Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chile joins year of 'global indignation'

The political temperature continues to rise in Chile since last week’s killing of 16-year-old high school student Manuel Gutiérrez in the capital Santiago.

The country, which is the world’s major producer of copper, has been viewed as a rock for global capitalism in an unstable South America. But now it is seeing – horror of horrors for its right-wing rulers – a united workers and student movement which has the support of the majority of Chilean citizens.

Interior minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter has been forced to announce that the bullets that killed Gutiérrez matched those in a 9mm UZ submachine gun belonging to police officer Miguel Millacura. Hinzpeter has been compelled to ask for the resignation of deputy chief of the Metropolitan Zone Sergio Gajardo.

The discrediting of the police – and the continuing 37-day hunger strike by a high school student - will intensify the political and social crisis facing President Sebastian Pinera.

Over the last three months, massive student protests for an egalitarian education system followed close on the heels of the longest-ever strike at Collahuasi, the world’s third largest copper mine. In July, miners struck at the state-owned Codelco mine, followed by workers at the world’s biggest copper mine, Escondida.

An estimated 70-80% of Chileans support the student movement with parents and grandparents joining their children in massive street protests. Last week, up to half a million people took part in strikes and demonstrations around the country as the Workers United Center of Chile joined in with a 48-hour strike. Over a thousand arrests were made as the state struck back.

Although the country’s booming economy is growing at 6.8%, it also has a 15% poverty rate and the widest gap between rich and pour in the region. Chile ranks as the world’s 16th most-unequal country, along with El Salvador and Panama.

Its workers know that the wealth they generate is being creamed off by a tiny elite. And, with an average debt of $45,000 which is around 174% of a student’s annual salary upon graduation, no wonder there is anger amongst young people.

Chilean students are part of a global “indignation” movement that is seeing protests from Honduras, where a 17-year-old Nahum Guerra was shot on August 22 during protests for public education, to Venezuela and the Dominican Republic and other mass movements in Europe, North Africa, Middle East and India.

Most important of all, just as in Spain and Greece, an entire generation of students and workers feel disenfranchised as they do not see themselves represented by established political parties. The “leftist” Concertación bloc, which took over after the military dictatorship, is scoring only 17% in the polls, even lower than Pinera’s 26%.

The CUT union leadership is discredited by its close relationship with the official parties as is the Chilean Communist Party (CCP). And whilst students are fighting against government strategies for private profit-driven education, the CCP is running a profit-oriented university in the country’s capital!

The rise of local and territorial people’s assemblies amongst students and around the country is opening up new avenues for a mass movement to devise strategies to go beyond capitalism. Helped by social networking, Chilean students are linking up directly with the real democracy movement (DRY and 15M) in Spain and elsewhere.

The rise of Chile’s mass worker-student movement is proof, if proof is needed, that 2011 is indeed the year of “global indignation”. Understanding the experience of how democratically-elected socialist president Salvador Allende was overthrown by Pinochet’s military junta in 1973 is vital. This is the spectre that haunts not only Chile every mass people’s movement.

The development of people’s assemblies in Chile and elsewhere shows the urgent need to go beyond resistance - and the mistaken belief that the existing state can be reformed - to a strategy for wresting economic and political power away from those who hold it.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Housing crisis is market failure

In a league table of capitalist market failures, housing comes pretty near the top. The market’s distortions and extremes are so enormous that that it is heading for its own internal collapse.

The inability of the system to provide decent affordable homes for everyone is underlined by a new report that warns of a “lost generation” when it comes to access to a roof over their head.

For a long post-war period, local authorities built millions of homes for rent, enabling most new households to find somewhere to live. Rents in the private sector were controlled.

Since the early 1980s, a housing market driven primarily by the obsession with owner-occupation has replaced state intervention. That was the policy of the Thatcher years and the subsequent New Labour governments.

It coincided with the deregulation of the financial system that provided anyone who wanted it with endless amounts of credit. Not enough money to pay your mortgage? Don’t worry, just borrow five, six or seven times your annual income.

In the ten years to 2007, real average house prices doubled while disposable income only rose by 15% in the same period. In London, prices soared by over 350% over the first decade of the Blair government.

It couldn’t last and it didn’t. Come the 2008 meltdown, mortgages dried up while the house price bubble was maintained by a shortage of supply. Now the housing market is reduced to those already in it. New entrants need not apply, unless they can find 25% deposit. In London that’s well over £100,000.

The National Housing Federation (the NHF) today blames a “chronic under-supply of homes” for a crisis that is forcing many young people into expensive rented accommodation (a typical small flat in the capital now costs around £1,000 a month).

A report for the NHF predicts that owner-occupation totals will continue to fall, private sector rents will rise by 20% in the next five years and that six in every 10 Londoners will live in rented accommodation by 2021.

The NHF wants government action to force developers to use hoarded land and build more homes. This is hardly a solution, however. Even the NHF’s own member housing associations have yielded to government pressure to build homes for sale rather than rent, adding to the crisis.

In the 19th century, Frederick Engels wrote about the “so-called housing shortage, which plays such a great role in the press nowadays” and asked rhetorically:

“How is the housing question to be solved then? In present-day society just as any other social question is solved: by the gradual economic adjustment of supply and demand, a solution which ever reproduces the question itself anew and therefore is no solution.” In other words, capitalism has a way of recreating shortages over and over again. In place of the market, we propose:

* Housing should be built and used to satisfy need rather than as a source of income or profit for developers, speculative builders, investors and landowners

* Development land including crown and church holdings should come under the control of Community Land Trusts

* The funds of all mortgage lenders should be transferred to existing or new mutual organisations accountable to savers and borrowers

* All mortgage debt should be cancelled and renegotiated as either affordable rents or repayments determined by the cost of new building and the ability to pay

* An enforced reduction in existing rents in council and housing association properties should take place

* A massive expansion of high quality social housing at affordable rents

* Social ownership of builders/developers and the financial sector

* Requisition of Britain’s 750,000 empty homes for those in need

* New ways of transferring homes that ends property speculation.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Friday, August 26, 2011

Essex council set for ethnic cleansing at Dale Farm

Tensions are mounting as the August 31 deadline for the forced eviction of up to 400 Travelling people from their homes in Basildon, Essex draws near. Campaigners are appealing for a mass attendance at Camp Constant from tomorrow.

The aim is to show support for the 86 beleaguered families, with 100 children between them, who have been living there peacefully for many years. Ranged against them are Tony Ball, Conservative leader of Basildon Council in Essex, communities minister Eric Pickles, the Essex police and notorious bailiffs Constant & Co. In a joint council and police eviction, the Home Office will be paying half the £9.5m bill.

On the other side of the divide are the nearly 400 Gypsies who have the support of the Gypsy Council, human rights campaigners including Liberal peer Lord Avebury, Amnesty International, as well as many other groups and organisations.

The entire area is due to be sealed off while the police-backed bailiffs do their worst. Oak Road, which runs through the Dale Farm site is to be sealed off at both ends except for access to travellers’ homes. Further closures and no-stopping zones are being introduced. Speed restrictions are planned for the adjacent A127 for up to 18 months while the eviction operation takes place.

There are clear signs that Constant & Co, backed by the Essex constabulary and cheered on by local racists and British National Party members, will have their gloves off during the operation. As Gypsy rights activist Grattan Puxon has warned in the Travellers’ Times:

“A dirty, neo-fascist wave, a tsunami of social exclusion is to break over the peaceful Dale Farm community, smashing up lives and drowning the hopes of another generation of Traveller children, presently attending local schools... the ugliest yet act of ethnic-cleansing by a British local authority against an outpost of Europe's nascent Roma nation.”

At a time of huge cuts, when Essex county council is axing 450 jobs and 12 youth centres, why has this council chosen to spend an astronomical £18 million to evict the Gypsy families who have lived peacefully on their site for many years?

It’s clear that Conservatives in Essex feel challenged by rising support for the British National Party shown in recent elections. In Basildon alone 4,000 voters backed the BNP in the last election. You only need to read the comments on the local paper’s website to get a feel for the racist hatred for travelling people. There are those who think that the council’s draconian measures are not extreme enough: “Half a dozen large army bulldozers and a platoon of SAS and it will all be over in half hour”, says one reader.

Last-ditch efforts are being made to avoid the rapidly looming confrontation. Jerzerca Tigani from Amnesty International has pleaded that “the authorities must ensure that their actions do not break international law. They should instead talk to the residents at Dale Farm and reach a negotiated solution.”

Some are taking heart from a victory by a Gypsy who has just won a planning appeal by Basildon. The government inspector reminded the council that it had a duty to provide 62 new pitches for homeless Travellers by the end of this year. But council leader Ball has already shrugged off the inspector’s recommendations in anticipation of the Coalition’s Localism Bill coming into force.

There can be no doubt that the confrontation at Dale Farm, which has been years in the making, is more than an nasty squabble between a Conservative local council and travelling people. It has the makings of a major, military-style, operation backed by local and national state forces against a vulnerable group of people who seek only to live in their traditional way.

We have been here before! Mainstream political leaders of all parties seeking to outflank their rivals on the right in ethnic cleansing will stop at nothing. By doing so, they will open the door to even more sinister forces.

Corinna Lotz

AWTW secretary

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The state tools up for confrontation

The summonsing of social networks Facebook, Twitter and the Blackberry messenger service to the Home Office in London today is part of a growing crackdown by the state in the wake of the riots in a number of English cities.

Prime minister Cameron suggested in a speech to Parliament that the government should be able to “disconnect” social networks and phone networks at times of civil disorder. Today’s meeting, hosted by home secretary Theresa May, is being held in response to his call.

There are already reports that the spy agencies MI5 and GCHQ are working to break Blackberry’s encryption technology that has made it a first choice for business users and state officials.

This is just one example of a co-ordinated campaign by the government and state institutions to set aside democratic niceties like the rule of law and human rights legislation in the wake of the riots.

Since the riots, the government has announced plans to weaken human rights legislation, allow police to use water cannons and rubber bullets and said that police will be given blanket curfew powers. This is the state tooling up for social confrontation on a serious scale.

As for the rule of law – whereby the courts are immune to political and police pressure and accused cannot be detained unreasonably or without charge – that is already being seriously undermined by the actions of the police and the government.

Cameron told MPs it was about time decisions were made in Parliament, not in courts. Attacking one recent decision, he said “how completely offensive it is to have once again a ruling by a court that seems to fly completely in the face of common sense". That is the language used by petty dictators everywhere.

He set the tone for the courts when he said that anyone convicted "should expect to go to jail". He threw his support behind the four years jail for Facebook comments, saying the court had decided "to send a tough message".

The voices in opposition have been few and far between. Labour has said nothing, while a few Liberal MPs have bleated their fears. Leading criminal barrister John Cooper QC warned that judges and magistrates had a duty "not to be influenced by angry Britain", describing some of the sentences handed down already as "disproportionate and somewhat hysterical".

Not long ago, magistrates courts were known as police courts, where the word of a police officer was never challenged. The name may have changed but they have reverted to type since the riots.

Over 62% of those arrested over the riots have been remanded in custody, compared to the average of 10% for those appearing before a magistrate. That’s because the police wanted it that way.

A document written by the Met suggested that no one arrested in or after the riots should be let off with a caution – regardless of the offence.

Everyone arrested should be held in custody, with a recommendation that bail should also be denied. The document says: "The volume of prisoners being processed makes it impractical to bail for the purpose of protracted investigation.”

Solicitor Edward Kirton-Darling, of Hodge, Jones & Allen, whose client was denied bail, said: "The right to bail is a long-standing and essential part of our criminal justice system. It should be carefully considered and each case should be looked at on its own merits.

"In relation to the riots, it seems that the Metropolitan police took a strategic decision to apply a blanket ban and deny everyone bail, no matter what their circumstances. I consider this policy is unlawful as a result."

Hodge, Jones & Allen are seeking a judicial review and their letter to the Met describes the policy as amounting to "unlawful arbitrary detention" of people.

Undoubtedly, the state is preparing for more than a repeat of the disorganised riots. A developing social crisis, prompted by a failing economy and spending cuts, is surely what the authorities have in mind this coming autumn and winter. The state is laying down the gauntlet and campaigns for democratic alternatives like people's assemblies are more vital than ever.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nato-sponsored regime change

The jubilation of the anti-Gaddafi dictatorship fighters who have entered Tripoli is tempered by the fact that what is taking place is effectively a Nato-facilitated regime change in Libya.

In Tunisia and then Egypt, the mass of the people rose up and accomplished their own revolution (which is now confronted by unfinished business in relation to the economy and the old state machine).

These revolutions inspired some sections of Libya’s population, notably in the east of the country, to take to the streets in a bid to overthrow a Gaddafi regime that degenerated into brutal rule from the 1990s onwards.

Nato, which we should never forget is the military arm of the major capitalist states, was summonsed into action by Britain and France when the uprising quickly reached a stalemate.

Behind the fig-leaf of a United Nations security council resolution – how many wars has this discredited organisation now facilitated? – military power was used to advance the cause of the Benghazi-based forces in clear breach of the terms of the UN mandate.

As rebel fighter Hisham, speaking to the BBC's World Service, said today: "Nato is the master - it is something we admit. If Nato had not been bombing and shooting them, they would have killed us, this is a fact."

Nato never acts for “humanitarian reasons”, however its leaders dress up bombing and missile attacks with honeyed words about “democracy” etc. Other interests – political and economic – lay behind the intervention.

