Tuesday, March 31, 2009

G20: the state flexes its muscles

“We are ready to challenge orthodoxy and we foster a spirit of critical enquiry and innovation to achieve our goals.” So reads part of the “Our values” section of the University of East London’s website. Click through to the home page, however, and we learn that the university, which is near the venue for the G20 summit, will be closed for 48 hours from tonight. And the authorities have simply cancelled the Alternative G20 summit scheduled to take place on the campus tomorrow, citing “security concerns” at “such a sensitive time”.

As usual, the reasons cited for this draconian attack on democratic liberties are only remotely connected to the real thinking behind the decision by UEL’s “corporate management team”. The website claims that “uncertainty about transport and possible disruption around the G20 Summit at Excel” is the cause for the campus shutdown– as if anyone seriously believes that this is a valid excuse for shutting a whole university down and cancelling a conference that had attracted a wide range of academics, writers and activists to debate the notion that another world is possible.

A protest petition calling on UEL to reverse its decision, notes: “The past three decades have seen public spaces such as universities hollowed out by the state and by corporations, as more and more of our common resources are transformed into sterile commodities, valued only in cash terms.

“In universities this has led to a policy regime which increasingly sees ‘employability’ in the ‘creative industries’ or in ‘business and finance’ as the only benchmark of success by which a university education can be judged; which sees research separated from teaching; which sees ‘knowledge transfer’ to the commercial sector as the only legitimate destination for the fruits of inquiry.”

The petition insists correctly that there “is a deep connection between this process and the ones that have led the world to its current state of social and economic injustice and climate chaos”. Breaking this relationship “ cannot be done if spaces for debate, questioning and social invention are closed down”. None of this is likely to cut any ice with UEL’s authorities, who are an adjunct of the state. They have undoubtedly been lent on by the police and the Home Office and quickly jumped to. Gordon Brown’s meaningless showpiece summit must take place without any disruption, protected by hundreds of armed police and soldiers. Such is the popularity of the leaders of global capitalism that they can only meet in a sterile zone, physically as well as mentally.

As British “democracy” swings into action, residents near the summit venue in east London are also facing arbitrary action by the authorities. Here the police have taken it upon themselves to demand photo ID before people are allowed to reach their own homes near the summit.

The police have no lawful authority for doing this – but, hell, those world leaders are too important to let the rule of law and other niceties stand in the way. One of a series of angry (and amusing) responses included this from James Elliott: “If the police have no legal right to demand ID, should not our Home Secretary drag herself away from her taxpayer provided TV and get the Met's house in order. No doubt the G20 requires security measures, but I cannot see why we should tolerate the Met. behaving outside the law.”

What we are witnessing around the G20 summit is the state flexing its muscles for the social unrest that is building as the out-of-control economic and financial crisis takes it toll on people’s lives and aspirations. The future will be decided by whoever holds and deploys state power. At present, this power is in the hands of a minority of economic, financial and political elites, protected by their boot boys. Transforming this relationship to one where the majority hold power has to be our goal.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, March 30, 2009

Being anti-capitalist is only a start

As the leaders of the world’s richest countries start gathering in London for Thursday’s G20 summit, a picture can convey more than words about what confront Obama, Brown et al. The latest cover of Time magazine just about sums up the desperate nature of the global economic crisis. It depicts a small boat with six people desperately rowing to prevent it falling off the edge of a massive waterfall. The headline is: “All together now (please?)”

Whatever efforts are made at the G20, it’s apparent that even if the participants agree on stricter regulation of the global financial system, the proverbial cat is out of the bag. In fact, those taking part have already said as much. The German chancellor Angela Merkel spoiled the party on Saturday when she said that no deal would reached and that the summit “will naturally not solve the economic crisis either”.

Gordon Brown hopes that “this crisis can be dealt with by us acting internationally” and by the assertion of “sounder principles”. Only in his dreams. The notion that those overseeing the global economy can and will redress “global imbalances” is clearly cloud-cuckoo land. In reality, the world economy is on a knife-edge. Financier George Soros, the sage and self-appointed Cassandra of financial capital has warned that if the G20 does not insulate developing countries “against a calamity that is not of their making” the world will slide into slump. Soros does not appear over-confident about the outcome.

The most significant question is not “imbalances” between the richer and the developing countries, but the nature of capitalist production and ownership itself. The relentless drive for profit through unsustainable growth is at the root of the current crisis. Obviously, the G20 capitalist club is not in a position to address this issue! As A World to Win said in the flyer we distributed at Saturday’s “Put People First” march in London:

“Those who created the crisis are part of the problem, not the solution. The global crisis is a great opportunity to make a dramatic change and create for the first time a society where the majority actually come first over the narrow interests of profit. Ordinary people should plan for a future based on co-operation not competition, co-ownership and not private ownership, and for meeting social need not the demands of bankers and shareholders.”

The mass support for the protest march, organised by the Trades Union Congress and supported by a host of other organisations, which was joined by workers from across Europe, was significant despite the futile appeals to the G20 leaders put forward by march organisers. The response – estimated at around 35,000 even by the police which means it was far higher – shows that people are willing to take to the streets to defend their living standards

In Germany tens of thousands marched in Frankfurt and Berlin. It was, as comedian Mark Thomas also noted, the first time that people have had a chance to come out on the streets in a big way. Thomas called for it to be “the start of a grassroots movement”.

The key issue is where that movement should go? This is the question that must be raised at the camps and actions organised by ecological and direct action groups in the City and at alternative summits organised by students this week. Brown is right about one thing – the crisis is forcing change. That change has to be on terms that benefit society and the planet as a whole, however. Our Charter for Democratic Rights suggests how we can achieve the revolutionary transformation required. Sign it, spread the word, and join A World to Win in its aim of going beyond anti-capitalist propaganda to creating a practical alternative.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Friday, March 27, 2009

Capitalism can't and won't 'put people first'

While most of the world’s media yesterday focused on the US plan for tighter regulations for the disintegrating financial sector and Gordon Brown’s grand tour aimed at talking up next week’s G20 summit, the real, productive economy was going to hell in a handcart.

Here, the exercise of people’s ability to work generates real value, including profit – at least it did when things were going well for the capitalist class. Not any longer. Now it’s shutdown time, and the actual destruction of productive capacity – including the jobs and prospects of many millions of workers.

The world's second-largest economy, Japan, suffered an almost 50% collapse in exports in February, compared with one year ago. The accelerating global slump drove exports to the rest of Asia down by 46% and to EU countries by 55%. This was the fourth successive month of record export declines, and the sharpest decline in at least 30 years.

Just as in the US and the UK, over-production of cars has intersected with a near-collapse in demand and the industry is grinding to a complete halt. Shipments of motor vehicles were down 64% , with those to the US tumbling 71%. Total exports to America fell by 58%.

The slump has meant that Japan's total industrial production fell by a record 10% in January. Japanese car manufacturers, in the UK and elsewhere, have reacted rapidly to the downturn, attempting to slash their overstocks by cutting output using short-time and no-time working. Union leaders have negotiated wage cuts in a futile bid to save jobs.

The production shutdown isn’t restricted to the oil-burning, climate-wrecking past-its sell-by-date car industry. In the US, electronics giant Agilent Technologies is sacking 2,700 workers – 14% of its staff. The company expects revenue from its electronic measurement and semiconductor businesses to fall between 30% and 50% from 2008 to the lowest in its 10-year history and sees "no prospects for a meaningful recovery in the foreseeable future."

The rate of growth - now decline - of industrial production is the key measure of the health of capitalist production. Without growth, profits decline, investment falls off and jobs are shed. While Timothy Geithner, the US secretary, was talking tough about regulation yesterday, figures released showed that US corporate profits fell at the sharpest pace for 55 years. Meanwhile the number of people continuing to claim unemployment benefits rose by 122,000 to 5.56m, the highest total since tracking began in 1967.

The impact of the global capitalist crisis is being felt everywhere. French president Sarkozy has been in the Democratic Republic of Congo with a raiding party of business leaders. The country’s only industry is copper mining. Exports, especially to the companies producing for the global corporations in China, soared during the explosion of commodity production. Now that it’s all over, tens of millions of Chinese workers have been sent home, whole towns shut down. In the Congo, mining production has been cut in half and 300,000 are without work, or income.

The descent into global slump is fast and furious and suggestions that it will bottom out this year and growth resume in 2010 are clearly off the wall. People without jobs don’t buy things and banks without capital don’t lend, sending demand ever lower. Governments that have over-borrowed (i.e. Britain’s) can’t launch the very “fiscal stimulus” that Brown is urging all other countries to adopt.

Solutions won’t come from telling the G20 to “put people first”, the official slogan of tomorrow's TUC-sponsored demonstration in London. Capitalism can’t change course. The financial and productive sectors are locked in a deadly embrace where the victims are ordinary working people in every country. We must plan for an ecologically-sustainable future, based on co-operation not competition, co-ownership not private ownership, and for meeting social need not the demands of bankers and shareholders. Ending the rule of capital is long overdue.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Crisis hits renewables target

Britain’s alternative energy strategy is in total crisis, with the former boss of BP saying that only urgent government intervention can force the market to deliver the wind and wave developments needed to meet renewables targets.

Shell and BP have pulled out of UK offshore wind farms entirely; Shell’s withdrawal was a real blow, as it was committed to investing in the world’s biggest offshore wind farm, off the Kent cost.

But the government is not planning any intervention. In fact, the exact opposite is happening. This week, grants for supporting alternative energy projects in schools and hospitals finished, and are not being replaced. The most effective way of reducing emissions would be to subsidise super-insulation of homes – but there is less subsidy now than there was ten years ago.

Speaking at the premiere of the new climate change movie “The Age of Stupid”, energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband avoided all these issues, instead making a heartfelt call for citizens to stop opposing wind farms – as if that was the problem.

Miliband knows that on-shore wind farms alone cannot deliver government renewables targets and the problem facing them is not local opposition, but unprofitability. The cost of imported equipment has risen; the price of energy has fallen, and the cost of borrowing to finance them is too high. The only company in the UK making wind turbines has had to be bailed out by the Scottish government.

Global energy company E-on has warned Miliband he will have to revise targets for the contribution of renewables downwards. This absolute failure of the market will be highlighted by BP’s former boss Lord Brown of Madingley when he bluntly tells a conference in Cardiff tonight that the competitive market cannot deliver and the government must urgently take greater control of energy markets.

But since every available scrap of government subsidy has been poured into the black hole of the banks, there is definitely nothing left to rescue alternative energy. With the latest government bond issue failing to sell out, for the first time in many years, there is simply no more cash.

As a result, Britain is now poised to resume its 19th and 20th century position as the polluter of Europe. The only new energy projects that are truly on the cards are new coal-fired power stations and possibly, nuclear.

A new report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change research says that far from revising any targets downwards, the government should be aiming for a 42% reduction in emissions by 2020 – and that must be real cuts, not offsets bought in from outside the UK.

And it adds that ALL policy decisions should fit in with achieving no more than 2ºC of global warming – i.e. carbon-intensive infrastructure plans, such as additional airport capacity, new coal stations or major road building, should be ruled out if they contribute to higher emissions.

But in reality, the New Labour government is driving us at high speed - in a big gas-guzzling four-wheel drive - over the edge of the 2ºC cliff. We need to stop relying on BOTH the market system AND failed appeals for government action and subsidies. To slam on the brakes we need to opt instead for a sustainable, democratically-controlled, decentralised system for both saving and providing energy.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

'Cash for trash' is just rubbish

If someone suggested that you spend a sizeable proportion of your income on buying a pile of household waste from the local refuse tip, you would rightly think they were off their heads. That, however, is exactly what’s happening in the United States in what is now being dubbed by some as President Obama’s “cash for trash” programme.

The “rubbish” in this instance are the dodgy “assets” held by the country’s banks, which they can’t get rid of because no one is willing to put a price on them. Once described as toxic, the White House is apparently now describing them as “legacy” assets. Some inheritance for American working people!

The “cash for trash” programme is truly staggering in its complexity but the essence is that private funds will actually receive a subsidy from the US central bank and another state body to buy rubbish assets from the banks. If the asset miraculously rises in price, the funds keep the profits. If they fall in price, the state takes the hit. As one investor put it: “It’s a win win situation.” Up to $1 trillion could be involved in what is euphemistically called the “Public Private Investment Program”.

This mad-cap scheme is a sign of the desperate nature of the financial crisis in the United States and also reflects a growing rage over taxpayer bail-outs to profligate banks and insurance companies who, like AIG, use the money to pay executive bonuses. A Bill is in Congress that aims to impose a retrospective 90% tax rate on AIG bonuses, which Obama is under fire for doing nothing about.

Will it work? Many have serious doubts. New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman believes that not only is it the wrong policy but that the political mood is “getting ugly” and that the failure of the “cash for trash” policy will prevent Obama from going back to Congress for more funds.

Similar concerns are voiced by the Financial Times’ most eminent commentator, Martin Wolf who today admits to “becoming ever more worried” by Obama’s lack of decisiveness against a “grim background” of the “worst global economic crisis since the 1930s”. He is also concerned that if somehow if, against all odds, the scheme works, fund managers will make vast returns. “I fear this is going to convince ordinary Americans that their government is a racket run for the benefit of Wall Street.” Looking at the prospects for next week’s G20 summit, Wolf concludes that with the “US at an impasse” the outlook is ”frightening”.

For both Wolf and Krugman, the main issue remains the recapitalisation of the banks. And neither the money nor the political will exists for the state to undertake such a project. Certainly not in Britain, where the governor of the Bank of England yesterday pointedly told the New Labour government that the state is over-mortgaged and can’t spend any more. In fact, steep tax rises and sharp cuts in public spending lie ahead.

It’s not just the US that’s in an impasse. The crisis has already led to the collapse of the Czech government, the departure of the Hungarian prime minister as well as mass student and worker actions in France. There are no magic solutions that will end the global capitalist crisis and for all Gordon Brown’s determination to talk up next week’s G20 in London, it will come up with a big fat zero.

Ultimately, there are just two options: the major economies plummet uncontrollably into deep slump, with mass unemployment, wages cuts and the rest; or we put people first by establishing social control of economic and financial resources as the precondition for creating a more rational system. There is no middle way.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

RMT leads jobs fightback

While the leaders of most trade unions are flying as fast as they can away from any confrontation with government or employers, the RMT rail union is in serious battle with the companies that run trains. The RMT, in the eyes of many, are the true defenders of the rail system.

Yesterday the union, which has a policy of resistance to job and pay cuts, announced plans to ballot its 10,000 members on the London Underground (LUL) for strike action against the threat of 3,000 redundancies and a virtual pay cut for some of its members.

“London Underground seems to think that observing agreements is optional, and its plan to cut jobs is simply unacceptable,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.
“After three months of stonewalling, LUL has also tabled what is at best a five-year pay freeze which it knows full well could never be accepted, and its managers appear to have been given the nod to unleash a fresh round of bullying.”

And a blizzard of other disputes is breaking out on the railways. Conductors at London Midland have voted by 8 to 1 for a series of strikes on the question of Sunday working. RMT members at First Capital Connect have voted by more than three to one to strike, and at National Express East Anglia by more than two to one for action, after the employers refused to provide unequivocal assurances that there would be no compulsory redundancies. At South Eastern 1,400 RMT members are in dispute over questions of safe working in new trains and job cuts, while at Network Rail the union is demanding an end to cuts in vital engineering work that threatens to undermine railway safety and cost 1,000 jobs.

It is the spectre of falling revenues and the economic crash that is driving the train companies to these provocative actions. The government plans to reduce the annual subsidy to the train operators from a £5bn (that is about half their total operating costs) today to around £3bn by 2014, while the crash will result in a fall in numbers of passengers on the trains for the first time for many years.

The rail industry, fragmented and chaotic since its privatisation in 1993, and deeply unpopular in the minds of most travellers for the emphasis by the operating companies on profits at the expense of service (as the RMT keeps on pointing out) is in a poor position to start a general offensive on jobs and wages which may well be seen by the public as vindictive and an attack on safety, which is exactly what it would be.

Crow says that government policy effectively subsidies redundancies and adds: “Private rail operators have demonstrated time and again that their shareholders always come first, and it is time for rail operations to be returned to the public sector where they can be run in the interests of passengers, the economy and the environment.”

The question of questions is: how can a return to public ownership be achieved? And not just the old-fashioned bureaucratic state ownership, under which the network was slashed to the bone. No one in the RMT seriously believes New Labour will attack or take over the rail companies. The leadership of the union is quite aware of the true pro-capitalist, anti-union nature of this government and owes them no allegiance whatever, having disaffiliated from Labour some time ago.

Crow and the RMT leaders have an opportunity to build a big movement amongst commuters and travellers AGAINST New Labour and to stimulate a discussion about how public ownership can be established. The union is sponsoring the People’s Charter for Change which could easily be turned from a signature-gathering venture into a vehicle for mobilising for far-reaching political change.

Peter Arkell

Monday, March 23, 2009

Beware police 'troublemakers'

Two reports published today provide evidence of the deepening assault on human rights in Britain. Read alongside Metropolitan Police plans to deal with anti-G20 protesters in London on April 1, they lift the lid on the state’s preparation for major social unrest.

The Database State published by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust pulls no punches. The report report assesses 46 databases across major government departments, and finds that:

 A quarter of public-sector databases reviewed are almost certainly illegal under human rights or data protection law
 Fewer than 15% of the public databases assessed are effective, proportionate and necessary, with a proper legal basis for any privacy intrusions
 In Britain, data is increasingly centralised, and shared between health and social services, the police, schools, local government and the taxman, whereas in other countries it is held locally
 Sharing can harm the vulnerable, not least by leading to discrimination and stigmatisation
 The UK public sector spends over £16 billion a year on IT. Over £100 billion in spending is planned or the next five years. Yet only about 30% of government IT projects meet their claimed objectives.

Among those rejected as unlawful is the National DNA Database, which holds DNA profiles for approximately 4 million individuals, over half a million of whom have not been convicted, reprimanded, given a final warning or cautioned, and have no proceedings pending against them. It includes more than 39,000 children.

The authors assert that the National Identity Register, which will store biographical information, biometric data and administrative data linked to the use of an ID card, will also break the law. So too will ContactPoint, the new national index of every child in England.

Two more databases criticised are a communications database introduced as part of the Interception Modernisation Programme which will hold everyone’s communication traffic data such as itemised phone bills, email headers and mobile phone location history; and the Prüm Framework, which allows law enforcement information to be shared between EU Member States. The report recommends that these are scrapped. Not much chance of that happening, unfortunately.

Also published today is the Parliamentary joint committee on human rights report into policing protests. The report is critical of the use of anti-terror laws to stop and search activists at events like the climate camp in Kent last summer and notes the swamping of protests by large numbers of police.

"Protesters and journalists reported a number of specific incidents where they felt intimidated by the police, as well as a more general sense that the policing of protest had become more heavy-handed," the report says. As to the police, when asked whether it was appropriate to use counter-terrorism powers against protestors, one senior officer replied that “there are occasions when we do need to use our counter-terrorism powers: I would say that that is why we have them”. There’s no arguing with that kind of logic.

More intimidation is clearly on the way, whatever the MPs and Peers who drew up the report say. The Met has let it be known that it will deploy thousands of police, including armed officers and riot police, in London next week when protests are planned to coincide with the G20 economic summit. Leaking the plans is aimed at putting people off taking part. The police want to discredit protesters and activists, and no doubt have agents working inside the protest to cause trouble. You don’t have to look further than Scotland Yard to identify who the real “troublemakers” are.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, March 20, 2009

The horse has bolted

Current and former leaders of global agencies are leap-frogging each other with increasingly dramatic attempts to give expression to the scale and rapidity of the disintegration and collapse of the world’s financial and economic systems. Their warnings contrast sharply with the feeble efforts of national government agencies like the UK’s Financial Services Authority (FSA).

Michel Camdessus, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) went large last week, declaring: “This crisis is the first truly universal one in the history of humanity. No country escapes from it. It has not yet bottomed out.” He was foreshadowing yet another of the IMF’s series of ever-more pessimistic forecasts published yesterday that calmly predicts that the global economy will contract this year for the first time since World War II.

Moreover, the impact in the UK will be more severe than in any other developed capitalist economy, the IMF warns. Figures on public finances confirm a rapid spiralling of state debt in the wake of the financial crisis, mounting unemployment and collapsing tax revenues. Next year, the IMF estimates that the Treasury will have to borrow a record 11% of gross domestic product – far more than has ever been borrowed before in British history and higher as a proportion of national wealth than in the United States.

Camdessus’s observation makes the otherwise stunning admission in the opening sentences of the report on the global banking crisis from Lord Turner, head of the FSA look pretty tame in comparison. “Over the last 18 months, and with increasing intensity over the last six, the world’s financial system has gone through its greatest crisis for at least half a century, indeed arguably the greatest crisis in the history of finance capitalism,” he writes.

After pointing the finger at New Labour for promoting “light touch regulation”, Turner admits that markets are irrational but then insists it’ll be OK, apparently, if we tighten regulations this time around. A phrase about shutting stable doors after the horse has bolted springs to mind.

In common with most observers and analysts, Turner mistakenly attributes the global production shutdown, with unemployment spiralling to new records in every country, to bad behaviour in the world of finance. The real source of the crisis actually lies in the system of capitalist production whose expansion is founded on debt of all kinds.

Following the 1929 crash, despite multiple failed attempts at government intervention, the crisis stretched throughout the 1930s becoming known in retrospect as the Great Depression. The Second World War reduced the no longer profitable pre-war surplus productive capacity to rubble and bloody corpses.

Then, and only then, credit expansion freed the insatiable self-movement of capital expansion in post-war spurts of growth. These produced the transnational corporations, built on cheap labour and the wreckage from a series of worsening crises, and spawned the global financial system which has now disintegrated.

Turner wants to get the carnival back on the road, replaying the same show, saying that the global economy needs “the existence of large complex banking institutions providing financial risk management products” which “inevitably involve at least some position taking”.

This is wishful thinking. The crisis is incomparably deeper than any other time in history partly because no-one knows the size of the balloons of credit which have yet to burst and the real state of bank finances. For example, no one in government can actually account for the vast sums allocated to bank bail-outs in America and the UK. They have disappeared into a financial black hole.

There’s an opportunity to discuss non-capitalist solutions and policies for this dangerous crisis at LEAP’s Capitalism isn’t Working conference next month.
Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Climate scientists say time is running out

Scientists have moved into the front line of the battle against climate change, giving politicians a clear message that failure to agree urgent action when they meet in Copenhagen in December, will lead to social and climate chaos.

Speaking at an emergency meeting of 2,500 climate scientists from 80 countries, Gordon Brown’s former climate adviser Sir Nicholas Stern dramatically increased his estimate of the economic cost of failing to tackle climate change. His 2006 report estimated that “business as usual” would cost 20% of the world’s economic output. Now he says it could rise higher than 50%.

Stern joined other scientists in warning that failure to agree strong carbon reductions will result in abrupt and irreversible shifts in climate which society would be unable to cope with. Their six key messages, backed by extensive research, are:

1. The worst-case scenario is getting worse
Worst-case projections from the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report are happening already. Without immediate action the situation could accelerate even beyond that.

2. Social disruption
Societies are vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change. Temperature rises above 2C will be very difficult for countries to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.

3. Long-term strategy
Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid dangerous climate change, regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.

4. Inequality
The worst effects will be on the poorest people in every country, and on the poorest countries and regions. Mitigation strategies must protect the most vulnerable first, and provide safety nets for devastated areas.

5. Inaction is inexcusable
The economic, technological, behavioural and management tools needed to deal with climate change already exist. Benefits can flow from acting on climate change including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

6. Meeting the challenge
Constraints must be overcome and opportunities seized to reduce inertia in social and economic systems by:
• building on growing public desire for governments to act
• removing implicit and explicit subsidies
• reducing the influence of vested interests
• enabling shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society
• engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

What the scientists are saying to politicians is, this is your last chance. But we need to ask, can the symbiotic capitalist state/corporate monster that currently rules our lives to make these changes? As the answer is a resounding NO, then we have a very short window of opportunity to replace the economic and political elites who are actually the problem rather than the solution.

How to do this, people ask? The answer can only be through mass mobilisation, civil resistance to government actions and the formation of local, regional and national Councils of Action that will begin to plan for change – and will more truly represent the will of the people.

With the People’s Charter for Democracy, A World to Win proposes a framework around which people from any background, or any group in society, can organise in such Councils of Action. Taking the initiative and the power, to tackle the twin climate/economic crisis fairly and democratically – that is the challenge of the age.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How cost cutting costs lives

New Labour health secretary Alan Johnson’s claim that the unnecessary deaths and abysmal standards of care at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust are not being repeated at other hospitals is based on wishful thinking rather than facts because the same target-driven, cost-cutting approach exposed in an official report is at work throughout the health service.

In one of the most critical reports of NHS treatment ever, the Health Commission found that up to 1,200 people could have died at the hospital as a result of what it described as “appalling standards of care”. The Commission denounced the trust’s disastrous failure to look after patients entrusted to its care.

Reducing waiting times took priority over the need to look after seriously ill while cost cutting, management targets, gaining foundation trust status and public relations marketing way came ahead of patient care. The Commission concluded that staff believed care of patients had become secondary to government-imposed targets and there was a “reluctance to acknowledge or even consider that the care of patients was poor”.

A survey found that two thirds of doctors would not be happy to have a family member treated at the hospital. Patients described conditions in one ward as a “war zone”. People in A&E were left covered in blood and without pain relief, food or water, even those with serious injuries.

But no need to worry too much. Mid-Stafford is simply one bad apple in the barrel, according to Johnson. “I can give a reassurance that what happened in Stafford is an aberration, it is not indicative of what is happening in other hospitals,” the health secretary said.

But how does this explain that Johnson’s own office ignored repeated warnings by bereaved patients’ relatives? Julie Bailey, daughter of a patient who died at the hospital as long ago as December 2007 wrote to Johnson about patient concerns on January 5, 2008. Bailey, who founded a group to campaign about deaths and poor care at the hospital, simply received a reply from the health minister’s office referring her back to the hospital.

Worse still, Johnson’s office was not the only official body to ignore warnings about the failings at the trust. The Healthcare Commission itself rated the trust’s quality of care as “fair” between 2005 and 2007, before it applied for foundation status which was granted in February 2008. In other words, it was granted “flagship status” exactly at a time when patients were suffering and dying needlessly because financial and marketing priorities were put ahead of patient care.

Those who failed to spot (or ignored) the debacle in Staffordshire are still in charge of leading NHS bodies. The manager in charge of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority from 2006, Cynthia Bower, is about to head the health super-regulator, the Care Quality Commission. Her predecessor at the authority’s forerunner is now chief executive of the NHS. The same Trust is said to have “fobbed off” NHS investigators who reported high mortality rates in 2007, saying they were statistical errors. This delayed further investigation.

It is not only individual NHS executives who are responsible for what is going on in Britain’s hospitals. It is the entire ethos fostered for years by New Labour whose priority has been to introduce capitalist market techniques into healthcare. In the end, the trust was run like any other corporation, driving down costs while maximising output.

A different approach in which the needs of the patients come first is desperately needed. That means reshaping the NHS so that it is managed by doctors, nurses and other staff working in it, alongside patients and community groups. The pharmaceutical corporations, equipment suppliers, cleaning, catering, maintenance and construction companies must all be owned and run in a similar way.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Plan B has to be co-ownership

When Gordon Brown announces that the “old idea that markets were by definition efficient” is over and that “laissez-faire” has “had its day”, you can see how the crisis of confidence in the capitalist system has pervaded the highest reaches of government and the state. What plan B is, however, is altogether another question. 

Brown’s interview with The Guardian, the semi-official government mouthpiece, reveals a prime minister and government who are floundering as economic and financial conditions deteriorate. 

Brown’s conversion on the road to Damascus will cut no ice with those who are victims of the very markets that he championed for so long such as the unemployed and the homeless. Increasing numbers of people feel betrayed by the political class and their cosy relationship with big business and financiers like Sir Fred Goodwin, knighted by Brown and now enjoying his big fat pension at the taxpayers’ expense. 

Detestation of the banking system is now showing itself in public opinion polls like the one in the Financial Times this week. It found sharp opposition to the government bailing out banks, insurers or car manufacturers. Barely a third – 36% – backed state aid for banks, while a fifth supported bail-outs for insurers. A survey carried out by the People’s Charter was even more damning. It showed that a staggering 87% of those questioned said the higher priority was projecting jobs rather than supporting banks or bankers, with only 9% backing New Labour’s bail-outs. 

As the economy slides into slump, and faith in the hidden hand of capitalist markets plummets, other less positive attitudes are coming to the surface. The same FT polls on bail-outs also indicated growing hostility to migrant workers without jobs.  

Now, you can always get the answer you want by asking the right sort of question, so the figures need to be treated with caution. Nevertheless, more than three-quarters – 78% – of British adults believe immigrants should be asked to leave the country if they do not have a job, according to the survey published on Monday. A majority also oppose European Union citizens working here, even though they have a legal right to do so. 

To a great extent, of course, New Labour is responsible for this result. They have relentlessly played the anti-immigration card to appease right-wing, middle-class Daily Mail readers and spent vast resources pursuing migrants without papers and constructing an electronic, impenetrable fence around Britain. And, infamously, the British Jobs for British Workers slogan that was taken up in the recent oil refinery strikes came from the mouth of the prime minister himself. Clearly, these are volatile times which extreme right parties like the BNP are beginning to exploit. 

Brown’s admission today that he might, have in retrospect, seen the seeds of today’s crisis when Asia sustained financial meltdown in the year New Labour came to power, will cut no ice. And the idea that there was a “wider intellectual failure” to understand what was happening in financial markets is also rubbish. Brown was, after all, chancellor for a decade and had spent years cultivating contacts in the City. The financial bubble that has burst was not exactly the first in history either. 

What we are experiencing today is not a failure of “laissez-faire” or markets. These are superficial aspects of an unsustainable economic system as a whole – and that is what is collapsing. The solution does not lie in some alternative, kinder, more regulated capitalism. That is fantasy land, especially when the global economy is on the point of disintegration. Our answer to both New Labour and the BNP lies in an altogether different direction, in an economy based on co-operation and co-ownership, not completion and private ownership for profit. 

Paul Feldman

AWTW communications editor

Monday, March 16, 2009

G20 reduced to spectators

There they were on a warm spring weekend in Horsham, West Sussex, with a simple agenda: agree a plan to prevent the global economy from slipping from recession to deep slump, or at least suggest an outline of a strategy that their bosses could sign up to at the G20 summit in London next month. 

In the end, the communiqué issued by finance ministers and central bank governors was blandness itself. They pledged to “take whatever action is necessary until growth is restored” and ensure that “all systemically important financial institutions, markets and instruments are subject to an appropriate degree of regulation and oversight”. 

Meanwhile, the United States is going its own sweet way with more plans to try and rescue American banks together with implementing its  “stimulus” package while berating the Europeans for not doing the same. No commitments were offered in Horsham about keeping trade and markets open to prevent the spread of protectionist measures. 

Should we have expected anything more from this gathering? I think not. It’s important to restate that the capitalist economic system, at national and global levels, is not some logical, controllable process which finance ministers and central bank governors can manipulate as and when they please. 

Setting aside for a moment the anarchic nature of a market, profit-driven system, economic and financial structures have historically developed according to their own inner logic. The state and the economy are relatively independent. One cannot substitute for the other, even though they are interdependent and bound together historically. The state has responded to different circumstances, falling in line to either catch up with what’s happened or to facilitate new forms of activity. 

To blame Thatcher and Reagan, for example, for today’s financial crisis because they promoted deregulation during the 1980s is to confuse cause with effect. Deregulation proved necessary to summon up the finance for a new expansion of capital that corporations embarked on following the break-down of the old economic order in the early 1970s which had been based on fixed exchange rates and capital controls. Further deregulation in the 21st century, which saw bank repackaging and selling off assets and loans, created space for them to lend to consumers as the only way they could buy goods (and houses) in order to sustain "growth".

Governments and central banks were happy to join in this new “golden age”, as Gordon Brown so wonderfully described it in June 2007 in a speech to the City when he was still chancellor of the exchequer. In fact they cheered the whole process on. That’s ended in calamity and the same politicians are struggling to understand let alone control the forces at work. No one, for example, knows the real scale (and certainly not the value) of “toxic” debt in the system. 

Meanwhile, the impact of the crisis in Britain is mounting. Ten people are chasing each job centre vacancy and the dole queue is expected to reach over three million next year. Unemployment among 16-to-24-year-olds is already running at more than 15%. 

Today, the Bank of England warns of a 1930s-style depression, saying that households are displaying early symptoms of being caught in a  “debt deflation trap” where debts become harder to repay as prices and wages fall. The amount owed on mortgages, loans and credit cards has risen by 165% since 1997. 

Some, of course, are trying to talk capitalism back to health. US federal reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, claims to have seen the “green shoots of recovery”. How should we estimate this prognosis? Perhaps he’s recently watched Being There, where Peter Sellers, a humble gardener, metamorphoses into Chauncey Gardiner and is mistaken for a financial expert. Chauncey’s remarks about how the garden changes with the seasons are interpreted by the president as sound economic and political advice. Say no more.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor 



Friday, March 13, 2009

For a future without the FT!

The Financial Times major series of articles grandly entitled “The Future of Capitalism” should at least have a question mark after it, especially as the main contributors are, to say the least, struggling to come to terms with what’s actually happened, let alone what lies ahead.

Whilst the contributors admit that the post-1980s period of neo-liberal, unregulated financial markets is at an end, none can tell us anything about the reciprocal, causal relations between credit and the production of real value, or even between the bursting of the financial balloons and the freefall in global production. 

Gillian Tett seems to be uncertain whether the financial system has collapsed or not. First she tells us hopefully, that “the pillars of faith on which this new financial capitalism were built have all but [emphasis added] collapsed”. But later in the piece, things get a lot worse: “Last September,” she says, “the final pillar of faith collapsed.” 

According to Tett, two revolutions occurred in the 1970s.  Banks abandoned centuries of safe lending practices. They started to sell their credit risk –  the risk that the people they’d lent money to wouldn’t repay the loans –  to third-party investors in the new capital markets. And they adopted complex computer-based systems for measuring credit risk. As a result everything got too complicated. Nobody could understand what was going on any more. 

Why this happened, what started it, what the motive force was that drove the demand for increased credit she can’t and doesn’t say. It doesn’t even arise as a question. But there are plenty of places, human failings, to apportion blame: “Naked greed, lax regulation, excessively loose monetary policy, fraudulent borrowing and managerial failure.” 

There’s no hint of a connection between the inner logic of capitalist production for profit that drives growth, pushes regulation aside, creates new forms of credit to finance consumption and production –  and breeds the conditions for the crash, its inseparable opposite. 

Martin Wolf at least acknowledges the existence of the real economy where goods and services are made by human labour. He even goes so far as to establish a connection between it and the world of finance. 

“Today, with a huge global financial crisis and a synchronised slump in economic activity, the world is changing again,” he writes. “Synchronised”? That just means that things are occurring at the same time. “The combination of a financial collapse with a huge recession…will surely change the world.” A “combination”? Yes Martin, but what connects them? How do they affect each other? 

Wolf is worried. He doesn’t know what will happen next. “It is impossible at such a turning point to know where we are going.” In support of his campaign for co-ordinated government action to stimulate demand, he asks us to remember what happened in the Great Depression of the 1930s: 

“Unemployment rose to one-quarter of the labour force in important countries, including the US. This transformed capitalism and the role of government for half a century, even in the liberal democracies. It led to the collapse of liberal trade, fortified the credibility of socialism and communism …xenophobia and authoritarianism. Frightened people become tribal: dividing lines open within and between societies. In 1930, the Nazis won 18 per cent of the German vote; in 1932, at the height of the Depression, their share had risen to 37 per cent.” 

But what about the Second World War, Martin, the destruction of property and lives?  For capitalist recovery, the destruction of surplus productive capacity was essential to restarting the business of making profit. For Wolf, the FT’s most prestigious commentator, it never happened. 

If we are to prevent a new, unimaginably greater orgy of destruction, unsustainable, broken capitalist society has to be consigned to history. We have to start planning for a world beyond the immediate crisis, one in which there is no “future of capitalism”, where there’s not even a copy of the Financial Times to be had! 

Gerry Gold
Economics editor



Thursday, March 12, 2009

Car workers abandoned by union leaders

Toyota car workers at plants around the country yesterday voted by more than two to one to accept a 10% cut in pay and hours, which was recommended to them by UNITE and GMB unions on the spurious grounds that the negotiated “deal” was better than redundancy.

Peter Tsouvallaris, the UNITE representative at Toyota, argued that the deal would mean that workers would not suffer the fate of the 1,000 workers at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), 850 at Mini and 1,200 at Nissan who have their jobs cut recently. But taking a pay cut won’t save Toyota. Predictions are that the company will face an operating loss of £3.4 billion by the end of March due to sharp falls in global sales. Sales of new cars in February in Britain were 22% lower than a year earlier.

And while the unions betray their members by peddling hours and pay cuts as the lesser of two evils, 1,000 jobs are disappearing each week in the Birmingham area alone in companies supplying the major manufacturers. And union leaders are doing nothing about it.

Other car manufacturers are in the same position as Toyota. General Motors introduced a three-year wage freeze for Canadian workers earlier this month. GM Europe, Vauxhall’s parent company last week warned that it was about to go bankrupt. GM spokesman said that "everything will fall over" if support for the company was not forthcoming. This includes plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton, which employ 4,000 people. GM is seeking huge bail-outs from European governments as a price for keeping plants open.

Is there any help forthcoming from the Trades Union Congress about how to cope with the threat of the sack? Well, actually no. In two
booklets, called Coping with the Downturn and Facing Redundancy, pains are taken to explain the difference between the “sack” and “redundancy”, claiming that “redundancy is a fair reason for dismissal”.

Clearly the TUC believes that unemployment is inevitable and that people must accept the “fate” that capitalism is dishing out to them. It sees its role as mediating between workers, their employers and the government to convince workers that there is no alternative and that they must accept the pain and find ways to live in poverty.

The stark fact is that no amount of pay freezing and shorter hours will resolve the  massive over-capacity that has built up in the industry over past decades, not to speak of the ongoing collapse of the global capitalist economy. As to the claim by union bureaucrats that their “solution” is the lesser of two evils, well, as someone once said, the lesser of two evils is still an evil.

Instead of accepting the demands of the global corporations, there has to be an organised resistance to the economic slump. It’s not going to come from UNITE and GMB leaders, who have run up the white flag, nor TUC bureaucrats. If Toyota and other corporations are going bust, it is because the economic system they are part of has fallen off a cliff.

The real way forward is for global car business to be run on an entirely different, not-for-profit way in a re-shaped transport industry. In any case, what is the point of the vast over-capacity in the motor industry, which churns out unneeded metal boxes while carbon-induced climate change takes the planet to hell on wheels?

It’s time for the biggest industrial and social change ever. Toyota and GM workers could be making really useful, ecologically-sound forms of transport. The first step towards that goal is an occupation of threatened plants and an ousting of the executives whose failed policies have brought the company to its knees and the removal of union officials who have absolutely no intention of leading a fight back.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Demand the release of Hicham Yezza!

Hicham Yezza’s real “crime” was to help a student with his research into Al Qaeda and then to campaign against his arbitrary arrest and detention by the police, called in by his employers, Nottingham University. A nine-month jail sentence he is now serving for immigration “irregularities” is nothing less than the state’s revenge for failing to sustain the original ludicrous terrorism arrest.

Hicham was arrested and held last May for a period of six days, alongside student Rizwaan Sabir. Hicham had downloaded an Al Qaeda training manual from the US government's website. It was material for Sabir's MA dissertation, which didn’t prevent university authorities assuming the worst and calling in the police.

Sabir’s home was raided and he was deeply distressed by events. In the end, no charges could be made and the pair were released. But with egg all over their faces, the police tried to justify their actions and held Hicham, an Algerian national, on immigration charges pending fast-track deportation. This failed following a strong campaign and legal challenges and Hicham, who edits the magazine Ceasefire, spoke out at conferences about the attacks on human rights in Britain.

Not giving up, immigration authorities then charged Hicham with "securing avoidance of enforcement action by deceptive means". This, don’t forget, was someone employed by the university, a PhD student and a well-known figure on campus. As his lawyer Caroline Bradley, said: "He did not in any way try to hide his identity and, if he had done things properly, he would have been granted in all likelihood the right to stay in this country." Although we are talking technicalities here, the judge threw the book at Hicham and he is now in prison.

Hicham’s jailing expresses not only how the spurious “war on terror” sweeps up innocent victims on a daily basis – Binyam Mohamed’s “rendition” and torture is just one example – but how this dovetails with New Labour’s racist and inhuman immigration/deportation policies. These are deployed to court the support of right-wing newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express – and to provide business for the private sector.

Since 1993 there has been a 10-fold increase in detention centre places. From a total of 10 immigration detention centres in the UK, seven are managed by private firms. They are beset with welfare problems, social unrest and high rates of suicide. Plans for an 800-place centre near Bullingdon prison in Oxfordshire will make it the largest detention centre of its kind in Europe.

Every year, 2,000 children are detained in contravention of commitments made in Parliament. In a recent case, a court was told that a one-year-old baby and an eight-year-old child from the Democratic Republic of Congo were deeply traumatised after immigration officers twice raided their West Midlands home. They were taken to Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire and held for 57 days. Two months later, the family home was raided for a second time leading to a further three-day unlawful detention at the same centre. The court awarded the former detainees £150,000 in damages.

With even Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson calling for an "earned" amnesty for migrants without papers – up to 75% of the estimated 725,000 total live in the capital – New Labour’s cynical use of the immigration card is even more despicable. As unemployment mounts and the far-right BNP challenges New Labour for votes, the press hysteria is bound to intensify. That’s why A World to Win demands the release of Hicham Yezza, who is a political prisoner, and supports the employment and human rights of ALL workers in Britain, with or without papers.

You can write to Hicham at:
Hicham Yezza XP266 06.12.1977
Tattenhoe Street
Milton Keynes

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Haiti still waiting for real support

Yesterday the people of Haiti, among the poorest in the world, witnessed the start of a high-profile visit by former US president Bill Clinton and UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon. It is billed as an attempt to turn round the island’s fortunes. The population could do with more than celebrity visits, however.

Tropical hurricanes last year left nearly 800 people dead and caused damage estimated at $1 billion. Several UN appeals for $108bn in humanitarian assistance fell on deaf ears. Tensions are running especially high as February 29 was the fifth anniversary of a CIA-sponsored coup against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

Aristide, a slum priest, won a landslide victory in the 1990 Haitian presidential elections, in defiance of death squads and military coups. Dr Paul Farmer, a renowned infectious disease expert at Harvard Medical School who is accompanying Clinton, has outlined the story of how the United States and France undermined Aristide after his election.

Despite efforts by the United Nations forces to discourage Haitians from commemorating Aristide’s forced eviction, the Lavalas movement founded by the former president organised a demonstration of up to 10,000 people. Mass arrests of young males were carried out in neighbourhoods where support for Lavalas remains strong. The September 30 Foundation organised a major contingent plus protests around the world to demand the return of Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a Haitian human rights activist who disappeared in 2007.

Last week university students barricaded themselves inside a building and clashed with police and UN peacekeepers demanding an improved curriculum. And, ahead of Clinton and Ban Ki-moon’s visit, a Brussels-based conflict watchdog, Crisis Group, warned that urgent support amounting to £3 billion was needed. The UN security council is to visit the island as soon as the two leaders depart.

Haiti’s closeness to the Guantanamo base in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola, makes it a strategically sensitive place. The island’s unique history makes it a powder keg within the Caribbean. It was the first island in the Caribbean to gain independence from its colonial masters which it did in 1804 as a result of a slave rebellion headed by the legendary Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines’ forces defeated 30,000 French troops sent by Napoleon Bonaparte and abolished slavery.

Haitians have invested hope in Clinton’s visit because the former president ordered a US military-led intervention in 1994 to bring back Jean-Bertrand Aristide. But the 9,000 strong United Nations mission, the fifth on the island since 1993, has come under strong criticism from Haitian campaigners such as the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network. Accusations of brutality and even rape abound on independent websites such as Upping the Anti.

In past decades, the United States, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank insisted that in exchange for badly needed loans, Haiti should open its economy to global competition. This saw a country that once exported rice and sugar become a net importer, as Haitian farmers could not match the prices of a subsidy-supported US rice producers. Whether the election of Obama makes a difference to Haitians remains to be seen.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, March 09, 2009

Stop the bail-outs and repudiate 'toxic debts'

When the Financial Times of all newspapers launches a series called “The Future of Capitalism”, and the Archbishop of Canterbury attacks growth as the basis of the global economy, it’s fair to conclude that the system is shaking from head to foot

The patent failure of states and governments to sort out the financial crisis is all too apparent, for example, with the continuing collapse of shares in Lloyds following its shotgun marriage with the bankrupt HBOS bank orchestrated by prime minister Brown.
Now the state owns more than 60% of Lloyds and is guaranteeing no less than £250 billion of toxic (i.e. worthless) “assets” in a desperate bid to revive its fortunes.

On the production/demand front, Japan this morning announced its largest ever balance of trade deficit following the collapse in overseas demand for its cars, electronic goods and other exports. Jobs are disappearing at the rate of over 650,000 a month in the United States, where the dole queue is now more than 12 million long.

While New Labour fails to convince anyone that it will all turn out alright in the end, or to acknowledge any responsibility for events, the Financial Times series is at least honest about the scope of the crisis. Martin Wolf, its most prominent writer, admits : “What will happen now depends on choices unmade and shocks unknown. Yet the combination of a financial collapse with a huge recession, if not something worse, will surely change the world. The legitimacy of the market will weaken. The credibility of the US will be damaged. The authority of China will rise. Globalisation itself may founder. This is a time of upheaval.”

While Wolf’s extensive analysis acknowledges that financial deregulation contained the “seeds of its own downfall”, some subversive sub-editor has gone further and headlined the article “Seeds of its own destruction”. This, of course, is a not-so-hidden reference to the famous phrase in the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels published all of 161 years ago, which was the first to popularise the contradictions within the capitalist system. What on earth is going on down at the FT?!

The merit of the lecture in Cardiff given by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the weekend is that he argues that blaming the greed of individual bankers had made people lose sight of the fact that "governments committed to deregulation and to the encouragement of speculation and high personal borrowing were elected repeatedly in Britain and the United States for a crucial couple of decades".

Dr Williams is not in any sense anti-capitalist. In fact, in his lecture he talks about periods when capitalism was apparently more “ethical” and that society should somehow return to this period. Neither is the FT, of course. Its “survival plan for global capitalism” consists of concerted international action to restore demand for consumer goods while propping up the financial system.

But the British state has already committed 20% of the value of its gross domestic output in loans to failed banks. Now it is printing new money, further depressing savings rates and the value of government bonds. If this is allowed to continue, the price will be paid in massive public spending cuts, hyper-inflation and a social breakdown as the government of the day tries to avoid state bankruptcy.

When something is toxic, you don’t add to its poisonous nature by throwing more money at it – you get rid of it in the safest possible way. The same goes for the banking system, therefore. Our aim should be to take the “toxic debts” and bury them somewhere deep in the North Sea. In other words, they should be repudiated, rejected and disowned because we didn’t generate them in the first place. After that we could reconstruct a sane financial system based on mutual ownership and control. A drastic, revolutionary approach for sure, whose logic is common ownership and control of a not-for-profit economy. But far more practical than what either the FT or Dr Williams is advocating.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, March 06, 2009

A tipping point is reached

It’s difficult to know which of two momentous pronouncements yesterday has the most profound significance for the future of the global capitalist economy.

Is it the Bank of England’s expected decision to reduce the base interest rate to 0.5%, and start to print money – an initial £75 billion – with which it will bypass the commercial banks and lend direct to businesses, if it can find any that want to borrow?

This means that “monetary policy in its conventional form has ceased to operate”, according to the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf. A better example of what is meant by “a tipping point” would be hard to find.

Or is it the also expected admission from global giant car-maker (and financial services company) General Motors that there are now serious doubts about its ability to continue as “a going concern”? Continued deterioration in the availability of credit together with slumping demand for vehicles of all kinds has driven it to the brink of collapse.

The fact is that the complete breakdown of the credit system and the implosion of production are tightly intertwined.

Interest rates were last reduced to historic lows to deal with the dot.com crash of 2001/2, ushering in a period of frenzied speculation, which intersected at its pinnacle with the beginning of the downturn in consumption in 2004.

The global credit system closed for business in mid-2007 when it became clear that the effects of the deepening recession were irreversible. Financial institutions and investors recognised, however dimly, that the possibility of tempting consumers back into the shops to restart growth was gone. It was called a “collapse of confidence”. Share prices continue to tumble.

Despite trillions of dollars, pounds, yen and roubles being poured into the banks and the auto giants, and virtually unlimited guarantees to underpin new lending these attempts at resuscitating the system have failed. There's just too much over-capacity already to tempt new production. Too many unsold cars.

Neither can the crash be reversed by “quantitative easing” - increasing the money supply to induce spending, touted as the last throw of the dice. Governments have embarked on this desperate measure because interest rates are close to zero, property and commodity prices are dropping as demand has evaporated, and nothing else is working.

There will be attempts to bypass the banks and shovel cash into consumers' pockets directly - the “helicopter drop” approach favoured by the current chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke.

This can only make an unprecedentedly bad situation a whole lot worse. There’s talk already in the US and the UK about “fiscal collapse” – tantamount to state bankruptcy.

Obama’s team is reported to be working around the clock, not on a solution, but “to form an approach” to the disintegration of the auto industry. They must be getting very tired.

Obama, Brown, Darling, Mandelson, Wolf, and Mervyn King, the Bank of England’s governor and every one of the fantasists of the capitalist world are pinning their hopes on a recovery, sometime, not this year, maybe later. Maybe never.

As the conference called by the Left Economics Advisory Panel for 25 April puts it, “Capitalism Isn’t Working”. The conference is scheduled to discuss policy solutions for the crisis. They will have to be founded upon collectively-owned, co-operatively managed, not-for-profit ecologically-sound production, distribution and exchange. And that includes the banks. Nothing less will do.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Stop the real climate criminals

How are ordinary people to make their voice heard on climate change in a country where their vote counts for nothing, their MPs are powerless and cowed (with a few honourable exceptions) and peaceful protest is being outlawed?

This is a valid question to ask as we hear more this week about the police operation against the Climate Camp held last year in Kent. The camp highlighted the government’s reckless plan to allow more coal-fired power stations to be built at Kingsnorth power station.

Using freedom of information rules, the Liberal Democrats have obtained a list of the items confiscated by police in the course of their £5.7m operation. Balloons, disabled ramps, coloured crayons, a clown’s outfit, fire safety equipment, a marquee, camping equipment, an elderly person’s walking stick – all of these were seized as the police repeatedly searched everyone attending the camp.

The reality this highlights, is that anyone who opposes the government’s failure to act on climate change – indeed to adopt policies that will increase emissions – is now subject to an arbitrary police force that acts pre-emptively against them.

Sarah Perkins, one of Climate Camp’s lawyers, said: “It certainly was disproportionate policing and a real sea change in the way police are using their powers. Absolutely everyone was searched, many people several times over, and then police raided the camp and searched yet again.” Police also mounted a classic “psyops” operation developed by the military, driving round the camp in the middle of the night and using a helicopter to disrupt sleep patterns.

Kent's assistant chief constable (or should that be General?) Allyn Thomas was unabashed. “While the majority of people were law abiding,” he said, “it was clear from the first day of the camp setting up that a number of people were intent on causing trouble.” How was it clear? Where is the evidence? But then all becomes clear: “By seizing items which could be used to commit a crime, we were able to ensure criminal acts were not carried out … We hope that anyone who attends a similar event in future accepts their responsibility to do so lawfully and in a legal manner.”

So rather than policing actual crime based on evidence they now police the possibility of crime based on no evidence - they have become the Thought Police. Now Scotland Yard has established the Confidential Intelligence Unit to spy on climate activists and workers involved in strikes. Taking over the role played by MI5 in the 1970s and 1980s, the unit will send spies and agents to infiltrate groups and strikers opposed to the government’s policies.

We have been warned. Alongside the protests and direct actions, we must urgently start to consider the nature of political representation in Britain, the definition of crime, and the need for a transformation in how decisions are taken.

There is plenty of actual evidence about the impact of climate change (on policemen and their families too). Imminent catastrophic events will be discussed when scientists hold an emergency meeting this month in Copenhagen. They will explain how global warming is speeding up, and ask governments to take urgent action.

We the people, are entitled to ask ourselves what can we do to prevent the state from using its powers to permit them to continue on their criminal course of inaction, and “business as usual”. The only solution must be to replace the secret state with one that is open, transparent and subject to the will of the people.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Salute the miners’ strike for jobs

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the great miners’ strike in defence of jobs and communities. Their year-long confrontation with the state and the Tory government remains an outstanding example of the determination of ordinary working people to fight for their rights.

By the time of the strike, officially, unemployment in Britain had risen to around 3.25 million – although the real total was nearer 4 million - and the privatisation of all the great state industries, starting with British Telecom, was underway. It was the miners alone who answered the call of history, and challenged the right of the state and governments to put people out of work and into poverty.

The strike was provoked by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher when the state-controlled National Coal Board (NCB) on 1 March 1984 announced plans for the closure of 20 pits in Yorkshire with the loss of 20,000 jobs. The government was in fact secretly planning for the closure of 70 pits throughout the country and the virtual destruction of the industry.

The 600 miners at Cortonwood colliery in South Yorkshire met on Sunday 4 March and voted to strike, calling on the Yorkshire Area of the National Union of Miners for support, which was duly given a few days later. The miners of Scotland, Wales, the North-East, Kent and North Derbyshire came out on March 12.

So began one of the longest, most decisive, most determined and extraordinary strikes of all time. The government had prepared very carefully for this showdown, building up stocks of coal at the power stations, while at the same time switching some of them to burn oil.

They had appointed Ian MacGregor, the butcher of the steel industry, as the new chief at the NCB. State agents were planted in the unions, including the NUM, and the government cultivated good relations with the leaders of the right-wing unions. Social security laws were changed and the scope of the anti-union laws was extended. Plans for the national deployment of police were drawn up. In short the power of the state machine was considerably enhanced.

Within a few days, when it became evident that many of the Nottinghamshire miners might defy the strike, the forces of the state were unleashed. Thousands of police from all over the country were drafted into Nottinghamshire in order to seal the county off from the mass pickets of Yorkshire. Road-blocks were set up round the county, coaches were turned away, pickets had their cars smashed, and if they did get through (which they usually did in large numbers), they were met by thousands of police at the gates of the pits. Nearly 10,000 miners were arrested altogether during the strike, and over 8,000 of them were charged. Hundreds were jailed.

Injunctions and contempt of court actions were taken out by the NCB, and later Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader, was served with a High Court writ while he was inside the Labour Party conference. On 5 October, he had a second writ served on him for simply declaring the strike official and a week later the union was fined £200,000. This led the following month to the seizure and sequestration of all the funds and assets of the union to the tune of around £10m.

Neil Kinnock and the other leaders of the Labour Party sat on their hands, while continuing to hide behind the call for a ballot. The trade union leaders, terrified of the implications of the strike and of breaking the law, hardly even turned up. They confined their activities to giving money and searching for a compromise solution, which was never to be had.

Inside the mining communities there emerged a new source of strength, the wives and the women. They joined the picket lines, set up soup kitchens to feed everyone in the community and organised a joyful Xmas 1984, insofar as money would allow. And all over the country hundreds of thousands of individual trade unionists and other supporters gave money and material support — and this flowed in from France, Australia, the Soviet Union and other countries.

The miners were eventually forced back to work. On 3 March 1985 they marched into the pits proudly behind their bands and their banners without a settlement. They were driven back not by their leaders – who stood firm – but as a direct result of a long process of back-sliding and abandonment of principles on the part of the Labour Party and the TUC in the face of the new offensive of the corporations internationally.

The Thatcher government had deployed the full might of the state to the task of defeating the miners because they represented the final, and the most formidable obstacle to its aim of making Britain fit for the corporations as one of the centres of the new globalised economy.

Today, the fight for jobs is once more top of the agenda as the global capitalist economy plunges into slump. As in 1985, most union leaders have abandoned any resistance to the state and the employers. The heroic miners’ strike remains an inspiration, however, and provides valuable lessons for today. Above all, the miners demonstrated that the power of the capitalist state stands between working people and the right to determine their own future in terms of jobs and communities.

P J Arkell
Photographer during the miners’ strike

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Support the boycott of Israeli goods

First “they” sit back and watch the destruction of homes, offices, universities, hospitals and the wanton killing of civilians by Israeli forces in Gaza. Then, when the dust has settled, “they” turn up in Egypt and offer billions for “reconstruction”. Hypocrisy doesn’t come more blatant than this.

The “they” in this instance is the so-called “international community” – the major powers and their hangers on like the Mubarak regime in Egypt, led by the United States and Britain. They gave the green light to Israel’s murderous war on Gaza, with its targeting of civilians and the use of banned weapons. So outrageous were the attacks that the Israeli state could face war crimes charges.

Even the promises of aid made in Egypt are hedged with conditions that, together with Israel’s refusal to open border crossings, undermines the pledges as quickly as they are made. For example, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has offered $1 billion – so long as it is channelled in a way that bypasses the Hamas government in Gaza.

At present, the United Nations says that only a quarter of food and medical supplies needed in Gaza are allowed in. Israeli border guards routinely make lorry drivers unload their entire cargo for inspection. The imminent arrival of a new extreme right-wing Israeli government will intensify the crisis. Certain to be prominent in the new government is Avigdor Lieberman, who advocates the expulsion of Palestinians who actually live inside Israel.

Waiting for the blessed “international community” to act against Israel is simply a non-starter. The Israelis occupied the West Bank and Gaza over 40 years ago and have since peppered the area with illegal settlements. In recent years, Gaza has become like a giant prison camp, its population trapped in the most crowded space on earth.

In these circumstances, it is important to support the many calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, both in Britain and throughout the world. In occupied Palestine, 180 organisation have joined together to back a boycott.

All major UK retailers sell Israeli goods, and most of them sell produce from illegal settlements in the West Bank. Details of how this is done are contained in a special report by Corporate Watch. Many goods are channelled through the Israeli exporter Carmel-Agrexco.

In a stomach-churning move, on 12th February, two days prior to Valentine's Day, the Israeli army allowed 25,000 carnation flowers grown by Palestinian growers in the Gaza Strip to cross the border into Israel, for export by Carmel-Agrexco to Holland. By then, about 70% of Gaza's carnation crop had already been lost due to the Israeli siege. The losses in flower sales suffered by growers in Gaza, who used to export 37 to 40 million carnations a year, are estimated to have already reached $4 million.

Many Agrexco flowers grown in Israel or the Occupied Territories are sold on or packed in Holland and labelled accordingly. In a court case in November 2004, the general manager of Agrexco UK at that time, Amos Orr, testified that his company markets 60%- 70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

Also on 12th February, a group of 15 women locked themselves to the gates of Carmel-Agrexco's depot in Hayes, Middlesex, to stop the delivery of Valentines roses. Carmel's offices have been subject to extensive damage by protesters over recent years and their depot occupied. Yet, the company has not been willing to take prosecutions against campaigners for fear of having their business practices exposed and questioned in court.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, March 02, 2009

Fighting the state for our rights

Two conferences over the weekend 200 miles apart highlighted the difference between a liberal defence of civil liberties which aims at building a classless coalition of the mainstream political centre and a more militant enforcement of human rights in a continuous struggle against the state.

A new generation of law students committed to the defence and advancement of human rights in the broadest sense are the core of National Critical Lawyers Group (NCLG). The students themselves organised a conference at Manchester’s Metropolitan University on human rights and the state. They invited top practitioners to explain where the struggle is at and where it has to go. A World to Win was privileged to speak about the arguments in our new book Unmasking the State.

At the same time, in London, vast resources were allocated to the £35-a-head Convention on Modern Liberty. While it was highly successful in terms of attendance, with an estimated 1,500 taking part in London and other venues, its focus was on the loss of what are termed civil liberties under New Labour and the destruction of the rights of the individual in Britain.

This narrow view enables the Tory leader David Cameron to offer support and for former shadow home secretary David Davis to close the event. These, don’t forget, are from a party that in the 1980s illegalised trade union activity, sent the state out to smash up the miners’ and other strikes, privatised public services, ended local government autonomy and created mass unemployment to boot. A great record to build on when they return to office!

In Manchester, the NCLG conference concentrated on the state and the struggle against it, not just in Britain but throughout the world. They heard Everard O'Donnell, acting deputy registrar of the the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, explain how an estimated 262 million people had been killed by their own governments in the 20th century. O’Donnell appealed to the students to broaden the indictment for war crimes from states in the developing world to the leaders of the major countries.

Liz Davies from Garden Court chambers, which is at the forefront of defending human rights, explained how the British state was denying housing rights that European Courts had asserted while Professor Sally Sheldon attacked the "shameful non-update" of the 1967 Abortion Act by New Labour and the apparent collusion between New Labour and Ulster MPs which denied women of Northern Ireland even minimum rights. Owen McIntyre from Cork University talked about human rights to water while Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck University, explained how human rights existed in relation to the state and said the struggle was "about radicalising democracy and collective action". Phil Shiner, from Public Interest Lawyers, spoke of the difficult task of bringing into the open the British state’s torture and murder of Iraqis.

Conor Gearty, director of the London School of Economics human rights centre, who has come under heavy fire from journalist and commentator Henry Porter for his criticism of the convention’s framework, warned against New Labour/Tory plans for a Bill of Rights in place of the Human Rights Act as “malign and meaningless” which, he added, would be a “misallocation of political energy” and a “cover for political inactivity”.

Whether you take the civil liberties standpoint or that of human rights, the central issue is the same, however. Is the present capitalist state system going to restore what has been lost and, furthermore, grant rights that are still aspirations? That is to assume that we live under a flourishing democracy where the state is neutral and simply waiting for a “progressive” government to come by.

The opposite is the case, however. Our view is that the globalisation process in particular has undermined the democratic side of the capitalist state and speeded the process towards authoritiarian rule. Developing concepts and practices that takes us beyond the capitalist state, in a bid to reclaim and extend democracy into areas like the workplace through a new political system, is a project that now has real urgency about it.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor