In this current climate of Brexit and racism, you'd think we should welcome organisations that Stand up to Racism and Unite against Fascism. Indeed, when you look at the officers of Stand up to Racism, at first glance they are impressive from a left wing perspective:
Why is this a problem?
In September, 2012 a female member of the SWP made an allegation of rape against a member of the Central Committee, who throughout the proceedings was know as Comrade Delta. Comrade Delta was asked to stop doing any work on behalf of the party while the allegation was investigated. Instead of involving or encouraging the female member to go to the police, the SWP dealt with it at a Disputes Committee. In a transcript of the SWP Conference 2013 (which the female member was not allowed to attend, even though she wanted to) leaked to the blog, Socialist Unity, Sandy B states:
Comrades, we have to welcome the fact that we have a disputes committee. We have no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice.
The Disputes Committee decided to use the standard legal definition of rape. They also decided to look at sexual assault and whether the relationship between Comrade Delta and the female member was abusive. The rape and other sexual assaults had happened over a period of six months in 2008/2009. The female member had made an informal complaint in 2010 about sexual harassment which didn't reach the Disputes Committee. A resolution was reached about this at the time. However, with confidence over the way the SWP handled the Assange case, she felt that she would get a fair hearing coming forward again in 2012.
In October 2012 the seven members of the Disputes Committee met for four days to hear evidence from Comrade Delta and the female member. Five of the Disputes Committee were either past or present Central Committee members, two were Central Committee members at the time of the hearing. All of the Disputes Panel knew Comrade Delta well and none knew the female member. This is the first indication that the hearing wouldn't be entirely fair.
A second indication was that:
she (the female member) was expected to respond immediately to the evidence that Comrade Delta was able to bring – she never got to see it in advance. He had her statement for weeks before she appeared in front of the panel. Some of the issues that were raised were things she had blocked out, and it was an incredibly traumatic experience for her."
A retrospective sign is the understanding about what the Disputes Committee's role actually is. As was stated at the 2013 SWP Conference:
We’re not a law court. We are here to protect the interests of the party.."
Although acknowledging the difficulties women face in a capitalist society when they make allegations of rape, notably victim blaming, one of the witnesses said that the Disputes Committee asked the female member about previous and subsequent relationships.
She was questioned about why she went for a drink with him, her witnesses were repeatedly asked whether she’d been in a relationship with him, and you know … she was asked about relationships with other comrades including sexual relationships. All this was irrelevant to the case.
It is said that one of the Disputes Committee who had experience in dealing with rape cases had to tell the Committee to stop certain lines of questioning as they weren't appropriate.
The Committee unanimously found Comrade Delta not guilty of rape. There was more disagreement over the sexual assault and harassment allegations. Therefore, the Committee found these were not proven. As such no disciplinary action was taken against him. It is said though, that he left the party in July 2013.
However, during the proceedings a witness for the female member came forward with allegations of her own about sexual harassment by Comrade Delta. She resigned from her job at the party. Charlie Kimber (presently Joint National Secretary, SWP) didn't want to accept her resignation on the basis that she should not be punished for bringing forward a complaint. However, by the time she felt she wanted to return to the job she was told repeatedly that she would "disrupt the harmony of the office".
This isn't the only evidence of bad feeling following allegations. The first female member was shunned after her hearing, as this testimony shows:
Recently the complainant wanted to attend a meeting and tried to talk to a local member. He told her that it wasn’t appropriate for him to speak to her and he walked away. What kind of message does this send out – that if you have a serious allegation to bring against a leading member, don’t bother because you’ll be victimised for doing so?
Since this hearing, the SWP have had others and don't seem to have learned anything about the victim blaming line of questioning and have reportedly been more threatening towards people coming forward with allegations.
Later in 2013 another female member made allegations of rape towards another senior party member. She left the party but was persuaded to go to the Disputes Committee. There she was questioned in a similar way to first female member. This included questions about her sexual past and
[They asked me] had you been drinking? … Are you sure that you said no, and are you sure you didn't consent. Was he drunk? Because it would be different if he was drunk."
During this hearing two other women made allegations of attempted rape and sexual impropriety about the senior member. The senior member was suspended and recommended to read up on women's liberation.
The female member involved in this hearing said to The Guardian:
"They said, if you go around calling him a rapist, you'll be in trouble. If you tell anyone, you'll be in trouble … They didn't elaborate. They're not the kind of people to get on the wrong side of.
Throughout all of these proceedings, which culminated in hundreds leaving the party including senior figures, Weyman Bennett was on the Central Committee and is to this day. All of this has happened with his knowledge. He is complicit in covering up rape and sexual abuse allegations in the name of the party. As co-convener of Stand up to Racism, he organises events and speakers etc. It is no passive role. I should imagine if Tony Cliff, a founding member of the SWP, were alive he would be horrified at the turn the party has taken.
The Left is divided on what to do about this. In 2016 an open letter was sent to all people due to speak at a Stand up to Racism event, to ask them not to attend because they would be sharing a platform with Bennett - a Central Committee member of a party with a rape culture. Jeremy Corbyn even split his supporters by turning up to speak at the last minute, having previously said he would not be going.
On the one hand, we do actually need to stand up to racism, to unite against fascism as a matter of urgency. However, do we need to do it in the company of a man such as Weyman Bennett who has facilitated such a culture within his own party? Just imagine if the boot were on the other foot and the Tories had an organisation where the co-convenor was a member of a right wing faction that were known as rape apologists. The Left would be, rightly, up in arms. As Karl Marx said:
Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex."
Going by this, progress by the SWP is poor indeed.
At the beginning of the article it states that, "it is likely that Sabby Dhalu was a member of the Socialist Workers Party in 2012/2013 at least." The reason for this is that in the transcript of the 2013 SWP Conference on the blog Socialist Unity there is an entry from Sabby.
For most of today, no-one knew where Boris Johnson was. Chris Grayling was on Radio 4's Today programme this morning and said:
“I have no idea where Boris is, genuinely no idea where Boris is.”
The reason for Johnson going AWOL is that tonight MPs are voting on plans to expand Heathrow and because he is not in favour of the proposed third runway, he wants to avoid the vote. The Tories are being whipped to vote for expansion. Therefore, in order to vote against expansion, Johnson would have to resign his role of Foreign Secretary and his principles obviously don't stretch to that.
This is a divisive issue for the Tories. Zac Goldsmith famously resigned as an MP over expansion plans and in the following by-election stood as an independent, where he amusingly lost the seat to the Liberal Democrats. Sadly, his principles didn't last long and he stood as the Tory candidate in the 2017 general election and won the seat back.
Johnson famously said that he would join John McDonnell in lying down in front of bulldozers should the expansion get the go ahead.
However, Jacob Rees-Mogg was quick to point out that he made this promise while Mayor of London, not an MP, so it wasn't binding.
Theresa May has spent some time recently deleting her anti Heathrow expansion posts on her website. It's almost like she's hoping no-one will notice that she has gone from being against expansion as a constituency MP to pro expansion as prime minister.
Principles don't seem to be something May understands, as her history of going from being a Remainer to trying to implement the hardest Brexit possible shows.
Johnson did eventually turn up in Afghanistan, confirmed by the the Afghan Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Perhaps the bulldozer he was talking about is in Afghanistan.
It's not just the Tories who are divided on Heathrow expansion. Labour MPs have been given a free vote, the party being officially opposed. However, possibly 40 Labour MPs are in favour due to the jobs they believe expansion will bring. The usual suspects it has to be said. Unite the Union, one of Labour's biggest backers, are also in favour for this reason.
The SNP haven't yet decided on their position.
Greenpeace, in 2016, gave "10 big reasons a new runway at Heathrow is bad for the UK" which is worth a read. They are also running a campaign to tweet MPs who are as yet undecided. You can join in with that campaign here. It's not too late. 50 Tory MPs are expected to "rebel" so, even though the government is unlikely to be defeated especially with the backbone Tory "rebels" have shown so far, it's worth a shot. Perhaps we can show the backbone that Johnson lacks.
On 6th May, 2018 Trump's administration implemented a zero tolerance policy with regards to immigration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced it in San Diego:
I have put in place a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border. If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you make false statements to an immigration officer or file a fraudulent asylum claim, that’s a felony. If you help others to do so, that’s a felony, too. You’re going to jail. So if you’re going to come to this country, come here legally. Don’t come here illegally."
Although not technically part of the zero tolerance policy, separating children from their parents when they have entered the USA illegally happens because U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents as the children are not charged with a crime, the parents are. The zero tolerance policy to prosecute everyone who enters illegally means that parents are sent to jails run by the US Marshals Services instead of, until recently, being allowed to stay with their children and face deportation proceedings in a civil court.
This separation makes the children unaccompanied alien minors, the same status as if they crossed the border illegally by themselves, so they are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours, who then place them in shelters until they are reunited with the parents from whom they were separated, other family or put into foster care.
Dr Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that this can have a huge detrimental psychological effect on the children.
Such a situation could have long-term, devastating effects on young children, who are likely to develop what is called toxic stress in their brain once separated from caregivers or parents they trusted. It disrupts a child’s brain development and increases the levels of fight-or-flight hormones in their bodies. This kind of emotional trauma could eventually lead to health problems, such as heart disease and substance abuse disorders."
It doesn't help that there is a no contact rule in the centres, so when Dr Kraft saw a distressed, crying two year old no-one was allowed to physically comfort her or calm her down. Dr Kraft is not alone in decrying the effect on the children's mental health. Around 4,600 mental health professionals have signed a petition to the Trump administration to stop the separations.
There is also the effect on the parents. One father separated from his wife and child had a breakdown in a Texan jail and killed himself. Parents are obviously beside themselves when their children are taken away and it is this distress that is used to persuade them to plead, "Culpable" on the promise that they will then be reunited. Juana Francisca Bonilla de Canjura said of her experience:
“Nobody knows anything. Nobody says anything — just lies. They said they were taking them for questioning, and we were only going to be apart for a moment. But they never came back.”
There are reports that children are taken away to shower and never returned to their parents:
A horrifying thought when you think that, according to the Department for Homeland Security, 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults in 6 weeks, 19th April - 31st May. Federal public defenders say that in McAllen, Texas, 415 children were taken from their parents between 21st May and 5th June alone. It is currently thought that 11,432 children are in the care of the HHS - 3,000 more than at the beginning of May. This number includes those travelling with no family members plus those separated from their parents.
This zero tolerance policy has led to the shelters reaching and in some cases exceeding full capacity. For an excellent description of one shelter - Casa Padre, a Walmart supercenter in Brownsville, Texas - read "An Interview With Jacob Soboroff, the Reporter Who Went Inside the Texas Walmart Housing Immigrant Children"
He also did an excellent Twitter thread, the first tweet of which is here:
A summary: 1,500 boys aged 10-17, 5 beds instead of 4 to a dorm, regimented shifts for meals and education, lights out 9pm - 6am, allowed outside for just 2 hours a day and never allowed outside of the shelter. To all intents and purposes, the children are incarcerated.
Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley on his visit spoke of "wire-mesh, chain linked cages that are about 30x30 [feet], a lot of young folks put into them." Perhaps like this:
However, these shelters are in fact licensed and certified. They have to meet certain standards of care, however low we might think they are. What is happening next will not.
On 14th June, Trump's administration announced they would be constructing tent camps in the desert around El Paso, Texas. That's right, housing children in tents in the desert. Where, as Democrat Senator for the El Paso area, José Rodríguez, said:
This week we're experiencing 100- to 105-degree weather (38-40 degrees celsius). You are talking about placing children in tents in the desert regions of West Texas?"
Rumours of a camp at Fort Bliss to house around 1,500 children didn't come to pass due to concerns about housing children on military bases. Tornillo, a border town in El Paso, is set to be the first site for the tent cities, to house around 340 children. The tent cities won’t have to be licensed and certified facilities so the thought of what will happen regarding quality of care is hugely concerning.
The United Nations human rights office last week asked the Trump administration to "immediately halt" the separating of children from their parents, saying there is "nothing normal about detaining children." Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in Geneva:
The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles. The child's best interest should always come first. There is nothing normal about detaining children,"
To which Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said:
Neither the United Nations nor anyone else will dictate how the United States upholds its borders."
Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, has called for an end to the separations:
This is not a zero tolerance policy, this is a zero humanity policy, and we can’t let it go on. Ripping children out of their parents’ arms to inflict harm on the child to influence the parents is unacceptable.”
However, it seems to be an issue that crosses party lines as even Former First Lady Laura Bush, the wife of former Republican President George W Bush wrote yesterday for the Washington Post:
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso"
Trump is presiding over an administration that is becoming dangerously right wing and autocratic. These latest actions show that he doesn't care about what the rest of the world thinks. He will carry on regardless, with seeming impunity, as other countries and world organisations look on, hand wringing but powerless while he is tearing children away from their parents and incarcerating them in purpose built camps which are, by definition, concentration camps:
Definition of concentration camp
: a camp where persons (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined
You only have to look at history to see where this will end. Appeasement is not an option. If our governments and world organisations won't show zero tolerance for Trump's zero tolerance then we, the people, must shine a spotlight on it at every opportunity and let Trump know that we have zero tolerance for him.
Yesterday Philip Davies, serial filibusterer, filibustered Labour MP Steve Reed's Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, otherwise known as Seni's law, for 148 minutes. He had help from Tory MPs Sir Christopher Chope - who infamously objected to the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill introduced by Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse yesterday and is also a serial filibusterer - and Jackie Doyle Price.
Filibustering can be stopped if 100 MPs attend Parliament but many go home on Fridays, ostensibly to do constituency work. Davies said about the private member's bill to make it compulsory to teach first aid in schools, which he also filibustered:
The fact that not even 100 MPs out of 650 showed up to this bill showed it did not have full support."
We can assume therefore, that this is how he justifies his contemptible practice to himself. Not that he seems the type to need self justification.
When asked by The Independent for an article by Oliver Wright if his filibustering is underhand, Davies said:
When I first got elected to Parliament my mentor was Eric Forth [the former Tory MP] and he really was the past master of talking out bills on a Friday,” he said. He did it for fun and he was brilliant at it. After he died I vowed I would do the same kind of work.
"He did it for fun ... I vowed I would do the same kind of work"
As if you needed any evidence that these MPs treat politics as a game, like political chess, with little or no thought for us. To them it's a cushy meal ticket - a high salary, guaranteed comfortable pension, expenses and allowances.
Filibustering, like many parliamentary procedures, has no place in modern parliamentary procedure. A complete overhaul is needed to bring our legislature into the 21st century and make it fit for purpose. Banning filibustering should be the first step.
Been at work all day or watching the World Cup? Out all night and not had time to catch up on your Twitter feed? Here's a round up of some of the news.
Today it was widely believed that the law would be changed to make upskirting illegal. Upskirting is where someone sneaks a camera underneath you skirt and takes photos without your knowledge or permission. To the media this morning it was a done deal and premature congratulations rightly abounded.
However, the private member's Voyeurism (Offences) Bill introduced by Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse was stopped by an archaic procedure whereby an MP can say they object, which is what Tory MP Christopher Chope did to cries of "Shame" and the disappointment of the rest of the House. Many people might think that he did this because he is a fan of upskirting but he says it is because he hates private members' bills and sees it as a moral crusade to challenge them.
One of the vilest takes on this turn of events comes from "Britain's highest profile lawyer":
The bill now goes to the bottom of the pile to be raised again at the next Private Members Bill session on 6 July, 2018.
This shows how archaic our parliamentary system is. Filibustering and the object rule should be the first customs in a long list to go. However, this is unlikely to happen because parliament serves the privileged not the country and the privileged will not vote to change things that benefit them. Which leads us onto the next topic, revolving doors.
Yesterday Tory MP Edward Argar was appointed as the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Justice, He replaces Phillip Lee who resigned on Tuesday over Brexit. Argar worked for Serco for three and a half years and was the Head of UK and Europe Public Affairs at Serco for nine months before being elected as MP for Charnwood in 2015. Serco runs five private prisons on behalf of the Ministry of Justice. While the Ministry of Justice stress there is no conflict of interest just because of his previous employment, it will be interesting to keep an eye on his role and where he goes if / when he loses his seat in Charnwood.
The endless revolving doors in politics clearly indicate many MPs are in it for themselves rather than serving us or us all being in it together. When their world is so different to ours, how can they understand or legislate on what is best for us? Talking of bad legislation brings us neatly onto universal credit.
Universal Credit was brought in by Ian Duncan Smith as a flagship policy designed to bring six benefits into one with the aim of encouraging people into work rather than being stuck in a benefits trap. It was meant to save money by streamlining the benefit system. However, it has been beset by costly delays and disastrous implementation. Today the National Audit Office released their latest damning report.
They say that universal credit may end up being more costly than the system it replaces and the DWP cannot measure whether it will meet the aim to get the extra 200,000 people into work.
Forty percent of people claiming report that they are experiencing financial difficulties because of the roll out of universal credit. The DWP denies this but evidence points to universal credit being the cause. The National Audit Office states that the DWP do not know how many are suffering hardship because of universal credit.
In 2017, 25% of people were not paid on time, 40% of those waited 11+ weeks, 20% almost five months. Since pressure from parliament last year, this has improved slightly with 21% not receiving their full entitlement on time. The DWP expect little or no improvement on this in 2018.
Rent arrears have increased with the introduction of universal credit, with many private landlords reluctant to take on tenants who claim it. Amyas Morse, Head of the NAO said:
The Department has kept pushing the Universal Credit rollout forward through a series of problems. We recognise both its determination and commitment, and that there is really no practical choice but to keep on keeping on with the rollout.
A damning report from which the DWP has no place to hide.
The Gig Economy
Today the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain was given permission for a full judicial review of a previous ruling that confirmed the self-employed status of Deliveroo riders. This follows hard on the heels of the ruling that Gary Smith did have employee status while working for Pimlico Plumbers and the result will have a big impact on the gig economy as a whole.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary said:
The next Labour government will clamp down on bogus self-employment and strengthen employment rights for all workers"
However, until then, it is expected that the current government will make legislative changes this parliament to protect the gig economy. It's definitely a case of watch this space.
There have been 7 resignations over the EU Withdrawal Bill this week. Tory minister Phillip Lee resigned on Tuesday saying:
Yesterday Laura Smith (yes, that's right, who?) resigned from a junior shadow minister role in order to vote against the amendment to keep the UK in the EEA. This was a spectacularly attention seeking resignation given that Labour's position was to abstain. It would be understandable if Labour's position was the complete opposite to her's but to resign in order to not abstain is pretty diabolical. Almost as if it was contrived to take media attention back to Labour's right and away from the Tories' divisions. Five Labour parliamentary private secretaries also resigned but in order to vote for the amendment to stay in the EEA. There's no point in naming them because you won't have heard of them either. However, it allowed the media to go large on the headlines that Labour had SIX FRONT BENCH RESIGNATIONS. People with only half an eye on politics would then think that the Labour shadow cabinet had collapsed, which a cynic might say was the result they were after.
However, what was notable was the reaction of other MPs and the media, especially in relation to Phillip Lee. Words like brave, heroic and courageous were bandied around. Nearly every Remain MP who rose to speak on Tuesday congratulated him on his brave decision to stand down, for sticking by his principles and so on and so forth.
What complete and utter balderdash. None of these people have done anything remotely brave or heroic. They have resigned from ministerial / shadow ministerial posts but they haven't lost their jobs. They may have stood up for something they believed in by resigning but it has cost them nothing. They may have lost a little extra income but an MPs basic salary is more than the majority of us could ever dream to earn, with a guaranteed, comfortable pension. MPs will normally receive a pension of either 1/40th or 1/50th of their final pensionable salary for each year of pensionable service depending on the contribution rate they will have chosen. Not to mention their office expenses and allowances for second homes and travel. It's just grandstanding. Their lives haven't been irrevocably changed by their actions. They are still wrapped in more privilege than we shall ever know. That MPs and the media think it is brave or heroic is just another sign of how far removed they are from us in their Westminster and establishment bubble.
Today Rolls Royce announced that, in order to concentrate on manufacturing engines and power systems for the aviation, defence and energy industries, they would slash 4,600 jobs. This restructuring is despite pretax profits of £4.9 billion being reported at the end of March this year. The majority of these jobs will be in Derby, where unemployment is slowly rising and 30.9% of people claiming job seekers' allowance have been unemployed for over a year. The jobs will be cut from the 33,000 management and support workforce. If you were in any doubt about the conflict of interests between workers and the capitalist system, shares in Rolls Royce rose by more than 2% at the news that 4,600 people will lose their jobs.
There have been a swathe of job cuts this year, some to do with Brexit and some to do with the dire state of the high street, which in turn has much to do with online shopping giants like Amazon and people having little to no disposable income. The collapse of Poundworld this week has put 5,100 jobs at risk, House of Fraser are to close more than half of it's stores resulting in over 6,000 job losses, 500 jobs are at risk with the closure of Tesco Direct, 626 jobs are at risk with Marks & Spencer closing over 100 stores, hundreds of jobs will go when Mothercare closes 50 stores, BT is cutting staff by 13,000 two thirds of which will be because of their move out of central London, Virgin Media is cutting 800 jobs in Wales, RBS is cutting 792 jobs, CarpetRight is cutting 300 jobs, the closure of Toys R Us will result in the loss of 3,000 jobs, New Look is planning to close stores with the result of nearly 1,000 job losses and so it goes on.
But all we hear from the Tories is that the economy is stronger than it was under Labour and employment is at a record high. It is important to remember therefore, the definition of employment used to calculate the figures.
The number of people in employment in the UK is measured by the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and consists of people aged 16 and over who did one hour or more of paid work per week (as an employee or self-employed), those who had a job that they were temporarily away from, those on government-supported training and employment programmes, and those doing unpaid family work. Employment levels and rates are published each month in the labour market statistical bulletin.
This is from The Office for National Statistics: A guide to labour market statistics. This "one hour or more" is now more likely than ever to be insecure employment such as zero hours contracts or as part of the gig economy. The number of zero hours employment contracts rose by 100,00 in 2017 to 1.8 million. It's hard to calculate how many are in the gig economy but since 2001 self employment has risen by 45%. In 2017 more than 15% of the UK workforce were classed as self employed and the number of non-employer businesses in the UK private sector has increased by 25% since 2010. While not all these self employed people will be part of the gig economy, it is a pretty clear marker that it is on the rise. Yesterday's Pimlico Plumbers hearing at the Supreme Court, where it was decided that the claimant Gary Smith should have been classed as an employee, might put the brake on it temporarily while companies reassess what the ruling means for them. However, much of the legal discourse was around the fact that the government would eventually legislate this case law away and give companies more protections to use self employed contractors without the danger of having to class them as employees.
What this means for employment is that it is increasingly insecure and low paid. Wages are still below pre 2008 crash levels. Many people are working two jobs or more just to make ends meet. The cost of living is rising and will rise further with Brexit, eating into already low wages. Brexit will almost definitely mean a slashing of workers' rights and wages in order that the elite can still make money out of workers' labour. So when you listen to Theresa May at PMQs going on about record levels of employment, remember what that means. "ONE HOUR OR MORE EACH WEEK". No job security wanted or necessary.