Thursday, April 30, 2009

Profit comes before public health

The World Health Organisation has increased its assessment of the risk of a swine flu pandemic to the second highest level, yet not one politician has spoken about the underlying reasons for the outbreak.

There is a simple explanation: swine fever is the unavoidable by-product of the industrialised system of livestock production run by global corporations for the benefit of shareholders under conditions where public health is second to profitability.

For months, citizens in the community of La Gloria, in the Mexican State of Veracruz, have asked for help to deal with an outbreak of a respiratory disease which they were convinced was caused by pollution from a local pig factory. It was set up by Granja Carroll, a subsidiary of the US company Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer.

Smithfield denied the illness had any connection with its operations and community activists were threatened and arrested. But on 27 April 2009, it emerged that the first case of swine flu diagnosed was a 4-year old boy from La Gloria.

There had also been an outbreak of avian flu amongst flocks of industrialised chickens, held in a factory about 50 kilometres from La Gloria, owned by Mexico’s largest meat producer Granjas Bachoco. It was not made public because of fears about what it would do the meat export business.

As this dangerous combined virus was transmitted to humans, it occurred to me, and I’m sure to you too, that the pigs and chickens are having their revenge for the miserable, inhumane treatment they suffer. But of course, pigs and chickens don’t have any control over the myriad illnesses that affect them because of the conditions in which they are held. That is why they are continually pumped full of antibiotics, which only increases the risk of new viruses taking hold.

The organisation GRAIN, which monitors the impact of industrialised agriculture, explains that government researchers have known for many years that the conditions of factory farming create the risk of new genetic mutations which can cross the species gap to infect humans.

But no attempt has been made to change production methods and we are simply meant to accept that this is the price we have to pay for cheap meat. Tell that to the parents of the 23-month-old child who died in Texas yesterday – and those who will die, however many it turns out to be, as medical services battle to protect populations.

Smithfield’s total sales in 2007 were $11.4 billion. As well as their operations in the US and Mexico, they have plants in Poland, France and China. Their website has pictures of shiny hams and smiling “moms” and opens with the sentiment: “Food is unforgettable memories. Food is pure joy. Food is family and friends.”

But for Smithfield, food is actually 250 male hogs crammed into a space the size of a very small flat. And millions of gallons of excrement lying in toxic pools near to communities across the United States and, of course, in La Gloria. A 2007 article in Rolling Stone magazine claimed claimed that if Smithfield dealt with the pollution safely, they would actually make a loss.

What the giant meat companies do is not “animal husbandry”. It is a ruthless industrial process taking pigs from birth to profit as fast and as cheap as possible. And those UK pig farmers who employ traditional methods, keeping pigs outdoors in arcs, are under continual pressure to intensify production so the supermarkets can push down costs and increase their profits even more.

The urgent choice facing all humanity is clear. Do you we continue to allow the corporations, in every sector from food, to energy, to pharmaceuticals, to threaten our lives and our health in pursuit of profit? Or do we take control of the processes that support life – food, energy and health care - and start to work with nature in an entirely different, not-for-profit, way? In my view, this is a no brainer.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ownership but no control

Get your head round this one. Members of the United Auto Workers of America (UAW) are voting today on a deal which would give them majority ownership of Chrysler, one of the big three US-based global car makers. But don’t get the wrong idea – the corporation is not throwing in the towel and handing control to its workforce.

Far from it. In fact, the employers, with the insistence of the Obama administration and the connivance of a compliant, supine union UAW leadership, have devised a new way of getting workers to cut their own throats on the grounds that bankruptcy would be worse.

Some 55% of shares in Chrysler, the world’s fourth largest seller of cars, are to be handed over to the UAW. Another 35% are to be given to the Italian car maker Fiat.

The union leadership has agreed to reduce health and pension benefits and abandon agreed pay deals. In exchange for what, exactly? A single representative on the board alongside directors appointed by the US government and Fiat.

Since the company is on the brink of bankruptcy, haemorrhaging sales and profits, along with most of the other car makers in the world, the workers can expect to be left prisoners of a pretty sick loss-making baby. Fiat isn’t handing over any cash for its minority holding, but is offering access to its new productivity-enhancing small car technology as a way of breaking into the US market.

So the workers will be majority owners of company that’s taking on investment that will be used to intensify the rate of their own exploitation. Nice. No wonder Chrysler said that it "commends the UAW's leadership for their endless determination and perseverance in reaching this tentative agreement, especially during these unprecedented economic circumstances that plague the automotive industry".

Chrysler has a debt of $6.9 billion but Obama has cooked up a deal. He’s swapping the otherwise worthless debt for $2 billion of taxpayers’ money in cash, which he’s giving to JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup who between them hold 70% of the total.

In Canada, the auto workers union has already agreed a similar deal, with leaders telling members that there was no alternative. Hourly wages of Chrysler's 8,000 unionised Canadian workers will be cut by about C$19 an hour. The agreement includes the elimination of the C$1,700 Christmas bonus, a reduction in health care benefits and flexible working.

The North American car workers’ unions were forged in militant, pitched battles with employers like Fords. Today’s leaders betray not only those traditions but the interests of their members. Their surrender to the employers sounds the death knell for the UAW in its present form. According to Gary Chaison, a professor of labour relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said: "This is the eclipse of the UAW. It's going to be a shadow of what it once was, I'm afraid.”

A similar process is under way in Britain, where union leaders have negotiated wage cuts, unemployment and short-time working. None of these measures will, of course, prevent the global capitalist downturn from turning into a full-blown economic slump that, if left to run its course, will destroy hundreds of millions of jobs and futures worldwide.

Ultimately, corporations like Chrysler and Fiat need the workforce if they are to make and sell cars for profit. But in handing over most of the shares to employees, the company is in practice saying that the workforce doesn’t need shareholders. This is the best case yet for a complete takeover of car production by workers worldwide and a new system of democratic ownership and control – and it’s been made by the employers! Creating a movement with leaders who can inspire such a leap in theory and practice is the key to a future beyond capitalism.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The audacity of hype

As Barack Obama comes up to his 100th day in office, the limitations of his power to determine the course of events are cruelly exposed, nowhere more so than in relation to the economy.

Yesterday, the once mighty car corporation General Motors put forward a plan to hand over its shares to the government and to the trade unions because it is broke. Thousands of jobs are being shed at plants all over the world but it is not enough to save GM from collapse. There’s a similar story over at Chrysler, where demand for its cars has collapsed.

Unemployment in the US is soaring by over 625,000 a month and the Obama administration is unable to stop the jobs haemorrhage. His “stimulus package” is bogged down at local level, thwarted by Republicans if it is not mired in bureaucracy.

Repossessions of people’s homes rose by 9% in the first quarter of 2009 to over 341,000, despite Obama’s promise to help those unable to pay mortgages. One in every 27 Nevada housing units and one in every 54 California housing units received a foreclosure notice in the quarter. Cook County, Illinois, the second most populous county in the US which includes the city of Chicago, has had to suspend hearings because of a backlog of tens of thousands of cases.

Meanwhile, plans for the greatest redistribution of wealth from the public to the private sector – from taxpayers to the banks – remain the president’s preferred way of trying to end the credit crunch. Relying on discredited advisers from the Bush administration like Timothy Geithner, his treasury secretary, the White House is into yet another bank bail-out after the failure of the previous one.

The Public-Private Investment Programme (P-PIP) is aimed at buying up toxic debts (know renamed legacy assets!) by providing purchasers with a subsidy at an amazing 85 cents per dollar. It allows the banks with the debts to participate in the scheme and to retain any future profits while the state guarantees them against losses on transactions. No wonder critics have dubbed it “cash for trash”. Popular anger continues to mount against the US banks, with the focus now on the Bank of America’s CEO Ken Lewis. A service workers’ union has mounted a campaign to remove Lewis, whose bank has taken $200 billion in taxpayer funds, in a series of actions planned for today.

Supporters of Obama seemed surprised by what has happened and warn that the president risks losing the goodwill that swept him into office. Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, writes, more in sorrow than anger: “The White House seems to view popular backlash against financial abuses as a dangerous force to be bottled up, rather than one to be mobilized to offset the concentrated power of elites.”

Fighting the “power of elites” has, however, never been on Obama’s agenda so he can hardly be accused of betrayal. The Democratic Party historically is a capitalist party, ruling over America in a division of labour with its Republican opponents. It is, therefore, not capable of much more than tinkering around the edges, as Obama’s first 100 days have demonstrated.

Obama rode a tiger of public support to get to Washington as the country’s first African-American president on the promise of change. Yet his administration is being overwhelmed by the impact of the deepest global economic and financial crisis in history and its commitment to restoring capitalism to some kind of health.

The political implications of this are considerable, not to say revolutionary. As the audacity of hope turns into the audacity of hype, the American people will surely have no choice but to take action themselves and create a politics that replaces, rather than offsets, the elites that have wrecked the economy.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, April 27, 2009

Unmasking the state

“We don’t want to stop you doing what you are doing. We’re just asking you to consider a proposal… almost a business proposal…At least you’re thinking logically. If you’re going back to school you’re going to have loans to pay off. […] wouldn’t it be nice to have tax-free money you’d be getting?” and “UK plc can afford more than 20 quid.”

These not too subtle attempts at seducing an indebted student were part of the overtures made by undercover Strathclyde police officers to Plane Stupid activist Tilly Gifford in an attempt to recruit her as a paid informant. But the anti-airport expansion group turned the tables on the covert coppers seeking to set Tilly against her comrades.

When she realised what police were trying to do, she used her mobile phone to record them. Then she fitted a recording device into her waistcoat which transmitted live feeds into a computer set up nearby. Her fellow campaigners were able to tape almost three hours of conversations with two men.

The recordings reveal the carrot-and-stick tactics used by the secret police to compromise and entrap activists so that they can monitor their activities as well as plant provocateurs in their midst. It’s not just the state that are at it either. An article in the New Statesman last year by Stephen Armstrong claimed that roughly 25% of all those attending activist camps and protests, particularly those concerned with the environment, are corporate spooks. The estimate came from the so-called “private espionage industry” itself.

Plane Stupid’s revelations have emerged on the eve of today’s publication of a government consultation document called the Interception Modernisation Programme. If implemented, the police and security services will have the power to monitor every communication we make and to store it in a vast national database. This means that all our telephone calls, text messaging, emails and internet browsing would be tracked.

The justification? Not too surprisingly, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claims the extra surveillance is needed to fight terrorism and crime. The new powers would be so sweeping that even the official data watchdog, Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has said that the keeping of such records could be “highly intrusive”.

Intrusive? New Labour’s efforts to create a monster Big Brother state through a combination of informants and electronic surveillance bring to mind the tactics of some of the most repressive regimes in history. Doesn’t the following sound familiar?

“We can make use of revolutionaries living in poverty, who without renouncing their convictions agree out of necessity to hand over information.” You could be forgiven for thinking that this last sentence is drawn from the Strathclyde police guidelines for recruiting informants like their attempts with Tilly. In fact it is from the Tsarist secret police’s Directive on the Secret Service.

Over the weekend, The Guardian gave major coverage to Plane Stupid’s recordings. It described the intelligence officers’ conduct as “sinister”. But to moan that “British policing is losing its way” as its leader writer does, is to play down the evidence so courageously uncovered by Plane Stupid.

Tilly Gifford and her fellow campaigners deserve the thanks, not only of their fellow eco-activists, but all those who struggle for the right to organise and campaign politically. They have laid down a serious challenge which needs to be continued and widened.

There is indeed an urgent need for “a new settlement of Britain’s policing system”. But this must be part of the deconstruction of the entire apparatus of the unaccountable and undemocratic “state within the state” which pulls the strings in Britain. Ways in which this could be achieved are outlined in A World to Win’s book, Unmasking the State.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Friday, April 24, 2009

Carbon capture rip-off

The government’s commitment to provide £90 million of public money for experiments in unproven, risky carbon capture technology is just the first instalment on a bill to the taxpayer and energy consumers that could run into billions.

Agreement to build a new generation of coal-fired power stations at Kingsnorth and elsewhere is imminent. They will be up and running probably two or more years before any carbon capture technology is ready, pumping out vast quantities of CO2.

Retro-fitting power stations with carbon capture and storage technology, or constructing them with it from the outset, will increase construction costs by between £1-2 billion per plant – a cost that will be passed on to energy consumers.

Generating power in this way will also use far more coal. A report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that power stations would need to burn 27% more coal to power the carbon capture technology itself. In the meantime, investment in alternative energy has collapsed.

There is no evidence whatsoever that carbon capture actually works. But there are already some test projects out there – in Germany, the US and Saudi Arabia. If the government was really serious about reducing emissions they would wait to see how these experiments worked out – and take decisions based on the science.

In the meantime, they could spend public cash on super-insulating every home in the country to the best possible standard that could be achieved. At least then citizens would get the benefit of lower fuel bills in easier-to-heat homes, in return for the investment of their taxes.

The reality is that the funding for carbon capture has nothing to do with climate change. It is simply being used to justify the decision the government has in reality already taken to go ahead with new coal-fired power stations. And it will also give UK companies a foothold in the growing carbon capture and storage market that is developing across the world.

It is potentially lucrative business for the energy corporations – and as a bonus, they can get public money to enter the market AND increase the price of energy to consumers to cover the higher running costs.

What this underlines is that solutions to climate change cannot be delivered by the profit-driven energy market. They and the government are trying to pull the wool over our eyes and pick our pockets at the same time – excuse the mixed metaphors.

However, transferring public money to fraudulent (remember ENRON?,reckless, profit-driven energy corporations is the only response the government is capable of making to the combined financial/economic/climate crisis.

The vast indebtedness that the government is adding to with this latest corporate scam is going to blow up the public finances – a process that is underway already. The result will be a collapse of public services, a fall in the value of pensions and wages and mass unemployment.

And in the meantime – runaway climate change will continue unabated in any way by these market-based measures.

