Friday, May 30, 2008

The R word raises its head

You could argue that ordinary people understand the immediacy of the global economic crisis of capitalism better than political activists because working people are struggling with rising prices for food and energy, mounting debts, lower wages and redundancies. The coincidence of all these facts of daily existence with a mounting political crisis in Britain adds up to an even greater test for political campaigners.

There no obvious immediate “practical” solutions to recession plus inflation, especially when the market state and client governments like New Labour have neither the capacity nor the political will to intervene. So it’s a kind of double bind which provokes the development of ideas that link to immediate problems but raise the spectre of revolutionary change.

For example, on the energy crisis, the case for social ownership of power generating and oil corporations increases daily. This essential resource should not be left in private hands or market forces. In the interim, the state could slash prices and subsidise energy through the scrapping of Trident and foreign wars. To save energy, public transport fares could be reduced drastically and services reorganised so that people could get to and from work without using their cars. Rail and bus networks would then be taken back into public ownership.

Food prices could be frozen and steps taken towards bringing the supermarket chains into co-operative ownership, ending their profiteering at consumers’ expense. People threatened with repossession should be allowed to stay in their homes pending plans to convert everyone’s mortgage debt into something more affordable and less of a long-term burden. Speculating in commodities and currencies should be blocked and a programme of turning private sector finance into mutual, co-operatively owned enterprises launched.

The big question of questions looms: Who on earth is going to implement such a programme? New Labour? You can’t be serious. The Tories or Lib Dems? You are obviously joking. The apparent political impasse leads to the spectre already mentioned, that of a break with the capitalist present and a leap into a revolutionary future. It’s difficult to conceive of but it’s an eminently practical solution given that There is No Alternative.

The R word is being used by all sorts of people, including the environmentalist Jonathon Porritt. In his blog earlier this month, he sounded the alarm bells: “‘So, food security is back on the political agenda. Climate change is omni-present. Peak Oil is rising. The credit crunch is the new player on the block. Resource wars are looming. Rainforest destruction just won’t go away. Species loss is as bad as ever, but no one cares – for now. Water shortages are chronic. But much, much more worrying are the linkages between all these notionally ‘separate’ phenomena. The synergies, feedback loops, interdependencies.

“At long last, people are starting to make the connections – and are even beginning to link all those separate symptoms back to their root cause: today’s literally insane notion of getting richer by trashing the planet and screwing the poor.” Porritt summed it up pretty well. And then he went on: ‘Don’t hold your breath, but pretty soon you might even hear one or two of them start talking about population. And then you’ll know revolution is on the way.” And then on Newsnight last night, someone did. It was him.

As an advisor at the heart of the Brown government, Porritt is well-placed to know that collectively they just don’t get it about any of the truly catastrophic interdependent threats and crises that worry the hell out of the rest of us. And when they do, when for example a few hundred truckers try to drive slowly into town (stopped by the police), the only market-dependent, profit-enhancing “solutions” they can come up with are bound to make everything worse. Like tax breaks on oil – not for hard-pressed hauliers and farmers, but to encourage increased production in the North Sea. Climate change? Somebody else’s problem.

Porritt’s dangerous and reactionary talk about population numbers was in response to the global food crisis. But the Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO) tell a different story in their joint Agricultural Outlook 2008-2017. World population growth is declining and food production is increasing. But US attempts to keep corporate profits rolling in are driving the world over the edge into mass starvation.

A broad range of different ideas and proposals to bring this most dangerous period of capitalist production to an end came from the large number of concerned people who attended last Saturday’s Beyond the Market Economy conference (the discussion is now continuing online). Many saw the need to end corporate power and establish 21st century models of social ownership. The real challenge is to create the leadership and organisation needed to bring such policies to fruition. The urgency of achieving this cannot be overstated.

Gerry Gold & Paul Feldman
Co-authors A House of Cards – from fantasy finance to global crash

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Brown's 'greenwash' failure

The government’s alleged environmental credentials are in ruins, with Gordon Brown’s announcement of support for a massive expansion of nuclear power, and the exposure of the “green tax” fraud. Brown has gone further than before by declaring that new nuclear power sites will be needed. And this is in addition to the even more immediate threat of a new generation of heavily polluting coal-fired power stations.

Last year the government was claiming its road tax policies were aimed at reducing car use – now the chancellor is planning to scrap them, as Labour MPs wake up to the fact that they will only drive the poorest people off the roads. The taxes also have precious little to do with changing behaviour, as they apply to cars bought as long ago as 2001!

Meanwhile, as speculators and hedge funds tighten their grip on the oil market, helping to send fuel prices soaring, the government is like a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights. In the autumn the big utility companies are planning further increases in domestic fuel prices. Mark Todd, the director of, says: "This winter we have had the credit crunch. Next winter it will be the energy crunch.” He warned British consumers could face a 66% rise in gas prices by January, and similar increases in electricity.

Consumers got a taste of things to come on Tuesday, when several power stations shut down at the same time leaving half a million homes and businesses without power. After that, the price of gas for next winter reached a record 99.5p a therm, double the level a year ago. That increase will be passed on to the consumer, not only in higher fuel bills but in higher costs for food and other essentials.

The government was also forced this week to defend its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, in the face of new reports exposing it as an expensive fraud. Two academics at Stanford University, California, studied more than 3,000 CDM projects earning up to $10bn worth of carbon credits, and concluded that none of them should have qualified as they would have been built anyway. Almost every chemical, wind power or hydro electric scheme planned for China in the next four years has applied to register.

When it finally expires in 2012, it seems Kyoto will have saved a pitiful total of about 175 million tons of carbon, according to Professor Roger Pielke, Jr. at the University of Colorado’s Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research. Pielke totalled the cumulative emissions saved by CDM schemes already registered, or in the pipeline and found that the level emissions that would have been reached on January 1, 2012 will now happen just before noon on January 7, 2012. So at a cost of tens of billions of dollars, the CDM has given the planet about another 6.5 days. I suppose we should be grateful.

All the government’s hopes of meeting carbon emission reduction targets are pinned on the CDM, not on any real reductions. A note of desperation crept into their defence. A spokeswoman said: "We completely reject any assertions that it is fundamentally flawed. We've worked consistently for and seen improvement in CDM processes over the past few years of its operation. We believe the CDM is essentially transparent and robust, though we will continue to press for the environmental integrity of projects."

The facts are clear enough – the government is leaving it all to the global energy companies and to the market in carbon. It has no solutions to the fuel crisis or to climate change. The "green tax” approach has failed. Government policies are essentially a greenwash. There is an urgent need for a crash programme of energy saving and efficiency measures, along the lines of A World to Win’s Action Plan to Halt Climate Chaos. Join us today to help develop the strategy for implementing this urgent alternative.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New unions need new leaders

The prospect of the first global trade union moved a step nearer last week when Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America, flew to London for merger talks with Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, joint general secretaries of Unite, now the UK’s biggest union with two million members. Unfortunately, it's more a case of union leaders huddling together for warmth rather than getting ready to fight global corporate power.

Launched a year ago, the move is a much-belated response to the globalisation of production. Over more than three decades, foreign investment and cross-border mergers and acquisitions produced corporations able to move production from country to country in search of cheaper labour. The rules of the new global economy undermined union organisation and turned their leaders into glorified, but obliging gang masters, persuading their members to accept ever-worsening conditions. These were needed to make workers economically attractive for competing companies struggling to overcome falling rates of profit.

If the talks are successful, the new transatlantic union would have about three million members in Britain, America, Canada and the Caribbean. But within their existing outlooks and leaderships, it is difficult to imagine what more this new collaboration will achieve beyond, for example, the International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF), one of 13 international federations of unions. The IMF represents the collective interests of 25 million metalworkers from more than 200 unions in 100 countries. Founded in 1893, the federation’s timid objectives are to build a global metalworkers’ movement, strengthen international solidarity, engage with transnational corporations, secure workers’ rights, including the rights of women workers, and fight for sustainable economic development.

The leadership of Unite of Simpson and Woodley has even less to offer. The union bureaucracy has sat back and done very little while the corporations, aided and abetted by the New Labour government, has driven down conditions and exported jobs to cheaper labour areas. When, for example, Rover closed its Midlands car plant on the eve of the last general election, Simpson and Woodley made sure no action was taken to avoid rocking the boat.

They are grateful for crumbs – even if they are stale. Last week, the government announced a “compact” on agency workers which only kicks in after 12 weeks, by which time most would have left/been fired. Yet Woodley claimed it was “landmark deal”, hailing the much-despised government for having “listened, acted and paved the way to equal treatment in the workplace”.

The unravelling of the systemic financial and economic crisis worldwide is driving hundreds of millions of workers in all industries into unprecedented conflicts. As the cost of food and fuel soars, pensions and homes are threatened, and jobs disappear. A new kind of union organisation is urgently needed.

The last great campaign for a global union - the Industrial Workers of the World (aka the Wobblies) - was launched in 1905. Its constitution provides a more inspiring model than the one currently on the table:

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organise as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth ... Instead of the conservative motto, “a fair day's wage for a fair day's work”, we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, 'Abolition of the wage system.' It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.
Today, “engaging with transnational corporations” must give way to moving beyond the market economy, ending corporate power and establishing 21st century models of social ownership. For that to happen, the old discredited leaderships of Unite and other unions, who have spent the last decade propping up New Labour, will also have to give way to those who are ready to follow in the revolutionary footsteps of the Wobblies.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

A victim of New Labour's thought police

According to Hicham Yezza, the Home Office operates with a “Gestapo mentality”, especially when dealing with foreign nationals. Hicham, an active member of the academic community at the University of Nottingham, should know. He is in detention, facing rapid deportation to Algeria, an innocent victim of New Labour’s spurious “war on terror”.

Hicham’s nightmare began when he offered to print a long document about Al Qaeda for a student who couldn’t afford to do so himself. The document was downloaded from a US government website and was background for a dissertation. Step forward the thought police, aka the university authorities. They weren’t going to let academic freedom or human rights stand in their way, and alerted the police. The frightened, small-minded authorities were, of course, just carrying out government instructions to report behaviour thought to be “suspicious”.

Hicham was promptly arrested along with another student under the government’s anti-terror laws. After six days of detention, both were released without charge. With egg on their faces from a wrongful arrest, the police decided that Hicham was fair game anyway and he was promptly handed over to the immigration authorities and charged with some visa infraction. With Hicham due to contest this, the charges were dropped in favour of a “fast track” deportation to Algeria without a hearing.

Yet Hicham has lived, worked and studied in Nottingham for the past 13 years. He won scholarships to study for two degrees and was later employed by the university. Hicham is the long-time editor of Ceasefire magazine, the journal of Nottingham Student Peace Movement. During his time at Nottingham, Hicham has served as a member of the Student’s Union Executive Committee, and on the University Senate.

Hicham’s case has enraged many students and staff as well as local MP Alan Simpson. He has protested to the immigration minister, Liam Byrne, and Simpson said: "It seems to me that this is a clumsy response under anti-terrorism legislation to the incident at Nottingham University. I can see no reason for an emergency deportation other than to cover the embarrassment of police and intelligence services.”

Supporters, who will rally outside the university library tomorrow, have been able to talk with Hicham and he told them: “The Home Office operates with a Gestapo mentality. They have no respect for human dignity and human life. They treat foreign nationals as disposable goods - the recklessness and the cavalier approach they have belongs to a totalitarian state.” The support he has received, Hicham added, was “extremely heartening and humbling” and reflected “the spirit of the generous, inclusive Britain we know - and not the faceless, brutal, draconian tactics of the Home Office”.

The British state under New Labour is now into its sixth piece of “anti-terror” legislation since 2000, all of which have eroded human rights and criminalised the Muslim community. The latest bill contains measures that ride roughshod over the rule of law, especially the ancient right to be charged and brought before a court or set free. The proposal for up to 42 days pre-charge detention is tantamount to imprisonment without trial. It is also long enough to inflict severe psychological and physical damage on people picked up under this dictatorial plan.

As social revolt grows over the impact of the global economic crisis in terms of food and fuel prices – lorry drivers are staging a mass protest in London today – the potential for using anti-terror laws against a range of protestors is clearly present. Discredited New Labour is desperately clinging to power and will deploy the state where necessary in an arbitrary and provocative fashion. The defence of human rights in Britain is inseparable from a campaign to fashion a real political democracy in place of the authoritarian, surveilance state that is oppressing Hicham and countless others.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

To support Hicham’s right to stay in Britain, you can contact the campaign on 07948590262 or by email at

Friday, May 23, 2008

'Well-placed'? Pull the other one

New Labour was always fond of telling anyone who would listen that globalisation dominated by powerful corporations and open markets, worked to everyone’s benefit. We were in a new period of economic history, where old-style capitalism was no more. What then to make of the following: "We are facing a testing period in the economy. We are facing the first real international economic crisis of globalisation."

This admission came yesterday from Lady Vadera, a business minister and former adviser to Gordon Brown (the ex-investment banker was responsible for devising the disaster that is the part-privatisation of London Underground). She was speaking in the House of Lords, as the price of oil experienced its biggest one-day increase in almost 20 years and New Labour headed for its first defeat by the Tories in a by-election in nearly 30 years. The two events are not unrelated – soaring prices and tax increases have hit poorer votes hard and their massive rejection of New Labour in Crewe spells political oblivion for the ruling party.

More on that later. Keeping to the Brown script, in a breathtaking display of national and nationalist self-interest, the Baroness insisted that Britain was “well-placed” to withstand the global turbulence. Never mind the reports from yesterday’s United Nations Human Rights Council which estimates that more than 850 million people worldwide are going hungry, and another two billion are suffering from malnutrition. According to the UN the high prices and shortages of food which jeopardise the well-being and rights of countless people add up to a massive violation of human rights.

In a few short months, a superabundance of apparently ever-cheaper commodities has been replaced by soaring inflation and food shortages on a scale unprecedented in human history. Argentina, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Russia, South Africa and Morocco are among the countries that have seen demonstrations and strikes in response to soaring prices.

These are the consequences of the policies and actions of New Labour’s support for the interests of transnational corporations and the global financial institutions.This year, agribusiness profits, like those of the oil giants are soaring, increasing by anything from 21% to 1200%, while hungry people from Haiti to Egypt to Senegal were taking to the streets to protest against rising food prices.

Just a few companies are the near-monopoly buyers and sellers of agricultural products around the world. Six companies control 85% of the world trade in grain; three control 83% of cocoa; three control 80% of the banana trade. ADM, Cargill and Bunge effectively control the world’s corn, which means that they alone decide how much of each year’s crop goes to make ethanol, sweeteners, animal feed or human food.

A senior editor of Time magazine warned recently: "The idea of the starving masses driven by their desperation to take to the streets and overthrow the ancien regime has seemed impossibly quaint since capitalism triumphed so decisively in the Cold War... And yet, the headlines of the past month suggest that skyrocketing food prices are threatening the stability of a growing number of governments around the world … when circumstances render it impossible to feed their hungry children, normally passive citizens can very quickly become militants with nothing to lose."

Back to New Labour’s prospects, or lack of them, and Vadera’s view that Britain is “well-placed”. Well, she might be “well-placed” but the rest of us aren’t. Unemployment is rising steadily, the house building industry is in a state of collapse and people who are obliged to drive to work cannot afford to do so as the price of petrol has risen by 20% in a year. Millions are in serious debt and large numbers of people face repossession. Her government is on its way out. This is the content of tomorrow’s timely conference, Beyond the Market Economy.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Watchdog needs a new home

This is the story of the watchdog who barked in the night to warn its owner of impending danger – to no avail. Its master had gone deaf, the result of a long-term illness. As a consequence, disaster overtook one and all. The watchdog in this case was the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) and its master – you must have guessed by now – was the terminally-ill New Labour government.

In January 2006, the SDC was officially made the government’s “independent watchdog” and reports to the Prime Minister. Its role includes “scrutinising and reporting on government’s performance on sustainable development”. The SDC’s board of commissioners is chaired by the eminent environmentalist Jonathon Porritt.

This week, the SDC barked furiously about the government’s plans for expanding UK airports, especially at Heathrow – where there are fiercely opposed plans for a new runway – and at Stansted. A report by the SDC and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said that the real costs and implications of the proposed growth were not properly understood. They concluded that so much fundamental data is disputed that an independent inquiry is needed to sort it out.

For example, Treasury analysis estimates future increases in economic activity through expanded aviation – but excludes any calculation of losses to the UK tourist industry through cheap flights abroad. The impact of aviation's greenhouse gas emissions is not fully understood either. Many experts also warn that improvements in technology cannot keep up with the increase in demand for flying.

Hugh Raven, SDC commissioner, said: "The SDC and IPPR held meetings with the government, the aviation industry, academics, NGOs and citizens' groups over a period of a year. While we expected to find areas of conflict, we were unprepared for the level of fundamental disagreement over the data underpinning the government's whole aviation strategy. Until some basic questions are answered, the UK cannot be in a position to make major decisions about the future of air travel. The government must live up to its commitment to listening to voters' concerns, and ensure we make the best possible decisions for everyone involved."

Seems sound advice to me, whichever way you look at. Here was a chance for the government to get off the hook via that traditional British method of holding another inquiry. John Stewart, who chairs the anti-Heathrow expansion campaign group Hacan Clear Skies, urged ministers to listen and to commission an independent study into the real impact of expansion on noise, air pollution and emissions. “Until that is done, it makes no sense at all to go ahead with this programme of aggressive expansion of aviation,” he insisted.

Hacan is planning a protest march and rally around Heathrow at the end of this month and, judging by the government’s official response, the mood will be justifiably angrier than ever. The government said it had “serious objections” to the report's findings. A statement from the Department for Transport (DfT) said it was "simply wrong to claim that there is a consensus that the evidence base is flawed". The government had conducted a “widespread debate over the last six years” and “deferring a decision in favour of a further three-year debate as this report suggests is not a serious option”.

So there you have it. The watchdog sounded the alarm but no one was listening. Clearly, its bark is worse than its bite. New Labour is adamant that the rules of the global market economy have to be obeyed. Airports must be expanded in order for the British economy to stay “competitive”, whatever the cost in environmental terms. The immediate response to that is to get down to Heathrow on May 31 to join the demonstration against a government that ought to be bought a one-way ticket to somewhere very far away.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The eunuch of all Parliaments

When the leader of a major political party devotes 2,500 words in a national newspaper to the crisis of the parliamentary political system, he confirms that it’s not only New Labour that is in free fall. Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is expressing the fact that the authority, legitimacy and role of the state itself is now being called into question by increasing numbers of people.

Of course Clegg has some self interest because without some change in the voting system, for example, his party is continually squeezed by first-past-the-post elections. But his article in The Independent reveals real fears amongst the political elite.

Clegg writes that the ceremonial aspects of parliament hide “a crisis in which the public feel ever more alienated from, and angry towards, the political class. And a crisis in which Parliament itself is neutered by the all encompassing power of the centralised Whitehall state”. He says that there is “a spineless abdication of scrutiny and accountability at the heart of our government” and claims: “The mother of all Parliaments has become the eunuch of all Parliaments.”

As evidence, he cites the fall-off in voting, where in 2001 and 2005,more people didn’t vote than supported the winning party, New Labour, or the fact that three out of four people say they think politicians don’t tell the truth. It is true, as Clegg writes, that “people have been locked out of politics for too long”. But what he cannot recognise, of course, is that this is how the system has always operated – except that the situation has clearly deteriorated rapidly in recent decades under Thatcher and then Blair/Brown.

Ordinary people have only ever been allowed a modest participation in politics through the occasional visit to the ballot box where they could elect representatives to govern on their behalf without any further accountability. Voters have never had a direct democratic voice or role, even after the franchise was extended nearly 150 years ago. Parliament has never had any effective control over what the government does since that time.

A number of processes have come together to discredit even this limited version of democracy. During the last 35 years of corporate-driven globalisation, the state has more and more abandoned parliamentary niceties to rule in a kind of managerial style that tries to imitate the transnationals. The British government, or the “executive”, itself is hardly in control, let alone parliament. For example, economic policy, large areas of law, environmental policy and so on are determined at European Union level by unelected and totally unaccountable commissioners or by global bodies like the World Trade. All the major parties, including Clegg’s, have embraced the market economy’s philosophy and only disagree about marginal questions.

So Clegg’s call to redistribute power within the essentially capitalist political system, to remedy what he calls “the imbalance of the system” not only misses the point but stands no chance of success whatsoever. No one is going to set up a convention of citizens to draft a new constitution for Britain to, as he puts it, “make power contingent on accountability” or give MPs real power over an executive which in turn is in thrall to corporate power.

The Lib Dem leader clearly feels, rightly, that time is running out and warns that the “greatest danger” is “the feeling that change is no longer possible”. To which we should add: Change is no longer be possible in the old way, through traditional institutions or political parties. So as parliament won’t and can’t yield, the time has come to create and extend direct democracy through mass action. In fashioning real democracy at every level, including the workplace, we would set out to break the capitalist monopoly of power. In doing this, we would be acting in the tradition that created the parliamentary state in the first place.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Paving over England

England is disappearing rapidly as New Labour presides over the concreting over of the countryside. Since 1997, over 1,100 hectares of Green Belt have been lost each year and at least 45,240 homes – equivalent to a city the size of Bath - have been built on Green Belt land.

The purpose of the Green Belt, introduced in the 1955, was to give local authorities not only a means, but also an incentive to halt urban sprawl and leave a clear definition between communities. Green Belt land was formerly viewed as sacrosanct, but these crucial “green lungs” – and the contribution they make to ecology and environment - are being rapidly eroded.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England reports that the Government’s own planning inspectors are undermining Green Belt policy, with statements that suggest they no longer view it as a permanent designation, but subject instead to shifts in market demand, for example for housing and air travel.

At present, local authorities are preparing their regional plans, and so far 10,000 hectares of Green Belt have been put forward for development. A key reason for seeking to lift Green Belt controls is to deliver to developers the kinds of green field sites they find cheap and attractive for house building.

The CPRE reports: “Speculators are dividing up dozens of areas of Green Belt land with stakes and fences, and marketing them in small plots to people, often overseas, who want to make money from building on them. When time passes with no prospect of the land being developed, the land often becomes overgrown and blighted by fly-tipping – thus increasing the pressure to develop the land in order to tidy it up.” Since 2004 the total Green Belt area has shrunk in East Anglia, and in the East and West Midlands.

Paul Miner, CPRE’s senior planning campaigner, says despite minister’s pledges, “in reality the Green Belt is being seriously eroded”. He warns: “Too much development has already been permitted, and some Government Inspectors appear to be interpreting Green Belt policy in their own way. This is making a mockery of the permanence which Green Belts are supposed to have.”

Whilst paying lip service to protecting the Green Belt, the Government is sending local authorities a different message. For example a Treasury-sponsored review of land use planning called for more frequent reviews of Green Belt policy. And, the CPRE reports, between May 1997 and March 2004, 162 planning applications referred to central government for decision, were permitted.

In addition, the Aviation White Paper supports airport expansions that would take place on 700 hectares of Green Belt. This month the government agreed a development plan for the East of England aimed at delivering a minimum of 508,000 additional dwellings up to 2021 and Green Belt reviews will be held throughout Hertfordshire, much of it designed to facilitate expansion at Luton and Stansted airports.

The hypocrisy of the government knows no bounds. In April, ministers announced their shortlist of proposed “eco-towns”. Of these, CPRE has found that two are likely to involve significant development in designated Green Belt: Rossington (in South Yorkshire); and Weston Otmoor (near Oxford). No wonder local people are up in arms about these far from ecologically-sound proposals.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Blairs (and others) cash in

Years ago, when Harold Wilson was the Labour Prime Minister, the satirical magazine Private Eye used to run an amusing column called Mrs Wilson’s Diary. The PM’s life was described through the eyes of his wife Mary Wilson, a middle-class woman with few pretensions who lived modestly and wrote poetry. She led a fairly humble life-style symbolised by her husband’s raincoats and the couple’s holidays in the Scilly Isles.

How much things have changed since then! These days, ex-Prime Minister Blair’s wife Cherie has depicted her years in Downing Street in a biography called “Speaking for Myself”. It manages to combine self-aggrandisement and self-pity, political trivia with salacious details about her personal life while saying nothing worthwhile about political events. Mrs Blair’s detailing of her me-first attitude to life makes Mary Wilson seem almost saintly.

Not satisfied with her massive income as a leading barrister and part-time judge, Mrs Blair has long been notorious for her ability to make a fast buck out of being the Prime Minister’s wife, running from lucrative lecture tours in the US (where she was paid £30,000 for one talk) and £100,000 for a speaking tour in Australia. And don’t forget numerous freebie holidays, including two at the invitation of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who presently presides over one of the most racist right-wing regimes in Europe.

There may be those who say, well, Blair can’t be held responsible for the greedy antics of his wife, but he himself is thought to have made more money out of public office than anyone since Britain’s first-ever Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. He has made millions from after-dinner speeches since leaving office. The Blairs have just acquired a £4 million country house in Buckinghamshire, which makes them the proud owners of no less than seven homes, including their £3.5 million house in London’s posh Connaught Square, augmented in 2007 by the addition of a £1 million mews house next door. And they have just bought a £500,000 flat for their son Euan.

Mrs Blair’s latest venture into print has not won her any plaudits, literary, personal or political. Only the crassest opportunists and gold-diggers could possibly find anything to admire in her frenzied consumerism and self-seeking wheeler-dealer approach to life. Last week saw not only the publication of Blair’s book but that of two other New Labour luminaries, millionaire Lord Levy and ex deputy-PM John Prescott. They also fail to offer a single political insight into recent political history and are full of tittle-tattle.

What we do get in close-up detail is the true tawdriness of New Labour in the shape of Mrs Blair and Prescott who were paid, either directly or indirectly out of public money to live in grand public houses and (in Prescott’s case) to help run the country. Levy of course is a millionaire with ample means of his own. But nonetheless, like the other two, it is through his connection with Downing Street that he stakes his claim to authorial fame. Between the three of them, they stand to make around a £1 million for serialisation rights. Their paymasters? The Times and Sun newspapers, both of them owned by trade-union busting, media-mogul Rupert Murdoch.

These three gruesome publications – you could hardly call them memoirs – sum up New Labour’s persona and helps explain why the electorate is queuing up to give them a massive caning at the polls. Blair, Brown and the rest of them smashed up Old Labour and created a gaudy, tacky, money-grabbing party and government in its place where self-advancement comes first, second and last.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, May 16, 2008

Brown's fantasy world

The Bank of England’s inflation report makes grim reading. Bland assurances about the strength of economic fundamentals as the credit crisis erupted in the autumn have been replaced, superseded with expectations of soaring inflation – “above 3% for several quarters”, and recession, with governor Mervyn King declaring: “The central projection is for growth to slow sharply in the near term, reflecting the squeeze on real incomes.”

All of this is explained by the anodyne “rebalancing of the economy”, as if things were under control. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the UK, which under Gordon Brown’s 10 years as Chancellor had become entwined in and dependent on global financial markets is, like all other countries, being sucked into unprecedented economic storms.

Brown’s promise that New Labour will show that it can “manage” the economy to avoid recession is fantasy talk. For example, the £50 billion thrown at the banking system in a bid to unlock the credit freeze has made no impact whatsoever. According to the European Central Bank, the banks are using liquidity schemes like this simply to offload risky assets, while the Financial Times reports that the banks are looking at sums closer to £90 billion from the Bank of England. It’s a case of pick a number, then double, treble it or simply add loads of noughts!

The credit crisis, which deepens by the day in its impact on jobs, repossessions and consumer spending, marked the end of four decades of free floating currencies which began 40 years ago, on March 15, 1968. Then, the dollar was in crisis as the Tet offensive by the National Liberation Front and North Vietnamese Army turned the tide against the US. On that day in March, the American mint stopped the buying and selling of gold and ended the fixed dollar-gold exchange rate which had been at the foundation of the Bretton Woods post-Second World War arrangements set up in 1944. Three more years of running the printing presses later, on August 15, 1971, US President Nixon severed the dollar-gold link altogether, releasing a period of inflation that saw oil prices rising to historic levels to compensate for the declining value of the dollar.

For those familiar with the philosopher Hegel’s dialectic, the dollar-gold separation was the first negation of the post-war boom. It heralded the start of the period of globalisation – credit-led growth personified in world-straddling multi, then transnational and global corporations. Their vastly expanded, ecologically-destructive production of cheap-labour commodities could only be absorbed by consumers supplied with seemingly limitless debt funded by the promise of property prices rising without end.

Inevitably, as in all processes, finite limits were reached and opposite tendencies began to take over. By 2004, US consumers in particular were “all shopped out”. Consumption peaked. The second negation – the negation of the negation - marked by the sudden paralysis in credit markets last August, brought the ballooning of fictitious capital to a halt and ushered in a new period of unprecedented economic, social and political upheaval.

The contradictions inherent within capitalism, which were left unresolved by the incomplete process of 1968, have matured and deepened in the 40 years since. Food riots in more than 30 countries, and mass demonstrations by farmers against agribusiness corporations in India coincide with a growing movement against debt, foreclosure and repossession and strikes in as homes are lost, jobs are destroyed and incomes and pensions are hit by the deepening crisis.

These actions are coalescing into a new revolutionary possibility which demands the building of an independent revolutionary movement that can inspire and lead the challenge for power. The objective must be to replace a failed economic and social system based on profit with a new socialised system designed to satisfy needs identified through a greatly expanded democratic process.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Corporations stockpile "climate gene"

Never mind that polar bears face extinction, or that bio-fuels production is driving food scarcity and rising prices, the corporations will always find novel ways to create new sources of profit out of the climate crisis. This time it is the patenting of “climate genes” that are top of their agenda.

A report from the Canadian-based ETC Group, “Patenting the ‘Climate Genes’ ... And Capturing the Climate Agenda”, reveals that the world's largest seed and agrochemical corporations are stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents for genes in plants. The plan is to market genetically-engineered (GE) crops that will, they claim, withstand the environmental stresses associated with climate change.

The report reveals how transnational corporations (like Monsanto, BASF, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, Mendel, Ceres, Evogene and so on) are gearing up to re-brand themselves as climate saviours, to convince governments and reluctant consumers that GE is an essential adaptation strategy for climate change. Already these companies have filed over 500 patents related to environmental stress tolerance genes around the world.

As the report shows, these patents are about concentrating power in the hands of transnational corporations to drive up profits, by further undermining the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds. The top 10 seed corporations already control 57% of commercial seed sales and now Monsanto (the world's largest seed company) and BASF (the world's largest chemical firm) have entered into a colossal $1.5 billion partnership to engineer stress tolerant plants. Together they “own” nearly half of the patents identified in the report. Partnerships with biotech companies like Ceres and Mendel, will mean they control almost two-thirds of the so-called “climate-ready” seed collection.

Rather than securing food production for the world’s poor, recent studies in the US have shown that genetically-modified soya actually produces less food than conventional method of farming. While areas like Sub-Saharan Africa produce less food per person now than 30 years ago, studies for last year’s UN Food and Agricultural Organisation’s report, "Organic Agriculture and Food Security", found organic farming methods had doubled yields in the arid and degraded soils of Tigray, Ethiopia.

ETC’s call on governments at the current UN Biodiversity Convention meeting in Germany to immediately suspend “climate gene” patents will, no doubt, fall on deaf ears. World governments will not investigate the social and environmental impacts of these patents, challenge restrictive seed laws or the intellectual property regimes, contracts and trade agreements that create barriers to farmers saving seeds, breeding and exchanging plants. As with New Labour, their primary objective is the management of the market to protect global corporations so they can increase their profits, rather than protecting the weak and the poor.

Transnational corporations see the current crisis in food and agriculture as an opportunity to pressure governments to overlook bio-safety regulations and to accept high-risk technologies. For transnational corporations, patents for “climate ready” crops are just an opportunity to create new profits by pushing their previously rejected genetically-engineered crops. What is needed is less genetic modification and more development of co-operative, not-for-profit organic farming techniques that can supply the world’s food needs without harming the environment.

Philip Wade

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Two anniversaries, one catastrophe

Palestinians across the world tomorrow mark the 60th anniversary of the Nakba – “the day of catastrophe”. Only hours before, on the evening of May 14, 1948, a group of Zionist Jews declared themselves the independent government of a Jewish state, excluding Palestinians who had lived on the land since time immemorial. They are two very different anniversaries.

A ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing and territorial expansion, organised by militias and terrorist groups, had created the conditions for the declaration. In April 1948, future Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Irgun terrorist gang massacred more than 100 men, women and children in the village of Deir Yassin. Many villages outside the land allotted to Jews under the 1947 United Nations partition agreement came under artillery bombardment. Soon, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled, never to see their homes and land ever again.

And that is a tactic that has served the Israeli government well, right up until today. Whilst going along with so-called “peace talks” and international diplomacy, they use force to establish a very different reality on the ground. Of course they have only been able to do this with the support of the United States, which recognised the state of Israel just eleven minutes after the declaration. They were followed five days later by the Soviet Union – a massive betrayal of the Palestinians. Stalin had taken part in the division of the post-war world, and the Middle East was not in his “sphere of influence”. Under the Stalinist policy of peaceful co-existence, the Soviet Union abandoned the Palestinians to their fate.

And for many years their plight was largely ignored, until a new generation launched a fresh phase of resistance, with the formation in 1964 of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The PLO brought all Palestinian groups under one umbrella and gave them an international voice. At its first meeting in 1964 the PLO adopted the Palestine National Charter, which called for the establishment of a democratic and secular state in Palestine and in 1969 Yassir Arafat became its chairman and symbol of national aspirations.

The demand for a secular state is being given fresh momentum today by a new generation of Palestinians – in Israel, in exile and in the occupied territories. This vanguard are refusing to go along with the “two-state” fraud. They recognise that there is no “peace plan” and that Israel’s rulers have no intention of allowing Palestinians to form a viable state.

Settlements continue to expand and Israel exploits the resources of the occupied territories without their population having any political or economic rights. Gaza is surrounded and under siege, entirely cut off from the West Bank; Hebron is surrounded by thousands of Israeli troops, protecting a handful of crazed Zionist settlers, and 40% of the West Bank is taken up with Israeli infrastructure, according to a recent UN report. There are over 400,000 settlers who have no intention of leaving the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.

As the London One State Group, which organised a packed conference in London last year, puts it: “The birth of the non-racial democracy in South Africa and the implementation of the power sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland have strengthened the belief that partition is not the inevitable, nor the most desirable resolution to the conflict." Jewish anti-Zionist writer Joel Kovel argues that the inner contradictions of Zionism have led Israel to adopt "state-sponsored racism" and says it is urgent to “envision Israel beyond Zionism”.

The Zionists fear a movement for a one-state solution beyond anything Hamas can throw at it. Prime Minister Yehud Olmert has said: “We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say: ‘There is no place for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All we want now is the right to vote’. The day they get it we will lose everything.” In 2006 the population of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza taken together was: Jewish 5,393,400, Arab 5,328,949.

But Israeli Jews have more to gain than to lose from a one-state solution. Today they live in a militarised society which is far from the co-operative paradise promised by the early Zionist founders. Israel’s military spending is higher than all the countries on its borders combined, and it is the only nuclear power in the Middle East. It cannot be described as a safe haven for Jews – in fact is the most dangerous place for them on the planet.

But a new generation of leaders on both sides is needed to take this project forward. The challenge is to relaunch the Intifada along the lines of civil and economic resistance; to reject the whole two-state fraud once and for all; to find ways to make a principled appeal to Jewish Israelis and to re-establish Palestine national identity, to include Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who were excluded by “two states”.

In his 2007 book, One Country – A bold proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, Ali-Abunimah (founder of the Electronic Intifada website) writes that this is a time of profound uncertainty and risk but also of “tantalising opportunity”. And he concludes: “There is a need for urgent action on two fronts: One is in the realm of dialogue, imagination and construction of an inclusive vision. At the same time, there is a pressing need for resistance to the outcome Israel is trying to impose on the Palestinians ...”

Penny Cole

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Will Hutton's fantasy world

I wonder what Will Hutton, writer on economic affairs, chief executive of the Work Foundation and former editor-in-chief of The Observer thought at breakfast this morning as he scanned today’s financial headlines, where the talk is all gloom and doom? Just two days ago, in Sunday’s Observer, Hutton argued that the US economy was showing the world the way forward, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

“The US economy is certainly in transition,” Hutton wrote , “made vastly more difficult by the spreading impact of the credit crunch. But the underlying story is much stronger. The country is developing the prototypical knowledge economy of the 21st century, an economy in which the division between manufacturing and services becomes less clear cut, in a world where the deployment of knowledge, brain power and problem-solving are the sources of wealth generation …” Here, Hutton claims, “the US is so far ahead of the rest of the world it is painful”.

