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Mélenchon – a step forward

17th April 2017

melenchon-2017

 Photo: Jean Luc Mélenchon – offering hope for France?

The upsurge in support for left-wing candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in the French presidential election, is an illustration of the fact that so called populism is not the preserve of the right-wing.  In many polls the race is too close to call, with four candidates positioned to be in the final two on 7th May, when first round voting is concluded on 23rd April.  Not long ago the contest was regarded as a straight battle between variations on the right, involving official Les Républicains candidate, François Fillon and far right demagogue, Marine Le Pen of the Front National.

The ground first shifted with the rise of centrist, Emmanual Macron, and his self styled En Marche! movement, initially popular with the middle classes as a pro-EU alternative to Le Pen but increasingly looking like a victory of style over substance.  Macron benefitted from the Fillon campaign having to fight a financial scandal and for a while looked like the best option to stop Le Pen.  A recent Le Monde poll however shows support for Le Pen and Macron neck and neck, at 22% apiece, Fillon on 19% and Mélenchon edging into third place with 20% of the potential vote.

These figures must be seen in the context of one third of the 47 million strong French electorate being undecided and a further 30% claiming such disillusionment that they will abstain.  Mélenchon, the candidate of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), has been able to tap into the disillusionment with the establishment which is common across the EU and communicate policies which appeal to the traditional working class base of the Left.

Mélenchon proposes to raise the minimum wage and the salaries of civil servants.  He is proposing to limit fat-cat pay by fixing maximum salaries and imposing a 90% tax on those earning over €400,000 per annum.  He is proposing that France quit NATO, quit the IMF and quit the World Bank, all instruments of failing globalised capitalism.  Crucially, Mélenchon is proposing to renegotiate EU treaties and put them to a referendum, aiming to break the power of the corporate and banking grip on the European Union.  The rise of the Mélenchon campaign has been based on a programme of traditional mass rallies across France, attracting thousands, and a bypassing of the traditional anti-left media through a direct blog found at http://www.melenchon-2017.fr/pages/blog-melenchon

This combination of modern and traditional methods of reaching the electorate has seen Mélenchon rise from a written off no-hoper to the only credible option for the left, easily bypassing official Socialist Party candidate Benoît  Hamon, floundering in the shadow of the failed presidency of  François Hollande.  Mélenchon also has the support of the French Communist Party (PCF) thus ensuring additional organisational strength to the campaign.

The outcome of the French election will have a profound impact upon the future of the European Union and Europe itself, as well as France.  A Mélenchon victory could see the beginnings of a progressive future for Europe, released from the corporate grip of the EU and working towards a Europe of the people’s.  Such an outcome will not be achieved without a fight but Mélenchon offers the prospect of taking a small step in the right direction.

Shadows and Fog

14th April 2017

Trump3

 Pic: Trump announces air strike on Syria

Media coverage of international events over the past week has been an object lesson in obfuscation.  Much of what is going on is confusing.  As far as the West is concerned, in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is the bad guy.  Over the past five years, a loose coalition of NATO and unsavoury Arab dictators, from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, has poured resources into unseating Assad, to no avail.

Quite whom they are actively supporting is not entirely clear.  The West appear to think that there is a Western orientated liberal opposition in waiting, who would step in should Assad fall.  Experience from the debacles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya would seem to suggest otherwise.  None has achieved any significant degree of stability since Western intervention.  None shapes up as a Western style liberal democracy.

The Arab dictatorships appear more inclined to arm the jihadi insurgent element of the opposition, whether that is al-Qaeda or Islamic State, as long as they dislodge Assad and minimise the influence of their main enemy in the region, Iran.  Although having one foot in the West, as a NATO member, Turkey would also appear to subscribe to this view of the world.

Then there is Russia, the only foreign power actually to have been invited to intervene in Syria, by the internationally recognised government of Assad.  The Russians have their own agenda, to gain influence in the oil rich Middle East, as well as defeating the medievalism of Islamic State.  Their intervention has seen Islamic State pushed back and the opposition in Syria dwindle.  The main Russian objective is influence in the region which, at the moment, means supporting Assad but he could easily be jettisoned for an alternative, if Russia could maintain its foothold.

