Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to fight job losses

The reinstatement of the sacked 647 Lindsey oil refinery (LOR) workers, with offers of work for the 51 whose redundancies sparked the walk-out at dozen of energy plants around Britain, is a triumph of rank-and-file solidarity over trade union bureaucrats, who have allowed mass unemployment to develop virtually unopposed.

Not far from the LOR plant in North Killingholme, Lincolnshire, are the Corus steelworks in Scunthorpe, Sheffield and Rotherham. Last week, the company announced the loss of another 2,000 jobs on top of the 2,500 made earlier in the year. All that the steel union Community could say was that workers were “devastated” by the news. Of any plan to resist the redundancies, which will destroy communities if they take place, there was not a word. And there won’t be.

As for the position of the union leaders in general, their craven position was summed up by a press release from the Trades Union Congress, which declared “Barber to tell Berlusconi to put jobs first in run up to G8 summit”.
This was a reference to a meeting involving TUC general secretary Barber and the deeply reactionary Italian prime minister, urging the forthcoming G8 summit chair to build “on the positive proposals in the London G20 summit declaration”. Not a spoof press release, simply shocking but true.

The outcome of the LOR strike itself only guarantees work for the 51 who were made redundant for just four weeks on the extension of the refinery owned by the oil corporation. Other details of the deal struck by union officials are not clear. There were reports during the strike that Total and its sub-contractors had broken an agreement made during the winter strikes that there would be no redundancies while Italian and Portuguese workers remained on site.

What is unambiguous, however, is that 25% of workers normally involved in oil refinery construction are out of work and that the dole queue is lengthening hour by hour throughout the country. Warnings that the British economy is lurching towards a deeper crash as the banking crisis intensifies, will lead to even more rapid job losses, short-time working and demands for pay cuts and, as at British Airways, working for nothing at all.

The LOR strike showed that workers will fight back, given half a chance, and that anti-union laws that ban solidarity actions are no deterrence to the rank-and-file, even if they remain sacrosanct as far as the union leaders are concerned (who declined to make the walk-outs official for fear of being taken to court).

Ultimately, however, the cards remain stacked in favour of corporations like Total because they will still decide who works and who doesn’t, based on considerations of profit and nothing else.

Answering that, and to fight unemployment in a serious way, means challenging the ownership and control of the means to work. It requires a plan to transfer economic power into the hands of ordinary people, mobilising those in and outside the trade unions. Then a strategy could be developed to reorganise the economy in such a way that unemployment is eradicated, something that is not possible under capitalism generally and even more so at a time of global slump.

At the centre of this perspective has to be a campaign to remove the discredited and reactionary New Labour government from office now, rather than waiting for a general election and the seemingly inevitable return of the Tories. That would open up important issues about political power itself. Building a movement along these lines would build on the success of the LOR strike rather than waiting for the employers to strike back.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, June 29, 2009

How the vultures gathered around Jacko

As music fans worldwide mourn the exceptionally talented singer, songwriter, dancer and all-round performer, the passing of Michael Jackson brings to mind the old nursery rhyme, Who killed Cock Robin?
All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the
bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.
One of nine children, Jackson rose from being the son of a steelworker in Gary, Indiana to becoming the world’s most famous popstar in the 1980s. He was the youngest and most talented member of the Jackson 5 band at the age of six. Driven on by their ruthlessly ambitious father, the boy band worked incredibly hard, touring incessantly. Spotted by Motown singer Gladys Knight and soon after Diana Ross, Jackson rapidly rose to pop star fame. By the time he was 11, Jackson sang the lead vocals in I want you Back, which became the group’s first number one hit single, followed by ABC and I’ll be there. It was his album Thriller, produced by Quincy Jones, which raised his reputation to sky-high levels, selling 109 million copies since its 1982 release.

Jackson’s was a uniquely complex genius. Heir to R&B singer James Brown and the Temptations, with whom he performed as a pre-teen boy, he synthesised soul, R&B and disco music to reach not only the traditional black audiences, but also white rock fans. Along with his tenor and falsetto singing, he moved and moon walked with effortless grace. He broke the colour-bar practised by MTV, the music television channel started in 1981, inspiring the rise of new forms of black music like hip-hop. Thriller was followed by other huge selling albums, but now Jackson’s life began to take a tragic turn.

His grip on reality slipped away as he retreated into his fantasy theme park called Neverland. His brief marriage to Elvis Presley’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley in 1994 revealed an extraordinarily fragile child-man who had virtually no one around him to stabilise his life and provide badly needed advice and support. His psychological and physical well-being was already deteriorating when he was accused of child abuse in 2003. Although acquitted on all counts, the financial and mental cost of the five-month trial took an extreme toll. By last year, when he agree to perform at London’s O2 Arena, Jackson’s debts were estimated at around £242million, perhaps even more, according to some estimates.

With the star’s finances in a shambles, the vultures moved in. Jackson defender and biographer Ian Halperin, has documented how “in late 2008, a shadowy figure who called himself Dr Tohme Tohme suddenly emerged as Jackson’s ‘official spokesman’.” Tohme, who is a businessman and not a physician, has close ties to the deeply reactionary Nation of Islam, led by Louis Farrakhan. It was the same Tohme who was with Jackson when the singer reluctantly agreed to perform ten concerts at the O2 arena in London. “Before long, however, ten concerts had turned into 50 and the potential revenues had skyrocketed. The vultures who were pulling his strings somehow managed to put this concert extravaganza together behind his back, then ‘presented it to him as a fait accompli,’ said one aide,” Halperin writes.

Jackson’s life and death are entirely symptomatic of the destructive and devouring machine of celebrity culture. In some ways this truly was the chronicle of a death foretold. But is it really just another case of death by media, as some, such as music writer Paul Morley assert? Isn’t there something inherently lethal to prodigious talent in the very nature of the corporate world of capitalist show business, which sees talent as nothing other than a source of revenue?

Jackson lived eight years longer than the first King of Rock, Elvis Presley, who died prematurely in 1977 of combined drug intoxication. Like Jackson, he had become a grotesque caricature of his previous self and was preyed upon by those seeking to make money out of him. The late Elvis was described as “a man crying out for help”. More recently, film director Stephen Spielberg described Jackson, who was haunted by Presley’s sad end, as “a fawn in a burning forest”. We have been here before. As many have said, Jackson’s amazing talent will outlive all the poisonous scandals. But he did not deserve the suffering while he was alive.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cyber war on the people

The use of the Internet, mobile phones and social networking sites to mobilise against repressive regimes and send videos, photos and information around the world has reached a high point in Iran. But what few realise is that the Iranian state’s ability to block, censor and filter websites and monitor mobiles comes courtesy of imported technology.

A Wall Street Journal report this week claimed that the "Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world's most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale."

The article named Nokia Siemens Networks as the provider of equipment capable of "deep packet inspection." Nokia Siemens, a joint venture between the Finnish and German companies, supplied the system called the Monitoring Centre to Iran Telecom in the second half of 2008. The product allows authorities to monitor any communications across a network, including voice calls, text messaging, instant messages, and web traffic.

A spokesman described the system as "a standard architecture that the world's governments use for lawful intercept". He added: "Western governments, including the UK, don't allow you to build networks without having this functionality." All I can say is, thank God the intercepts are “lawful”.

Don’t think that Iran or “Western governments” are the only ones at it, however. China’s sophisticated Internet monitoring and censoring capabilities, referred to as "the Great Firewall of China," were built with the help of Cisco, a California-based maker of Internet routers, according to leaked US Congressional hearings. The Chinese government now requires any computer to include software called "Green Dam," which critics say will further empower the government to monitor Internet use.

Which makes you wonder what the publication yesterday of New Labour’s “national cyber security strategy” is really all about. Ostensibly set up to counter security threats from foreign powers in what is now described as a “cyber cold war”, the strategy is also undoubtedly aimed at you and me. A new operations centre will be attached to GCHQ in Cheltenham. A Whitehall office dealing with cyber-security will also be set up in ­Whitehall with staff from spooks agencies MI5 and MI6.

It was left to Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Tom Brake, to warn: "This new cyber-security strategy could lead to an extension of the government's invasive counter-terrorism powers, which already pose significant threats to our civil liberties." He was no doubt referring to the state’s “lawful” powers to monitor emails and mobile calls, as well as house arrest and the withholding of evidence at trials.

Then there are the adaptation of plans drawn up for how Britain would have been governed in the event of a nuclear war have been disclosed with the publication of the 30-year old version of the hitherto secret government “War Book”. Over 16 chapters it gives precise plans and instructions. The country would have been divided into 12 regions, each governed by cabinet ministers with wide powers, aided by senior military officers, chief constables and judges and based in bunkers.

A former senior civil servant told the BBC this week that some of the contingency plans had been adapted and brought into use during the 2000 fuel protests, which threatened petrol supplies: "We took over the bunker and installed a chief constable and representatives of the oil companies and some civil servants and we built from scratch a crisis management machine. That's exactly what you don't want to have to do in a crisis, because a lot of time's spent just organising who's going to talk to who and how it's going to work."

And no doubt the plans have been further developed to take account of the economic and financial crisis and the growing disdain for the political system. The point of this story is that the struggle to defeat the state and replace it with a real democracy needs to be taken seriously. Because we know that the other side is doing just that.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wonderful, Wonderful “Hopenhagen”

Thank goodness, everything’s going to be OK. The world’s major advertising agencies are galloping to the rescue on climate change.

“Hopenhagen” is the name of a global marketing campaign launched by the United Nations and the world’s biggest agencies. It is going to “raise awareness” of the importance of the climate change summit in Denmark in December, and try to move the public mindset “from ‘coping’ with climate change to one of ‘hope’ that action can be taken to tackle the issue”.

A scary-sounding "aggressive consumer launch” is planned for September. The first ads will be displayed this week at the Cannes Lions global advertising festival, at Heathrow airport and at airports in the US.

A new website gushes: “Hopenhagen is a movement, a moment and a chance at a new beginning. The hope that we can create a global community that will lead our leaders into making the right decisions. The hope that by solving our environmental crisis, we can solve our economic crisis at the same time. Hopenhagen is change – and that change will be powered by all of us.”

People are invited to insert the things that “give them hope”. They are, of course, putting in things like their partner, their children, their football team, their favourite rock band or their hero. Nobody is rushing to say that the idea of 192 delegates, and probably 20 times that number of corporate lobbyists, meeting in the Danish capital gives them any hope whatsoever.

The campaign strategy and the adverts have been developed by advertising giant WPP’s subsidiary Ogilvy & Mather (other clients: Nestlé, Motorola, Coca-Cola, Castrol and Ford). Global PR will be handled by the other industry leader Omnicom, through their Ketchum subsidiary (other clients: Con-Agra foods, Delta Airlines, Roche, and the Russian government).

There is no point having a go at the individuals in the agencies who have come up with this campaign. Ad agencies are full of talented and creative people, and when you speak to them it is always the pro-bono, not-for-profit work they get to do that they are proudest of.

But really, we can’t halt climate change purely with hope.

A campaign to ban behind-the-scenes horse trading and corporate lobbying would be more useful – it could be called “openhagen”. Not only behind the scenes, but right up front, the corporations are calling the shots on what will be in the treaty. “In” will be more carbon trading and investment in techno-fixes and nuclear energy. “Out” will go any action to halt emissions by banning the corporations from continuing reckless extraction and burning of fossil fuels, destruction of the rain forests for agri-business and unsustainable production of goods for profit.

The agencies’ partner in the campaign, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says Hopenhagen is about global action for a climate treaty and a better future for humankind: "Climate change is one of the epic challenges facing this and future generations. It is time to seal a deal. We need a global movement that mobilises real change.”

He is absolutely right! And so, I suggest that we all go to the Hopenhagen website and insert the following:

“What gives me hope is the thought that the world’s population will rise up in their millions against the profit-hungry capitalist system, remove from the corporations and their client governments any power to make decisions, and implement a new era of democracy and popular control over resources that will act to tackle climate change.”

That may be an epic challenge, but it is still the only way forward. I’m thinking of calling it “Stopenhagen”!

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

If it can't be fixed, scrap it!

At the end of last week, Lord Mandelson, the authentic, unelected voice of global capital within the New Labour government, stated what he saw as the “simple problem”. He was making a bid for supranational influence in Washington, in a speech entitled “Can we fix globalisation?".

He put it like this: “The stability of the global economy is the sum of sovereign national macroeconomic policies on interest rates, currency levels, domestic spending and demand. There is no mechanism to mediate between these policies or enforce action that would counter systemic risk, in financial markets or at the general level of the global economy.”

Mandelson, who is now effectively deputy prime minister after saving Gordon Brown’s skin, couldn’t have put it clearer: the whole thing is beyond control. Capital does what it has to do, regardless of what policymakers and wonks want. Take pensions, for example. Employers now see their contributions as a major cost to be cut at a time of crisis.

Yesterday, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that the destruction of the value of both private and public pensions threatened to turn the two year financial crisis into a “social crisis lasting decades”. An OECD survey found that private pension plans lost 23% of their value last year, while higher unemployment “leaves little room for more generous public pensions”. At the same time, accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that for the first time many firms are planning to end their final-salary pension schemes for existing staff as well as new entrants.

What, you may ask, about the total of $5,000bn (about £3,000bn or £3 trillion) already pumped into banks and pledged by governments to stimulate their own economies? Even if you discount the fact, according to Kroll, the world’s leading risk consultancy, in the rush to spend the money, more than $500 billion – at least a tenth of the total - will be lost to fraud and bribery it’s still a load of cash. Surely all that money is doing its job, freeing the credit markets and restarting investment? Surely the upturn is on the way?

No, it isn’t.

The World Bank, another global agency with no power at all to fix the crisis, projects that the world economy will now contract 2.9%, seriously worse than its forecast of a minus 1.75% just three months ago in March.

Capital inflows to developing countries will turn sharply down, says the report, falling by a shocking 75%, leading to a 50% contraction in industrial outputs. Germany, Japan and South Korea are heavily dependent on capital intensive exports to economies like Russia, China and Hungary, so will suffer badly from the reciprocal effect of the accelerating downturn. Shares in Russia have crashed 20% this month already, and its banking system has all but ceased lending due to growing fears about a second wave of financial crisis that could hit the banking sector later this year.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, 16 weeks have passed since the Bank of England began “quantitative easing” after Alistair Darling authorised the creation of £150 billion of new money, widely trumpeted as the last throw of the financial dice. So far, £96 billion has been spent, of which £93.5 billion was used to buy “gilts”, which means it was not lent to industry for capital investment but lent to the government.

But it isn’t working. Overall, lending to private, non-financial companies fell by an average of £1 billion over each of the past six months. It’s OK though, Alistair’s capitalist friends haven’t gone empty-handed. They’ve had £750 million in the form of corporate bonds. It’s amazing how they’ve got away with it for so long, and it’s high time they were stopped. The simple truth is that the capitalist system cannot be “fixed” and instead would benefit from a unique scrappage project much more radical than the one introduced to try and boost car sales.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Business as usual for bankers

Despite the credit crunch and the global financial meltdown, it’s business as usual for bankers. While the jobs massacre continues, thousands of small firms struggle to finance their operations and repossessions mount, bankers are cashing in – courtesy of the New Labour government.

As public sector pay deals go, the £10m package for Royal Bank of Scotland’s new chief executive Stephen Hester must be some kind of world record. The fact that it comes on the eve of massive government spending cuts and a wage freeze for everyone else, is as a clear an indictment of New Labour as anyone could wish to see.

RBS is now 70% publicly owned, rescued from collapse by the Brown government at the expense of present and future taxpayers. RBS has slashed thousands of jobs to “cut costs” and more are on their way. Hester, however, will draw a £1.2m salary, be eligible for an annual bonus of £2.4m, and get another £6.4m after three years if RBS shares recover to 70p each.

The package has won the support of shareholders, including UK Financial Investments (UKFI), the state body that manages the taxpayer's stake in the lender. Some financial institutions are reported to have said the deal may not be generous enough! And if you think Hester’s deal is over the top, apparently it is not as munificent as those for his subordinates. Presumbably RBS is spending £300,000 on corporate entertainment at Wimbledon in celebration.

Hester’s outrageous and obscene pay deal is such a straightforward example of what to expect from a bankers’ government, aka New Labour, that you might have half expected that Unite, the main trade union involved, might weigh in. But the leaders of Britain’s biggest union have spent so long cultivating New Labour, to no avail, that they don’t really feel one more kick in the teeth.

Graham Goddard, Unite deputy general secretary, could only say that Hester’s package will be met with “absolute disbelief” by front line staff and added that the “bumper” (!) pay package will leave a “foul taste” in the mouths of those who have lost their jobs at RBS. As to the government, it got no mention at all in Goddard’s statement . Goddard simply declared that the union was “appalled” that UKFI had not been “striving to save jobs” and instead had approved Hester’s pay package.

Never mind querying why UKFI has not been trying to save jobs, where have Unite’s officials been all this time? Where and when have they lifted a finger to save a single job lost as a result of the financial crisis of capitalism? Don’t bother to do the research because the answer is self-evident, as those who have joined the dole queue will testify.

UKFI's board of 15 is packed with former directors of failed banks, including Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and UBS. A senior director at Santander is in charge of Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley, the wholly-owned state banks. There are only two people on the board from the Treasury. Their remit is to restore finance capitalism to health, whatever it takes in terms of jobs and pay packages.

In this they have the unconditional support of chancellor Alistair Darling, who told the City last week that no new regulations would be imposed on the sector and that it was a case, instead, of having “the right people and the right experience ... making the right call at the right time". Enter Stephen Hester, weighed down by his £10m package to the accompaniment of fake outrage from Unite. What a state of affairs! Time to get shot of the lot of them.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, June 22, 2009

Getting it right about Iran

A little humility is called for in making an assessment of what is at stake in Iran, not only for the sake of the courageous students and others who are in the firing line of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s thugs and secret police. Getting it right about the essence of independent mass movements is not just an Iranian question.

Ahmadinejad’s slogan of “death to US imperialism” and the attacks on Britain are being churned out as a desperate ploy to hold sway over a rebellious population who want their basic democratic rights and to come out of the shadows of a theocratic state. In Iran, as in Britain, there is a crisis of legitimacy for the state regime and all sorts of devices, including nationalism, are being used to prop up the political system.

Supporters of Mir Hossein Moussavi are continuing to defy the government-imposed ban on demonstrations, arrests, riot police and the thugs of the Basiji militia but now under conditions of fear and terror. Photographs and videos are having to be smuggled out since the regime has clamped down on the internet and live reporting.

On Saturday the state media said that 13 died in clashes with riot police, bringing the official death toll to at least 20. At least 457 people have been arrested, including the family of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani, who is 75, heads the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body which has the power to dismiss or appoint the Supreme Leader, a post presently filled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has staked his position on suppressing the demonstrations.

As the unresolved issues from the 1979 revolution that toppled Shah Reza Pahlavi rumble through all levels of society, the seismic shocks of a new mass popular movement are exposing those who, behind their “left” words, reject the ability of the masses to make a challenge for political and state power. Amongst them is Guardian “left” journalist Seumus Milne, who has suggested that the anti-government movement led by Mousavi is simply a US-Western inspired attempt to “neutralise” Iran, thus echoing the words of Khamenei who has denounced Britain as a conspirator against his rule.

Milne and his co-thinkers in the “anti-imperialist” camp seem to have missed the fact that young people inside Tehran are desperately pleading for support. Among those who Milne dismisses as “the gilded youth” of Tehran are students who are laying down their lives.

As an Irish blogger notes: “I wonder if it ever occurred to the likes of Milne that the men and women protesting in Iran are not ‘gilded youth’ but people who are frustrated not only by what they see as a blatantly fraudulent election; they are frustrated by life in an oppressive society, frustrated at being second class citizens (in the case of many of the women, frustrated at high inflation, frustrated at high unemployment). They are angry and they want change.”

Milne is not the only voice on the “left” that finds it impossible to believe that millions are ready to risk all to rid themselves of the backward nationalism and anti-Semitism that characterises the Ahmadinejad regime. As blogger Bill Weinberg notes, other lefts such as “the retro-Stalinist Workers World and its International Action Center” and “Monthly Review and the World Socialist Website have weighed in for Ahmadinejad and dissed the protesters as dupes or pawns of US imperialism. How interesting to see these supposed ‘leftists’ making common cause with right-wing cheerleaders for authoritarian regimes...”

The divisions within the top of Iranian society – Mousavi held leading posts in the Islamic Republic after the revolution of 1979 – reflect the deep movements below in society at large. A secular way forward towards a democratic society based on common ownership and control of the country’s resources is what’s at stake.

Achieving that will require a new, revolutionary leadership in Iran, as elsewhere. A mass movement against the state such as has emerged in Iran, with its growing independence from old leaders, has to be supported, not for what might be achieved in the short term in terms of the disputed presidential election but for the prospects that it holds for deep-going transformation in the longer term.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bosses attack as union leaders run up white flag

The sacking by the Total corporation of 900 construction workers at the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire last night, who were on strike in defence of their jobs, is part of a growing employers’ offensive against trade union organisation which is also behind today’s strike by 8,000 postal workers in London.

The 900 were constructing a new plant at the refinery in Lincolnshire and were part of about 1,200 contract workers who had taken strike action in a dispute over jobs when, as one part of the project ended, 51 redundancies were announced. Shop stewards say that normal practice would have been to offer the workers vacancies on other ongoing contracts on the site but this was not done.

Victimisation is suspected because the 51 worked for Shaw, the contractor that was at the centre of the dispute earlier this year about the employment of foreign labour. Managers started hiring Italian and Portuguese workers. This sparked walkouts at refineries, gas terminals and power stations across the country.

The strikes at Lindsey have spread to other power stations at Drax and Eggborough in Yorkshire and Ratcliffe in Nottinghamshire, and BP's Saltend refinery near Hull. Workers have also walked at the BOC oxygen plant at Scunthorpe, Fiddlers Ferry in Cheshire and Aberthaw in south Wales, the trade union Unite said. Energy company E.ON said up to 150 contract workers at the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station also walked out in support of the Lindsey oil refinery strike.

Total, the French-based global oil corporation, directed its main contractor to end all sub-contracts on the project, thus terminating the employment of all 900 workers involved. They were vulnerable to unilateral action by the company because officials from the GMB and Unite unions had refused to make their strike action official out of fear of the restrictions imposed by anti-union legislation.

In fact, the company said the workers had been involved in "an unofficial, illegal walk out" that was "repudiated" by both Unite and the GMB union. All a spokesman for Unite could say was: "We are extremely concerned about the ramifications of the employer's actions. We are urging all parties to get back around the negotiating table to resolve this situation." Not exactly fighting talk and unlikely to concern Total.

Meanwhile, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said up to 8,000 members in London were due to walk out this morning with workers in Scotland due to strike on Saturday. The union has accused Royal Mail of cuts which break a national agreement and threatened modernisation. Deputy general secretary of the CWU Dave Ward said: "We are now seeing cuts but not modernisation in the postal industry and there's only so long before this is going have a major impact on services.”

Here again, union leaders are begging rather than fighting. They have offered the employers and the government a three month no-strike deal if they agree to work with the union on modernisation and, according to Ward, “move to get the company on a sound footing for the future".

