Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Green Party is the workers party

What do Greens know about workers and workers' rights? Aren't we just a bunch of tree-huggers and middle class do-gooders? That's what some of our political enemies would like to have you believe but the reality is quite different. Green Party members, along with most of the population, are workers themselves and face the same daily struggles that all workers do in austerity Britain. The Green Party has demonstrated its commitment to supporting and working with workers organisations by creating the post of Trade Union Liaison Officer on the national executive, and The Green Party Trade Union Group has existed for many years.

Our relations with trade unions are improving all the time and its hardly surprising that this is the case when our MP Caroline Lucas and our Leader Natalie Bennett, along with many of our members have shown solidarity with striking workers on the picket line. But what really matters is the Party's approach to workers rights and work itself. If you want to look at all of our policies on Workers rights and employment follow the link to our policy website

For this post I've picked out three policy sections which I think will interest most workers because they cover the fact that we recognise that work doesn't just take place in the formal economy, support the right to join a trade union and the right to take industrial action - "without the threat of dismissal and discrimination':
WR101 We define work in the full sense, not the traditional limited definition as employment in the formal economy. Green thinking recognises the latter as one part of the whole - a large part, but not the only one. Work exists in a variety of forms, each related to and often affecting others, like species in an ecosystem. Work covers all the activities people undertake to support themselves, their families and communities.
WR410 We support the right to join a trade union, and condemn discrimination by employers against union members. We shall enact a statutory right to join a union, which shall apply to all workers of any occupation or profession; this will include members of the police, security and armed services. We support unions taking the unwaged and unemployed into membership. Discrimination against union members, and in particular refusal of employment or dismissal on grounds of union membership, shall be illegal.
WR432 The Green Party recognises the right to take industrial action without being in breach of contract and without the threat of dismissal or discrimination, in accordance with ILO Convention 87 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We will ensure this right is protected in UK legislation.

Green Party members supporting striking workers

But that's not all, because the Green Party believes in economic democracy - the right of workers to own and democratically control the businesses they work in - and what's more we intend to provide workers with the means to own those businesses:
WR610 We will grant employees the legal right to buy out their companies and turn them into workers co-operatives. Buy outs would be funded by a Green National Investment Bank and contingent on the co-ops following green and ethical policies. These co-operatives would localise economic decision-making and give employees incentives for greater productivity.
A Green Party government would aim to make a fundamental shift in the way our economy works, to empower workers and ensure that the economy is embedded in local communities and not at the mercy of remote 'investors' simply seeking to profit from their labour. There's lots more, so why not take a look at our policy website and help us make these changes a reality? - join.greenparty.org.uk.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Capitalism vs the climate


Better late than never! -  I'm posting my video of the climate march in Manchester on 21st September, which I attended with friends from the Green Party. The Green Party had a really good turnout on a demo which was disappointingly small in numbers. The march, which was part of a global protest, coincided with the publication of one of the most important books of the year, if not the century so far. "This Changes Everything" by Naomi Klein puts across a powerful but simple message - it's turbo-charged, deregulated capitalism which is driving global warming and if we're going to prevent catastrophic climate change we have to stop extractivism - end of. And that means moving to a new, post-capitalist economy which will inevitably be more locally based with de-centralised energy production.



This is a message which a lot of people don't want to hear, and strangely, as Naomi Klein points out, many of those people are on the left of politics and in the green movement. What's more, those on the right, the capitalists and their cheerleaders, have a much better grasp of the connection between dangerous climate change and the economic activities which they promote, which is why they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars funding climate change denial, something which Naomi Klein documents very well in her book.

I've posted about the climate change deniers before, and although its easy to understand their motives its harder to understand why so many who want to fight climate change are reluctant to point the finger at capitalism. It could be something to do with the fact that in our western culture the idea that mankind has the right to dominate and control nature runs very deep, coming as it does from a Judeo-Christian tradition which pre-dates capitalism by a thousand years and more. That means we can cut down forests, extract all the ores and fossil fuels on the planet, and empty the seas of fish if we want to. Add to that the fact that we are addicted to consumption, and that the mainstream left has been weak on real economic alternatives and you may go some way towards explaining this conundrum.

