Grades in 2021

The government has said GCSE and A level grades for 2021 will be done on teachers’ assessments.

That may be better than the botched algorithm attempted in 2020. But every school will seek to report results a bit better than 2020 or 2019. A student’s grades will depend as much on their school management’s talents as chancers as on anything real.

There’ll also be “grade inflation” (an A or a 9 in 2021 not the same as in 2019), but that, I think, is a lesser problem.

The organised far right on 6 January

On 6 July, at the storming of the US Capitol, a number of far-right groups — as distinguished from the “regular” far-right Trump supporters — were present. Among them were the Proud Boys, donning orange hats to distinguish themselves. While their founder Gavin McInnes denies having been there, a man looking suspiciously like him was recorded giving orders to various members of the group.

Vaccine nationalism in Israel

After a deal with Pfizer, Israel is leading the world in Covid-19 vaccinations, with a goal of vaccinating everyone over 16 by the end of March. It has already vaccinated about 20% of its population.

It is not providing vaccines to the millions of Palestinians living under its rule in the Occupied Territories, let alone to Gaza. Israel may have completed its vaccination programme by the time Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank start getting vaccinated.

McAnea wins in Unison

Christina McAnea has been elected as the new general secretary of Unison — the first woman to head the UK’s largest union. McAnea is viewed as the continuity candidate following Dave Prentis, who is retiring after 20 years as general secretary. She takes up her post on 22 January.

The full results were: Christina McAnea 63,900 (47.7%); Paul Holmes 45,220 (33.76%); Roger McKenzie 14,450 (10.79%); Hugo Pierre 10,382 (7.75%).

Covid-safety on Tube

Latest figures show that 57 transport workers in London have died from Covid-19.

42 were bus workers, highly exposed by their employers’ unforgivable foot-dragging over moving to middle-door boarding and additional distancing measures. Eight of the deaths are of Tube/rail workers, with three from Transport for London (TfL) offices, and three from outsourced employers.

These were 57 workmates, friends, family members. Each leaves people devastated by their loss.

Support British gas workers!

British Gas workers struck from 7-11 January, resisting their employer’s attempts to level down conditions by sacking workers en masse and rehiring them on worse contracts. The strike was extremely solid, with activists reporting that its strength grew as it went on. The workers’ union, GMB, is set to announce further strikes.

Workers’ morale is high, bolstered by significant engagement with and support for the strike via social media. Workers report numerous instances of self-employed gas contractors committing on social media to take no work on British Gas strike days.

Towards telecoms strike in BT?

In December, BT Group workers in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) voted by a 97.9% majority for industrial action to defend job security and conditions, in a consultative ballot. A BT Group worker and CWU activist explains the background to the dispute and other struggles in BT.

The national consultative ballot against job cuts and compulsory redundancies across BT is the logical result of the failure of industrial leadership by the CWU Telecoms Executive for over a decade, and also of the disastrous outcome of the 2019 general election for communication workers.

Workers' control and school safety

From 5 January all secondary and primary schools moved to being physically open only to vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Learning for other students is being offered online.

There continue to be struggles over the specifics of this. Firstly, the government has tried to widen the definition of children who can come in to these schools, to the point where head teachers and school leaders’ unions have sounded the alarm.

University rent strikes escalate

Groups of students at around fifty unis are now withholding rent for halls of residence, or about to start doing so.

The advice to most students not to return to campus until mid-February at earliest has given the rent strike wave fresh impetus. What’s the point of paying for accommodation you can’t use for at least six weeks and possibly longer?

The movement is beginning to consolidate organisation, with meetings being held, reps elected and a national network.

Chinese policy is eugenics, not liberation

Twitter has removed a tweet by a Chinese embassy account spreading “violent propaganda” about the alleged sterilisation of Uyghur Muslim women after receiving several complaints.

The embassy shared an article from state-run media China Daily, which claimed the “eradication of extremism” in Xinjiang, an area of China with a large Uyghur population, has given women “more autonomy”.

An Open Letter to my fellow Labour councillors

Dear colleagues,

The past decade in local government has been defined largely by one thing: cuts. And if this government has their way, this will be the story for the next decade too. Rishi Sunak has heaped yet more misery on councils. His budget provided £5bn less than the Tory leadership of the Local Government Association said is necessary just to “stay afloat”. Following the disastrous impact of the pandemic on councils’ finances, we are facing a new wave of cuts.

Back Tories' Brexit deal? Morning Star says it doesn't matter!

With a characteristic smirk the charlatan Johnson portrayed his Christmas Eve deal with the EU as a personal triumph and proof that Britain can, indeed, eat its cake and have it.

The “no- dealers” of the Tory-right ERG cabal were — initially, at least — not so sure, and immediately set up a “star chamber” to check that the deal was sufficiently free from continuing EU influence over the UK’s fishing quotas and other unspecified matters of tremendous importance. They concluded that the deal, while not perfect, was good enough to allow them to support it in Parliament.

Reopening call centre as infections rise?

The vast bulk of PCS members continue to work from home. This throws into sharp relief the struggle of those of our members who have to attend the workplace.

The call centre in Swansea has reopened on 4 January. Swansea is a Covid hotspot, in a country with some of the highest Covid rates in the world; the call centre in particular has been badly affected. Our view is that it’s not safe for that workplace to be open and so we are in discussions with the branch and Groups as to what should be done.

Trump leaves chaos in his wake

On Wednesday 6 January, pro-Trumpers will attempt a mass demonstration in Washington to coincide with the formal vote in Congress to ratify the Electoral College decision from the presidential election.

A crowd of conspiracy theorists, fascists, and plain deluded have been encouraged to “Be there, will be wild”. Maybe some think they can storm Congress in the same way as right-wing terrorists invaded the Michigan State House last May.

Starmer wraps himself in the flag

Keir Starmer’s 5 January address to the nation had a surreal quality. Hunched before a Union Jack, he fretfully listed groups of people who would be inconvenienced by the new lockdown and its “difficulties”, before rallying to tell us that the “strength of the British people” will see everything right, and in particular that Brits will get vaccinated before any foreigners do.

Afghanistan: expect anything except peace

Joe Biden will take over as president from Donald Trump on 20 January with the USA in the midst of its second or maybe third attempt to extricate itself from Afghanistan.

After the 11 September 2001 Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, the USA sent troops and support to help Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan to drive out the Taliban, which then controlled most of the country and provided a reserve base for Al Qaeda.

Rent strikes at 40 universities

At the start of 2021 rent strikes are planned at up to 40 universities.

Thousands of students will withhold rent as it falls due throughout January; the campaigns are demanding 30% or 40% rent rebates and many other demands. Unions and the Labour Party and other students not involved in the strikes should back the action. It can spearhead a push to reverse the disastrous course managers and government pursued in higher education last year.

School workers lead fight to curb new virus variant

Pushed by school workers in the National Education Union (NEU) refusing to comply with school reopening on 4 January, the government on the evening of 4 January announced a new lockdown.

It is vital now for the labour movement to take the initiative and campaign on our own program, rather than just relying on government measures. We must campaign for full isolation pay and other social measures, and to uphold the right to protest, picket, and strike during lockdown.

Top 1% dominate wealth

A new report from the Resolution Foundation finds that family wealth in the UK is grossly unequal and becoming more so.

The top one per cent (average net wealth ÂŁ5 million per adult in the family) have 23% of all household wealth, and a much higher proportion of the wealth that brings power (financial wealth and business assets, as against wealth in houses or in pension assets). The top 10% have 55%.

Asteroid mining, scarcity, science and socialism: responding to Aaron Bastani

The world we live in today wasn’t the result of any grand design. It was the result of struggle, revolution, and scientific and technological advances. Human society is locked in struggle: battles between social classes which shape our world, yet this is too often forgotten, and most sadly by left-wing writers advocating communism.

North London care workers will strike after bosses stall negotiations

Cleaners and care workers at the Sage nursing home in North London will strike in January because bosses have stalled negotiations on the workers' demands for ÂŁ12 an hour wages and parity with NHS sick pay and annual leave.

The care home owners called in a ÂŁ354 per hour union busting legal consultant to advise them in their stonewalling tactics.

Leo Panitch, 1945-2020

Leo Panitch, an assiduous and important Marxist writer on political economy and an active socialist, died on 19 December 2020, from Covid-19 contracted after being admitted to hospital with cancer.

His biggest book, The Making of Global Capitalism, written with Sam Gindin, is essential reading, and summarised a vigorous programme of research into post-1945 capitalism.

Raise voices against the Evans-Starmer purge!

Dozens of constituency or branch Labour Party officials, chairs, secretaries, and so on, have been suspended without due process simply for allowing debate on "banned" motions about other disciplinary crackdowns.

“If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of members, we will do that", declared Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner on 29 November, following a new message from Labour Party general secretary David Evans that local Labour Party officials could be suspended for allowing debate on restoring the Labour whip to Jeremy Corbyn.

CWU's 98% yes vote in consultative ballot

Communications Workers' Union (CWU) members in BT, Openreach, and EE have voted 97.9% yes to industrial action with a turnout of over 74%, in a consultative ballot closing 10 December.

The union has said: "CWU members have fired a very clear warning shot across BT’s bows that, unless bosses change direction on their vicious programme of compulsory redundancies, site closures and attacks on pay, terms and conditions, the company is on a direct collision course with its workforce".

Cleaners at Great Ormond St win in-house status

Hundreds of cleaners outsourced to the multinational contractor OCS at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London will be made NHS employees on 1 August 2021 following a campaign by the workers and their trade union United Voices of the World.

UVW had warned hospital bosses that it would move to a ballot for industrial action and a legal case for institutionalised racism (the cleaners are mostly ethnic-minority).

UVW won a previous victory in April 2020, when Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust gave their 1,200 outsourced staff NHS contracts.

GCSE chaos: abolish the grades!

Across the UK different regional governments have taken different approaches to the sitting and grading of school exams in the summer term of 2021.

In Scotland the National 5 (GCSE equivalent) exams have been cancelled and grades will be determined by “teacher judgement supported by assessment”. Scotland Education Secretary John Swinney declared that going ahead with exams was unfair given Covid-related disruption in schools.

The prospects of Sunaknomics

1. The Tories plan for government debt as a percentage of national income to increase through to 2024-5. They plan for public sector net investment to average 2.9% over the next five years, where it averaged 2.0% from 2010 to 2019. They project ÂŁ55 billion public-service spending on Covid in 2021-2: public spending on Covid is estimated at ÂŁ280 billion in 2020-1, of which ÂŁ113 billion is public-service spending and the rest spending on furloughs, business support, and loans.

Pandemic points to need to "build back fairer"

"Covid-19 has exposed and amplified the inequalities we [have] observed [before] and the economic harm caused by containment measures – lockdowns, tier systems, social isolation measures - will further damage health and widen health inequalities.

"Inequalities in Covid-19 mortality rates follow a similar social gradient to that seen for all causes of death and the causes of inequalities in Covid-19 are similar to the causes of inequalities in health more generally...

Bosnia-Herzegovina: 25 years after Dayton

There is a film nowadays rarely seen which was once, perhaps surprisingly, the most popular foreign film ever shown in China: Walter Defends Sarajevo (directed by Hajruin Krvavac in 1972) is a Yugoslav film, set in the Second World War, telling the story of the Nazis’ attempts to eliminate the mysterious Walter – based on a real person – who is the leader of the Sarajevo Partisans and a master at disguise and intrigue.

A socialist-feminist take on Xmas films

It’s my last column of the year, so time for our socialist feminist Christmas film review.

Muppets Christmas Carol: Like many Muppets movies this shows the Muppets experiencing and expressing the misery of capitalism. This is ameliorated not by working-class struggle but by benevolent capitalism, which had been faced with its own horrific reflection. This is the most liberal of the Muppets movies.

BT workers ballot

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is conducting a consultative ballot of its members in the telecom giant BT, which could presage a formal ballot for action to resist what the union calls “a vicious programme of compulsory redundancies, site closures, and attacks on pay, terms and conditions”. The consultative ballot closes on Thursday 10 December, and CWU reps and activists say they are confident of a huge vote in favour of action. Almost 50,000 workers are being balloted.

Social solidarity to get through the pandemic months

As of 7 December, the world Covid-19 death rate neared 150% of its previous peak in April (seven-day rolling average), and was rising sharply.

It will take months, maybe many months, for vaccination to slow that death rate decisively. Strict covid-distancing rules at one level or another will be needed for those months.

The 150% figure is not driven by US statistics, though the death rate there has been rising fast since mid-October and will soon pass the local April peak.

Moroccan offensive in Western Sahara

After sixteen years of war, on 6 September 1991, Morocco and the POLISARIO, the national liberation movement in Western Sahara, reached a ceasefire agreement, sponsored by the UN, for the holding of a self-determination referendum in which the Sahrawi people will decide their fate. This referendum has not yet taken place; until November 13 this year the ceasefire agreement was still in force.

What happened then in Western Sahara?

High Court rules against trans youth

On 1 December, the High Court released its judgment in the case brought forward by Keira Bell, a woman who underwent hormone blockers followed by hormone replacement therapy as well as a gender-affirming double mastectomy (commonly referred to as top surgery) before deciding to detransition to her birth-assigned sex, as well as an anonymous claimant against the Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic.

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