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.