Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not me, guv'!

Listening to Gordon Brown yesterday reminded you that New Labour is not actually responsible for anything, despite a dozen years in office. Above all, the government has washed its hands of any shared liability for the financial crisis that has overwhelmed the economy.

Brown, chancellor Alistair Darling, and unelected Business Secretary Lord Mandelson are united in once again trying to pass the entire blame for the crisis on to the bankers while absolving themselves for creating the framework for the very same financial system.

"We won't allow greed and recklessness to ever again endanger the whole global economy and the lives of millions of people,” said Darling in Brighton. “Markets need morals” said Brown in his keynote speech, yesterday, pledging that the government would pass new rules covering bankers' behaviour, including disqualifying those unfit to run banks.

Leaving aside the fact that there can be no such thing as a “moral market” in the capitalist system, there is the small matter of Brown’s own role in the financial meltdown that is far from over.

For 11 years Brown was chief supplicant to the world’s financial operators. During that time he willingly and actively encouraged the City of London to become one of the world’s sweetest honey pots for the busy bees in the banks, and the gamblers on the non-bank markets in derivatives.

Ensuring that credit expanded and flowed around the world, turning into debt as it went, was crucial in keeping the profits of global corporations high. Somebody had to do it to keep production churning out the commodities, and consumers buying them.

So in June 2007, just weeks before the credit crunch took hold, Brown declared that the City had entered a new “golden age”, telling bankers: “The financial services sector in Britain and the City of London at the centre of it, is a great example of a highly skilled, high value added, talent driven industry that shows how we can excel in a world of global competition. Britain needs more of the vigour, ingenuity and aspiration that you already demonstrate that is the hallmark of your success.”

But now, apparently there’s going to be “new economic model for a strong economy”, “a new settlement”. While these platitudes were enough to win over union bureaucrats like Tony Woodley, of Unite, Dave Prentis of Unison and Brendan Barber of the TUC, they were just faint echoes of the laughable “birth of a new economic system” conclusion to the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. And there, dissenters were dealt with severely using tear gas and sonic weapons.

Now, says Brown, finance is going to be the servant of the people, not the other way round. Why then, we ask, did the US and UK delegates ensure that the G20 decided against mandatory limits on bankers bonuses?

When Brown told his conference that “what let the world down last autumn was not just bankrupt institutions but a bankrupt ideology” he could (but wasn’t) have just as easily been referring to himself and the New Labour “project”.

Brown, Blair and Mandelson won the City over to New Labour on the grounds that they would use the state to set business and finance free to compete in global markets. They would resist the repeal of the anti-union laws and create markets in public services. And the City lapped it up and all went out and voted Labour.

Now the game is up. New Labour has lost it and the British state itself is teetering on bankruptcy. The Tories are on their way back with the support of The Sun, which has seen the writing on the wall and ditched Brown’s party. One thing is certain, however: New Labour is not actually responsible for anything!

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Monday, September 28, 2009

The real issues behind the election campaign

As the countdown to the general election gets under way with New Labour’s conference at Brighton, there is a danger that politics in Britain will become so narrowly focussed that the real issues and challenges are consumed by a debate about which party to vote for.

Some political organisations on the Left, led by the rail union RMT, are even in a race to put together a new electoral coalition in time for the election, which is likely to be held in early May 2010. This would be a kind of “No2EU – Yes to Democracy” Mark II, which produced a nationalist programme for the recent European elections.

The election and what comes afterwards was also uppermost in the minds of most speakers at the Convention of the Left over the weekend, where there were repeated calls for “unity” alongside a reluctance to consider more fundamental issues.

But the impending disintegration of New Labour has far greater implications than those connected with mere voting intentions.

The emergence of New Labour was driven by the capitalist globalisation process and its demise is determined by the crisis now affecting the world economic and financial system.

Brown and Blair championed an economy subservient to the needs of the transnational corporations and banks.

Globalisation at the same time rendered Parliamentary democracy meaningless in an historic sense of being an arena where significant reforms could be established. Instead, the market has penetrated and undermined public services while MPs have been reduced to fiddling expenses.

The changed role of the capitalist state was underscored when no resources were spared by New Labour in propping up failed banks. Now the price for this is to be paid by ordinary working people, whoever wins the election.

However, we are not facing anything like a repeat of the early period of the 1979 Thatcher government, when public spending cuts roused fierce trade union opposition.

For one, the scale of the cuts now required is so immense that they would require a dictatorship of sorts to impose on the population. Whether the Tories or a coalition of the main parties is capable of this is another question.

But you can say with certainty that all the traditional parties are lying about the grave nature of the financial crisis and about the prospects for the economy, which is prevented from collapse only by pumping in increasing amounts of government debt.

Any hesitation on making savage cuts will produce a “strike” by international finance, which will refuse to fund further loans.

So what lies ahead goes far deeper than electoral considerations. Challenging the cuts will throw up the need not just for an alternative economic and financial set-up but bring on a challenge for power itself.

