Friday, December 30, 2011

Make 2012 a year to settle accounts

The year ends as it began, with great social movements of people who have taken to the streets because other means of democratic expression are either cut off, denied or wilfully ignored.

It coincides with a world economy teetering on the edge of a depression, overwhelmed by the very debt that it generated to lead an unsustainable, self-destructive expansion.

Italy, now run by an unelected government headed by a Goldman Sachs advisor, yesterday had to pay almost 7% to refinance a small portion of its huge debt. Europe’s banks only function because they have access to cheap money from the central bank. Everyone knows it can’t continue.

In the last few weeks, huge numbers have defied the authorities in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Russia; many have paid with their lives at the hands of authoritarian regimes that deny basic freedoms.

Across the United States, the occupy movement that began on Wall Street has sustained a stubborn foothold despite state repression and exposed the Obama presidency. In Britain, the biggest strike for 30 years was backed by the resilient and imaginative St Paul’s occupation.

No one can dispute that despite the different forms and apparent aims of people in different countries from Bahrain, Libya to Israel, this is a truly global phenomenon that signifies a new period of world history.

On October 15, various actions against the system were held simultaneously in almost 100 countries, initiated by the Democracy Now! movement in Spain. It was an event unique in human history that we must build on in the coming year.

New generations have driven the movement on, giving the lie to those who stupidly claim that modern capitalism has created hopeless individualism and despair in place of social solidarity.

People have rediscovered and enhanced their individuality in social movements that have emphasised inclusiveness, transparency, democracy and collective decision-making. Social media designed to reinforce corporate culture has become a key tool for mobilising against the self same system.

The movement will ebb and flow and new forms of struggle will emerge to enhance the occupation movement simply because the multi-sided crisis of the present social system is not going away any time soon.

In Britain, over a million young people are out of work, while more toil for a pittance or nothing at all. Prisons are full to bursting, partly as a result of the state’s revenge on summer rioters who were led to believe they were “worth it”.

The ConDem government’s cuts are magnifying the recession. Panic in ruling circles is mounting about the impact of a eurozone collapse. Yet the Tory-led regime rides high in polls, buoyed by the fact that Labour and most trade union leaders offer no alternative let alone leadership.

Although millions participated in the March demonstration against spending cuts and the November 30 strikes, TUC leaders are busily trying to end the fight over pensions. They are signing up to deals that mean paying more, working longer and getting less on retirement.

If 2011 witnessed a great social awakening around the world, while ruling political and business elites were befuddled by the global economic and financial crisis, we should make 2012 a year when historical accounts are settled in our favour.

Some argue, however, that A) a coherent strategy is unnecessary, B) that the system will give way under mass pressure, or that C) a package of reforms can rescue capitalism from itself. A and B ignore the realities of how power is wielded through the state while C disregards the system’s inherent contradictions.

Recent breakthroughs in physics about the smallest particles, the speed of light and dark matter show that humans have capacity to discover and learn about themselves and the world.

The point in 2012 is to change it by creating movements in the spirit of scientists, by working collaboratively to find solutions, developing forms of co-leadership that avoid hierarchy yet do not stifle bold decisions or strategy planning.

More 18-year-olds in Britain are on Facebook than are registered to vote. This does not mean we should turn away from politics because of the politicians - that gives the status quo a free hand. We have to make a politics of our own.

A World to Win campaigned throughout 2011 for a strategy based on People’s Assemblies. These could deconstruct the capitalist state and create the framework for a sustainable not-for-profit economy and financial system based on co-ownership and control.

We took the idea into student occupations, strike movements and the occupations at St Paul’s, Glasgow, Newcastle and other cities. We are looking to our members, supporters and friends to develop this strategy and make it happen in 2012.

A World to Win editors

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Land grab drives famine in Africa

Global corporations and governments are exploiting traditional forms of land tenure to force through a global land grab. It is leading to a net export of calories from Africa and Asia to richer countries and is a major contributor to famine.

In Africa in particular, the neo-colonial forms that have emerged since independence are being exploited to force people off their land and let the corporations in, according to an investigation by the Oakland Institute, an independent think tank. Of the 60m hectares driven on the world market since 2009, 70% is in Africa.

For many years, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund bullied governments into enclosing and privatising land, in order to offer a stable capitalist land ownership model attractive to foreign investors.

The result has been the curse of big landlordism that has destroyed rural communities in India and Bangladesh, for example. Now many of those original private landlords have themselves grown into global corporations and are leading the thrust of Indian capitalism into Africa.

The process is taking an even cruder form under pressure from corporations and governments like the American who are not even waiting about for legal niceties.

Land tenure in many African countries is not by title or enclosure but by customary rights. This is being interpreted to mean that the government owns the land. And so governments are declaring huge tracts of land as “unused”, and declaring groups of their own people to be “squatters”.

This unused land includes millions of hectares used by pastoralists on a seasonal basis; tracts of land left fallow for some years in a centuries-old farming method that allows land to recover its fertility; and forest land that is crucial to people for timber and fruits and also for protecting the water supply. All of this is being classified as unused government-land and the corporations are being ushered in.

The US government is supporting a major push from corporations like Monsanto to force governments to repeal laws against GM crops, for example in Tanzania, where there was a legal framework designed to keep native species free of GM contamination. China is in stiff competition with the US in the rush for African land.

The resulting displacement of people and disruption of communities leads to a bizarre situation where formerly independent farmers are now reliant on food aid whilst the land they farmed is producing crops, using unsustainable modern farming methods, to be exported to richer countries.

Also coming into play are what the Oakland Institute calls “false climate solutions”, where the corrupt carbon emissions offsetting mechanisms are another driver of the global land grab. Some of the world's worst polluters can go on polluting if they plant a tree somewhere else, and often these trees are being inappropriately planted on land grabbed in Africa.

As the OI report says: "At the end of the day, Africans are losing their food-producing land and water resources to crops being used for agrofuels in other countries. The unwelcome surprise is that the production of these crops, with industrial fertilizers, equipment and processing, will do more harm heating the planet than provide climate solutions."

It may not be possible to restore the traditional land rights that prevailed across the world before capitalist forms of enclosure and privatisation, but we can develop and implement a new model.

We can only end famine, offer fair land rights and protect the ecology of the planets by formulating an idea for a democratic shared commons. There are plenty of models for this, from community land trusts on the Scottish islands to farmers' co-operatives, and of course traditional forms of tenure as well. The challenge is to bring about the political and economic transformation needed to implement such a project.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Global meltdown closer as risks pile up

Action taken by governments of the rich capitalist countries to reduce their deficits has produced a dangerous accumulation of risks for the world economy, warns the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

A fully-fledged recession will hit key advanced economies in 2012, even dashing hopes for what is bizarrely termed “expansionary contraction”. UNCTAD warns: “In today’s highly integrated global economy, the contractionary contagion will affect all countries and … emerging and developing economies need to prepare contingency plans.”

Other end-of-year reports on the prospects for capitalism in 2012 do not make happy reading for the world of government and politics, let alone those operating the crisis-ridden financial system.

According to the European Central Bank’s latest financial stability review, the probability of two large eurozone banks defaulting simultaneously “has been sharper and larger than in the past, pushing this measure of systemic risk to heights not observed since its inception in 2007”.

Having warned on Monday that the eurozone debt crisis could spread to engulf further member states, “creating risks to financial stability that could reverberate around the world”, the ECB has announced emergency, unlimited three-year loans to the major commercial banks

The ECB hopes this will tide them over the holiday period and avert the catastrophic collapse they face in the New Year.

But where will the money come from? The UK government has failed to stump up its hoped-for contribution to the latest £200 billion eurozone. bail-out fund which is already £50 billion short.

This was despite it being brokered via the International Monetary Fund to make it appear that Britain wasn’t contributing directly to Europe. And this adds to the problems of the biggest US money market funds having cut their lending to European banks to a further record low.

Meanwhile, ratings agency Moody has warned that Cameron’s prized triple-A rating for Britain is under threat from slowing growth, a worsening crisis in Europe, or any hesitation in the Coalition’s assault on living standards
New York economics professor Nouriel Roubini has for years been a front-runner in facing-up to the reality of the crisis. His forecast is for “a perfect storm of a double-dip recession in the US, a disorderly scenario in the eurozone and a hard landing in China” should policymakers continue to avoid “the tough decisions that are required to address their fundamental economic, financial and fiscal problems.”

The trouble is, policymakers aren’t in control of the global meltdown. As a nameless European Commission official quoted in the Financial Times has it: “You kind of always hope that someone, somewhere has a solution. And then one day it sort of dawns on you that no one here does.”

Every action that the governments or central banks take falls short of what would be needed because the social and political consequences are so profound. On the one hand they’re trying to create conditions for a return to growth. On the other hand, they’re obliged to follow the logic of capitalist “creative destruction”. They have to eliminate surplus productive capacity left over from the decades of credit-financed boom – at whatever cost to the billions of ordinary people whose lives are being smashed.

If humanity is to have any kind of decent future, the worldwide protests against the financial system and the effects of austerity must merge with the Arab uprisings and form a global movement of revolutionary people’s assemblies. The aim for 2012 has to be the replacement of the destructive capitalist system of exploitation with a not-for-profit, democratically-controlled system of sustainable production for need.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fight the great pensions betrayal

Only a rank-and-file revolt in defence of their pension rights stands between leaders of most public sector trade unions and what will surely rank near the top of a long list of betrayals.

With the honourable except of Mark Serwotka, leader of the PCS civil servants’ union, virtually every other official – leader is definitely the wrong term in this context – signalled in one way or another the end of the short-lived campaign over pensions.

They almost fell over themselves to meet a pre-Christmas deadline set by the ConDem coalition to reach a negotiated settlement covering more than two million local government workers, NHS staff, teachers, lecturers and civil servants.

Whatever agreement is reached, it will inevitably cut further into the living standards of public sector workers who are already the victims of a government-imposed pay freeze (which union officials, with their own fat pensions preserved in aspic, have meekly accepted).

On the eve of the talks, the government announced that it would unilaterally impose higher pension contributions on teachers and civil servants. Most civil servants and teachers will pay an extra 0.6-2.4% from April. Did the teaching unions walk away in the face of such a provocation? Not at all.

The only outright opposition yesterday came from the PCS which said it had rejected “the government’s latest attempt to force public servants to pay more and work longer for less in retirement”. It was promptly excluded from further talks.

And so the apparent unity of the 29 unions who staged a one-day strike of at least 1.5 million workers less than a month ago was fragmented at a stroke. The government’s strategy of divide and rule proved more successful than this feeble coalition could ever have imagined.

At a meeting at the Trades Union Congress headquarters, general secretary Brendan Barber, who has been in secret talks with the government throughout, stressed that further industrial action was off the table and negotiations would resume in the new year.

“We have reached a stage where the emphasis in most cases is in giving active consideration to the new proposals that have emerged rather than considering the prospect of further industrial action.” The proposals include the abandonment of the final salary basis for pensions in favour of career average salaries.

To seek a negotiated settlement after giving it everything you’ve got is honourable; to run up the white flag with a hardly a short fired is nothing short of cowardice in the face of an enemy that is waging open class warfare.

For all the fiery talk of general secretary Dave Prentis, the leader of Unison, it was predictably hot air. The union’s head of health, Christina McAnea, admitted that “we always knew this would be a damage limitation exercise aimed at reducing the worst impacts of the government's pension changes."

The TUC and union bureaucrats have implicitly accepted the principal reason for the attack on pensions – the government’s budget deficit that is the result of a recession precipitated by capitalism’s financial meltdown.

Public sector workers are, in effect, being told to pay for the crisis through higher contributions and worse pensions. Behind the scenes, the leadership of the Labour Party has worked might and main to get unions to abandon further strikes and do a deal with a government.

The last thing Ed Miliband wanted was a long-running strike campaign that could have fatally wounded a weak and divided coalition whose policies his party barely opposes (except to demand a harder line on crime).

PCS general secretary Serwotka, urged unions to fight the changes: "We should call further industrial action in the new year because this is so unfair, we have got to stand up against it... Our message really is that those unions will have to be accountable to their members for what they do."

A campaign to reject the sell-out over pensions (and the wage freeze) has to mobilise rank-and-file anger in ways that are linked to the removal from their posts of all those involved in this shoddy surrender. In some ways, it’s a last chance to save the trade union movement from total disaster.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, December 19, 2011

Havel and the 'power of the powerless'

The laurels being heaped on former Czech president Václav Havel, who died at the weekend, by reactionary world leaders should not blind us to his courageous role in the break-up of Stalinist rule in eastern Europe.

Havel grew up in the aftermath of the grotesque anti-Semitic Slansky show trials in 1952 in which 11 leaders of the Czech Communist Party were put to death in a Stalinist purge. He reflected in an intense way the contradictory, often tormented lives of his countrywomen and men before and after the Prague Spring of 1968, when Soviet tanks rolled into the country and crushed the reform movement led by Alexander Dubcek.

Havel served five years in jail – some of them with hard labour - for founding the Charter 77 movement and the Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted. Being a liberal under Stalinism was no easy road to take. He broke what a fellow writer called the silence of the swamp in the grim years that followed the Soviet crackdown.

Along with other Czech writers and musicians, including the Plastic People of the Universe, Havel went outside and beyond his youthful calling as a playwright to mock and defy Stalinist officialdom.

Havel called his country Absurdistan, and this sense that reality was more surreal than the imagination pervaded his work and also his life. For someone with such undoubted talents as a playwright and political thinker to become a political leader, a president no less, is a tribute not only to the man’s inherent strengths but also the creativity of the Czech nation.

I had the privilege of seeing one of his last plays, Leaving, performed in Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre in 2008 during a Havel season. Havel’s ironic send-up of a politician on his way out of power brought together the ironic-surreal traditions of Czech culture with a self-mocking contemporary twist. On that score alone, Havel’s ability to embrace and deploy a host of contradictions with humour and grace revealed that no ordinary mind was at work here.

In 1978, he wrote an essay called The Power of the Powerless which championed the notion of the self-movement of people from below and encapsulates both Havel’s political strengths and weaknesses. Havel wrote that “latent social crises can at any time... provoke a wide variety of political change...evoke unexpected and unforeseen social unrest and explosions of discontent.”

He saw the “dissident” movement against Stalinism as only one of many factors in political development focusing above all on the “defence of people” – clearly a vital issue for those living under bureaucratic, authoritarian rule. Although he did not like the word dissident, he saw the movement as addressing the “hidden spheres of society, since it is not a matter of confronting the regime on the level of actual power”.

Havel was acutely aware that the policies adopted by superpowers can bring about sudden changes and upsets. It was, in fact, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to hold multi-party elections in the Soviet Union in the spring of 1989 and his refusal, made clear in July of that year, to deploy Warsaw Pact troops again in Eastern Europe that gave the green light to the 1989 political revolutions, first in Poland and Hungary and then in Czechoslovakia.

Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia in December 1989 and installed in Prague castle where he lightened up the atmosphere by zooming around on a child’s scooter. But while the end of Stalinism was a great achievement, the Czech people were before long embroiled in the rush to impose free market capitalism in the region.

In 1992 pro-capitalist leader Václav Klaus was elected and the movement for separating the country into two separate states gained momentum. Klaus and another politician Vladimír Mečiar pushed through the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into two states even though it was supported by only a third of the population. Havel refused to back the break-up of the country.