Who will come to our aid? We have to come to our own aid! If we act quickly to wrest power from the state and the corporations to make these reckless decisions then there is still time to start to mitigate the now unavoidable effects of climate change.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Darling's big fraud fools no one

Alistair Darling’s crisis budget is a gigantic attempted fraud that will fool no-one. New Labour’s Chancellor bears comparison with Bernard Madoff who, last month, was convicted of the largest investor fraud ever committed by a single person

Like the most unscrupulous of doorstep loan sharks, Darling is launching an historically unprecedented mis-selling scam of financial products to investors from financial institutions and foreign governments to fund record amounts of state borrowing.

Those who will be asked to front up the cash are already concerned that they may not be repaid, even allowing for savage cuts in public spending and increased taxes that are built into the budget that will shatter vital services and cut living standards drastically.

Government borrowing is set soar for years to come, from a staggering £220 billion this year and close to £600 billion in four years’ time – as high as 79% of the value of annual production by 2014.

Experts in government bonds and currency speculators were among those shocked by the figures, which don’t even tell half the story because they are based on wildly optimistic projections of economic “recovery”. The falling pound heightened doubts that the loans so desperately needed to delay looming state bankruptcy would be forthcoming.

After the budget, the cost of government borrowing actually rose, leading Financial Times commentator Martin Wolf to observe: “Should investors decide that a return to fiscal stability has become a remote prospect, they may turn against the UK suddenly and brutally.”

Mark Frey, head foreign-exchange trader at currency services firm Custom House, described the debt load as “an immense price tag,” and one that the UK may not be able to afford. "The problem for Darling and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, is that they may not be able to afford the economic carnage that could ensue with a smaller stimulus package, either." In other words, New Labour is caught whichever way they twist and turn.

In the face of a deepening global collapse of production, and against every other prediction, Darling is dreaming of – and has based his measures on – a resumption of growth by the end of the year. But as soon as he had finished delivering his budget, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cast serious doubt on Darling’s forecast.

In its world economic outlook, the IMF predicts that recession in the UK will be "quite severe", with the economy shrinking by 4.1% this year, and continuing to contract, by 0.4%, in 2010. In his patently absurd budget, Darling forecast 1.25% growth in 2010.

Even if Darling’s fantasy were to be realised – and it won’t – his actions spell out at least a decade of the deepest austerity yet imagined to be imposed on working, and increasingly not working, people as well as older people dependent on public services.

With unemployment soaring to 2.1 million - already reaching one in five amongst young people in South Wales – and widely expected to exceed 3 million by the end of the year, it is becoming crystal clear that the cost of the collapse of the credit-fuelled boom is too heavy for society to bear.

The unfolding economic and financial crisis is not only more serious than any experienced in the three and a half centuries of society’s rule by capital, but is qualitatively different to all preceding examples. The nearest historically comparable collapse is 1929, a minnow in relation to today’s post-globalisation catastrophe. It only came to an end after an orgy of industrialised destruction in World War Two.

Now Britain is on the verge of state bankrupty, with all that implies for what is left of our democratic rights. To prevent a repeat of history, a qualitative leap in social relations – both economic and political – is needed, replacing rule by capital by ecologically sustainable production for need, and creating a new political system that is based on the truth rather than the big lie. As somebody else once said, there is no alternative.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Parliament, power and expenses

On the day when the average person will discover how much bailing out the banks is going to cost them personally, it’s good to know that the prime minister is proposing that a select group will get something like an extra £25,000 a year, tax free, just for turning up to “work”.

Who are these deserving souls? They are the 646 Members of Parliament, who, if not in the government, are only on about £65,000 a year at present plus allowances and expenses. You can see how hard it is to get by on such a small salary.

So hard, in fact, that many – including the home secretary - have been caught abusing claims for second homes and other items, to the point where even Gordon Brown had to admit yesterday that “the issue of expenses is casting a cloud over the whole of Parliament” and “that the country has lost confidence in the current system".

Brown is desperate to get some changes introduced before details are published in July of about a million expenses claims dating back four years. MPs tried to keep these secret but a vigorous campaign by an investigative journalist led to a High Court judgement in her favour last year.

What is being proposed is an “attendance allowance” – a payment simply for clocking on at the House of Commons. Estimates suggest that this could leave MPs up to £25,000 a year better off – or £40,000 if you take into account that we’re talking tax free here.

Of course, it would be a lot bigger if Parliament actually sat more frequently. Throughout 2009, MPs will only have to turn up for a grand total of 128 days – the lowest figure since the days of Margaret Thatcher, who had a contempt for Parliament only matched by New Labour. An average worker, meantime, could easily have to turn up to work on 245 days, allowing for 15 days holiday, and, of course, gets paid a lot less than an MP.

When it comes to the gravy train, MPs have nothing on former ministers, who use the contacts they made in office to land lucrative positions in business. Take former defence secretary John Reid. Last month it was revealed that weeks after taking Reid on for £50,000 a year to offer “strategic advice”, the security firm G4S was awarded a four-year contract to supply private security guards to military sites across Britain.

Other ministers have also done well since leaving office. Patricia Hewitt, the former trade and then health secretary, has posts with Boots, BT and a private equity firm worth £160,000 a year. That’s nothing compared to former prime minister Tony Blair, who gets an estimated £2 million a year for advising US investment bank JP Morgan.

Brown claimed yesterday that urgent measures were needed to “restore our faith in Parliament and the good that it can do on the public's behalf”. This won’t wash. Parliament, as we have shown, is a toothless part of the state that exercises little control or influence and no government is going to change that reality.

Real power in Britain is hidden behind closed doors, in deals between ministers and those who wield economic and financial muscle. A 2006 survey showed that two-thirds thought large companies had real influence in the political process while only 17% thought ordinary voters had a fair amount of power. No fiddling about with MPs expenses, creating yet another gravy train, will alter that.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Racism and the state of Israel

One doesn’t have to agree with the wilder, deeply reactionary views of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Israel and the Jews to spot the hypocrisy of the walk-out by Western diplomats at yesterday’s UN conference on racism in Geneva.

Ahmadinejad’s denial of the historical fact of the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis gave Britain and other nations the opportunity to parade themselves as anti-racists. But the walk-out also reinforced their more or less unconditional support for Israel, which nonsensically equates any criticism of it with anti-Semitism, and exposes a continuing indifference to the plight of the Palestinians.

The conference itself was always going to be a farce because the organisers had already determined that there would be no discussion at all, in official or unofficial sessions, on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the questions this continues to raise about racism. In the end, 170 Palestinian groups involved in boycott and disinvestment campaigns organised their own conference in Geneva at the end of last week. At the conference, internationally renowned legal experts, researchers, academics and activists discussed legal strategies to hold Israel accountable for its illegal policies and practices of racial discrimination.

The view that the state of Israel practises racist policies towards the Palestinian people is held by a wide range of people and ought to be debated. In 2002, for example, Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric and anti-apartheid activist, described how he saw on his visit to Israel "much like what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about".

The history of Israel and South Africa are, of course, not the same. However, the actions and laws used against Palestinians, both in and outside Israel, are founded on discrimination by one ethnic group against another. The 2008 annual report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) found that Arab Israelis are disadvantaged, persecuted, endangered, and live under third-world conditions, especially in "unrecognised villages" in the Negev and Galilee.

In Occupied Palestine, conditions are far worse and oppressive. "For forty-one years, Israel has denied fundamental rights to four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza," effectively controlling their lives, and repressively denying them their rights under military occupation, says the report.

Dealing with the right to equality, ACRI says that Arab Israelis and Palestinians are “fundamentally denied them” in all respects. Though legally entitled to full equality, they're effectively victimised by institutional discrimination. For example, Arab children are educated separately from Israeli Jews.

This blatant discrimination is ignored by the major Western powers like the United States, which continue to fund Israel because it suits their geo-political interests and the strategy of divide and rule in the Middle East. Many Israeli Jews, however, are deeply disturbed by the catastrophe that has befallen the Palestinians and the fact that the country’s new foreign secretary, Avigdor Lieberman is in favour of ethnically cleansing the country of Arabs.

Uri Avnery, who in the period after World War Two fought with the right-wing terror group Irgun to drive the Palestinians out, wrote during last week’s Passover of “the catastrophe that we have caused the Palestinians” and denounced “religious fanatics and fascist hooligans, who claim to be the heirs of the [Zionist] pioneers”.

So civil liberties organisations in Israel can talk of discrimination and Avnery can denounce Jewish fascists, but the UN is not allowed to talk about what’s going on! No wonder the Palestinians have all but given up hope of the UN taking any practical action to further their just claim to self-determination.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, April 20, 2009

Masters and servants: the state at work

The notion that the police are, or should be, “public servants” is an admirable ideal. Unfortunately, it bears little relation to reality, as the policing of the G20 protests have proved.

Some in the liberal media, like The Observer, see the main role of the police as “keeping the peace”, describing them as “our police”, a neutral body which, according to the paper’s editorial yesterday, should not become the enforcers of government policy. This also reflects the views of Nick Hardwick, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) who told the newspaper that the police should be the public’s servants “not masters”.

The IPCC, however, is part of the same set-up that includes the police. It’s “independent tag” is purely nominal. Just like the Metropolitan Police, it had to adjust its statements on the death of Ian Tomlinson, allowing a second post-mortem. Hardwick runs a lame-duck organisation that, it will be recalled, did nothing to prevent police from evading responsibility for the cold-blooded killing of Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes on the Underground.

Hardwick, like The Observer, wants to limit the angry popular reaction to the policing of the G20 and other actions. So far the IPCC has received more than 185 complaints relating to G20 of which almost 90 were from alleged victims of - or witnesses to - police force. A further 52 relate to complaints about police tactics such as not letting people through an area.

Over the weekend, more graphic video shot by the Climate Camp showed further evidence of police brutality. Today, it emerged that another branch of the state had handed secret police briefings to the energy corporation E.ON in the run-up to last year’s camp near the Kingsnorth power station in Kent. Officials from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) gave the company detailed information about protesters and their plans.

Kevin Smith, a spokesperson for the Climate Camp, said: "The proposed coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth is a source of both international climate embarrassment to the government and reputational damage to E.ON, so it comes as no surprise that they are colluding to undermine the growing social movement of people in this country who are determined to prevent it from happening ... We demand to know who is responsible for passing on this information and see them held accountable."

Liberal MP David Howarth, who obtained the emails, said "it is as though BERR was treating the police as an extension of E.ON's private security operation". Mr Howarth, you have hit the nail on the head – even if you don’t want to draw the conclusions from what has been established.

The apparatus of the capitalist state is at the disposal of the corporations and capitalism in general. From time to time, this means using force and mass arrests to intimidate and break up lawful protests; it also involves handing over unknown sums of taxpayers’ money to banks who have helped wreck the economy. Ministers and their cronies abuse the same state machine to destroy and smear opponents, as revealed in the notorious Damian McBride affair.

Far from acting as public servants, the institutions and personnel of the state are indeed our masters and it will remain that way whatever the outcome of inquiries and investigations that are allowed to try and take the heat out of the situation. They will be used to obscure the real issue in society – that the limited democracy we struggled for has been eroded by an authoritarian state that is beyond reform. How ordinary people have to become their own “masters”, in order to create new democratic forms beyond the present state, is the subject of A World to Win’s open discussion this Wednesday. Come and join the debate.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tamil hunger strikers expose New Labour

As hunger striker Paramesweran Subramaniyam languishes in Parliament Square, New Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband has seen fit to “deplore” the tactics used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the movement fighting for self-determination, while ignoring the plight of the Tamil people altogether.

Twenty-eight year old Subramaniyam, who is from Mitcham in south London, has gone without food for 10 days and has stopped taking water. He lost his entire family in the conflict and is thought to be close to death himself. Last night around 700 protesters gathered in Parliament Square, demanding an end to New Labour’s backing for the Sri Lankan government.

Though he called on the Tigers (LTTE) to “renounce terrorism”, Miliband refused to criticise Sri Lankan President Mahinder Rajapaksa’s genocidal war against Tamil civilians. The LTTE is currently banned as a terrorist organisation by 30 countries, including the UK. Miliband’s rejection of the hunger strikers’ demand for an end to British support for the Sri Lankan government is not too surprising. The UK has been supplying military hardware and turning a blind eye to arms shipments to the area over the past decade, assisting the Sri Lankan armed forces offensive in recent months.

Around 150,000 Tamil civilians remain trapped in a 7.7 mile enclave in the north of the country in the Vanni area which has become a killing fields. On Wednesday Sri Lankan forces resumed heavy artillery and mortar attacks on the northeast Sri Lankan coastline after a 48-hour ceasefire. Rajapaksa’s regime sees the current situation as the Tigers’ endgame after 26 years of civil war.

Writer and campaigner Arundhati Roy has denounced the media silence in her native India over this genocidal war as “shameful”. She quoted former Sri Lankan foreign minister Mangala Samaraveera, who said: "A few months ago the government started registering all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that they could be a security threat, but this could be exploited for other purposes, like the Nazis in the 1930s. They're basically going to label the whole civilian Tamil population as potential terrorists." Roy and Tamil singer MIA are supporting a mercy mission to bring aid to the besieged civilians in the Vanni area.

The Indian media are not the only ones guilty of silence. This week Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, called the lack of news coverage of last Saturday’s 150,000-strong London demonstration “absolutely extraordinary”.

The media within Sri Lanka itself remains brutally muzzled. Earlier this month, Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, was awarded the 2009 World Press Freedom Prize, by UNESCO. Wickrematunge, founder and editor of the Sunday Leader, was killed in a daylight attack in January. He paid with his life for speaking out against the war between his government and the Liberation Tigers and had opposed restrictions on running pictures or first hand reporting from the war zones.

This morning, another Tamil hunger striker in Canberra, Australia collapsed and was taken to hospital, suffering exhaustion. Five men outside the Canadian parliament in Ottawa are suffering after having refused food for around a week.

A World to Win salutes the courage and determination of the Tamil hunger strikers. The way in which successive regimes have sought to destroy the rights of Tamils, while the world has stood by is indeed shocking and indefensible. But we warn: looking to New Labour for help may lead to needless deaths. New Labour prides itself on its “anti -terror” strategies and will not offer succour to the Tamil cause. However difficult it may appear, directing our joint efforts towards removing both the oppressive Sri Lankan and British governments offers a better chance for the future of the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples of Sri Lanka.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Should energy go local?

There are many problems associated with retooling how America obtains its energy, more specifically, how it is generated and transmitted to the consumer. Obama is faced with some energy decisions that will affect the shape of the country indefinitely. We created a vast federal highway system that only created suburbia, and more cars, more development, and more “stuff”. The question is: should energy be generated and distributed locally? Or should it follow the same ethos of our current energy infrastructure and build a large energy “back bone” across the country to distribute energy from mega-sources?

These very questions arose in the state of Minnesota. Regulators were considering the construction of new power lines that connected with proposed solar farms in the Dakotas at a cost of $1.7 billion. The thought of all that copper wire and disrupted landscapes makes my head spin. Of course, wind energy investors like T. Boone Pickens were delighted by this prospect, as if his life depends on socking away another billion this year hiding under the cloak of “going green”.

Thankfully, the Minnesota regulators took a step backward and looked at the issue from a different angle. Considering that in modes of bulk transmission around 7% of the energy is lost, and the unbelievable cost of the project, the regulators found a more simple and economic solution. They decided to develop a bunch of small 10-40 megawatt wind farms located within the state, producing about 600 megawatts and able to use their existing grid system.

This model poses an interesting solution to the energy woes in America. Perhaps we have been thinking about energy in the wrong way with large projects that are located in rural areas. We are in the habit of pushing the most unsightly and polluting aspects of urban life into rural or wilderness areas, which raises many social and environmental justice issues. We are not shy about building coal-fired power plants on sovereign Native American lands, while they live without power and sometimes no running water.

In Arizona, for example, it would seem reasonable to build a large solar facility, like the one being constructed south of the Phoenix metro area. It would create jobs and provide a clean source of energy. But on what land is it being built, and how far away is it from the consumer? Conversely, it would also be possible to place those panels on rooftops, so that the citizen has direct access to their energy, almost wirelessly. In this scenario, little to no energy is lost in transmission, and precious metals do not have to be mined from the ground to construct the proposed gargantuan transmission lines. In addition, local economies benefit directly as jobs are created, and not in another state or region.

Although the Minnesota model transcends scale in a way, it is important to acknowledge that this model does not apply to every situation. Some localities, and even some states, do not have the climate or geological conditions conducive to small-scale (or even large scale) renewable energy sources. But overall, the United States has hit the lottery in potential for renewable energy. We have a wide variety of renewable energy potentials. Pushing for our energy to be in the complete control of local entities, or more desirably at the personal level, is a scary thought for many government agencies and energy companies. Imagine taking away the power (social that is) from these companies to operate energy monopolies. There is of course no end of political resistance to such a scenario.

The prospect of the people having the power and not corporate or government interests is heart warming. It is important to resist these pervasive neoliberal agendas. We do not have to commoditise everything, and we do not have to profit from everything. We all have the right to gaze up at the Sun and absorb its benefits.

Colin J. Gardner
A World to Win’s US correspondent

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Green shoots in Finaghy

Governments and central banks throughout the world have been struggling with a myriad of unco-ordinated measures to deal with the global financial crisis that has triggered a precipitate fall in output and rising unemployment.

They are trying to lubricate seized-up markets while pouring trillions of their various currencies into the banks to prevent a systemic collapse.

New bursts of credit have been issued to stimulate demand for consumer goods which has all but collapsed. Every announcement of a new rescue package places the price to be paid by future generations further beyond calculation.

The spin is that this is beginning to work and that if you examine the economy for signs of life, you will see “green shoots of recovery”.

But reality has a disturbing habit of disappointing the hopeful. Yesterday, on the same day as Barack Obama’s headlining claim that US government action on the economy was starting to bear fruit, figures were released on consumer spending for March.

Retail sales in the US were much weaker than forecast, falling 1.1%per cent, rather than rising the predicted 0.3 per cent. This takes the decline to 9.4 per cent in a year. Not much sign of an improvement there.

Obama understands, or at least acts as though he understands, that without continuous increases in the volume of credit relative to the value of production, the social system built to service the inbuilt self-expansion of capital would have seized up decades ago.

With a pattern of thought informed by pragmatism, the American version of English empiricism, the argument goes: it - new and expanded forms of credit - worked before to dig us out of the, albeit accelerating reoccurrence of crises towards and after the end of the 20th century, and it’ll work again.

It has to, they say. It always has, always will.

Anticipating the self-created dream of capital’s recovery to profitability, and in the wake of the empty rhetoric from the G20, Willem Buiter, one of the Financial Times’ more forthright, upfront writers had already put it like this a week ago: “The green shoots are weeds growing through the rubble in the ruins of the global economy.”

But even this is hope built upon hope. The potential is for greater damage than the state bankruptcy in the US and the UK that Buiter considers possible. It happened for both countries during the Great Depression of the 1930s, he says, and it could happen again.

Buiter’s analysis too is based on historical precedent, but the last 30 years of credit-led capitalist exploitation of people and the planet have created a deeper and more profoundly damaging, global impasse.

There are a set of inter-related, self-feeding and mutually conditioning crises that are eating away at the ecological, social, political, economic and financial systems and processes of the world.

For example, at the same time as the world’s major banks have actually become insolvent, without the assets to meet their obligations, climate change has already reached a tipping point.

The scale of the current planetary emergency is beyond the capacity of existing measures. Totting up the total overhang of accumulated credit, or even the geometrically accelerating causes and effects of climate change get nowhere near it.

So are there grounds for optimism? Yes there are, but not for Obama or Brown, nor for any of the political or executive representatives of unsustainable capital.

The green shoots can be seen in the wave of occupations that will no doubt follow the example set by Visteon car part workers in the former Ford plants in Enfield, Basildon and on the Finaghy Road, in Belfast.

One Belfast trade unionist, commenting on the ordinariness of where things begin, is reported to have said, “Who’d have thought the revolution would begin in Finaghy… !?”

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Police raid is real conspiracy

The arrest of 114 environmental activists in Nottingham in the early hours of yesterday morning in a massive police raid on a school in the city, represents a sinister state crack-down on the right to protest and should be condemned outright by everyone who wants to defend human rights and civil liberties. 

How else can you explain the deployment of over 100 police from four counties, many in riot gear, to seal off a residential area of the city before launching what was essentially a political raid on a group of young people preparing for a protest action at the nearby Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station? 

The employment of catch-all conspiracy laws to justify the mass arrests is also a serious turn of events. These laws, under which people can be sentenced to extremely lengthy jail terms, are normally used in the case of extremely serious offences carried out or planned by two more persons. 

In this case, the use of conspiracy laws is aimed at sending a simple, clear message from the authorities: you are allowed to march from A to B and then go home; but if you want to take direct, more militant action to reinforce your message, then the state can and will take pre-emptive action to stop you on the grounds that you are allegedly “conspiring” against private property such as a power station. The fact that the 114 have since been released on bail only reinforces this point. 

The police action in Nottingham also indicates that state agents had infiltrated the eco-campaigners group and supplied information to the police. Perhaps these agents even encouraged certain kinds of action in order to try and justify the police raid. Naturally, the power company E.On, which owns Ratcliffe, was extremely happy with the police action, claiming without any evidence that what had been prevented was a “a very dangerous and irresponsible attempt to disrupt an operational power plant". 

