Eduction, education, education

Ed Miliband’s announcement this week of some modest restrictions on the privatisation of the NHS was a welcome recognition that Labour has been listening both to their working class voters and to the advice and encouragement they are receiving from the left, especially from the Morning Star and the Communist Party. On education, however, Labour’s policies remain mired in Blairite conservatism. Tristam Hunt, Labour’s ineffectual shadow education secretary, is the son of Baron Hunt of Chesterton and has no experience of state education, having himself been privately educated. One of his contributions to the education debate has been to propose requiring public (i.e. private) schools to assist local state schools, thereby helping to perpetuate the myth of the superiority of the former and encouraging them to adopt an attitude of patronising condescension to the state sector. Hunt, as well as being the author of an indifferent biography of Fredrich Engels, was the author, along with the arch Blairite and self-promoter David Blunkett, of a report recommending the appointment of commissioners to be responsible for raising school standards, handling failing schools and for deciding on proposals for new schools. All this would do would be to conceal the hand of central government in education. What is really needed is: a return to democratically controlled education supervised and adequately funded by the local education authority; an end to free schools and academies; and at least an end to the privileged status of private schools. An even better solution for private schools would, however, be the transfer of all their assets to the local education authority – a modern day equivalent of the closure on the monasteries. After all, they claim to be charities. What could be more charitable than that?

As the student demonstrations in London on Wednesday confirmed, free higher education remains a legitimate demand by students and young people. And so it should be. Their parents enjoyed free higher education: why should their generation have to mortgage themselves for half a lifetime to enable universities to act like pseudo-businesses? Colleges and universities are inter-connected with the state and should be required to concentrate on what should be their role in a democratic state: providing open access to learning, education and research. Educating students from abroad for the fee income it generates has become a primary ‘business’ goal for them. While it could be a worthwhile secondary objective when these students come from under-privileged backgrounds and developing countries, thereby contribution to international development, it is not a legitimate objective when its purpose is to generate profit for the institution. Universities are no more businesses than are schools.  Labour should be listening to the students too.

Advertisements

Concert Review- Woody Guthrie “The Road to Peekskill.”

Congress House 18th March with Will Kaufman.

The downstairs hall at TUC’s Congress House was packed on 18th March with this special concert organised by South East Region TUC to pay tribute to the legendary US Communist folk troubadour Woody Guthrie. The songs were performed by Will Kaufman US born professor of American Literature at the University of Central Lancashire, England and author of an acclaimed book on Woody “Woody Guthrie, American Radical.”

Will’s own singing voice suits his subject matter well starting off with Woody’s most famous song “This Land is Your Land”. But this was not just a rehash of the most famous and most covered songs Woody recorded. For this was also a voyage, using talk and film, through Woody’s political development culminating in a song he wrote about the famous Peekskill concert in 1949. Woody came from a Southern racist family with a father who was possibly a member of the Klu Klux Klan and who may or may not have participated in a notorious lynching. Early on in his singing career Woody thought nothing of singing racist songs on radio shows until challenged by a letter from a young African-American man. Coming alongside his growing interest in the labour movement and his friendship with Blues singer Huddie Leadbetter (Leadbelly), his attitudes shifted radically. Another close friend was the Communist actor Will Geer, later Grandpa Walton in “The Waltons.”

The song “Deportees (Plane Crash at Los Gatos)” performed by Will was about a terrible plane crash killing Mexican farm labourers who the news stories described as being “just deportees”. The song has been covered by numerous artists including Dolly Parton and reflected Woody’s growing anger at injustice and racism.

The events at Peekskill took place in September 1949. There were two attempts to stage a concert with Paul Robeson at the town of Peekskill. The first was broken up by fascists assisted by the police. At the second Robeson managed to sing along with Pete Seeger but the attendees were attacked by fascist thugs as they came out. US author Howard Fast (Spartacus, Freedom Road)” was to comment “This is the Voice of Fascism not in Nazi Germany but here in America”. The chants shouted by the crowd aimed at black people and Jews would definitely bear this out. As SERTUC secretary Megan Dobney pointed out it was this concert where our comrade Mikki Doyle (later Women’s editor of the Morning star was blinded in one eye).

Although Will Kaufman identifies more with the anarcho-syndicalist IWW tradition he was happy to pay respect to the role US communists played in fighting racism and fascism in that period.  The concert ended with a plug for the “Stand UP to Racism” demonstration on 21st March with a performance of the song “All you Fascists are Bound to Lose” and then an encore of a recent song about Woody by Steve Earle “Christmas Time in Washington.” This was a great celebration of music and politics and a reminder how much Woody has inspired so many artists in both song and support for progressive politics.

Steven Johnson

WHY WE ARE STANDING

The Communist Party will be standing in a handful of constituencies across the country in the forthcoming general election, including Ben Stevenson’s candidacy in Croydon North. Why make the effort when this intervention is unlikely to influence the outcome?

The large Parties, the ones that will form, alone or in coalition, the next government, are, with the exception of the Greens, essentially election machines. They are under the control of their leaderships, have little internal democracy and exist to secure for these leaderships high office.  The leaderships are dependent on funding from commercial interests – i.e. ‘capital’ and thus, reflect the requirements of these interests – consciously by the more self-interested from amongst their ranks and unwittingly by a few mistaken idealists. This illustrates the function of ‘democracy’ under capitalism: to manage the system in the interests of capital while giving the impression that the ‘will of the people’ is being expressed. The Greens, on the other hand, are in a transitionary situation. They still reflect the interests of their members who are fired with idealistic intention. They seek to promote a number of important and progressive policies, especially the vital need to curb global warming – an issue the other big parties choose to ignore as it conflicts with the commercial interests on which they depend. The problem for the Greens is that idealism is not enough. As they grow, they will face a choice: either allow themselves to be penetrated by commercial interests; or fuse with the only significant counterbalance to those interests in capitalism – the organised working class. Meanwhile, attractive as many of their policies are, voters need to be careful that voting for them in particular constituencies does not let the despicable Tories in.

Where does the Communist Party fit into this political structure? Our sole purpose, as originally set out by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto, is to provide leadership to the working class including the trade unions and that residual element within the Labour Party which retains an interest in representing ordinary working people. It is not to manage the capitalist system better. We are not interested in promoting our leadership, even our splendid candidate in Croydon North, Ben Stevenson, to positions of personal power within an unchanged system; and we distance ourselves from the tainted and conditional support so readily available from the capitalists. Nor are we interested in coalitions. The fate awaiting the benighted Lib-Dems demonstrates the price of joining a coalition as a junior partner and trading cabinet seats for election promises.

So, given this background, why are we standing? First, we are a democratic party and the members have decided that we should contest some seats. The intention is that, by this intervention, we will shift the debate leftward and strengthen the resolve of Labour candidates to support progressive policies such as stopping TTIP in its tracks, saving the NHS, abolishing the anti-trade union legislation, saving the environment and the other issues raised by Croydon TUC which I described in my blog last week. More important, however, for the Communist Party, unlike the other parties standing in this election, this is just the start of our campaign. The next government, whether it is the Tories, Labour, a coalition or even UKIP, will have no idea how to address the issues we face  other than by squeezing workers, their families, the unemployed, the sick and disadvantaged even harder than they have been doing for the last five years. Under the next government, even a majority Labour administration, inequality will continue to grow, the NHS will continue to disintegrate and our economic woes will continue to escalate. But the Communist Party will still be here: on the streets; speaking to you through the pages of the Morning Star; on the internet; in the trade unions; and. locally but not least, by helping to organise the Croydon Assembly which will reconvene at Ruskin House on 6 July. Watch this space!

FOR A PEOPLE’S BRITAIN

Croydon Communist Party met this week to agree the key election message for Ben Stevenson’s general election campaign in Croydon North:

 

For a people’s Britain, not a bankers’ Britain – the people of Croydon cannot afford capitalism

 

Ben Stevenson also became the first candidate to declare his support for the entire ten point programme endorsed this week by Croydon TUC. This calls on candidates to commit, if elected, to vote in parliament to:

 

  1. End cuts in public services, pensions and welfare and restore grants for students.
  1. Replace the minimum wage with a living wage – currently £9.15 per hour in London and £7.85 per hour elsewhere
  1. Take public utilities including railways back into public ownership.
  1. Cease the underfunding and back-door privatisation of the NHS.
  1. Repeal all anti-trade union legislation.
  1. Scrap Trident and oppose any more military adventures.
  1. Bring all state education, including academies and free schools, back under the democratic control of local authorities.
  1. Build council houses and reform the private sector with rent controls and security of tenure.
  1. Oppose TTIP.
  1. Pay for this programme by taxing the rich and clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion by businesses.

Pressure will now fall on other candidates in Croydon to declare where they stand on these issues. True progressives will, of course, have little difficulty in endorsing the entire programme, while the Tories, their doomed former collaborators the Lib Dems and the UKIP uber-Tories will recoil at the very thought of endorsing any of them. It will, however, be interesting to see if any of the Labour candidates have enough socialist principles left and independence of mind to endorse any of these policies. We shall have to wait and see.

WHAT’S AN MP WORTH?

Malcolm Rifkind, caught out last week trying to sell his services to a phoney Chinese business, had the effrontery to claim that he needed a second job as MPs were paid so poorly.  Like many other MPs, Mr Rifkind chooses to ignore the fact that the average wage of people lucky enough to have a full time job in the UK is only around £26,000 while MPs’ salaries are set to rise to £74,000, almost three times this amount. Furthermore, at a time when final salary occupational pension schemes in the UK have largely disappeared, MPs’ retirement pensions have recently been improved from 1/50 final salary per year of contribution to 1/40. Meanwhile, most of their constituents are expected to subsist on the state old age pension of £5,876 a year.

Michael Heseltine provided another explanation last week for why MPs need a second job. It wasn’t poverty, Lord Heseltine explained, it was because an MP’s job was not really full time! Given the length of the parliamentary recess, he may have a point here. But surely the remedy would be not to pay MPs during the recess. After all, there are lots of zero hour jobs out there. At the last count, 700,000 of their constituents were ‘benefitting’ from this readily available source of employment.

So what is an MP worth? Ignoring the obvious, cheap retort, it’s necessary to remind ourselves that, in one way, Lord Heseltine was right. Being an MP is not, or rather should not be, a job at all. Many MPs mistakenly think of themselves as part of a profession. How often do we hear them refer to themselves as having a ‘career’ as a parliamentarian. Being an MP isn’t a job, it isn’t a career – or at least it should not be. It is, or should be, for a limited time, to be the servant of those who elected them. MPs’  pay should therefore be sufficient to enable them to discharge this service – no more and no less. The average full time wage, £26,000 per year, can provide a useful yardstick for this. It would also give MPs an incentive, that they currently lack, to work to increase this average. Isn’t that what we pay them for?

Would candidates of a ‘suitable calibre’ come forward for election on such supposedly meagre terms? Of course they would! They might not want to hang around for 40 years to collect the (under this proposal much reduced) pension, but so much the better for that.

There is, however, one, possibly insurmountable problem to implementing such a sensible arrangement. Under our current , capitalist society there is a huge disparity in wealth and income. If MPs’ salaries were constrained to the industrial average, Parliament might revert to its profile at the beginning of the last century – stuffed with individuals with private wealth who don’t need any salary to be an MP.  There is, of course, a remedy for this. Get rid of capitalism.