Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The real Chinese heroes

It is two weeks to the start of the Beijing Olympics and while the athletes settle into their spanking new village, they might spare a thought for the thousands of Beijing residents who normally earn their living by picking and recycling rubbish. The city authorities this week rounded them up and shipped them out for the duration.

And while authorities claim journalists can interview any willing citizen, they won’t hear the stories of the hundreds who used to head for the capital to petition central government over local abuses. Last October, the authorities bulldozed the shanty town where most out-of-towners end up and since then made sure these malcontents don’t make it to Beijing.

The Olympic village is fully-equipped with broadband wi-fi. But throughout 2007, the censors took down hundreds of websites and blocked access to thousands of others for Chinese citizens. Human Rights Watch has tested the “improved human rights” promised to the Olympic authorities, and found that:

“Ordinary citizens face immense obstacles to accessing justice, in particular over issues such as illegal land seizures, forced evictions, environmental pollution, unpaid wages, corruption, and abuse of power by local officials, a situation that fuels rising social unrest across the country.”

There is a continuing revolt against the corrupt bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party, with hundreds of demonstrations, strikes and protests across the country. A ruthless Stalinist-style resettlement programme is uprooting whole populations for both economic and political reasons. Tibetan herders are forced to resettle in cities for no other reason than to destroy the culture and cohesion of Tibetan society. And around four million people will be forced from their homes by the gargantuan Three Gorges Dams project.

China will field the biggest Olympics team with 639 participants and some will become famous worldwide. But there is another roll-call of Chinese heroes – the many hundreds of political prisoners. Like Chen Yuping, sentenced to one and a half years hard labour in May 2008. Fellow workers elected Chen to represent them during lay-offs by the state-owned Jilin petroleum company. He applied to the city authorites for the right to organise an independent trade union and was jailed as a punishment.

Kong Jun got two years for “disrupting government institutions" and "disturbing social order". She and a fellow activist from Shandong province organised protests against managers at the Huamei Garment Company. They had not paid workers’ wages or national insurance for over a year before declaring the firm bankrupt.

Kong Youping got 15 years in September 2004 for “subversion of state power”. Formerly chairman of the official trade union at a state-owned enterprise in Liaoning province, he supported laid-off workers and criticised government corruption. He was sacked, and then joined others in the struggle to form an independent union.

Jiang Cunde was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1990, commuted to 20 years in 1994, on trumped up charges. Jiang was working at the Dong Xin Tool Repair Works in Shanghai, when he called for Chinese workers to “imitate the model of Poland’s Solidarity Trade Union to overthrow the present political powers”.

These and other brave individuals represent many millions of Chinese workers in struggle against the arrogant and corrupt Stalinist government. The word for “solidarity” in Chinese is tuandui jingzhen. Learn what it sounds like – we could be hearing it voiced by millions in the near future.

Penny Cole

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Convention for democracy

When communities come up against the New Labour steamroller they don’t back off – they get angry. That’s what brought people together on a hot Saturday afternoon to discuss what to do if, as is likely, the government presses ahead with plans to expand Heathrow in the face of the overwhelming case against a third runway.

While the aviation minister Jim Fitzpatrick has announced a delay in the decision, no one should think that this because the government is necessarily looking for a way out. There is the small matter of the Planning Bill, which is on its way to becoming law. Once on the statute book, local concerns could be safely ignored.

A new unelected, unaccountable planning quango is to be set up – the Infrastructure Planning Commission – which could bypass local opposition and fast-track the proposed expansion. The government's plans will mean hundreds of people will lose their homes and tens of thousands more will have their lives blighted by noise and air pollution.

The frustration was clearly felt at the conference in Hayes organised by Hacan-Clear Skies, the No Third Runway Action Group (NoTrag) and the Climate Camp, who pitched their tents at Heathrow last year to bring attention to these ruinous proposals.

John Stewart from Hacan explained how even the business community was retreating from unconditional support for Heathrow expansion. The rail union RMT has published a new study compiled by John Stewart which found that investment in high-speed rail could be a viable alternativeto the expansion of Heathrow. The report, Who Says There Is No Alternative?, also established that tens of thousands of new jobs would be created if planned investment at Heathrow airport was switched to new high speed rail lines.

If rational argument alone could win the day, then New Labour’s plans would have been consigned to the dustbin a long time ago. But ministers are pressing on regardless. As Christine Taylor of NoTrag told the conference, they simply do not care when they are told that thousands of children would have their lessons ruined by expansion. You could go on adding zeros to the numbers affected and it would still make no difference, she said. The conference discussed various forms of direct action and protest activities to keep the campaign in the media spotlight.

Yet there is a common theme that unites Heathrow campaigners with people opposed to new nuclear power stations, privatised polyclinics, hospital closures, so-called “eco-towns”, persecution of migrants, green belt erosion, rail and Tube fair rises and a host of other issues.

What potentially brings these campaigns together is the fact that the government, which has created an undemocratic business state, just dumps decisions on local communities egardless. “Consultation” is a farce because the ultimate decision is always a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, official propaganda is designed to confuse and divide opponents. The gap between the state, the government and the mass of the people grows on a daily basis. The overwhelming majority in Britain are disenfranchised, their views ignored and their voices silenced.

That is why going beyond direct action to raise the essential questions about democracy and who rules Britain is critical. Community action groups, while maintaining their own campaigns, could come together in a permanent Convention to work on overriding issues of power and democracy.

How do the aspirations of the powerless majority not only get heard but acted upon? As the present political set-up is undemocratic and authoritarian, shouldn’t ordinary people themselves discuss and propose alternatives? A national initiative along the line of a Convention on democracy would be a tremendous step forward.

On October 18, A World to Win is sponsoring the Stand Up for Your Rights festival. We want to reconnect with historic struggles for rights in Britain towards building a movement that can take control of our lives away from New Labour, the state and the corporations. That’s obviously an ambitious goal but one we should start working towards today.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, July 25, 2008

'New economics' is old hat

There were earthquakes on both sides of the Atlantic yesterday. By mid-afternon, US financial stocks had suffered their worst one-day fall since 2000 after the release of figures showing sharp drops in US home sales and house prices. Several hours later, New Labour lost Glasgow East, one of its safest seats, to the Scottish Nationalists. Translated into a general election, the result would all but wipe out Gordon Brown’s party.

The events are self-evidently connected and the depth of the global economic and now political crisis has prompted a return to the drawing board by the New Economics Foundation and others. The NEF’s A Green New Deal, has analysis and proposals to deal with the “triple crunch”: the global financial crisis, climate change and the rapid depletion of oil.

There’s no doubting the report’s appreciation of the depth of the developing cataclysm, though on many counts they underestimate its extent. But far from offering anything new, their analysis invokes the ghost of economist John Maynard Keynes and the spirit of US President Roosevelt’s failed attempts to resuscitate the economy during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The report brings together some of the influential actors on the liberal left and government advisors. They include Larry Elliot, economics editor of The Guardian, Tony Juniper and Charles Secrett, former directors of Friends of the Earth, Jeremy Leggett, a leader in bringing solar technologies to market, and Ann Pettifor who led the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief.

Their ambitions are bold. The group aims to forge a broad new political alliance, promoting “joined-up thinking” (a long-abandoned mantra from New Labour’s first term of office) about what they say are the four systems that dominate our world: the market, the state, civil society and the eco-system. This, they hope, “will lay the basis for a radical transformation and renewal of our financial, political and ecosystems”.

Sounds stirring and even faintly scientific, doesn’t it? But in reality this is a travesty of systems thinking, a travesty of science, and a travesty of economics. There are many things they’ve chosen to ignore. Look again at the vaguely Maoist “four systems” list. No sign of the global web of hugely powerful corporations, or of the employees of their subcontractors whose labour produces the commodities for sale in the markets.

Look again at the targets of “radical transformation and renewal”. The underlying economic system isn’t there either. Is this just an oversight? No, this group of nine are just a few of those who are desperate to cover up the central role of the economy in precipitating the looming inter-related, multi-dimensional global upheaval of which they recognise just three aspects.

The number of people who realise that the capitalist system is at the root of the crises is growing rapidly. Those that haven’t already are losing faith in the ability of New Labour to come up with a solution of any kind. Just look at Glasgow East. In invoking the 1930s, the Green New Deal is a concerted attempt to corral those who justifiably fear for the future into a campaign for a life support system for capitalist production.

At the heart of the proposals are a return to regulating the financial sector, raising funds by windfall taxes on oil and gas companies, and using these and pension funds to make loans to companies investing in clean-energy infrastructure be repaid out of future profits. The report is peppered with patriotic-style phrases like “the need for mobilisation as though for war”. It’s an old and dangerous story, one that ignores the power over governments gained by the transnational corporations during the growth frenzy of the last 40 years.

The urgency of building a movement to replace capital, not to rescue it, cannot be overstated. This will mean a major programme extending social ownership to all sectors of the economy, ending the distribution of profits to shareholders, and replacing the system of selling labour for wages with collective decision-making about the distribution of an organisation’s income. Clearly this is not something the existing political and economic system can deliver. We need a new politics as well as a new economics.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Energy short-cuts spell danger

Two reports published today highlight the growing and acute dangers of leaving New Labour in charge of Britain’s energy future.

Firstly, a damning report from Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee says the government risks locking Britain into high levels of carbon emissions for decades to come, if it permits new coal-fired power stations to be built before technology to capture and store carbon (CCS) is available.

The committee says there is no guarantee that a plant approved on this basis would actually be willing or able to retrofit CCS even once the technology had been demonstrated on a commercial scale. This would depend on the price of carbon at the time. “Without a deadline for the retrofitting of CCS, the Committee believes that planning permission granted on the condition of CCS readiness is meaningless,” the report says.

It calls on the government to set a date by which emissions from all power stations will have to reach a particular standard or face closure. “By setting such a deadline and making its intentions clear the Government will send a vital signal to the power generation industry about the future of coal and the importance of developing and retrofitting carbon capture and storage.” And they continue: “Coal must be seen as a last resort, and the possibility of CCS technology must not be used as a fig leaf to give unabated coal-fired power stations an appearance of acceptability.”

And in a second report, the government has effectively admitted that the main purpose of its new Planning Bill is to short-circuit and circumvent local opposition to new nuclear power stations. It has set out draft criteria for siting proposed nuclear plants, which will be finalised by the beginning of next year. At that point, developers will be invited to nominate sites that meet the criteria, and “in 2010, a National Policy Statement will be published which would include a list of the sites assessed as strategically suitable for building new power stations”.

The criteria state: “Subject to Parliamentary approval of the Planning Bill, this would in turn guide the work of the Infrastructure Planning Commission in dealing with specific planning applications on those sites. It will be the Infrastructure Planning Commission that would decide on applications from developers. If approval is given, it is expected that construction of new nuclear power stations could begin in 2013-2014, in time for producing energy from 2017-2020.”

For anyone not clear about what this means (including the majority of Labour MPs who caved in at the last minute to enable the Planning Bill to be passed) the legislation will speed up the process of granting permission for new nuclear power stations dramatically. It will prevent the public from effectively opposing them, and by setting up the “independent” Infrastructure Planning Commission, prevent the public from putting pressure on local and national politicians.

All of this makes clear that Britain’s alternative energy future is looking very like its energy past – which has led to a situation where the UK has never once met any target for emissions reductions – and ensuring that it will not do so in the future.

Even though the Stern Report clearly stated that global warming was a result of “market failure”, the government’s only policy for energy is to sustain the profitability of the existing energy market. It has no plans to deal with climate change by investing in energy efficiency, improved public transport, or alternative energy sources. Another case of New Labour isn’t working.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Monday, July 21, 2008

From welfare to warfare

A smiling Gordon Brown pictured sitting in a helicopter gunship at the weekend may have been dreaming about new ways to persuade disillusioned voters to back him or simply how he was taking New Labour further down the road from welfare to warfare. For today, the government declared war on people scraping by on miserly state benefits.

Heavily-trailed proposals will compel the long-term unemployed to clean streets and pick up litter – not for a wage but just to go on claiming their benefits. Those who decline will be left without a penny. Naturally, the Tories are cock-a-hoop because they thought of these ideas first. So naturally they will vote with the government when these plans come before parliament.

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell said that his plans would "transform lives". He is right there, although perhaps he should have said “destroy lives”. And yet people still tell me that however bad this government is, the Tories would be worse! The only people they are fooling are themselves.

Actually, these proposals are no more than the modern version of the Poor Law and the workhouse introduced in 1834 by the newly-enfranchised capitalist class. Relief, as it was called in those days, was conditional on being in a workhouse. The only alternative was starvation, especially in rural areas.

The contrast with how the government treats global economic elites could not be greater. As Purnell was knocking the last nails into the coffin of the welfare state, news was emerging about how the government had caved into caved into business demands over foreign profits taxation. According to the Financial Times: “The concessions mark the latest in a string of climb downs by the chancellor, who has been forced to rewrite large sections of his Budget and pre-Budget report, including proposals on income tax, capital gains tax and fuel duty.”

Proposals to impose a worldwide tax on “passive” income, such as royalties from intellectual property, provoked a backlash from leading transnational corporations. Some decided to relocate their headquarters to Ireland for tax purposes. So this week the Treasury will announce that these anti-avoidance proposals have been axed. “Business felt the changes [to the anti-avoidance] rules were not acceptable or workable and we’re talking with them to resolve those concerns,” a Whitehall official said. So that’s alright then. Business has spoken and, as usual, has got its way. The weak, the poor and those on benefits have no clout and so they get clobbered.

Still the illusions in New Labour persist in some quarters, especially amongst the supine trade union leaders. In exchange for keeping the party afloat financially, this week they will present a shopping list of demands to Brown with the aim of getting him to change course and avoid electoral disaster. They simply don’t get it and never will. New Labour and Brown are not for changing. They are 100% committed to meeting the needs of global capital, insofar as they can, as the climb down on tax confirms.

As the economy goes into freefall, with unemployment climbing rapidly, the attacks on working people will intensify. We will have to defend our interests independently of the state and the weak-kneed union leaders. Our Stand Up for Your Rights festival and rally in October is a contribution towards building such a movement and you should register to join us there.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, July 18, 2008

Policies for the crisis - finance

Centrica’s prediction of a 60% rise in household energy bills over the next two years comes as dire news for the millions already drowning in unaffordable debt. It signals a continuing upward price spiral which is rapidly eroding the value of wages and salaries, just as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) foreshadows the onset of a global recession.

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic are forced into taking desperate measures to stave off financial collapse. The Treasury is busily rewriting Gordon Brown’s rules to allow more government borrowing in the wake of US support for the shareholders in bankrupt housing finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Now that the credit-induced boom has reached its limit, there is a reluctance on the part of the authorities to follow the free-market logic of allowing bankrupt companies to fail, and shareholders lose their investments. Instead, responsibility for interest repayments on the debt to keep profits flowing to shareholders will be passed to those least able to pay it – the taxpayers. Some analysts call it socialisation of debt, with the assets remaining in private ownership.

The most radical of alternative proposals designed to get over the credit crunch is for the US government to follow the UK’s action on Northern Rock and nationalise the bankrupt housing agencies. The sums involved make the Rock’s £40+ billion debt pale into insignificance. As the guarantors of half of all US mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hold more than $5 trillion of debt.

The consequences of any of these attempts to rescue the system from the effects of its implosion are too horrible to contemplate. The last crisis on anything like this scale was in 1929. The crash was followed by a global slump, fascism and war. It is time to start on a new path before history repeats itself in the most tragic way.

A World to Win believes it is time to move from a globalised world capitalist system to a concept of local stewardship acting in the interests of global society. New forms of co-ownership of the major production and financial resources, should be enshrined in law in place of the private ownership for profit of the corporations, banks and investment firms.

Many of the component parts of the system of interdependent global corporations and financial markets that have been developed to sustain an increasingly socialised form of global and local production can be reused or recycled. We need to preserve these advances in a new global economy oriented towards the satisfaction of needs. Capitalism can and should be composted.

The distribution of profits to shareholders – the current private owners of capital must cease. Stock, currency and other markets for speculation should be closed. The financial system will be based around mutual funds and credit unions, owned and controlled by investors and borrowers.

The wealth generated by workers realised from sales of their products should be distributed according to the following principles:

• a part will be paid to the workers in the enterprise. An individual's income from employment will be set in relation to the basic living wage, supplemented by skill and performance-related amounts.
• a part will be retained for reinvestment in, and further development of the organisation.
• the value generated by an organisation, over and above the wages paid to workers, and the amounts retained for reinvestment, will be divided amongst the Social Needs Funds.
• these funds will support education and research; health and social care; recreation and the arts; infrastructure development including energy, communications and transport; pensions, and incomes for those unable to work through disability or illness.
• the proportion of the social surplus allocated to each of the various Social Needs Funds will be determined through planning rounds controlled by an entirely new democratic process.
• International trade transacted through a global currency will eliminate money-market speculation and assist the move to equality.

Many will say that these ideas are fantastic and Utopian and will never be taken up. Well, the present economic and financial system is heading rapidly towards a catastrophe, with all that entails. Our alternative requires revolutionary change, it is true. Its merit, however, is that provides a unique opportunity to shape our own future rather than having it decided for us by governments acting directly for corporate and financial interests.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Greenwash won't wash

Politicians, local government and business leaders, gathered in London yesterday at a giant greenwash conference sponsored by The Guardian newspaper and (you couldn’t make it up) by energy giant E-On. Yes that’s E-On, the company planning to build vast new polluting coal-fired power stations across the country with the government’s enthusiastic support.

Delegates were discussing how to re-engage the public in the debate and overcome “climate change fatigue” and scepticism. They were treated to a video contribution from prime minister Brown. What did he say? We don’t know – it was either so top secret or so dull that it hasn’t even made The Guardian’s own pages.

But he did make a speech on Monday about the transition to a post-oil economy, where he insisted that Britain must build more nuclear power stations. Brown called for "a renaissance of nuclear power", adding: "Britain is moving quickly to replace its ageing fleet of nuclear power stations. All around the world I see renewed interest in this technology, as countries contemplate the alternative - continued oil dependence and unchecked climate change."

His officials claim Brown that believes the new reactors could be working by 2017 (although 2030 is more realistic), and that this will be made easier by new planning laws which will cut out public opposition. These new laws are heading for the statute book after all but a few Labour MPs dropped their opposition to the fast-trick procedures at the last minute.

Brown wants to replace the nine existing power stations, which are rapidly becoming obsolete, on the same sites, but possibly building more than one in each location. They will be of the European Pressurised Reactor model, currently under construction in France and Finland. Or rather not under construction in France. In fact, since Brown made his speech at President Nicolas Sarkozy's "Club Med" conference of EU and Mediterranean states in Paris, one can imagine Sarkozy whispering to him behind his hand: “Gordon, Gordon, we ‘ave ‘ad to stop work on our new reactor – eet eez a deesasterr.”

The French nuclear safety agency stopped work on the new EPR reactor in Flamanville in May this year, only six months after it began, when it found serious problems with quality of construction work. Greenpeace reports: “Cracks have already been observed at part of the base slab beneath the reactor building. The supplier of the steel containment liner reportedly lacks the necessary qualifications. Fabrication of the liner was continuing despite quality failures demonstrating the lack of competence of the supplier. As a result, one-quarter of the welds of the steel liner of the reactor containment building were deficient.” And the other EPR, in Finland, has been under construction for more than two years and costs have doubled.

It is entirely likely that Brown’s nuclear fantasy will never come to fruition – it does have something of a megalomaniac fantasy about it. But that is not the point. As Greenpeace says: “We only have a limited time and budget to stave off the most catastrophic effects of climate change and we must stop pouring money down the nuclear black hole.”

Involving the public in debate and overcoming scepticism won’t be achieved by more sponsored greenwash, but by a clear expression of the causes and future impacts of climate change alongside a programme to tackle it. Most people believe that climate change becomes just another excuse for the government to levy more taxes and for the energy companies to make more profits – and so far they are spot on! It is time to democratise ownership and control of energy production, putting people before profit, and establishing a massive programme of publicly-funded energy efficiency, public transport and alternative energy projects. Now that would get public support.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Winning the council workers' claim

The 48-hour strike by 600,000 council workers is testimony to the strength of feeling among the low-paid, rank and file of the Unison and Unite unions. Whatever doubts they may have had about striking would surely have vanished yesterday when official inflation figures showed prices rising at their highest rate since 1992.

With the cost of feeding a family shooting up by 10% in a year, the 2.45% offered to council workers by the employers – backed up by the New Labour government – is the equivalent of a substantial pay cut. Eggs have soared by over 37% in price, butter by 31.%, fresh milk by nearly 20% and potatoes by 17p in the pound.

The impact is felt greatest by those with the least amount to spend – those on strike today and tomorrow. In the pipeline are huge increases in gas and electricity, while the cost of petrol rises almost on a daily basis as the global corporations try to maintain their profit margins.

The question is: How is the modest claim for an increase of 6% or 50p an hour more to be won? The government has made it plain that “fighting inflation” is its priority. In ordinary language, that equates to holding down wages in the public sector while prices soar. New Labour is backed by the Tories, who control the employers’ negotiating body.

If union leaders like Dave Prentis of Unison are really serious about winning the claim – and there are real doubts about their intentions - they must make this week’s strikes a starting point for a campaign to defeat the government because, make no mistake, that’s what is involved. One or two-day stoppages will not achieve this and run the risk of demoralising strikers.

Unison and Unite leaders must prepare for all-out, indefinite action which is co-ordinated with other unions who have outstanding pay claims, like the teachers and civil servants, some of whom are also out on strike today. A decade of cosying up to New Labour has produced few results, as shown by the 48-hour strike. Now union leaders must listen to their members and totally reject New Labour’s policies, which are aimed at offloading the crisis on to the backs of ordinary workers.

The unions should lead a real fight against inflation which would rouse public support by campaigning along the following lines:

* Creating price committees of producers and consumers. These should analyse the real cost of food and fuel, exposing the profiteering and price-fixing that goes and propose sustainable, not-for-profit alternatives.
* Demanding that supermarket chains cut prices. Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons racked up £4.5 billion in profits last year alone by exploiting producers, staff and consumers. Instead of distributing profits to shareholders, the profits should be used to reduce prices.
* Campaigning for common ownership and control. If, as is likely, the supermarket chains refuse to play ball, the unions should campaign for them to be taken into common ownership and run on not-for-profit lines.
* Reorganising government priorities. By ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cancelling the Trident nuclear missile replacement programme, state subsidies could be made available to make food and fuel affordable.

Just like the Tories, Brown and company are tied hand-and-foot to big business interests. If winning the strike involves breaking, even bringing down, New Labour, the government’s demise would be no great loss. Such an event would create a unique opportunity for trade unionists and other workers to discuss new political possibilities as well as real solutions to the deepening economic and financial crisis.

Paul Feldman
AWTW Communications editor

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Manchester Convention and 'ulterior measures'

Revolutionary, at times insurrectionary, movements against the state have a significant place in the history of the struggle for rights in Britain in the late 18th century and in the first half of the 19th. They used the device of a “Convention” to advance their cause, borrowing the term from the name of the revolutionary legislative and constitutional assembly which sat in France from 1792-95.

Which brings us to the Convention of the Left being held in Manchester in September. A World to Win supports this Convention as a timely opportunity to discuss the crisis of political leadership in Britain and how to go forward. The Convention is called not so much as to coincide with the New Labour “conference” being held in Manchester at the same time, but as a result of a decade of Blair and Brown governments and what they have done to the party.

Before New Labour, the party was the main political leadership in Britain of working people and those generally hostile to capitalism, and had been so since the 1920s. This is patently no longer the case. The reasons for this are worth rehearsing yet again because they can help explain the dilemma facing all those who will be at the Manchester Convention.

Put simply, the era of being able to deliver even modest reforms of capitalism has evaporated with the onset of the corporate-driven, transnational market economy, aka as globalisation. This is the process that produced New Labour, which has transformed Labour into a party that champions corporate and financial power. The evidence is stark, and includes the massive transfer of wealth to the private sector (see yesterday’s blog).

Moreover, New Labour has refashioned the capitalist state to make it fit for purpose. Every sector, from prisons, to housing and education, is driven by the mantra of markets and choice. This unholy alliance between capital, the state and New Labour cannot be undone in favour of some earlier political and economic period. It has to be shattered and scattered.

The conditions for achieving this are maturing. The growing hostility to New Labour coincides with and is driven by the raging financial crisis, which is taking a rapid toll of jobs, homes and living standards. Yesterday’s sudden takeover of the troubled Alliance & Leicester by Santander and the US government’s attempt to rescue the country’s big two home loan banks are striking indications of a profound crisis.

With the government intent on offloading the crisis on to the backs of ordinary people, and bankrupt of any other ideas, its future is limited. In fact, it would be difficult to envisage New Labour surviving a banking collapse. A weakness of the Manchester Convention’s agenda is the absence of major discussion on the global economic and financial crisis and what the response should be.

Another gap is to do with political perspective. With the reformist agenda in ruins, and the parliamentary state both paralysed and increasingly authoritarian, the question of a new, alternative political power is posed in an insistent way. Conventions called by the Radical movement in the 1790s and the Chartists in the late 1830s challenged the emerging capitalist state. The Chartists, especially, understood the relationship between political and economic power and that they needed a plan B if the state refused to concede to their demands.

The Birmingham Chartists Convention of 1839 drew up a “Manifesto of Ulterior Measures”, which included proposals for a general strike and the arming of the people. It asked its fellow Chartists: ”Whether by all and every means in their power they will perseveringly contend for the great objects of the People's Charter, and resolve that no counter agitation for a less measure of justice shall divert them from their righteous object?” Attempts at insurrection were carried through, with an armed uprising in Newport the high point.

The most militant of the demands were drawn up by the revolutionary and socialist, Bronterre O’Brien. He was the delegate to the Convention from Manchester. September's conference could do worse than draw up a modern version of the Manifesto of Ulterior Measures.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, July 14, 2008

The privatised hell of Britain PLC

A secret document has revealed the shape of things to come as jobs and livelihoods are threatened by economic meltdown. Global corporations will be employed by the government to break strikes under the guise of carrying out public services and responding to national emergencies.

Global Solutions, aka Group 4, is to be awarded a £100 million contract to act as a strike breaker, should the fire services be involved in industrial action. The plan which came to light over the weekend, and is due to be approved in the autumn, means that Group 4, will receive a one-off up-front payment of about £10 million, to be followed by £9 million a year over the life of the 10-year contract in return for supplying a pool of staff as cover.

The company would then be called on in scenarios such as pandemic flu, a catastrophic incident or industrial action. And, as Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack has warned, the taxpayer will foot the bill for replacing the fire services with privatised strikebreakers. The FBU is coincidentially gearing up for industrial action in London following attempts by the employers to impose a pay cut.

Group 4 has done extremely well out of New Labour, and now has 30,000 employees and a turnover of £1.1 billion. It has become the largest “security solutions” company in the UK. The company is not alone in cashing under this government, however. New research reveals that a staggering one third of all the UK’s public services are now carried out by the private and voluntary sectors – double the level when New Labour came to power.

The study commissioned by the government from economist DeAnne Julius shows that the government has encouraged the handover of public services to global corporations at such a rate that they the sector has now overtaken the United States as a share of gross domestic product. Total spending on private and voluntary provision has nearly doubled from £42bn in 1995-96 to over £79.4bn at in what amounts to a massive transfer of wealth to companies.

DeAnne Julius is Chairman of Chatham House and a non-executive director of BP and the pharmaceutical corporation Roche. She also serves on the advisory boards of UK and US hedge funds and is vice president of the Society of Business Economists. She was an advisor to British Airways and Shell and a former director of the services company Serco. The incestuous relationship between the government and companies like Serco, BT and Capita will be cemented further this week as business minister John Hutton goes on a trade mission to the United States to promote their services.

Outsourcing is not simply a cash-cow to increase corporate profits. There are other, equally sinister aspects. The effect of outsourcing can be seen clearly in the prison and immigration services, where seven out of the ten main immigration detention centres in the UK are run by private companies for profit under contract to the Home Office. They maximise profits at the expense of the human rights of the detainees.

A report today by the law firm Birnberg Peirce, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns exposes how private security guards have abused hundreds of failed asylum seekers during their violent removal from Britain.

The report's authors conclude: "We have found an alarming and unacceptable number of injuries have been sustained by those subject to forced removals. This dossier provides evidence of widespread and seemingly systemic abuse of one of the most vulnerable communities of people in our society, who have fled their own countries seeking safety and refuge."

This is just one example of what happens when big business and the state join together under the executive director of Britain PLC, one Gordon Brown.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win Secretary

Friday, July 11, 2008

Policies for the crisis – housing

The worsening recession is taking an increasing toll on jobs, mortgages and home ownership, and threatens to bring down the entire banking system at the same time. Housebuilders are laying off workers, mortgages are virtually unobtainable while many owner-occupiers cannot afford to maintain payments and face the prospect of repossession.

Mark Clare, chief executive of Barratt Developments, one of Britain’s biggest housebuliders, says the company will lay off 1,200people out of its 6,700 employees. Yesterday, he warned that job cuts across the industry could reach 60,000 out of 300,000 people employed in the sector. The 20% fall in building jobs is only part of the story as it does not take into account the secondary effect on the supply chain, comprising manufacturers and suppliers of kitchens, solicitors, mortgage advisers, and estate agents.

Add in a free-fall in house prices – they are predicted to slump by up to a third – and you can see why the disintegration of the entire British banking system is gathering speed. The banks are loaded with bad debt, the result of playing fast and loose with the global financial system and giving mortgages to anyone who asked, irrespective of whether they could make the payments. Now the banks are finding it virtually impossible to raise new capital to shore up their balance sheets and are staring at the abyss. In the US, shares in major mortgage holders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have slumped to their lowest level since 1991. They hold a half of all American mortgages.

As the onset of recession turns to slump on a scale unprecedented in history, some are invoking the ghost of Lord John Maynard Keynes, who among other things advocated the printing of money by governments to stimulate growth. They despondently call for a unified approach by the world’s governments and central banks to reflate the economy by reducing interest rates, reintroduce controls on capital movements and "rebalance" the relation between capital and labour.

This is simply not going to happen under conditions of a fully globalised economy and financial system, which operates to a great extent outside of the control of central banks and governments. Just witness the paralysis at this week’s G8 in Japan for verification. The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee yesterday ignored the frustrated Keynesians, and sat on its hands, unable to raise interest rates for fear of worsening the recession, or lower them for fear of accelerating the prices spiral. No solution can be found that won’t worsen the already desperate state of the economy.

Fortunately, the citizens of the United Kingdom include many millions who have lived their lives following different objectives. Those who have worked in the NHS, in education, in the social services, even the BBC, and, before they were privatised, the railways, buses, electricity, gas, post and telecommunications - and the rest of us who have used their services are aware that things can be organised differently to meet needs rather than make profits for shareholders.

It is to those millions to whom these policies are addressed, both individually, through their communities and the many campaigning organisations including unions, to which they belong.

* No-one should lose their home through mortgage payment default.

* Housing should be built and used to satisfy need rather than as a source of income or profit for developers, speculative builders, investors and landowners.

* Development land including crown and church holdings should come under the control of Community Land Trusts.

* The funds of all mortgage lenders should be transferred to existing or new mutual organisations under the democratic control of committees elected by and accountable to savers and borrowers.

* The titles to all mortgaged properties should be transferred to local authorities or housing assocations and placed under the control of committees including occupants’ elected representatives.

* All mortgage debt should be cancelled and renegotiated as either affordable rents or repayments determined by the cost of new building and the ability to pay.

In the meantime, we should campaign for a collective refusal to pay what amounts to mortgage debt blackmail. It’s time to turn the tables on those responsible for the credit crunch by crunching back.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tube cleaners show the way

While Londoners struggle to get about on the Tube system each day, workers who keep the carriages and stations clean are enduring Dickensian conditions and employment practices. An heroic three-day strike by mostly migrant workers belonging to the RMT transport union has exposed how the employers run a brutal hire-and-fire, low-wage system.

At a rally at the House of Commons earlier this week, London Underground cleaners’ leader Clara Osagiede denounced contractors as “feudal lords”. Managers behaved like characters out of Dickens’ Oliver Twist towards their workforce. “While Tubeline and Metronet make record profits and managers earn £600 per day, cleaners work under terrible conditions,” she said. The 700 cleaners voted almost unanimously for a strike in pursuit of a London Living Wage and to end wage rates as low as £5.50 an hour.

The strike, she said, was also about dignity and fairness, as well as improved conditions including free travel. Cleaners needed this especially they were sometimes had to move from one station during their work. The London Underground is one of the most notable transport systems in the modern world, Osagiede said, and yet cleaners were treated as if they were slaves. She herself had been suspended from work a number of times for her trade union activities.

Tube cleaners were bullied, denied sick pay and pension rights and “looked upon like non-entities” until the RMT union came to their rescue and educated them”, she told fellow trade unionists and anti-privatisation campaigners. She thanked activists from Feminist Fightback and others for supporting the cleaners with direct action and on the picket lines. She denounced the leadership of the Unite union which had allowed its members to be used as strike breakers.

At the packed meeting, called by the Labour Representation Committee and sponsored by MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, RMT president John Leach stressed that contractors like ISS, ITX, ICM and GM were not “cowboy outfits”. In reality, the Mayor of London and the government stood behind them. RMT research had revealed that Tubeline was making £1m in profits per week for the three lines it managed.

Yet cleaners not only endured low wages, they did not even have the right to a disciplinary hearing but could be sacked without knowing the reason. Conditions had returned to the days of casual labour, when the first workers to queue up each morning would get a day’s work and the rest dismissed. He believed that the struggle for rights would “get harder before it gets easier”.

Matt Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union, pointed out that bonuses paid in the City of London were higher than the yearly government spending on the fire and emergency services, Wrack spoke of the link between the struggle against racism and for trade union rights. “This year is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, who was supporting a strike of municipal workers in Memphis when he was killed,” the FBU secretary said. “Today, under New Labour, a city-wide strike of workers in solidarity with the cleaners would be illegal.”

The solid support given by cleaners to the RMT’s strike call and their courage in the face of suspensions and racist discrimination proves that even the most downtrodden and vulnerable workers are ready to respond, given leadership. A World to Win salutes their courage. At the same time, as a number of speakers emphasised, they face the full brunt, not only of London Underground but the New Labour government acting on behalf of cleaning companies, many of which are now part of global corporations.

Securing the most fundamental rights today means working for a system in which anti-trade union laws have no place. As other unions get drawn into the struggle against rising prices and sackings in the gathering economic storm, A World to Win calls on all trade unionists to support our festival for rights on October 18.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win Secretary

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A racist state

What’s the connection between 42 days detention for alleged “terror suspects”, the mass targeting of black people for stop and search, a sharp rise in racist attacks and the planned introduction of identity cards? Answer: each represents an aspect of an institutionalised racist state under the direction of the New Labour government.

When Gordon Brown’s party finished an astonishing fifth behind the openly racist British National Party (BNP) in the recent Henley by-election, observers put it down to general disenchantment with the government. Another way to look at it was that the BNP was reaping what New Labour had sown in a state-inspired racism combined with supreme indifference to poor white working-class voters.

The plan to hold people for six weeks before charge under so-called anti-terror laws, is clearly targeted at British-born minorities. The relentless scapegoating of the Asian community in this and other ways was bound to whip up hostility, especially in areas of high deprivation. And now we have the figures to show this. More than 61,000 complaints of racially motivated crime were made in 2006-07, a rise of 28% in just five years. Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "We're getting more British Muslims reporting to us that they feel anti-Muslim prejudice is increasing in society. There are incidents of attacks against mosques and Islamic schools."

But it is not just Asians who are the targets. Thanks to laws passed under this government, police have new powers to stop people in the street and demand they account for themselves. These powers were used a staggering two million times in 2006-07, according to government statistics published yesterday. This statistic, while incredible enough in itself, contains an even more frightening, not to say racist, aspect. For black people were on average two and a half times – in some areas it was five time - more likely to be stopped than white people.

It gets worse, much worse. The data shows that black people are still seven times more likely to be stopped and searched - as opposed to stop and account; three and a half times more likely to be arrested; and five times more likely to be in prison. All this is taking place before the introduction of ID cards linked to a national database. No prizes for guessing which communities are most likely to be asked to produce their ID cards in the street.

Yesterday, the plans for 42 days were savaged in the unelected House of Lords, of all places. Even for the former head of the spy agency MI5, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, condemned the very idea, declaring: "I have weighed up the balance between the right to life – the most important civil liberty – the fact that there is no such thing as complete security, and the importance of our hard-won civil liberties. Therefore, on a matter of principle, I cannot support 42 days' pre-charge detention.”

Their Lordships’ response shows again just how pathetic the overwhelming majority of New Labour MPs in the House of Commons are. They have sat on their hands (except when it comes to claiming vast expenses) and watched while the government has gone about constructing a racist, authoritarian state which the Tories are almost certain to inherit. What an achievement!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Let them eat cake

Few gatherings of world leaders can have shown greater political impotence alongside callous indifference than those currently gathered in Hokkaido, Japan, for the annual G8 summit. Protected from protestors as usual by a massive display of force, they are truly the leaders of the new world disorder.

Yesterday they discussed famine in Africa and rising food prices. But organisations like Oxfam had already sounded the alarm bells about whether commitments made at Gleneagles as long ago as 2005 will actually be adhered to. As to even earlier promises, Oxfam declared: “The Millennium Development Goals that were set out in 2000 were chosen because they were ambitious, but also because they were realistic and achievable. The current delays in meeting these commitments are a disgrace.”

But are the G8 leaders really bothered about the world’s poor and hungry? Judging by the lavish feast for Bush, Brown and company laid on by the Japanese hosts, the answer is a resounding ‘No’. While the prime minister was urging Britons to tighten their belts and stop wasting food, he and the other G8 leaders sat down to replenish themselves with an eight-course, 19-dish dinner prepared by 25 chefs. Perhaps the fact that there had only been four courses and wine for lunch had merely whetted their appetite.

Billed as a "world food shortages summit" – which is costing £238 million to stage - there was no sign of that at the banquet at the luxury Windsor hotel. The starter alone included caviar, sea urchin, smoked salmon, hot onion tart and winter lily bulb. Hairy crab Kegani bisque-style soup was another feature in a meal prepared by the Michelin chef Katsuhiro Nakamura. Other dishes included milk-fed lamb, roasted lamb and black truffle.

Marie Antoinette reputedly told starving French peasants to go and eat cake if they couldn’t afford bread. And we know what happened to her as a result. But that’s rushing ahead. What about the G8’s capacity for getting to grips with the world economic crisis and accelerating climate change by showing some political leadership? Not much doing on that front either, I’m afraid.

A statement released today could only say: “We remain positive about the long-term resilience of our economies and future global economic growth.” As to rising oil and food prices, the G8 leaders were only concerned that they posed a “serious challenge to stable growth worldwide”. Then it was back to insisting there was no alternative to the market economy and that “globalisation is a key driver for global economic growth and strong, prosperous economies”.

This is simply unreal. The corporate-driven globalised economy is facing its biggest crisis since 1929. A seemingly insoluble credit crunch is linked to falling output, rising prices, sharply increasing unemployment (especially in housebuilding where sales have slumped) and a loss of confidence. By all accounts, the Chinese economy is also coming off the rails at a rapid rate.

The G8 communiqué simply poured oil on troubled water and was followed this morning by a further crash in shares in London, with troubled lender Bradford & Bingley heading for total meltdown. The British Chambers of Commerce's (BCC) quarterly report didn’t help. A survey of almost 5,000 small, medium and large businesses suggested that the UK is facing a serious risk of recession within months.

As for cutting carbon emissions, the G8’s fine words cut no ice with environmental campaigners. “This is a complete failure of responsibility. They haven't moved forward at all. They've ducked the responsibility of adopting clear midterm targets and even the 2050 target is not a single thing more than what we got in Heiligendamm," said Daniel Mittler, political adviser for Greenpeace International, referring to the German town where last year's G8 was held.

So back to Marie Antoinette. Just like her, the G8 leaders are promoting a failing economic and political system at the expense of the masses. A movement in the spirit of the French Revolution of 1789 would be the best response.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, July 07, 2008

Support Southall Black Sisters

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) is making a landmark High Court challenge to London Borough of Ealing later this month. The organisation, which has protected women’s rights for nearly two decades, faces closure due to the withdrawal of £100,000 of annual funding by the Tory-controlled council in West London.

In April, a judge granted SBS permission to proceed with legal action against Ealing Council for its failure to have proper regard to its duties under the Race Relations Act. A full hearing of the case is scheduled for July 17 and 18, when supporters are invited to join a demonstration at 9.30am outside the High Court in the Strand.

Ealing council is seeking to argue that the very existence of specialist groups like SBS is unlawful under the Race Relations Act. It has also withdrawn funding from other refugee and race equality groups in the borough. The ruling is certain to affect the future of groups around the country.

SBS has provided succour to countless victims of domestic violence since its founding in 1979. It helped Kiranjit Ahluwalia win an historic court case after she killed her husband in self-defence. It has given sanctuary and assistance to those unable to turn elsewhere and brought to light issues which have long remained hidden in society.

Over 40% of Ealing’s 300,000 population are people of colour, making the borough one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. SBS has provided unique assistance to Asian women and has acquired an irreplaceable body of experience in helping those who face not only domestic violence but also immigration and asylum difficulties. As Hannana Saddiqui of SBS, says: “If Ealing Council cut our finding then we will have no where to go and we are very much fearful that many of these women may well die. Asian women are three times more likely to kill themselves than women in general population as a result of abuse."

The organisation has endured repeated attempts to withdraw its funding since it was founded in the wake of the killing in Southall of teacher Blair Peach by Special Patrol Group police officers during an anti-racist demonstration in 1979. SBS has not shirked from supporting political and trade union battles such the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, industrial struggles at Heathrow airport, abortion rights and opposition to blasphemy laws.

The council is justifying its decision to withdraw funding on the grounds of a community “cohesion”, “one size fits all” agenda, which is remarkably similar to New Labour’s opposition to diversity in favour of enforced “inclusion”. The council plans to hand over SBS’s funding to Refuge, a national anti-domestic violence charity.

As SBS say in their statement, the “cohesion” agenda is being cynically used to cut essential life saving services to black and minority women. “So, in our situation, due in part to budget constraints, Ealing Council has made full use of the backlash against multiculturalism and feminism to ‘restructure’ its services so that there is only one service provider of domestic violence.”

SBS believes that its legal challenge is about more than their own survival, but represents a key moment, as funding is being withdrawn from progressive black, minority and feminist projects around the country. What this demonstrates, SBS rightly says, is a “political attack on the notion of positive action and on the right to self-organisation underpinned by secular, anti-racist and progressive values.”

At the same time, says SBS, reactionary and often fundamentalist religious organisations are being given financial support to provide “welfare services”, often at the expense of basic human rights. A World to Win calls on everyone to support Southall Black Sisters’ campaign.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, July 04, 2008

'Citizens must lead' on climate chaos

The upcoming G8+5 summit in Japan has climate change high on the agenda, apparently. The original eight countries have been widened to an unprecedented extent to include other major economies, no doubt in an attempt to pass the buck or find new reasons for the G8's failure to take action.

For according to a study published yesterday, none of the G8 countries are implementing enough measures to be considered in line with the target to keep the rise in global temperature below 2°C. The "G8 Climate Scorecards", compiled by environmental group WWF and insurance group Allianz, said even the best performers - Britain, France and Germany - had not taken adequate action to back the goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The US, Canada and Russia had simply failed the test altogether. Their joint appeal to the G8 for action was that it made “the best business sense in the long run”.

The same message about making money out of tackling climate change came from business consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers. A new PWC report called on politicians to stop talking and start acting. Richard Gledhill, head of climate change services at PWC, said: "Governments in all major economies must demonstrate their political will to establish a well functioning global carbon market that puts a price on carbon emissions. That will send the right economic signals to investors and consumers to deliver the new technologies and changes in behaviour required to combat global warming." [emphasis added]

The fundamental problem with both reports is that the corporations themselves have driven climate change to its crisis point today. The sharp rise in emissions over the last 30 years coincides precisely with corporate-driven globalisation, with its ravaging of resources and growth mania.

Some people like eminent climate scientist James Hansen are clear about the reasons for inaction. In a 20h anniversary presentation of his 1988 warning to the US Congress he puts it plainly:

“Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming. CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.” He added: “If politicians remain at loggerheads, citizens must lead.”

But, having shone the spotlight on profit-hungry corporations, Hansen’s chess-board proposal for “blocking” fossil fuel corporations with a carbon tax with 100% of the income to be shared amongst the population lets the guilty parties off the hook. That’s because his application of the scientific method doesn’t stretch to the economy. If it did, he’d soon find that the system behind the dynamic of corporate growth drove the lies about global warming and drives the agenda at the G8 which will once again yield no concrete action.

Citizens must undoubtedly lead, but that leadership must be guided by a conscious understanding of the essence of the crisis: the failing global system of resource-hungry, environmentally-destructive capitalist corporations. What’s so urgently needed is the greatest social change since the dawn of civilisation. The shift to local production that must accompany the reduction in energy consumption needed to limit climate change means eliminating the profit from production, taking all fossil fuels into social ownership and switching from resource exploitation to careful stewardship.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Dangerous days in Italy

It’s been an odd week for the “Il Cavaliere”, as Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is known. In a single day, a key group of top judges attacked his government whilst Italy’s highest court approved racist measures against Roma gypsies.

On Tuesday, Italy’s Superior Council of Magistrates voted 21-2 to denounce legislation which, if passed, would give Berlusconi immunity from prosecution. Berlusconi’s cabinet has approved the legislation and it could be agreed by the Italian parliament by the end of this month.

Antonio Di Pietro, the most respected former anti-corruption magistrate and leader of the opposition Italy of Values party, accused the government of seeking to "destroy the trial system to save only one person” and insisted that Berlusconi should stand trial. Berlusconi has retaliated with a denunciation of what he termed "left-wing" magistrates, calling them a "cancerous growth" in Italian democracy. He is trying to evade prosecution for allegedly arranging a £300,000 bribe to David Mills, estranged husband of New Labour’s Olympics minister Tessa Mills, in return for misleading evidence in earlier corruption trials in the 1990s.

While magistrates in Rome denounced the prime minister’s attempts to evade prosecution, the country’s highest appeal court, the Court of Cassation, ruled that it was acceptable to discriminate against the Roma on the grounds that they were thieves. The ruling follows an announcement by interior minister Roberto Maroni, that all Roma – many of whom are Italian citizens - including children, were to be finger printed.

Leaders of Italy’s Jewish community, among others, have protested at this blatant racism, with its echoes of the past. They pointedly referred to Mussolini’s fascist regime which in its last days helped organise the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps. Berlusconi, of course, works closely with the Mussolini’s political heirs. The neo-Fascist National Alliance Party leader, Gianfranco Fini, president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, admires Mussolini as “the greatest Italian statesman of the 20th century”. The National Alliance party is Berlusconi’s main ally in Italy’s ruling People of Freedom coalition. The Northern League, another partner in the government, is also from the ultra-right.

In reality Berlusconi, despite his third election victory, is not even control of his own football club, let alone the southern half of Italy and the island of Sicily. Milan football club fans, the Tifosi, are plotting to overthrow Berlusconi’s ownership of their club. And there is the still-unresolved rubbish crisis in Naples and its surrounding area, Campania. This has raged since December, when dumps overflowed and residents banded together to prevent dangerous incineration near their homes. According to the Italian environmental group Legambiente, illegal dumping in the south of Italy would form a mountain weighing 14 million tonnes if it were collected in one place.

Berlusconi claimed this week the problem will be resolved by the end of July. But the heaps of rotting rubbish are a potent symbol of his inability to tackle any major problem facing the country. And, the rubbish crisis in Campania is much more than municipal mismanagement. It is the visible sign of a secret Italy which neither Berlusconi nor any politician in Rome or Milan controls. The Neapolitan Mafia, the Camorra, according to journalist Robert Saviano, became European leaders in waste disposal in the late 1990s.

In his book, Gomorrah, Italy’s other Mafia, Saviano documents how powerful Camorra clans have seamlessly merged with capitalist globalisation. The Camorra controls contraband goods and pirated goods passing through the port of Naples, in particular shoes, handbags and clothing from China, not to mention drugs and money lending and laundering. Its tentacles reach as far as US, Canada, Brazil, the Canary Islands and Australia.

Last Sunday’s Observer remarked that Berlusconi’s re-election showed the “paradox of democracy” – that “nations get the leaders they deserve”. But surely Italy’s predicament shows more sharply than most that the empty parliamentary charades are the foam on the surface, indicating a deep crisis and instability within the heart of the state as a whole.

As the political shenanigans continue, the Italian economy is plunging into recession, brutally exposed by the global credit crunch and there is nothing Berlusconi’s government can do about it. The state-organised attacks on the Roma are a sinister indication that as the parliamentary system fails to get a grip, the iron fist of Italy’s fascist past is rearing its ugly head once more .

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Dr Who and the economic crisis

An economic crisis like the one we are now in has a ruthless, market-driven logic all of its own. As it takes its toll of jobs, homes and living standards, the results of the collapse of credit-fuelled growth also exposes fundamental limitations of the capitalist state system and advance the case for revolutionary change.

New Labour is confused and close to paralysis, like rabbits caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, as the economy spins out of control. This week alone business confidence is reported at a 16 year low; mortgage approvals are down 60% in a year and house prices are heading south in a big way; builders like Wimpey are laying off workers; Marks and Spencers have reported a dramatic fall in food sales and lorry drivers are in London today in a protest against rising fuel prices.

Oh, and shares plunged yesterday, taking the FTSE 100 more than a 1,000 points lower since May when there was talk of the credit crunch being at its highest peak. Now the financial sector is bracing for more bad news as decades of fantasy finance deals continue to implode. Both to governments and ordinary people, it seems as if external forces from the outer limits of the solar system have taken over. But this is not an episode of Dr Who with the Daleks taking over Earth.

The facts are that capitalism is a system based on creating economic forces and processes that are then subordinated to the unseen hand of markets for sale at a profit. Commodities are produced that may or may not sell, that use up resources at a rapid rate, within a credit-driven production and purchasing system. While workers co-operate across the globe in producing commodities and services, their products are placed on the market in a haphazard and chaotic way.

This anarchic side of capitalism lies behind past and present crises. Today’s disruption to the economy has aspects which are unique and which contribute to the impotence of states to make any impact. The corporate-driven globalisation process has created economic and financial activities that transcend state borders and national controls in their scope. This makes governments fearful of intervening lest they drive capital away to other parts of the globe.

But even before the recent globalisation period, capitalist states and governments hardly exhibited the capacity to overcome recessions and slumps. This is no mystery, although it is often presented as one. The present-day state system evolved out of the need for capitalists to find a political expression which could facilitate their activities in the broadest sense. Their requirement, for example, of an educated, fit workforce is formally delivered by a state (although corporations are increasingly “partners” in this process).

Restrictions on the right to strike are implemented through laws and courts, for example. While the democratic side of the state has allowed people a vote in who governs them, it cannot alter this essential characteristic of the political system as a mechanism for maintaining and developing capitalism itself.

Therein lies the weakness of the state when economic crisis becomes the dominant issue in society, as it is doing in Britain today. The forces at work are largely outside of its control in the shape of privately-owned corporations and financial systems. These capitalist forces themselves are equally unable to buck the market, as Marks and Spencers has found out. In this situation, adjusting interest rates or bailing out a bank or two has negligible impact or can even make matters worse. People rapidly lose confidence in existing politics and governments as a way of solving problems, as New Labour found out last week when it finished fifth in the Henley by-election behind the far-right BNP.

This is not merely an issue about New Labour but about the state system as a whole. The state has demonstrated on countless occasions that it is a creature/prisoner of the very forces that when they spin out of control, devastate millions of lives and threaten global conflict. Bringing economic forces under some kind of social, democratic control, therefore, is absolutely necessary if we are to begin the task of getting to grips with the crisis. The key to this is building support for the project of replacing the failed capitalist state with a democratic, alternative model based on people’s power.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Unions call for Zimbabwe blockade

With Robert Mugabe self-elected as president of Zimbabwe once again, the workers and small farmers in the country face even greater terror and deprivation. Unemployment is already over 80% and hyper-inflation means that wages are meaningless. This is a country of pauper billionaires, where Zim$50-billion, the highest note, can only buy you tea and some fruit.

Millions have fled the country to neighbouring South Africa while those who remain depend on food aid to avoid starvation. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)
has condemned the one-man election as neither free nor fair. Many of its members were beaten and tortured during the campaign by Zanu-PF thugs operating under Mugabe’s direction.

ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo and secretary-general Wellington Chibebe are facing trial for incitement on July 30. Congress leaders have also criticised the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tzvangirai, which the ZCTU helped found as a reformist, pro-union party. Now the ZCTU says the MDC has moved to the right, adopting pro-business, free market policies.

Mugabe likes to present himself as the true champion of national liberation whose country has been wrecked by imperialist plotting. The truth is somewhat different. Mugabe did indeed help lead the armed struggle against white minority rule, which culminated in independence in 1980. But so too did Joshua Nkomo, who led the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU).

In the mid-1980s, Mugabe – who had been backed by China – turned on Nkomo and launched a ferocious ethnic attack on the country’s Ndebele minority. The infamous North Korean-trained 5th brigade killed up to 20,000 people and Zimbabwe became a one-party state, owing more to Stalinist influences than socialist or national liberation outlooks.

The promised land reform never took place and mining corporations like Rio Tinto-Zinc were encouraged to continue their plunder of the country’s mineral resources. Mugabe himself was knighted by the Tory government in 1994 in recognition of his services to capitalism. Today, RTZ continues to mine while Anglo American, the major transnational corporation with close South African ties and headquarters in London, is about to make a $400 million investment in Zimbabwe. Barclay’s bank is in Zimbabwe and so too is China, which helps sustain Mugabe’s regime by buying the country’s chrome and supplying arms in exchange.

Mugabe’s so-called land grab against prosperous white farmers in recent years was carried out to appease Mugabe cronies who have since taken to exploiting black rural workers just as their predecessors did while failing to manage the farms. Foreign earnings from tobacco and other exports have collapsed. Meanwhile, the corruption of the Mugabe regime knows no bounds. Mugabe lives in luxury while his people starve and reports of foreign bank accounts are widespread.

This is a truly desperate situation for the people of Zimbabwe, made worse by the indifference of politicians like Tabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa. Mbeki, of course, has consolidated white South African capitalism at the expense of the living standards of millions of his countrymen and women. Tragically, some turned on Zimbabwean and other migrant workers recently in an expression of their own frustration.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which is now engaged in a series of struggles as the economic crisis hits projects like the 2010 World Cup, condemned Sunday’s “election” in advance, describing it as “a declaration of war against the people of Zimbabwe by the ruling party."

The trade union federation called on workers across the world to isolate Mugabe’s regime and pledged to work for a blockade on the border to protest against the violence and organise rallies in support of fellow workers in Zimbabwe. COSATU’s call should be supported and solidarity expressed with the workers of Zimbabwe against Mugabe’s murderous dictatorship. These actions will help separate opponents of the regime from the crocodile tears of the so-called “international community” led by the British and American governments.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor