Thursday, May 31, 2007

Poor Milburn

If there was any doubt about the direction of travel that New Labourites are taking as Blair departs, Hazel Blears and Alan Milburn give us a clear view. Former health secretary Milburn has been recruited by PepsiCo to join its ‘nutritional advisory board’ in the UK along with Blair’s PR advisor Philip Gould. PepsiCo's best-selling brands include Walkers Crisps, Pepsi, PJ Smoothies, Quaker and Tropicana juices. With Coca Cola, Nestle and Danone it dominates the $46billion global bottled water market. Desperate not to lose profits as people reject junk food, like crisps and fizzy drinks, PepsiCo says that “Alan Milburn’s track record will be of enormous value to our strategic direction”. Milburn has previously made attacks on the junk food industry. But it didn’t take much to get him on board. In the league table of "brand enhancers" he is way down the list. Milburn is only getting £25,000 compared with Britney Spears (£65m); Michael Jackson (£15m); David Beckham (£15m) Beyoncé Knowles (£1m) Alan Milburn. Poor Milburn

And then there’s Hazel Blears, party chairman and deputy leader candidate. Hazel is worried about the plight of the rich, who are being threatened by "punitive levels of taxation" by some of the other candidates for John Prescott’s job. In an interview with the Financial Times, Blears says the rich should be “rewarded” with tax benefits to revive Victorian-era philanthropy and encourage charitable giving in Britain. Instead of raising higher taxes on the rich, Blears wants to follow the US model of generous tax incentives to encourage investment by high earners and wealthy businessmen in sport and the arts. She believes that the government should look at the scope for adding to existing incentives, such as gift aid, where the charity, rather than the donor, gets most of the tax refund.

In appealing to the wealthy corporations for support, Blears said the party faced disaster at the next general election if it lurched to the left and, as she put it, revived 1970s policies. Wealth creators should be welcomed, she added. "One of the reasons we won the last election is because we are seen as the kind of country where businesses want to come." While she conceded that the gap between rich and poor had widened, this was, she said, in part because many people were better off. "What I don't want to see is a cap on people's aspiration and ambition to get on in life," she said. "I don't think you solve these problems by dragging other people down." Instead, she wants to lure even more low-paid people into debt. Rules on shared equity schemes, aimed at providing key workers with low-cost housing, should be relaxed so that buyers had to raise funds for only 10% of the property's value rather than the current 40 to 50% , she suggested. Meanwhile, figures released today show that number of County Court Judgments (CCJs) against consumer debtors has reached its highest level in almost 10 years. Nearly 250,000 CCJs were issued in England and Wales in the first three months of 2007 - up 9.5% on the same period a year ago. Lenders were "increasingly using the court route to deal with unsecured debts", the Registry Trust said. Experts said the data also showed more households were struggling financially. The 247,187 CCJs issued for consumer debt is the highest since the summer of 1997, when the New Labour love-affair with market capitalism began.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Another day, another atrocity

Can you imagine a situation where a third of the members of the House of Commons are illegally seized and transferred, say, to France where they were held without trial? Sounds a bit far fetched, doesn't it but that is exactly the situation in occupied Palestine. Today, the Israeli government seized yet another member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, this time a member of Fatah. In the last week, Israel has detained more than 30 Hamas officials in the West Bank, including two cabinet ministers. Israel now holds more than a third of the members of the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council on "security grounds". They include 40 Hamas MPs, one from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and four Fatah members, three of whom were elected while in jail. The silence in London and Washington is, as usual, deafening as latest flagrant breach of international law by the Jewish state is allowed to pass. Next week is the 4oth anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel as a consequence of the six-day war with Egypt. They have been 40 years of misery and suffering for the Palestinian people.

Every day brings new atrocities by the occupiers. Yesterday Israel undercover 'special forces' executed a Palestinian man at point blank range during an attack on Ramallah. The man, identified as Omar Abu Daher, a member of Mahmoud Abbas' presidential guard, was initially shot in the leg outside the offices of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute on Ramallah's Main Street. When he fell to the ground, Israeli undercover forces executed him with a shot to the back of the head at close range. He was killed instantly. Doctors said that Daher had been shot 24 times all over his body. Some seven other Palestinians were injured during the attack. Minister of Information Dr Mustafa Barghouthi was present at the scene at the time of the execution. Israeli forces shot at his car as he attempted to follow the ambulance to the hospital. Dr Barghouthi condemned the execution as a 'despicable and tragic violation of the non-derogable right to life' enshrined in international law. This attack came after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert refused an offer by the Palestinian National Unity Government for a comprehensive, reciprocal ceasefire, and Barghouthi said that it was yet further evidence of the lack of an Israeli partner for peace. In truth, the Israeli government would rather provoke Hamas into firing rockets at settlers than negotiate a settlement. Israeli does so safe in the knowledge that Washington and London will always come down on their side, turning a blind eye to the misery inflicted on a people whose only ‘crime’ is to fight for the right to self-determination.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sheehan slams Democrats over Iraq

Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, has ended her anti-war campaign that galvanised America on a bitter note – but not before striking a telling blow against the Democratic Party. The Democrats, who took control of Congress six months ago largely because of growing hostility to the war, last week abandoned moves to impose a timetable for withdrawal and voted Bush the funds to continue his regime’s murderous occupation of Iraq. It was the final straw for Sheehan, who announced her withdrawal from the public eye in a blog yesterday on Memorial Day, when America remembers its war dead. She attacked the “so-called left” for slandering her – “attention whore” was one epithet hurled at Sheehan – because she held the Democratic Party to account, never letting people forget that the party wholeheartedly backed the 2003 invasion. She struck back, saying: “I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognise it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt ‘two’ party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland.”

Sheehan sacrificed her marriage and her health – she nearly died last year – and had her life threatened many times. She built a camp in Crawford, Texas, from where she hounded the nation’s leaders. She finally reached the conclusion that her son died for nothing, killed by his own country in the grip of a war machine. Sheehan’s bitter riposte is as savage an indictment of the cosy, “partisan” politics that lies like a weight on the shoulders of the American electorate as you are likely to read: “Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people.” In the United States, the two major parties have practised a division of labour to rule the country, with the Democrats and Republicans representing different sections of the ruling class. Some “lefts” have argued that they had to stay in the Democratic Party because there was nowhere else to go and it was a party where they could have some influence. The claim was that the Democrats were the “lesser of two evils”. The same, lame argument is used about lending support to New Labour in Britain. But, in the end, as the environmental campaigner Ralph Nader famously once said about America’s two major parties, they are both “evil”. The challenge on both sides of the Atlantic is to build alternatives that challenge the traditional parties and the corporate power structures they rest on. In that way, Sheehan’s struggle will not have been in vain.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, May 28, 2007

The state: evolution and revolution

The trailing of plans for draconian new police powers, ostensibly required to pursue the “fight against terrorism”, brings into sharp focus important questions: what is the nature of this state and how should we oppose the rapid slide towards full-scale authoritarian rule? In addition to proposals for a permanent state of emergency to allow for the detention of suspects without trial, New Labour now wants to give police powers to stop and question anyone at any time, to check their identity and their movements. Refusal to co-operate would become an arrestable offence. If anyone can explain the difference between these plans and a police state, they are welcome to have a go. Even senior police officers are apparently reluctant to become involved in this level of control over local populations. Whether these plans come to fruition or not, the trend towards outright dictatorial rule is absolutely clear, as we spelled out in Reid gives judges marching orders (May 25). Self-evidently, terrorists do not wander about the streets with timers and bombs waiting to be stopped by police. Stop and search, therefore, has nothing to do with tracking down terror suspects and everything to do with intimidating the population as a whole. Hostile reaction to the new powers will then become the excuse for isolating minority communities even further, which ties in with the race card being played by ministers like Margaret Hodge (now the darling of the far-right BNP).

The attack on human rights and civil liberties are desperate acts by a reactionary government that is clinging to power by its fingertips. Blair was essentially forced to quit early by opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the cash-for-honours inquiry and the failure of a number of policies, especially in education and health. We should note that the state that is dispensing with due process and the rule of law is the same state that runs the country as a commercial business. Beginning with Thatcher and continuing with Blair, governments have changed the face of the state beyond recognition. While the state is capitalist by nature, structure and institutions, for a long period one of its roles was to mediate between conflicting, class interests. The state could be used to reform aspects of capitalism to the benefit of the working class, for example, so long as it did not challenge the fundamentals. The changes to the state under the globalisation process means that corporate interests are made synonymous with ordinary people’s. Whereas the welfare state once provided social housing, decent pensions, equal access to education and subsidised transport, the market state does none of these things. The modern capitalist state expresses the dog-eat-dog society that corporate power has manufactured.

The evolution of the state should be seen as the completion of a process that began with the English Revolution of the 17th century, one that was taken on by dint of mass struggle to the winning of the vote for men in the 19th century and the formation of the Labour Party and votes for women in the 20th century. Now the democratic side has been torn away and, paradoxically, we seem to have returned to an early period when money was everything and representation was limited to the rich and powerful. An inescapable conclusion is that further democratic evolution of the state, negating the power of the political and economic elites, is impossible without actual revolutionary change. Mobilising around this strategy is the best way to prevent New Labour and whoever comes next from destroying the democratic rights that represent the struggles and achievements of earlier generations of men and women. Come to our Turn the World Upside Down event on June9 to discuss how we can build the momentum for democratic alternatives to the capitalist state.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, May 25, 2007

Reid gives judges marching orders

If the judges don’t do what we tell them, we’ll declare a state of emergency and detain people without trial to get our way. No, this is not Putin’s Russia or the generals’ regime in Burma. This is Britain 2007 under New Labour. Home secretary John Reid has declared that if judges uphold earlier judgements about the rights of terror suspects then the government will have no choice but to abandon the law altogether. Reid is appealing against a decision that 18-hour curfews imposed on suspects without charging them are illegal. If the ruling goes against, he will seriously consider the "nuclear option" of opting out of the European human rights framework and take the power to detain suspects – that means anyone of any nationality – without trial.

Reid’s road to open dictatorship comes after three suspects subject to control orders disappeared. His plans represent a further abandoning of the rule of law by New Labour since it came to office. Helena Kennedy QC wrote about this in her book Just Law. Its name comes from the remarks of a minister who, when she objected to another attack on basic rights, was told not to worry because it was "just law". In her view, the rule of law means, in the area of crime for example, having clearly defined laws, access to lawyers, circumscribed police powers, an open trial process, rules of evidence, the right of appeal and the presumption of innocence. But under New Labour, which enacted more than 700 new criminal laws, the state has assumed greater and greater powers at the expense of defendants. There are severe limitations on the right to silence, repeated efforts to reduce trial by jury, an acceptance of the retrial of those already acquitted and allowing the disclosure of any previous convictions during a trial. There are mandatory sentences set down by ministers and control orders imposed by government officials. The presumption of guilt runs through the Terrorism Act 2000, enshrining as it does a reversal of the burden of proof. Detainees and their legal representatives are excluded from any part of the hearing which deals with the alleged intelligence on which the detention order has been made.

One of the judges set to hear Reid’s appeal is Lord Bingham, the most senior of the law lords and a former chief justice. Last October he gave a lecture on the rule of law at Cambridge University. In setting out his views, Bingham said that the "law must afford adequate protection of fundamental human rights". He added: "In the past the convention was that ministers, however critical of a judicial decision, and exercising their right to appeal against it or, in the last resort, legislate to reverse it retrospectively, forbore from public disparagement of it. This convention appears to have worn a little thin in recent times, as I think unfortunately, since if ministers make what are understood to be public attacks on judges, the judges may be provoked to make similar criticisms of ministers, and the rule of law is not, in my view, well served by public dispute between two arms of the state… There are countries in the world where all judicial decisions find favour with the government, but they are not places where one would wish to live." Let's hope he and his fellow judges find the backbone to stand up to the New Labour jackboots.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Private sector gets nuclear button

One thing is certain in the government’s white paper – energy production will remain in the hands of the private sector and be subject to the laws of the capitalist market. Trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling has thrown up his hands in the face of future uncertainty, using this as the excuse to leave all major decisions with companies who he says “are best placed to weigh up and manage the complex range of interrelated factors affecting the economics of energy investments”. So if they can’t make a profit it won’t happen. Why private companies are better placed to take decisions than governments isn’t explained. But you couldn’t ask for a better illustration of the subordination of government to global corporations. BP immediately responded by cancelling a major investment in carbon capture and storage in Scotland. The corporation’s reason? A delay to the expected government subsidy caused by the newly-announced five-month nuclear consultation period.

Once the consultation is over, private energy companies will be invited to invest billions of pounds in new nuclear plants. But according to Greenpeace director John Sauven: “If ministers go down the nuclear route they will strangle the new, clean energy technologies of the investment and political support they need. Reaching for nuclear power to fight climate change is like an obese person taking up smoking to lose weight. It's a dangerous and expensive distraction in the fight against global warming." Just in case anyone is thinking of complaining, Darling warns that “alongside the nuclear consultation, the government is proceeding, on a contingent basis, with a range of facilitative actions to reduce regulatory and planning risks to prepare for the possibility that the government concludes that it is in public interest to allow private sector companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations.” Which, in plain English, means it’s a done deal.

Sauven is the one distracted by a government world-famous for its ways of distorting the truth. All the talk in the white paper about the need to reduce carbon emissions is little more than window dressing. There’s plenty to read about the advantages of distributed, local low-carbon energy generation (DG), but the same old uncertainty rules – or is made to rule. “It is generally believed that transmission and distribution infrastructure costs would be lower with increased DG. However, the location-specific nature of these costs means that it has not been possible to model this effectively.” Better to leave it to the private sector then. “The market is best placed to decide which technologies are most effective in supplying the UK’s energy whilst also meeting our carbon reduction goals.”

AWTW’s crash programme to halt climate chaos says:

  • return energy supply to public ownership to put an end to market-driven pricing, moving to decentralised generation of electricity and heat
  • expand investment in wind, wave, tidal and solar power and make research into non-carbon power sources a national priority
  • scrap plans for new nuclear power stations and make solar panels available free to all households where they are suitable

Join us on June 9th to discuss ways of making this happen.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Soap opera provocation

Street protests in Venezuela for and against the closing down of a popular right-wing television channel are revealing the tensions in the country under the government of President Hugo Chavez. Radio Caracas Television, a private network, is due to go off the air this Sunday because the state is refusing to renew its licence. RCT, together with three other networks, backed the 2002 coup against Chavez, which temporarily saw him lose power. Although Chavez’s policies directed at helping the poor continue to earn him widespread support, many ordinary Venezuelans enjoy RCTs popular, if low-brow soaps and game shows and now find their loyalties divided. Re-elected with a huge majority last December, Chavez pledged to continue his strategy of redistributing Venezuela’s oil wealth to benefit the poor masses. His stance is supported strongly by Bolivian president Evo Morales. A coca-growers' union leader and Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Morales has nationalised oil and natural gas resources as part of his effort to redistribute wealth in South America's poorest country. ''The transnational corporations always provoke conflicts to accumulate capital, and the accumulation of capital in a few hands is no solution for humanity,'' Morales told a forum in Cochabamba yesterday. ''And so I have arrived at the conclusion that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity.''

Three weeks ago Venezuela withdrew from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These organisations have long been used by the major powers like the United States to steer countries in Latin America along monetarist, market capitalist lines. The IMF supported the failed 2002 coup. Chavez wants to set up a Bank of the South, backed by Venezuelan oil revenues, which would finance projects in South America. His government has just taken control of the four oilfields in the Orinoco belt which have been run by foreign companies - ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, Statoil and Total. Negotiations over compensation are ongoing. Over the last few years, the Chavez government has set out to free itself of US economic influence and encourage the formation of non-capitalist sectors in the Venezuelan economy by providing alternative forms of credit to encourage co-operatives. He has invested millions of dollars on social programmes inside Venezuela that have reduced poverty and increased access to education and healthcare. Chavez is working with governments to encourage them in similar economic strategies, stimulating a revolutionary movement by the workers and peasants not only in Venezuela but throughout Latin America.

At the same time, even bigger issues are posed if the movement is not to be undermined and subverted. Broadcasters like RCT, though backed by the United States and pro-capitalist forces, are stalking horses for the real enemy. The present conflict is being used as a provocation to rally people against the government by pointing to unsolved economic and social problems that bedevil Chavez’ experiment. Muzzling sections of the media will not get rid of its big-business sponsors, many of whom lie outside Venezuela, and will play into the hands of the government’s enemies at home and abroad. Having only a servile state-controlled media will do more harm than good. Within Venezuela itself, the existing capitalist state structures including the armed forces, must be dismantled. Unless they are, they are certain to be used as a force to destabilise and topple the Chavez government. That is the lesson of earlier mass revolutionary struggles on the continent, especially in Chile. The Venezuelan popular revolution has to be extended to the corporations and governments which service them on a global level. AWTW salutes and supports Chavez’ moves to challenge corporate interests in Latin America. Working for a non-capitalist alternative in Britain is the best support we can give and our conference on June 9, Turn the World Upside Down, is a step in that direction.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Another right bites the dust

One by one, the rights of ordinary citizens are being eroded by the state. Today it is turn of the right to object to having a nuclear power station or a new airport on your doorstep. Ever-eager to please business interests and developers, the New Labour government has announced that it intends to "streamline" the planning system to the point where objections, as well as objectors, to major projects will become essentially irrelevant. At present, all major projects are considered at a public planning inquiry and local people and other interested parties can make their case. A trained planning inspector then makes a recommendation, taking into account a whole series of environmental and other factors. This necessarily takes time as, for example, happened at Heathrow where opponents of a new terminal kept the fight going for five years. That process is going to be abandoned. Ruth Kelly, the communities secretary, announced that a new planning commission will take charge of the process for all major projects. Ministers will issue national policy statements about what the government considers are infrastructure needs for the country for 10-25 years. Then the commission will decide - usually within nine months. Kelly’s announcement is tied to the imminent announcement by the government of a new generation of nuclear power stations throughout Britain. This desperate, foolhardy attempt to deal with both the energy crisis and climate chaos at the same time is certain to arouse massive opposition, so changes to the planning process are aimed at stifling these voices.

So blatant are the proposals that they drew the angriest response seen for some time from a range of organisations, including Friends of the Earth, the New Economics Foundation, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Greenpeace and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is currently opposing the expansion of Lydd airport in Kent. They all said that the proposals would weaken democracy and reverse the fight against climate change. Hugh Ellis, for Friends of the Earth, said: "You won't be able to object to a new nuclear power plant in your community, but you may be consulted on what colour gate it has." Simon Marsh, head of planning and regional policy at the RSPB, said discussing big projects at a national level would reduce local people's involvement in the planning process. "It becomes very difficult to argue the case against a project once it has been decided at a national level. If local people feel they cannot get involved in debating if a project is needed they will totally marginalised in the process." By introducing centralised decision-making, New Labour is once again revealing its contempt for local democracy and the right to protest. It all says a lot about the prime minister-elect Gordon Brown. The case for abandoning the democratic planning system was laid out by the economist Kate Barker, who was appointed by Brown to recommend changes that Kelly has now announced.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, May 21, 2007

Hodge: following the BNP's lead

Will New Labour MPs and ministers say and do anything in a bid to get re-elected, even if they sound like the far-right British National Party? The answer is an obvious "yes", judging by the notorious outburst by industry minister Margaret Hodge on immigrants and housing. She must have known that she was talking rubbish when she claimed that new arrivals were queue-jumping British citizens over council housing allocation. In fact, it is the New Labour government that actually changed the law to make sure that asylum seekers in particular have no legal rights to social housing, whatever their circumstances. Even those who finally manage to attain refugee status for themselves and their families have no special entitlements. Hodge is aware that local councils build no new homes, a policy which began under the Tories and continued by New Labour, while they continue to sell off their best family-sized homes. So when she says that "we should look at policies where the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by the indigenous family overrides the legitimate need demonstrated by the new migrants" she is fanning the flames of reaction rather than starting a "debate".

Thanks to her government, asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first 12 months of their application. They are forced to rely on state support, which is set at just 70% of income support. Nevertheless, many do voluntary work while their asylum application is being processed. Any accommodation allocated to them is not paid for by the local council. It is nearly always "hard to let" properties, which other people do not want to live in. Studies have shown that most asylum seekers are living in poverty and experience poor health and hunger. So when Hodge claims that "a recently arrived family with four or five children living in a damp and overcrowded privately-rented flat with the children suffering from asthma will usually get priority over a family with less housing need who have lived in the area for three generations", she is talking arrant nonsense.

The real story is that New Labour has dispersed asylum seekers around the country, piling pressure on local authorities like Barking – Hodge’s own constituency, where the BNP has won seats - without providing the resources to match. The government has regularly demonised asylum seekers and refugees, providing fodder for reactionary papers like the Daily Mail. For example, a minister recently talked of "flushing out" those who work without legal entitlement and is introducing a draconian new borders policy. The provision of social housing has slumped. In 1996/7 the last full year of the Tory government, housing associations in England built 24,630 homes. By 2002/03 this total had slumped to just over 13,000. Last year, completions totalled over 18,000. But when you take off the numbers built for sale, the output for renting is probably nearer 12,000 – less than half the number that the Tories built! Yet there are over 62,000 households (150,000 people) in temporary accommodation in London alone. Abandoned by New Labour, and often the victims of the growing inequalities in Britain, many white working class areas are targeted by the BNP with their openly racist, reactionary propaganda. As Nancy Kelley, head of international and UK policy at the Refugee Council, said, in responding to Hodge: "The way to counter some of the views put forward by far-right parties is not to follow their lead."

