Friday, September 29, 2006

Beyond the market economy

Awareness is emerging that neither the international system of carbon trading, nor myriad individual actions, nor even a combination of the two can stem the acceleration of global warming towards a predicted cataclysmic change in climate resulting from the recent period of capitalist globalisation. Concerned observers, activists and academics are now beginning to question and doubt the oft-repeated end-of-history mantra that capitalist production and the free market constitute the highest possible development of human society.

As mass protests fail to impress governments and proposals for reform fall by the wayside of history, there is now a growing interest in alternative ways of organising society. Inevitably and understandably there comes a re-examination of old forms and not-so-old proposals and experiments. In Market Schmarket* there is an eclectic but welcome stew of ideas. Unusually for a member of the Green Party, the author Molly Scott Cato, who is the organisation’s speaker on economics, explicitly pin-points the profit-driven capitalist economic system as the source of obesity and over-consumption; the epidemic of drug taking; global instability and war; and climate change.

Unlike many that call for various forms of regulation of corporate activity, Cato draws together a collection of ideas for solutions to some of the myriad of problems which contribute to contemporary ills. Even more unusually she (re)introduces some ideas for a society based on premises quite different from the shareholder-value, profit-driven growth which underpins capitalist social relations. She is highly critical of the campaigns to end poverty without replacing the system of exploitation at the heart of capitalism, stating: "Unless we establish an economic system that does not rely on expropriation and exploitation, no amount of aid or trade is going to end world poverty. It is worse than naïve; it is a deception to argue that it might."

Equally forthright criticism is directed at the many who want to reform the world trade system. "My view is that anybody who argues merely for a renegotiation of the rules of the WTO either grossly underestimates the power of the corporations and the governments they control, or else is deliberately deflecting our energy." Cato’s vision of a new society is formed around mutualism as expressed in the employee-owned co-operative movement, and a new system of production and distribution that balances the needs of producers, consumers and the planet. Once this new system is in place, and the copyrighting of ideas replaced with "an empowering attitude towards knowledge that privileges the rights of humanity", it begins to be possible to introduce a more rational consideration of international trade.

According to Cato, the new system begins with throwing "the profit motive out the window. In its place we will put two simple alternative objectives: the maximisation of human well being and the protection of the planet". Re-organisation of the world economy can then take place around bioregionalism, where bioregions are largely self-sufficient natural social units determined by ecological concerns rather than economics.

It isn’t hard to criticise the weaknesses in this wide-ranging and extensive assessment. We are reminded of the huge debt-enabled growth of the global corporations and the extent to which they determine the policy of governments around the world. But little is said directly to help with taking them on and dismantling their interconnected web of power relations. There’s much more of a flavour of disengaging, turning aside and establishing alternative ways of living on a small scale alongside "a tactical compromise with the money system". There is no perspective for actually challenging the power of global capitalism or, crucially, the state political system that maintains it in place. These omissions expose the weakness of the Green Party’s reformist approach to politics and economics. Nevertheless, Cato’s book is important because we as readers are challenged to consider other options, to learn lessons from history, and to begin to think about how we might organise society differently.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

* Market Schmarket, Building the Post-Capitalist Economy. Molly Scott Cato, New Clarion Press £13.95

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Unions have to support McDonnell

Some trade union leaders are apparently, if reluctantly, coming to the conclusion that most of us reached some time ago - that there is no substantial differences between the politics of Tony Blair and those of his likely successor, Gordon Brown. Union leaders were given short shrift by Brown in New Labour’s national executive committee on Wednesday when they pressed for a commitment to end the corporate take over of the NHS and other public services. Brown defended the sell-off of NHS Logistics to the German firm DHL and the creation of markets inside the health service. He pointedly rejected the pressure from strike action organised by Unison against the privatisation and told them the transfer would go ahead on October 1. The national executive narrowly supported Brown’s position.

All this renders fairly irrelevant what happened on the conference floor later, when the angered union leaders used their votes to carry a resolution asking New Labour to "rethink the headlong rush to a competitive system" in the NHS. The terms of the resolution also show that the union bureaucrats have learned nothing after nine years of New Labour. Introducing the private sector into public services is a cornerstone of a government that puts the needs of the market economy first and goes back to New Labour’s early days. Asking them to "rethink" this policy is akin to demanding that the tide stops turning. Will this ever get through to the union leadership? There is some doubt.

It is all very well for Dave Prentis, the Unison general secretary, to talk of newly qualified healthcare staff struggling to find jobs in a system driven by "market madness" and to declare that "enough is enough". But what are Tony Woodley of the transport union and others going to do about it all? They are clinging on to New Labour for dear life while their membership is moving in another direction. At a fringe meeting, the unions warned that voters would abandon New Labour unless it put some "clear red water" between itself and the revitalised Tories under David Cameron. As this is clearly not going to happen under Brown or any other New Labourite, the unions are staring the end of New Labour in the face while offering no alternative.

There is another choice, however. They could denounce Brown and throw their weight behind the campaign launched by John McDonnell, chair of the Campaign Group of Socialist MPs. McDonnell is fighting on a clear platform of opposition to New Labour’s market capitalist polices. If the unions supported his bid for the leadership it would create the conditions for an open debate about alternatives to New Labour, both in policy and practical terms. The longer the union leaders sit on their hands, the more likely it is that the Tories will return unchallenged.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Blair’s fantasy world

Not long after the Nuremberg-type rally in Manchester, where Our Leader received almost 10 minutes in standing ovations from fawning New Labour delegates, a report was published in the United States which blew apart some of the lies and half-truths Tony Blair had delivered from the rostrum.

Blair defended the "war on terror" and his government’s alliance with the US. "This terrorism is not our fault, we didn't cause it," he claimed. "It's not the consequence of foreign policy, it's an attack on our way of life." But while he was spouting this nonsense, a report by 16 spy agencies in the United States was being published in its entirety because much of it had already been leaked to the media.

Giving a rare glimpse of what the secret state actually thinks, the National Intelligence Estimate admits that the occupation of Iraq war had helped recruit "supporters for the global jihadist movement". Despite serious damage to the leadership of al-Qaeda, Islamic militants are now more numerous and have a greater geographic reach, the report adds.

A key passage states: "If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks world-wide. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups."

While the delegates were cheering the man who transformed Labour into a party of big business, at least 13 people were killed and dozens injured in a series of blasts in and around Baghdad. An office of the Iraqi Communist Party was one of the targets. It was just another average day of death under the US-led occupation.

In Baghdad, US and puppet Iraqi officials go about their lives oblivious to this carnage, living and working in the so-called Green Zone, which is a fortress-like enclave that the American military has constructed. In Manchester, a similar fantasy world exclusion zone protects New Labour from any normal contact with the average British citizen and their concerns. In the end, however, reality has a nasty habit of hammering on the closed door as New Labour is soon to find out.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Democrats let Bush off the hook

You might think that with all the bad news the Bush presidency is having to deal with the opposition Democratic Party would be set to sweep the mid-term elections in November and take control of at least one of the houses of Congress. Yet the Democrats are so tainted with outright support for, or lukewarm opposition to, Bush’s policies that they are not gaining any real ground.

In fact, Bush has more problems with opponents inside his own Republican Party who are manoeuvring to try and distance themselves from the White House ahead of the elections. Thanks to the Democrats’ pusillanimous posturing, the polls are actually showing a return of support to Bush. The national average turn-out for the 2002 mid-term elections was only 35% so there aren’t that many votes to be fought over and analysts are now predicting a tight race.

On the face of it, the Bush camp ought to be in serious political trouble, especially over Iraq where the conflict has claimed 2,700 US soldiers killed and 20,000 seriously wounded. Only yesterday, the head of the US army said there was not enough money to fight the Iraq war while three retired generals denounced defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and said he should resign for his bungling since the 2003 invasion. US intelligence agencies have now officially acknowledged the obvious: The failed occupation in Iraq has stoked the global terrorist threat, generating recruits for increasing acts of terror across the globe.

Robert L. Borosage, director of the Campaign For America's Future, in a recent blog for TomPaine.Com, noted: "Likewise, the premiere of Robert Greenwald’s stunning documentary, "Iraq for Sale," along with the publication of books ripping the cover off the Iraq occupation — Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco, T. Christian Miller’s Blood Money, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City — expose the sordid reality behind the failure in Iraq—the mélange of conservative ideological idiocy, incompetence, cronyism and corruption that is the hallmark of this administration. In the midst of this is the abject failure of a supine conservative Congress to enforce any form of accountability on the administration, as so-called moderate Republicans marched in lockstep with their conservative leaders to deep-six every effort to investigate the pervasive corruption and profiteering."

Where are the Democrats? Well, America’s other capitalist party supported the invasion of Iraq as well as the so-called "war on terror" launched in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. They have nothing to say on the big issues facing Americans such as the slump in the housing market, rising unemployment or the loss of democratic rights.

What about their attitude to immigrants without papers, who marched in their millions earlier this year against Republican proposals to make them criminals? In Arizona, Democrat Jim Pederson’s campaign website declares that "illegal immigration is endangering out security, putting a huge burden on our communities' schools and hospitals". In Missouri, Democrat Claire McCaskill includes building border fences as part of her immigration strategy. In Montana, Matt McKenna, spokesman for Jon Tester, indicates the Democratic candidate "would not offer amnesty to illegal immigrants". Not much incentive there for registered Latinos to get out and vote Democrat in November!

The choice between the Republicans and Democrats now mirrors the "choice" between New Labour and the Conservative Party. Even forensic science might have some trouble detecting any essential difference between these parties.

Paul Feldman communications editor

Monday, September 25, 2006

New Labour and the merchants of death

Whoever becomes next New Labour leader, or that matter whatever party wins the next election, one thing is certain: they will ensure that Britain remains the world’s second biggest arms trader after the United States. As delegates gathered in Manchester for the party’s conference, they would have read that Iraq, Colombia and Kazakhstan are now "priority" markets for the government agency, the Defence Export Services Organisation (Deso).

Arms sales have boomed under the Blair regime. Last year, the government authorised the sale of arms to 100 countries, including both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria are among other repressive regimes who regularly receive British-made arms. In 2005, various departments issued almost 7,000 export licences and refused just 127.

As the Campaign Against the Arms Trade puts it in a recent briefing: "This is hardly surprising given that it is government policy to vigorously support arms exports and that the government allows arms companies unrivalled influence in its policy-making. In fact, arms companies and the government have a unique relationship and are inseparable when it comes to selling arms abroad."

Unique is the word. The arms companies certainly have friends in Whitehall. Not for them the hard-sell business. Deso employs 500 civil servants at Deso whose job it is to sell weapons on behalf of arms companies and to co-ordinate government support for arms exports. Deso is run by a seconded arms industry executive with access to ministers and Downing Street itself.

Identifying Iraq as a new "marketing opportunity" is the height of cynicism. Together with the US, British forces have turned Iraq into a nightmare state verging on civil war. Sending more arms can only make matters worse. Deso also claims that "in Colombia, the human rights and security situation has improved" to justify arms exports. That’s news to many Colombians, who live in fear of state, extra-judicial executions and disappearances. There is always the "war on terror" if markets get tough, with Deso insisting that "countering it [terrorism] with new equipment, systems and processes is now a major driver in spending and planning".

What a sordid and corrupt business this is. The export of weapons designed to fuel military conflicts and keep dictatorial regimes in place – with sales promoted by civil servants funded by taxpayers – sums up New Labour. Here is the state, the government and corporations all in bed together selling commodities that have one purpose – to kill. Once again, we have to ask – what is the point of New Labour, whoever’s prime minister?

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, September 22, 2006

The global warming propaganda war

As the evidence for an unexpected acceleration of global warming spurs concerns of a sudden and catastrophic change, the propaganda war over climate change is reaching a crescendo. Today sees the UK nation-wide release of Al Gore's film An inconvenient truth which presents in a dramatic way a mass of incontrovertible scientific evidence about climate change. This Sunday, a training programme begins for hundreds of volunteers who will learn how to deliver Gore's message.

Earlier in the week, The Guardian printed extracts from George Monbiot's book Heat which exposes ExxonMobil's campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining climate science. And as a further step in California's programme to reduce carbon emissions, the state is suing six car makers for contributing to global warming. Billionaire Richard Branson has committed future dividends and proceeds from the sale of assets to investment in renewable energy initiatives, not least of which is his new Virgin Fuels initiative. Branson pointedly calls it the Gaia Capitalism Project.

In the USA 483,523 people, including Republican politicians, musicians, astronauts, journalists, army generals, actors and broadcasters have signed up to The Stop Global Warming Virtual March, committing to each other that "together, as our numbers grow, we will use our collective voices to demand that governments, corporations, and politicians take the steps necessary to stop global warming".

The list of actions that individuals can take is growing day-by-day: reduce air travel, use compact fluorescent bulbs, inflate your tyres, change your air filter, fill the dishwasher, use recycled paper, adjust your thermostat, buy minimally-packaged goods, buy a fuel-efficient car, plant a tree, take shorter showers.

Behind all this activity lie two narrow assumptions: 1) 'we' as consumers are mainly responsible for the climate crisis and changes in our consumption habits are a precondition for moving forward 2) on no account can actions be taken that might in any way undermine the functioning of the global market economy.

Yet the source of the acceleration in climate change is not simply the result of human activity in general. This assertion gets us nowhere fast and, of course, leaves out of the equation the underlying structures and purpose of the economic system that drive consumption patterns.

In A World to Win’s view, climate change is primarily the consequence of the last three decades of unprecedented, uncontrolled and uncontrollable expansion of competitive profit-seeking production by globalising corporations which, even as they profess their green credentials, are maximising returns to shareholders.

It is this competitive drive for expansion that requires them to plunder the planet for resources, and ruin it with waste and pollution. It is in the very nature of the capitalist system to produce ever-increasing quantities of commodities which they must sell to us, making us into ever more heavily-indebted consumers. We urgently need to break out of the constraints of capitalist production and capitalist thinking. AWTW has outlined a crash programme for recovering the planet:

  • Establishing a new, more democratic political framework
  • Replacing the absurd private ownership of natural resources and social products with collective stewardship
  • Replacing commodity production for profit with planned production for need
  • Zero-waste production under the control of the workforce in alliance with consumers, producing goods built to last
  • An end to production for obsolescence and the artificial creation of new "needs" by advertising and marketing
  • Life-cycle production that respects eco-systems, including humanity's
  • Massive investment in solar, wind and hydro - energy, hydrogen fuel cell propulsion systems, and biofuels to replace carbon-based energy sources
  • Scrapping of unnecessary transport of food and goods around the world
  • Implementation of new technologies to reduce carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emissions
  • Public investment in new forms of affordable public transport tailored to individual needs in both urban and rural areas
  • The long-term phasing out of mass private car use and a switch to car pools. An end to mass road building programmes
  • Renewal of urban settlements to make them more energy efficient, based on people having to travel short distances for work.

This is a rough guide to a different future. Join us on October 21 for a day of discussion, debate and planning about how we can turn it into reality. Time is not on our side!

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nuclear costs explode

Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine fleet used to point its missiles at the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Who they’re pointed out now is anyone’s guess. Probably Iran and North Korea, amongst others. We’re not allowed to know. Nor are we being told the real cost of replacing the existing Trident missile system.

It now appears that the true replacement cost is somewhere near £76,000 million – three times the figures given in most estimates. Liberal Democrats, backed by House of Commons researchers, have made the calculations based on existing information. These new figures take into account the cost of buying the missiles from the United States and maintaining the system over a 30-year period. New Labour has declined to put a figure on the cost.

Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both back the replacement of the existing system in about 2020. The decision will have to be taken soon, however, and New Labour has signalled that parliament will not get a chance to vote on Trident II. So much for the democratic process then.

Obviously, £76 billion would finance many schools, hospitals, houses and fund urgently-needed infrastructure all over Britain. That’s clearly not going to happen because all the major parties and the military back Britain’s "independent nuclear deterrent", which in fact is utterly dependent on the United States.

New Labour can’t evade accusations of hypocrisy either. While they merrily go about spending taxpayers’ money on weapons of mass destruction, no time is lost in denouncing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. No wonder the Iranian president can hurl accusations of double-standards at Washington and London.

When the Cold War ended, the major Western powers declared that there would be a "peace dividend" and the world was now safer. The only dividends in sight are those that will be paid to missile contractors who will build Trident II, while as for living in a safer world…

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

It’s not just Blair who has to go

Patricia Hewitt, the minister who is in charge of putting the NHS out to tender, says there is no limit to the involvement of the private sector in what is supposed to be a public service. Hewitt told a conference on Tuesday that it was not her job to decide which organisations should provide NHS services. The outcome would depend on the "ingenuity" of rival "suppliers" and the "choices" made by patients and doctors. She also voiced support for David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, who has said up to 60 district general hospitals may lose accident and emergency departments.

Hewitt’s position is a calculated one, just like that of the government as a whole. New Labour is on a mission to merge public and private enterprises into a new corporate sector, one which is facilitated by the state. Hewitt has come – perhaps sunk is a better word - a long way – since she was general secretary of what was then the National Council for Civil Liberties, now Liberty. Then she defended ordinary people’s rights. Today, like the rest of New Labour, she defends the "right" of the corporate sector to make money out of an NHS that is actually paid for by the taxpayer. This is wealth redistribution alright – from wage earners to the corporations now taking over a hospital near you.

Tomorrow, workers at NHS Logistics stage a 24-hour strike against the privatisation of the distribution service, which is being sold off to the transnational DHL. A one-day action will not hurt this government at all, or get it to alter its policies. If Unison leaders were at all serious, they would call out all their NHS members on an indefinite action against the government. Restricting campaigns against New Labour to "Blair Out" also completely miss the point that it is the government as a whole that is rotten and reactionary to the core. No replacement prime minister can alter this fact.

The strategy should be to get rid of New Labour as a whole. Some might say that would only let the Tories back in. Well, apart from the fact that New Labour has acted like the Tories – only worse – since 1997, there’s not much to that argument. In any case, it looks as if the Tories will come out tops at the next general election. The best way to prepare for David Cameron’s Tories is to act now against New Labour.

The reality is that there is no parliamentary alternative to New Labour because the political system itself is as undemocratic and beyond reform as those who preside over it. Mobilising against New Labour to bring it down would open up a much-needed debate about what kind of political system is needed to tackle the big questions like climate change, terrorism, corporate-driven globalisation, health and housing. Better to adopt this approach than to delude people that pressure or changing leaders will alter the nature of the New Labour beast. Things are much too far gone for that.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Spooky but true

It may only have been TV theatre but the Spooks storyline about the foiling of a coup d’etat in Britain, broadcast on BBC1 Sunday and Monday evening, was not at all off the wall. In fact, the drama not only felt real but to a greater extent than many viewers may have realised was also case of art imitating life itself.

In Spooks, which romanticises the spy agency MI5, loyal officers uncovered a plot by MI6, the counter-intelligence agency, a media tycoon, a corrupt businessman, the cabinet secretary and sections of the police and army, to install a dictatorship in Britain. Plotters used the cover of terror attacks – which MI6 knew about beforehand but allowed to take place – as well as state-organised provocations to destabilise the country and pave the way for a coup.

Fantasy and fanciful? Not really. In real life and in recent times, the spy agencies, as well as the army, have actually been involved in plots to destabilise and overthrow elected governments in Britain. In 1968, a period of mass upheavals in Britain and worldwide, senior army figures, together with press baron Lord Cecil King and Lord Mountbatten, a member of the royal family, and senior intelligence agency figures, discussed the possibility of a coup in to overthrow Harold Wilson’s Labour government. It was put on ice when the government swung to the right and attacked militant trade unions.

The plans for a coup were dusted down when Labour was returned to office in 1974 after a miners’ strike had brought down the Tory government of Edward Heath. Senior army officers had reassessed their role in modern British society and decided unilaterally that collaboration with civilian authorities was necessary to prepare for a state of emergency. One of the fruits of this new collaboration was a series of joint police/army exercises at Heathrow Airport in 1974. The first of these was held in January, while Heath was still in power but the remaining three were held in June, July and September.

The initiative for these unprecedented exercises did not come from either Heath's or Wilson's government. The responsibility for them lay with the metropolitan Commissioner of Police, then Sir Robert Mark. For the first two exercises spurious "anti-terrorist" excuses were given. For the last two none were even offered. Wilson’s personal assistant, Marcia Williams, told the Sunday Times in March 1981: ". . . . . Harold was worried about the business when troops did an anti-terrorist exercise at London Airport. He said to me: ‘Have you ever thought that they could be used in a different way? They could turn that lot against the government totally.’"

Wilson's apparent fears were well founded because both the army and MI5 had already shown their contempt for his government. MI5 had vetoed the appointment of a number of his colleagues to the cabinet on the grounds of "security", while in Northern Ireland the spy agencies and the army had seized control of events. In May 1974, right-wing Protestant forces organised a strike to break the power-sharing agreement politicians had agreed. The army pointedly refused to carry out instructions from Wilson’s government to intervene to maintain electricity generation. There is evidence that MI5 and Loyalists then organised bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, killing 33 civilians, which they then blamed on the IRA. MI5 succeeded in ousting MI6 from Northern Ireland and together with the SAS, inaugurated a shoot-to-kill policy.

So the troops at Heathrow in 1974 were part of a dry run for a coup. The first admission that the rumours were true came eventually from Field Marshall Lord Carver, six years later, during a Cambridge Union debate on pacifism. When questioned, he denied that either he or "senior" officers had been involved: ". . It was exactly the opposite in that a certain interview took place by a young journalist at the Army HQ near Salisbury, Wiltshire, in which not very senior, but fairly senior, officers were ill advised enough to make suggestions that perhaps if things got terribly bad, the Army would have to do something about it."

More than 30 years later and there is discontent in the army about New Labour’s foreign adventures – with soldiers despatched to fight without adequate equipment – a looming fuel crisis, a credit boom threatening to end in tears, an unpopular government and the possibility of unstable coalition politics ahead. The state within the state is no doubt watching all this very closely… and plotting and planning.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, September 18, 2006

Gaza under siege - a year after Israeli 'withdrawal'

Weekly report on Israeli human rights violations in Occupied Palestine
PCHR - Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

The publication of this report coincides with the first anniversary of the IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] redeployment in the Gaza Strip, under which IOF dismantled Israeli settlements and deployed along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Israel claimed then that its forces' withdrawal from the Gaza Strip had ended 38 years of occupation, but facts on the ground refute this claim, as IOF have continued to commit crimes against Palestinian civilians and property in the Gaza Strip and have maintained control over it border, airspace and sea.

In the meantime, IOF have continued to construct the Annexation Wall and expand settlements in the West Bank. As the international community has remained silent, IOF have continued to wage a full scale offensive on the Palestinian people, especially in the Gaza Strip, since 35 June 2006, when Palestinian militants launched an attacks on an IOF military site near Rafah. During the reported period, IOF have continued their attacks on Palestinian civilians and property.
Report for 7-13 September:
  • Destruction incurred to agricultural land in Khuza’a village, east Khan Yunis, during an Israeli incursion into the village
  • 6 Palestinians, including two children, were killed by IOF
  • 3 of the victims, including two civilian bystanders, were extra-judicially executed by IOF in Qabatya village near Jenin
  • 29 Palestinian civilians, including 4 children and 6 women, were wounded by the IOF gunfire
  • IOF have continued to launch air strikes on houses in the Gaza Strip; one house was destroyed in Gaza City
  • IOF conducted 35 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and 4 others into the Gaza Strip
  • IOF arrested 55 Palestinian civilians, including two children, 3 women and two wounded persons, in the West Bank
  • 4 houses were destroyed and 280 donums of agricultural land were razed by IOF in the Gaza Strip
  • IOF transformed a number of houses into military sites
  • IOF raided various offices of Prisoners’ Supporters Association.

IOF have continued to construct the Annexation Wall in the West Bank; they confiscated 100 donums of land in al-Khader village south of Bethlehem; and the Israeli High Court approved resuming the construction of the Wall to the northwest of Jerusalem. Israeli settlers have continued to attack Palestinian civilians and property in the OPT; an Israeli settler ran down a Palestinian child in Qalqilya.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry

Spain is in the grip of a conspiracy theory row between the Socialist Party government and the right-wing press and parties over the Madrid bombings of 2004. Some sections of the Popular Party and the conservative media now suggest that the bombings were in effect a coup d’etat which brought the Socialist Party to power at the general election three days after the bombing. At the time, the Popular Party government immediately blamed the Basque separatist group Eta for the train bombs that killed more than 200 commuters. That accusation literally blew up in their faces at the polls because most electors rightly connected the bombs with Spain’s foreign policy and the government’s support for the invasion of Iraq and swept the Socialist Party into office in an unexpected turn of events.

The fact that it is the right wing on this occasion who are claiming the bombings were planned by the left only illustrates the immense difficulties with the conspiracy theory approach to dealing with real events. In the United States and Europe, there are many radical opponents of the Bush government who believe that the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers was the work of the American state. There are some who even think that the planes we’ve all seen on TV hitting the buildings were actually holograms to disguise missiles fired by US warplanes. Thousands of people must have been involved if there was a conspiracy. No participant has yet broken cover.

Of course there are conspiracies and provocations to create events that the ruling classes will act on to their advantage. In the main, however, they react because they hold the power and have the capacity and know-how to do this. For example, the invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas by Argentina in 1982 came at an opportune time for the Thatcher government, which was rocking. She reacted swiftly and despatched the navy to recapture the islands. In other words, she actually responded to Argentina's military adventure. Bush and Blair responded to September 11 by launching a series of wars and invasions. Losing authority and legitimacy, they seized on a pretext – one handed to them by Al Qaeda.

It is not much of a leap from conspiracy theories to the disarming general standpoint that the whole world is basically run on the lines of a web of conspiracies. This implies that 'they' are always in control, can determine the outcome of events to suit their purposes and that we're destined forever to be the victims of events. On that basis, we can never successfully challenge let alone overthrow this power because a) we can’t identify it and b) even if we can, they'll conspire to stop us. So we can never actually achieve anything - except uncovering the odd conspiracy here and there. In practice, the truth is more challenging and complex and the state is not the all-powerful, all-controlling instrument conspiracy theorists would have us believe. The disasters in Iraq that the occupation has produced, the US government’s failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina, and the resurgence of the Taleban in Afghanistan are just a few illustrations of how, to quote Robbie Burns, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Global recession – local impact

Warnings of a world-wide recession are emerging loud and clear from some of the major figures in the global economy. In the September issue of its twice-yearly global financial stability report, the International Monetary Fund highlighted a sharp slowdown in the US economy, triggered by a slump in house prices, as the major risk. Other dangers included:

  • A surge in inflation that would force central banks, particularly the US Federal Reserve, to impose sharp interest rate rises that would ripple through emerging markets
  • New increases in oil prices as geopolitical tensions worsen - a reference to a US threats against Iran over nuclear technology
  • A sudden unravelling of the record imbalances between surpluses in Asia and deficits in the US
  • A mutation in the avian flu virus that would lead to a "sharp decline in economic activity".

Jaime Caruana, director of the IMF's monetary and capital markets department, said: "Markets appear to price in little provision for these risks. So if one or some combination of these risks materialises, financial markets could experience greater turbulence that places stress on international markets, possibly with a wider impact on the global economy."

The IMF, in its half-yearly report on the global economy published today, says fears about the cooling of the housing market in the United States are spreading to other countries such as Ireland, Spain and Britain where house prices seemed overvalued "by most conventional measures".

With analysts talking of risk, volatility and turbulence in the months to come, the political dangers inherent in the growth of credit in recent years are well understood. Those whose role is to pull the strings of the global capitalist economy are painfully aware of their inability to prevent the emerging catastrophic impact on millions of ordinary people.

At its August 23rd meeting, the directors of the IMF pointed to the possible constraints on the use of traditional policy measures. They noted: "A situation in which household bankruptcies become commonplace may be quite different from a situation of large-scale corporate distress, as political pressures may make conventional crisis management tools difficult to use. For this reason, directors suggested that countries in which the interest and exchange rate exposure of households is large should maintain adequate reserves and set in place contingency plans to confront large interest and/or exchange rate movements."

That is the situation emerging in Britain. Official statistics released earlier this week showed record levels of personal and household debt alongside rising inflation. For the fourth month running, the inflation rate exceeded the Bank of England forecast and is the highest since New Labour came to power nine years ago, increasing pressure for an interest rate rise. Unemployment in the UK is also rising, adding to difficulties in meeting debt. The total rose to 1.7 million in the three months to July, which is the highest figure recorded since January 2000. The figure was 93,000 higher than last month and up 280,000 on the year.

The global crisis is already having a local impact.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Simply melting away

While the world’s major powers go about their daily business of exploiting the planet and waging wars on several fronts, there is more dire news about the impact of climate change. Scientists from the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) report that this year’s retreat of Arctic sea ice could be the most extreme since monitoring of the polar ice cap began in 1979.

The loss of permanent sea ice is "the most irrefutable evidence" that global warming is affecting the environment, says Ted Scambos, lead scientist with NSIDC.

In 2005 - the warmest year ever recorded, according to scientists - the summer extent of Arctic sea ice hit a record low, covering an area 20 percent less than the average minimum of 7 million square kilometres between 1979 and 2000. The 2006 retreat, which peaks in September, is expected to be even greater. By the end of July, Arctic sea ice covered only 8.7 million square kilometres, down from 9.1 million in 2005 and 10.1 million on average for the 1979–2000 period.

Recent satellite data shows that melting of Greenland’s massive land-based ice sheet has accelerated as well. Measurements by a US space agency NASA satellite suggest that some 239 cubic kilometres of ice is being lost per year, almost a three fold increase in melting from the 2002 to 2004 average.

Unlike melting sea ice, which floats on the surface of the water, loss of land-based ice could lead to rising sea levels with catastrophic effects, including greater risks from severe storm surges and permanent submergence of low-lying areas. Experts estimate that each millimetre increase in sea level results in shoreline retreats of approximately 1.5 metres; if Greenland’s ice sheet were to melt completely, global sea levels would rise 6.5 metres. UN experts predict that rising sea levels and environmental deterioration will displace as many as 50 million people by 2010. And that’s only the start. Meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan…

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Unison leaders have to take the gloves off

The news that Unison, the public sector union, is to launch strike action against NHS privatisation is not before time. For years, Unison voiced only verbal opposition while New Labour carved up the health service. Policies ranging from privatised treatment centres to the leasing of new hospitals from private sector firms have sailed through unopposed.

Even the decision to take action against the sell-off of NHS Logistics – which supplies and delivers healthcare products to hospitals – to the German firm DHL is belated. Invitations to tender actually went out in August 2004 and DHL was chosen in February of this year. The contract comes into force in just 18 days time, on October 1.

Given half a chance, union members would have fought government plans all along. The overwhelming decision of NHS Logistics workers to strike confirms that. But Unison general secretary Dave Prentis has been determined not to rock the New Labour boat in the futile hope that behind-the-scenes pressure would change government policies. Only now, with the end of Tony Blair’s premiership in sight, is Unison acting.

Well, better late than never. What is the perspective for the planned strikes? Unison surely knows that New Labour will not change its mind on the DHL contract, which is signed and sealed. A series of one-day actions would fritter away the resolve of the membership and the government can just sit the strikes out.

Perhaps there’s another agenda. Is the real intention of Unison’s leaders merely to use the proposed strikes to try and extract some sort of secret pledge from Gordon Brown on his attitude to the NHS should he succeed Blair? Brown is the architect of many of New Labour’s policies, including the private finance initiative which has helped undermine hospital finances. So any sort of undertaking from him would be worthless.

But if Unison’s leaders really are serious about fighting the government, then they will mobilise not just NHS Logistics workers but all their health service members. They would rally the rest of the trade union movement against a capitalist government that merits no support whatsoever and open the discussion on the creation of an alternative to New Labour.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11 and state terror

The US-led "war on terror", declared by President Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks five years ago today, and endorsed by New Labour, expresses the arrogance of regimes which mistakenly think they can forcibly remake the world in their image.

Leaving aside the ludicrous idea of a war on an idea, we see states that desperately seek an authority and a legitimacy that they have lost. They have ceded control over economic and financial affairs to ultra-powerful transnational corporations. Their social policies are determined by the application of the market and profit. They have no answers to the threat to the planet from climate change. Fewer and fewer people endorse them at the polls.

Let us not forget that not long after September 11, popular support for the US government plummeted when the energy corporation Enron collapsed overnight, throwing thousands out of work and destroying their pensions. The "war on terror" could not have come at a better time for Bush and Blair. What better than an endless conflict against a hidden, external enemy? To ask the question is to answer it. This is the stuff of despots down the ages.

Bush and his co-crusader, New Labour’s very own Tony Blair, show by their monstrous attacks on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the green light given to the Israelis to visit collective punishment on the Palestinians, that they are guilty of a series of crimes against humanity. Their acts of state terror include:

  • launching the invasion of Iraq on a lie and a pretext
  • killing as many 100,000 Iraqi civilians since 2003
  • creating the break-up of Iraq into warring communities
  • enabling major corporations to get rich at the expense of the Iraqi people
  • killing an unknown number of Afghan civilians
  • allowing the return of opium growing in Afghanistan
  • setting up the Guantanamo concentration camp in Cuba
  • destroying democratic rights and building surveillance states in their own countries
  • targeting and vilifying Islam, the religion of many of the world’s poorest people
  • through their actions building support for Islamic-inspired terrorist groups
  • making their own countries a target for further terrorist attacks

It is no surprise, therefore, that only a tiny minority – just 7% - of British people believe that the US and UK are winning the "war on terror", according to a YouGov poll published today. More than three-quarters (77%) of those questioned said that the government's policies in the Middle East had actually made Britain more of a terrorist target.

But another poll finding indicates that two-thirds believed that the "war on terror" would continue beyond their lifetime. This would be unacceptable. The causes of terrorism, with its reactionary targeting of innocent people, are complex. Terror actions like those of September 11 divide communities and reinforce the state. Military force as a response is clearly not a solution. Taking control of our destiny means creating a new, truly democratic state in place of the warlike regimes we live under today. Then we would give ourselves the opportunity to address September 11 in a sane and rational way.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, September 08, 2006

Panic stations in Downing Street

The panic inside New Labour over the future of Tony Blair as prime minister is entirely due to the fact that as things stand, a number of MPs believe they are staring at the end of their careers. They fear that the longer Blair stays in Downing Street, the worse their chances are at the next election. On top of that, Gordon Brown is worried that if ever takes over as prime minister, he won’t have the job for long. That’s the message from the opinion polls, which currently put the Tories under David Cameron well ahead of New Labour.

One thing is certain - there are no principles involved in the naked power struggle to occupy No.10. The MPs who now scheme to oust Blair sooner rather than later have nothing against Blairism or the nature of New Labour. The overwhelming majority of MPs – as well as trade union leaders - supported Blair as he and Brown transformed Labour into New Labour, into a party whose capitalist views and policies are indistinguishable from the Tory Party’s.

Yet it is precisely the nature of New Labour that has been found out. Only one in four of registered electors voted for New Labour at the 2005 general election and you can be sure that figure would be even lower now. Those who supported New Labour from the right, because they thought it was the new establishment party, are drifting back to where they came from, finding themselves at home in Cameron’s Tories. Those who voted New Labour, hoping for progressive policies, had their hopes smashed long ago. They, along with tens of thousands of party members, have had their stomach full of Blairism and abandoned New Labour. They didn’t vote for the private sector take-over of public services, the invasion of Iraq, the building of a police state and the demonisation of minority communities. They didn’t vote to endorse the ruthless operation of the global capitalist market economy.

In these circumstances, removing Blair and replacing him with Brown (or whoever) will not save the seats of New Labour MPs, or get people to vote for the party at council and regional elections next May. All in all, we’re probably witnessing the end of New Labour’s attempt to replace the Tories as the new party of the ruling classes in Britain, which is no bad thing. The chances of ‘reforming’ New Labour to return it miraculously to a party based on reforming rather than running capitalism, are less than nil. That period ended more than 30 years ago, coinciding with the start of the recent period of globalisation, marked by the emergence of transnational corporations and international financial markets. That process signalled the end of reformist politics – and also drove a large number of nails into the coffin of the parliamentary state. We need to bring forward alternatives that challenge global capital as a political and economic system. The disintegration of New Labour adds urgency to this project.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Silence as Iraeli forces escalate attacks on Palestinians

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) continue to raze agricultural land in Halhoul & Beit Omar to build sections of Annexation Wall

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) Escalate Attacks on Palestinian Civilians and Property in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)

A report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights on Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory 24 - 30 August 2006

  • 30 Palestinians, including 3 children, a mentally disabled young man and a woman, were killed by IOF.
  • 20 of the victims were killed by IOF in al-Shojaeya neighborhood in Gaza City.
    3 of the victims were extra-judicially executed by IOF in the West Bank.
  • 52 Palestinian civilians, including 18 children and a woman, were wounded by the IOF gunfire.
  • IOF launched a series of air strikes on a number of houses in the Gaza Strip.
    3 houses were destroyed in Gaza City and Jabalya.
  • IOF conducted 40 incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank, and invaded al-Shojaeya neighborhood in Gaza City.
  • IOF arrested 50 Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, including 6 children.
  • IOF arrested a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah.
  • IOF arrested 7 Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.
  • IOF demolished 4 houses in Nablus.
  • IOF destroyed civilian property in al-Shojaeya neighborhood in Gaza City.
  • IOF have continued to impose a total siege on the OPT; IOF have imposed a tightened siege on the Gaza Strip and there have been shortages of foodstuffs and fuels; and IOF positioned at a various checkpoints in the West Bank arrested 5 Palestinian civilians.
  • IOF have continued to construct the Annexation Wall in the West Bank; they razed more areas of land in Hebron for this purpose.
  • Israeli settlers have continued attacks against Palestinian civilians and property in the OPT; settlers attacked Palestinian civilians and property in Hebron; and a Palestinian child was wounded in Beit Fourik village near Nablus

The number of Palestinians killed by IOF in the Gaza Strip since 25 June 2006 has increased to 217, including 46 children and 12 women. In addition, 755 others, mostly civilians, including 203 children, 28 women, 4 paramedics and 6 journalists, have been wounded.

As the international community has remained silent, IOF have continued to wage a full scale offensive on the Palestinian people, especially in the Gaza Strip. During the reported period, IOF have continued their attacks on Palestinian civilians and property.

PCHR, monitoring with utmost concern the developments of this offensive, calls upon the international community, particularly the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and United Nations, to immediately intervene to force IOF to stop this offensive and lift the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fatcats and their pensions

Directors of the UK's top 100 companies have amassed pensions worth nearly £1 billion, according to the annual Trades Union Congress PensionsWatch survey. The TUC's analysis of boardroom pensions shows the average executive can retire at 60 on a final salary pension worth nearly £3 million (£2.7 million). The largest directors' pension in each company is worth nearly £5 million (£4.9 million), over 40 times more than most staff pensions.

The biggest final salary pension pot in the survey tops £19 million and would pay the director nearly £1 million a year, and five directors have a pension worth over £12 million. One employer paid over £1 million into a director's money purchase (or defined contribution) pension last year, and the five biggest payouts to this type of pension top £300,000 annually.
Key PensionsWatch 2006 findings:

  • Directors of the UK's top companies share pensions with guaranteed pay-outs (known as defined benefits, DB, or final salary schemes) worth nearly £1 billion (£950 million). On average each director's pension is worth £2.7 million. The average for directors with the largest pension in each company is £4.9 million.
  • The average director's DB pension would pay out more than £168,000 a year, almost 24 times the average occupational pension. For the directors with the biggest pension in each company, the average would be over £290,000 a year, over 40 times the average for all employees (£7,124).
  • The proportion of directors with final salary pensions has remained at over 80 per cent since the survey began in 2003. Only around a third of UK companies have a salary related scheme open for all employees.
  • Over three quarters (77 per cent) of companies allow directors to retire on a full pension at 60.
  • The highest annual employer contribution to a director's defined contribution pension was £1,077,882, the rest of the five biggest annual contributions range from £298,000 - £360,000.

The survey is a great piece of research which demonstrates how the capitalist class look after themselves at the expense of their workers. It’s a pity the same determination to look after its members is not shown by the TUC. General secretary Brendan Barber, responding to the survey, said meekly that "'Britain's boardrooms and business lobby groups have failed to tackle upstairs-downstairs style company pensions" and that shareholders should insist that bosses were in the same scheme on the same terms of staff. Not exactly fighting talk, that.

To make it absolutely clear that the TUC was only interested in a kinder, caring capitalism , Barber added: "They would still build up massive pensions compared to employees but they would be fairer. It would also help reduce their company pension deficits." They won’t exactly be quaking in the boardrooms after reading Barber’s pusillanimous remarks.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The ‘war on terror’ in figures

1,000… approximate number of secret flights directly linked to the CIA that used European airspace between 2001 and 2005, some of which may have carried prisoners
100s… estimated number of persons who may have been subject to ‘extraordinary rendition’ around the world
6… number of European countries implicated in the rendition of 14 individuals to countries where they were tortured
1717… number of days since the USA opened the Guantánamo Bay prison camp for ‘war on terror’ suspects on 11 January 2002
759… total number of people who have been detained at Guantánamo Bay
13… age of Mohammed Ismail Agha when taken into US custody in Afghanistan in late 2002 before later being transferred to Guantanamo
0… the number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay who have been convicted of a criminal offence
43,846… estimated number of Iraqi civilians killed since March 2003
57… average number of car bombs a month in Iraq
127,000… number of US military personnel in Iraq
117… number of British dead in Iraq
800… the average number of attacks of all types in Iraq a week
5000… the official number of terrorist insurgents in Iraq In November 2003
20000… official number of terrorist insurgent in Iraq in 2006
$312,284,350,000… US spending so far on war in Iraq
£3.5 billion… cost of the war in Iraq to British taxpayers so far
2647… US soldiers killed in Iraq
48100… estimated number of US soldiers wounded
10500… number of NATO troops in Afghanistan
3… number of Acts of Parliament passed in the name of the ‘war on terror’ that eliminate or restrict human rights.
1%… number of British of voters think the government’s foreign policies – such as the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan - have made Britain safer.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Adapt and perish

The New Labour view on climate change is that any radical attempt to tackle the crisis would disrupt the world economy to an unacceptable extent and that technological "solutions" are the only way forward. That’s not a whole lot different from saying that society has to adapt to climate change to survive because global warming is an "inevitable reality" which we can’t reverse.

What you might not have expected is that such a conservative, fatalistic, essentially non-scientific, message would come from the British Association for the Advancement of Science. You would be wrong. Frances Cairncross, the association’s president, has told the BA’s festival of science conference in Norwich that greenhouse emissions would have to be slashed by 60 per cent to stop levels of global warming gases increasing. "That's simply not going to happen," added Cairncross, who is an economist.

She went on: "Adaptation policies have had far less attention than mitigation, and that is a mistake… We need to think now about policies that prepare for a hotter, drier world, especially in poorer countries. That may involve, for instance, developing new crops, constructing flood defences, setting different building regulations, or banning building close to sea level." Some places in the world, such as the Siberian steppes, might actually benefit (!) from global warming, she said.

Cairncross is right to point out that the Kyoto treaty on cutting emissions is "ineffectual". But restricting ourselves to adaptation policies simply reinforces the status quo and in practice will not save the planet either. This approach, more importantly, safely puts to one side the capitalist way of doing business, which in the last 30 years has driven and deepened the ecological crisis.

Cairncross’s views should come as no real surprise. She was managing editor of the right-wing business magazine, The Economist for 20 years before becoming rector of Exeter College, Oxford. She also chairs the Economic and Social Research Council, which receives most of its funds from the government. Whitehall will have read her speech about climate change with some pleasure.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, September 01, 2006

The attack on multiculturalism

Official circles are falling over themselves to signal an end to multicultural Britain. Leading the charge is Trevor Phillips, the Blairite who is overseeing the demise of the Commission for Racial Equality in favour of a half-baked New Labour alternative body.

Phillips’ latest attack was amazingly targeted at the Notting Hill carnival held over the Bank Holiday. He said it did not reflect the lives of ordinary black people. Phillips has repeatedly said multiculturalism is no longer the way forward and communities should integrate more closely into British society. Now no less an expert than BBC newsreader George Alagiah, in his new book, has blamed the "policies of multiculturalism" for the alienation and radicalisation of British Muslims.

Not to be left out, the idea of multiculturalism was dealt an official blow by so-called communities minister Ruth Kelly with the recent launch of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion. She said: "I believe… we have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturalism, to one where we can encourage that debate by questioning whether it is encouraging separateness."

What is behind the wave of attacks on "multiculturalism"? It is the fear and loathing of diversity and the inability/refusal of the government to understand the sense of alienation that pervades large sections of the Muslim community. Muslims as Muslims are now held responsible for everything from terrorism to the despair in poor, white working class communities. The answer? Drop your culture, religion and traditions – and perhaps even the colour of your skin – and become British. Just integrate, stupid!

Oh, how the right-wing and the racists love this attack on multiculturalism. It reinforces their views that the problem with Britain is that there are too many foreigners here. They should either integrate or go home. Here they share some views with Phillips. He has said that Muslims who favour sharia law should leave Britain.

Of course, the concept of multiculturalism is far from perfect. It flounders against a background of fractured and often impoverished communities that globalisation of the British economy and cities has produced. Multiculturalism is not much good when it comes to finding a decent, well-paid job or affordable housing. Especially when we have a government that insists that the forces of the market economy alone must decide outcomes.

Those who attack multiculturalism have no answers to these issues, however. Instead, they want us all to be the same, enjoying those great British "values" that reinforce an unequal society based on privilege, wealth and power exercised by a small minority who themselves lead quite separate lives.

Paul Feldman, communications editor