympathetic to the protests believe that they should be 'authority figures' who their students defer to. This, combined with legitimate but exaggerated fears for pupil safety, has led many to attempt to prevent the strikes. Some students have been warned that they will be treated as truants. Support from many parents as well as the drive and commitment of the students themselves has undermined this threat.
When warnings about 'truancy' failed, some schools organised minute's silences or discussions as an alternative to the strikes. This assumes that students only want to make a moral or religious observance. But what drives this new school student movement is not individuals' attempts to assuage their consciences through token acts, but a determination to have a material effect--to stop the war.
Faced with classroom politicisation, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has not covered itself in glory, advising its members not to express a partisan view on the issue. Students who are used to teachers condemning bullying may find this refusal to be drawn on the question of militarised, geopolitical bullying paradoxical. But then they already have a government eminent that stretches credulity by condemning their music for 'glamorising violence' while waging bloody war.
Many commentators cannot accept that students can rationally reflect on the world and resolve to change it, so they insinuate that malevolent, subversive forces must be manipulating them. Every time there has been an upsurge in student activism this patronising accusation has been made. The major school student strikes of 1889, 1911 and 1972 all came at a time of industrial unrest. The experience of their families collectively challenging the status quo undoubtedly played a large part in inspiring that classroom militancy. The tactics of striking and picketing also owe a debt to workplace action. Each time the authorities ridiculed their demands as the result of 'childish imitation' of their rebellious parents. Reactionaries who laud rote learning, a repetitious method of instilling obedience, continue to condemn any sort of emulation that draws creatively from the tradition of protest.
Sometimes people are blasé about student protest--seeing it as consequence-free exuberance. White it is true that university students have more scope for protest without the ramifications faced by workers, the same is not true of school students. They are legally required to attend school, and disciplinary action can affect their future career choices. Therefore school students don't take collective action lightly. It has only been possible because of the strength of the anti-war movement. But despite the growing mood of resistance in the workplaces--to low pay and privatisation as well as the war--there hasn't yet been the scale of industrial action of 1889. 1911 or 1972 for students to learn from. But inexperience also has its benefits. The school strikers are too young to bear the scars of the defeats of the Eighties. The optimism of the strikes is fed by the and-capitalist belief that 'another world is possible', and a determination to pursue it. In the process school students can act as a catalyst--like the students who sparked the general strike in France in 1968--for the working class action that has the potential to stop the war machine by paralysing its profits. As students told the People's Assembly: 'If we can do it, you can too.'
BETWEEN THE LINES
The Sunday Telegraph and the Sun's campaign against 'political correctness' continues. 'Nobody', fumed Richard Littlejohn in the Sun, 'confronted with a proposal to remove hot cross buns from school dinner menus [for being offensive to non-Christians] has turned round and said: "Don't be so bloody ridiculous".' For good reason--no council has made such a ban.
David 'zero tolerance' Blunkett was in action again recently, valiantly fighting anti-social behaviour by phoning the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to shop local children for playing 'knock down ginger'.
A Beefeater with a flat within the Tower of London was disappointed to find Direct Line couldn't offer him insurance as he didn't always use his padlock.
Troops in, contracting out
There may be profits to be made from securing control of Iraq oilfield at the end the war, but US companies are already cashing in as they queue to secure contracts to repair infrastructure currently being destroyed.
One of the first was Stevedoring Services of America, which is a major donor to the Republican Party and was given a £3 million contract to administer Iraq's ports, including Umm Qasr. The contract was awarded even before the British gained control of the port.
But by far the biggest beneficiary is Halliburton, the Dallas-based company which is set to secure a contract valued at $900 million to rebuild Iraq's roads, electricity plants and other infrastructure. One of Hallibuton's subsidiary companies, Kellogg Brown and Root has already been given millions to put out oilfield fires.
Not surprisingly US vice-president Dick Cheney is the former chief executive of Halliburton. He left the company in August 2,000 to become Bush's running mate for the presidency, but has maintained close links with the company since then.
Halliburton has few worries as to who it deals with. Between 1988 and 1999 it had $23.8 million of business contracts for the sale of lraq's oil.
Halliburton was also among more than a dozen firms that supplied Iraq's petroleum industry with spare parts when UN sanctions were in place. Cheney was quick to ash in when he left the company. He made $18.5 million selling his shares in August 2000. Now, as one of the main people responsible for allocating the rich pickings on offer he is repaying his mates in kind.
Having failed to steamroller the United Nations Security Council into supporting its invasion of Iraq, the US has created a tinpot 'coalition of the willing' instead. Although the military assault is an almost entirely US/British affair (with a little help from Australia), the US is boasting that 48 countries back its crusade, although 19 of the named countries are offering only 'moral' support.
This is unsurprising given that it includes such military heavyweights as Iceland, Micronesia, the
Marshall Wands (population, 65,000) and the Pacific island of Palau.
The list also includes a number of Baltic states desperate to prove their Nato credentials. The prime minister of the Solomon Islands, which the US named as part of the coalition, said his country 'wishes to disassociate itself from the report'.
More intriguing ace the dozen or so 'silent partners'--states that have not been named for reasons of political sensitivity. They most likely include Israel, as well as Arab states hosting US forces such as Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan, and are being withheld to avoid further unrest in the region. They may also include Germany--nominally against the war but allowing the US access to its land bases.
In an apparent attempt to please the organ grinder, a Moroccan newspaper has reported that its government has offered the US 2,000 monkeys to act as land come detectors--although presumably only when it finishes cluster bombing.
With you in every struggle
Welcome to our 25th anniversary issue. Socialist Review was launched in April 1978 with the aim, as we said at the time 'to offer our readers informed analysis of events taking place in both Britain and the world. We hope, through doing so, to show how the system under which we live is faced with a world crisis, and to examine the response of workers in many countries to the effects of the crisis,'
Since then Socialist Review has covered all the events that have made history over the last 25 years: the collapse of Stalinism and the fall of the Berlin Wall; the Great Miners' Strike Of 1984-85; the defeat of apartheid; the rise and fall of Thatcher and the Tories; the emergence of the anticapitalist movement and growing disillusionment with New Labour.
Today the left faces potentially its greatest challenge with war in Iraq. Defeat for imperialism would strengthen our side immeasurably and could open the door to a radical change in society. Over the coming months Socialist Review will endeavour to play its part in the growing anti-war movement. We intend to maintain the high level of reporting and analysis that have enabled us to become established as the biggest socialist monthly magazine in Britain. In doing so we need the help of our readers. If you know of anyone who would benefit from a regular copy of Socialist Review then send in the subscription form on page 35--we will also send them a free copy of The Communist Manifesto with their first issue. Also, if you would like to take a few extra copies to sell to your friends or workmates then let us know and we'll ensure you get these in the post every month the day after we print.
Unfortunately due to increased printing and production costs we have had to raise the cover price to £2. This is the first increase since October 1999. We are, however, pleased to announce that Socialist Review will soon be online at www.socialistreview.org.uk Here you will be able to access both current and back issues, send us letters and comment and take out subscriptions.
On guard for strikebreakers
Train guards began their first national strikes since privatisation at the end of last month in response to persistent attempts by train operators to diminish their safety role. Strikes are under way at nine of the companies that have refused to implement rulebook changes recommended in a study commisioned by fellow train operator GNER. The regulator, the supposedly neutral Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), has responded by funding the recalcitrant train operators £10 million to take on the unions .
The companies have contemptuously ignored the experience and advice of their workers to pursue the transfer of safety responsibilities from guards to drivers--who are not in a position to offer the same standard of cover. The RMT rail workers union has condemned the decision to turn guards into glorified 'Kit-Kat sellers', a move it identifies as a step towards abolishing guards altogether. For the SRA to use taxpayers' money to try to break the strike is an indictment, if any more were needed, of the disaster of rail privatisation and the government's refusal to properly reverse it.
Six out of the 24 operators are technically insolvent, and only kept afloat by consistent SRA subsidies, according to an investigation in Rail magazine. A further six receive hundreds of millions of pounds more just to maintain basic services. The chaos of competing operators has led to a complete tack of accountability. So hundreds of new trains are being 'mothballed' at a cost of £100 million to the taxpayer because no one took responsibility to upgrade the power supply. And more than 100 services a day have been cut so companies can massage their punctuality figures and thus avoid fines. At present four out of ten high-speed trains fail to arrive on time.
These cuts will not be the last if the £7 million, government-funded thinktank Rail Research UK has its way. It has advised the cancellation or suspension of another 10 percent of Britain's daily services. If you are wondering how this tallies with John Prescott's much hyped ten-year transport plan--for which he promised 'new ideas, new powers, new ressources'--the answer is it doesn't.
It means more passengers, who pay the most expensive fares in Europe, being squeezed onto old, overcrowded trains. This increases the likelihood of, and the impact of, an accident and thus makes the guards' strike even more important. It also shows the need for challenging the whole disastrous policy of profiteering from the railways.
Making Marxism click
One of the successes of the internet is that almost any information you need can be a few key presses away--if you know how to access it. Among all the junk that nestles in the web, the are a few real real gems--often put together by individuals for the benefit of other activists and socialists across the world.
One such site is the longstanding Marxists Internet Archive (MIA) at www.marxists.org.uk. This online resource is a fantastic store of writings and speeches by revolutionaries and Marxists. The archive is continually being updated. One recent addition, following his death last year, is a selection of Duncan Hallas's articles (available direct at www.marxists.org.uk)
Another nice feature of the MIA is the ability to search using keywords or phrases, which is very useful if you are trying to track down precisely which book a Trotsky quote is from.
Writings aren't simply limited to the 'big names' of Marxism. There are writings from everyone you would expect, but many others you might not.
Last month's Socialist Review carried an obituary of the Marxist historian Christopher Hill, in which Brian Manning referred to Hill's 1940 essay on the English Revolution which inspired him and others so much. The complete essay can be found at www.marxists.org.uk
The MIA has existed, according to its Introduction, for 15 years, and is independent of any political party or line, with volunteers from many political traditions involved. This means in practice that the MIA is very eclectic in its choice of Marxists to be archived. So Stalin and Mao's work sits uneasily beside that of Marx, Engels, Trotsky and Lenin.
There are hundreds of pieces by hundreds of revolutionnaries, enough for everyone to find something of interest, but if this is not enough go to www.geocities.com/ resistancemp3/ where you can find an online resource of audio recordings of many revolutionaries speaking. Many are taken from the annual Marxism event, but others such as Malcom X and Noam Chomsky are included. This site also includes the only recording I have ever heard of Trotsky speaking.