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, May 18, 2007

Planetary emergency warnings mount

New scientific evidence of the multiple mounting effects of global warming had little visible impact on the 2,000 representatives of 166 countries at two weeks of United Nations talks in Bonn now drawing to a close. Janos Bogardi, director of the United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security said that increasing global temperatures and land degradation are forcing more people to migrate, creating a wave of environmental refugees. And a new report from Christian Aid predicts that at least 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050 as the effects of climate change deepen an already burgeoning global migration crisis. Birds, disoriented by erratic weather, are also changing migration habits and routes to adjust to warmer winters, disappearing feeding grounds and shrinking wetlands. "Species that adapted to changes over millennia are now being asked to make those adaptations extremely quickly because of the swift rise in temperatures," said Robert Hepworth, executive secretary of the UN’s migratory species convention. And a report from the Global Canopy Programme shows that deforestation is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse emissions worldwide. This puts this activity second only to electricity generation in its contribution to global warming.

The most optimistic result expected from Bonn is that the UN delegates will all gather again for a new round of talks in Bali in December. This “decisive” meeting is intended to launch negotiations on a new set of rules for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. But many delegates in Bonn say they have become gloomier about the chances of a start of formal negotiations in Bali. The Kyoto Protocol is the only global accord on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but it lapses after 2012 and was rejected by the United States in 2001 as economic suicide because it is not binding on booming emitters China and India. Experts say negotiations on the post-2012 agreement are expected to take at least two years, and must start this year to avoid any gap between Kyoto and the new regime. In response to the snail’s pace discussion, top scientists called this week for leaders of the world's rich nations to cease squabbling over global warming and take urgent action instead. The science academies of the Group of Eight (G8) - Britain, the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy - as well as five major developing nations South Africa, India, China, Brazil and Mexico made the call ahead of a G8 summit in Germany next month. But in advance of the June meeting, the US has requested changes to the draft declaration on climate change to eliminate targets for reducing greenhouse gases and delete language stressing the need for urgent action.

With the world’s diplomatic negotiators relying on capitalist solutions to a planetary emergency resulting from the profit-driven growth of that very same capitalist system of production, it seems easier - to paraphrase the contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek – to contemplate the end of the world than consider a small change in the political system. Frustrated citizens in the UK and elsewhere are taking the initiative into their own hands. A lengthening list of towns, villages and cities are joining the Transition Towns movement setting out to design a lower energy and more resilient future. Its inaugural conference is set for 31 May. But they too will need to confront the relentless logic of expansion that drives global corporations if the unraveling catastrophe is to be curtailed. A World to Win’s Running a Temperature offers a programme for doing just that.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Thursday, May 17, 2007

McDonnell should seize the moment

So it’s just not just the British monarchy that enshrines the feudal, hereditary principle of succession. New Labour has now joined the anti-democratic club by blocking the nomination of left-wing candidate John McDonnell and allowing Gordon Brown to be crowned Our Great Leader unchallenged. Even while the Brown camp were spinning the lie that they would love a contest, his supporters were arm twisting MPs thought to be backing McDonnell’s attempt to get on the ballot. Now the truth is plain for all to see: New Labour is a monolithic and intolerant party whose leadership is disinterested in debate and cares even less about the ideas of socialism that McDonnell embraces. As for those rank-and-file party members who supported McDonnell and wanted an open debate about the future, they were simply ignored by the New Labour bureaucracy who want a Brown coronation. They don’t count any more because New Labour doesn’t really want them in the party. That’s why half the membership has deserted the organisation in recent years, including many socialists. In transforming the organisation into New Labour, Brown and Blair have changed the face and character of the party from top to bottom. Constituency and conference democracy has long been suppressed while the policy agenda is firmly tied to support for market-led initiatives and for the globalised capitalist economy. Election procedures are designed to marginalise minority candidates to the point where this is the first time that someone has been "elected" leader without a formal left-wing challenge. The Parliamentary Labour Party like never before is dominated by men and women without principle or an interest in the history and traditions of the socialist and labour movement. Another crucial reason why McDonnell failed to get sufficient MPs to endorse his campaign is the fact that most trade union leaders lined up behind Brown and declined to call for an open contest.

The time is ripe to open up the widest discussion on how to construct an alternative to New Labour. Re-elected in 2005 by just one in four of registered voters, it has the support of even fewer now. The undermining of public services, authoritarian measures that sideline human rights and the illegal invasion of Iraq has eaten away at their base. Allegiance to Old Labour has not translated into support at any price for New Labour. McDonnell, despite his exclusion from the leadership contest, is in a strong position to lead a new movement. He has produced a
manifesto, Another World is Possible, which provides a comprehensive critique of New Labour and suggests some policies that look forward rather than back to a mythical "golden age" of Labour politics. He advocates an extension of democracy into the workplace and a new constitutional settlement that shifts power away from the transnational corporations and political elites. He concludes by saying: "Our aim must be to build a momentum that enables society to move from the profit-driven, market economy in the direction of this urgently needed democratic transformation. The disillusionment and disaffection with our existing political and economic set-up is self-evident. If we turn this frustration into positive, democratic aims and aspirations then we will surely succeed. Existing technology, science and resources have the potential to find answers to the most pressing problems confronting humanity if they are made to serve society rather than profit. To succeed our new agenda can and must bring together a new, wide ranging united front for change. This new movement has a vast resource of potential participants to mobilise into a force for change from above and below including community organisations, trade unions, environmental activists, those struggling for equal rights, human rights campaigners, the pensioners’ movement, students, young people, peace campaigners and the movements against global poverty and Third World debt."

The time to launch such a movement has arrived.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

G8 crackdown under way

Two related stories from the world of global capitalism: 1) the G8 has failed to deliver pledges on aid made at Gleneagles summit in 2005 (surprise, surprise); 2) German police have launched a massive crackdown on activists in advance of next month’s G8 in the Baltic sea resort of Heiligendamm. Rock star Bono, who with Bob Geldof helped inspire the Make Poverty History campaign that preceded Gleneagles, warned that failure to deliver on earlier pledges could provoke a return to the mass street protests seen at Seattle and Genoa. He said: "It's not just the credibility of the G8 that's at stake. It's the credibility of the largest non-violent protest in 30 years. Nobody wants to go back to what we saw in Genoa, but I do sense a real sense of jeopardy." Bono and Geldof set up Data to monitor the G8 pledges. Its latest report says Russia and Italy are leading the resistance while another international monitoring group concluded that progress was snail-like among the G8 as a whole. A study by a group of European NGOs said that countries were using smoke and mirrors to dress up their spending, counting not just debt relief but domestic spending on refugees and educating foreign students in their aid budgets.

Meanwhile, as the political leaders of world capital prepare to gather in Heiligendamm, the German state has unleashed a wave of repression to try and block protests. Apart from denying visas to activists from outside the EU, police have launched a series of raids and arrests which human rights lawyers say have no basis in law. A typical raid took place last week when police surrounded a left-wing cultural centre and office building in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. About 20 agents entered the building and searched several of its offices, seizing files and computers. It was part of a massive series of co-ordinated police raids in which some 880 agents of Germany's federal criminal office and 20 agents of the federal prosecution office searched 40 properties in six German states. To cover themselves, the federal prosecutor’s office said that there was a "suspicion that a terrorist group has been created to violently disrupt the G8 summit". The raids are just one part of an expensive effort by Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-wing coalition government to guarantee security for the June 6-8 G8 summit. Nearly $20 million has been spent on a fence around the summit venue to keep protesters out, which is ironic as Heiligendamm was in former East Germany, which specialised in building walls to keep people in. In Germany, the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy, a human rights organisation, condemned the "systematic criminalisation" of G8 opponents. It plans to monitor the protests but warned: "Our long-standing experience with mass protest events made us fear that yet again, the actions taken against the protests by politicians, police and security services would violate fundamental civil and political rights. The numerous police raids carried out on Wednesday 9 May 2007 in social centres and private homes of some of the organisers of the anti-globalisation protests represent the first step of disproportionate state repression. The fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression were thereby massively violated, and German democracy has been severely damaged."

The moral of the related stories of the failure of the G8 to deliver and the state attacks ahead of the next summit is that what the major economies hold they intend to keep. No amount of pressure or one-off protests will shift them from their mission to defend and protect the interests of the transnational corporations and financial institutions that rule today’s world. Removing them from positions of power and control is a more realistic, practical solution.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Corporate man heads for No.10

If you want to understand what New Labour in general, and Gordon Brown in particular, is all about, you need look no further than the so-called private finance initiative (PFI). A report from the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) today confirms that PFI is simply a government licence to print money at the taxpayer’s expense. Chancellor Brown has pioneered PFI deals, imposing them on hospitals, schools and the London Underground. These long-term deals, through which the public sector leases back buildings or pays for new computer systems, have proved much more costly than projects directly financed through taxation. Some NHS trusts, for example, have had to build smaller hospitals than planned or reduce staff to make sure they can meet the payments to the private owners. PFI money has also been used to modernise school buildings and even build new schools. In Northern Ireland, the newly built Balmoral High School is to close next year because of a fall in pupil numbers. Yet the Northern Ireland Office is obliged to pay £7.4m to continue leasing the school until 2027! While PFI began under the Tory governments, few were actually signed by the time New Labour took office in 1997. Since, then getting for a 1,000 deals have been signed or are planned with a value of nearly £90 billion. In return for building hospitals or schools, corporations are offered, in effect, a guaranteed income stream. Not satisfied with that, companies soon discovered they could make even more money by refinancing the deals. As early as 2001, the health union Unison warned that many PFI contractors were changing the terms of their borrowings to increase profits by as much as 80%.

Central to the refinancing scandals is the Norfolk and Norwich hospital PFI scheme, which the PAC had already branded "the unacceptable face of capitalism" after it emerged that refinancing had increased the investors' rate of return from 16% to 60%. The London Health Emergency recently estimated that new PFI schemes in London, Birmingham and St Helens will produce windfall profits of £440m for the companies involved. And, it reckons, the private sector stands to make £2bn worth of bonus payouts from £10bn worth of PFI schemes in the pipeline. After some pressure from the National Audit Office and the PAC, the Treasury agreed that the benefits of refinancing ought to be shared between the contractor and the public sector. You will not be surprised to learn that that the private sector has been running rings round public officials who don’t have the expertise to cope with complicated refinancing deals. Today’s PAC report admits that officials face being "outwitted by their commercially-sophisticated private sector counterparts". Public bodies had only got back £93m by the end of last year, "well short of expectations". That is to say nothing of the profits made by companies selling on their shares. These gains are not shared and are another form of windfall profit. As Brown prepares to become the next New Labour prime minister, the private sector is rubbing its hands in anticipation. The merging of corporate, state and political interests is a distinctive feature of New Labour. Under Brown, the relationship is certain to become even closer than it was under Blair.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, May 11, 2007

Private equity vultures

It really doesn’t matter to the investors what commodity a company produces, just so long as there’s a profit to be made. These days the big money is generating profits from a new kind of commodity – the companies themselves. Japanese companies producing kimonos and rural wireless telecoms operators in the United States are the latest in the sights of private equity capital following the buy-out of Boots, the high street chemist chain. Private equity funds see companies with growth potential - like Boots, the AA, and Sainsbury’s - as raw materials which can be bought in, processed on a production line which always means intensifying the rate of exploitation of the employees, and sold on at a profit. And the profits made in 2006 by 3i, the largest publicly traded European firm in the private equity sector were pretty impressive. The total return on shareholder funds rose to 26.8% from 22.5% a year earlier. The spare money available for investment through private equity deals comes from profits made by companies making goods like cars and computers and services like call centres, which isn’t reinvested because the rate of profit to be made has declined as the result of competition in those sectors. And the private equity production line ratchets up the process by drawing in huge additional funds in the form of debt to pension funds.

In a bizarre turn of events, the GMB trade union has leapt to the defence – not of their members, but of the less profitable companies still publicly quoted on the stock exchange and so stuck in the sector of the economy where corporate law is stronger and accounts have to be made available for public inspection. In its submission to the Treasury select committee investigating the impact of the private equity industry, the GMB says that regulation was necessary to create a level playing field with other forms of business ownership. The practice of private equity firms loading companies with debt made them more vulnerable to shocks in the financial system, it said. As the Bank of England has since raised interest rates to the highest level amongst the rich G7 countries, the shocks are clearly in the offing. As with all things profitable, the market is attracting the competition and the vultures are finding it increasingly difficult to locate tasty victims. A similar process in the 1990s fuelled the dotcom feeding frenzy which crashed spectacularly - just as this one will. No amount of regulation can halt this process of capitalism devouring itself, and with it the futures of millions of workers. Stronger action is required, in the shape of a comprehensive social transformation, replacing the anarchy of capitalism with democratic control and ownership to create a not-for-profit economy.

Gerry Gold, economics editor

Profiting from 'green' business

It is hard for consumers and employees to evaluate the truth of claims that companies make about their green credentials. For example, Tesco, which says it is eco-friendly, is sending CDs and DVDs on a 1,400 mile trip to exploit a tax loophole. Discs are packed up in a warehouse in west London and sent to Zurich. Switzerland is outside the EU, and by re-importing from there to the UK, Tesco can avoid charging VAT. Sainsbury’s insists that respect for the environment is one of its five business principles, but this week it was selling asparagus imported from Peru and Thailand as if they never heard of air miles. News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch announced this week that within four years his company will be "carbon neutral". Measures include switching to solar-powered golf carts at Fox’s Hollywood studios and a plan to use renewable energy in the studio that produces the TV series 24. But News Corporation, which controls a large chunk of the world’s media, is also bidding to buy the New York stock exchange. Readers, viewers, and employees might feel that owning the US share casino will determine where News Corporation stands in the global conflict between profit and the planet’s future. News Corp has joined the Climate Group, one of the capitalist clubs springing up to develop "the climate change business". Members include BP, Alcan, HSBC, Starbucks and the notorious Severn Trent water company. Its website offers a list of schemes members can use to offset their own emissions, most of them profit-making ventures registered under the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism.

Carbon offsetting has become a way for some of the world’s most polluting companies to establish new profit centres. In return for a certificate claiming that they are cleaning up some part of their operation, a polluting company can sell credits to a carbon offset scheme.Readers may recall that in the Wizard of Oz , the scarecrow wanted a brain and was given, instead, a certificate. Well the principle here is much the same. For example:
  • the Chhatisgarh iron works in India is selling credits for claimed improvements in its coal-fired operation which continues to spoil farmland, displace villagers and contaminate water supplies
  • in Ecuador peasants are losing money on a contract they signed to maintain trees planted to offset a Dutch coal-fired power station
  • in Maharashtra, India, wind farms are displacing farmers. One of News Corporation’s first ‘green’ actions was to buy carbon offsets from Indian wind farm companies
  • around Mount Elgon in Uganda, villagers are forcibly kept out of a "national park" established by a Dutch foundation and the Uganda Wildlife Authority to plant "offset" trees.

The main result of Kyoto, with all its pious claims, is that the principle of polluter pays is being replaced by the polluter gets paid. Global corporations carry on emitting CO2, but charge premium prices for products they claim are environmentally friendly. And most of their claims to be green are based on buying cheap carbon credits from companies many of whose operations are destroying land and communities. Whilst contraction and convergence principles could play a useful role within a new global environmental agreement based on democratic control of politics and the economy, carbon offsetting has no useful role. It is a substitute for action to reduce emissions and a smokescreen behind which the global corporations are continuing business as usual.

Penny Cole, environment editor

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jobless victims of Blair's oil war

On the day that Prime Minister Blair announces his departure from office, let us take note of the trail of despair he leaves behind, not least for the families of those who have lost their loved ones in Iraq. Rifleman Paul Donnachie, who was killed on April 29 while on duty in the Ashar district of Basra, brought to 14 the number of teenager UK soldiers to die in the name of Blair’s illegal war and occupation of Iraq. Donnachie’s death and that of 18-year old Aaron Lincoln, who died on April 2, shows the way that unemployed youth from the most deprived parts of Britain are being made to pay the ultimate price of New Labour’s imperial policies. For many working class youth, joining the armed forces is often the only route out of poverty and a life with no future. Aaron Lincoln was from the Sherburn Road estate in County Durham, which has a high unemployment rate, like most of the former mining and industrial parts of Britain. His father, Peter, refused to sign his son’s parental consent papers because he did not want his son to join up. Peter Lincoln said: "He couldn’t get a job in the factories around here until he was 18, but he could go and learn to kill. He never had a life, did he?" Two of the dead soldier’s siblings, Craig and Christina, are unemployed and there are few prospects for teenagers without qualifications locally. Aaron was only one of the thousands of teenagers who fall prey to active army recruitment in working class communities, not only in the north-east, but in the north-west, Midlands and Scotland.

Writer Tom Wall has described the £70m "recruitment machine " that delivers these teenagers for Britain's armed forces. Wall investigated the recruitment of teenagers after interviewing Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed at the age of 19 in 2003. "More than 1,000 crack recruiters, including 60 career advisers and 28 army youth teams, trawl schools, Jobcentres and high streets for likely candidates. They are backed up by 123 recruitment offices and a £15m promotional budget spent on high-profile TV and press adverts, glossy publications and youth-oriented websites. Derek Bathgate, an army marketing co-ordinator, says their current ad campaign is directed at 16- to 25-year-olds. Tellingly, adverts are broadcast during programmes such as I'm a Celebrity…. Get Me Out of Here!, highlights from the Champions League and MTV music awards," says Wall. "The army even runs a web site called ‘My Camouflage’ (at the cost of £1m) directed at children as young as 13. The budding squaddies can play online games (such as shooting alien spaceships) and compete in military themed quizzes. Once they tire of make-believe warfare, they can go to army recruitment events in their local area." So what was the reality for recruits, working class or not, when they were sent to Iraq? As one officer, Leo Docherty, who was sent to Iraq, discovered: "We realised the issue was not replacing tyranny with democracy, but gaining long-term access to oil. As Blair prepares to leave office, Iraq is descending into deeper human tragedy and British troops are still dying." When it comes to assess Blair’s "legacy", the blood of dead, working class teenage soldiers killed in the name of oil, will be weighed alongside the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives destroyed since March 2003.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pakistan's struggle for democracy

When it comes to attacks on human rights in Pakistan, ruling politicians in Britain and the United States invariably look the other way. Even the suspension by President (and General) Pervez Musharraf of the country’s top judge, passes without comment in Washington and London. After all, Pakistan is an ally in the "war on terror" and is a useful place to torture alleged suspects before delivering them to US and British agencies. Why, they can even keep their nuclear weapons for being so co-operative. But the double-standards approach is cutting no ice in Pakistan, where a massive movement is defying Musharraf’s military regime and demanding the reinstatement of the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry and the resignation of the president. Musharraf is now threatening a full-blown state of emergency, which would effectively be a military dictatorship, if protests continue. In the most unlikely scenes, Chaudhry has made a triumphant tour of the country in open defiance of Musharraf’s regime. Chaudhry departed from the Supreme Court in the capital Islamabad on Saturday for what is normally a four-hour road trip to Lahore. He took 25 hours because of the massive wave of support along the way. When he reached Lahore, he said that the "concept of an autocratic system of government is over ... Rule of law, supremacy of the constitution, basic human rights and individual freedom granted by the constitution are essential for the formation of a civilised society". Despite temperatures of more than 41C, Sunday's rally was attended by lawyers, political party workers, trade unionists, student organisations, the general public, and even religious students from madrassas. Seventeen sitting judges of the Lahore High Court were also in attendance. Then this week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court stepped in to lend support to Chaudhry. It temporarily barred the smaller judicial council from hearing allegations of misconduct and abuse of office against Chaudhry, laid against him by Musharraf when he suspended the judge in March. It directed that the case should be heard by the full court.

Chaudhry’s suspension came against a background of plans by Musharraf’s military regime to hang on to power whatever the outcome of October’s scheduled elections. Musharraf wants to get the present parliament to elect him president once more before the elections and to stay on as head of the army. He knew that Chaudhry would have ruled against him, so Musharraf had the judge suspended. At the same time, he issued two orders - one restraining the chief justice from performing his functions and the other ordering the appointment of an acting chief justice. In doing do, he turned a legal issue into a growing revolt against Pakistan’s corrupt ruling elites who are gathered around the army and Musharraf’s regime, which has been in power for almost eight years. A new phase in the country’s politics is clearly under way. As one observer noted, those marching in the streets to honour a chief justice they barely knew much until a few days ago are calling for the rule of law. For most of its history, Pakistan has been subject to the law of rulers, suffering a series of military coups since 1958. The popular movement sparked by Chaudhry’s removal could yet sweep Musharraf’s regime away. That would lead to joy in Pakistan. As for London and Washington, no doubt they are already plotting away to try and make sure that their man stays in power, whatever the cost in terms of human rights.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Union leaders have a choice

If, as seems probable, Gordon Brown is crowned as the next leader of New Labour without a contest, much of the responsibility will lie with the leaders of the major trade unions. They have deliberately cold-shouldered the challenge of MP John McDonnell in favour of Brown, who is the principal architect of New Labour’s reactionary policies. Even the fact that the New Labour ship is clearly holed below the water line has not moved people like Derek Prentis, leader of Unison, Tony Woodley of the Transport and General Workers Union or Derek Simpson of Amicus, who represent most of the trade union movement. Prentis has watched while the government has carved up the National Health Service in favour of the private sector. Jobs have gone in their thousands and conditions eroded. Woodley and Simpson have turned their back on McDonnell to concentrate instead on merging their two organisations into Unite. Unfortunately, the unity they propose is with New Labour and not the aspirations of working people who have become the victims of a decade of Blair/Brown policies.

McDonnell has the support of unions representing firefighters and rail workers, whose leaders have been most critical of New Labour and who have led their members in strike action to defend jobs and conditions. They, however, are not affiliated to New Labour and have little influence on the process to choose a successor to Blair. The moral of this story is that the unions in Britain are led by privileged, bureaucratic donkeys who are more interested in hanging on to the coat-tails of the government than tackling the issues confronting their members. The merger mania that has produced Unite has not come from any aspiration to confront the employers or the state. Instead, it is, as Simpson once told a meeting, an attempt to "manage the decline" of the trade unions as a force in a period of globalisation. McDonnell himself has written Another World is Possible, which he describes as a manifesto for 21st century socialism. Unlike the union leaders, McDonnell accepts the challenges posed by globalisation and the market economy. His proposals for extending democracy into the workplace and communities as an alternative to the domination of market forces deserve consideration. The manifesto merits the widest discussion possible amongst the millions who are affiliated to New Labour through their unions. So Woodley and company have a real choice when Blair announces his resignation as prime minister later this week. They can line up behind Brown and a continuation of pro-capitalist policies. Or they can put pressure on MPs to endorse McDonnell so that he gets the opportunity to present his proposals in the process to replace Blair as leader.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, May 07, 2007

Political crossroads in France and Britain

The decisive victory of the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy in Sunday's French presidential elections and the crushing defeat for New Labour in last week’s elections in Britain may not appear to have much connection. But both mark the end of an era and signal periods of political and social upheaval. At the heart of the matter is how corporate-driven globalisation has changed, and will continue to change, the landscape of traditional politics on both sides of the Channel. In France, the Socialist Party has now lost three presidential elections in a row. In the previous one, it was even beaten into second place by Le Pen’s fascist National Front. This time, Le Pen’s supporters voted for Sarkozy to ensure the defeat of Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate. Sarkozy has pledged to end the French welfare state, target immigrant workers, end the 35-hour week and open up the economy to global competition. He is a kind of Thatcherite figure and France is now certain to endure a period of extra-parliamentary civil conflict and state violence. The fact that there is no reformist-type solution to the challenges posed by globalisation is evident in the performance of Royal and the Socialist Party. Swinging from a kind of Old Labour towards Blairism, Royal had nothing substantial to offer the electorate. Her defeat will usher in a sharp swing to the right by the Socialist Party, in much the same way that Blair and Brown transformed Labour to a party of big business from the mid-1990s onwards.

While France is set to enter the globalisation maelstrom in a new, dramatic way, the Blairite, New Labour period is coming to an end in Britain. In last Thursday’s polls, New Labour’s share of the vote in England was down to 27% , which is somewhere near the levels of the 1920s, while its performance in Wales was the worst for 50 years. In Scotland, the failure of New Labour led to the narrow victory of the nationalists, who are essentially Tartan Tories. The coronation of Brown as the next New Labour premier will mean more of the same and the most likely outcome is the return of the Tories at the next general election. That would signal the completion of a process that began over a century ago with the formation of the Labour Party itself. That was founded on the basis of using parliament to carry through reforms that benefited working people. Since in the globalisation period that approach is no longer sustainable, Labour was transformed into New Labour, to become a party that embraced and managed the global market economy as it operated in Britain. That has benefited a minority at the expense of the majority while subjecting everything that moves to market forces and competition has alienated more and more people and undermined many key services. Ultimately, the major issues of the day like climate change, corporate power, war and terrorism revolve around the question of political and economic power. At present, this remains in the hands of the capitalist state and corporate elites, whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the majority. The lesson from France and Britain is that the old parliamentary games offer only a cul-de-sac for those who favour progressive change. A revolutionary alternative based on extending democracy into the workplace and communities and wresting power from the ruling elites, is the only viable way forward.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, May 04, 2007

Gambling with the future of humanity

Measures to cut harmful emissions over the next three decades will determine the future of the planet. That’s the stark statement in today’s third report of the UN international panel on climate change (IPCC). Previous reports have focused on the science of climate change and the likely impacts. This final report focuses on measures - or mitigations - that can be taken to save humanity from the worst, most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures. The panel says it is "technically and economically" feasible to stabilise greenhouse emissions - but only if countries are prepared to pay the extra costs of transforming everything from energy supply networks to agriculture to waste. But the report has a fatal flaw – it is written entirely from the standpoint that there is no alternative to the status quo and ignores the fact that the global market economy is the primary source of global warming. Even last year’s Stern report published by the Treasury ackowledged that global warming was the most significant example of market failure. The IPCC’s proposals would not only leave capitalist production methods intact – in fact they would create new opportunities for profit making. Some measures are simply high-risk gambling with the future of humanity. For example, the report calls for a major expansion of nuclear power, even though the carbon consumed building such power stations can never be recovered in its working life, not to mention the terrible pollution caused by uranium mining. Safety issues are ignored. New Labour is scheduled to publish proposals to speed up planning rules so nuclear power stations can be started in two to three years, with powers to overrule local objections.

The IPCC report also proposes massive expansion of GM agriculture for bio-fuels, even though this will have a disastrous effect on food supplies. And it will be the poorest people who suffer – for example in Mexico the cost of tortilla flour has already increased by 400% due to competition for corn from bio-fuel manufacturers. This kind of intensive agriculture would lead to clearing of rain forests and higher emissions from manufacturing fertilisers. It is not a mitigation but an exacerbation. Unproved technologies such as carbon capture, which could be useful as a stop gap, could be dangerous on a large scale. If any of the stored carbon escaped from underground stores such as oil fields it could trigger runaway global warming. And the oil corporations, with their terrible record on safety, are likely to be in charge of this profitable activity. Greenhouse gas emissions have risen by 70% since 1970 – coinciding with corporate-driven globalisation - and will rise by between 25% and 90% over the next 25 years under "business as usual". Combining untried technologies, nuclear power, bio-fuels with incentives for business will not succeed in halting climate chaos. The truth is that a system founded on the continuous expansion of production of goods and services for profit, with credit-fuelled consumption patterns, is simply unsustainable. We need to build a mass, democratic movement in favour of structural changes to the way things are produced and consumed. It means ending dependence on the bottom line, and adopting green, co-operative, not-for-profit production across the globe. We need to challenge all the assumptions that sustain the system including the idea that art, music and performance must be put at the service of profit and big business sponsors. At tonight’s Revolutions Per Minute gig at The Cross Kings in London, musicians, comedians and DJs will be demonstrating that change in practice as they unite against climate change. Come and join us there!

Penny Cole, environment editor

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A very British press freedom

UN World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to remember the journalists who are in prison or who were killed while in pursuit of their stories, or to criticise governments which exert direct state control over the media. Today should also be a day to recognise that in countries like Britain, where nominal press freedom exists, media control is exercised just as effectively but in more subtle ways.

