Thursday, September 30, 2010

Species loss gathers pace while the world watches

While the earth’s interconnected and interdependent eco-system faces an existential crisis, a high-level UN conference on bio-diversity taking place in Japan is set to take no action whatsoever to achieve goals set as far back as 1993.

It is a shameful repeat of the failure of states to agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol at climate talks in Copenhagen last year. As with Kyoto, the US never signed up to the 1993 Convention on Bio-diversity (CBD).

And it is clear that the meeting in Japan will set no clear deadlines for action. All attempts to halt – or even slow - species extinctions have entirely failed, just as all proposals to reduce emissions of harmful greenhouse gases have come to nothing. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week warned a UN summit in advance of the talks:

"Last year's financial crisis was a wake-up call to governments on the perils of failing to oversee and regulate complex relationships that affect us all. The biodiversity crisis is no different, We are bankrupting our natural economy. We need to fashion a rescue package before it is too late."

To underline the case for action, the UN has brought together a range of scientific research which shows the quickening pace of extinctions and its potential impact on food and water supplies.

Half of the earth's wetlands, 40% of its forests and 30% of mangroves have been lost in the past 100 years. One in five mammals, 30% of amphibians, 12% of birds, 35% of conifers and cycads, 17% of sharks and 27% of reef-building corals are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A report published this week in the magazine Nature into the state of the world’s rivers and waterways shows that the impact of societies failure to act to protect them, threatens rivers that serve 80% of the world’s population.

Agricultural run-off, pollution and invasive species put thousands of aquatic wildlife species at risk. And the problems are not confined to poorer countries – rivers in both rich and poor countries have similar problems and are equally under threat.

The researchers say that the technical and engineering solutions that industrialised countries use to ensure a water supply to their population treat the symptoms rather than deal with the problem, giving a false sense of security in their water supply.

The parallels with the failure to tackle climate change are seen here too, with the researchers warning that what is needed is “deliberate prevention of impairment rather than simply offsetting threats once they arise.” Mitigation is not the answer but rather, the report’s authors say, “better land use management, better irrigation techniques and emphasis on protecting ecosystems and the life forms within them”.

Bold action is needed to reverse the loss of biodiversity caused by pollution, deforestation and climate change, Ban Ki-moon urged the UN General Assembly. But they won’t take that action – and therefore we must.

Given that the actions required are so straightforward – and the same could be said too of action on greenhouse gas emissions – we could make a start at once. But that requires us to get to grips with the system of economy and production that presently stands in our way.

This is not just a question of overthrowing the rule of the corporations and their client statues, but also creating a positive alternative that overcomes our alienated relationship to nature and establishes it on a new, more harmonious, basis whilst improving the lives of billions of poor people across the globe.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Crank up the printing machine

Adam Posen, an expert advisor to the US Congress and an influential member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, is urging governments on both sides of the Atlantic to print more money to rescue the economy from impendng disaster.

In the US, Obama is preparing for mid-term elections in November and Posen’s particular worry is about the political consequences of economic collapse. He told a business audience in Hull, England, he said: “Let us not forget that it was sustained high unemployment and austerity, the sense that governments were unresponsive to average people’s dire economic conditions, which led to the rise of extremist intolerant parties in pre-war Europe”.

Posen is right to be worried. The global economy is in its deepest crisis in the wake of conventional and unconventional measures by governments and central banks. Negative interest rates, bailing out bankrupt banks, huge injections of credit borrowed from the money markets, and QE (quantitative easing) – aka printing money – had only a limited, temporary effect. Now it’s game over. Every country is sliding back into recession.

As these conditions mature, they shape the politics of the parties in and aspiring to power, as Posen rightly warns. You can see it in new leader Ed Miliband’s first speech as he sets out to make the British Labour Party acceptable to its capitalist masters. “Growth is our priority,” he declaimed, and “true patriotism is about reducing the debt burden we pass on to our kids.” Makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up very straight. Or it should do.

So those who express the fear that history will repeat itself, that we’ll see a return to the long depression of the 1930s and the extension of Japan’s continuing 20-year slump to the rest of the world, are getting a hearing.

But there are more strident voices with different, opposed messages. Among them is Liam Halligan, economics editor of the Sunday Telegraph, and chief economist at Prosperity Capital Management, which is a major shareholder in some of the leading companies in Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia.

Halligan first made his mark in the 1990s. As Wikipedia puts it he “was heavily involved in the Russian government’s attempts to stabilise the country’s nascent post-Communist economy”. You might say Halligan turns the old phrase inside out – he puts his mouth where his money is.

Halligan wrote this attention-getting paragraph in his populist weekend column for the Telegraph: “Now, the Western world's policy response amounts to printing money and heaping debts upon debts, while shoving the banking sector's losses on to the general public – and, particularly, their children and grandchildren. This is perhaps the most systematic act of inter-generational theft the world has ever seen. But that's not the point – at least for now. The point for now is that QE and the related fiscal boosts simply are not working.”

Halligan ends his piece warning about the debasement of currencies and calls on Western governments to get tough. His prescription, borrowed from Simon Johnson, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund is “to break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform.”

There’s a horrible truth in what Posen and Halligan have to say. The capitalist system at war with itself. The state is in conflict with finance capital which has successfully resisted re-regulation against a backdrop of a global sovereign debt crisis, which the printing of more money can only deepen.

Far from being part of the solution, Ed Miliband and the trade union bureaucrats who got him elected are the problem when it come to mounting serious opposition to Lib-Con cuts and the recession. They are for rescuing the system at any price.

Trade unionists are marching in Brussels today against Euro-wide budget cuts, while a general strike is taking place in Spain. The growing anger of working people deserves a leadership that will go beyond limited actions to settling accounts once and for all with the real problem – the maddened system of capitalism itself.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

America's 'enemies within' number millions

“Imagine being among several hundred million people who wake up each day having to prove they are not a ‘terrorist’ by whatever arbitrary means the government has decided to both define the terms of such a crime.”

No, we’re not talking about a modern version of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, where it’s impossible to prove the main character’s innocence because the nature of the charges or the procedure are never made clear. This is how one free internet software facilitator, David Alexander Sugar of GNU Telephony, describes the US government’s latest efforts to snoop on Internet users.

US intelligence agencies feel increasingly frustrated in their snooping efforts by the mushrooming of new communication technologies, which operate on a peer-to-peer basis. This allows individuals to communicate directly with each other rather than through “official” Internet routes.

So the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Justice Department, the National Security Agency and the White House now want greater powers to intercept their citizens’ conversations and messaging. Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports that the US state is seeking new laws to force providers to build in “back doors” for state surveillance.

FBI counsel Valerie Caproni has told Savage that security officials want laws that would “require communications, including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Websites like Facebook and software that allows direct ‘peer to peer’ messaging like Skype – to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order.”

Therefore they are demanding that:
• Communications services that encrypt messages must be able to unscramble them
• Non-US providers must have domestic offices that can perform tapping
• Software developers that allow “peer to peer” communication must redesign their services to allow the state to listen in.

The threat of greater snooping is arousing a storm of opposition. James X. Dempsey, vice president of US Internet policy group, the Centre for Democracy and Technology, warns that “the proposal had ‘huge implications’ and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralised design. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”

Of course, it’s not the first time that the US state has introduced legislation to help it snoop on its citizens. The Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act was passed in 1994 to help its spooks make the transition from the fixed line copper wire phone system to digital networks and mobile phones. The FBI spent millions of dollars on its “Going Dark” programme in 2008-10 to allow it to intercept such communications.

In ancient Greek mythology, there was a poisonous serpent-like water beast called the Hydra, which had nine heads. If one of them was cut off, the Hydra grew another nine. Killing the Hydra was one of Hercules twelve tasks. Today’s communication revolutions present a million-headed hydra which state agencies are desperately seeking to control.

There can be no doubt that state forces internationally have a Herculean task in their efforts to spy on the multi-platform communications of the Internet age. But that does not mean we should treat the threat of new legislation, either in the United States or here in the UK lightly.

Renewed pressure on Internet providers and servers to give the state access to their customers is a sure sign of undemocratic surveillance states in crisis who consider their own citizens as the enemy within.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, September 27, 2010

A victory for instability

Perhaps the most telling statistic in the Labour leadership election was the abysmal turn-out in the trade union section of the electoral college. At 9%, it was lower than during the ballot for the party’s deputy leadership held in 2007.

Despite, (or more likely as a result of), a huge effort by trade union bureaucrats to get members to vote for Ed Miliband, more than 90% who could have voted for him or one of the other four candidates chose not to. In one union, the shopworkers’ USDAW, only 4.3% voted.

That tells you something about trade unionists’ patent lack of faith in their own “leaders” and the advice they received, as well as the widespread disillusionment with Labour politics.

All the trumpeted headlines about “red Ed” are, of course, a smokescreen designed to help the Lib-Con coalition. Ed is no more “socialist” than his brother David. He sat on his hands while New Labour cosied up to the banks and corporations and wrote the party’s recent election manifesto.

Unlike his brother, however, Ed Miliband – who was politically close to Gordon Brown – realised that New Labour was discredited and needs a makeover if the electorate is to be fooled into voting for them again. He is a British version of “change you can believe in”, which became Obama’s mantra.

But because his margin of win was so thin – and with local parties giving Ed Miliband first preference in only 72 of the 635 constituencies – it’s a pyrrhic and unstable victory. This point is reinforced by the barely concealed hostility to him expressed by the party establishment who saw their way back to power through brother David.

A sophisticated operator, Ed Miliband studied at Oxford under Marxist tutor Andrew Glynn. There the comparison with his father – the notable Marxist academic Ralph – ends. The brothers consciously decided that Old Labour was a burden and took the New Labour oath. Distancing yourself from your past in a dishonest manner, as Ed Miliband has done, in order to achieve office is the worst kind of opportunism.

The support given to Ed Miliband by the leaders of the main affiliated unions – which enabled him to overtake his brother at the last gasp – was a reflection (albeit a distorted one) of rank-and-file discontent and concern about the impending massive cuts in public spending and the impact this will have on jobs, services and pensions.

At the same time, it is the explicit desire of union bureaucrats to maintain the status quo and to hold the groundswell of opposition to government within old framework of parliamentary politics and prevent things spinning out of control.

They have hopes of making Ed Miliband their proxy. The Unite union campaigned by texting, phone banking and emailing members, an operation run by Charlie Whelan, its political officer and former fixer for Brown. Whelan persuaded six union-backed MPs to switch their second preferences from David to Ed. "I can retire now after helping deliver this for Ed," he said.

But Unite and other unions are certain to be disappointed. There is immediate and massive pressure on Ed Miliband to “disavow his own campaign”, as the Times’ leader puts it, “which set out unserious positions on banking, capitalism and the deficit in the public services”.

The new Labour leader has already said he wants to help middle England and scotched any idea that his election is a “move to the left”. Labour councils will soon be implementing coalition cuts and the party leadership will do nothing to stop this assault.

Ed Miliband’s election and the political stalemate it has created in Labour’s ranks, is a mirror of the instability and insecurity among voters as a whole that produced a cobbled-together coalition after June’s general election. As the global financial crisis worsens, there is a crisis of leadership in every section of society. How this is resolved will determine our future history.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Delhi becoming an 'apartheid city'

If the hit film Slumdog Millionaire showed the extreme contrast between the dispossed of Mumbai and the city’s rich, the saga of the 2010 Commonwealth Games is doing the same for Delhi and the country’s political system.

The Congress Party – which claims a lineage back to Mahatma Gandhi – presides over a state that has embraced market-driven globalisation with a vengeance. Where Congress once favoured the poor, small farmers and the trade unions, it now rules as the party of big business.

A major report into the plans for the Games by the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) catalogues evictions and demolitions of informal settlements and slums in the run-up to the CWG. “Most evictions are generally carried out to construct roads, bridges, stadiums, and parking lots, or under the guise of city ‘beautification’, ostensibly to create a ‘world class’ city.”

In the five years from 2003 to 2008 close to 350 slum clusters housing nearly 300,000 people were demolished and only about one third of these families have been resettled. Authorities have cleared street vendors, rickshaw pullers, and other informal sector workers off the roads, and destroying livelihoods of the urban poor. “Beggars” and homeless citizens are being rounded up, arrested and arbitrarily detained, the report says.

HLRN adds: “There is rampant exploitation of workers at CWG construction sites. This includes low pay, unsafe working conditions, lack of housing, use of child labour, non-registration of workers, and denial of social security benefits. More than a hundred deaths have been reported from the CWG sites.”

Environmental impact assessment norms have been violated. Hundreds of trees have been felled. Rain water drains have been covered. The Games Village has been built on the flood plains of the River Yamuna causing a drop in the ground water table in Delhi. The river bed is a seismically active area. There has been a significant increase in cases of asthma and allergies directly as a result of the dust from the construction work.