Under the threat of dictatorship, our aim is not the resurrection of a worn-out, limited and barely democratic political system but the total reconstruction of the state in a way that transfers essential power to ordinary people.

It would be a grave error, therefore, to waste time and resources just to focus on having something or someone to vote for without warning of the dangers ahead. If we don’t attend to the underlying processes at work, we will pay a heavy price.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ahmadinejad undermines Palestinian cause

One of the many terrible things about Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is how his denial of the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis enables Israeli leaders to claim the moral high ground even while they systematically repress the Palestinian people.

Such was the case at the United Nations yesterday where Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to the podium to attack delegates who had not joined the walk-out when Ahmadinejad spoke the previous night. “Have you no shame?” “Have you no decency?”, said Netanyahu.

Coming from a man whose country stands accused of committing war crimes in Gaza in a UN report into its assault on the territory last year, and ignores all calls to halt settlement building on occupied Palestinian land, this is rich indeed.

Netanyahu was given the golden opportunity to portray Israel as the wronged party by Ahmadinejad’s speech in Tehran last week. Ahmadinejad, who himself clings to his country’s presidency by naked repression following the disputed election earlier this year, is an out-and-out Holocaust denier. And he was at again on a day set aside by Iran to mark the plight of the Palestinians.

Israel, claimed Ahmadinejad, was an “historical fabrication … based on a lie". And the “lie”? After accurately describing how the British, who had the mandate over Palestine, stood by as Zionists bought up land in the inter-war period, Ahmadinejad then went overboard, claiming: “… After the second world war they created the story of Holocaust … and then they made hundreds of films and wrote hundreds of books to argue they have suffered and need a home … This is a myth and Zionists are criminals, and corrupt."

For good measure, when he addressed the UN this week, Ahmadinejad alluded to a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, saying; "It is no longer acceptable that a small minority would dominate the politics, economy and culture of major parts of the world by its complicated networks."

These are the dangerous and confused ranting of a man who almost certainly stole the Iranian election and has had his thugs beat up, arrest and kill young people who oppose the regime. All his speeches do is weaken the Palestinian cause and strengthen the hand of Netanyahu and his ilk.

Israeli leaders, for example, never tire of lumping together anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, when they are clearly different and Ahmadinejad comes in handy here because he makes no distinction. Yet there is absolutely nothing wrong in being against or hostile to Zionism – which historically campaigned for a Jewish state in Palestine – so long as it seen as just a political movement. This does not make you anti-Jewish. Far from it because many Jews, perhaps even most, do not consider themselves Zionists.

Fortunately, unlike Ahmadinejad there are movements that can make this distinction. Spain has expelled a group of Israeli scientists from a state-funded solar energy competition because they are based in occupied areas of the West Bank.

The team was from the Ariel University Centre of Samaria and was taking part in Solar Decathlon Europe. Their expulsion follows hard on the heels of the decision by the Trades Union Congress in Britain last week to campaign for a boycott of goods produced in and exported from the Occupied Territories.

These are just some of the ways to isolate the Israeli regime and support the Palestinians which are a million times more progressive than anything Ahmadinejad can utter.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blair keeps the wheels of profit turning

Former Prime Minister Blair put in a rare but brief television appearance last night. My, but how he has aged! His new death’s head mask is entirely appropriate for the role he is now playing.

Blair, you will recall, was the prime minister who co-organised the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan on a series of lies and deceptions. His sponsorship of the “war on terror” resulted in illegal abductions and torture, for which he could yet be held responsible.

In between times, he successfully destroyed the old Labour Party and created inequalities of wealth in Britain unseen for a century.

On leaving office, he was given the role of ambassador for the Quartet (United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States) whose aim is to make a deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

in May this year Blair received a $1.4 million award from the Israeli Dan David Foundation for his "exceptional leadership". So much for his “independence”. No wonder Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is able to continue with his country’s illegal settlement building without fear of rebuke from Blair (or Obama, for that matter).

Now Blair, who earns $9 million a year as an “adviser” to JP Morgan and Zurich Insurance, has popped up with a report on climate change. He presented it to the United Nations yesterday as officials struggled to prevent the Copenhagen climate summit scheduled for December from collapsing before it even gets under way.

Blair chaired a group that insists that in tackling global warming, economic growth and consumption have to be sustained, which is a big lie. He said: “Forging and implementing a global deal will not be easy but world leaders can be confident that reaching a deal is both achievable and consistent with their measures to promote economic recovery.”

He was speaking to the converted. For the majority of those gathered at both the UN before going on to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, the unquestionable, underpinning assumption is that any action on climate change is subordinated to the profit-yielding growth in the production of commodities.

Chinese leader Hu Jintao explicitly tied his country’s new commitment to environmental concerns to reducing the growth of climate change emissions per unit of Gross Domestic Product. Rather than the dramatic reductions needed to bring the current atmospheric concentration back below the danger levels already extant, he intends the Chinese economy to continue to grow rapidly, and carbon dioxide emissions will continue to follow it, just a bit more slowly.

But the evidence is against even that modest aim.

Andrew Sentance, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee summarises the whole problem. His paper, Energy and Environmental Challenges in the New Global Economy, shows that growth in energy consumption has increased relative to the growth in GDP in recent decades. Sentance adds:

“On the environmental front, a return to global economic growth will put upward pressure on the output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses as energy consumption increases. A resumption of global growth will therefore tend to raise emissions, moving them in the opposite direction to the big emissions cuts that will ultimately be necessary to stabilise the global climate. Over the course of the next decade, however, we will need to start to reverse this trend of rising emissions without jeopardising the growth of the global economy and the development aspirations of poorer nations around the world.”
Just how this is to be achieved he doesn’t (or can’t) explain.

The limits of what can be squeezed out of people and the planet in the name of profit have been reached. It is now time to salvage the recyclable, reusable components of the bankrupt capitalist economy, and direct them in sustainable production satisfying the democratically-determined needs of the world’s population.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bankrupt, which ever way you look

Britain is bankrupt – and not just financially either. The obscene bidding war that is going on about public spending cuts confirms that all the major parties have gone bust too as they fall over themselves to offer more pain than their rivals.

The Liberal Democrats are, of course, neither liberal nor democrat but a version of Toryism that goes back to the 18th century. So leader Nick Clegg can pledge “savage spending cuts” while Vince Cable wants a public sector pay freeze.

New Labour’s Ed Balls is offering up deputy head teachers galore as ministers begin to wield the axe while the Tories say they will take drastic action to stabilise public finances if they win the forthcoming general election.

Now the election could produce a hung parliament, with the possibility of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition the outcome. How this might work out in practice is being rehearsed in Leeds, where the city council is under the control of just such a coalition. The council leader is Lib Dem Richard Brett.

The council is cutting the wages of refuse collectors by up to £6,000 a year. More than 500 refuse and street cleaning workers have vowed to strike indefinitely against the plan. The council is presently using private contractors to try and break the strike.

Behind the panic over spending cuts is the fear of the ruling classes that the British state could become insolvent. The Sunday Telegraph yesterday spelled out the disaster scenario, noting that the national debt was equivalent to more than £25,000 for every family in Britain. Interest payments alone are heading towards £60 billion every year.

The paper held out the prospect of a Lehman Brothers debacle where the investment bank went bust after lenders refused to extend further credit, warning: “Something similar could easily happen to Britain. If foreign investors lose confidence in our ability to repay our colossal debts, we will go bust .. Such a crisis, if it happens, will make the present one look positively kind.”

So what’s on offer is a nothing less than an alliance between the state and the bankers to punish working people for the madness of capitalism. The state under the Tories and then New Labour embraced wholeheartedly the creation of an unsustainable debt-driven economy. When this crashed last year, the banks that stoked up fantasy finance were bailed out with taxpayers’ money. Now services and pay have to be slashed to the bone so that the same bankers can stay in business.

Yet none of this will do the trick anyway. As George Parker, the Financial Times’ political editor, remarks today: “No other big country has seen its public finances wrecked by the financial crisis in quite the same way as Britain. The next election will be dominated by questions about when and where to cut a deficit amounting to one-eighth of the country’s income.”

In other words, the sums are simply too huge for a cut here or there to make a difference. At the same time, the financial system itself is on life-support. The magnitude of debts still out there mean that most banks are insolvent, lacking the assets to cover loans that are “non-performing”.

What is unfolding is an historic crisis of the capitalist state and the financial system which won’t be solved by a general election. What is demanded is a total reconstruction of the political and economic system along democratic lines, which involves the repudiation of debts to bankers and the closure of financial markets. Campaigning along these lines would have the merit of seizing the initiative rather than leaving it to Brown, Clegg and Cameron.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, September 18, 2009

Too many people? No - too much capitalism!

The climate summit scheduled for Copenhagen in December is in big trouble before it even gets under way. Major divisions have opened up between the United States, Europe and China and there are serious doubts about whether an effective international agreement can be reached on cuts on carbon emissions.

It appears that the US wants a completely new treaty, rather than a Kyoto Mark II. This would delay any action on CO2 emissions by years, while scientists insist that deep cuts are needed right now to prevent a climate catastrophe. China, in turn, is saying that any deal at Copenhagen must not penalise developing economies like its own.

Inadvertently, the Chinese have hit the nail on the head. There is a deepening global economic recession and each country is desperate to promote a “return to growth” (and profits). So Copenhagen will necessarily avoid any decisions that jeopardise this objective.

Yet it is precisely the grow-or-die nature of capitalism that is historically the principal cause of climate chaos. We don’t expect the leaders of world capitalism to accept that and create a sustainable, not-for-profit economy in place of the rapacious market-driven madness currently in place.

