Monday, 20 December 2010

Unite and fight!

Good to hear that Len McCluskey, the new leader of Unite, has called today for trade unionists to oppose the cuts and work with all the other groups who are fighting cuts. He called for co-ordinated industrial action to fight the cuts in public services, including education. Of course, no sooner had the words been published than the usual suspects - in this case via a Guardian editorial - began to attack him on the predictable basis that this was a return to 'old fashioned' 1970's trade unionism.

These people are daft enough to think we should hold on for five years until the general election in the hope that another (Labour?) government will make things better. Well, don't believe it - that is the politics of failure. Why? Because there is no guarantee that an incoming Labour government would reverse the cuts, in fact it is unlikely that they would do so. What we have is a Tory lead government which is desperate to change Britain for good - to slash the welfare state and privatise what is left of the public sector. At best this would take us back to the 1930s.

This is a government which has no mandate for this change. Cameron and Osbourne kept quiet about slashing welfare during the election and suddenly found after being elected that it was 'necessary'. This is also a government which is vulnerable to pressure and nervous about the recovery that they have promised. In June I predicted that there would be an economic collapse and that we would slide back into recession. At the moment, that is looking like a pessimistic view but I'm still sticking by it. With the rise in VAT, a stagnant housing market, the remaining mountain of toxic debt and rising prices forcing a rise in interest rates there is a very good chance that we will have a jobless 'recovery' and economic stagnation in the longer term - which I also predicted.

There is cause for optimism. The coalition can be cracked apart under the pressure of protest. But McCluskey and trade unionists have to box clever. We need to forge alliances with all the other groups who are affected by the cuts. We have to support the protests of the students, UKuncut, the Coalition of Resistance and all the other community groups who are fighting the cuts. Strike action will play a part but it must start when we have those groups behind us, not beforehand. I think McCluskey has recognised this in his article today. Now we have a short break before we have to begin again in earnest in the new year. I'll be active in Cheshire West Against the Cuts, and if you live near here I hope you'll join me.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Capitalism defies the laws of physics

How long have we had capitalism? In its modern form, in the UK, less than 200 years. According to Karl Polanyi, capitalism started in Britain in 1838, with the introduction of the Poor Laws. It was these laws which finally lead to the commodification of labour, a necessary condition for capitalism.

The title of this post is slightly flippant but the point is this; because capitalism has existed as an economic system for nearly two centuries people think it is inevitable - like the laws of physics. Of course, capitalists would like you to think this, and since it's the only economic system you have ever known it's not surprising if you do. But capitalism isn't like gravity. It is neither inevitable nor necessary. It exists because the conditions it requires to function have been manufactured and are maintained. In other words the rules are set to enable capitalism to function - through legislation. In his book, The Great Transformation (an essential read if you want to know how capitalism came about) , Polanyi focussed on three key conditions; the commodification of land, labour and money. There is no reason why any of these things should be commodities, and they weren't in the past.

Lets take money as an example. Money can be simply a means of exchange. There is no particular reason why it should be a commodity in itself. There is no need for people to be able to buy and sell money. Neither does labour need to be a commodity. Because it is a commodity, workers need to sell their labour to capitalists in order to survive - work or starve. But before the commodification of labour, 'workers' (who at that time were not workers in the modern capitalist sense) had no need to sell their labour because they had alternatives, including access to land to grow food and have a measure of self-sufficiency. Of course, they could choose to sell their labour if they wanted to, and often did. The point is they were not forced to sell it as they are now. Part of the process of forcing 'workers' to sell their labour was the enclosures of common land - essential to the process of commodification of labour.

The idea of 'workers' being able not to have to sell their labour is simply unacceptable to capitalists. If you and I were able to choose freely to work for others when we felt like it, because we had a large measure of independence, it is very easy to see that capitalism couldn't work. We therefore have to be forced to do it. And that is what happened in the 18th and 19th centuries here in the UK.

It is clear, therefore, that socialists must end the commodification of land, labour and money. This is what happened in the Soviet Union. However, the mistake the Communist party made was to put everything into the ownership of the state, on the basis that it was 'owned' by all. This didn't work, as we know, because of the lack of democracy and the dictatorship which was established by Josef Stalin. Land, for example needs to be put into common ownership, not state ownership, as some of it was here before the enclosures. Naturally, there are some people who cannot conceive of how that collective ownership could work - but the point is that it did work then - and there is no reason why it could not work again.

Capitalism is not inevitable - it was created, and we can choose democratically to change the rules to create a more equitable society in which people are freer and not dependent on the whims of the capitalist system. When the rules have been changed capitalism will melt away like the snow did last week.

Please note that this post needs read within the wider context of previous posts such as this one and this.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Solidarity with the Miners

I thought I'd post this as a reflection on what happened the last time we had a Tory government determined to attack working people:

In 1984 I was a student at Essex University. When the Miner's Strike started in March 1984 I was in my second year. Essex University in those days was ‘Red Essex’. In my first year the Communists dominated the students union. By the second year the ‘Broad Left’ had taken over. From what I can remember now this was an unholy alliance of the Communists, Labour and Liberals. Naturally I was a part of the left opposition to this ruling clique. We consisted of non-aligned socialists, leftie Labourites, Troops Out, the SWP, and anarchists.

Thatcher’s government pulled out all the stops to beat the miners and the police were drafted in from all over the country to the front line, which was south Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Along with the cohorts of police - reputedly on £500 a week - in 1984! – came the army, who posed as policemen in unmarked uniforms, as well as special branch and all manner of spooks determined to break the strike (read GB84 by David Peace). It was a bloody battle, as close as we have come to civil war since the General Strike in the 1920s. Whole parts of the north Midlands and South Yorkshire were a ‘no go zone’ controlled by the police. Towns and mining villages were occupied. The police set up illegal roadblocks to try and stop the miner’s flying pickets.

So what has Essex University to do with this? Well as the strike wore on the government pulled all the stops to try and break it. Essex University is a campus university outside Colchester and near to the Essex port of Wivenhoe. The government started to ship coal in through Wivenhoe and soon after flying pickets arrived at the university. There were about 300 in all. From as far afield as Yorkshire, Durham, Kent and South Wales. This was their first time at university and didn’t they, and we, enjoy it.

Essex University had two bars at the time. The University Bar, which was where the Tories went, and the Union bar, which is where the rest, that is most of us, went. The Union Bar was a great cavern of a place with subsidised (decent) beer at about 60 pence per pint. It was always heaving at night and you had to queue to get served. When the miners came the place exploded. And wasn’t it just wonderful? The singing - “ Here we go, here we go, here we go, here we go, here we go, here we go-o, here we go, here we go, here we go, here we go, here we go!” - the carousing, the craic – as it is know in Ireland - was fantastic!

I spent many nights in that bar drinking with miners and they were some of the best nights of my life. Yes we were separated by class – but so what? We all wanted the same thing – to beat Thatcher and bring down the Tory government. Nobody had any illusions about that. As a socialist it was nirvana. I felt privileged to be taking part in a struggle, however small a part that was, alongside the vanguard of the working class. And the miners enjoyed it too, for sure they had all left problems at home, but at Essex they were welcomed with open arms, with beer, fags, wacky baccy, and young women of a socialist persuasion who wanted to shag a miner. And those women were real feminists – not the effete lot you get these days. So, all in all, it was an education for them and for us. But we got on like a house on fire. Even the Tories treated the miners with respect. They had very little choice.

All these goings on didn’t impress the University - but those were different times. The student union was strong. We had won on a number of issues whilst I had been there. They took us seriously. And that was the best of the students’ union – we had our internal battles but they always backed their members – even the lefties like us - like a proper union should. It was very difficult, if not impossible, for the University to pick out and victimise a student there. So, although the university wanted to get rid of the miners – they couldn’t. The miners were there for the duration, and once they arrived it wasn’t long before things began to hot up.

My best friend, and socialist activist, S, had deserted me and gone off to university in the USA. He went with a mutual friend, A, and they got into a number of political scrapes over there, including getting arrested and being chased by gun-toting security guards. S and I had been involved in a number of escapades at Essex including an exam boycott - where we had to jump out of a first floor window to avoid getting caught out. When he returned in the third year we immediately got hold of a couple of buckets, plastered ourselves in Coal not Dole stickers, and got down to Colchester town centre every Saturday collecting money for the miners. Colchester is a Tory, and army garrison town so we got a fair amount of stick as you can imagine. But we didn’t give a fuck. The best of it was we collected a fair amount of dosh. Little old ladies and gentlemen, and ‘housewives’ gave us money. I would guess that on most Saturdays we collected between 30 and 50 quid. Not bad money for those times.

There were a number of mass pickets of Wivenhoe and it’s a testament to the times how organised the enemy were. At the ‘big picket’, which I remember clearly, there must have been about 1000 police officers and 1000 pickets. The picket consisted of miners, students and local ne’er do wells (local people who supported the cause). The night before the picket I went out with my mate N - who was a committed socialist and really great bloke. Despite getting completely leathered we were up at five am to get to the picket.

As the whole thing got off the ground N and I were at the centre of the picket near the gate. I remember quite clearly a wagon coming in – regardless of the pickets - someone could easily have got killed. It was slowed by the crush of bodies at the gate and Nigel jumped up and managed to stick his head through the driver’s window giving him a load of abuse. He was grabbed and carted off by several police officers. There was lots of pushing and shoving as the police tried to keep us away from the gates. The pickets linked arms and the melee swayed backwards and forwards. I lead a charmed life that day. At one stage the police lifted the guys on either side of me but I survived. I guess that is because they were burly miners and I was a weedy student. The police grabbed a friend who was already on bail for an 'offence' committed during the strike and a frantic tug of war over him ensued. We knew he couldn’t be nicked again. With a gargantuan effort we wrested him from the police and he was passed backwards along the ground through the legs of the pickets to safety.

The bad news for N was that when they got him back to the station they searched him and found some speed in his jean’s back pocket so he got busted. He’d forgotten to take it out the night before. As for the students that got arrested they were piled in police vans, driven about thirty miles into the middle of nowhere and left to walk home. Suffice to say a lot more happened, including the infamous disciplinary committee that I was elected to serve on. Not to mention real picketing after being smuggled into south Derbyshire in the middle of the night. But the miners stayed at Essex University until the end of the strike and one or two of them were still on campus about six months after it ended.

The end of the strike was traumatic for all of us. The miners and their wives, and families were heroes. They were a million miles away from the smug bankers and Capitalists who have been riding on our backs ever since. We had invested a lot of time, energy and passion in the strike. We didn’t have as much to lose as they did. The unemployment, repossessions, marital break up, crime, and shattered communities. But we cared. I hope they look back on that time of solidarity with as much fondness as I do.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Its time that the Met Police were brought under democratic control

On Thursday 9th December the ConDem government managed to pass legislation increasing tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year in the face of student protests. The protests were once again mainly peaceful and good natured. There was some damage to property around Parliament Square including the Treasury and the Supreme Court. As usual, the media had a field day, focussing almost entirely on damage to property. But something has changed. There was a reasonably widespread questioning of police tactics, which I have no doubt provoked much of the violent response.

I watched a couple of hours of live coverage on BBC and Sky and it looked to me that the Met Police had come with an agenda to break a few heads - which they succeeded in doing. One of the protestors, Alfie Meadows, was beaten unconscious by police and had to be taken to hospital. Incredibly, according to reports, the police objected to him being treated at the same hospital as some of their own officers and tried to have him turned away. What have we come to in this country where this sort of barbaric behaviour by police officers can be tolerated?

This is the same police force that lied about the death of Jean Charles De Menezes and the death of Ian Tomlinson and recently kept schoolchildren kettled for nine hours in freezing temperatures without food water or access to toilets. It seems to me that the Met Police are out of any kind of democratic control and are becoming a law unto themselves. Of course, I wouldn't expect our democratically elected government to do anything about that - that would be too much to expect.

The kind of tactics we have seen from the Metropolitan Police cause problems rather than solve them. High profile aggressive policing of the kind we saw last week is not the way to police demonstrations. Even the 'good folk' of the Countryside Alliance experienced that during their demonstration. Of course a cynic might argue that the Met have a vested interest in this type of policing. The more violence they can provoke the better they can argue for more resources and draconian powers. If our current set of 'waste-of-space' parliamentarians (with one or two exceptions) continue to let the Met Police behave in this way it is inevitable that the police will come to be seen as merely an arm of the state - which in truth they are - and that they will end up alienating a whole generation of young people, their parents and supporters.

We have lived for many years with the fiction that the police are there to protect us but their real role is to defend the interests of the British State which are the same as the interests of international neoliberal capitalism. I witnessed that first hand myself during the Miner's Strike, and it has no place in a democracy.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Coalition of Resistance Conference

On the 27 November CoR held its inaugural conference in London. I travelled down by train from Cheshire and was joined by 1200 others in the Camden Centre. The train was delayed so I arrived a bit late, by which time the main hall was full. The morning consisted of a plenary session with speakers from the Labour Party, Green Party and trade unions including; John McDonnell MP, Bob Crow RMT, Mark Serwotka PCS, Jean Lambert MEP, Ken Loach, Clare Solomon NUS, and Lindsey German. After a chilly journey the speakers soon got the audience warmed up and there were some particularly good contributions from Mark Serwotka and John McDonnell.


The plenary was followed by a series of workshops on such topics as; organising against the cuts locally, mobilising the unions, and analysing the crisis. I attended a couple of these workshops, both of which were absolutely packed. The most promising thing about the workshops, and the whole day, was the fact that there were many young people attending. There was a really positive atmosphere of co-operation and determination. The now well worn arguments about the causes of the crisis were aired but what interested me most was alternatives. It's not enough to want to stop the cuts, the left has to have a workable alternative agenda, and that is one of the things I have been focussing on in my blog - see here and here. It's early days but it's not clear yet exactly how this agenda is going to shape up. The afternoon passed in similar fashion ending with some rousing speeches, and a standing ovation for Tony Benn, who was elected as President of CoR. He was looking frail but was truly inspirational.

On Thursday night I attended the first local meeting of an embryonic campaign against the cuts in West Cheshire. All in all, I'm very optimistic that the anti-cuts movement can wring changes from the ConDem government and crack the coalition apart. The problem is - what happens next? The Labour Party is paralysed by its past 13 years in power and unable to articulate an alternative to the government's programme of austerity. The Green Party, alone, of all the mainstream parties has a robust, costed and viable alternative but we are not going to be in a position to implement that programme after the next election. Our task has to be to persuade others to adopt the economic programme. Meanwhile the students continue to inspire us all with their campaign against tuition fees, and the anti-cuts movement is still taking on the tax avoiders. Next, I will be doing my best to promote the campaign here in West Cheshire.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Out of the mouths' of babes

So the saying, which originated in the Bible, goes. In our response to the economic crisis here in the UK we are being shown the way by the nation's youth. They are the ones who are fighting back. Whatever happened to the left in the UK? Whatever happened to the battalions of the unions who fought so hard for social justice? When are they going to react?

The student protests on Wednesday 24 November have given an example to the rest of us. Not only did students, but also schoolchildren, protested, not just in London but all over the country. There were major demos in Bristol, Brighton, Liverpool, Manchester and other towns and cities. Twelve universities were occupied. Predictably the demo in London, during which a police van was wrecked, drew the biggest media coverage. Some schoolgirls tried to protect the van from further damage after it had been attacked. Many demonstrators were later 'kettled' by the police for 9 hours. That is - they were unlawfully held without food and water , or access to toilets in freezing conditions. What sort of police force is it that does this to our children?

The students are showing us the way, and leading the fightback against the cuts which are being inflicted upon the poor, unemployed, low paid and working and middle classes. What they have shown is that protest marches are not enough. We need to fight back with non-violent direct action. This will inevitably include the occupation, not just of universities and colleges, but libraries and other local authority buildings and factories that close, or are threatened with closure, as a result of the attack being waged on our communities by the ConDem government. Where the students have lead the rest of us must follow. If we don't we will lose the fight of our lives.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

We don't need private sector banks

As we witness the humiliation if the Irish people who are being bullied into accepting the rule of the IMF to bail out "their" reckless banks, Eric Cantona has stepped into the ring with a suggestion that we all withdraw our money from the banks, in protest against their behaviour, on December the 7th. I won't be participating but that's not because I think it's a bad idea. I've never been very keen on banks but neither do I want to keep my hard earned money under the mattress.

I've put my money in the Co-operative Bank, which by the very low standards of most banks is superb. It's not going bust anytime soon, and it even has genuine ethical policies. If only more people would do the same we would be less vulnerable to the kind of crisis which has rocked the world economy and slain the Celtic Tiger recently.

Predictably, Deborah Hargreaves, has written in the Guardian that Cantona's idea is a foolish one because we all need banks as much as they need us. But this is complete nonsense! We may need banks but the point is that we don't need irresponsible, unaccountable, out of control, private sector banks that we have to bail out every decade or so - if you think this is the first banking crisis in 50 years just take a look at what has happened in Sweden and Japan in recent times.

What we need is nationalised banks and community banks under democratic control. Full stop. Private sector banks are far too irresponsible to be allowed to create money from debt. That is unacceptable. Perhaps Deborah can be forgiven. She appears to be infected with a disease called capitalism, and being a business writer for the Guardian and the FT its easy to see why she should be trapped in a conventional view.

Don't be fooled. The banks, even now, are far too powerful, and completely unaccountable, and unregulated. Our politicians are way too timid and blinkered to be able to find a solution to this problem. We need radical change. In the meantime - withdraw your money on the 7th December and put it in a half decent bank. There are a few around.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

In a time of class war...

..... people are radicalised and come together to resist the ruling capitalist elite.

There has been a lot of controversy in the past few years in the UK about the 'radicalisation' of Muslim youth in the UK. In July 2005 we had to suffer the atrocity of multiple suicide bombings in London which claimed the lives of 52 people in London. In the USA, there was the horror of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, which killed 2,752 people.

But what was the cause of these atrocities, and what bearing does that cause have on what is happening now in the West? If you want a simplistic explanation of the terrorist attacks in London and New York, you'll choose to believe they were simply the work of deranged fanatics, madmen who were intent on destruction. But it's essential to analyse the root cause, and the root cause for both of these atrocities was, and is, Western capitalist interference in middle eastern Muslim countries. This interference has a long history because of the strategic importance of the region, which is largely based on oil.

In 1953, Mohammad Mossaddegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, was overthrown in a coup d'etat organised by the CIA. Why did this happen? It happened because Mossaddegh threatened the strategic interests of the USA and its capitalist corporations, by nationalising the oil industry, and by introducing progressive reforms which favoured the Iranian people and was against the interests of the ruling Iranian elite. As a result of the coup, the Shah of Iran was installed as a puppet ruler to serve the interests of the Iranian elite, the USA, and western capitalists.

Of course, we could go back even further to British imperial interference in the region, but suffice to say the autocratic rule of the Shah lead to the Iranian Islamic revolution and the creation of the modern Islamic State of Iran which is still a bugbear to western capitalism. There's more, much much more, western interference in Egypt, Palestine and Afghanistan - including the CIA backed support to the war lords and Islamists who resisted the Soviet 'invasion' of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The point is that the continuing meddling by Western powers in these Muslim middle eastern countries has encouraged the development and formation of extreme Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda. These are the terrorists who now pose a threat to 'our way of life', but these monsters are entirely the creation of western meddling in Muslim countries. In fact, now that the Soviet Union has ceased to exist groups like Al Qaeda provide a convenient way for our political leaders to keep us all on their side, because they promise to protect us against a terrorist threat - which they have created.

Now, because of the crisis in capitalism that we are going through, a crisis which has lead to ordinary people here, in the USA, and in Europe, being made to pay to bail out the banks and financial system, and to suffer unemployment, homelessness, and deprivation as a result of austerity - ordinary people in the west are being radicalised by the extremes of western capitalism - just as their counterparts in Muslim countries have been, and continue to be.

One of the responses to the capitalist crisis and the bank bailout in the USA has been the Tea Party, which is a manipulated and deluded outburst of anger because Main St has been screwed by Wall St - see here. Elsewhere, in Greece, Ireland and France we have seen outbursts of anger, with mass demonstrations against the austerity imposed on ordinary people by the politicians, who are acting in the interests of the capitalist elite.

This is good, old fashioned class war being waged by the capitalist class against the rest of us, and the crisis is so serious that it's the middle classes who are suffering, not just the working classes and the poor. And that is where capitalist class and their tame politicians have a real problem, because if the middle classes and the working classes can unite to fight back, the capitalists may well have to retreat, and foot some of the bailout and debt crisis bill themselves, through losses to investors and bondholders.

But will this happen? The reality is that, on the back of the danger posed by Islamist terrorism, Western governments have been introducing ever more repressive police state legislation to contain the anger of the victims of austerity. This police apparatus, in the UK, represents a genuine threat to civil liberties and is expressed in an ever more restrictive attempts to criminalise legitimate protest. A recent example of this was the closing down of the Fitwatch website, and the demonisation of students who protested against rises in tuition fees.

I'm sure that the people who run the UK would like to think that the old days of revolutionary socialism and communism are long dead and buried. But if you oppress people and screw them, you radicalise them. Here, in the UK, hardly a day goes by without a fresh attack on the poor, women, disabled, disadvantaged, and the middle class, on the pretence that we are all in this together and we have to reduce the deficit. Well no, no we don't. Austerity is an ideological choice on the part of the Coalition government, and not a sound economic response to the crisis we are in.

Where will this class war, and the fightback against, it lead us ? Its hard to tell but the crisis of capitalism is far from over - as the recent forced 'bailout' of Ireland has shown. There are still many $billions of toxic debt in the world financial system, and banks in the USA and Europe are teetering on the brink of collapse. The crisis threatens to bring down the Euro, and threatens the whole European Union project.

In the UK, resistance to the austerity measures to pay for the crisis is growing as more and more people face the daily reality of reduced incomes, unemployment and the danger of losing their homes. A key problem is that people no longer have a mainstream political party to represent their interests, because New Labour abandoned them long ago. Only the Green Party offers resistance to the austerity programme. We live in interesting, if difficult times. We are witnessing the biggest heist in history - pulled off by financial capitalism aided by our democratically elected politicians. Will they get away with it? I don't think so - but it remains to be seen exactly how and when they will be brought to justice.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Irish people are being screwed

The Irish people find themselves in a similar situation to the Icelanders. As an island state with a small population, Ireland was feted for its spectacular growth - as the Celtic Tiger - during the 1990's and the early part of this century. But that economic boom was built mainly on two things: undercutting corporate tax rates elsewhere in Europe; and an unsustainable property boom. Now the Irish, like the Icelanders, are mired in debt and austerity.