Funds for social sector and development projects in Delhi have been diverted to the CWG, which are the most expensive in history to build at $7.5 billion. Judging by the poor quality of the infrastructure, huge amounts have been skimmed by contractors while others have simply not been up to the job. “In a hurry to complete work, the government picked (just about any) contractor to execute the projects. While they met the financial capabilities parameter, many have little experience in using sophisticated technologies and equipment imported from developed countries,” said engineering expert Pradeep Chaturved.

The HLRN report concludes that the entire process related to the CWG has been essentially underscored by “secrecy, unavailability of information, and unconstitutional activities”, with evidence of long-term economic, social and environmental costs for the nation, and specifically for the city of Delhi.

The network's executive director, Miloon Kothari, said that "even if miraculously the Games are a succes, it is already evident from the situation on the ground that serious human rights violations affecting thousands of people across the city are leaving behind a debilitating social legacy for Delhi and permanent disfiguring of Delhi's urban fabric. The Games are a clear step in the direction of Delhi becoming an apartheid city."

Another Delhi-based NGO, Hazards Centre, draws on an analysis of debts incurred by cities hosting previous sports mega events, and it concludes that cities in the developed world have taken 20-25 years to pay off debts accrued from big sports events. It is clear that the burden on India will be even higher.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Markets bleeding Ireland dry

“International investors”, better known as the hedge funds and other financiers who gamble and speculate with other people’s money, are queuing up to turn the screws hard on the beleaguered Irish government.

Deep in slump, Ireland is obliged to borrow more money to service the additional loans it incurred in its €33 billion bank bailout. Like many countries, the crash and ensuing recession has substantially reduced its tax income. So Ireland is forced to sell more and more government securities, known as bonds, on the money markets.

But it’s the markets that determine the “yield” – the interest rates that the government will have to pay. And because Ireland is currently rated the sixth-riskiest national borrower in the world, just ahead of Portugal and Iraq, they are insisting on increasingly punitive borrowing rates that the Irish people will be made to pay for in one way or another.

Yesterday, Ireland sold €1bn of securities due for redemption in 2018 at a yield of 6.023 per cent, up from 5.088 per cent in June, the National Treasury Management Agency in Dublin said. It also sold €500m of 2014 debt at an average yield of 4.767 per cent, compared with 3.627 per cent at an auction in August. The cost of 10 year debt fell slightly but remains close to 4 per cent higher than that paid for German bonds –regarded as the safest in the eurozone.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Channel, the amount of new public sector borrowing in Britain, hit £15.9bn for August, a record for that month, as the Coalition government ratcheted up its warnings of the severity of the cuts to be announced in October. The UK overtook Japan to become the world’s most indebted country in 2007. Its interest payments were £3.8bn in August - almost three times the £1.3bn it paid last year.

There can be no doubt that the market traders have more than an eye on the prospects for the mythical global recovery, since it is that, as well as governments’ determination to implement brutal cuts, that will determine their ability to service the mounting debt.

So the latest statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) the club of 33 rich, developed countries will have set the red lights flashing on traders’ screens around the world. According to the OECD’s composite leading indicators, measures designed to indicate a turning point in a country’s economy, the effect of the massive panic interventions to reverse the effect of the global financial meltdown of 2007-8 peaked earlier this year. “The pace of economic expansion is waning”, as they put it. The “recovery”, such as it was, appears to be over.

The news will have delivered a sharp shock to the ConDem government which based its June Budget on the IMF’s return to growth prediction of 2.7% for 2010 and 2011. They’ll be busy re-aiming their cuts towards the worst case 40% aired during the spending review.

These are the objective forces at work in the global economy. The autumn hurricane of capitalist debt is certain to overwhelm the puny campaigns of resistance being talked up by trade union leaders. Effective opposition has to set its sights on replacing the capitalist system of finance and production before a second stage of the meltdown plunges the world into outright Depression.

By creating a network of People’s Assemblies, we could initiate a programme of closure of the speculative financial markets, repudiation of unrepayable debt, and replacing banks with not-for-profit, socially-owned co-operative banks, credit unions and building societies. That would open the prospects of socialising the assets of the manufacturing corporations and the creation of an alternative, sustainable economic system.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Swedish election marks end of an era

In a shocked reaction, thousands of people have taken to the streets of Stockholm and Gothenburg to protest against the electoral gains of the far-right Sweden Democrats party in the country’s general election. The party, headed by 31-old Jimmie Akeson, won 5.7% of the votes, giving them a parliamentary foothold of 20 seats.

The result, as in the British and Australian general elections, is a hung parliament. Centre-right leader Fredrik Reinfeldt’s four-party ruling alliance, which won 172 out of 349 seats, failed to gain an overall majority. The election was an historic second defeat in a row for the Social Democrats – who previously had held power for over 60 of the last 80 years.

But the sudden emergence of a far-right party into the political mainstream will not be a huge surprise to fans of writer Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo mllennium trilogy or of the Wallander police detective series by Henning Mankell. “All three artists”, as Andrew Anthony has pointed out, “are avowedly left wing and in their different ways they tell the tale of a dream betrayed, and an outcome in which the most vulnerable citizens are abandoned to a ruthless system. It's also notable that all three employ the archetype of the abused prostitute as the prime symbol of capitalist exploitation.”

Swedene was until recently seen as an example of what “state socialism” could achieve. High taxation produced a good quality of life for many people, albeit in an intrusive authoritarian state, in which access to services is heavily controlled. But the results of Sunday’s election mark a sea change. It is a country wracked by the effects of globalisation, changes in the world economy and above all, the legacy of a monolithic state.

Despite its low population density of only 21 people per square kilometre (in England there are 383), rich mineral resources plus a skilled and literate population, Sweden’s high-tech, affluent and liberal façade has worn increasingly thin as globalisation shifted industrial production to the Pacific rim and China.

Most of the population and jobs are in the rich south of the country, whilst vast swathes in the far north have seen industrial decline on a huge scale. National pride took a big hit when world famous car makers like Saab was taken over by General Motors in 1990 and Volvo by Ford in 1999. Ford has now sold Volvo to a Chinese corporation. A story of globalisation if there every was one.
Only 24 per cent of the population now works in industry, while 74 per cent are in the service sector. Unemployment was up to 9% earlier this year. Sweden suffered hugely from the banking crisis of 2008-9, especially due to exposure to the Baltic economies.

Behind the utopian images there is a dark reality, not only for poor Swedes and trafficked women, but for immigrant workers. Only a few weeks ago a Red Cross coordinator discovered that 138 Bangladeshi berry pickers were crammed into four squalid houses in Bracke, in central Sweden. The accommodation lacked functioning toilets and the workers had inadequate clothing, shoes and blankets for night temperatures, just above freezing, according to reports.

