Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The 'free market' is ruining our economy

I've posted many times here about the 'credit crunch' crisis which has done so much damage to our economy. That crisis is still ongoing. The UK and the USA have suffered more than most other major economies as a result of the crisis. The latest figures show that the UK economy shrunk by 0.2% in the last quarter. That is now the longest recession in our history.

So why have we been hit harder than the French and Germans? The answer is the pursuit of free-market economics - or rather neoliberal politics dressed up as economics. The UK and USA follow a particular brand of 'free-market' economics known as 'anglo-saxon'. This is 'free-market' economics in its purest and most fanatical form. In this version everything is up for grabs. Everything must be privatised and sold off to the highest bidder without any thought for the social consequences. Labour must be 'flexible' i.e. subject to restrictive anti-trade union legislation so that workers are reduced as near as possible to wage-slavery. We have been following this brand of economics since the late seventies, first under Thatcherism and then under er.. Thatcherism - now known as New Labour. In the USA the same policies were known as Reaganomics - after President Ronald Reagan - see my post here.

After forty years of this nonsense our economy has been ruined. Manufacturing has become almost non-existent. Factories have closed and moved abroad - many to Europe where industries are supported by the governments there. The economy has become dominated by socially useless financial casino capitalism of precisely the kind which has got us into massive debt. On top of this our utilities, airports, banks, postal services etc are now controlled by foreign multinational companies. We don't even own key parts of our economy any more (not that 'we' ever did but I'm sure you know what I mean).

The French and Germans also pursue 'free-market' economics but of a different kind. They protect their companies and their economy. As a result they have sheltered their people from the worst aspects of the recession and are recovering more quickly. Their economic approach has a social dimension which is completely lacking here.

So we have very little productive or useful economy left. Which leaves us in the mire. In the 1990's there were economic crashes in South America and Asia. At the time anglo-saxon 'free- market' economists lectured these people on how they should run their economies. These economists knew best. They had the superior model. Now that lecturing is starting to look very hollow.

If we continue to go down this path, privatisation, outsourcing, flogging off key parts of our economy as the anglo-saxon model dictates we will continue to decline as an economic power - just as the USA will. We will have increasing social problems of unemployment, crime, drug abuse that go with that decline, and we can only look forward to a Tory government which will exacerbate this situation.

We need to reject 'free-market' economics and build our economics around a social model. The very least our people should be able to expect is the same 'economics' that the French and Germans get.

Merry Xmas everybody.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

This judgement is a disgrace to democracy

As UNITE said tonight the judgment to strike down the British Airways workers strike is a disgrace to democracy. According the BBC Judge Laura Cox said

"the timing of the strike would have been particularly painful for passengers and company alike. "A strike of this kind over the 12 days of Christmas is fundamentally more damaging to BA and the wider public than a strike taking place at almost any other time of the year."

Hmmm....but what does that have to do with the law on strike action? Not a lot as it happens. This comment shows that this class-biased verdict was entirely political.

New Labour never bothered to change the Thatcher anti-trade union laws introduced in the 1980s. These laws were designed to make it difficult for unions to take strike action with the intention preventing working class people from defending their livelihoods.

The judgement today was entirely predictable. Some of us can remember the judge Lord Denning striking down the Greater London Council's Fares Fair policy in the 1980s. Once again an unelected middle class judge has undermined the democratic choice of working people.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The free market fanatics

I caught a bit of a discussion on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning as I was travelling to work (held up by traffic jams and roadworks as usual). It was a debate between Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing who had some sensible ideas about the social implications of capitalism and Mark Littlewood a free market fanatic from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) . As you can probably guess the fanatic was going on about how the 'free' market can solve all our problems if only we would get rid of regulation, big government etc. etc.

Ok, so here is why that fanatic was wrong. Lets just imagine that the 'free' market did run everything. Take transport as an example. Start with roads. You would only be able to travel on main routes - busy motorways and A roads. All other roads would fall into disrepair. Why? - because they would be 'uneconomic'. Same with the railways. You might be able to travel on what they used to call 'Intercity' or mainline routes. All other lines would be closed - for the same reason as the roads.

The take the Royal Mail - its still a public service - just. But if that was left to the 'free market' you would lose the universal postal service. In large swathes of the UK you would be unable to post or receive any mail - apart, of course, from commercial junk mail and packages from Amazon and the like.

Take another example. Housing. We have a housing shortage in this country which has contributed to the house price boom and a crisis in accommodation. Why? Because successive governments have left housing supply up to the 'free' market. The market only wants to build the most profitable houses i.e. four bedroom detached houses with tiny gardens and double garages on greenfield sites. Not for them social (or 'affordable') housing or housing on brownfield sites which isn't as profitable. In fact if it wasn't for the fact that sometimes developers were compelled to build social housing we would never have any built at all. Result - yet more misery and deprivation for working people and the poor.

Then there is healthcare. If that was privatised we would go back to a situation like we had in the 1930's where people couldn't afford medical treatment. I could go on......and on.

Does anyone actually want any of this nonsense? Apart from the rich - who won't be affected - and twerps from the IEA like Mark Littlewood - I think not. Lets never forget that these fanatics are directly responsible for most of the social problems that we have in the this country today.

What we need to understand is that these fanatics for the 'free' market are impervious to any kind of commonsense or notions of social justice. They are are more akin to religious fundamentalists than economists - and just as dangerous. If the numpty (northern word meaning one who is stupid), Mark Littlewood, from the IEA wants to debate this with me anytime I am more than happy to demolish his potty arguments.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Wave - 5th December 2009


I travelled to the climate change demo on Saturday from Stockport with The Co-op. Good to be journeying first class on Virgin Trains to London for £15. Thanks to the Co-op and their all volunteers for organising a really good trip.

But what of the demo? Well it was a really good day - long - but well worth it. There isn't a great deal of climate change activism in deepest Cheshire apart from a few pockets of stirling work like Ashton Hayes. I have been struggling to get a group going in my village so I went with some friends from a small local group a couple of miles away. I'm an experienced protestor and I hate to come across as churlish but there was a flaw - no final rally. A finish in Trafalgar Square with a few good speakers would have left everyone leaving on a high. As it was the demo ended in an anticlimax.

Those of us who believe in man-made climate change are having a tough time at the moment as I noted in this recent post. There is a backlash going on and there are two main reasons for it:

1. powerful vested interests in energy and other sectors feel they have much to lose if we adopt the measures necessary to combat climate change. They are working hard to prevent those changes from happening.

2. selfish individualism - this has become much more chronic in my lifetime. The more people have - the more they want. Its a form of addiction as serious as heroin or nicotine. All this has been fostered by governments and the media in the past 30 years - since the advent of Thatcherism. There's a large estate near me - four bedroom detached houses, gigantic TVs, four cars on every driveway, a Nintendo Wii in every house - no doubt. Its not that some of these people don't care but there is a terror of having to give some - in fact - any of this up. Public transport? Cycling to work? - not me thanks!

I won't labour the last point because I've dealt with it before - see the previous post I referred to. The reality is that we are living an unsustainable lifestyle. Things will have to change soon - whether we like it or not.

Interesting to see that Gordon Brown and David Milliband have been attacking the climate change deniers with some vigour. How do they square this with New Labour's deep love affair with the 'free' market and unsustainable growth?

Footnote: nice to have Gordon's approval for attending a demo. Was he there? I didn't see him - or David.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Public sector workers are the latest scapegoats

If you read the Daily Mail you might be tempted to believe that public sector workers are the new fat cats. The Daily Mail has waged a sustained campaign against 'gold plated' public sector pensions as its recent reporting here shows. Tory leader David Cameron has pledged to end the pensions 'apartheid' which separates public and private sector workers.

Do public sector workers have good pay and pensions? Well er... no we don't. The overwhelming majority of public sector workers are low paid. They may have final salary pensions but being low paid those pensions won't amount to much - we are talking a few thousand pounds a year - and most of these people will live in poverty in their old age.

