Britain

Teflon Tony, otherwise known as the 'Houdini of British politics' has narrowly escaped a major political defeat yet again. It is however fair to say that his protective layer of teflon may be wearing off, as the Labour majority in parliament was reduced to just 5, down from the on-paper majority of 161. To reduce a majority of 161 to just 5 is the absolute height of incompetence. The bill on tuition top-up fees passed its second reading by a vote of 316 to 311, and the Labour Party's parliamentary group is looking seriously beleaguered after an intense few days of political haggling and backroom swindles.

Teflon Tony, otherwise known as the 'Houdini of British politics' has narrowly escaped a major political defeat yet again. It is however fair to say that his protective layer of teflon may be wearing off, as the Labour majority in parliament was reduced to just 5, down from the on-paper majority of 161.  Thebill on tuition top-up fees passed its second reading by a vote of 316 to 311, and the Labour Party's parliamentary group is looking seriously beleaguered after an intense few days of political haggling and backroom swindles.

On Saturday 24 January, the British TV channel, Channel Four, broadcast a documentary about the miners’ strike. Anyone who tuned in looking for an objective account of the strike was doomed to be disappointed. The purpose of this documentary was not to clarify what happened but to blacken the memory of the striking miners and mislead the present generation by a combination of lies, falsifications and trivialisation. Against all the lies, distortion and venom, the Marxists will defend the memory of this epic struggle and pass on the great lessons to the new generation that is destined to carry on the fight to a victorious conclusion.

Since last summer we have seen a widespread debate about the pros and the cons of GM products. There are people for and against GM products from all the different political shades. The bourgeois papers have been very keen on giving voice to different people in the debate. What is missing, however, is a class point of view. No one poses the question from the point of view of ordinary working people.

Once again Tony Blair and the Labour Cabinet are prepared to take on the wider labour movement and its own natural supporters in imposing the unpopular policy of top-up university fees. Will they get away with it this time?

The festive season in Britain got off to a grim start with the discovery of two pensioners who died weeks after their gas supply was cut off because of an unpaid bill of £140. These events happened, not in 1840 but in our own times. The Office of National Statistics predicts that 2,500 people will die of cold this week. The cause of these deaths is usually attributed to things like influenza, heart attacks, pneumonia and the like. But the real cause in most cases is poverty and neglect.

This is how history is made. Hundreds of thousands of protestors flood the capital demonstrating their opposition to a President who holds office thanks to a rigged election. They demand democracy, they demand their voices be heard, they demand that the President go. The biggest weekday demo in British history greeted the visit of George W. Bush. Meanwhile in Georgia, a President and not just an effigy was overthrown.

Following last months unofficial strike action by postal workers management seem to have been put temporarily onto the back foot. This is in marked contrast to the period following the recent narrow rejection of a national strike over pay and conditions. At that time, Royal Mail management could not conceal their pleasure. Cockey jumped-up managers all over the country engaged in a new offensive against the workforce. Top managers were bragging that they had the full support of the government, the DTI and Patricia Hewitt in particular.

This firefighters' strike - whatever the eventual outcome - represents the opening shot in a new stormy period facing Britain. It is a fundamental turning point. Socialist Appealhas repeatedly explained that we have entered the most turbulent period internationally since the second world war. A series of general strikes have rocked Europe, from Greece, Spain and Italy. France has been shaken by mass demonstrations against privatisation. Now Britain has become affected by this changing mood, reflected by the shift to the left in the trade unions.

On Tuesday November 18th, President George Bush arrived at Buckingham Palace for a three-day state visit, complete with red carpets, banquets and cannon salutes. Outside the palace gates, a huge security operation was under way. Some 5,000 British police officers were on hand to protect the president, along with the 700 or so secret-service agents Mr Bush brought with him. More than 200,000 people participated in the biggest weekday demo in the history of Britain to protest at his visit and to cheer the symbolic toppling of his statue.
In the Cause of Labour - A History of British Trade Unionism

There are many narrative histories of the struggles of British workers. However, Rob Sewell’s book is different. This book is aimed especially at class-conscious workers who are seeking to escape from the ills of the capitalist system, that has embroiled the world in a quagmire of wars, poverty and suffering. This history of trade unions is particularly relevant at the present time. After a long period of stagnation, the fresh winds of the class struggle are beginning to blow.

Socialist Appeal's deputy editor, Rob Sewell, interviewed Mick Rix, the former general secretary of ASLEF and instigator of the new Labour Representation Committee, about his views and prospects of reclaiming the Labour Party.

John Maclean was undoubtedly a class fighter and Marxist, but he made one important mistake, and that was to succumb to the idea that a socialist revolution would be possible in Scotland, separate from the rest of Britain. Ted Grant briefly comments on why this was.

Strikes, demonstrations, political crises, Britain looks a lot different now than it did when Blair and co came to power. For us the task of the hour is to give active support to workers struggling to defend jobs and services and carry that fight over into the Labour Party, into a fight for socialist policies.

In response to the way globalisation affects road transport workers the T&G in the UK and Ireland is launching a pilot project to recruit non-English speaking international drivers, whose pay and conditions are inferior to both EU and UK wages and conditions.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the death of John Maclean. Maclean was an outstanding figure. He was Britain's most famous Marxist propagandist and revolutionary organiser. At great personal cost, he hailed the Bolshevik Revolution and fought hard to promote the world socialist revolution. The following article gives a glimpse of his life, commitment and contribution to the workers' movement.