In the past voters saw the Social Democrats as the guardians of their welfare state. But, like New Labour, the Social Democrats’ support for corporate globalisation and cuts in public services have alienated many of their supporters. In a bizarre role reversal, Reinfeldt’s Moderate party are now seen as the defenders of the welfare system. In their election campaign, the Moderates, hitherto viewed as the party of the rich elite, campaigned under the slogan of “Sweden’s only workers’ party”.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, September 20, 2010

Worthless pledges as starvation grows

There is nothing like a display of commitment by world leaders to reduce global poverty and hunger to turn the stomach. This is just to forewarn you that there’s another gathering taking place in New York this week.

Nick Clegg, who will be pleased the escape the simmering anger of delegates at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool, will join others at the United Nations. The plan is to take stock of the progress – or more precisely, the lack of it – on eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted 10 years ago.

Surprise, surprise. A new UN report, The Global Partnership for Development at a Critical Juncture, finds “serious gaps” in the realisation of commitments only five years away from the deadline for achieving the MDGs. These are agreed targets that aim to reduce poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation by 2015.

Remember Gleneagles, when the G8 group of major economies pledged in 2005 to increase official development assistance (ODA) by $50 billion and double aid to Africa by $25 billion? Presently, the funding gap on commitments to Africa alone is over $16 billion.

Some countries are suggesting that the shortfall is a result of the financial crash. But this is disputed by Jeffrey Sachs, an MDG adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. "One could say there was a certain lack of seriousness in this process from the start," he says. "In 2007 and 2008 I would say [to G8 officials], what about Gleneagles? You have a commitment, 2010 is very explicit. And very senior officials in the German government would say to me, 'Oh Professor Sachs, you don't think they're going to be honoured, do you?'"

The cynicism in these remarks is of no consolation to the world’s starving. Global hunger is on the rise since the adoption of the UN goals, with nearly a billion people now going without adequate food. And the number of women who die in childbirth every year is still in the hundreds of thousands, falling far short of the UN goal to cut maternal deaths by three quarters.

The UN reports that there has been no significant reduction in the tariffs imposed by developed countries on poorer countries, and average tariffs on key products from developing countries remain relatively high. This is because no developed capitalist country is going to give up a competitive edge to back up commitments with deeds.

Agricultural subsidies in developed countries still represent three times the present amount of ODA flows and remain high in absolute terms. “This continues to undermine prices and income opportunities for farmers in developing countries, affecting food security, most alarmingly, in places where hunger is widespread,” says the UN.

As for pledges of debt relief, 27 out of 39 low-income and small middle-income countries are in “debt distress” or at high risk of facing that condition. These nations can end up paying more in interest on loans than they receive in aid.

When it comes to access to medicines, the report find that the cost of many essential medicines has actually been rising, meaning that even the lowest priced generic medicines for both chronic and acute diseases remain unaffordable for many of the world’s poor. On average, in 2008, people in developing countries paid almost three to six times the international reference prices.

You can be sure that the usual pledges to help the world’s poor will be repeated in New York. You can also be certain that gross inequalities will persist so long as the world is run by major economic and financial corporations fronted up by tame politicians.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, September 17, 2010

Divine intervention noticeable by its absence

Pope Benedict XVI’s outrageous attack on "atheist extremism" and "aggressive secularism" in Britain has the virtue of providing clear alternatives. We can either shape our own destiny or, as the Vatican and other religions desire, leave our future to divine intervention.

And as there are absolutely no signs of the Almighty stepping in to deal with the economic and financial crisis, global warming or world poverty, we’d better just get on with it ourselves.

In the end, organised religion is about passivity, fatalism, turning the other cheek and a kind of waiting for Godot – all obscured by dogma and teachings that have their origins in humanity’s early strivings. In the 21st century, we can and must do better than that.

That the Pope and his cardinals feel it necessary to go on the attack even before they set foot in Britain, is a sure sign that all is not well. Increasing numbers of people here and around the world understand that humanity’s problems are nothing to do with a lack of “faith” in God.

In fact, a faith in a secular “God” – the inherent drive for capitalism to Grow Or Die – is more easily shown as the primary cause of the financial and economic disaster that is overwhelming the United States where 43.6m people are now living below the poverty, the highest number for 50 years.

The massive public spending cuts coming up the line in Britain like an express train owe nothing to supposed secularism and everything to the worship of Mammon by the ruling classes for whom religion has always been a convenient cover for their activities and a way of fooling the masses.

As for the Pope’s most despicable remarks associating the rise of Nazi Germany and the subsequent Holocaust with atheism, this is a distortion of history with few parallels. It’s not as if the Vatican has clean hands when it comes to fascism and the persecution of the Jews.

The Catholic Church stood four square with General Franco in the Spanish Civil War and had the friendliest of relations with Benito Mussolini in Italy. A treaty was signed between Pope Pius XI and Mussolini, and the Vatican condoned Italy’s genocidal war in Ethiopia. During World War II, Pope Pius XII was on friendly terms with Berlin and the Vatican never spoke out or acted against the murder of 6 million Jews.

The papacy is also on the defensive as scientists continue to deliver blows against divine creation in favour of a materialist explanation of the origins of the universe. Physicist Stephen Hawking insists in his new book that God was not responsible for creating the universe.

In Grand Design, Hawking says: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”

But Hawking and other scientists like Richard Dawkins tend to undermine themselves by rejecting philosophy in favour of science as a way of explaining social phenomena. It is a profound mistake to assert that the two are identical.

A grounded materialist philosophy that starts from the external world as the source of development and consciousness (including the idea of a God) is absolutely key to the future. It can reveal the contradictions within capitalism that create the conditions for another Big Bang – on this occasion the formation of a society based on co-operation and self-determination in place of competition, profit and despair.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Corporations make oil a dirty business

Russia and Norway have signed a deal carving up the Arctic Ocean bed, opening the way for a new oil boom. All of this will is certain to lead to more spills, pollution and the further destruction of marine and coastal environments.

The United States Geological Survey last year estimated there could be 90 billion barrels of oil and 50 trillion cubic metres of gas across the Arctic and the oil corporations are itching to get their hands on it.

Companies like Exxon, Chevron and Shell, are queuing up for permission from Greenland – part of Denmark – to begin drilling in some of the most precious eco-systems on the planet. Gas is already being tapped there.

New North Sea fields, west of the Shetland Islands, are also set to be drilled. One of the firms involved is BP and MPs listened open-mouthed as outgoing CEO Tony Hayward told them not to worry – his firm is safe. The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee were questioning him not only about the Gulf Oil spill, but also about the fact that BP’s Magnus North Sea oil platform has failed three oil spill preparedness inspections since 2006.

Even small fields that in the past would not be worth drilling are now yielding profits. Some unique environments are under threat as a result. The Australian company ADX is drilling in the strait between Sicily and Tunisia. They got the go-ahead even though the area is a priority conservation area, with tuna, swordfish, sharks and turtles breeding, and coral gardens with thousands of species.

The island of Panteleria, soon to be declared a marine reserve, is just 13 miles from the rig and would be engulfed with oil in case of a big spill. But the Italian government is keen to expand oil production in their part of the Mediterranean.

In reality, spills are not occasional accidents, but part and parcel of the oil production process. Safety and environmental concerns are never allowed to interfere with the bottom line.

While 10 million litres of oil as day was pouring in the Gulf of Mexico from Deepwater Horizon, monitors discovered there were also continuous leaks from old abandoned wells nearby.

In Venezuela, oil is spreading across Lake Maracaibo, polluting wetlands and mangroves. Fishermen say their nets are coated, and that wildlife is dying.

In the Niger Delta, there are an average 1,598 breaks or leaks in the pipelines each year. Oil has saturated the world’s third-largest wetland, destroying farmland and fishing. But Shell has abandoned Ogoniland to its fate – they are off to the Arctic to get their hands on more easy money.

The side effects of cleaning up spills can be equally as dangerous, with little investment in research and no clear idea of the long-term effects of spraying millions of gallons of dispersants into the sea.

The last major advance in safety was after the fire on the Piper Alpha platform in 1988. But it emerged recently that lies were told about what happened to toxic chemicals stored on the rig for use in the production process. At the time it was claimed these had gone up in smoke – but now it is clear that they went into the water and have destroyed a wide area of marine life.

Humanity needs oil – it is crucial for our survival – but the reckless extraction of oil for burning must be halted. It must husbanded for essential uses. And you could say it is almost a sacred duty to extract it with extreme care and to the highest standards, when it is found in such precious places. There will be times when it should just be left where it is. The first step to achieving this approach is to remove the whole process from the control of corporations who place profit above all other considerations, as the calamity in the Gulf shows.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Too big to regulate

Two years after the global financial system imploded, the world’s central banks and regulators have agreed a set of measures intended to prevent a repeat performance. There are, however, more than just a few flies in the ointment.

The measures agreed are really quite simple. They require banks to double to 4.5% the ratio of capital held in reserve to meet losses of “risk-weighted assets”. Banks that fail to meet the basic provisions will not be allowed to pay dividends.

The accord reached in Basel is supposed to “ensure that banks are better able to withstand periods of economic and financial stress, therefore supporting economic growth.”

In response to fears that the impact of introducing the tighter controls could themselves trigger new crises, the new limits will be phased in over a period up to 2019, much to the relief of the speculators on the global markets which marked bank shares up on the news.

In its simplest terms, the assumption underlying the new regulations is that they will stabilise the financial sector. This would allow enough time for the global capitalist economy to recover its growth trajectory.

There are, however, more than just a few flaws in the accord, and the most obvious is admitted by the official press release, which says: “Systemically important banks should have loss absorbing capacity beyond the standards announced today.”

Put another way, the influence of some very large banks has become so great that it puts them beyond the powers of regulation. According to the Forbes 500 list, the top eight corporations in the world measured by their assets are all banks: BNP Paribas, HSBC, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Banco Santander, ICBC, Wells Fargo and the China Construction Bank.

Their towering “assets” are, in fact, accumulated debt and it’s a burden that is taking its toll around the world in terms of job losses, cuts to pensions, destruction of public services and lower living standards.

The creation of these behemoths was a necessary consequence of keeping capitalist growth on track during the globalisation decades. Then, the volume of credit and the velocity of its flow around the spreading networks grew much faster than the production of commodities. Regulation was relaxed and then eliminated; new forms of credit were created that circumvented whatever controls remained; and financial markets beyond the reach of regulation are continuing to expand.

Towards the end it seemed – to many – as though the world of credit had taken to the air on a hugely profitable life of its own separated from the hard reality of the world below. The crash of 2008 proved them wrong. Now the majority are paying the price as the surplus capacity which resulted from an orgy of debt-financed investment and consumption is swept away.

Alongside the restoration of credit controls, indebted governments are hard at work ensuring that anything that hasn’t already been turned over to the for-profit sector will be. In Britain, the Lib-Tory coalition is restructuring the state to abandon responsibility for key services like health and education while cutting benefits to the bone.

Many of those still in work are already discovering the impact of sharpening global competition. For the generation now leaving college, the only hope is for a period of unpaid internship, or work experience to add to the CV. In China, before even completing their studies, hundreds of thousands of college students are being redirected to work for nothing in shiny new factories.

Protests, strikes, resistance or mass campaigns of civil disobedience, can all play a role in highlighting the need to go beyond the existing economic, social and political system. But new, permanent democratic forums must be developed to challenge and replace the existing state. In this way, we can create the conditions for ending once and for all the self-destructive capitalist financial and economic system.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Biting back against God's Rottweiler

The Pope’s visit to Britain, costing the taxpayer up to £20m, is stirring up a whirlwind of protest. Lest anyone thinks this is a storm in a tea cup, it would be wise to look at the man and the crisis-ridden institution he represents.

Joseph Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict, took part in the liberal reformist movement within the Catholic church during the early 1960s. But after students invaded his lecture theatre in 1968, he headed in the opposite political direction.

Ratzinger became head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) previously known as the Inquisition. The Inquisition, dating back to 1542, notoriously persecuted “heretics” such as Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei, usually sending them to be burnt at the stake.

Pope Benedict is not the first to repent his more radical youth and reinforce the ranks of reaction nor will he be the last. But as the arguments about the impending beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman show, he ranks amongst the more sophisticated and wily.

Moving Newman along the road to sainthood is the stated purpose of the Papal visit. But the 19th century English cardinal – who began his religious life as a Church of England priest - insisted that a Catholic should follow his or her conscience rather than the edicts of the Pope – exactly the opposite of Vatican dogma. Thus his appropriation by today’s Vatican is a Machiavellian move to encourage further dissent by conservatives in the Church of England’s ranks in the hope they will find their way to Rome.

The charges against Benedict are many and serious. A new book by Geoffrey Robertson QC, The Case of the Pope, presents a body of evidence showing how Ratzinger as head of the CDF between 1981 and 2005 protected up to 100,000 Catholic priests who sexually molested children and refused to help the victims. Far from supporting victims, Ratzinger and the then Pope John Paul II, insisted that all cases of sexual abuse referred to the CDF were to be dealt with by in total secrecy.

