Monday, November 30, 2009

Trade unions at the 11th hour

How to restore the right to strike and to bargain collectively in the face of a continuing European-wide legal assault is the central issue facing the trade union movement and it is a challenge that poses historic political issues too.

The shocking reality facing workers who assert their rights emerged at a conference called by the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) over the weekend. At the heart of the matter are a series of judgements by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ was dubbed “the new spectre haunting Europe” at the event attended by over 100 trade unionists at the Trade Union Congress headquarters.

Carolyn Jones, Keith Ewing and John Hendy of the Institute cited several key recent judgements by the court:
* The Viking case against the International Transport Workers Federation and the Finnish Seaman’s Union (December 2007)
* The Laval case in which the ECJ prevented Swedish trade unions from taking strike action to force a Latvian company to pay its workers the going Swedish rate (December 2007)
* The Rüffert case in which the court decided against the state of Lower Saxony in Germany (April 2008), ruling that a Polish contractor could not be required to observe local collective agreements.

IER president Ewing said that these cases “struck at the heart of trade union activities”. The ECJ was using European Union treaties to uphold the right of businesses to “freedom of establishment” over the right of trade unions to pursue industrial action.

In a recent court action against BA, the British Airline Pilots Association were legally stymied, even though they had voted overwhelmingly (86%) for strike action when BA’s Open Skies service threatened their pay and conditions.

The issues which sparked the Lindsey oil refineries strikes earlier this year revealed the impact of the Laval case because it allowed employers to undercut local pay and conditions agreements. These and other issues are explained in detail in the IER’s new book.

Ewing told the conference that the latest drastic legal restrictions on the capacity of a trade union to take action on behalf of its members had dragged trade union rights a century back to the period of the notorious Taff Vale dispute of 1901. Then, a court ruling against the rail workers made their union liable for losses incurred during a strike.

Both Ewing and Hendy raised the historic issues involved in the legal fetters placed on collective organisation. Today’s struggles had “echoes” of the period when the unions formed their own political party, the Labour Party, in order to change the law, they noted.

Ewing proposed that the unions should exploit the fact that the ECJ’s decisions were in breach of International Labour Organisation rules and the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. “If they cannot persuade the government to protect our fundamental freedoms or collective agreements, then trade unions should use their political funds to pay for litigation,” he said.

But, as one dissident voice at the conference, a member of the University and College Union noted, to be surprised that the ECJ should rule in favour of employers is disingenuous. “The EU was always about free markets,” she said. New Labour’s “trade liberalisation” project has committed Britain to all international trade agreements which protect global corporations and employers against workers.

Yet since 1997 New Labour has received £100 million from the trade unions despite the fact that it has kept all the Tory anti-union laws on the statute books and further tightened the shackles.

The trade unions are at the 11th hour when it comes to breaking with New Labour and campaign for a political movement based on securing and developing fundamental democratic and social rights in a struggle against the nascent European capitalist state and the corporations it protects. Without such a perspective, the trade union movement is in serious danger of losing its way completely.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, November 27, 2009

The mirage in Dubai

Dubai was a property dream literally built on sand and borrowed money, where the rich could enjoy the sun and watch their assets soar in value. But like so much of recent capitalism, it has proved more mirage than substance.

Dubai World, the emirate’s main holding company, has asked for a six-month debt holiday from international bond holders because this oil-free state simply doesn’t have the cash. Result? Turmoil on world stock markets has returned with a vengeance as investors consider whether Dubai’s virtual default is the beginning of another round of the global financial crisis.

This is a story about a “boom” based on debt. Sounds familiar? It ought to because it’s a microcosm of how the consumer boom in the advanced capitalist countries was financed.

In a bid to emulate its oil-rich neighbours, Dubai borrowed heavily to build up a non-oil economy based on property, trade and tourism. The estimated total debt is estimated at $80 billion, although no one knows for sure.

Hotels soared into the sky, luxury homes were built on man-made lagoon islands and no expense was spared to build a ski slope. The environmental cost of making snow in Dubai is mind boggling.

Dubai doubled in size and house prices almost quadrupled in 2002-07, since when property prices have halved. Trade and tourism has suffered because of the recession and plans for turning Dubai into a regional financial centre have come to grief in the midst of the global credit crunch.

Today the cranes stand idle as construction projects have ground to halt. Skyscrapers are empty and apparently the airport parking lot is full of cars abandoned by expatriates who have lost their shirts in the property crash.

Graham Turner, of consultancy GFC Economics, said: "It gives you a picture of the fact that credit problem persists, despite everything that's been done. Despite having oil, it's still the case that many of these countries had explosive credit growth. It's very clear that in 2010, we've got plenty more problems in store."

That’s putting it mildly Graham! The near-collapse of the financial system in 2008 was only avoided by reducing interest rates to almost zero, printing vast quantities of electronic money and building up record levels of government deficits. Far from “restoring growth”, these measures have failed to prevent unemployment from soaring, especially in the United States. Many banks, notably in Germany, are still in some difficulties and the non-performing debt still overhanging the financial system is incalculable.

The amount of new money sloshing around the system has also fuelled a stock market boom, where share prices have soared by 50%. Andrew Clare, professor of asset management at Cass Business School, said: "I just don't understand the basis for the market rally: equity prices had gone too far. Investors are underpricing all the risks that are out there, and this is just one of them. Some of those risks are going to come home to roost, and this is just the first.

"And next year they're going to have the shock of realising that interest rates can go up as well as down; and you've also got places like the UK, where taxes are going to have to go up and public spending will have to be cut – and the US, too, has some difficult decisions to make."

Behind Dubai come countries like Ireland, Ukraine and Greece with sovereign debt they may not be able to repay. The United Kingdom won’t be far behind either. Dubai’s is not the only economy built on sand, speculation and other people’s money.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holistic view of climate change answer to hackers

It’s time to cut through the confusion generated by the publication of emails hacked from the climate research centre at the University of East Anglia. Even George Monbiot has lost his cool, calling for the centre’s boss Phil Jones to resign because of some remarks in one of the emails.

It is true that the figures suggest that over recent years, measures of air temperature show cooling, not warming and scientists are struggling to explain it. Some say it is due to the effects of El Nino – a weather phenomenon that has its roots in the waters off the coast of South America - and is about to change.

Indeed it may be that 2009 will reverse the trend to be one of the hottest since records began.

But the climate change deniers always pick and choose their indicators, in any case. The fact that there is a flotilla of icebergs in the south Pacific seems to have passed them by. And that the Arctic ice is thinning and breaking up. And that the sea is now so acidic that its ability to absorb carbon is compromised. And that the deforestation of the planet is causing massive emissions in itself and also reducing the planet’s ability to absorb carbon. And that the permafrosts of Siberia are beginning to melt, pouring stored carbon into the atmosphere.

What the deniers are arguing, in effect, is that carbon emissions may be rising but it doesn’t matter and that is patently untrue. In spite of all the political compromises it had to make, the world’s scientists organised in the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change are clear that carbon emissions are damaging to the climate.

Overall rises in air temperature are, in any case, not the be-all-and-end-all in mapping climate change. Also crucial are more localised but undeniable changes in climate which are already affecting people’s lives and livelihoods. Should we just ignore these? Should we close our eyes to extreme weather, drought, forest fires, floods, rising sea levels and farmers forced to switch from crops grown for generations?

The fact that the hacking of the research centre’s emails took place just before the Copenhagen summit on climate change may well be suspicious and politically motivated, but not to worry – the Copenhagen summit is not going to deliver anything in any case.