So now the search is on for “cheaper” so-called solutions to global warming. And rising to the top of the list is the old chestnut of “population control”. Put simply, the argument is that there are too many people on the planet and cutting their numbers would help in tackling climate change.

Heading the charge are bodies like the Optimum Population Trust, whose new report suggests that family planning is more “cost effective” because it is five times cheaper than low-carbon technologies in reducing carbon emissions. The US-based Worldwatch Institute is campaigning “to slow, and ultimately end, the unsustainable growth of world population - a critical force behind many of today's most serious problems”. Other organisations like People and Planet and the Green Party say more or less the same thing.

Of course, population growth is an issue. But is not the cause of the explosion in carbon emissions over the last 30 or so years. The problem is not population numbers themselves but land distribution and distribution of resources. People aren't hungry because the population of their country is too big. They are hungry because they are poor and can't afford food.

They are hungry because they are seen as sources of profits by the agri-corporations who control the production and supply of food, and who work with corrupt governments to plunder resources. Deforestation and over-fishing, for example, takes place for their benefit and not for the people in countries where population growth is fastest. This is the case in the criminal destruction of virgin forest to make disposable nappies or to grow palm oil plants so the advanced economies can fuel private cars.

In any case, the countries where population growth is slow, or even negative as in Germany and Italy, are the countries that use the majority of the world's resources. No one is suggestion reducing populations in these countries!

Advocates of population control pure and simple effectively hold human beings in general responsible for and identify them with an economic system over which they have no control whatsoever. They ignore completely the fact that it is unlimited growth in the drive for profit that is destroying the planet.

As for capitalist politicians heading for Copenhagen, bringing population numbers up the climate agenda helps them to sidestep the main issue – the need to make deep cuts in emissions immediately. They can simply blame the world’s population for the crisis!

There is a more sinister dimension to the question. In an economic crisis, where there is too much unusable labour power, there is always a reopening of the question of population growth. This is about capitalism not wanting to feed mouths that are not creating profit. The elimination of surplus people in the context of capitalist crisis like the one we're in now will take the form of famine, war and genocide.

Penny Cole and Paul Feldman

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Academies wrecking state education

In line with the New Labour outlook that there is nothing in heaven and earth that cannot be improved by private companies and religion, the real, but still largely disguised, agenda of this government is the break-up and eventual privatisation of large parts of the education system.

Last week the government went out of its way to strengthen its commitment to expand the academy school programme. New Labour ignored the wishes of many parents and teaching unions who have campaigned against academies in favour of an improved comprehensive system.

The number of academies planned has now gone up to 400, about 10% of all secondary schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The cost of the programme is an astronomic £5bn, made higher by the proposal to scrap the “entry fee” sponsors have had to pay.

The idea behind academy schools came from the Tories. The original plan – they were called City Technology Colleges then – was widely seen as step towards privatisation and an attack on comprehensive schools, which are non-selective mixed-ability neighbourhood schools.

Academy schools, which select up to 10% of their pupils, are taken out of the control of the local authority and put into the hands of a sponsor which might be a business, a Christian evangelical outfit, a university, a private school or even a football club such as Aston Villa. The school is funded by the state, but it is the sponsors who then control it – the staff, their salaries, the ethos of the school and even, within limits, the curriculum – by means of an in-built majority on the governing board.

Promoted as a way to improve standards, no hard evidence has emerged that these schools bring about any improvements. Last week, an academy in Sheffield was put into special measures by the Ofsted inspectors. Sheffield Park Academy was set up in 2007 with new buildings that cost £30m. The school was found to be “inadequate” in all areas and the inspectors’ report was critical of its management and leadership.

This particular academy is sponsored by the United Learning Trust, the largest sponsor of these schools, and part of an Anglican-based company that runs private schools. The trust had an income of £155m in 2007-8. The charity is chaired by Dame Angela Rumbold, the former Tory education minister, and has Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, on its board.

The inspectors’ report is doubly embarrassing for New Labour as the school that existed before Sheffield Park, until 2006, was not failing and had itself been moved into new buildings in 1998, at a cost of £8m.

In addition to the academy programme, some state schools now have science and IT departments that are owned, controlled and serviced by private companies. Capital projects such as new premises are often financed in a way that means the buildings are leased back to the school, an insane and expensive folly.

And what do parents make of all this, carried out, supposedly, in their name and for the benefit of their children? In many parts of Britain now, there are is a scramble for places at the best secondary schools. Middle-class parents will even move house in order to get into the catchment area of the best school.

In Wandsworth, South London, for example, there is an academy, two selective state schools, a selective Roman Catholic school, a selective C of E school and five other non-selective comprehensives that inevitably tend to become the “sink” schools for the area. One of them is already in special measures.

The element of fairness and equality that became a feature of the secondary education scene in the 1960s is vanishing fast. We face a return to the bad old days of grammar and secondary modern schools, but under different names. Most parents will despair.

One wonders if a Tory government could have got away with a result like this?

Peter Arkell

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brown presents the bill

A year and a day ago the Federal Reserve, the US central bank, took the decision to instruct Lehman Brothers to file for bankruptcy after 158 years of trading. It was a case of too big to fail and too big to save. Within days, the world economy fell off a cliff and has never recovered.

With its roots in barter, exchanging manufactured goods for raw cotton, Lehman’s history is inextricably a part of the history of capitalism. The company began its diversification into financial services in the 1880s (around the time of Marx’s death).

In the 20th century, Lehman was instrumental in enabling the explosive growth of profitable commodity production and exchange, notably through finding the capital for retail giants like Woolworths, then television and later computer manufacture. It also helped finance Halliburton, the oil company at the heart of the Bush administration’s war on Iraq.

At its pinnacle it was among the elite of the world’s financial services companies, actively spinning the web of debt that enmeshed the world. As the credit crunch took hold in August 2007, it closed its sub-prime mortgage lender with the loss of 1,200 jobs.

But it was all too late. A year later, its liabilities exceeded its assets to such an extent that not even the American government could bail Lehman Brothers out and it went to the wall. Today, like much of the global capitalist economy, Lehman Brothers is bankrupt but still trading. So many dead men walking.

As the world was considering the significance of the passing of Lehman yesterday, prime minister Gordon Brown was opening a new chapter in the rapidly worsening global economic crisis that went hand-in-hand with the decline of banking and finance.

Brown was a key figure in ensuring the subordination of the British economy to financial interests, announcing a new “golden age” for the City just weeks before it all went pear shaped. Now he’d come to present the bill for the damage, not to the bankers, but to the assembled ranks of the representatives of the organised working class at the TUC in Liverpool. They listened with protest messages raised while for the first time he talked of public spending cuts to come after the next election.

Attempts to restore the flow of credit have failed. Global stimulus packages have concentrated on eliminating huge swathes of the global car industry, dumping hundreds of thousands of workers on the streets. Unemployment is soaring. Tens of millions around the world are already without work, soon to be homeless if they aren’t already, without healthcare or pensions. And now Brown talks of cuts.

Politicians of all parties are competing to prepare voters for the devastation to come, the price to be paid for keeping the capitalist system in existence. This bidding process finds parties competing for the right to inflict the impact of the crisis on the majority of the world’s population, forcibly if necessary.

Commentators may delude themselves with good news, but the majority will see no sign or possibility of a “recovery”. They will not benefit from an illusory “return to growth” that is in essence the prelude to a further lurch towards outright slump.

Lehman Brothers was broken by fantasy financing that in the form of debt fuelled the economic boom. And there are mountains of debt still out there with claims on real assets and future earnings. In the absence of a recovery, these assets – in the shape of jobs, pensions and homes – are likely to be wiped out by capitalist bankers and corporations.

So this is no time to be caught up in discussions about ending “unbridled free market capitalism”, nor speculating on “a realignment of world capitalism”, nor even pushing for the kind of change that would “renew capitalism in a fairer form”. These are mere palliatives that leave the basic cause untouched and untreated.

What we must now do is to acquire the power to switch from a credit-dependent system of for-profit production based on legalised exploitation of labour to production for need guided by democratic decisions based on collective ownership. That’s how to fight the cuts as well as create a sustainable future.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Monday, September 14, 2009

TUC leaders all words and no action

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trade Unions Congress, is warning of riots on the streets if public spending is slashed by the next government. Coming from the TUC, however, that kind of language is unlikely to scare either New Labour or the Tories because the organisation is long on warnings and extremely short on action.

For over a decade, TUC leaders have in the main sat back and watched while New Labour carved up state services for the benefit of the corporate sector. The value of private sector contracts within the public sector is now an estimated £80 billion a year. Union leaders have made no attempt to defy anti-union laws that Blair once boasted were the most draconian in Europe.

During the past year, as the financial crisis precipitated a deep recession, the TUC bigwigs have negotiated pay freezes, job cuts, short-time working and not lifted a finger to oppose a single workplace closure. For this they have earned the admiration of business. As the Financial Times remarks today: “The economic downturn has brought rare harmony between employers and unions as workforces agree pay freezes to save jobs.”

So what should make of Barber’s statement on the eve of the TUC conference that “last time we suffered slash and burn economics we had riots on the streets here in Liverpool” and that “prolonged mass unemployment will have terrible effects on social cohesion, family break-up and the nation’s health” and lead to a dole queue of more than four million?

Not a lot, quite frankly, because to reject spending cuts is to challenge the government and the madhouse economics of capitalism and there is no sign whatsoever that this will happen under the leadership of the TUC anytime soon.

Nor is there any prospect that the TUC is going to “rock the boat” and attack New Labour in the run-up to the general election (contrast the supine nature of this generation of union leaders with those who fought the Callaghan Labour government in 1978-9 in defence of jobs and wages). Instead, they will be urging their members to go out and vote for Brown because the Tories could be “much worse”. What a perspective!

As to a challenge to the foundations of economic orthodoxy, that’s simply not going to happen. Yet taking on the government, and answering the global capitalist crisis with policies that do not involve “slash and burn” to pay for the bail-out of the bankers (which has done nothing to halt the slide to slump) is the only realistic way forward. Failure to take this path, as TUC figures themselves show, is too dire to contemplate.

The potential cuts are so huge – the public spending deficit is estimated at £175 billion – that a radical reorganisation of the economy as well as the financial system is demanded because in practice, the British capitalist state is bankrupt and is printing money galore in order to postpone an inevitable slump.

A year ago this week, Lehman Brothers went to the wall in the largest bankruptcy in world history. Corporate, debt-driven globalisation ended with a bang that resounded around the planet. Capitalism is weaker than at any time in recent history and a planned, sustainable, not-for-profit alternative is what the TUC should be discussing this week if it were at all serious about the jobs crisis facing trade unionists.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, September 11, 2009

Corporate locusts leave hunger behind

Since 2006, corporations and countries have spent $30 billion buying up 20 million hectares of fertile farmland – an area that equates to a fifth of all the agricultural land in the European Union. The chief culprits of this obscene land grab are countries that accumulated massive surpluses from the boom in oil prices and in the export of consumer goods.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are using their oil wealth and China, the income from huge trade surpluses, according to figures from the International Food Policy Research Institute. The Saudis have created a corporation, Foras, specifically to buy up land to grow rice. It is financed by the Islamic Development Bank, the Saudi government and private investors. Over a seven-year period, Foras aims to produce seven million tons of rice on 700,000 hectares of land in Senegal and Mali; it already has a rice farm in Mauritania. Other target countries are Sudan, Uganda and Niger.

The Ethiopian government has seized nearly 3 million hectares of land from its own people and put it up for sale to foreign companies or governments (in this instance, countries and corporations are virtually indistinguishable). This is a huge part of the country’s fertile land, and is happening when millions of Ethiopians are threatened with malnutrition and possibly starvation as a result of low rainfall.

The number of Ethiopians who need emergency food aid rose from 4.9 million in January to 6.2 million in June. There are famine alerts in Ethiopia, Burkina Fasso, Somalia, Senegal and Kenya. The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) says 3.8 million Kenyans are at risk and in need of emergency food aid.

All over the world the poorest people are beginning to suffer from hunger, following a 50% rise the price of staples in the last six months. In the United States the percentage of people suffering “food insecurity” ranges from 6% of the population in wealthier states to as high as 15% in poorer parts of the country.

Global food stocks are low; drought, hurricanes, floods, late rains and failed rains have ruined crops in many parts of the world. High oil prices have raised the price of fertilizer, leading to lower yields. And of course land is being turned over to bio-fuels.

This crisis shows not only capitalism’s rapaciousness, but also its failure as a system of human economy. The so-called “green revolution”, which was implemented from the 1950s onwards in countries like India, was meant to solve hunger and lead to self-sufficiency. So why are countries like Ethiopia now seeking to outsource food production?

The application of vast quantities of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides (a system the World Bank still seeks to impose on Africa, and which the land grabbers will also use) is an abject failure and will wreak ever greater havoc on already fragile eco-systems.

What we are witnessing is the steady erosion of the world’s fertility overall. Agri-business claims its methods are based on an advanced understanding of farming; but this is not the case. It is based on a narrow capitalist short-term approach, which takes into account neither the past nor the future but only the productive and profitable present. Moving locust-like across the globe, the agri-corporations leave desert behind them.

To achieve an end to hunger, requires first a revolution in land ownership and second, a significant transformation in the way we relate to nature, where we continuously restore fertility by recycling waste products and applying them to the soil. If the cost of farming in this way leaves no room for private profit, then we should transform the corporations into non-profit co-operatives.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

'Ugly political backlash' warning

Some economists are saying that the recession is officially over. Well, we know these same “experts” were caught with their trousers down before last autumn’s meltdown, (being re-enacted on television tonight) even while lesser mortals like A World to Win were warning about the collapse of the financial house of cards.

And, evidence has emerged about how near things came to within a squeak of complete financial breakdown. According to insider Hector Sants, chief executive of the Financial Services Authority, the FSA was ready to close RBS and HBOS cash machines and stop the banks taking deposits or allowing withdrawals.

But what about now - is it true that “the UK economy is on course for positive growth”? Here is the reasoning advanced by the National Institute for Economic Research, for example and other so-called experts.

• Manufacturing output has risen. But this is boosted by government subsidies to people who trade in their old bangers, and it cannot last.

• Big mergers and acquisitions in the City. Well, yes, some people in the boardrooms may be happy, but mergers are inevitably followed by huge job losses and they are a sign of weakening markets.

• The housing market “has stabilised”. That’s no comfort to those who can’t keep up their mortgage payments because they have lost their jobs and young people who can’t find an affordable home.

Underneath the small rises in output and spending is a massive black hole of debt and soaring unemployment. The UK budget deficit will reach £175 billion by this March, the biggest shortfall since World War II and among the worst in the developed economies.

Moody’s the financial ratings agency, has spelled out the need for a “severe adjustment of fiscal policies” if the government is to be able to continue to borrow on the money markets without punitive interest rates. In plain English, this is a call for massive cuts in public services, and government spending of all kinds. Which will affect the poor, the young, the elderly and the vulnerable most of all.

The underlying economic conditions which lay behind the financial meltdown have in no way improved. The manufacturing powerhouse of the global economy, China, has already cut back dramatically resulting in huge job losses and political unrest.

It used to be said that if America catches a cold, Europe comes down with pneumonia. Well, nowadays, it’s China which has a fever and the rest of the global economy goes into depression. And the UK is worst positioned for recovery, due to its emphasis on the financial sector and service industries

The political consequences? They are being spelled out behind the scenes at the exclusive Ambrosetti forum, the Italian version of the Davos club of businessmen and political leaders. The meeting is held annually in a luxury villa on the shores of the beautiful Lake Como. Some participants didn’t mince their words:

“Rising unemployment, the return of bankers’ bonuses public spending cuts, could provoke an ugly political backlash next year 2010 – we risk a real revolt on the part of our people”, said one participant.

Conservative leader David Cameron is busy fastening on widespread popular contempt for Parliament by trumpeting Tory plans for real cuts in major services, which will provoke the resistance that the gathering on Lake Como is concerned about.

It is this scenario which lies behind New Labour effectively throwing in the towel and will let the Tories romp back into government. We have been warned and better get ready for the tumultuous, unstable political and social landscape that is certain to emerge in Britain and other countries.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, September 07, 2009

New Labour's about-turn on BNP

Targeting the BBC for its decision to invite the neo-fascist British National Party onto its Question Time programme is missing the point. The real volte face is on the part of New Labour, which has decided to abandon its long-standing policy of refusing to sit on a platform alongside the BNP.

Now the party is so desperate for votes that it is prepared to discuss with just about anyone. The only surprise is that it has taken New Labour so long to come round. The BBC knew New Labour’s decision in advance, otherwise it wouldn’t have extended the invitation to the BNP in the first place. Now, according to reports, New Labour will put up a “cabinet heavyweight” to confront the BNP, which will have the neo-fascists trembling in their jackboots.

Anyway, how is New Labour going to “confront” Nick Griffin when its own policies and pronouncements have played right into the hands of the BNP leader and his party? Attacks on “bogus” asylum seekers and refugees began almost as soon as New Labour was elected in 1997, lending credibility to the BNP’s racist policies. The demonisation of the Muslim community, reinforced by invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, have also encouraged the BNP.

Government policies that have widened inequality in society have enriched some sections at the expense of older, white working class communities whose votes New Labour had considered unwelcome and unnecessary. Local authorities where migrant workers were moved to have been denied the resources to build new homes and facilities, allowing the BNP to win seats on local councils and get two Euro MPs elected.

Now the capitalist economic crisis is bearing down most heavily on poorer workers who were encouraged to take out mortgages in the absence of decent, affordable social housing, as well as young people. The BNP is taking advantage of Gordon Brown’s “British Jobs for British Workers” remarks to win support (meanwhile the trade union leaders are encouraging actions against foreign workers, which shows how incapable they are of fighting the BNP).

Having said that, it is mistaken to call for a ban on the BNP appearing on Question Time. To do so would promote the notion that capitalist institutions – and the BBC is a key part of the state – somehow have a role to play in the fight against neo-fascism. They do not for the simple reason that the reappearance of a fascist movement is not something separate from capitalism but an expression of the degeneration of the system itself, especially its democratic aspects.

The parliamentary expenses scandal earlier this year served to highlight a deeper malaise at the heart of the state political system. It now openly serves big business and the banks and the voice of ordinary people counts for little in so far as the major capitalist parties like New Labour are concerned. Into this vacuum has stepped the BNP, posing as the champion of the ordinary (white) man.

Stopping the BNP, and the slide towards authoritarian rule as the economic crisis deepens, means challenging the capitalist state with a view to replacing it with more advanced forms of democratic rule that transfer political and economic power to the majority. You can be sure that no one is going to get an invitation to talk about those sorts of ideas on Question Time!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, September 04, 2009

Capitalism IS crisis

The sign over the entrance to the Climate Camp at Blackheath overlooking the City of London, was spot on: “Capitalism IS Crisis”. Broadening out climate change from a single issue, to seeing it as a part of the interconnected crisis that pervades every aspect of human economic and social life today, is a big step forward. And by the same token, to ask for, or expect, solutions to climate change within the existing structures is to call down misery on the heads of millions.

A report just published by the Grantham Institute for the study of Climate Change at Imperial College, London, shows that the cost of adapting to the impacts of climate change has been consistently underestimated by the United Nations.

The report warns that the real costs are likely to be two-three times greater than estimates made by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And if the full range of impacts on human activities is considered, the cost would be even more. For example, the UNFCCC left out energy, manufacturing, retailing, mining, tourism and ecosystems.Where is the funding for adaptation to come from? Who will be protected? In Britain, the public finances are shot to pieces and Darling will not even limit bonuses in banks the public owns. Government bonds are not selling and next year will bring a devastating round of public service cuts.

In the US, it is estimated that as a result of the recession, one in five families do not earn enough to feed themselves. Repossessions will add 1.5 million more to the soaring homeless total in the next two years. A number of state governments are facing bankruptcy and are slashing their budgets. In the EU, Italy and Germany are back-peddling on the existing carbon trading scheme and everywhere there is a desperate desire on the part of governments to shore up business-as-usual at any cost. Throughout the world, the burden of the economic crisis is being imposed on the poorest, and it will be no different with the impacts of climate change.

We must not get hung up on single issues, such as coal-fired power stations, but rather recognise the world in the same way the capitalist class does – as a series of interconnected structures bent on nothing more productive or useful than the generation of profit from private property. The Climate Justice campaign, to which Climate Camp is affiliated, says it is time to “change the system, not the climate”. They plan to mobilise to take over the conference hall at the Copenhagen climate summit, for one day. Well, it’s a start. But the knotty problem is how do we remove the decision-making power of capitalism for good?

The AWTW workshop at Climate Camp focused on this – and we agreed that we would open up a forum for debate about how it can be done. One idea we discussed was the need for a democratic Convention of the People (working title!). It would not seek to co-ordinate protests or strikes – activists can do that quite effectively themselves – but instead focus on becoming a rapidly-developing representative body, with the perspective of replacing the existing structures of ownership and power.

It could bring together climate campaigners, trade unionists, miners, migrants, power workers, unemployed people, public sector and any other workers in a representative body for mutual defence and development of agreed alternatives in economy, energy, ownership and political power. Its ultimate goal would be to challenge the legitimacy of the current political system, and achieve a transfer of power to the people in a regenerated popular democracy.

Penny Cole
Environment Editor

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

70 years on - preventing a new apocalypse

Business editors are scouring the world for signs of a recovery. But, despite government intervention to stimulate the credit markets, including the temporary effects of car-scrappage schemes, latest figures show the UK capitalist economy facing its worst nightmare.

Business investment is dropping sharply and debt is being repaid faster than new loans are being issued.

In the second quarter of the year:

• Businesses slashed investment spending at the fastest pace since records began in 1966
• Fixed capital formation fell by 4.5 per cent.
• Business investment for the second quarter of 2009 is estimated to be 10.4 per cent lower than the previous quarter a much sharper decline than the 3.6 per cent expected by economists, and 18.4 per cent lower than the same period last year.

“The further sharp decline in business investment signals serious threats to Britain’s long-term recovery,” said David Kern, chief economist at the British Chamber of Commerce.

“Unless this trend can be reversed, the ... productive capacity of the economy will be damaged, and the country will lack the necessary capital stock to sustain a recovery.”

Business investment has dropped more sharply over the course of the recession than in the downturns of the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s.
Hopes that increased lending is working have been knocked sideways. Consumer spending fell by a further 0.7 per cent in the second quarter, following a 1.3 % drop in the first quarter, and the issue of new credit and debt has gone into reverse. For the first time since records began in 1993 debt is being repaid faster than it is being issued

Figures from the Bank of England show that outstanding loans to companies and individuals declined at a record pace in July. Private non-financial corporations – which form the backbone of the nation’s economy – paid back £8.4bn of debt during the month, a 1.7 per cent overall drop in their bank credit and the largest decline since records began in 1997.

The intertwined worlds of finance and production are locked in a downward spiral, and in the UK at least there is no sign of it ending. Nor can there be any until the credit-induced levels of overcapacity accumulated in the globalisation decades are eliminated. Capital values are deteriorating fast, but must be destroyed outright before there can be a return to profit-led accumulation.

Seventy years ago today the Great Depression of the 1930s turned into armed conflict, as the capitalist powers, aided and abetted by Stalinism, embarked upon an orgy of destruction on a scale unprecedented in history, World War II.

Today, the crisis facing humanity is immeasurably worse as climate change induced by capitalist overproduction threatens life on earth. Wildfires threaten to engulf Los Angeles, famine stalks Ethiopia and Kenya as crops fail, and sea-levels are rising as glacial ice melts.

Millions throughout the world must be mobilised to prevent a return to the demolition of productive resources, lives, cities. This requires the transfer of land, factories, offices and financial institutions into forms of democratically-controlled collective ownership, replacing for-profit production with producing for need in a way that is compatible with sustaining life on this planet.

Gerry Gold
Economics Editor