The Vatican uses the system of Canon law, the church’s own legal machinery, to hide its scandals and protect abusers instead of removing them from their posts. Anyone who refers such matters to the police or other authorities can be threatened with excommunication. Small wonder then that the Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors organisation and many others want cases of child abuse to be handed over the secular law-enforcers.

Ratzinger’s cover-up of sexual abuse goes side by side with his notorious hostility towards homosexuality and opposition to gay marriage. As part of its dogma that sex must only be for procreation, the Vatican opposes any kind of contraception under any circumstances. As gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell explained last night on Channel Four, for the millions of poor Catholics in countries like the Philippines, this means a life of back-breaking misery. The Church’s opposition to condoms condemns millions more die from AIDs and STDs.

Benedict’s hypocrisy is equally monstrous in respect to the mass murder of Jewish people by the German Nazi regime. Whilst piously mouthing that holocaust denial is wrong, Ratzinger rehabilitated British priest Richard Williamson just days after he had shocked Swedish television viewers by denying that millions were killed in Nazi camps.

Far from being “in denial” as Tatchell suggests, God’s Rottweiler is only too aware of the problems faced by the Catholic Church in the present era, losing its grip on society in countries like Ireland, for example. The Vatican is full of cunning ideological strategists, however. As Benedict’s 2007 Encyclical about “Modernity” proves, his Vatican is capable even of trying to appropriate Marx in support.

The Pope is aware of the need to steal as much fire from enemies, with the aim of using a reactionary outlook based on mystique and medievalism to shore up a society riven by deep economic and ideological crisis. Blair, Cameron, Clegg, Harman and other members of the political establishment will be having audiences with him this week. It won’t solve their problems.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, September 13, 2010

TUC faces both ways as crisis looms

That the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is even talking about taking action against the Con-Lib government’s planned spending cuts reflects the deep anger of public sector workers and their willingness to fight back. Most union leaders, however, clearly want to avoid a confrontation with the coalition.

The all-embracing composite motion that the TUC is set to adopt in Manchester this week hardly disguises sharp differences within the trade union leadership. On the one side, the transport union RMT and the public and civil servants PCS – led by Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka – want co-ordinated industrial action sooner rather than later.

Crow said at the weekend that if there was a "concerted effort by this new government to attack workers in all different parts of society" then workers taking action should "co-ordinate that resistance to defend working men and working women".

But the major unions like Unison, Unite and the GMB, want to emphasise public campaigns to win support for opposing the cuts agenda. Les Bayliss, who is hoping to be general secretary of Unite, said: "Strikes will also change the victims – our members – into the villains of the piece. The story will get changed from government savagery to union militancy."

In the middle, TUC secretary Brendan Barber is looking for a deal with the Cameron-Clegg government. Behind-the scenes manoeuvres are already in train. The first action point of the resolution calls on “the Government to consult the General Council [of the TUC] regarding the comprehensive spending review”. Reports suggest that senior Tories have already held secret talks with union leaders and that Cameron will meet Barber soon.

The resolution, after 1,138 words of preamble, calls on the General Council to “support and co-ordinate campaigning and joint union industrial action, nationally and locally, in opposition to attacks on jobs, pensions, pay or public services”. Yet, as a report from the GMB union shows, the jobs slaughter is already well under way, with 150,000 redundancies planned across the public sector. If the time to act is not right now, when is it?

The whole mistaken tenor of the eclectic TUC resolution is to label the coalition’s plans as “ideologically driven”. Yet the same motion offers support to workers resisting the cuts in Spain and Greece (as well as other countries), where the governments call themselves “Socialist”, which rather shows that more than “ideology” is involved.

There is no reference to the global economic crisis and the term “capitalism” is studiously avoided. For the fact remains that, for all their bluster, New Labour would be carrying out the same cuts because they are a consequence of the recession combined with the demands of the financial markets that fund government deficits. In fact, many of the job losses now going through are the result of decisions taken by the Brown government and not the coalition.

The TUC has faced three grave crises in the last 80-odd years. The first was in 1926, when a Tory government imposed wage cuts on the miners. A General Strike was betrayed as it gathered strength and the miners were literally starved back to work. In 1984-5, the miners heroically fought to save jobs and communities – and again the TUC stabbed them in the back, this time through inaction.

The third crisis is the present one, against a government that intends to impose the full burden of the capitalist crisis on the backs of public sector workers and those who depend on services of one kind or another. Unions like the RMT and PCS have a responsibility to prevent the TUC right-wing from betraying the movement once again.

This will mean enforcing a split in the General Council against those preparing a deal with the coalition and mobilising communities against the government. Ultimately, this government is not for turning but it is weak and could be brought down by widespread and sustained opposition. What to replace it with is the biggest question of all.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, September 10, 2010

Breaking out of the circle

“We are alarmed to be informed that, despite earlier agreements with the Police and Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Police are attempting to stop the trade union demonstration against public service cuts from marching past the Conservative Party conference at the International Convention Centre on Sunday 3rd October... "

So begins a petition to West Midlands Police appealing to them to restore the rights of trade unionists and others to demonstrate outside the Tory party conference in October. It is not even a protest for the right to protest, it is simply a polite "ask" of the police to restore that which they had no right to remove in the first place.

There is a kind of circular logic to the whole "rights" question. Because really what are rights? Do we have a birthright to these rights and if so, then logic would seem to suggest that they cannot be removed no matter what arguments the police "in the interests of public order etc" and the state authorities make. If that route is taken, then that should be the end of the matter - our rights are inalienable.

But the dismayed tone of this letter suggests that the signatories to the document, who include Labour MPs and trade unionists and left-wing film director Ken Loach, do not viscerally believe in that idea. These members and supporters of the Right to Work campaign, good people though they undoubtedly are, are taking an underwhelming approach to this very serious issue.

There are in fact two issues here. First: what can people who are aiming to demonstrate against this government's austerity measures hope to achieve? The senior partner in the coalition is not going to return to Westminster convinced of the error of its ways - the protests will make no difference whatever in that regard. Second: what will they do if the 'right to protest' is not magnanimously restored, meekly acquiesce? Hopefully not. It would actually be uncharacteristic of them, going on past form, because back in February this year members stormed the Conservative Party Spring Conference in Brighton. Unquestionably a militant action!

