Wednesday, November 15, 2006

National Shop Stewards Network

A national meeting called by the RMT attended by 250 union reps has agreed to launch a 'National Shop Stewards Network'.

At a national meeting organised by the RMT and supported by major unions including the TGWU, PCS, FBU, UCU and NUJ, it was decided to organise a delegate conference next year to launch a ‘National Shop Stewards Network’. A steering committee of 10 people was elected to organise it.

Bob Crow in his introduction said that the organisation of workplace reps had always been a barometer of the general health of the trade union movement.

“If we are to roll back the tide of privatisation and war…rebuilding the grassroots of the movement is an essential part of that process.”

Barry Camfield for the TGWU said:

“We need to change the centre of gravity towards shop floor reps if we are to create the conditions for change.”

Paul Mackney for the University & Colleges Union spoke about the need to rebuild a ‘cadre’ of workplace activists.

A statement drafted by the RMT was agreed. It said:

“We recognise that our ability to protect and advance these values (workers rights, solidarity, equality and unity) and to achieve our shared goals – such as the implementation of the Trade Union Freedom Bill – will be assisted by the development of the broadest possible unity of grassroots trade union activity at the workplace and between workplaces.”

The title ‘shop stewards network’ was shorthand for workplace reps; these could obviously include health & safety and other reps. So the Network would be comprised of workplace reps from TUC affiliated unions. Whilst full-time officials could participate they would only have observer status, with speaking rights.

The aims of the Network would be:

To offer support to TUC affiliated unions in their campaigns and industrial disputes;
To offer support to existing workplace reps and Trades Councils.

Obviously this is only a framework. To the extent that such a body developed it would determine and develop its agenda.

Such a Network could be an important development in the light of the crisis facing the unions. Aside from the loss of 5 million trade union members, the decline in workplace organisation has been steep. Despite ‘organising’ efforts there has yet to be a significant rise in union membership. This is not only as a result of a generation of defeats. It also results from the so-called ‘service model’ with its concentration on individual services, creating a culture of a passive membership with no understanding of their responsibility for building their own organisation.

In many industries shop stewards have been trained in the methods of ‘social partnership’, identifying the interests of the workforce with market ‘success’ of ‘their’ company. This has meant that the drive for profitability and productivity has been seen as primary, and some unions have collaborated in the destruction of jobs.

Aside from the obvious role of building support and solidarity, a Network could play a role a key role in developing a serious discussion about rebuilding workplace organisation. It could enable activists to exchange experience and to draw on positive organising efforts in other workplaces.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, speaking at the meeting reported on the experience of NUJ members at the Daily Star. They managed to stop the production of an article entitled the ‘Daily Fatwa’, a supposedly satirical piece directed against Muslims. They took action completely outside the framework of existing employment legislation, a rare event these days, and they got away with it.

Probably the only industry where the example of solidarity action has survived is the Royal Mail, where there is a tradition of refusing to touch mail coming from an area on strike. Challenging the anti-union laws, of course, depends on strong workplace organisation.

The Network which is being proposed will obviously be built at the national level. But its success will depend upon the building of networks in towns and cities, on a cross union basis. Trades Councils could play an important role in this regard. They should be able to participate in it. They strive, albeit under difficult conditions, to build a labour movement in a locality rather than leaving isolated individual unions ploughing their own furrow. A connection to

The rebuilding of the unions requires a different culture to the one that has dominated them since the Thatcher years: the building of an active membership which understands that the ‘service’ which a union provides depends upon the collective organisation of the membership on the ground. The role of the Network would include striving to develop a consciousness of the need for independent, fighting, and democratic unions, controlled at every level by the members.

As Dave Chapple said, “we need a democratic grassroots movement that is not dominated by any single party.” The Network should be a framework for practical work rather than an arena for flowery speeches, in which organisations compete against each other.

When John McDonnell spoke in Swindon recently he said that we were on the verge of losing what remains of the gains of the welfare state. The idea that in the face of such attacks, the neo-liberal Blair government can be persuaded to abandon its programme, is pure delusion. Only industrial action will have any impact on it. Yet there is no sign of an industrial response, for instance, in relation to the destruction of the NHS.

Building a Network of reps can play an important role in creating conditions in which the government’s programme is answered by struggle instead of the pleading of trade union leaders.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fact and Fiction - what's happened in the SSP?

The Scottish Socialist Party was viewed by socialists in Britain and around the world as a success story. The election of six MSPs to the Scottish Parliament was a breakthrough, taking advantage of a partial PR electoral system. The SSP united virtually all the socialist currents on the left in Scotland in a single party; a rare event in a country where fractious and warring left of Labour organisations had long been the norm. The conditions for this unity were created through a number of years of common work, which helped to overcome old hostilities. But today, that unity lies in tatters. The SSP has been split. Tommy Sheridan launched his new movement on September 3rd: Solidarity – the Scottish Socialist Movement. This brings to an end what has been described as “the most successful socialist unity project in Europe”.

The split resulted from Sheridan’s court case against the ‘News of the World’. Whilst it was a ‘sex scandal’ case centred on reports in this disreputable rag, the SSP leadership was effectively ‘on trial’. Eleven leading figures were subpoenaed to give evidence on the discussion which had taken place in the Party. Leading figures in the SSP gave contradictory versions of events. When Tommy Sheridan sacked his lawyers and took charge of his case he questioned these people and accused them of fabricating evidence against him. They insisted that they were telling the truth, which centred on whether or not he admitted, in a meeting of the SSP’s Executive Committee in 2004, attending the infamous ‘swingers’ club’ in Manchester.

Logically, if Sheridan was telling the truth, then the 11 leaders of the SSP were prepared to lie in court, inventing evidence to “fit him up”. If they were telling the truth, then Sheridan’s case was an incredibly reckless and cynical action which threatened to destroy the party he had played such a large part in building, in order to defend his “reputation”.

When you have two sides to an argument, telling different versions of events, and you weren’t at the meeting in question how can you possibly know who is telling the truth? This was the dilemma of socialists outside of Scotland, witnessing the crisis played out in court. How can you chart a course through these murky waters? All you can do is to examine the facts as you find them.

What do we know that is not in question? Firstly, Tommy Sheridan, against the advice of the Party leadership decided to take the News of the World to court on the grounds that stories it had published on his sex life were fabricated. Many people have said that his private life is nobody else’s business. This is na├»ve in the extreme. To imagine a prominent political figure, especially a socialist, can simply ignore the fact that they are under the microscope is not serious. If you are a political leader, or indeed a ‘celebrity’ in Britain, the press will do its best to bring you down in order to sell more papers with ‘sensational’ content. If you are a political leader of a party which professes to be different to the mainstream parties, then you have to be very careful indeed in your personal conduct, to do nothing which will compromise your political goals (open you up to the charge of hypocrisy, failing to live according to your professed values) or give the press a stick with which to beat you and your organisation. It’s the same as being a shop steward, though on a grander scale. You have to be a good worker and do nothing to compromise your position. The management will always seize on the slightest mistake; likewise with political leaders. Unfortunately we don’t live in France where, for example, the fact that Mitterand had a daughter outside of his marriage was not disclosed until after his death.

Scrutiny of the state

Tommy’s decision to go to court would have been reckless, even if there was no truth whatsoever in any of the material published by the NOTW. Those old enough will remember that when Arthur Scargill was accused of using NUM money for his own benefit during the miners’ strike, he chose not to take the Mirror to court, though the charge against him was ‘corruption’ rather than relating to his personal life. Taking on the very rich media in the courts is not just a question of the potential cost, should you lose, but it opens up individuals and their organisations to the scrutiny of the state.

Given the fact that Tommy Sheridan had resigned from his position as convenor, and this had been debated in the SSP, then the NOTW would inevitably examine what had taken place then. The court case was always likely to be disastrous for the SSP, whatever the outcome. When events are subject to dispute in a court case, all participants are open to the legal consequence of being charged with perjury. Tommy Sheridan’s decision to defend his “reputation” in court precipitated nothing less than a civil war in the SSP and its break-up. His “victory” by a 7 to 4 vote appeared to have vindicated him and given credence to his assertion that a “plot” involving at least 11 members of the leading body of the SSP had deliberately tried to frame him with fabricated evidence. Undoubtedly a majority of the jurors voted against the NOTW and its methods, including the payment of some witnesses, though, of course, none of the 11 SSP members.

The evidence relating to proceedings in the SSP, fabricated or not, centred on the minutes of a meeting at which the question of how to deal with the stories in the News of the World was discussed. Minutes were taken at the Executive Committee meeting and were agreed as a true record at the following meeting. At no stage around this time did Tommy or anybody else contest the accuracy of the minutes. Subsequently the minute taker and the EC were accused of fabricating the content. But if the minutes did not exist, or were invented, why did supporters of Tommy propose a resolution calling for the minutes to be destroyed?

One of the stories given credence by Tommy and his supporters was that a member of the leadership handed over the minutes, with a signed affidavit to the Herald. This was presented as a sign of the perfidy and unprincipled nature of Tommy’s opponents. The strange thing, however, is that there appear to be two copies of minutes, one of which, not in the hands of the Party, confirmed Tommy’s subsequent ‘denial’ of the club visits. This ‘version’ was ruled out of order in court. What is curious is why the Sunday Herald did not hand over its supposed copy of the minutes to the court. In fact it was the fake minutes sent in to the NOTW, apparently with initials of those present, which allowed the court to subpoena the EC members.