Private sector workers have had their pensions shafted in the past decade or so. Final salary schemes - which offer the best pension and security on retirement - have been closed to millions of private sector workers and replaced with 'money purchase' or defined contribution schemes. These alternatives offer far less to workers and are based on the vagaries of the stockmarket which we know may well go down as well as up.

Why have private sector workers had their pensions reduced? Allegedly because they are no longer 'affordable'. Companies have deficits in their pension schemes. But these deficits arose because the companies took pension holidays where they paid no contributions into the pension fund - opting instead to hand out more money to shareholders and executives. Private sector workers are now paying the price for this. Of course Gordon Brown's decision to reduce tax breaks for pensions has contributed to this mess.

The right wing press, led by the Daily Mail, have exploited this situation to attack public sector pensions and we now hear regularly from disgruntled private sector workers grumbling about privileged ' fat cat' public sector workers. But what these workers ought to do is get off their backsides, like their parents did, join a trade union, and fight to restore better pensions for themselves - put up or shut up - rather than trying to do their fellow workers in the public sector down.

Public sector workers are now the scapegoats in an economic crisis entirely of the capitalist class's own making. The pensions issue is being used to drive a wedge between public and private sector workers.

We are facing a pensions crisis. The crisis is about millions of British workers spending their retirement in poverty. The real culprits are the capitalist corporations and their chums in New Labour and the Tory party. This is simple class war - transferring wealth created by workers back to capitalists and their cronies. They get more - we get less. Its about time workers in the private and public sector stood together to get better pensions for all. That is how we got decent pensions in the first place.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Privatisation of the Royal Mail is a con

We are being told that privatisation or part privatisation of the Royal Mail will make it more efficient and provide us with a better service. Apparently private sector companies can move in and give us all a better deal.

This is nonsense. Private sector companies have only made inroads into deliveries in the UK because the government has forced Royal Mail to allow them to cherry pick the most profitable parts of its business. That is one reason why it has problems. A while ago had a parcel delivered by TNT. I had to go and collect it because I wasn't in at the time. Instead of going to my local post office - 2 miles away - I had to travel to a bleak industrial estate 16 miles away. It looked like it was situated in crack alley - I didn't feel safe even though it was the middle of the day. The building was an anonymous fortress with an intercom - no one on 'reception'. When I was eventually, reluctantly, admitted I noticed that most of the notices on the walls were in Polish.

What this means is that these companies employ anyone they can get their hands on - at minimum wage rates. Can anyone explain how this 'efficiency' is better for me or workers in the postal industry? It isn't. Its naked exploitation of working people so that the shareholders can rake in the profits.

Give me Royal Mail as a public service anyday with postal workers paid a decent wage. Privatisation is a con. Neither the customers or the postal workers are better off. The only people who benefit are the rich - surprise, surprise. Customers and workers are being shafted. The Royal Mail should be run as a public service, publicly delivered. That is good value for customers and that is what most of us want.

Support the postal workers and public services!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Eyes wide shut

I'm beginning to feel a bit sorry for George Monbiot. Like many of us who are aware of the dangers of climate change he is doing his best to alert people to the problem and suggest positive solutions. But he appears to be banging his head against a brick wall. Whenever he puts up an article on Comment is Free he usually attracts plenty of invective. Eco-fascist is a common term used. It appears that the numbers of people who believe climate change is a fact are diminishing.

I know how George must feel. I've been trying to set up a local climate change group with little success so far. When I was delivering my flyers last week I handed one to a guy who lives down my street. As I turned to leave he called me back. "I'm not interested" he said. Not interested? How can anyone not be interested in climate change? I should have remonstrated with him but I had a schedule to meet.

It seems that many people feel those of us who want to move to a low carbon lifestyle are trying to impose a hair shirt lifestyle on them. Say goodbye to wandering around in your T-shirt and shorts with the central heating on full blast; no more gadgets; having to travel on a bus or train with your fellow citizens instead of luxuriating in the privacy of your own car; cycling to work in the rain etc etc.

I'm not a gadget fiend but like most of us I would be bereft without my Ipod and the internet. But as I pointed out in a previous post life in low carbon economy need not be hair shirt - if we make the changes in time. There are positive benefits too - such as leading healthier lifestyles that would help us deal with problems like obesity, and having stronger communities. We could all do with a bit more cycling and walking and getting to know our neighbours better instead of clinging to the selfish 'benefits' of the consumer age. Who knows I might even get to know the name of the guy down the street.

Consumer capitalism has encouraged us to be selfish individuals. We feel comfortable in our own little fortresses with our circle of family and friends. But things are going to have to change. It ought to be obvious that even if weren't for climate change we can't continue to consume to Earth's resources - including of course oil - and increase our population, as we are doing. There are no magic fixes. Our lifestyles will have to change so lets make the change positive. Transition offers us a way to do that. It offers a practical, common sense and achievable vision of how we can adapt without leading miserable lives. If we don't go down that sort of route the alternative is far, far bleaker - believe me.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Bye bye Tracey bye bye

I guess I'm a bit late on this one but that's because I've been busy. The government intends to impose a 50% tax rate on those who earn over £150,000. That sounds fair to me. The people who can most afford it should be prepared to make an extra contribution in these difficult times - well permanently actually . They, after all, are the ones who benefited most from the unsustainable boom, built on debt and the housing market, during the years of Gordon Brown's Chancellorship. As it is, ordinary hardworking families are being expected to pay for the excesses of the banks during the boom years, and the bankers already have their noses back in the trough to the tune of £6 billion after the £1.4 trillion taxpayers bailout.

But, as you might expect, those who benefited most have no intention of helping out. Tracey Emin, one of those beneficiaries, has threatened to quit the UK when the Tax is brought in in April next year. According to the Sunday Times she is likely to be joined by up to 25,000 others. Well, fine, if they want to go they should go. Some of us can remember that various members of the rich and famous, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, threatened to leave if Labour were elected in 1997. None of them did that I am aware of.

Would we be worse off without these people? The simple answer is no. The capitalist so-called 'free' press have been working hard over the years to persuade us that there is a magic band of people - chief executives and entrepreneurs - who we cannot do without. If we didn't have this master race to look after us we would all be starving. This is complete nonsense, and the excuse for those at the top to take an ever larger slice of the cake.

My Granny, who died at the age of 95, could have run RBS better than Fred Goodwin. She had a deal of common sense and was very good with money. Banking isn't rocket science. You borrow money at 5% and lend it at 6%. Simple as that. A fact that escaped most of the 'masters of the universe' who brought our economy down. There are plenty of able people in our society, many of whom's talents are wasted through deprivation and unemployment. There is no need for anyone to earn over £150,00 a year - period.

The simple truth is that it is the poorest people in our society who pay the most tax. Marginal tax rates for the poor are much higher than for the better off. Let these 25,000 people go. We can do perfectly well without them. In fact our society would be fairer and better if they weren't here at all.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

New socialism: how to build a new socialism for the 21st century

If you've read previous posts on this blog you'll know that I've been blogging about how we build a socialism that will work for the 21st century just as the Communist Party tried to make socialism work in the 20th Century. In order for socialism to succeed its vital to create a viable economic alternative to capitalism, an issue I explored in a previous post. I've also looked at how a socialist government could drive lasting change in our society. here I want to further explore two key requirements for building socialism. They are:
1. capitalism cannot be replaced politically it must be overcome economically
2. socialism must empower individuals and social groups to take control of their own lives and communities. The key to this control is economic control.

Real power is economic power. If socialists want to transform society they must gain economic power. Simply winning political power in elections is not enough. Historically socialist and social democratic governments have been able to use the power of the state to ameliorate the excesses of capitalism without ever shaking its grip on society. Real power has always remained with those who own the means of production.

The traditional socialist answer to this has been to put the means of production in the hands of the state, thus ending the power of capitalists to dominate society. This didn't work in the Soviet Union - why? Because it didn't fulfill the requirement in 2. above. People weren't empowered economically. They swapped a capitalist employer for a state employer without ever gaining economic control over their own lives. They lacked the incentive to create real wealth for themselves and the communities they lived in.

To gain economic power socialists need to start creating wealth. Workers create the world's wealth. Marx's development of the idea of surplus value in Das Kapital enabled socialists to understand how capitalists expropriate that wealth for themselves leaving the crumbs from the cake of wealth creation for the rest of us. To gain economic power socialists must enable workers to create wealth and keep it for themselves. How can workers do this without becoming capitalists? The answer is mutualism. There is nothing new about this. Robert Owen advocated this 150 years ago. In the UK there are over 4000 successful co-operatives with a turnover of £27 billion. This may be small beer compared to the whole economy but it has the potential to grow.

Co-operatives are socialism in action. They are democratically controlled enterprises in which the workers own the means of production. They create wealth for workers and communities instead of for capitalists. Co-operatives tend to have a greater success rate when started up than capitalist companies. Many socialists feel uncomfortable with the notion of making profits and commercialism of any kind but this is how economies work. Profits can be used to make co-operatives grow and benefit communities. Commercialism does not have to be of the rapacious, dehumanising capitalist variety. One of the historical weaknesses of socialism is that it has failed to meet the aspiration of people to improve their material condition. Co-operatives allow workers to do just that without the need for capitalism.

Co-operatives are social enterprises . They can be not-for-profit or explicitly for community benefit. The key is that workers have control over their own economic destiny, and are able to improve their own and their community's well being. The beauty of this is that we can do it now. Their is no need to wait for a general election or a socialist government. If you want to help to bring about socialism go out and start up a co-op. Demonstrate that we can create wealth democratically and equitably without the need for capitalism. Co-operatives completely undermine many of the arguments of the right - that socialism doesn't reward individuals or encourage enterprise, and can't create wealth. Every successful co-op diminishes capitalism.

I'm not suggesting that we don't need socialist parties, or trade unions, or that we shouldn't be trying to create a socialist state. But doing those two things without creating a viable economic alternative to capitalism won't bring about a socialist society. I'm in the process of trying to set up a co-op for community benefit in Cheshire and I'll keep you up to date with developments via this blog. As a socialist I've no doubt its one of the most important and useful things I've ever attempted.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Support the Communication Workers!

The recent news that the Communication Workers Union members had voted for a strike a Royal Mail came as no surprise. Support for industrial action was strong with three quarters voting in favour.

The Government has actively been undermining the Royal Mail for some years. Unfortunately, thanks to our so-called 'free' capitalist media the truth hasn't got out. Most people think that Royal Mail is in trouble because of a decline in the sending of letters now that increasing numbers people use electronic means. The real reason is that the government has been encouraging private operators to cherry pick the most profitable parts of the Royal Mail's business. In addition, Royal Mail has been forced to pay these operators peanuts to deliver their mail for them.

If you listened to Mandelson you would think that the gaping £9 billion hole in Royal Mail's pension fund was the fault of the postal workers. But the deficit was caused by the government taking a ten year pensions holiday in which it made no contributions to the fund.

The government intend to privatise the Royal Mail. Nobody except the private operators and bureaucrats in Brussels want them to. Neo-liberal EU legislation is driving the process. Ideology disguised as economics. The end result will be a poorer service, redundancies and pay cuts for postal workers and nice fat profits for the private operators. The costs will be dumped onto the workers - as usual. The communication workers are in a tough spot but they deserve out wholehearted support.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Party's over

The reasons for the decline of New Labour are obvious. There is no room for two main parties of the right in British politics. The Tories are the party of the right and that leaves New Labour er.. nowhere. The Blairite clones are so addicted to neo-liberalism that they will continue to push the party in a rightward direction. They have no support amongst the electorate but still hold the reigns of power in New Labour. The Labour Party conference did them little good with Brown predictably trying to recover some core support with 'half promises' about scrapping ID cards and electoral reform - too little, too late.

The only logical thing to do is split the party a get rid of the Blairite rump - they can join the Tories if they want to. Only the trade unions can make this happen but they haven't the guts to do so. It is going to take a wipe out at the general election to make that seismic shift remotely possible - otherwise the unholy alliance will continue and leave NL at the margins.

Although New Labour did the right thing by 'big government' intervention to prop up the banks a year ago they are still paralysed by their worship of the market and are unable ideologically to do anything other than return banks that were bust to the private sector thus dumping the costs on taxpayers. They still labour under the illusion that what they are doing is progressive or even social democratic.

Nice to see that Clegg and Cable effed up the Lib Dems conference even more than Brown did New Labour's. Clegg's talk about savage cuts was a spectacular own goal. If Clegg and Cable had any real nouse they would have shifted the Lib Dems decisively to the left in an attempt to wipe out NL as the opposition. But they are just as ideologically trapped in neo-liberalism as New Labour.

If the Labour Party were able to throw off its New Labour shackles and move to the left it would still have a chance of beating the Tories - whose plans for cuts will shift the country even further into the economic mire - but its too late for that. Its a bleak prospect but we can only hope that in a wipe out the Blairites will go down with the sinking New Labour ship.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Tories are the purveyors of poverty

Tories have a deep love of poverty. Not their own of course but other peoples'. How do I know? Because their policies always make the rich richer and the poor poorer. We have now had 30 years of Thatcherism in the UK. In the early days of the Thatcher government the Tories cynically exploited public concern about industrial action and introduced anti-trade union laws designed to hobble the unions and undermine the ability of working class people to defend themselves. We were told that the trade unions were over-mighty and a threat to our democracy. Tory cuts in the early eighties meant that unemployment rose to over three million. But the real motive was making workers poorer and capitalists richer. Along with this came attacks on the welfare state. Benefits for the unemployed were cut.

Now we find ourselves in an even worse situation. - not that New Labour haven't continued the Thatcherite policies of privatisation and reductions in the pay and conditions of workers - but we are facing an election of a Tory government determined to make us pay for the capitalist economic crisis. The costs of bailing out the banks will be passed onto us. Privatise the profits and nationalise the losses. We are facing the biggest rip-off in British history. The cuts and debt agenda which has taken over the media in recent weeks is a smokescreen designed to obscure that rip-off. Yes there is a crisis, but it is a crisis of capitalism and unemployment. Debt is not the problem, capitalism is.

Eric Pickles - good comedy name that; crap comedy routine, not funny at all, not one bit - was interviewed on Today yesterday. Pickles is a Thatcherite, who like David Cameron is being 'nice' ahead of a general election claiming that the Tories have 'progressive' values. But the Tories are still the nasty party. Behind poster boy Cameron we have not only Pickles but all the other monsters from the crypt of Thatcherism like William Hague. So unpopular are New Labour that the country is sleepwalking into a disaster. As if the Tories offer any hope after thirteen years of New Labour misrule. It is worth following the link to Pickles. If you do nothing else read about his comments of the death of Ian Tomlinson. That reveals the sort of man Pickles is. A man, who like his colleagues has contempt for any kind of social justice and fairness in society.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Time to rebuild the Berlin Wall?

Remember when the Berlin wall came down? It was the end of communist repression in eastern Europe and the subject of much rejoicing. I was amongst the rejoicers but unlike many I was skeptical about what would happen next. Of course the theory was that East Germany, the former GDP, would join West Germany in an age of prosperity after unification. It hasn't happened. Not only that but the 'East Germans' are voting with their feet and leaving in droves.
According to an article in Guardian online by Kate Connolly:

"About 90,000 people a year are leaving to find work elsewhere, typically to the western states, Switzerland or Scandinavia. Some communities are preparing to close down altogether."

Hang on... capitalism is meant to bring prosperity, isn't it? Surely the East should now be as prosperous as the West or getting there? But is isn't, nowhere near it in fact. So why has this happened? Its because when the wall came down and the capitalists moved in - they asset stripped the place and closed down the factories. They were interested in making money, not rebuilding the country. So East Germany has made almost no economic progress in 20 years and there is no sign of it making any. In the GDP there was virtually no unemployment. Now there are no jobs.

So perhaps its about time they rebuilt the Berlin wall to stop all those people escaping from the East. The lesson to be learnt here is that capitalists are only interested in creating wealth for themselves, not for society as a whole. Capitalism creates great wealth for capitalists but poverty for the majority. Thats how capitalist economies work.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Tories plan public services lite

We know that if the Tories get into power there will be swinging cuts in public services. The Taxpayers Alliance, a bunch of Tories who claim that they represent taxpayers, and the Institute of Directors (IOD), are pressing for cuts of £50 billion according to an article in the Guardian today. The simple question is who will benefit from these cuts? The answer is the better off, including no doubt company directors. This is just another example of making the poor poorer and the rich better off. But its not just the poor who will suffer. The vast majority of us rely on public services and we will all lose out as a result if these cuts are implemented.

Of course the cuts are being demanded because of government debt which has soared because taxpayers have been asked to stump £1.4 trillion up to bail out the banks. Who caused this problem? Capitalists. Who is being expected to pay to prop up the bankers and their bonuses? We are. I wonder how many of these bankers are members of the IOD?

But just think about this. The bankers cause a crisis. We pay to bail them out by er.. borrowing money from them and getting into debt. That's nice work if you can get it. They must be laughing all the way to the er... bank.

In addition we are told that the Tory wunderkinds in local government have come up with a number of wizard wheezes to help meet our debt problems by giving us public 'services' lite. Cunning plans to save money include allowing people to jump queues for things like planning permission if they pay more for the privilege. But the whole point of public services is that we all pay taxes and we all get equal access to those services. Who benefits? The better off. Beginning to see a pattern? Cuts mean that the costs of the bankers recession will be dumped onto the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

The Tories are the party of the rich. Always have been and always will be. When in power they look after their own. If only the Labour party could do the same. Well actually New Labour are also the party of the rich and have been doing a pretty good job of looking after their own so far. It is madness for ordinary people to vote for the very people who are exploiting them. But that looks like what is likely to happen next May. Its high time the left fought back. John Cruddas called upon the Labour Party to re-discover itself. Personally I don't trust him. But if he can help to get Labour back to social democracy that will be a step in the right direction. In the meantime the only party with policies to defend public services and help anyone but the rich is the Green Party.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Stalin and Hitler and the Second World War

There's been a lot of controversy about Josef Stalin recently. In Eastern Europe, as they commemorate the beginning of the Second World War 70 years ago, there has been a right royal row going on about how Stalin was as bad as Hitler, and therefore the Soviet Union must have been as bad as Nazi Germany. The Poles have been trading verbal blows with the Russians. The zealots of the right would have us all believe that the Soviet Union was equably to blame with Nazi Germany for the war. But it wasn't, and Soviet communism was in no way equivalent to the Nazism.

Stalin was a brutal dictator who did immense damage to the Soviet Union. On the eve of the war he authorised a secret non-aggression pact with the Nazis - the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact . Its worth quoting from the Encyclopaedia Britannica article about the pact:

"The Soviet Union had been unable to reach a collective-security agreement with Britain and France against Nazi Germany, most notably at the time of the Munich Conference in September 1938. By early 1939 the Soviets faced the prospect of resisting German military expansion in eastern Europe virtually alone, and so they began searching about for a change of policy"

The pact was a pragmatic, if cynical, piece of diplomacy
on the part of the USSR because it divided eastern Europe into spheres of influence, including the division of Poland. But at the time there must have been doubts that the USSR could resist a German invasion. Following the outbreak of war the USSR carried out a massacre of Polish army leaders and intellectuals at Katyn. Non of this is forgivable but it does not mean that Soviet communism was as bad as Nazism.

Some people would have us believe that a simple body count is all you need to decide if one regime was as brutal and corrupt as another. But nothing in politics or history is that simple. Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions in the Soviet Union. Many of those people were good communists who had supported the revolution. In the 1930s leading Bolsheviks such as Zinoviev were eliminated by Stalin in a series of show trials. Zinoviev and the others confessed in open court that they were counter revolutionaries. They undoubtedly did this because of torture but also, I believe, because they wanted to preserve the revolution and believed that in the longer term they would be exonerated.

After Stalin's death the new Soviet leader Khrushchev denounced Stalin and exonerated those who had been executed. Lenin in his last Testament said that Stalin should have been removed as general Secretary of the Communist Party. Stalin was condemned by Soviet communists.

So where does that leave us with Hitler and Stalin? Hitler embodied Nazism. He was the only leader of the Nazis and responsible for policies which lead to the murder of six million Jews, and many hundreds of thousands more socialists, communists, homosexuals and Roma. The total has been estimated at somewhere between eleven and seventeen million. He was the undoubted aggressor in the Second World War. He has never been denounced by any of the the Nazi leaders or their successors. In fact he is revered by them.

Twenty million Russians died in the Second World War. That is very hard for us to begin to imagine. That is why they call it the Great Patriotic War, and that is why Stalin is still seen by some in Russia as a great leader. Winston Churchill was a fervent supporter of the British Empire - how many people died because of the Empire? In fact there was no doubt that as Prime Minister during the Second World War one of his main aims was to preserve the Empire. He also deployed troops against striking miners in 1910. He is still regarded with respect in Britain as a great war leader.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Its high time to tame the market

Well, at last a regulator has had the guts to say we should rein in 'free' market financial capitalism. Not only that but he said that much of what it does is "socially useless". Of course it is perfectly possible to argue that all it does is socially useless, and unnecessary to boot. Lord Turner, head of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), had the nerve to suggest that financial transactions should be taxed. It would be better if most of those transactions were eliminated all together, and lets not forget that it was 'light touch regulation by the FSA, lauded by Gordon Brown, that lead to the economic crisis in the UK.

Of course there were predictable howls of rage from the British Bankers Association and plenty of flak from so called 'economists'. I understand that Lord Turner is a wealthy man. That's good for him because his comments amounted to a resignation letter and I don't doubt that he will soon be receiving his P45. Deputy business Editor of the Sunday Independent Simon Evans weighed in with an article entitled 'Turners anitdote would kill, not cure, the city" - lets hope so. Evans is typical of the conventional business media hacks who marvel at the market in the good times, then expect the state (i.e socialism') to ride to the rescue when the excesses of greed threaten chaos. He says that "failing to save Lehman's last year was a terrible mistake" - but why should taxpayers be expected to prop up the rich who serve no socially useful purpose. Those who live by the sword should die by it. He then goes on to say "But I don't know how to temper the City's greed" and rubbish any idea of a Tobin tax.

Well Simon, some of us do know how to temper the greed of capitalists. The intervention by the state, in the UK to the tune of £1.4 billion of taxpayers money, was the right thing to do in the short term. The rotten system of financial capitalism needed to be propped up to prevent greater harm to the people of the UK. But that was a first step. It should have been followed by the nationalisation and break up of the banks. Along with mutual societies such as credit unions, the state, subject to democratic control, should have a monopoly of credit, and banking services. The financial services sector has had a history of malpractice and ripping off the British people. Remember the mis-selling of pensions and endowment mortgages, and the ridiculous charges that they levy on ISAs and overdrafts?

We are being taken for a ride. Capitalist banks are socially irresponsible institutions who believe they should only be answerable to the market and not wider society. When they crash we suffer the consequences. Of course the imposition of any tax on financial transactions in the UK would make these money grubbers flee abroad. That is what they always threaten to do if democratically elected governments don't do as they are told. That is why we need international socialism to bring these people down. We need to assert control over our own lives by putting democracy above commercial interests, and ending the domination of the capitalist exploiters. That is what socialism is all about.