They have also given support to workers in dispute, including building solidarity with the BA cabin crews and Royal Mail workers, for instance. Now however the ground seems to be shifting for some reason. Perhaps it's because they wish to appeal to a wider section of the population who might be frightened off by 'militancy' or 'direct action'? Probably not a worry the campaigners need entertain, given the level of dissatisfaction and anger out there. So, given that they have planned to protest, that is, they have decided that 'doing something', even if that something achieves not much at all, is better than 'doing nothing' they really ought to follow through and not be derailed by some sort of liberal respect for the forces of law and order, when quite obviously those very forces are intent on simply protecting 'our rulers' from any uncomfortable experiences.

Given that the supporters include the likes of Ed Balls and Diane Abbott, perhaps it's not too surprising that the Right to Work campaign is leaning towards respectability, at least in its public face. Having Labour Party leader hopefuls on board amounts to a kind of co-option, or at least the danger of it, they might after all be the government again one day!

Whatever the outcome of the Right to Work's little dispute with the police and however they resolve it if the answer is No, there will be protesters from various other groups outside the ICC on 3rd. October. Members of the IWW for example are planning to march along with a militant workers bloc and things may get lively!

This brings us back in suitably circular fashion to the basic question of what constitutes 'rights' and how far can we go in the exercise of them. Just applying peaceful pressure perhaps? Or are there other courses of action such as working for People’s Assemblies, that we claim, assert and utilise, come what may?

Fiona Harrington
A World to Win

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Well they cut everything because why not

The post of poet laureate, at least in Britain, is sometimes a source of derision, as she or he is expected to compose verses in praise of the establishment. But the latest recipient of this honour in the United States may be one to break this mould.

In the US, perhaps somewhat curiously, the laureate is officially known as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress has seen fit to appoint an outsider, W.S.Merwin, as the latest incumbent for the job.

W.S.Merwin, appointed in July, was a strong critic of the Vietnam war and is today well-known for his strong ecological stance. Along with others like beat poet Gary Snyder, he has expanded and transformed nature poetry to confront ecological devastation and, as Synder has noted, search for “wildness wherever one can find it. Not just in wilderness areas, but everywhere human beings let go of the controls.”

Despite receiving a long string of accolades over the years, he has been criticised for having a strong political agenda in his work. Merwin, who is 82, has a string of prizes going back to the age of 16 when he received a scholarship to Princeton. Following a recommendation from poet Ezra Pound, he learned to translate from Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Japanese, Russian and Sanskrit plus and other languages.

His 2009 collection The Shadow of Sirius, published by Copper Canyon Press, has been described as “almost hypnotic, like waves washing a beach”. It draws on his deep feeling for human beings as part of nature.

He is part of a generation of truly great and highly political American poets who include Adrienne Rich, Ruth Stone, John Ashberry, Robert Bly, and the late James Wright and Frank O’Hara. On the whole, they have not shirked from open criticism and defiance of the establishment. Merwin donated his first Pulitzer Prize money to anti Vietnam war activists in 1970.

He rejected the blandishments of US academe and moved to France in the 1950s. Today he lives in on the second-largest Hawaiian island of Maui where he has created the Merwin Conservancy. With his wife Paula Schwartz, he planted some 700 species of palm trees on what was an empty stretch of pineapple plantation which they work on every day in an effort to keep rare species from extinction .

According to Los Angeles Times reporter Dean Kuipers, Merwin jots down his poetry whilst working in the streambed of his mango trees. “I’ve never believed that the imagination, the thing that made poems, is separate from the rest of life at all. It’s a part of it. But we have a tradition as a society that is saying that the rest of life is there purely for us to exploit it without any concern about the consequences of it. It’s very short-term and in my view it’s suicidal.”

Merwin’s approach to the world around us in sharp contrast to that of the corporations, like BP, who published its report into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill which took place in April.

This is all the more vital in the light of yesterday’s publication of BP’s Accident Investigation Report. It is an unedifying spectacle of recrimination between BP and the string of companies responsible for the biggest oil spill of all time. BP is desperate to defend itself against accusations that it bears the main responsibility for the loss of life and vast ecological damage caused by the explosion and leakage. The report is being criticised as a damage-limitation exercise by trying to share the blame with Halliburton for their cement work and rig-operator Transocean.

All power to those who provide a different vision of human existence than that of the current economic and political system. Let’s hope that Merwin doesn’t pull his punches in his period as Poet Laureate!

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

God’s banker appointed to Cabinet

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has ended his search for a new cabinet minister responsible for increasing British exports and attracting foreign investment. He will ennoble HSBC chair Stephen Green to ease his entry into government.

Green (who is not to be confused with Sir Philip Green, the billionaire retailer, recently appointed to oversee the Coalition’s upcoming spending review) is Cameron’s fifth choice. He failed to persuade Lord Davies to stay on. Davies, Gordon Brown’s ”favourite banker” filled the post during the final 18 months of Brown’s administration.

Sir John Rose, chief executive of Rolls-Royce, Dick Oliver, chairman of BAE Systems, as well as retailer Sir Stuart Rose, outgoing chairman of Marks and Spencer also declined the role.

No doubt there have been all kinds of influences affecting the decisions of the individuals concerned, but the pressures of history have conspired to bypass even the fraudulent electoral process and place Green in the key government role pursuing the interests of capital.

Green is well-qualified for the job and has now become - without a shadow of doubt - the personification of global capital in the 21st century.

Add it all up : head of the second richest company in the world (measured by assets held), unelected member of the House of Lords, privately educated graduate of Exeter College, University of Oxford, ordained minister in the Church of England.

It is clearly Green’s “moral” status which makes him attractive to the Coalition. He has said there was a need for the banking sector to operate on a more ethical basis – i.e. a need to at least be seen to rein in the unadulterated greed of the City and the financial sector.

But just in case anyone still thinks Green is the wrong man for this exalted post, Lib-Demo business secretary Vince Cable was at hand to assure anyone worried about the unchecked influence of corporate banking on government policy. “He is one of the few to emerge with credit from the recent financial crisis, and somebody who has set out a powerful philosophy for ethical business,” Cable purred yesterday.

And sure enough, to cleanse his Christian conscience and guide a generation of newly emerging players in the global financial casino, Green some years ago penned a tract called titled Serving God Serving Mammon.

According to one reviewer, “he explored whether you can do the Lord’s work whilst also commuting to Canary Wharf every morning to do battle in the boardroom and kick ass on the trading floor.” Green’s reply to this question was: ‘Christians can serve God in the world of finance and commerce, but it is also possible to fall into the trap of serving Mammon there,’ he wrote. ‘Yet the kingdom of God can be found in the thick of the markets.’

Arguing that the financial markets are a place where temptation could be too much, it was important that Christians should be at hand to demonstrate that honesty and integrity can be seen to work. Why, he argued, should financial markets be left to non-Christians?

Karl Marx, who wrote the definitive book on the subject of Capital in the 19th century, coined the term ‘the personification of capital’, or ‘capital personified’ to characterise people occupying a certain social role. They became and are the owners of capital and represent its interests in the processes of production, distribution and exchange.

This is the true role that Green is being called upon to play – and his Christian morality will be at hand to provide a fig-leaf for the interests of British and global capital.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Transport workers break the mantra

At last – a group of workers have broken through the mantra of There Is No Alternative, pumped out by the government and the mass media.

Around 10,000 trade unionists belonging to the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) and the Transport and Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) are defying the Lib-Con coalition’s mantra that civilisation as we know it requires massive cuts in public services, including public transport. They faced down a propaganda barrage by London Mayor Boris Johnson as they walked out yesterday on their 24-hour strike action.

Their action is in protest against Transport for London’s 800 job losses planned amongst station and platform staff to meet the spending cuts sought by the Department of Transport. Both unions say that cutting ticket office staff levels will endanger passenger safety.

Maintenance staff stopped work at 5pm on Monday, followed by drivers, signallers and station staff later in the evening. In a separate dispute maintenance staff employed by Alstom-Metro on the Jubilee and Northern Line held a 24-hour strike from Sunday evening. More stoppages are planned for October and November.

The strikes shut down large sections of London Underground, despite efforts by management to recruit skeleton staff. The RMT pointed to a London Underground circular which appealed for volunteers, including workers without the required Operational Licenses or with lapsed licenses in clear safety breaches.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said that London Underground were prepared to cut any and all corners in order “to bulldoze through their lethal cocktail of job and safety cuts. Sending out a few volunteers without the necessary Operational Licences and training to try and run a handful of trains is a disaster waiting to happen.”

The union says that such attempts to undermine the strike action “go to the very heart of the dispute which is all about London Underground hacking back staffing levels and cutting corners on safety in a dash to slash costs, regardless of the implications for the travelling public.”

“Instead of playing fast and loose with safety it is about time that the Mayor and his officials took the issues as the heart of this dispute seriously, removed the threat of these savage cuts from above our members heads and cleared the way for meaningful talks aimed at protecting safety and safe staffing levels,” Crow insisted.

The strike has won considerable public backing. A poll conducted by LBC radio found that 73% of respondents backed the unions with only 26% supporting the employers at Transport for London. A separate poll conducted by YouGov showed that 60% of those surveyed believed that transport workers should have the right to strike, as opposed to 31% who disagreed. Fellow rail workers in the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railway Workers Union (ZARU) have sent a message of support.

Keen to keep his job as Mayor of London, Johnson claims to oppose the 25% to 40% cuts in transport spending he says are demanded by the Coalition Treasury. Writing in yesterday’s Evening Standard, Johnson said that “cuts of that order would be disastrous for London transport network”. He wants the Crossrail project to continue - but clearly at the expense of London Underground staff.

Hiding behind the clear need to modernise and improve the Underground system the Mayor has accused the RMT of “cynicism” and “Luddism”. The union, Johnson claims, is staging a “trumped up and politically motivated attempt to have a pop at the Coalition government”.

But as TSSA leader Gerry Doherty, whose members voted 72.6 per cent in favour of strike action, says: "These cuts are being driven by the Government as much as by Boris so our battle is with Downing Street as much as TfL.”

Developing a modern and ecologically sound transport system is impossible over the backs of those who work in it. It requires not only the end of the Lib-Con coalition but fundamental economic and social change as outlined in A World to Win’s Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win Secretary

Monday, September 06, 2010

Uncovering the “dark arts”

It has taken an American newspaper, The New York Times, to ferret out the corrupt relationship between Scotland Yard and the Murdoch-owned media empire.

You could be forgiven for not considering ex-deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott an object of sympathy when he grumbles about the News of the World’s hacking his phone back in 2006.

Or for seeing New York Times’ sordid story (now taken up by the British media) as just opposition New Labour politicians trying to pull one over on Cameron, who appointed ex-News of the World editor Coulson as his head of communications in May.

But the truth is that Murdoch’s journalists’ snooping is only the tip of a gigantic spider’s web. The New York Times’ detailed 6,100-word investigation provides an inside view of the connivance between the police and the News International media empire which should be required reading for all state-watchers.

Just like last-year’s MPs expenses scandal, this glimpse is thanks to the determined efforts of non-British news hounds. They have revealed “industrial scale” eavesdropping which according to MP Tom Watson says, goes “to the heart of the British establishment”.

Watson is a member of the Parliamentary committee appointed to investigate the phone hacking scandal. The committee, headed by Tory MP John Whittingdale, released its findings last February.

Whittingdale said he felt misled when News International executives testified that two of its employees, royals reporter Clive Goodman and phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire, had acted alone when they listened in to Prince Harry’s voicemails.

Goodman and Mulcaire were arrested in August 2006 and convicted to several months in prison. They soon got compensation for their spell inside, however. News International paid Mulcaire £80,000 for wrongful dismissal and Goodman received an undisclosed amount.

The NYT’s investigation shows beyond a shadow of doubt that Scotland Yard’s inquiry “focussed almost exclusively on the royals case, which culminated with the imprisonment of Mulcaire and Goodman”. Several investigators said that “Scotland Yard was reluctant to conduct a wider inquiry in part because of its close relationship with the News of the World”.

Coulson, who became NoW editor in 2005, maintained that he had been unaware of illegal activities, “Nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking too place”, he claimed at new parliamentary hearings in July 2009.

The new hearings took place after Guardian journalists discovered that News of the World paid £1m to settle a lawsuit pursued by Football Association’s executive Gordon Taylor and two of his associates whose phones had been tapped. At this point, the Commons committee criticised Scotland Yard’s investigation and accused NoW executives of “deliberate obfuscation”.

In a further (and lucrative) twist, PR executive Max Clifford took on the News of the World in March this year, he extracted another cool £1m from Murdoch’s company in exchange for feeding the paper exclusive stories for several years. Clifford dropped his lawsuit against the paper after a lunch with its then editor, Rebakah Brooks.

The New York Times reporters say that “Scotland Yard only notified a small fraction of the hundreds of people whose messages may have been illegally accessed – effectively shielding the News of the World from a barrage of civil lawsuits”.

The anti-Murdoch media is performing a good service in exposing the shenanigans of the gutter press and the web of connections that work to strengthen the status quo. But the whole degrading spectacle is much more serious than it may appear. We have been told about the snooping on the “great and the good”, the Royals and the Lord Prescotts of this world.

But, by implication, equally illicit methods are used to obtain information – the dark arts – on anyone who seeks to change the status quo. We have been warned.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary