Rear View Mirror – making connections

Sometimes it can be hard to spot the connections between different issues. Sometimes it seems like events take place randomly and in isolation from each other. Last week, capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit and its complete disregard for ordinary working-class people was much easier to spot.

Covid Millionaires

It has been reported that globally, more than five million people became millionaires despite the economic pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s fair to say that none of them worked in the NHS or other essential frontline services

While many poor people became poorer, the number of millionaires across the world increased by 5.2 million

The combined wealth of the world’s 10 richest people rose by £400 billion during the pandemic. According to the charity OXFAM, this would be enough to pay for vaccines for everyone on earth. It’s fair to say that’s unlikely to happen voluntarily.

Those who have profited the most should be those to make the biggest contribution. A tax on the Super Rich and a significant raising of Corporation Tax would help alleviate many of the problems, but of course only a complete change to a socialist economic system will achieve that.

Personal Independence Payments (PIPs)

Several weeks ago, we said that the PIP’s assessment process, carried out by the private company CAPITA, wasn’t fit for purpose.

Now an investigation by the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman has confirmed what many people knew all along.

Claimants were kept in the dark, medical assessments were ignored or never followed up, people were forced to appeal the original decisions and endure the additional hardships and stress this failed process inflicted on them and their families.

Some commentators have tried to pass this off as a series of administrative failures, but the system is doing what is designed to do: make it more difficult for people to claim the benefits to which they are entitled and to create a negative culture around claimants. CAPITA on the other hand was offering bonuses to its staff for completing the claims as quickly as possible.

It’s important to point out that PIPs is a health-related benefit – so it’s about people who have ill health. They need respect, they need to be treated with dignity and they need to be given access to their benefits quickly and comprehensively.

As if to compound that disregard for those in need and to reward those who help inflict it, the Sinn Fein Minister for the Communities, Deirdre Hargey has extended CAPITA’s assessment contract until 2023. Some might think that a strange way to build ‘An Ireland of Equals’

Cuba: the US and Israel defy the World

As reported in this website previously, the United Nations General Assembly has, once again, overwhelmingly voted in favour of Cuba’s resolution demanding the end of the US blockade. In a strong show of support for Cuba, 184 countries voted in favour. The United States and Israel voted against. Colombia, Brazil and Ukraine abstained.

The United States will, as they have done in the past, ignore the UN vote and continue with the inhumane blockade.

Any one, or any country, challenging the United States or presenting a socialist alternative to the inhumanity and greed of capitalism will feel the full force of the United States and its allies.

This was the twenty-ninth UN vote on the blockade, but the first under the Biden administration. If and when President Biden visits these shores, he should be left in no doubt about the level of opposition that exists here against the longest blockade inflicted against a country and its people in modern history. It’s fair to say that he probably won’t even be asked about it by reporters.

Banks, Cash and Holes in the Wall

In recent years there has been an alarming 78% increase in the number of pay-to-use ATMs. Consumer organisation WHICH is now reporting that these are much more common in rural areas and in areas of high social deprivation.

The increasing number of bank closures – the Bank of Ireland is closing almost half of its Northern Ireland branches – a reduction in the number of ATMs and an increase in the number of pay to use machines leaves many people at a considerable disadvantage.

Universal Service Obligations  or USOs,  already exist for many essential services including water, electricity, post and broadband. The Assembly should urgently introduce a USO for free access to cash.

Once again, the relentless pursuit of profit assumes priority over people and ready and free access to their own money.

The common denominators

Whether it’s a dignified and efficient benefits system, access to our own money, the accumulation of wealth created by other people or the rights of the people of a small Caribbean Island to order their own affairs, capital, capitalism and profit dictate the outcomes.

That it is all achieved at the expense of human dignity, that it is all brutally implemented and that it is all for the benefit of the few is just swept under the carpet by governments, local Assemblies, the media and by the professional apologists whose task it is to distract, confuse and divert.

Last week was one of those occasions when events left fewer places to hide for those who promote and perpetuate this human indignity. The job of socialists and other progressives is to keep it firmly under the spotlight as  we work towards a better and different future.

‘Nationalism – a political poison’ warning

Theobald Wolfe Tone

The Party’s annual Wolfe Tone commemoration, held this year under current Covid guidelines, was addressed by Workers Party and Central Executive Committee member Gerry Lynch (Dublin).

Highlighting the toxicity of all forms of nationalism and the damage it can cause to class based politics. Gerry said,

“Nationalism – both British and Irish – is a political poison that stands in the way of uniting Irish workers, just as it divides workers across the globe. It is something that we must strive at every turn to combat, and we must never give an inch in our struggle against it.

We have seen time and again where that path leads. For us the lessons of Tone and the United Irishmen lies in internationalism and social progress”. 

Read the Wolfe Tone commemoration speech in full:

Read more about Wolfe Tone:

Solidarity and support for Greek CP (KKE)

21st Congress in Athens

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has held its 21st Congress in Athens . The KKE has consistently and courageously fought with strength and determination against attacks by capital on the Greek people. This Congress will serve to strengthen the position of the Party in Greece. The Workers Party sent a message to the Congress assuring the KKE of our continuing solidarity, friendship and best wishes.

Link to the KKE website:

UNBLOCK CUBA – the US and Israel defy the World

Party members were amongst those who recently helped construct the giant UNBLOCK CUBA message on Belfast’s Black Mountain

The United Nations General Assembly has, once again, overwhelmingly voted in favour of Cuba’s resolution demanding the end of the US blockade. In a strong show of support for Cuba, 184 countries voted in favour, and only 2 against (US and Israel), while 3 countries abstained (Colombia, UAE and Ukraine).

This was the 29th vote on the blockade, but the first under the Biden administration. There has been no change of policy since his election in January 2021. This is the longest blockade inflicted against a country and its people in modern history.

In an updated report to the United Nations on the impact of US sanctions during April-December 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba said that the intensification of the blockade during this time forced the island “to fight against the most terrible pandemic in decades and against the lengthiest and all-embracing system of coercive measures ever. There is no justification for such gargantuan cruelty.”

The cost of the US blockade against Cuba since its imposition almost six decades ago amounts to over 147.8 billion dollars. Between April and December 2020 alone, it cost the Cuban economy more than $3.5 billion. During this time the US government deliberately blocked a delivery of medical equipment and PPE to help fight COVID-19.

Since 1991, the Cuban government has submitted to the United Nations General Assembly the draft resolution “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo of the United States of America against Cuba”, which every year receives the support of the international community.

Today, for the 29th time, the US and its ally, Israel, shamefully continues to support this cruel and cynical blockade, which has been escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic, in defiance of world opinion.

The two states which opposed the ending of the blockade, and indeed the three regimes which abstained, all have a record of repression, exploitation and injustice.   

The Workers Party applauds Cuba which clearly has world opinion on its side, condemns this continuing US crime against Cuba and its people and calls for an immediate and unconditional end to the blockade.

The US still fears the revolutionary example of Cuba which puts people before profits and which through its many humanitarian missions, solidarity and selfless internationalism is an inspiration to humanity. The world has again spoken. It is time to end the blockade.

Precipice politics

Even by Northern Ireland standards, the past week has been a political car crash.

The DUP all but imploded, Sinn Fein went to the Westminster Parliament – which it boycotts on ‘principle’ – asking the British government to introduce an Irish Language Act, the Assembly teetered on the verge of being collapsed and all the while the living and working conditions and the quality of life of the people of Northern Ireland improved not one iota.

Precipice politics is the hall mark of nationalism, and for the past fifty years at least we have had to endure the consequences of that: on the streets, at election time, in council chambers and in the Assembly.

Never is pushing others close to the edge more exciting, for all forms of nationalism, than when the push is against their mirror image.

British nationalism in the form of the DUP and Irish nationalism as embodied by Sinn Fein are both negative and reactionary forces.

Predictability and pointed sticks

Unionism consistently reacts with an alarming predictability to provocation from Sinn Fein’s Irish nationalism. Its default position appears be to reverse up the nearest political cul-de-sac leaving its back against the wall and with nowhere to go.

Sinn Fein for its part runs around with a pointed stick prodding every sleeping unionist dog it can find until one awakens and reacts. This week has been no different. Ironically, the alleged DUP hard man Edwin Poots agreed to the Secretary of State’s plan to introduce the cultural component of the ‘New Decade – New Approach’ deal, but once again the DUP juggernaut was predictably thrown into reverse.

Everyone loses

And what has it all been for? Tribal precipice politics pushes one side to the edge. Blink first and the other one wins – but everyone else loses.

While the Assembly was being pushed nearer to the cliff edge not one single patient came off the waiting list as a result. Not one single job was created. Not a single new childcare place was funded. Not a single brick was laid for a new house and not an inch of progress was made towards creating a healthier environment.

Sinn Fein’s week was not about the Irish language or any cultural package. That just happened to be the current sleeping dog that they’ve poked. Previously Sinn Fein threatened the Assembly’s future over a lack of rights for the LGBT+ community. What ever happened to that principled stand?

The DUP’s opposition was less to do with a dislike of the Irish language and more to do with the fact that Sinn Fein are campaigning for it.

These forms of toxic nationalism are not part of the solution – they are the problem.

It amounts to a Northern Ireland version of ‘The Old Razzle Dazzle’.  Only a united working class can progress this society, but when we are continually forced to stare into the abyss it’s very hard to look up and imagine a different future.

A different future is possible, but it can only be achieved through a transformational shift to secular, socialist, anti-sectarian class politics. 

Unblocking Cuba: still a mountain to climb

Later next week (23 June) the United Nations General Assembly will debate a resolution to put an end to the U.S. blockade of Cuba.

In recent days, protests against the United States 60-year-old economic blockade have been organised to coincide with this weekend’s meeting of the G7. The call has been for an immediate end to the inhumane sanctions on trade and development inflicted on the Caribbean Island by the world’s largest and most aggressive super power.

In Northern Ireland, Workers Party members participated in the unfurling of the world’s largest Cuba flag and an #unblockcuba slogan on the side of Belfast’s Black Mountain in a demonstration of solidarity organised by the Cuba Solidarity Forum.

The last resolution condemning the US blockade was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 by 187 votes to 3, with two abstentions. Successive motions to the UN General Assembly have been adopted with similarly near unanimous figures over the years.

Despite the local and global protests and in the face of the overwhelming condemnation of the United Nations, the United States persists with this inhumane economic blockade and continues to pursue this massive violation of human rights.

Regrettably, the United States does not stand alone. In early June a resolution brought before the European Parliament maliciously attempted to undermine Cuba, a free, independent, sovereign, democratic nation that embraces social justice and human solidarity, demonstrating many achievements and tremendous social benefits to the Cuban people and engaging in international life-saving, humanitarian solidarity actions. 

The momentum, however, is with Cuba and the Cuban people, but there is still a mountain to climb before the blockade is finally vanquished.

This week Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said,

 “The blockade is a cruel policy, which causes suffering, deprivation, and shortages to Cuban families. It has been deliberately tightened during the COVID-19 pandemic; it hinders access to medicines, supplies, and necessary equipment,”

It is worth noting that, although successive US administrations have maintained and strengthened the blockade of Cuba, two US Presidents in particular, both of whom enjoyed hero worship status in Ireland were responsible for some of the worst human rights violations against the Cuban people.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) not only tightened to economic and social noose around Cuba but authorised an illegal invasion at the Bay of Pigs in the early 1960s. Bill Clinton toughened the sanctions against Cuba with the signing of the Helms–Burton Act in 1996 which extended the embargo to include sanctions against non-US companies having the temerity to trade with Cuba.

Despite another ‘friend of Ireland’ occupying the White House the Cuban Blockade continues.

When President Joe Biden makes his long-promised visit to Ireland he should be left in no doubt that, mountain or not, progressive forces here are committed to the long haul until Cuba and its people are freed from one of the world’s most sustained, oppressive, unjustifiable and inhumane campaigns of economic embargo.


Further reading:

Health & Social Care staff pay delay: support the UNISON campaign

Exhausted after over a year on the frontline, the same Health & Social Care staff who have given everything during the pandemic will have to keep giving their all to care for everyone whose treatment was delayed because of COVID. A fair & decent pay rise is needed ASAP.

Health & Social Care staff have given so much, they deserve better. 

Support the UNISON campaign and email your MLA asking them to act now to secure a decent pay rise for HSC staff and stop any more delays?

Time to talk seriously about Health

Hospital waiting lists and the future of health and social care services here have been one of the most covered news topics in recent weeks.

Unfortunately, many of the discussions, the radio phone-in shows, the newspaper columnists, the letters to the editor and the contributions in the Assembly have generated more heat than light.

We are probably less informed now than we were at the start.

Founding principles

However, several things are clear. There needs to be an informed public discussion about the future of our health and social care services, there needs to be a re-affirmation of the founding principles of the NHS – that it is a public service, publicly funded and free at the point of delivery, and there needs to be a clear and unambiguous declaration that health and care are human rights not opportunities for profit and financial gain.

Any discussion of the future of services might start by asking “are we running a Health service or a ’Sick’ service”? Currently nearly all our efforts are directed to treating people when the become ill, not on trying to ensure that more people stay healthier for longer.

When we talk about the health of the population, we can’t restrict that to a debate about hospitals, nurses and doctors.  If we are to help prevent more people becoming ill in the first place then we need to be talking about redirecting resources and looking at the impact of a poor environments, housing conditions, job opportunities and working conditions, improved educational attainment, information on diet, opportunities to exercise and avoiding and relieving stress.

How much would a four-day working week contribute to a healthier and less stressed population?  The causes of ill-health, not just the cures, need to be up front and centre in any and all discussions.

Traditionally we have thought, and been encouraged to think, that health was exclusively about hospitals. Much more care and treatment in the community and in people’s own homes is now possible and preferable thanks to new working practices, more developed skills and modern technologies. Developing that must be on the agenda, as must the source of any opposition to its extension. 

Some other issues are blindingly obvious. If dozens of hospital wards and hundreds of beds are closed down if the number of nurses in training is cut dramatically and funding is consistently cut, then there are going to be problems and there are going to be longer waiting lists.

We currently spend less per head of population on health services than France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Austria, and of course Cuba.

Shaping the narrative

In the past twenty years there have been at least four major reports proposing various levels of change to local health and social care services. 

The most important one has yet to be written. That one will recognise the social function provided by a public health and social care system, it will acknowledge the political agenda which, since the foundation of the NHS in 1948, has sought to undermine it, privatise it and profit from it.

It will concede the role that capitalist working practices and over production have on our environment and our health. Socialists, trade unionists, progressive thinkers and all those committed to a better and radically different future, need to start shaping that narrative now.