Friday, 21 August 2009

The rabid free market right is bringing America down

Is America still a superpower? In military terms it still is but can the USA continue to be a dominant force politically and economically? Much depends on what happens in the next few years after the recent crash brought about by free market financial capitalism. The US economy is in dire straits and there is no sign of where a revival is going to come from - as I described in this post.

The great irony here is that those who would make America great are largely responsible for this situation. The rot started with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, but really got going with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Reagan's election ushered in a generation of domination of US politics by the free market right. Neoliberals - that is right wing Americans who adhered to the idea of American supremacy as a global superpower and the untrammeled operation of the free market - the Washington Consensus - through globalisation and bodies like the IMF and WTO - became the dominant force in American and global politics.

Reaganomics consisted of tax cuts for the rich, privatisation and de-regulation but also involved increased military spending and budget deficits. Taxes for the rich were lowered from 70% to 28% whilst the national debt increased from $700 billion to $3trillion. This was 'trickle down economics', the 'theory' being that as the rich had more money in their pockets and businesses were freed from 'red tape' by small government, the benefits would eventually reach the bottom of society. Predictably, they didn't.

Reagan was followed by George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush. Despite the election of a democrat, Clinton, in 1993, little changed. The free market right still dominated and Clinton followed suit. The Project for the New American Century was typical of right wing neoliberal American thinking and had a great infuence on the government of George W Bush, notably on the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The election of Barak Obama last year has given Americans hope that a generation of selfishness and greed can be tempered by social justice. But many on the right refuse to accept democratic change, just as they did when Clinton was elected and they tried to bring him down over the Lewinsky affair. Now they have retreated into ever more bizarre and rabid rantings. One of the wackier manifestations of this are the 'birthers' who believe, despite the facts, that Obama isn't American and therefore can't be President. We have recently had to contend with crazy remarks and lies about the NHS because of Obama's healthcare plan.

So what has neoliberalism achieved for America? Greater intolerance, injustice, inequality, debt, and poverty for many of its people. A loss in standing for America in the eyes of the global community. But most of all economic decline. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad (ancient proverb) - maybe the birthers are just the start. Is this the beginning of the end for the USA?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

As freedoms for capitalists increase we get more restrictions

The 'free' market is getting freer. With de-regulation for businesses still going full steam ahead the freedoms of citizens are narrowing. New Labour have introduced over 3000 new offences since 1997. We have ID cards and a plethora of 'ant-terrorist' legislation including more restrictions on the the right of assembly. Even peaceful greens can't get together for a summer festival.

But we are constantly being told that there are too many restrictions on business. That business is being strangled by red tape. Pity the government doesn't take the same view with its citizens (er... we're all subjects really). As the effects of de-regulation, privatisation and the banker's recession take hold we can expect more criminality. Poverty will increase as capitalists try to maintain profits. Unemployment will rise. The government will have to manage greater discontent, not least about the rotten state of our democracy.

Fortunately for the next government New Labour have put in place the restrictive apparatus to criminalise and contain dissent. Is this a co-incidence? I don't think so. With reactionary governments who feel comfortable about the filthy rich, and greater inequality we will see more discontent. The powers are in place to ensure that the discontent can be contained.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Capitalism isn't working

In the past 40 years or so productive capitalism has been overtaken by financial capitalism. By productive capitalism I mean the 'real economy' which includes the production of commodities such as manufacturing and services. Financial capitalism centres around money making money and includes finance, insurance and property. How did this happen? The formation of large corporations - monopoly capitalism - at the turn of the 20th century lead to the generation of massive surpluses. Some of this money was re-invested in production but the sums were so large that there simply wasn't enough productive capacity to invest in. Investors had to find other outlets for this money. Hence the massive increase in size of the banking and the financial sector in the later part of the century.

The reason is that mature capitalist economies have been suffering from stagnation for sometime. America was lifted out of the Great Depression by the spending on the Second World War and the postwar boom happened because rising wages allowed people to spend more stimulating demand for goods and services. The problem with consumer capitalism is that it doesn't work if people can't afford to buy products. Since the boom came to an end in the 1970s stagnation has been the norm. The billions sloshing around have been invested in finance and financial products and we have seen a series of speculative booms and crashes, each one worse than the last. We've had the 1987 stock market crash in the US, the Asian financial crisis, stagnation in Japan, a banking crisis in Sweden, the Dot Com boom in 2000 and now the so-called Credit Crunch.

After the Dot Com boom the weak recovery in the USA was dependent on very low interest rates and booming credit, fuelling the house price bubble which began to burst in 2007. We haven't seen the end of this crisis yet by any means. What is going to lead to a recovery? With falling incomes in the USA, mass unemployment and lack of credit - nothing. The only thing that can is another boom - but where is that going to come from? Its no good expecting China to lift us out of this. They have to have a market to sell their products and the USA provided that market, but how is it going to now?

Looking back we can see that the periods of prosperity for ordinary people in the last hundred years or so were aberrations rather than the norm. As capitalists try to squeeze wages further to boost their profits demand will continue to fall leading to further stagnation. The USA is unlikely to be able to lift the world economy out of this stagnant state. The message is that capitalism doesn't work well - even for capitalists. For the rest of us its even worse, and won't ever get better. Meanwhile vast sums of money - trillions of dollars - are chasing speculative gains when they could be spent on useful things like providing all the people on the planet with clean water to drink and adequate housing. Capitalism is an iniquitous and unsustainable economic system artificially maintained by a set of rules which could be changed democratically at any time. Now is the time to make those changes

Friday, 24 July 2009

Can't tell left from right

Some people can't tell left from right. This can be a real danger when driving. I wonder if James Purnell drives a lot, if so he should be careful because he clearly suffers from this problem. He thinks he's on the left of politics but he isn't. He's been a member of a New Labour centre-right government for long enough that he ought to know that his Party espouses reactionary causes. Like uncritical worship of the 'free' market. Lets take as an example his very own recent so-called welfare reforms which I posted about here. They represent the 21st century version of the workhouse. Rabid right-wingers like the American Rush Limbaugh would have been proud of what Purnell has done. I used Limbaugh as an example because New Labour love to copy the policies of the American right. That is where they get most of their ideas from. Progressive governments protect workers and the unemployed against the malign effects of 'free' market capitalism, they don't batter them as Purnell has done.

If you want to know how how 'left-winger' James Purnell voted on key issues since 2001 you can get this information from theyworkforyou.com:

* Voted moderately for a transparent Parliament
* Voted moderately for introducing a smoking ban
* Voted very strongly for introducing ID cards
* Voted very strongly for introducing foundation hospitals
* Voted strongly for introducing student top-up fees
* Voted very strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws
* Voted very strongly for the Iraq war
* Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war
* Voted very strongly for replacing Trident
* Voted moderately for the hunting ban
* Voted very strongly for equal gay rights
* Voted moderately for laws to stop climate change

So I was interested to read Purnell's latest contribution to the 'progressive' debate in the Guardian with interest. He says that "We learned the lesson that we should use markets or the private sector where they achieved the relevant outcome". He doesn't say "right outcome" just "relevant". But the only outcome of New Labour's privatisation programme has been greater poverty for for workers, a more unequal society and a lessening of opportunity for the poor, working class, and middle class. You cannot pursue policies of privatisation and call yourself 'left' or 'progressive' because the outcome is neither left nor progressive. This is the paradox of New Labour - talk about creating a better and more equal society then follow policies which lead to exactly the opposite. Create greater inequality then find a sticking plaster to put on it- like SureStart. The New Labour acolytes are being either dishonest or stupid.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Rebuilding the collective


On the 13th July I was at the Ways With Words festival at Dartington Hall. I went to see Rob Hopkins, Shaun Chamberlin and Tamzin Pinkerton speak at the Transition Morning event. I enjoyed the talks even though there was little that I hadn't heard before, but there were some good arguments as to why nuclear power won't solve our energy needs. The audience, as it usually is, was distinctly middle aged and middle class - so Rob et al. were largely preaching to the converted. There are now many Transition towns across the world and more are being set up every day. As someone who is trying to set up a local climate change group and has been involved in such groups I was hoping to hear some more from them about how to reach out to the 'difficult' parts of the community - the ones who 'don't want to know'.

At the last Green Party conference there was a talk by a woman from Totnes who is active in the GP and Transition. She said, as I had guessed, that they had reached all those in Totnes who were 'interested' but they were still in a minority. The real challenge for such groups is reaching those who are 'indifferent' - and I'm not talking about climate change deniers here. When I asked Rob and Tamzin about this their answer was (and I'm paraphrasing) - to keep plugging away, show the benefits of local food, community action etc and more people will come on board. I'm not so sure it is going to be that easy.

The whole point about Transition is its inclusive, it has to embrace all the community, hence you won't find any mention of politics or (divisive) economics in the Transition Handbook. This is fair enough but Transition is about building a collective in a world of selfish individualism. By that I don't mean that we are all selfish but that we have been 'taught' to think of ourselves as 'selfish individuals' - to put our own wants first . If you want to know more I suggest you watch Adam Curtis's excellent documentary - The Century of the Self - which charts the development of public relations, advertising and the growth of consumer capitalism in the 20th century, based on the ideas of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays - it is essential viewing if you want to know how we got here. Selfish individualism is now deeply ingrained in our society, that is why we find it so difficult to build communities and that is what Transition is all about - collective action.

There is another word for collective action - socialism. Putting the interests of the collective above the interests of the selfish individual is what socialism is all about. It does not mean, as is popularly supposed, oppression of the individual - that is what the capitalist media want you to think. Individual rights must be protected. But the interests of a community (collective) have to come first. At one time no one would have disputed this idea. If we go back a relatively short way in history no one even thought of themselves as an selfish individual in the way we do now. People were part of a community. In order for Transition to become a reality we have to rebuild the collective - that is the task in hand. Just don't mention the 'S' word though!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

New Labour, New Cronies

Interesting story in the Independent on Wednesday about Lord Mandelson. Apparently this very important person has no less than ten people working for him in his new empire. His Lordship's newly formed Department for Business, Information and Skills gives him control of trade, consumer affairs, science and innovation, higher education, communications etc etc etc. Of course, Gordon Brown brought his erstwhile enemy Mandelson into government out of desperation, and since he saved Gordon's skin in the recent attempted coup after the Euro-election debacle, its no surprise that he has become more powerful.

When you look at Mandelson's departmental heads what do you see? Well no less than four of them are unelected Lords, and there is also a Lady. Was it really that difficult to find MPs to fill these posts? Or does New Labour actually prefer bankers and Tony's cronies to their own party members? We know that Gordon likes bankers and financiers. Look at his response to the credit crunch. Any curb on bonuses? Any break up of banks too big to fail?

The truth is that the leaders of New Labour - Blair, Brown and Mandelson - have all but eviscerated the Labour Party. It is now an empty shell. Merely a vehicle for the careerist politicians who lead it. Peter Oborne in his book the Triumph of the Political Class describes this process and how the people who rule us do it largely for their own purposes, they have become an elite, answerable only to themselves.

At one time the Labour party stood for something and people in politics paid their dues. They worked themselves up from the bottom, starting out as local councillors, and active trade unionists before moving on to parliament. The Labour Party used to have a democratic structure. The Labour Party conference wasn't mere PR window dressing - it meant something. If you want to find out more about the history of Labour Party democracy read the excellent book Parliamentary Socialism by Ralph Milliband.

Nowadays if you run the country you don't bother to debate in your own party, you don't bother to give any kind of space to people who may have different opinions to yourself, you simply parachute in people who share your views and will do your bidding. This is what New Labour did with the likes of Lord Adonis and Baroness Vadera. This is not only profoundly undemocratic but its also bad for our country. All those people who used to pay their dues to get into government learnt something valuable in the process. Now we get people coming into government with their potty ideas fully formed and untested in the crucible of democracy. This is just another example of why government in our country has become so rotten.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Unemployment is a free market failure

As unemployment rises inexorably towards three million in the UK the government has no answer. That is hardly surprising because this government is so intent in worshiping at the altar of the market that it believes that governments can't and shouldn't' do anything - that is the job of the market. So we can't expect much from this government except the harassment and impoverishment of the unemployed and those on welfare as I described in this post on the government's latest so-called 'welfare' reform.

The unemployed are the ones who are paying the most for the banker's recession. By being shut out of paid work they will suffer hardship, low esteem and health problems, often brought on by malnutrition. Malnutrition is estimated to affect three million people in the UK and cost £7.3 billion. Yet another cost dumped onto society by capitalists.

Capitalism has always lead to unemployment. In fact there was no unemployment before capitalism. It is a feature of the capitalist economic system described by Marx over a century ago:-

"....it is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of labourers, i.e. a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus population" [Marx: Capital].

Further to being an intrinsic feature of a capitalist economy unemployment is actually useful to capitalists. It creates the 'reserve army of labour' which is so beneficial to capitalists because it helps to lower wages and reduces militancy amongst workers, helping to keep them in line. No wonder capitalist governments like New Labour have very little intention of doing anything about unemployment.

Any economic system which cannot provide full employment is a failure. It needs to be replaced by an economic system that can provide full employment. Even in a capitalist society where the free market is failing governments must step in to do what the market cannot and create jobs for those without work. That is the hallmark of a civilised society. Its a pity that doesn't apply in the UK.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

A Radical Programme for the Left

There has been a lot of talk about where the left goes next. In spite of the credit crunch left wing and progressive groups appear to have no coherent alternative programme to free market capitalism.

I've posted about these issues before and suggested some alternatives but here I want to explore what an alternative programme might look like. Firstly its essential to understand that the core of any alternative programme must be an economic strategy. It is essential because the economy is at the heart of our society. The economy is embedded in our society as Polanyi observed. This is historically where the left have failed to deliver. The focus thus far has been on nationalisation and delivery by the state. Thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union this approach has lost much of its credibility. And its not just in the Soviet Union that state control of the economy has run into trouble. In the UK the Labour Party used to believe in a 'mixed economy' (in the 1960s and 70s) with utilities and public services owned and run by the state with the rest in the private sector. That also failed for reasons which are too complex to debate fully here but a large part was played by the fact that the Labour government's commitment to state control was weak and lacking in any kind of dynamism or innovation. However, when we talk of these failures we must never lose sight of the effective propaganda and financial war waged by the free-market right to undermine alternatives to capitalism.

Its important to understand why the alternative economy is crucial. As long as we rely on the 'free' market - i.e. capitalism - to deliver our economic needs we will continue to have great inequalities and mass poverty globally. That can never change because that is how capitalism works. It was Marx who first explained this process. By acquiring the surplus value of worker's labour capitalists are able to cream off the wealth from society for themselves - leaving the rest of us with the crumbs from the cake. This can't change unless we create wealth for ourselves instead of wealth for capitalists. They need us but we don't need them. You can't have capitalism and social and economic justice - they don't go together. Its essential to at least understand this basic bit of Marxism. You don't have to be a Marxist but you need to understand how capitalism works and Marx has the answers.

It is important to also understand that by capitalists I don't mean the person who runs your local corner shop, restaurant, farm, or small business. these people are not capitalists. Capitalists are the people who own the means of production i.e. Olag Deripaksa, Lakshmi Mittal, Rupert Murdoch et al. It is the multinational corporations which are the root of the problem - not your local newsagent.

So how can an alternative economy work? How can we deliver all the goods and services which we need without the 'free' market? The answer is a mixture of nationalisation and mutualism. There are some obvious things which the market cannot deliver - the railways and universal post are examples. So we nationalise the railways and keep Royal Mail in public ownership. We also need to nationalise the banks and utilities. The banks have far too much power as we have seen and essential services such as energy and water need to be available to all - not on the basis of what people can afford to pay. Also included would be healthcare, education, social services and welfare.

By nationalisation I do not necessarily mean straightforward ownership and control by the state. These nationalised industries could be not for profit companies or social enterprises where the employees are the stakeholders. We need to look for more dynamic models in order to make sure that the nationalised services do not stagnate. They must be able to pay their way, and to develop and innovate. The workers in them must be moivated to make them successful. In any case there must be no shareholders - unless that is, all UK adults are made 'shareholders' with 'shares' that cannot be sold or otherwise traded. There is no reason why public services such as health, for example, could not be delivered by mutual organisations supported by the state. We need to come up with new models because we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

What about goods? there is no reason why goods can't be delivered by co-operatives as I've ready proposed in 'How to Beat Capitalism'. There are plenty of successful examples. What we need is a government which is committed to actively promoting and supporting mutualism as a viable alternative to capitalism. There are organisations such as Co-operatives UK which promote the setting up of co-operatives and these need to be encouraged and supported by the government. The Mondragonco-operatives provide a good example of how co-operatives can successfully deliver a range of goods. In the short to medium term we also need the kind of Green New Deal which is being supported by the Green Party to provide thousands of jobs and investment to help to combat climate change.

If an alternative economy is the first priority, the second priority must be democratic reform. We need a written constitution - with a removal of all royal perogatives from the government, an elected second chamber to provide checks and balances, electoral reform with proportional representation and the revival of local government. Local councils must be able to deliver services in-house, be able to provide social housing and have democratic control of local services including health and education. People, local and democratically, must be able to determine whether they want a new store in the heart of their town - not the corporations.

A programme for the left needs to begin urgent steps to move to a low carbon economy. I've already mentioned the Green New Deal But we need to much more particularly in the area of public transport. Climate change is the biggest threat to our society.

There are many other issues but these are the key ones. The left will have to work hard to persuade voters that these changes are necessary given the evident pro-market bias in the media, and left groups will have to learn to work together instead of the eternal infighting which has cursed socialist politics for the past century or so. A left government will have many obstacles to contend with. Capitalists are likely to stage an investment strike, starving the UK of capital and creating unemployment. European legislation, which enshrines neoliberal values, will have to be reformed. But all this can be done. Franklin D Roosevelt did much of this in the USA - the world heartland of capitalism - and we can do it here.

And finally a word about trade unions. There is a crying need to free up trade unions from the repressive Thatcherite legislation designed to hobble them, This must also be part of a radical left wing programme. But trade unions need to change also. In the UK they have always had very limited horizons - recruit, negotiate, collective bargaining... and er .. that's it. Trade unions did set up the Labour Party but now it has turned against them they must grab the opportunity for change by refusing to support New Labour financially and if necessary setting up a new party of the left. Their role in bringing about an alternative economy will be crucial.

None of this can be done overnight - its a long hard road. But it must and can be done. Capitalists changed the rules to suit their purposes. We must democratically change the rules to suit ours.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Parliamentary reform? - don't hold your breath

I haven't said much in this blog about the MP's expenses scandal. Why not? Firstly I've been busy with the Euro elections and then away for two weeks, secondly there has been wall to wall coverage everywhere and finally it has proved to be a great distraction from what really matters at the moment - the economic crisis. In fact my last post on the issue was in January well before the Daily Telegraph spilt the beans.

But all this talk of Parliamentary reform brought on by the expenses scandal is old news to many of us. If you read the Guardian you would think that the nation had only just noticed that we had a rotten parliamentary system. Not long ago the likes of Polly Toynbee and Jonathon Freeland were writing as if all was well with the world - all it needed was a few tweaks from Gordon and everything would be hunky dory. But some of us have known that Parliament and the electoral system drastically needed reform - well, for most of our lives. And some of us have known that Gordon would continue exactly where Blair left off er.. ever since he became Prime Minister - as I made clear in April 2008.

For example, there has been talk of introducing electoral reform for decades. When I was a teenager in the early 1970s I couldn't understand why we had an unelected House of Lords. Our system has clearly been rotten and bankrupt for a very long time, and, despite the overwhelming case for change, nothing has happened.

Nor is very much likely to happen because we live in an elected dictatorship. All power is in the hands of the government (increasingly the Prime Minister) with no checks or balances. We have no written constitution, and in the past 400 years or so politicians have gradually taken over powers which used to belong to the monarch. Combine that with a first past the post system which virtually guarantees a monopoly of power for the two main parties and what politician would want to change it? An honest one perhaps? One who believed in social justice? Now when was the last time we had one of those in Number 10?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Why we should support the Lindsey strikers

After the sacking of 647 workers at the Lindsey oil refinery the industrial action continues. Many workers showed their defiance by burning their dismissal notices. It is estimated that another 4000 workers have gone out on strike around the country in support, including workers at Sellafield. There is absolutely no way that Total and its contractors could have got away with treating workers like this in France, or Germany. This is good old fashioned union busting.

The fact that the strike is 'illegal' means nothing. These workers voted with their feet - they walked out. Who needs a ballot to do that? The Thatcherite labour laws were brought in to hobble trade unions and weaken workers power. That is class war - pure and simple. Of course there will be people who will say you must have a ballot and I agree that there should be a ballot - if workers want one. The whole purpose of the ballot in Thatcherite trade union legislation is not to make things fairer but to tie up the union in bureaucracy and expense and prevent them from taking spontaneous action like that at Lindsey.

In the Lindsey case it remains to be seen if wildcat action was the right tactic. Much will depend upon support from other sectors, and there is still the possibility of a national strike ballot. All workers should support the Lindsey strikers. The Visteon workers showed that it is still possible to win disputes even in the most difficult of circumstances. We will need workers to show more strength and solidarity in the months to come because they are are going to be made to pay for the bailout of the fat cat bankers with their wages, conditions and jobs.

Update: Well. It looks like wildcat strike action proved to be the right tactic for the Lindsey workers. They have secured jobs for the original 51 workers who were laid off and the 647 who were sacked.

Unison Conference - Brighton 2009


Off once again to the Unison Conference in Brighton. Great venue, the town that is, but there is talk of not going there again - pity. The conference was much the same as last time I went two years ago but some things have changed. The most important difference was that the penny has now dropped with just about all the delegates - New Labour is a boss's party and has completely betrayed its working class supporters - so that is a step forward.

There was a rousing speech by Dave Prentis in which he threatened to withhold funds from Labour. Many have taken this with a pinch of salt but I wonder. Prentis mentioned twice that we have reached a "crossroads" and mocked senior Labour politicians. If the Labour Party can only deliver 16% of the vote why should trade unions support it any longer? I think we are just begining to see the start of a fundamental shift in politics.

As for the rest of the week it was farly dull. As usual the most passionate debate was about Palestine. This time the 'friends of Israel' used a low key devious approach which went - "We support a two state solution but a boycott will hurt the Palestinians" - Yeah of course it will - then why are they asking for it? The usual disingenuous guff we hear from pro-Israelis. Needless to say they rightly lost again and the boycott continues.

I just had to finish by mentioning the Socialist Worker/Socialist Party crew who bombarded the deleagtes with literature, as usual, every time they entered and left the hall. How many years have they been stood outside doing this and where has it got them? - even though there is a crisis in capitalism. When are they going to wake up and realise that dogmatic socialism just doesn't wash with the British people. Social justice yes - Marxism (sadly) no. Why do you think I joined the Green Party?

The Euro debacle - 9th June 2009

Well, it couldn't have been much worse for the Green Party could it? We increased our vote by more than 25% nationally and scored as high as 12% in the South East. We came agonisingly close to getting several more MEPs and the main beneficiaries of the night were the BNP and UKIP, two parties who deserve the votes of nobody at all.

Much has been made of the BNP getting elected but their vote went down. The BNP got in because the Labour vote collapsed. In the NW it was particularly painful because our candidate Pater Cranie missed out to the BNP by 5,000 votes. We deserved a lot better.

The question that has to be asked is why on earth do people vote for a bunch of Tory rejects like UKIP? Their leader Nigel Farage (who?) was heard boasting before the election of the millions he has made from Euro allowances, and then there is the UKIP MEP Ashley Mote who was convicted of fraud ....oh and er there is the other UKIP MEP Tom Wise who has been accused of false accounting and money laundering! Why would anyone want to vote for this shower? Well unfortunately they do.

All this shows a more desperate need than ever for a party of the left that can re-assert the values of social justice. I believe the Green Party is just that party but I'm realistic enough to appreciate that there are many in the labour movement who will never support or join the Greens. They just don't get it on the environment and are still stuck in a post-war time warp as far as their political thinking goes.

Great Gable 6th June 2009

The Scafells from Green Gable
I had been planning to walk up Great Gable in my shorts and T-shirt on 6th of June in support of Water Aid. Seven of us from work made the climb but it turned out not at all how I expected. We stayed the night before at Buttermere Youth Hostel and that was quite an experience after 30 years - but more of that later. The early morning was overcast and showery, so at Seathwaite we donned our waterproofs and girded up our loins for the ascent via Green Gable. This is a popular route and the first part of the climb, by Sourmilk Gill, is pretty steep. By the time we reached the top most of us were feeling the strain. The next part of the walk is a relatively easy stroll up the Gillercomb and then onto the shoulder of Green Gable. Though it rained through most of the walk it wasn't until we reached the shoulder that the full force of the weather hit us. It was very cold, with a strong wind, and we could see snow on top of the Helvellyn range!

Although we wanted some lunch there was no shelter so after a drink and a snack we pressed on to the summit of Green Gable. These weren't the conditions to hang around in so after a few photos we went down to Windy Gap - which certainly lived up to its name. From the Gap there were great views of Ennerdale but we had no time to waste - weather conditions were worsening so we carried on straight up Great Gable. The climb was much steeper than I remembered it. I was beginning to get tired and cold - luckily I had brought two fleeces and after the second one went on I felt much better. After that it was a struggle to the summit fuelled by a half frozen Mars Bar.


Great Gable from Green Gable
It was a relief to be on top but just as I approached the summit the mist descended and we were in cloud. There were patches of snow on the summit and it began to sleet. This was no place to hang around with tired and hungry bodies so after a few photos we headed straight for the descent to Sty Head. And what a descent it was! Fifteen hundred feet of unrelenting steepness on wet and slippery rocks. My knees were like jelly by the time we reached Sty Head. But there was no time to relax even here - there was a bitter wind and driving rain so we headed straight down to Seathwate and a welcome cup of tea. In the end we raised just over £2500 for Water Aid so thanks to all that helped and contributed.

I just ought to add something about 21st Century Youth Hosteling. Buttermere Youth Hostel is a very pleasant place which is obviously popular with families. Much has changed since I used to go in the 1960s and 70s. You can get alcohol and decent coffee and the food has much improved. However there are still some odd anomalies; Buttermere shuts, yes shuts, at 11pm, get back any later and you are locked out!; the bunk beds are still the same ones I slept on 40 years ago and just as uncomfortable; there is an eerie quietness in the common room - as if you are in church - people speak in hushed tones. Later in the week I moved to Elterwater (stays open until 11.30pm!) with a friend and did some self catering. The kitchen was nice and clean but the pots and pans were still post-war vintage. Not a non-stick in sight! Would I go Youth Hostelling again? Possibly, but despite the modernisation it its still all a bit hair shirt'. I know the YHA is strapped for cash but please get some new bunks!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Stop the BNP!

In the forthcoming Euro Election on 4 June Peter Cranie is the Green Party's candidate. He is in a straight fight for 4th place with Nick Griffin leader of the British National Party (BNP). The BNP represents the politics of hate and it would be a disaster if Griffin got elected

Here Peter Cranie talks about his campaign:



USE YOUR VOTE IN THE EUROPEAN ELECTION - VOTE GREEN TO STOP THE BNP

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Public good, private bad

People who have followed the posts on this blog will know that I have been explaining how privatisation benefits the rich at the expense of the poor but it is probably worth pulling it all together in one post so here goes.

Privatisation of public services has been a key part of the neoliberal Thatcherite project of the past thirty years. Privatisation of public services makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. This neoliberal project is all about dumping costs onto the poor whilst creaming off more of society's wealth for the rich.

So how does it work? Quite simple really but it has to be bolstered by one big crucial lie. The lie is that the private sector is always, but always, more efficient than the public sector alternative. No evidence is ever produced for this but it has been repeated so often over the last few decades that most people accept it as a fact. There is evidence though to show that the private sector is not more efficient than the public sector. Here is an example that comes from the International Monetary Fund! (IMF) - see this paper. Here is a quote you might find interesting:

“….the empirical evidence and the theoretical debates do not support this assumption. There is a consistent stream of empirical evidence consistently and repeatedly showing that there is no systematic significant difference between public and private operators in terms of efficiency or other performance measures. The theory behind the assumption of private sector superiority is also being shown to have serious flaws”.

But we do need to consider what is meant by 'efficiency'. Normally it is taken to mean that the private sector can deliver public services at a lower cost - as if that was all that mattered anyway. The fact that the private sector can deliver services at a lower cost is questionable to say the least. But let’s consider what happens when a public service is privatised. A private company moves in and takes over the service and the workforce that delivers it. The company needs to make a profit so the first thing it does is to cut the workforce and lower the terms and conditions of the remaining workers. Workers have their pay, holidays and pensions slashed. The cost of resulting unemployment and low pay is pushed onto the taxpayer and the cost of the profit is pushed onto the remaining workforce. In fact the employer is literally taking money out of the pockets of its new employees and giving it to shareholders - hence a direct transfer of money from the poor to the rich. This is not lower cost delivery it is dumping the costs onto workers and the wider society. Its not efficiency - it is legalised robbery.

But it’s much worse than just this. Because we don't have competing public services (i.e. you only have one waste collector in your local council area) - what you end up with is a private monopoly. Once the public sector alternative has gone what happens if the company providing the service goes bust? Well it has to be bailed out. Why? Because even if you wanted to you couldn't just bring in another company to take over at short notice – wheelie bins have to be emptied. We are also sold a lot of guff about competitive tendering as if hundreds of companies were competing for every public service contract. This simply isn't the case and contracts are awarded to one of a few usual suspects.

What we end up with is a very cosy private monopoly replacing the public service and easy money for the people who own the company. In time, costs can be hiked up to increase profits and all this is at the taxpayer’s expense. No private company could ever compete with an efficient public sector alternative. Why? Because the public sector alternative does not have to make a profit therefore it will always offer better value for money. In addition, the public sector can always borrow money for investment at a lower rate of interest then the private sector which again saves the taxpayer money. The reality is that the most cost effective way to deliver public services is the public sector option. That is the way services should be delivered, paid for collectively by all of us and delivered without the profit motive.

Of course, it is an essential part of the privatisation project that the public sector is excluded from competing with the private sector because it is unacceptable to the privatisers for the public sector to be seen to provide better value for money and competing successfully. That is why everything has to be privatised. And that is why the public sector is now being privatised by stealth - slowly but surely. Once the Tories get into power they will have the confidence to accelerate this process because they will claim that they are eliminating 'public sector waste' and delivering ‘better value’ in a time of budgetary restraint.

Privatisation of public services is basically a racket. Its hard for people to understand that their government would want to institute a system which costs them more, reduces their employment opportunities, dumps costs onto local communities and only benefits capitalists but that is the kind of government we have. That is what New Labour stands for. In the long run we will all have to pay more for less and those who benefit will be the better off.