And so we now we know. The answer to the global financial and economic crisis lies in ignoring its actual source – the unleashing of vast amounts of unsecured credit to drive growth and enhance the balance sheets of the global corporations. Ignore the fact that it was the generation of vast amounts of financial products of all kinds that widened the gulf between fantasy finance and the actual generation of tangible value by real human beings acting in the physical world.

Hutton’s sanguine belief in the ability of the US capitalism to lead the world out of economic turmoil is not borne out by the latest raft of reports and statistics. The price of goods leaving Britain's factories rose at the fastest level in more than 20 years last month as soaring food and fuel bills pushed up the cost of production, according to the Office for National Statistics.

“Banks losses to hit public finances - £2.5 bn could be cut from Treasury receipts” and “Mounting signs of economic slowdown” are from the Financial Times this week while the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors says confidence in the housing market is at rock bottom.

HSBC, the biggest bank operating in Britain, has taken a £3.2bn sub-prime hit and warns investors against assuming the worst of the crisis is over. HSBC chairman Stephen Green said it was "increasingly likely that the US will enter a recession in 2008, the length and depth of which is uncertain", and that it comes as "the major economic risks facing the global economy now include inflation, particularly from rises in food and energy prices".

Then there's a less-than-starry-eyed assessment by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Daily Telegraph. He is in no doubt that a slump is under way. Under the headline, “The global slump of 2008-09 has begun as poison spreads,” he says today that “the avalanche of bankruptcies has begun. Six US companies of substance have defaulted on bonds over the past fortnight, against 17 for the whole of last year”.

And finally, “Crisis over? No, it’s set to spread much wider”, is how the Evening Standard summed up things, quoting City financier Gerard Lyons, who said “that this is not the beginning of the end but rather the end of the beginning … the first stage of the crisis may be past its peak, but we are about to embark on the second stage, where problems spread to the wider economy and in turn add to the challenges facing the financial sector – a sector that is no condition to accept them.”

Hutton’s slavish faith in US capitalism is reminiscent of a famous scene in the gangster film, White Heat, where James Cagney shouts “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” shortly before he is devoured by the flames of a massive explosion.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, May 12, 2008

Burma: the roll call of shame

As the world watches with horror at the actions of the military junta that rules Myanmar (Burma) with an iron fist, the generals are not the only ones to bear the blame for the suffering of millions of people who are victims of Cyclone Nargis. The international roll call of shame is a long one.

Step forward China, the junta’s main weapons’ supplier and supporter, which blocked a UN resolution aimed at pressuring the regime to accept humanitarian aid at once. China was also at the forefront of preventing the UN from acting when the people of Myanmar rose up against their oppressors in October last year. But they are not alone.

Step forward Russia, which in 2006 signed a deal with the junta that it would supply weapons and an anti-aircraft system in return for a chance to exploit the country’s oilfields. Step forward the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), criticised this week by Human Rights Watch (HRW) for failing to put any pressure on the regime. Thailand, Indonesia, India and South Korea continue to trade with the junta.

Step forward the European Union, whose trade sanctions exempted the most profitable areas and which therefore have had no affect whatsoever. Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK said: "The EU sanctions are pathetic: it's as if they've been designed to miss the mark.” Whilst they would affect a state-owned pineapple company, or a small tailor’s shop, the timber and gas industries, where the regime earns most of its revenue, are not affected. Step forward France, whose national oil company – Total Oil, the fourth largest in the world – provides around $450m revenue each year to the junta. They are associated with an oil pipeline project built, it is asserted, by forced labour.

Step forward Britain, where companies say they get no clear message that the government opposes trade with the junta. Mike Packer, from Timbmet, a British wood company which has now pulled out of Myanmar, said after last year’s uprising that companies got “a political message without teeth” and that “so far as we are concerned... there's been no approach to timber importers to say the government doesn't support trade with Burma”. New Labour is, according to the Burma Campaign UK, the only party that does not support a unilateral investment ban.

And finally, step forward the global corporations, which over three decades of unrestrained growth in capitalist production, have brought the planet to the verge of climate disaster. The director of New Delhi's Centre for Science and Environment is in no doubt that the unprecedented force of Cyclone Nargis is due to the impact of climate change. She cites the report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change which predicts that "based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea surface temperatures".

CSE director Sunita Narain says: "Nargis is a sign of things to come. In 2007, Bangladesh was devastated by the tropical cyclone Sidr. The victims of these cyclones are climate change victims and their plight should remind the rich world that it is doing too little to contain its greenhouse gas emissions.”

Meanwhile, the junta went ahead with a sham constitutional referendum and continued loading rice on to ships for export to Indonesia, secure in the knowledge that from China to Russia, from Paris to London, behind all the crocodile tears shed in official circles about the suffering of Burmese people, it would be business as usual.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Friday, May 09, 2008

The momentum of 1968

The season of celebration of the tumultuous events of 1968 continues in London tomorrow. A World to Win’s new publication 1968 Revolution, analysing the worldwide impact and lessons of those times will be on sale there for the first time.

The momentum of 1968 continued for some years, especially in US. It reached a high point in 1970 with the only national student strike in US history, precipitated by the May 4 Kent State college massacre carried out by the Ohio State National Guard. On May 9, more than over 150,000 protesters, mostly students, converged on Washington to protest against the killing of unarmed students.

President Nixon, Henry Kissinger and others were kept in the White House protected by armed military guards with machine guns. The White House was surrounded and protected by a cordon of bumper-to-bumper buses. Nixon was pushed to the point of physical and emotional collapse and withdrew plans for the invasion of Cambodia. The tide of public opinion shifted against the war in Vietnam.

Key facts from research regarding the historical impact of these events show that:

* nearly 5,000,000 American students joined the national student strike
* approximately 175,000 faculty members joined the protests
* over 35,000 national guardsmen were called into action in 16 states
* highways, expressways, city streets and railroad tracks were barricaded across America
* on May 16, 1970, Business Week magazine warned: "This is a dangerous situation. It threatens the whole economic & social structure of the nation."
* 100 art museums and galleries closed in solidarity with the student strike
* over 500 US GI's deserted each day in May, 1970
* after the Kent massacre, entire companies of US troops in Vietnam refused orders to invade Cambodia
* in solidarity with the US students, numerous US soldiers wore black armbands and refused to fight any longer in Vietnam
* on Armed Forces Day, May 16, 1970, there were marches, rallies and rock festivals at 22 US military bases involving 43 different anti-war veterans' groups
* Congress passed the War Powers Act preventing the President from invading a country without the approval of Congress
* in May, 1970, Nixon began his "enemies list" & started the paranoid campaigns that led to his eventual impeachment and resignation
* Nixon and the Pentagon were forced to de-escalate the war, remove US troops and negotiate peace in Southeast Asia
* the voting age was soon reduced from 21 to 18 in America for the first time.

Whilst these events document the dramatic potential for change contained in mass action, capitalist rule remained intact. Four decades of globalisation have increased the tension that burst in 1968 to an unbearable intensity. In 2008, billions in every country throughout the world experience the effects of climate change, illegal wars for resources and markets, a widening gulf between rich and poor, unsustainable levels of credit and debt, a global financial and economic crisis, and increasingly authoritarian rule.

With a rapidly increasing number of people ready to challenge the status quo, and Stalinism no longer able to stifle the building of an independent movement that can inspire and lead the challenge for power, the potential for a revolutionary change is within reach.

Gerry Gold

Thursday, May 08, 2008

India's farmers resist GM

The Coalition for a GM-free India, representing hundreds of farmers’ unions, environmental and women’s organisations and organic farming groups from 15 Indian states, this week marched in Delhi against the sale and distribution of genetically-modified (GM) crops and seeds. In particular, they are opposed to an experimental type of Bt brinjal (aubergine) recently approved for large-scale field trials.

Bt - Bacillus thuringiensis - is a naturally occurring bacteria that produces a protein toxic to certain types of insects. The gene that produces the toxin - the Bt gene - can be transferred to seeds, making them more resistant to that insect. There are two major problems with this approach. Firstly, whilst it may reduce the impact of one pest, it can open the door to others. Instead of reducing reliance on fertilisers, farmers will have to pay for the expensive GM seed AND for insecticides to tackle other pests.

Secondly, experts worry that such crops may evoke natural selection and a proliferation of mutant insects resistant to Bt. The natural Bt bacterium is a crucial insecticide in organic farming. Insects with resistance would threaten the future of organic farming. GM crops can also have indirect environmental effects, by changing traditional land management practices that are in reality more sustainable.

When Indian farmers were coerced into using GM cotton, they were plagued by different, and increased numbers, of pests and diseases; deaths of livestock grazed on cotton fields and reports of allergic reactions in humans – and all with no increase in yields whatsoever. In spite of these disasters, the government continues to allow the agri-corporations to use India as a testing ground. Now Mahyco, the Indian branch of Monsanto, plans to start large-scale trials of Bt brinjal from June this year. Also being tested is a Bt okra plant which campaigners claim was planted in breach of environmental regulations for the oversight of trials.

Alongside their activities in India, the agri-corporations are tied in with the aid arm of the US government (USAid) in a project to transform Africa into the biggest GM testing ground of all. Tempting governments with “Trojan horse crops” such as a GM sweet potato in Kenya and a GM potato in Egypt, the corporations have enticed African governments to drop their opposition. As in India, it is ordinary farmers – for example in Mali – who are leading the resistance, unimpressed by claims that GM is the answer to hunger in Africa.

And these claims – now rising to a clamour in response to the capitalist-engineered food crisis – persist, even though new studies clearly show that GM crops actually CUT productivity. A three-year research project by the University of Kansas found that GM soya produces about 10% less food than its conventional equivalent. The outcomes with GM cotton are the same, with lower yields not only in India and China but also in the US.

Last month, the results of a painstaking examination of global agriculture gave no support to GM crops. In a 110-page report released by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), 400 of the world’s leading scientist explored how agriculture can be reinvented to meet population growth, climate change and the growing food crisis. They conclude that industrial, large-scale agriculture is unsustainable, and that traditional systems that produce food whilst sustaining clean water and preserving biodiversity are more likely to improve the lives of poor people. Not surprisingly, Syngenta and other biotech and pesticide companies pulled out of this assessment process.

A recent report highlighted on the AWTW website says that about 200,000 small farmers in India have killed themselves in the last 12 years and the highest number of suicides were in the state of Maharashtra. The report calls it “the graveyard of farmers today”. And that is where the Bt brinjal trials will be located.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Point of no return

The crisis within New Labour shows no signs of abating as MPs stare electoral oblivion in the face come the next election. In fact, matters are getting worse. Wendy Alexander, its leader in Scotland, has broken ranks with Gordon Brown’s position on an independence referendum in a bid to steal some votes from the nationalists, while opponents of the abolition of the 10p tax rate are resuming their campaign. These are further indications that New Labour has reached and passed the point of no return. It seems inconceivable they can win the next general election – whatever Brown does.

The votes are simply not there any more (and, in truth, haven’t been for some time). Evidence from last week’s elections shows that New Labour sustained a double whammy, losing the support of both formerly loyal working class voters as well as the middle class who had benefited from tax cuts and rising property prices. So it seems that New Labour’s one great “legacy” will be to return the country to Tory rule, allowing a party that was almost wiped out in 1997 to recover sufficiently to take over the reins of power, as it has already achieved in London.

What of the future for New Labour itself as an organisation, and what can its remaining activists do under these conditions? They could and should:

• Denounce New Labour’s leaders for siding with big business and financial power over the interests of working people, thereby creating the conditions for a Tory comeback.
• Recognise that Brown is incapable of changing tack and adopting new policies radically different from the present ones, especially as the economic position is worsening.
• Abandon any notion that New Labour somehow exists separately from a kind of more traditional, reformist Labour party hiding secretly in the background. The truth is that New Labour has remade all the structures and policies of the party in its image, destroying the old organisation in the process. History cannot be rewound.
• Acknowledge that capitalism in the period of corporate-driven globalisation does not allow sufficient space for governments of a reformist character and that this poses an historic political challenge for the labour movement which founded Labour to perform precisely that role.
• Support all struggles against the government and campaign for the defeat of the capitalist Brown regime inside and outside parliament. This is the best way to prepare for a return of the Tories to government.
• Call on the trade union leaders to break off all relations with New Labour, and to withdraw financial support from a government that has trampled over workers’ rights and is now enforcing pay cuts in the public sector.
• Demand that union leaders call a conference to discuss the political crisis and accept that the way forward lies beyond New Labour, in the creation of a forward-looking political alternative that can challenge and overturn corporate power and control.
• Appreciate that large numbers of people are alienated from the political system and do not believe that voting from time to time gives them any meaningful influence over government. Any new movement must therefore propose forms of democracy and involvement that extend beyond the extremely limited and somewhat discredited parliamentary system.

A series of bold initiatives along these lines would begin to end the political impasse that New Labour has helped to create. The deteriorating economic position is equally an opportunity to discuss alternative policies and solutions and that’s why the LEAP/Labour Representation Committee conference “Beyond the Market Economy” on May 24 is timely.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Every little helps

Amidst the kerfuffle of Gordon Brown’s humble pie about his “mistakes” over the abolition of the 10p tax rate, and anxiety to help those who face difficulties as a result of rising prices, we should bear in mind a few home truths about the true relation between New Labour and corporate taxpayers.

Last month, Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer, reported a 13% rise in full-year profits to £2.55bn. They have made the most of rising prices and their dominating position in most towns. On top of that, the reality is that while low-income earners face an increase in taxes courtesy of New Labour, Tesco has allegedly avoided paying around £100 million in tax - and there is very little that the government can or will do about it.

The details of Britain’s biggest retailer’s tax avoidance was revealed at the weekend in a special report published by The Guardian in response to a libel writ issued against the newspaper in April. Tesco was angry about star reporters Felicity Lawrence and Ian Griffiths’ discovery of a chain of offshore companies it had set up for tax avoidance purposes.

Tesco’s legal action is a serious matter for the newspaper, which currently faces charges of libel and malicious falsehood. To defend itself, The Guardian had to assemble an expensive team of corporate tax experts, specialist accountants, academics and lawyers, including two QCs, so that they could untangle the complex web of companies set up by Tesco over a period of years. It took them all of four months to work out how the company created a chain of off-shore companies so that it could raise £5 billion over five years through property sales and a leaseback programme of some of its stores.

The paper's editorial provides a graphic description of a secret trail, which would have defied the likes of Sherlock Holmes:

“To follow the cleverest tax avoidance twists and turns is beyond all but a tiny group of experts - usually the very experts who are paid to outwit the Treasury and the evident intention of parliament. [my emphasis] Understanding a really sophisticated scheme - involving offshore structures, including unit trusts, limited partnerships and companies which are liquidated almost as soon as they are established - involves an arduous trawl through the tangled world of Cayman, Jersey and Guernsey brass-plate companies, cross-checked with published company accounts and a minute reading of stock exchange announcements.”

The complexity and secrecy of these transactions is such that “even the Treasury and Revenue, with considerable resources in forensic tax analysis, find it hard to keep track of the sophisticated tax avoidance devices used by modern corporations”. The Guardian noted: “The Treasury has particularly voiced its frustration at the artificial structures used by some companies to avoid SDLT [the Stamp Duty Land Tax which Tesco sought to avoid paying].”

Whatever the outcome of Tesco’s legal threats, one thing is clear. Tax evasion is the name of the game for all the global corporations, who have monopolies in the provision of the essentials for our existence, be it food, clothing or fuel – and vast power over their suppliers. And there is actually nothing that governments or the main political parties can or will do about it because the state has hitched its star to the very same global corporations who are able to ignore the rules of taxation that apply to ordinary people.

And if journalists challenge corporations like Tesco, they find an army of lawyers outside their door delivering writs. In fact, it’s not just The Guardian that's under attack. Tesco in Thailand is suing two columnists from a Bangkok business newspaper, one for £1.6m in libel damages.

And, of course, while Tesco excels at tax evasion activities, they naturally haven’t forgotten the need to screw their labour force. For its new chain of shops in California, Tesco has placed job ads for two senior managers which listed their responsibilities. These included "maintaining union-free status" and "union avoidance activities". As the Tesco slogan has it, “every little helps”.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, May 05, 2008

R.I.P. New Labour

The humiliating results for New Labour at last week’s local and London elections amount to much more than just a swing to the Tories by people fed up with government policies. The scale of the defeat is a measure of the break-up of a party that once fondly imagined it would rule for decades.

New Labour came into existence in the mid-1990s through destroying its own history and Labour Party origins and by repudiating any notion that it would challenge the economic and financial power of globalised capitalism. In fact, it dedicated itself to managing the market economy in favour of corporate power. It declared that class interests were a thing of the past and that everyone would benefit from globalisation.

In government, New Labour increasingly merged with the state machine and turned itself into a kind of business organisation rather than a party. There is no longer any internal democracy or opportunity for the rank and file (or, for that matter, the trade unions which founded Labour) to influence what happens. Membership has more than halved and few activists have remained in what is essentially a capitalist party in outlook and organisation. Voters began to turn their back on New Labour, as turnout fell to a record low of 60%. At the last election, in the wake of the illegal and monstrous attack on Iraq, only one in four of registered voters gave their support to New Labour.

Now the chickens have come to roost. For New Labour’s disintegration in turn reflects the impact on ordinary people of a growing crisis in the global economy, expressed in the “credit crunch”. That’s why Gordon Brown’s party only polled 24% of the vote last week, compared with 44% for the Tories (who, of course, would fare no better in the current climate).

The “wonder years” of economic prosperity have turned out to be a major con trick and illusion for millions of people. Prices of basic foods are soaring, along with the cost of the petrol they need to drive their cars to work. Public services have declined in quality, milked dry by the private sector, while the government is holding wages down below the level of inflation for teachers and civil servants.

Voters have seen the government offering tens of billions to the banks, who themselves are responsible for the financial crisis now engulfing Britain and other countries while, at the same time, hitting the lower paid by abolishing the 10p income tax band. No wonder some New Labour MPs reported that voters were thrusting April’s wage slips in their face on the eve of the elections. At the same time, increasing numbers are facing repossession, unable to meet the payments on their homes and drowning in the debt they were encouraged to take on.

We are now entering the unknown in political terms. Tens of millions of voters hate the Tories and what they stand for; many voted New Labour in the past in the hope things would be different. But Blair and Brown made sure they didn’t turn out that way. As a result, these voters are effectively disenfranchised and disillusioned, denied a chance to exercise their vote in any meaningful way. A few have deserted to the Tories in the mistaken belief that David Cameron’s toffs will solve their problems. Many, many more have stayed at home, feeling that there is nothing in it for them at the ballot box. In the end, only 35% voted in the council elections while 55% of Londoners chose not to vote.

Taken together, these political and economic processes amount to a crisis of the existing parliamentary state system of government in Britain. Clearly, the current state is unable to deliver on basic questions like housing, education, transport and pensions or on wider issues like climate change. Its response is increasingly authoritarian and repressive, as if locking up more and more people will “solve” crime, especially among young people, or detaining people without charge for 42 days will tackle the threat of terrorism. As the decades of credit-driven consumption unravel, the prospects of large-scale unemployment and growing poverty will overwhelm whichever party is in government.

New Labour’s impending demise is not the result of a massive rush to Toryism or a grand triumph of the right, as those who cannot see beyond parliamentarism would have it. Nor is it a defeat for anyone except the careerists and opportunists who have hitched their fortunes to New Labour. Public sector trade unionists and others like the refinery workers in Scotland are ready to defend their conditions through industrial action and rightly don’t give a fig for New Labour’s fortunes. The challenge before us is to build a movement around a leadership that is prepared to challenge and go beyond the capitalist economy as well the market state, to create a democratic sustainable future. A great first step in this direction would be to strengthen the influence of A World to Win by becoming a member today.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, May 02, 2008

A global car crash

Any lingering doubts about the trend towards recession were swept away last night as the world’s vehicle makers announced their April results. Falling off a cliff would sum it up. General Motors sales fell 23%, Ford 19%, and Chrysler nearly 30%. And to make matters worse for the manufacturers, the effect of spiralling fuel prices has shifted sales from high-profit trucks and gas-guzzling SUVs to more fuel-efficient but less profitable models. The idea that a US recession wouldn’t affect the rest of the world also took a beating as Toyota dropped 5% and Nissan 2%.

The latest figures on US manufacturing confirm that the American economy overall is contracting, with employment dropping sharply to its lowest level since May 2003. Despite the distribution of $110 billion in tax rebates intended as a stimulation package, these figures are certain to deepen and accelerate the impact on US consumers, already hit by house repossessions. These jumped by 23% in the first quarter and are more than double the level of the year before. One in every 194 households received a notice of default, auction sale or bank repossession in January, February and March. Rising fuel and food prices are also taking their toll on household spending.

To say that these are unprecedented times is an understatement. Last year GM was the 5th largest of the global corporations ranked by revenue. It made a loss of nearly $2 billion on sales of $207.3 billion. Toyota was the 6th and DaimlerChrysler the 8th largest. Ford was 12th in the list. It made a massive loss of $12.6 billion on sales of $160.1 billion. So the impact on of a slump in their sales will be felt throughout the global economy.

For the UK, latest projections from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research show consumer spending growth falling from 3.1% last year to just 1.2% - the slowest rate since 1992 when Britain was emerging from recession. "The UK economy has perhaps reached its most precarious position in over a decade because of global financial market developments," NIESR says. "Private consumption will slow to a crawl this year and next."

Before the car makers’ shock results, commentators had been playing alphabet soup with the economy trying to guess whether the recession will be brief, giving a V-shaped curve to growth, a double-dip W, a longer U-shape, or (though the BBC ignored it on Newsnight) a long L. All of these options assume that there’s a bottom. In reality, the global capitalist economy is headed for the biggest wave of destruction of productive capacity in history.

This prospect has reinforced the loss of confidence in governments to deal with basic questions, let alone the economic crisis, as seen in New Labour’s disastrous local election results. Avoiding the horrific consequences of a prolonged recession leading to slump requires bold political action well beyond the capacity of parties like New Labour. The objective has to be to end the anarchy of the market and capitalist production for profit in favour of a sustainable, co-operative system that is motivated by meeting people's needs.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor