As workers in the trade union, occupy, anti-cuts and other movements we should regularly be considering the nature of socialism and democracy. Involved as we are in the every day practice of class struggle, we should, to the best of our abilities, base our actions on accurate information, draw coherent conclusions and make use of this knowledge to change social conditions. This necessary scientific approach is the antithesis of religion, superstition or mysticism.
A recent employment tribunal found that in certain circumstances democratic socialism can be considered a religion. Mr Olivier, a Labour Party councillor and activist for over 30 years, brought a case against his employers for unfair dismissal.
In general political and scientific views would not be covered by equalities legislation as the Equality Act 2010 does not view these as philosophical beliefs capable of protection.
Olivier was dismissed from his job as a benefits advisor at Department of Works and Pension supposedly for becoming a local councillor without notifying or seeking approval of his employer. He also wrote letters to the local newspaper criticising government policy on taxes and benefits.
The Olivier verses DWP finding, which may be appealed, is not binding on any future cases and it does not even settle the present case as to whether the dismissal was unfair. The tribunal’s finding is only that “Democratic Socialism” may in certain very limited circumstances be a protected philosophical belief akin to religion.
Explanatory notes to the 2010 Act state that a belief could be protected if it is genuinely held, based on belief rather than information available, have a substantial effect on the person’s life, have a degree of cogency and be worthy of respect in a democratic society. Using these points as guidelines the present case widens the scope of discrimination that can be protected under the Equality Act.
So what has been achieved for working people? This tribunal has acknowledged that “Democratic Socialism” may be a protected belief. But how far would this type of socialism take us if we can’t make accurate observations about the state of society, or draw conclusions on how to solve its numerous problems? And how useful to workers is a belief system that the ruling class is willing to protect, but does not achieve concrete results?