Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kick Israeli match into touch

When it comes to trade boycotts, countries like the United States decide them on the basis of pure politics. Cuba and Iran – boycott. Israel, Saudi Arabia – sell them as many weapons as you can. But when trade unions and campaign groups propose a boycott in support of Palestinian rights, they are accused of “playing politics” and even, outrageously, of anti-Semitism. The stench of hypocrisy is positively overwhelming. But the pressure is so intense when it comes to Israel, that many cave in. For example, the National Union of Journalists’ national executive has voted unanimously to lay aside a motion passed at its annual conference to support a boycott of Israeli goods and to ask the Trades Union Congress to lead a national campaign.

A vicious backlash began as soon as the motion was adopted in April. Floods of emails from pro-Israeli groups arrived at the NUJ’s offices. Prominent members of the union organised a petition at the BBC, which attracted over 600 signatures. Over 30 members resigned from the union. The TUC then told the NUJ that it had no intention of organising a boycott on the spurious grounds that such action “would undermine our ability to act as go-betweens”. That gave the NUJ leaders a way out and the executive voted to bury the boycott campaign, with general secretary Jeremy Dear declaring: “I don’t believe it serves the interest of the union in workplaces at a time when we are facing job cuts that members should be discussing a boycott of Israeli goods.” As job cuts are routine in the industry, it means that there will never be a right time to discuss the issue. And so the Palestinians will remain isolated and have to make do with a few speeches from Dear and others in favour of their rights.

Others are not so easily cowered. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign, Jews for Boycott of Israeli Goods and Friends of Al Aqsa UK are calling for action against the England-Israel 2008 Euro qualifier match scheduled for Wembley on 8th September. In an open letter sent to football’s governing bodies, they point out that the Palestinian people are experiencing their 40th year of Israeli military occupation. They add: “Israel continues to build the illegal apartheid wall, annexing vast swathes of Palestinian land in the West Bank and creating Palestinian ghettos, despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice that it is illegal. Palestinians are effectively barred from international football by the extreme restrictions placed on them by the Israeli occupation. In September 2005, Palestine was in a good position in its Asian zone group in the qualifying rounds for the 2006 World Cup, but the Israeli authorities stopped five key players travelling outside Gaza and Palestine failed to qualify. In April last year, Israeli missiles destroyed the only stadium in Gaza, where 1.2 million Palestinians live. Israeli authorities admitted that the stadium was specifically targeted.”

A broad alliance of Palestinian civil society groups has called for an international movement of boycott and sanctions against Israel. This movement is partly based on the boycott movement against apartheid South Africa. South Africa was barred from the Olympic Games as well as international cricket and rugby until 1992. The sporting boycott played an part in isolating the regime and helping to bring about its demise. We should support the campaign against the England-Israel match and in doing so demonstrate that actions speak louder than words.

Paul Feldman, AWTW communications editor

Monday, July 30, 2007

Brown sings Bush's praises

There are those who convinced themselves that New Labour’s close relationship with the most reactionary White House in history was restricted to Tony Blair and that once he was gone, normal service would be resumed (whatever that might be). Gordon Brown’s flattering comments about president Bush show, however, an unbroken continuity. The style may be different, and the emphasis switched to issues like Darfur and trade, but the essence remains the same. New Labour and the Republican White House see eye to eye on almost everything. Brown, after all, voted for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the replacement of the Trident nuclear fleet. He has approved the use of the early-warning station at Menwith Hills near Harrogate as part of America’s plan to build a missile defence shield in Europe. And, above all, Brown is totally behind the draconian measures taken in the name of the “war on terrorism”. On his way to the US, Brown, who has more connections in Washington than Blair ever did, said: “We should acknowledge the debt the world owes to the United States for its leadership in this fight against international terrorism."

Was he talking about the regime that built Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo? Or the CIA practice of kidnapping people and sending them off to be tortured by “friendly” governments – otherwise known as extraordinary rendition (which, incidentally, Britain’s MI5 has been closely involved with). Or the raft of illegal wiretapping and surveillance of American citizens which has created a police-state apparatus in the US. Paul Craig Roberts is no radical. He was an assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He now warns: “The American constitutional system is near to being overthrown.” In a recent blast against the White House, he said that the Bush regime is in such dire straits over Iraq, that it could be tempted to create a national crisis through a provocation of its own or allowing a terror strike to take place. He wrote: “Bush has put in place all the necessary measures for dictatorship in the form of ‘executive orders’ that are triggered whenever Bush declares a national emergency. Recent statements by Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, former Republican senator Rick Santorum and others suggest that Americans might expect a series of staged, or false flag, ‘terrorist’ events in the near future.”

Brown, of course, is working on his own plan for a police-state apparatus with his proposals to double detention without charge to 58 days and allow police to question suspects endlessly. He is taking his cue from the unelected and unaccountable group who constitute the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). They came to prominence during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. ACPO set up a centralised command and turned Britain into a series of militarised zones which miners were prevented from entering. Even a cross-party committee of MPs and peers has seen through the government’s plans. A report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) today concludes that there is not enough evidence to justify extending the detention time. The JCHR's report concluded that the law should not be altered because of "precautionary arguments that such a need may arise at some time in the future.” Chairman, Andrew Dismore, said: "As far as we've heard there has not yet been a case where 28 days was inadequate. This is being proposed on the possibility that it might be in future." But New Labour doesn’t give a fig for MPs’ concerns. As a Home Office spokesman countered: "The police believe it is right and proper for the government to address this issue.” So there you have it. The inspector calls and the government jumps.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, July 27, 2007

Global financial hurricane starts to blow

Turmoil on the world’s stock markets, induced by yesterday’s sharp falls in New York, is directly connected to a crisis at the heart of the global banking system. The implications for the everyday lives of ordinary working people in every country are enormous in terms of jobs, housing and living standards. In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 440 points in late trading - on course for its biggest fall since 9/11. The FTSE 100 suffered its worst day for five years while the FTSE 250 recorded its biggest points fall in history.

This instability has its roots in the frantic globalisation process. As the transnational corporations grew in size, so the need for credit ballooned to expand activities. Loans enabled corporations to buy out other companies through mergers and acquisitions. This in turn spawned a web of inter-connected complex financial markets, all eager to share in this easy “wealth”. Corporate debt was recycled over and over by a financial sector that has come to dominate the major economies. In Britain, for example, financial services account for of a third of the value of UK output, more than twice that of manufacturing. In parallel, ordinary consumers have been encouraged to borrow as much as they want on the promise that interest rates would stay low and the party would go on for ever.

But the music has suddenly stopped. Interest rate rises have made borrowing more expensive and bad debts are mounting up. In the United States, the crisis centres around loans to people with bad credit histories to help them buy homes. This is euphemistically known as the sub-prime market. A turndown in the US economy combined with rising rates has produced increasing levels of default. This leaves lenders exposed to large amounts of debt on loans which themselves are financed by borrowings from other institutions! In Britain, the consumer boom is over. Yesterday companies ranging from retailers Kingfisher, JD Sports and Kesa Electricals to Bradford & Bingley, the buy-to-let mortgage specialist, and insurer Legal & General all warned that five interest rate hikes in the past year are beginning to take their toll. Robin Evans, global strategist at Fox-Pitt Kelton, warned that "growth in the UK could slow quite sharply into the end of this year and the beginning of next year".

The capitalist press is trying to take a sanguine view. As a comment in today’s Daily Telegraph put it: “Yesterday's market falls were just an intensifying of the bad weather engulfing markets. The flood of debt that American consumers have been adrift on for years has finally turned toxic thanks to rapidly rising interest rates… To use one of the choicer quotes from a trader yesterday: ‘We're watching the slow-motion suicide of the capital markets.’ " There have been more than $3,000 billion (£1,500bn) announced acquisitions so far this year, more than 50pc above last year's levels. That activity has sent stock markets around the world sharply higher. But with banks now struggling to raise the money to finance these takeovers, investors are selling shares and fleeing to the relative security of government bonds.

The bursting of the global speculative bubble has unpredictable consequences. Banks failing, companies running out of credit, consumers spending less – it all points to an emerging global economic slump. The Brown government is aware of this and may plan an autumn election in a bid to beat the storm. Having stolen the Tories’ clothes on immigration, and wooing Conservative voters with reactionary policies on drugs, terrorism and crime, Brown calculates that New Labour could win an election with the support of right-wing Daily Mail and Daily Express readers. The financial storm of today is, however, a prelude to tomorrow's global hurricane.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, July 26, 2007


A report by top scientists published yesterday in the magazine Nature, confirms that extreme weather events, including floods in the northern hemisphere, will become commonplace as a result of climate change. It is possible that quite soon, parts of Britain deepest down on flood plains will become uninhabitable.

And we can see from this year’s floods how the establishment will treat populations affected. Government inaction, unpreparedness and indifference to the plight of those affected. And of course, as has been seen in Gloucester, in emergencies it is the police and military who take charge. So these events will profoundly affect how we live and how we are ruled.

And while people are queing desperately for food and bottled water, they can consider the real purpose of the claims of corporation’s like Walmart that they are now “green businesses”.

Governments have opted out – that was the message from the G8 in Germany – they are going to leave climate change entirely to the market. And from the market, what we are getting is – Greenwash. It is business as usual, but with the addition of new range of commodities, all designed to increase profits.

There are even new financial products: Goldman Sachs markets “weather derivatives,” “renewable energy credits,” and other “climate-related commodities”, as well as trading in carbon.

In 2004, Al Gore teamed up with Goldman Sachs executives to establish the London-based environment investment firm Generation Investment Management (GIM). No wonder the one thing left out of his film was the role of the corporation’s in causing climate change.

  • British Airways are offsetting on average 1,600 tonnes of emissions a year - the equivalent of four return flights to New York on a Boeing 777
  • BP advertised it was moving "Beyond Petroleum" but will spend $5 billion over five years for oil exploration in Alaska alone
  • Shell, with its slogan "Profits or Principles", spends a tiny 0.6% of its annual investments on renewable energy
  • Cargill Dow has a new wonder fabric "NatureWorks PLA" (polylactic acid), made entirely from corn. But the source material is genetically engineered corn and parent company Cargill is the world's largest producer
  • Monsanto, Dow, Dupont, Novartis, Zeneca, BASF and Aventis have launched the "Council for Biotechnology Information” which is spending up to $250 million over three years to try to convince the public that GM foods are good for the planet.

The fact is that if we leave it to the market to tackle climate change, it will be much profit made and no emissions saved. The poorest in the world will bear the brunt of the impacts arising from the failure to act, and democratic rights will be under attack in an atmosphere of continuous emergency.

The challenge is to chart the way forward to a new era of human democracy, wresting control of action on climate change from the corporations and their slavish servant governments.

Penny Cole, environment editor

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rail passengers pay the price

If you thought rail fares were high now, wait until the transport secretary Ruth Kelly is finished with you. Yesterday she announced plans to expand the rail network – and passengers are going to pay through the nose for much-needed improvements. Under the plans, annual public subsidies for the railways will be slashed from about 50% to around 25%. Income from passengers will rise from £6.7 billion in 2009 to £9 billion by 2014. Half of the projected increase in fare revenue will come from increased prices.

Though the rail network is nominally state owned, it operates on commercial lines while the train companies are in private hands. The Brown government is continuing where Blair left off in reducing subsidies and using control over rail franchises to implement their policies. For example, Virgin Trains recently lost its cross-country franchise to another operator which offered to run the service on lower subsidies. This is another fine example of public-private partnership from the team that brought you the Great London Tube Fiasco, which produced the collapse of a major maintenance and upgrade contract last week.

Fares rose by an average of 10% at the beginning of the year. A series of further fare increases are scheduled for this year by Stagecoach, Arriva and Go-Ahead. Many commuters are feeling the pinch, especially as interest rates on mortgages have also risen, along with petrol and fuel prices. The simple fact is that New Labour does not believe in public transport in the full sense of the term. It rejects the idea that trains and buses should be part of a socially-useful service that works for the benefit of society as a whole. That sounds too much like Old Labour, or even Old Tory.

Today, both major parties start from commercial considerations and the operation of market principles. The Tories privatised the rail network and New Labour is moving towards the elimination of state subsidies altogether. The government’s attitudes was summed up perfectly this week when, in response to complaints from Passenger Focus about fares, a Department for Transport spokesman said: "The reality is that 6% of the population travels on railways. Why should people who don't use the railways regularly fund people who do?" After 10 years of New Labour, the cost of car travel has fallen while it has increased for buses and trains. So where’s the financial incentive for people to leave their cars and get to work by public transport? There isn’t any and there won’t be. So much for making a contribution to tackling climate change.

Apart from commuters, people who want to visit friends or family in other parts of Britain, or go on holiday by train, face extortionate prices. If you want to travel the 200 miles from London to York, and are prepared to travel after 9.30, the cheapest return fare is £75.10. But that’s only if you book on the Internet. If you can’t, that’s another 10% on top. If you need to leave during the rush hour, it’s going to cost you over £120 for a return ticket to York with GNER’s “business saver”. In Italy, where the state continues to subsidise the rail network, next Monday you could catch the 08.55 express from Milan for the 175-mile journey to Venice, returning whenever you wanted, for the princely sum of £34.00. Get me out of here!

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tale of a catastrophe foretold

Welcome to the weather of the 21st century. That’s the message from the floods that have overwhelmed whole areas of the West of England, leaving hundreds of thousands without power, without water and with damaged homes. And the government, despite many warnings, is totally unprepared for the consequences of a Hurricane Katrina-New Orleans type of event. Then people scoffed at how incompetent the American authorities were in dealing with the aftermath of an unprecedented hurricane. Now the British state has demonstrated that it has no real plans to cope with similar events, which are inextricably linked to climate change, and that the emergency services have been overwhelmed.

Prime Minister Brown has said there will be a "review", but the New Labour government has repeatedly ignored warnings about what could happen. It has emerged that the government was warned in two separate reports that the plans in place to tackle flood risks were "complex, confusing and distressing for the public". In July 2004 the government said it needed to improve co-ordination between water companies, councils and the Environment Agency; then in 2005, the government also agreed to "work towards giving" the agency "an overarching strategic overview across all flooding and coastal erosion risks". Nothing happened. Actually, something did take place. The government cut the Environment Agency’s budget, despite pleas that this would weaken flood defence work. As Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said: "The government has been looking at an integrated approach for more than three years, but did not act on its own analysis in 2005. Ministers have been in and out of the revolving door at the department, and now we are to have another review to look at exactly the same issues again." Yesterday the government promised an extra £200m to the Environment Agency over the next three years, but the agency has said that at least £1000m a year is needed.

The floods are the worst in history, exceeding the spring of 1947 – themselves said to be the worst for 200 years - when a hard winter was followed by a rapid thaw. "We have not seen flooding of this magnitude before," said the agency yesterday. "The benchmark was 1947, and this has already exceeded it." The floods were caused by a single day’s rainfall, which delivered a month’s worth in 24 hours. Extreme weather is a feature of climate change resulting from global warming. The Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, in a paper published this week, identifies "human fingerprint" in rainfall increases in recent decades in the Northern hemisphere. Brown has acknowledged that the floods crisis is probably linked to climate change. But his response is limited to improving drains and flood defences. In other words, the message is: Adapt and survive. This is a hopeless position. All the flood defences in the world will not stop low-lying areas near rivers being overwhelmed by monsoon-type events like those seen in the North last month and the West of England last week. Action to halt global warming has to start now, not tomorrow.

An emergency action plan has to include:
  • an end to building in flood plains and concreting over fields and gardens
  • rationalisation of existing use of housing and buildings, use of empty properties
  • massive research and development of alternative fuel and power systems
  • overhaul of public transport to provide cheap and reliable bus, rail, and water services
  • upper limit on airmiles and end to airport expansion
  • food production and transport to be made ecologically sustainable
  • protection of trees and green areas

Come to tonight’s open forum, Reject greenwash - compost the corporations! 6.30pm at the Diorama Arts Centre, to discuss these issues.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, July 23, 2007

New Labour puts unions out to grass

What Tony Blair started, Gordon Brown will finish. And that includes winding up what remains of democratic procedures inside the New Labour party. The principal victims will be the trade unions, whose substantial voice at the annual conference will be reduced to a whisper. As for the conference, the final touches are being made to a plan to reduce the event to an annual rally, with no votes from the floor on anything significant. The changes are outlined in a document currently out for “consultation” inside the party. According to the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), which campaigns against New Labour inside the party, under the proposals:

  • the right of each Constituency Labour Party (CLP) and affiliated organisation to submit a contemporary resolution for debate and voting at conference would be abolished
  • the policy forum process would be subject to even greater centralised control by cabinet ministers and the inbuilt government powers of veto on policy proposals strengthened
  • one member one vote ballots on policy would not allow members a say on policy alternatives, but would be restricted to the occasional “take it or leave it” votes on the entire party programme.

If implemented the proposals would mean that:

  • party members and trade unionists would lose the right to bring forward any kind of policy proposals to be voted on by conference
  • 99% of the remaining votes still permitted at conference would be on “take itor leave it” proposals from the leadership
  • all the formal powers that conference once held to determine party policy would be transferred to the leadership which would only have to “consult” with the policy forum.

The LRC’s response says: “The proposals from the leadership are not just an attack on Labour Party democracy, they are a very serious attack on democracy itself. If implemented, the proposals would finish off annual conference as a serious political event. There would be only the most tenuous link between the political life of CLPs and affiliates and the policy making process of the party as a whole. Under these proposals Labour Party conference would become the least democratic annual gathering of any major political party in Britain. The proposals represent an attempt to destroy the Labour Party as a democratic political organisation based on the labour movement. Instead of a broad based party grounded on the participation of organisations with roots in the communities and workplaces, Labour would be reduced to the status of a US style political party. It would be nothing more than a narrow political machine populated by members of the professional political elite.”

Currently, affiliated trade unions can bring forward motions and are entitled to 50% of the vote on a given resolution. This itself is a substantial reduction on the pre-Blair years, when the unions could muster a majority. John McDonnell, the backbench MP who unsuccessfully sought to challenge for the leadership, has pointed out that that the plans were a "kick in the teeth" for trade unions who loyally nominated Brown. The termination of the influence of the trade unions in the party they founded over a century ago is an historic moment. It brings to a close the period of history when workers through their unions were able to exert some degree of influence on Labour governments. In practice, this ceased to be the case under Blair in the mid-1990s, when the union leaders voted for the abolition of Clause IV of the party constitution relating to social ownership. New Labour’s proposed changes will seal the exclusion of the unions from the political process and reinforce the disenfranchisement felt by millions of voters. The Blair-Brown governments are capitalist business regimes and as such have no interest in democracy or the aspirations of working people. If the union leaders can’t understand this, and commit themselves to participating in the creation of political alternatives, they understand nothing.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, July 20, 2007

The BBC, bread and circuses

The admission by the BBC that its programmes are not always what they appear to be raises important issues about perception, image and reality and the role of the mass media in manipulating and distorting their relationship. In a world dominated by marketing, commercialism and image, the BBC is doing no more than other broadcasters struggling to retain audience share. It is truly ironic that it took the monarchy, an institution with a medieval image and history, to restore reality by exposing the fact that footage showing the Queen storming out of a photo-shoot was untrue and the result of a manipulation of actual events. In other words, rather than the image presented having a connection to a deeper reality or truth, the exact opposite was the case. This casual blurring and inversion of fact and fiction is what leads the BBC and other broadcasters to invent winners of TV phone-in competitions and from there to obscure the nature of the real world in a more systematic way.

Instead of a probing analysis of government actions - such as workfare for single mothers, the collapse of a Tube consortium, and more disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan this week – we are saddled with endless “reality” TV programmes. Wall-to-wall scheduling of property buying, DIY disasters, losing weight, gaining weight, the Big Brother house through to celebrity dancing on ice is the standard fare. This leaves precious little room for news and analysis, even on programmes like BBC News 24. Rolling headlines with no insight is mesmerising but totally deceptive and uninformative. It is a reflection of a channel that threw in the towel when one of its reporters rightly accused New Labour of “sexing up” the intelligence on Iraq’s weaponry. The story was true but the BBC chairman and director-general had to resign.

Alison Cahn, a former BBC producer who helped make Death on the Rocks about the assassination of IRA members in Gibraltar, wrote in the Daily Telegraph today: “I think there is a thread that unites the mis-editing of the Queen with the dishonest use of phone-in lines by the BBC. It is the pressure now put on programme makers to deliver the desired programme at all costs, so that honesty and fair dealing, with both audiences and participants, is no longer seen as the rock on which programming is based. For me, the experience of moving from more traditional documentaries to making ‘reality’-type TV was invigorating but ultimately depressing. I remember a Channel 4 commissioning editor asking me to alter the chronology of a piece of interview, which would ‘sharpen up’ the story by making a woman look heartless. I refused. On another occasion I was told by a BBC executive producer that I wasn't ruthless enough because there were things I wasn't prepared to say or do to deliver the programme he had in his head.”

The distortion of the truth by the media is, of course, not new. Newspapers like the Sun and Daily Mail do it every day. The Mail, notoriously, actually invented a letter that helped bring down a Labour government in the 1920s. Newspapers and broadcasters play a crucial role in sustaining the ideology of the status quo and in keeping dissent allowed on the airwaves and pages to a minimum. But the contemporary approach is absolutely connected to the fantasy world that is modern capitalism. Here, you can be what you want to be because you are worth it. This is justified by a post-modern philosophy that claims that the world is what each individual thinks it is and that notions of objective reality are old-hat. So reality TV, which is actually unreal TV, becomes the norm and fictional people win prizes. Bread and circuses anyone?

