Monday, January 31, 2011

Students show the way

The first National Assembly for Education has adopted a strategy to broaden and deepen the student movement against cuts and fees, to take it to workers and the population at large and for the development of people’s assemblies.

The gathering, called by students from occupations around the country who met on December 14, was held the day after 2011’s first protest marches against the Coalition government. The National Assembly came out of the massive wave of student protests during November and December last year, which saw occupations in fifty universities and colleges which became organising hubs.

Students who felt betrayed by the right-wing leadership of the National Union of Students leadership under Aaron Porter, created the London Assembly, itself a new phenomenon in the history of the British student movement.

In a historic decision, and against some opposition, the December 14 meeting voted to make the national assembly inclusive, embracing not only students and education workers but that it should be open to all to participate and vote. The aim of yesterday’s assembly was to develop a strategy to “take our movement forward to victory”.

Yesterday's meeting brought together students from London's Institute of Education, Birkbeck, LSE, University College, Manchester, Kent, and Stirling universities, sixth form colleges, with trade unionists from UCU and political activists. Held under the banner of the London School of Economics Student Union, yesterday’s meeting first heard Camden Town sixth-form college student, Ruby Hirsch. She appealed for students to unite with workers and said events in Tunisia proved that it was possible to overthrow a dictatorship which had been in power for so many years.

Jim Wolfrey, of University and College Union (UCU), called for the TUC’s March 26 demonstration to become “our day of anger”, referring to the Egyptian revolutionary movement. No government could stand in the way. UCU is balloting this week for strike action in defence of jobs and education, he said.

Student activist Ben Beach, from University College, said the aim was to use occupations as a hub to go out to thousands of students: “We have turned a right-wing university into a left-wing one, using consensus decision making and an autonomous system”. Support had flowed in from workers in the college and from around the world. Labour leader Ed Miliband was “neither socialist or red, and would not provide a solution to the cuts crisis”, Beach noted.

The hundred-plus students, education workers and political activists responded enthusiastically to accounts by participants in the revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt. Mohammed Inab said that the Tunisian government could not be reformed. His father, a 63-year-old primary school teacher, now headed a local people’s defence committee which organised barricades to safeguard security. Remnants of Ben Ali’s presidential guard had tried to stage a counter-coup against the people’s uprising, moving hundreds of cars full of weapons and bombs to create a provocation. The barricades had stopped the transport, co-ordinating their actions live on national television.

Wasim X told the meeting that the Egyptian movement was inspired by the way students had taken Saturday’s protest to the Egyptian embassy in London and made it “almost an internal affair”. In Britain and Egypt alike, those attacking living standards are the same ones who are deaf to the voice of the people, he said.

Mark Barrett spoke in favour of building inclusive People’s Assemblies to unite students, education workers, trade unionists, community groups and all those resisting austerity and ConDem cuts, as well as climate change activists, campaigners for human rights, migrant support networks and anti-racist groups.

The aim was to develop an alternative democratic voice and long-term presence to effectively challenge corporate/financial power and its grip on the existing political system. He called for assemblies, to unite resistance to the cuts but also to build a bottom-up, long term movement in response. The national assembly supported these aims plus a proposal for city-wide assemblies to be formed.

The assembly also supported calls for a general strike and the defence of victimised students on a day when police used CS gas on tax avoidance protesters. All in all, it was a major step forward, not only for students but for the struggle against the Coalition government as a whole.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Friday, January 28, 2011

Eygpt's uprising shakes Washington

The prospect of a renewed period of linked revolutionary struggles not seen since the 1989 anti-Stalinist movements in Europe, is taking shape in North Africa. Events are shaking not just regimes like Mubarak’s in Egypt but the calculations of Washington and London too.

The major powers have relied heavily on authoritarian governments in the Middle East, fundamentalist as in Saudi Arabia as well as secular as those in Damascus and Cairo, to sustain their own interests in the region. These centre on maintaining the flow of oil and sustaining Israel, regardless of its treatment of the Palestinians.

Washington has turned a blind eye to systematic repression while hypocritically prattling on about “democratic values”. Now that the people themselves in Tunisia and Egypt have taken matters into their own hands in defiant uprisings, the United States and others are urging caution!

Clearly, to talk about democracy is one thing, but to actually fight for it is not acceptable.

The position was summed up by Tony Blair, the New Labour prime minister who introduced the world to “regime change” with the joint US-British illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Middle East “peace envoy”, told the BBC’s Today programme that Egypt
should "evolve and modernise",

He added: “The question is how they evolve and modernise, but do so with stability. The danger is if you open up a vacuum anything can happen. As Hillary Clinton [Obama’s secretary of state] was saying yesterday, the important thing is to engage in this process of modernisation, and improving systems of government, but do it in a way that keeps the order and stability of the country together."

Fortunately, there are moments in history when the thoughts of people like Blair and Clinton count for little and express only their nervousness at the appearance of the masses on the streets.

A new generations is simply not prepared to put up with mass unemployment, rising prices, political corruption and authoritarian rule. Men like Mubarak can no longer – unjustifiably – claim the mantle of previous leaders like Nasser who led the fight against colonial rule and nationalised the Suez canal.

Nor are the people of Egypt buying into the regime’s propaganda that it’s either us or the fundamentalists. That kind of scaremongering is reminiscent of the old Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe who justified their authoritarian regimes by warning of the imperialist enemy at the gates. Fat good it did them in the end.

Blair is right in one sense. No one knows where a revolutionary process will end up. Egypt, with its population of more than 80 million, is key. The struggle of the 1950s for national independence roused the nation’s workers and rural poor. Many lay down their lives to thwart the 1956 invasion by Britain and France.

With the dire intervention of Moscow, the revolutionary movement degenerated and the country became a pawn in the struggle between the major powers. Today, Stalinism is no more and America’s power and influence is clearly waning. The opportunity arises to launch a new stage of a revolution that was distorted and halted by Sadat and then Mubarak.

This time, the aim has to be a transfer of political and economic power into the hands of the masses themselves, with the objective of ending private ownership of industry and land and creating a renewed democracy based on popular people’s assembles. Driving the upsurge in North Africa is the world crisis of capitalism. The same crisis is having a deep impact in Britain, with growing unemployment, exorbitant fuel costs and inflation. We should take our inspiration from those on the streets of Cairo, Suez and Tunis.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sheridan made an example of

The harsh three-year jail sentence handed to former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan for perjury involving the reactionary News of the World, contrasts with the six months given to sleazy private detective Glen Mulcaire, who was paid by the same paper to illegally tap phones.

Sheridan sued the NoW for defamation in 2006 after they published stories about him; he won £200,000 in damages. The NoW admitted in court that they had exaggerated their story, that allegations about drugs, for example, were made up.

But after Sheridan’s win, police launched a perjury investigation. A former friend and comrade of Sheridan’s, one George McNeilage, went to the NoW with a video purporting to show Sheridan admitting that he had told a meeting of the SSP executive that the newspaper’s story was true. The NoW paid him £200,000 for it.

SSP general secretary Alan McCombe went to jail for contempt when he refused to hand over minutes of that meeting. In the end the minutes were handed over under duress and SSP executive members gave evidence for the prosecution.

The NoW is a despicable anti-union rag, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International. It was while recklessly socialising with NoW journalist Anver Khan that Sheridan was caught out.

But the NoW had other stories about Sheridan in addition to Khan’s sting. It is not clear how they knew about Sheridan’s relationships, but it appears that his may be one of the phones tapped by Mulcaire.

The Metropolitan Police have consistently refused to fully investigate the phone tapping or to inform people they were targets. Sheridan says he will take action against the paper, joining celebrities and politicians queuing up to sue them.

Former MSP’s Colin Fox and Frances Curran issued a quite cruel statement when the sentence was announced, saying Sheridan had nobody but himself to blame.

The state has certainly chosen to make an example of him. Remember Jonathan Aitken MP, who lied about a story published in the Guardian and was found guilty of perjury? Aitken’s case involved large sums of money in brown envelopes from an arms dealer. He only got 18 months. Sheridan is paying a heavy price for his indiscretions.

And what about the NoW’s lies? They claimed that Mulcaire was hired by a “rogue reporter” and that nobody else at the paper knew what was going on. That tale is now unravelling as news editor Ian Edmondson is suspended and former editor Andy Coulson has been forced to resign from his top job as David Cameron’s press secretary.

This won’t be Sheridan’s first jail term. He was locked up in 1992 for his courageous stand against the poll tax and while in jail was elected MP for Glasgow Pollok.

His descent from that political high point is surely connected with his having been drawn into the wretched reformist electoral politics of the Scottish Parliament, with its well-documented junketing, and equally well-documented failure to improve the lives of the poor, the young, and the unemployed.

Fox finished his statement on Sheridan’s conviction with an an opportunist call for the SSP, which split over the Sheridan case, to reunite. There seems to be no basis for this, other than that there are local and Scottish Parliamentary elections coming up. The other side of the split – known as Solidarity – have already found a replacement populist politician in George Galloway.

Surely there has to be a better way forward than this. We have a real opportunity to get away from the old corrupt electoral machine at Holyrood which is busy implementing the cuts handed down from Westminster while banging the nationalist drum.

Rather than grubbing round for votes, we should build People’s Assemblies where all sections of the community – the poor, the young, the unemployed, trade unionists and students – can unite against the cuts and fight for democratic control and ownership of all Scotland’s resources in an alliance with workers in other parts of Britain.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Workers must sacrifice so capitalists can profit

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King has assured us that unemployment will rise and the value of wages will fall as inflation lets rip, leading to the most dramatic assault on living standards since the 1920s.

What’s more, you’ll be pleased to know, it’s absolutely necessary. This is the price we are obliged to pay, says King, to smooth the path to growth and economic recovery.

In actuality, it’s the consequence of failed to attempts to stave off the deepening recession and confirms that they don’t have a clue what to do, apart from the usual capitalist remedy of increasing exploitation and the share of national wealth that goes to the ruling classes.

It’s a similar story across the Atlantic as the rate of repossessions accelerates, driving millions of families from their homes and unemployment touches 10%. President Obama used his annual State of the Union address to warn that the US must mobilise to meet the “mortal threat of foreign competition from China and India”.

He is proposing to reduce government spending to the lowest share of the US economy since the1950s. Despite renewed attempts to rehabilitate the policies of Keynes – who favoured higher spending in a recession – the crash of 2007-8 means that, for capitalism, the era of high levels of government spending is over.

Are these programmes of slashing cuts “ideological”? Yes indeed, they manifest the ideology of those whose job it is to sustain a society devoted to profit at the expense of the majority of people on the planet, and the planet itself.

Throughout the relatively short period in which capitalist production spread across the world, its inner dynamic forced its human agents to find ways to counteract the relentless tendency for the rate of profit to fall.

Investing in technology to increase productivity is one. Forcing wages down another. Together they lead to increases in productive capacity and the volume of goods and services. They call it “growth”.

Pretty soon production expands beyond the available marketplace of consumers. And then credit comes into play, stretching things beyond their “natural” limits - for a while. Then comes the crash. Surplus productive capacity is eliminated, and the process starts up, once again.

This time there’s a difference.

The period of growth called “globalisation” consumed the world’s natural resources at an exponential rate. Corporations spread production throughout the world by recklessly burning fossil fuels, unlocking energy and releasing it into the atmosphere and so intensifying weather patterns.

Early snow in Britain helped to reduce national output by an estimated 0.5% in the last three months of 2010. Floods in Pakistan and Queensland, Australia wiped out crops. Nature mocked capital as the floodwaters wrecked the extraction of coal.

But capital’s human agents are blind to these effects. They are tied into the historic logic of profit from which they cannot escape. Sir Richard Lambert, outgoing chief of the Confederation of British Industry accused the Coalition of having no strategy for growth.

But the Cameron-Clegg branch better reflects the needs of capital at this point in history. They are hell-bent on cutting the deficit, reducing capacity, shrinking incomes, eliminating jobs and services – every action aimed at facilitating the contraction without which “recovery” is impossible.

Rather than allow the destruction of the valuable results of a couple of centuries of human endeavour, it falls to the rest of us to bring the destructive system to an end before it threatens to end the conditions for life on the planet.

In the process of building a global network of people’s assemblies we can establish democratic stewardship of the world’s resources, utilising and advancing the science and technology for sustainable production, and setting ourselves the task of converting it to satisfy the needs of the majority.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One solution, one state

The leaked “Palestine Papers” establish beyond any doubt that the Zionist rulers of Israel are not interested in any sort of an agreement, however dramatic the concessions Palestinian negotiators are prepared to make.

Tragically in some ways, the papers also reveal the degeneration of the Palestine Authority (PA) under Mahmoud Abbas. The more intransigent the Israelis, the more PA officials grovelled while hiding the truth about what they were doing from the Palestinian people.

All to no avail. The lingering death of the "peace process" is self-evident.

Al Jazeera TV published the leaked files, which contain more than 1,600 internal documents related to the last decade of peace negotiations. They include memos, e-mails, maps, minutes from private meetings, accounts of high level exchanges, strategy papers and even power point presentations.

Among Al Jazeera's significant revelations are major offers by the PA to Israel in the context of settlements in East Jerusalem, including major portions of the Old City that adjoin the Dome of the Rock, the second holiest site in Islam.

PA leaders also proposed "unprecedented" land swaps with the Israeli government, Al Jazeera revealed. In 2008, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas after the PA offered to allow the Israeli state to annex most of the East Jerusalem settlements without demanding concessions in return.

Olmert reportedly showed Abbas a map of the newly-proposed swaps, which outlined Israel's plan to annex more than 10 percent of the West Bank. "Abbas was not allowed to keep a copy of the map, and so the 73-year-old Palestinian president had to sketch a copy by hand on a napkin," the network added.

Desperate for a deal, Palestinian negotiators led by Saeb Erekat privately agreed that only 10, 000 refugees and their families, out of a total refugee population exceeding 5 million, could return to Israel as part of a settlement.

Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state under George Bush, suggested in 2008 Palestinian refugees could be resettled in South America. "Maybe we will be able to find countries that can contribute in kind," she said. "Chile, Argentina, etc."

PLO leaders also accepted Israel's demand to define itself as an explicitly Jewish state, in sharp contrast to their public position. Erekat privately told Israeli negotiators: "If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want." Israel's 1.3 million Palestinian citizens are particularly opposed to the notion of a “Jewish state” because it undermines their own rights which are constantly being eroded in any case.

The Electronic Intifada’s co-founder and executive director, Ali Abunimah, was given special access to the documents and helped analyse them for Al Jazeera. He said:

What we can discern immediately from these documents is that the US-brokered negotiations, especially under the Obama administration, can never lead to the restoration of Palestinian rights and that the two-state solution is basically dead. In the long term, we will have to ask how the peace process charade, revealed in these papers, was allowed to continue for so long as Israel continued its relentless colonisation of Palestinian land and the Palestinian Authority that was supposed to be a step on the road to freedom become a sophisticated tool of continued Israeli occupation.

He is right. But the responsibility for the almost desperate nature of the concessions lies not just with the PA leaders but with also with other Arab regimes, especially Egypt’s who help Israel to enforce a blockade of Gaza, for example. From Damascus to Amman, discredited leaders have watched the Palestinian people’s suffering from a safe distance. Washington, of course, has consistently backed the Israelis and the Zionist view that they have a God-given right to occupy Palestinan land.

A way forward may now be opening up as the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia finds its echo in Cairo today and other Arab cities tomorrow. The sweeping out of the old dictatorships can open the way to a new leadership and the building of a secular, single state which Jews and Palestinians can co-habit as they did in earlier times.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Jasmine Revolution marches on

As the landless poor from rural Tunisia organised in a “freedom caravan” defy curfews and teargas, the movement to drive all of the country’s old leaders from power has assumed a revolutionary momentum which is shaking the Arab world.

The forces of the state are deeply divided. Soldiers have refused to attack the protests and some police marched through Tunis on Saturday. “The police is a people's party,” some officers chanted. “We no longer want to be a tool for the repression of the people by the authorities,” one policeman said. On Monday, however, some police tear gassed the “freedom caravan”.

One of the most amazing events was at Tunis airport, where hundreds of people came to greet an Internet campaigner. Tarek Mekki, who arrived from Canada, had led a Facebook/YouTube campaign to oust the old regime. Mekki told the gathering the "Jasmine Revolution" was not over. "What the government is doing is not enough, it's a new way of seizing control of government."

But it is not only the unemployed who are besieging the streets and challenging the police and military. Highly-educated professionals were united with the poor and trade unionists in bringing down the 23-year dictatorship of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14.

As those seeking the complete downfall of the government and a total purge of Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Party (RCD) and his accomplices dig in for the long term, a “Salvation Government” is being cobbled together by three politicians. They are Ahmed Mestiri, leader of the liberal Social Democratic Movement, plus Ahmed Ben Saleh and Moustafa Elfilali who are deeply compromised by their involvement with the old regime.

Shaykh Rachid Gannouchi (not to be confused with current Prime Minister Mohammed Gannouchi) who has been in exile in London is now expected to return to Tunis to a hero’s welcome. The Ben Ali regime has viciously persecuted his moderate Islamic Nahda party since the 1990s.

Gannouchi has spoken about the Jasmine revolution and how Tunisians have scorned all the existing political parties: “It is the people who made this revolution. This revolution was not made by an angry, out-of-control mob. There are 250,000 university graduates who are in fact the basis for this revolution. It is not angry, uneducated people. They were the base of this revolution with their creative ways of using the Internet and other media.”

Gannouchi’s role will be crucial since he is viewed as an opponent of the old regime. In addition, Abid Briki, deputy head of the General Tunisian Workers Union (UGTT) has said that a collegial national government should be set up, “in accordance with the demands of the street and political parties”.

The UGTT played a contradictory role in the uprising: in the north and in the capital its leaders negotiated with the regime, while in the south they opposed it and played a key role in organising and spreading the revolution from one town to another. But it is now weighing in to protect the political compromise being cooked up.

The “salvation government” is intended to provide a democratic smokescreen by embracing all political currents and associations. There will be a 50-member transitional council, which will be dissolved after free elections in 2012. The council will have the task of developing a new democratic constitution. Clearly this is not enough to satisfy the masses.

Arab leaders throughout northern Africa and the Middle East are fearfully watching the scrambling to cap the revolutionary upsurge while young people throughout north Africa are inspired by the example of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man who immolated himself, sparking the revolutionary upsurge last month.

Even far away Yemen has caught the fever. This morning demonstrators forced the release of Tawakul Karman, a young woman journalist who had organised anti-regime protests. And there street actions in Algeria too.

Events in Tunisia are creating an unprecedented crisis for the Arab ruling classes and their Western backers. They mark a new stage of the revolutionary upsurge that led to independence from colonial powers like France only to see dictatorships assume control.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, January 21, 2011

What a balls up

The degree to which Ed Balls, as a key Treasury minister in the last New Labour government, is responsible for the government’s massive budget deficit is subject to argument. But what is not in dispute is Balls’ undying support for the unbridled, unregulated expansion of the financial sector which, as we know, went down in flames in 2008.

Balls, newly promoted as shadow chancellor following the sudden resignation of Alan Johnson, claimed yesterday that having studied economics for over 25 years, he knew what it was all about. Subsequent events prove a) how useless bourgeois economics is and b) how arrogant Balls is.

New Labour, as we know, transformed itself into a party that cheer-led the rise of corporate-driven globalisation and, in particular, the parallel growth of a financial sector that fuelled consumerism and, more to the point, had with government support, evaded all known regulatory frameworks.

As chancellor, Gordon Brown couldn’t believe it. The financial sector’s tax revenues grew apace. And in September 2006, Balls, then economic secretary to the Treasury under Brown, went to Hong Kong to sing the praises of London as a financial centre and how easy it was to do business under New Labour.

Balls told a joint meeting of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the British Chamber of Commerce: “The UK’s financial tradition as a free, fair and open global market has resulted in tremendous growth in London’s international financial markets in the past decade – over-the-counter derivatives turnover up by 770%, foreign equities turnover up by 260%, cross-border bank lending up by 160% and foreign exchange turnover up by over 60%.”

After praising the growth of fantasy finance, Balls declared that central to London’s “success story” was “light-touch principle-based regulation” which New Labour was entirely responsible for. Giving the Bank of England independence was Brown’s first act in May 1997. Creating the toothless Financial Services Authority was act two.

Admiring the Big Bang of 1986, when the Thatcher government opened up the City to global competition as “decisive”, Balls went on to laud the FSA which had “confounded those who feared the FSA might become a heavy-handed and inflexible regulator.” In fact, Britain’s “regulatory regime continues to be the best in the world”.

Famous last words or what, considering there were queues outside Northern Rock branches 12 months later as people scrambled to withdrew their money from a bank that had failed in every respect?

The truth is that regulation was non-existent, not so much a light touch as light-headed. Bankers were running rings round the FSA and the Bank of England – and everyone knew it. “Products” like derivatives lay completely outside the scope of the regulators, yet Balls praised them as if they were a new form of gold.

At the time, this is how the political class and the financial elites saw it. Money could beget more money, profits would rise along with tax revenues, ordinary people could get as much credit as they wanted to buy commodities mostly made in other countries. Surely it could never end? As Brown himself said on the eve of the meltdown in July 2007, the City had entered a “new golden age”.

Then came the crash, an immediate recession and the crisis found its way into government finances, producing eye-watering deficits and interest payments on the debt heading towards £100 billion a year. So, yes, Balls does share political responsibility for the crisis. As he said in Hong Kong: “Government decisions … have an important role to play, for good or ill.”

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Secret police defend the status quo

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is a state-sponsored, privately-owned organisation accountable to no one which has been running its own operations, both high profile and undercover, since the 1980s.

Moving forward from its role as a national police force developed during the 1984-5 miners’ strike, ACPO put itself even further outside of state control when in April 1997 It was incorporated as a limited company, one month before the election of the Blair government.

Its dramatic expansion, which saw the infiltration of the climate change movement, took place during the rule of New Labour. ACPO’s operations are funded by the Home Office and tributes levied from the 44 police forces and the income from an annual exhibition.

ACPO describes itself as “an independent, professionally led strategic body” and “in times of national need ACPO - on behalf of all chief officers - coordinates the strategic policing response.” Planting agents inside the environmental movement comes under that heading and is “proportionate to the risk”, according to Liverpool chief constable Jon Murphy. Defending the use of agents, he says:

"There are many people who have got perfectly legitimate concerns about any numbers of issues about which they may wish to protest …Unfortunately, in the midst of some of these groups – recent history would evidence this to be true – there are a small number of people who are intent on causing harm, committing crime and on occasions disabling parts of the national critical infrastructure. That has the potential to deny utilities to hospitals, schools, businesses and your granny."

This is nonsense of course. The state protects infrastructure because it is corporate property. If any part of the state were truly concerned about grannies being without energy, they would do something about energy prices. In the winter months, around nine older people die every day as a result of cold.

Two more undercover cops have been outed. Lynn Watson, real name unknown, claimed to be a care worker from Bournemouth when she appeared in 2003 at a protest at Aldermaston nuclear weapons research unit. She moved to Leeds to become active in groups who used the Common Place social centre.

Jim Boyling, a serving officer in the Metropolitan police, used the identity Jim Sutton to infiltrate Reclaim the Streets and during his five years undercover started a relationship with a fellow activist.

Murphy claims this was a breach of discipline, and that agents are specifically banned from sleeping with the enemy – but presumably acting as an agent provocateur, as Mark Kennedy/Stone is said to have done, is OK.

He was a high profile activist, who trained others to take part in the proposed action at the Ratcliffe-on Soar power station, gathering over 100 people at a nearby school where they were arrested in a dawn raid after he tipped off police.

Of course, the presence of agents is not the reason climate activists have not succeeded in changing Britain’s energy policies. Actions and protests in and of themselves cannot change the basic capitalist power relationships in society. All policing is designed to protect these relationships as part of the work of the state. It is the state itself that we need to transform.

As those who threw down the Berlin wall showed, when a moment of real political transformation arrives, agents can’t prevent it – even in a country where the Stasi was woven into the fabric of society. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wary of the activities of agents, and expose them when we can.

We can fight for the idea of a sustainable economy and alternative energy strategies most effectively by building People’s Assemblies. Linking the struggle to defend the eco-system with actions to defend livelihoods, jobs and communities is the way forward. The only way we can shift to a green economy is by transcending the profit-driven capitalist economy and that will require mass political action.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Get ready for another banking crash

The Bank of England’s Paul Tucker pulled no punches on the BBC last night. “When banks take the upside and taxpayers take the downside, something has gone wrong with the very heart of capitalism”, he said.

Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank, with special responsibility for financial stability, aimed his advice at the Coalition government. Instead of further government intervention to bail out banks, they should be allowed to fail, albeit in an orderly fashion.

Cameron, Clegg and Chancellor Osborne are anxiously awaiting the recommendations from the Banking Commission they established in June 2010, to look at the “size, scale and function” of the banking sector. But there’s no time to lose.

Tucker’s bite-the bullet proposal to let the likes of Lloyd’s and RBS fail – and presumably to take all their depositors’ money down with them, was delivered as the climax of the BBC’s business editor Robert Peston’s retelling of the story of rapid expansion of the financial sector that preceded the crash of 2007/8.

Tucker is saying that there’s another, much bigger crash on the way. This time the banks will be just too big to save.

Peston and the BBC’s media expertise took us once again through the breakdown of regulation and the rise of derivative financial “products” whose face value grew to be ten times larger than the total of the world’s annual production of goods and non-financial services.

But, as with most accounts, no underlying explanation was given for the exponential expansion of credit from the 1970s onwards. Apart from using Toby Baxendale, a wealthy fish merchant, to top and tail the hour-long programme, the real economy hardly got a look in.

Amongst Baxendale’s biggest customers was Lehman’s. When they cashed in their chips, Baxendale lost out. Now he’s got a sensible-sounding idea to end the madness – legislation to force banks to keep a customer’s deposits safe rather than lending them out, if that’s what the customer wants. We didn’t find out whether he expects to pay for the privilege, or wants to receive interest.

Either way it’s just a variant on the idea of returning to the days when savings banks had to be kept separate from the more risky lenders of capital for investment. The chances of that happening are less than zero.

This won’t solve the main problem. The banks are still stuck with monumental mountains of toxic assets. These are the unsustainable debts that can never be repaid, because repayment depends on recovery and there can’t be a recovery before the excess productive capacity they funded has been eliminated.

It has always been part of the BBC’s role to protect the state when danger threatens, and this was one of its better attempts to keep attention focussed on the banks, and away from the real heart of capitalist production – the place where real value is produced by people working, and working longer and harder than they need to satisfy all of our needs.

With students leading the campaign against the cuts, and beginning to widen their campaign beyond blaming the bankers, and the soaring price of fuel and food enraging the population, the state is beginning to come under attack. They can’t wait for the Banking Commission. Some might even smell a conspiracy of the Coalition, the BBC and the Bank of England to confuse the public, to keep the attention on the banks and away from the system as a whole.

Without the fairy tale expansion of credit and debt, the capitalist economy could not have continued to grow and profits and interest payments could not have continued to be extracted from the value the workers produced all over the world. But, as Tucker is saying to Cameron, it’s all over now, baby blue.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Healthcare market already worth £29 billion

David Cameron claims the mantle of Tony Blair in defending the Coalition’s plans to impose market-driven changes in the National Health Service. He is absolutely right and that’s why trade union opposition to the government’s plans is reduced to a letter to The Times.

You would think from union protests that the market had just made its ugly appearance in the NHS. Far from it. By the time New Labour left office last May, an estimated 6% of all NHS work was carried out by private firms, thanks to a series of market-led reorganisations from 1997 onwards.

According to market research consultants Key Note, in 2009, the total UK market for private healthcare was worth almost £29bn, having risen in value terms by almost 22% compared with 2005. Acute care and psychiatric care rose in value terms by 24% and 42.4% respectively.

“The overall market has expanded within the last 5 years as a result of the growing shift from public to private provision, with the NHS making increasing use of private sector healthcare to cut waiting lists,” says a recent report which notes that the market continues to “attract attention and investment from overseas firms, as well as private equity operators”.

The Coalition plans to deepen what New Labour started, of course, not only in its plans for the NHS but in areas such as tuition fees and academy schools. Doctors will control the purse-strings and be able to select private providers on the grounds of price and bureaucratic primary care trusts (PCTs) will be abolished.

Health union Unison general secretary Dave Prentis accuses Cameron of "cutting away at the heart of society" and adds: "The NHS is not safe in Tory hands. [Health secretary] Lansley's proposals are unnecessary, untried and will cost the taxpayer dear. They threaten the very founding principles of the NHS."

The question is: where was Prentis from 1997-2010, while the NHS was being carved up by New Labour? Where was the opposition when private firms like Ramsay Health Care and Care UK were signing contracts to provide services to the NHS at a profit to the companies? To ask the question is to answer it. Union bureaucrats sat on their hands the whole time.

Take Ramsay Health Care. From its early days in Australia, the company has become a global brand, operating more than 100 hospitals and day surgeries in several countries, including 22 acute hospitals in England. Last December, the group announced an upgrade in profits thanks in part to a rise in patient admissions in Britain. Results for the five months to November 30 showed the company was on track to report a first-half net profit 26-28% higher than the same period in 2009.

Ramsay runs the Clifton Park clinic in York, which is at the centre of a claim for compensation by 50 local people after hip replacement operations went disastrously wrong, as the York Press reported:.

“Many claim they are suffering frequent dislocations or excruciating pain resulting from metal-on-metal debris getting into their bloodstream. Some can only walk with sticks; other symptoms include audible popping and cup loosening.” All were fitted with products manufactured by US company DePuy Orthopaedics Inc. which were recalled last August by DePuy after being on the market for seven years.

It seems the NHS will have to pick up the bill for any eventual compensation settlement.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, January 17, 2011

North Africa's own Intifada

Tunisian youth, workers and professional people have drawn a line against corrupt autocracies that is having powerful repercussions from Lebanon to Libya and beyond. It is the first time since 1985 that a mass people’s movement has overthrown a regime in an Arab country.

They have defied the mantra that the Arab masses are simply passive subjects of dictatorial leaders. The majority in society are beginning to stand up and rebel. The uprising has seen tens of thousands of youth, workers and professionals, take to the streets in a country of only ten million.

The movement has been spontaneous and secular in response to sharp price increases and soaring youth unemployment, themselves a result of the economic crisis in the southern Mediterranean from Spain and Portugal to north Africa.

The revolt was sparked when an unemployed student in a central province set fire to himself when police tried to stop him selling fruit from a street cart. Unrest burst out around the country spurred on by young people using Facebook. In extraordinary scenes one soldier even embraced a demonstrator.

Small wonder that President’s Ben Ali’s first replacement, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, did not last long. Tunisians see him as the architect of the economic policies which allowed Ben Ali’s wife to accumulate vast wealth. Details of the ruling family’s corruption were revealed in US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks at the end of last year, confirming Tunisians’ own suspicions.

A state of emergency continues in the capital Tunis and around the country police loyal to the old regime and military are in armed conflict. The bursts of joy at the overthrow of a decaying, oppressive and corrupt regime are being tempered by the continuing conflict between the military factions and especially brutal reprisals in the rural interior like Kassarine and Thala.

As a writer for CNN notes, “North Africa is seeing its own Intifada”. Behind the surface differences between Tunisia and its neighbours, lies “a more profound and general set of conditions that serve as a common source of populist discontent”. The Tunisian uprising is part of a chain of events from Morocco to Egypt “directed at the institutionalized political oppression that each regime represents and the deeply corrupt ways in which power is manipulated and abused by ruling elites”.

The use of the term Intifada is significant. The Arabic word for “tremor”, the strategy was developed by Palestinian leader and Fatah founder Abu Jihad He organised youth committees in the Palestinian territories in a social and political uprising against Israeli occupation in 1987 – as opposed to individual terror and military action. Forced into exile Abu Jihad was assassinated in Tunis by a hail of bullet fire in front of his family by Israeli Mossad commandos.

The dizzying speed of events in Tunisia is a warning to governments and rulers everywhere in the region and elsewhere. New generations are not prepared to stand by while the fruits of independence from colonial power are squandered by corrupt and dictatorial regimes. Spurring people on is the impact of the global capitalist crisis, which lies behind demands and grievances in every country, including Britain.

Whilst the political parties try to rearrange the deck chairs at the top and as security forces loyal to the old regime kill innocent civilians, ordinary citizens in Tunisia are setting up barricades, arming themselves with sticks and attempting to take control of the streets. Developing people’s assemblies to take economic and political control away from the toothless establishment parties hiding behind the military is now an urgent matter.
Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, January 14, 2011

Manchester's councillors have lost their legitimacy

While Labour was preparing to celebrate retaining its seat in the Oldham bye-election, half an hour down the road in Manchester its councillors were announcing 2,000 redundancies from April. In practice, they are doing the government’s dirty work for it – with the support of the national party led by Ed Miliband.

He has sent union representatives around the country to tell Labour councillors, to their relief, that they should blame the Coalition for the cuts but do nothing that might take them outside the law. In other words, they should make a “balanced budget” (councils are not allowed to run a deficit, unlike the government) and stay in office.

In the end, of course, holding on to political positions for their own self-interest is what Labour is all about since Blair and Brown transformed it into a party that sponsors business interests, the financial sector, private-public partnerships and corporate-driven markets.

Any councillor who had even a smidgen of concern for Manchester city council’s workers and their families would have declared that the cuts, which follow on from the savage reduction in government grant, were impossible to support. The councillors could have turned the famous town hall into a fortress and challenged the government to come and do its worst.

Of course, that was never going to happen, especially as national union officials, who knew what was on the cards, stayed silent until the news broke. Sir Richard Leese, leader of the Labour-controlled authority, while complaining about the “unfairness” of it all, announced that the authority would slash £110 million of its budget for 2011-12 and axe almost a fifth of its workforce. Resistance had not even crossed his mind.

The predictable response from union officials was … predictable. Unison leader Dave Prentis, said: "The shockwaves of 2,000 job losses will spread across the city of Manchester and beyond. It is a tragic loss to workers who will have to break the news to their families that they are losing their jobs. It is also a bitter blow to communities who will lose services they rely on and will hit local businesses and trade."

And that was that. No call to action, nothing, nada.

Unite regional officer Keith Hutson admitted that the cuts would have a “devastating effect on services and the people that use them." He threatened – wait for it – a “consultative ballot” on industrial action. That’s a consultation on whether to hold a ballot for action. By the time that’s sorted, the jobs would have gone.

Which puts incoming Unite general secretary Len McCluskey’s remarks on BBC Radio 4 this week into perspective. McCluskey has been talking loudly about industrial action against the cuts. But when it came to the crunch, McCluskey rejected any intention of bring down the government and insisted: “It's all about getting the government to change its mind" and instead of making cuts, "go for growth". With the global capitalist economy increasingly heading south, he can dream on.

His assertion that the deficit is “not high” is equally rubbish. On a number of measures, Britain’s budget deficit is the most serious of all the major capitalist economies. It reached £162 billion in 2009- 10, which represents 11% of national income (GDP), the highest of the group of 20 leading capitalist economies.

Meanwhile, jobs are disappearing rapidly. The GMB union said a total of 113,765 jobs were now under threat at 145 councils across Britain. Councils implementing Coalition cuts have lost their legitimacy. Manchester workers should take a leaf out of the books of the students and occupy their workplaces, including the town hall. That would be a major step towards creating People’s Assemblies in Manchester and elsewhere to defend every job and service and develop alternatives to the present failed social system.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Market driving hunger crisis

The world is facing a hunger crisis unlike anything it has seen in more than 50 years. Some 925 million people don’t have enough to eat and almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes each day.

That’s the stark reality facing almost one in seven of the world’s population. With food prices reaching a new high, the head of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Jacques Diouf, has called for “urgent structural change” to solve global hunger. The rapid increase in hunger and malnourishment since the food crisis of 2008 reveals the inadequacy of the present global food system, he said.

The World Bank estimates that the spike in global food prices in 2008, followed by the global economic recession in 2009 and 2010 has pushed between 100-150 million people into poverty.

But all Diouf’s talk of safety nets and social protection programmes, investment and support for small-scale farming is pie in the sky at a time when the market is driving land and food production in entirely the opposite direction.

In Africa, the main development activity at present is not land redistribution, or even food aid, but an enthusiastic entry into the world of global speculation in land and food production. The dramatic weather changes caused by global warming, which governments refuse to address, is also pushing up food prices.

The role of the market in buying and selling commodity futures is a further crucial factor in driving up prices. Last year, US wheat futures prices rose 47 per cent, corn rose more than 50 per cent and soybeans jumped 34 per cent.

Catherine Flax, investment bank JP Morgan's CEO for commodities, admitted that the financial crisis and fears of inflation have made investors suspicious of banks and financial services: "I do think investors are increasingly looking at physical assets, whether agricultural assets or infrastructure type assets, in part because of the expectations of inflation but also I don't think investors are entirely over the insecurity of the financial crisis."

Rising demand in Asia is a major issue. China’s food imports are soaring, as its own agricultural development is neglected, in favour of land privatisation and industrialisation.

There is no will on the part of governments to interfere in this unbridled operation of the market. In fact, there is an increasing tendency to end subsidies and to let inflation rip.

This policy is meeting resistance, especially in North Africa. The Algerian government rapidly cut import duties when food riots threatened its own survival. The price of basic goods rose by 30 per cent in less than a month in Algeria and a popular uprising led to the arrest of more than 1,000 people, many of them minors.

In neighbouring Tunisia dozens of people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces in clashes centred on unemployment and rising food prices. Bureaucrats in China also fear unrest, with inflation currently running at 5 per cent per year according to official figures, but in reality as much as double that.

Food prices in Australia are likely to soar in the coming months as a result of the Queensland floods, with 50 per cent of crops having been affected and 20 per cent wiped out entirely.

In reality it is THE MARKET in food that is in crisis, not the SUPPLY of food. There is food enough in the world – the rich never go hungry. The operation of the market is preventing people from either growing or purchasing what they need.

The structural change required is more fundamental than that proposed by the FAO. We must rapidly move away from the spoliation of agricultural land by market-driven farming systems. We need a commonwealth in land and a system of food production based on co-operation and the assumption that adequate food is a human right for all.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bank bonuses the symptom not the cause

The sight and sound of Barclays CEO Bob Diamond running rings around a committee of Westminster MPs should bring an end to the ideas that bankers’ bonuses can be controlled, that the financial sector can be regulated, or that the worst excesses of capitalism can be reined in.

These are the ideas that have sustained the economic and political debate since the crisis blew up in 2007. Those tied to the for-profit economic model, which includes most parliamentarians, took their cue from rafts of self-styled “economists”, analysts, commentators. They had in various ways blamed the removal of regulation during the Thatcher/Reagan years for the gaseous, balloons of dodgy credit that enveloped the world during the globalisation decades.

Of course, the chorus of disapproval only started when the burden of mortgage and credit card debt became unsustainable and the payment defaults detonated the balloons’ volatile contents. Until then, the world was in thrall to New Labour’s friends in the City, and the Blair/Brown triumphalism that trumpeted “the end of boom and bust”.

Diamond is pretty much the apotheosis of spokespersons for the capitalist class and he wasn’t pulling any punches when he said that the time for “remorse and apology” was over. In asserting that banks should be allowed to fail, he issued a sharp slap in the face for the whole process of bailing them in the first place.

This led governments and central banks around the world to massively expand their debt and pass the responsibility for repaying it on to their unwilling and increasingly unruly populations, their children and their children’s children, if the system is allowed to continue.

And if banks should be allowed to fail, so, it seems, should the countries who’ve tried to bail them out, or have been caught up the global debt tsunami. Portugal is in line to follow Greece and Ireland.

Philip Augar, author of The Greed Merchants: How the Investment Banks Played the Free Market Game puts it as clearly as you could want

High bonus payments are a symptom of a problem, not its cause. The banking settlement was deficient because it did little to address the asymmetries in the universal banking business model. This model causes investment banks to jeopardise global financial stability in bad times whilst allowing bankers to cream off film star compensation in the good times. The global reforms have done a bit to improve financial stability but almost nothing to constrain the profitability that produces the bonuses. That profitability arises from a business model that gives banks in general and investment banks in particular the best possible view of global economies and markets. They are able to use this information advantage to load the dice and generate super-profits. This is where the bonuses come from and this is why the banking lobby worked so hard and so successfully to defend the model.

The “business model” Augar is talking about is profitability. So now is the time to ask the question of questions: why do we need to organise the whole of society around the for-profit business model? The spectacular failures of the last three years are signs of a system at the end of its days.

Rather than trying to prop it up, at an unbearable cost to billions of ordinary people, we must put it behind us, setting our minds to the future of a society that produces for the needs of everyone, not the bonus-yielding super-profits for a few. That is the agenda for a global network of People’s Assemblies.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The dirty hand of the state exposed

But for the exposure of police agent Mark Kennedy, there is every likelihood that six climate activists would shortly be staring at long prison sentences, framed on conspiracy charges by the state. You can be sure that no one at Scotland Yard would have given a damn.

Kennedy, known as Stone to activists, cost the state an estimated £2.25 million over nine years, most of which was spent infiltrating the climate change movement and passing information back to his masters within the sinister Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

No one will know how many people were victims of Kennedy’s duplicity but what is clear is that he actively encouraged activists to plan a shut-down of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottingham in 2009. More than 100 people were arrested before the action in a pre-emptive raid and have appeared in court recently charged with various offences.

That Kennedy acted as an agent provocateur during this whole episode is proved by the fact that the trial of the six collapsed charged with conspiracy collapsed yesterday when he indicated that he would give evidence for the defence.

Kennedy worked for the National Public Order Intelligence unit which was set up in late 1990s to spy on “domestic activists”. It now one of three groups run by the National Co-Ordinator Domestic Extremism, which has an £8 million budget. This allowed Kennedy to visit more than 20 countries on a false passport and to fund transport and other resources used by climate activists.

At the heart of the operation is ACPO, which has the status of a private company with a board of directors. There are presently 349 members of ACPO from police forces around the UK. In what are deemed times of “national need”, ACPO co-ordinates a countrywide, strategic response. During the 1984-5 miners’ strike, it was a law unto itself, setting up road blocks and organising mass arrests of strikers.

It was the alertness of those who had worked with Kennedy in Nottingham that revealed his true identity and the defence barristers’ demand for information that led to the dropping of the case – after 20 months. It’s a great thing that he has been exposed.

The state is clearly prepared to pay over the odds, and even finance activities in order to frame and arrest activists. This is also the case in anti-terror operations where people have been entrapped and sent to jail as a result of the work of agents provocateurs.

The state’s target are the leaders and those organising things so it is vital to get information from the inside. Technology cannot replace agents. But this causes moral and psychological problems – as shown by Kennedy’s breaking down after being confronted by his ex-comrades.

Does Kennedy’s “going native” indicate the existence of “conscience” in the police? No it doesn’t. The moral high ground may indeed belong to eco-campaigners, but for every one exposed, dozens if not hundreds are likely to in place as informers and provocateurs.

No organisation or group challenging corporate power and the state’s agencies can consider itself immune. The present state exists to defend the status quo and will act independently of elected politicians where necessary. It is definitely not for turning.

“Domestic terrorism” units undoubtedly operate today amongst students, eco-campaigners, anti-cuts activists, left-wing organisations and other groups small and large. What are the best means of undermining them and their aims? By organising to involve the maximum number of people in a strategy to reconstruct the state along democratic lines.

The police and their secret agencies should be exposed, disbanded and replaced with bodies accountable and under the control of communities and elected bodies like People’s Assemblies. A charter of democratic rights would guarantee the freedom to organise without the fear of state infiltration and provocation.

Corinna Lotz
Paul Feldman

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tucson shooting and America's crisis

The attempted assassination of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, has inescapable links to extreme right-wing vitriol from radio talk shows and the mouthing of populist politicians like Sarah Palin. It marks a new stage in America’s unfolding political crisis.

Only last March, Palin – who has eyes on the Republican nomination for the presidency – posted on Facebook: “The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons – your Big Guns – to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win.”

Then, in the run-up to last November’s mid-term elections, she published a map of political targets with crosshairs which looked very much like gun sights over Giffords' district, along with the districts of 19 other Democrats who voted for president Obama’s health-care bill. After posting the map on her Facebook page, Palin told her Twitter followers to go there with the message "Don't Retreat – Instead RELOAD!"

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, who is to be charged with six counts of murder – including a nine-year-old child, a federal judge and the attempted killing of Giffords – was known to share some of the fantasy views encouraged by Palin and the Tea Party movement. These include the notion that Obama is an illegitimate president, that the US currency is a fraud and that federal government in general is unconstitutional. Asked if she had any enemies, Giffords’ father said: "Yeah, the whole Tea Party."

Giffords, a former Republican turned Democrat, had been holding a public meeting in a shopping precinct when the gunman opened fire. When Giffords held a similar meeting last year, someone dropped a gun. Loughner is described by the authorities as mentally unstable. Yet he was able to purchase a semi-automatic pistol.

It’s got that bad that even the sheriff conducting the investigation, Clarence Dupnik, did not hold back: "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government – the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country, is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

Add in the widespread belief that Obama’s modest health care changes are the first step to socialism together with the historic catastrophe that is the American economy, and you can see where paranoia among the dispossessed and disenfranchised is coming from. While Wall Street is booming, deliberately fuelled by the Federal Reserve’s programme of printing money, the rest of the country is going to the dogs.

Even the Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is disturbed by the latest data. “The numbers of people on food stamps have reached 43.2m, an all time-high of 14% of the population …. The US Conference of Mayors said visits to soup kitchens are up 24% this year. There are 643,000 people needing shelter each night."

The long-term unemployed (more than six months) have reached 42% of the total, twice the peak of the early 1990s The “labour participation rate” for working-age men over 20 has dropped to 73.6%, which he says is the lowest figure since 1948. “My guess is that this figure exceeds the average for the Great Depression … It is no surprise that America’s armed dissident movement has resurfaced.”

As Evans-Pritchard acknowledges, there is no “easy solution” to “creeping depression” in America and elsewhere which has left “very large numbers of people in the West trapped on the wrong side of globalisation, and nobody doing much about it.” Though, of course, he doesn’t put in so bluntly, the capitalist system is visibly in meltdown – socially, economically and politically. The events in Tuccon are a sign of the times.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, January 07, 2011

Pakistan's poor caught in the middle

The political and moral crisis wracking Pakistan in the wake of the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer concentrates all the ills of our 21st century world - but also demonstrates the need for a revolutionary alternative.

Divisions have reached civil war proportions over Taseer’s violent death in Islamabad’s fashionable Kohsar Market. Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) activists and opponents of religious fanaticism plus campaigners for democratic and economic rights are mourning Taseer as a courageous and cultured hero. He was close to the persecuted Bhutto family and suffered imprisonment when Pakistan was under martial law.

On the other side, Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer’s assassin, has a Facebook page dedicated to him and supporters are rallying for his release, showering him with rose petals as he gets taken to and from court. Qadri shot the man he was supposed to protect over 27 times because Taseer wanted to amend Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws.

But the religious powder keg could blind us to the deeper contradictions that are dividing the country. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is considered a frontline ally of America, sharing as it does, a long border with eastern Afghanistan, the stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

But the billions in military and civilian aid poured in by the Obama administration have failed to achieve either economic improvement or military success. The frustrations of millions of poverty-stricken people in the country are summed by comments given to a reporter by Arif Fasiullah, 35, from the central city of Multan: "There is no electricity, no gas, no jobs, and they are fighting one another. They do not pass any legislation. They just do dirty politics."

Pakistan, with a population of more than 180 million, faces chronic power failures that can last up to 16 hours per day in some areas during the scorching summer, and up to a third of its people lack access to clean drinking water. Average income per capita is less than $3,000 a year, and most adults have less than five years of schooling.

The International Monetary Fund, which has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars in loans to keep its economy afloat, has demanded the country implement significant changes, including deep cuts to its deficit and a revised general sales tax. These have proved highly unpopular.

Even as you read this, US war planes are continuing drone attacks on north-west Pakistan, which have killed four people in the last 24 hours, with a hundred raids carried out in 2010. Despite all the dollars and US efforts to keep Pakistan onside in the so-called war against terror, the relationship between the US spy agency, the CIA and Pakistan’s equally sinister Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), the operation against south and north Waziristan has reached an all-time low.

It is the economic crisis of global capital which sparked the IMF’s demand that the government raise taxes. That led to an increase in petrol prices (since withdrawn) plus the sacking of a minister that caused the collapse of the parliamentary coalition just before the crisis over Taseer’s murder.

No wonder that reactionary religious leaders seek to cash in on cruel suffering of the majority. Those seen as favouring “western democracy” and supporting “the war against terror” can be rightly be denounced as maintaining the rule of a rich and corrupt elite while others suffer.

Neither the secular bourgeois “westernisers”, nor the military nor the Muslim establishment can take Pakistan an inch forward or resolve the extreme poverty that affects the majority. The development of a secular leadership campaigning for People’s Assemblies to challenge for political power is the issue of the day.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Thursday, January 06, 2011

“A system-wide” problem indeed

In the end, of course, it was a question of saving time and, above all, money. Even the official report into the BP gulf oil disaster has been compelled to come to this conclusion.

On April 20, 2010, the disaster killed 11 workers, seriously injured many others, and spewed over four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months, creating the largest oil spill ever in American waters.

President Obama set up a commission to investigate the causes. The first part of its report published today acknowledges: “Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money).”

Although this conclusion is somewhat buried amidst lots of talk about “management failure” in terms of bad communications and so on – it is inescapably the overriding cause of the disaster.

The panel found that mistakes and "failures to appreciate risk" compromised safeguards "until the blow-out was inevitable and, at the very end, uncontrollable". BP's "fundamental mistake", the panel wrote, was failing to exercise proper caution over the job of sealing the well with cement.

"Based on evidence currently available, there is nothing to suggest that BP's engineering team conducted a formal, disciplined analysis of the combined impact of these risk factors on the prospects for a successful cement job," the report reads.

The report lists a host of engineering mistakes and management failures. These include flawed procedures for securing the well and an ineffective response to the blowout once it began.

What the report also reveals is a cosy relationship between government regulators and the oil industry. The agency responsible was understaffed and didn't have the inspectors and technical analysts “who were up to the task fully."

Commission co-chair William K. Reilly said the inquiry had asked whether it was a case of a single company, BP, that “blundered with fatal consequences”, or a more “pervasive problem of a complacent industry”, adding: “I reluctantly conclude we have a system-wide problem.”

Bob Graham, former Florida governor and a co-chairman of the commission, said the findings showed the blow-out was in fact avoidable. "This disaster likely would not have happened had the companies involved been guided by an unrelenting commitment to safety first," he said.

But even he must know that the oil corporations – like any other capitalist business – are guided first and foremost by a commitment to shareholders, to the bottom line, to returns on capital invested. To profit.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Attack on living standards intensifies

Share and commodity prices are soaring as speculators endorse the global assault on living standards by corporations and governments.

Raising the VAT rate in Britain to 20% - its highest ever - comes as prices are rising out of control, further undermining the value of wages, salaries, pensions and benefits. The lower your income, the more badly affected you will be.

If the private sector employs any of the hundreds of thousands of workers now on their way out of public sector jobs it’ll be at much lower wages, with poorer working conditions and without pensions.

They’ll be in good company. Workers throughout the world are being forced to work harder for less money, whilst unemployment has soared, according to Wage Policies in Times of Crisis, a new report from the International Labour Organisation.

Since the crisis erupted in 2007 and 2009, the world’s 1.4 billion salaried workers have suffered a decline in wage growth - unlike the stratospheric bonuses enjoyed by traders on the global financial markets.

Across the world, real wage growth slowed from 2.2% in 2007 to 0.8% in 2008 and 0.7% in 2009. But real wages – taking inflation into account – actually fell in 12 of 28 industrialised countries in 2008 including Australia (-0.9%), Germany (-0.4%), Italy (-0.7%), Japan (1.9%), Mexico (-2.6%), S. Korea (-1.5%) and the US (-1.0%).

In 2009, real wages fell further in Germany (-0.4%), Mexico (-5.0%), Japan (-1.9%), and S. Korea (-3.3%), whilst workers in France (-0.8%), the U.K (-0.5%), and Russia (-3.5%), also saw wages fall. Wage cuts hit workers in Hungary, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Jamaica, Botswana, Bahrain, the West Bank and Gaza. Among the worst affected were those in the Ukraine, where wages fell by 8%.

In the decades leading up to the crash, though wages increased, workers had to work far harder for their money, and received a declining share of the value they added. During the debt-fuelled growth of powerful global corporations from 1980, the share of value added by factory workers that came back to them in wages fell in most countries.

Wage growth lagged far behind productivity increases in most countries of the world, but particularly the industrialised countries. In the US, for example, between 2000 and 2009, labour productivity grew by 13%, whereas real average wages grew by only 2.2%. In Korea, whilst real wage growth was much stronger – at 18.3% between 2000 and 2009 – it was still way below the growth in labour productivity of 27.4%.

With the global economy in recession, the attacks on wages are certain to accelerate as corporations and governments pursue the cause of profit. Computer manufacturer Dell, for example, is moving operations inland in China in search of even cheaper labour.

Price rises are eroding wages even faster. In Britain, food costs have risen 5.5% over the past 12 months, outpacing the overall inflation rate of 3.3%. Wheat prices have just reached record levels, which is forecast to increase the price of a loaf of bread.

Unemployment is soaring, with the jobless total over reaching 210 million worldwide, adding to the pressure on wages. The GMB union today forecast that 200,000 jobs would be culled between now and April as a result of cuts in local authority spending.

With many US states including California, the eighth largest economy in the world, joining much of Europe on the edge of a new financial meltdown, the prospects for a “return to growth” in the capitalist system look remote. What is certain, however, is that the exploitation of working people in every country will increase day by day.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Your vote counts for very little

News today that Britain’s voting system is said to be “broken” comes as no surprise. What is left unsaid in a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), however, is that the political system itself is in a state of terminal decline.

The IPPR report Worst of Both Worlds explains in convincing detail why the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system is increasingly undemocratic and why things can only get worse.

it found that just 1.8 per cent of the electorate - less than 450,000 voters - decided the outcome of the May election in 108 marginal constituencies. “The overwhelming majority of us live in safe seats where we are increasingly neglected by the political parties both during and between elections –and where we have little chance of influencing the result of general elections,” the report notes.

As we know, the election produced a hung parliament and Britain’s first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s. Drawing on academic research, and conducting its own analysis of voting election data, the IPPR report suggests that the 2010 election result was not a one-off aberration.

“Instead, we believe it reflects long-term changes in voting patterns across the UK – declining support for the two main parties and divergent support for them across the nations and regions of the UK – that significantly increase the likelihood of hung parliaments in the future. Unless FPTP is reformed the UK will be left in the ‘worst of both worlds’: a voting system that neither delivers fair representation nor single-party majority government.”

The report shows the dramatic shift away from Labour and the Tories over the last 60 years. In 1951, the parties polled 96.8% of the total electorate between them at that year’s general election. By last year, the figure had slumped to 65.1%. Yet the voting system continues to reward Labour and the Tories, who between them won 86% of the seats in the House of Commons last May .

The rise in support for third parties makes it more difficult for individual MPs to secure a majority of support (50% or more) among their local electorate, which, says the IPPR, raises serious questions about the legitimacy of MPs to represent their constituents. “It also makes it much harder for governments to win an overall majority nationally, which again undermines the representativeness of governments formed under FPTP.”

The IPPR, which was a strong supporter of New Labour governments, is concerned that “Britain will become increasingly divided electorally, and governments will be formed that lack widespread support across the country”.

The report will lend support to those campaigning for the alternative vote (AV) system in the referendum scheduled for the coming May. This has already led to some bizarre alliances with, for example, some trade unions joining with right-wing Tories in a bid to block a “Yes vote”. Most Labour MPs are against AV, which is not surprising because their party only needs a three-point lead in votes in order to secure an overall majority, whereas the Conservatives need about an 11 point lead.

But surely the point is that an unfair voting system reflects a broken political system, as reflected the decline in voter turn-out (especially among new generations). Increasingly, politics is part of a state structure where corporate and financial interests predominate. The last government bailed out the banks and the Coalition is cutting the deficit to appease the money markets.

Over the last 30 years of globalisation, Parliaments and governments have become bit players in a world dominated by ultra-powerful transnational interests. No amount of fiddling with the voting system will change that. A transition to new forms of democratic government around the concept of People’s Assemblies is what beckons in 2011.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor