Friday, 22 February 2008

The Workers Are Revolting

The British media keep very quiet about industrial action - unless it happens abroad. You only usually read about strikes over here if it can't be avoided, or if it gives the media an opportunity to bash the workers. Over many years, the British press has produced hectares of print telling us how innocent little old ladies have suffered at the hands of striking dustmen and tube workers. The workers are always presented as brutal and callous, lazy and overpaid, and worst still either dangerous subversives, or under the control of sinister militants.

So its good to hear that French workers are fighting back against poor wages and conditions - Sarkozy struggles to contain worker unrest - Guardian 21/02/08 - and are giving the French President a hard time.

Apparently ice cream workers and L'Oreal staff, not noted for their militancy, have been taking industrial action and holding their managers hostage! Thank goodness the French still have the bottle to take on the bosses - which is why they are reviled by the rich and neo-conservatives the world over. More power to their elbow!

Part of the reason the these French workers are revolting is that they have begun to realise what un petit merde Sarkozy is. How could anyone who modeled himself on Tony Blair possibly be anything other than a man of straw? So far Sarkozy has achieved nothing, other than driving away his long suffering wife, awarding himself a 170% pay rise whilst shafting worker's livelihood and pensions, and marrying a rich bimbo. Now he thinks Blair should be president of Europe and you can hear the hollow laughter echoing round the continent.

But don't be completely fooled by the apparent passivity of British workers. The longer New Labour continue to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, the more that pressure for radical change will build. And its not only workers who are getting upset about Gordon 'let them eat cake' Brown's love of the rich. The middle classes are beginning to realise they have been shafted also.

So, watch this space, it will have to get worse here before it gets better but the days when ice cream workers and cosmetics staff hold their managers hostage may not be as far away as you think.
In the meantime - Vive La France!

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Nationalisation? Yes Please!

A shocking thing happened in the UK recently - a bank - Northern Rock - was nationalised! It wasn't the fact that the bank should have gone bust that shocked the reactionary press, and politicians, nor the fact that undeserving shareholders will probably given a payout (and I am one though I've never bought a share in my life - I was given the shares when Northern Rock de-mutualised). It was the fact that the government took ownership that really rocked the boat.

Even though the government had no choice but to nationalise
Northern Rock in order to protect British taxpayers, after a catastrophic private sector failure, taking such a step was seen as heresy, a blow against the sacred tenets of the free market.

But the sun is still shining, and as far as I know the earth is still on its axis. The simple truth is that after ten years of New Labour's slavish obedience to the market Britain is more divided and unequal than ever, The only time in our history when the gap between rich and poor has narrowed was the 30 year period following the second world war. The we had strong trade unions and public control of utilities, coal, steel and the railways. All of the latter were nationalised, not out of ideology, but because they were strategic industries which had failed under private sector ownership. While the private owners starved these industries of investment, the workers were sweated in near slave conditions. The owners wrung every last drop of sweat and profit out of them before they were nationalised - oh and then they got a handsome payout for their troubles. Ever since then the Tories have lied about nationalisation, and the Labour Party have spinelessly failed to refute their arguments.

We need more nationalisation not less. We need the utilities to be nationalised and taken out of hands of foreign owners and shareholders who don't care if we have secure energy supplies and clean water. We need to nationalise the railways and end the obscenity of private sector profits being paid out of taxpayers money, and Richard Branson trousering £24 million which could be spent usefully on reducing extortionate fares. We need the post office retained in the public sector, as a public service, not postal competition which relies on imported labour being paid minimum wages. The sooner this happens the better, and the sooner Britain will be back on the way to becoming a more equal and equitable society.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Dumb and dumber

There are christians, mainly in the USA, but also over here, who believe in something called 'intelligent design' (ID). They say that ID should be taught alongside evolution in science lessons. This would be ok if ID was science, but its not, its simply a belief with no basis in fact.

But lets give the christians the benefit of the doubt. Lets consider the arguments. The christians (because they are all christians) say that living things and the component parts they are made of are so complex that they could only exist because of a great designer (i.e. their god). They also allege that evolution is 'just a theory'. One of the examples they love to quote is the eye. How could such an organ evolve? Surely its just too complex?

Well it isn't, and if you understand how evolution works its not too difficult to see how an eye could evolve. What evolution needs is lots of time, and we have five billion years, a driving force - genetic mutation, and a mechanism - natural selection. All living things contain the genetic material DNA, and DNA is subject to mutations. Most mutations are harmful but some are beneficial. the key to all this is that the mechanism of natural selection benefits those living things which are well adapted to their environment, and are able to reproduce. Reproduction is crucial because if you can't reproduce you can't pass on your DNA to future generations.

Beneficial mutations make it more likely that an individual
will be able to compete better with its rivals, and will reproduce, therefore passing on the beneficial mutation to its offspring. So, over hundreds of millions of years its not too difficult to see how small incremental beneficial mutations could lead to significant changes - like going from no eye at all to an eye. Even an organism with very limited sight, say just sensitivity to light, would have an advantage over its unsighted rivals.

Far from being just a theory there is a large body of evidence which supports evolution. Charles Darwin's theory was based on observation, not belief.

Consider this - the christian's god spent six days creating the earth and all that's supposed to be in it. That's one hell of a lot of design. There are millions of living things and billions of component parts. Even the omnipotent god must have had to work hard. But why? Surely it would be smarter to have a mechanism like evolution to do all the work for you? No need for any ID. Yet the christian god never did think of evolution as a solution to producing bewildering complexity.
But Darwin did. ID is not intelligent design, its dumb. What does that say about these christians and their god?

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Shining Tor

Just to show that this blog isn't all work and no play I want to share a great day out with you. I grew up in Manchester in the sixties and seventies and one of my favorite escapes was getting away to the Peak District. The Peak District is the great swathe of open country between the conurbations of Sheffield and Manchester. In English terms its open country, which means it contains many villages, and towns, such as Buxton and Matlock.

Today Susie and I went for a walk up Shining Tor from the Goyt Valley via the ruins of Errwood Hall, the Spanish Shrine and Pym's Chair. It was a wonderful afternoon's walk in blazing winter sunshine, and one we shared with many others. The photo is of the approach to the summit of Shining Tor via its great whale-backed ridge, from Cats Tor and Pym's chair. The peak on the right is Shuttlingsloe - the 'Matterhorn' of Cheshire. Below Shining Tor is Thursbitch.

On 24th of April 1932 a group of workers (who were also fellwalkers) lead by Benny Rothman held a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District. At that time, access to the moors, which were largely in the hands of wealthy landowners, was forbidden, Thanks to Benny and his companions we now have the right to walk on these hills. Benny was a communist and many of the others were communists or socialists. As I walked on Shining Tor above the Goyt valley I remembered Benny and all the others who risked arrest and imprisonment to improve the lives and health of working people in Britain.

These are the very people who the press in this country have reviled in the past hundred years or so. But they were decent people who wanted a better life for their families and their neighbours. No capitalist would risk arrest to improve the lives of others. They are the ones who put up fences, and laws, to keep the rest of us out. The Bransons of this world aren't fit to lick Benny's walking boots.

I also thought of Alan Garner, the great Cheshire writer, whose magical stories of Cheshire have enriched my childhood, and adulthood. Alan has a very close relationship with his native county. Landscape means something. If you want to find out more then read his books that deal with Shining Tor - The Moon of Gomrath and Thursbitch. The first is a children's book the second adult. But don't worry too much about the distinction. Alan is a writer of real merit. Harry Potter eat your heart out!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Medieval Mysoginists

Rowan Williams did us all a favour by starting a debate about the application of sharia law in the the UK. After all, shouldn't muslims be allowed to use sharia to settle divorces and disputes if both parties agree? It sounds reasonable but there is one big snag. The abrahamic religions - Judaism, Islam and Christianity are all patriarchal. They all use sexual repression, and particularly control of women's sexuality, as a means of social control and male dominance. Women just don't have equal rights and the same status as men in sharia law. How can we know that women from British asian communities are really freely consenting to the resolution of issues such as divorce by sharia law? We can't, and we shouldn't tolerate the use of any system of law which treats the parties involved as unequal.

None of the equal rights that we enjoy here came from religion and if we want to keep them we must ensure that religious authorities have less, not more, power. The values of human rights and social justice to which socialists subscribe aren't relative as some on the so-called left in the UK would like to believe. They are absolute and we should support their application everywhere. Stoning women and hanging gay men is as wrong in Iran as it would be here, and we should support progressive muslims who attempt protect human rights in their own countries. Islam itself is not the problem it is the fundamentalists and fanatics, the medieval misogynists, who are, and we need to ensure that the muslim voices who support social justice are heard.

The naive young women in Britain who wear headscarves as a reaction against percieved islamophobia, are colluding in the oppression of their sisters in muslim countries where women don't have the freedom and choices that they have. It's worth quoting from Joan Smith's excellent article in the Independent on Sunday today - " The notion that young women like Shafilea Ahmed and Banaz Mahmod [who were both murdered in honour killings] would be helped by the expansion of Islamic law in this country is laughable; indeed the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2003 that sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy and European values. Secular law protects the right of people to practice their religion, but it also protects them from aspects of their faith which are unjust and oppressive" Amen to that!

With his reactionary musings on the use of sharia in the UK and his bumbling over the African and American bigots in his church, Rowan Williams has ably demonstrated that while he may be intelligent and hard to understand, he is also a moral and political lightweight.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Northern Cock Up

Have you heard the one about how you get screwed by capitalism? Well it goes like this. A load of greed-merchants in America* are allowed to con poor people into believing that they can afford to buy their homes. Banks around the world just can't wait to get a piece of the action. But the small print says that within months of signing up crippling interest rates will be applied. Result - thousands lose their homes. While they become homeless, their houses, which nobody wants to buy, fall into ruin.

So what happens next? are the victims allowed to return home and pay rent? Do the greed merchants get sent to jail - which is where they belong?, the banks, such as Northern Rock incur huge losses, which is no more than they richly deserve , and they go bust. Except they don't go bust. Not allowed to apparently. So there is no comeback on their selfishness, greed and stupidity. Instead, we the taxpayers bail them out to the tune of several thousand pounds each. So that means we get to own Northern Rock doesn't it? again. Because Gordon doesn't want us to. He doesn't want us to because he wants another load of greed merchants to take Northern Rock over thereby nationalising the debt but privatising the profit.

As a footnote its worth mentioning that despite the fact that some have tried it present this as a problem of government - it is a private sector free market failure.

* Postscript - just in case you think I'm going over the top, Larry Elliot, who is the Guardian's economic editor had an article published on 19th March 2008 which was headed - 'America was conned - who will pay?'. In it he said - "Americans have been conned. They have been duped by a bunch of serpent tongued hucksters who packed up the wagon and made it across the county line before the lynch mob could be formed" Makes 'greed merchants' sound a bit weak doesn't it? Mind you - who is going to pay? There's no sign of the culprits being brought to book at the moment.

New Labour = new fascists?

While I was doing a little research on fascism recently I began to think about what fascism, and particularly British fascism might look like in the 21st Century. Britain has never been a militaristic country so expect British fascists to wear suits rather than boots and uniforms. An article I came across by Skip Stone gives the first hallmark of fascism as - "One leader who has nearly absolute control of government, despite pretense otherwise. There is no effective opposition to his policies." Now who does that remind me of? Sums up our glorious ex-leader Tony Blair exactly, and Gordon has been more than happy to follow in his footsteps - so we live in an elective dictatorship, where the leader is all powerful, the cabinet and parliament are treated with contempt. But what other fascistic traits does new New Labour have?

Dr. Lawrence Britt wrote an article about fascism ("Fascism Anyone?," Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, page 20) in which he described 14 characteristics of fascism. How does New Labour measure up here?

I've followed each one of Dr Britt's characteristics with an affinity (High, Medium, Low) and a corresponding score (3,2,1). So lets see how New Labour does:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Gordon’s flag flying and obsession with Britishness is largely driven by fear of the SNP but don’t be complacent New Labour has moved to the right on this issue. M=2

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - A real mixed message here. We have the human rights act but a government with little respect for our freedoms. M=2

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - There is no significant left opposition but expect scapegoating to happen as the contradictions in the government’s approach to climate change cause more strain. As our climate worsens green ‘militants’ are likely to become the ‘enemy’. There are also some mixed messages on the scapegoating of Muslims, and how about the treatment of asylum seekers?. M=2

4. Supremacy of the Military - British governments have never really trusted the military but this may be about to change, as the going gets worse. New Labour has made up for this deficiency by being in love with the police and security services. M=2

5. Rampant Sexism - New Labour can talk the talk but does the walk leave something to be desired? L=1

6. Controlled Mass Media - Spin has certainly been used to manipulate the media but its Gordon’s chum Rupert who controls it. M=2

7. Obsession with National Security - Full marks here! H=3

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - The government has been dishonest with the electorate about its religious affiliations and is pursuing a religious agenda. Faith, apparently, is better. H=3

9. Corporate Power is Protected - A definite yes. H=3

10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Ditto as 9 above and don't tell me about the minimum wage. That is the fig leaf which covers New Labour's anti-unionism. H=3

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - There’s no great liking for either in New Labour except where luvvies can be used for party gain. New Labour is the celebs party. M=2

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Full marks here, once again. H=3

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - I would argue that New Labour’s cosiness with big business, the revolving door culture, and PFI are all examples of rampant corruption, of our democracy if nothing else. M=2.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Despite Labour’s shenanigans with postal votes in the Midlands this is still low – for now. L=1

Total (out of 42) 31
= 74 %

So New Labour scores nearly 75% on my improvised fascist index. Not very scientific perhaps but an indication of just how far New Labour has moved to the right in the past 20 years. Just because this is Britain doesn't mean it can't happen here and it doesn't have to be the BNP wearing those fascist suits. You have been warned!