Friday, 28 November 2008

We need to fight back against repressive anti-union laws

It comes to something when its easier to go on strike in China than it is in good old Blighty. A post on CiF by Zhang Hong about a taxi driver's strike in Chongqing suggests that maybe its not quite as difficult to dissent in China as you might think. Of course, we all remember Tiananmen Square and what happened in 1989, and so it is assumed that trade union action must be so much tougher in China than here.

How about what is happening in the UK in 2008? We have seen the increasing deregulation of businesses and the private sector by New labour over the past decade. In fact, New Labour have done things with big business that would make David Cameron and the Tories blush. Before New Labour, the Labour Party always had an arms-length relationship with business. But, after eighteen years in the governmental wilderness New Labour, like an enthusiastic virgin bride, has given its all for Capitalism ever since May 1st 1997. Never was a wedding so enthusiastically consummated, and the love affair has continued unabated since.

New Labour has enthusiastically pursued the regulation of citizens as much as it has made certain that workers are prevented from defending their livelihoods. While Capitalists are allowed to do what they want through deregulation, workers and citizens are increasingly controlled and restricted by a reactionary, authoritarian government.

Just a reminder - the trade unions have bankrolled the Labour Party since they created it in 1900 to represent working people. And they still do even though now the party represents the interests of the Capitalist class. It was the Thatcher government that in the 1980's introduced legislation which restricted trade unions from taking industrial action. The legislation ensured that businesses had the upper hand and that workers were unable to support each other and show the solidarity which is crucial to workers power. Nothing has changed since. A decade of Labour government has favoured the interests of the Capitalist class against working people.

But maybe its time for change. As working people suffer from the excesses of the Capitalists and their credit crunch, maybe its time for UK workers to strike back. If taxi drivers in China can strike with impunity - so much more can we. Its time to ignore the repressive class war-based laws that restrict trade unionists in the UK and fight back to demand an end to restrictive anti-trade union legislation. As businesses, like Woolworths, fail, workers should take control of them just as they did in Argentina in the 1990s.

But let's make no mistake, We can't expect the trade union leaders who have continued to bankroll New Labour to support such action. They are as much the enemies of working people as New Labour are. Trade unionists are weak because they are on their knees. Let us rise!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Prohibition doesn't work

Today we hear that the government is planning a 'clampdown' on prostitution. There seems to have been a concerted campaign by anti-prostitution campaigners recently with a number of articles, including a rant from Baroness Warnock, published on the Guardian's Comment is Free (CiF) webpages.

What is going on here? Is this a concerted attempt to improve our society and protect vulnerable women? I don't think so, and here's why. Because of the retreat of the left, we live in a society where reactionaries feel much more confident about pushing their agenda to take us backwards to that mythical age when all was well. You know what I mean - cricket on the village green, people going to church, homosexuals firmly in the closet, foreigners knowing their place, Empire and all that. The kind of thing that would suit rabid Tories and BNP members and religious fanatics down to the ground -
Not that there weren't any prostitutes in those days.

The attack on prostitution appears to come from an unholy alliance of right-wingers, religionists and 'feminists'. One of the things that has breathed new life into this essentially bigoted crew is
trafficking. Now I have no doubt that women are being brought into the UK by criminal gangs and forced into prostitution. I'm sure that such women lead miserable lives filled with abuse. They must be protected and the gangs who force them into sexual slavery need to be put behind bars for a very long time. That is job for the police. But trafficking seems to be being used as an excuse to clamp down on all prostitution including consensual sex for money.

The government's proposals would make it an offence for a man to have sex with a prostitute being 'controlled' by others. Ignorance on the part of the man will not be a defence. Now that may sound reasonable to some but there is no way we can expect this to be fairly interpreted by the police or courts. Men who use brothels where the women are working freely and consensually, without any coercion can still expect to be prosecuted according to sex workers and brothel keepers who spoke on the Radio Five Live phone in this morning that I listened to - and I have no reason the disbelieve them.

Prohibition doesn't work. The result of this legislation will be to drive prostitution further underground, encourage the criminals and put sex workers in danger. It will have the opposite effect to that which its supporters claim.

I suspect the motives of these campaigners. The position adopted by the 'feminists' I've read and heard seems me to be patronising to women. Of course we would expect a feminist to want to protect women from abuse. But you would also expect a feminist to defend the right of women to be sex workers, if that is their choice, and to want to ensure they could do it legally and safely. In addition, in all the things these people have written and said, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on the Today programme this morning, there has been no mention of men? Why? Men are sex workers as well as women but none of these campaigners seems to be interested in protecting male prostitutes. Do they not suffer abuse as well? Are they unimportant? Of course they aren't - but they just don't raise as much sympathy for the emotive arguments about helpless women that the anti-prostitution campaigners love to employ.

And why is it that none of these people listen to the sex workers themselves, who have said that they want the industry to be legalised? Because the real motivation for the anti-prostitution campaigners is not so much concern for women but a bigoted dislike of prostitutes and what they do. This is very similar to the hatred of recreational drug users which I referred to in this previous post.

In a free society consenting adults must be allowed to do what they like as long as no one is being abused. And no moraliser has the right to tell them that they can't do it. The best way to protect vulnerable women, like the ones' who died in Ipswich, is to legalise brothels so that the women and men who work in them can have a safe environment.

There will always be people who object to prostitution. They are entitled to do so. What they are not entitled to do is impose their views on others, and if we allow them to, how long before they start imposing other views on the rest of us?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Money, money, money

I was going to call this post 'Money is bullshit' but decided against it because of my recent post called 'Hierarchy is bullshit'. But money, like hierarchy, as you'll see, is indeed bullshit. We think of money as being something that has real, intrinsic value, but it doesn't. It is just something we use for convenience, as a means of exchange. And just like the commodities we purchase with it, money can increase or decrease in value. Money, or its equivalent, has taken different forms in different times and in different societies, but given the financial crisis its worth looking at what money is today and how it is created.

Money, that is the paper notes and coins we use for day to day exchange, used to be backed by a commodity that had intrinsic (but variable) value - gold. This was known as the gold standard. In effect, the person issuing the money was saying - 'this note represents a certain amount of gold'. This system gave people confidence in the value of money and meant that there ought not to be more money in circulation than the value of gold to back it. The only way to increase the amount of money would be to obtain more gold. Things were not that simple however, because of wars and economic difficulties the gold standard became impossible to maintain. In the First World War Britain had to use fiat money to sustain the war effort, Britain finally left the gold standard in 1931 and other countries followed suit.

Fiat money, which is the system used globally nowadays, is money that, in effect, has a value because governments say it has - it must be accepted as a means of payment for goods and services. But where does this money come from? Well of course it is being coined and printed by governments. But new money is being created all the time from debt. This is explained simply and effectively in Paul Gringon's excellent animated video 'Money as Debt' which is essential viewing. In essence private banks are able to create money out of nothing. When you go in to a bank and ask for a £1000 loan you might expect that the bank is lending you money it has on deposit... but er.. no ... the bank is legally allowed to create that money out of nothing. A bank can lend you money it doesn't have, and charge you interest on it. Don't you just wish you could do that too?

There are a number of consequences of this debt driven system. One of the key one's is that it is unsustainable. The tendency, as you might imagine is for debt to grow over time, and with deregulation of the banks it has. But where does the money come from to pay the interest on all this debt? It comes from other debt, which in turn, has to have interest paid on it. hence the system cannot be sustained.

But what really matters about this is who really benefits from this set up? Its not difficult to guess! The fact is that we don't need this system of money. There are alternatives, for example at one time much of the money in circulation was created locally, and there is no reason why that can't happen again. In the Argentinian financial crisis millions of people used notes called creditos produced by community based organisations. All that is needed for money to have value is that people believe that it has. In practice any locally issued currency needs to be backed by goods and services otherwise it won't work. People also need to have confidence that any currency they use is well managed.

There are two key lessons here. The first is that global Capitalism is underpinned by a set of rules which work to the benefit of Capitalists and Capitalists alone. These rules, which make the Capitalist system possible, can and must be changed so that everybody benefits rather than the Capitalists. Secondly, there is nothing to stop us from creating our own monetary systems and thereby reducing the power and influence of the banks.
Money, or the need to earn it is an essential mechanism for tying us into the Capitalist system. We need to create local economies backed by their own money systems in order to undermine the imperialist movement known as globalisation. As a first step, we can end the power of banks to create money from debt.

Footnote: Now we have front page confirmation of who is really running UK Plc. An article in Saturday's Guardian shows that Tesco boss Terry Leahy was instrumental in making the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England give us a 1.5% interest rate cut. Thanks Terry. Not only does Tesco trouser £1 in every £8 we spend - it now sets our monetary policy. No doubt New Labour and the Tories will be thrilled - they want the country to be run by big business anyway. And you think you live in a democracy? - well you do - a Capitalist democracy, run by Capitalists like Terry, for Capitalists.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Hats off to Barak Obama

There has been so much wall to wall coverage of Barak Obama's sensational election victory that I wasn't going to mention it in my blog. But then I decided it was churlish not to - so well done Barak, very well done indeed - I was celebrating along with the rest - its a victory that gives us some hope after the dark days of the Bush presidency.

Much has also been said about the challenges facing the President Elect. The USA has 40 million people who live in dire poverty, millions without proper access to healthcare, a looming recession, a couple of wars, and possible environmental meltdown to deal with.

Whatever happens, I hope Obama fulfills his pledges on healthcare. For far too long the USA has been shamed by its appalling lack of health provision. Giving basic provision to all would cost $60 billion. Sounds pretty cheap compared to the $700 billion that Hank Paulson wants to give to Wall Street, and the estimated $70 billion Wall Street is planning to spend on bonuses in the coming year.

Donald trumps Alex

Now we see what the Scottish Nationalist Party are really made of. The news that the SNP government had given the go ahead to Donald Trump to build a luxury golf course and housing on the Aberdeenshire coast, threatening a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), drew condemnation and derision in equal measure.

So, this is what Alex Salmond has in mind for the future of an independent Scotland - grovelling to the rich for jobs. The only person who will really benefit from this development is er...Donald Trump, and the wealthy people who use the luxury resort. An important habitat will be endangered and the Scots will get more jobs cleaning rooms and serving drinks.

It would be nice to think that this crass decision influenced the outcome of the Glenrothes by-election. Although that is unlikely, its good to know that the SNP's bubble has finally burst and Alex Salmond's true colours have been shown. Its looking like an independent Scotland is going to become a haggis republic.

But Alex isn't on his own. So far have all the main political parties become willing stooges of Capitalists like Trump that we can be sure that New Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats would all have done exactly the same.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hierarchy is bullshit

Ever thought about why we need bosses? I have, and I've never been able to understand why we need them. What are bosses for other than to earn more than us and tell us what to do? But we don't need anyone to tell us what to do, and we certainly don't need them to earn more than we do!

So why do we have them? Because its a great way of maintaining control and a great way of making us accept that we are worth less than we actually are. Now I guess some of us have worked for an inspirational boss at one time or another. But for every good boss there must be a least a dozen poor ones. They tend to range from the ones who just aren't up to it to those who are careerists, desperate to climb the greasy pole, who see each job as a stepping stone to the top, and of course some are just downright bullies.

So why do we put up with them? I'm not a psychologist but it's not too difficult to see why. We are socialised into it. As children we look up to our parents - the 'grown-ups' who comfort and protect us. Then we go to school and are trained to accept the authority of another grown up - the teacher.

When we finish education we are usually starting on the bottom rung of of the ladder in a large organisation. We accept that those who've been there longer than us and have more experience and prestige. So it seems natural that we defer to them. But is it? Respect should be earned - not taken for granted.

The system works well for those at the top as we have seen recently in the banking debacle. These top bods claim they are special people. Without them businesses and organisations wouldn't be run properly - but were the banks run properly? More recently we have seen Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, floundering over the Ross and Brand debacle. Do we seriously think that no one could have handled it better? I doubt it.

So why do we tolerate these people? - especially when there is plenty of evidence that we just don't need them. Lets go back to the start of the century when there was an economic crisis in Argentina. Years of corruption and privatisation lead to a run on the banks. While the rich took their money and ran, ordinary Argentinians were left in the lurch, unable to access their bank accounts. Businesses went bust, and in many cases bosses just abandoned their businesses, making the workers jobless.

But many of the jobless refused to give up - they took over the abandoned businesses and kept them going. Many are still successful today, and still owned as worker co-operatives. Not all successful co-operative businesses start in this way though. The US company W L Gore and Associates is very successful, and it doesn't have any bosses. Don't believe me? Then read this article. You'll probably know the company because it makes Gore-Tex. In fact the The company topped the UK Sunday Times "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for 4 consecutive years, 2004–2007.

The hierarchy that surrounds us is manufactured bullshit. There is nothing natural or desirable about it. It is maintained because it suits the purposes of those at the top who cream off the wealth from society and require us to to accept less as a consequence. Attacks on this system are described as sour grapes or envy - but they would be wouldn't they? The most efficient and effective forms of organisation are cooperative and consensus-based. As I've posted elsewhere on this bog, cooperatives  have a higher success rate than top-down companies, and they add much greater value to the communities they are based in. If we want our economy to work better we need a horizontal, collective democratic approach.

Postscript 08/11/08: I don't usually add anything to a posting but there is an interesting article on the front page of Guardian Work today by Don Tapscott about inter-generational attitudes to hierarchy that is worth reading. I searched the website but couldn't find it so I can't make a link. here is a brief quote:

"Too many organisations are still stuck in the old unproductive hierarchy, which divides worlds into the governors and the governed. Most people above the age of 40 accept this..... The goal in hierarchy is to move up, and have more people reporting to you"

Don believes that the 'net generation' have a different attitude to hierarchy - lets hope he is right.