I started this blog around the time of the Great Economic Crash of 2008. Much of the reason behind it was to try and understand what was happening, and to talk about it. Blogging as therapy for me, but also as a way of finding solutions to the ongoing economic and environmental crises we are in. In many of the posts on this blog I've written about ideas which point the way towards dealing with capitalism and climate change, from Transition to the growth of renewable energy, to the Green New Deal, to the growth of locally owned and controlled co-operatives, we do have the means of living and building prosperity in ways that are much less destructive environmentally, economically, and socially than capitalism. 

There is much cause for hope, we can still keep warming below 2C, but we need to engage and energise the majority who can't see an alternative to capitalism and the endless 'growth' we hear about every time politicians talk about the economy in the media. We need to convince that majority that a socially just, collective response to climate change is viable and can provide the jobs, houses, education and healthcare that they need. People want change but they have yet to be persuaded that its possible. That is a huge task but its one which we can carry through successfully if we continue to campaign and push for political change through the Green Party.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Emperor's clothes

It's been happening slowly but surely for quite some time but I think we have finally arrived. A combination of twenty four hour rolling news, and all pervading social media, have brought us to the point where the frailties of our politicians are regularly and painfully exposed. There is nowhere to hide. The idols have all been shown to have feet of clay. Any and every error, no matter how small, is seized upon by the rapacious media machine. One of the most recent examples of this was Ed Miliband's failure to mention the deficit in his recent conference speech.

As recently as the noughties politicians were still relatively remote figures, people with private lives, who could expect some time away from the glare of the cameras, but no longer. We know now that they are all just mere humans like the rest of us. And its not just Ed who's been the subject of media attention focusing on errors. In the summer Cameron was criticised for his many holidays, and followed up recently with a gaffe when he was overhead saying the the Queen was 'purring' about the Scottish independence result. And the Scottish referendum itself brutally exposed the shameful weakness and and mendacity of all three party leaders as they rushed up to Scotland at the eleventh hour vowing to give the Scots more power, in order to save the Union.
Ed Miliband forgot to mention the deficit in his conference speech
Social media has also been a great leveller. Party leaders use it to communicate with millions of followers and have used it to signal policy changes. But the use of media such as Twitter is fraught with risk.
If you are going to use it, or have someone do so on your behalf make sure they are social media savvy. Make a mistake, put something across in a cack-handed fashion, and you can be sure you'll be the butt of a million sarcastic tweets and retweets.

There is a genuine problem here though. Who would want to be a politician under such circumstances? Is there a danger that good candidates would be deterred from standing. Being in the spotlight would certainly put me off, but then I think its time that politicians stopped trying to be popular and started trying to be more effective, and that means spending more time behind closed doors, stopping courting the media and social media, and telling it like it really is - because that is what people really want.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

So project fear has won.....for now

In the final days of the Scottish referendum campaign the 'No' camp expended a fair amount of energy complaining on social media about 'intimidation' from supporters of the Yes campaign. But the bits of graffiti I saw, in photos, sprayed on polling station walls, whilst reprehensible, were trivial compared to the sustained programme of dire threats delivered by what was dubbed the 'Project Fear' approach of the Better Together campaign - vote yes and you'll loose your jobs, pensions and homes.

After the polls had closed, on Sky TV, Peter Kellner of YouGov, who produced what turned out to be a pretty accurate exit poll on the night, said that he thought there had been a late swing to No from people not wanting to 'take the risk' of independence. In the end the bankers, politicians and the market got what they wanted - the 'correct result' - which I referred to in my last post, a result which was intended to retain 'business as usual' and prevent Scotland developing a progressive alternative to neoliberal austerity - not to mention keeping the oil and Trident.

So in the end 'Project Fear' delivered a 'no' vote by 55% to 45%. This was presented as a 10 point gap and a veritable landslide. Whilst that might hold true for a general election, the fact is that Yes failed by 5% + 1 vote to make Scotland an independent country. What's more Yes turned out to be much more heavily skewed towards the younger voter, which means that independence is more or less inevitable in the not too distant future unless those who want to keep the union can come up with some much more compelling and positive messages. 

Where did Yes go wrong? Maybe Salmond and the SNP were too careful for their own good. The biggest single mistake was the currency. Although currency union was possible, despite what the No side said, it was never desirable. To be independent a country needs its own currency and central bank, and that is the option they should have gone for. As it was Alastair Darling used 'currency union' and 'lack of a plan B' as an effective club to beat Salmond with in the first televised debate, something that Salmond should have handled much better, and never quite recovered from. Despite the failure of the Yes campaign, Salmond has had a remarkable political career and has achieved far more than most politicians. His will be a lasting legacy.

For those who saw the Yes campaign for what it was, a fight for democracy, not nationalism, it's not all doom and gloom though. The Yes campaign energised and radicalised thousands of Scots, many of whom are determined to remain politically active and punish the 'No' parties. Membership of the SNP has soared as has that of the Scottish Greens. This bodes ill for Labour, who are seen as the main culprits for defeat by the Yes voters. If they can maintain momentum up to the general election, Labour will have a real fight on its hands and could loose seats.

Not only that, but there is a big shake up coming South of the border, where it's recognised that more powers for Scotland must lead to constitutional reform in England, because of the 'West Lothian question' - Scottish MPs voting on legislation which affects England only. But the effect of the 'West Lothian question' has been exaggerated, there are relatively few laws in Parliament which affect only England and there is no real reason why Scottish MPs elected to a UK parliament shouldn't be able to vote on all bills. And, according to Will Hutton in the Observer:
'... mySociety finds that of 5,000 votes in the House of Commons since 1997, only 21 depended on the votes of Scottish MPs'
Its much more difficult to disentangle 'English' legislation from that affecting other parts of the UK than you might think. Despite that, after the referendum result, the Tories and UKIP immediately jumped on the 'EVEL' bandwagon and sought to bounce the other parties into a settlement that suited them alone by making more powers for Scotland conditional on Scottish MPs becoming second-class members of the House of Commons.

As far as constitutional change is concerned there is still all to play for. It couldn't realistically happen without a constitutional convention being set up, and that takes time, making it something that will have to happen beyond the next general election. As someone who lives in the North of England it could only work for me if there were regional devolution for the Northwest, and I'm sure the same is true for many others in the North and West of England. An English parliament offers us next to nothing. And so, despite the victory for Project Fear UK politics is having a good shake up and will never be quite the same again. The 45% have ensured there can be no return to 'business as usual'. Real change has to happen.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Yes vote in Scotland will be a massive boost for democracy

Have you noticed how politicians in the West like Barack Obama and David Cameron are always banging on about how good democracy is? There's a problem though. In the West the 'powers that be' - the establishment or ruling class if you prefer - like democracy when it serves their purposes, and that means getting the result they want.

One of the classic examples in recent times was the Irish referendum on the EU constitution. The Irish had the good sense to vote against. Was the constitution killed off?... er no ..  but twelve months later they were made to vote again - and this time they delivered the 'correct result'. It was a travesty of the democratic process but it suited the purposes of the Euro-ruling class. So, democracy is OK as long as the voters get it right. In neoliberal Europe and the USA it hardly matters which party you vote for because you will always get the same result - neoliberalism.

Of course all was going smoothly in the Scottish referendum on independence until The YouGov poll put the Yes campaign in the lead, then all hell let loose with a barrage of threats about pensions and mortgages and doom from banks such as Deutsche Bank, followed by the cancelling of PMQs and a dash to Scotland by Clegg, Cameron and Miliband, and resolute pro-union bias from the BBC. The Scots were in danger of doing the unthinkable - voting for something they wanted rather than the 'correct result'. And a 'correct result' has to be obtained so that any danger of a progressive alternative to neoliberal austerity emerging in Scotland can be squashed.
A Yes vote in Scotland will be a massive boost for democracy
In less than two days time Scots will be going to the polls to vote in the independence referendum. The outcome, despite the fear-mongering and bullying of  British capital and their tame politicians, is too close to call. Whatever the result, it will cause an earthquake in British politics. A yes vote will tear asunder the UK, and even a narrow win for no will shatter the political set-up in the UK. But how did we get here? You've guessed it - New Labour. If the Labour Party hadn't betrayed everything it ever stood for and embraced Thatcherism there never would have been an SNP government in Scotland or a referendum on independence.

What's done is done. The purpose of this post isn't to put the boot into Labour, only to explain why I think we are where we are. But the behaviour of Labour should act as a warning. The UK needs a political party of the progressive left which will act in the interests of the 99%. Without that people will look for alternatives and often those alternatives will be distasteful. The rise of both the BNP, and now UKIP in England are due to anger and disillusionment with a system that acts only in the interests of corporations and the rich.

I wish the Scots well. I don't believe a yes vote is about nationalism, I think its about the triumph of hope over fear and I support the Yes campaign because I think the Scots have a perfectly good chance of building a successful economy and a progressive society which works for the benefit of the many not the few. I also believe the rest of the UK will have a better chance of doing the same once people can see that democracy can work and overcome the interests of the ruling class. Whatever the result, the complacency, arrogance and incompetence of our so-called leaders and their friends in business has been painfully exposed. Hopefully things will never be quite the same again.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Privatisation of public services is a racket

More and more people are wising up to the fact that privatisation of public services is a racket. You may not have read this blog before but if you have you'd know that I've been attacking privatisation ever since I started posting in 2008. That's because I witnessed the scam of privatisation as it happened under Thatcher and I know that the Tory party never do anything for the public good.They exist to further private gain.


In the 1980s privatisation was presented to the British public as being a new and shiny bonanza. Allegedly 'inefficient' public services such as the utilities were flogged off by the Thatcher government to the British people, and this was going to be a bright new future, a share owning democracy in which we could all participate. None of the small investors - 'Sids' - attracted by the promise of an instant profit, seemed not to notice that they were being asked to pay for something that they already owned. Of course if Thatcher had been serious about spreading share ownership the shares would have been dished out free to all British citizens. But it was all a con designed to allow the 'market' to get its hands on a cheap bargain. Very soon the most of the 'Sids' had sold their shares to build a new patio and our utilities ended up in the hands of the usual suspects - foreign shareholders. Even Harold Macmillan, the former Tory Prime Minister, complained that Thatcher 'had sold off the family silver'. And so she had. Privatisation is nothing more than asset stripping the public sector for the benefit of the market and to the detriment of the public. It results in the creation of private monopolies. After corporations have bought the assets on the cheap, we end up paying more to get less.

So it's hardly surprising that we're seeing some really good articles appearing which expose the collusion between government and corporations to rip off the taxpayer. A good piece by Aditya Chakraborrty in today's Guardian exposes how the privatised railways are set up to provide handsome profits for Richard Branson and co whilst we pick up the bill. In any other sphere this would be called corruption - politicians working with private interests to shaft the taxpayer. It's a nice little earner, so why bother to get involved in organised crime when you can make millions by taking the taxpayer for a ride in a perfectly legal racket? The sooner we can bring the railways and utilities back into public hands the better.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

David Cameron offers UK families his biggest insult yet

David Cameron is completely out of touch with reality - the reality of life for ordinary families in Britain. How could it be any other way? Cameron was brought up in a wealthy family. His father was a tax dodger. Cameron went to Eton - the college of the ruling class.

So when he talks about his government only pursuing family friendly policies he must be taking the piss, or is it that he is really unable to  understand how families live? In his statement he even talked about -  'all the amazing work families do on our behalf' - by 'our' of course he must have meant the capitalist class which he represents. Yes David, families do do amazing work reproducing and creating cheap labour to work for you and your corporate chums - work that they do for very little reward on ever decreasing incomes - thanks to your government. 

So here is my message to David Cameron:
 "if you want to be family friendly end austerity, restore child benefit, stop the privatisation of the NHS, introduce a universal basic income, implement rent controls, build more houses, introduce a Green New Deal .... and when you have done that - do the decent thing - apologise for all the harm you've caused and ... resign!"

Now that is putting UK families first.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The 'Free' market is damaging our economy and well-being

About 18 months ago I was listening to one of those capitalist puff piece programmes which have become so commonplace on BBC Radio 4. A presenter, probably Evan Davies, was busy sucking up to group of 'captains of industry', who were telling the listeners what a great bunch of wealth creators they were. Amidst the general congratulatory backslapping they were talking about India and one of them, clearly a fully paid up 'free' market fundamentalist, said that  the reason why there was so much poverty in India was due to the fact that there weren't enough entrepreneurs. Well obviously... not! I can remember thinking that the problem that lay behind massive poverty in India was in fact the capitalist 'free' market economy so enamored of the speaker.

In India there are millions of people who live a hand-to-mouth existence and survive only because they have created jobs for themselves.  If they could I'm sure most would take a decent paid job. They can't because there aren't any. They have to create their own jobs because the capitalist 'free' market economic system is a failure. It has failed them. Its a system which creates massive fortunes for a few, loots the natural resources of the country, exports vast wealth, and leaves poverty and deprivation for the many, and environmental degradation, behind in its wake.

We are used to the idea that capitalism creates jobs because it used to but it doesn't have to. In the 21st Century arguably the most important sector of the capitalist economy - the financial sector - makes billions in profits yet does nothing which is socially useful and creates relatively few jobs. It is by far the largest part of the global economy. Since the crash in 2008 - 80% of net new jobs created in the UK have been through self employment by people who have had to create jobs because capitalism has failed them also. As Larry Elliot says in the article:

"A feature of the labour market is the increasing role played by the self-employed, who account for more than 80% of the net rise in employment since 2008. A large number of the self-employed may be former full-time staff in well-paid jobs in, say, the public sector or construction, who are now scratching a living where they can"
Note the 'scratching a living'. Sound familiar? The UK is becoming more like India with fewer jobs and increasing poverty. Much of this is thanks to the Coalition government with its class-war austerity attack on the public sector, low-paid, poor and disabled. Real wages have fallen 8.4% in real terms since 2008. As more of the public sector is asset stripped - i.e. privatised - and the market insinuates itself further into our lives and our economy we can expect the trend to accelerate. 

In the week in which Robin Williams died there has been a lot of talk about people suffering from depression and the inadequacy of support and treatment in the UK has been highlighted. How much of this depression is due to the desperation and anxiety of poverty and the lack of a future in the UK's failing 'free' market economy? Capitalism doesn't just cause poverty it causes alienation and despair. The triumph of the 'free' market is that it is making the UK daily more like India, a society with massive inequality, mass poverty with a vast reservoir of low-paid workers available to churn out ever greater profits for foreign shareholders. A society run for the benefit of the few rather than the majority. There is only one solution, to turn away from the marketisation and commodification of our lives to the commons and the mutualisation of wealth creation.

Monday, 4 August 2014

So our 'meritocracy' is really just jobs for the boys .....and girls?

Really good episode of Thinking Allowed last week. Its a great programme, consistently thought provoking and always well worth listening to. What caught my attention was a discussion on 'networking' by the Middle Classes. I use a capital 'M' because I'm talking about proper middle class people, not just people who think they are middle class because they have a white collar job, and by 'proper' I mean professionals - doctors, lawyers etc. You can't just become middle class overnight by simply going to university and getting a half decent job, Middle class people tend to come from families that have been been Middle class for several generations and they usually have money, property and importantly for this discussion - connections.

In the programme Laurie Taylor discussed a paper called 'Staying Classy' with the author Jessica Abrahams based on research carried out on working class and Middle class students at university. What she found was that while Middle class graduating students were more than happy to use family connections to get on the job ladder, gain experience and further their careers, working class students were prevented by feeling of 'honour' i.e. they didn't feel it was the right thing to do. As you can imagine this put them at a disadvantage in a very difficult and competitive job market.

But its interesting to also think about how employers relate to all this. Given the choice between someone who had started out with a 'good' job - e.g. some sort of internship with a high powered company arranged through family connections - or someone who had acquired a less glamorous post through their own hard work and efforts - who would you choose?  Well I'm supposing many employers would choose the former rather than the latter candidate, and that's how the job market largely works.

I can imagine people thinking not to use connections is daft and if you don't bother you deserve what you get, but what about nepotism? Do we really want a society built on class privilege with the 'best jobs' being monopolised by the sons and daughters of the better off? What does this say about the kind of society we live in? So much for meritocracy. There's no merit in gaining advantage through who you know. 

Finally, its worth defining 'meritocracy' because most people misunderstand it. The word was coined by George Young in1958 to mean:
'merit is equated with intelligence-plus-effort, its possessors are identified at an early age and selected for appropriate intensive education, and there is an obsession with quantification, test-scoring, and qualifications.

Young was describing a meritocratic 'class' groomed for success. Meritocracy is now taken to mean something very different - success based on ability and talent. But perhaps it needs a new meaning in 21st century Coalition Britain - success based on who you know not what ability you have - or maybe we should just call it 'Nepotocracy'?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Welcome to Western Neoliberal Totalitarian 'Democracy'

I am old enough to remember the Soviet Union. I grew up with it and I'm glad I did. Why? because it meant that I lived in a time when there was an alternative to capitalism and it was an alternative that was taken very seriously. It was taken particularly seriously by American capitalism, to the extent that there were show trials of communists  and 'communist sympathisers' in the USA in the 1950s, and there was a relentless tide of ant-Soviet propaganda both in the USA and the other 'Western Liberal Democracies' (known then as 'the West') in Europe and Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

We were told that while the West was free, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian one-party state, characterised by a rigid ideology, an all-pervasive propaganda machine, the brutal suppression of dissent, that people were imprisoned on trumped-up charges in terrible conditions and you couldn't fart in your own toilet without the authorities knowing about it because the KGB had an all pervasive system of spies and snoopers recording everything you did - and heaven help you if it was the wrong kind of fart.

Of course there was more than a grain of truth in the anti-Soviet propaganda though it was no doubt played up as far as possible by the capitalist propagandists. But anyway this isn't a post about the Soviet Union, neither is it a defence of the Soviet Union, its a post about those 'Western liberal democracies' I referred to earlier and what has become of them since the demise of the USSR.

The fact that I've had direct experience of living at a time when the Soviet Union existed enables me to put the current situation we find ourselves in here in the 'West' in perspective. Because as far as I can see in 'the West' we are now living in a one-party state with a regime of rigid ideology, an all pervasive propaganda machine and the brutal suppression of dissent, where people are imprisoned on trumped-up charges in terrible conditions and you can't fart in your own toilet without the regime knowing about it. Now where does that remind you of?

"Imprisoned on trumped-up charges in terrible conditions"

Every major party in the 'West' is now a neoliberal party following the same rigid 'free' market ideology. In the UK, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are simply the left, right, and centre wings of the UK 'neoliberal party'. The same is true in the USA with the Republicans and Democrats and the pattern is repeated in all the other 'Western' democracies. The result is that whoever you vote for in Western democracies you get more of the same, and whichever major media outlet you use you get the same narrow ideological view of the world. 

A classic example of the way this stitch-up works is austerity. Since the 2008 global economic crash, every 'Western' government has had its own version of austerity, dumping the costs of the crash onto workers, the poor and the unemployed. When voters have rejected those governments at the ballot box and voted for the opposition, wanting real economic change, they have been faced with more of the same - yet more austerity. So what used to be called 'Western Liberal Democracy' could perhaps now be more accurately described as 'Western Totalitarian Democracy', or since our 'democracy' is now largely controlled by corporations and the rich perhaps simply fascism would be a more accurate description. 

It may well be that things in the 'West' are not yet as 'bad' as they were in the Soviet Union. But a quarter of a century after its demise the parallels between what happened there and what is happening here must be taken seriously. All who want a genuinely open, democratic and plural society, and want to bring about real change and sweep away the growing threat to our prosperity and freedom that is being driven by the corporations and neoliberal 'free' market right, need to organise, protest and vote for parties that oppose the corporate takeover of our lives. 

Postscript: today (20/08/14) I came across an interesting passage in David Harvey's latest book Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism:
 " ....in other words, and intensification of the totalitarian police-state surveillance and and militarised control system and the totalitarian democracy we are now largely experiencing" [p220 -my italics].