The Committee to Project Journalists estimates that at the end of 2006 there were 134 reporters in prison around the world. Top jailers of journalists were China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Burma. Other journalists were simply murdered. The most prominent death was in Russia, where campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered outside her home last October . "People sometimes pay with their lives for saying out loud what they think," she had said. Politkovskaya was a fierce critic of the Putin government and had received many death threats. When she died she was working on an article alleging torture by special forces under the Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. She was the 12th journalist murdered since Putin came to power in 2000. The authorities have solved not a single one of these crimes. On 19 January this year Hrant Dink, a well-known Armenian Turkish writer and journalist, was shot dead in Istanbul. He was convicted last year on a criminal charge of "insulting Turkishness" after writing about the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in World War I. A recent study by the International News Safety, said 1,000 journalists had been killed around the world in the past 10 years. The most dangerous place was Iraq, with 138 killed. Russia came next, with 88 deaths.

In countries like the United States and Britain, a different form of control is exercised, by corporations like Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp and the companies that control the TV and newspaper industry. The freedom to make TV programmes and publish newspapers is strictly in the hands of executives whose first responsibility is to increase profits and shareholder value. Access is tightly controlled and programming is directed towards the mass consumer market. So, for example, investigative journalism barely exists on TV, which instead is given over to consumer-oriented programmes about housebuying, gameshows or celebrities. This is true even at the non-commercial BBC, where competition for viewers has driven programme content down to basement levels. The media industry doesn’t have to be controlled by the state because it exercises forms of self-censorship while promoting the values of capitalist society. Only one mainstream newspaper, The Independent, clearly opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq while the BBC went into meltdown mode when one of its journalists rightly suggested that New Labour had "sexed up" intelligence dossiers.

Those who hold alternative views, or who organise protests, demonstrations or strikes, are largely ignored or treated with disdain by the mass media. In this and many other ways, the status quo of consumer capitalism is reinforced around the clock. Such is the freedom of the press in Britain.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Two concerts - two different worlds

We are not on the edge of climate change disaster. It is happening now. Many people are already finding their lives altered and even destroyed by extreme weather. The present conflict in Darfur, for example, in which 400,000 people have lost their lives, has its long-term roots in a drought that took place during the 1980s, with a subsequent massive loss of arable land for farmers and nomadic tribes. The failure of the rains in the 1980s was once viewed as a freak occurrence. But recently scientists have shown the connection between global warming and desertification in Africa. To highlight the urgent need for action on climate change, a group of talented musicians and stand-up comedians are performing in London this Friday, under the banner of a "Night of Unity". Peyoti For President and other musicians have been keenly aware of the clear and present danger posed by global warming. In fact, Peyoti and his supporters already launched the idea of uniting fellow musicians for a London event in March, unaware of the plan for the global Live Earth concerts planned for July 7.

The contrast between the Live Earth and Kings Cross events reveals some telling political realities. The Live Earth SOS (Save Our Selves) concerts are being masterminded by Kevin Wall, who orchestrated the wildly successful Live 8-Make Poverty History events around the G8 summit of 2005. He is working with environmental campaigner and former US vice-president Al Gore and a host of big name bands, including Spinal Tap, Genesis and Duran Duran. Wall is CEO of Control Room, a global internet consulting firm, and a venture fund capitalist. Live Earth’s business partners include Bill Gates’ Microsoft Network MSN, Mercedes Benz’s Smart, and Pepsi. US ticket sales are entirely under the control of the online auction site, e-Bay, one of the world’s biggest corporations. At the time of the Live 8 concerts in 2004, Bob Geldof denounced the resale of free tickets as "sick profiteering". To pre-empt such criticisms this time around, a holier than thou e-Bay is stipulating that sellers must donate 20% to charity. But the e-Bay farrago is only the most blatant indication of the perils of so-called partnering with big business.

While corporations like Microsoft have the power to reach billions of people, they are also part and parcel of the very same global capitalist system of production and consumption that is destroying the planet. Partnering with Pepsi Cola is perhaps even more outrageous than e-Bay. Community groups in India, and elsewhere have denounced the Pepsi and Coca Cola companies as being "unjust and exploitative on a global scale". They have condemned their monopoly of the bottled water trade and the assassination of local trade union leaders opposed to their operations. While the corporate executives planning July 7 have so much money they don’t know where to put it, most musicians and artists live hand-to-mouth. Despite the flourishing live gig scene, they struggle just to meet their expenses and pay the rent. Despite this they are ready to put their head above the parapet and look beyond the status quo, in their music or their politics or both. A World To Win asks you to support the May 4 event in every way that you can.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ten reasons to reject New Labour

Today marks the 10th anniversary of New Labour in government. To mark the occasion, here are ten good reasons for rejecting the Blair/Brown regime and denying New Labour your vote in this Thursday’s elections.

  1. Long before taking office, Blair and Brown began the process of transforming Labour, a party founded by the trade unions to reform capitalism, into an organisation that openly endorsed big business. Since winning the 1997 election, New Labour has completed this historic transformation. The government rejected reforms in favour of promoting the interests of the global corporations and financial institutions. New Labour has led the march from the welfare state to the market state and made the party indistinguishable in its outlook from capitalist parties.
  2. Inequality has grown sharply. In 2004, over 20% of the UK population were officially income poor compared with 13% when New Labour came to office. These figures include 3.5 million children and 3 million pensioners. Twice as many people are homeless compared to 1997. In 1996, the wealthiest 5% of the population owned 49% of wealth; by 2003 this had risen to 58%.
  3. The invasion of Iraq was carried out on the basis of systematic deception by New Labour. Intended to impose a market economy on Iraq, the occupation has instead provoked a bloody civil war and immense poverty and suffering. This government as a whole is responsible for major crimes against humanity.
  4. New Labour has built the edifice of an authoritarian state. Measures taken against basic rights include detention without trial, interception of emails, merging civil and criminal law through the notorious ASBO system, ID cards, integrated national databases, banning protests outside Parliament and the building of a surveillance state. New Labour has enthusiastically endorsed a European-wide policy that gives police unprecedented powers of arrest, detention and expulsion.
  5. The government has shown scant regard for the rule of law. An overwhelming majority of lawyers consider the 2003 invasion of Iraq to be illegal under international law. Ministers have repeatedly attacked judges and defied court decisions on matters such as immigration and pensions. Discretion in many matters of criminal law have been removed from judges.
  6. Opening up services such as health and education to market forces has benefited corporations at the expense of the public. Taxpayers’ money has been transferred to the private sector in a series of guaranteed contracts under the so-called private finance initiative. The value of the contracts endorsed by Brown’s Treasury is estimated at £90 billion. Victims include the nurses sacked so that hospitals can meet their financial obligations and patients shunted around so that arbitrary targets are met.
  7. By building more roads, allowing the rail companies to raise fares and encouraging conspicuous consumption, New Labour has ensured that carbon emissions in Britain are higher than when they came to office, thus adding to global climate chaos.
  8. By merging corporate, state and government activities, New Labour has wrecked what remained of parliamentary democracy. The presidential-type regime introduced by Blair has rendered the House of Commons even more powerless. Britain is effectively a corporate state where the government is the executive management team for the global corporations and the significance of right to vote has been undermined.
  9. New Labour has demonised minority communities and thereby provided ammunition for the racist BNP. Ministers have tailored their policies to the right-wing tabloid press and failed to provide local authorities with adequate funds to help migrant workers. The spurious "war on terror" has isolated communities and proved totally counter-productive.
  10. As a result of all of the above, New Labour has rescued the Tories from oblivion. The 1997 landslide was intended by many voters to put an end to Toryism for good. Instead, Blair and Brown have made the Tories electable again. What an achievement!

    Paul Feldman, communications editor