Friday, March 30, 2007

Rights and beyond

That the Daily Telegraph should choose this moment to help launch Billy Bragg’s campaign for a Declaration of Rights based on open public debate shows how much things have changed in Britain. It is a measure of how far New Labour has gone in destroying the most fundamental rights, some of which, like habeas corpus, were established in medieval times.

Bragg, aka the Bard of Barking, who campaigned for New Labour in the last election, is now denouncing its measures: “New powers will allow the Government to compile data on every citizen; the suspension of habeas corpus and the erosion of right to trial by jury has overturned centuries of convention.”

Also in response to the whittling away of basic rights, a packed meeting of lawyers and rights campaigners met last night in Chancery Lane to discuss proposals for a Bill of Rights for Britain.
Neither Bragg nor those who place their faith in constitutionalism alone are looking beyond parliament to reverse the massive damage done by New Labour’s legal and constitutional demolition job. But in the real world, about 40% of the people in Britain have shown how little trust they have in what is wrongly called “democracy” by withholding their vote in the last election.

These debates give the campaign for a 21st century constitution an added urgency. The big issue is: do we have confidence in the existing political parties and processes to protect and enhance fundamental social, civil and economic rights? We urgently need to go beyond these structures to give voice to the powerless, unrepresented majority of people in society, as the Rights for a 21st Century Democracy document, supported by A World to Win, states:

“The existing system of government fails to represent the interests of the vast majority of people. The current political system is democratic in name only. A market state has replaced the welfare state and parliament’s role is reduced to a farce. The state’s primary purpose is to promote global business and financial interests to the detriment of ordinary people. In Britain, these commercial interests are championed by New Labour. This state operates in an increasingly authoritarian, lawless and tyrannical fashion, from the invasion of Iraq to the suppression of democratic rights and civil liberties in Britain. Pressure and even mass protests are simply ignored. Under the impact of corporate-driven globalisation, key public services are converted into sources of profit for big business. At the same time, the existing state has proved incapable of tackling the ecological crisis that threatens our very existence – indeed, emissions in Britain are 3% higher since New Labour came to power in 1997. Under these conditions, our hard-won right to vote is undermined and the mass of people are effectively disenfranchised. We therefore support the campaign for a written constitution for a truly democratic, republican Britain. human needs, not profit, shape production, consumption and lifestyles."

While we need to preserve and defend the rights gained in the past, this is only possible by making a mental and political leap towards a 21st century concept and practice of rights. You can sign up for the campaign here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Big Brother targets 11 year olds

New Labour's plans to screen young children in search of potential criminals, announced yesterday, shows that Blair and his clutch of co-thinkers have not yet completed their construction of the most comprehensively repressive state machine ever seen in Britain. Despite passing 53 law and order bills since he came to power in 1997, Blair has now put forward proposals which involve universal checks on every child to identify those who the authorities deem to be at risk of offending from the age of 11. Police will also be given the right to take DNA samples from every "suspect" with whom they are in contact. Social services and youth justice workers would "actively manage" children of prisoners, drug users and those deemed to be at high risk of offending. New Labour's plans are so blatantly dictatorial that they drew a stream of protest from readers of the Tory Daily Telegraph. Its online site hosted a stream of warnings about the lurch to a police state.

Stephen Duncan, for example, wrote: "Too much power is being put in the hands of the police. DNA from everyone 'who comes into contact with the police' can include just about everyone. ('You will be reported for doing 32 mph in a 30 zone sir, that will be 3 points and £60 sir, or 6 points if you don't give a DNA sample for our database'). Even our politicians have taken to quoting 'ACPO Rules' but ACPO is merely an association of chief police officers, and in many ways it is akin to a Trade Union, except that it thrives on effectively usurping Parliament and creating de facto legislation. The police must be brought firmly under control before we inexorably find ourselves living in a police state." And we can only agree with Alison, who wrote: "I can't believe that people aren't out on the streets protesting about this. Why do we seem to have accepted this big brother state so easily? I don't understand it. I have always thought of Britain as too sensible to allow this sort of thing. What has happened to us? It is a tragedy. The real criminals are all in government and there are no consequences other than a nice fat pension for those bastards."

Another day, another assault on our rights. Today it’s the division of the Home Office for the first time in its 225-year history. The home secretary John Reid wants to have even greater power in his new ministry for national security. It will be as sinister as it sounds, snooping on what we do, while the “Ministry of Justice” will be more about injustice, filling the jails to the rafters and making sure that all 11-year-olds are on the database.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Child poverty indicts New Labour

The number of children in poverty has increased by 100,000, and all measures of inequality, other than for pensioners, have worsened, according to the latest figures in the annual Households Below Average Income (HBAI) report.

The UK has one of the highest rates of child poverty in Europe despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world. These are shocking figures and confirm the Government’s inability to reach its 2010 target of halving child poverty.

Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s and Chair of End Child Poverty, said “In a country as wealthy as ours it is a scandal that the number of children still growing up in poverty has increased; poverty which blights their life chances, poverty which for many is simply overwhelming. This Government committed to halving child poverty by 2010. These figures show that investment must be significantly extended if that target is to be reached.

"We are the fourth richest country in the world, we are a country where we can countenance individual bankers getting annual bonuses of £22 million while we give a family of two parents and two children, living on benefits, £10,000 to live on for a whole year," Narey said.

Niall Cooper, Church Action on Poverty (CAP) National Coordinator has commented: “This is a tragedy for those children and families directly affected, and an indictment of society at large. In spite of our growing prosperity as a nation, we are failing many of the poorest and most vulnerable in society - including children in particular. As last month's UNESCO report showed, the UK has one of the worst records on child poverty of any developed nation. These latest figures are a wake up call not just to politicians who profess to want to end child poverty but to all of us. We can - and we must - be willing to share the nations' prosperity more equitably, and to invest in our children's' future.”

But calls on the government to increase spending will fall on deaf ears and last week’s budget will push even more families into poverty by increasing taxation of the poor while upper income brackets benefit.

More than three decades of profit-driven globalisation has deepened inequality worldwide. And New Labour has been its greatest advocate. There can be no solution to poverty whilst the global corporations dominate our lives. It is surely time to bring this regime to its end.

Gerry Gold
AWTW economics editor

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Oil, Iran and a British coup

Whatever Iran’s motives for seizing British military personnel, it’s not difficult to fathom out why Teheran is so jumpy. There is the UK-US occupation of neighbouring Iraq, where American forces recently seized – and still hold - Iranian officials, barely-disguised plans to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, the presence of a massive hostile naval force in the Persian Gulf - plus plenty of alarming history. In 1951, the democratically-elected government of Mohammad Mossadeq defied Britain and nationalised Iran’s oil resources. When the British, who had previously exercised effective control over both the country’s oil and revenue, objected, Mossadeq (pictured) went to the United Nations and told the General Assembly: "My countrymen lack the bare necessities of existence. Their standard of living is probably one of the lowest in the world. Our greatest natural asset is oil. This should be the source of work and food for the population of Iran. Its exploitation should properly be our national industry, and the revenue from it should go to improve our conditions of life. As now organised, however, the petroleum industry has contributed practically nothing to the well-being of the people or to the technical progress or industrial development of my country." British appeals to reverse the decision fell on deaf ears.

When the Tories were returned to power later in 1951, Prime Minister Churchill decided that a coup should be organised to effect a regime change in Iran. He won the support of the Americans and from November 1952, the CIA and MI6 began a systematic campaign to destabilise Iran. In the crisis of 1953, the Shah of Persia fled the country after his troops opened fire on protestors. But by August, a faction in the army in the pay of the Americans staged the coup which led to Mossadeq’s arrest and the restoration of the Shah. A CIA file detailing how the coup was planned and carried through, written in 1954, was published by the New York Times in 2000. Mossadeq was jailed and such was his popularity that when he died, he was allowed no funeral, and was buried underneath the floorboards of a room in his house. With the Shah back in control and parliamentary elections abandoned, Western oil companies were free to exploit Iran’s oil once more. The brutality of the Shah’s regime eventually produced a build-up of opposition that led to the Islamic revolution of 1979. When the masses took to the streets, many carried posters with the picture of Mossadeq as a symbol of national sovereignty and independence from colonial powers. On the 12th anniversary of Mossadeq's death, in 1979, an estimated 1 million political pilgrims filed to his home in Ahmad Abad, to pay homage. After the establishment of the Islamic Republic, oil was nationalised once more. Now the wheel of history is turning again. Iran’s oil is crucial to the global capitalist economy but a lack of foreign investment is apparently taking its toll. The country possesses facilities to process only 60% of its own fuel needs and UN-imposed sanctions will make matters worse. The British and American fleets are in the Persian Gulf to protect the West’s oil supplies and are part of yet another plot to destablise Iran. As for Britain’s presence in the disputed Shatt-al-Arab waterway between Iran and Iraq, it is simply another provocation that Teheran has responded to in kind.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, March 26, 2007

Brown's 'coronation' - New Labour's epitaph

The manoeuvrings around the succession to Tony Blair are resonant of the machinations of court circles under a feudal monarchy. There is even talk of a "coronation" for Gordon Brown, just in case people mistakenly think we are still living in a parliamentary democracy where elections used to be custom and practice. Any disturbances inside New Labour are to do with whether Brown could actually lead it to victory at the next general election against the resurgent Tories rather than any issues of principle. After all, Brown, together with his putative challenger David Miliband, have played central roles in transforming old Labour into the party that has wholeheartedly embraced market-driven globalisation and big business. At the last election, for example, corporate donations exceeded those from the trade unions for the first time. The fact that some of these donations are coming home to roost in the form of a police corruption inquiry that has reached into the heart of Downing Street only indicates how cavalier New Labour has been its relationship with business, as well as the law. Now the Tories are saying, if you want Tory-type policies then why not vote for the real McCoy. The middle-class who switched to New Labour in droves are lapping this up while large sections of working-class voters gave up on New Labour a long time ago.

There are organisations that could potentially halt Brown’s crowning at Westminster – the trade unions. They know that Brown and Blair represent exactly the same thing politically. Derek Simpson, the leader of Amicus, has even said you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between the two in terms of policies. If they were really serious, they would put their weight behind MP John McDonnell’s campaign as the candidate of the left. He is putting forward socialist policies in a direct challenge to New Labour’s programme of breaking up public services and courting the corporations. McDonnell needs the endorsement of 44 MPs to win the right just to be on the ballot when Blair steps down next month, which is a very tall order. If one of the big trade unions were to put its weight behind McDonnell’s campaign he would at least stand a better chance of getting on the ballot as MPs came under pressure from the outside. Yet Simpson and other union leaders are lining up behind Brown in yet another betrayal of their members’ interests, despite the fact that they will get nothing in return. The truth is that New Labour came into being as a sort of transitional organisation, one that could get the British economic and political establishment over the hump of the tired and divided Tories. Far from putting an end to Toryism, New Labour has created the conditions for its revival under David Cameron. In so doing, it is has written its own epitaph.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, March 23, 2007

It's more than a game to Palestinians

When England fans arrive in Tel Aviv to watch tomorrow’s Euro 2008 qualifier with Israel, they’ll be entering a country in political turmoil. The Olmert government is mired in corruption and facing a devastating report into last year’s attack on Lebanon, which will show that although it was planned well in advance, it was a disastrous adventure. Israel’s government is increasingly isolated and facing organisations like the Boycott Israeli Goods campaign, which will hold a vigil in London to coincide with the England match. The vigil will commemorate those Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces while playing football. From September 2000 to December 2006, 869 Palestinian children have been killed, a quarter of those were under twelve. Every month an average of fourteen will die. Many have been killed just kicking a ball around.

Meanwhile, observers inside and outside Israel – including former US president Jimmy Carter, whose new book is called Palestine Peace Not Apartheid - are attacking the regime, which is desperately trying to maintain the diplomatic boycott and economic strangulation of the new Palestinian unity government. This was imposed by the major powers following the election which swept Hamas to power in January 2006. Carter lays the blame for the crisis squarely on past and present Israeli leaders. Inside Israel, a major study of Israeli settlement practices by the respected Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem concluded: "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality" A recent publication on the road system Israel has established in the West Bank again concluded that it "bears striking similarities to the racist apartheid regime," and even "entails a greater degree of arbitrariness than was the case with the regime that existed in South Africa". Discrimination is also applied internally to so-called Israeli Arabs, Palestinians who live inside the country. For example, the education system spends on an Arab child one fifth of what it spends on a Jewish one. The health system spends on an Arab citizen much less than on a Jew. Almost all Arab local councils are bankrupt, one of the reasons being that the government pays them per capita much less than Jewish councils. An Arab citizen cannot get land from the Land Authority, which holds almost all the land in Israel.

Though the new Palestinian government is ready to recognise the state of Israel - within the boundaries existing before the 1967 war, Olmert has flatly refused the offer of a total bilateral ceasefire involving a mutual cessation of violence. For 15 months Israel has denied the Palestinian Authority $60 million dollars a month raised in taxes on trade in Palestinian goods which can only pass through Israeli-held docks, airports and borders. This was the main source of income for more than one million of the 3.8 million population, and has deepened the strangulation of the economy which suffers millions of working hours lost through delays imposed at the military checkpoints which encircle the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Olmert’s wretched policies are supported by the United States and Britain, which bizarrely say will only talk to non-Hamas ministers in the new Palestinian government and have still not resumed the aid cut off when Hamas won the 2006 elections. Ultimately, most Israeli politicians will always try to find an excuse to deny the Palestinians their right to statehood. But their policies have created a dead-end in Israel itself. Olmert has the support of only 3% of the electorate and faced a general strike this week. Most Israelis simply want peace. The case for a single, secular state in the area in which Jews and Palestinians can live together grows stronger by the day.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Blair Mark II snubs unions

Gordon Brown’s Budget, with its redistribution of wealth from the poor to the well-off, plus reductions in company taxes and spending cuts, is the firmest indication that he will continue down the path carved by New Labour under Blair. This will surprise few observers except, perhaps, the leaders of two of Britain’s largest trade unions. Derek Simpson of Amicus and Tony Woodley, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union, had hoped beyond hope that the planned merger of their two organisations would force Brown to break from Blairism. Members of both unions voted strongly in favour of the merger, which officially comes into being on May Day, and both leaders have expressed lofty aims for the two million-strong new union. Woodley said: "The new union will be a progressive, organising, fighting back industrial giant focussed above all on winning for our members in the workplace, and taking trade unionism to the millions who need it." And Simpson added: "The new union will be the greatest campaigning force on behalf of ordinary people that has ever existed. It is a precursor to the creation of a single global trade union movement capable of challenging the might of multinationals who seek to play workforces and governments off against each other to reduce jobs and hard-won pay and conditions."

Strong words which, if carried into practice, would surely bring the new union into direct conflict with New Labour, which is effectively sponsored by the very same corporations Simpson refers to. But a few days after the announcement of the overwhelming votes by both sets of members for the merger, Simpson was already on the retreat. He acknowledged that you couldn’t "get a cigarette paper on policy" between Brown and Blair, but added: "Gordon Brown has to be so naïve and stupid if he does not realise he must do something to address the drift away from Labour by both the electorate and by the party membership, or else he will not be prime minister after the next election. He cannot be immune to that fact since we as a union have put warnings to him over and over again. The concern is that Brown is just going to be another Blair, and God, don’t we want a change after 10 years". He went on to say, according to The Guardian, that his only hope was that Brown will adapt to pressure from the party and the union movement. In other words the leadership of the new union is hoping to pressure Brown to break from Blairism — despite Brown having been the main architect of its policies. He is just Blair Mark II

Yet Simpson and Woodley must know very well that there will be no return under Brown to the Old Labour days of intervention and compromise. Since New Labour came to power, the trade unions have been almost invisible on the political scene. The leaders of the unions have mostly swallowed this bitter pill, while protesting meekly. A few like the rail union RMT and the firefighters have withheld the political levy and attacked New Labour’s business policies. But Woodley and Simpson, along with the leaders of the health union Unison, have sat on their hands. They have sought to keep their members tied in behind New Labour on the grounds that there is no alternative. Whole areas of industry have gone without a fight while business has ravaged the public sector, with the official leaders restricting their opposition to words of anguish. No wonder that they have lost members as a result. To defend jobs, services and wages today is a revolutionary challenge and demands a political leadership that is not afraid of new ideas and that will not compromise with New Labour or any other capitalist government. If there is one thing that the recent dispute at BA showed, it is that the cabin crew, all 11,000 of them, were ready for a fight. Even when they had won many of their demands, a lot of them they wanted to go on strike to teach BA a lesson. TGWU officials only just held them in check. They may not be so lucky next time.

Peter Arkell, industrial editor

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Iraq: the facts

As the illegal occupation of Iraq enters its fifth year, following an invasion based on lies, here are some facts and figures. They cover the non-stop destruction of Iraq, the uprooting of about 16% of the population and the horrors of the civil war that has engulfed the country.

  • 2 million Iraqis – almost 10% of the population - have fled their country, scattered in Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran
  • Another 1.9 million Iraqis are estimated to be internally displaced persons
  • The British medical journal The Lancet's study found that about 655,000 Iraqis had died in war, occupation, and civil strife between March 2003 and June 2006
  • Unemployment is estimated as high as 60%, and inflation last year was 50%
  • Fuel and electricity prices are up more than 270% from 2005 levels
  • Acute malnutrition among young children in Iraq has nearly doubled since the 2003 invasion, according to the UN
  • Tea in some markets has quadrupled, egg prices have doubled
  • Sectarian murders rose to 1,200 in December 2006 from 200 in January
  • More than 140,000 American troops are in Iraq
  • Over 3,200 have died and another 24,000 have been wounded
  • There are 7,100 British troops in Iraq; 134 have died
  • 60% of the British public now believe the invasion was a mistake
  • 75% of Americans approved of the war when it began in 2003. Last month, pollsters found that 60% now oppose it
  • Iraqi oil production has sunk from pre-invasion level of 2.4 million barrels a day to 1.9 million barrels a day
  • The $630 billion provided for the US military this year exceeds in real terms the highest annual amounts during the Reagan-era defence build-up, the Vietnam War and the Korean War
  • When Congress approves a $100 billion emergency spending bill in the next few weeks, it will have appropriated $607 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • A gallon of petrol cost as little as US4 cents in 2005. The official price is now about 67 cents after the International Monetary Fund demanded a cut in oil subsidies
  • the number of Iraqis who approve of attacks on foreign troops has risen from 17% in a similar survey three years ago to 51% now
  • 60% of Iraqis questioned in a BBC poll believe that things are going badly in their lives; only a third expect things to improve
  • On 24 September 2002 Tony Blair told the House of Commons: "The intelligence picture… is extensive, detailed and authoritative. It concludes that Iraq has chemical, biological weapons and continues to produce them."
  • March 21, 2007: Still no sign of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Homeowners pay the price

The news on the financial pages is that private-equity group Blackstone is preparing to bring some of its secretive operations out from the shadows and into public view by launching an offering of shares on the stock exchange. We’re not recommending that you buy any.

Like all such fund managers (some call them vultures) they’ve made billions by buying up companies using money borrowed from pension funds and other institutional investors, taking the companies out of public view and accountability (such as it is), forcing mergers, stripping out any fat they can – like duplicate head offices and surplus employees, loading the company with debt, and selling it on. Talk of private-equity turning into its opposite by going public is causing concern in the world of finance. It’s being taken as a sign that the top of the market has been reached. This is adding to the volatility arising from the storms raging in the high-risk US mortgage market known as subprime lenders – the predatory dealers who’ve provided high-interest loans to people on low income on the expectation of increasing incomes and property prices.

Just like those in the UK who are now inventing new ways of lending 5 or 6 times low-paid workers joint incomes, with a 40 year stretch to pay it back who were celebrated in The Guardian at the weekend. Except that the expectations in the US have now been dashed, and lives are being smashed. Latest predictions suggest that there’ll be 1.5 to 2 million mortgage defaults in the US during this and next year as a result of increasing interest rates and falling incomes. If each default is for a family, that’s an awful lot of Americans heading for the streets.

These events are being blamed for the continuing decline on the stock markets globally. And the worry amongst super-rich investment bankers is that things may well get a lot uglier as the big banks that back the failing subprime lenders begin to feel the pain. Some like Ajay Kapur, until recently the chief global equity strategist for Citigroup, the world’s biggest bank, are getting worried about the accelerating growth of inequality.

It’s no wonder that Financial Times’ Investment Editor, John Authers, is drawing attention to the similarity between Kapur’s words and those of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto: “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.”

Authers goes further to predict that inequality “could lead to the dialectical reaction that Marx predicted.” What was the dialectical reaction Marx predicted? A social revolution. Bring it on.

Gerry Gold, AWTW economics editor

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mubarak's 'war on terror'

Under the guise of combatting terrorism, Egypt’s People’s Assembly is today rubber-stamping a vote on constitutional amendments designed to turn the country into a police state. Yesterday 100 MPs walked out of parliament as voting was due to take place. But people in Egypt could not see the protest because television cameras were banned. On Saturday demonstrators confronted riot police and plainclothes agents in Cairo’s central Tahir Square.

President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for 25 years, is notorious for his suppression of political dissent, including the detention of bloggers, who have joined numerous other prisoners held under "emergency laws".

Muslim Brotherhood MPs boycotted the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Peoples Assembly and joined with the Wafd Party, the leftist Tagammu Party, the Nasserist Karama movement and independent MPs to oppose the constitutional changes.The amendments are to be put to a popular referendum in April. The government claims that a third of Egypt’s 78 million people will vote. But in the view of leading bloggers, the turn-out could be as low as 2 per cent. But no one is in doubt of the outcome. The constitutional changes will weaken the role of judges in monitoring elections and give police greater powers of arrest and wide authority to monitor private communications. Those branded as “terrorists” lose the right to trial before a judge and will be tried by military tribunals. At present the label of terrorism is applied even to modern Islamist politicians including the Muslim Brotherhood and others.

Even before this latest move by the Mubarak regime, Egypt’s Association for the Assistance of Prisoners has said that human rights conditions in Eygpt are even worse than those documented in a US Bureau of Democracy Report published on March 6, which documented torture and killings in police stations.

The MB operates openly despite being banned since 1954, but last week over 80 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were detained after the group said it was boycotting the parliamentary vote on the amendments.Mubarak’s government will use what has been described as a “constitutional coup” to stop the Muslim Brotherhood before it makes electoral gains. President Mubarak wants a smooth transfer of power to his son Gamal and the increasing popularity of the MB stands in his way. Members of the Brotherhood running as independents hold nearly one-fifth of the 454-seat lower house of parliament.

Amongst those at the Cairo demonstration on Saturday were members of the Kifayah (Enough!) movement. One Kifayah leader said: “These are not constitutional amendments, it’s a constitutional coup. The aim is to block the remaining channels of democratic participation and resistance, and the ability of the judiciary to address wrongs in the system. The government’s aim is to gain complete control of elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to becoming Egypt’s largest opposition was aided and abetted initially by British imperialism in its campaign against Nasser’s revolutionary movement. Subsequently it worked with Sadat, Mubarak and the CIA to destroy sorely needed secular and socialist alternatives. Mubarak’s latest lurch to dictatorship shows that he is playing with fire and will only strengthen the hand of reactionary religious movements.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW Secretary

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bird flu: a bonanza for Big Chicken

A corporate vision of globalised, full-integrated factory farms and slaughterhouses churning out standardised birds for supermarket shelves is being drilled into decision makers using the threat of a bird flu pandemic. The corporate bonanza is destroying traditional poultry systems and poultry biodiversity that hundreds of millions of people depend on for their food security and livelihoods. In the wake of the recent bird flu outbreak at Bernard Matthews’ turkey factories in Norfolk, Big Chicken – the group of huge and powerful corporations that have grown to dominate global poultry production in recent years – are rampant. A new report shows that agribusiness, Big Pharma and international agencies are using avian influenza to maximise corporate profits and push forward even deeper changes that will further squeeze the poor. It was produced by GRAIN, an organisation that promotes sustainable management and agricultural biodiversity. The report reveals that local resistance is gradually building, producing tensions between small producers, governments and UN agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organisation where corporate lobbies are entrenched. GRAIN’s report shows that although authorities are finally acknowledging the role played by the poultry trade in spreading the virus, the message to poultry farmers is still, "Get big, really big, or get out".

In Indonesia, Russia, India and Egypt, as well as in the UK, governments and the international agencies are rushing to the industry's defence, turning the bird flu crisis into an opportunity for the larger corporations to consolidate their control. GRAIN’s report says that the company that probably first brought bird flu to Vietnam is ready to take advantage of the latest crisis. "Charoen Pokphand (CP) will succeed in turning a crisis into an opportunity of development," says Sooksunt Jiumjaiswanglerg, president of CP Vietnam Livestock. The giant Thai-based transnational corporation, which supplies fast-food chains in Asia like KFC, controls around 80% of Vietnam's industrial chicken production and anticipates its growth in the country to soar by 30% per year. "Yet in a nation where an estimated 80% of the country's poultry production was at least until recently in the hands of small scale producers and over 70% of Vietnamese households keep poultry, it is no wonder that many independent poultry raisers are simply taking their chances and going underground," GRAIN reports.

The conflict over avian flu is widening to bring some countries into confrontation with the pharmaceutical giants. Indonesia, following China, has cut the supply of local H5N1 (bird flu) virus samples to the World Health Organisation, in an attempt to prevent big pharmaceutical manufacturers accessing the information to produce proprietary drugs. As GRAIN says, the whole power imbalance cemented into this system is grotesque. Poor countries supply "raw materials", for free, to a global pharmaceutical industry that concentrates market power and reaps huge profits through monopoly privileges called patents. Meanwhile, it is the poor countries that are facing the biggest public health problems. Indonesia has been calling for the WHO and others to help them develop the capacity to produce vaccines for themselves. But pharmaceutical corporations like Syngenta, Novartis and Pfizer are fighting ferociously in India, Thailand and the Philippines to prevent compulsory licensing and generic manufacturing. Any vaccine against a bird flu pandemic and the technology to produce it, should be shared and made available for free. The patent system serves little purpose in the health field except to enrich drug companies and their shareholders and is a barrier to tackling threatened pandemics like Avian flu, which themselves have their origin in industrialised agriculture.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Trident and the case for regime change

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the American and British governments fabricated stories about Saddam Hussein’s supposed array of weapons of mass destruction. These were said to include nuclear and biological devices, with missiles capable of being launched in 45 minutes. UN weapons inspectors could find no evidence that Iraq had such capabilities. Their work was cut short before the inspectors had an opportunity to visit all the sites on their list. Despite, or because of, the lack of proof, the invasion of March 2003 followed soon afterwards. All the consequences of this imperial adventure for the Iraqi people are too painful to observe. Another result is that ordinary people in Britain have also become prime targets for terror attacks. Well, if the alleged existence of WMD is a ground for regime change, surely the same logic should apply even more forcefully to a government that actually admits it has them. In this regard, New Labour entirely fits the bill. The vote in parliament to renew the Trident nuclear missile system means one thing above all else: the government is prepared to launch these weapons in anger. Ministers are ready to commit mass crimes against humanity in breach of international law.

In the days of the Cold War, successive governments argued that nuclear weapons were needed to counter the alleged threat from the Soviet Union. Well, this hasn’t been the case for more than 15 years. So spending £20 billion on new missiles – a vote only made possible by Tory support – is justified by the Blair/Brownites on the spurious grounds that we live in an uncertain world with threats as yet unknown just around the corner! This is real 1984 stuff. In George Orwell’s book, truth and reality are inverted and perverted. We are not under attack but we could be at any moment from enemies unknown. So just to keep everyone wound up, it is necessary to be armed to the teeth with weapons that can destroy life on earth within minutes (this, incidentally, a day after the government claimed to be "saving the planet" with its climate Bill). The uncertainty in the world is real enough. But it is a product of an out-of-control globalisation process dominated by rampaging corporations and financial institutions. There is understandable resistance to the imposition of market and Western "values" on other countries. This takes many forms, including Islamic-inspired opposition and terrorism. Pointing nuclear weapons at countries like Iran will only intensify this growing crisis and add to global destabilisation. The case for regime change in Britain, with the aim of scrapping WMD, has never been stronger.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Government 'greenwash' won't wash

Set targets, then rely on the market economy, an expanded nuclear industry and personal sacrifices to make them work. This is what lies at the heart of the government’s Climate Change Bill. All the evidence says this won’t wash when it comes to carbon emissions. Only recently, New Labour’s own inquiry, the Stern report, described global warming as the biggest market failure of all time. Relying on an expanded carbon trading market, which may include tradable personal "footprints", will make no serious impact on climate chaos. New Labour came to power in 1997 pledging a 20% cut in emissions by 2010. Not only has this target been missed, emissions are actually higher and continuing to rise. This is the reality of a global market economy dominated by the operations of profit-seeking transnational corporations, which nothing must be allowed to disturb. While Friends of the Earth and other lobby groups were falling over themselves in a rush to praise New Labour, others were more cautious. Edward Hanna, senior lecturer in climate change at the University of Sheffield, was unimpressed, saying: "(It) doesn't go far enough fast enough to confidently combat the significant threats posed by human-induced global warming. I fear that as we are closing the stable door, the horse has already bolted." Even Christian Aid, said the final legislation would have to be "significantly stronger".

In fact, a recent
report by Christian Aid points out UK-quoted transnational corporations are responsible for far more of the world's CO2 emissions than they would like us to think. Christian Aid tried to find out whether leading companies were reporting their CO2 emissions in relation to their direct and indirect activities. It is hardly surprising that only one-sixth of bothered to disclose their direct emissions to Christian Aid. These alone amounted to 285.83 million tonnes CO2 which were emitted both in the UK and across the rest of the world. Christian Aid estimated this figure would increase to 477.35 million tonnes when the emissions from those who did not respond were included. This is equal to more than half of the UK's national emissions. The fourth annual report of the Carbon Disclosure Project found less than a quarter of the top companies were able to provide data for even direct emissions to an acceptable standard. The situation is even worse in respect to smaller companies, where only 10% were able to provide data on direct emissions! As Christian Aid, points out there is massive under-reporting of carbon emissions even in relation to companies' operations under their direct control.

But as the report discovered, the UK's global footprint extends well beyond its borders, through companies' supply chains spreading out across the rest of the world. Over a third of the top 500 companies reported their emissions were taking place in developing countries. Christian Aid estimated the extent of indirect emissions to be 911.06million tonnes. This makes the combined total for direct and indirect emissions from FTSE100 companies 1,388 million tonnes, two-and-a half times the UK national total and more than 5% of global emissions. These emissions are making a significant contribution towards global warming and climate change, with millions of the world's poor paying a heavy price. It also exposes the myth that all it will take to solve global warming is a change or shift in individual consumer choices. It is clear that capitalism's driving force, unrestrained profit growth, is responsible for the climate crisis we are facing and the globalisation of capital has intensified the problem. No amount of corporate social responsibility reports, or the provision of "transparent" emissions data, will alter the fact that we need to replace these planet destroying transnational corporations with not-for-profit companies. Only then can we evolve truly sustainable operating practices based on needs, both for people and the planet, rather than profit. In that context, New Labour’s proposals are more state "greenwash" than substance. You'd be better off reading Running a Temperature, a real action guide to the eco-crisis, which A World to Win published recently.

Stuart Barlow, environment co-editor

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Profit and loss in the NHS

The Healthcare Commission, the government's health watchdog is launching a safety drive. Officials are concerned about the "alarming" figures on the harm patients suffer in hospital and elsewhere. Various studies estimate that there is a one in 300 chance of a hospital patient dying as a result of medical error. One in 10 is estimated to suffer harm, of whom a third suffer serious harm, and an estimated 600 errors are made a day in primary care with more than one in 10 prescriptions containing errors. Anna Walker, chief executive of the Commission, says "it is time we had a really sustained drive, through the regulators, on safety issues." It would also be putting pressure on the boards of health organisations to ensure that they "monitor, analyse, and learn lessons from safety episodes" in their hospitals, and then act on them. These are admirable sentiments but there is little hope of seeing any improvement in the near future. After decades of market-oriented initiatives to undermine the not-for-profit, tax-funded, socialised medicine provided by the NHS, the service is in disarray. Up to 20,000 staff have lost their jobs in the last year and most trusts are in deficit. But there is worse to come. At the same time as hospitals are being asked to improve safety, they are also being told to identify the services and treatments on which they could turn a profit. In the last resort, that could lead to some ceasing to provide services that do not make money. The move marks a further injection of market disciplines into the National Health Service and is being promoted by Monitor, which was set up by New Labour in 2004 to regulate foundation trust hospitals. By the end of next year it will expect all NHS hospitals applying for foundation trust status to scrutinise their balance sheets in this way. William Moyes, Monitor's chairman, said the aim was to "understand profitability, efficiency and quality - and to strike the right balance between the three", he said, with hospitals merely "behaving like any other business" and understanding their profit and loss centres. Moyes is well-placed to drive the profitability agenda in the NHS. He was Director-General of the British Retail Consortium from 2000 to 2003; a member of the economic secretariat in Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet Office in the early 1980s; joined the British Linen Bank (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bank of Scotland) in 1994 and established their Private Finance Initiative advisory and equity investment team, which focussed on large deals mainly in health. With Blair’s bankers in control the health of the NHS is under attack like never before.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bush's 'road to hell'

It has taken the Bush administration an exceptionally long time to summon up the political will to tour Latin America – almost seven years in fact. You can see why the White House staff were nervous. Latin America is in the middle of a popular revolt against the burdens of globalisation and legacies of foreign debt. As a result, Bush’s tour has been dogged by demonstrations and protests, beginning with a meeting with Brazilian president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva in Sao Paulo, where police used tear gas and attacked peaceful marchers with batons. In Colombia 7,000 police were drafted into the capital, Bogota, with 14,000 more ready as reinforcements. They set up road blocks to prevent protestors reaching the president. Police fired water cannons and tear gas, and the students hurled back rocks, fireworks, a few Molotov cocktails and dozens of "potato bombs". The demonstrators opposed a recent US-Colombia free trade agreement and accused Washington of meddling in the country’s internal affairs through vast sums spent on military aid. Indigenous Maya leaders have said they will perform a special cleansing ceremony at Iximche, one of their historical sites being visited by Bush today near Guatemala City. Opposition to Bush’s tour has been bolstered by an alternative effort by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who has been conducting his own tour from Argentina to Haiti and on to Russia. At the weekend, Chavez described capitalism as "the road to hell". In Nicaragua, he accused the US of interfering in the region, adding: "The North American empire is trying to snuff out the flame of liberty."

But Lula is no Chavez. Inequality in Brazil has grown sharply under the rule of the Workers’ Party, despite its pledge to tackle poverty. The Brazilian president and Bush met at a fuel distribution plant in Sao Paulo, to celebrate, Lula said, a strategic partnership between the United States and Brazil. The countries are currently the world's biggest producers of ethanol. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim signed a deal making ethanol an internationally-traded commodity and promoting its production in Central America and the Caribbean. The new "ethanol alliance" has been hailed by the Brazilian media as a first step towards an "ethanol Opec". But behind the economic deal is an ugly reality. Brazil’s biofuel programme was launched under the country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s after the oil crisis of 1973 spurred the ruling junta to pour public subsidies into the sugar industry to produce ethanol. The so-called "green revolution" is linked with air and water pollution on an epic scale, together with deforestation in the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests, as well as the destruction of the country’s savannah land. No amount of legislation is likely to prevent the destruction as this is usually ignored by the agribusinesses which control the industry. Lula’s "energy revolution" also comes at a heavy cost to those who work in the vast ocean-like sugar cane plantations. In one rural town at the centre of the renewable energy boom, Palmares Paulista, migrant workers from northern Brazil are described as being effectively slaves. They work 12-hour shifts in temperatures of over 30 degrees C for little over 50p per tonne of sugar cane cut. These are the grim conditions behind Lula’s hope to persuade the US to give Brazil favourable trade conditions in the current round of World Trade Organisation negotiations.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary

Friday, March 09, 2007

New Labour's dead soul

If anything was still needed to convince people of the debased and degraded nature of the social system presided over by the New Labour government, the Freud report – which proposes ways of reducing the number of people on benefits - would fit the bill. As most people have come to realise, the external appearance of every New Labour initiative is an inversion of its true intent. And this one is no different. Whilst presented as a way of helping long-term jobless into work, the real motivation is to turn the benefits system into a money-spinning bonanza for private sector traders. A quick look at the track record of the author, David Freud, great grandson of Sigmund, tells you all you need to know about his interest in those who have been jobless for a year or more, single parents and the long-term sick and disabled. As a stockbroker and banker, Freud was at the centre of the global financial revolution of the 1980s, which he describes as a battle-ground of individualism. He played a pivotal role in the flotation of the now hopelessly-indebted Eurotunnel. At Warburg, his Euro Disney team launched the first truly pan-European flotation, raising £600m – only to be faced with potential disaster when the price went into tail-spin. He was obliged to admit to Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott that his team raising the finance for the Channel Tunnel Railway Link had got their sums massively wrong. – by £1.2bn. And he was a leader when it came to raiding pension funds to finance big deals. Playwright David Hare described Freud’s autobiography as, "a highly readable, morally ambiguous account of twenty crazy years of buoyant capitalism". All in all, just the sort of man New Labour needed to sort out those obliged to eke out a life on the dole. You can almost hear the rubbing of hands in the City of London, as the idea of creating a market out of joblessness joins the equally odious market in carbon emissions. It’s all highly reminiscent of Nikolai Gogol’s devastating satire Dead Souls. The main character, Chichikov, having invented a quick route to riches, travels the countryside in 19th century Russia, meeting local landowners and offering to buy the legal ownership rights to dead serfs, for whom taxes remain payable until the next census. The more "dead souls" he owns, the higher his social status will grow, until he is able to use them as backing for a huge loan to buy a large estate to which he can retire. At least, that’s the plan. Very New Labour.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Reports of Baudrillard's death are somewhat exaggerated

Did Jean Baudrillard exist? Did he have an objective, tangible reality? Or was he just a figment of our imagination, a mere media contrivance? If that’s the case, is he really "dead"? These are just some of the intriguing questions posed by reports of the death of the French post-modernist thinker and social theorist. Baudrillard was best known for his concept of "hyperreality" - the theory that we can no longer tell what reality is because we have become lost in a world of "simulacra", images and signs created and presented as "real" by the mass media. This viewpoint led Baudrillard into some irrational, if not downright reactionary, assertions. These are encapsulated in his 1991 book, The Gulf War Did Not Happen. In it, he claims that the war existed only a symbolic level and the conflict itself was largely a staged set-piece "video game" of computer effects and CNN graphics. Although he acknowledged that terrorists had attacked the Twin Towers in September 2001, he described the assault as largely a "dark fantasy" manufactured by the media. The terrorists, he wrote, were only putting the finishing touches to "the orgy of power, liberation, flows and calculation which the twin towers embodied". The horror of the victims in the towers, he added, "was inseparable from the horror of living in them". One critic wrote: "It takes a real demonic genius to brush off the slaughter of thousands on the grounds that they were suffering from severe ennui brought on by boring modern architecture."

In The Mirror of Production (1973), Baudrillard had renounced his early Marxism. He suggested that Marx's theory of workers becoming alienated from the means of production was rooted in the tenets of 19th-century capitalism and was irrelevant in today’s world. His switch undoubtedly reflected the disillusionment many French intellectuals felt with the dogmas of Stalinism, which dominated the country’s left movements. In political practice, the Stalinists of the French Communist Party had restricted the 1968 revolutionary General Strike movement to limp demands for a general election. This cynical manoeuvre allowed the French bourgeoisie led by De Gaulle to cling to power where their overthrow seemed the easier option. Baudrillard’s sweeping rejection of Marx was not just about economics, however. What Baudrillard also did was to repudiate the materialist dialectical philosophical standpoint. Here, objective reality exists independently of consciousness, is in constant movement and change, can be cognised in thought and altered through practice. It wasn’t long before Baudrillard’s philosophical somersault won him cult status in some quarters, especially among contemporary artists. His views seemed to suggest that they were right in thinking that art has no purpose beyond its own promotion.

The rise of the information economy, the overwhelming presence of image and a world market based on increasingly sophisticated forms of specialisation are, at a superficial level, a vindication of the post-modern view. The emphasis on identity, plurality and, above all, consumerism, taken together seem to blur the difference between image and reality. The global corporations understand this too and their marketing often creates a fictitious world where, as the adman says, you can be what you want to be. Baudrillard and his fellow French post-modern thinkers like Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and Lyotard, have undoubtedly helped in sharpening our understanding of this new world disorder. Baudrillard’s views are represented in hugely popular films like The Matrix and The Truman Show, for example. Ultimately, however, the post-modern view leaves us trapped within the status quo. While criticising aspects of contemporary capitalism, it lacks the confidence and belief that it is possible to transform reality for the better. Baudrillard once remarked, "I keep a distance from the world which, for me, is not truly real". For the countless millions struggling against poverty, hunger, disease, war, climate change and authoritarianism, the world is all too real. Baudrillard may have rejected Marx, but it is to the 19th century German we turn to for the last word. In criticising the limitations of the thinker Feuerbach he wrote: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Libby takes the rap - is Levy next?

Every regime needs a fall guy (or woman) or two. In the United States, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby now holds number this unenviable title. Yesterday he was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI. He took the fall for both Cheney and President Bush in a case that goes to the heart of the false information put out to bolster the case for war against Iraq. Peculiarly, Libby has also taken the rap for the New Labour government on this side of the Atlantic. For the disinformation involved concerns allegations that Niger was selling uranium to Iraq that would be used to restart that country’s nuclear programme. The source for this fantasy was London. In his State of the Union address in January 2003, Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Both governments and their intelligence agencies knew this to be totally untrue and that the documents that purported to show the sale were crude forgeries. But never let a few facts stand in the way of an invasion that had already been decided upon. When a career diplomat sent to Niger later exposed the story, the White House struck back with a vengeance. The diplomat’s wife was a spook, a leading CIA agent. Her name and work suddenly appeared in the press. Several journalists testified that Libby conveyed this information to the media, although he was not charged with this federal offence.

The Niger connection first appeared in the infamous "Dodgy Dossier" put out by the Blair government in September 2002. That dossier was cobbled together after Downing Street exerted pressure for the agencies to come up with what Blair wanted to hear. Libby, a leading member of the neo-con circle that had seized power in Washington, took the matter one step further. He helped Colin Powell, then secretary of state, draw up the now discredited dossier that was put before the UN Security Council on the eve of the invasion. The Niger claim was repeated, with Powell openly thanking Jack Straw, then foreign secretary. For the origins of the Niger claim, you have to go back to 2001. According to the Italian newspaper La Reppublica, the documents purporting to show the sale by Niger of 400 tons of uranium were offered to Bush by the then Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in October of that year. The CIA dismissed them as forgeries and the matter was apparently dropped. But the Bush regime had already set up a parallel, secret spy network because of its distrust of the CIA. That group met with Italian intelligence officials in Rome later in 2001 and by all accounts resurrected the Niger connection. This was then recycled through British intelligence and back to the United States. Libby was essentially convicted of a cover-up. His prosecution says as much about internal conflicts within the capitalist state as it does about the rule of law. A question suddenly springs to mind. Could Lord Levy of Cashpoint, as he is known, suffer a similar fate to Libby’s? Could he end up being the fall guy for others? The Metropolitan Police is apparently determined to pursue the cash-for-honour scandal until the bitter end, when normally the men in blue would find easier ways to run up the overtime bill and move their careers on. Apparently, there is no smoking gun that shows peerages being offered in return for donations to New Labour. But it is suggested that there is mounting evidence of a cover-up and that the police will recommend charges be brought. Either way, the morning papers don’t make pleasant reading for Messrs Bush and Blair.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Losing the opium war

Afghanistan is set to produce record volumes of opium this year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Which is some achievement, considering the country has effectively been under the control of the United States and Britain since 2001. Already, Afghanistan produces 92% of the world’s supply following a doubling of poppy growing between 2005 and 2006. Production accounts for one-third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is the mainstay of large numbers of farmers. So the official "war on drugs" is about as effective as that other "war", the one on terror that spurred the invasion of Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban government. The Taliban, it will be recalled, had eliminated poppy production, which is used to make heroin for sale around the world. Their overthrow was supposed to lead to a new dawn for Afghanistan. Instead, it has produced another round of foreign occupation, widespread corruption and, of course, the return of the Taliban in key areas, including those where poppies are grown.

The Afghan government and UN officials advocate the eradication of poppy fields as the crude solution. "This year we have given a strict message to farmers," stated Zemarai Bashari, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior. "We will destroy all poppy fields." About 550 policemen have been sent to Helmand and neighbouring provinces, including Kandahar, where they have successfully eradicated more than 3,000 hectares of poppy fields. That figures looks minuscule compared with the 172,600 hectares that experts believe were under cultivation last year. Government forces and local poppy farmers who have yet to be provided with alternative sources of income frequently come to blows. Last month, clashes between eradication forces and local farmers in Nangarhar province, in the east, killed one and wounded three. "They [the eradication police] destroyed my small field only because I did not have money to bribe them," Shahzada, a farmer in Helmand, complained. "For those who know officials or have the means to bribe them, their fields remain safe."

Aid agencies have criticised the government's strategy for being ineffective and incompatible with the realities of impoverished Afghans. "This is a strategy promoted by the US and the UK," asserted Gulalai Momand, deputy country manager for the Paris-based Senlis Council, a policy and development group, which recommends licensing poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. "It alienates Afghan farmers from their government." The government has imposed restrictions on the council's activities in the country, warning the organisation not to advocate authorised poppy cultivation, which the council says could be used for legitimate medical purposes. Yet in the absence of tangible alternative livelihoods that could realistically meet the basic needs of destitute Afghan farmers, explained Momand, "it is counter-productive to emphasise solely eradication and a narrow-minded strategy". Meanwhile, American forces have killed at least 18 civilians in the last couple days in Afghanistan. In one incident US Marines went on the rampage after a car bomb near the eastern city of Jalalabad. Witnesses say American soldiers fired indiscriminately into groups of Afghan cars and pedestrians as they tried to escape the area. Protests erupted almost immediately after the attack. Hundreds of demonstrators reportedly blocked off key roads as they chanted anti-American and anti-western slogans. Just as in Iraq, the military adventure in Afghanistan brings no benefit to the local people at all. For that to happen, we need quite different kinds of governments in Washington and London, ones that would provide technical and financial support in a totally unconditional fashion and delivered without bayonets.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, March 05, 2007

The real climate change swindle

In the world of Channel 4 it’s probably called balance. Tonight, George Monbiot is given air time to expose the sham that is the New Labour government’s "commitment" to cutting carbon emissions. Later this week, Channel 4 is broadcasting the "Great Global Warming Swindle", in which alleged experts will claim that the world’s scientific community is lying about the causes of global warming. As we know from the "Big Brother" experience, Channel 4 is not averse to ratcheting up viewing figures by getting the contestants to mouth offensive, some would say racist, comments. But there is more to the "Great Global Warming Swindle" than meets the eye. Behind this programme is one Martin Durkin. In 1997, Durkin, then from the TV company Kugelblitz, made a three-hour series for Channel 4 called "Against Nature", which targeted environmentalists, presenting them as "the new enemy of science" and as comparable to the Nazis. Environmentalists were responsible, the series argued, for the deprivation and death of millions in the Third World. Channel 4 had to broadcast a prime-time apology after the Independent Television Commission ruled that interviews with contributing environmentalists had distorted or misrepresented their known views.

The "Great Global Warming Swindle" will undoubtedly follow the same, right-wing, pro-business line. As Monbiot noted at the time of the 1997 "Crimes Against Nature", the essential links were to a network then centred on the magazine LM, formerly known as "Living Marxism", which was published by the "Revolutionary Communist Party". As Monbiot explained at the time, the assistant producer Eve Kaye, was one of the principal co-ordinators of the RCP/LM. Though Durkin denies any link with LM, "Against Nature" precisely follows the organisation’s line. The series starred Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University and LM's most influential thinker, and John Gillott, LM's science correspondent. Monbiot says: "’Against Nature’ followed the agenda laid down by LM: that greens are not radicals, but doom-mongering imperialists; that global warming is nothing to worry about; that ‘sustainable development’ is a conspiracy against people; while germline gene therapy and human cloning will liberate humanity from nature." Durkin was then commissioned by Channel 4 to make yet another business-friendly programme, this time in defence of genetic modification for Channel 4's Equinox' series. "Modified Truth: The Rise and Fall of GM" was broadcast on March 20 2000. It presented GM food as perfectly safe and vital to feed the world’s starving people.

The LM group, notorious for denying and covering up atrocities during the civil war in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, are exceptionally well placed in establishment circles. Their reactionary views dressed up in pseudo left-wing clothes are simply adored by Channel 4 and others. Leading member Claire Fox, for example, is a regular on BBC’s "The Moral Maze". She is director of the so-called Institute of Ideas. Furedi regularly turns up in the columns of The Times. The organisation LobbyWatch notes: "Former RCP members control much of the formal infrastructure of public communication used by the science and medical establishment. They hold key positions in Sense About Science , the Science Media Centre, the Genetic Interest Group, the Progress Educational Trust, Genepool and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. They have used these positions to promote the interests of pharmaceutical and biotech companies and to dismiss the concerns of the public and non-governmental organisations." LobbyWatch points out that given most of the people who have taken these posts do not have a background in science, "colonisation of these bodies is unlikely to have happened by chance’." Enough said.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, March 02, 2007

A real climate action plan for London

Some time soon, humanity will officially become a city-dwelling, not a rural, species. UN figures for urbanisation published in the State of the World 2007 report, show that more than 60 million people are added to the planet’s cities and suburbs each year. Most of them are moving into poor areas in developing countries. The report says that unplanned urbanisation is taking a huge toll on human health and the quality of the environment, contributing to social, ecological, and economic instability in many countries. The centrifugal pull of cities is a key feature of the development of global capitalism. But while the market economy pulls people into cities, it does not meet the social costs of having them there, or the environmental costs of reckless unplanned development. It is left to over-stretched urban governments, to work out how to develop and run cities that are not a blight on the planet’s ecology and a nightmare for their inhabitants.

The publication this week of the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s climate change action plan could have been a clarion call, offering a lead to the cities of the world, whose combined power could truly expose the inaction of national governments and galvanise populations into action. Unfortunately, the mayor’s plan does no such thing. It says nothing about removing cars from the capital, relying instead on the regressive congestion charge. There is nothing in the plan criticising business or the way production for profit abuses resources and drives climate change. And while it recognises the potential for new technologies to reduce emissions - for example creating power from waste without incineration – these are left as pious hopes for some unnamed future. The emphasis is on increased "efficiency" measures combined with some cash to help needy Londoners insulate their homes. The mayor’s plan calls on the government to deliver "a small number of key national regulatory and policy changes". These centre on introducing market mechanisms like carbon pricing, which is capitalism’s fantasy "solution" to climate chaos. The mayor, who is constantly inviting businesses to build yet more gigantic offices in London, even hopes that the capital might become a home for the emerging global carbon market as a result!

This touching faith in technology, business and the New Labour government to reduce carbon emissions is totally misplaced. As the plan admits, the UK is the world’s eighth largest emitter of carbon dioxide. London is responsible for 8% of these emissions. Taking economic and population growth projections, London’s emissions are projected to increase by 15% by 2025. Only drastic and immediate action that disrupts business as usual can reverse this situation and prevent the Thames from breaking through the barrier at Greenwich and flooding vast areas of the capital. Here are some of the things the report could have said:

  • cars will be banned from central London as an emergency action
  • supermarkets and big stores will have to find alternatives to the wasteful use of massive lorries for deliveries
  • no more out-of-town shopping centres will be built
  • commuters can park for free around London before catching public transport
  • the mayor will invest in car pools to discourage private car ownership
  • fares will be slashed on rail, Tube and bus to encourage public transport use
  • plans will be made to preserve what’s left of local shops and high streets from the global corporations
  • campaigns will be launched against further airport expansion and for upper limits on the number of flights in and out of London
  • no more gigantic office blocks will be built in the City of London
  • the City’s resources, currently used for speculation, should be used to fund solar panels and local combined heat and power supplies.

Cities are certainly part of the problem at present, but by mobilising populations to bring about real social and political change, they can be transformed. Running a Temperature, which was published recently by A World to Win, outlines how this can be achieved.

Penny Cole, co-author Running a Temperature

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Privatising probation boosts the market state

The forcing through on Wednesday night of the Bill to part-privatise the probation service is one more New Labour act in the creation of a market state to replace the welfare state that developed in the period after World War II. Although more than 40 New Labour MPs voted against this latest privatisation, another 310 or so allowed the government to gain its victory in the House of Commons. Behind these fundamental changes lies the power of the globalised market economy to reduce the direct influence of the state and, at the same time, put a price on everything. Allowing private companies to provide probation services at a stroke dilutes the role and responsibility of government while creating new areas for profit making. The role of New Labour in facilitating this process overrides any other consideration that might raise its head, such as the growing crisis with youth offending, which privatisation is certain to accelerate.

Privatisation of the state and its functions has overtaken whole areas of what were formerly public services. In health, companies running private treatment centres, with patients supplied by the NHS, have unbreakable contracts. So when primary care trusts run out of money, as most have, they are forced into drastic cuts in local hospital care to balance the books because private firms are untouchable. In London, the part-privatisation of the Tube network courtesy of Gordon Brown allows firms to make huge profits while passengers endure overcrowding, delays and ever-increasing fares. What the Tories started with gas, electricity and rail, New Labour has taken much further. In secondary education, private-financed and run "academies" are increasingly dominant. And many are under the influence of religious groups who want to substitute creationist mumbo-jumbo for scientific theories of evolution. Care for older people, which was formerly the responsibility of local authorities, is now almost entirely in the hands of private companies. Support for the elderly in their homes is now severely rationed and many are forced to endure dire conditions as a result of the indifference of the local state to their plight. At the heart of the state, private corporations like IBM, KPMG, Accenture, Capgemini are having a field day as "consultants". They milk almost £3 billion a year in fees from the state for providing advice on how to rationalise and privatise services. Their fees, which are in the range of £2,000 per person per day, shot up 33% in the NHS between 2003 and 2006. In many government departments, consultants often constitute a parallel administrative arm which bypasses civil servants and provides direct access to ministers. The new, market state has at the same time assumed draconian powers over its citizens and adopted a war-like posture to the rest of the world, as the Iraqis in particular have discovered. The market state, along with the New Labour government, is truly harmful to the interests of ordinary people.

Paul Feldman, communications editor