With Russian military support, the Syrian government has increasingly been on the front foot in recent months.  Islamic State, in particular, and the fragments of alternative opposition have been pushed back.  Quite why the Assad government would choose such a moment to launch a chemical weapons attack on its own people is a mystery.  It may come down to the assessment of one US diplomat, who stated, “who knows why evil men do evil things?” but international politics is usually more complex.  The Syrians claim that in a legitimate strike against insurgents they hit a chemical weapons dump, which released the gases.

The West rejected this explanation and, without any actual evidence or internationally recognised investigation, not to mention any international agreement or discussion, the United States launched a missile attack against a Syrian air base.  Bizarrely this has resulted in Western liberals vehemently opposed to President Trump on all questions, applauding the US action.  Right wingers such as Nigel Farage have been critical of US intervention, as going against Trump’s stated America First position.

There is a strong body of opinion that the US strike was a one off warning shot, not likely to result in US intervention on the ground.  The fear of a proxy or even direct conflict with Russia seems to be enough to hold the US at bay for now.  Trump has described relations between the world’s two major superpowers as being at “an all time low”, a position it would be assumed that he would want to rectify.

However, given the chaotic nature of policy development in the United States, and the narcissism of its Commander in Chief, anything is possible.

 

 

 

 

Brexit and the dissolving world order

31st March 2017

article50

Photo: UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, signs up to article 50

It is fashionable in certain circles to think that the UK vote to leave the European Union is the cause of a variety of ills in the world.  The election of Donald Trump as US President has been laid at the door of Brexit, and claimed by right wing apologists, such as Nigel Farage.  The possibility of a Marine Le Pen presidency in France is blamed upon Brexit.  The possibility of Alternativ fur Deutschland (AFD) doing well in German elections later this year is flagged as another example of the spreading Brexit contagion.

The truth however is that Brexit is not the cause; it is one symptom of the changing pattern of alliances in the capitalist world.  It is a consequence of there being no visible alternative model to capitalism, on any significant scale, since the break up of the Soviet Union.  China does present a non-imperialist alternative to post-Soviet capitalism but retains a decidedly nationalist focus in terms of economic development.  Others outside the imperialist orbit such as Cuba and VietNam cannot present economic strength on the scale of the Soviet Union, while North Korea functions as a form of militarist nationalism, which the Chinese have to keep in check.

The emerging threat and opposition of the various strands of Islamic fundamentalism either function as capitalist economies with an Islamic face, such as Turkey, or are more brutal forms of military and ideological dictatorship such as Pakistan and Iran.  The Gulf states such as Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are essentially feudal oligarchies to whom the West can sell weapons while pretending that propping up such dictatorships leaves them without blood on their hands.

In South and Latin America the struggle led by Cuba, taken up at various times by Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador and others, to establish an alternative to US post-colonial domination, has been thwarted at various times by US intervention, either directly or in support of reactionary opposition.  The struggle continues but there is no doubt that the tendency of US foreign policy under Trump will once again shift towards the concept of South America being the US ‘backyard’ in political and economic terms.

The narrative of much of the twentieth century in Europe was to move towards greater support, co-operation and understanding amongst people’s, a narrative which had its roots in nineteenth century socialism and the spread of Marxist ideas.  The defeat of fascism in the Second World War meant such ideas were in the ascendancy across much of Eastern Europe with state ownership of key services and industries common.  Nationalisation of key utilities and industries was common in Western Europe too and the establishment of a National Health Service in the UK marked a significant shift in social policy.

The struggle for national liberation across Asia, Africa and Latin America meant that emerging economies were no longer prepared to accept their roles as mineral providers for capitalism but wanted to take control of their own resources.  It is not surprising that many of these economies leaned towards the Soviet model, given the extent to which their economies had been plundered by capitalism.

Inevitably, it was not a smooth ride.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed in 1948 to give a cover to Western intervention across the globe.  United States interventions in Korea and VietNam, the latter in particular resulting in the US retreating ignominiously, were evidence that imperialism would not give up without a fight.  The CIA backed coup d’etat in Chile, interventions in Grenada and Nicaragua, the UK adventure in the Falklands, were all part of a pattern of capitalist resistance.  Ongoing support for the apartheid dictatorship in South Africa and the propping up of a variety of petty tyrants across the globe were also used to entrench the capitalist order.

The late 1980’s saw the stepping up of pressure from the Reagan administration in the United States, backed by the Thatcher government in the UK, and a weakening of ideological understanding, represented by the doctrine of perestroika, on the part of the leadership of the Soviet Union.  It was a toxic mix.

The defeat inflicted upon the Soviet Union in 1991 was the hammer blow to progressive forces across the world.  Support and solidarity, both in economic and military terms, had been an integral part of the relationship of the Soviet Union to its allies and to national liberation movements.  That support, along with the technical and scientific expertise the Soviet Union provided to many emerging economies, rapidly disappeared as the twenty first century came into view.

For the twenty first century, the narrative has shifted significantly.  Individualism, nationalism and xenophobia are gaining the upper hand.  The internationalism and co-operation between people’s, which forms the basis of a socialist world view, has been appropriated in a diluted form by the leaders of the EU, and those in the UK Remain camp, who see the European Union as an internationalist project.  As internationalism goes, it is a pale shadow.  There are those on the Left shedding more tears for the prospect of leaving the EU than they ever did for the defeat of the Soviet Union, an event that many of them applauded.

Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, and all of the associated ills the Remainers wring their hands over, are simply the sound of chickens coming home to roost.  Capitalism will always be inexorable in its efforts to defeat socialism and socialist ideas.  In the process it will fight battles within its own boundaries as competing powers struggle to gain the upper hand and dominate markets.  The process is endemic; capitalism is inherently competitive.  To believe that the European Union, or any other coalition or capitalist alliance, could last forever is nothing short of foolhardy.

Unless we cut off its head, the snake will eat itself.  There is no alternative but to go back to basics and renew the struggle to bring the people’s of the world together, not just the leaders of their respective nations.  Until that becomes a realistic prospect, Brexit is neither here nor there.  It is certainly not the cause of the world’s ills.

 

Le Pen in Russia – quel surprise?

27th March 2017

Russian President Putin shakes hands with French far-right party leader Le Pen during their meeting in MoscowPhoto: Marine Le Pen meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin

While the UK media has been tying itself in knots over the meaning of Brexit, and the likely consequences of EU departure, far more sinister developments have been taking place.  The visit to Russia of Marine Le Pen, Front National candidate in the French presidential election, was greeted with howls of outrage by some sections of the media.  Quite why a meeting of right wing nationalists should be a cause of such outrage is an interesting issue, given that the ascendancy in Downing Street, the White House and Berlin confirms that this is the political direction of travel in the West at present.

Following the accusations of Russian interference in the US presidential election, currently being investigated by the National Security Agency, the meeting of Putin and Le Pen is seen as an attempt to influence French voters.  It is remarkable that, even in the post-Soviet era, the West’s fear of Russian capacity to undermine liberal democracy runs as deep as ever.  In Soviet times the view was that the illusion of Western democracy would buckle under the weight of its own contradictions.  That is has, for the time being, proved to be more resilient than anticipated is a tragedy of historic proportions.

However, having dispensed with the ‘Soviet threat’ the West does not seem capable of settling with the monster it has created in the form of post-Soviet Russia.  Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the West, having finally found the means to give the monster life, cannot exert sufficient control over it.  It turns out to have a mind of its own.  Fortunately, the requirement to have an external bogeyman, against which we all unite, runs as deep as ever and Putin’s Russia is routinely characterised as being as grey, drab and anti-democratic as the picture painted of the Soviet period.

While al-Qaeda, Isis, Iran, North Korea and the Syrian government have all been in contention for the public enemy number one accolade recently,  the Russians still occupy a special place in the Western shop of horrors, due to their nuclear capability, economic strength and latent anti-communism in the West.  None of which prevents Russians from buying up national newspapers, premier league football teams or half of London but then, in the capitalist world, business is business.

Putin’s take on the meeting with Le Pen is interesting, as reported by the international news agency, Reuters,

“We attach great importance to our relations with France, but at the same time we try to maintain equal relations both with the current authorities and with representatives of the opposition,” Putin told Le Pen at their meeting.

“We do not want to influence events in any way, but we reserve the right to talk to representatives of all the country’s political forces, just as our partners in Europe and the United States do.”

No doubt Putin was being just a bit disingenuous in suggesting that “we do not want to influence events in any way” but more interesting still was his assertion that Russia wants to behave “just as our partners in Europe and the United States do.”

There can be little doubt that Putin’s “partners” in Europe and the United States behave in ways designed to “influence events” in a whole range of scenarios across the globe.  Each is locked in a battle to gain the upper hand in a renewed international economic order.  Any prospect that alliances can change and that influence can be shifted will be taken.  This will be no less the case in the actions of the West to undermine the government of Ukraine, than it will be in the case of Putin lending tacit support to Le Pen, as a lever to de-stabilise the European Union.

With Trump in the White House, Putin in the Kremlin and even the prospect of Marine Le Pen in the Elysee Palace, a dangerous new world order is shaping up.  With or without Brexit, the European Union is too weak and divided to put up a great deal of resistance, even if it was inclined to.

The liberal UK press has characterised the moment when article 50 is triggered as Black Wednesday, a moment when,

“…the UK will throw into jeopardy the achievements of 60 years of unparalleled European peace, security and prosperity from which it has greatly benefitted.  And for what?”  (The Observer 26.03.17)

For much of that time the (West) German economy was supported by the United States as a bulwark against East Germany.  West Germany had to fulfil its role as capitalism’s shop window.  The people’s of the former Yugoslavia will hardly subscribe to the glossy brochure version of peace.  Nor will those who have struggled for a united Ireland against UK military and economic occupation.  It was not until the mid seventies that Spain, Portugal and Greece emerged from fascist or military rule  to become the poor economies of Europe, routinely castigated as ‘failing’ by other EU members.

Having supported NATO intervention to undermine Syria, the European Union does all it can to keep the refugees it has created from its door.  The EU is no paragon and never was.  It is not even the best we can do.  The sooner the people of Europe can unite around their class interests for peace, jobs, homes and health care the sooner they can extend their hands to the rest of the world.  Trump, Putin and Le Pen, for all of their so-called populism, will not do that.  Sadly, neither will hanging on to the sinking ship of the EU.

 

Tory budget not a barrel of laughs

18th March 2017

Budget2017

 Photo: UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Chancellor Philip Hammond find amusement in a dire budget

It is ironic that UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, chose International Women’s Day, 8th March to deliver a budget that is likely to hit women harder than any other section of the population.  The overall impact upon working families was to leave them, on average, £1,400 a year worse off.  The reality is that for many, the family budget is managed by women, so the impact will be significant.  As primary carers in many family situations women will also bear the brunt of the underfunding of the NHS and the spiraling crisis in adult social care.

Many women are also among the 2.5 million self-employed people who were to be hit by the Chancellor’s proposed rise in national insurance contributions.  However, this is one effect of the budget which will not be of concern as, just a week after being announced, it was scrapped.  The collective outrage of the Tory press, ex-Chancellor Lord Lamont and pressure from the Labour front bench all added up to one of the fastest climb downs in budget history.  At the beginning of Prime Minister’s Questions on 15th March, Prime Minister, Theresa May, confirmed that the planned national insurance increases had been scrapped.

Hammond had announced his humiliation in a letter to Tory MPs stating,

“It is very important both to me and the Prime Minister that we are compliant not just with the letter, but also the spirit of the commitments that were made.  In the light of what has emerged as a clear view among colleagues and a significant section of the public, I have decided not to proceed with the Class 4 national insurance contributions (NICs) set out in the budget.”

Characterised as a tax on “white van man”, seen as natural Tory voters, the NIC backdown was a far easier concession than taking the trouble to address the structural crises in both the NHS and local government, which have been brought on by the enforced austerity agenda of the past decade.

In financial terms the £2bn over four years, which would have been raised by the NIC increase, is not a major dent in the economy.  Hammond, assuming he remains in post, will be able to paper over the cracks.  Redirecting some of the estimated £70bn worth of tax breaks, which the wealthiest and big business will enjoy, may be a start.

Politically however, having the centre blown out of your first budget does not augur well for the wider perception of Hammond’s competence, by either his own side or the opposition.  As the week progressed though Hammond was quickly becoming the least of the Tories worries.  Barely had the Queen filled her pen to give Royal Assent to the government’s Brexit Bill when Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, weighed in with an announcement of plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

May’s response has been to state that “now is not the time” for a re-run of the 2014 vote and that, a further referendum will not be considered until after the UK has left the European Union.  Sturgeon described the government position as a “democratic outrage”, going on to suggest that,

“History may look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the Union was sealed.”

Sturgeon is always quick to spot an opportunity to write herself into the history books.  The prospect of Brexit, argues Sturgeon, materially changes the basis upon which the 2014 referendum was conducted.  With Scotland having voted against leaving the EU in 2016 it should not now be forced to do so.

That Sturgeon is a dyed in the wool nationalist is in no doubt and something that she would not deny.  Quite what the advantages are for the Scottish people in trading an unequal union with the United Kingdom, for an equally imbalanced union within the European Union, is not clear however.  The smaller economies within the EU just about keep their heads above water, Greece, Portugal and Ireland being prime examples.  Even bigger economies such Spain and Italy struggle.  Why Scotland would fare better is anyone’s guess.

The UK is as much a fiction as the EU.  Both are based upon and run in the interests of their respective banks and corporations.  The six counties of Northern Ireland have over the years been compelled to be a part of the UK, through a combination of military and economic force.  The Act of Union of 1707 saw the Scots brought into line at the barrel of a musket.

Scottish independence is not the real issue.  Being inside or outside the EU will not make any difference to the Scottish working class if they are under the thumb of the European Central Bank rather than the Bank of England.  Labour taking a harder line on resurrecting class politics, rather than the politics of nationalism in Scotland, would be a start.

Finally, to round off a week of headaches for the Tories, former Chancellor George Osborne was unveiled as the new editor of the London Evening Standard.

As the erstwhile architect of austerity, Osborne is clearly not one for swallowing his own medicine.  On top of his £75k+ salary for being MP for Tatton in Cheshire, Osborne works one day a week for the world’s biggest investment fund, BlackRock, for a cool £640k per annum.  Speaking engagements last year netted Osborne a further £800k.  There is also a £120k per annum stipend from a US thinktank.

It is not clear how much the Evening Standard job will pay but Osborne has until May to negotiate, when he takes up his post.  It is hard to see how he will make ends meet!  Perhaps some advice from working women running family budgets with £1,400 per annum less than they previously had might come in handy.

Death in al Ghayil

12th March 2017

Women and Children in Yemeni Village Recall Horror of Trump’s “Highly Successful” SEAL Raid

Iona Craig

March 9 2017, 2:00 p.m.

 Ghayil

Photo: The village of al Ghayil in Yemen where U.S. Navy SEALs, attack helicopters, and drones launched an operation on January 29, 2017.

 

On January 29, 5-year-old Sinan al Ameri was asleep with his mother, his aunt, and 12 other children in a one-room stone hut typical of poor rural villages in the highlands of Yemen.  A little after 1 a.m., the women and children awoke to the sound of a gunfight erupting a few hundred feet away.  Roughly 30 members of Navy SEAL Team 6 were storming the eastern hillside of the remote settlement.

According to residents of the village of al Ghayil, in Yemen’s al Bayda province, the first to die in the assault was 13-year-old Nasser al Dhahab.  The house of his uncle, Sheikh Abdulraouf al Dhahab, and the building behind it, the home of 65-year-old Abdallah al Ameri and his son Mohammed al Ameri, 38, appeared to be the targets of the U.S. forces, who called in air support as they were pinned down in a nearly hourlong firefight.

With the SEALs taking heavy fire on the lower slopes, attack helicopters swept over the hillside hamlet above.  In what seemed to be blind panic, the gunships bombarded the entire village, striking more than a dozen buildings, razing stone dwellings where families slept, and wiping out more than 120 goats, sheep, and donkeys.

Three projectiles tore through the straw and timber roof of the home where Sinan slept. Cowering in a corner, Sinan’s mother, 30-year-old Fatim Saleh Mohsen, decided to flee the bombardment. Grabbing her 18-month-old son and ushering her terrified children into the narrow outdoor passageway between the tightly packed dwellings, she headed into the open.  Over a week later, Sinan’s aunt Nadr al Ameri wept as she stood in the same room and recalled watching her sister run out the door into the darkness.

Nesma al Ameri, an elderly village matriarch who lost four family members in the raid, described how the attack helicopters began firing down on anything that moved. As she recounted the horror of what happened, Sinan tapped her on the arm.  “No, no. The bullets were coming from behind,” the 5-year-old insisted, interrupting to demonstrate how he was shot at and his mother gunned down as they ran for their lives.  “From here to here,” Sinan said, putting two fingers to the back of his head and drawing an invisible line to illustrate the direction of the bullet exiting her forehead. His mother fell to the ground next to him, still clutching his baby brother in her arms.  Sinan kept running.

His mother’s body was found in the early light of dawn, the front of her head split open.  The baby was wounded but alive.  Sinan’s mother was one of at least six women killed in the raid, the first counterterrorism operation of the Trump administration, which also left 10 children under the age of 13 dead.  “She was hit by the plane.  The American plane,” explained Sinan.  “She’s in heaven now,” he added with a shy smile, seemingly unaware of the enormity of what he had witnessed or, as yet, the impact of his loss.  “Dog Trump,” declared Nesma, turning to the other women in the room for agreement.  “Yes, the dog Trump,” they agreed.

According to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, the al Ghayil raid “was a very, very well thought out and executed effort,” planning for which began under the Obama administration back in November 2016.  Although Ned Price, former National Security Council spokesperson, and Colin Kahl, the national security adviser under Vice President Biden, challenged Spicer’s account, what is agreed upon is that Trump gave the final green light over dinner at the White House on January 25. According to two people with direct knowledge, the White House did not notify the U.S. ambassador to Yemen in advance of the operation.

The Intercept’s reporting from al Ghayil in the aftermath of the raid and the eyewitness accounts provided by residents, as well as information from current and former military officials, challenge many of the Trump administration’s key claims about the “highly successful” operation, from the description of an assault on a fortified compound — there are no compounds or walled-off houses in the village — to the “large amounts of vital intelligence” the president said were collected.

According to a current U.S. special operations adviser and a former senior special operations officer, it was not intelligence the Pentagon was after but a key member of al Qaeda. The raid was launched in an effort to capture or kill Qassim al Rimi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the special operations adviser, who asked to remain anonymous because details behind the raid are classified.

Villagers interviewed by The Intercept rejected claims that al Rimi was present in al Ghayil, although one resident described seeing an unfamiliar black SUV arriving in the village hours before the raid.  Six days after the operation, AQAP media channels released an audio statement from al Rimi, who mocked President Trump and the raid.  The White House and the military have denied that the AQAP leader was the target of the mission, insisting the SEALs were sent in to capture electronic devices and material to be used for intelligence gathering.  A spokesperson for CENTCOM told The Intercept the military has not yet determined whether al Rimi was in al Ghayil when the SEALs arrived.

Although some details about the mission remain unclear, the account that has emerged suggests the Trump White House is breaking with Obama administration policies that were intended to limit civilian casualties.  The change — if permanent — would increase the likelihood of civilian deaths in so-called capture or kill missions like the January 29 raid.

To read the full text of this report go to

https://theintercept.com/2017/03/09/women-and-children-in-yemeni-village-recall-horror-of-trumps-highly-successful-seal-raid/

Anti trade union lies become law

6th March 2017

TUACT

The press release issued by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 1st March 2017, announcing the implementation of the Trade Union Act, was breathtaking in its mendacity.  The title alone was jaw dropping in claiming that “measures coming into force today will protect millions of people from the effects of undemocratic strike action.”

To quote further from the Department’s view of the world,

“The Act will ensure that if strikes do go ahead it will only be as a result of a clear democratic decision from union members thanks to the introduction of tougher ballot thresholds.

From today, fresh ballots will have to achieve at least a 50% turnout of eligible union members, with a majority voting in favour of strike action.  In important public services – including in the health, education and transport sectors – an additional threshold of 40% of support from all eligible members must be met for action to be legal.”

The government determination of “important public services” includes:-

Ambulance services

A&E, hospital high dependency units, intensive care, emergency hospital psychiatric services, emergency hospital obstetric and midwifery services

firefighters and fire control telephone operators

London bus workers

train workers

air traffic control workers

airport security

teachers and head teachers (except in private schools!)

Border Force staff

Notice of industrial action to the employer will double from 7 to 14 days, unless the employer agrees to 7 day’s notice.  Ballot mandates will only last for 6 months, or 9 months if the employer agrees.  After that point a new ballot will be required.  The current situation where industrial action must begin within 4-8 weeks of the ballot but after which further action can be taken at any date as long as the dispute is live, will no longer apply.  A picket supervisor must be appointed and must be identifiable and must provide contact details to the police if requested.

The Act also contains threats to “check off”, where employers deduct union subs directly through the payroll, and union facility time.

Public sector employers will be required to publish information about facility time, for example, the amount of time spent on paid time off for union duties etc.  However, this will need further regulations before it is introduced.  The Act also allows for future regulations that limit the amount and cost of facility time for a particular employer.

Similarly public sector employers will only be able to make check off deductions if the worker can pay their subscriptions by other means, such as direct debit, and the union pays towards the employers’ costs.  Implementation of this will be delayed for 12 months.

All this amounts to a threat to the ability of unions to hold especially large scale national strikes covering 10,000s let alone 100,000 workers such as schools or the health service.  It will allow employers more time to prepare in advance of strikes to reduce their impact.

The government claim that the Act is necessary in order to protect the public from ‘undemocratic’ practices in trade unions.  The same thresholds however will not apply to elections to Parliament or the election of local councillors, where a simple majority of those voting, however low the turnout, is required to become an MP or local councillor.

For elections to the European Parliament where a system of proportional representation is applied, there will be no requirement to be elected by a 50% turnout of eligible voters, in order to protect the public from the possibility of the effects of your undemocratic practice.

Strike action can cause mayhem and disruption for the public, that is inevitable.  Trade unions do not take strike action lightly however.  It is always a last resort, when negotiations have failed and employers are unwilling to make any concessions.  The press will always blame the workforce, whether it is junior doctors, airport staff or public sector workers.  The Tories will always side with the employer, under the guise of siding with the public.

The Tory trade union legislation enacted since the 1980’s has had the single objective of constraining the rights of workers and strengthening the hand of the employer.  The present Trade Union Act is no different.  Opposition so far has not prevented the Act becoming law.  With increasing pressure upon workers in a range of sectors, the Act may well be tested over the next couple of years.  When it is, mobilising support for workers under attack from this vicious anti union legislation will be vital.