Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A new vista needed

For the British Library, the immediate vista is how to deal with the threat of deep government spending cuts. So it was ironic that the prestigious library should provide the venue for Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, to launch his corporation’s new operating system, called Vista. Microsoft’s monopoly will guarantee vast profits as the OS is installed on every new PC. The BL, meanwhile, may be forced to start charging for admission to its famous reading rooms - which are visited by 400,000 people a year - and end its policy of acquiring every new publication in Britain. Gates is a big fan of New Labour and has direct access to Downing Street because he is a pioneer of the global market economy. Library officials, however, have to stay at a distance and issue a briefing paper to MPs and Chancellor Gordon Brown that outline measures they would have to take if the widely speculated cuts of between 5% and 7% come to fruition. These include charges, reduced hours and gallery closures. Spending on research journals and books would be slashed, "undermining 250 years of collecting", officials say. Efforts to establish a digital library would be wrecked. "We will be unable to fulfil our statutory obligations for legal deposit of electronic material," the paper says. Limits would also be imposed on the national newspaper collection "and the growing popular use of newspapers as primary sources for sports and family history research will develop no further". The collection now includes 150 million items, in most languages. The earliest dated printed book, the Diamond Sutra, of 868, can be seen in the exhibition galleries. Also held are the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne gospels, Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook, The Times from 1788, Beatles’ manuscripts and a recording of Nelson Mandela's trial speech The BL has spent the past five years making £40m of "efficiency savings" and shedding 5% of the workforce and basically says it can’t go any further.

The BL is not the only national institution threatened by cuts. The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square occupies a strategic position both geographically and metaphorically in the culture of London and the country as a whole. Since it was founded in 1824 by an Act of Parliament, its main collection has always been free. In a recent speech, director Charles Saumarez Smith denounced the epic waste of money on the Dome. He noted New Labour’s kow-towing to the backward populism of the tabloid press and its miserable attitude to "high" culture. And he criticised its "failure to engage in any deeper way with the people’s sense of themselves". "The Chancellor is threatening to cut the grants of museums and galleries by seven per cent per annum for three successive years. Gordon Brown will thereby effectively wipe out all the benefits of the past 10 years. I cannot believe the Chancellor wants this to happen," he added, somewhat disingenuously. David Barrie of the Art Fund and Victoria and Albert Museum director Mark Jones have also warned of low spending on the arts. Anthea Case, of Heritage Link, has warned that over 17,000 heritage buildings are at risk as funding has fallen drastically over the past two years. While starving the arts, New Labour has wasted £789 million on the Millennium Dome project, not to speak of the billions committed to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and replacing Trident nuclear missiles. Instead of leaving arts administrators to plead desperately for more private funding and sponsorship, a different approach is needed. Cultural activities and artistic production should not be seen as a luxury for the elite, but be open to all and supported by society as a whole. For that to happen we need a whole new vista that can takes us beyond our bottom-line society.

Corinna Lotz, arts editor

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Behind Gaza's tragedy

Palestinian may be killing Palestinian in the Gaza Strip but the ultimate responsibility for its descent into near civil war rests principally with the governments of the United States, Britain and Israel. In the last year they have destabilised Gaza politically, reduced its economy to ruins and destroyed much of its infrastructure with high explosive. In despair, Palestinians belonging to Hamas and Fatah have turned on each other in a violent way that undermines their cause and lends comfort to their enemies. For all their talk of "free and fair elections", the US-British-Israeli alliance from the start refused to accept the fact that the Islamic-based party Hamas won the Gaza elections of January 2006. From the moment Hamas formed a government in March 2006, they were subjected to a campaign aimed at undermining their legitimacy. International aid was withdrawn on the grounds that Hamas refused to recognise Israel. The double standards involved were monumental. The majority of Gaza's 1.4 million residents are refugees who fled or were expelled in 1948 from the land that became Israel. Most Gazans live in eight refugee camps to which the UN delivers health, education and other humanitarian services. Israel has brutally denied the Palestinians the right to self-determination through occupation and division. Yet Israel continue to receive huge amounts of military and financial support from the United States. Civil servants and other public officials in Gaza lost their pay as a result of the withdrawal of aid. Gazan farmers saw their food exports rot because of border closures while Israel owes farmers hundreds of millions of dollars from the past. Israel continues to exert day-to-day control over Gaza. A report by Gisha, an Israeli human rights organisation, points out: "Gaza residents know that significant aspects of their lives - the ability to exit or enter Gaza, the supply of medicine, fuel and other basic goods, the possibility to transport crops to export markets, the ability to use electric lights - depend on decisions made by Israel's military." There is an air blockade. Israel has not allowed Gaza's international airport to re-open. The Israeli navy continues to patrol the coastline in what it says in an effort to prevent arms smuggling. Palestinian fishing boats are sometimes fired on for straying outside Israeli-imposed zones. Israel has retained control of the Palestinian population registry. This enables it to decide who can be a resident of Gaza - and who can come and go. The reports says that tens of thousands of people have been barred from the registry and consequently have no identity papers. If that wasn’t enough, the Israeli government used the cover of the war on Lebanon to destroy much of Gaza’s infrastructure. A United Nations report estimated that losses totalling hundreds of millions of dollars were inflicted in the bombing campaign, which targeted bridges, water supply, roads, electricity generation, industry, public buildings and agriculture. Needless to say, Washington and London said and did nothing while the Israeli government perpetrated yet another act of state terror against a defenceless, stateless people.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, January 29, 2007

The crisis in the prisons

There is a straightforward reason why prisons are full to bursting – and it’s nothing to do with the crime rate. In fact, the level of crime has been stable or has even fallen since 1993 when 45,000 people were in prison. What has almost doubled the prison population to a record 80,000 is New Labour’s determination to lock up more people for petty offences and to use jails to house people with serious mental health and drug addiction problems. As a result, England and Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe at 148 per 100,000 of the population compared with France where the rate is 85 per 100,000 and Germany 94 per 100,000. Many are sitting out their sentences in a shared cell, eating, sleeping and using the toilet in the same small space as another person up to 23 hours a day. Overcrowding means rehabilitation programmes are cut to a minimum and those with health problems are given less and less support. And when people leave prison, finding somewhere to live is increasingly difficult. The outcome is predictable. The reoffending rate after prison has risen from 51% in 1992 to 67%.

Many prisoners have mental health problems. 72% of male and 70% of female sentenced prisoners suffer from two or more mental health disorders. One in five prisoners have four of the five major mental health disorders. A significant number of prisoners suffer from a psychotic disorder. Seven per cent of male and 14% of female sentenced prisoners have a psychotic disorder; 14 and 23 times the level in the general population. In 2005, 597 out of every 1,000 women and 50 out of every 1,000 men harmed themselves while in prison. Research suggests that prisoners are twice as likely to be refused treatment for mental health problems inside prison than outside. How do people with several mental health difficulties end up in prison anyway? The reason is that prisons have become a substitute for a failed, under-resourced, "care in the community" programme. As the Prison Reform Trust says: "Mental health policy on care in the community has disintegrated into a lack of practical support and neglect. Prisons have had to fill up with petty offenders with complex mental health needs to take up the slack… If you had to invent a way to deepen mental health problems and create a health crisis, an overcrowded prison, and particularly the bleak isolation of its segregation unit, would be it."

Another vulnerable group New Labour takes pleasure in locking up is children, a scandal which prompted the angry resignation of Professor Rod Morgan as chairman of the Youth Justice Board last week. One of New Labour’s first pieces of legislation was the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998, which gave the Home Secretary power to lower the age of detention to 10 years old. As a result, the number of children under 18 locked up in England and Wales has more than doubled over the last ten years. Some 75% of those held in young offenders' institutions have not attended school beyond the age of 13. The "education" they receive in prison does not bear thinking about. Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, which has led a campaign to end the policy of jailing children, says: "It is intolerable that children in prison are being denied even the most basic needs such as a shower, fresh air and exercise and a phone call to their parents. How can children be expected to learn how to behave when they are treated so appallingly - it is storing up trouble for the future and inevitably the suffering of the children results in suffering to the rest of us when they are released." Many children are in prison for breaking civil Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, thereby turning themselves into criminals at a stroke. If you thought any of this merited an official rethink, you would be utterly wrong. Home Secretary John Reid is scouring the world for prison ships to take the overflow. The madness continues.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, January 26, 2007

Their history and ours

There is official history – and then there is real, living history, which is the outcome of struggles between competing, class interests which are often hidden from view or presented in a one-sided, distorted fashion. We should keep this in mind when looking at the government’s insistence that school students learn about "the shared British heritage" and core "British" values, which are said to include tolerance, respect, freedom of speech and justice. For example, what kind of history of empire will students get? Are students going to hear how colonial conquest in Africa, India, Asia and the Caribbean was driven on by the fact that capitalism is compelled to new acquire new markets and sources of cheap raw materials? Or how the British ruling class was eventually forced out by revolutionary, violent struggles which they resisted with military force? The history of empire is not a "shared heritage" but the story essentially of how rich and powerful elites shaped the world in their image, introducing the ideas of racial superiority into society along the way in order to justify imperial rule. As for freedom of speech and the right to vote, will students get the real history or just be told that is a "core value" that is, well, just British. Will they be informed that capitalism and democracy are actually not coincidental at all. In fact, capitalism evolved for almost a 100 years before ordinary people started to achieve the vote through the Second Reform Act of 1867. It had taken epic struggles, beginning with the Chartists in the 1830s to force the concession that allowed men in towns to vote. As for the way history enters distinct new eras, will students get to hear how the present capitalist society was born out of a bitter civil war between an absolute monarch and parliamentary forces, that resulted in the trial and execution of a king? Or will it be restricted, as usual, to a few words about the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 when a frightened Parliament invited a foreign monarch to invade the country to prevent the restoration of absolute monarchy by James II.

What should be clear is that the "core values" like freedom of speech and justice are not absolutes but are relative to the outcomes of ongoing social struggles. Trade unions, for example, until the 1980s enjoyed immunity from prosecution and had unconditional rights to strike. Mass demonstrations and a threat of a general strike prevented Labour from reducing these rights in the period 1964-1970. Now the unions have the most limited rights in Europe. Are students going to hear why the Tories abolished these rights and why the present government has refused to restore them? Justice and human rights are heavily circumscribed today as a result of the authoritarian state New Labour has constructed in the name of the "war on terror". Minorities and their religions are isolated and demonised by ministers and the media. Is this another example of a "core value" of tolerance that we should share? So when New Labour ministers talk of a "shared heritage" they are spinning history to suit their own purposes and those of the powerful in society. In the end, their values are not the same as those of ordinary people. They instinctively know that whatever rights people enjoy today are the results of the struggles of all the generations that have gone before – and that retaining and advancing them is a daily effort.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Robbie Burns' message to Brown

On this day when Scots all over the world celebrate their national poet, one of Robert Burns’ poems in particular came to mind watching Gordon Brown’s princely progress around India. Holy Wullie’s Prayer is Burns’ denunciation of Presbyterian hypocrisy. When Brown said he took inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, I particularly recalled the lines where Wullie thanks the Lord for the wonder of – himself:

"I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an' grace
A burning and a shining light
To a' this place…..

"When from my mither's womb I fell,
Thou might hae plung'd me deep in hell,
To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,
In burnin lakes,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chain'd to their stakes.

"Yet I am here a chosen sample,
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I'm here a pillar o' Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, and example,
To a' Thy flock."

Wullie goes on to call down vengeance on all the local worthies who have ever annoyed him – the name Blair does not feature, but you get the picture. Brown also put himself forward on his return as the defender of the Act of Union between England and Scotland of 1707, and demanded we all bow the knee before the "British values" that resulted. Historically speaking, this is absolute nonsense. The Act of Union had at its heart a major economic crisis in Scotland caused by the failure of a plan to launch a colonialising company to challenge the growing power of the East India Company. Scotland’s parliament, functioning during the years of the turn of the 17th and 18th century more as a board of directors of the whole Scottish economy, decided to invest virtually the whole exchequer in the Darian Scheme, which was to establish a trading colony on the South American isthmus. The East India Company and its supporters, including King William, warned off the many large English investors who had agreed to support the new adventure. The collapse of the scheme was a devastating blow to the Scottish economy. The Scottish currency was undervalued in the merger and people lost all their savings changing from pounds Scots to pounds English. However, the Scottish bourgeoisie were quick to take advantage of opportunities afforded by entry into the new British market. Whilst the poor continued to suffer for decades from the results of Darian – particularly the failure to invest in the improvement of agriculture – the Scottish middle class rapidly took on the leading establishment role they still maintain in British society. Fast forward to today, when it appears Scots may vote in large numbers for the Scottish National Party, who if they win a majority in the Scottish Parliament in May say they will then hold a referendum on independence. If the majority of voters do back the SNP’s nationalist, big business programme it will only be because New Labour has betrayed their aspirations once too often. Generations of Labour rule have left many Scottish communities impoverished and devolution has made no difference. Gandhi, on the other hand, was anti-imperialist to the core and led a revolutionary struggle against British rule. Brown and Blair are the complete opposite and to mention Gandhi in the same sentence makes your stomach churn. Happy birthday Robbie Burns!

Penny Cole, literary editor

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Simply not sustainable

On the face of it, the politicians and business leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos appear to be powerful enough to do something effective about climate change. The corporations represented at the Swiss ski resort by more than 800 chief executive officers have a combined turnover equivalent to around a quarter of world production. When they talk about climate change, they should have the power to change things. But while the agenda reflects concerns about climate chaos, a closer look at the agenda reveals what keeps the CEOs awake at night. The corporations are worried about the "increasingly complex web of rules" as "policy-makers struggle to slow environmental degradation", and will be doing all they can to offset the threat of any "constraint on profitability". One debate will ask "what will motivate the global marketplace and if we can make green pay - for the investor, for business and for the planet?" Note the order of priority. The debate will discuss three motions: 1) Nuclear energy and clean coal are the only viable alternatives to oil 2) markets are superior to regulation in leading corporations towards ‘greener’ operations 3) A global carbon tax will do more harm than good.

That’s not to say that the world’s leaders are indifferent to the promise of rooftop wind turbines and solar-powered bus shelters to fleets of vehicles fuelled by biomass. Nor do they ignore the certain rise in temperatures (anywhere from three to six degrees Celsius) which will severely affect weather patterns, sea levels and water availability, thereby destabilising economies and societies. But the answers are a foregone conclusion – the market will sort it all out. It’s not up for discussion. From mercury pollution taxes to deposit refund systems for car batteries and emissions trading, market-based instruments are the only boxes to be ticked. However, following Stern’s conclusion that climate change is the result of a catastrophic market failure, those at Davos are forced to acknowledge that new approaches are needed – but still within the profitability model that is the driving force of the global capitalist economy. So a session headlined "Hurricanes, Heatwaves and High Seas" will ask: "What are the barriers to mitigating investment risk? What business opportunities can adaptation create? Are financial services firms profiting or losing money from the fear of climate change?" In partnership with Davos, the BBC has launched a world debate on its website to "explore the sea change in public pressure for environmental sustainability, and why some leaders (and not others) are willing to take risks". The BBC is asking: "1) Who is forcing the urgency of the climate change debate: the politicians or the public, especially the younger generation? 2) Are governments and political leaders prepared to take the decisive measures to ensure trends capped and reversed? 3) Do governments have the skills and capacity to start doing what is needed?" The WEF agenda, with its emphasis on profits and markets, has answered the questions. To wait for Davos (or any subsequent international gathering) for solutions is about as effective as waiting for Godot. The WEF shows once more that corporate power is simply not sustainable and is the barrier to action against global warming. As a result, it falls to ordinary people in each country to create a new, alternative economic and political framework as the only viable way to tackle climate chaos.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hillary Clinton and the war in Iraq

Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she plans to run for the White House in 2008 has left anti-war campaigners cold. The Democratic Party senator from New York supported the 2003 invasion and, despite the fact that by a large majority the American people oppose the continuing occupation and the despatch of another 21,000 troops, has not changed her position. In November, the Democrats won control of both houses of Congress largely on the basis of the anti-war sentiment of the voters. This led Clinton to adjust her views ever so slightly, introducing a meaningless bill to put a cap on the number of soldiers that can be in Iraq. In essence, however, her position has not altered. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who in 2005 launched a militant anti-war movement against the Bush presidency, is one person who won’t cast her vote for Clinton should she succeed in winning the Democratic Party nomination. Sheehan recounts that in August 2005 she met with some Hollywood people who pretended that they supported her, but really were big money donors and supporters of Clinton. She was told that the senator was really against the war, but she was waiting for the "politically correct time" to come out against it. Sheehan, her sister and another mother who lost a son in Iraq, met Clinton in Washington the following month. Sheehan recounts: "We poured our hearts and souls out to her. We cried as we told her of our sons and our fear for the people of Iraq and the escalating body count of our brave young people. She sat there stone-faced and walked out and told Sarah Ferguson of the Village Voice, ‘My bottom line is that I don't want their sons to die in vain... I don't believe it's smart to set a date for withdrawal... I don't think it's the right time to withdraw’." By last November’s mid-term elections, the political clock’s ticking failed to overwhelm Clinton’s continuing silence. So Sheehan supported an anti-war candidate who, she says, "did amazing work dogging the senator and her supporters everywhere she went, and outing the fact that she is a Republican in Democratic clothing".

In the United States, like Britain, voters find it hard to distinguish between the major parties and Clinton’s political opportunism and cowardice only emphasises this point. On the eve of the State of the Union address by Bush, a new poll found Americans in a dark mood. Most believe the country is on the wrong track - a complete flip from five years ago, according to an AP-AOL News survey, when 68% thought the opposite. Only four in 10 think the country will be better off with Democrats in charge of the House and Senate, the poll suggests. Nearly two-third have no confidence that Congress and the White House can work together to solve the nation's problems. Meanwhile, as the death toll in Iraq grows, both in terms of civilians and US troops, two-thirds questioned disapprove of Bush’s handling of the situation. The last word goes to Sheehan, who wrote this week: "I again affirm my commitment to peace. I don't care if it is a man or a woman; Democrat or Republican; white or black; Christian, Jew or otherwise. I will only support a candidate who is courageously and uncompromisingly committed to peace. Hillary Clinton is not that person. She never will be. History speaks louder than words."

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, January 22, 2007

A ministry for insecurity

So Blair’s “legacy” is mounting – the illegal invasion of Iraq, the cash for honours scandal, the break-up of public services from health to education and now a reorganisation of the Home Office and the creation of a National Security ministry. The name sounds sinister and undoubtedly that’s what the new department of state will be like in practice. Home Secretary John Reid – who may yet contest Gordon Brown’s coronation as Blair’s successor – claims that the reason for splitting his department in two is purely administrative. That’s about as plausible as the government assertion that identity cards are needed to fight identity theft! The first reason for creating a separate security ministry is to rescue the spurious “war on terrorism” campaign. New Labour has clearly failed to convince the electorate that this “war” is both necessary and destined to last for at least a generation (presumably until the last terrorist on the planet is hunted down and killed – i.e. never). A permanent National Security ministry is intended to focus minds and reinforce the official message that the threat from terrorism threatens civilisation as we know it and that meeting force with force is the only answer. Lumping the area of immigration and asylum with security will also reinforce tabloid-inspired prejudices about foreigners in general and Muslims in particular.

Secondly, it is likely that the new ministry will be under the control of whoever occupies No 10 Downing Street. It will thus centralise control over the forces of the state within the state in the hands of the prime minister of the day. That’s not just Blair’s intention but Brown’s too, in case anyone has any doubts that he will be softer than his predecessor. The ministry for National Security is one more plank in the authoritarian edifice that New Labour has built. Some of its victims have just opted to return to Algeria, rather than stay indefinitely locked up in Britain. They were jailed unlawfully under anti-terror measures, and when released were held again, this time on immigration charges. Denied a chance to clear their name and subjected to secret hearings, the men have chosen a return to a country where they risk torture and detention. Their lawyer Gareith Peirce said: “Why would any individual plunge into such fear and uncertainty if he had any choice? Each believes he faces torture or death, not because he has committed any offence, but because he has been branded (in large part by the UK) and each has concluded that he cannot by staying here ever hope to eradicate that branding. He therefore is choosing, he says ‘a quick death there rather than an endless slow death here’.” For these men there have been no convictions, no proper accusations, no knowledge of what is alleged against them and, for most, no questioning by police to discover whether untested secret assumptions might be wrong. It’s like a chapter from Kafka’s The Trial combined with Orwell’s 1984. And that’s before the new National (In)Security ministry comes into being.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mad Max rally denounced

So far this year, the world’s most extreme motor race has only killed one participant. South African motorcyclist Elmer Symons, 29, was killed during the fourth stage of the Dakar Rally last week. I say only, because every year in the event’s history, drivers and local people have paid a heavy price for this long-distance endurance test since it began in 1979. This year’s rally began in Lisbon on January 6 and so far has run through Spain and Morocco to reach Mauritania and Mali. It is due to end in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, this Sunday. The route runs over 5,000 miles of rocks, sand, riverbeds and potholed roads. The real challenge to drivers are the shifting sands of the Sahara desert.

Over 500 teams from over 40 countries are taking part as the race passes over six countries. Masses of vehicles have descended on the poorest nations and peoples in the world, including 88 large trucks, 187 cars and 250 motorcycles. Over 200 supporting vehicles make up the rest of what can only be described as an obscene waste of resources and grossly polluting event.

“It isn't called an extreme race for nothing,” says photographer Alberto Arzoz, who has spent time with the native Tuareg nomadic people of the Sahara. “As you can imagine, the dark side goes under-reported.” In addition to the 41 racers killed since 1979, the rally has killed at least 17 bystanders, including eight children, as well as many livestock. It creates huge clouds of dust that affect local villages and their herds. Vehicle wrecks and dump sites along the way cause damage to the fragile ecosystem of the desert. In one incident the rally created a wildfire that derailed a train between Dakar and Bamako, killing three passengers.

Despite humanitarian claims by the organisers, the race brings little to the locals, whether the nomads or settled communities who live around its course. Arzoz believes that “the rally is an arrogant and humilliating event which regards the peoples of Africa and their environment nothing more than a playground for the motoring multinationals such as BMW or Mitsubishi to showcase their latest products.” The race has been mocked by French singer Renaud in his song, 500 connards sur la ligne de départ (500 assholes on the start line). A Green Party of France statement has described the race as “colonialism that needs to be eradicated”. Campaigners against the rally run an online petition at

This year’s sponsors and suppliers include, amongst others, oil corporations Total and Elf, French television channels, BF Goodrich, Columbia sportswear, Red Bull, and, somewhat strangely, Unique, a new brand of “natural spring water” from Croatia.

Even more bizarrely, Volkswagen’s latest four-wheel drive is named the Touareg, after a people whose traditional transport has always been the camel. VW is taking part in the race, albeit only with a 2500cc version. The 275 horsepower 5-litre 10-cylinder version is reserved for the Chelsea set.

By AWTW Transport Editor

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Olympic bonfire of the vanities

The decision to bulldoze a unique East London allotment site demonstrates there will be no Olympic gain for Londoners – but plenty of pain. London 2012 organisers pledged to use “local, sustainable food in a document entitled “Towards a One Planet Olympics”. In practice this means: McDonald’s will be a major sponsor of the games and producers of local sustainable food for 150 East London families are being evicted from their 100-year-old site. The Olympic Authority plans to bulldoze Manor Garden Allotments in Hackney marshes to build a footpath leading to the hockey stadium. There will be a viewing screen for people who can’t get in to the events (maybe all the Londoners who won’t be able to afford the tickets). The facilities will have a useful life of just 12 weeks.

Manor Gardens is a green oasis, a source of healthy organic food, and – if Mayor Ken Livingstone is interested – home to rare wildlife including newts. It is part of the floodplain crucial to London as water levels rise as a result of global warming. Alternative plans put forward by the plot holders have been rejected. As plot holder Matt says, Manor Gardens don’t fit in with the games. The planners want shiny open plazas that look good on their cad-cams but have nothing to do with real people. Olympic priorities are clear. Laws protecting commons and metropolitan spaces have been swept aside but a new law gives draconian penalties for any business even referring to the 2012 Olympics unless it is an official sponsor. London 2012 will be the most soulless and corporate-led games yet. McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Visa, GE, Panasonic and Samsung are already on board as sponsors and more being sought.

But the cost of the Olympics is $8bn and rising, and the government insists Londoners will have to meet any shortfall. But what will it mean for local people?
  • Huge areas of wild open space – at Hackney Marshes, Hackney Wick, Bully Point and all along the Lee Valley - will be concreted over. These unique areas provide a habitat for Kingfishers, marsh marigolds, ancient plane trees and black poplars; they are also home to cyclists, runners, footballers of all ages and people out for a walk.

  • A massive increase in security operations and surveillance, including a proposal for microphones in the streets programmed to react to certain decibel levels and tones of voice.

  • Hundreds of small businesses and residents moved off the site won’t be moving back. They have been forced to sell their land at pre-Olympic prices but won’t be able to afford to buy it back after the games – this so-called “regeneration” is in fact an extension of corporate Docklands down the Lee Valley corridor.

  • High ticket prices making the games beyond the pockets of most Londoners.

  • Council tax payers will have to cough up around £20 per year for the next 25 years – a total of £500 per head.
And when the games are over and the corporates move on to the next advertising opportunity? As well as the increased flood risk, it’s not looking good. David Mackay, author of the original Stratford City Plan and lead architect for the Barcelona Olympic Village and Port, wrote recently: “..London has lost an opportunity … with the silliest architecture seen for years with no real concern for legacy… If carried out, and with only five years to go, the Olympic legacy is more like to be like a Hollywood set for a ghost town or an abandoned Expo site.”

The Manor Garden plot holders are fighting on but fear their site is doomed. They are being offered an alternative site on land at Church Road in Leytonstone – but not surprisingly residents there are objecting to the loss of their open space. It is more than time to take sport away from big business and create a new kind of international competition which is a democratic and drug-free celebration of the best aspects of human nature.

Penny Cole, co-author, Running a Temperature

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Bank of England twists debt spiral

Tuesday’s news that consumer price inflation rose from 2.7 per cent in November to 3 per cent in December, the highest for 15 years, is a major blow for people with credit card and mortgage debt. It spurred the Bank of England into an unexpected interest rate rise to 5.25% last week, with warnings of more on the way.

Public and private sector employees throughout Britain are already preparing to fight to defend their living standards as retail price inflation, on which most pay negotiations are based, jumped to a 15-year high of 4.4 per cent from 3.9 per cent in November. This is the 8th consecutive month that inflation has breached the target set for the Bank of England. House prices and fuel costs have contributed to massive cost-of-living rises for most people, especially young borrowers.

But this will come as no surprise to the nearly six million who felt they are currently struggling with their finances according to a recent survey…….by the very same Bank of England. The latest interest rate rise will sharply increase the 7.7% of households already struggling to repay their mortgage debt and tip many more over the edge to join the 27,644 individual insolvencies in England and Wales in the third quarter of 2006.

According to figures compiled this month by Credit Action, one person is falling victim to insolvency every minute of every working day. This was an increase of 5.7% on the previous quarter and an increase of 55.4% on the same period a year ago. Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs) grew the fastest and increased 118% over the previous year. The total number of people who became insolvent in 2006 is likely to have exceeded 110,000 which is larger than the population of Exeter. The estimate for 2007 had risen to 150,000 before the BoE’s latest move.

Citizens Advice has dealt with 1.4million debt problems in the past year – 11 % up on the previous 12 months and double the figure just eight years ago. This equates to approximately 5,300 people a day seeking advice on debt problems. And within days credit card bills for the record Christmas spending will be arriving on doormats throughout the country.
With the Treasury insisting that public sector pay rises remain on the government’s 2 per cent inflation target, the scene has been set for major battles on wages and salaries. In an interview on Channel 4 last night, Gordon Brown’s front man, Economic Secretary Ed Balls, warned workers not to ask for more than 2% pay rises. Balls received over £50,000 as a senior research fellow in 2005 for the Adam Smith free market think tank, in addition to his usual salary.

Tony Woodley, general secretary of the T&G, one of the largest unions with nearly 800,000 members, called on pay negotiators to seek wage rises significantly above RPI inflation. Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus, the largest private sector union, forecast it would be “a busy year for trade union negotiators seeking to protect their members’ living standards”. Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, the largest public sector union, warned: “Any notion that public sector staff should accept lower increases and therefore effective pay cuts will be strongly resisted by unions.”

But the record of these trade union leaders in fighting New Labour is abysmal. And with unprecedented conditions emerging throughout the global capitalist economy, the struggle for wages cannot be separated from the question of who owns and controls the economy. For that, a new type of leadership and a new type politics is needed.

Gerry Gold, Economics Editor

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

High stakes at BA

Major trade union disputes are few and far between these days. The globalised economy, overseen in Britain by the New Labour Government, has transformed the relationship between workers and employers, and it is no longer possible to win a strike in the old way, by staying out until the management is prepared to accept a compromise.

Almost any strike these days quickly becomes political and is doomed to fail unless and until the unions can learn the lessons from this new period of history. Disputes have to be extended to other sections of workers and unions. Most importantly, the New Labour Government, which is the government of big business, has to be challenged.

The present dispute at British Airways, where nineteen out of twenty BA cabin staff, members of the Transport and General Workers Union, have voted to strike, is a case in point. The dispute, which has been building up over two years or more, is over pay, sick leave and staffing levels. Union members are angry that their pay and terms and conditions have been eroded by a new management regime, and that staff are under pressure to turn up for work even when they are ill. This kind of huge majority in favour of a strike should mean that the union will go ahead and lead a strike, if necessary, against BA, and that they should be ready to involve other BA workers. The union has a powerful presence at the company and should challenge the new conditions imposed by the company in its attempt to remain more competitive than other airlines.

There is a climate of crisis at BA. With a black hole in the pensions fund, an unpopular plan to raise the retirement age by five years all round, over 800 flights cancelled during the Xmas rush because of the fog, and a target of saving £450m over two years, the company could well decide to dig in for a major confrontation in the hope of weakening the unions. They will be encouraged to do this by the outcome of the last major dispute at the company two years ago, when nearly 800 Gate Gourmet catering workers, on a very low wage, walked out. They were locked out and sacked and their US employers then organised strike breakers to do their work. The union failed to support them, even when baggage handlers and other BA workers courageously walked out in support, costing BA two days of business.

The union, terrified at the prospect of being sued under the Tory anti-union laws against secondary picketing and at the prospect of upsetting their cosy partnership with BA, ordered the BA workers back to their jobs and left about 100 Gate Gourmet workers sacked and defenceless. And BA then sacked the two shop stewards who had lead the supporting walk-out. This shambles was underlined at the end of last year when an industrial tribunal ruled that the strike was illegal because the union did not support it and the workers chose not to work. The cabin staff are, however, well organised and are not used to losing, so the union leadership could conceivably find itself, horror of horrors, on a collision course with BA and forced into a fight.

After the 96% historic vote in favour of strike action, Transport and General Workers’ Union member said: “I have never seen anything like it in all my 20 years service with the company. We are mild unconfrontational people who do not want to strike, but feel we have no alternative due to the bullying, intimidation and harassment from Willie Walsh and his minions, with their macho style of management. It was a nuclear moment when the result was announced.”

The stakes could become very high. To win the unions will need to come together, broaden the issues, and be ready to take on the New Labour government. One thing is certain. If the strike goes ahead, it will quickly become vicious. If a compromise is reached, the fundamental issues will resurface in a slightly different form, very soon.

By AWTW's Industrial Editor

Monday, January 15, 2007

The UK’s Unheard of Detainee

HMP Long Lartin is UK’s Guatanamo - approved and made legal by SIAC (Special Immigration Appeal Commission) - a secret court with secret evidence. At least detainees in the US Guatanamo in Camp Delta are in a detention centre and recently they got the right and the prospect of a trial in US open courts. But here in the UK, in the mother of democracy, freedom of speech and human rights in a civil society, detainees like me are being held in a high security prison (Long Lartin) and treated worse than convicted prisoners (Cat. A). Despite the row about prison over-crowding, a whole unit, half of it is empty, is designed for detainees so they don’t mix with other prisoners in the same establishment and to keep them in total isolation held without interview, charge, trial or a prospect of a fair deal or release.

Indefinite detention (imprisonment) the same as 2001 laws, but covered and legalised by Judges in SAIC on the basis of secret evidence that no one is even allowed to see or challenge. Not the detainees and their lawyers. Only the Home Office (who at the same time is the prosecution) and one Judge in SIAC Court can see this so-called secret evidence if there is such evidence?! The Home Office or the Prosecutor can speak up and make his case in SIAC and in the media and elsewhere but the detainee has no rights. He is banned from the media, from seeing the evidence brought against him and from challenging the Home Office. The BBC and other media have been to US Guatanamo but they can’t visit UK Guantanamo in Evesham, Worcestershire. I don’t know why? The want us totally isolated in a high security prison - not Belmarsh this time - but far away from London so we can be forgotten and only used as escape goats when needed by the security services to frighten and scare the nation in the UK and the Home Secretary uses us to show that he is doing a good job by keeping the UK safe from people who lived here for 5, 10, 15 years as normal citizens.

I don’t know really who is the fright here and who is not. Who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor. Is this justice? Is this fair?? All the detainees are suffering from mental, physical and psychological torture and I mean torture! We have been, and still are, bullied, segregated, used and abused by this Government and SIAC only because we are Muslim, refugees or asylum seekers. Helpless and hopeless with no one to speak for us (like a lamb between a bunch of wolves). Human Rights Watch says that the UK is involved in torture. I wonder why? Yes. Everything I said is happening here under a Government who went to Afghanistan and Iraq to spread justice, freedom and democracy. Is this a joke or politics? How can someone give what he hasn’t got?!So for anyone who reads or hears my message - please help us, please do something, please say something. After all, we are all human beings. Mankind. So please help us.
Thank you very very much.
Mustapha TalebTT5432HMP Long Lartin

Friday, January 12, 2007

Strategy for disaster

US president George Bush announced yesterday that the US will send another 20,000 troops into Iraq next week. He claimed that the new deployment would “hasten the day our troops begin coming home”. The plan is to pile 17,500 new troops into Baghdad by sealing off districts of the capital and creating gated communities which would become “safe zones”. One of the sectors is Sadr City, a poor district where two million Shia Muslims live. US troops would have to leave their fortified positions around Baghdad and move into such districts to disarm the militias and other fighters.

So, far from a strategy to bring the war in Iraq to an end, increasing its troop commitment to a 150,000 total will see the US mired in an ever deeper war. Its longer-term success depends largely on the performance of Iraqi forces and police. But as Bush made his announcement, there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm from the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki failed to appear as scheduled at a news conference and did not make any public comment.

The US plan to take control over Baghdad is riddled with unknowns. As one military analyst, Anthony Cordesman, from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington has said: “It is uncertain whether the Iraqi government will or can support the plan.”

Meanwhile, back home Bush has set himself on a collision course with the new Democratic Congress. And there are critics of his policy from within his own party. Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator, called Mr Bush's move the "most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam". Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic congressman and presidential candidate, asked: "Isn't one war enough for this president?" And a telephone survey conducted by AP-Ipsos this week revealed that 70% of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq.

While Prime Minister Blair and his mealy-mouthed ministers Des Browne and Margaret Beckett gave their unstinting support to the US government’s “troop surge”, there were sceptical reactions from top analysts in British think tanks. Dr Rosemary Hollis, director of research at Chatham House, poured doubt on the ability of the Iraqi government to see through their side of the plan. “This strategy does not offer a regional strategy other than to confront Iran and Syria and to provide Gulf Arab states with Patriot missiles.”

And, as if revealing the accuracy of such warnings, only hours before Bush made his announcement, US soldiers raided an Iranian diplomatic mission in Irbil, 220 miles north of the Iranian capital. Stun bombs were used against the building. Six diplomats were arrested and computers and documents seized. The attack was in line with a statement by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice that the US would conduct “hot pursuit” operations across Iraq’s borders with Iran and Syria. Provocations against Iran and Syria, whilst dropping bombs on countries like Somalia is the pattern for 2007.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Locking people up on the say-so

Locking people up on the say-so of the authorities because they are said to be mentally ill is not only authoritarian but is also an attitude to health issues that stretches back to the darkest days of early Victorian England. Mental health campaigners are in the middle of an eight-year campaign to stop this particular New Labour attack on human rights. The Bill that resumed its passage in Parliament this week is the third attempt by the government to introduce draconian changes to the law. The 78 members of the Mental Health Alliance have promptly denounced the Bill as "unfit for the 21st century”. The MHA is a unique alliance of service users, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, psychologists, lawyers, voluntary associations, charities, religious organisations, research bodies and carers' groups. For once, New Labour is honest about its intentions. In its response to a 2005 consultation, the government admitted that in its view the purpose of mental health law is "not about service provision, it is about bringing people under compulsion". The MHA takes the completely opposite view, saying: “We fundamentally disagree with this approach. Undoubtedly mental health law must include provisions which authorise detention and compulsory treatment, and safeguards to prevent their arbitrary use - but it must also ensure that every person with mental health problem receives the range of mental health services they need, so that crises and detention are anticipated and prevented where possible.”

One of the major concerns is that if the legislation goes through some people with mental illness will be fearful of presenting themselves for treatment in the first place if they think they may be locked up. Psychiatrists have also voiced fears that they will be made to act like police officers when making decisions about who to lock up in a secure hospital. Other campaigners have pointed out that that inpatients from black and minority groups are far more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than their white counterparts. The new provisions for compulsory treatment in the community will also disproportionately affect such people. Under the proposed Community Treatment Order (CTO), a patient would be compelled to take their treatment after discharge on threat of being readmitted to hospital. CTOs are used in New Zealand, Australia and 38 states in the US, where they have provoked controversy. A US study published in 2005 concluded it would take 85 CTOs to prevent one readmission and 238 to prevent one arrest. New Labour’s reactionary legislation serves a number of purposes. It satisfies tabloid prejudice, which is fuelled by high-profile inquiries that have looked into cases where patients have killed other people in the community. What the Bill equally does by emphasising detention is to make treatment and care secondary considerations. This is, of course, much the cheapest option. Yet all the evidence points to the fact that it is lack of support that lies behind tragedies like the killing of Denis Finegan, stabbed on his morning bike ride through Richmond Park in 2004 in an unprovoked attack by mental patient John Barrett. The report into the death came out the day before the Mental Health Bill was published last November. It said Barrett was "inadequately treated", but added that the remedy for what went wrong "lies not in new laws or policy changes" but in "sound clinical practice and organisational management". Paul Corry, of the mental health charity Rethink, said: "Everybody knows the mental health services in this country are not what they should be. If you add human error to that you will get tragedies occurring. The answer is not new legislation which diverts time, effort and resources - it is to use the resources to improve the services that we have." That is so obvious that is barely needs saying – unless, of course, you are a New Labour minister who thinks that the first priority is to detain people first and ask questions later.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How the state fails older people

The number of people aged 65 and over in the UK is predicted to increase by 81% from 9.3 million in 2000 to 16.8 million in 2051. Many will ask: what is the point in growing old in New Labour's Britain? State pensions are at subsistence level and people were told in November that they will eventually have to work until 68 before they can claim it. Energy bills have gone through the roof and many older people can’t afford to heat their homes. Now comes news that if you become infirm and need support, you are almost certain to have to pay for care – if it’s available. The Commission for Social Care Inspection says that older people in much of England can anticipate no help from the state until their needs are judged "critical". As for people without family or friends able or willing to help them, or without the means to buy in care, are already being left to cope as best they can. In a report this week, the charity Counsel and Care said older people faced a "care lottery". Access to care depended on where older people live and their income; it depended on their local authority and its policies on charging and eligibility criteria. "Put simply, the number of older people is growing while the number getting care services is falling and the care gap is widening." As population ages, more older people are encouraged to remain independent in their own home rather than move into residential care. But as the number of care home places has fallen, so too has the number of older people receiving home care services. A national survey of local authorities revealed that it is almost impossible for older people to access support in the community, unless their needs are severe.

According to the Local Government Association, help currently provided to up to 370,000 people with assessed lower-level needs will disappear altogether by 2009. The survey also shows that there are high charges for services in some areas – with weekly charges of up to £315.90, and average hourly charges for services of £10.39. "The contradiction in care is that while older people are paying higher charges, fewer are getting services. Pressure on budgets means that fewer older people are eligible to receive support, leaving many struggling to meet what may be low level needs, but which can have a great impact on their quality of life," says the charity. All this is evidence how New Labour and the Tories before them have overwhelmed the welfare state, transforming it into a market state dominated by corporate needs. The real scandal is that a state that can afford to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan, is going to spend an estimated £25 billion on new Trident nuclear missiles, allows millionaires and transnational corporations to register offshore to avoid tax, spends £8 billion a year buying drugs from the pharmaceutical companies at rip-off prices, gives the rail companies £5 billion a year to help drive people into cars through exorbitant fares, will not fund proper pensions and care for older people. A state that cannot and will not protect the needs of the people as they get older but will advance business and financial interests come what may, is both a partisan and a failed state. Its replacement with democratic alternatives is a matter of priority.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A letter from a hostage

I shall start this letter by announcing that I refuse to be called "Q" any more. I am Reda Dendani, 31, Algerian national, married and have a step daughter of 7. I’ve been living in the UK since 1998 as an asylum seeker. Calling me "Q" was not designed by the Home Office to protect me from the public. It was the opposite in fact. Labelling me like an object concealed the human being I am and facilitated the grip of allegations from the Home Office in the media. The Home Office issued me with a deportation order 16 months ago on 11.8.05. This was after I had spent two and a half years in Woodhill and Belmarsh prisons, then freed on control orders after the House of Lords made my detention illegal under the Anti Terrorism Act 2001 on December 2004. Basically the Home Office regards me as a suspected terrorist, a threat to national security, a dangerous man - my presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good… These are big words, very shocking and frightening – well designed for the media but not supported by any proof or evidence – just allegations! This has destroyed my life. I would have been prosecuted if a fraction of what was alleged was true, as I was for a far lesser offence on which I pleaded guilty. This is to say there are enough laws to face any criminal in the UK but if you cannot prosecute someone it is simply because he is innocent and as such must be free to go. I’ve paid for the offence enough; it hurts when you read on the bottom of the Home Office letters "Building a Safe, Just and Tolerant Society" or under the logo of the Treasury Solicitors, "Law at the Heart of Government". The Home Office has forgotten these guidelines and trespassed its limits by ordering my detention in a high security prison against my will without any charge. This illegal detention has been a problem and still is for the prison because of no clear status where all other prisoners are convicted and me and other foreigners are not.

The Home Office, in a move which is the mother of all hypocrisy, is offering me a way to appeal against its decision through a special court called SIAC. It is enough to read what Amnesty International’s 2006 report has said about the UK and it human rights in this SIAC. I’m not allowed to know and therefore to cross examine what is held against me. A madness – a crazy situation. I’m fighting a ghost. Whatever I say there is always closed sessions where I’m not allowed in nor my solicitor. This is an affront to the fundamental justice system. Because of this, I’ve stopped resisting my deportation. Better for me to face Algerian authorities – more straightforward than this Chinese torture made in UK. I’ve signed all the necessary papers for this deportation. I’ve seen both the UK representative and his Algerian counterpart in the prison I’m held in. This was 9 months ago on 24.3.06. The new crazy thing is I’m still in prison in the UK. It is such nonsense that I’ve taken the Home Office to court to force it to proceed with the deportation. I thought because it was High Court not "SIAC" I will see justice done. My problem is now very simple. The Home Office wants to deport me to Algeria and I accept to be deported to Algeria. My case was dismissed on 3.10.06 and the court reserved its reasons for the decision. What is going on? If this is not a Police State, what is one? A foreigner in this country is a synonym for a criminal; a second class citizen. The facts speak for themselves and changing the name of things or giving them the cover of the law doesn’t changes their reality. That is: I’m a HOSTAGE in this country. I’m held against my will. I’m in UK’s version of Guantanamo. Prove me wrong!

Reda Dendani
HMP Long Lartin

Monday, January 08, 2007

The spoils of war in Iraq

Whatever else happened under Saddam Hussein’s regime, one thing is certain – oil production remained under state control, with the lion’s share of revenues going into the government’s coffers to pay for education and other social provision. Forget about weapons of mass destruction - this is what really bugged the United States and what inspired the 2003 invasion. Almost four years later, the Iraqi parliament is poised to rubber stamp a new law that will throw open the country’s massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies. This provides the context for George Bush’s anticipated announcement this week that tens of thousands of extra troops will be sent to Iraq, despite the opposition of the majority of Americans. The troops’ main role will be to try and make the country secure enough for the oil to flow without interruption. Oil industry executives and analysts are rubbing their hands in anticipation of the victor’s dividend. The US government has been involved in drawing up the latest draft of the law which would give the vastly profitable transnational oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972. Under the law, Western companies would pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years under "production-sharing agreements". These are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's two largest producers, remains state controlled.

Planning for the takeover of Iraq’s reserves began in 2001, within weeks of Bush first taking office and well before the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre. in 1999 Dick Cheney, while he was still chief executive of the oil services company Halliburton, said that the world would need an additional 50 million barrels of oil a day by 2010. "So where is the oil going to come from?... The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies." A year later he was Vice-President and one of the main architects of the neo-conservative strategy of overthrowing unsympathetic regimes and replacing them with governments that would participate in the global market economy. Of course, a smokescreen had to be created – enter the elusive WMDs – to try and justify the illegal, pre-emptive war. With hand on heart, Tony Blair denied the "false claim" that "we want to seize" Iraq's oil revenues when he proposed the parliamentary motion for the invasion. Colin Powell, then US Secretary of State, said: "It cost a great deal of money to prosecute this war. But the oil of the Iraqi people belongs to the Iraqi people; it is their wealth, it will be used for their benefit. So we did not do it for oil." Now the truth is out. Blair, Powell, Bush, along with every member of their governments, have blood on their hands – the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis in exchange for oil. We witnessed their victors’ justice last week with the barbaric hanging of Saddam; peoples’ justice will demand that these leaders one day face trial for their crimes against humanity carried out in the name of oil and profit.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Friday, January 05, 2007

Market madness and climate chaos

A day after British climate scientists warned that a resurgent El Nino and persistently high levels of greenhouse gases are likely to make 2007 the world's hottest year ever recorded, New Labour demonstrated its unsurpassed talent for rhetoric on climate chaos. Environment minister Ian Pearson even went so far as to accuse low-cost carrier Ryanair of being "the irresponsible face of capitalism". On closer scrutiny, Pearson’s exclusive statement to the New Labour-worshipping Guardian is all hot air, which itself probably adds to atmospheric warming in the process. What has upset Pearson is that the major airlines seem less than enthusiastic about joining the European Union’s proposed new market for airline carbon emissions. Scheduled to start in 2011, it would involve airlines buying and selling rights to pollute. Behind Pearson’s bluster is the fact that extending carbon trading to airlines will make no impact whatsoever on climate change. The airlines will go on flying and those passengers who can afford to pay any extra charges will do so. In any case, Pearson’s outburst hardly squares with the announcement in December by transport minister Douglas Alexander that British airports will be allowed to keep growing. Alexander rejected growing protests by local communities anxious about noise, pollution and traffic.

Kevin Smith, a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, has tracked the evolution of the emissions’ markets and concludes: "Market-based mechanisms such as carbon trading are an elaborate shell-game of global creative accountancy that distracts us from the fact that there is no viable ‘business as usual’ scenario." In any case, the schemes become distorted in favour of the major corporations to the disadvantage of competitors and less developed economies. Smith points out that the corporations’ "corrosive influence" on the existing European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) meant that governments massively over-allocated emissions permits to the heaviest polluting industries. Market analyst Franck Schuttellar estimated that in the scheme's first year, the UK's most polluting industries earned collectively £940m in windfall profits from generous ETS allocations. Smith says: "Such schemes allow us to side-step the most fundamentally effective response to climate change that we can take, which is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. This is by no means an easy proposition for our heavily fossil fuel dependent society; however, we all know it is precisely what is needed. What incentive is there to start making these costly, long-term changes when you can simply purchase cheaper, short-term carbon credits?" Back to the Meteorological Office’s warning that there was a 60% probability that 2007 would break the record set by 1998, which was 1.20 degrees over the long-term average. "This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world," the office said. The reason for the forecast is mostly due to El Nino, a cyclical warming trend now under way in the Pacific Ocean. The event occurs irregularly - the last one happened in 2002 - and typically leads to increased temperatures world-wide. While this year's El Nino is not as strong as it was in 1997 and 1998, its combination with the steady increase of temperatures due to global warming from human activity may be enough to break the Earth's temperature record, said Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research unit at the University of East Anglia. The least society can do in these circumstances is take immediate action to slash carbon emissions along the lines suggested by A World to Win.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The £23 billion unpaid overtime bill

From the Trades Union Congress (TUC) comes the news that British workers who do unpaid overtime work an average of seven hours six minutes extra a week. They would take home an extra £4,800 a year if they were paid the average wage for those unpaid hours. A TUC analysis of official statistics reveals that if everyone who works unpaid overtime did all their unpaid work at the start of the year, the first day they would get paid would be Friday 23 February. Altogether, across Britain people did £23 billion worth of unpaid overtime last year. Top of the exploitation list were workers in the North East, who put in 7 hours 42 minutes extra without pay, closely followed by employees in London, who gave their employers 7 hours 36 minutes labour a week for nothing. Let’s be clear: these extra, unpaid hours are a free lunch for employers. Their employees are adding value to the goods or services that are produced without any reward in the form of wages. It’s not so much wage slavery as unwaged slavery!

But wait, the brave leaders of the TUC are fighting back against the fact that not only do British employees work the longest hours in Europe but also spend a lot their time actually doing so for free. The TUC has declared 23 February "Work Your Proper Hours Day" with general secretary Brendan Barber saying that "employees should take a stand" and "for just one day a year take a full lunch break and go home on time". The TUC also thinks that employers should also use the day to say "thank you to staff for their unpaid work, perhaps by buying them lunch or an after-work coffee or cocktail". Yes, you can just see this happening, can’t you! Barber doesn’t want to alarm bosses by suggesting that the TUC is going to launch a militant campaign on unpaid hours. In fact he reassures them, declaring: "We do not want to turn Britain into a nation of clock watchers, and few mind putting in extra effort from time to time when it is needed." So for the TUC it’s just a question of employers being a bit more flexible and caring about their staff. What world does the TUC inhabit? Certainly not the real one, where working conditions have deteriorated under the impact of cut-throat market conditions in the globalised economy. Do the TUC understand the threat of outsourcing, offshoring, contracting out and other euphemisms for switching work to areas where labour is cheaper? Syrupy words from the TUC won’t make a jot of difference to the imposition of extra, unpaid hours. Capitalism and exploitation of labour go hand in hand and it’s getting worse for most workers. This self-evident truth goes completely unrecognised by Barber and his Congress House staff.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Commuters pay the price

Record numbers of workers apparently stayed away from work yesterday. Perhaps they were trying to avoid the massive increases in the cost of transport that would actually get them to work. Not only do the above-inflation rail fare rises – some have gone up by 8.4% - act as a pay cut for commuters who have no choice but to fork out to get to work, they are also an incentive for other passengers to abandon trains in favour of cars and planes. More planes and cars equals more carbon dioxide equals more global warming. Where is the logic in all this, you may ask? Unfortunately there is one – the logic of market capitalism, with its market "solutions" that actually make matters worse. Unless, of course, you are a trader in carbon emissions, in which case the more CO2 the merrier. Under these circumstances, individuals have to make the difficult choices while the New Labour government abandons responsibility for tackling climate change. For example, if you needed to get from London to Manchester and back tomorrow, leaving around 8am, the choice is between a train journey lasting two and a half hours costing £219 and a plane fare of £223, which takes only 55 minutes. Or you might just get into your car and drive, leading Jason Torrance, campaigns director of the Transport 2000 pressure group, to say that the rail price rises flew in the face of "the government's rhetoric about climate change". In London, the rhetoric belongs to the Mayor, Ken Livingstone. When the Tube system was part-privatised, Livingstone fought the New Labour government until he was forced to concede. The private-sector consortia were handed lucrative contracts in return for a programme of investment in the system. Then two years ago, the Mayor agreed with the government that commuters had to foot part of the bill for new investment. So fares have soared as a result. A single Tube journey in the inner zone now costs an exorbitant £4 and a bus journey costs a flat £2. Many Londoners have electronic cards that are cheaper to use, so the rises hit visitors to London, occasional users and commuters who start their journey by train. Making London the most expensive city in the world for travel is a great encouragement for the 2012 Olympics! Behind this disaster for commuters and other passengers is New Labour’s infatuation with markets and its hostility to dedicated public services. When the previous Tory government privatised the rail network, New Labour condemned the move. When New Labour came to office, the policy was switched. Now the government gives the rail companies £5 billion a year in subsidies and allows fares to soar because that is what the market dictates. Even other capitalist countries have worked out that a decent public transport system is essential and fares have to stay affordable. The TSSA union compared the £219 London to Manchester (200 miles) fare with the £34.50 it costs to travel from Paris to Calais at any time. Travelling from Madrid to Barcelona (387 miles) or from Berlin to Bonn, (365 miles) costs just £63 in each case. It would be nice to take advantage of these comparatively low fares. Unfortunately, a Eurostar train for the 209 miles between London and Paris, leaving tomorrow and returning Saturday, will cost you a mere £309. There's no cheap escape from Blair's Britain!

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Settling accounts for Iraq

John Prescott’s statement today that the circumstances of the execution of Saddam Hussein were "deplorable" cannot obscure the fact that the New Labour government broke British law by declining to oppose the judicial murder of the former Iraqi president. The government’s silence is just the latest of countless examples of New Labour’s contempt for the rule of law. The fact is that since the abolition of the death penalty in Britain in 1956, it has been official government policy to reject its use in other countries. Since Britain is an occupying power in Iraq following the unlawful overthrow of the Saddam government, it is legally responsible for what takes place in that country. Prescott, the deputy prime minister, cannot hide behind claims that the trial was organised by the Iraqi government. The proceedings were conducted under the auspices of the United States military, who created the kangaroo court that eventually decided that Saddam should hang. Saddam was handed over to the Iraqis only after the sentence had been confirmed. Prescott and New Labour are only embarrassed because the Iraqi authorities proved as brutal and callous in their behaviour as Saddam had to his opponents when it came to the hanging.

This is because the occupation forces have created a monster that to many Iraqis is far worse than life under Saddam. The basics of daily life like power, food and education barely exist in today’s Iraq. Under the Shia-dominated government, sectarian forces run riot. The police force, for example, is largely a cover for death squads and corruption. Figures leaked today show that 2,000 people were killed in Iraq in December, three-and-a-half times the number who died in January 2006. These numbers, which are certainly an under-estimate of the real picture of grief, far exceed the 3,000 US soldiers killed since March 2003. The killing of Saddam will only worsen matters because it is seen for what it was – victor’s "justice", where judges harangued the defendant and defence lawyers were killed. Proceedings were carefully orchestrated to prevent a proper hearing because that would undoubtedly have revealed the complicity of the United States and Britain in Saddam’s repression of the Kurds and the atrocities comitted during the war with Iran that London and Washington backed. The tens of thousands of extra soldiers that the Bush regime intends to send to Iraq in the near future will only intensify the destruction of a country that was invaded on a pretext. Which brings us to the New Year’s honours’ awards. Top of the list was one John Scarlett. He, you will remember, chaired the joint intelligence committee that produced the infamous assessment that contained fantasy statements about Iraq’s weapons’ capabilities. It was spiced up on government orders and was used by the Blairites as part of the justification for the invasion. For services to New Labour, Scarlett was made head of MI6, the counter-intelligence spy agency. On January 1 he was knighted. Arise Sir John of Dodgy Dossier. One day, Prescott, Blair, Scarlett and the rest will be brought to account for their activities which together have produced a living hell for millions of Iraqis. Let’s try and make sure that day is not too far off.

Paul Feldman, communications editor