A pattern is rapidly emerging in Britain whereby the state is using its mailed fist to hit out at activists. Last summer, the Climate Camp in Kent was subjected to systematic intimidation and harassment in a multi-million pound police operation involving helicopters and countless police photographers. 

During the G20 economic summit in London, protesters in the City of London were corralled inside a small area and prevented from leaving the cordon by thousands of police. A passer-by, newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson, was shoved to the ground by police and eyewitnesses also say he was hit with a baton before he collapsed and died. 

In these circumstances, it is simply not good enough for Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, to circumscribe her remarks over the Nottingham raid by reportedly saying: "In the light of the policing of the G20 protests, people up and down the country will want to be confident that there was evidence of a real conspiracy to commit criminal damage by those arrested and that this was not just an attempt by the police to disrupt perfectly legitimate protest per se." 

No, Shami, we are not confident in the police “case”. And why should we be? If the police knew so much, why didn’t they stop people at the power station perimeter fence? Instead, the police preferred to devote huge resources in a co-ordinated police raid that is normally used on anti-terror operations. No wonder really serious crimes go unsolved. 

The real conspiracy is that the state is protecting a government that is doing nothing effective about climate change despite scientists stepping up their warnings about the dire consequences of inaction. Little wonder that young people in particular feel that something more dramatic than signing petitions is required, even if direct actions in themselves can’t really alter the situation where New Labour insists that the same economic forces that produced global warming will somehow solve the crisis. 

We must halt the march to full-scale authoritarian rule that the Nottingham arrests signifies and redouble efforts to campaign for a new, democratic state that actually guarantees and enforces human rights in place of a capitalist state that is obliterating them one by one. 

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Thursday, April 09, 2009

'Creative destruction' order of the day

Despite the G20’s attempts at confidence-boosting rhetoric, the interdependent components of the global economy remain locked in a deadly embrace, wrestling with each other as they plummet to the ground. 

Ever more desperate attempts to resuscitate the fantastic but failed world of credit and debt dilute the value of currencies and further worsen the health of the global corporations as demand falls for the goods they produce, sending their share prices down.   

In Britain, all talk of a “recovery” later this year has disappeared and next week’s Budget is in fact a crisis measure as public finances spiral out of control. European steel production is close to collapse and a trade war with China is looming over its dumping strategy. 

The Irish government is the first to admit in practice that neither additional government borrowing, nor expanding the supply of money can help its country withstand the impact of the global crisis of dwindling production and consumption. It won’t be the last. 

In measures designed to forestall the looming threat of state bankruptcy, its emergency second budget looks like the flailing autotomised arms of a threatened octopus, when a limb is severed by the endangered creature. 

In a so far maverick response to the shock forecast that economic activity in the Republic is forecast to shrink by 8% this year, a dramatic worsening of last year’s 3% contraction, finance minister Brian Lenihan warned of "a serious decline in national living standards: the sharpest fall on record.” 

Taxes will rise, though not on corporate profits, and spending on services will be slashed. In the public sector pay will be hard hit affecting a large part of the population. 

Nevertheless, with already the worst government deficit in Europe, and the entire financial sector in a state of collapse, a new Irish agency will be provided with funds to buy up the banks’ property and land-based bad debt. The catch here is that no-one knows what its real value is, nor what the price should be.

Elsewhere in Europe, rather than taking the route of printing money to add to the trillions already given or promised to the banks, Germany and France have been giving away €2,500 vouchers in a new-for-old car scrapping scheme. 

Demand for Germany’s scheme has been hugely successful. Far more people have applied than expected, and concern is rising about the public anger that will erupt when the money runs out. Angela Merkel’s surprised government has added a further €3.5bn taking the total available to €5bn. 

Sales of brand new small cars have soared, but there’s a catch here too - it doesn’t seem to have increased consumption overall. The second hand market has collapsed completely and what spending there is, is transferring from other products like TVs and sofas. 

As the crisis enters historically uncharted territory, governments are exhausting all the weapons they can use in their attempts to rescue the capitalist way of life. The Irish pioneers have opened the doors to a new phase. 

Joseph Schumpeter, an economist high priest of capitalist business cycles, and an opponent of Keynes, described the process in his famous book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, when he wrote: “This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.”


Gerry Gold

Economics editor




Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A law unto themselves

Once again the police have blood on their hands and a cover-up is already well under way. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the video of the gratuitous police attack on bystander Ian Tomlinson during last week’s G20 protests in the City of London, soon after which he collapsed and died. 

The police had the area covered from every angle by CCTV and by their own photographers and must have known what happened. Yet the first official statement said that Tomlinson just happened to be found in a side street and that the Met’s brave police were attacked when they went to his assistance! 

Sounds familiar? Jean Charles de Menezes, you will recall, was alleged to have leapt over a Tube ticket barrier and was wearing a bulky jacket, clearly trying to evade the police. None of this, naturally enough, turned out to be true. Yet no one was prosecuted for the execution of the Brazilian electrician while he sat reading his newspaper. And you can bet that the same will apply in the case of Tomlinson. 

Why? Because the police are always only “doing their duty” in “difficult circumstances”. And what is this higher “duty” that allows them to behave with impunity and do things that ordinary citizens would end up in jail for? The duty in question conferred on the police by the state is to protect the status quo of capitalist society by whatever means are necessary, lawful and otherwise. 

The first professional police force in the world was set up first in London in the 1830s and then throughout the rest of the country at a time of major social and political unrest. Workers had demanded and been refused the vote, trade unionists were deported from Dorset for illegally combining and riots were breaking out against the introduction of the workhouse for the unemployed. 

The Royal Commission on the Police 1839 reported that the creation of a force  throughout the country was a way in which “the constitutional authority of the supreme executive is thus emphatically asserted”. What the commission was talking about was the authority of the state as a whole in relation to maintaining and developing capitalism in terms of  private property, as our book Unmasking the State – a rough guide to real democracy elaborates in more detail.  

And that’s how the boys in blue have behaved ever since, with the notable exception of the London police strike after World War One when demands for an independent union were ruthlessly crushed. The high command of the state in the shape of senior officers sets the tone with wild statements about a “summer of rage” on the streets and then the unthinking plods are sent into action to do their worst, which they gleefully do. That’s what happened at the Climate Camp in Kent last year and is routine for just about any protest or action that is not some orderly march from point A to point B. 

As the economic slump develops, more and more people will act to defend their jobs and their livelihoods. The police are being prepared for this by the sinister and secret Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). This is the organisation that did the Thatcher’s government’s bidding during the miners’ strike, which began 25 years ago. In the course of that dispute, a total of 11,000 miners were arrested, 7,000 injured, eleven people died, and 1,000 men were sacked. More than 100 were jailed.

The present capitalist state is clearly an alienating power that is undemocratic and more or less the plaything of the corporations and banks. The police, together with the army and the spy agencies, are this state’s enforcers and nothing will change their historic role. This should add to the urgency of developing a strategy for creating a new kind of  political democracy. This would be founded on co-ownership and control of resources and require the replacement of institutions like the police with new forms of community control.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor 

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Spin gives way to the real world

Last week a photo-opportunity thinly disguised as the G20 emergency economic summit; this week, the real world has reasserted itself. London endured days of synthetic bonhomie that saw world leaders grinning from ear to ear as if everything was under control. Now the smiles have vanished and a new phase of the global crisis is emerging.  

The G20 summit had nothing all to say about the fact that the global financial system is still drowning in unknown volumes of toxic assets. Some estimates put these as high as $1.4 quadrillion. A quadrillion is a thousand trillion, while a trillion is a thousand billion (just imagine a very long line of 0s). Anyway, there is still no market for many of these “assets” because financiers are not sure if they’re worth any more than the paper they are printed on (they're not). 

So the great unravelling of 30-odd years of fantasy finance has a long way to go and government schemes to help the banks out have only served to weaken state finances. Now it’s payback time. As one commentator in the Financial Times put it: “There lies the dilemma: the old capitalist model may be bust, but so is the government.” The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates a government deficit of nearly £40 billion. Coming up are tax rises and public spending cuts, leading to higher unemployment and reduced living standards. 

A number of major economies are at the same time close to collapse, notably Japan’s. The country’s industrial output fell 38% in the last 12 months, mostly after October when the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers triggered a global economic meltdown. Observers point out that no major economy imploded at this speed in the 1930s. Japan’s export markets have disappeared and at the same time the yen has appreciated while the dollar has fallen, making it even harder to sell goods abroad. 

Now Tokyo is planning a substantial devaluation of the yen to cheapen the cnountry’s goods in a desperate attempt to save its economy. This would almost certainly set off a protectionist response through what is known as competitive devaluations. Taiwan is already devaluing its currency and Korea, Singapore, and Sweden may follow. China, where unemployment is now an estimated 20 million and rising sharply, would be next. The US would retaliate if competing economies devalue and the recession would definitely become a slump. 

In the end, the G20 was all spin and no substance, obscured by the effortless charm of the Obamas. No one should be surprised at this. The political elites have no answers because they are essentially part of the same social system that produced the economic and financial crisis in the first place. There are solutions to the crisis – but they lay outside of the existing political and social framework, which is why the G20 failed and why it’s each state for itself despite all the warm words about global co-operation. 

Ultimately, it’s about who controls economic and financial resources and for what purpose. So long as they remain out of the reach of the majority in society, the crisis will deepen because the interests of profit will predominate and dictate the shutting down of workplaces and spending cuts. The Visteon car parts workers in Enfield have occupied their plant in response to its sudden closure with minimal compensation. Their action, if replicated on a large scale, would challenge the very concept of capitalist ownership and open up the possibility of a successful struggle for power itself. This is the revolutionary road we have to go down in order to avoid the looming global catastrophe. 

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, April 06, 2009

The state's dirty work

Important truths about the British state are reaching the light of day, thanks to campaigners and ordinary citizens. The Metropolitan Police and the secret forces of security agencies MI5 and MI6 are being more and more exposed, not only as guilty of brutality, but of cynical lying to cover-up disguise their activities.

When last week’s anti-G20 demonstrations saw a middle-aged man die, the police claimed this was due to Ian Tomlinson suffering a heart attack from natural causes. But they are now are under fire following revelations that  47-year-old newspaper seller Tomlinson did not “die of natural causes”. Eyewitnesses, including an experienced freelance photographer, say they saw Tomlinson suffer grievous blows to the head from a police baton which caused him to fall and hit the pavement hard. 

The same Metropolitan Police will be investigating evidence that security and intelligence agencies M15 and M16 colluded with the CIA in the inhuman treatment and secret rendition of British citizens who were kidnapped, tortured and sent to the Guantanamo Bay camp. 

A 55-page dossier released by Cageprisoners called “Fabricating Terrorism II: British Complicity in Renditions and Torture” is now in the hands of the Met. It concludes that there were “systematic violations of international law perpetrated by the British authorities in relation to a) illegal rendition or torture flights which have been, and are using British airspace and airport facilities and b) the role of the intelligence services in gaining information knowingly obtained from torture, and from passing on intelligence of a dubious nature to other countries' intelligence services which forms a basis for the detention, abuse and torture of detainees.” 

The Cageprisoners’ report shows how Farid Hilali, a Moroccan man who had been living in Britain and was initially detained in 1998-1999 in the United Arab Emirates, was tortured. This was two years before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, which were given as the reason for the US-UK “war on terror”. Hilali claims the British gave "direct orders" to torture him, and that a British official was present when he was mistreated. 

Naturally, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) claims that it takes allegations of mistreatment or torture "seriously", saying in a statement: "The UK's position on torture is clear. We abhor torture. We don't participate, solicit, encourage or condone it. We unreservedly condemn extraordinary rendition for torture."   

The FCO’s claim is ludicrous given the fact that not only Binyam Mohammed’s own testimony, Cageprisoners’ reports, and European Union and other investigations have shown categorically that the UK intelligence agencies were involved in what Asim Qureshi, who drew up the report, describes as “a subterranean system of kidnappings”, where prisoners are “ghosted to ‘black sites’, suffering abuse and torture”. 

Human rights lawyer, Gareth Peirce, in a foreword to the Cageprisoners’ report, has denounced the official secrecy, saying: “There will be and is already a continuous assertion by the Government that any issue that relates to the Intelligence Services . . . should not see the light of day in normal courts, but should be confined to special courts and/or the evidence should be heard in secret.” Peirce concludes that “the reality of guarantees of human rights does not come from the top down, but has to be fought for, generation by generation”, and that the secret state should be held properly and publicly to account. 

Too right, Gareth. Speed the day. But it certainly won’t happen by the existing state investigating itself. Achieving a new democratic state in place of the authoritarian, undemocratic state we live under now, has to be our aim.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary 

Friday, April 03, 2009

Secret G20 communiqué says it all

The draft communiqué below from the G20, revealed here exclusively by A World to Win, bears no resemblance to the statement eventually published yesterday evening, which is not surprising:

We the leaders of the G20 group of major bankrupt economies meeting in London pledge our undying commitment to the cause of restoring the ailing global capitalist economic system to health by any means necessary. We will do whatever it takes to rebuild the balance sheets of the banks and to restore people’s confidence in a system that has come off the rails and is unfortunately and mistakenly despised by increasing numbers of our citizens.

We acknowledge that the transnational corporations (TNCs) and global financial institutions have, with our encouragement, transformed a capitalist system from one that was fundamentally flawed and riddled with contradictions to one that is even more fundamentally flawed and riddled with contradictions and is in meltdown.

The G20 under the inspiring leadership of Gordon Brown accepts that corporate-driven globalisation has created a grossly unequal world between and within nations; that prime minister Brown never said in June 2007 that the City had created a new “golden age”; that TNCs and the World Trade Organisation call the shots; that as a result the democratic process is now meaningless; that we can and will do nothing about this.

And let no one suggest that we are indifferent to the irreversible damage that corporate globalisation has caused in terms of climate change, manifested by extreme weather patterns. The G20 knows that relentless, profit-driven growth is the main contributor to global warming that now threatens humanity.

However, as someone once said, business is the only real business of the planet and its inhabitants. So let’s get down to business. Tackling climate change must not sidetrack us.

Taking all the above into account, while putting much of it to one side, we therefore pledge to:

* take measures to restore growth through persuading people once more to buy goods they don’t necessarily need or want with money they don’t actually have
* hand over another $1.1 trillion (made possible by fast printing presses) to the financial system through the International Monetary System and World Bank
* prepare for large-scale cuts in public spending to pay for past and future bank bail-outs
* encourage business to take on more welfare functions because our states have run out of money (the UK in particular welcomes yesterday’s statement by Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, that “the state should become a commissioning agent indifferent to whether services were delivered by the private sector, public sector or third sector.”
* use the forces of the state to deal harshly with any threat to private property or those who think capitalism is past its sell-by date and want to replace it. We want to record our thanks for the splendid efforts of the Metropolitan Police in protecting our common interests during the summit.

The G20 leaders who have come together to save the world in less than a day, accept that these measures will almost certainly make not a blind bit of difference. Question marks remain, for example, about the level of toxic debt still buried deep within the financial system. (If anyone knows how we can find out more about this, please get in touch with Tim Geithner or Alistair Darling at asap.) We also noted that while we drawing up this communiqué another 3,000 job losses were announced in the UK alone. All of us are in agreement that this is a price well worth paying in terms of our future wealth.

In conclusion, we are confident that the people of our different countries will rally to the cause of getting those profits and bonuses rolling again. Never forget, their prosperity is also yours. If you believe that you will probably believe anything.

G20 draft communiqué ends.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

G20 won't bail out the eco-system

Whatever the communiqué issued by G20 leaders says today, it will not address the climate crisis. Rather it will present the shared thinking of governments desperate to get the global capitalist economy rolling again at any cost. 

Just what a disaster this would be is set out in a report published this week by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), created to advise the government, but consistently ignored by it. 

Prosperity Without Growth moves within an inch of stating that capitalism itself is unsustainable – but then falls at the last hurdle! It rejects the idea that rogue individuals or incompetent regulators are responsible for the crisis, insisting that the economy “was undone by growth itself” and adds: 

“For the last five decades the pursuit of growth has been the single most important policy goal across the world. The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago... This extraordinary ramping up of global economic activity has no historical precedent. It’s totally at odds with our scientific knowledge of the finite resource base and the fragile ecology on which we depend for survival. And it has already been accompanied by the degradation of an estimated 60% of the world’s ecosystems.” 

The report boldly questions the thinking behind the idea of a “Green New Deal”, which has become fashionable as an allegedly sustainable way of getting the economy out of its crisis. After offering some faint praise for a “green stimulus”, the report scathing adds:  

“Nonetheless, the default assumption of even the ‘greenest’ Keynesian stimulus is to return the economy to a condition of continuing consumption growth. Since this condition is unsustainable, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that in the longer term something more is needed. A different kind of macro-economic structure is essential for an ecologically-constrained world.” 

The questions that follow are what is this new “macro-economic structure” and how are we to achieve it? In his foreword, the report’s author Tim Jackson, economics commissioner of the Sustainable Development Commission, says a return to “business as usual” is not an option. Prosperity for the few founded on “ecological destruction and persistent social injustice” is no foundation for a civilised society, he rightly insists.   

Yet the 12-point plan the SDC then puts forward for consideration by the world’s leaders could never be implemented within the present economic and financial framework. Because the problem we face is not simply about “growth”, but “growth in pursuit of profit”. And if capitalism were to somehow move outside of the pursuit of profit – it would no longer be capitalism. And you can’t see capitalism voting to put itself out of business anytime soon. Put that way, it’s inconceivable that the SDC’s admirable programme can be achieved without transforming the fundamentals, creating a sustainable not-for-profit economy based on co-ownership and co-operation. 

The report says that “questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries” but even if that is true, our ranks are growing. The vast majority of those on Saturday’s “Put People First” demonstration and yesterday’s anti-capitalist actions know only too well that the G20 leaders and the system they represent will never “put the planet first”. They can only ever “put profit first”. That’s why Obama and Brown constantly talk about the “need to restore growth”. 

“Nature doesn’t do bailouts” was one of the slogans of the climate camp, pitched yesterday outside the City of London Climate Exchange. And the Archbishop of Canterbury said last week that God would not be stepping in to halt climate change either. So then human society -  the conscious and most active part of nature – will have to do it, rescuing the planet’s eco-system and us at the same time.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Getting it right about Marx

Mounting street-level opposition to the capitalist G20 governments London gathering prompted the Evening Standard to observe this week that the impact of the combined financial and economic crises is making Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalist society attractive to a rapidly increasing number of people looking for explanations and solutions.

With a pretence of balance the ES wheeled out two writers to present the case for and against Marx. Francis Wheen, author of Marx's Das Kapital, which tells the story of the 20-year struggle to complete his seminal analysis of capitalism, is in the red corner. Wheen, to his credit, draws attention to Marx’s profound analysis of the underlying capitalist profit-seeking alternating but worsening cycle of growth, overproduction, bust, and destruction and its mutually-dependent relation with credit and debt.

But to use Wheen as Marx’s defender is a deliberate trap for the unwary. As we have shown elsewhere, Wheen’s real mission is to undermine Marx by reducing him from a revolutionary to an acute observer, saying: “Marx's vivid portrayal of the forces that govern our lives will never lose its resonance, or its power to bring the world into focus.” Calling on financier George Soros, for help, Wheen shows that Marx was right about the inherent instability of the system but can’t resist adding: “The fall of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat have not come to pass.”

In the blue corner, defending capital, is Emma Duncan deputy editor of The Economist claiming that “the central idea in Marxism — that the interests of the workers and owners were separate and opposed — is no longer true”. Her facile argument is that anyone who has a pension or life insurance “owns part of the means of production because the pension funds and life insurance companies are the biggest owners of shares in companies in the world”. Astoundingly she concludes that as a result, the class war “which Marx thought would bring the system down is over”.

Despite Duncan, the two social, class forces set in opposition to each other by capitalist society continue to express themselves. Peter Brabeck, the head of Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, and vice-chairman of Credit Suisse, said yesterday that the company is confident that it can weather the general decline in global consumption. In the developed, rich, overstuffed countries with a mounting proportion of obese adults and children, quantitative limits of “caloric input” have been reached and are giving way to quality.

But it’s OK for Nestlé. They are so big that they cover every aspect of the business, and will make their profits from whatever food people buy. And, even better, based on current projections, world population is predicted to rise from 6.5 billion to 9 billion - more mouths to fill with profitable (if sometimes dangerous) food products! Nestle owns the Chinese company that was lacing children’s milk with poison last year.

The global trade union body ITUC published its own broad-based assessment of the food crisis on the same day. It shows how investors fled from the credit crisis last year, transferring their funds to speculate on commodity futures. This has resulted in higher prics, putting even subsistence foods beyond the reach of many. As a result 150 million more people have been driven to and beyond the brink of starvation. Global estimates put the number facing acute hunger at over 1 billion.

So much for the alleged identity of interests of workers and capitalists that Duncan muses about. As to Wheen’s passive, one-sided, non-revolutionary view of Marx, we should simply repeat what Marx himself wrote in his Theses On Feuerbach in 1845: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Gerry Gold
Economics editor