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Germany to honour anti-Nazi hero Sophie Scholl with coin

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Sophie Scholl and the White Rose honoured for her resistance to Nazi tyranny.

Beheaded by the Nazis at age 21, Sophie Scholl died fighting against tyranny.

Sophie Scholl of the White Rose honoured for her resistance to Nazi tyranny.

Students Hans and Sophie Scholl were arrested and executed in 1943. The students and their friends had distributed leaflets calling on people to resist the Nazi regime. Today, they remain symbols of moral courage.

The Nazi Party executed student Sophie Scholl in 1943 for her role in the White Rose resistance group. Now seventy-seven years on the German government is set to release a special coin next year, marking her 100th birthday.

Anti-National Socialism political activist and student Sophie Scholl will be commemorated on a special coin, said the German Finance Ministry on Wednesday.

The €20 ($23) sterling silver collectors coin will be issued in April 2021, timed to coincide with Scholl’s birthday.

Scholl was a member of the non-violent Nazi-resistance White Rose group. She was convicted of treason for distributing anti-war pamphlets along with her brother Hans and executed on February 22, 1943, by guillotine. She was 21 years old when she was killed.

Sophie Scholl lamented, before she was guillotined by the Nazis.

SUCH A FINE, SUNNY DAY AND I HAVE TO GO,” “BUT WHAT DOES MY DEATH MATTER, IF THROUGH US THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE ARE AWAKENED AND STIRRED TO ACTION?

The film Sophie Scholl: The Final Days was released in 2005 and nominated for an Oscar

Her last words were: “How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

Sophie Scholl was executed by the People’s Court in Germany on Feb. 22, 1943, world war 2, for her involvement in The White Rose, an organization that was secretly writing pamphlets calling for the end of the war and strongly denouncing the inhuman acts of the Nazis.

The White Rose, a small, anonymous group of mostly university students who hoped that by distributing leaflets and graffitiing public spaces, they could awaken complacent German intellectuals.

The path of resistance

Hans and Sophie Scholl lived with their family in the southern German city of Ulm when National Socialists took power in 1933. Both children were still in school at the time – Hans was born in 1918 and Sophie in 1921. Their father, Robert, earned enough to support his wife, Magdalena, and five children as a tax adviser. A liberal man, Scholl did not approve of Germany’s new leader and he and his wife taught their children the importance of tolerance.

The Scholl children, however, were fascinated with National Socialism. Hans quickly made a name for himself in the Hitler Youth. At the age of 16 he commanded a group of 160 boys. Sophie also expressed a sympathy for National Socialism. She joined the “Union of German Girls,” a Nazi youth organization for girls. Like her brother, Sophie soon had a leadership position in the group. Her contemporaries would later remember her as being “very enthusiastic, very fanatical about National Socialism.”

By 1942, Hans and Sophie would no longer be counted among those supporting Hitler and his regime. The siblings took notice of how their Christian faith and moral convictions were not in line with the goals of National Socialism. Hans became convinced that he needed to do something against the Nazis. In 1942, Hans was called to the Eastern Front where he and other medicine students would experience the inhumanity of war for three months. He is also said to have been extremely concerned by the fate of deported Jews.

‘Long live freedom’

In May, 1942 German troops were on the battlefields of Russia and North Africa, while students at the University of Munich attended salons sharing their love of medicine, Theology, and philosophy and their aversion to the Nazi regime. Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, and Sophie Scholl were at the center of this group of friends.

Attending the same university were two medical students, Willi Graf and Jurgen Wittgenstein, who had served in a military hospital in 1939, with Hans, Sophie’s older brother. Along with Christoph Probst, a married soldier and father of three, they eventually joined The White Rose.

Sophie Scholl was born on May 9, 1921, in Forchtenberg am Kocher, where her father Robert Scholl, was mayor. At 12 Sophie joined the Hitler Youth, but became disillusioned. The arrest of her father for referring to Hitler as ”God’s Scourge,” to an employee, left a strong impression on her.

To the Scholl family loyalty meant obeying the dictates of the heart. ”What I want for you is to live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be,” her father told the family.

When the mass deportation of Jews began in 1942, Sophie, Hans, Alexander and Jurgen realized it was time for action. They bought a typewriter and a duplicating machine and Hans and Alex wrote the first leaflet with the heading: Leaflets of The White Rose, which said:

”Nothing is so unworthy of a nation as allowing itself to be governed without opposition by a clique that has yielded to base instinct…Western civilisation must defend itself against fascism and offer passive resistance, before the nation’s last young man has given his blood on some battlefield.”

Members of The White Rose worked day and night in secrecy, producing thousands of leaflets, mailed from undetectable locations in Germany, to scholars and medics. Sophie bought stamps and paper at different places, to divert attention from their activities.

In 1933 Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. Many Germans who were uncomfortable with the anti-Semitic ranting of the Nazi party, appreciated Hitler’s ability to bolster pride in a shamed nation.

The second White Rose leaflet stated: ”Since the conquest of Poland 300,000 Jews have been murdered, a crime against human dignity…Germans encourage fascist criminals if no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds. An end in terror is preferable to terror without end.”

Sophie’s brother Hans spent two years in the military, studied medicine at the University of Munich, and was a medic at the Eastern front with Alex, Willi and Jurgen in 1942.

Jurgen transported stacks of pamphlets to Berlin. The journey was dangerous, ”Trains were crawling with military police. If you were a civilian and couldn’t prove you’d been deferred, you were taken away immediately,” he recalled.

No one in the United Kingdom can comprehend what it is to live under absolute dictatorship. The party controlled the news media, police, armed forces, judiciary system, communications, education, cultural and religious institutions.

The third leaflet demanded: ”Sabotage in armament plants, newspapers, public ceremonies, and of the National Socialist Party…Convince the lower classes of the senselessness of continuing the war; where we face spiritual enslavement at the hands of National Socialists.”

The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 had demanded expulsion of anyone who was not Aryan, declaring Jews as non-citizens. The international press had begun to report beatings in the streets, so Hitler moved the arena of cruelty away from cities to concentration camps.

On November 9, 1938, 30,000 Jews were beaten and arrested, and Storm Troops burned 191 synagogues on Kristallnacht, ”the night for the broken windows,” causing 200,000 Jews to flee to the countryside.

When Alexander Schmorell was asked to swear an oath to Hitler, he asked to be discharged from the army. Willi Graf turned to passive resistance like the rest, after serving as a medical orderly in Yugoslavia. He was assigned to the Second Student’s Company in Munich, where he met Sophie, Hans, Alexander, Christoph, and Jurgen.

Christoph Probst was the only member of the White Rose who was married with children, so the others tried to protect him. In the fourth leaflet they wrote: ”I ask you as a Christian whether you hesitate in hope that someone else will raise his arm in your defense?…For Hitler and his followers no punishment is commensurate with their crimes.”

After the German defeat at Stalingrad, in 1943, and Roosevelt’s demand for unconditional surrender for the Axis powers, an Allied invasion was weeks away. That night, Hans, Willi, and Alex painted ”Freedom” and ”Down with Hitler,” and drew crossed-out swastikas on buildings in Munich.

Their philosophy professor, Kurt Huber, was shocked when he learned of the state-organised atrocities committed in Germany, and he worked on the final White Rose leaflets. He was also motivated to lecture on forbidden subjects, such as the writings of the Jewish philosopher Spinoza.

Each leaflet was more critical of Hitler and the German people than the last. The fifth mentioned: ”Hitler is leading the German people into the abyss. Blindly they follow their seducers into ruin…Are we to be forever a nation which is hated and rejected by all mankind?.”

The Gestapo had been looking for the pamphlets’ authors as soon as the first ones appeared. As the language in the leaflets became more inflammatory they stepped up their efforts. They arrested people at the slightest hint of suspicion.

Sophie and Hans brought a suitcase of the final leaflets, written by Professor Huber, to the University, and left them in corridors for the students to discover and read.

Jakob Schmidt, University handyman and Nazi party member, saw Hans and Sophie with the leaflets and reported them. They were taken into Gestapo custody. Sophie’s ‘interrogation’ was so cruel, she appeared in court with a broken leg.

On Feb 22, 1943, Sophie, Hans and Christoph were condemned to death by the ‘People’s’ Court, which had been created by the National Socialist Party to eliminate Hitler’s enemies.

Hans Scholl’s last words shouted from the guillotine were, ”Long live freedom!” In an unprecedented action by the guards, Christoph Probst was allowed a few moments alone with Hans and Sophie before they went to their deaths. After months of Gestapo interrogations to obtain the names of his co-conspirators, Willi was executed. His final thoughts were:

”THEY SHALL CONTINUE WHAT WE HAVE BEGUN.”

Alexander Schmorell was arrested in an air raid shelter and executed at Munich Stadelheim. Kurt Huber became one of the defendants at the trial of the People’s Court against the White Rose. Survivors remember Huber’s last words, an affirmation of humaneness.

Other members of the White Rose
Other members of the White Rose include (top, L-R) Reinhold Meyer, Katharina Leipelt, Heinz Kucharski, (bottom, L-R) Alexander Schmorell, Friedrich Rudolf Geussenhainer, and Margarethe Mrosek. All but Kucharski were killed for their involvement in the resistance.

Jurgen Wittenstein was interrogated by the Gestapo, but they couldn’t prove his involvement so they let him go. He got himself transferred to the front, beyond Nazi control and was the only one to survive. After the war, he relocated to the United States, became a doctor and received an award from the Government of West Germany for his bravery.

”How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause,” Sophie said. ”Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go,” she continued, ”but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

”The White Rose is a radiant page in the annals of the 20th Century. The courage to swim against the stream of public opinion, even when doing so was equated with treason, and the conviction that death is not too great a price to pay for following the whisperings of the conscience,” writes Chris Zimmerman in The White Rose: Its Legacy and Challenge.

Two hundred German schools are named for the Scholls, and politicians such as former New York Mayor David Dinkins invoke their names, and visit their graves. With the rise of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and violence against foreigners in Germany, the anniversary of the executions is a powerful reminder.

Sophie Scholls sister Inge Aicher-Scoll wrote: ”Perhaps genuine heroism lies in deciding to stubbornly defend the everyday things, the mundane and the immediate.”

Remembering White Rose members

It’s not the first time that Germany has honored members of the well-known resistance group.

At the end of last year, Germany’s military renamed the Hochbrück army complex the Christoph Probst barracks after the medical student and White Rose activist.

In 2012, the main lecture hall at the Bundeswehr’s medical academy in Munich was named after Sophie’s brother, Hans Scholl.

The People’s Charter

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Photograph of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London in 1848

The Chartist movement was the first mass movement driven by the working classes. It grew following the failure of the 1832 Reform Act to extend the vote beyond those owning property.

Chartists’ petition

In 1838 a People’s Charter was drawn up for the London Working Men’s Association (LWMA) by William Lovett and Francis Place, two self-educated radicals, in consultation with other members of LWMA. The Charter had six demands:

  • All men to have the vote (universal manhood suffrage)
  • Voting should take place by secret ballot
  • Parliamentary elections every year, not once every five years
  • Constituencies should be of equal size
  • Members of Parliament should be paid
  • The property qualification for becoming a Member of Parliament should be abolished

Unrest

In June 1839, the Chartists’ petition was presented to the House of Commons with over 1.25 million signatures. It was rejected by Parliament. This provoked unrest which was swiftly crushed by the authorities.

A second petition was presented in May 1842, signed by over three million people but again it was rejected and further unrest and arrests followed.

Several outbreaks of violence ensued, leading to arrests and trials. One of the leaders of the movement, John Frost, on trial for treason, claimed in his defence that he had toured his territory of industrial Wales urging people not to break the law, although he was himself guilty of using language that some might interpret as a call to arms. Dr William Price of Llantrisant—more of a maverick than a mainstream Chartist—described Frost as putting “a sword in my hand and a rope around my neck”. Hardly surprisingly, there are no surviving letters outlining plans for insurrection, but physical force Chartists had undoubtedly started organising. By early autumn men were being drilled and armed in south Wales, and also in the West Riding. Secret cells were set up, covert meetings were held in the Chartist Caves at Llangynidr and weapons were manufactured as the Chartists armed themselves. Behind closed doors and in pub back rooms, plans were drawn up for a mass protest.[citation needed]

On the night of 3–4 November 1839 Frost led several thousand marchers through South Wales to the Westgate Hotel, Newport, Monmouthshire, where there was a confrontation. It seems that Frost and other local leaders were expecting to seize the town and trigger a national uprising. The result of the Newport Rising was a disaster for Chartism. The hotel was occupied by armed soldiers. A brief, violent, and bloody battle ensued. Shots were fired by both sides, although most contemporaries agree that the soldiers holding the building had vastly superior firepower. The Chartists were forced to retreat in disarray: more than twenty were killed, at least another fifty wounded.

Testimonies exist from contemporaries, such as the Yorkshire Chartist Ben Wilson, that Newport was to have been the signal for a national uprising. Despite this significant setback the movement remained remarkably buoyant and remained so until late 1842. Whilst the majority of Chartists, under the leadership of Feargus O’Connor, concentrated on petitioning for Frost, Williams and William Jones to be pardoned, significant minorities in Sheffield and Bradford planned their risings in response. Samuel Holberry led an abortive rising in Sheffield on 12 January, and on 26 January Robert Peddie attempted similar action in Bradford. In both Sheffield and Bradford spies had kept magistrates aware of the conspirators’ plans, and these attempted risings were easily quashed. Frost and two other Newport leaders, Jones and Williams, were transported. Holberry and Peddie received long prison sentences with hard labour; Holberry died in prison and became a Chartist martyr.

Feargus O’Connor

Feargus O’Connor

In April 1848 a third and final petition was presented. A mass meeting on Kennington Common in South London was organised by the Chartist movement leaders, the most influential being Feargus O’Connor, editor of ‘The Northern Star’, a weekly newspaper that promoted the Chartist cause.

O’Connor was known to have connections with radical groups which advocated reform by any means, including violence. The authorities feared disruption and military forces were on standby to deal with any unrest. The third petition was also rejected but the anticipated unrest did not happen.

Despite the Chartist leaders’ attempts to keep the movement alive, within a few years it was no longer a driving force for reform.

Chartists’ legacy

However, the Chartists’ legacy was strong. By the 1850s Members of Parliament accepted that further reform was inevitable. Further Reform Acts were passed in 1867 and 1884.

By 1918, five of the Chartists’ six demands had been achieved – only the stipulation that parliamentary elections be held every year was unfulfilled.

This document, written in 1838 mainly by William Lovett of the London Working Men’s Association, stated the ideological basis of the Chartist movement. The Charter was launched in Glasgow in May 1838, at a meeting attended by an estimated 150,000 people. Presented as a popular-style Magna Carta, it rapidly gained support across the country and its supporters became known as the Chartists. A petition, populated at Chartist meetings across Britain, was brought to London in May 1839, for Thomas Attwood to present to Parliament. It boasted 1,280,958 signatures, yet Parliament voted not to consider it. However, the Chartists continued to campaign for the six points of the Charter for many years to come, and produced two more petitions to Parliament.

The People’s Charter detailed the six key points that the Chartists believed were necessary to reform the electoral system and thus alleviate the suffering of the working classes – these were:

Universal suffrage (the right to vote)

When the Charter was written in 1838, only 18 per cent of the adult-male population of Britain could vote (before 1832 just 10 per cent could vote). The Charter proposed that the vote be extended to all adult males over the age of 21, apart from those convicted of a felony or declared insane.

No property qualification

When this document was written, potential members of Parliament needed to own property of a particular value. This prevented the vast majority of the population from standing for election. By removing the requirement of a property qualification, candidates for elections would no longer have to be selected from the upper classes.

Annual parliaments

A government could retain power as long as there was a majority of support. This made it very difficult to replace of a bad or unpopular government.

Equal representation

The 1832 Reform Act had abolished the worst excesses of ‘pocket boroughs’. A pocket borough was a parliamentary constituency owned by a single patron who controlled voting rights and could nominate the two members who were to represent the borough in Parliament. In some of these constituencies as few as six people could elect two members of Parliament. There were still great differences between constituencies, particularly in the industrial north where there were relatively few MPs compared to rural areas.

The Chartists proposed the division of the United Kingdom into 300 electoral districts, each containing an equal number of inhabitants, with no more than one representative from each district to sit in Parliament.

Payment of members

MPs were not paid for the job they did. As the vast majority of people required income from their jobs to be able to live, this meant that only people with considerable personal wealth could afford to become MPs. The Charter proposed that MPs were paid an annual salary of £500.

Vote by secret ballot

Voting at the time was done in public using a ‘show of hands’ at the ‘hustings’ (a temporary, public platform from which candidates for parliament were nominated). Landlords or employers could therefore see how their tenants or employees were voting and could intimidate them and influence their decisions. Voting was not made secret until 1871.

Paul Knaggs

When the workers nearly took control: five lessons from the Lucas Plan

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In 1976 the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards Committee produced an Alternative Corporate Plan for Lucas Aerospace that advocated the production of social useful products. This was in response to management announcing the need to cut jobs. The Combine was a representative body of staff and manual worker unions on all the fifteen sites throughout the U.K. It had been established by the shop stewards to enable the workforce to have a coherent and unified voice when responding to managements corporate view on wages, pensions, manning levels and other such issues. The shop stewards had realised though experience how management had used divide and rule tactics when negotiating on an individual site and craft union basis.

Following a period of expansion, in 1974 Lucas Aerospace along with other aerospace companies announced the need to restructure the company as a consequence of ‘increased international competition and technological change brought about by the need to introduce new technology’. Around half of Lucas Aerospace output supplied military contracts. Since this depended upon public funding, as did many of the civilian contracts, the Combine argued that state support would be better put to developing products that society needed, rather than the state supporting workers through paying redundancy money when they were put out of work.

Most of Lucas’ products were arms for sale in the military market. The Combine Shop Stewards’ Committee responded by proclaiming “the right to work on socially useful products.” Consulting with the workers, they produced a Plan for useful alternative work in the Lucas factories. The Plan shows the initiative and involvement of working class people when they see an opportunity to do something useful – and save their jobs at the same time.

The idea of the Combine’s Alternative Corporate Plan came about as a result of a meeting held with Tony Benn at the Dept. of Industry in November 1974. Thirty-four Combine delegates met with Benn in an attempt to persuade him to include Lucas Aerospace in the nationalisation of the aerospace industry. Benn indicated he did not have the power to include Lucas Aerospace in the nationalisation proposals; however, he suggested that the Combine should draw up an alternative corporate strategy for the company. This suggestion started a process which resulted in the Combine drawing up the Corporate Plan.

On the front page of the Plan was written: “There cannot be islands of social responsibility in a sea of depravity.” So let’s build a society of social responsibility, a society where we do our very best for children with spina bifida and patients who need kidney machines and all the other good causes, and where our best is very good. It’s called socialism. We could even let the arms manufacturers have flag days, standing outside Woolworths with a collecting tin, to see if anyone wanted to pay for their toys. We don’t think there would be any takers.

One of the Resistance Movements aims is to update the Lucas Plan on defence diversification. We look back at the Lucas Plan taking lessons from this demonstration of workers innovative.

Back in the 1970s, with unemployment rising and British industry contracting, workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace came up with a pioneering plan to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. The ‘Lucas Plan’ remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change.

Forty years later, we are facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weapons, climate chaos and the destruction of jobs by new technologies and automation. These crises mean we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did, and reopen the debate about industrial conversion and economic democracy.

Democratic egalitarianism

What so inspires me about the Lucas Plan is the democratic egalitarianism which runs through its every part – the work processes, the products and even the very technology they propose.

This egalitarian ethic inspired Laurence Hall to make ‘The Lucas Plan’ the focus of a regular gathering of Young Quakers in Lancaster, up the line from the Trident nuclear submarine yards in Barrow.

Eurig Scandrett from the Scottish Green Party made it the theme for Green Party trade unionists because ‘it is the most inspiring example of workers on the shop floor who get self-organised and demand to make what humanity needs.’

The fact that the plan was defeated has not diluted its capacity to inspire. For Scandrett, its defeat demonstrated that ‘it is the vested interests of the military-industrial machine which is the problem, and that workers liberating their collective brain is where the solution lies.’

The broad outline of the Lucas Aerospace workers’ story was familiar enough in the mid-1970s. Workers faced redundancies, got organised, resisted and insisted that their skills and machinery were not redundant. But here they went further. They drew together alternative ideas with those of supportive academics and, with the encouragement of Tony Benn (then industry secretary in the Labour government), produced their ‘Alternative Corporate Plan for Socially Useful Production’, illustrated with prototypes. Management refused to negotiate. The government, under pressure from the CBI and the City, made gestures of a willingness to talk, but would not move against management. The plan was never implemented, or even seriously considered, although commercial companies elsewhere picked up some of the ideas.

So what are the lessons we can draw from this past experience of ‘ordinary’ people organising and sharing their practical knowledge and skills to illustrate in the present the changes of which we dream? Some of the main ones are discussed below.

Lesson 1: Find common ground

A first condition for this group of fairly conventional, mainly middle-aged, male trade unionists to create what became a beacon of an alternative economics was building the organisation that eventually provided the means by which many individual intelligences became what Eurig Scandrett refers to as ‘collective’. Corporate ‘rationalisation’ meant groups of workers were being bought, discarded and the best sold on or used till they fell apart, like sacks of old clothes.

The shop stewards at the different Lucas Aerospace sites forged collective strength by taking action over basic common issues such as wages and conditions. This served to unite groups of workers with very different traditions and interests.

Lesson 2: Build democracy

Immense care and collective self-reflectiveness was needed to bring such diverse groups into a more or less united organisation.

All 35 (or so) delegates had the right to speak at meetings of the multi-union Combine shop stewards committee but decisions on recommendations to be taken back to the workforce were on the basis of ‘one site, one vote’. The decisions were binding on the delegates, who were expected to campaign for them at their local sites, although the sites were free to accept or reject them as they saw fit. This sensitive and consciously protected relationship between the Combine and the sites made it feel as though the members and local shop steward on the office and factory floor were ‘absent friends’, whose presence was palpable.

Lesson 3: Build alliances and look ahead

Although the Combine won victories, they felt as though they were engaged in a labour of Sisyphus – getting national agreement to halt job losses, only to find jobs were being slashed in different places and not because of decisions of local management.

The problem was Lucas’s restructuring towards longer production runs and more computer-controlled machinery, and its shifting investment into other European countries and the United States. The traditional approach of the trade union movement proved inadequate; instead the Combine produced its own experts and made use of outside help to educate and prepare itself.

Lesson 4: Building collective strategic intelligence.

‘We’re in a situation where politics is unavoidable,’ the Combine executive argued, in Combine News, in response to rumours of nationalisation of part of the aerospace industry. ‘Though there have been problems with nationalisation, we could, with the full involvement of all our members, insist on adequate safeguards against many of these. The advantages would be considerable, we would finally be working for our ultimate employers.’

They went on to sow the seeds of the alternative plan: ‘We could insist that the skill and talents of our members could be used to the full to engage in socially useful products like monorails and hovercraft, and that these skills are used in a much truer sense in the interests of the nation as a whole.’

This led to the presentation of the case for the nationalisation of Lucas Aerospace to Tony Benn, then secretary of state for industry. He was impressed: ‘Here was a group who had done the work to anticipate the problem. Others had come to me at the last minute saying their firm had gone bust and what could I do.’

For all his enthusiasm, he did not have the power to agree to nationalisation, but he suggested that the Combine should draw up an alternative corporate strategy for the company.

At first there was some scepticism. But the necessity of finding a new solution drove them on, and beyond management’s framework.

‘The only way that we could be involved in a corporate plan would be if we drew it up in a way which challenged the profit motive of the company and talked in terms of social profit,’ argued Combine delegate Mike Cooley, a designer who chaired the local branch of the technical trade union TASS.

The plan for socially useful production was a carefully phased process. Another Combine delegate, Mick Cooney, a fitter from Burnley, described the challenge: ‘The Combine wanted to know what machine tools we had. To do the Corporate Plan we were having to think as if we were planning. It really made the shop stewards sit up.’ The Combine asked site committees questions aimed to stimulate workers’ imagination: ‘How could the plant be run by the workforce? Are there any socially useful products which your plant could design and manufacture?’

Experiences of all kinds and knowledge of the company’s capacities led to 150 product ideas in six categories: medical equipment, transport vehicles, improved braking systems, energy conservation, oceanics, and telechiric machines.

Lesson 5: Know the limits

The idea inspired workers throughout the defence-related engineering industry, including the vast yards building nuclear submarines in Barrow, where designers worked with Mary Kaldor to submit alternatives to the Labour party defence policy committee. In the 1970’s the yards were owned by Vickers which also made tanks at the Elswick works on the Tyne in Newcastle. In Vickers a strong Combine Committee had been built in response to very similar pressures of rationalisation, acquisitions and closures that had stimulated the growth of the Lucas Aerospace Combine Commitee. Both Combine Committees had links with the Institute for Workers Control (IWC) and through the conferences and political connections organised by the IWC they found common cause in the idea of alternative plans for socially useful production. The shop stewards in the Elswick and Scotwood works responded to threats of reduncancies by drawing up such plans and gaining the support of Tony Benn and his close ally Stuart Holland. They made contact with shop stewards at Barrow, especially in the design office who were already doing their own work on alternatives. There had, in Barrow, been an earlier initiative towards diversification coming from Vickers management, led by an innovative engineer, George Henson, whose Quaker principles led him to refuse to work on the TSR2 at Vickers Weybridge plant and led to his move to Barrow where management wanted to diversify away from total dependence on government defence contracts.

However, Vickers responded to subsequent government nationalisation plans by keeping the profitable diversified section, making submersibles for deep sea oil exploration and handing over the yards to the government. The separation was a major blow to any longer-term diversification programme, but it’s success was a powerful memory for the designers who were still working on nuclear submarines and they were responsive to the contacts from across the country in Newcastle to collaborate on alternative plans to submit to the Labour party’s diversification committee. Labour’s defeat in 1979 closed down these possibilities. Later however, in the 1980s, some of those designers helped to create the Barrow Alternative Employment Committee (BAEC) to produce proposals for alternatives to Trident. By this time the Barrow yards were owned by British Aerospace, which rejected the strategy of civil diversification to keep skilled teams together. BAe concentrated entirely on its ‘core business’ whatever the cost in terms of loss of jobs. The only exception was war ships, the manufacture of which dominated the yards until the recent renewal of Trident.

Terry McSorley, a member of the now defunct BAEC, says: ‘The lesson I learnt is that site-based diversification won’t work’. Instead he now argues for an approach that integrates defence conversion with industrial strategy.

Steve Schofield, who was a researcher for the BAEC, draws a similar conclusion: ‘The Labour movement needs a much more ambitious arms conversion programme to challenge the embedded power of the military-industrial-complex.’ He argues for a change in security policy towards UN peacekeeping and peace building and suggests a combination of publicly-funded, national and regional investment banks for industries such as offshore wind and wave power to ensure an equitable distribution that benefits the small group of arms-dependent communities, including Barrow-in-Furness, Glasgow, Preston, Aldermaston and Plymouth.

Drawing on Lucas and his own more problematic experience in Barrow, he is certain that trade union and community participation is essential to guaranteeing that the skills of working people are maintained and enhanced.

We are in new times for trade union organisation but interest in democratic economics is increasing with the spread of green and solidarity economies, commons-based peer-to-peer production, and grassroots fabrication in ‘hackerspaces’ and ‘fab labs’. All of which has deepened ideas about connecting tacit knowledge and participatory prototyping to the political economy of technology development, as was the case with Lucas.

The lessons from the Lucas plan provide Labour’s proposed arms conversion agency with elements of a methodology for a network of organisations with an understanding of technological development not as a value-neutral process, autonomous from society, but shaped by social choices over its development – choices that the Lucas stewards showed need to become democratic.

This ‘ordinary’ group of workers demonstrated how it was possible to create a democratic economy. It is they, after all, who have the practical know how on which that technological development depends.

Reproduced by Paul Knaggs

The Resistance Movement: Interim Steering Committee

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The Resistance Movement: Interim Steering Committee

The Resistance Movement was initiated by Chris Williamson following his resignation from the Labour Party in 2019. People expressed a strong desire for Chris and others to continue the fight for change and social justice.

Many members and supporters of the Labour Party no longer feel the Party represents their Left-wing socialist ideals. There has been an orchestrated ‘purge’ of the Left, this has led to a trail of despair and despondency amongst many members and supporters. Most of whom still have the willingness and strength to fight the right-wing within U.K. politics. The Resistance Movement was formed to fulfil the growing appetite for an alternative movement, one that fights for all the people, one to help bring about a more equal and fair society that is not rigged against the very people that make up our communities, towns, cities and country.

As a way of engaging and involving more people in the development of the movement, a small group of volunteers came together to work on organising a 2-day international conference. This was titled ‘The Festival of Resistance‘ and planned for June 2020, which due to the Covid-19 had to be postponed. This group has continued to meet since the beginning of January 2020 and became the interim steering committee.

We are continuing to work towards the 2-day conference for mid-2021 and expect to gather the support of the conference for the interim steering committee to put in place processes for formal elections.

The Interim Steering Committee was formed on the basis of a clear socialist programme, revolutionary ideas, political education, local activism, and a bold, fighting spirit, we believe that a powerful Resistance movement of like-minded people can be mobilised and organised in the struggle against capitalism and austerity.

Interim steering group members.

People Power – Building For Systemic Change

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Government Ctrl Alt Del Reset

People are the power, we just need to organise

Class politics is back by necessity. A vicious ideological right-wing Tory government, the fallout of a no-deal Brexit & with Labour rapidly veering to the right our communities are at risk of a further decade of defunding, cuts to services & mass unemployment.

If we don’t have real community control, we’re not going to have any real Socialism. Socialism is just an abstract idea if it’s not tangibly applied to our people’s everyday experiences. It’s about evolving a system and an economic practice of fair-shares equality and fair-shares access. It’s got to happen from the grass-roots up.

It is not by chance that the right of the Labour Party disliked & undermined the community organising initiative established by Jeremy Corbyn’s team. It threatens their top down, machine politics. Well, you can’t rebuild any wall without first building foundations. Here’s another fact, you will never rebuild the red wall from the top down.

We need to concentrate on how we get more community control of economic frameworks that retail and produce services and tangible benefits for our communities. Common sense socialism, everyday socialism or good old fashioned municipal socialism.

The need to find local leaders is paramount. Those who instinctively stand up for their community. These citizens should then be candidates in local elections. People from the grass roots to enable control of the levers of power & finance in order to use them to directly serve in the interests of their community.

Local candidates who have authenticity & are altruistic in their commitment to serve their people without financial or personal gain. Real representation. Rebuilding trust with the voting public is essential so a new generation of authentic, altruistic candidates is essential to achieve that trust.

We need to develop our own community media to liberate people from the constant barrage of propaganda based on Neo Liberal group think disseminated via the old mainstream media.

With the arrival of easy to access socialised media it makes this possible. Unlike previous generations we have the means by which to communicate easily & frequently with citizens both locally & more widely. It’s mostly free to access & produce. It enables micro channels that feed direct to localised issues. Be it saving a village library, maintenance of historic buildings or sharing concerns about the decimation of local services. The important factor is galvanising support, providing collectivity and organising action for change. Empowering local citizens to become actively engaged in changing & improving their own communal spaces, services & lives.

How do we build the citizens movement?

The large communal workplaces are long gone & this has caused a major problem for Labour. The political organising & education has been decimated by the demolition of mining, steel & manufacturing. These communities historically provided an organising base via trade unionism & mutual struggle. We have to build a new base for the current economy & find the language for a modern age.

There are huge amounts of people already engaged in working for the common good within our communities. Unsung heroes who work tirelessly for no reward other than the feeling that they’ve achieved something positive for someone else. Local food-banks, solicitors offering free advice, advocates giving support & help to hose navigating the DWP benefits system, church groups working with needy families, homeless & downtrodden. Then there are the trade unions & other activists groups.

The sheer amount of people volunteering to fill the gaps in our savagely cut social security system & failing welfare state is huge. Nearly always these people are driven by social conscience not personal gain. They’re unwilling to walk by on the other side whilst they are suffering or people in need. They see value in the idea of working for the ‘common good.’

The fact that charity on such a scale is now needed isn’t a shining example of the welfare state. As Mhairi Black the young Scottish MP stated in her maiden speech in the Houses of Parliament; She said, “Food banks are not part of the Welfare StateThey are a symbol that the welfare state is failing.

Clement Attlee also espoused how democratic power & the financial levers of that power can be used to the benefit of our fellow citizens. Attlee was himself formed by his experiences with working-class self-organisation in the heart of London’s East End. In 1920 he wrote “we are struck by the amazing charity of the poor to the poor, the readiness with which one poor household will take into their home and support a friend who is out of a job, and the ready response to whip round for a widow left penniless, or for similar cases of misfortune”

Writing about his time amongst the people of London’s East End, where he worked, Attlee recalls.

“I found abundant instances of kindness and much quiet heroism in these mean streets. These people were not poor through their lack of fine qualities. The slums were not filled with the dregs of society. Not only did I have countless lessons in practical economics but there was kindled in me a warmth and affection for these people that has remained with me all my life. From this it was only a step to examining the whole basis of our social and economic system. I soon began to realise the curse of casual labour. I got to know what slum landlordism and sweating meant. I also understood why there were rebels.”

It is these ‘rebels’ who we need to elevate. It is these citizens who are driven to act. To defy the odds & use self agency, mutuality & social consciousness to bring about social change for others. It is no good waiting for a messiah or leader to come along. Change needs to happen now. We must become our own agents of change. The rebels, whose agency is borne out of empathy for others, must be future community leaders.

Organisation is key. Campaigns & programs must be established to encourage people to collectivise for the common good and must be based on local issues & need.

Emotional connection is of the utmost importance to build mutuality & connectivity. Citizens will become activists to defend or build things that affect them directly or those they care about. Empathy & emotional investment is key, hence local knowledge of local issues is key.

Real change comes from people power, either via public pressure/protest or via using democratic processes to gain power. This involves political education.

To achieve democratic power citizen groups must learn to get people voter registrars. They will learn to identify council districts and these voter registrars will get all this information. Where the people are, where the communities are, where your borough & parish council seats are, etc.

Also, the knowledge about the political structure of your community is important. Identify the communicators, future leaders and future possible candidates.

What do you do with the power you’ve won?

Once power is achieved, what then? Ironically it is Eric Pickles’ Localism Bill that may provide the vehicle for localised emancipation from right-wing, self serving entrenched politicians. This allows even a Parish council tax raising powers through the local precept (the Parish Council share of wider Borough Council Tax). It also allows local councils (parish, town or borough) to take back control of services which might currently be achieved through borough councils. It also allows borough councils to reshape council tax bands so those with the broadest shoulders contribute a little more to protect services for all.

This is a possibility now. The fact that Labour councils aren’t fighting back against savage Tory cuts is sad. It’s not good enough to be a proxy for a hard-right Tory government. You are attacking the services & living standards of the very people you expect to vote you into power. This is not true representation.

What if there’s no strategic community organising plan? What if there is no action to rebuild within communities?

I can foresee dangers ahead if Labour continues along its current direction of travel. The party is at risk of a major split. Over half a million people signed up as active members during the Corbyn leadership on the basis of realising & implementing systemic change. They visualised another kind of Britain was possible.

They wanted a rebalance of power towards the many, not the few. To the 99% away from the 1%. It was also a sure sign that a generation was sick of the status quo & business as usual. If that systemic change is no longer viable through the Labour Party then other routes will be found. Half a million indignant people is a very strong foundation on which to build.

Pablo Iglesias, Secretary General of Podemos addresses supporters during a rally ahead of Spanish general elections on June 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez / Getty

In Spain Podemos now hold the balance of power in a coalition with the PSOE, Spain’s version of the British Labour Party. They are holding the more centrist/liberal PSOE to account & forcing through populist left policies. Podemos’ support is growing year on year. Why. Eva yes they speak & govern for the many. The indignant!

Podemos’ organising saw a rapid growth in their community circles. Which in turn brought successes in local elections. Their rapid growth & success was brought about through empowering & galvanising the grass roots movements that grew out of the 2008 economic crisis.

Firstly, the Occupy movement which grew globally in opposition to a continuation of Neo-Liberalism. As the establishment parties continued to pursue business as usual, a large movement also began to grow in Spain. Largely made up of the young, the ‘Indignados’ as they became known, joined the demand for systemic change.

After generations & decades of being told this is how things are, there is no alternative, the people were starting to learn that another world & economic system was possible. When they were told it can’t be achieved they replied ‘We Can’ in Spanish ‘Podemos.’ And, a new populist party was born – Podemos. A self empowering movement said if you will not change the system – we will!

Their own description of themselves summarises what they are about perfectly & succinctly;

“Podemos was born from the conviction that change is possible and with the certainty that it would not be brought about by other political parties (least of all those which have lead us to the present situation) but rather by people who work or are looking for work on a daily basis and who legitimately demand a more prosperous and just future for themselves and their families.

We have a clear idea of what our problems are (unjust and ineffective policies; institutions which are at the service of the few; corruption, inequality…) and what the solutions are – a government for the people which is responsible, reliable, independent and committed to those who wish for a better future.

We have always known that it would be difficult, but we have the support and experience of a great many people. In our country, the opportunity for change has opened up. In order to achieve it, we need everybody’s help, wherever we are from and whoever we have voted for in the past.

NOW IS THE MOMENT.

YES, WE CAN. PODEMOS.

Can a break away populist party be formed from the huge trained & eagerly engaged activist base operating within Corbyn’s Labour be possible? Some may say ‘Yes – We Can.’
It’s already been a proven success in Spain.

Children hold up placards as they attend the Global Climate Strike in London.

Another possible threat to Labour is the growth of Extinction Rebellion. This is a movement that has taken hold across the world. The ability to mobilise huge numbers of protestors & activists, especially amongst the young ( hundreds of thousands of teenagers engaged in the recent Clinate Strikes in the UK) is a warning shot to any party that is flogging the dead horse of Neo Liberal ‘business as usual.’

Extinction Rebellion’s own demands, as well as environmental action, include ‘Climate Justice’ as well as ‘Citizen’s Assemblies. Why is Extinction Rebellion demanding a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice? A clear explanation can be found on their website. It states; “Extinction Rebellion believes that part of the problem is the way electoral politics works:
Political power in the UK is in the hands of a few elected politicians. Over the last 40 years, this system has proved incapable of making the long-term decisions needed to deal with the climate and ecological emergency. Politicians simply can’t see past the next election.
Members of parliament are lobbied by powerful corporations, seek sympathetic media coverage, and calculate their policies based on potential public reactions and opinion polls. This leaves many of them either unable or unwilling to make the bold changes necessary to address the emergency.”

The winds of change are blowing. No matter how the establishment try & distract us with divisive cultural wars or other divide & rule tactics, change is coming.

The two main UK political parties may be offering green washing or token gestures but it just won’t cut it any more. The zeitgeist is for real change & currently no political party is offering that sizeable shift in the status quo in terms of economic, climate or ecological policy that the many demand. They are all interlinked & to achieve all of the above – huge systemic change is required. A totally new approach to the economy.

As Greta Thunberg said recently at the UN summit;

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” She continued;
‘We will not let you get away with this,” said Thunberg. “Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Many establishment figures shrugged & dismisses this as youthful exuberance. Well GretaThunberg is closer to the truth & the current zeitgeist than all of the detached, establishment bubble politicians.

The capitalist class & Neo Liberal politicians are never going to agree to dismantle the system that suits their lifestyle, yet it is necessary to achieve climate & ecological justice. Only Corbyn’s Labour previously offered a brave shift in policy with their Green New Deal which dealt directly with economic & climate justice. This sadly seems to be another casualty of the new leadership.

Extinction Rebellion are building a formidable activist base in every community. Like all political change, it will be forced upon the establishment by people power at local, national & international level. Change will indeed come.

Black Lives Matter changing perceptions

Jen Reid poses in front of the new black resin and steel statue portraying her during a Black Lives Matter protest England.(AP: Matt Dunham)

Finally, the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement will be an important catalyst in engaging young people who are often disenfranchised from politics. Having been largely ignored by the political class, many from the BAME community have simply opted out of the political process.

The Black Lives Matter movement is not only empowering those previously disenfranchised but are also providing a platform to organise & actively participate in the change they demand. Local BLM groups are being established all around the UK & coalitions are being built between anti racist activists & BLM. Community organising & participation is growing substantially even during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The struggle for racial justice shouldn’t be viewed separately from the wider class struggle for systemic economic change. As Bobby Seale who was a founding member of the Black Panther Party knew.; “Those who want to obscure the struggle with ethnic differences are the ones who are aiding and maintaining the exploitation of the masses. We need unity to defeat the boss class – every strike shows that. Every workers’ banner declares: ‘Unity is strength’. “

The Panther Party’s founders rooted their ideology in socialism and working class emancipation. Seale saw that the struggle for black freedom was part of a universal class struggle. The Black Lives Matter movement have learned a lot from the Panther’s effectiveness in community organising. They’ve also learned valuable lessons from Martin Luther King & the civil rights movement as well as Obama’s 2008 campaigning.

The awful recent comments from Kier Starmer which described the Black Lives Matter movement as a ‘moment’ confirmed to many that there will not be any radical change coming from the new Labour leadership to address their concerns. This, added to the seemingly refusal to act upon clear racist, anti-black behaviour amongst some at the very top of the Labour Party machine in the leaked Labour report, is disheartening.

The new Labour leadership team seem to be heading back towards business as usual. It would seem there is no appetite for the radical change that the majority of people are demanding. The lack of opposition to the Tory catastrophe during the COVID-19 crisis, the move back towards Neo Liberal economics, the reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement and the abandonment of the Green New Deal economic plan leaves one wondering where the support for Starmer’s Labour will come from.

Political power means nothing if it is about gaining power to simply be in power! without the will or commitment for real systemic change, more citizens will become indignant, disenfranchised & without a voice. In those circumstances, people will find their own voices & organise outside the usual main party structures.

That moment may be here sooner than we think & it will come from the ground up.

Andy Searson from the Red Wall.

Related articles:

Life after the Labour Party: Activist are challenging the status quo. Grassroots movements are growing.

Occupied: West Bank Annexation A People Abandoned

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Chris Williamson for Resistance TV hosting a panel discussion on the illegal act of Annexation of the West Bank and its long history of occupation by Israeli forces.

Joining Chris to discuss and raise awareness on the advent of this travesty of international justice and the abandonment of the Palestinian people. Azzm Tammimi, Writer/Journalist, Bessam Tamani, Activist/Philosopher, Issad Amro, Youth worker, Tom Suarez, Author/Academic, Miko Peled, Author/Academic/BDS/Activist, Mick Napier, PSC Scotland.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is planning to effectively annex parts of the occupied West Bank in what would be a major – and highly controversial – act.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet says Israel’s annexation plans ‘illegal’

Annexation is the term applied when a state unilaterally proclaims its sovereignty over another territory. It is forbidden by international law. A recent example was Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.

The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war by the Israeli military. The West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) is also home to some 430,000 Israeli Jews who live in 132 settlements (and 124 smaller “OUTPOST”) built under Israel’s occupation.

Annexation is illegal. Period,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement. “Any annexation. Whether it is 30 percent of the West Bank, or 5 percent,” she said, urging Israel to “listen to its own former senior officials and generals, as well as to the multitude of voices around the world, warning it not to proceed along this dangerous path.”

A protester holds a placard as she stands next to Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beit Fajjar town south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem
(photo credit: REUTERS)

She spoke out amid reports that Israel weighed assuaging international and Palestinian objections to annexation by moving forward with a partial plan. This would likely include the application of sovereignty over areas of high settler-population density, known as the blocs, rather than advancing an initiative that would annex the entire 30% of the West Bank as outlined under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

International condemnation of the possible Israeli annexations has mounted ahead of July 1, when Israel could take its first steps towards implementing part of a United States-proposed Middle East plan.

Between 2.1 million and 3 million (sources vary) Palestinian Arabs live in the West Bank under both limited self-rule and Israeli military rule.

The West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) is also home to some 430,000 Israeli Jews who live in 132 settlements (and 124 smaller “outposts”) built under Israel’s occupation.

Organising for Power & Winning

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Jane McAlevey is an author, union & community organiser, who has, over 30 years, developed a tried and tested method for successful organising in the work place, electioneering and community campaigns. Now, more than ever, we need to develop our skills from activists, into effective organisers to challenge the big issues that we are facing. With looming austerity, rent arrears, job losses, food poverty, homelessness etc. Jane shows us, in this video, how we can overcome barriers to WIN!

Jane McAlevey says: “For most of my adult life, I’ve been designing and running actual experiments in social change, carefully testing and retesting key hypotheses. The experiments, the best of which come in the form of large scale campaigns with clear “win” or “lose” outcomes, cut across and through and unite often disparate single-issue silos that constitute so much of the US progressive movement. After 30 years of campaigns, there’s no question for me that good unions are the best solution to most problems.”

To win, it’s crucial that we heed advice from union organizer Nato Green. In a recent article about how public service unions like the one he works for, local SEIU 1021 in California, can — and must — negotiate for climate justice, he wrote, “Any seasoned union campaigner worth her salt loves a contract fight because it has a hard deadline that focuses everyone’s attention—expiration and a strike threat. Climate science gives us a new deadline and an opportunity to show that we’re up to the task. We have 12 years.”

Green is certainly right that good union organizers love a contract fight. If we take the twelve years outlined in the recent IPCC report as our deadline for drastically cutting carbon emissions, what’s a credible plan to win by 2030?

For people serious about winning really hard fights — and there are virtually none more difficult than tackling the fossil fuel industry — making a plan starts by doing comprehensive power structure analysis and building a real war room. This is indeed a war, one that so far has been won by the Koch brothers and their ilk. Our side needs to get used to the military language because what we’ve been doing — being polite and going to big orderly marches — isn’t saving the planet or creating a fair and just economy, and it’s wishful thinking to imagine otherwise. War rooms are physical spaces where people with necessary experience and fortitude brainstorm, plot, and plan what it will take to win. They plan backwards from the world as it actually exists, facing the challenge of organizing a set of messy actors who are too easily divided-and-conquered and too infrequently able to hold the focus on that which unites us — which is much more than survival.

The climate war room discussion will need to deal with a key reality: We are now stuck with courts that will rule against the planet and workers for another thirty to forty years. People in the US don’t yet feel the reality of losing the Supreme Court to the right wing, because the newly solidified majority hasn’t yet had time to overturn everything that it eventually will.

The Rise of the Machines: automation in the workplace and the case for a Universal Basic Income.

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The Rise of the Machines: automation in the workplace and the case for a Universal Basic Income.

The Rise of the Machines: automation in the workplace and the case for a Universal Basic Income. (Dr. Keith Hussein)

The current transfer of jobs from the physical to the virtual economy is a different sort of off-shoring, not to a foreign country but to a virtual one. If we follow recent history we can’t assume these jobs will be replaced either. – W. Brian Arthur

In March 2017 the consultancy firm Pricewaterhousecoopers produced a report claiming that over 10 million British workers and their jobs are potentially at serious risk of being replaced by robots in the next fifteen years. In effect, it means that 30% of jobs in Britain are under direct threat of replacement by robotic technology due to recent far-reaching advances in artificial intelligence (AI) designed specifically to replace workers.

While the report predicts that automation would boost productivity and create fresh job opportunities, it also claims that urgent action will be required to mitigate the effect of AI on the workplace of the future. The most prominent concerns are the impact this will have on present inequality and unemployment levels. PwC argues that 2.25 million jobs were at high risk in wholesale and retailing (the sector that employs most people in the UK) while 1.2 million were under threat in manufacturing, 1.1 million in administrative and support services and 950,000 in transport and storage.

Its Chief Economist John Hawksworth argues that: “A key driver of our industry-level estimates is the fact that manual and routine tasks are more susceptible to automation, while social skills are relatively less automatable.

That said, no industry is entirely immune from future advances in robotics and AI.’’ Jon Andrews, its Head of Technology and Investments also added: “There’s no doubt that AI and robotics will rebalance what jobs look like in the future, and that some are more susceptible than others. In the future, knowledge will be a commodity so we need to shift our thinking on how we skill and up-skill future generations’.

The debate currently taking place over automation resembles those which took place in relation to de-industrialisation and globalisation in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time it was conceded that the free movement of capital, corporations and labour would create ‘losers’ as well as ‘winners’ (to use the socially neutral parlance of neoliberal discourse) due to the knock-on effects on unemployment and the widening of inequality.

Turkey's first humanoid robotics factory
Humanoid robots in a factory in Central Konya Province Turkey.

Education and funding Education is key.

The consensus of that time argued that as long as these ‘losers’ were adequately supported, either through re-skilling, education opportunities, or a stronger social safety net these changes would have minimal impact. However, as economist Mark Blyth argues instead in countries such as the UK (and US) educational budgets and welfare systems were drastically cut back. So the communities most affected by deindustrialisation in the North, Wales and Midlands never recovered their former prominence.

Trump and Brexit are clear warning signs that we can’t stop ignoring the social effects of technology on employment and wages.

Both Hawksworth and Andrews thus make highly salient points: the technological change of Amazon Go and driverless cars is happening fast and has massive economic, social and ethical ramifications. We have no other choice as a society but to confront the potential problems caused by automation in the workplace and come up with a viable solution. One idea which is typically mooted is the introduction of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to mitigate these ramifications. So how would it work in practice?

UBI is a welfare programme in which all citizens receive an unconditional sum of money from the government. It would provide a safety net, address insecurities associated with workers not having full-time staff contracts, and help boost mobility in the labour market as people would have a source of income between jobs. It also streamlines the existing welfare system and its myriad of different benefits into one overall payment system.

The idea of UBI provided by the state is nothing new and stretches back at least to Thomas Moore’s classic Renaissance text Utopia (1516) where the Portuguese traveller Raphael Nonsenso states ‘Such a scheme would be a more astute way of fighting theft than sentencing thieves to death, which had the unpleasant side effect of increasing the murder rate’’.

It was also proposed by French revolutionary Antoine Caritat (1795) and developed further by his close friend the English radical Thomas Paine (1796) who proposed an Equal Basic Endowment to be paid to all adult citizens that would be accrued from the taxation of land and property. More recently, it was also proposed by monetarist economist Milton Friedman as a ‘Guaranteed Citizen’s Income’ as a means to end disincentives to work caused by ‘poverty’ and ‘unemployment traps’ of the US welfare system.

Trials have now begun in Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, Spain, Italy, and even the US, with more trials in the works for Scotland and likely even India and more.

What is Universal Basic Income?

The benefits of a UBI are potentially immense if the scheme can be introduced properly.

It can help recipients do other work and reconsider old choices: It will enable them to retrain or undertake care responsibilities for loved ones, safe in the knowledge that they will have enough money to maintain a decent standard of living while they do. It will, therefore, help each of us to decide what it is we truly want to pursue as a career.

This brings into play a huge number of unpaid activities are currently not recognized as economic contributions in society. Yet, our economy increasingly relies on these free contributions such as the work performed by carers. A Basic Income would recognise and reward these (often unpaid) activities performed by families and friends. This is the most valuable work of all: In 2014 it was estimated that unpaid adult carers in the UK provided care worth £56.9 billion a year to the State (ONS, 2017). The introduction of UBI would end the extreme financial poverty typically experienced by those who give up work to look after a relative on a full-time basis.

The second key understanding is just how much non-universal, conditional welfare systems disincentive work. No one sees higher marginal tax rates than people on welfare - no one. As someone on welfare earns income, they lose their benefits. The result is the reality of people being barely better off accepting employment or even becoming far worse off. In effect, it would end the problem of poverty and unemployment traps built into the UK welfare system.

It doesn’t stop there though, because the provision of basic income has a multitude of repercussions beyond the elimination of fear, and these repercussions are themselves systemically transformative. Like any market, the labour market is at the mercy of economic supply and demand.

High unemployment drives wages down because the supply of labour, namely the amount of people competing for the same openings,  is greater than the demand for labour. By removing their desperation for income, a UBI would give workers the ability to decline job opportunities with poor pay and working conditions, which would cause wages to rise beyond the beyond the level at which the income is set.

At present, before much of the switch to automation has occurred, an unhealthy rate of private household debt hinders consumption because it forces people to pay down debt interest with funds that would otherwise be spent on goods and services. This prevents the money multiplier from circulating around local economies through killing off domestic demand. By ensuring citizens have consumer spending power, a UBI helps to keep money flowing through the economy, particularly after tens of millions of jobs will have vanished through obsolesce. Wealth must be distributed more-or-less evenly throughout an economy for it to function smoothly and grow sustainably.

The rise of the machines and the fully automated workplace mean that it’s not long before another major economic disruption takes place. The market will embrace the new jolt in productivity because business interests have incentive and power to do so. We could simply continue our passive attitude to the increased unemployment this will lead to, or we could simply reassess our predicament from a more radical direction so that UBI becomes an integral part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is now upon us. In this sense, the automated workplace can give us the freedoms promised in Daniel Bell’s post-industrial ‘Leisure Society’ nearly 60 years ago. How could we possibly turn that down?

Courtesy Labour Heartlands.

Raising the banner: Time for change.

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Image based on the Painting: Raising the banner Heliy Mikhailovich Korzhev, 1960

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a number of new groups and more established ones on the political left calling on members to stay in the Labour Party.  I understand that tribal loyalty.  I dedicated 44 years of my life to fighting for and serving the Labour Party.  But the party is over and it’s time to think about building something new, something different, something that can actually offer meaningful change.

The shocking exposé about senior figures inside the Labour Party working to sabotage the party’s election prospects and targeting allies of Jeremy Corbyn, has left supporters feeling disgusted and demoralised. 

After losing four elections in a row, Labour is now facing an existential crisis.  Sir Keir Starmer represents a lurch back to the days when Labour embraced neoliberalism, when Tony Blair made a Faustian pact with Murdoch’s empire and Clause IV was jettisoned, thereby expunging any commitment to socialism.

Jeremy Corbyn was the perfect antidote to the neoliberal political duopoly in England and Wales between Labour and the Conservatives, which represented two sides of the same coin. 

The electorate had become increasingly cynical and millions simply gave up on politics altogether by refusing to vote.

Labour’s inability to mark out a sufficiently alternative and distinctive political programme to the Conservatives has already seen the party all but wiped out in Scotland.  Even Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership failed to win back Scottish voters who had previously been lifelong Labour supporters.

The cold hard truth is that before Jeremy Corbyn, Labour was on the road to Pasokification and Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership has put it on that road again.  Lightning never strikes twice in the same place and Labour’s structures are so loaded that electing another socialist leader is just a pipe dream. 

Jeremy Corbyn only made it onto the ballot paper by accident, but the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) are not going to make that “mistake” again and Labour MPs are the gatekeepers to the leadership ballot.  Jeremy missed the opportunity to bring the PLP to heel at the 2018 conference by failing to back the membership’s desire to extend party democracy and make MPs accountable.

We now know for certain that the PLP is an unaccountable law unto itself.  Most Labour MPs never accepted Jeremy’s leadership, so they made his job in parliament impossible.  My efforts to make MPs answerable to members through open selections, saw them combining with the saboteurs in the bureaucracy and the NEC to force me out.  The High Court’s ruling that my suspension was unlawful was subverted by party bureaucrats concocting more spurious ‘evidence’ to suspend me again.

The last five years prove that the party does not belong to its members.  It’s owned by a triumvirate of the PLP, bureaucracy and NEC who behave as if they are masters and grassroots members are their servants.  Recent history shows that when these characters don’t get their own way, they will stop at nothing to work against the party’s interests.  The leaked document vividly illustrates this point.  It quotes party officials, who were overseeing the witch hunt, boasting about creating a “new stasi system” to trawl through social media posts.  They explicitly targeted groups, such as ‘JeremyCorbyn4PM’, ‘Momentum’ and ‘Young Greens’ in order to “catch people on the left.”

I appreciate people’s desire to stay and fight inside the Labour Party, but they have literally no means of winning.  Even when Jeremy Corbyn led the party with hundreds of thousands of grassroots members behind him, the party was still controlled by the forces that systematically dismantled and then destroyed the Corbyn project.  It therefore begs the question, what is the point of socialists investing time and energy trying to reform a party that is organisationally designed to frustrate democracy and block socialism? 

Sir Keir Starmer is even a member of the dubious Trilateral Commission, established in 1973 by liberal internationalists who were concerned by what they described as “an excess of democracy.”  They objected to people getting organised and entering the political arena because that imposed too much pressure on the state.  They wanted a passive depoliticised population instead where state institutions concentrated on the “indoctrination of the young.”  What hope is there for the party when the leader belongs to such an anti-democratic cadre?

So, rather than flogging a dead horse, I think we would do better to focus our energies on developing extra-parliamentary activities.  Even when we have had Labour governments, our ‘democratic’ system of governance has consistently failed to ensure the fruits of the UK’s economic achievements are equitably shared amongst all its citizens.  

The truth is representative democracy has been failing us ever since the franchise was extended in 1918.  Those who wax lyrical about parliamentary democracy should explain how, in the world’s fifth biggest economy, 14 million people are living in poverty, precarious employment is endemic, and thousands have to sleep on the streets.

That is why I am working with others to create a new grassroots movement to build capacity in communities and raise political consciousness.  It might seem like a mountain to climb, but it has been done before in this country and abroad.  We should draw inspiration from groups like the cooperative pioneers and the Black Panther Party. 

They developed practical solutions to address the consequences of state failure caused by the colonisation of mainstream political parties by a hostile ideology.

We can still utilise those ideas and apply them in the twenty first century.  Implementing grassroots socialism by putting energy into creating new initiatives such as worker cooperatives, neighbourhood action groups, public arts projects and community radio platforms etc is an achievable goal.  Whereas experience shows us that attempting to deliver political change by rescuing the Labour Party from the clutches of the anti-democratic neoliberals is nothing short of mission impossible.

Chris Williamson

Free the Truth: Deepa Driver Resistance TV

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The future of freedom of speech is hanging in the balance.

Deepa Driver speaks exclusively to Resistance TV about efforts to get Julian Assange released from Belmarsh high security prison and addresses the prospects for his impending extradition hearing.

Deepa is a leading figure in the campaign to release the Wikileaks founder. Julian’s ‘crime’ was to expose the abuse of state and corporate power, including war crimes by the US.

His plight at the hands of the British government has generated international condemnation, not least because Article 4 of the extradition treaty between the UK and the US explicitly states that: “Extradition shall not be granted if the offence for which extradition is requested is a political offence.”

You can find out mare and show your support:

Deepa Driver @deepa_driver

Journalism is on trial

Julian Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks and is charged by the Trump government with publishing the Afghan and Iraq war logs for which he could face 175 years in jail.

He is currently in Belmarsh prison and he is one week into his 4 week extradition hearing at Belmarsh Magistrates Court. Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray has said “he has all the symptoms of a torture victim, in terms of disorientation & difficulty in asserting their will & speaking coherently”

The UN working group on arbitrary detention issued a statement saying that “the right of Mr. Assange to personal liberty should be restored”. Don’t extradite Assange

JULIAN ASSANGE MUST BE FREED, NOT BETRAYED

For real journalism John Pilger on Julian Assange, the NHS, poverty

Craig Murray who is now fighting a court battle of his own Murray the former UK diplomat turned anti-war activist, has been charged with contempt of court for writing blog posts. He faces a possible two years in jail, with no jury and no freedom of speech defence permitted.