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Is there life outside Labour?

In our continuing series on left strategy, Chris Nineham from Counterfire responds to Laura Smith and John...

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Counterfire is a socialist organisation committed to building the biggest possible movements against a system that is creating more and more crisis and misery.

Whether or not we get real change depends on wider struggles in society, it depends on mass movements, popular protests and on workers taking action.

We believe that this kind of popular opposition requires a dynamic extra-parliamentary left, rooted in workplaces, communities and colleges.

We also believe that these struggles are connected. Racism, sexism and all oppressions are a product of a society based on the exploitation of workpeople by a tiny minority of capitalists.

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In the process of helping to build resistance, Counterfire puts the case for a revolutionary socialism that ultimately seeks popular control of society and genuine liberation for all.

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Our members are actively involved in the protest movements and workers struggles around the country, and we are organising local Counterfire groups - currently online - to help build solidarity with struggles and popularise socialist ideas and analysis.

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Socialist Explainers

John Westmoreland

A campaign has developed at York College against management attacks on John Westmoreland, a popular History teacher and leading trade union activist

There is widespread concern among staff, students and parents that John Westmoreland, Chair of York College's Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) branch is being targeted because he is an effective union rep. He has a formidable reputation for standing up for his colleagues.

John faces disciplinary action after what seems to be an orchestrated series of complaints against him from managers at the further education college. These complaints relate entirely his union activities. None have any connection with his teaching, and John is popular and admired among his students.

The complaints are an attempt to weaken the trade union, constituting a backlash against the individual most associated with the track record of an effective and campaigning UCU branch.

Complaints about management bullying

Grievance procedures are traditionally available to staff as a way of complaining about, and addressing, problems with bullying or unacceptable behaviour by managers. Incredibly, however, grievance complaints have been lodged by a number of managers against John. The background to these complaints is John's record of sticking up for staff who had complained about management bullying.

UCU members at the college had complained about instances of alleged bullying. The UCU branch passed on complaints to the college Principal, but felt the response was inadequate. Instead there followed, over a period of time, a series of complaints by managers against John himself. He was subjected to grievance procedures initiated by managers yet not even informed of the fact for some time.

When John was informed of managers' complaints against him he found it stressful, intimidating and upsetting. This was especially so when college management put together an investigating team to pursue any possible disciplinary action - an unprecedented level of response.

Under pressure

The wider background to these attacks is a growing culture of top-down management and bullying, which is fed by a combination of huge pressure (to get results and hit targets) combined with cuts in pay and funding. In the last year many teachers at the college have complained of workload being ramped up.

John has now had to take sick leave due to the enormous stress this has caused, a painful situation for someone with tremendous commitment to his students. Colleagues, students and parents have all expressed support for him. 

An online campaign has been established to raise wider awareness of the attacks on John and the union, and to galvanise support for John. On Wednesday there is a protest at the college, involving students, against the totally unnecessary disciplinary procedures. This is at 12.30pm on Wednesday 3 July outside York College.