The Lindsey sackings and the postal workers’ struggle demonstrate that the refusal of union bureaucrats to fight the employers and, in the case of the CWU, the government which is going ahead with plans to part-privatise the service, is one reason why unemployment is soaring throughout the country. Employers are aware that union “leaders” live more in fear of the anti-union laws than them and are acting accordingly to impose the economic crisis on the backs of workers.

Ending the wretched system of sub-contracting in the construction industry and defeating New Labour over privatisation requires policies of social ownership and workers’ control of the corporations and the mail service – and leaders that will fight to carry them into practice.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Indigenous Peruvians fight the corporations

A determined campaign by indigenous people has forced the Peruvian government to temporarily suspend new laws that would permit the global oil, gas and timber corporations to expand into virgin forest on the Amazon river.

Leaving their land, the members of the resistance blockaded the main road linking the two industrial cities of Tarapoto and Yuri-maguas earlier this month. In bloody clashes with the authorities, 20 police were killed and an unknown number of members of the resistance. The authorities are accused of burning bodies to hide the number of dead.

The indigenous people, who live in traditional tribal communities, say the government has no right to steal their ancestral lands and hand them over to global corporations. Armed with bows and arrows, and blow pipes, they plan to continue fighting until the laws are not only postponed, but abandoned.

They have no choice, they say, because once the loggers, miners and oil and gas companies come, their way of life would be destroyed. One of their leaders, Alberto Pizango, was accused of “sedition, conspiracy and rebellion”. He took refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima and as part of its retreat the government has agreed to allow him to leave for Nicaragua unmolested.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia claims that the exploitation of the country’s “natural resources” is essential to tackle widespread poverty. His government passed the new laws to try and get a free-trade agreement with the US. Some 40% of Peru’s people live in poverty and hunger is widespread. Peruvians tempted to think he has a point, need only look north, to Mexico, to see what free trade brings – unrestricted development of sweat shops, the destruction of communities, a permanent low-wage economy and frightening levels of air and water pollution.

In Brazil, South America’s free trade model and one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, the vast majority continue to live in abject poverty. According to the Human Development Index, a measure that looks at life expectancy, education and purchasing power, Brazil is still ranked 70th of the 177 countries for which figures are available.

Or they could look further away, to the Niger Delta and see what oil wealth has brought to the Ogoni people. The Ogoni used to be a prosperous farming people, who supplied most of the cassava and yam consumed in Nigeria. Now farm land is polluted beyond use, farming communities have been broken up and unemployment is over 70%. There is one doctor for every 50,000 people.

Free trade does not tackle poverty – it embeds it, legalises it and regulates it. Capitalist globalisation – the ever-expanding and voracious search for profit – cannot permit the survival of traditional ways of life and farming. It must draw everything into the system, and then it condemns the majority to live in poverty.

Two billion workers earn less than $2 a day. The average per capita income in the most advanced country is now 58 times that of the least developed country. Over half of the world's population lives on 5.6 per cent of the world's income.

Capitalism is a plague that will destroy every eco-system and every way of life. Indigenous people are amongst the bravest when it comes to resisting. We should boldly follow their lead and challenge the right of states to enforce laws that make us and our environment subject to the needs of the banks, the corporations and the capitalist system.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

As dole queues grow, so does case for regime change

As the exam period ends in the UK, young people surging through the gates of schools and colleges will be looking for jobs. But with jobs disappearing and unemployment predicted to surge for months to come as a result of the crisis of capitalism, they’ll mostly be disappointed.

The number of people in work fell by 271,000 over the three months to April to 29.11 million, the biggest quarterly drop since comparable records began in 1971. Unemployment rose to 2.261 million in the same period, the highest since November 1996. A third of a million jobs are forecast to go in the public sector in the next period as mass unemployment becomes a reality.

Those still with jobs are just beginning to discover the real meaning of the global economic meltdown following decades of credit-led growth. For capitalist society, the inescapable elimination of productive capacity means millions of people become surplus to requirements and those in work must face an unprecedented ratcheting-up in the levels of exploitation. Wages must fall, working hours must increase, and benefits must be slashed.

Having announced a £401 million loss for 2008, British Airways this week intensified its assault on its employees. As well as eliminating 6,500 jobs since last summer, last month it invited staff to shift to part-time working or take up to a year’s unpaid leave. Now it wants them to volunteer to work without pay for up to a month as their contribution to the airline’s survival. The deadline for volunteering ends next Wednesday. No doubt BA has a plan for something more brutal if too few line up to cut their own throats.

It was just this kind of brutality – and far worse is to come - that was implied when the Bank of England, trying to slow the economic disintegration, was forced to resort to the occult art of “quantitative easing” at the beginning of March. It reached behind the ear of a mesmerised audience and found not just one golden egg – but £125 billion of new money which it poured into the already troubled economy, lending much of it to the government in the form of new debt. In the US, the Federal Reserve has similarly increased the amount of money in circulation by a huge 16.5% in the last year.

But debt, and its opposite credit of all kinds – of which currency is just one – comes with a heavy cost. All credit is a promise to pay, and the value needed to make the payments comes from only one place – people with jobs. When central banks around the world turned to quantitative easing, apparently detaching money from its role as a measure of value, they set off a chain reaction. In reality it meant that the state took on the responsibility of ensuring that the repayment of the debt and its interest will be forcibly extracted from the remnants of the working population for decades to come as the cost of rescuing the system from collapse.

If the capitalist system is to survive, it means that rights to object will also have to be eliminated. And it is these objective forces that destabilise the political process, strip away the democratic mask of parliamentary government, push the BNP forward, encourage racist attacks on Romanians in Belfast, and bring the threat of nuclear exchanges back on to the agenda.

In Iran, a new generation without jobs have led the spectacular upsurge against a reactionary regime. We need to mobilise young jobless in Britain to inspire a revolutionary transformation of a regime led by New Labour that throws people on to the scrapheap straight from school and replace it with a society that puts people’s needs ahead of profits.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The uprising in Iran

The titanic struggle on the streets of Iran unleashed by the disputed results of the presidential election contain a revolutionary essence that has the potential to take on a momentum all of its own.

To march in their hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, through the streets of the capital in defiance of the authorities, to gather in the universities to denounce president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a dictator, to use social networking and Internet sites to mobilise and to reach the outside world amounts to a significant challenge to the state which not even the killing of seven marchers can halt.

The marchers chanted defiant slogans as they moved down Azadi Street yesterday towards an iconic monument built by the country’s former despot, the Shah. "Death to the dictator", "Death to the lying government" the chants rang out. "Iranians, why are you silent," went another slogan. "Iran has become Palestine. We will take back our votes even if they kill us," was another.

Masses of people believe that their votes have been stolen. They cannot credit that Ahmadinejad won almost two-thirds of the votes in last week’s presidential election, defeating former prime minister Hossein Mousavi. Whether Ahmadinejad did or not is now irrelevant, however. The decision today of the powerful Guardian Council to authorise a partial recount will not suffice. Even Mousavi has rejected the move, with a spokesman saying that nothing less than re-run of the election will do.

In 1979 millions rose up to overthrow the US-backed Shah’s dictatorship. To the shock of many liberal Westerners, the revolution took hold under the auspices of an Islamic clergy and took refuge in the safety of the mosques to escape the notorious Savak, the Shah’s secret police.

Now the momentum is towards the completion of that revolution through establishing popular, secular power. Mousavi will not be able to deliver anything like because he is also part of the state establishment which tries to balance between the masses and capitalism. That is what has come unstuck.

Motivation for the present upsurge is all too apparent. Despite being the world’s fourth largest oil producer, Iran is suffering from massive inequalities and a denial of basic democratic rights. About half its 71 million people are under 25. But more than a fifth of them are unemployed. Soaring unemployment has led to a "brain drain" from the country, leaving it short of (among others) health professionals, particularly doctors and dentists. Annual inflation is more than 25%. The wildly fluctuating price of oil is adding to the crisis facing the state.

The 1979 revolution was part of a great tide of national struggles throughout the world against imperialism for independence and self-determination. In the 21st century, these are beginning to assume a more definite social, anti-capitalist character as, for example, in Venezuela and other parts of South America.

In Iran, an election has re-opened the floodgates of mass confrontation in the streets between the state forces who back Ahmadinejad and the millions who voted for Mousavi. As commentator Robert Fisk, who watched yesterday’s mobilisation in Tehran, remarked: “Government is not about good guys and bad guys. It is about power, state and political power – they are not the same – and unless those wanly smiling riot police move across to the opposition, the weapons of the Islamic Republic remain in the hands of Ahmadinejad's administration and his spiritual protectors.”

As Ahmadinejad hob-nobs it with Russian and Chinese leaders – who know a thing or two about putting down social unrest – the momentum is running against him. Whether or not the present struggle succeeds in forcing the Holocaust-denier Ahmadinejad out, Iran can never be the same again.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, June 15, 2009

Netanyahu endorses a ghetto

Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday became the sixth Israeli prime minister to utter the words “Palestinian state” – and yet the Palestinians are no nearer their goal after his speech. The conditions set out by the right-wing Israeli leader are so draconian that they effectively rule out self-determination for the Palestinians as the outcome of any negotiations before they have even started.

Netanyahu simply ignored pressure from President Obama, who had called for an immediate end to settlement building on the West Bank, making no mention of these. He shut down options about the future status of Jerusalem and blocked any prospects of a return to the area by five million exiled Palestinians by insisting on recognition of Israel as an exclusively “Jewish state”.

And to top it all, Netanyahu insisted that any future Palestinian state would have to be “demilitarised” – having no control over its borders or air space. No wonder Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghouti said Netanyahu had “endorsed a ghetto" and a “a state that would be subject to Israeli control”.

The fact is that even before Netanyahu’s Zionist vision of a Greater Israel to the exclusion of all other people in the area, a two-state “solution” like the one favoured by the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is simply unworkable and ought to be abandoned. You don’t have to look hard to see why.

Nearly 500,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem – 280,000 in the West Bank and a further 190,000 in East Jerusalem. There are a further 102 unauthorised outposts in the West Bank which are not officially recognised by Israel but which the authorities turn a blind eye to. Over 40% of the West Bank is taken up with Israeli infrastructure.

The settlements are illegal under international law, but Israeli governments don’t give a damn about this. The United Nations and the United States have declined to act for more than 40 years, giving the Israelis confidence to go on with their carving up of Palestinian territory. In addition to the settlements, there is the geographical fact that the West Bank and Gaza are not contiguous areas, making it extremely difficult to conceive of them as part of a viable Palestinian state. In any case, Gaza is surrounded and under siege, entirely cut off from the West Bank.

So if two states can’t and won’t work, what about having just one? As Israel’s rulers have no intention of allowing Palestinians to form a viable state, their bluff should be called. As writer and noted academic Joel Kovel has argued, it is urgent to “envision Israel beyond Zionism”. The Zionists fear a movement for a one-state solution beyond anything Hamas can throw at it. Former prime minister Yehud Olmert once admitted: “We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say: ‘There is no place for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All we want now is the right to vote’. The day they get it we will lose everything.”

Israeli Jews have more to gain than to lose from a one secular state solution. Today they live in a militarised, divided society which is far from the co-operative paradise promised by the early Zionist founders. A new generation of leaders on both sides is needed to take this project forward. They have to find ways of making a principled appeal to Israeli Jews, including the settlers, to Israel’s Palestinian citizens and to the Palestinian masses to come together to establish a peaceful future for the region.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, June 12, 2009

Crisis over? Who are they kidding!

Finance ministers in Italy for this weekend’s annual meeting of the G8 capitalist countries aren’t short of sources to help them interpret economic statistics, and they’re getting plenty of advice about what needs to be done. The trouble is that not only are the statistics contradictory, but so is the advice.

The International Monetary Fund has revised its previous 2010 global growth forecast of 1.9 per cent sharply upwards to 2.4 per cent, because it thinks the wave of government intervention – which it encouraged – is going to bear fruit. The Chinese government, for example, has implemented a $585 billion stimulus package in fixed assets like apartment buildings and roads. One result is that China’s oil refineries have returned to production on a grand scale.

In the real world, however, things are sharply different. China’s exports - a key measure of the health of the global economy – fell by a worse-than-expected 26.4 percent from May 2008, while imports plunged by a quarter. This is the seventh month in a row that they have both fallen, and the pace accelerated from April.

Nevertheless, in a new round of hyped confidence in the prospects for profit, stock markets around the world are roaring ahead. The price of oil is soaring and there is even talk that the “recession is over”. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is happening is that the meltdown of the global economy is taking place at a slower pace – but it’s still melting.

The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) provides grants and loans to the world’s 78 poorest countries, and already this year the IDA has received a record number of requests for help. It now says that the world economy will shrink by 3% this year - much more than its previous forecast of 1.75%. "Most developing country economies will contract this year and face increasingly bleak prospects," World Bank president Robert Zoellick said.

Despite its optimistic forecast, the IMF has warned that there could still be another $3 trillion in losses for the financial sector as a whole before the crisis is over. Interest rates are beginning to move upwards on both sides of the Atlantic as buyers of government debt take fright at the prospects for inflation contained within the phenomenal printing of money that has kept the financial system on life support.

Some analysts are now weighing the prospects of a new, more catastrophic financial collapse starting in Eastern Europe. Latvia is truly facing economic catastrophe – output is shrinking at a rate of 20% a year – and, with massive credit provided by Swedish banks, some say threatening to take the rest of Europe down with it.

Latvia’s parliament is today considering emergency measures to its 2009 budget to attract funds from the IMF and European Union. The measures include a 10 percent lower old age pension, a savage 70 percent cut in the pensions of pensioners who still work and a 20 percent cut in state sector salaries, with allowances for parents reduced by 10 percent. "Yes, with yesterday's decisions the state has really been saved from bankruptcy," Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis claimed.

Meanwhile, all the major parties in Britain are considering where the axe will fall in order to stave off state bankruptcy in the coming period. And the crisis is over? Who are they kidding! The costs of saving the Latvian state or any of the capitalist states and the global capitalist system are unsustainable for the majority of the world’s population. For us, the future lies in replacing production for profit with production for need.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Double dealing on climate change

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week summonsed world leaders to attend an unprecedented second pre-meeting in New York in September to "galvanise political will" about "the defining issue of our time". He wants a deal on climate change on the table for the world summit in Copenhagen in December and his urgent intervention shows that prospects for an agreement remain weak.

No serious progress has been made in the negotiations up until now. This became clear at a meeting in Bonn this week called under the slogan “seal the deal”, where countries announced their “pledges” on reducing emissions. The European Union pledged a cut of 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. Australia pledged 5-20 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020 and Canada pledged 20 per cent from 2006 levels by 2020. China has made no commitment but says it might if the US agrees to a 40% cut. Japan’s pledge of a 15% reduction by 2020 is the lowest so far, and could probably be met from the collapse of its economy alone.

Confused by all these figures? Don’t worry. All they mean is that it’s “business as usual” at the climate talks. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, admitted that the total reductions pledged (even if all countries stuck to their commitments, which is not certain) is not anywhere near enough to meet what the science says is required.

A new report on the human cost of climate change reveals that global warming is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and that by 2030, worldwide deaths will reach almost 500,000 per year. The number of people affected by climate change annually will to rise to over 600 million with a total annual economic cost of around $300 billion. But negotiators are as immune to these human tragedies as they are to the scientific evidence. They are engaged in the usual tricks and double dealing.

The newly-called UN meeting will follow a meeting of 17 key world leaders convened at the initiative of President Barack Obama, and that takes place immediately after the annual G8 summit in July. Never have so many capitalist political and business leaders come together so often, to achieve so little over such a long period of time. From Rio to Copenhagen by way of Kyoto, Johannesburg, the Stern Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and numerous other scientific discoveries along the way, nothing has changed.

If Copenhagen is, as scientists meeting earlier this year said, our last chance to act on climate change, then it’s all up with the human race. Fortunately, that is not the case. Climate change, caused by the totality of global economy and production for profit, requires a global solution of a revolutionary nature. Pressure groups, reports, marches and individual actions can’t do it. Having Greens inside the talks won’t do the trick.

There still time – and limitless space – for a different kind of politics to be brought into being. That is why A World to Win calls on everybody to join us, to support our Action Plan for the Eco-Crisis (and make suggestions to improve it in light of the latest developments) and organise around the People’s Charter for Democracy to create the kinds of powerful, eco-focused democratic structures that can act on climate change in a serious way.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shell's 'blood money' pay-out

Relatives of writer and campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa have welcomed the outcome of the 14-year legal battle against Shell which has been pillaging the Niger delta since it began drilling there in 1958. But has real justice has been achieved in the landmark £9.5 million settlement?

Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were executed by the Nigerian military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha in November 1995 and the oil corporation was implicated in the judicial murders. Documents proving that Shell demanded and received support from Nigerian government security forces in the period leading up to the execution of the nine Ogoni leaders were shown on Channel Four this week.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs also proved that army forces sent in against Ogoni demonstrators when 300,000 Ogoni demonstrators marched against the dictatorship, arrived in helicopters and transport vehicles belonging to Shell. Sir Philip Watts, the company’s Nigerian managers met with Abacha government officials at the time when the Ogoni leaders were arrested.

Now Shell has been forced to pay £9.5 million in an out-of-court settlement, some of which will go into a trust to benefit local communities in Ogoniland, where Shell continues to operate, albeit under a new guise. Despite this, Shell brazenly denies culpability and claims that it is paying the money simply in recognition of the suffering of the Ogoni people. It is an almost derisory amount for a company that made £13.9 billion in 2007 alone – equivalent to more than £1.5m an hour.

Journalist Ben Amunwa of Platform/Remember Saro-Wiwa says that the out-of-court settlement is a back door admission of guilt by Shell, since the company would never have paid up had it not been exposed during the case. But the agreement to allow Shell to settle out of court means that evidence which came to light during the trial showing direct complicity between the company and the military dictators who executed the nine Ogoni leaders could be buried again.

As the Guardian’s environment correspondent John Vidal writes: “Shell said it had agreed to settle out of humanitarian interests, but everyone on the delta knows that real justice has not been done, and that the environmental abuses continue. The company continues to needlessly burn off vast amounts of gas. The air is still poisoned, children are still sick, there are few jobs, the creeks are polluted and the poverty is intense…The whole region is awash with guns and the delta is one of the most dangerous places on earth. In the last few months the Nigerian military have raided dozens of communities they believe are threatening the state and thousands of people have fled their villages. The kind of peaceful protest that the Ogoni led in the 1990s now seems quaint. Anyone who stands up for environmental justice or who challenges the oil companies, which provide the Nigerian state with 90% of their foreign earnings, is now in mortal danger.”

Victoria, wife of murdered Ogoni leader Kobani, has said: “We are still aggrieved with Shell. Paying compensation for the blood of these innocent people will not bring Shell back again to any part of Ogoniland for oil exploitation.” The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), a group led by the late Saro-Wiwa, welcomed the settlement, but vowed to resist any attempt by Shell to return to Ogoniland.

The outcome of this battle demonstrates that legal battles alone can never make global corporations like Shell accountable or lead to a just settlement for indigenous peoples. The oil resources of Africa, like all the world’s natural resources, remain in the hands of the global corporations who exploit them for profit, regardless of the cost to the environment and to local people. Until that is changed in favour of co-operative, common ownership and management there can be no justice for the Ogonis or other victims of corporate greed.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How New Labour's 'vision' helped BNP

So the revolt against Gordon Brown fizzled out last night and it’s easy to see why. Ultimately, his opponents were only interested in saving their own skins come general election time and had no differences of principle or policy with the prime minister.

Backbench MPs as well as scores of ex-ministers have participated for over 12 years in shaping Labour to the point where any remaining signs of the party from which it had come have been extinguished for good. In its place appeared “New” Labour – openly dedicated to facilitating corporate and financial power and influence in a partnership with the state.

Being a Brownite or Blairite has made no essential difference to this naked and open alliance of capitalism and government. Between them they carved up the public sector for the benefit of private enterprise, urged on the City speculators and created a society where inequality grew at an unprecedented rate.

Apart from a handful of MPs, the vast majority sanctioned these changes as an easy way of getting re-elected. Now that their charmed existence is threatened in the wake of the economic, financial and parliamentary crises, it’s a case of every MP for him/herself. SOS in this case stands for Save Our Salaries (and pensions etc).

What finally convinced the so-called rebels to call of their attempted coup was the threat of an immediate general election should Brown be ousted, with the certainty that the vast majority would lose their seats if that happened. But the inevitable is surely only postponed.

The collapse of the New Labour vote in the European and council elections is historic in its depth and shows a party in terminal decline. While two-thirds of the electorate boycotted the polls, some sections of totally disillusioned working class voters even switched their allegiance to the neo-fascist British National Party out of desperation.

So it’s a bit late and more than a little disingenuous for Alistair Darling to say that his government’s failure to “articulate a sense of vision” and to “inspire confidence” was to blame for the BNP’s gathering of almost one million votes at the Euro elections (the BNP, naturally enough, used Brown’s slogan of “British Jobs for British Workers” during the election).

New Labour actually has had a “vision” – one based on people (and not a few MPs) getting wealthy through property dealing and spending their way out of poverty on credit cards. At the same time, many workers have endured low wages and poor to non-existent housing provision. Now younger generations especially are thrown on the dole as a result of the collapse of an economic boom based on fantasy finance and are prey to the appeals of the BNP, even if only temporarily.

This crisis is deepening by the day. Yesterday, the van maker LDV went into administration and a total of 3,000 direct and indirect jobs will go. Today, the Lloyds Banking Group, partly state owned, announced the loss of 1,500 jobs with the closure of its Cheltenham & Gloucester mortgage arm.

The break-up of New Labour and the crisis in the parliamentary system, which the election results reinforce, indicate that we have passed into a period of unprecedented social, economic and political instability. Ending the recession, creating decent jobs and housing will have to be achieved outside of the narrow confines of the parliamentary arena. You should sign our People’s Charter for Democracy and help build a movement to make leap that society needs.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Monday, June 08, 2009

The parliamentary game is up

New Labour’s continued disintegration – both as a government and a party – is now accompanied by an historic fracturing of a political system that has hitherto functioned on the Tweedledum-Tweedledee principle. That much is clear from yesterday’s devastating European election results.

For those who can’t remember their nursery rhymes, Tweedledum and Tweedledee were two men who agreed to have a battle, only to take fright when a crow appeared. The story nicely sums up the history of the parliamentary system over the last century, where the major parties have sustained the democratic façade through mock battles while agreeing to preserve the status quo.

For this to work, Labour has had to remain a credible partner in the game.
Now that New Labour is collapsing before our very eyes - winning just 15.3% of the votes cast, its lowest share of the poll in a national election since 1910 – the Tweedledum-Tweedledee system is also coming to a finality.

Labour had its worst results since 1918 in Scotland and Wales. In Cornwall the party came sixth behind the Cornish Nationalist party. In the south-east and south-west, it came fifth behind the Greens. Add in the expenses scandal and there can be no doubt that all this adds up to a seminal crisis for the parliamentary democratic system.

New Labour’s betrayal of the less well-off, white working class in areas like Doncaster, Rotherham, Sheffield, Lincolnshire and parts of the North-West, along with the government’s anti-asylum, anti-migrant pandering, is entirely responsible for the election of two neo-fascist BNP members to the European Parliament. At the same time, the inability of the Tories to maintain loyalty amongst their own natural supporters enabled UKIP – another far right-wing grouping – to finish second in the Euro elections.

A further indication of the profound crisis gripping the capitalist political system is the slump in turn-out, not just in Britain where it plunged from 38.4 % in 2004 to 33% of those eligible to vote. This itself is well below the European average of 43%, which is down on 2004 and compares with an average of 63% when the first elections were held in 1979.

Significantly, the parties that have their origins in social democratic reform traditions in Spain, France and Germany did extremely poorly, whether in government or opposition. This is further verification that their historic role in preserving the capitalist status quo with a few reformist trimmings doesn’t wash any more. In Sweden, once a bastion of social democracy, the country’s Pirate Party, which wants to legalise Internet file sharing, won 7% of the national vote and one of the country's 18 seats in the European Parliament.

So where does all this leave us politically? The first thing to say is that just concentrating on who won what seats where to be represented in a pretty meaningless European parliament is to miss the essence of the crisis. Particularly in Britain, this is about a break-up of an historic and often cosy political arrangement in which the focus was Parliament.

Ultimately, the cause is the growing alienation from traditional politics that itself flows from the corporate-driven globalisation process. The simultaneous crisis within the capitalist economic and financial system gives the political crisis a unique character.

The answer cannot and does not lie simply in contesting elections for institutions that are increasingly discredited but in developing a credible, alternative anti-capitalist democratic politics (and economics) which will require a revolutionary transformation to carry through. There are enough warnings from the European elections to show that if we don’t grasp this nettle, others on the far right are ready to do so.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Friday, June 05, 2009

New improved 'fantasy finance' fuels the crisis

The maelstrom of scandal and political in-fighting that is shaking the New Labour government to its foundations – who knows what other ministers may have resigned by the time you read this – is fuelling the fires of the global crisis of capitalism.

The political meltdown, with its constitutional consequences, has added new dimensions to the economic, financial and ecological hydra-headed mother of all crises. Each of its parts is interacting and adversely affecting the others.

Just the suggestion that Brown would replace Chancellor Alistair Darling with Ed Balls, for example, triggered a negative reaction on the financial markets. The political crisis in the UK is undermining its credit rating – and hence its ability to raise new funds. So Darling is staying on at the Treasury to try and calm the markets if nothing else because it’s either borrow or bust (or should that be borrow and bust?).

Capitalist governments have been competing with each other in their zeal to replace decades of kow-towing to the free market demands of transnational corporations with supersized versions of Keynesian-style intervention to try and get the economy moving.

It’s easy to lose sight of the reason for all of this frenetic activity. The over-riding motivating force is a hopeless endeavour – trying to reverse the inevitable collapse of consumer demand which has exposed the mountains of overproduced commodities and production overcapacity.

To pay for it, treasuries have been pumping more oil on the fire, offering government bonds to the gamblers in the global casino and adding zeroes to their own balance sheets – simply by printing money, aka quantitative easing - to finance the issue of “new, improved” fantasy finance.

In doing so, they are attempting to burden generations to come of their increasingly unemployed populations with unsustainable levels of tax, whilst preparing to greatly reduce spending on health, education, pensions, social services, and the benefits on which tens of millions depend.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, governments will this year attempt to issue almost $12,000 billion of debt, up from $9,000 billion two years ago (and many times the level a decade ago.) The US alone is projected to sell almost $8,000bn.

The weakest links are showing signs of breaking, however. In Latvia, a bond auction on Wednesday which saw no bidders triggered a minor panic in Eastern European markets. Latvia's economy is set to contract by 18 per cent this year and unemployment is soaring. Already in May, the credit ratings agency Standard and Poor issued a warning reducing the UK government’s triple-A credit rating from stable to negative adversely affecting its ability to raise funds to bridge the gap.

According to the Financial Time’s Martin Wolf, real spending in the UK is forecast to rise by 7.2 per cent alone this year, while the value of goods and services produced shrinks by a (probably over-optimistic) 2.75 per cent. This is the vice that the capitalist system is caught in. It’s also the recipe for hyper-inflation in the near future.

Wolf puts the scale of the problem in its historical context: “A financial implosion can do fiscal damage comparable to that of a sizeable war. Indeed, this is quite likely to prove the fourth most adverse fiscal event since 1800, after the second world war, the first world war and the Napoleonic wars.”

It is time to acknowledge that the cost to ordinary working people of repairing the broken system of production for profit will be just too great, just as the burden of New Labour is too heavy for society to carry. The combined political and economic crisis offers tremendous opportunities to shake not just the Brown government but the entire edifice of the capitalist system. Let’s not miss it.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Oil giants set Copenhagen agenda

It is now crystal clear that the Copenhagen earth summit planned for later this year cannot and will not deliver action to halt climate change. The agenda for it has been hi-jacked in advance by the global energy corporations.

Some of the world’s greatest polluters were invited to pre-conference talks held last week under the auspices of the World Business Summit on Climate Change. One of their hosts, the former US vice-president Al Gore whose film An Inconvenient Truth dealt with the consequences of global warming, asked the corporations help develop the deal on the table for December.

This brought condemnation from the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) campaign group which said: "Corporate lobbyists have been trying to influence the UN climate talks from the start. But now they are being invited to set the agenda before the negotiators have even sat down. If their demands are listened to, we might as well give up the fight against climate change now."

Prominent at the conference was Shell, named by Greenpeace as the most carbon intensive oil company in the world. Greenpeace says: “Shell tops the list for three reasons: its reliance on Nigerian crude oil, which is associated with huge levels of wasteful gas flaring; its investments in highly energy intensive liquefied natural gas; and its massive gamble on Canada's oil-bearing tar sands, for which the extraction process is so energy intensive that it produces up to five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil.”

Shell is lobbying heavily against any limit to these activities, trying to convince policymakers to put their faith in unproved carbon capture and storage technology and other techno fixes. US energy secretary Steven Chu, for example, has suggested that all roofs and roads be painted white, to reflect the sun’s rays back into space. While that might sound just silly, it is no worse and probably less dangerous than other techno-fixes that the Obama government and others are prepared to countenance.

The race is on to develop new commodities, processes and markets in what can now be called “the climate change mitigation industry”. On the Copenhagen agenda will be the “International Biochar Initiative”. Biochar is “the next big thing”, after the nightmare plan for a shift to bio-fuels. That decision caused soaring food prices, and the destruction of forests and communities. Biochar will have the same effects.

The madcap idea is to burn plant material and wood at low temperatures and bury it in the ground where it will sequester carbon. There is no evidence that this will work, and a report from Biofuel Watch explains that biochar actually contributes to warming when it becomes airborne. In one recent field test, 30% of the biochar dust blew away during transport and as it was being spread over fields and tilled into the soil.

When the first earth summit took place in Rio in 1992, governments still had some control over what happened in the economy and hopes were high that they would facilitate “sustainable capitalism”. When the world leaders came together again at Johannesburg in 2002, that was off the agenda in a world dominated by global corporations, debt-fuelled boom and free market capitalist ideology.

Copenhagen will be the earth summit of capitalism in fundamental crisis and slump. The discussions will not be about reducing emissions, but a desperate last ditch stand for “business-as-usual”. Anyone now failing to grasp the link between political and economic change and climate change is missing the point on a grand scale. Only by seizing our right to self-determination, can we remove the power of capitalist interests to prevent action on climate change.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A government in freefall

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one minister, Mr Brown, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose four in two days looks like carelessness. Actually, it looks like more like meltdown time for the New Labour government as it tears itself apart.

The leaked resignation plans of home secretary Jacqui Smith and the decision of two other ministers to leave the government yesterday in advance of a cabinet reshuffle, only reinforce the view that Gordon Brown is now prime minister of a government that is holed below the water line (thus the appearance of rats leaving a sinking ship). The resignation this morning of communities secretary Hazel Blears only adds to the nightmare on Downing Street.

And when even The Guardian, a newspaper known best as a New Labour supplicant, tells Brown that his time is up, you get the picture. The paper wants Labour MPs to “cut him [Brown] loose” now, while there’s still time, in its view, to rescue “progressive politics” in Britain from oblivion.

Several questions arise. Would replacing Brown make any difference to New Labour’s prospects? And, in any case, what is “progressive” about this government that is worth preserving?

There is considerable doubt about whether any other prime minister would make a difference because, in the end, it’s New Labour as a whole that’s despised, not just Brown. The reasons why the government has run into the sands are complex, but the turning point was undoubtedly the financial crash that began in 2007.

Almost everything New Labour did and does was based around introducing in a messianic way the alleged virtues of the market into areas of public life like education, housing and local services. After the kind of open market capitalism championed by Brown and Blair before him plunged into crisis, the government’s ideological underpinning went into tailspin too.

The bailing out of the banks is hailed as “decisive action” in some quarters, but it also showed the general population that a) the government had deceived them about the economy b) the bankers would not suffer in any circumstances c) ordinary people would pay the price in terms of unemployment and repossessions.

When the scandal of MPs expenses was added to this cocktail recently, the die was cast. Leading members of the government, not content with their six-figure salaries and massive pensions, as well as backbench MPs, were milking the system for all it was worth and Brown was unable to respond as the political crisis mounted.

And so what is so “progressive” about New Labour? The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan? A systematic destruction of human rights and civil liberties? Cutting welfare benefits? Promoting financial and corporate interests without hesitation? Allowing privatised rail companies to rip off the public? Presiding over growing inequality? Opening public service provision up to the private sector on a vast scale? Reducing Parliament’s status further to the point where there was hardly anything for MPs to do? Encouraging the economy to “grow” on the basis of massive consumer debts? The list is endless.

The disintegration of New Labour is neither a time for rejoicing nor an occasion for sorrow but for a sober assessment as to where we have arrived at politically and historically. Wherever you look, the old order is breaking apart and political instability at a time of economic and political crisis obviously brings dangers along with it. But they also present opportunities to develop and organise a movement that looks beyond the narrow focus of who may or may not win a general election towards a democratic reorganisation of society as a whole.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Politics has to become our business

So more than half of the British electorate believe that MPs are corrupt and almost eight out of ten don’t trust them to “tell the truth” either. And 62% say they believe MPs put self-interest first. Not much of a vote of confidence in the Parliamentary system there then.

The Ipsos Mori poll for the BBC will do nothing to reassure the political establishment that a few tweaks here and tougher rules there will restore public confidence in a decrepit system.

In truth, support for the existing political system has withered on the vine for decades. Now it has reached a tipping point following the revelation in the Daily Telegraph of the hitherto secret world of MPs’ “expenses” which cabinet members like Alistair Darling and Geoff Hoon also milked.

Turnout in both national and local elections has fallen dramatically in the last decade – the 2001 and 2005 elections recorded the lowest turnout (59% and 61% respectively) since the advent of universal suffrage in 1918. Some 75% of people aged 65 and up voted in the last election compared to only 37% of young people. In other words, for every two older people who voted in the last general election, only one younger person voted. Turnout at local elections has fallen by around a tenth since the 1980s, with the result that little more than a third of registered electors turnout to vote in most local elections. Less than a quarter of registered voters say they intend to vote in Thursday’s European elections.

In 2004, the Power Inquiry was set up to discover what had happened to the political system and why “disengagement from formal democratic politics in Britain [has] grown in recent years and how can it be reversed?” The commission, chaired by radical lawyer Helena Kennedy QC, reported in 2006 that it was “vital to re-engage the British people with formal democracy” if the following were to be avoided:

 the weakening of the mandate and legitimacy for elected governments – whichever party is in power – because of plummeting turnout
 the further weakening of political equality because whole sections of the community feel estranged from politics
 the weakening of effective dialogue between governed and governors
 the weakening of effective recruitment into politics
 the rise of undemocratic political forces
 the rise of a “quiet authoritarianism” within government.

You could say with confidence that everything since the report was published has reinforced the inquiry’s fears. The question now arises as to whether it’s possible for the effectively disenfranchised electorate to take matters into their own hands in the sense of creating a more democratic political system?

For too long in history, politics has been left to or handed over to “others”. This was encouraged, for example, by the trade unions at the end of the 19th century when they created the Labour Party to deal with “political matters” on their behalf while they got on with industrial affairs. Well, “their” party turned out to be unaccountable and uncontrollable as it quickly became absorbed by the capitalist state. Now the unions are left powerless and unrepresented, pleading with New Labour to act to save jobs, all to no avail.

The existing set-up is clearly passed its use-by date and rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking SS Westminster will not suffice. Voters themselves have to decide what kind of new, democratic political system has to take its place through mechanisms like People’s Conventions. Politics should now become everyone’s affair.

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

    Monday, June 01, 2009

    China aids Tamil death toll cover-up

    The Tamil people have paid a shocking price in their struggle for self-determination and now the truth about the massacres perpetrated by the Sri Lankan military near the end of the civil war is being covered up. An explanation for this is to be found in the economic and military ambitions of China, Russia, India and the Pacific Rim states of Malaysia and Indonesia.

    News has emerged that well over 20,000 Tamil civilians – three times the official UN figure – were killed in the so-called no-fire zone in the north of Sri Lanka during April and May. Earlier, the UN had set the number of civilians killed in the camps during the final clashes between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at 8,000.

    The number of deaths has caused a crisis at the UN, whose Human Rights Council last week issued an unbelievable statement actually praising the Sri Lankan government for its commitment to human rights and humanitarian efforts after its defeat of the Tigers and murder of their leaders. The resolution was tabled by Sri Lanka itself and was seen as an endorsement of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ferocious military campaign against the Tiger movement.

    Meanwhile, Times’ reporters have pieced together the true picture of casualties using a range of sources including aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and testimony from independent defence experts. The paper made its calculations using confidential UN documents. A Roman Catholic priest, Father Amalraj who was amongst the Tamil refugees confirmed the figure of 20,000. One UN source told reporters that probably even more had been killed. It also clear that the Colombo regime’s claim that Tiger mortar fire was responsible for the deaths was a bare-faced lie.

    The UN estimates that between 80,000 and 100,000 people have now died in one of Asia's longest modern wars. Tigers began their fight for a separate state for Sri Lanka's in 1983 after decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese government.

    But who underpinned and armed Sri Lanka’s final military push against the Tamils and the extermination programme launched against civilians and fighters alike in the north of the country? Military analysts in the US and India see Chinese neo-imperial ambitions as a major factor. China’s aid to Colombo grew from a few million dollars in 2005 to almost $1 billion in 2008. Other major donors include Iran with a $1 billion soft loan and Libya which is about to lend another $500 million.

    China became Sri Lanka’s biggest arms supplier in the 1990s and increased sales significantly in April 2007. It even supplied six F7 jet fighters free of charge last year after a raid by the Tigers destroyed ten military planes in 2007. Apart from financial, military and logistical support, the Chinese government supported Sri Lanka’s resolution last week at the UN alongside Russia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, which cleared Colombo of any wrongdoing.

    China’s ambitions are a combination of economic and military strategy. It has begun to build a £660 million port at Hambantota, Sri Lanka’s southern coast. While Beijing claims this is purely for commercial use, Sri Lanka’s position has always been key to transport and control in the Indian Ocean. The Royal Navy used Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s north east coast until 1957 and still shares a naval base in Diego Garcia near Mauritius with the US.

    China, along with India, also backs the brutal dictatorship in Burma which is laying waste to ethnic groups like the Karen people and is wreaking havoc throughout Africa as it vies with US and European oil and mineral interests. Countless people in Asia and Africa, as well as the Tamils, face annihilation at the hands of the rising capitalist powers who have picked up where the old imperialist states left off.

    Tamil campaigners are appealing for support for Tim Martin, who has joined the round the clock demonstrations outside the House of Commons. Martin, a former aid worker and the Campaign Director of Act Now, began an indefinite hunger strike outside Parliament, on Monday 18th May.

    Corinna Lotz
    A World to Win secretary