The first of those two - corporate tax breaks - was a classic example of globalisation - leading the race to the bottom - to the advantage of the corporations and at the expense of people in other nations. It's the stuff capitalist economists love. Let the market rip. Deregulate. Get countries competing with each other to offer to best bonanza to capitalists and sod the effect it has on the people and communities that suffer as a result. Privatise the gains and dump the costs onto taxpayers. At the moment Swiss cantons are luring away corporations based in the UK with promises of ever lower tax rates, and as our tax base shrinks we will become poorer as a greater and greater burden is placed on working taxpayers. Only the corporations and their shareholders benefit from this.

As for the unsustainable property boom - we have seen the effects of that here and in the USA - a global crisis not dissimilar to that which happened in the 1920s and 30s. In Ireland the banks recklessly lent eye-watering amounts of money, now the 4 million people of Ireland are picking up the bill - £15 billion in cuts to welfare and the public sector with more, much more, to come.

Property prices in Ireland (as here) are still falling, and as they do, the debts of the Irish banks continue to grow. Of course it's absolutely insane that the people of Ireland should be expected to bail out these banks. It's not their fault the banks went bust, and not one Irish banker has been held to account for what happened.

So why weren't these banks allowed to go bust? - as they should have been. Granted the ordinary depositors should have been protected but apart from that the rest of the debt should have been allowed to go hang. But wait a minute....... if that had happened not only would wealthy and powerful people lost their money but other banks in the UK, France and Germany would have lost money, and possibly been driven under as a result.

So the Irish, just like the Icelanders, are being made to pay for the failures of a capitalist system for which they bear no responsibility. Just as Ireland was bullied into a second referendum over the EU 'constitution' now it will be bullied into accepting another bailout by the EU so that european banks and investors will be protected. The Irish people have been screwed - but that is how capitalism works. Many years ago I went to a heated university debate about Ireland. One of the speakers said the Irish should get off their knees and fight. Never were those words more applicable than in Ireland today.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Lets condem the real perpetrators of violence

On Wednesday 52,000 students marched through London. The demonstration was peaceful and good natured. It is good to see that a new generation of British students has woken up and begun to realise that the class war being waged by the ConDem government against the poor, unemployed, disabled and low-paid extends to the right to have a higher education.

During the demo a few thousand students occupied 30 Millbank, which is the site of the Tory Party HQ. Windows were broken, placards were burned, there was the usual pushing and shoving with the police, and some idiot threw a fire extinguisher off the roof. This, and in particularly the latter incident, was manna to the right wing press who described the occupation as an orgy of violence. It was nothing of the sort. It was an expression of the righteous anger of a generation of students who know that they have been screwed, and betrayed by the politicians who promised not to let that happen. This is the same media who were cheerleaders for a war in Iraq where 1 million people died.

The reality is that higher education has been privatised, not out of necessity, but because of Tory 'free' market ideology. The Liberal Democrat MPs, Like Nick Clegg, who all pledged to end tuition fees for students, are entitled to change their minds. But what they cannot do is claim that a rise in fees is necessary, that is the real dishonesty of Nick Clegg's position. The rise is fees from £3000 to up to £9,000 is a matter of choice not necessity. The Lib Dems said they would phase out tuition fees within six years.

Of course, it has been claimed that only students benefit from higher education, and that they should pay. Funny that very few people thought that at decade ago. We all benefit from higher education by having a better educated population that has people with the skills that this country needs. Students often don't get well paid jobs and the idea that they all end up on top salaries is nonsense. The tuition fee rises row hides that fact that the government are making massive cuts of 40% in higher education. Many courses, particularly in the arts, and some universities, will close. We will all be the poorer as a result. These cuts are being driven by 'free' market fanatics who are bailing out a failed capitalist system. These people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

The breaking of windows and throwing of a fire extinguisher are being used by the political right to hide the real violence which is being perpetrated by the ConDem government against the most vulnerable in our society. Violence means causing people harm - that is what this government is doing.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The 'free' market is responsible for our housing benefit problems

The UK has a housing benefit bill of £21 billion. This is a huge sum. But how did it come about? The seeds were sown in 1979 when the incoming Thatcher government introduced the right to buy for social housing. This pledge gave a boost to the Tories in the polls but some of us were aware that it was storing up problems for the future. The Tories believed the benefits would be more than electoral. They believed that it would turn working class Labour voters into people who perceived themselves to be middle class, and that it would reduce working class militancy because mortgage holders would be less likely to go on strike. They were almost certainly right about that.

Councils were also prevented from building new homes to replace those lost. Of course, the inevitable result was that over the years the social housing stock became depleted. Subsequent governments failed to reverse either of these policies, relying on the private sector to build houses. But the private sector doesn't want to build social housing because it's not as profitable as building executive homes.The consequence of all this has been the housing crisis we now have in the UK. There are now 4.5 million people on the waiting list for social housing.

The government claim that the victims here are taxpayers who are having to pay for the unemployed to live in luxurious apartments that they could not afford themselves. But most of the people who will be hit by the housing benefit cap, at £400p.w., and made homeless, are not unemployed but the working poor or pensioners, and lot of these people live in London where rents are exorbitant. It has been estimated that more than 135,000 people could be made homeless. As far as the current debate about housing benefit is concerned most commentators seem to be missing the key point.

It's the working people on housing benefit who are the real victims because they are being screwed from two directions. One - pitifully low wages from employers and the second exorbitant rents from private landlords. Housing benefit is not a subsidy for them, it is actually subsidising the corporations who employ them and the private sector landlords. Just like tax credits for the working poor It is really a form of corporate welfarism which allows companies to pay wages that people cannot live on. By paying low wages they pocket the profits whist dumping the costs onto the rest of us. This is such a typical feature of how the free market works that hardly anyone notices or mentions it. This kind of cost dumping is taken for granted.

So what is the answer? Clearly we need a lot more social housing but this isn't going to happen overnight. Nor can we rely on the market to provide that housing. We need a new programme of council housebuilding funded by government. We also need to legislate to make companies to pay a living wage to the people they employ, and we need to re-inroduce rent controls to prevent landlords robbing their tenants and the taxpayer. Instead of blaming the victims its time we took some real action to force the culprits to change their ways.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Vodafone - tax dodgers!

On Saturday October 30th, people took part in peaceful protests against Vodafone all across the UK. During the protests many Vodafone stores were closed. Protesters are angry about the fact that Vodafone have been 'let off' a £6 billion tax bill by chancellor George Osbourne at a time when the Condem Government is slashing public welfare, hitting benefits for the low paid, disabled and unemployed. As I type this lawyers and accountants are working hard to come up with schemes for corporations to avoid paying tax. The BBC Radio File on Four programme ' A Taxing Dilemma' reported tonight on how UK corporations are cooking up tax avoidance schemes. Big business is using the benefits of globalisation to play off one country against another in a 'race to the bottom' for corporate taxes. In the long run this kind of activity can only damage the welfare of citizens in countries around the world and needs to be stopped.

I was in Manchester to attend an anti-cuts meeting organised by the Labour Representation Committee at which Labour MP John McDonnell spoke. McDonnell is one of the few Labour MPs who had the courage to speak out against the neo-liberal programme of cuts and privatisation followed by New Labour. He tried unsuccessfully to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership of the party, being prevented by the ridiculously high hurdle that leadership contenders have to jump over to stand.



On the 28th of October in Oxford students clashed with police who attempted to stop them marching to protest against education cuts. Little of this activity gets mentioned in the media but there are protests going on all over the country against the fact that ordinary people are being made to pay for the excesses of the market, and this is before the cuts have really started to bite. If you want to find out more visit the Coalition of Resistance's excellent website. This isn't France but there is growing anger and unease about what is happening. We are still at the early stages of a fightback against government for the rich by the rich.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Is the American Empire going to collapse?

I guess some people will quibble about me using the word 'empire' to describe the USA. I have no problem with it. The Americans have always been canny about creating an empire. Rather than direct colonisation they have used economic power to control the markets, and fate, of other countries. With a few exceptions - the Philippines, Grenada, Iraq - there has been little 'direct' intervention. They have preferred to use covert methods such as de-stablising and causing the overthrow of governments, and lets not forget that South America was always described as their 'backyard'.

However, the real point of this post is to examine what is happening now in the USA and how it compares with its once great rival the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed in about 1990. Some Americans, known as the neo-conservatives, would like us to believe that that the USA was responsible for bringing the Soviet Union down.

Its important to distinguish between the neo-conservatives and neo-liberals. The neo-liberals were a group of economists from the 'Chicago School'. Starting in the 1970s they advocated an extreme form of free market capitalism in which the state, and democracy, is subjugated to the market. They have been very influential and have succeeded in creating the current free market paradigm which we are all now being subjected to. The economist Milton Friedman was one of the chief originators of neo-liberalism. The neo-conservatives were a small but powerful group of American right-wingers influenced by the academic Leo Strauss. Strauss advocated the idea of a 'noble lie' - the idea that society needed a myth to make it cohesive - that, for example, religion should be promoted even if it was untrue because it brought society together. The neo-conservatives who included people like Paul Wolfowitz and William Casey, Director of the CIA, used the mythology that the Soviet Union was a threat to the USA - which it wasn't - to bring about social cohesion in the US, and influenced the Reagan government to spend billions supporting Islamists in Afghanistan to fight against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. If you want to find out more about how this came about and why the so-called 'clash of cultures' is happening at the moment watch the excellent documentary 'The Power of Nightmares' by Adam Curtis. It is essential viewing. This is bit of a digression, but bear with me because its crucial to understand the distinction between these two groups and the massive influence they have had on world politics.

The real reason the Soviet Union collapsed was because nobody believed in it anymore. It had failed economically and socially. It was rotten to the core. Its decay may have been hastened by the Afghan war but it was already a house of cards just waiting to be knocked down. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, recognised this but his reforms, which were intended to save the Soviet Union, came too late.

So what has this got to do with the USA today? My view is that the USA is rotten to the core also. Why? Because its democracy has been completely subverted by capitalism. It may have a fine constitution, but you can't get elected without millions of dollars, and those dollars come from Wall Street and the corporations - the mega-rich. The corporations are in control. The political system is utterly corrupt. That is why Barak Obama is impotent - he is funded by corporations. That is why Wall Street was bailed out in the recent economic crash whilst Main Street was being screwed.

But there is something more important going on, something fundamental. American politics has been corrupt for a very long time - but as long as people were getting richer it didn't matter. That is the American Dream. That is what has sustained the USA for more than two centuries. Now, the American Dream is dying. Real incomes for working Americans - many of whom regard themselves as being 'middle class' -haven't risen since the late 1970s. Recent 'prosperity' was fuelled by cheap credit and mis-selling of dodgy mortgages. The truth is that many Americans at the bedrock of society are getting poorer.

That is what the Tea Party is all about. Millions of Americans are angry, bewildered and frustrated at the recent crash and the fact they aren't getting richer anymore. But there is a huge problem here - they are directing their anger against the wrong enemy. The people who caused the crash - the financial capitalists and corporations of Wall Street aren't being blamed. Instead, the anger is being directed at the government. Why is this happening? Partly, it's a result of political ignorance on the part of ordinary Americans who refuse to blame capitalism for any of their problems, but the key factor takes us back to the rottenness at the heart of the USA - the Tea Party is being organised and funded by the very people who brought about the crash. How else would cranks like Christine O'Donnell be able to spend millions running for office? If the American Dream dies, as I suspect it will, the core idea behind the USA will die with it, and Americans may well decide they don't believe in America anymore. The USA could become a house of cards like the Soviet Union.

There is a great irony here - the founders of the USA and the Soviet Union both wanted to create a better society. Their methods and ideology may have been different but their aims were the same. The Soviet Union was brought down by the lust for power of ruthless bureaucrats like Stalin and a failed economy. Now the lust for money of the rich and the failures of unbridled free market capitalism threaten to bring down the USA. The consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union were much more serious for people in the West than they could ever have imagined. The major consequence was that the free marketeers and corporations were given licence to dominate Western democracy and impoverish the rest of us. The consequences of the collapse of the USA, if it happens, will probably be even more severe.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Welcome to 19th century free market capitalism

In previous posts I have talked about how neo-liberal 'free' market capitalism is a project which aims to take us back to the 19th Century. Privatisation, de-regulation, outsourcing, and labour market flexibility are all products of neo-liberalism. They are all intended to weaken the rights of working people and their ability to defend their standard of living.

We didn't just get the eight hour day, the weekend, pensions, paid holidays and decent working conditions given to us - our parents and grandparents had to fight for them against capitalist employers who had no intention of reducing their profits for our benefit. We made these gains through organisation, in trade unions and political parties which made democratic gains through the ballot box.

The intention of neoliberalism is to roll back all the gains that working people made, and that would take us back to the 19th century. Neo-liberal politics has been dominant in the west for a generation - it started with Nixon in the USA and Thatcher in the UK. As ever, the Americans are ahead of us. In the USA there are 40 million poor people living in conditions that we in the UK would find shocking. Wages for working people have been static in the USA since the late 1970s, whilst those for the wealthiest have continued to grow ever greater. This isn't about some kind of entrepreneurship as they would like you to think, this is about the rich screwing the people who make them rich - workers.

Today, in the news we were given a glimpse of what '19th century - 21st' century Britain looks like. Romanian children were found labouring near Malvern, picking spring onions. The independent reported:

"The children were among 50 Romanian workers discovered picking spring onions in a field in the Kempsey area of Worcester by the Gangmaster's Licensing Authority (GLA). The seven children, aged between nine and 15, were being made to work from 7.30 in the morning until dusk, dressed in thin summer clothes, as temperatures dropped close to zero."

Of course the Independent, indignant, but missing the point as usual, complained about human trafficking. This isn't human trafficking - its capitalism, pure and simple - this is what capitalism is about. This is what happens when you let the market run without regulation. This is what will happen more and more frequently here and in Europe and America until we bring the market under democratic control. We did it in the past and we can do it again. But when we do it next time we must ensure there is no going back.

Friday, 22 October 2010

The ConDem cuts were neither fair nor necessary

£18 billion cuts in welfare, so far, from the ConDem government. Just contrast that with a £2.5 billion tax on the banks and £7 billion bonuses for bankers in the UK this year. These are the banks that we recently bailed out in the UK to the tune of £1.4 trillion. The economic crisis that we are in, which has lead to cuts which that will hit the low paid, unemployed, women, children, young people, and the disabled hardest, was caused directly by the failures of 'free' market financial capitalism. This failure and crisis was driven by neo-liberal right wing political ideology dressed up as economics - let the market do what it wants and all will be well. But remember that is where we were in the 19th century. Do we really want to go back to a time before we had pensions, welfare and half decent conditions for working people? Do we want to go back to the workhouse?

It may be hard to accept but that is where we are headed if neo-liberal ideology continues to prevail. Look to the USA, they are ahead of the curve as far as all this is concerned. The recent post I made about Gary shows this. If we allow the market to dominate, without democratic control and intervention then we are simply handing over our society to the whim of the corporate profit makers. What do they care about our welfare or about our communities? Why should they bother whether someone has a job in Mumbai or Middlesborough? All that matters to them is maximising the return on their investment. They are free to go anywhere, anytime, that they can make the biggest buck. And what does that say about the state of our democracy? Because it means that these people are above our democracy - they can do as they like. One law for us, and no laws for them.

The point about these cuts is that they were never necessary. We have survived bigger deficits in the past. George Obsourne's comparisons with the household budget are nonsense, we are talking about an economy, not a family. If we want to ensure a way out of the crisis we need to invest not cut. The Irish made cuts and look where that has got them - into a far worst state than when they started.

The reality is that the natural state of capitalism is economic stagnation, punctuated by boom and bust. The latest crash just happens to be the biggest since 1929, but there have been many others since capitalism started. In order to bring about real change we do must take these steps:

1. We must use democratic power to bring the market back under our control. As a first step we need to introduce the kind of controls on finance that existed in the 1940s, including exchange controls. During the period we had those controls we had a faster growing economy then we have had since the neo-liberal ideology became dominant.

2. We must create a viable economic alternative to monopoly capitalism by creating a truly mixed economy. This can be achieved, as a first step, by nationalisation of the banks and utilities. Secondly, we need to invest in co-operative enterprises which can help to re-build our economy. We need to put restrictions on the limited liability of companies, making it clear that mutuals are our preferred economic model. We also need to protect - yes protect! - our growing industries and build up our industrial base.

3. Alongside this we need to invest in our infrastructure and re-build our welfare state and education system. Of particular importance is social housing. We must allow councils to build and offer secure tenancies and ensure we have an efficient low cost public transport system.

Of course we must do all this is the greenest possible way, built around renewable energy, energy efficiency and the kind of resource efficient manufacturing to be found in Factor Four - see here. This will put us in a position to deal with the worst effects of climate change and peak oil, and help to build a secure and low growth prosperous economy for the future. All these things are possible, if only we hadn't spent £1.4 trillion on propping up the failed financial capitalist system, it would be a lot easier to achieve.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Shock Doctrine

Have you ever come across 'The Shock Doctrine' by Naomi Klein? Naomi Klein is an author and left-wing activist who first came to prominence with her book 'No Logo', which took a critical look at globalisation. In her book 'The Shock Doctrine - the rise of disaster capitalism' Klein showed how neo-liberal free market fundamentalists have exploited crises to force privatisation and deregulation onto countries which would have resisted if it the population had not been in a vulnerable state. A well known example of this is in Chile, where the Pinochet coup against the democratically elected Allende government created a situation in which global corporations were able take over the economy at the expense of the Chilean people. Its well worth reading the book or at least watching the documentary film. For a starter try this clip on Youtube.

The point is that we are now the victims of the latest 'shock'. The global economic crisis is being used here to impose cuts on public services and the welfare state which would never have been accepted by the British population had the crisis not happened. So, the people who create the crisis not only get away with it, and get us to pay for it, but they also get the opportunity to slash our public services and benefit from the privatisation that will follow.

But what stimulated me to write this was the excellent article that I came across today by George Monbiot. There's no need for me to say more. Read George's excellent analysis of the situation in this post. When you have, you will understand why it has been so easy for the ConDem government to do something the Tories have dreamed of for years - slashing the public sector and the welfare state.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The USA is being destroyed by the market

I've posted before about how neoliberalism - free market economics - is damaging the US economy in this post, but what I saw on Newsnight last evening truly shocked me, and I have no illusions about the capacity of the market to cause destitution and degradation on a massive scale. Take a look at Paul Mason's report about Gary, a town in Indiana, close to Chicago, which has a population of about 100,000, before it disappears off iPlayer.

The report showed a parade on the main street in the 1950's. A broad main street fringed with shops and public buildings, thousands of happy looking (white) people watching and participating with smiling faces. Clearly Gary was a prosperous town with a thriving economy. It had a theatre which could seat 3,000. Frank Sinatra entertained there.

Contrast that with Gary in 2010. A scene of utter devastation. Buildings, including those on that main street empty, falling down, windowless, and roofless, the theatre a crumbling ruin, houses and factories empty and deserted. The place looked like somewhere after a nuclear attack, like a ghost town, except that it's not because 100,000 people still live there amongst the ruins. Most of the inhabitants are unemployed, 80% are black - because the whites who can have fled. The town is bust. Recently, before some federal aid, it had only five functioning police cars. The criminals are better supplied and armed than the police. Areas of town are in pitch darkness because there are no streetlights.

At the state level the Republicans and the Tea Party acolytes are trying to deprive Gary of further public aid. The people of Gary voted for Obama. A horrific Tea Party demagogue spouted about how tax dollars shouldn't go to Gary and how only the private sector could create jobs and re-build the economy. Really? Wasn't it the 'private sector' that brought Gary to its knees in the first place, with privatisation, de-regulation, downsizing, outsourcing, shareholder value, tax cuts, labour market flexibility and most importantly - globalisation?

What is truly terrifying about this is the total indifference to the suffering of communities like Gary. There are pockets of the USA which are as deprived as the Third World. How can this be allowed to happen in America in the 21st century? Hasn't anything been learn't from the horrors of the Great Depression? Apparently not. How any self respecting civilised country could let this happen is beyond my imagination. But this is free market capitalism at work, and its the failure of the market as an economic system, driven by the class-war greed of the super-rich which has brought this about. The tragedy of Gary is no accident - it was deliberately manufactured.

The story of Gary should act as a stark warning to all of us. Just imagine if this was a town in the UK, like Warrington. How could we live with that? Of course most people can't conceive of something like that happening here. But its already happening - we are getting the same treatment as Gary from the ConDem government. For goodness sake people, wake up and smell the rotten stink of the free market before its too late!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The ConDem government is 'ethnically cleansing' the poor

I guess most people have heard about ethnic cleansing. This is the process by which people of another race or nationality have been forced out their homes and made to move across borders. This happened in the recent conflicts in the Balkans, including Kosovo, where the Serbs attacked ethnic Albanians forcing them out of the country. The Serbs used extreme violence including murder and rape to achieve their ends.

I'm not suggesting that the government is about to start murdering and raping the poor but they are happy to use a form of economic violence to force them out of their homes - call it social cleansing if your prefer. The recently announced cap on housing benefit of £400 p.w. will mean that thousands of poor people will have to move out of London. These are not benefit scroungers living in mansions but working families on pitifully low incomes who live in flats with high rents. When they have been driven out of central London it will become a ghetto for the rich.

Where are these people going to go? If you listen to the idiots who post comments on CiF you would think that all they had to do was move to a cheaper house! What house? There is already a housing shortage in this country. The reality is that thousands are going to be made homeless, and when they become homeless they will lose the meagre jobs they had. This policy is going to create a social catastrophe, the like of which we haven't seen since the 1930s.

As if this wasn't enough I hear on the Today programme this morning that the ConDem government wants poor families to have fewer children. The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that the state shouldn't support "large families". So that's it then? Only the rich should breed? Where have I heard something similar before? It was in Nazi Germany in the 1930's. There the scapegoats for economic failure were the Jews and the homosexuals. In 2010 in Britain it's the poor who are becoming scapegoats for the failures of the 'free' market.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The way forward for the left

Where to start? When did left politics really start? For me it was the 17th Century during the English Revolution - better known as the English Civil War, with people like the Levellers and the Diggers. Since that time there has been the French Revolution, and many exponents of socialism who worked hard to create a better world thorough economic and social equality. In more recent times the Bolsheviks tried through the Russian revolution. Although the Bolsheviks were only one of many left factions during the revolution, they seized power and became the Communist Party. There is too much history to recount in this post but I have no doubt that the vast majority of Bolsheviks were well-meaning people who worked hard and, in many cases, risked their lives to build a socialist society. There are many criticisms we could make of these people with the benefit of hindsight but the point is to keep moving forward and try to determine how we can build socialism in the modern world.

The point of socialism is not just to build a society based on democracy, social and economic justice but to take the majority of people with us and create a society in which everyone can feel fulfilled. The Soviet model failed. Lets not underestimate the fact that it didn't just fall because of internal problems - there were people working very hard from without to bring about its downfall. But the model of central planning adopted in the Soviet Union didn't work. Well, actually, it worked well for quite a while but in the end it didn't cater for peoples needs and aspirations - couple that with a repressive state apparatus and you have a recipe for failure.

So what is the answer? Is it the kind of socialism promoted by Chavez in Venezuela? Building socialism overnight just can't happen, any fundamental change has to be a long term project. I don't underestimate Chavez but I have become convinced after 40 years of involvement in socialist activism and ideas that the way forward is not primarily political. What? Isn't socialism all about politics ? Of course but its also about fundamental change and any fundamental change has primarily to be about creating a new kind of economy - a democratic economy which empowers ordinary people and puts them in charge of their own economic destiny.

Its ironic that it should be Clinton's election campaign that coined the key phrase - "Its the economy stupid!", and that's exactly what it is about. Capitalists control the world because they control the world economy. If we want to break that power we have to put the world's economy back into the hands of the people. You don't do that by state planning. Of course that is exactly what Marx was saying but socialists seem to have lost the point. It's not political power that matters ultimately but economic power.

The way to put the economy back into the hands of people is by mutualism. Democratic co-operatives owned and controlled by workers. There is nothing that capitalist corporations can do that co-operatives can't - and they can do it better. To achieve socialism we have to cut capitalism off at the knees by putting the economy into the hands of the people, not the state. Co-operatives can't be outsourced, they can't be bought and sold like commodities, they benefit not just workers but the communities they operate in. They give people control over their own lives and a real stake in a socialist society. They demonstrate that there is a real and viable alternative to capitalism in terms of wealth creation.

Of course, there is more to it than that. We will still need a state, even if it is just a federation of communities, we need to control the creation of money through state and mutual banks and credit unions, and we will need common services. There is nothing new about it - Robert Owen tried to do it nearly 200 years ago - but it is the way forward. If you want to build socialism now, go out, start a co-op and start creating wealth for yourself and your community. In the end that will do more to create socialism that demonstrations, strikes or interminable meetings.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Austerity is nonsense

If you've been reading my posts about how the bank bailouts and the subsequent debt crisis really means that the rich are screwing the rest of us then you may well be skeptical. Try watching this video from Mark Blyth who is a professor of International Political Economy at Brown University and is writing Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2011.


We have already had to pay £1.2 trillion for the bank bailout in the UK now it looks like we'll be paying much more through loss of jobs, public services and welfare... oh and there may have to be another bank bailout of up to £750 billion. Looks like where the Irish lead we may follow.......

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

How our sham democracy works

So you think you live in a democracy? Well, you are right, you do. But it's not quite the democracy you probably think. I just pulled this definition off my Mac: - "control of an organization or group by the majority of its members " . To me, that is a satisfactory definition. You could substitute 'organisation' with 'country' and 'members' with electorate', and you would have a definition which fits the UK. The key word though is 'control'. In a democracy 'control' means that the will of the electorate can make change happen - including fundamental change.

So why is our democracy a sham? It works like this: You can vote, and you can make change happen but there are certain things that can't be changed, really important things like our economic system, which determines the kind of society we have. Why can't 'we' make those fundamental changes? Because the market, or call it big business or capitalism if you prefer, is in control. How does this work and how did it happen? If we look at recent history - in the past 40 years or so our politicians have ceded control to the market. It has happened through the capture of institutions. The European Union is a good example of this. European treaties contain clauses which dictate how our economy works. In effect they create a European constitution which binds us to the market through so called 'liberalisation'. It means that we have to follow a right wing ideological economic programme

This 'free' market programme is neoliberal and its one that is followed by almost all governments in the 'West'. It means that corporations can dodge taxes, trade unions get disempowered, environmental regulations are watered down and countries are run for the benefit of the 1%.

The USA is still the epitome of capitalism but its doesn't say in the constitution that the country has to be capitalist. Those kind of ideological-cum-economic statements have no place in a constitution. What has happened is that politicians have put commercial interests above our democratic rights. On a lower level it works in the UK like this. If a multinational wants to build a superstore in your town centre your local council can't stop it from happening. The citizens of that town can't take a democratic decision that they don't want it. The 'rights' of the multinational have been put above our democratic rights. Of course we can still vote, and we can still decide to do things like introduce gay marriage, but we can't run our economy in the way we choose.

Our politicians never asked us if we wanted this. If they had they know we would have rejected it. But the point is that many if not most of us are unaware of exactly what happened. Where people have kicked back, such as in the referendums in France and Ireland where European treaties were rejected, the politicians have fixed it so they got the result they wanted in the first place. It's not just the EU but all the major institutions such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank now adhere to this neoliberal ideology masquerading as economic policy. The plan is to ensure that a particularly nasty, laissez faire version of capitalism is completely dominant. Social and collective concerns are subsumed to the agenda of big business.

Despite this, our democracy is still worth something. We can put democratic rights back on top. But we can only do this if we first understand what's really happened, and have the will to re-capture our institutions from those who have 'stolen' them. At the very least we need to tame the markets and bring them back under democratic control. If we can't do this it's hardly worth voting at all.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Ed is not a leftie

Congratulations to Ed Milliband on winning the Labour Party leadership. As a Green Party member it doesn't really matter to me who is leader of Labour, but its good to see that the party has rejected brother David, who was a little too keen to defend New Labour for mine and many other people's liking.

I'm not expecting the Greens to replace Labour as the mainstream party of the left anytime soon - although there is no doubt our policies are to the left of Labour - but I am hoping that the Labour Party can, like us, offer an alternative to the economic and social devastation of neo-liberalism. The left needs to unite and fight on an anti-cuts agenda.

Of course, the so-called free press will try to paint Ed as a raving lefty, and a willing stooge of trade union militants. I don't believe that will stick because it's simply not true. Baroness Warsi was the first to wade in and say this though as far as I'm aware she's never been elected - so who is she to criticise someone who was elected as an MP and party leader and what is she doing in government? I don't believe people will be fooled. I just hope that Ed is able to lead the Labour Party in the right direction.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Vince is wrong and so is Digby

Its been an interesting day with Vince Cable launching an attack on capitalism at the LibDem conference. According to Vince, who's speech is worth reading:

"On banks, I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than Bob Crow [general secretary of the RMT union] could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer."

He also went on to talk about capitalism "killing competition". Well, its good to see a government minister having a go at the fat cats and telling a few home truths, though I take exception to the stuff about Bob Crow fantasising about harming the economy. I don't believe this is true and just shows Vince's anti-trade union bias.

The point about Vince is that he's no tiger, he is a pussycat. The speech was purely political and designed to appease the LibDem conference and make the government look less slavish to big business ahead of the savage cuts in the public sector. The speech is symptomatic of the government's nervousness now that the 'fairness' of the cuts has been rumbled - otherwise Cameron would never have approved it. Vince is just as slavish in his admiration for capitalism as Gordon was - he's just a more astute politician - capturing the mood of the times. And Vince proved that he is committed to capitalism in his speech by announcing the privatisation of the Royal Mail with a mere 10% of the shares going to postal workers. If Vince had been a real revolutionary he would have mutualised instead of privatised.

But Vince did upset Digby Jones, the self-appointed spokesman for capitalism UK. Digby was gnashing his teeth on the Today programme this morning, and no wonder, because he is so used to government ministers doing what he tells them to.

So Vince's speech had its desired effect but was anyone really fooled? The fact is that Vince and Digby have both got it wrong, capitalism doesn't create wealth - working people do. Capitalists expropriate that wealth for themselves, creating poverty in the process and dumping costs onto society and the environment. We need an alternative economy to get us out of this mire, one which doesn't depend upon the 'free' market. The way to do this is by putting the 'means of production' into the hands of employees by mutualising corporations, thereby creating wealth for workers and the communities they live in. Co-operatives have a better record than privately owned businesses, they are rooted in the communities they serve. Vince had the chance to do that with the Royal Mail and he blew it.

Friday, 17 September 2010

It's aggressive religionists that are attacking secularism

Once again, with the visit of the Pope to the UK, secularism is under attack from religionists. The Pope 'warned' about 'aggressive secularism' as a prelude to his visit. Personally I find this a bit baffling because what I see is religionists attacking atheists and secularists - not the other way around.

Why is this happening? I think there are two main reasons. Firstly, the automatic deference that was once shown to religious leaders like the Pope is dying out. This really enrages many of the faithful. The fact that we non-religious types have the effrontery not to bend the knee to the likes of Benedict is one cause of the howls of outrage. Some religionists see this as an 'attack on religion' in itself but clearly it isn't. The second reason is much more significant - religion is dying. I'm not for one moment suggesting that religions are finished or that there won't continue to be a significant number of religious people on the planet. The fact is that a majority of people in society are either not religious or not strongly religious. There are many people who like the idea of there being a god but who don't want to go to attend religious services or get involved with any church.

In historical terms, until fairly recently a large section of the population in Europe were Christians because they had to be. They had no choice. We lived in a Christian totalitarian society, like Islam still is in countries such as Iran. When people are given a free choice, a large number choose not to be religious. As religions decline the remaining religionists become ever more extreme and ever more shrill in their denunciation of the non-religious, and as they become more extreme they will continue to alienate people and accelerate their own decline. Amen to that.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A load of bollocks

Tony Blair is one of those people (men usually) who seem to have an obsession with certain male appendages. Tony admires people with balls. In Tony’s world there are people you admire, people like Bill Clinton and Alastair Campbell and boy, do these guys have great big cojones or what! Great clanking balls of steel is what they have. To be fair, Tony does admire women as well. Cheri and Anji feature pretty highly on his admiration list but, being women, they don’t appear to possess great big cojones themselves - not like the boys do anyway, but still, they do pretty well without them.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to seek to shine a light into the dark heart of New Labour. It’s not too difficult as Tony starts to reveal all round about page 94 of his compelling autobiography – A Journey. The secret of New Labour is aspiration. You see Tony found the magic key to electability. Sometime in the 1990s, after years of thinking, he, and polling guru Phillip Gould, realised that what people in Britain wanted most was to ‘get on’. They wanted things like bigger TVs, a second holiday or a new house. It turned out that if you appealed to this desire to ‘get on’, you could get elected. There was one other really important factor – never be anti-business, never do things that business doesn’t like - increasing corporation tax for example. So Tony set out with a ruthless mission to get elected and made sure he trampled over the Labour Party and its democratic structures to get his way. He had to, it was the Labour Party or him, and it had to be him.

There are a couple of curious things about this heady New Labour brew that Tony doesn’t fully explain. Firstly, he doesn’t explain why it is OK to be anti-union but you have to be pro-business. He talks about creating a level playing field between business and employees – “(employees might have additional rights but not collective ones)”. So under New Labour you can have your extra few days maternity leave but you can’t go on strike to protect your job. That seems profoundly anti-union to me and not a level playing field at all. Collective action is what unions are all about. Secondly, Tony has a rather narrow view of aspiration. If you aspire to improve your lot or ‘get on’ by taking industrial action, in order to get a fair reward for your labour, this doesn’t seem to count as aspiration or ‘getting on’. The nearest we get to an explanation is that; according to Tony it’s just not ‘modern’ like the other form of aspiration, and therefore not allowed.

The plain fact is that Labour would have been elected in 1997 if John Smith had still been leader. The Tories were exhausted and in disarray, the country was sick and tired of Thatcherism and desperate for an alternative. No doubt the gloss of poster boy Tony helped the majority, but it was not crucial to Labour’s success. Nor was New Labour’s continued Thatcherism. Labour could have taken a different path. What’s curious about Blair’s undoubted success is that it was really down to chance rather than his penetrating insights into electability. He was in the right place at the right time. No self respecting Party would have put up with someone like Blair had they not spent eighteen years in the political wilderness.

I don't spend much time commenting on my male friends' testicles but there are some people I admire. I admire people like union representatives who voluntarily help their colleagues with such issues as bullying and harassment, discrimination at work, and the petty vagaries of management stupidity. These people often put their own careers on the line to help others. Now that takes real balls.

Monday, 13 September 2010

'Free' market capitalism is the engine of inequality

We live in a world of inequality, yet we rarely question where this inequality comes from. By inequality, I mean inequality in power and wealth, and these two inequalities are connected. In a democratic and just society we all, as citizens, ought to wield equal power as voters, and we all ought to expect economic justice - a fair reward for our work and an equal say in how our workplaces are managed and controlled.

Inequality creates social degradation, social division, underachievement, criminality and great unhappiness. It is iniquitous and corrosive to the social fabric. So why do we have inequality? Some people would have us believe that the source of inequality is purely down to individuals. In our capitalist society this seems logical. Don't some 'work harder' and 'do better' than others? Don't some 'get on' while others don't? So it seems. But it's not like that. We live in a capitalist society. Our economic system is a great big engine which drives inequality. You can't have an equal society with capitalism, which is why inequality seems natural to us, because we have lived with it all our lives.

But there is nothing natural about this inequality - it is manufactured by capitalism. You cannot have capitalism and a socially just society. The two are mutually exclusive. Karl Marx explained to us how capitalism generates economic inequality through the mechanism of surplus value. This is an inevitable consequence of capitalism. It is what creates great inequalities in wealth between worker and capitalist. Over time it creates the society we live in now with a small number of super-rich and billions living in poverty and deprivation.

I've just been reading some of Tony Blair's book 'A Journey'. It's a fascinating read in a dark bizarrely comic way. Tony Blair built New Labour around 'getting on' and the chimera of meritocracy. But Blair, like all those who believe in the 'free' market, was, and still is, deluded. He tried to achieve social justice by employing the very market methods which work against it. He failed. The proof of the pudding is that after 13 years of these policies Britain is more unequal than it was before.

If you believe in a creating a socially just society you have to eliminate capitalism. You need to create an alternative economy based around public provision, mutualism and the private sector. Its important to understand that the private sector does not equal capitalism. Rupert Murdoch is a capitalist, your local hairdresser is not. There is plenty of room for local private and social enterprise in a socially just society. Just no room for capitalist corporations and their shareholders.