Submitted by AWL on 5 February, 2020 - 12:36

Bob Carnegie’s interview in Solidarity 530 Tackling the union bureaucracies is instructive for understanding trade unions in the current period.

As Bob says, some of the problems are not that new, but I was reminded strongly of the situation in the railway industry in Britain.

The overwhelming majority of organised train drivers in Britain are members of Aslef, a union with membership open only to employees responsible for the “operation of trains”. The industrial union on the job, the RMT, has members across the grades, cleaners, station staff, engineers, back office staff etc.

Aslef may enter into disputes quite regularly. Often the very threat of strike action by drivers, who after will stop the service, can bring management back round the table. The proposed new legislation for a minimum service may disrupt that way of working, but here and now they are in a strong position. Only they have rarely used it to defend other jobs in the industry, and especially soon after rail privatisation they sold off their own conditions for big pay rises.

Sometimes Aslef members have stood up and refused to cross RMT pickets, but the union as a whole sees itself as a sort of professional association. At one point an Aslef general secretary proposed that the organisation cease being a union and reconfigure itself as a labour-hire agency for train drivers.

Aslef’s current pay claim on London Underground calls for a specific financial reward for train operators, whereas the RMT, which also includes drivers, has asked for better pay for all workers directly employed by London Underground.

As Bob highlighted, the problem is not just one of craft unions. Better paid, skilled workers, even in industrial unions, are often less receptive to demands like a shorter working week or rostering for less extreme shifts. Oddly, they are often more narrowly focused on pay rises at all costs than are worse-paid workers.

In these cases the role of politics, and the arguments for an industrial union representing all grades, have to outweigh the sectional demands of a subset of already well paid workers. Without a perspective that sees trade unions as part of a broad working-class movement, sectionalism will flourish.

Stephen Wood, Haringey


Les Hearn’s letter (Homœopathy and Placebo, 29 January 2020) is refreshingly even-tempered and correctly emphasises the therapeutic value of a good homœopathic consultation.

Many trained NHS GPs use homœopathy in daily practice, despite severely restrictive time pressures. However, some of his comments reveal (perhaps unintended) support for homœopathy.

He seems to miss a crucial point about homœopathy when he states that “if the water used to prepare dilutions retained a memory of a substance’s beneficial effects, it would also retain memory of all its other effects, good or bad”. To be effective, homœopathic remedies must reflect the potentially toxic effects of their source. That is the very, and dialectical, point of homœopathic remedies.

They work by the Similimum principle – “like cures like”, as Hippocrates maintained – which may be viewed as analogous to today’s conventional vaccinations. A relatively safe, altered – diluted and succussed – preparation of a harmful substance may be used to stimulate the healing of an organism having the very signs and symptoms that would be caused by a dangerous dose of that same substance.

Living on the Wirral, where most of England’s coronavirus suspects are now being quarantined, I hope someone is speedily preparing a homœopathic remedy and a vaccine from that very virus. Our immune systems need help to cope with a novel threat.

Les claims that “homœopathic treatments are … indistinguishable from placebos”, but that placebos are “of immense importance”. If placebo is efficacious, then it cannot be “nothing” or “ineffective”. A causal power may be an overt force or a real absence (see, for example Roy Bhaskar Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom, 1993), but if it can achieve a change, then it has dynamic being, which can be harnessed for healing.

I concur with Les that homœopathy should not substitute for a suitable orthodox medical intervention: setting broken bones under general anæsthetic, for example. But in such cases good homœopathy can have a powerful, complementary healing role. I also agree that “today, there are conventional treatments for which there is little evidence of benefit and indeed some evidence of harm”.

I think Les is unfair to the existing evidence base for homœopathy, which shows that homœopathy is at least “placebo-plus”, but I also think it is clear that more research should be conducted about unproven orthodox medical technology and about the methods, processes and effects of homœopathic medicine.

This is prevented at present by several factors, including the might of the global, profiteering pharmaceutical industry and the irrational, aggressive, scientistic and populist opposition to homœopathy, which is encouraged by the same Establishment that is preparing the NHS for private sale.

Richard Shield, Wallasey

The Israeli left

The Israeli left is in decline not merely due to an overabundance of ineptitude.

Nor because of the violence of the second intifada, or the ill will of Israel’s Mizrahi majority to the plight of Palestinians in whose cause they were cruelly scapegoated. It is in decline because it is quite literally politically bankrupt. And by that I mean, it has no credible political capital to expend.

This is the very much the result of the failure of the first deal of the century.

And that has lessons for us, because its failure is our conundrum.

What we, who support conciliation arising from a just two-state solution, envision and propose has already been put on the table -- and rejected. We perhaps chose to forget.

But the Israelis don’t. Trump, Netanyahu and Gantz are the poisonous fruit of that rejection.

Let me explain. Another Israeli right-winger, Ehud Olmert, far different indeed than Benny Gantz, made an unprecedented offer to Abbas in 2008. According to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Olmert accepted all of the PA’s publicly expressed demands and even offered Abbas more than the full area of the West Bank and Gaza.

Olmert proposed that Israel retain 6.3% of the territory in order to keep control of major Jewish settlements. But he offered to compensate the Palestinians with Israeli land equivalent to 5.8% of the West Bank along with a link to the Gaza strip — another territory meant to be part of Palestine — plus another 20 square kilometres.

Regarding Jerusalem, Olmert said — according to Erekat — “what is Arab is Arab, what’s Jewish is Jewish, and we’ll keep an open city”.

He offered to withdraw from Arab neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem and to place the Old City under international control. Jerusalem would in effect be the capital of two countries.

He even consented to the return of 150,000 Palestinian refugees over the course of 10 years. Could Olmert, who was under criminal investigation, have pieced together a working coalition to push these proposals through the Knesset? Who knows?
Could he have saved his skin by delivering the long — and longed-for — elusive peace? We cannot comment with certainty.
What we do know is that Abbas and the PA rejected this plan out of hand.

In 2009, Erekat explained to the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour why the Palestinians decided to decline then Prime Minister Olmert’s offer. “(Prime Minister) Ehud Barak offered us 90% (of the occupied territories) and Olmert offered us 100%. Why should we hurry?”

Now we know why.

Trump has given his buddy Netanyahu a second “deal of the century.” And this deal will force the Israeli peace movement to join with the PA and Hamas, who are very adept at saying no, but who, unfortunately, never learned the art of saying yes.

The Israeli right suffers no such similar affliction. America’s very stable genius did not, it is true, offer the full dream-come-true for the settlers.

But his plan does not offer the Palestinian “state” contiguous borders with any other Arab state. It permits the IDF to unilaterally erect outposts any where in the West Bank as an emergency contingent. And it confirms the dreams of annexation beyond anything ever previously green-lit by an American administration.

Territory within the Green Line in the Negev desert and in Wadi Ara in the centre of Israel will be handed over to the Palestinians. 10,000 hardline settlers will have to be moved. And Israel will have to relinquish control of some East Jerusalem neighbourhoods. Perhaps these are hard pills for Netanyahu or Gantz to swallow. But the Israeli right, unlike the PA, know how to say yes.

Olmert predicted that it would take another 50 years for another Israeli Prime Minister to again extend his offer if it were rejected.
Let’s hope he wasn’t an optimist.

Barry Finger, New York

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