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Picking up the bill for Tube firm collapse

When Gordon Brown set out to part-privatise London’s Underground system in 2001, he was implementing a New Labour strategy designed to transfer capital from the state to the corporations. With the collapse of the Metronet consortium charged with upgrading most of the network, the state (i.e. the taxpayers) will now step in to pick up the pieces. Much of the work will go to the same companies that have just gone into administration! Such is the mad logic of a system where business interests are protected at all costs and the public – in this case, the long-suffering users of the Tube – are on the “any other business” part of the agenda. After Metronet collapsed, Brown told MPs that another private company would take its place, saying: “This is a £17 billion investment that would always be done by private construction and engineering firms.” Yet MPs pointed out that the former chancellor now prime minister had wasted £500m setting up the Metronet deal and that Londoners had been left with £3.5 billion in bank loans as a result of its collapse.

Brown’s “Public Private Partnership” (PPP) is a complex web of contracts, with ownership of the track and stations out of the hands of Transport for London (Tfl), which is at least a semi-public body under the wings of the Greater London Authority and mayor Ken Livingstone. Now Tfl will have to find £50m a week to maintain the vital maintenance work that Metronet has walked away from. The money will come out of Tfl’s reserves while Livingstone said a programme to refit 153 stations might have to be scaled back and that a drive to upgrade signalling systems on the busiest lines will be given priority. The mayor declined to criticise Brown, presumably in exchange for a promise of financial help from the government.

The fact is that New Labour’s love-affair with business is having dire consequences right across the board. Whether it is called PPP or PFI (Private Finance Initiative), the victims include NHS staff axed by trusts who can’t balance their books. Only yesterday, Scarborough Hospital announced it was sacking 600 staff and patients face a 40-mile journey to York for alternative facilities. The scale of the transfer of resources is phenomenal. By the end of last year, PFI contracts worth almost £100 billion had been signed or were in the pipeline. Yet, as Metronet’s collapse demonstrates, the idea that the private sector knows best is rubbish. Companies know what’s best alright – what’s best for them in terms of returns and profits. And if they can’t get what they want, they will walk away and leave the taxpayers to pick up the bill. One final note on the PPP-Metronet saga. When Brown forced the deal through, he was advised by former investment banker Shriti Vadera. After Brown took over as prime minister last month, he made her a peer and a minister in his government.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Business as usual in Burma

This week Amnesty International, Saferworld and other NGOs pointed to a breach of the EU arms embargo on Burma (Myanmar) by the Indian government. Their report demands that the EU “stand by its obligations” and urges the Indian government to stop the transfer of a military helicopter to the dictatorship. Roy Isbister of Saferworld said: “The EU embargo states that no military equipment should be supplied, either directly or indirectly for use in Myanmar – what’s the point in having an arms embargo if it is not going to be implemented or enforced?”

New Labour’s Ian McCartney, the former trade and investment minister and Blair himself have claimed to be in favour of the sanctions. At the same time the British government has backed companies trading in Burma to the tune of £22.9m, despite Blair himself having called for the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, held by the junta for over 12 years. She is one of over 1,000 political prisoners in the country. The supply of the helicopter makes a mockery of the arms embargo since the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) cannot operate without components made in the EU and US. Ninety percent of its parts originate from five countries in the EU, including its hydraulic package, flotation equipment, fuel tanks and internal gearbox, which is made by GKN Westland. India’s defence ministry admits that the country does give military hardware support to Burma, but claims that “the equipment is not offensive”. This is clearly untrue since the ALH is armed with rocket launchers made by Forges de Zebrugge in Belgium and engine, guns and rockets from France. The official also revealed that Burma was helping in the battle against insurgents in India's northeast.

The Burmese junta is currently waging war on the Karen people and other ethnic groups, as well as engaging in cross-border attacks on tens of thousands who have fled to Thailand. In April the Burmese army and its proxy forces positioned artillery and heavy machine guns overlooking the Mae La refugee camp where 45,000 Burmese citizens had sought shelter. The Karen Human Rights Group which campaigns for the Karen people whose state lies in eastern Burma, has documented the continuing ethnic cleansing policies of the Burmese regime, including forced labour, land confiscation and military campaigns and rape carried out by its armed forces. The junta is building a series of dams on the Salween river, which forms a natural border between Burma and Thailand with the support of the World Bank, ignoring heavy criticism.

The reality is that several countries want to exploit Burma’s rich natural resources to fuel their rapid industrial growth. South Korea’s Daewoo International and India’s state oil and gas companies have major stakes in Burma’s Shwe gas project. Large deposits of natural gas were recently discovered off the coast of Arakan State in western Burma. Natural gas exports have now become Burma’s main source of foreign exchange. China, India and Russia are supplying the Burmese military with artillery, jets, helicopters and other hardware, which are being used to crush internal opposition from the Karen National Union (KNU), which has fought the Burmese government for 60 years, as well as terrorise civilians. The European Union and New Labour provide one of the worst regimes in the world with a figleaf of criticism whilst business goes on as usual.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The inequality indictment

If you wanted evidence to draw up an indictment of corporate power and the global market economy, you need look no further than the reports on inequality in Britain published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). While you’re about it, there is plenty of material for a charge sheet against successive governments as well. In the dog-eat-dog globalised market economy, the story is a simple one: the rich have obviously got a lot richer and the average worker has got relatively poorer. Another group – they used to be called the “poor” but are now officially known as “socially excluded” – have grown in numbers. The JRF findings do not delve into socio-economic causes. But their conclusions speak for themselves because the period studied – 1968 to 2005 – coincides with the contemporary globalisation period. During these decades, successive Tory and New Labour governments have facilitated the accumulation of private wealth on a grand scale. The deregulation of capital and finance has enabled City traders, merchant bankers, industrial and financial capitalists to amass wealth on an unprecedented scale at the expense of ordinary working people.

The JRF research , which uses new ways of comparing poverty and wealth trends across Britain, reveals inequality to be at a 40-year high. Researchers discovered that households in already-wealthy areas have tended to become disproportionately wealthier and that many rich people live in areas segregated from the rest of society. At the same time, more households have become poor over the last 15 years. The widening gap between rich and poor has meant that “average” households (neither poor nor wealthy) have been decreasing in number. Danny Dorling, who led the research, said: “Most interesting and certainly unexpected when this work began is the geography of those households who are neither rich nor poor. Over time it has become clear that there is less and less room in the south for them; they have either moved elsewhere, or become poor.” A second report studies people’s attitudes to inequality. It found that over the last 20 years, a large and enduring majority of people have considered the gap between high and low incomes too large.

Britain over the last few decades has become a low-wage, long hours, exploitative, debt-ridden society as far as the majority is concerned. New Labour has speeded this process along, as did the Tories before them. In place of decent wages, there are tax credits so that the employers are not put under any pressure. In place of strong trade unions, there are organisations enfeebled by anti-union laws and weak leaders who are frightened by globalisation and corporate power. While most people reject gross inequalities, there is no one in parliament to represent their views. The state has abandoned its mediating role between class interests and in the period covered by the JRF research has become partisans of big business interests. Overturning inequality will require a comprehensive remaking of the state and a democratisation of ownership of economic and financial resources. That takes us way beyond the wretched New Labour outfit and what passes for democracy in Britain today.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Monday, July 16, 2007

A global war on rights

The global “war on terror” has truly become the global war of terror against people’s human rights. In Australia, a terror suspect freed on bail is immediately held on spurious immigration charges; in Britain, a senior police officer calls for indefinite detention of suspects; in Germany, the interior minister suggests target killing of terror suspects; in the Philippines, new anti-terror laws come into force today. This morning, normally hard-bitten Australian journalists were shocked when a doctor, Mohamed Haneef, who was released on A$10,000 bail was immediately taken into detention in Brisbane on the orders of immigration minister Kevin Andrews. The minister said he was satisfied that Haneef had failed the “character test” required under immigration regulations. In an often heated exchange, Andrews was asked: "What chances does this fellow have of gaining justice in this country when he faces criminal charges in one court, and in another place, in a sort of a Catch-22, a minister of the crown declares that he's a terrorist?" Another said: “Doesn't this go against the legal rule that we've established over a thousand years? That someone is innocent until proven guilty. You're pre-empting a judgment on his innocence."

Equally shocked was Stephen Estcourt, president of the Australian Bar Association, who said he could not believe the minister's action. "He can't do that," said Estcourt. He said the minister was "usurping the role of the court" to take action now. "Usually this sort of visa cancellation takes place after charges have been laid against someone and they’ve run their course and they've resulted in a penalty being imposed... I have not heard of this power being used pre-emptively in this way. It has got to be seen as a threat to the rule of law if a ministerial discretion is used to effectively reverse, or to reverse for practical purposes a decision of the court. And it's sophistry to say that one's got nothing to do with the other."

While the Howard government rides roughshod over the presumption of innocence, in Britain we are being softened up for an extension of the anti-terror laws by the Brown regime. Doing New Labour’s bidding is Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). He told The Observer that in some cases there was a need to hold terrorist suspects without charge for “as long as it takes”. Jones, a former chair of ACPO's counter-terrorism committee, said: “We are now arguing for judicially supervised detention for as long as it takes. We are up against the buffers on the 28-day limit. We understand people will be concerned and nervous, but we need to create a system with sufficient judicial checks and balances which holds people, but no longer than a day [more than] necessary. We need to go there [unlimited detention] and I think that politicians of all parties and the public have great faith in the judiciary to make sure that's used in the most proportionate way possible.”

This global assault on rights has little to do with fighting terrorism. As we have said before, no self-respecting terrorist is concerned about tighter laws and the threat of being held without trial, or even being tortured for that matter. The authoritarian clampdown will, in fact, encourage terrorists to believe that they have their targets on the run. Creating an atmosphere of permanent tension is, however, a more than useful way of justifying the power of the state over its citizens. And so much the better if it helps to silence dissent, and widen the net so that radical, political opponents are ensnared. All that is left is for Brown to bring Jones of ACPO into his government of “all the talents”.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

Friday, July 13, 2007

Peak oil - peak madness

The sharp rise in the price of oil to almost $80 a barrel, coupled with evidence that production is nearing or is already at its peak, is a dangerous indicator of the unsustainability of the global market economy. As oil runs out, the corporations are expanding production as if there was no tomorrow, with dire consequences for the rest of us. They will diversify into other sources of energy only if they are tradable as commodities – like oil is - and facilitate profit-making in the production and sale of commodities. This is already creating its own set of problems. A switch to using corn and wheat to create biofuels like ethanol, for example, is having an impact on food prices throughout the world. There have already been riots in Mexico following a sharp rise in food basics, and the trend is now revealing itself in the major capitalist countries. Over 20% of the maize crop in the United States is used for the production of ethanol. The knock-on effect on the price of wheat on the international markets is "only headed one way," says agricultural accounts at Deloitte. The firm also predicts that the era of cheap food that has lasted since 1945 is coming to an end. There is always the nuclear option, of course, which is the one that New Labour favours for Britain. This in turns creates massive storage and other problems, especially for those living near nuclear plants.

Some environment campaigners and groups hope that as oil runs out, the economy will contract, less carbon dioxide will be emitted, global warming will ease and, lo and behold, problem solved! This is dreamland, unfortunately. A more likely scenario is that oil prices will continue to rise, food prices will soar, unemployment will grow as energy supplies dry up, the financial system will become unstable and more resources wars, like the one in Iraq, will develop. Addiction to oil and the use of private cars comes with capitalism. The system is based on individual/family units with one or more cars for work and leisure. The "American" model has become the global model, sweeping Latin America, China and India. There has to be another way. The nature and reason for production of commodities has to undergo a fundamental transformation, beginning with immediate action to address energy supplies and climate chaos. An action plan could include:
  • An immediate halt to car production; existing models to be made more fuel efficient and use other forms of fuel; introduce social ownership and use of cars
  • Reserving oil for essential transport which benefits humanity – for example, shipping and food production
  • Setting an upper limit on the number of air miles flown in and out of Britain; supporting campaigns fighting airport expansion
  • A complete overhaul of public transport – reducing prices, bringing rail and air back into public ownership and using dial-a-ride to get people to hubs so they can get to work
  • Heating homes with gas or locally-produced renewable electricity sources; bringing energy companies back into public ownership
  • Using resources currently spent on wars, nuclear weapons for researching alternative fuel and power systems
  • Recycling on massive scale at all levels of production and consumption
  • A curb on long-distance transport of food, and a switch to not-for-profit production of food and other commodities.

All these need to be agreed and implemented by local, regional and national democratic bodies in a direct challenge to the status quo of corporate madness and business-friendly governments.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    London NHS review smokescreen

    Radical proposals for revamping the capital’s health services intended to meet the needs of Londoners, include far more than the widely-reported intention to move the majority of care from old-style general hospitals to polyclinics and urgent care centres closer to people’s homes. Few would argue with the need for more and better services provided through community-based facilities designed to overcome inequality, complemented by an integrated network of specialist hospitals.

    But deep in the report, and destined to disappear, are links with the Mayor’s Health Inequalities Strategy and acknowledgement of the long-forgotten Wanless reviews carried out in 2002, 2003, and 2004 which concluded that the "fully engaged scenario’" was the cheapest option and delivered the best health outcomes. In this scenario, the level of public engagement in relation to health is high, life expectancy goes beyond current forecasts, health status improves dramatically, use of resources is more efficient and the health service is responsive with high rates of technology uptake.

    Professor Sir Aru Darzi, author of the new report, commissioned by London’s Strategic Health Authority, is a high achieving, and internationally-respected surgeon soon to become a life peer. Having completed his report, Professor Darzi has been drawn into Gordon Brown’s government as a junior minister and is charged with yet another review of the NHS as a whole. And the image of high-tech surgical incisiveness is being used to replace the messy business of democratic participation.

    Brown’s enthusiastic adoption of Professor Darzi’s clinically-led, needs-based approach is a cynical smokescreen designed to bring the influential doctors onboard. The NHS infrastructure consists of an ageing stock of buildings being replaced by privately-financed millstones of debt. But the debt remains, and Brown’s commitment to the voracious needs of the City of London will ensure that the doctor’s enthusiasm for science is subordinated to it. Whilst Darzi is careful to say that the PFI-funded old-style hospitals can be reused in his revamped integrated service, he also offers up surplus land as a means to finance development. Estate agents and speculators will be rubbing their hands in glee.

    Darzi’s claim to have sought the views of Londoners can hardly be described as comprehensive, nor did its methods match up to the Wanless "fully-engaged scenario" it references. Ipsos MORI conducted just 20 minute of telephone interviews amongst 7,036 London residents between 22nd September and 27th November 2006. Londoners’ health and social needs must be based on a fully-participative democratic process, involving residents, managers, doctors, paramedics and nurses, whose members in England in an historic move are about to launch a formal ballot on industrial action over the government’s below inflation pay offer.

    Gerry Gold, economics editor

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Democracy, revolution and British values

    The Brown government wants to "reinvigorate our democracy" through a series of changes to the constitution. But proposals in The Governance of Britain published by New Labour last week are superficial and essentially aimed at trying to restore public support for a failing process by "renewing our trust in our democratic institutions". Lurching towards populism/nationalism, they are also intended to "achieve a stronger sense of what it means to be British". The overall concept of a corporate-driven, security-obsessed, state shines through the whole document, which is how it should be for something published by a government like Brown’s, where business is directly involved as ministers and top advisers.

    The executive summary openly states: "Only a confident UK will be able to adapt to the economic challenges of globalisation." [emphasis added] It adds: "Only a country sure of its identity will be able to come together to ensure our mutual security: common, inclusive values can help us overcome the threat from extremism of all kinds." [emphasis added] The Governance of Britain’s central assumption is that the real issue concerns the relationship between the executive, or government, and parliament. To that end, there are a proposals to transfer from the executive to MPs the power to declare war or ratify international treaties. All the emphasis is on giving parliament "more ability to hold the government to account" . [emphasis added] In the end, however, these are entirely cosmetic proposals not least because the governing party literally has the whip hand when it comes to driving their MPs through the division lobbies when votes take place. After all, MPs did get a vote on the invasion of Iraq – and voted in favour, despite the pressure of 2 million people on the streets.

    Transferring a few powers, or bringing into the open the mysteries of the appointment of judges and bishops, will not suffice because the causes of the deep political malaise in Britain go much deeper than The Governance of Britain cares to acknowledge. Democratic rights to representation were won only as a result of mass struggle – something the document glosses over – and most people lent the political system conditional support so long as it appeared flexible, open to pressure and delivered reforms. This support has fallen away precisely because social and economic conditions have altered in a substantive way, with consequences for the political process. At the heart of these changes lies the corporate-driven globalisation process, which began in earnest almost 30 years ago. At one level, the national state has ceded powers to international and regional bodies like the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. At another, the transnational corporations have set the agenda for national governments to follow if they want to stay competitive in the global market economy. While the Tories floundered under the weight of these historic challenges, New Labour embraced them to the extent that Brown cannot speak too highly of the alleged virtues of the City of London and corporations like Microsoft.

    The decline of the welfare state and the transition to a market state, with its emphasis on self-help and commercially-driven public policies, has witnessed a parallel decline in voter support for a state political system that is openly partisan, having abandoned its post-war role of mediating between different class interests. So when the government launches its debate about the future of the constitution, there is no point in our trying to breathe new life into something past its use-by date. In truth, parliament has never held any significant power since the emergence of capitalist rule, while the state as a whole has always sided with the status quo of private ownership of land and property.

    The Governance of Britain refers in the introduction to political reform through revolution, before hastily adding "although not for centuries", in an oblique reference to the overthrow of monarchy by Cromwell in the 17th century. Reinvigorating democracy can only come through a modern revolutionary process. This would extend democracy into areas like the workplace, handing power to producers and consumers, ending corporate and financial rule, and creating new democratic institutions that directly represent ordinary people’s diverse interests. Now, that would be a much more progressive way to affirm historic British values!

    Paul Feldman, communications editor

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    How the war was spun

    Alastair Campbell’s diaries will earn him piles of money but the former Downing Street spin doctor is still playing fast and loose with the truth about the preparations for the attack on Iraq. Key entries for the days leading up to the infamous autumn 2002 dossier, with its false claims about weapons of mass destruction (WMD), are omitted from his diaries. The dossier, with its introduction by Tony Blair claiming that Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes, played a crucial role in the propaganda justification for the invasion that took place six months later. Campbell was, of course, at the centre of the accusation by BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan that the government had "sexed up" the dossier because the early drafts from the intelligence agencies were too weak. While he has always denied any direct involvement in rewriting the dossier, Campbell’s diaries actually reveal that he told intelligence chiefs that the Iraq dossier "had to be revelatory" and that "we needed to show that it was new and informative and part of a bigger case". Then the diaries fall silent about the process that led to the inclusion of the fictional 45 minutes claim. What a surprise!

    Across Whitehall, John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was co-ordinating the work of drafting the dossier. Scarlett admitted to the Hutton inquiry into the death of the scientist and WMD expert Dr David Kelly that he had allowed last-minute changes to strengthen the document. One crucial alteration was to cut the observation that Saddam Hussein was more likely to use chemical and biological weapons defensively than offensively. For his loyalty to the New Labour government he was later made head of MI6 and then knighted. While Campbell and Scarlett are alive and prosperous, Kelly was hounded to his death (or perhaps eliminated) by the authorities after briefing the BBC about the way the government had exaggerated Iraq’s military potential.

    Campbell’s diaries claim that many cabinet ministers had reservations or doubts about the attack on Iraq. Only one, Robin Cook, resigned. The rest sat on their hands and sanctioned an illegal invasion. They did so even in the wake of another infamous dossier, this time published in February 2003, just weeks before the war. Large parts of the dossier on Iraq - allegedly based on "intelligence material" – were actually lifted from published academic articles, some of them several years old. The dossier was nothing more than an old-fashioned, cut-and-paste job that had the fingers of Downing Street spin doctors all over it. It was just one of many examples of disinformation and media manipulation that characterised the Blair years. On this occasion, it proved deadly, however, because the spin helped to justify a war that has resulted in the deaths of tens upon tens of thousands of Iraqis, the dismemberment of their country and a sharp increase in recruitment by Al-Qaeda.

    Paul Feldman, communications editor

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    Taking a leaf out of the Stasi's book

    In former East Germany, the hated Stasi – or state security police – just about had one half of the population spying on the other. While that is now the stuff of films like Other People’s Lives, the spirit of the Stasi lives on the shape of one Admiral Sir Alan West, who is a security minister in the Brown government of “all the talents”. Leaving aside the fact that West was in charge of the navy, where terrorism is not exactly top of the Admiralty’s agenda, his suggestion that people should “snitch” on suspicious neighbours is right out the Stasi’s handbooks. He didn’t elaborate on what constitutes “suspicious” activities, but they could well include the following acts by members of the Muslim community:
    • buying stuff for barbecues from a DIY store (this is doubly suspicious because the weather is so bad at the moment)
    • looking for articles on the Internet critical of the Bush-Brown policies towards Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Chechnya etc
    • being overheard in a supermarket discussing the background to terrorist attacks
    • suggesting in a public place that British foreign policy may well have contributed to the threat of terror attacks
    • failing to greet a member of the police force as a friend and a person who would never knowingly abuse a member of a minority community
    • declining to support England at football, cricket or rugby
    • a refusal to integrate by, for example, insisting on cooking curries or living next door to nice, white, middle-class folk (who, of course, are not required to integrate with anyone)
    • not engaging in serious and sustained binge drinking along with the majority population
    • carrying large parcels or backpacks
    • acting in a manner that could generally cause alarm amongst a fearful population.

    There are no doubt many other aspects of strange behaviour that people ought to be on the look out for because, as West told us, the war on terror will last at least 15 years. So in approximately 2022 we will all be allowed to return to life as we once knew it – but only if we snoop and snitch. This is, of course, New Labour fantasy land, made more dubious by Brown’s love-in with military figures like West, who bypass party membership to join the government. This same team brought you the Iraq war and the occupation of Afghanistan – and what great success stories they have turned out to be. Iraq is in ruins and the Taleban are making a comeback in Afghanistan.

    Although it is true that Islamic-inspired terrorism has a long history, the British people themselves have become a terror target principally because of these imperial policies. Blind terror is, of course, reactionary to the core and has to be condemned. But finding a way forward will require at the minimum progressive, alternative policies at all levels – social, economic, political, military. Yet today, David Miliband, the new foreign secretary, attacked Iran and stoked up the pressure on Teheran about its nuclear programme. So we’re left with the admiral’s plan to alert the authorities about suspicious Muslims. In the end, of course, the Stasi played a major part in the disintegration of the very state they were supposed to protect. Hopefully, New Labour is set on a similar course.

    Paul Feldman, communications editor

    Friday, July 06, 2007

    Flood victims abandoned

    From Mount Everest to Hull, the evidence of climate change is before our very eyes, as well as in the homes of thousands of people in the north of England. Yet the British government sees nothing and hears nothing, with its response to the floods little better than the White House’s inaction when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. It took New Labour ministers nine days to reach some of the north’s flood-hit cities – and then all they could offer were words and more words. As for compensation and financial support, people like Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, were their mealy-mouthed selves. Although she was pressed during her visit to Sheffield about compensation, Blears provided no clear indication of government intentions. The government can find endless sums of money for the occupation of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the renewal of Trident nuclear missiles and tax breaks for their asset-stripper friends who run private equity funds. Ask them about compensation and financial support for flood victims and all you get is double-talk.

    Many of the households flooded out in Sheffield, Doncaster and Hull are too poor to afford insurance so will have lost everything in the floods, which resulted from extreme weather patterns that are a feature of climate change. Infrastructure is severely damaged and Hull’s council leader Carl Minns was right when said: “Quite frankly, if this was Chelsea or Fulham, this would have been plastered over the front pages for weeks. The government needs to help this city with a large injection of capital, otherwise this city will not recover." He called Hull the disaster’s forgotten city, where 17,000 properties have been affected and nearly 11,000 homes evacuated. Damage to schools alone tops £100m. But don’t worry, the very British response of a “disaster relief fund” is on the way. They have been set up in South Yorkshire and the city council in Hull has launched the Hull Flood Fund. In other words, the local authorities have to go cap in hand to ordinary members of the public for hand-outs and donations so that they can put their towns back together again while the government thinks the matter over.

    Extreme weather will become more frequent as climate change intensifies. Evidence of the changes well under way have come from Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing, the sons of the first men to scale Everest in 1953. They say the mountain is now so ravaged by climate change that their fathers would no longer recognise it. The glacier on which it stands, and those around it, are melting at such a rate that scientists believe the mountain could be barren rock by 2050. Hillary, who has himself twice reached Everest's summit, said: "Climate change is happening. This is a fact. Base camp used to sit at 5,320 metres. This year it was at 5,280 metres because the ice is melting from the top and side. Base camp is sinking each year. For Sherpas living on Mount Everest this is something they can see every day but they can't do anything about it on their own." Up to 40,000 Sherpas who live at the base of the Himalayas face devastation if vast new lakes formed by the melted ice burst and send a torrent of millions of tons of water down the slopes. Hillary said: "I've seen the result of glacial lakes bursting their banks and it's just catastrophic. It's like an atomic bomb has gone off. Everywhere is rubble. The floods of the past are unfortunately nothing compared with the size of what we are currently threatened with." But fear not, our great new leader in Downing Street is working out new market-led “solutions” to global warming, which, as the Stern report said, represents the greatest market failure of all time! So just be patient, even if your TV just floated past the window. Gordon Brown is on the case.

    Paul Feldman, communications editor

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Labour – ‘the natural party of business’

    This is one of those moments in history when the clouds of confusion begin to lift and it becomes easy to see how the land lies. Blowing away the clouds is John Hutton, the man in charge of the newly created Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. According to Hutton, Tory Leader David Cameron’s alleged weak support for business provides “a major opportunity for Labour” because “we want to be the natural party of business”. It is difficult to imagine a clearer mission statement for the all-new New Labour regime under Gordon Brown. And just in case you are in any doubt, Hutton adds: “This is not a rebranding… It’s a serious attempt to redesign across government how we work with business.”

    In a bizarre reversal of historical roles, Hutton contrasted the Tory pledge to extend flexible working rights to all parents of under-18s with the new government’s more cautious approach. “In the whole debate about more employment regulation, you have to be mindful of the costs to British business,” he said. “You’ve got to be very careful and always take into account the impact and burden on business.” Hutton will be working closely with Sir Digby Jones, former Confederation of British Industry director general with a long history of opposing trade unions and their rights. Jones has been made a Lord by Gordon Brown and brought into the government as minister for trade.

    And the trade union response? Jack Dromey is deputy general secretary of the Transport & General section of the new 2 million strong union Unite, which is still affiliated to New Labour. Dromey, who is married to deputy leader Harrriet Harman, has written a column in the Financial Times, trade journal of investment bankers and city traders. The union wants private equity takeovers to be included within the scope of Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) regulations which partially protect workers transferred from the public to the private sector. Fat chance! New Chancellor Alistair Darling has already ruled out an immediate clampdown on tax privileges used by the private equity industry, fearing they might have undesirable effects on the “absolutely critical” role of the City.

    And then there’s Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, who says that many trade unionists are disillusioned with Labour and fed up with the government's record. "I know that because I am one of them," he told the delegates at the union's annual conference in Brighton. Woodley used his keynote address to launch a demagogic attack on the Blair government. "For the first time in my life I am seeing the sort of social divisions, the sort of wealth gap, here in our own country that I saw in other parts of the world when I was a teenager in the merchant navy.” He added: "Let Tony Blair's government be the last Labour government which let the gap between rich and poor widen. Let it be the last Labour government which boasted about the strength of its anti-union laws. Let it be the last Labour government which blocked social legislation from Europe - yet screamed blue murder if the priority of free competition is questioned.” But Woodley had another, much more disingenuous message. Delegates were told that there was now a chance to develop a "positive new agenda" under Brown's leadership. There is not a shred of evidence in favour of this deceitful argument. What Woodley and other union leaders refuse to accept is that the party founded by the labour movement has been transformed into the party of choice for big business, just as Hutton boasts.

    Gerry Gold, economics editor

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    Palestine: One state the only solution

    Two new books published this week by Palestinian writers offer a way forward for those currently locked in struggle in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Both argue the need for a democratic, secular state on all the land currently occupied by Israel. In his book, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, Ali Abunimah, the Palestinian-American writer and co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, argues that the "conventional wisdom" of the two-state, land-for-peace equation needs to be rethought. Partition, he argues, is a flawed idea that is doomed to fail. The only viable choice is a return to the proposal of one country with equal rights and votes for both Israelis and Palestinians. And in her book Married to another Man, launched in London last night, Palestinian-English doctor and writer Ghada Karmi reaches the same conclusion. What has prevented a solution to the conflict over the years, she argues, is "the original and unresolved Zionist dilemma of how to create and maintain a Jewish state in a land inhabited by another people". The only solution in the long term, she argues, is a one state solution.

    As an editorial on Electronic Intifada argues, what is needed is a new approach, an anti-apartheid struggle for the dismantling of the network of walls and checkpoints, for a single democracy in historic Palestine. Ali Abunimah says between a quarter and a third of Palestinians in the West Bank already support a bi-national state or a secular democratic state, and an even larger number of Arab-Israelis. "Not an Islamic state, but a state for Palestinians and Jews with equal rights," he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera. "It’s remarkable that support for a two-state solution is so tepid even in the West Bank and Gaza when there is… a multi-billion-dollar industry… to promote it. I also think it is remarkable that support for a one-state solution is so high and increasing given the fact that there is no official leadership that is advocating it." Fatah has allowed itself to become totally identified with the failed peace process and cannot see a way beyond it; Hamas of course wants an Islamic state, not democracy or secularism.

    As Ghada Karmi says, from where we begin, it may seem like totally Utopian idea, but it is nonetheless an idea whose time has come and which is worth fighting for. After all, what do the Palestinians have now? Gaza resembles a ghetto. It is surrounded by a wall, its coast and airspace are controlled by the Israeli army. Gaza has no public finance, no international aid, no functioning economy and this week Israeli bombing raids killed seven people. West Bank farmers are separated from their land by a giant wall, and there is no viable economic life or civil society. In effect the leading Palestinian factions are now fighting over two poverty-stricken, unsustainable Bantustans where they are herded together in such a way as to be politically powerless. The decision to elect a Palestinian authority, on the basis that Israel was committed to a two-state solution was perhaps understandable, even unavoidable, at the time. But from the Oslo Accords onwards, Israel has used its military might, and the acquiescence of the major powers, to keep control over every aspect of Palestinian life and economy and repackage the occupation. The Palestinians urgently need to develop a leadership that looks beyond Oslo and which can appeal to Israeli Jews, offering them a way out from the Zionist trap in the shape of a single, democratic, secular state.

    Penny Cole

    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    How corporations avoid tax

    The news that Saga and the AA, the private equity businesses that are merging, paid no corporation tax last year highlights the fact that global business has turned avoidance into an international art. A shadowy world of tax havens and creative accounting means that the burden of funding the state falls increasingly on the shoulders of working people. In the case of Saga and the AA, they have paid almost zero corporation tax since their take-over by private equity funds Permira, CVC and Charterhouse two and a half years ago. Yet these three companies generated capital gains for themselves of £2.5 billion while 3,000 AA workers lost their jobs. Tax was avoided by the fact that that huge debts in the form of loans were imposed on the companies – and the interest paid on these borrowings wiped out all taxable profit.
    Today the Treasury select committee of MPs will question CVC and other private equity firms about their operations. Some MPs and GMB trade union leaders are in a flap about private-equity businesses, which they describe as the "unacceptable face of capitalism". Apart from paying little tax, they asset strip and rationalise companies they take over before selling them at a profit. Saga's chief executive Andrew Goodsell’s shares will be valued at about £150m, of which he will pocket about £110m in cash. As for the AA's chief executive, Tim Parker, he is understood to be cashing in his entire stake, which is worth around £50m. Nice work if you can get it.

    But private equity is only a small part of the story when it comes to corporations and tax, both in Britain and internationally. In Britain, New Labour under Gordon Brown has cut corporation tax so that at 28% the rate will be the lowest rate of the major economies. Yet while corporate profits as a share of GDP have increased on average from 21.5% to 22.5% since 1999, the proportion paid in corporation tax has fallen from 15% to 14.1%, according to the Tax Justice Network (TJN). At the same time, of course, the majority of ordinary earners have seen the share of their income taken by tax and national insurance rise to around 30%. The TJN estimates that in 2005 US$11.5 trillion of personal wealth was held offshore in 70 tax havens by rich individuals. If this wealth was taxed where they were resident or derived their wealth, the additional tax revenue available to fund public services and investment around the world would be in the region of US$255 billion annually. And the number one haven, according to the International Monetary Fund? Why, it’s New Labour’s Britain. Brown has made the UK the billionaire’s first choice of residence.

    The TJN acknowledges the source of the problem, with a major report saying: "Tax havens are part of a much deeper problem facing the globalised economy. As a result of technological change and capital market liberalisation, rich individuals and transnational corporations (TNCs) can move their money freely around the world. Many have chosen to locate their wealth and their profits in offshore jurisdictions that offer minimal or zero tax rates." That problem is not going away, and no amount of pressure for tax regulation or reform will change this position. The corporations not only hold economic power but they are also well in command of national state policies as well, as the decade of Blair and Brown has demonstrated.

    Paul Feldman, communications editor

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Terrorism and 'our way of life'

    The near-miss terror attacks in London and Glasgow reveal the futility of the government’s policies and methods, which all lead in one direction – towards full-scale, authoritarian rule. For, in the end, the government’s aim of “defeating terrorism” will require a police state apparatus on an immense and permanent scale. Clearly, MI5 and the police knew nothing about those who tried to blow up a London night club and Glasgow airport’s terminal. This is despite the fact that MI5’s budget has been doubled under New Labour. To remedy that situation, the state will need to know what everyone is thinking and doing, especially those living in minority communities. One half of the country will have to spy on the other half, turning Britain into a nation of informers. The Blair government went a long way down this road, handing the police immense new powers under a series of anti-terror laws. These undermined the principle of habeas corpus, which is supposed to prevent detention without charge or trial. Brown intends to go further, extending the period police can hold suspects and allowing the state to use telephone intercepts in court.

    But new laws, however draconian, will make not a jot of difference when it comes to “defeating terrorism”. No self-respecting terrorist will be deterred by the threat of imprisonment or detention without trial. They are committed to their destructive, reactionary acts for ideological reasons. Many are prepared to die in committing atrocities, as the people of Iraq discover to their cost in an horrific way each day. Terrorists do not care if they effectively strengthen the hand of the state they actually oppose.

    The prospect of a full-scale police state, parallel with a permanent threat of terror attacks, is unacceptable, self-defeating and, of course, no solution to the issue at hand. So what is the alternative? Brown says he wants to win the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim community in Britain, to encourage them to oust the extremists from their midst. How arrogant this sermonising approach is. We live in an unequal, capitalist society where the “values” of society are more often than not set down by the ruling elites in order to keep the rest of us in check. Being “fair and tolerant”, for example, does not prevent the government from demonising minorities and running scare stories about immigration and integration on a weekly basis to feed the right-wing tabloid press. Muslim communities suffer disproportionately from low-pay, unemployment and poor housing. In Brown’s competitive, “open markets” society, they and other poor people have to sink or swim.

    Internationally, “our way of life” is not that attractive to other people. Britain and the United States have together destroyed Iraq as a functioning society, creating a cause celebre for terrorists all over the planet and are restoring the credibility of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They prop up despotic regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel, to name but a few countries, and have driven despairing Palestinians to the point of civil war. The corporate-driven globalisation that Brown champions continues to widen the chasm of inequality worldwide. Only today, the United Nations warned that the whole of sub-Saharan Africa - the poorest region of the world - will fail to meet the goals set seven years ago for eradicating global poverty by 2015. The UN said the world was failing in the battle to combat hunger, cut infant mortality and put every child in school. Creating social and cultural conditions where terrorism is not an attractive option is patently beyond the capacity of globalised capitalism. That is the dilemma we have to grasp as a matter of urgency.

    Paul Feldman, communications editor