Open Letter

In his Open Letter to members, issued to the mass media, Tommy talks about a ‘secret record’ of the EC meeting which was kept without his knowledge. This is blatantly untrue since not only was it proposed that the minutes be kept confidential, but the National Council voted to do so!

It is ironic that those who Tommy has called “political scabs” were calling for defiance of the courts, on the grounds that the internal affairs of a workers’ organisation is none of their business. Indeed, his old friend Alan McCoombes was even prepared to go to prison to keep the minutes out of the court proceedings. Those now in the Sheridan camp were the ones who demanded the defiance be ended and that the minutes be handed over. Whilst Tommy talked of slurs from the “cabal”, the minutes indicate that he had admitted to attending a ‘swingers club’, and accepted he had been irresponsible, given the position he held in the Party.

So what should those who were subpoenaed to attend court have done? One of the arguments for “supporting Tommy” has been that once he decided to go to court, even if you thought he was making a mistake, you had to support him or you were “supporting Murdoch”. However, those who told a different version of events to Tommy were not volunteering to go to court. They were obliged to go because Tommy brought the case, in the name of his personal ‘right’ to ignore the collective view. He was demanding that they give an untruthful account of events; that is to say, he was asking them to incriminate themselves, and open themselves up to perjury charges, should his assertions be exposed to be untrue at a later stage. Those who hoe the ‘Tommy or Murdoch’ line were asking the 11 to agree in court that Tommy was right, that they had been lieing about events at the EC. Were they to destroy their credibility as political activists in order to defend his?

With SSP members being instructed to attend as witnesses, there could be no outcome other than somebody being deemed to be lying before the court. In order to defend what he deemed to be his “reputation” Tommy put members of the Party Executive Committee in an impossible position. They could either lie for him about the discussion on the EC, thereby condemning themselves, tell the truth (and be denounced as “scabs”) or refuse to give evidence and end up in prison/lose their job.

Ah, some say, wouldn’t it have been preferable to have a Sheridan victory rather than the NOTW winning? At the cost of destroying the SSP? At the cost of smearing most of the leading activists as being responsible for a “monstrous frame-up” of Tommy Sheridan? Would that be a “victory”?

So they say, you would have been in favour of a ‘Murdoch victory’. No. Whatever verdict was reached it was bound to be a disaster for the SSP. This situation was created by the decision of Tommy to go to court despite the advice of his comrades. Tommy’s self-regard and ruthless pursuance of his individual interests, above those of the SSP and the working class, have made the job of building a socialist alternative so much more difficult than it might have been. Years of work have been thrown away in defence of his “reputation”. Whilst decrying people for “supporting Murdoch” he has opportunistically used the very self-same media when he should have been partaking in an internal SSP discussion.

Those who want to paint “supporting Tommy” as “defending a workers’ leader against the bourgeois press” are actually supporting a tissue of lies. This is not somebody being prosecuted as a result of a strike. It is somebody who chose to defend his “reputation” and take the risk of losing in court, with dire financial consequences, and at the risk of discrediting the SSP. Tommy could have refused to be drawn on the stories. He could have said my private life is my own business, or whatever. Sadly he has shamelessly created a picture in the media of the “family man”: accepting, ironically, conventional mores – never for a moment would I be unfaithful, ad nauseam.

If anybody believes Tommy’s version of events, they have to explain why the majority of the leadership, many of them his closest friends for many years, should act in such an outrageous way. This would constitute a barely credible change in the conduct of the SSP which has a tradition of open discussion and reaching decisions through democratic debate. Debates can be very sharp, as with the discussion on ‘50%-50%’ – the decision to ensure women had shared places on the top of the electoral lists – but they have remained for the most part fraternal.

“I’ll destroy the scabs who tried to ruin me.”

Events since his ‘victory’ in court have shown that Tommy has not acted as a principled political leader. At least from the point where he issued his Open Letter, Tommy took his battle for control of the SSP into the very media that his opponents are being accused of supporting. Is there anything principled about denouncing them as ‘scabs’ in the Daily Record? After his 7-4 victory in court Tommy Sheridan and his wife were interviewed by the Record. It read like an issue of Hello magazine with Tommy telling the story of true love which will last to their dying day. He himself has confirmed he sold his story, reputedly for £25,000, justifying it on the grounds that it would give Gail time off work. Why would any socialist tell the intimate story of a relationship, smothered in romanticism? "I could never love anyone like I love her and she couldn't love anyone like she loves me. More than ever, we are cemented in rock. We will live and die together." What has this got to do with the future of the SSP?

Even worse than this portrayal of the archetypal family, with its soft focus picture, was the recruitment of the New Labour supporting Daily Record to Tommy’s campaign to take back the leadership of the SSP. “Sheridan exclusive – I’ll destroy the scabs who tried to ruin me.” Tommy told the Record he thought he had two months to “save the party he founded”. Excuse me, I though there were some other people involved. Wasn’t it a collective effort?

So disgusted were some of his long time friends with his use of the Record that six of them, who had previously refused to make any public comment, confirmed that Tommy had personally admitted to each of them his visits to the club and a relationship with Katrina Trolle, one of the witnesses and an ex-SSP member who he sought to destroy on the witness stand. Are these six lying as well? Why would they have joined in the “plot” at this late stage rather than joining in with the 11 earlier? Bear in mind that a lot of the anger and bitterness which has been created has been the result of Tommy’s treatment of women in court – examining their previous sexual history and so on. Talk by Tommy of a “gender discussion group”, as opposed to a ‘class party’, with no explanation, can only stir up prejudice amongst those who do not take seriously the struggle against women’s oppression.

He told the Record there was a 50-50 chance of him standing against Colin Fox. Mind you, he wanted strong evidence of support from a majority of the members before deigning to stand. 10 or 15 branch nominations would not be enough. He wanted 25 to 30. The members had to measure up to his exacting standards. This is an extraordinary statement. The SSP has supposedly been taken over by a bunch of “political scabs”, yet he would only consider challenging them if he was happy with the number of nominations! It appears he got 9 nominations.

In Tommy’s comments there is not even a hint of that little thing collective leadership which working class organisations require in contrast with the norm of the big party boss. He is apparently indispensable. “It’s me or oblivion”, screamed the Daily Record. Sadly, it is very difficult to draw any other conclusion than the man is a rampant individualist. His insistence on taking his case to court, despite the unanimous advice of the SSP Executive Committee, has proved to be a disaster.

From the position of seeking to drive out the 11 from the leadership, and ‘democratising’ the Party (the ‘SSP Majority’ website has the strapline of “democratic renewal of the SSP”), very swiftly Tommy decided to abandon it, to take as many people out of it as he could. What is staggering about this decision is the ease with which it was taken, and the fact that two platforms within the party, quickly supported the break up of the SSP. To say that the political explanation of such a decision is shoddy is an understatement.

What was probably a crucial factor in Tommy’s decision was the likelihood that he would not win top spot on the electoral list in the heartlands of the SSP. His declared position that the United Left platform would create a destructive internal environment after he had been elected Convenor, is hardly credible, since if he had won the election then it is a racing certainty that they would have walked out of a party which elected him despite his conduct.

A split without a discussion

At a meeting of his supporters Tommy proposed to leave the SSP. The two platforms, the CWI and Socialist Worker went away to discuss his proposal, only to find that he had already told the mass media about a ‘new party’ before they had the chance to discuss it and come to a collective decision. They were faced with the choice of going along with Sheridan, or staying in the SSP. They were not going to break with Sheridan having denounced the 11 as ‘scabs’ or people who ‘supported Murdoch’. They agreed, therefore, to a split without a political discussion. This is always the worst circumstances in which a split can take place.

The SWP in particular, since they had two witnesses in court, supporting the assertion that the 11 were framing Tommy, have taken a position where they cannot admit to the truth or else their people will be open to the charge of perjury with the threat of imprisonment. In order to justify the split they have cobbled together an argument about the ‘sectarianism’ of the leadership of the SSP. Even if there was a problem with sectarianism this would not be a justification for a split. And to listen to members of the SWP lecturing the SSP about its “bureaucratic” leadership is risible. This is an organisation (the SWP) which has only had one person stand for its leadership outside the ‘leadership slate’ in the past 15 years; and he was treated like a pariah. This is an organisation which was happy to take advantage of the right to form a “platform” in the SSP but denies its own members such a right.

Nobody should underestimate the implications of what these two organisations have done. In supporting a lie they have provided the state with the opportunity of charging the 11 with perjury and locking them up. They have supported the misrepresentation of the 11 as organisers of a frame-up, when the frame-up was actually directed at the 11.

Lying about anything of substance or importance is always a dangerous business, because the logic of the position leads to further lies to cover up the original one. You cannot build a political party which struggles against capitalism on such a basis.

What next?

So now there are two competing organisations in Scotland, with not much in the way of discernable political differences between them. Hugh Kerr writing a letter to the Guardian said that there is room for two socialist parties in Scotland. There might be if they collaborated, but what chance of that now? There may well be dire electoral consequences. The six MSPs, now shared between the two organisations, may well lose their seats. Whilst this is not the be all and end all of politics, it would be a significant blow.

What a travesty, calling an organisation Solidarity, when it is splitting the Party which has made the most significant advance for many, many decades, and denying the members the right to collectively decide its future.

The political roots of the split will be the subject of debate (for which there is not space here). In the first instance it was the result of the rampant individualism of a leader who would not accept a collective decision. At the same time it has been supported by self-interested sectarian organisations. These organisations behave like religious sects which have the only true version of the faith. They could not work together in the Socialist Alliance. There is no reason to expect that they will be able to work together in ‘Solidarity’.

The launch of Solidarity rests on the ‘holy trinity’ of Tommy Sheridan, the CWI and the SWP, two of his most vehement critics in the past. It is a potentially explosive cocktail. The new organisation had barely been launched than Socialist Worker started distancing itself from Sheridan. In the report on the launch of Solidarity he was described as ‘downbeat’, whilst leading SWP member Dave Sherry expressed his disappointment at Tommy’s apparent failure to discuss what the new organisation needed to do over the next few months. Then we read from the lips of one member of the audience that he would probably join, but there needed to be more strong people around Tommy “to challenge him”. What they needed to challenge him on was not explained. However the inclusion of this material is not accidental. It’s like a message in Pravda giving the cadres guidance: they can read the code.

Of course, it would be a mistake to see only virtue on one side and sin on the other. There will undoubtedly be people who join Solidarity because they have believed the cock and bull story about the 11. There is already a debate taking place in the SSP on how the crisis emerged and what mistakes were made. But the responsibility for the crisis rests on the shoulders of Tommy Sheridan and those who know the truth but support him nonetheless.

As ever it is the working class which pays the price of sectarianism, and of leaders who place their own interests above those of the working class. ‘My leader right or wrong’ is no basis for building any working class organisation, be it a political organisation, a trade union or a community based one.

In conclusion, I believe socialists in Britain should support the SSP against what is an unprincipled split. The inevitable struggle between the SSP and ‘Solidarity’ will not be determined in the media but on the ground, in working class communities, union branches and so on. From that point of view, the SSP, I believe, has deeper roots. They deserve the support of socialists who strive for a break from sectarianism and the Great Leader phenomenon, both of which have disfigured the British left for decades.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Penalising 'Hard Work, Thrift and Enterprise'!

Stephen Byers is worried that inheritance tax is 'penalising hard work, thrift and enterprise'

‘The rich shall inherit the earth. It is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of the needle than it is to find a camel in Swindon.’ Not quite a quote from the Bible

With so many Christian amongst the ranks of the Blairites you would imagine they would remember their Bible. Wasn’t it ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’? It is ‘easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to pass into heaven’. Apparently not. You may remember that ex-minister Stephen Byers was the man who famously leaked the idea of Labour breaking the link with the unions. Labour must be a party of the nation rather than 'the party of the working class'. Now he has drawn attention to the terrible plight of ‘successful’ people who suffer the indignity of having to pay inheritance tax. With so many ‘aspirant’ people having benefited from 9 years of a New Labour government they are, says Byers, being unfairly taxed given the increase in the value of houses. It is “a penalty on hard work, thrift and enterprise”.

In fact house prices are not the result of ‘success’. Home owners have had to do nothing but watch the value of their houses rise. This is an example of making a fortune without doing a thing. One of the factors fuelling this phenomenon was the decision of the Thatcher government to stop building council houses and to give tenants ‘the right to buy’. This helped to create the housing shortage which has fuelled the massive increase in house prices.

Inheritance tax is one of the last remaining features of the progressive taxation system which existed in the post second world war years, until Thatcher came to power. It used to be a social obligation to pay more tax the richer you were. But New Labour long ago abandoned progressive taxation and reintroduced means testing which not only demeans people, but wastes resources since it is very expensive to collect.

Byers bid to reorient New Labour to win back middle England appears to have been rejected by the Treasury (aka Gordon Brown) though only on the pragmatic grounds that this would leave a £3.3 billion hole in the public purse.

Rather than being the boon that New Labour believes it to be, home ownership for many people was not a choice, but a necessity, especially given the huge increase in Council House waiting lists. Home ownership for many is a terrible burden which means that people have to work long hours in order to scrape by, struggling to manage their finances from month to month. Mortgages used to be given to people on the yardstick of two and a half times their wages. Today, it is not uncommon for a mortgage to be measures on the scale of five or more times a person’s wages.

A couple of years ago, a Labour councillor in Swindon complained that there were some people living on my council estate who were the third generation to do so. This apparently showed their lack of ‘poverty of ambition’. It never occurred to him that people like living there. Home ownership is part of the rat-race in which collective interests are abandoned for personal salvation.

There is nothing natural about wanting to be a house owner as opposed to renting. Indeed a recent survey by Shelter showed that a large majority of people in need of housing wanted a decent, affordable home, whilst ownership was well down the list of priorities.


Friday, July 28, 2006

John McDonnell Campaign

Left wing Labour MP John McDonnell has declared he will stand against Gordon Brown for Labour leader when Blair departs. You would imagine that given his record of campaigning for the trades unions and opposing the whole Blairite agenda that the affiliated unions would obiously support John McDonnell’s. Can they really support Brown who is driving the government’s neo-liberal agenda, privatising public services and destroying public sector jobs?The experience of 9 years of a right wing Blair government has driven vast numbers of members out of the Labour Party. So much so that most local parties are empty shells. Having promised to create a party of one million members Blair has merely succeeded in halving the membership. Many socialists will view the question of who takes over from Blair with indifference, not least because either Brown or any candidate supported by Blair’s clique will continue with the neo-liberal ‘free market’ programme of the current government.

John is appealing to people to return to the party to take part in the campaign. It remains to be seen how many do, but it will probably not be that many since nobody believes that he stands a chance of getting anywhere near winning. However, it would be a mistake if socialists in the affiliated unions took the view that the change of leadership is of no consequence. So long as the unions remain affiliated to Labour then we should demand that instead of collaborating with the Blair/Brown leadership they should argue for a fundamental change of political direction. To support Brown (as ‘the only serious candidate’) or to sit on their hands and passively await his ‘coronation’ would be a grave disservice to union members who are daily being attacked by this government.

The affiliated unions should oppose any attempt to rig a ‘smooth transition’ from Blair to Brown. In the first instance they should insist on a democratic process in which a discussion takes place on policy questions. Secondly, if any of the trade union critics of the government accept a ‘coronation’ of Brown then union members could only draw the conclusion that their criticism of government policy was mere hot air. Brown was one of the authors of PFI and is the main driver of privatisation throughout the public sector.

John McDonnell’s campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party should be seen as a welcome (if somewhat belated) challenge against the whole political programme of ‘Blairism’. One does not have to be a Labour Party member to support the campaign. Any member of an affiliated union has the right to demand that their union declare its support for McDonnell. We should not watch with disinterest if the union leaders line up behind Brown.

Writing on the Labour Representation Committee conference which agreed to support his candidature John McDonnell talked of the choice which should be presented to party members in the leadership election:

• between promoting public services or continued privatisation.
• between free education or trust schools and tuition fees.
• between increasing the state pension and restoring the link with earnings or forcing more people onto the means test.
• between allowing councils to build council houses once again or high rents, escalating housing costs, homelessness and overcrowding.
• between energy from green power sources, conservation, and British clean coal or the costs and risks of nuclear power.
• between promoting civil liberties and trade union rights or reactionary incursions into the right of free speech, assembly and trial.
• between a government committed to peace, withdrawal from Iraq and nuclear disarmament or backing Bush's wars and wasting £24 billion on Trident.

With the exception of the question of nuclear power the unions are fundamentally in conflict with this government’s policy. What sense would it make to support a candidate who would continue with the policies which the unions are opposed to and for which their members are paying a heavy price? Campaigning for the affiliated unions to support McDonnell is necessary to challenge the conciliators of New Labour at the top of the unions, who have given the Blair government an easy ride.

The latest example of union leaders facing both ways – criticising the policy of the government but acting as if they were friends of the working class – was the GMB Congress. The Congress took some positive decisions, including breaking with the ‘partnership’ agenda so beloved on New Labour. Yet when Blair spoke he was given a standing ovation by many delegates, whilst the top table uttered kind words about this reactionary ‘free market’ fanatic whose government is privatising across the public sector and supporting a right wing Republican President in the international arena. You cannot stand up for union members and stand up for Blair.

Many union leaders will no doubt say that John McDonnell is not a ‘serious candidate’. If they can find a more serious one then let them. But this is not the basis of their relectance to support him. They do not want to oppose the leadership of New Labour. Do they seriously believe that their powers of persuasion can miraculously transform New Labour into a union friendly party? This is self-delusion. Even Brendan Barber has said that a ‘fundamental change of direction’ from New Labour’s agenda is necessary. Pretending that the New Labour leaders are our friends is at complete variance with nine years experience. Year after year the unions have won policy at Labour’s conference, defeating the privatisation agenda. But, of course, the government has simply ignored those votes. Good arguments will not convince people who are ideologically committed to privatisation that they must abandon the entire rationale of their policy.

Perhaps the calculation of some union leaders is that if they support a candidate against Brown this will burn bridges with him and mean they have no ‘influence’ with him. Such ‘influence’ is nothing more than self-delusion. The government has given away a few crumbs, but it’s overall political direction is fundamentally opposed to the interests of union members and the working class in general. Union leaders may see such an approach as ‘realism’. In reality it is the worst opportunism.

It is the collaboration with the government which the union leaders have for the most part carried out, which has allowed it to get away with a programme of abandonment of the welfare state, privatisation of public services, and support for a right wing republican administration in the USA on the international level.

In return for the Warwick Agreement the major union leaders have effectively agreed to restrain their members in order not to ‘risk’ the prospects of a fourth term for Labour. That has meant compromise in the pension dispute, abandoning the new generation of workers who will be on worse terms and conditions of service than existing staff, and failing miserably to develop any serious campaign against the government’s fracturing of the NHS and opening up of it to big business.

Writing on his blog CWU leader Billy Hayes wrote:

“Problems of disengagement from Labour are linked to the Government’s support for Bush’s foreign policy, and the neo-liberal attacks on the welfare state. Change the policies and make our Party worth joining again.”

Billy has been one of the most vociferous proponents of the ‘stay in and fight’ line amongst the trade union leaders. It will be interesting to see, especially since the CWU is affiliated to the Labour Representation Committee, whether he seeks to win the CWU to supporting John McDonnell’s campaign. So far he has remained silent. But all of the union leaders are being put to the test now because the camapign for the leadership of the party puts them on the spot.

Of course, the campaign has a very difficult job on its hands for it has to win the support of 44 Labour MPs in order for John to become a candidate. It is questionable as to whether such a large number can be pressured to openly support a campaign for a break with the political direction of New Labour. If it fails to get John on the ballot then even those such as Labour Briefing, which hangs doggedly to work in the Labour Party, may well draw the conclusion they have resisted to draw for so long, the need to build a socialist alternative to New Labour. That is the expressed view of Graham Bash, one of its leading lights.

“If there were simply a coronation of Brown - without even an attempt to mount a left challenge - this would be yet another nail, possibly a final nail, in the coffin of not only the Labour left, but also the Labour Party as a class party. John’s brave attempt to raise the banner of core Labour and socialist values is either the beginning of the fightback or, if it makes little impact, the beginning of the end for the Labour Party itself.”

Whatever the outcome, socialists in the affiliated unions should not allow their union leaders to talk out of both sides of their mouths, criticising the government but failing to seriously organise a struggle against it.


Supporting John McDonnell’s campaign does not mean agreeing with the perspective of ‘winning back Labour’, it simply means that we do not allow the union leaders to go unchallenged should they propose to support Brown or some other creature of the Blairites. If they support the line of ‘staying in and fighting’ let them show us they are serious about fighting the government. If they were serious about overturning the politics of Blair they would have organised a candidate themselves. As it is John McDonnell offers the only chance within the Labour Party of challenging the political agenda for which our members are paying such a high cost. Brown is as much as enemy of the labour movement as Blair is.

http://www.john4leader.org.uk

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Michael Wills is worried…

North Swindon MP Michael Wills is worried. His speech to a fringe meeting at the conference of new Labour pressure group Compass, was reported on the front page of the Guardian in the lead article. Mr Wills is known to have a close friend by the name of Gordon. Perhaps this explains the prominence of his comments. At any rate he is warning of the prospect of electoral defeat at the next General Election. Whilst he recognises "profound disillusion and disnegagement" amongst Labour supports he fails to face up to the roots of this.

North Swindon MP Michael Wills’ is worried, and you can understand why. Speaking at a fringe meeting at a conference organised by the new Labour pressure group, Compass, he claimed that at the General Election “every single Labour MP on the doorstep reported profound disillusionment and disengagement”. This does have the merit of trying to grapple with reality, whilst the Prime Minister and his coterie merely seem to want deny that such a thing exists. But when it comes to an appreciation of the roots of this “profound disillusionment” of traditional Labour voters, Wills cannot himself face the reality. The problem it seems is that the voters will not listen to New Labour’s “message”. It is they who are at fault not New Labour!

“Unless we can get people to start listening to us, unless they are prepared to hear the message we are putting across, we are going to lose next time. There is no question of that.”

There are none so blind as cannot see. There are none so deaf as those who refuse to listen! Wills is suggesting that the problem is one of presentation rather than substance. The electors refuse to see the reality of New Labour’s ‘successes’. How very irrational of them. What Michael Wills and New Labour cannot face up to is the fact that it is what the government is doing which has alienated vast swathes of its traditional supporters; and not just the Iraq war which he says lost him 3,500 votes. It is very common to hear the refrain from people who have voted Labour for many years, ‘they are no different to the Tories’. Whilst there are differences with the Tories Blair reconstructed the Party on the same ground as Thatcherism. This involved the abandonment of the welfare state, not its ‘modernisation’, and the progressive marketisation of public services. They have even introduced a market into the NHS in which hospitals have to ‘compete’ for patients. In Wiltshire this has led to an unprecedented crisis, with the decimation of services (see http://martinwicks.blogspot.com/2006/05/health-crisis-what-crisis-health.html ).

Wills is right when he says that the electorate does not ‘trust us’. And he recognises that the ‘Presidential style’ of the Prime Minister is a problem. But he cannot face up to the fact that it is the substance of New Labour which is the reason for the disillusionment of its traditional supporters and the decline of its membership.

Wills is worried about losing his Parliamentary seat, of course. The crisis of New Labour in Swindon does not bode well for his chances. The Council, which was historically a Labour one for decades has seen a precipitous decline both in the Party’s organisation and in the number of councillors. Even in the Thatcher days the Tories did not gain control, even though they had the MP. Yet after 3 years of the Blair government Labour lost its majority on the Council, though remaining the largest party. In 2000 it had 28 councillors to 24 Tories. Today the Tories have 42 and Labour has only 12. Four Labour Councillors have defected to the Tories, one resigned and left local politics, and one broke with Labour over their support for increasing Councillors’ allowances at the same time as the Tories were cutting services.

The dilemma of New Labour in Swindon was in part summed up by an article in the Swindon Advertiser by Michael Wills and South Swindon’s ultra-New Labourite MP, Anne Snelgrove, on the future of the town. What criticism did they make of the Tory Council? That they are privatising council departments? That they are not opposing Bath University’s ultimatum on the location on which it wants to build a campus?1 That they are accepting vast numbers of new houses being imposed by an unelected body in the South West? That they are trying to rush through a proposal for an Academy which will be run by a private company? Alas, our two MPs accept all this, just as the Tories do.

Well might Private Eye ridicule Anne Snelgrove for her comment that ‘the country’ is ‘proud’ of the work of the Deputy Prime Minister.2 This is the man who has the Midas touch in reverse. He turns gold to dross. This is the man who has given power over our town (and others) to an unelected body which, at his department’s prompting tells us how many houses we ‘need’, regardless of our view. This is the man who has made the planning process less democratic. This is the man who has sought to eradicate Council Housing and still maintains the effective ban on Councils building new houses. The reality is that Prescott is the object of ridicule and contempt in equal measure, astutely summed up by Steve Bell’s cartoon, the bulldog caricature.3

So what are the profound differences with the Tories which the MP’s revealed in their article? Apparently the Tories are not “sufficiently ambitious” for the town. Instead of, dare we say, a bog-standard library, “why not plan for one that surpasses the best elsewhere”. Frankly, this is pathetic, providing an easy target for the Tories, who can say with some legitimacy, why didn’t Labour produce a new library in all the years they were in power? 4

We have also seen the spectacle of the MP’s complaining that the Tory Council does not build enough social housing. This is the cheek of Old Nick after 9 years of a New Labour government. One Labour Councillor informs me that he told Michael Wills, “it’s your government which is stopping Council house building”. As for Anne Snelgrove, as we discovered at the Defend Council Housing lobby of Parliament, she is opposed to Councils building their own houses. (See http://martinwicks.blogspot.com/2006/02/home-owning-democracy-whats-in-phrase.html )

Undoubtedly the decline in Labour’s support in Swindon reflects the national picture of disaffection amongst traditional labour supporters. But when a Labour candidate in Parks (a council estate where I live) manages barely a 100 majority over a Tory candidate you know the party is in trouble.

In the old days (certainly pre-Blair) political and ideological differences between the two major parties were significant enough to make defection from one to the other very rare. But that was before Blair’s political and ideological coup. That four councillors have crossed over to the Tories reflects the absence of real ideological differences.5 The recent defector Mavis Childs said that she wanted to get things done for her constituents. Their interests “come before party politics”, she says. Clearly, according to this logic, the only place to have a direct influence is in the ruling Tory group which has an absolute majority.

What New Labour in Swindon has yet to explain is why the Tories have gained such a big majority; why it has declined so precipitously. Amidst all the hype in the early Blair days we were told that the party was going to increase its membership to 1 million. In fact, so disgusted has much of the membership been with Blair that instead of an influx he has succeeded in more than halving the party membership. Perhaps our MPs can explain why, if the government has been such a ‘success’, party membership is less than half the 1997 level. We wait with baited breath. Perhaps the members failed to face up to reality just like the electorate.

Why should traditional Labour voters, never mind anybody else, vote for New Labour? This is the question posed as a result of 9 years of a ‘business friendly’, privatising government. What is the difference between what a Labour Council would do in office and what the Tory Council is doing now? Unless the electorate sees some positive reason to vote Labour again, then the Tories will maintain their stranglehold on the Council, at the expense of working class people. The Tories appear to be ‘getting things done’. If the policy of New Labour hardly differs from that of the Tories, then why not vote for the more effective or ‘efficient’ party? Such at least was the conclusion of Mavis Childs.

Labour can hang on and wait for the electorate to get fed up with the Tories, but overturning such a big majority could take a long time. If they want to campaign against them in a way which resonates with local people, and is believable, they have to have a different programme and policy. But here they face the twin obstacle of their government and their MPs, both of whom are New Labour zealots.

Labour could have allies to build opposition to the Tory Council. For instance, they could work with the local government unions to oppose the Tories privatising Council departments. Unfortunately, there is no sign as yet of them opposing the Tory policy.

Labour could campaign with the unions and tenants for the right of Councils to build Council housing once again. Two Labour councillors joined the delegation which lobbied Parliament in relation to the ‘fourth option’. The housing crisis facing the town is a major issue. House prices in Swindon are too high for many local people. All we see being built in the town centre at the moment are luxury flats. The Council house waiting list will not be cut without a Council house building programme. A campaign to change government policy, to allow Councils the right to build new Council housing would be a significant difference with the Tory Council.

Labour could campaign for the Housing benefit and Council Tax service to be brought back in-house. OK, it was they who privatised it, handing it over to WS Atkins with disastrous consequences.6 However, they could recognise it as a mistake and campaign for the service to be brought back in-house. Thus far the Party has missed the opportunity of criticising the Tory administration over its latest move in relation to Liberata (the company which took over from WS Atkins). These worshippers of ‘the market’ (the Tory Council in this case) have punished Liberata for failing to carry out their contract with the Council, by handing over to them an extra £850,000! You might imagine that if the company fails to carry out their contractual obligations to a satisfactory standard then they would take the financial hit rather than the Council Tax payers of Swindon, especially at a time when the Council was cutting services. Isn’t this supposed to be the ‘free market’? But even here New Labour has failed to attack the Tories for feather-bedding a private company with our money. What better opportunity than this to demand the service be brought back in-house?

Labour could campaign with the trades unions and local people against the Academy which is proposed to replace Headlands school. That would mean opposing government policy, of course. Yet Michael Wills was over the moon at the involvement of Honda in the proposed project. Labour movement people on the other hand are appalled at the involvement of an anti-union car firm in Education.

The Labour group could attack the Tory Council for its fraudulent ‘consultation’ on the issue. Lead member Garry Perkins has said that this is the only way that the people of the area will get a new school, so there is no debate about whether or not local people want it. Presumably we can discuss what colour the doors are. But because of New Labour’s support for the privatisation of education they have failed to defend the democratic rights of local people to genuinely debate whether or not they want to go down the route of an Academy.

Nobody in the wider labour movement in Swindon underestimates the problem that a big Tory majority on the Council represents to working people in general and the trades unions in particular. Even those of us who believe that a socialist political alternative to New Labour is necessary, would be in favour of a united front with Labour to build opposition to the Tory administration, if such a thing were possible. Yet if it was possible for Labour Councillors to work with people who they consider as political opponents (even the dreaded Socialist Unity) to jointly campaign against the BNP, why not to campaign for new Council housing, or in opposition to privatisation?

Michael Wills, without spelling it out, seemed to be saying in his speech that Blair should go. But what difference would Brown make when (as explained to me by another Labour Councillor) he is wedded to the very same policies as Blair? Certainly some traditional Labour voters might be persuaded to hold their nose and vote for the party again if the much hated Blair departed, but it is the ‘free market’, means testing, privatising agenda of New Labour, as well as its support for a right wing Republican administration in the USA which lies at the root of the “profound disillusionment and disengagement” which Wills admitted to.

Martin Wicks

Notes
[1] Bath University had said that it wants to build on a site adjacent to Coate Water Country Park, or else it will not build a campus in the town. 27,000 signatures have been collected against this unpopular proposal. See http://savecoate.blogspot.com
[2] She has made quite a profession out of asking what might be described as ‘please give a job’ questions, being duly rewarded with some junior post or other.
[3] Prescott is pictured as a dog called ‘market’, pulled along by the lead by Blair. It sums up the role of lap dog which Prescott has performed, doing his master’s bidding, presenting a ‘left’ face for Blair’s neo-liberalism.
[4] For the benefit of people outside of Swindon, the central library has inhabited for many years prefabricated huts in the town centre.
[5] One of them is actually a Tory who crossed over to New Labour and has now gone back to the Tories.
[6] A massive backlog of work led to elderly people (on benefit and hence having their council tax paid for them) being threatened with eviction, since it had not been paid, through no fault of their own.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Standing up for the members

New General Secretary Paul Kenny, in a speech to the GMB Congress said that politicians were like babies nappies; “they need changing regularly, and for the same reason.” It was a pity that the GMB Congress didn’t act according to this unusual dictum when Blair was invited to speak to the delegates on Tuesday.

He was treated like a good friend with whom we have some minor differences. There were plenty of hostile questions from the delegates, in the question and answer session; on Iraq, ‘reform’ of the public sector, pensions etc. But he wasn’t barracked or heckled. He was apparently treated with ‘respect’ instead of the contempt which he has earned. Blair gave a robust defence of his right wing neo-liberal policies of course. When the session was over some delegates (I was told by somebody present less than half, but nevertheless a significant number) gave him a standing ovation. These are the same people who passed a document, GMB at Work, which abandons the idea of partnership with the employers, which Blair’s government considers to be the mark of a ‘modern’ trade union. These were the same delegates who have voted against privatisation of public services, and to affiliate to the Keep Our NHS Public campaign.

Perhaps some of them are Labour loyalists who can only smile as the government kicks them. Probably most of them did not want to give the impression of hostility or ‘splits’ between the unions and government in front of the media. In giving a standing ovation to Blair they were failing to do what they should be doing, standing up for the members. How can anyone give a standing ovation to the man responsible for introducing ‘reforms’ which are destroying the very foundations of the NHS?

In the Congress the top table ruled out a resolution which called for the right of branches to support candidates other than Labour ones, on the ground that this would lead to the union’s expulsion from the Labour Party. If you hold the position that it is necessary for the trades unions to ‘stay in and fight’ or ‘win back the party’, then isn’t it necessary to break with the political programme and methods of the Blairites? Isn’t it necessary to recognise that Blair and all those who support his politics are enemies of the trades unions?

If the unions stay in the party that is their choice, but they cannot defend the interests of their members without demanding a fundamental change of political direction. It matters not a jot if the party is headed by Blair or Brown, or anybody else for that matter, if the policy is the same; ‘free market’ neo-liberalism.

It is time for the abandonment of an approach which says, on the one hand the government has done some positive things, on the other some negative, as if they balance each other out.
Blair is not the devil incarnate, of course. He did not move the party into the neo-liberal camp without support of others. Indeed, it was largely the trade union leaders who delivered the party to him so easily.

It is the collaboration with the government which the union leaders have for the most part carried out, which has allowed it to get away with a programme of abandonment of the welfare state, privatisation of public services, and support for a right wing republican administration in the USA. An unequivocal break with the politics of Blairism is necessary if the unions are to be taken seriously. They can’t stand up for the members and for Blair.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Nuclear power, environmental crisis and the trades unions

Having opposed building new nuclear power plants in its White Paper in 2003 the government has launched a new energy review which can have no other purpose than to overturn the government's previous position. The suspicion that the Great Leader had already decided that a new generation of nuclear power plants is necessary was confirmed by his recent speech to the CBI which exposed the bogus nature of the 'review' process. There is little support for such a move, yet ironically, the major trades unions are appealing to the government to follow this course. Martin Wicks examines the issue of nuclear energy and the policy of the unions. (From Issue 17 of the trade union magazine SOLIDARITY.)

Blair's speech to the CBI has created a furore, and not only amongst those who are inveterate opponents of nuclear energy. The speech not only pre-empted the review, it was designed to silence opposition within the Cabinet. Apparently there will be no white paper to decide on a new generation of nuclear power plants since this would serve as a focus for opposition.

In his speech Blair said:

"Essentially, the twin pressures of climate change and energy security are raising energy policy to the top of the agenda in the UK and around the world. The facts are stark. By 2025, if current policy is unchanged there will be a dramatic gap on our targets to reduce CO2 emissions, we will become heavily dependent on gas and at the same time move from being 80% to 90% self-reliant in gas to 80% to 90% dependent on foreign imports, mostly from the Middle East, and Africa and Russia.

These facts put the replacement of nuclear power stations, a big push on renewables and a step change on energy efficiency, engaging both business and consumers, back on the agenda with a vengeance. If we don't take these long-term decisions now we will be committing a serious dereliction of our duty to the future of this country."

Blair assembles facts to justify a pre-determined argument. He does not examine the facts in order to come to a conclusion. There is a fundamental contradiction which underlies his position. His government has long supported a liberalised energy market. There is nothing to stop 'the market' delivering new nuclear power stations now; except the risk and the “eye-wateringly large costs” (a Treasury prediction according to the Guardian).

The current market structure has failed

But if the market works, asked the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, why is a government 'decision' necessary in the first place?

“…in the context of the Government's faith in liberalised market it is unclear what any 'decision' or 'decision on nuclear' would amount to. We put this point repeatedly to the Secretary of State, yet he was unable to offer any explanation. The real issue facing the government is in fact whether the current structure of the liberalised market and policy framework will deliver sufficient investment in low-carbon forms of generation in a timely manner. Yet the consultation document does not address this adequately perhaps because to do so would be tantamount to admitting that the current market structure has failed.”
“Keeping the lights on: Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change”. House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Report.

Blair's government will not admit that the privatised energy market is fundamentally flawed, since this would bring its 'free market' ideological pack of cards crashing down. Already, in 2002 the government was obliged to rescue the privatised nuclear company British Energy at a cost of billions to the taxpayer (including decommissioning it could add up to £12 billion).

Today there is little support for a new generation of nuclear plants. The Sustainable Development Commission Report said that “nuclear power is not the answer to tackling climate change or security of supply”. There is “no justification for bringing forward a new nuclear power programme at present.” The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee EAC) is likewise opposed, supporting the emphasis of the 2003 White Paper on energy efficiency and renewables as cornerstones of future energy policy. In it's report it says:

“Over the next ten years, nuclear power cannot contribute either to the need for more generating capacity or to carbon reductions as it simply could not be built in time.”

The Secretary of State for Energy has admitted that it might take from 15 to 17 years before a new nuclear power station could become operational.

The 'generating gap'

But what about the energy gap which is predicted? The EAC has estimated that by 2016 between 15 and 20GW of electricity generating plant will be decommissioned; nearly a quarter of total UK generating capacity. 8GW of nuclear capacity is scheduled to close by 2014, and by 2023, only Sizewell B will be operational.

The government's own energy White Paper in 2003 endorsed the view of its Performance and Innovation Unit that new gas-fired plant, renewables and energy efficiency measures could make up for the potential 'generating gap'.

The very idea of insufficient energy accepts as a given that energy use will remain at current levels. It fails to address the fact that the capitalist system is a system of phenomenal waste, because production and energy use is determined by the narrow interests of 'efficiency', measured by the balance sheet and profit levels.

The failure of the Blair government to subsidise low-carbon generating technologies, which are currently more expensive than gas or coal, results from its ideological free market fundamentalism. The EAC poses the question:

“If the government does indeed make a decision on nuclear, it is unclear why it should not also come to a decision on off-shore wind, marine, or micro-CHP, let alone the many possible measures to support energy efficiency.”

The acceptance in the 2003 White Paper of the possibility of reductions in energy use has been abandoned, partly because state intervention has the unacceptable stench of 'Old Labour', and partly because it contradict with the logic of capitalist production, which is heresy for New Labour.

'Environmental sustainability'

Environmental sustainability is a much used phrase in all manner of government documents. But such an aim is impossible without serious action to stop the waste of resources which results from a system in which 'growth' is seen as a positive thing irrespective of its social and environmental consequences. As Ken Livingstone pointed out in a Guardian article, up to two thirds of electricity is wasted because of the centralised nature of production, and its transmission over long distances. The EAC report identifies the need for 'distribution generation' (small scale generation on a local basis at the point of demand) rather than the wasteful national grid system. Distributed generation offers big improvements in efficiency, particularly in the case of 'combined heat and power'.

Electricity losses on the UK grid system are estimated on average at around 10%, whilst the efficiency of coal power stations can be as low as 35%. If both the electricity and the heat load can be utilised, efficiencies of more than 90% can be achieved. It is estimated that if half of the domestic central heating boilers in the UK were replaced by micro-CHP units, by 2020 the total generating capacity would amount to 13GW, delivering at peak winter periods as much as the current nuclear power stations.

The centralised distribution networks of all manner of service industries provide 'economies of scale' for the big companies. But the cost of these centralised systems is vast numbers of heavy goods vehicles criss-crossing the country, pouring out pollutants and burning up oil, taking, for example food to be processed at one end of the country, only to return from whence it came. This may be 'efficient' from the standpoint of the balance sheet of the companies, but it is entirely irrational and inefficient given its social, health and environmental impact.

Shift from road to rail?

The EAC criticises the government for failing to clarify the nature of its current review. If it is supposed to be a wider debate (rather than one narrowly focused on electricity production) it would need to address all aspects of energy consumption, in particular transport and the domestic sector, in both of which energy consumption is significantly increasing “due to the fact that government policies diametrically opposed to the target of 60% carbon reduction by 2050”, set out in the Energy White Paper. This is apparent when you consider the wreckage of its transport policy.

Of all the failures of the Blair government, probably one of the greatest is in relation to transport. It is impossible to tackle the environmental crisis without halting and reversing the growth in road transport. In the early days of the current government John Prescott made the statement that if there had been no shift from road to rail within five years then he would have failed in his job. This shift was said to be necessary to cut emissions which contributed to global warming. When the five years was up and Prescott was reminded of his comments he denied them, though they were a matter of record. The government's transport strategy was abandoned and they have since accepted there will be an increase in the number of cars on the road.

Whilst they were forced to close down Railtrack as a share trading company, the government refused to re-nationalise the industry, partly for ideological reasons (they are free market fundamentalists) and partly because Brown does not want the company's debt added to his public balance sheet. Even worse the Department for Transport has now issued a timetable for the railways which institutes cuts in services which can only have the impact of driving people back on the road. In rural areas in particular the cuts are considerable even though, to take parts of the South West, local service use has increased by up 40% in the last five years. The framework timetables were determined purely in order to cut the level of subsidy.

The rail unions and socialists have long argued that the only way to get more people to transfer from road to rail is to provide cheap and reliable services. But the refusal of the government to end the disastrous experiment of rail privatisation has meant that private companies are leeching money out of the system and pushing prices up to such an extent that not many people can afford the price of tickets. That the number of journeys has increased is a reflection of the increasing level of congestion on roads. Nationally, the 1 billion passenger journey mark has been passed for the first time in 50 years. Despite this the government has accepted that they can do nothing to halt the increase in car numbers.

The nuclear record

Successive studies by British governments in 1989, 1995 and 2002 all came to the conclusion that in a liberalised electricity market, electric utilities will not build nuclear power plants without government subsidies and guarantees capping costs. Even when Thatcher decided on a new round of building, only one plant, Sizewell B was built. In 1989 when the electricity industry was being privatised, the nuclear plants were not attractive to private investors, and the government was forced to withdraw them from sale and had to create two publicly owned companies, Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear, to own and operate them. Tory Energy Minister of the time, John Wakeham bemoaned the fact that “unprecedented guarantees” were being sought. “I am not willing to underwrite the private sector in this way.” Good God, this is the 'free market'.

The 1995 review led to the privatisation of the more modern plants, in a new company British Energy. However, the review found no economic case for new plants. British Energy proposed the building of new plants to replace the aging Magnox ones, but insisted these would not be feasible without government subsidy. The 2003 review likewise concluded that new build was not economic.

Poor operational performance

The history of civil nuclear power in the UK has been characterised (in the words of the EAC) by “extensive government subsidies, time and cost overruns, and poor operational performance”. In the case of Dungeness B it took 24 years from the start of construction to commercial operation and the plant has only operated on average at 37% of its planned generating capacity since then. In the case of the latest one, Sizewell B, the UK's only pressurised water reactor, construction costs escalated form £1.8 billion to over £3 billion, whilst generating costs have been estimated at around twice the current cost of electricity from gas or coal.

Much has been said about the so-called generation 3 plants being much more efficient. But no western country has yet built one, and there is nothing to say that technological difficulties will not be encountered. The EAC says:

“The past history of the nuclear industry gives little confidence about the timescales and costs of new build. This does not mean that a new generation of nuclear power stations cannot be built to time and cost, but it does mean that investors have little basis for assessing the risks involved and may, therefore, require a higher rate of return.”

'Clean fuel'

Any cursory investigation of the history of the industry and its costs provides sufficient reason for opposing a new generation of plants. To assert as some do that nuclear power is “clean” is ridiculous. An accident at a nuclear power plant has the potential to have catastrophic consequences as Chernobyl in the Ukraine and Three Mile Island in the United States have shown. Britain has had its own consequences of accidents at Winscale (now Sellafield) and even the Irish government has been pushed to challenge the continued production at Sellafield as a result of concentrated clusters of cancers in Ireland, downwind from the plant. Supporters of new build argue that the new generation is much safer, but no industry can be made accident proof, least of all nuclear power. Even worse, when the industry is privately owned, with the profit motive at its heart, the danger of accidents is even greater.

Information recently gained by a Liberal Democrat MP from Minister Malcolm Wicks indicates 57 accidents at nuclear plants since this government came to office. They ranged from radiation leaks and machinery failure to contamination of ground water and employees' clothes, and a fire. Eleven were serious enough to be classed as an "incident" or "serious incident" on international nuclear measures.

Three incidents were recorded last year, all at Sellafield, Cumbria, including a large leak of highly radioactive nuclear fuel which forced the closure of the Thorp reprocessing plant in April. High radiation was also detected in the Hales storage plant and three staff were contaminated while carrying out maintenance.

For all the talk of terrorism by Blair the risk of terrorist attacks on nuclear plants does not seem to be on his radar. Calculations produced by the Oxford Research Group suggest that an attack on the high level waste tanks at Sellafield would dwarf the scale of the Chernobyl accident.

Decommissioning

Then there is the cost of decommissioning. The latest estimated cost from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is £70 billion. A new generation would drive the cost up. As it is the problem of storage of nuclear waste has yet to be resolved. No community wants a nuclear dump on its doorstep. The problem has yet to be resolved anywhere in the world. Even in the USA no long term dump has yet been built. New build would create more waste to be dealt with.
Unions to the rescue?

Ironically, among the few supporters of building a new generation of nuclear plants, we find some of the country's major trades unions. Whilst their support was once pragmatic, based on the fact that they had members in the industry, they have now picked up on the argument supported by a very small number of erstwhile environmentalists, such as the Gaia theorist James Lovelock, that nuclear power will be necessary to tackle global warning. In the case of Amicus it approaches the question from the standpoint of energy prices; the need to cut prices so that British business can 'compete successfully' in the global market. Amicus appears to believe that regulation of the market can produce the goods.

“The market alone is unable to deliver a reliable, efficient and secure supply of energy. The Government must set a broad framework with the necessary fiscal and policy regimes to allow the market to deliver (our emphasis) and to ensure the security of supply.”

In the case of the GMB, National Officer Gary Smith said:

"GMB is campaigning for a new generation of nuclear power stations on existing sites. This will improve the UK's security of energy supply and preserve our nuclear technology industry. It should also maintain existing jobs and in the longer term create new ones. However, GMB believes it is vital that expenditure on the new nuclear programme is not at the expense of investment in other equally important energy sources. The current level of investment in renewables, bio-fuels and micro generation must be maintained."

The GMB, at least expressed its concern over private ownership of nuclear energy. In March it responded to the proposed privatisation of British Nuclear Group by raising the prospect of a 'Railtrack in the nuclear industry'. The day after Blair's speech it said:

"GMB consider that nuclear power has an important role to play as part of a balanced energy policy. However GMB do not wish to see a 'railtrack' in the nuclear industry. The public will only be convinced that the safety concerns - that rightly arise - will be dealt with properly if the industry is in public hands and properly accountable to the public. Also GMB consider that energy matters are too important to be regulated by a quango. The government itself must take this role and be answerable to parliament for it."

Both the GMB and Amicus talk about a 'balanced' energy policy. But they do not challenge the idea that there will be a 'gap' in provision which is one of the primary reasons being given for the supposed need for new nuclear power stations. The question of the energy crisis cannot be analysed in isolation from the of the context of the environmental crisis with its origins in the logic of capitalism; the constant war for market share, increased 'productivity' and profit levels.

Conclusions

It is abundantly clear that there can be no new building of nuclear power plants without either government subsidy or a government commitment on prices (making the consumer pay higher prices). The government has said that there will be no public money for such investment. However, it will have to choose between accepting that there will be no new generation of plants, or it will have to decide to throw public money at the private companies to induce them to take the risk of 'generation 3' with virtually no experience to draw on.

The trades unions, instead of offering support for a new generation of nuclear power stations should be challenging the government's faith in liberalisation. A 'decision' on nuclear power should not be based on a technical debate which accepts the current economic framework. If even the EAC, not peopled with revolutionaries, can see the possibility of significant reductions in energy consumption, then why can't the trades unions?

The 'rules' of the market do not need to be followed. The government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has given oil to impoverished countries in the Caribbean at below market rates. It has exchanged oil with Cuba in return for doctors to provide medical services to the Venezuelan poor. In our own experience the Atlee government did not accept that health care had to be organised as a saleable commodity, available only to those who could purchase it.

A political and ideological leap, however, is necessary. Tackling the environmental crisis will not be done by 'market mechanisms'. These have recently been subject to ridicule in the case of 'credits' to pollute which have apparently been dished out a bit too liberally, much to the amusement of the polluters in chief in Washington.

A political struggle within the unions to abandon their support for a new generation of nuclear power plants is an important part of the struggle to radicalise them. It would be a political disaster of the first magnitude if the trades unions found themselves in the camp of the Blair government, in opposition to the environmental movements, and especially the radicalised young people who should be in the unions, but often tend to see them as self-interested conservative organisations supporting a neo-liberal government.

The Amicus position especially epitomises the idea of 'social partnership' in which the unions are in alliance with British business in order to 'succeed' in the cut-throat global marketplace. Such a position is one of complete prostration before the logic and rules of an economic system which wastes resources and lives on an unprecedented historical scale.

Supporting new nuclear power stations would be a step back for the unions, effectively supporting amongst other things large subsidies for big business at a great social cost for workers across the world. Socialists and opponents of this organised system of waste must fight to break the unions from their national perspective towards alliances with workers across the world and movements of the oppressed and impoverished, fighting against the economic, social, environmental and political consequences of an economic system which threatens an environmental and social catastrophe. New nuclear power plants would add to the danger and to the criminal waste of resources.


Visit SOLIDARITY at: http://uk.geocities.com/solidarity_magazine or http://solidaritymagazine.blogspot.com

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

“The terror is right here in this room.”

A review of the George Clooney film, "Good Night and Good Luck", which deals with the famous TV programme in 1954 by Journalist Ed Murrow, attacking the high priest of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Senator Joe McCarthy.

George Clooney’s Film, ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ has the feel of a documentary. Shot in black and white, its frames saturated with cigarette smoke, it gives a faithful representation of the 1950’s. It incorporates historical footage from the period. The film records events without spelling out a message in simplifying and exaggerated Holywood style. The story centres on the conflict between journalist Ed Murrow and the ‘star’ of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Senator Joseph McCarthy. Although HUAC is associated with the name of McCarthy, it was founded in 1937 under the chairmanship of Martin Dies, to investigative “un-American and subversive” activities. Dies and other members of the HUAC were supporters of the Klu Klux Klan. Dies had spoken at several of their rallies. The Klan sent a telegram to Dies welcoming the formation of the HUAC.

“Every true American, and that includes every Klansman, is behind you and your committee in its effort to turn the country back to the honest, freedom-loving, God-fearing American to whom it belongs.”

HUAC member John S Wood said of the Klan: "The threats and intimidations of the Klan are an old American custom, like illegal whisky-making." Hardly any wonder that demands to interrogate the leaders of the Klan were resisted. Eventually Ernest Adamson, the HUAC's chief counsel, announced that: "The committee has decided that it lacks sufficient data on which to base a probe." Whilst this traditional American organisation was left to its burnings and lynchings, the HUAC concentrated its attention on left wing radicals.

In 1940 the passing of the Smith Act (Alien Registration Act) helped to create an anti-communist hysteria. The Act made it illegal for anyone in the United States to advocate, abet, or teach the desirability of overthrowing the government, ironic given the revolutionary origins of the USA. The law also required all alien residents in the United States over 14 years of age to file a comprehensive statement of their personal and occupational status and a record of their political beliefs. Within four months a total of 4,741,971 ‘aliens’ had been registered.

The Act was first used against the Socialist Workers Party, whose leaders were imprisoned under it. It was used again in 1948 against leaders of the Communist Party who were imprisoned for 5 years. One of the tactics of the prosecution was to ask questions about other party members. For refusal to discuss other members the defendants were thrown into gaol for contempt of court.

The idea that these organisations were planning to overthrow the government of the United States was absurd. Essentially they were persecuted because their political programmes were said to violate the Constitution.

The Hollywood Blacklist

In 1947 the HUAC began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

Bertolt Brecht, the emigrant German playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others, known as the Hollywood Ten - Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Junior, John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie - refused to answer any questions. They were all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.

As a result of these hearings 320 people were placed on a Holywood blacklist which prevented them from working in the industry. Anybody who refused to ‘name names’ suffered this fate. You did not have to have any connection with the Communist Party or left wing organisations to face dire consequences. You merely had to be at the wrong party with the wrong people, years before, to be implicated. McCarthy was fed material by Edgar Hoover’s FBI which was used as ‘evidence’ in the HUAC hearings. Many people did not work for years, or had to produce work by subterfuge. There was an exodus of people like the film maker Joseph Losey and musician Larry Adler who came to Britain.

Arthur Miller, who wrote the play the Crucible as a kind of parable about the McCarthyite witch-hunt, wrote of the period:

“It was not only the rise of “McCarthyism” that moved me, but something that seemed more weird and mysterious. It was the fact that a political, objective, knowledgeable campaign from the far right was capable of creating not only a terror, but a new subjective reality, a veritable mystique which was gradually assuming even a holy resonance. The wonder of it all struck me that so practical and picayune a course, carried forward by such manifestly ridiculous men, should be capable of paralysing thought itself, and worse, and of causing to billow up such persuasive clouds of “mysterious” feelings within people. It was as if the whole country had been born anew, without a memory even of certain elemental decencies which, a year or two earlier no one would have imagined could be altered, let alone forgotten. Astounded I watched men pass me by without a nod whom I had known rather well for years; and again the astonishment was produced by my knowledge, which I could not give up, but the terror in these people was being knowingly planned and consciously engineered, and yet all they knew was terror.”

Witch-hunt in the labour movement

The witch-hunt did not just affect lieterary/artistic circles, of course. It was widespread, heavily impacting of union activists who were often witch-hunted not just by the state but by the anti-communist leaderships of the trades unions. In 1949 ‘communist dominated’ unions, with a membership of 1 million, were expelled from the CIO union federation. The UE (United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America), an independent union outside the AFL-CIO, which actually left before it was expelled, records that:

“Following the war, disagreements with the CIO leadership over the direction of the labor movement led to UE's withdrawal from the CIO in 1949; within months, a CIO convention "expelled" UE and 10 other unions with a total member of one million workers. The CIO joined big business, the press and politicians in smearing UE as "communist-dominated;" the CIO chartered a new union (IUE) to take the union's place.
UE came under ferocious attack as the anti-communist hysteria intensified in the early 1950s. Attempts were made to officially brand the union as a "subversive organization" and to deport UE leader James Matles. UE shop leaders were fired and blacklisted, even jailed. Politicians, big business and the CIO worked closely together to destabilize UE; the union lost more than half its members.”

There were thousands upon thousands of personal tragedies as people lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and in some cases their lives.

The case of Milo Radulovich

The film’s story begins with Murrow’s team considering whether to run with a programme on Milo Radulovich, a Lieutenant who was thrown out of the Air Force Reserve owing to the supposedly radical views of his father and sister. He was told if he repudiated them he might get his commission back, but he refused.

The TV programme caused such an outcry that Radulovich was reinstated. Emboldened by this success, Murrow and his team decided to attack the high priest of HUAC, Senator McCarthy. The President of CBS eventually agreed to screen the programme, though Murrow and the Producer of his programme Fred Friendly had to stump up the $3,000 advertising revenue lost as a result of the refusal of the corporate backers of the programme to be associated with an attack on McCarthy.

Murrow was told to drop anybody from his team who might have something in their past which McCarthy and his friends could pick up on. One of Murrow’s team offers to resign, but he is told not to. Joe Werschba, a member of the team records that:

“When we looked at the near-final cut of the McCarthy broadcast and the staff showed fear of putting it on the air, Murrow spoke a line that landed like a lash across our backs: "The terror is right here in this room." And later: "No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices." When someone asked what he would say on the McCarthy broadcast, he replied, "If none of us ever read a book that was 'dangerous,' nor had a friend who was 'different,' or never joined an organization that advocated 'change,' we would all be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants."

Murrow condemned McCarthy:

"The line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep into our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result."

When the broadcast went out, there was a flood of supportive calls to CBS - 12,348 people phoned in comments about it, with a fifteen to one majority in Murrow's favour. The sponsors also reported receiving over 4,000 letters, with the vast majority supporting Murrow's stance. This did not stop the McCarthy crowd attempting to smear Murrow, but the tide was already turning against the witch-hunt which carried his name. The following morning the New York Times claimed that with the programme, "broadcasting recaptured its soul".

But the witch-hunt wasn’t over yet. When the See It Now programme ended on 9th March, Don Hollenbeck, came on the air with the regular 11.00 p.m. news and said: "I want to associate myself with every word just spoken by Ed Murrow." Hollenbeck was denounced in the pro-McCarthy press as a communist. After three months of smears, Hollenbeck, unable to take the strain, committed suicide.

Murrow offered McCarthy the right of reply. When he did, instead of dealing with the issues raised by Murrow he simply denounced him, calling him the “leader of the jackal pack”. Murrow, said McCarthy, had been a member of the ‘terrorist’ organisation the IWW (the International Workers of the World or Wobblies), and had links with ‘communist’ organisations. It was not a credible performance.

McCarthy was a hypocrite and a fraud. He was originally a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. However, after failing to become the Democratic Party candidate for district attorney, he switched parties and became the Republican Party candidate in an election to become a circuit court judge. McCarthy shocked local officials by fighting a dirty campaign. This included publishing campaign literature that suggested that Werner was senile as well as guilty of financial corruption.

When the United States entered the Second Word War McCarthy resigned as a circuit judge and joined the Marines. After the war McCarthy ran against Robert La Follette to become Republican candidate for the senate. As one of his biographers has pointed out, his campaign posters pictured him in "full fighting gear, with an aviator's cap, and belt upon belt of machine gun ammunition wrapped around his bulky torso." He claimed he had completed thirty-two missions when in fact he had a desk job and only flew in training exercises.

A mythical war record

In his campaign, McCarthy attacked La Follette for not enlisting during the war. He had been forty-six when Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and was in fact too old to join the armed services. McCarthy also claimed that La Follette had made huge profits from his investments while he (McCarthy) had been away ‘fighting’ for his country. The suggestion that La Follette had been guilty of war profiteering (his investments had in fact been in a radio station), was deeply damaging and McCarthy won by 207,935 to 202,557. La Follette, deeply hurt by the false claims made against him, retired from politics, and later committed suicide.

On his first day in the Senate, McCarthy called a press conference where he proposed a novel solution to a coal-strike that was taking place at the time. McCarthy called for John L. Lewis and the striking miners to be drafted into the Army. If the men still refused to mine the coal, McCarthy suggested they should be court-martialed for insubordination and shot.

McCarthy's first years in the Senate were unimpressive. People also started coming forward claiming that he had lied about his war record. He was also being investigated for tax offences and for taking bribes from the Pepsi-Cola Company. In May, 1950, afraid that he would be defeated in the next election, McCarthy held a meeting with some of his closest advisers and asked for suggestions on how he could retain his seat. Edmund Walsh, a Roman Catholics priest, came up with the idea that he should begin a campaign against communist subversives working in the Democratic administration.

Murrow’s programme on McCarthy was a turning point. But Murrow did not defeat McCarthy single handed. Wide sections of American society were sick to death with the atmosphere of fear. Moreover, McCarthy’s arrogance was unbounded. Not used to be challenged by people who were fearful of the consequences, his wild accusations were directed at the Democratic Party which he denounced as being ‘soft’ on communism. In a 1950 speech he said:

“The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because the enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer - the finest homes, the finest college educations, and the finest jobs in Government we can give.

While I cannot take the time to name all the men in the State Department who have been named as members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department.”

McCarthy's next target was “anti-American” books in libraries. His researchers looked into the Overseas Library Program and discovered 30,000 books by "communists, pro-communists, former communists and anti anti-communists." After the publication of this list, these books were removed from the library shelves.

Anybody who did not support the HUAC was deemed to be ‘defending the communists’. Truman was portrayed as a dangerous liberal and McCarthy's campaign helped the Republican candidate, Dwight Eisenhower to win the presidential election in 1952.

In October, 1953, McCarthy began investigating ‘communist infiltration’ into the military. Attempts were made to discredit Robert Stevens, the Secretary of the Army. The President, Dwight Eisenhower, was furious and began moves to undermine McCarthy. The United States Army passed information about him to journalists who were known to be opposed to him. This included the news that McCarthy and Roy Cohn had abused congressional privilege by trying to prevent David Schine from being drafted. When that failed, it was claimed that Cohn tried to pressurize the Army into granting Schine special privileges. Drew Pearson published the story on 15th December, 1953.

McCarthy attacks the wrong targets

Whilst the US rulers were not worried about the consequences of the witch-hunt for ordinary people, McCarthy would not be allowed to take on the upper echelons of the ruling elite. Five days before Murrow’s programme, under instruction from Eisenhower, Vice President Richard Nixon, made a speech attacking McCarthy (not by name, but the target was clear).

"Men who have in the past done effective work exposing Communists in this country have, by reckless talk and questionable methods, made themselves the issue rather than the cause they believe in so deeply."

This was the context in which Murrow’s programme was screened on March 9th 1954.

McCarthy's eventual fall from grace came as a result of the televised senate investigations into the United States Army. Leading politicians in both parties were embarrassed by McCarthy's hysterical performance and on 2nd December, 1954, a censure motion condemned his conduct by 67 votes to 22. He lost the chairmanship of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate. He was now without a power base and the media lost interest in his claims of a communist conspiracy. As one journalist Willard Edwards pointed out: "Most reporters just refused to file McCarthy stories. And most papers would not have printed them anyway."

“Fat, comfortable and complacent”

The film begins and ends with a speech of Murrows to the Radio and Television Directors’ Association. He committed the sin of lecturing them on the dangers of TV being, as would be said today, dumbed down. He accused them of being "fat, comfortable, and complacent" and television for "being used to detract, delude, amuse and insulate us."

In the film Murrow is shown interviewing Liberace, discussing the improbable prospect of finding the woman of his dreams. Ray Strathairn, with the merest raising of his eye brows gives us a look which asks, ‘what am I doing this rubbish for?’ The withdrawal of Murrow’s programme was a straw in the wind so far as the direction of US TV was concerned. His critical comments came back to bite him. His programme was replaced by a game show, ‘The $64,000 dollar question’.

‘Good Night and Good Luck’ provides a snapshot of McCarthyism. At 90 minutes long this in inevitable. It would have needed double the time to give a deeper historical context. George Clooney has been criticised for suggesting that there are parallels between the McCarthy period and Bush’s America. It is certainly true that the witch-hunt of the McCarthy period was much deeper than the current one. However, if you are of Arab or Muslim origin in the USA, then the impact on you would be much greater than the rest of the population.

The film does not turn Murrow into a saint. It shows that he signed the ‘loyalty oath’ which CBS introduced, like many other companies, to show their fealty to the anti-communist campaign. What the films shows, however, and this is relevant for today’s situation, is that innocent people were persecuted and hounded, on the basis of innuendo and fabrications. So deep was the paranoia that many people were desperate to prove their loyalty, though guilty of nothing. Such a mentality continues to this day. Clooney rightly excoriates the Democrats who say they were ‘misled’ over WMD. As he points out they supported the war on Iraq because they were desperate not to be faced with the charge of being ‘un-American’ and lacking in ‘patriotism’. Bush told us all, “you are either with us or with the terrorists”. McCarthy told people dragged before the HUAC, if you don’t name names you are against us; you are with the HUAC or against it. ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ is a film well worth seeing and may well motivate people who are not acquainted with McCarthyism to look at the rich literature about it.

Martin Wicks

To read about McCarthyism go to:
http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmccarthyism.htm

To listen to a Murrow broadcast on McCarthy and a broadcast from Buchenwald concentration camp go to:
http://www.otr.com/murrow.html