What we need to hold on to is a holistic conception of the ecological crisis, which understands that the system of production itself is unsustainable.

Wasteful, profit-driven capitalism is creating not only global warming, but also poverty, injustice and the extinction of hundreds of species and eco-systems. To keep capitalism on the road, the whole substance of the planet would need to be sacrificed to it, and that’s the crisis we need to deal with, sooner rather than later.

The shameful numbers game which is going on in advance of Copenhagen shows that the global leaders are prepared to forfeit the lives of millions to the economic status quo that has caused this ecological crisis, in all its diverse forms.

In the last few days both America and China have put a sort of figure on emissions reductions. But since President Obama has already made it clear that there will be no binding agreement at Copenhagen, these are the REALLY meaningless figures we should be worrying about.

We should support Professor Phil Jones and his team at East Anglia and the crucial work they are doing. When rotten politicians and bankers the world over survive scandals and corruption but keep their jobs, why would we sacrifice a group of people who are truly useful?

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Banks a millstone round society's neck

Nine million people in the UK don’t have access to credit from banks, so have no choice but to use rip-off lenders. The cost of a £100 loan with a company such as Provident Financial can be £49.50 – nearly 50% of the amount borrowed, or an APR of 545.2%.

A loan from a payday lender costs even more; to borrow £100, lenders charge £25 for one month – an annual percentage rate of nearly 1,300%. These lenders charge whatever they want – the sky is the limit, according to a new report from the New Economics Foundation (NEF) launched today.

Two thousand people from more than 150 civil society organisations will gather at the Barbican Centre in the City of London this evening to call for a cap on interest rates and the extension of the London “living wage” (a paltry £7.60 an hour). Concerned at the impact of the financial crisis on ordinary people, the capital’s largest civic alliance is calling for the measures in order to “soften the impact” of the financial crisis.

Among those responding to the five-point call by London Citizens will be politicians from the main parties (Stephen Timms, New Labour's Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Hands, Tory Shadow Treasury Minister, Vince Cable, Lib Dems, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer), representatives of leading financiers (the British Bankers’ Association, the Corporation of London, Barclays, KPMG) and bodies such as Fair Finance and

The NEF study by Veronika Thiel reveals that three million UK households pay hundreds of thousands to “legal loan sharks” because of lack of access to credit from banks. London Citizens and NEF argue that the UK should follow the example of major European countries and introduce a 20% cap on the cost of lending by financial institutions, thus making borrowing at interest rates of 50% or 500% illegal.

“Despite historically low interest rates and a massive taxpayer bailout of the banks, ordinary people across London have been forced into the hands of legal loan sharks in order to gain access to credit,” says Paul Regan, London Citizens trustee. “It’s time to restore responsibility.”

When was this golden age of “responsibility” to which we should return, you may ask? Forget about loans sharks for a moment, who have existed since time immemorial. Mainstream bankers do not hesitate to repossess homeowners behind with their mortgages, refuse small businesses vital bridging loans, impose harsh penalties on those who stray into overdraft territory, sack their staff, speculate with other people’s money and generally act as a millstone around society’s neck.

The state’s “responsibility” is to the bankers and whatever cosmetic changes may be promised in relation to loan sharks, that won’t change. In fact, it’s about to get a whole lot worse as politicians of all parties busy themselves preparing plans for an historically unprecedented assault on public expenditure.

Only hours before the London meeting more evidence of New Labour’s real priorities was revealed. One year ago, at the direst moment of the financial meltdown they approved £61.6bn in emergency funds to the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS. The banks and the authorities decided to keep the operation secret. Alistair Darling, chancellor, said he had shared the Bank’s assessment that disclosing details of the lending to the two banks “would seriously jeopardise the financial stability of the system as a whole”. There's clearly no lack of credit for the bankers.

London Citizens are well meaning in their bid to curb the loan sharks. But the system is broken and now is the time to ask the bigger questions: What exactly is the capitalist financial system for? What benefits, if any, does it bring to the majority of people? Why should it be bailed out? Why not close it down and start again on the basis of mutually-owned and run banks that serve society?

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vote for 'none of the above'!

The spectre of a hung Parliament – where no party has an overall majority – is a possibility when the votes are counted after next year’s general election. It’s the last thing the ruling classes want and could open the door for quite a sinister development.

While the Tories remain ahead in the polls, their lead appears to be shrinking. Although they would probably emerge as the largest party, the Tories would not be able to form a majority government without the support of the Lib Dems. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems’ leader, has already indicated his willingness to back the Tories rather than New Labour.

David Cameron’s New Tories need a swing bigger than the one that brought Thatcher to power in 1979 to win an outright majority. Winning an extra 117 seats would, for example, leave the Tories with an overall majority of just one. With virtually no support in Scotland or Wales, winning a comfortable majority could prove an electoral mountain too high to climb.

For Philip Johnston, the Daily Telegraph’s home affairs editor, a hung parliament is a ”nightmare scenario”, one made more possible by the fact nearly 100 of the 646 MPs in Parliament are from parties other than the Tories and New Labour.

The cat was set among the pigeons last week by former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke, when he remarked: “I do think that in the middle of an acute national crisis a hung parliament would be one of the biggest disasters we could suffer … that would be a bigger danger than a Labour victory.”

Clarke was, of course, referring to the massive state debt resulting from bailing out the bankers, the unparalleled programme of public spending cuts that all the major parties are proposing, alongside rising unemployment, especially among young people and a deepening recession.

In the event of an inconclusive election, it is questionable whether financial markets, for example, would be willing to lend a weak government the £220 billion it needs to borrow next year. This could precipitate a run on the pound. As commentators have noted, the only lender remaining then would be the International Monetary Fund.

Why should we be bothered about all this? Well, an economic collapse that coincides with a political crisis is the recipe for a “government of national unity” – or a coalition of the three major parties. If this sounds like a wartime arrangement you would be right. Except on this occasion, the “enemy” would be public sector workers and those who use services. The living standards of the vast majority would be targeted in order to save capitalism at our expense.

As in wartime, a national government might find it necessary to “suspend” democratic rights to oppose what would amount to a Parliamentary dictatorship. No doubt the security service MI5 is compiling lists of people that might prove troublesome in such circumstances.

Of course, none of this may happen and a government with a working majority might result from the election. It would, of course, enjoy the support of the other parties as it inflicted the pain of the crisis on ordinary people. So one conclusion is – whatever way people vote, they are going to get it in the neck!

This undemocratic Parliamentary system is inherently incapable of acting in the interests of the majority of working people, however they vote. We need to extend democracy and reconstruct the state to take power out of the hands of the corporations and bankers if we are to solve the economic and financial disaster at their expense. There is, therefore, a strong case building for voting for “None of the Above” and creating the momentum for revolutionary solutions to the crisis.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Monday, November 23, 2009

Iraq war prepared behind a cloak of lies

On the eve of former senior civil servant Secretary Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into Britain’s role in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, documents are surfacing which reveal New Labour’s astounding duplicity.

Secret government reports have been leaked which show unequivocally that former PM Tony Blair was fully aware of plans for an invasion and regime change a year before the events. So too, of course, must Gordon Brown have been.

The papers disclose that throughout 2002 Blair and a small number of officials were actually planning for military action even whilst the prime minister was claiming that the objective was “disarmament, not regime change” as late as November 2002.

On 16 July 2002, when Donald Anderson, the chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee asked: “Are we then preparing for possible military action in Iraq.” Blair replied: “No, there are no decisions which have been taken about military action.”

But as the Daily Telegraph reports: “Britain had, in fact, been preparing for possible military action for five months”. According to the leaked documents: “From March 2002, or May at the latest, there was a significant possibility of a large-scale British operation.”

By June 2002, a special Iraq planning conference for Britain and Australia was being held and in August, US Central Command (Centcom) commander General Tommy Franks discussed bringing together a “massive contingent of British troops as a northern invasion force through Turkey”, writes Andrew Gilligan.

It was Gilligan who filed the May 2003 BBC Radio 4 Today programme report that government claims of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction could be unleashed in 45 minutes were “sexed up” and “dubious” based on inside information from Dr David Kelly. The scandal that erupted led to Kelly’s suicide and a government clampdown on the BBC.

Undoubtedly the latest leaks are connected with the deep-seated hostility within the military establishment to the way New Labour conducted the war in Iraq as well as the on-going debacle in Afghanistan. They reveal huge tensions over lack of planning and strategy as well as poor equipment.

Not only was the planning bungled, but logistics and supplies were mismanaged on a laughable scale. Ludicrously, a container-full of skis ended up in the desert. Troops were sent to war in civilian airlines and had weapons confiscated by airport security.

Despite Blair’s close relationship with the Bush White House, the leaked documents also reveal that British commanders were treated with contempt by their American opposite numbers. British chief of staff in Iraq, Colonel J K Tanner describes his US military counterparts as “a group of Martians” who could not be communicated with!

The leaks up the ante before the inquiry opens tomorrow. Unlike previous investigations, it will be held in public, contrary to the wishes of both Blair and Brown. It will be worth following the inquiry closely. Oliver Miles, former British ambassador to Libya is asking a question on behalf of many others: “Was the invasion legal and is Blair a war criminal?” But Chilcot’s inquiry has already ruled out any investigation of this issue, declaring that “the inquiry is not a court of law and nobody is on trial”.

We don’t need an inquiry to answer the question, however. Not just Blair but all those in the New Labour cabinet who endorsed the secret plans for war and voted for the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, which devastated that country, stand indicted. Putting together a court to try them will have to wait until we have established a real democracy in Britain in place of the sham political system that is shot through with lies and deceit.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, November 20, 2009

The power of the 'velvet revolution' lives on

On this day 20 years ago, 100,000 people gathered in Prague to demand political freedoms denied them for 40 years by the country’s Stalinist dictatorship. It was the first mobilisation in Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution”, which brought students, cultural workers and factory workers together in an unstoppable mass movement.

Coming hard on the heels of the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Stalinist regimes in Hungary and Poland, the revolution in Czechoslovakia ended on December 29 with playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel, jailed many times by the regime, installed as president.

Alexander Dubcek, the former Communist Party leader of the Prague Spring of 1968, which was suppressed by Soviet tanks, was made Speaker of the country’s Parliament. On this occasion, the Red Army was confined to barracks on the orders of the Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, making the Velvet Revolution not only possible but relatively peaceful.

This decision was bound up with Gorbachev’s attempts to democratise the Soviet Union itself through the process of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction) which had been going in earnest since 1987 to the dismay of the hard-line Stalinists who still retained many levers of power within the state and party bureaucracy.

Now the media has one simple shorthand characterisation of the revolutions of 1989. They amounted to, we are informed, “the fall/end of Communism”. That was the tenor, for example, of John Simpson report for the BBC this week. Historian Timothy Garton Ash says more or less the same thing in The Guardian.

The rest of the media parrots the same “official” line, which is remarkably how the regimes of Eastern Europe used to function. This superficial reading of history naturally enough reinforces the status quo in Britain and other capitalist countries. If 1989 was truly “the end of communism”, then that “proves” that there is no sustainable, alternative to capitalism. All attempts to replace capitalism will inevitably end in dictatorship. So don’t even bother. It’s as simple as that. Or is it?

Of course the regime in Prague was a dictatorship. Parachuted into power as the Red Army swept the Nazis out of the country, it purged the country of political opponents and in 1952 staged the notorious Slansky show, dramatised in the 1970 film L'Aveu ("The Confession"), directed by Constantinos Costa-Gavras.

To characterise the regime as “communist” is, however, nonsense, even if that is how it described itself. For Karl Marx, who had something to say on the matter, the communist period of history was classless and, above all, a society without a state. Here was a free association of self-governing people, a society so advanced that everyone’s needs could be met by releasing the productive forces from the grip of private property. The Communist Manifesto insists: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

Does this sound anything like the Czechoslovakia of 1989? Or East Germany? To ask the question is to answer it.

The origin of the East European dictatorships lay in a deal cut between Stalin and Roosevelt to allocate “spheres of influence” after World War II. The USSR had by the early 1930s become a totalitarian dictatorship. What took place was a counter-revolution, in essence an anti-communist, destructive process in which the leaders of the 1917 Revolution themselves were consumed. Over a period, political power was assumed by an all-powerful bureaucracy. Millions and millions perished in the purges and in repelling the Nazis. The most coherent explanation of Stalinism’s origins remains Trotsky’s, outlined in his book The Revolution Betrayed.

In the end, neither the Soviet Union nor the Eastern Europe buffer states reached the level of socialism, let alone communism. The economies were far less productive than the advanced capitalist countries and the standard of living remained low. The rule of Stalinist bureaucracies proved incompatible with historical progress and democracy and that is what Gorbachev addressed.

In August 1991, the Stalinist old guard staged a short-lived military coup in Moscow and precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union itself by the end of the year. Stalinism’s demise led to the imposition of brutal market capitalist economies – the Czech republic is now viewed by the corporations as a source of cheaper labour – and the rule of the oligarchs in Russia under a Putin dictatorship in which Stalin is flavour of the month.

In 1989, the irresistible power of the masses when they embarked on profound change proved decisive. Rather than seeing these events as “the end of communism”, we should acknowledge them as a significant milestone in the revolutionary history of the modern world which should inspire us to deal with our own oppressive dictatorship of capitalists and bankers. Come and discuss these issues at our Whitechapel Art Gallery event on December 2.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Profit hunger driving world famine

The unchecked surge in the power of global agri-business is bringing the world to the brink of an unprecedented famine. At a world summit on food and agriculture which ended in Rome yesterday, the onus was placed firmly on the governments of developing nations to deliver food security to their people. The G8 countries did not even bother to send representatives.

If they had been there, they might have had to explain why it is that governments in developing countries are consistently unable to feed their populations, even when they are doing everything they can to follow the capitalist, free market development model proposed by the G8, World Bank and IMF.

Take Ethiopia, which is once again in the midst of a famine, in spite of a dramatic economic surge which has transformed the country’s economy. Over the past few years infrastructure development and industry have expanded dramatically. The nostrum is that this kind of profit-driven growth will in the end benefit the population as a whole – and yet people go on starving.

This is the country where the Blue Nile rises, and fertile land is plentiful. The government is now exploiting it according to the capitalist growth model. There is a booming government-backed industry growing flowers for export, with extensive irrigation and application of nitrates. And 300,000 acres of fertile land were sold to an Indian corporation this year for around $1 dollar an acre.

GRAIN, an organisation which campaigns with small farmers has exposed this global land grab. "We're seeing over 40 million hectares of prime farm land being taken over by financial investors and rich states. We're talking about $100 billion that's being mobilised. Essentially financial investors have seen that in the food crisis there's money to be made in farmland and they're buying it up very cheap," says Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN.

The issue faced by the peoples of the world is not food shortages, but the intense commodification of food and land which is taking place alongside changes brought about by climate change.

Countries which have previously been able to feed their populations, such as Uganda and Paraguay, are now facing hunger. China is buying up land in other countries to try and deal with their own food shortages, caused by climate change and by the capitalist model of development now dominating the Chinese economy.

The food processing industry threatens the existence of farming even in wealthy countries such as the US and Britain. Farmers are no longer producing food, but raw materials which the global food industries process into “alue added” commodities, expanding the potential for profit. For an excellent example of how this process is being presented to people click here to see the latest McCain advert.

The raw materials producers – we call them farmers – are consistently driven down on price, and the global corporations stand between them and their potential market, ensuring that we have to buy our food from supermarkets and not from the producer.

Now this has been extended to the point where the food processing businesses are simply cutting farmers out of the process altogether and taking over the land, so that every scrap of profit goes their way. And the industrial methods they use are creating deserts and intensifying climate change.

While people in developing countries suffer from famine, their exported calories are being consumed in the west, in the form of cheap, high-fat, high-calorie diets, leading to a massive health crisis.

The movement for local food and grow-your-own may be on the right track in addressing an aspect of the problem, but it is viable only in small patches and does nothing to assist people who have no land, no economic resources and no power. That is concentrated in the hands of a handful of agri-corporations and client governments. How to overturn this obscene staten of affairs is what we need to address to prevent a global famine.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

GM wields the big stick

Nick Reilly, head of General Motor's international operations, is touring Europe on a mission. He's been to Poland and Belgium. Yesterday in England he met New Labour's august Lord Mandelson, the UK's First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, President of the Board of Trade and Lord President of the Council, and Tony Woodley, deputy leader of trade union Unite. Today Reilly is in Spain.

Reilly is using the big stick of closure to threaten governments and unions. With massive overcapacity globally and car scrappage schemes ending, production cannot continue without huge additional bail-outs, reduction of capacity equivalent to three of the eight plants in Europe, and up to 10,000 job losses.

Reilly's mission is to extract the best deal he can as part of the restructuring of one of the now bankrupt behemoths of capitalist system of production and finance. GM was one of the biggest and most powerful of the global corporations that grew to dominate the world economy during the credit-induced boom of the second half of the 20th century.

Together their power grew to the extent that it changed the role of government. To keep itself afloat, the sales of GM the vehicle producer, became increasingly dependent on the success of its own finance company GMAC – a hugely complicated operation providing insurance and mortgage services in around 40 countries as well as loans for vehicles purchased via its network of dealers.

As the 2008 financial crisis swept the world, sending banks into a spiral of decline, GMAC was given permission to join their ranks as a bank holding company so that it could access funds from the US government's Troubled Assets Relief Programme, which it promptly did. In May this year GMAC was rebranded as the Ally Bank, because according to Sanjay Gupta, GMAC's chief marketing officer “it gives the sense of a trusted partner, the attributes we are trying to convey".

Really? Operating in Britain as mortgage lender GMAC-RFC, the company was fined £2.8m by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) last month for mistreating customers who fell into arrears. It has also been told to repay £7.7m, plus interest, to 46,000 of its borrowers.

After setting up as a mortgage business in the UK in 1998, GMAC-RFC grew rapidly to become one of the UK's largest mortgage lenders, but it stopped making new loans last year. The FSA's investigation of the company's lending practices between October 2004 and October 2008 found that charges for dealing with people in arrears were "excessive and unfair"; repossession proceedings were started before all other alternatives had been considered; GMAC staff were not properly trained in dealing with arrears cases and repossessions.

Workers in plants throughout Europe and the rest of the world should not be reassured by the failure of the deal to sell Opel and Vauxhall to the consortium of Canadian parts dealer Magna and Russian finance interests. Neither should they place any faith in the ability of union leaders like Woodley to secure their future.

The logic of capital is ruthless. The downward spiral into recession and slump cannot be reversed by low interest rates or injections of invented cash. GM's 25% production cuts will soon look small. GM workers should be preparing their own plans. They should discuss how to take over their industry, and convert their workplaces to production of zero-carbon vehicles as part of a massive expansion of public transport.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Morals, corporations and capitalism

Arguments are flying to and fro between the experts, as the fallout continues from capitalism’s biggest crisis in living memory. The greatest issue preoccupying them is this: is it possible to tame or control today’s global economy and its financial markets by forms of legal regulation?

Most critics and politicians from establishment figures such as Bank of England governor Mervyn King to Financial Services Authority Lord Adair Turner on the one side, to left-wing critics like Graham Turner and Prem Sika on the other – are united by the notion that further crises can only be avoided if “excesses” of one kind or another are curbed.

But it is not only the economists and politicians who have ventured into the fray. Enter the keepers of business morals. People like Church of England priest George Pitcher of St Bride’s church in the City of London (also of the Daily Telegraph) and Roger Steare, Corporate Philosopher in Residence at the Cass Business School in East London. He also works as a consultant for the accountancy and financial services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Professor Steare occupies a special role in that “he manages to combine the hard world of commercialism with business ethics”, as a fellow consultant notes on Steare’s personal website by way of an endorsement. As the inventor and author of “ethicability®: How to decide what’s right and find the courage to do it” (note the registered trademark) he is well qualified for this position. Not only does he teach at the Cass Business School but he also helped prepare recommendations on rights and humanity for last April’s G20 summit in London.

Steare has added his pennyworth in a letter to the Financial Times. His research has shown, he says, that many people make moral decisions using a variety of philosophical and moral perspectives. He believes that “we have seen these moral philosophies working well for thousands of years”.

This rather serene view of human history (which conveniently ignores countless wars, colonialism etc) is then suddenly interrupted by “Frankenstein’s monster” – the corporation. He denounces the corporation as a “dysfunctional social construct invented during the Industrial Revolution by lawyers and politicians to further economic growth”.

Steare concludes that: “We must therefore dismantle the legal protections of corporations and reinstate full legal and financial liability for company directors and shareholders.” But is that a viable proposition? And is that really the problem? I think not.

In reality, corporations (or chartered companies) arose in 17th century Netherlands and England not as bizarre social aberrations, but as societies of merchants inseparable from the growth of capitalism as a national and international system, which both countries pioneered. As such, the corporation acquired a special status in law.

It is nonetheless true, as Steare says, that “like Frankenstein’s monster, the corporation and the artificial marketplaces created by lawyers and politicians have no persona, no soul and no conscience”. But is that not true of the capitalist system as a whole? Since when has capital had a conscience?

What society is oppressed by is not the brutal logic of the power of the corporation per se, but of corporations as the dominant part of a profit-driven capitalist system that is brought together by a state that reflects the predominant interests of the ruling classes.

The undiluted powers of the corporation therefore mirror existing class relations in society and cannot be changed or challenged in any significant way without overturning these. Paradoxically, Steare’s justified horror of the lawless nature of capitalism and its corporations – and his plaintive call for liability – is a powerful argument for putting an end to the system as a whole.

Corinna Lotz
Secretary, A World to Win

Monday, November 16, 2009

The grapes of wrath are back

President Obama’s tour of Asia may have plenty of celebrity star status about it but cannot disguise the reality that the United States is on its knees economically and financially and needs all the help it can get, particularly from China. The Chinese have their own agenda, however, and helping out its former adversary is not exactly top of Beijing’s list of priorities.

Despite the multi-trillion bank bail-outs and stimulus packages introduced by the Obama White House and his predecessor, the US economy hangs by a thread and the social toll is mounting.

For example, in what must be one of the most embarrassing United Nations reports ever written, a special envoy has accused America of “shameful neglect” of its homeless. UN special rapporteur Raquel Rolnik for the right to adequate housing has just completed a seven-city tour of America.

“The housing crisis is invisible for many in the US," she said. "I learned through this visit that real affordable housing and poverty is something that hasn't been dealt with as an issue. Even if we talk about the financial crisis and government stepping in order to promote economic recovery, there is no such help for the homeless."

She added: "I think those who are suffering the most in this whole situation are the very poor, the low-income population. The burden is disproportionately on them and it's of course disproportionately on African-Americans, on Latinos and immigrant communities, and on Native Americans."

The US government compiles statistics galore – but none on homelessness. Campaign groups say that more than 3 million people were homeless at some point over the past year. Los Angeles is no city of angels, with 17,000 households a night without shelter.

RealtyTrac describes itself as “the leading online marketplace of foreclosure properties”, with more than 1.5 million default, auction and bank-owned listings from over 2,200 US counties, along with detailed property, loan and home sales data. Its October report showed that 332,000 properties were claimed back last month alone.

More Americans have lost their homes this year than during the entire decade of the Great Depression. California, of course, was where many workers migrated to during the 1930s, their experiences captured in John Steinbeck’s great Novel, The Grapes of Wrath. The state posted the nation’s second highest state foreclosure rate for the second month in a row, with 85,420 properties seized in October.

With unemployment in the America up to 16% on some measures, the slide towards another Great Depression continues. Calls are now going out for measures to protect the US economy from the Chinese, who have used the last 12 months to extend their industrial capacity at a phenomenal rate and to produce goods at rock bottom prices for export to you know where. Respected economists like Paul Krugman have accused China of dumping its employment abroad and “stealing American jobs”.

So the scene is set for a new phase of the global crisis, one where trade wars and protectionism take centre stage. Obama may be feted in China, but the country’s leaders have no intention of raising the yuan’s value against the dollar to make exports more expensive, as the White House wants. Obama will return to Washington empty handed as the combined social crisis of homelessness and unemployment reaches tipping point.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don't let New Labour divide and rule

If you can’t beat them, you can always imitate them. That was the message yesterday from prime minister Gordon Brown when he returned to his “British Jobs for British workers” theme in a speech on immigration.

New Labour is clearly intending to oppose the neo-fascist British National Party by stealing some of their rhetoric and policies. That’s the only explanation for Brown’s “get tough” speech on immigration– his first on the subject since becoming prime minister – and home secretary Alan Johnson’s “admission” that the government has “got it wrong” on the issue.

Not that New Labour has been soft on asylum seekers, refugees and people wanting to work in Britain. Since 1997 there have been no fewer than seven major pieces of legislation that one way or another target immigrants, legal or otherwise.

Only last month the government implemented significant cuts to the amount of money it currently gives to asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their claim. Rates were set at 70% of income support. But from October 5, single destitute asylum seekers over 25, received even less, with rates falling from £42.16 to £35.13 per week. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, so are restricted to the amount set by the government.

Yesterday Brown announced that more than 250,000 skilled engineering, care and catering jobs are to be closed to non-European overseas workers next year and that local vacancies should as far as possible go to local recruits. Foreign students will also find it tougher to get into Britain.

A draft immigration bill published after Brown’s speech included proposals to replace the deportation process with a general power to expel failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants. Families who have been told to leave but who are unable to be returned will have cash welfare payments replaced with a plastic pre-paid card while others will lose benefits altogether.

Refuge and Migrant Justice said that buried in the bill was provision to give ministers the power to overrule bail decisions made by judges in immigration and asylum cases.

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council and Chair of the Asylum Support Partnership said: “We are appalled that the government has moved to cut support to asylum seekers, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Of course, these are hard times for everybody and no-one should receive preferential treatment, but we must remember that many of these people have experienced torture, persecution, war and human rights abuses and most live in already deeply impoverished circumstances.”

Unlike bankers, asylum seekers and refugees have no clout and are easy targets for unscrupulous politicians who are queuing up to play the race card during the run-up to the general election. The money the state will save is miniscule compared to the vast sums spent on bail-outs. Cynically, New Labour is playing to the right-wing press and trying to win voters away from the BNP by showing it can “get tough” on the most vulnerable. This is nothing but scapegoating in search of votes.

Meanwhile, thousands of people continue to lose their jobs in the banking sector while BT is axing 15,000 from its payroll. The merger between British Airways and Iberia will undoubtedly lead to a jobs massacre. Millions have been forced into part-time working or taken pay cuts to avoid joining the dole queue. None of this is to do with immigration and everything to do with the global crisis of capitalism. The old trick of divide and rule is being used by New Labour to divert attention away from our common enemy – the bankers and corporations who between them have produced the greatest economic disaster in history.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Labour's nuclear nightmare

Nothing shows more clearly that capitalism has reached a dead end in its historical development than the plans for nuclear and coal announced this week by New Labour energy secretary Ed Miliband.

Nuclear power is the embodiment of the reckless nature of capitalism; the fact that it is the state that is imposing this development on society shows the extent to which democracy is dead.

The 10 sites for new nuclear power stations are at Braystones, Sellafield and Kirksanton, all in Cumbria, Heysham in Lancashire, Hartlepool, Co Durham, Sizewell in Suffolk, Bradwell in Essex, Hinkley Point in Somerset, Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Wylfa in Anglesey. Dungeness in Kent was ruled out because of fears of rising sea levels.

To prevent any opposition – which Miliband describes as a “barrier” to progress - new planning laws prevent people affected by these developments from using any remnant of democracy to halt them. The Infrastructure Planning Commission has been given the power to take applications from power company developers and make decisions within a year.

To class nuclear as a “clean” technology is simply madness. The government is no further forward on making plans to deal with the radioactive waste product because there is no safe way of storing it. Their only plan is to bribe some local authority to agree to offer deep storage. The area around Sellafield – already devastated economically by that development – is a prime candidate. The cost to the taxpayer will be in the billions.

Nor is nuclear energy renewable. Miliband claims his plans will deliver “energy security”, yet there is no fissile material in the UK – it must all be imported. And as the rest of the capitalist world also turns to nuclear, uranium wars may join the oil wars.

Miliband’s claim that new nuclear power stations will be built without public subsidy is quite simply a lie. Building a nuclear power station is beyond the means of an energy company and corporations are already pressuring the government to offer subsidies, suggesting a carbon tax that could cost the average household more than £200 extra per year.

Subsidies are already on offer to companies who fit carbon capture and storage to coal-fired stations, and that will cost the average household between £11 and £15 from 2020. Apparently, the hand-outs are not enough and overall, private sector investment in the energy sector has collapsed as a result of the recession.

The world's energy systems will need an extra $10.5 trillion (£6.3trn) in investment between now and 2030 to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and avoid "irreparable damage to the planet", the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates.

Sounds massive? But even in a no-change scenario, energy across the world will require $26 trillion investment from now until 2030 to meet growing energy demands in the developing world.

Why not ensure that this investment is in renewables? According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, current renewable energy technology could reduce emissions to pre 2000 levels while making a profit on at least 50% of implemented technologies.

But the problem is that the kind of investment required does not in any way fit the fast buck model which brought the financial sector to its knees last year, and which is now once again picking up speed. And that is the only investment model that 21st century capitalism has to offer.

The giant energy corporations are not looking to invest in reducing global warming – and nor are crisis-hit governments. All they can do is to go on offering subsidies of our money to ruthless corporations. What Miliband is proposing is peanuts compared to the billions of dollars annually in tax breaks and other funding that the US government gives the oil corporations.

Only by revolutionising the energy sector and placing it in democratically-controlled public ownership, can we bring about the transformation needed. Then we can start reducing carbon emissions and find ways to deliver clean, safe, affordable energy for all.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The apostles of growth have had their day

Gordon Brown is in big trouble. The financial system he piloted to prominence during his years as Chancellor is in ruins. Rupert Murdoch has turned The Sun against him. The majority of the UK population is in favour of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, and his letter-writing skills have slipped, angering army wives and mothers.

Brown’s plight is a pale reflection of the political crisis engulfing capitalist governments throughout the world as disaffection grips the masses whose lives are being destroyed by attempts to prevent a slump unparalleled in history. Despite trillions of stimulus dollars, pounds, euros, and the lowest interest rates ever set by central banks, unemployment is soaring worldwide.

In an attempt to repair the damage to his reputation as warm-hearted saviour of the global economy, Brown is trying a populist appeal to the massed ranks of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the many other well-meaning members of the Stamp Out Poverty Coalition.

At the weekend G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in Scotland, Brown took up Brendan Barber of the TUC’s call for a tax on financial transactions within the UK – something within the powers of the national government, at least in theory.

The chorus of disapproval was almost deafening.

The response from Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gave a clear and succinct voice to the objective force that is capital. Geithner said there was broad agreement that "growth remains the dominant policy imperative across our economies". US unemployment, which hit a 26-year-high at 10.2% in October, highlighted a "very tough economic environment" that will take a period of sustained growth to correct.

"Government policy has to provide a bridge to growth led by the private sector," he said. "We're now in the middle span of that bridge." In an interview with Sky News, Geithner added: “A day-by-day financial transaction tax is not something we are prepared to support."

Geithner, late of Goldman Sachs, insisted that government had to stay cautious (apart from giving bankers untold billions) and warned: “If we put the brakes on too quickly we will weaken the economy and the financial system, unemployment will rise, more businesses will fail, budget deficits will rise, and the ultimate cost of the crisis will be greater." In other words, business as usual is the goal.

Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF joined the opposition to a transactions tax. Flaherty said Canada was working out how to reduce taxes, while Strauss-Kahn opted for a politer more diplomatic response – it’s just too difficult to measure international transactions. Unsurprisingly the banks including Barclays and HSBC aren’t in favour either.

All of the voices in this song-fest are united in their blind subservience to the status quo. The chorus against a tax on financial transactions shows two things. Firstly, reform of the global capitalist financial system is out of the question. Secondly the dependent relationship that links the state to the productive and financial components of the capitalist economy has to be shattered before we can move forward.

The world is now ready for a society that places the satisfaction of needs as its primary goal. Rather than attempting to tax the proceeds of gambling in the global casino, the casino should be shut down and the capitalist state deconstructed. Geithner, Brown and the other apostles of capitalist growth have had their day.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The spirit of the Stasi lives on in Britain

Last night Gordon Brown joined other world leaders in Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. But while he and others waxed lyrical about the joys of freedom, his government was forcing a sinister Bill through parliament which reinforces state secrecy in Britain.

Throughout its 12 year-rule, New Labour – with Jack Straw leading the charge – has tirelessly provided the police and the secret state with more and more powers. New Labour’s latest effort in this direction will reduce still further the power of the public and the media to find out why someone has died violently or from unknown causes.

The legislation was forced through the Commons with a majority of eight. This now means that those who have lost loved ones as well as the public, can be barred from attending hearings into controversial deaths. As Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews noted, “the government is handing a massive new power to the executive”.

The ancient right to a public inquest can now be overruled by government ministers and replaced with a secret inquiry simply by order under the new law, which was smuggled in via the Coroners and Justice Bill. Earlier this year, justice secretary Straw tried unsuccessfully to introduce secret inquests. Yesterday he claimed the secret inquiry measure was necessary to keep secret the snooping activities – also known as “intercepts” – by the police and intelligence agencies.

The measure went through only days after it emerged that Scotland Yard’s Territorial Support Group (TSG) – responsible for the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 City of London protests – has received 5,241 complaint allegations in the last four years. The figures also show that only nine – yes, you read that correctly, that’s nine, or 0.18 per cent – were “substantiated” after being investigated by the police’s own complaints department.

The results are so suspicious that even the normally pro-police Daily Mail has published allegations by a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority that the TSG “enjoys some form of immunity as far as the actions of its members are concerned”.

Scotland Yard has, naturally enough, denied this, saying complaints about the conduct of its officers are taken “extremely seriously”. Does this include the case of TSG officer, former Royal Marine PC Mark Jones, who has just returned to duty? Jones was one of the police officers present when a Muslim computer expert Babar Ahmad was arrested in his South London home. His accusations of police brutality were rejected by the Police Complaints Commission, but he was nonetheless awarded £60,000 after police admitted he had been subject to “gratuitous violence”. No less than 31 complaints have been made against Jones since 1993, 26 of them being allegations of assault, including one of racially aggravated assault. Many of those complaining have been black or Asian men.

The so-called independence of those who are supposed to monitor and investigate the activities of Scotland Yard’s finest is clear in the appointment last month of Commander Moir Stewart to the leadership of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and to its management board. Stewart, a top Scotland Yard officer, was personally criticised for failings in the bungled police anti-terror operation that lead to execution of the innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 in Stockwell.

Back to Brown and the fall of Berlin Wall. The power of the hated East German Stasi secret police collapsed at the same time. But while Brown was in Berlin, his Home Office was announcing that it would push ahead with plans to compel communications firms to monitor all internet use in a measure that the Stalinists would have been proud of.

The Home Office says it wants to change the law to require communication service providers to collect and retain records of communications from a wider range of internet sources, from social networks through to chat rooms and unorthodox methods, such as within online games.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, commented tersely: “The proposal represents a step change in the relationship between the citizen and the state." Need we say more?

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, November 09, 2009

Speak out against war

On Sunday thousands of people took part in wreath-laying ceremonies in cities, towns and villages around the country. In London the Queen and members of the political, military and religious establishment laid wreaths at the cenotaph in the familiar slow, solemn, unchanged and presumably unchangeable ceremony.

All involved wore their red poppies with pride, or sorrow. All remembered and honoured the fallen and most will be back next year to do it all over again.

The loss or maiming of so many young people is deplorable, and sympathy for the bereaved a natural and decent human response. One cannot react in any other way on seeing yet another flag draped coffin, or on witnessing a living, but war-ravaged young soldier bravely enduring his injuries and facing a life of permanent disability.

It is for the rehabilitation and support of such men and women that people mostly wear their red poppies. They claim that it is not a political act, the red poppy is a symbol of respect only and nothing to do with war, militarism or imperialism. It is a patriotic act also but that's fine they believe. Meanwhile the many fewer who wear the white poppy may find themselves criticised or even, sometimes, abused. Those people are “flaunting” their political allegiances apparently, and their pacifism and undermining the work of the Royal British Legion.

But those wearing the red poppy, the white poppy, or in some cases both together are all making political statements of some sort. Those who choose the white over the red are also pointing out something else. They are saying not only that war must be abolished and the causes that lead to war alleviated or dealt with in other ways, but that to begin to do that people must not remain silent.

We have already had two minutes of silence at 11 am on Sunday. There was another two minute silence after the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday night and on Wednesday at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day and month, millions of people will fall silent for yet another two minute period in town centres, workplaces and private homes across the UK.

Silence is good and necessary sometimes, it can be a healing and calming thing, but there is a quality to this particular silence that is different. It is different not only because it is imposed but because even the very thoughts we are supposed to be entertaining are prescribed for us.

We are meant to be thinking of the right people for the right reasons. Our thoughts should be for the fallen soldiers in all “our” wars, those who have “laid down their lives to protect us” and who “died fighting for their country” and remembering too perhaps the civilians of those wars, even maybe those in Afghanistan and Iraq. We ought not really spend too much of the precious allotment of the two minutes thinking about the other side's army, or the rag-tag militias of Afghanistan or why it is that their men sometimes feel bound to go off and fight for the likes of the Taleban.

The Goddess of Peace at Verdun holds her finger to her lips symbolising the unutterability of war. Likewise we must not mention the war/s or, if we must, we ought at least not question the notion of war itself, its purpose or its necessity. We must keep respectfully quiet and we probably will, despite the fact that those opposing the occupation of Afghanistan are now in the clear majority.

Of that 64% many say they support the troops, not realising maybe or preferring not to recognise, that supporting “our boys and girls” entails supporting what they do. People need to face up to the facts, wake up and speak up. Mourn, honour, think or pray during the two minutes, but then speak out. Otherwise we will be coming together at the cenotaph and war memorials and keeping the silence for countless years in countless more wars to come.

Fiona Harrington

Friday, November 06, 2009

Wanted: a leap in imagination

US born Muslim Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the army psychiatrist who turned his guns on his fellow soldiers at an army camp in Texas yesterday, was apparently unhappy about being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. So the horror of Kabul, Baghdad and other cities where terrorist attacks kill scores of people on a daily basis has hit back, in a Texas military stronghold, of all places.

But how is it, that 20 years after the dramatic end of the Cold War, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, such ferocious acts, and the conflicts that give rise to them, continue? Wars and military confrontations in today’s world are not simply the creation of “the West” as some would have us believe. Russia, China, Sri Lanka and Burma to name but a few are carrying out wars against subject peoples on a scale that equals the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan.

One can only conclude that it is the violent nature of the dominant system of capitalism, based on gross inequality and exploitation, enforced by political repression, that is the source.

Rewind the camera to the world of 1989. The collapse of Stalinist dictatorships former eastern Europe was soon followed by other dramatic changes, this time in Africa. In 1990, the apartheid rulers of South Africa released ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison. Mengistu Haile Mariam, until then supported by Moscow, was overthrown as dictator in Ethiopia.

Peace and democracy, it seemed back then, was breaking out. Yet, only a year later, the first Gulf War broke out after Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. And as the new millennium opened up, the continued occupation of Palestine led to a new intifada by an oppressed people.

The New World Disorder became swiftly identified not with democracy but with the take-over of the planet by giant corporations who drove globalisation forward at any cost, political and environmental. This led to the clear and present reality of the planet overheating due to the wanton over-consumption of oil and other resources, driven by capitalism’s need to extract profit from the production and sale of commodities.

Many have noted that euphoria of the 1989 period described by US philosopher Francis Fukuyama as “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” was never realised. The “end of communism” – more accurately, the collapse of Stalinist dictatorships – actually ushered in a long decline in the capitalist world which has matured into a full-scale global crisis.

The more astute commentators and analysts of post-1989 capitalist society are now taking time out to examine what went wrong after the supposed triumph of capitalist democracy, even talking about a “failure of imagination” in the political classes.

But the underlying issue is the nature of the economic system itself. The post-1989 unification of Germany and the other newly capitalist countries of eastern Europe demonstrate this vividly. One of the richest capitalist countries, West Germany has been unable to resolve the problem posed by absorbing and reconstructing its other half, the former German Democratic Republic.

Unemployment in the east still outstrips the West and incomes are at least one third lower. Behind all the shiny new buildings is a country that – just like the US, Britain and the rest of the world – remains deeply divided, not only between former east and west but between rich and poor – who include unemployed immigrants, now often subject to racist attacks.

There is no point blaming the ruling classes and their spokespeople in the media for failing to resolve the crisis created by the system that they preside over. That truly would be a failure of imagination.

Today’s crisis requires a revolutionary political and economic vision which grasps that replacing capitalism with societies determined and controlled by people themselves, based on co-operation and diverse cultures, religions and outlooks, is a sustainable solution. A roundtable discussion we are hosting at the Whitechapel Art Gallery on December 2 on the meaning of 1989 for today is intended as a contribution to that challenge.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Achieving climate change justice

The chief climate change negotiator for the developing nations has demanded that the rich world agrees to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020, from 1990 levels, or there can be no deal at Copenhagen.

During the final preparatory talks in Barcelona, Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, who leads the negotiating team from the G77/China bloc, was adamant that only a reduction of this order could save millions from the impact of climate change, by keeping the rise in global temperatures since the pre-industrial era to 1.5 degrees or certainly below 2 degrees.

"Anything less than 40% means Africa's land mass is offered destruction as the only alternative," he said.Meanwhile the Canadian negotiator said his country’s non-negotiable offer was a cut of 3% over 1990 levels. The EU is considering 30%. The US is not offering anything specific.

The developing world frames the argument in terms of justice – they have not created the problem of climate change but it is countries of the south who will suffer the worst consequences. Seen in this way, the developed economies’ attitude is a continuation of the process whereby the west grew rich from the seizure of land, labour and raw materials from Africa, Asia and South America. Now the balance must be redressed.

Bangladesh, for example, has one of the lowest levels of energy consumption of any country, but its very existence is threatened by climate change. The United States has a carbon footprint 70 times higher than that of Bangladesh. There is no doubt that there is a serious injustice here.

The problem however is that justice for the poor is not achievable within the existing global capitalist economy and it is certainly not something that the wealthy countries deliver even to their own people, with unemployment soaring, homelessness on the increase and hard-won rights under attack.

ALL the governments and institutions meeting in Copenhagen support the continuation of the global capitalist economy and offer no alternatives. They are not there to look after the interests of their people, or the interests of people in countries affected by climate change.

Amongst the bloc making the demand for a 40% cut is the Chinese government – rich, repressive and itself plundering the oil and land resources of Africa and the Middle East. Its own people have few rights and their land too is being privatised, monetised and plundered.

The government of Sudan has rented out thousands of acres of fertile farm land to global agri-business to achieve the kinds of farming intensity that have contributed to global warming – the manufacture of fertilizers is one of the processes that contribute most to greenhouse gas emissions.

South African agri-business has been offered up 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres) of land to farm in the Republic of Congo and 35,000 hectares in Libya. Uganda and Angola are also inviting the big South African farming corporations in.

The question that immediately arises is, whose land was it before? It wasn’t empty. Where are the people who farmed it for their own benefit?

So whilst climate change is certainly an issue of justice, it is not only the injustice of exploitation of rich countries by poor, but of the working class and peasants in every country by their own ruling capitalist class, desperate to join the global capitalist élite.

The argument that the wealthy countries of the west should reduce carbon emissions at a higher rate so that developing countries can continue their development, has a ring of fairness to it. But what is this development to be? Who will benefit from it? Without economic, political and social revolution, it will not be the people of those developing countries, that’s for certain.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The mother of all bail-outs

In the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics, the New Labour government has put in a credible bid for victory in the financial events with the sums spent on bailing out the banks. The increasing size of the bail-outs shows one thing – the crisis is getting worse rather than better.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has so far received a world-record £53.5 billion since the onset of the crisis in 2007. That accounts for most of the total of £74 billion of taxpayers’ money the government has put into the banks, including Lloyds and HBOS, over the last two years.

The latest £25.5 billion for the RBS announced by Chancellor Darling yesterday is part of a second bank bail-out which adds up to nearly £40 billion, which is more than the amount handed over in 2008. The government is hoping this will keep the banks afloat whilst they tear themselves apart under direction from the EU’s competition commission.

The dismemberment of systemically important “too-big-too-fail”’ banks is a hot topic for the world’s financial community, but there is no agreement on a co-ordinated package of regulation and reform. Some want to return to the regime established in the wake of the 1929 crash which separated high-risk investment – gambling – from the relatively safer, but less profitable business of balancing deposits and lending.

Others, like the IMF, are busy trying to work out how to reduce the grossly unsustainable government deficits resulting from attempts to prevent global meltdown. All of the schemes under discussion concentrate their attention on repairs to the financial system. None of these can work however.

Martin Wolf, the Financial Times’ leading commentator puts it starkly: “It is idiotic to discuss the reduction of the huge fiscal deficits, without considering the nature of the offsetting adjustments in the private and external sectors.” What he implies is that the financial system can’t be fixed without either an “extremely perilous” return to credit-led growth.

Yesterday the Indian government gave its verdict on the health of the global economy. It swapped $6.7 billion of its US paper dollars for 200 tonnes of gold bullion put up for sale by the IMF. This is the latest and strongest indication that the Asian countries are moving away from a reliance on the declining dollar. India’s finance minister couldn’t have put his reasons clearer. He said the economies of the US and Europe have collapsed.

The contradictory movement of the tectonic plates of the capitalist financial and economic system is producing seismic shocks throughout the world. Even its most ardent defenders are losing faith in the possibility of a “solution” that is anything but an attempt to repeat the past.

Warren Buffet, the capitalist system’s most long-standing and successful investor of other people’s money has just bought a US railroad, in his biggest ever deal, describing it as “$an all-in wager on the future of the American economy”. Burlington Northern Santa Fe is a freight company. Its biggest cargo is coal for power stations. So much for concern about global warming.

Profit-motivated growth has brought us to an historical crossroads. The capitalist road leads to economic destruction, warfare and the collapse of life-support systems. If the historical process could speak to us directly, it would surely urge humanity to move forward to a co-operative social set-up where a financial system that serves only shareholders and speculators is put out of its misery and corporations that plunder the planet become the property of the people as a whole.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Vietnam returns to haunt US

Elections are alright if they produce the right results. When the Islamic-based Hamas wins in the Gaza Strip, that’s unacceptable and leads to an international boycott. When Hamid Karzai defrauds his way to the presidency of Afghanistan, world leaders from Obama to Brown line up to offer their congratulations.

Yet there is no disguising the fact that the Karzai government is corrupt from top to bottom, siphoning off international aid and demanding bribes for state contracts. In the first, discredited round of the presidential election, Karzai’s party bought so many votes that it became embarrassing.

Officials discovered ballot papers pre-marked with a vote for Karzai and polling stations where he won 100% of the registered vote! Soldiers from occupying Western armies died in trying ensure that the election could take place. They died in vain, because the second round has been abandoned. Challenger Abdullah Abdullah believed the fraud of the first round was about to be repeated and pulled out, leaving Karzai to be declared the winner!

No wonder Lance Corporal Joe Glento has refused to return to Afghanistan and faces a court martial in January as a result. He defied orders to speak at a recent anti-war rally and called for the withdrawal of British troops. Glenton says that when he returned to barracks, many soldiers supported his point of view. Some of this may be due to the cost-cutting measures that leave soldiers vulnerable to death by negligence rather than Taliban attacks, as the report last week into the crash of a Nimrod aircraft made clear.

In a letter to Brown earlier this year, Glenton wrote: “It is my primary concern that the courage and tenacity of my fellow soldiers has become a tool of American foreign policy. The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk, far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there.”

His is not the only dissenting voice within military circles. Matthew Hoh, a former senior officer who served in Iraq, quit a leading position in the State Department in Washington in protest against America’s involvement in Afghanistan. In his resignation letter, which has only just become public, Hoh says that he “fails to see the value or the worth in the continued US casualties or the expenditure of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war.”

Hoh added that the United States military presence in Afghanistan “greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency” and described Karzai’s confidants and chief advisers as drug lords and war crimes villains, “who mock our own rule of law and counternarcotics efforts”.

Hoh points out that Afghanistan has been the graveyard of many a military campaign, including the Soviet Union’s in the 1970s. Most worryingly for the Obama administration – which is contemplating sending tens of thousands more troops to the country – Hoh wrote that the situation in Afghanistan bore remarkable similarities to Vietnam, when America backed “an unpopular and corrupt government … against an insurgency whose nationalism we arrogantly and ignorantly mistook as a rival to our own Cold War ideology.”

Vietnam marked one stage of the decline of the American empire and the Afghan debacle – close on the heels of the disaster in Iraq – marks another. Vietnam broke the back of Democratic Party president Lyndon B Johnson and Afghanistan threatens to do the same for Obama’s administration.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, November 02, 2009

Scientists stand up against New Labour bullies

The resignation of two more eminent scientists from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) over the weekend, in support of chair Prof David Nutt who was sacked by New Labour, is a blow against an enforced consensus that views dissent as something akin to subversion.

Dr David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, is an expert on the workings of the human mind and in particular the effects upon it of the ingestion of various substances. He was the chair of ACMD. The council researches and reports on the activity and harmfulness, or otherwise, of a range of illegal drugs with a view to aiding the government to come to arrive at sort of sensible and consistent drugs policy.

Professor Nutt and the ACMD came to the "wrong" conclusion however and he was sacked last Friday by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson. Two senior members of the committee have resigned in protest at the treatment of their chairman and more members seem set to follow suit.

The committee found that people's use of cannabis and ecstasy to be in fact less harmful than the use of alcohol and tobacco. Ecstasy, on the basis of the number of deaths attributed to it, is less harmful than horse-riding in Professor Nutt's opinion while cannabis, contrary to media reports, government and some popular opinion, is not in itself responsible for a range of psychotic disorders.

Cannabis may, while active in the brains of users, give rise to symptoms similar to those observed in psychosis, but is probably not causative of actual psychotic conditions. Furthermore, the concern that cannabis can cause schizophrenia seems also to be erroneous. The rate of schizophrenia in the general public has actually fallen in the last 30 years despite the rise in popularity of cannabis and marijuana. Meanwhile our old friends tobacco and alcohol continue to wreak havoc on people's health, overuse of alcohol in particular being a major cause of death and misery far in excess of any harm produced by either ecstasy or cannabis type drugs.

Neither the ACMD nor any else with an ounce of sense is saying that piling even class C drugs into one's system is actively good for you, (although marijuana does seem to have some medical benefits) or that anyone with mental health issues should carry on using them, but simply that their position as Class C drugs is appropriate (whereas the government insists for political reason that cannabis should be in the more dangerous Class B category). The ACMD hasn’t even advocated their decriminalisation. Not good enough, they came to the wrong conclusion and “off with his head” metaphorically anyway, is the Home Secretary's response to David Nutt's temerity. Today, Johnson accused the professor of – wait for it – “straying into politics”!

This has serious implications and sets a dangerous precedent, since any team of experts or specialist opinion the government may consult in the future, may well feel under pressure to skew their investigations towards what they consider a particular government committee, minister or the government as a whole, wants to hear. Why indeed even bother with considered, scientific, evidence-based opinion at all?

More broadly I think this episode can be seen as a sign that there exists a broad mainstream consensus to which all must adhere. Not just with regard to drugs, but one which extends right across the board to embrace various forms of dissent and dissenters such as environmental activists and those with particular concerns relating to civil rights, for example.

The media and not just the more hysterical tabloid media forms either, are complicit in the creation and maintenance of this consensus, criticism of various aspects of it such as drugs policy, notwithstanding. It is very important therefore that we stand up to it and put forward and effectively argue our very different points of view.

Fiona Harrington