Sunday, 29 August 2010

Cheshire Landshare

I've been extolling the virtues of co-operatives on this blog as an economic alternative to capitalist corporations. The beauty of co-operatves is that they are democratically run. There are no bosses and no shareholders to cream off the profits. Unlike capitalism, the workers enjoy the fruits of their labour. This has to be the economic alternative that the left needs - replacing capitalist corporations with worker run co-operatives.

I've been trying for sometime now to put my money where my mouth is and set up a co-op. Of course this is something you can't do on your own, you have to find like-minded people. Well, now the founders of Cheshire Landshare are beginning to make some headway. We are an industrial provident society soon to be for community benefit. Our aim is to acquire land in Cheshire for people to grow their own food, and keep livestock. Initially we are looking at getting some land for allotments but we have bigger plans long term.

We want to help communities in Cheshire increase their resilience in the face of climate change, increase bio-diversity, teach rural crafts, create employment and involve schools and the disadvantaged in our work. Its early days. So far we have obtained a small grant to help us get started and pay for the initial set up costs. We are hoping to get our first piece of land soon so that we can really get started. If you want to find out more visit our Facebook site.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Obsbourne's budget has been rumbled

According to the Institute of Fiscal studies (IFS) the government's 'emergency' budget is regressive. That means it is unfair. It hit's the poorest people hardest. The ConDem government tried to claim that it was progressive - which means it would be fair - by putting the greatest burden on those most able to afford it. Nick Clegg's claims that the IFS didn't look at the whole picture, and that the budget is progressive rings very hollow. Clegg claims that the aim is to get people off benefits and into jobs - but what jobs? Unemployment is about to increase by about 1.3 million.

In my last post I predicted that this budget would hit the poorest hardest. Not difficult given that there are to be swinging cuts in public services and welfare benefits, which the poorest rely upon most. I've also put the case for an alternative budget which would actually make the poorest better off and create a million jobs.

There is an alternative to this politically motivated rush to reduce the deficit. We need to put pressure on this government to change course, and break up the coalition if we can. There is still hope to stave off the economic crash we're headed for. If you want to find out how you can help visit the Coalition of Resistance's website by following this link.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Its high time to tax the rich

David Cameron likes to refer to himself as middle class. We are all expected to aspire to be middle class but who are the middle classes? Although its true that class can't be simply equated to what people earn, earnings play an important factor in class. When Cameron calls himself middle class he is telling porkies. He is upper class - a class which seems to have been airbrushed out of history recently. He, and his wife, are wealthy. They come from upper class families. Cameron, himself, went to Eaton. But most middle class families can't afford to send their children to Eaton (take a look at the fees page).

According to Wikipedia, in the UK the middle class was defined in 1911 - 'T.H.C. Stevenson identified the middle class as that falling between the upper class and the working class. Included as belonging to the middle class are professionals, managers, and senior civil servants. The chief defining characteristic of membership middle class is possession of significant human capital'.

That still seems about right to me, but he could have added - 'a (relatively) significant amount of financial capital'. These days we are talking about 'senior' professionals who earn significant amounts of money, lets say more then £75,000. The problem is that many people who earn much less than this consider themselves to be middle class, teachers for example.

But what has all this got to do with taxing the rich? The point is that the illusion of being middle class, which is shared by many people who aren't middle class means that the upper class can avoid being taxed more because they claim to be middle class. If people identify with David Cameron, why would they want people like him to be taxed more? The simple fact is that many people have been bamboozled into believing that their interests are the same as those of Cameron, Osbourne and co. They are not. Let's not forget that the median income is about £23,000, that is what many people who think they are middle class earn.

We could have dealt with the deficit by increasing taxes and this is what the Green Party argued in its manifesto. There would still have to have been some cuts but these would be focused on government projects such as ID cards and trident. Along with increases in environmental taxes to protect the environment there should be increases on taxes for those who can afford it. For example a 50% tax rate on those earning over £100,000.

The simple fact is that taxes are too low in the UK to support the public services that the vast majority of us need. Now taxes are at about the level of 36% of GDP. In the Thatcher era they were over 40%. We have been sold the lie that we can have good public services and low taxes - we can't. Greg Philo, writing in the Guardian, has put forward a cogent argument for a one-off tax on the rich. A YouGov poll has shown that 74% support this. While this would help us to deal with the deficit, one-off is not good enough. In the longer term we still need to raise taxes to maintain a high standard of public services.

The Green Party policy of increasing taxes on the better off was the right response to tackling the deficit. The ConDems response, which has included reducing taxes on the better off, was the wrong approach and, predictably, will hit the poorest, low paid and 'middle classes' the hardest.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Still don't believe in climate change?

The recent news about the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan comes as no surprise to those of us who accept man made climate change is fact. The UN estimates that 12 million people have been affected and 1600 have died so far. The death toll could become much higher as the rains continue and the danger of water borne diseases such as cholera increases. Once the floods subside, there will still be problems caused by the devastation such as homelessness and food shortages - 1.4 million acres of agricultural land have been flooded and 10,000 cows have died.

In Russia they are sweltering in heat which has lead to devastating forest fires. In a month long record breaking heatwave temperatures in Moscow reached 39 degrees. Moscow has been swathed in smoke for burning peat fires pushing up carbon monoxide levels to the equivalent of smoking several packets of cigarettes a day. The heat has wilted crops and is likely to cause shortages which will push up the price of grain globally causing further problems.

Today came news that a massive sheet of ice amounting to 100 square miles has broken off the Petermann glacier in Northern Greenland. The ice sheet could pose a threat to shipping. Scientists also reported that the first 6 months of 2010 have been the hottest on recored - ever.

Of course, we've had natural disasters like the flooding and heatwave before. But the point is that these events are becoming more severe and more frequent. They are part of a pattern caused by man made global warming. Still don't believe in climate change?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

What is 'work'?

The news that the government are removing compulsory retirement at 65 is another crucial step in making sure we all have to toil until we drop dead. Perhaps the next ConDem step will be to make pensions payable only after you have deceased? But more seriously the reality is we are all being made to work harder for longer. It's simply not true that pensions are unaffordable. The truth is that the capitalist class don't want to pay towards our pensions anymore. They are rolling back all the gains working people have made over the last century or so under the cover of 'economic necessity'. Its not economic - its political. Though a lot of people haven't grasped that yet. These changes have been sold to us as being essential - they're not. The government have used the spurious analogy of the household budget. But the national 'budget' is a very different matter. We have higher peacetime deficits in the past and have never defaulted on our debt.

If some people want to work beyond 65 that's OK with me as long as the rest of us can retire. But I have to say that I wonder why anyone would want to work beyond 65 - it is a mystery to me. After a lifetime of work people ought to be able to look forward to a decent retirement and pursue their interests. I accept that some people have no interests outside work and if they want to carry on that should be up to them. Some of us have lots of things we would like to do that are a lot more useful and fulfilling than mere work. My neighbour has retired (at 60) and he assures me that is a full time job - he's never been so busy.
Of course there are some people who think that we should work ever harder to compete in a global market. But we're not wage slaves! Workers around the world are being played off against each other by capitalist corporations that are intent on driving down wages and worsening our working conditions including our pensions.

But its worth considering what 'work' really means. In our society 'work' is something you have to do to keep a roof over your head. It is not something you want to do - which is the crucial difference. In a capitalist society most of us have to sell our labour as a commodity in order to survive. Capitalists expropriate the fruits of our labour for themselves - leaving us with (just) enough to live on. This is the primary reason why most people feel alienated by work - as described by Marx. Of course if you own the corporation then your 'work' is fulfilling because you a getting the cream - and most of the milk. Of course, capitalists put a lot of effort into persuading us that working (for them) is essential - we have all been conditioned to believe this. But there is little point in working to make someone else rich - unless you have no choice. People are not lazy, they want to work, but they want that work to be meaningful and rewarding, and they want it to do something useful for their community - not just be about making money.

If everyone understood basic Marxism it wouldn't be so easy for capitalists to pull the wool over our eyes - follow the links to 'alienation of labour' and 'surplus value' above. People don't freely choose to sell their labour - they have to because in a capitalist economy labour is a commodity like money and land. But there is no necessity for labour to be a commodity - and is wasn't until about 1834 when the poor laws were brought in in the UK. That, along with enclosures forced people off the land to seek work in factories.

Capitalism is not a 'natural' state of affairs as most people have been taught to believe. It is maintained by a set of rules (laws) which allow it to function. Change the rules and it won't function. To create a better society where people can gain the true value of their labour we need to change the rules - simple as that. In the meantime there is an alternative - mutualism. If you want to get the true value of your labour join a co-op. Its democratic and you will not only be rewarded for the work that you do but you will also have a measure of control. Something which doesn't apply to most workers worldwide. Outside my 'work' I chair a community co-operative. Now this is useful work. It benefits me and my community and worthwhile work. I'd do it full time if I could.