His ethical but also highly practical approach, his espousal of green politics and vision of transcending present society, deserve respect. What outlives Havel is the task of embracing the spirit of 1989 in developing creative ways to mount a successful challenge to today’s ruling political-corporate elites who have created a global aburdistan.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, December 16, 2011

Boycott the Olympic war games!

Just in case you missed yesterday's news, next year will see the inauguration of the first Military and Security Olympics. They will take place over 17 days in London and other venues around the country.

That’s how it felt when defence secretary Philip Hammond announced that 7,500 military personnel would work as security guards checking visitors to Olympic venues. Another 5,000 military, including a 1,000-strong "quick reaction force", will assist the Met Police, which plans to deploy 12,000 officers. Another 1,000 military personnel will provide logistics.

The navy’s largest ship HMS Ocean will be moored at Greenwich. There will snipers in helicopters, fighter jets on standby and air defence missiles in place. In total, 41,7000 people will be involved in the so-called security operation at a cost of well over £1 billion.

With London becoming a war zone for the duration of the 2012 Olympics, you have to ask yourself, is it really worth hosting the games? Because however you look at it, the Olympics are a corporate-dominated, commercialised rip-off that has little to do with the ideals of sport.

Take the ticketing arrangements. A quarter of a million applicants failed to get a single ticket in the public ballot. Less than half the seats at showpiece events were earmarked for the public. The majority were made available to corporate sponsors like bailed out bank Lloyds and global accountancy firm Deloitte. Meanwhile, the government has spent more than £700,000 on tickets, for “dignitaries and business leaders”, MPs were told recently. The games look like being one giant hospitality event.

While we are on about sponsors, how sickening is that Dow Chemicals has been awarded the contract to “dress” the main stadium. The company owns Union Carbide, responsible for thousands of deaths from the 1984 Bhopal chemical lea. India’s Olympic body was so disgusted that it half-threatened a boycott of the London games.

Before Bhopal, Dow was infamous for the manufacture of napalm and Agent Orange, which US forces used to maim and poison millions during the Vietnam war. Other corporate sponsors include McDonald's and mining corporation Rio Tinto. Two of the six official “sustainability partners” for London 2012 are energy corporations EDF and BP.

As to the total cost, it looks likely to come in around £12 billion – about five times the promise made in 2005 when London won the bid for the 2012 Games. Most of it comes from taxpayers, with Londoners paying extra for the dubious privilege of hosting the event.

When it comes to the pledge of extra youth participation in sport, that’s gone by the board too. Sport England announced last week that the number of people playing sport aged 16-19 has fallen. Lord Moynihan, chair of the British Olympic Association, says that politicians have failed to honour pledges made after winning the games.

Pledges by the Labour government to deliver an average of five hours' sport a week in schools had not been met, and now further cuts were taking place. "At the moment I don't see the policies being put in place that will build on the inspiration of the games for young people and that will change their lives for a lasting sports legacy," he said.

Moynihan, a former Tory sports minister, told the Observer: "We have got tens of thousands of really gifted, talented young sports stars whose talent is never identified. There is no ladder for them to climb and there is no structure for them to get to the top of.”

What about the Olympic Village and the housing “legacy”? Most of the homes have been bought by a partnership including the Qatari royal family's company and will be private housing after the games. Other homes will be sold off to “key workers”. Social housing? Forget it.

With ordinary tourists planning to stay away from London in droves, alarmed by soaring hotel prices, massive traffic jams and heavy-handed security, these are hardly going to be the fun games which the capital’s diverse population can enjoy. The only hope is that the eurozone countries on the end of prime minister Cameron’s veto last week retaliate with a boycott all of their own!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Durban's 'death sentence' for millions

The last-minute deal at the Durban climate summit was as believable as the climax of a reality TV show. Cheering, back-slapping delegates had just condemned millions to starvation and homelessness.

Any binding agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases must now wait until 2020. Negotiations will not begin until 2014, and will in effect start from scratch - as if the Kyoto protocol never existed.

All major polluters will be expected to agree to substantial cuts. But when it comes to it - will any of them agree to anything that limits profit-driven growth? Not as long as the corporations are calling the shots they won't.

Just to underline the point, the day after the talks concluded, the Canadian government abandoned the Kyoto treaty. They were not on course to meet their Kyoto target, and faced significant fines. Japan, Russia and possibly Australia, are likely to follow suit.

Now Canada can “focus on jobs and growth”, said the country’s environment minister. What he means is his government wants big oil corporations to go all out to extract huge deposits of oil from sand. This a high emissions process, that will also help lock the planet in to fossil fuel burning for the foreseeable future

As a result, the world is now on course for catastrophic outcomes. "Eight years from now is a death sentence on Africa," said Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey, chairperson of Friends of the Earth International.

The International Energy Agency, in its annual outlook last month, said that without significant reductions in emissions over the next 25 years, there will be an average temperature rise of 3.5ºc.

The science is clear enough. Warming over 3°C will create feedback loops, causing runaway greenhouse effects:

• the Amazon rainforest starts to die back
• coral reefs die and are replaced by algae and sea grass
• irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet occurs
• release of methane hydrates in ocean floor sediments further adds to warming
• permafrost thaws, releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases currently fixed.

So what is to be done? Well, there are still options available and it is not too late to act. Much of the greenhouse gas that will cause significant warming is already up there, and the effects are already being felt across the planet.

But if we introduce cuts in emissions starting now, it may be possible to hold warming below 2ºC. At the same time as emergency plans to cut emissions, massive resources could be invested in mitigation – developing drought-resistant crops; more effective water use; improving natural flood defences on coasts and river deltas; switching to sustainable farming methods; fair shares of land.

In the UK, that could mean local and regional People’s Assemblies developing their own action plans, and also sending delegates to a national Assembly that could plan, for example, to immediately:
• close London’s carbon trading exchange
• fund insulation grants and solar panels for all households where suitable
• bring rail, air and bus networks into not-for-profit ownership, slashing fares and working for an integrated transport system
• take cars out of city centres with park and ride, and create public transport/cycle-only boxes in the centre of cities
• establish car pool schemes and car sharing schemes
• set upper limits on total flight miles in and out of Britain and distribute them fairly through an air miles system
• halt airport expansion
• halt plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations
• launch a crash programme of renewable energy projects.

But the most urgent question we face is political. As long as profit-driven growth is the sole priority of government, nothing can change. But a global network of People’s Assemblies could quickly put together a binding agreement, and open the way for a new era of sustainable production to meet the needs of people and planet. Debating how to achieve this should become the focus for meetings and occupations up and down the country early in the New Year.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thinking the unthinkable

The name Terry Smith probably doesn’t mean anything to you, despite the fact that he is one of the biggest fans of David Cameron’s decision to walk away from a new European Union treaty designed to control member states’ budgets.

Smith’s company Tullett Prebon is one of the largest of the small number of inter-dealer money brokers in the world, acting as an intermediary between investment and commercial banks. As the global financial system grew in importance and influence, companies such as his developed into key nerve centres, becoming sensitive to every change in its fortunes, and making a packet at every turn.

The financial services industry makes up about 10% of the UK’s country’s gross domestic product and accounts for 11% of its total tax receipts. Financial services employ more than 1 million people in the UK. The industry wields enormous power throughout the world from its London base, and Tullett Prebon plays a key role.

Smith famously pooh-poohed those who claimed Britain had cut itself adrift from the rest of Europe and was marooned in mid-Atlantic following Cameron’s veto. He compared Britain's isolation from the EU to "someone who refused to join the Titanic before it sailed" as "there is nothing that guarantees that the euro will survive at all".

His analysis is widely echoed. New York University professor Nouriel – Dr Doom – Roubini, agree. "With Italy too big to fail, too big to save, and now at the point of no return, the endgame for the eurozone has begun,” the man who predicted the 2008 crash wrote in a recent assessment.

Back to Mr Smith because he tells it how it really is. He speaks with brutish confidence derived from success, having made a pile of money playing the markets. He says that Cameron shouldn’t try pushing for growth because he can’t have any effect on it.

And he’s right. Capitalism is following its own logic. Capital’s need for investment funds to support growth created the insane deregulated excesses of a globalising financial system which blew up in 2007/8. Subsequent “unconventional” measures of credit creation led to the debt tsunami now engulfing the world.

You can read about it in Tullett Prebon’s recent research paper cheeringly called “Thinking the unthinkable, might there be no way out for Britain? Project Armageddon – the final report”.

The report explains in detail the mammoth size of Britain’s total debts which, it says, are “unsupportable” without “sustained economic growth”, of which there is no prospect because the economy is not “aligned” to achieve it. The Coalition’s spending cuts are ridiculed as somewhat inadequate, while its policies will have no impact on growth.

His views are borne out by today’s UK unemployment figures, showing a rise of 128,000 in the three months to October to 2.64 million, the highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment rose to 1.027 million, the highest since records began in 1992, beating the previous record set only last month.

“Courtesy of massive and unsustainable public borrowing, the British public has been shielded thus far from the pain of recession. This exercise in damage limitation was necessarily-time limited.” Much deeper spending cuts and further sharp falls in living standards is what Tullet Prebon have in mind as the basis for a “return to growth”.

But Britain’s crisis wasn’t the result of “fiscal and economic mismanagement” by Blair and Brown, as the report would have it.. The phenomenal growth of the finance sector – and the UK’s dependence on it – was the essential lever needed to sustain corporate profits for as along as was possible. Every country in the world has become subsumed by debt mountains that were the result.

Neither Smith nor anyone else has any confidence that the weak agreement by 25 or so European countries will result in decisive action to reduce their sovereign debts, which has wrecked the euro.

Jean-Michel Six, Chief economist at credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s, attack dog for the capital markets, said on Monday: "There is probably yet another shock required before everybody in the euro zone reads from the same page, for instance a major German bank experiencing some real difficulties on the markets, which is a genuine possibility in the near term."

With European governments in disarray, include the ConDem coalition, Six could be accused of whistling in the dark. As the Tullett Prebon report indicates, “what comes next is going to be unpleasant”. Stopping capitalism going down that road will revolve around a struggle for power over the economy in which people’s assemblies will have to play a decisive role.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The 'national interest' con trick

If there’s one phrase that’s dominated parliament, the airwaves and the media over the veto used by David Cameron to block a new European Union, it is the “national interest”. It’s an Orwellian phrase, designed to obscure rather than reveal the truth.

In the House of Commons yesterday, the debate on the prime minister’s Brussels veto was whether it was in the “national interest” or not.

Cameron claimed: "I went to Brussels with one objective – to protect Britain's national interest. And that is what I did."

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, responded: “Faced with a choice between the national interest and his party interest, he has chosen the party interest.”

Using a phrase often enough does not necessarily mean that it accurately describes what’s going on. Especially when it’s deployed by a political class not exactly known for telling the truth.

Some self-evident, basic facts first. Presently, we live within a capitalist economic and political system. In our society, there those who own and control production and finance (aka capitalists) and those who are employed by them (aka the working class). This relationship extends to the public sector where the employer is the state.

The “interests” may appear identical in the sense, for example, that an employer needs workers and a worker needs resources and a place to labour. But it is an identity of opposites because ultimately the interests at stake are essentially different. Employers need to generate profits and will drive down costs, including wages when they can. Workers have an interest in maximising their income and defending what they have, which is why trade unions have had to strike to defend their pension rights.

None of this is exactly new. Nor is the use of the term “national interest” to disguise the very real social, class-based divisions in society. Yet people are not fooled into thinking that the interests of the banks, for example, are the same as theirs. Or that politicians represent ordinary people rather than powerful corporate interests.

In a the state of the nation survey 2006, only 17% questioned thought they had a great deal or a fair amount of power over government policies. compared with 67% that large corporations exercised. No doubt that figure would be higher today in the wake of the meltdown and bank bail-outs.

So a “national interest” actually doesn’t exist in practice. But it is a convenient smokescreen that can be rolled out to justify the odd invasion (Iraq for example), or to justify a veto exercised to protect the narrow interests of (global) bankers, or simply as a way to whip up patriotism and hatred of foreigners in general and France/Germany in particular.

Some like Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty accuse Cameron of being too narrow in his definition of “national interest” by overly focusing on the importance of the City of London and financial services in Brussels.

But Chakrabortty lends the term credibility it does not merit by suggesting that a real “national interest” would be better served if it included a whole range of other economic activities. His sociological, non-class viewpoint is simply a liberal acceptance of the status quo of capitalist social relations.

The interests of ordinary people cannot be served, defended or advanced by submerging them into those of the ruling economic and political elites – in any country. The political crisis within the European Union is driven by the global failure of a debt-driven capitalist economy and its impact on the euro. A new democratic, internationalist framework that unites ordinary people against corporate and financial power wherever it is located has to be our answer to nationalist rhetoric and downright lies.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Monday, December 12, 2011

Anti-Putin movement marks end of an era

Russia’s street protest movement, which has shaken not only the Kremlin’s autocrats but global financial markets, is the largest for two decades, and is the end of an era.

The pro-capitalist triumphalism of the early 1990s has turned into disenchantment, not just with the sham democracy which voters experienced earlier this month, but with the corruption of a mafia-style capitalism.

The demands for a fair election are part of a much bigger movement of discontent which is sweeping Russia under conditions of the global economic crisis.

On Saturday, up to a 100,000 Russians from Vladivostok in the east, to Moscow and St Petersburg, right through to central London, demonstrated against the rigged parliamentary elections.

A map on Spandex, Russia’s largest search engine, showed the protests scheduled for Saturday in around 100 cities around the country, with links to details for each event on a Russian social networking site.

Placards denounced "False elections, false laws, false authorities” and protesters shouted “rogues and thieves give us back our elections”, and called for a “Russia without Putin”. Up to 50,000 came to a rally held on an island in Moscow.

Their five-point demands are:

  • Freedom for political prisoners
  • Annulment of the election results
  • The resignation of Vladimir Churov, head of the election commission, and an official investigation of vote fraud
  • Registration of the opposition parties and new democratic legislation on parties and elections
  • New democratic and open elections.

The demonstrators defied pre-emptive strikes by the regime, which saw the arrest last week of opposition leaders like blogger Alexei Navalny, Solidarnost leader Ilya Nashin, Eduard Limonov of the unregistered Other Russia party and Oleg Orlov of the Memorial human rights group. In Ulyanovsk, Lenin’s birthplace, all the protest leaders were arrested, but the protests went ahead nonetheless.

Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks by Putin’s “cyber-warriors” also focused on preventing Russia’s 51 million internet users from accessing anti-regime media websites.

President Medvedev has announced an inquiry into voting procedures on his Facebook page, while rejecting a re-run of the election, the central demand of the protests. He was met with an immediate and often mocking response by people saying they did not believe him.

The protests are the largest since the turmoil in August 1990 when thousands took to the streets of Moscow to thwart a putsch aimed at removing the then leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Since replacing Boris Yeltsin, ex-KGB chief Vladimir Putin has reversed the democratic gains promoted by Gorbachev to enable an oligarchy to establish capitalism in Russia. When Putin was barred from standing for election for a third term in 2008, he was appointed as prime minister. He insists he will run for president again in March.

From a massive majority in earlier elections, support for Putin and his United Russia party has fallen to an all-time low, especially as the global economy has swung into a downturn. On Friday, shares in Russian companies saw massive drops as investors fear continuing political instability, as well as lower demands for oil.

One school of thought claims the Russian democratic movement is funded and inspired from Washington, pointing to financial backing from the National Endowment for Democracy for bloggers like Alexei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov’s People’s Freedom Party and the election watchdog Golos.

But to denounce those angry with the Russian political system as pawns of the West is ludicrous and insulting. As one demonstrator said: “I don't think any citizen of the country can say he is very happy with anything. We don't have an independent judiciary, there is no freedom of expression – all this combined creates a situation where people are forced to protest.”

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Friday, December 09, 2011

The 99% lose out all over Europe

In the end, the “choice” was between a British government determined to protect the City of London at all costs and the rest of the European Union agreeing to allow bureaucrats to impose co-ordinated spending cuts on their increasingly angry populations.

Thus the “interests” at stake in the all-night crisis summit in Brussels were essentially the same – whatever side of the Channel the member states happened to be located. And they weren’t those of ordinary people, the 99%.

Prime minister Cameron used Britain’s veto to try and keep the City free from any new EU taxes and regulations, while chancellor Merkel and president Sarkozy were driven by the financial markets towards a so-called fiscal union to save the euro. The 1% are the only potential winners here.

Cameron’s talk of “national interests” is in any case somewhat hollow, considering that the City is dominated entirely by global investment banks and dealers. Individuals n the UK own just 10% of the shares traded on the London stock exchange compared with 54% in 1963. Foreign investors, of all types, are the biggest group and now own 42% of shares on the London stock market.

All Cameron is concerned about – just like his New Labour predecessors – is protecting the tax revenue from a financial sector that was itself bailed out in 2008 to the tune of billions (while cutting the budget deficit at our expense). All Merkel and Sarkozy are worried about is cutting sovereign debt deep enough to appease the financial markets. Same difference.

The political breakdown in Brussels cannot disguise the summit’s failure to agree on a rescue plan for the single currency, or at least one that might impress the financial markets. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the permanent rescue mechanism due to come into force in July 2012, will be capped at €500bn while the Germany opposed giving it the banking licence sought by Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

Running in parallel is a profound banking crisis. Yesterday, “stress tests” showed European banks had a shortfall of €115bn compared to €106bn in October. Germany's banks were found to need more than double the amount of capital anticipated. And French banks are also under pressure. The rating agency Moody’s has downgraded three French banks including Societe Generale, which it says may need government support.

The banking crisis is directly connected to the sovereign debts overwhelming countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal. Many banks are exposed to loans to these countries and do not have sufficient capital to handle a default, let alone the collapse of the euro. In a desperate move, the European Central Bank has cut interest rates, given loans to cash-strapped banks and is accepting virtually any collateral for loans, including the notorious mortgage-backed securities that drove the 2008 meltdown. ECB chief Mario Draghi admitted that a new credit crunch was under way, with banks refusing to lend to each other.

The EU was until the 2008 crisis a cosy, corporate, bureaucratic, undemocratic club run increasingly on free-market lines. It was the European arm of capitalism’s globalisation project. Deregulation of the financial system applied throughout the continent, not just in Britain.

Because the global economy’s growth was fuelled by debt, the recession exposed its soft underbelly and wrecked the finances of national governments. It wasn’t deregulation that did it for the capitalist economy but the in-built drive to grow or die to sustain profits that ultimately broke the back of finance.

A democratic Europe run in the interests of ordinary people, the disenfranchised majority, is a goal worth struggling for. The chances of the EU as presently designed being the vehicle for such a project are precisely nil. Cameron, Sarkozy and Merkel have made that abundantly clear.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Coalition takes greenwash to a new level

ConDem coalition energy policy is being made on the run, in secret and in cahoots with the energy corporations. The self-styled “greenest-ever government” is engaged in a behind-the-scenes dash for fossil fuel and nuclear.

Here’s the evidence for the prosecution:

1. Having closed down one loss-making fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield, the government has announced plans to build another at a cost of £3bn of taxpayers’ money. So much for claims that new nuclear plants will have to be financed privately, including dealing with waste. The plant will try to transform Britain’s stockpile of nuclear waste into mox (mixed-oxide) fuel for a new generation of thermal light water reactors. As Douglas Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: "This proposal will lead to a subsidised plant creating subsidised fuel so that subsidised operators can produce subsidised electricity and then receive subsidised waste disposal. The only winners in this are the nuclear operators, already rich with their 18% domestic fuel price rises this year."

2. The government has been passing on details of Greenpeace’s legal challenge to new nuclear plants, to the Nuclear Industry Association and even directly to French nuclear giant EDF, the most likely candidate to build any new plants. Greenpeace has complained to the High Court and says it is an abuse of power that “prevents democratic scrutiny”.

3. Green MP Caroline Lucas has exposed oil and nuclear industry penetration and influence in Whitehall. She has found that 50 employees from companies like EDF, Npower and Centrica have been seconded to work on energy issues in government departments, free of charge, over the past four years. "Companies such as the big six energy firms do not lend their staff to government for nothing – they expect a certain degree of influence, insider knowledge and preferential treatment in return," said Lucas, who also found that the government had met with the “big six” producers and the power trade associations almost 200 times since the May 2010 election.

4. The government has been covertly passing information to Canadian diplomats lobbying to stop the European Union classifying oil extracted from tar sands as having a heavy carbon footprint - which of course it does. This would make the oil less attractive to European fuel suppliers, trying to meet requirements under the Fuel Quality Directive.

5. In his autumn statement, Chancellor Osborne took £1bn out of the budget that had been set aside to develop carbon capture and storage to spend on other new infrastructure. He promised £250m of public money to help industries with high emissions of greenhouse gas subvert EU carbon caps, and also pledged a review of “green regulations” to “clear the way for development and economic growth”. In other words, dump them all.

6. The draft rules for the government’s much-vaunted Green Investment Bank would not allow it carry through a plan to make millions of homes more energy efficient. Instead the bank will have to invest on commercial terms and show a profit. As a result, it is unlikely to invest in areas that are good for the environment, but deemed too risky by other lenders, though that was supposed to be the point. The bank’s funding is no longer put at £3bn but “up to £3bn” and it will not start operating until 2016 at the earliest.

We hereby find this government guilty of greenwash, building extensively on the example of their New Labour predecessors, and we award environment secretary Chris Huhne the “hypocrite of the year award 2011”. How do they sleep at night? No problem because they are fulfilling their role as they see it - promoting growth at all costs during what is rapidly turning into a global slump of the capitalist system.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Capitalism has no moral dilemma

An Occupy London delegation – not everyone at St Paul’s is happy with this – is due to debate prospects for an “ethical capitalism” tonight with city fund managers, religious leaders, former bankers, and tax reformers.

Leaving aside for the moment the somewhat fantastical notion that capitalism could/should have an ethical dimension, the question is at least a million miles away from the real world.

The global contraction is undermining belated attempts by leaders of the 17 eurozone countries to agree on a new treaty which would supersede national sovereignty. Pushed, prodded, warned and threatened by the credit rating agencies acting as the voice of capitalist finance, plans for further assaults on living standards are to be co-ordinated and enforced at supranational level. They call it “fiscal union”. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel believes it will take years to achieve.

China’s manufacturing output is contracting, undermining those who asserted that the country would drag the rest of the world economy out of recession, while Britain’s has nosedived; and Brazil’s economy has gone into decline.

The democratically-elected governments of Greece and Italy have already been pushed aside by administrations by the bankers for the bankers. Alongside the feverish political activity, central banks in the eurozone are following the Bank of England, making their survival-of-the-fittest plans for when the first of the commercial banks fail.

There is no precedence for the scale of this crisis. References to the 1930s abound but the so far slow-motion crash of 2011 is surely beyond comparison. Look to Ireland. The people there were amongst the first to feel the consequences of the ending of the long credit-fuelled boom as its property frenzy ended with the collapse of the Anglo-Irish bank in 2007/8.

The measures taken to pay off the punitive cost of bail-out funds from the EU-ECB-IMF Troika, and bring about a “return to growth” have meant an astonishing economic contraction and a reduction in real incomes. Real national output has contracted by 12.5%, but that conceals a bigger slump in the day-to-day economy. Nominal gross national product (GNP) has fallen by 22%. Consumer demand is down a third. Unemployment at 14.3 per cent is misleadingly low - with no work to be had many young people have emigrated – some to work on the tar sands of Alberta.

It is already a deeper depression than the 1930s. Public sector pay has already been cut 14% on average (with a pension levy), rising to 30% for the top managers. Entry-level jobs for graduates at the big four accounting firms have dropped by a third to €21,000. Office rental costs in Dublin have halved, and house prices are down 53%.

In common with the other 16 countries, membership of the eurozone meant that a currency devaluation to improve its export potential wasn’t possible. So Ireland was forced into an internal devaluation of the cost of labour, slashing wages, salaries, pensions and public sector spending.

The second wave of the global crisis is now underway with a vengeance. As the economies of Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal disintegrate, Ireland’s people will be in the firing line again. The Fine Gael/Labour coalition is already slashing deeper into living standards.

As a concept, “ethical capitalism” is more about theology than political economy. The bottom line is necessarily the primary concern of an economic system based on profit which in turn demands continuous growth. This is how the Protestant ethic works out in practice in present-day society.

In the end, a moral shift here or there can make no difference to dealing with a profound, historic and fundamental crisis of the system of production itself. The pressing debate to be held within the occupation and strike movements is on developing not-for-profit sustainable alternatives and how we get from A to B.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Headless chickens rule EU roost

A French president playing second fiddle to a German chancellor announcing a “fiscal union” to keep eurozone spending under control was patently an uncomfortable moment for Nicolas Sarkozy. His misery was written all over his face.

Perhaps Sarkozy was reflecting on historical precedents from past conflicts between the two countries while he was standing next to Angela Merkel. More likely, Sarkozy realised that the idea of Germany laying down the rules about a country’s national spending could only harm his re-election prospects.

Whatever was going through his mind, the announcement itself was more wordy than substantial. Within hours, the agency Standard & Poor said that the credit ratings of all 17 eurozone countries – including Germany and France – was threatened with a downgrade. All except Greece, whose debt now carries the dubious sobriquet of “junk status”.

As financial commentator Jeremy Warner noted, the agreement between Germany and France was about “as clear as mud” and notably failed to “address the immediate crisis” of the sovereign debt burden that is overwhelming country after country.

Warner’s concern that a long-term plan to keep spending under tighter control, reinforced by plans for a new European Union treaty, is hardly what the markets were waiting to hear, is all too real. But the inaction in the eurozone is not simply the result of German intransigence over using the European Central Bank to buy up a country’s bad debt.

Debt mountains express not simply profligate spending by member states but the consequence of the collapse of a credit-fuelled period of rapid economic expansion. While it lasted, debt could be repaid out of higher tax revenues. Bond dealers, banks and non-EU states couldn’t get enough of the interest-bearing debt.

The economic recession was not caused by the financial collapse of 2008, as is usually stated. In Britain, for example, the economy slowed markedly in the first years of the century. This trend was obscured by easy credit and rising house values (which many used to borrow against). When the meltdown came, it exposed the deep flaws within the capitalist system of production which requires year-on-year growth to sustain profit levels.

Merkel and Sarkozy can only address the debt issues because the nature of the capitalist economy is a given and not up for debate or change. Even so, creating more debt to “solve” existing debt is hardly a solution. Nor do cuts in state spending help. That only intensifies the recession by reducing consumer demand still further. And printing new money, as central banks are doing, simply adds to inflationary pressures while providing speculators with more resources.

All in all, policy makers and political elites are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. In management speak, it’s a lose-lose situation. Their predicament is made more complicated by a political system based on individual nation states in the midst of an entirely globalised, transnational economic and financial system.

The political class resemble headless chickens right now and is mostly concerned with self-preservation and gaining an edge over competitor nations. Democratic procedures are being jettisoned as too lengthy, too costly and too bothersome. Italy and Greece have non-elected governments run by bankers, while EU bureaucrats intend to determine spending on social welfare programmes under the Merkel-Sarkozy project.

Turning things round into a “win-win situation” will require bold strategic thinking and action – sooner rather than later – that aims at a political and economic transformation. We have to extend democracy in new ways beyond the all-too-narrow confines of capitalist ownership and control which is the root problem.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, December 05, 2011

Russians revolt against fraud elections

The dramatic slump in United Russia’s share of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections shows that voters defied a massive campaign of intimidation aimed at bolstering support for the ruling party.

President Medvedev and prime minister Putin’s party saw its share fall from around 64% to just under half after a campaign in which the Kremlin tried to bully the electorate.

In the run-up to the election, Russia experienced a ferocious crackdown by the authorities to muzzle the media, control the Internet and arrest opposition politicians. On polling day, eyewitnesses talked of ballot boxes being stuffed while “voters” were bussed around polling stations to cast multiple ballots for United Russia.

Videos posted to YouTube showed election workers opening ballot boxes with pre-marked ballots for United Russia. One poll worker told NK TV that ballot boxes were filled with checked-off ballots while she and others were in a meeting. At one polling station pens with disappearing ink were discovered, a video reported.

Members of the right wing youth group, Nashi, were brought in to Moscow as key squares were blocked off by police. Triumph Square – a popular place for oppositionists – has been fenced off since 2010. A Twitter user (@agoodtreaty) spotted a mocking sign on the fence surrounding the square saying: “Dear Muscovites! This fence has been erected in the event of popular unrest due to massively fraudulent elections. We apologise for the inconvenience.”

Countless blatant acts of repression – varying from brutal to comical – included the detention of Sergei Udaltsov, head of the Left Front and Eduard Limonov, leader of the opposition The Other Russia movement. Limonov supporters were also detained while Udaltsov was hustled into an unmarked car by unidentified men and then sentenced to five days’ arrest by a district court for “disobedience”.

Campaign ads by opposition parties were banned on state television by order of the Central Elections Commission. Intimidation and censorship by federal and local authorities included attacks on journalists, with a Moscow Times reporter ejected from a polling station in Oktyabrsky.

The ruling United Russia party was clearly behind denial of service attacks on a host of independent, business and liberal websites and media including Live Journal, a popular blogging platform, Ekho Mosvky, the New Times, the independent election monitor Golos, Bolshoi Gorod, Kommersant and the business news portal. Election commission officials confiscated the media accreditation of Radio Liberty reporters.

The authorities’ clampdown was easier in rural areas, where fewer people have internet connections. But Putin’s brutal state, which has overseen massive corruption and scores of journalists beaten and murdered in recent years, has not succeeded in preventing Russians – 51 million of whom have access to the Internet - from denouncing electoral manipulation.

Attempts to subvert the electoral process – shown on YouTube and social media - have increased voter scepticism about what one Muscovite derided as a “jackass democracy”.

Editor Grigory Okhotin resigned from an offshoot of the Ria Novosti news agency , after receiving an internal email asking employees “not to post any article hostile to Putin and United Russia on the site” during the week before the elections.

Ekho Moskvy’s editor-in-chief wrote on Twitter that the cyber attacks were an attempt to stop evidence of election violations from leaking out. The radio station fought back with a screenshot of its site full of Bad Gateway messages, which it jokingly called the “new site design”, on its Facebook page.

A decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the restoration of capitalism, Russia is run by oligarchs and a brutal, one-party state. Yesterday’s elections show a rising tide of anger against the regime throughout the country. Replacing the Putin’s “jackass democracy” with a Russia under the control of its people with true economic and democratic rights is surely the order of the day.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Useful links

Friday, December 02, 2011

Climate talks ignore the evidence

As Durban suffered unseasonable heavy rain and flooding that killed six people in the South African city playing host to the current round of UN Climate Talks, European representative Artur Runge-Metzger asked delegates:

“How high needs the water to get in this conference centre before negotiators start deciding on things?"

The answer is, it doesn't matter how high, or how horrific the impacts of extreme weather on populations across the world because there can’t be a new treaty on climate change within the present profit-driven system.

Right across the world there is evidence of more extreme and unseasonal weather, outside the natural variability of the climate. Glaciers crucial for water supplies are melting.

In Afghanistan, Oxfam says serious drought helped send prices of wheat and wheat flour in July 2011 up to 79% higher in affected areas over their levels a year before. In south-east Asia, heavy monsoon rainfall and multiple typhoons have killed more than 1,100 people and helped increase rice prices by about 25% and 30% in Thailand and Vietnam. Floods have devastated Pakistan’s Sindh province for a second year.

The United States has suffered hurricanes, droughts, out-of-the ordinary snowstorms and even freezing rains in California. Food prices are soaring as a result. Canada, which has become of the main opponents of a binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions, saw freak gales roaring through Alberta, ironically the province where they are determined to go ahead with extracting tar sands.

Closer to home, southern England is facing a water shortage in December, whilst floods are spreading across Scotland.

But none of these events has any impact in the conference centre, and there is no limit to the ability of governments to ignore reality and continue down the same disastrous road.

Before the talks opened, it was said that rich nations had already decided to push any substantive talks on a binding agreement to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to 2015 - now it seems unlikely they will accept even that timetable. The truth is, there isn’t going to a successor treaty to Kyoto which will end next year and be quietly forgotten.

Another major element of the talks was to be the launch of the “Green Climate Fund”, which requires developed countries to provide $100 billion to poorer countries by 2020 to help them reduce their own carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.

Now the United States has held up the deal, saying they won't sign anything unless developing nations - wealthy ones, like China, India and Brazil - contribute too.

Countries who would have benefited were also deeply unhappy that the proposed framework for the fund would have allowed corporations to apply directly for money, bypassing governments.

They were prepared to let it go through unchanged, however, because no more funding for mitigating the effects of climate change would have been forthcoming. But outside the conference, a group of leading NGOs wrote an open letter strongly objecting "to any resources going from the Green Climate Fund directly to the private sector, particularly through the establishment of a private sector facility."

They warn that projects that help poor people to adapt to climate change, or tackle their energy problems, are not going to generate corporate profit. Letting corporations and “green investment funds” get their hands on the money would mean it poured into the existing discredited and scandal-ridden carbon markets, or into the new “risky financial instruments” that "green economy" speculators are designing. So in effect, the fund would become yet another means of transferring public money and assets into the hands of the private sector and the speculators.

The message is that the climate crisis, which is a direct result of the operation of capitalist forms of commodity production, cannot be solved within the system that caused it. Our answer to this shameful failure on the part of our governments must be to replace them with a truly democratic power that can then make a binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Don't lose pension strike momentum

The commitment shown by at least 1.5 million workers in 29 unions who staged a 24-hour strike against attacks on the pensions, and marched in cities and towns in their tens of thousands, is now in jeopardy.

Union leaders are resuming talks with the ConDem coalition today in a bid to reach a settlement before the government’s imposed deadline of December 31.

But if they were really serious about defending their members’ interests, union bureaucrats would be boycotting the talks because, in reality, there is nothing really to negotiate about.

For yesterday’s historic action was, as every striker knows, not about winning an improvement in their hard-won pensions but about stopping the government from cutting them through higher contributions and having to work longer before entitlement.

So any “compromise”, along the lines called for by the wretched Ed Miliband – by the way just nine out of 258 Labour MPs backed a Commons motion supporting the strike – must mean worse pensions in one form or another.

A contributions increase will slice even more off the value of real wages, already reduced by a government-imposed, pay freeze – which union leaders did nothing to oppose. With chancellor Osborne imposing a below-inflation 1% pay limit for the next two years, incomes in the public are set to plummet by 15% by 2014.

We repeat: what is there to negotiate about?

While the government has declared class war on behalf of the banks and corporations, union leaders continue to live in a fantasy world where “common sense” will prevail and an all-out conflict can be avoided.

Worse, they consider their members as cannon fodder to be sent over the top before suing for peace. Conscious of the feebleness of their opponents’ officer class, the Coalition is playing a divide-and-rule game. Their plan is to get the teaching unions to agree a separate deal and split them from other unions.

The major Labour-affiliated unions like Unison have no plans for further co-ordinated national action – not least because of the dangers (for them) that it could lead to calls for strikes that are more than a one-day affair (which the government can handle).

Instead, if there is no deal by Christmas, there is talk of local, rolling so-called “smart” strikes. These will have no impact whatsoever and contain the danger of demoralising and isolating groups of workers.

Yet the conditions exist to maintain the momentum of yesterday’s tremendous strike. Osborne’s budget will slash the incomes of every household, not just those in the public sector as the Institute for Fiscal Studies report today shows.

The British economy is heading for recession, along with the rest of global capitalism. While trade unions were marching for their rights, the major central banks took desperate measures to try and prop up the euro. But it’s too late – another credit crunch is under way, leading to a second financial meltdown worse than that of 2008.

The deepening crisis will hit everyone very hard and provides the opportunity to bring all sectors of society together in new ways. Local, alternative seats of power such as people’s assemblies can maintain the energy of November 30 and more.

Limiting our response to calls for more strikes or days of action is inadequate. In Greece, for example, a number of general strikes have failed to end the massive attack on living standards.

Overriding every government’s actions are the demands of the financial markets and the recession that makes it impossible to return to the “growth” that is the lifeblood of the capitalist system.

The success of the pensions strike confirms without a shadow of a doubt the will to confront the government. Now is the moment for the rank and file to demand an end to negotiations and seize the initiative through the creation of democratic assemblies that can mount a serious challenge to the failed profit system itself.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Osborne declares class war

On the eve of today’s historic strike by public sector workers in defence of hard-won pensions, the unelected coalition ConDem government yesterday delivered a new, more vicious, sustained assault on living standards.

What chancellor George Osborne announced in his autumn statement was a blatant transfer of wealth from working people to the corporations and bankers who are responsible for the accelerating crisis of capitalism. In doing so, he effectively ushered in an unprecedented period of social conflict.

With imagined growth failing to materialise, the global economic crisis deteriorating rapidly, government borrowing soaring by a shock £111bn, and the credit rating agencies looking over his shoulders, breathing heavily, chancellor Osborne slashed his way through public spending.

Before the statement, ratings agency Fitch threatened that Britain's ability to absorb further economic shocks while keeping its top triple-A credit rating was "largely exhausted" unless the government took further steps to cut its deficit.

And so it has.

Public sector job losses will rise to 710,000 from an original estimate of around 400,000. Government spending will fall by 0.9 per cent in real terms for the period 2015-17. That is a bigger cut than in the period from 2011 to 2015. Public sector pay will be held well below the rate of inflation - a pay cut by another name.

The new, much bigger attack is certain to intensify the slow-burning anger over pensions that built over months into today’s strike by as many as two million trades unionists.

According to RMT transport union leader Bob Crow:

"George Osborne has ratcheted up the class war and has made it clear through his attack on pay and employment rights that he wants the workers to keep taking the hit while the rich get richer. After two years of a freeze, pay for millions of key workers will go up by 1 percent in the next two years.

With inflation over 5 percent, and the increase in pension contributions, that means nurses and the others we rely on will be around 25 percent worse off after four years of this ConDem government while top bosses pay goes up by 12 percent a year. That's a scandal."

After the statement, Fitch patted Osborne on the back, but warned further steps will be needed.

Former Conservative minister Michael Portillo also says it won’t be enough. Foreshadowing a much more brutal style of bankers’ government, like those recently installed in Greece and Italy he says:

Britain will have to reduce welfare and public sector employment dramatically. The state will need to step back from education and health where it simply doesn’t do a good enough job. Such changes may be too draconian for a coalition, yet the public may find them too radical to accept from a single-party government. The only question, however, is whether we will tackle those big issues soon, or merely ensure prolonged stagnation by postponing the inevitable.”

The stark reality is that capitalist society can no longer sustain the public sector no matter how loud the protest. A series of general strikes in Greece have failed to stop repeated attacks on living standards demanded by the ratings agencies and imposed by the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The conflict moved to a new stage with the sweeping away of the elected PASOK government and its replacing by a coalition (including an ultra-right party) led by an advisor to investment bank Goldman Sachs.

With the eurozone careering towards an apocalyptic collapse, the ramifications are being felt throughout the world. Late last night, ratings agency Standard and Poor downgraded the biggest banks in the US, including the Bank of America which is heavily exposed to euro loans.

The response to Osborne and the ConDems from rallies in towns and cities throughout Britain should be to support the worldwide occupy movement and form People’s Assemblies. These can become the power which will lead and shape a new democratically-owned and controlled, sustainable economic, social and political system. As someone once said, there is no alternative.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Militarized policing comes to America

The crackdown on the Wall Street occupation and similar actions around the country have prompted two authors to warn about an increasing militarization of America’s policing.

Tom Engelhardt, whose latest book, The United States of Fear is out this month, has dubbed the space in New York that police brutally cleared of occupiers as “Zuccotti Prison”. He says that there are no tents, no kitchen, no library left in the park.

Just 30 protesters and 100 police plus private security guards. Parts of the park are cordoned off with yellow police tape that would normally surround a crime scene. When he went there last week, a young protestor was being arrested, evidently for the “crime” of lying down on a bench.

Engelhardt writes gloomily about a “distinctly up-armoured, post-9/11 American world”, citing the example of the “police” who so notoriously pepper-sprayed non-violent, seated students at University of California Davis. They were, in fact, campus cops who in his days wore civilians clothes and had no real powers.

“Now, around the country, they are armed with chemical weapons,Tasers, tear gas, side arms, you name it. Meanwhile, some police departments, militarizing at a rapid rate, have tank-like vehicles, and the first police surveillance drones are taking to the air in field tests and capable of being weaponized.”

He warns: “In the United States, increasingly, those in power no longer observe the law. Instead, they make it up to suit their needs. In the process, the streets where you demonstrate, as (New York’s mayor keeps telling us) is our ‘right’, are regularly transformed into yet more fenced-in, heavily surveilled Zuccotti Prisons. This may not be a traditional police state (yet), but it is an increasingly militarized policed state in which the blue coats [police], armed to the teeth, act with remarkable impunity.”

William Hogeland, the author of the narrative histories Declaration and a collection of essays, Inventing American History writes how the crackdowns around America “have brought a military level of combativeness” to the scene.

It's not as if officers have been resorting to battle gear under otherwise unmanageable pressure or initiating violence only as a last resort. They've been arriving in battle gear. They've been construing noncompliance as potential attack. They've moved pre-emptively to disable attack where none existed, not just trying to evict but seemingly hoping to inspire fear, to punish and defeat. The mood these operations convey is that failure to achieve police objectives must result in something awful for the body politic. In reality, leaving citizens sitting around a park or campus a few more days, even possibly illegally, might be frustrating for police and others; it's hardly the end of the world. Sometimes taking a few deep breaths is the only thing to do. But military training, tactics, and weaponry seem to inspire the idea in civic strategists that failure to achieve an objective is tantamount to fatal defeat by a hostile enemy. Intolerable. Not an option.

He shows how creating a clear distinction between the police and military is fundamental to American constitutional law, history and ideology. Hogeland's article reviews tendencies both toward and against police militarization that go all the way back to the country's founding.

Some like Naomi Wolf see a conspiracy by the federal state to galvanise local authorities into action (see a sound demolition of her argument by Alternet’s Joshua Holland) against the occupation movement. No conspiracy is required, however. There is a nervousness within the state at all levels as the economic crisis worsens and the American dream looks more like a nightmare. The result is a lashing out by authorities whose legitimacy, not to say democratic credentials, is seeping away at federal and state level. Time for another American revolution to protect, enhance and advance democracy in new ways.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Monday, November 28, 2011

Corporate body snatchers at work

The patenting of human genes is going on at a terrifying rate. And most people don’t even know that their bodies are being used to generate vast corporate profits.

Harriet Washington has researched major changes in United States law which have legalised the “corporate takeover of life itself”.

In an interview with AlterNet, she outlines how a crucial piece of legislation, the Bayh-Doyle Act of 1980, unleashed the granting of 40,000 patents over the past 30 years.

Before the legislation, universities that did the gene research were not allowed to sell their patents to private corporations, on the grounds that the discoveries had been developed with public money or “tax dollars”.

The US Supreme Court, in the 1980 landmark case in Diamond v Chakrabarty, went much further than the researcher (Ananda Chakrabarty) and the patent office expected. Rather than patenting Chakrabarty’s invention of process of creating bacteria which could “eat crude oil”, the court decided that living things themselves could be patented.

More recently, the ruling has allowed not only genetic sequences in our bodies to be patented but even entire living creatures, such as the OncoMouse which “is guaranteed to get cancer”, developed by Harvard University.

Washington points to the cases of two patients whose cells were used to make millions of dollars in profits for the medical-industrial complex. The patients concerned were never consulted or compensated. Adding insult to injury, the family of African-American Henrietta Lacks were lied to. They believe that researcher Dr George Gey of the prestigious John Hopkins university “did not want the world to know that this was a black lady helping science”.

In the case of leukaemia patient John Moore whose spleen was used to create a lucrative cell line, Dr David Golde of the University of California got a contract for $3 million in 1980 with generic drug manufacturer, the pharma giant Sandoz, a subsidiary of Novartis.

Many hospitals ask unsuspecting patients to sign consent forms before surgery which hand over the rights to any tissues of cells taken from the body to private corporations.

The gene/body-part sell-off is even more widespread after someone dies. Medical examiners laws or presumed consent laws allow coroners to take tissues and then sell them on to brokers who transfer them to surgeons or hospitals. “At each step, there is a hefty fee paid,” Washington says.

What about the argument that companies are saving lives through medical research which would otherwise not be carried out? The reality is that corporations like Myriad Genetics, which hold patents on the genes that predispose women to breast cancer, do not allow researchers to work on the genes without their permission. The American Civil Liberties Union and a patent body have mounted a legal challenge.

Washington’s accounts of how companies use and abuse the African continent for cheap drugs trials are even more shocking. During a meningitis epidemic in Nigeria, Pfizer set up tents directly next to those operated by Doctors Without Borders to draw in desperate parents.

As Washington notes: “Maximising the profit on the patient is the focus, not curing the maximum number of people.” Of the 1,233 new drugs devised by Big Pharma between 1975 and 1997, only four were designed for people in the developing world.

Attempts by benevolent capitalists like Bill Gates to bring vaccines to the developing world are problematic. His initiative, called GAVI, is already $3 billion in debt.

In case we lull ourselves into seeing this as American madness, in the UK things are possibly even more dangerous. Over a decade ago, New Labour drove through legislation allowing private companies to claim plant and animal genes and even human organs.

The UK Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision so that the Nasdaq-listed Human Genome Sciences corporation now has greater patent rights in the UK than under current US law.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary