Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK-Simon Kuper-Profile, 240pp, £16.99

 "Ruling Britain was the prerogative of their caste",

Simon Kuper

"To understand the man, you have to know what was happening in the world when he was 20."

Napoleon Bonaparte

Chums is a useful but limited look at a group of Oxford Tories who now run the country on behalf of a section of the English bourgeoisie. As Kuper adeptly explains, this group is hardly a set of intellectual giants.

One of the group's cheerleaders and media friend Toby Young was forced to admit that "It has become a commonplace of Islington dinner parties that the reason Britain is in such a mess is because of its wretched class system which has condemned us to be ruled by a bunch of incompetent Tory toffs. Not only are they lazy and amoral, believing the rules don't apply to them, but for the most part, they are innumerate and scientifically illiterate, thanks to the humanities bias at Britain's elite public schools and Oxford University. Little wonder they have made such a hash of governing the country, culminating in the disastrous decision to leave the European Union".[1]

The leader of this group is Boris Johnson, who learnt at a very early age that he was never going to win a sustained intellectual argument with anyone. So, according to Kuper, to defeat opponents whose arguments were better, he ignored them and offered "carefully timed jokes, calculated lowerings of the voice, and ad hominem jibes".

During his time at Oxford, Johnson was at the heart of a somewhat incestuous network of friends that now hold political power in Britain. This clique, according to Kuper, was "born to power". More importantly, it was this clique that organised Brexit. According to a statement by the Socialist Equality Party, "the Remain and Leave wings of the British bourgeoisie had opposing strategies to respond to the inexorable drift towards trade war between the major powers. Both factions are equally reactionary. The Remain faction wanted to preserve Britain's global position within the EU trading bloc and its massive single market. The Leave forces viewed the EU as an impediment to the UK's pursuing a global trade and investment policy as a deregulated base for financial speculation, centred on a strengthened alliance with the US and directed against Germany and France.

Brexit is, therefore, a product of global economic and social contradictions produced by capitalism. This was underscored within months of the referendum vote by the election of Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, standing on his nationalist "America First" agenda. Trump embraced Brexit as a weapon to encourage the breakup of an EU he denounced as a "competitor," not an ally, and as a "cartel" run in the interests of Germany.[2]

The book details this group, including Michael Gove, Patrick Robertson, Dan Hannan and Dominic Cumming and others who, under the influence of the right-wing historian Norman Stone hatched the idea of a break away from Europe. As Jacob Rees-Mogg put it so bluntly, "We on this side know each other." It is not difficult to see why a section of the English bourgeoisie choose this group of vacuous individuals or, as Kuper puts it, a "chumocracy" to do its dirty work for it.

If Johnson and his friend's behaviour during their reign has taught us anything, this psychopathic social class has lost any right to rule. During their reign, Johnson and his allies launched a one-sided class war. It is clear to anyone that Johnson's reputation is now in tatters, but according to Chris Marsden, "the more fundamental issue at stake is whether he is too damaged to navigate the treacherous waters British imperialism has now entered. Most importantly, can Johnson lead Britain's war drive against Russia and China, in alliance with the United States, while carrying out the brutal offensive against the working class needed to pay for it?"[3]

While it is politically important that Kuper has identified the class and social base of the Tories, it is hoped that Kuper's next book would do the same for the Labour Leadership. It also contains a significant number of privately educated individuals, and therefore Labour is no less a party of the super-rich than the Conservatives.

Kuper has done a good job is raising the question of class in Britain. The crap espoused by Labour and Tories alike that Britain is a classless society has been badly exposed as a lie. However, under conditions of mass death and massive levels of social inequality, it is a dangerous act to raise the issue of class in Britain because Britain's ruling elite sees it as "tantamount to an invitation to working people to join a class war that has—to date—been raging in an almost entirely one-sided fashion".




[1] https://www.politicshome.com/thehouse/article/a-onesided-selective-narrative-toby-young-reviews-chums

[2] Britain leaves the European Union: Against nationalism, For the United Socialist States of Europe!- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/01/31/pers-j31.html

[3] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/04/23/john-a23.html

Monday, 16 May 2022

Royal Mail Profits Surge But Offer A Pay Rise With More Strings Than An Orchestra

Royal Mail is expected to reveal record full-year profits of around £720million, up from £664million the previous year. Given Royal Mail's previous promise to shareholders to cut staff and escalate further attacks on postal workers, it is no surprise that it has offered a paltry pay rise of 2% with massive changes in working conditions.

Royal Mail wants compulsory Sunday working; an additional 1.5% pay rise will be directly linked to increased productivity. Royal Mail wants a reduction in sick pay, scrapping several allowances, later start times, annualised hours and significantly different pay for all new members, creating a two-tier workforce.

The only people surprised by Royal Mail's actions are the Communication Workers Union(CWU), who have bent over backwards to present the new Royal Mail management as a friend of postal workers and someone they can work with.

Over the last two years, the union has collaborated with Royal Mail in imposing draconian new changes in working conditions. When postal workers sought to oppose these attacks, the union called off a strike ballot and began phoney negotiations. These negotiations resulted in many dead and sick postal workers who were forced to work during a lethal pandemic, with the union calling postal workers the "fifth emergency service".

The new national agreement (Pathway to Change) agreed between Royal Mail and the CWU has led to a massive increase in productivity with huge amounts of packets delivered, which meant a massive increase in profits, and at the end of last year, £400 million was given to shareholders.

The CWU has reportedly overseen record-breaking revisions, leading to hours cut, longer walks, and utter chaos in numerous offices. According to one worker," Our office has just started its new duties after a revision where deliveries are too big, the way walks have been laid out is absurd, mail not being delivered for days and overall morale varying from discontent to hilarity at the fiasco developing. Customer service is non-existent, and turning this around seems impossible. Posties are so fed up that mail is taken for a ride and then returned to be rethrown off for the next day when the pantomime is repeated. Bigger walks, less time to do them, photographing packets daily van checks before you go out, HCTs that are not fit for purpose and a union that seems oblivious".[1] Several Royal Mail delivery offices took unofficial industrial action in opposition to the 'Pathway to Change' national agreement. One such strike at the Invergordon delivery office was taken to defend a temporary member whose contract was ended.

Amesbury and Frinton delivery offices took strike action over the massive increase in parcel delivery with cuts in staff leading to unrealistic delivery times. Workloads have now reached breaking point at a large number of offices. At Wakefield Delivery Office, West Yorkshire, the agreement rollout of a structural revision resulted in 94% of the workforce voting it down after producing unachievable workloads. Unofficial actions by postal workers have been left isolated by the CWU leadership. Regarding the current pay dispute, the union has, instead of calling an immediate strike ballot, will continue four-week negotiations behind the backs of postal workers.

As part of the CWU's supposed battle on pay, its London organisation has released a leaflet entitled  London Calling-Royal Mail's Pay Betrayal To The Workforce. The leaflet insults the intelligence of postal workers, as no postal worker believes Royal Mail has betrayed them. If anything, large sections of postal workers conclude that it is their union that has betrayed them and collaborates so much with Royal Mail that it is becoming difficult to tell them apart.

This treachery is not just confined to British unions. Trade unions all over the world are carrying out similar policies? Embracing labour-management collaboration and handing back to the employer's gains won by previous generations of the working class.

To defend their pay and conditions, Postal workers must break from the CWU and establish a network of rank-and-file committees.







[1] https://www.royalmailchat.co.uk/community/viewtopic.php?f=69&t=104536&p=973472

Sunday, 15 May 2022

The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives by Adolph L. Reed Jr. (London, UK & Brooklyn, NY: Verso Books, 2022)

"Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present."

Adolph L. Reed Jr

We must find the road to the most deprived, to the darkest strata of the proletariat, beginning with the Negro, whom capitalist society has converted into a pariah, and who must learn to see in us his revolutionary brothers. And this depends wholly upon our energy and devotion to the work.[1]

Leon Trotsky

"Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery, there would be no cotton. Without cotton, there would be no modern industry. It is slavery that has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies that have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry. Slavery is, therefore, an economic category of paramount importance."[2]

Karl Marx


One of the purposes of this excellent new book by Adolph L Reed is to preserve the voices of the last generation of Americans with a living memory of Jim Crow.[3] In the words of the English historian E. P Thompson, it attempts to rescue them from the "enormous condescension of posterity".

The South documents Reed's personal history almost in the manner of a memoir. However, unlike similar books, Reed presents a historical and class-based analysis of the racist Jim Crow laws.

As Barbara J Fields explains, it is important to understand the race from a historical perspective. She writes, "When virtually the whole of society, including supposedly thoughtful, educated, intelligent persons, commits itself to belief in propositions that collapse into absurdity upon the slightest examination, the reason is not hallucination or delusion or even simple hypocrisy; rather, it is ideology. And ideology is impossible for anyone to analyse rationally who remains trapped on its terrain. That is why race still proves so hard for historians to deal with historically, rather than in terms of metaphysics, religion, or socio- (that is, pseudo-) biology".

Nothing so well illustrates that impossibility as the conviction among otherwise sensible scholars that race "explains" historical phenomena; specifically, it explains why people of African descent have been set apart for treatment different from others. But race is just the name assigned to the phenomenon, which it no more explains than judicial review "explains" why the United States Supreme Court can declare acts of Congress unconstitutional, or than Civil War "explains" why Americans fought each other between 1861 and 1865".[4]

Reed's defence of a historical and class-based understanding of race has led him to be heavily criticised and ostracised. Reed has opposed what he calls "race reductionism,". In 1996, he famously described Barack Obama as a "smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics." [5].For Reed, class-based inequality is the historical constant, not race. Reed examines how the black middle class were treated differently than the black working class. He recounts how many black middle-class people could avoid some of the worst excesses of the murderess Jim Crow regime.

As Reed contends in his article Separate and Unequal, "Middle-class, "respectable" black people sought as much as possible to insulate themselves and their children from contact with those they considered to be class inferiors. An elaborate structure of social clubs—for example, the Links and the Girl Friends for women, the Boulé for men, Jack and Jill for children, and fraternity and sorority chapters for students and alumni—evolved to create and sustain homogeneous middle-class social networks locally and nationally. Segregation did have a levelling effect on race. Those with higher status were forced to share neighbourhoods, schools, churches, restaurants, and other public entertainments with those they would prefer not to associate with. From the system's beginnings, a complaint about the injustice of enforced segregation was that it did not account for class distinctions among black people".[6]


Reed has also criticised "critical race theory", saying, "It is another expression of reductionism. On the most pedestrian level, it is an observation that what you see is a function of where you stand. At that level, there is nothing in it that was not in Marx's early writings or Mannheim. But then you get an appropriation of the standpoint theory for identity that says, for example, all blacks think the same way. It is taxonomic, a reification. So the retort to that critique has been "intersectionality." Yes, there is a black perspective, but what you do is fragment it, so there are multiple black perspectives because each potential—or each sacralised—social position becomes discrete. That is what gives you intersectionality.[7]

Reed's political and class-based perspective has been too much for the Democratic Socialists of America(DSA), who had a speech of Reed's cancelled due to objections by the AFROSOCialist and Socialists of Color Caucus over his "reactionary and class reductionist form of politics".

1619 Project

His critique of the 1619 project has led to personal and political attacks. In a recent interview with Tom Mackaman- Reed states, "I did not know about the 1619 Project until it came out, and frankly when I learned about it, my reaction was a big sigh. But again, the relation to history has passed to the appropriation of the past in support of whatever kind of 'just-so' stories about the present is desired. This approach has taken root within the Academy. It is like all bets are off. Merlin Chowkwanyun and I did an article a few years ago in the Socialist Register that is a critique of disparitarianism in the social sciences, by which this or that disparity has replaced the study of inequality and its effects. As Walter Benn Michaels said, and as I have said time and time again if anti-disparitarianism is your ideology, then for you, a society qualifies as being just if 1 per cent of the population controls 90 per cent of the wealth, so long as that within that 1 per cent 12 per cent or so are black, etc., reflecting their share of the national population. This is the ideal of social justice for neoliberalism. There is no question of actual redistribution.[8]

Reed demolishes one of the myths of the 1619 project that enslaved people were introduced to America because of racism. Reed points out that the first slaves were brought over under the auspices of a wage labour system. He writes, " the 1619 Project assumes, in whatever way, that slavery was the natural condition of Africans. And that is where the Afro-pessimism types wind up sharing a cup of tea with James Henry Hammond."

As Niemuth points out in his defence of Reed, "The furious reaction within the DSA leadership to the invitation to Reed reveals how deeply the organisation is imbued with the reactionary and right-wing politics of racial division. The extreme hostility to any analysis based on the primacy of class expresses the interests of affluent sections of the petit bourgeoisie, who utilise racial and identity politics in the fight over positions of power and privilege within the apparatus of the state, the trade unions, academia and corporations".


This concise volume deserves to be read widely and hopefully put onto university reading lists. It is hoped a younger readership picks it up and learns about a class-based and historical perspective on racism than the racialist perspective touted by the 1619 project.




About the Author

Adolph Reed, Jr., is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books and articles dealing with race and class in American society and writes regularly for the New Republic.


Further Reading

1.   The cancellation of professor Adolph Reed, Jr.'s speech and the DSA's promotion of race politics-Niles Niemuth- 18 August 2020-wsws.org

2.   The New York Times' 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History: Essays and Interviews Paperback – 26 February 2021

3.   by David North, Thomas Mackaman




[1] On Black Nationalism-Documents on the Negro Struggle- https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1940/negro1.htm

[2] 1846 in The Poverty of Philosophy,

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

[4] Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America-https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/5281-slavery-race-and-ideology-in-the-united-states-of-america

[5] https://www.politico.com/blogs/ben-smith/2010/03/obama-and-the-left-95-edition-026114

[6] https://harpers.org/archive/2022/02/separate-and-unequal-the-south-jim-crow-and-its-afterlives-adolph-reed-jr/

[7] "Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present"-An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. on the New York Times' 1619 Project-Tom Mackaman-20 December 2019-wsws.org

[8] "Reinventing the past to suit the purposes of the present"-An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. on the New York Times' 1619 Project-Tom Mackaman-20 December 2019-wsws.org

Tuesday, 3 May 2022

UK Post Office workers to stage national strike on May 3 against government pay restraint

(This article by Tony Robson first appeared on the website wsws.org)

Post Office workers are to take national strike action May 3, in opposition to pay restraint imposed in line with the public sector policy dictated by the Johnson government.

The one-day stoppage will close 114 Crown Post Offices (those run directly by the Post Office) around the country and there will be no cash deliveries or collections from 11,500 sub-post offices. The action involves over 1,000 workers including counter staff as well as clerical, administration and call centre workers.

Royal Mail van, outside the Axminster post office (Image Credit: Wikipedia/Felix O)

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) voted in March by a 97.3 percent majority for strike action in a ballot turnout of 70 percent. They have rejected a miserly 2.5 percent pay rise, offered as inflation climbs to a 30-year high of 6 percent CPI and 9 percent RPI.

The proposed two-year deal includes the pay freeze for last year and a lump sum of £250 in addition to the 2.5 percent from April this year.The determination of postal workers to fight back is in sharp contrast to the CWU. While the union is making token noises about the insulting pay offer, its efforts have been directed towards preventing a struggle from taking place.

Andy Furey, CWU Assistant General Secretary, told the Independent, “Despite this union’s best attempts to avoid strike action, the Post Office has displayed no interest whatsoever in meaningful negotiations.”

The union has confined itself to evasive references to a decent and fair agreement rather than specify a demand in line with inflation and which compensates for last year’s pay freeze.Now that a national strike is taking place the CWU is seeking to head off a confrontation with the government and drive a wedge between postal workers and millions of public sector workers suffering widespread austerity.

In a press release Furey states in reference to the Post Office, “They have told us that they’re freezing pay in keeping with official government and public-sector pay policy… But that’s an outrageous and dishonest excuse as the government’s austerity measures do not apply to the Post Office and it should be borne in mind that our members worked throughout the pandemic to provide essential services to the Great British public.”

He added that “the further irony here is that our members are always being told by senior management that they are a commercial operation and required to make a profit – yet the Post Office is a profitable concern – profits made by the hard work and dedication and skill of our members.”

Health workers, teachers, refuse workers and millions of other public sector workers have served on the frontline of the pandemic in which their safety was disregarded only to be rewarded with below inflation deals. The divisive approach of the CWU must be rejected in favour of a unified fightback.

Furey argues for accepting the entire framework of cost cutting and restructuring in the name of profitability on the false pretence that workers will get their “fair share” rather than suffer stepped-up exploitation.

The state-owned Post Office was separated off from Royal Mail when the latter was privatised back in 2012, splitting the cashier and retail operations from the letter and parcel delivery service. Since then, the number of Crown Post Offices has been reduced from 373 by more than two-thirds, to 114. Fully 99 percent of Post Offices are run by an independent postmaster, or what is described as a larger franchise partner, i.e., major retail chains.

The government subsidy has been reduced from £210 million in 2012-13 to £50 million annually, according to a Financial Times article last August, “in the drive to make the Post Office commercially viable.” Post Office CEO Nick Read explained that while the plan to remove all government subsidy, except for rural branches, by 2022 has been postponed, it was still intended to be achieved by 2025-6.

Read outlined plans to introduce self-service kiosks in 2,000 to 3,000 branches following the example of Post Canada. He admitted this would be at the expense of jobs. Read also referred to a move into the pick-up and drop-off market and for the Post Office to act as an outreach for banks that have deserted the high streets in favour of online services. The Post Office has entered into agreements with Amazon and DPD in relation to parcel deliveries, rather than their exclusive handling by Royal Mail.

The sole focus of the Post Office is to maximise profits as the government subsidy is stripped out. This can only further undermine the social obligations it is formally committed to in providing an accessible service to the elderly and most vulnerable, and will be done at the expense of workers’ jobs, pay and terms and conditions.

The Post Office has been at the centre of a massive frame-up of postal workers through the Horizon scandal. Hundreds of sub-postmasters and postmistresses were wrongfully convicted to cover up the defective Horizon IT auditing system designed and installed by Japanese company Fujitsu. This was introduced across the Post Office network in 1999 at the cost of £1 billion. The defects in the IT system showed false shortfalls in branch accounts and led to 736 unsafe convictions for offences ranging from false accounting, theft and fraud between 2000 and 2014, resulting in some prison sentences.

This was only brought to light due to the legal campaign by those wrongfully convicted and their supporters, spanning a 20-year period against bitter resistance from the Post Office. At the end of 2019 the Post Office finally agreed to pay damages to 555 claimants in civil cases. Last April the Court of Appeal quashed in a single ruling the convictions against 39 postmasters, part of a total of 72 such rulings to date, with many more expected to go to court. The bill of compensation for the victims of injustice meted out by the Post Office is estimated to be £1 billion.

One of the “Post Office 39” who had their convictions overturned is Seema Misra, a mother who was eight weeks pregnant with her second child when she was sentenced in 2010 for theft and false accounting, spending four months in prison, and ordered to pay £40,000 in compensation to the Post Office. Misra stated, “The Post Office was like a mafia. They have blood on their hands. We live in a developed country, how can we let these criminals roam around freely?”

There is widespread anger among postal workers over the fact that nobody in authority at the Post Office or Fujitsu has faced criminal prosecution for what has been described as the most “widespread miscarriage of justice” in recent UK history. Both parties have been shown to have withheld evidence regarding the faulty IT system. Paula Vennells, who oversaw the cover-up and persecution of sub-postmasters, is estimated to have raked in £5 million in pay and bonuses during her time as managing director and later chief executive of the Post Office before stepping down in 2019. 

Post Office workers should reject the CWU’s argument that their fight should be conducted separately from those in the public sector facing austerity. The claim that a pay rise can be achieved by accepting the pro-business framework for the Post Office of further restructuring to hike up profits is bogus.

We encourage Post Office workers to read the Socialist Equality Party statement, “The working class must mobilise to bring down the Johnson government.” This outlines a strategy to mobilise the working class independently of the Labour Party and trade unions, which act as accomplices of the government and the employers as they demand increased exploitation and social looting in the interests of the corporate and financial elite.