Long Island U: An Old For-Profit School Passing as a Private University


Across the street from Brooklyn landmark Junior’s, faculty and students from Long Island University (LIU) are waging a battle with the administration in the latest labor dispute rocking higher education in the United States. Newspapers from The Guardian to New York Times have reported that administrators, facing declining enrollments and revenue, took the unprecedented step of locking out faculty, preempting an anticipated strike over contract negotiations. As soon as the last contract expired on August 31, professors found they had been cut off from their health insurance and denied access to email, and that old syllabi had been posted for their courses.

The draconian measures of the administration have resulted in support for the faculty from public authorities, other unions, and students. The New York City public advocate, Letitia James, sent LIU President Kimberly Cline a letter advising her to sign contracts with all four unions at the institution and warning her that hiring replacement workers for faculty “will only exacerbate your troubled relationship with labor in New York City.”

Yet there is a bigger lesson here than a union struggle: this is what happens when an institution of higher learning passing for a private university is really a for-profit institution. All the reporting on the LIU debacle has omitted to mention this fact, interpreting the university’s claim to be “private” to mean the same as it does when nonprofit liberal arts colleges and universities claim to be “private” universities.

But LIU’s “private” should be clarified to mean “private for-profit”. While most for-profit colleges are comparatively recent, LIU was founded in 1926. A university that makes 90% of its profit from student tuition has a business model no different from the defunct Trump or Phoenix U. LIU’s masquerading as a private university is the triumph of marketing over reason, and the complicity of all involved – administration, faculty, and alumni – in the cover up of this reality.  It has blown up because the demand for profit is unsustainable against the academic standards that should in theory govern an institution of higher education.

Is it any wonder, then, that the university leadership had prepared for the lockout by hiring temporary instructors, many of them unqualified for the courses they were assigned to teach? They also told administrators they had to teach courses in addition to their other duties or face being terminated. As Emily Drabinski, the coordinator of library instruction and secretary of the faculty union, told The Nation: “I think this administration thinks it doesn’t matter who’s teaching in the classroom. I think they think that teaching and learning is about a production of commodities, that it’s about delivering something to students, filling a student with learning that they will then go out and use to make money, and that’s not what higher education is about.”

There are about 8,000 students at LIU taught by about 250 full-time faculty and about two hundred adjunct professors. Under the new contract, the adjuncts, who are paid by the number of courses taught, would have their teaching load reduced from 12 to nine credit hours. Pay for office hours would be eliminated, and new hires would be paid less under a two-tier wage system.

The Atlantic reported that Arthur Kimmel, an adjunct at LIU for over 20 years, would have his income cut by 30 to 35 percent. “That’s because, in addition to the $1,800 or so per course he teaches, he has received pay for having office hours and money from an adjunct- benefits trust fund to help defray the cost of health insurance. Kimmel says the university’s proposal would eliminate the adjunct- benefits trust fund and payments for office hours, among other cuts. The new proposal would also decrease the number of credit hours he could teach, and establishes a two-tier system for adjuncts so that new employees would receive less than Kimmel does.”

Many of the tenured faculty’s salaries are 20 percent lower than their colleagues at LIU’s C.W. Post campus in Nassau County, and this is a sticking point in the contract negotiations. Brooklyn professors worry that their campus, which serves more black, Latino and low-income students than C.W. Post, is undervalued by the administration. Tuition is the same at both campuses—$34,352 per year.

The administration is also proposing a new post-tenure review process that would allow administrators more control over academic standards. On Tuesday, tenured faculty voted 226 to 10 to reject the proposed contract, and the faculty senate voiced their support for a vote of no confidence in Cline. They rallied outside the Brooklyn campus with a giant inflatable rat as classes began on Wednesday September 7, taught by non-union members. On Thursday hundreds of students walked out to protest the lockout.

Students are told they will get high quality education that will qualify them for high-paying jobs, but professors are pressured to graduate struggling students in order to keep the tuition money rolling in. And while some of those who graduate from LIU find jobs in pharmacy and healthcare, two fields where the institution has had success in placing its graduates, only 26% of its student body manages to graduate at all. This means that 74% of students take on loans for a degree they will never finish. The administration and the faculty have long known this, but still persist in calling LIU a “private” university.

Students are encouraged to think of education as a commodity by LIU’s efforts to market itself as a private university. Hakim Sulaimani, a psychology major, is protesting the lockout because, he says, “You expect to get what you’re paying for. You’re paying upwards of 40 grand for a certain level of education and you’re expecting a quality education. I selected certain professors because they’re very passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects. I expect to be taught by the guy I signed up for and not some guy who just popped up two weeks ago.”

“We aren’t planning to go back to class at all until our professors are back,” said Sharda Mohammed, 18, a sophomore studying philosophy. “Today I walked into my English class and the guy gave us a syllabus and told us we could leave. He couldn’t even pronounce the names of the books. They are charging us full tuition for this, and they’re not teaching us,” she added.

While students feel rightly cheated, the bigger lesson is that for profit institutions, even older ones like LIU, are incompatible with the goals of higher education. The LIU faculty deserves support, but they should abandon their collusion with the administration in branding LIU as a “private” university. The administration has exposed what drives LIU. It is not a love for higher learning, its faculty, or its students. It is the same thing that drove the now defunct Trump U: greed.

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Book Review: Richard Seymour’s “Corbyn”


Richard Seymour, the veteran “Lenin’s Tomb” blogger, has put together a highly readable account of Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the British Labour party. But while he includes a lot of information about the unsuccessful establishment campaign to prevent this from ever happening, he does not give the same attention to what it was that motivated long-time and newly-joined party members to vote overwhelmingly for Corbyn’s candidacy.

He was an unlikely contender for Labour leader. But, Seymour notes, underneath the political surface “something was already stirring.” The constituency nomination results “suggested that a long dormant Left … had reanimated and fused with a younger generation radicalised through participation in social movements and single-issue campaigns.” The panicked attempts of the right working through the media to warn of disastrous consequences for the party if Corbyn was elected – another “Project Fear” along the lines of the campaign against the “Yes” vote on Scottish independence – only increased his popularity.

However, Seymour gives greater weight to the changed role of trade union leaders than to a radicalized membership. “Corbyn won,” he says, “because the Labour Party was weak, and the traditionally dominant ideologies, and the normally effective modes of political control, had broken down. At the core of this was the degeneration of the union link, which had been hacked away at over years, with the result that the traditionally cautious union bureaucracies seized on a drastic opportunity to reverse their losses.”

His victory, then, is evidence “not of the power of the Left but of the enervation of the Labour Party and of the traditional political centre.” In the context of the decline of parliamentary legitimacy, this means that the prospects for the future of Corbynism are not bright: “we have to consider it as a moment in the degeneration of Labourism. It is the culmination of a series of defeats for a form of political organisation that seems to be inadequate in today’s world. And it is probably headed for a defeat of its own.”

Seymour’s pessimism is not without justification, but only if it is accepted that the Labour party must remain on the Westminster model and exists only to get enough MPs elected to form a government – in other words, excluding changes outside the purely political sphere, including possible social changes among voters. He considers the failed attempts to launch minority left parties like Respect and Left Unity, doomed by the “demoralization and defeat of the Labour left,” to indicate the lack of public support for radical socialist policies, and suggests that party activists follow an alternative strategy of grassroots campaigning to change popular consciousness.

Locating Corbyn’s base in the metropolitan left, and writing before the Brexit vote, he presciently points out the electoral importance of provincial areas where the concerns of the urban working class are not as visible, where there is “a sense of neglect and distance from Westminster” and where social attitudes are less progressive, but he doesn’t mention the deep problems of deindustrialization and unemployment in most of these areas.

Seymour’s brief account of Labour history makes the victory of the bureaucracy seem inevitable. Through the twentieth century, without exception, he writes, “Labour has cleaved to its constitutionalist, electoral roots. It has disowned the radicalism of its members and union affiliates more often than it has allowed them expression. … Insofar as it was a coalition between organized labour, socialists and liberals, it has been the union moderates, Fabians and professional liberals who have usually been dominant.” The left-wing groupings within Labour are “hardly any match for the immense, lordly dominion of the parliamentary party and the electoral-professional caste running daily party life.”

Even his neat characterization of the New Labour project as one that reduced the membership to largely passive supporters and made the “organized core” a professional stratum controlling the party apparatus tends to emphasize the power of the right.

Seymour does not hold out much hope for the future of Corbyn supporters in the Labour party. “It seems likely that Corbyn’s leadership will provide a temporary and much-needed space for the radical Left, wherein it can begin the work of regrouping and re-deploying its scattered forces. … However, it seems likely that for the great majority of the newest recruits, Labour is a temporary home. The political space for left-wing activists to operate effectively is likely to be closed before too long. … In the final analysis, Corbynism will struggle to outrun the limits of Labourism. And it is those limits, above all, which have brought us to this impasse.”

While Seymour’s strength is political analysis, confining himself to political categories is also his weakness. He gives a good account of the genesis of the crisis of social democracy in its inability to access an economic surplus to redistribute, but when it comes to historical change his narrative is couched in terms like “soft left”, “electoral winds”, “liberal reformers,” and so on.

He quotes Jo, a former secondary-school teacher, who attended one of Corbyn’s election meetings in Plymouth: “He’s saying things in a way that people can understand,” she said. “He says things that aren’t patronising, that are talking to working people, and that feel like what the grassroots of this party is all about.” But he doesn’t make enough of this response to Corbyn’s philosophy. When Corbyn describes socialism as a type of society where “we each care for all, everybody caring for everybody else,” he appeals to a strongly-held popular desire for a social safety net that rejects the neoliberal attitudes of New Labour and seeks to restore collectivist priorities like the NHS and social services.

However, Seymour assigns agency in Corbyn’s election to “a core of activists” savvy in social media, minimizing that of Labour’s membership in rejecting the Blairite elite – and also of the public who became new members in the course of Corbyn’s campaign. What radicalized them was the effects of Tory austerity measures on people’s everyday lives and the failure of the Labour establishment to oppose them. When large numbers of previously nonpolitical people take political action together, that is a strong indication of some kind of social movement.

As Seymour shows, the election of Corbyn means that the conditions that enabled the Labour bureaucracy to wield social power – including the viability of class compromise and the passive support of Labour members – have changed. Unfortunately he does not probe far enough under the political surface to analyze in more detail exactly why Labour supporters respond so strongly to Corbyn’s politics.

Richard Seymour, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics, Verso 2016

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Why Voting to Stop Trump Is the Only Choice in 2016


After July’s conventions that anointed Hillary Clinton as Democratic presidential candidate and transformed the Republicans into the Archie Bunker party, the left is engaged in heated discussions about its orientation to November’s election.

Jill Stein of the Green party claimed that voting for her party was “saying no to the lesser evil and yes to the greater good.” This may sound good as a slogan, but it makes voting an individual moral choice, replicating the reduction of society to a collection of individuals that is the hallmark of a neoliberal, consumer-choice world.

Is there a mass movement today that is motivated by the progressive policies of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein? While there is a pervasive populist sentiment that has a distorted reflection in the Republican and Democratic parties, political anti-corporatism is concentrated among white liberals. What is certainly going on is an awakening of minorities to their social strength, and at this historical moment among Native, African and Latino Americans there is an overwhelming hostility to a potential Trump presidency. The left is in danger of isolating itself from this movement if it insists on its moral purity.

Electoral activity is no more than a strategic choice in the course of building a wider movement.  In this specific instance, while voting for the Greens in a state like Massachusetts will not affect the overall result, in a state like Michigan it could be crucial. The first-past-the-post electoral system limits the number of viable parties to two, making a vote for the Greens a symbolic gesture at best, and a spoiler at worst.

There are practical effects from voting, as Noam Chomsky points out, whether or not it offends someone’s individual conscience. He challenges the assumption “that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences … The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.” He recalls the ultra-left faction of the peace movement minimizing the dangers of a Nixon presidency in 1968, resulting in “six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left.”

A Trump presidency has a high probability of inflicting much greater suffering on marginalized and already oppressed populations than a Clinton administration, he considers; it would even strengthen the elite within the Democratic party because “far right victories not only impose terrible suffering on the most vulnerable segments of society but also function as a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment center, which, now in opposition can posture as the ‘reasonable’ alternative.” As far as the “lesser evil” argument goes, he says “this sort of cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing.”

Stein would argue that voting Green is a step in the creation of an independent third party, or as Socialist Alternative suggests, a “new mass party of the 99 percent.” But the history of the US shows that for an independent party to be established, it has first of all to be based on a real movement within society, closely connected with that movement, not outside of it. Socialist Alternative’s activities at the Democratic convention were directed at a political minority, organizing a highly visible walkout and encouraging Sanders supporters who came with them to join the Greens. They may have a limited success with a number of them, but the majority of Sanderistas at the DNC intend to stay within the party and not leave the field open to the right.

Members of the Sanders delegations at the DNC told In These Times: “Most delegates weren’t Bernie-or-Bust. We all understand that, ultimately, Trump needs to be defeated, and that—especially in swing states—you need to support Clinton.”  “Bernie’s not the ceiling of what we can achieve in the Democratic Party. He’s the floor … In the coming years there’s a lot of space for us to fight, both within and outside the Democratic Party. I don’t think all political change is going to happen in the Democratic Party. It’s just one field of battle.” “I think the Democratic Party is a battleground. You can either play on it to win, or you can abandon it to the enemy. And I would rather play on it to win.”

Sanders was the figurehead of a political movement that was oriented to restoring the New Deal philosophy of earlier Democratic administrations. Likewise Trump is the figurehead of a white backlash against the growing status of minorities while their own economic prospects slump. Both express an anti-establishment sentiment in society, but in different partisan ways.  Trump’s supporters are going to vote for him no matter what he may say. That is because their vote is not based on rational choice but on desperation – the major parties have ignored the plight of the working class in the deindustrialized Rust Belt and Trump is the only one speaking to them – and that could be a key issue in the mid-West.

Conservative author J.D. Vance explained: “What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by.  Heroin addiction is rampant.  In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes.  The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a ‘stepdad’ only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit … And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops. … Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears.  He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas.  His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.  He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.”

The Democratic strategy after their convention is to turn to disaffected middle-class Republicans rather than try to win over the white working class. But its plight is not something that can be written off as a political manifestation of right-wing extremism that can be countered by a left policy, as Stein does. There is a real social crisis here that requires the agency of the oppressed themselves to resolve. A radical, progressive agenda imposed from outside without any meaningful means of achieving it is not going to impress these people because they have been patronized and ignored for so long.

This movement is one driven by economic collapse and complete loss of confidence in the ruling elite. Widespread police abuse legitimized by the “broken windows” and “zero-tolerance” philosophies has undermined state legitimacy, and Black and Hispanic communities have begun to defend themselves; white workers are being written off and this is driving them into Trump’s arms. Clinton is certainly not the answer to these problems, but it will be infinitely easier to campaign on them under her presidency than under Trump’s. He will empower the police and security forces to do more than put protesters on trial: he will arm them to imprison and assassinate his critics.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, latino americans, populism, Uncategorized

To White American Progressives: Vote Down Trump with the Rest of America


The Republican and Democratic party conventions held in July both staged a virtual political reality well removed from what is happening in America’s communities. The Democrats produced a carefully choreographed appearance of unity that masked deep divisions between its establishment and Sanders-inspired delegates. The Trump-dominated Republican convention appealed to profound dissatisfaction with the country’s prospects, but stoked the demonization of immigrants to protect the billionaires who are actually responsible for outsourcing jobs.

Meanwhile, state legitimacy is dissolving because of unconstrained shootings of non-white Americans by trigger-happy police.

Clinton’s acceptance speech showed clear signs of the influence of Sanders’ campaign, denouncing factory closings, economic inequality, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and money in politics; but while her speechwriters are attuned to the outcome of the primaries, they are insensitive to the disenchantment of many Americans with the political establishment. For these people, contrary to her message, America is not great. There is a pervasive anti-establishment populist movement in society based on a decline in middle-class jobs and living standards – above all, on a perception that there is no prospect of a better future – that has produced a fundamental shift in the relation between the political elite and the public.

This has created a dangerous desire for a powerful leader who will fix everything. The Associated Press reported: “After a recent Trump rally in West Virginia, countless news articles and academics dismissed Trump’s pledge to bring back coal as impossible, tied to market forces and geology. Chuck Keeney, a professor of political science and history at Southern Community College in Logan, often hears his students dismiss the criticism as the establishment, the very machine that ignored them for so long, beating up on Trump now, too. ‘What they see in their minds is the elite that looks down on them, mocks them, makes fun of them, thinks they’re stupid,’ Keeney said. ‘They see all those establishment groups ganging up on Donald Trump and that makes them root for him more’.”

Trump has leveraged the reaction against globalization and the rejection of political authority to take over the Republican party. Although his convention speeches were politically chaotic, they nevertheless succeeded in convincing his base that he could be president. Moreover, it articulated the appeal of his authoritarian rhetoric to the security forces and the rightwing NRA – not to mention the KKK.

A star speaker at the Republican convention was an African American police officer who denounced the Black Lives Matter movement. Milwaukee county sheriff David A. Clarke told the delegates: “What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest and violate the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.”

This is the true danger of Trumpism – its affinity with the authoritarianism of repressive state agencies built up under Bush and Obama. Max Blumenthal commented: “Clarke opened with what was perhaps the most successful applause line of the evening: ‘Ladies and gentleman, I would like to make one thing very clear: Blue lives matter in America!’ … Invoked on the national stage by culture war icons like Sheriff Clarke, Blue Lives Matter has become an integral component of the Republican base. It is not only a catch-all for opposition to Black Lives Matter and virtually any effort to spur police reform, but also a brand that conveys the racial backlash sensibility cultivated by the Trump campaign.”

The Democrats began their convention with party organizers maneuvering to contain dissent from Sanders’ supporters, and ended with Obama and Hillary Clinton staking out the Republican territory of American exceptionalism to deliver a message of patriotic optimism. Their election strategy appears to be one of winning over moderate Republican voters disenchanted with Trump and to pivot away from the concessions made to Sanders’ representatives on the platform committee.

“America is already great. America is already strong,” insisted Obama in his convention speech. According to the New York Times, “Democrats sought to seize on the traditional core of Republican campaign messaging: America as a place of virtue, optimism and exceptionalism. … Democrats celebrated the country’s diversity, with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, the vice-presidential nominee, ladling on the Spanish.” It’s a welcome sign of the times – but, as Greg Grandin points out, while Kaine speaks Spanish to market the presidential candidate, he still supports “the policies of free trade and militarization that produced the poverty, the violence, and the immigration [from] Central America.” The party’s leaders are simply blind to the contradiction between their professed aims of social justice and their close connections to corporate financial interests.

Alternet reported that “for most of the 1,900 Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, the convention was a turbulent and trying affair. It began with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz being forced to resign a day before it opened, after WikiLeaks posted emails of aides plotting against Sanders, but then she was rewarded with a top appointment to the Clinton campaign. That didn’t just affirm their suspicions about DNC bias, but it more ominously signaled that the party and Clinton campaign didn’t care about them.” Luis Eric Aguilar, a delegate from Illinois, told Democracy Now: “The theme of the DNC was to unify the party, but the delegates for Hillary get there early, reserve seats in the front rows so it shows good to the media, and then they push us to the back. … They tried taking away these signs, the ‘No TPP’ signs. All the homemade signs were taken away from us. But that is taking away our freedom of speech.”

By day four of the convention, Sanders’ supporters were arguing passionately about what to do next. They had expected to have more of an opportunity to express their critique of Clinton, but found themselves being shut down. Melissa Michelson, a member of Sanders’ California delegation, told Alternet: “We kind of understand where Sanders is going. We understand that he doesn’t want Donald Trump to win. However, he also told us that the political revolution is about us, not him… A lot of us are going to start getting involved in local politics. … We’re still skeptical how things will work out with this new relationship, you know [with Sanders endorsing and planning to campaign against Trump]. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton and I will not vote for Donald Trump either.”

A different view was expressed by a Texas delegate, Fawaz S. Anwar. He said: “I’m scared that Trump’s going to win now. And now that Clinton is sagging behind Trump, the most misogynistic, sexist, sexist, racist person that the Republicans have ever nominated, Clinton is slipping up. I just—I don’t know how else to say it. But our democracy is in danger if Trump becomes president. I’m in agreement with Bernie. I’m going to vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.”

Now that Sanders activists have reached the limits of the Democratic nomination campaign, they face a decision about the presidential election. In a discussion between Robert Reich and Chris Hedges hosted by Democracy Now, Reich said he saw no alternative to supporting Clinton because under a Trump presidency there would be negative changes that would irrevocably worsen the structure of the country, including appointments to the Supreme Court. He suggested that it was still possible to build “a multiracial, multiethnic coalition of the bottom 90 percent that is ready to fight to get big money out of politics, for more equality, for a system that is not rigged against average working people, where there are not going to be all of these redistributions upward from those of us who have paychecks” in order to take back democracy.

Hedges, advocating a vote for Green party candidate Jill Stein, responded that corporate power has already seized all the levers of control and the Democratic party was identical to the Republicans in this respect. “We’ve got to break away from political personalities and understand and examine and critique the structures of power,” he said. Obama “has been as obsequious to Wall Street as the Bush administration. … I don’t think it makes any difference. The TPP is going to go through, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Endless war is going to be continued, whether it’s Trump or Clinton.”

However, the majority of Americans are not going to abstain in this election, nor vote for a third party. For African and Latino Americans this is not an academic debate. They will vote overwhelmingly for Clinton because a Trump presidency is literally life-threatening for them. It would give the police carte blanche to gun down minorities without cause and Trump the power to use state force to suppress political opposition. White liberals have the luxury of potentially abstaining or voting for a third party, but this implies walking away from a long-term fight within the ranks of the Democratic party, and within the communities outside it, in order to change its leadership. It means giving up the struggle before it has begun. The left cannot use its criticisms of Clinton to avoid going through the experience of voting down Trump with the rest of America.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, aggressive policing, Bernie Sanders, Chris Hedges, Democratic Party, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, political analysis, State legitimacy, Uncategorized, Xenophobia

Black Lives Matter: Pluralism in America Despite Dallas


Protests continued in major American cities over Wednesday’s police killing of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, both of which were recorded on video by witnesses. They continued despite the political backlash from the Republican right after the shooting of five policemen by a disturbed and apparently delusional African American individual during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. As a sign held by protesters in St. Paul said: “When 5 cops die it’s tragic. When a Black man dies, we need more evidence.”

Behind the mounting toll of police killings of black Americans is the authorities’ intensified fear of the public. Mass shootings enabled by the NRA’s stance against regulation of weapon ownership – as in Orlando only three weeks ago – has stoked this tension; combined with racial profiling it has produced extreme over-reactions to people of color suspected of possessing guns.

White Americans’ fear of demographic change and loss of political power is echoed within the police, where it has merged with the increased authoritarianism of security forces to create paranoia. Trump and all the coded Republican rhetoric before him taps into this sentiment and legitimizes it.

In Baton Rouge on Saturday, according to the Washington Post, “At least 200 protesters massed outside of police headquarters and gathered on streets, holding their arms in the air and chanting, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ One group of protesters joined in a song drawing back to protests generations earlier: ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Police – some in riot gear – moved in after ordering crowds to disperse.”

In St. Paul, the New York Times reported, demonstrators blocked a major highway for hours on Saturday night, after marching from the governor’s mansion “chanting refrains such as ‘We’re peaceful, y’all violent’ as the police urged them to leave. Officers struggled for more than four hours to disperse the crowd, at times deploying smoke and marking rounds in a standoff that stretched into early Sunday … Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said organizers scheduled [an earlier] march because ‘people are experiencing trauma after trauma after trauma as a result of what happened.’ Ms. Levy-Pounds said many African-Americans here had still been coming to terms with the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by the Minneapolis police in 2015 and the decision not to charge the officers involved.”

Baton Rouge activist Arthur Reed commented: “What we have here is acts of violence by the police department that is being passed down and all of them are being justified. That’s not just in Baton Rouge, that’s in America period. … what you see right here is that these communities are actually fed up with this. They are sick and tired of seeing this happen to their loved ones. And at the end of the day, we look at a backlash because we look at the violence that’s taking place in our community.”

On Thursday in Oakland, California, more than 1,000 people blocked an interstate for hours, hundreds more marched in Denver, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. More than 40 people were arrested amidst a massive march in New York City. One of the protesters told Democracy Now: “I’m sick of waking up and seeing that there’s another black man or person of color … killed or gunned down by the hands of law enforcement, or in police custody, and with no explanation. I can’t handle anymore. I woke up this morning, I checked my Instafeed, and I said, didn’t we just do this yesterday? … I’m not demanding that we get special treatment. I’m demanding that we get the treatment that every other person gets, especially white people.”

Hollywood personalities like Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams joined the denunciations. In a powerful speech at the Black Entertainment awards he said: “what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” Beyonce said in a message: “We’re going to stand up as a community and fight against anyone who believes that murder or any violent action by those who are sworn to protect us should consistently go unpunished.”

In downtown Dallas after the shootings dispersed the demonstration, “officers asked an African-American man wearing a bulletproof vest to walk toward them. The man slowly approached with his hands up, and a crowd of onlookers became angry and shouted and cursed at the police. An officer had his gun pointed at a black woman, and many in the crowd quickly began filming the scene with their cellphones. The tension eased as people in the crowd chanted, ‘Black lives matter’.”

The growing political assertiveness of African Americans and other minorities collides with the attempts of the police to enforce the racial and class hierarchy. The authoritarianism of the police affects all Americans, especially African, Latino and Native Americans. But the obvious racial dimension to the shootings undermines the assertion of legal color-blindness that is integral to sustaining white privilege.

The Black Lives Matter movement is giving political direction and cohesiveness to the protests. In Washington, DC, protesting outside the White House on Friday, student Jennifer Jones said: “I feel like we as a people should not go out and kill off police officers or cops who are killing off our people, because then we’re becoming them. I don’t want to become the oppressor. I don’t want to become the enemy. I don’t want to become the murderer.”

What people are reacting to is the fact that even when police killings are captured by witnesses on video, there are no legal sanctions on the officers involved. This sets the justice system and the public on a collision course. Justice has to be seen to be done: there must be convictions of police officers who kill suspects without cause.

Political commentator Josh Marshall questioned if these killings threatened America’s “communal and inter-communal bonds.” One of his readers pointed out, however, that the Yemeni-born Muslim man who owns the store outside which Alton Sterling was shot, who had recorded the killing on his cellphone, was held in high esteem in his largely African American neighborhood. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported: “Regular customer Tanisha Johnson said that in her experience, not every business owner is patient with his local clientele. But [Abdullah] Muflahi … cared enough about a regular to secure and distribute a recording that could be instrumental in helping authorities determine whether or not officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II are criminally liable in Sterling’s death. … ‘They’ve allowed me to become a part of this community, … and I wanted to stand for Alton,’ Muflahi said. ‘We just need to stick together — no matter what race we are, no matter where we are from’.”

This pluralistic sentiment is as much a part of American culture as nativist anxieties, and is the foundation for a movement to defeat Donald Trump in November’s presidential elections, much more powerful than the corporate commonplaces of Hillary Clinton.

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The Collapse of the Centre: Is Brexit a Disaster or an Opportunity for Labour?


The British political class – a uniquely inbred Oxbridge clique – is in turmoil after the result of the Brexit vote, and is now engaging in a mutual backstabbing that makes Game of Thrones look tame by comparison. However, despite its disorientation, the entire establishment across party lines is clear on one thing, and only one thing: Jeremy Corbyn should not be leader of the Labour party. Its political reflex is to hold him responsible for this disruption of the status quo.

Apart from around 40 MPs, Labour’s parliamentarians are closely tied to former leader Blair’s embrace of neoliberalism that was at the root of the party’s abandonment of the working class in the former industrial and mining areas. There is now the possibility of a split between the parliamentary wing and Labour’s membership, which wants to restore its social democratic orientation. It has this in common with much of the public, even when distorted by a nationalist perspective – the Brexiters’ slogan of more money for the NHS (which they immediately reneged on) was one of the popular drivers of the vote.

Corbyn is a symbol of a social democratic alternative to neoliberal austerity, although his voice was drowned out by the shrill claims and counter-claims of the Cameron-Johnson campaigns. He is still capable of uniting Brexiters and Remainers who want to acknowledge the misery piled up in the abandoned areas of much of England and Wales that had been ignored by the political elite. The vote gave an opportunity to the people living in those areas who felt disenfranchised to show their hostility to the political apparatus; many assumed their vote would not count and that Remain would carry the day simply because it was supported by the establishment.

Gary Younge commented: “If remain had won, we would already have returned to pretending that everything was carrying on just fine. Those people who have been forgotten would have stayed forgotten; those communities that have been abandoned would have stayed invisible to all but those who live in them. To insist that they will now suffer most ignores the fact that unless something had changed, they were going to suffer anyway. … For the last 15 years, governments and the press have stoked fears about whether British culture could withstand the integration of Muslims – of whom 70% voted for remain – when they should have been worried about how to integrate the white working class into the British economy. Brexit didn’t create these problems. It exposed them and will certainly make them worse.”

The referendum itself was inherently divisive, as Patrick Cockburn points out. “This is always the way with referenda on important issues: they make irreversible decisions, but they do so at a high political cost by excluding compromise between contending parties with deeply held opinions that they are not going to abandon on the day after the poll, regardless of who wins or loses. … The Remain camp thought they could win the vote by relentlessly emphasising the economic risks of leaving the EU, though the real danger is political rather than economic as a populist right is empowered with little idea of what it should do with that power.”

The influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe escaping poverty in their own countries has been taken advantage of by unscrupulous labour agencies and landlords to force down wage rates and jack up rents in various parts of Britain. But this is not unique to the UK; it exacerbates a trend seen throughout Europe. Servaas Storm, an economics professor at Delft University, comments: “Almost everywhere in the E.U. — as in Britain — there is a polarization of the income distribution into a large number of low-income households and a much smaller number of very rich, while the middle classes have shrunk. There is a segmentation of employment into low-wage, unprotected and precarious jobs, mostly in low-tech services, and high-wage and protected jobs in high-tech manufacturing, finance, legal services and government. … The massive social protests in France against the modernization of labour laws — newspeak for a reduction in the strength of French job-protection laws and social security in general — by the ‘socialist’ Hollande government illustrate the point: The systemic dismantling of worker protection in the name of cutting wage costs and improving unit-labour cost competitiveness will certainly increase job insecurity, employment precariousness, and inequality without any further macroeconomic benefits.”

UMass professor Richard Wolff explains: “A government, voted in by the French working class, a socialist government … pushed through a labor reform law which basically does everything that the employers in France could have dreamed for a president to do. … the newspapers are filled with spectacles of helmeted police being sent by a socialist government to beat the very people that put that government into office. And if anything were more clearly a sign of the collapse of what the very word socialism meant, as well as the collapse of conventional politics, it’s being acted out on the streets of Paris. … You’re seeing everywhere that the traditional, old, capitalist-maintaining center-left, center-right, is dissolving. And the polarization is the new issue on the horizon. It is surprising the old elites, but that’s really only a sign of how out of touch those governing elites have become …”

The parliamentary Labour party’s attempted coup to unseat Corbyn is another sign of how out of touch it is with the membership. Constituency activists have renewed demands for MP reselection in the event of another general election. Labour party member Dan Iles pointed out: “I believe Corbyn persuaded 60% of Labour’s supporters to vote remain because he didn’t ignore people’s concerns with the EU. By admitting that the EU is not without its faults and then demanding that we should stay in to reform it (from the left) he was able to bypass the binary claims of the two main referendum campaigns. People voted leave because they felt abandoned by politics and scared about immigration. These structural issues haven’t just appeared in the last nine months of Corbyn’s leadership. But I think many felt his defence of immigration and his determination to turn the debate towards austerity was refreshing at a time when the leave campaign was openly whipping up racism and xenophobia.”

UPDATE: David Graeber makes a relevant comment in the Guardian: “If the opposition to Jeremy Corbyn for the past nine months has been so fierce, and so bitter, it is because his existence as head of a major political party is an assault on the very notion that politics should be primarily about the personal qualities of politicians. … the Corbyn project is first and foremost to make the party a voice for social movements once again, dedicated to popular democracy (as trades unions themselves once were). … While one side effectively accuses him of refusing to play the demagogue during the Brexit debate, for the other, his insistence on treating the public as responsible adults was the quintessence of the ‘new kind of politics’ they wished to see.”

The Brexit campaign was always a dispute between factions of the Tory elite, neither of which were serious about the possibility of a Leave victory, meaning that there is no plan for disengaging from Europe. With all the criticism of Farage’s open racism, it has been forgotten that Cameron and Theresa May stoked nativism by imposing English language and income tests on new immigrants, a policy targeted at Middle Eastern refugees. Britain has never had a positive approach to cultural assimilation like the US does. It puts responsibility onto immigrants to somehow integrate themselves into the system.

While the media is fixated on British parliamentary politics, the vote is having major international repercussions, not least within Europe itself, because of the fragility and interconnectedness of the global economy. The Economist notes that the London financial industry could be in big trouble: “It thrives on the EU’s ‘passport’ rules, under which banks, asset managers and other financial firms in one member state may serve customers in the other 27 without setting up local operations. … In the run-up to the vote TheCityUK, a trade body that opposed Brexit, boasted that London had around 70% of the market for euro-denominated interest-rate derivatives, 90% of European prime brokerage (assisting hedge funds with trading) and more besides.”

Will the inevitable diminution of the City of London’s financial clout also lead to a weakening of its political influence? This is Labour’s opportunity: the first task of a Labour government independent of EU regulations should be to take control of capital movements and pump money into kick-starting manufacturing in regionally depressed economies. Corbyn supporters have plenty of policies they could be campaigning on to unite workers whose jobs have been outsourced with immigrants who would fight for a living wage.

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Brexit and the Miners Strike, Part Three: The Disorientation of the Left


As the consequences of the Brexit vote begin to sink in, the British political class are reeling in shock. Most commentators and even some politicians have realized that the vote reflects a catastrophic failure of government over many years to satisfy basic social and economic needs in former industrial areas – housing, jobs, decent wages, hope for future improvement – that has been distorted through the campaign rhetoric of immigration control.

The Guardian’s John Harris writes: “Brexit is the consequence of the economic bargain struck in the early 1980s, whereby we waved goodbye to the security and certainties of the postwar settlement, and were given instead an economic model that has just about served the most populous parts of the country, while leaving too much of the rest to anxiously decline.” But Harris’s memory is faulty. There was no bargain struck with the public: it was imposed on the country by the Thatcher government acting as an agent for international corporate and financial elites. It is important therefore to reassess the historically defining moment of the establishment of a neoliberal economy in Britain – the defeat of the miners’ strike in 1984-85.

The miners and their leaders had not expected the kind of all-out political fight Thatcher was waging, but once the strike began, it generated an intense loyalty to the union, involving communities in a fight for their survival. Although mining was a completely male-dominated industry, women from mining areas mobilized to take the struggle into other sections of the working and middle class while the government cut benefits for strikers’ families. The miners’ moral economy expanded to include collaboration with other communities defending themselves against state attacks.

The Tories’ 1980 Coal Act mandated an end to subsidies by 1984 and this empowered NCB management to aggressively confront miners, provoking a large number of separate pit-level disputes that came together after the announcement of the closure of Cortonwood, when, despite the pleas of Yorkshire area officials, rank-and-file miners streamed into Lancashire and Nottinghamshire to picket out those areas. The strike had not been officially called by the NUM national leadership, who in fact merely recognized a struggle that had already started, driven by the militancy and anger among younger miners. [Richards, 100]

They were the first in the industrial world, after PATCO, to experience the assault of international capital against the concessions they had fought for and won from a national capitalist class over many years. However, the left had not grasped the nature of the changes that had taken place during the 1970s. Its theoretical outlook was guided by Leninist categories that were premised on the national state conceived as a monolithic entity, a “body of armed men” arrayed against a homogeneous working class. The picket-line battles between miners and police appeared to fall into that schema.

The left fails to acknowledge the international dimension of the strike

After the start of the strike, the sloganizing of left groups for better organized picketing, for a one-day general strike, even for an all-out general strike called by the TUC, embodied the assumption that the miners were battling a nationally-based capitalist class with which there was the possibility of a political compromise after a change of government. To acknowledge that the strike had connotations that stretched outside of a nationally-based economy would have meant breaking from the illusion that the miners could have won a victory like that of 1972.

A general strike, even if one could have been achieved in the circumstances, posed the same question that it did in 1926: who would rule? The miners and the left assumed that it would be a Bennite government that would restore the social consensus and, like the 1970s Wilberforce inquiry, consider the miners to be a “special case” whose jobs should be protected. However, the Labour party was in disarray and its leadership had already capitulated to the pressure for austerity. While left MPs headed by Benn supported the miners, party leader Neil Kinnock vehemently condemned picket-line violence, and, like Callaghan, attacked Scargill for not calling a strike ballot. When New Labour gained power in the 1990s they signally refused to return to a policy of state subsidies to industry.

While the left in general had little influence within the NUM, the British Communist party had a close historical connection with the union, but by the 1980s the party was divided between a faction that based itself on the tradition of industrial militancy and support for the Soviet Union, grouped around the daily Morning Star, and a “eurocommunist” tendency that advocated a “new realism” of adapting to the changes that were taking place within capitalism. The strike and its outcome destabilized their uneasy alliance, leading to a split and the party’s eventual dissolution.

The failures of the Communist party during the 1970s in relation to mass student protests and the women’s movement, together with opposition to the Soviet military response to demands for Czechoslovak autonomy, had encouraged the eurocommunists’ criticism of the lack of internal party democracy and a focus on the industrial working class. Influenced by postmodernism, they perceived class based politics as obsolete because of the transition from manufacturing in large factories employing thousands of workers to a “post-Fordist” form of production based on small, flexible units of capital. The rise of Thatcher was analyzed by this tendency in the party’s theoretical journal, Marxism Today, as a new and powerful form of populism, conceptualizing her government as the authoritarianism of a national capitalist class which needed to be countered by a popular front alliance of progressive forces.

Scargill was close to the “traditionalist” faction, although not a member of the party, but he represented the thinking of the young, militant activists who had mythologized the 1970s strikes and the mass picket of Saltley coke depot. What united them was a syndicalist and industry-centric orientation that thought the miners could defeat the government on their own, as they believed they had in 1972.

NUM officials influenced by the eurocommunists advocated a cautious and moderate response to pit closures, which brought them into conflict with the miners’ growing militancy. In Scotland, calls for strike action against the especially provocative NCB management team there “originated from the rank-and-file in comparatively democratic forums, including mass meetings and area delegate conferences. These calls were never opposed by the two foremost national NUM leaders, Arthur Scargill and National Secretary, Peter Heathfield, but they brought those who made them into collision with bureaucratic structures in the NUM, in particular with the NUM Scottish Executive led by Mick McGahey and George Bolton” who were both associated with the eurocommunist trend. [Brotherstone, 106]

Even today, over 30 years later, the left clings to the conception that a wider strike struggle could have won a victory. Its analysis selectively omits the impact of the global recession that had shut down much of the country’s industrial base. However, Thatcher had mobilized a much-publicized ideological attack, middle class support for her anti-union plans, control of government committees, interest rates, union leaders in key industries, as well as the physical stockpiling of coal, in support of her strategic aims.

Seumas Milne’s book, The Enemy Within, is a devastating exposé of Thatcher’s use of the deep state to spy on the NUM leadership and target Scargill individually as an instigator of the miners’ militant resistance to the restructuring of the industry. In the introduction to the fourth edition, he writes: “Success for the miners in 1984-5 could not, of course, have turned the neoliberal tide by itself. That was a global phenomenon … But it would have at least seriously weakened Thatcher, reined in her government’s worst excess and put a brake on Labour’s headlong rush for the ‘third way’ – which would eventually turn into New Labour and its embrace of the core Thatcher settlement.” [xi]

Although Milne refers in passing to the global nature of neoliberalism, he explains the motive for the covert operations he uncovered as the Tory party’s determination to avenge its humiliation in 1972, an explanation that confines his account within a national context. Thatcher’s monetarist budgets had already crashed manufacturing and boosted the City of London’s international financial role. What her government did in order to usher in the neoliberal model was to build on this induced recession with a political assault on the miners’ union to break organized resistance to privatization. Thatcher couldn’t have done this so effectively if the Callaghan government had not already initiated monetarist controls on the nationalized industries; moreover, political pressure from the City and the US Treasury makes it clear that neoliberalism was not Thatcher’s personal legacy but that she acted in line with an international reorientation of capital circulation.

The Mitterand government in France, for example, quickly followed the UK and US in restructuring its economy on neoliberal lines: “what above all determined the French Socialist government’s U-turn on economic policy was the severe market pressure on the franc in the context of the high-interest-rate and austerity policies being pursued by the US, the UK, and particularly Germany. … in June 1982 … the franc was devalued alongside the revaluation of the mark, in an agreement with the Germans that was conditional on the French Socialist government’s promise … to bring its fiscal deficit below 3 percent of GDP. … It did not take long before the French Socialist Party leaders even supported the privatization of the firms they had earlier nationalized.” [Panitch, 197]

After the strike the “traditionalist” faction in the Communist party was expelled as the leadership moved closer to the eurocommunist wing.  “The strike, and its eventual defeat were to accelerate the push towards the modernisers’ agenda within the party. Although many Communists from both wings of the party were pulled into the organisation of a solidarity which mushroomed from the late summer of 1984, attitudes to the strike and to the tactics of NUM president Arthur Scargill, were to lead to further bitter divisions. … The criticisms of ‘Scargillism’, which had been relatively muted and coded during the dispute, came out into the open in 1985 as the party, by now rid of the Chater [Morning Star] group carried out a post mortem. The lessons drawn from the defeat of the miners appeared to reinforce all of the key assumptions of Eurocommunism; the economism and narrowness of the trade unions epitomised by Scargill, the authoritarianism of the state shown in the hostile press coverage and the harsh policing tactics and hence the need for ‘broad democratic alliances’ rather than class politics.” [Eaden, 176]

The CP’s political disorientation after the 1970s was also reflected in the left generally. “The way in which the miners’ strike intensified the crisis in the CP was part of the more general theoretical crisis, and, in some cases, practical implosion on the left. The heroic militancy of the miners’ strike exposed, in a most necessary way, the inability of the then dominant leftwing thinking as a whole (notwithstanding the disputatious variety within it) to meet the theoretical needs of labour. In the new situation, the pressure of militant trade unionism to secure, from capital and its servant state, measures of reform and progressive change, was no longer an historically viable strategy.” [Brotherstone, 120]

Conclusion

The miners’ moral economy considered the blood, sweat, and lives expended down the pits to have given them a form of ownership, and that nationalization had made the mines a community resource that the government was wilfully breaking up with unnecessary closures. “We are protecting the people’s coal,” wrote Mick McGahey in April 1984.  “They are weak because they are nothing but industrial vandals and bully boys.” [qutd Phillips, 110]

Although the miners’ defeat was not inevitable – there were moments when the government could have been forced to retreat – its Thatcherite leadership had been quick to respond to the industrial crisis and the increased specific weight of the City of London in the economy. It did not act merely as the agent of Tory revenge, but also as the personification of the drive of international capital to break up national accommodations with the working class and to bring nationalized industries back into the orbit of circulation through the dispossession of public capital. “The deliberate destabilization of industrial employment and occupational communities was, to be blunt, a consciously constructed and carefully executed assault on the collective culture and material position of the working class.” [Phillips, 175]

Despite the way nationalization was carried out after 1945, creating state-owned enterprises with no change in management, it still embodied meaningful egalitarian and collectivist principles. For the mining industry, starved of capital when in private hands, “Nationalization was as much about workers’ rights [as economic efficiency] in the land fit for heroes returning from the war. The bitter industrial relations battles of the 1930s in the mines were to be solved by internalizing them within the new industrial structures.” [Helm, 30]

While enabling the government’s Keynesian economic planning, nationalization also had a great social significance. Capacity in the nationalized electricity supply industry, for example, was substantially increased through the creation of a national grid that allowed technical improvements like higher voltages, but it also facilitated social integration in a way that a market-based industry could not. “A cohesive society provided the basic social primary goods not only regardless of the ability to pay, but also regardless of location. To the extent that rural customers were too expensive to justify connection, they were to be paid for by the urban masses. Connecting up the Scottish Highlands, rural Wales and other upland areas was subsidized by revenues from central locations, and, perhaps more significantly, transmission and distribution charges tended to be averaged.” [Helm, 31]

The dissolution of nationalized industries and subsequent privatizations by the Thatcher government and its successors has led to the breaking down of essential services and intensive rent extraction by capital. It is not surprising, then, that there is popular support today for the re-nationalization of certain industries, like the railways, where privatization has brought chaos. After the economic meltdown of 2008, political opposition to neoliberalism has begun to strengthen.

But with an economy dominated by international finance, how can austerity be resisted? Global capital still needs nation-states to maintain the social discipline necessary for its circulation. The orientation of the state is an important factor: even a small country like Malaysia was able to resist the IMF and US government and impose capital controls after the Asian financial crisis of 1997. “The more important effect of globalization has been on the political will to undertake state regulation, rather than on the technical feasibility of doing so.” [Kotz]

The left has to re-think the nature of the many partial movements against austerity and the relation of international capital to state power. The class struggle is fought out on many levels, inside and outside of political parties, within state institutions and regulatory bodies as well as on picket lines. If state power was not important, then the plutocracy would not spend so much effort on gaining control of it. What should the left be doing to guide the fight back?

Works cited

Terry Brotherstone & Simon Pirani, “Were There Alternatives? Movements From Below In The Scottish Coalfield, The Communist Party, And Thatcherism, 1981–1985,” Critique, 33:1, 99-124 (2005)

James Eaden and David Renton, The Communist Party of Great Britain since 1920, Palgrave, 2002

Dieter Helm, Energy, the State, and the Market: British Energy Policy since 1979, Oxford, 2003.

David M. Kotz, “Globalization and Neoliberalism”, Rethinking Marxism vol 12 #2, Summer 2002:64-79

Seumas Milne, The Enemy Within, Verso, Fourth edition, 2014

Kenneth O. Morgan, The People’s Peace: British History 1945-1990, Oxford, 1992 (rev. ed.)

Andrew J. Richards, Miners on Strike: Class Solidarity and Division in Britain, Berg, Oxford, 1996

Leon Panitch and Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire, Verso, 2012

Jim Phillips, Collieries, communities and the miners’ strike in Scotland, 1984-85, Manchester UP, 2012

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