Monthly Archives: August 2010

They call him ‘Calamity Clegg’ – should we enjoy watching this politician melt?

Things are not going well for Nick Clegg. Take this video news clip (posted below). It shows his disastrous photo-opp visit to a Children’s Centre in London yesterday. This video nicely illustrates at least half of his problem. The hapless Clegg was visiting the ‘Shepherd’s Bush Families Project and Children’s Centre’. His intention was to to promote his plans to ‘improve social mobility for the young’ – and also to promote his image as a caring politician, of course.

The problem was that the centre is being cut – has just lost £47,000 – and the building itself, used by 44 local groups, faces closure as the council wants to sell it off! An outraged local community is campaigning against this, of course. He was therefore filmed being confronted by angry and concerned local people including parents, children, and workers at the centre. He even face the embarrassing and politically damaging moment of being presented with cards specially made by the children begging him and his government to stop the closure! Poor old ‘Nice Nick’ is inexorably becoming reframed as ‘Nasty Nick’.
Click here for the footage:

Opportunism in Crisis

This is of course a first class political blunder. But it is part of a much wider picture. The Lib-Dems have created their electoral base by hijacking popular local community campaigns against cuts exactly like this one. In the past they could always play the nice guy, opportunistically posing as all things to all people. Now we can see the real face of economic liberalism, as this party helps bring about the deepest and most destructive cuts in generations. In their foolish and greedy impatience for high office they have hitched themselves to an unprecedentedly vicious neo-liberal ideological and economic offensive against the welfare state lead by the Tories. Over time, as people experience and sometimes resist these bitter losses, the Lib-Dem’s electoral support will be fatally eroded, and they also risk tearing themselves apart.

Everywhere Clegg now goes, he will start to melt in this political heat. He is getting incredibly bad press – risking becoming typecast as ‘Calamity Clegg’ – as everywhere he goes he faces angry former supporters. So the very next day after this disaster at the childrens centre in London, he walks into the fire in Tyneside. The BBC headline is “Cuts dominate Nick Clegg’s return to Tyneside” while the Daily Mails spin is: “Clegg loses his cool: Deputy PM silences LibDem voter during ill-tempered meet-and-greet”.

But this only makes up half of Clegg’s crisis – the half composed of angry communities resisting cuts (communities which include dissillusuioned former Lib-Dem supporters). The other half is the Tory press and the Tory establishment who will also punish Clegg for two reasons. Firstly, they don’t trust him or like his occasional divergences from Cameron (seen as disloyalties) over issues like Trident or Iraq. Secondly as the coalition government becomes ever more unpopular and even hated by large sections of the public, the Tory press will need to find and focus attention on a variety of scapegoats. One of these scapegoats will be the Lib-Dem’s and their leader, who will be the fall-guys, crucified in a vain effort to save Tory skins (and seats)!

Clegg and the Lib-Dems are particularly vulnerable precisely because of their opportunistic past – of being all things to all voters. To appeal to disillusioned Labour voters the Lib-Dems posed as a leftish alternative to Labour, opposing the previous governments appalling record of wars, repressive laws, student tuition fees and other right wing policies. But they would put out a different tone of leaflet and campaign in more prosperous Tory voting areas. This usually worked until they took over a council, started privatising services and punishing the poor, soon becoming as hated as the Tories or the worst New Labour regime. But in the past, these were merely local problems for them caused by limited and localised exposures. Now, however, they are part of central government and this trick no longer works for them – and the chickens are coming home to roost.

So to answer the question posed in the title – yes – enjoy!

In this instance schadenfreude seems not only permissible, it may even be positively de rigueur! The Lib-Dem’s are the weakest link, the vulnerable pressure point in the Cameron regime. As their electoral support evaporates, more of the party will want to leave the coalition. This is the clearest way of bringing down the Cameron government and fighting its cuts.

But also lets build a genuinely radical alternative force in politics – one that challenges the dominant agenda of big-business, the war-mongers and sycophants of the super-rich. We need a force in politics which stands for liberty, equality and solidarity and which puts people and the planet before profit. We need a social and political movement which as its first priority organises to fight these cuts – and therefore fights to prevent this ugly Tory-Lib-Dem attempt to shift the balance of wealth and power still further in favour of the rich and ever further away from the common people.

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Filed under Crisis of capitalism, Uncategorized

Jimmy Reid. July 1932 – August 2010. In memory of a great victory – and an inspiration for future ones.

Video: Matt McGinn sings ‘Wi’ Jimmy Reid and Airlie’ to images from the great UCS work in.
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In the late 1960’s, British shipbuilding was in trouble, blighted by under-investment in new technology. For decades shipyard owners had milked the industry as a cash cow, relying on a super-exploited workforce and 19th century conditions. In response the Labour government, including Tony Benn, developed a strategy to save the industry and modernise it. They consolidated three major shipyards on Glasgow’s Clydeside into UCS – Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, part nationalising it with a 48.4% stake in the project and a £5.5m interest free government loan over the first three years. The new UCS had a labour force of 13,000 and an order book of £87m. By the end of 1970 the UCS Chairman could report that the company was “gaining in strength and morale as each day passes”.

However, the incoming Tory government of Edward Heath announced a shocking U turn, and announced the closure of the yard, threatening Glasgow with mass unemployment and an end to centuries of British shipbuilding, an industry where Britain had been a world leader.

The Tory plan to close the yard represented the beginning of a new core Tory strategy of de-industrialising Britain, as they began to pursue an alternative capital accumulation strategy around global finance. This new Tory strategy would also have one advantage for the conservatives – it would help shatter the power of their biggest enemy – the organised working class and the trades unions.

As the Tories brought in the liquidators, in response the UCS shop-stewards sprang into action, holding mass meetings in the yards. Lead by communist shop stewards Jimmy Reid, Jimmy Airlie and Sammy Barr they agreed that instead of striking and locking themselves outside the gates, they would stay inside the yards and occupy them. Furthermore, they would carry on working and building ships, defying the Tory liquidators, who were forced to accept that the workers were in control. The shop stewards insisted on strict discipline inside the occupied yards to portray the best image. Tony Benn led the offensive in parliament, highlighting the massive increases in productivity and the full order books for future ships.

Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Workers Occupation.

Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Workers Occupation.

The workers occupation was able to rally the majority of society behind their fight. Mass protests of over 80, 000 people filled Glasgow to support the occupation, with 200,000 workers across the region joining solidarity strike action. Supporters from across society donated tens of thousands of pounds to help the shipyard workers cause, enabling those taking part in the work-in to continue to be paid throughout the action. The Scottish Trades Union Congress held a public inquiry that exposed the ideological nature of the Tory plan to close the yard, a plan hatched while they were in opposition, despite knowing the industry was viable. After 16 months of struggle, the Tory government gave in and agreed a settlement, giving £35 million in further subsidies for shipbuilding to continue. This represented a significant victory for the working class at the time.

This story shows what working class action could achieve, and shipbuilding continues on Clydeside to this day. Unfortunately, the British ruling class were still committed to their class war against organised labour and the de-industrialisation of Britain, sensing richer pickings through following the path of global finance capitalism. Their class war continued under Thatcher, and the key sections of the organised working class and British industry were destroyed. But the UCS occupation pointed to an alternative future, one made possible where organised workers take militant and creative action and win the leadership of the whole of society, to take it in a different direction.

Whilst we are in a different situation today, the lessons still stand. The power of organised labour can save society from the devastation of capitalist crisis, and open up a different future for us all. Young workers today must learn these lessons from their history and take inspiration, we need a new generation of the like of Jimmy Reid, as we face the battles to come, against Cameron’s attempt to destroy public services.

Jimmy Reid in 1971, leading the UCS work-in.

Jimmy Reid in 1971, leading the UCS work-in.

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Filed under Uncategorized, working class self-defence