The Arab Spring caught out the political elites in Washington, London and Paris who had spent decades courting and propping up dictatorships from Cairo to Tunis, from Riyadh to Damascus.

As Egypt’s attitude towards Israel began to turn away from joint policing of the Palestinians in Gaza, it was clear that the West needed a new foothold in the region. And Libya appeared to give them that opportunity.

Nato’s intervention had the effect of corralling the Libya uprising and preventing its potential evolution into a truly revolutionary movement. Instead, the Transitional National Council (TNC) was given total support. The TNC is a self-appointed mixed bag of former opportunists who switched sides, careerists, Washington stooges and Islamists who are divided amongst themselves.

Attempts by the Arab Union and others to broker a ceasefire and a compromise settlement were scuttled by the US State Department on the orders of the White House, which had bypassed Congress to take part in attacks on Libya.

As in Iraq, the military intervention in Libya is designed to create a regime that is favourable to the West and one will open up its oil resources to capitalist corporations without hindrance and that will introduce “market reforms” in place of state subsidies.

Undoubtedly, the “planning” for a post-Gaddafi Libya includes an air base and possible ground forces. Richard Haass, president of the US council on foreign relations, has told the Financial Times that an international force is "likely to be needed to restore and maintain order".

The scenario planners at Nato HQ and the Pentagon don’t exactly have a great track record, however. In Iraq, China and not the US secured the first major oil deal after the fall of Saddam Hussein and has just started crude production in the Al Ahdab field in the centre of the country. Ten years of occupation of Afghanistan have only served to inspire an ongoing insurgency.

With their own economies falling apart as a new financial meltdown takes hold, Washington, London and Paris are in no position to give advice about “nation-building”. Destruction of resources and a resort to force characterises the period we are living in. That’s the real story about Nato’s intervention in Libya.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Friday, August 12, 2011

Challenge the hate-filled state

The low level of debate at the emergency recall of Parliament underlines the yawning gulf between rulers and ruled, and the establishment’s poisonous hatred for working class youth.

Prime Minister Cameron claimed the uprising on streets around the country was 'criminality, pure and simple' - an intellectually bereft characterisation in a country where the entire social, economic and political structure is shaking.

MPs bayed for water cannon and baton rounds and censorship of social networking sites. Ed Milliband called for police spending cuts to be reversed and joined blanket condemnation of the rioters.

The police have shown a more sophisticated understanding of events than politicians. And they were also quite afraid of furious gangs ready to fight them. As one young woman said, the aim was to show the police that people control the streets and 'can do what they like' there.

The prevailing mood on the left has been one of ironic comment. It is pointed out that flat-screen TVs were high on MPs' looting lists too. The hypocrisy of condemning criminality when politicians, police and newspapers have been hiding each other's lawbreaking is also highlighted. Others point to politicians weeping over high streets already devastated by out-of-town shopping centres, with one in seven shops empty across the country.

Governments and corporations are desperate to kick start growth by getting people back spending on precisely the goods people were helping themselves to. And yesterday, Chancellor George Osborne was telling MPs that Britain is a 'safe haven' for investors precisely because of the brutal programme of cuts that led to youth clubs in Tottenham being shut.

Alongside this post-modernist irony, it is said that this is a non-political movement without a goal, it has no future, and we must 'condemn the violence'. This takes the appearance of the riots and compares and contrasts it to other aspects, when in fact these are all moving and developing parts of the same violent whole which is the out-of-control capitalist crisis that has the planet in its grip.

These moving parts are not outside of the political realm but inside it. You could say that politically the riots were more realistic than the student fees protests, because the youth were not asking the government or the police to change course - which they won't - but simply fighting them.

This new part - angry working class youth - has emerged with dramatic force. It will not disappear, but interact with other parts and with the global whole, each changing and conditioning the next phase.

In the meantime, hundreds of youth will be criminalised. A 23-year-old man with no criminal record was jailed for six months for taking bottled water from Lidl. Rioters are being held in custody for charges where they would normally be bailed. Hundreds will go to jails and young offender institutions already bursting at the seams, with inhuman conditions. Others will be stuck with fines they will never be able to pay.

We must not abandon the youth to the tender mercies of a hate-filled state. The challenge is to break decisively from the illusion that the current system of rule can offer us any kind of decent future.

The formation of People's Assemblies to defend communities, jobs, services, education and housing, is the positive way forward. Representing all parts of the community, they can do a better job of protecting facilities and small businesses. Capitalism only wants young people working for minimum wage or spending up credit and store cards. It has no regard for them as individuals. Within the People's Assemblies they can represent their views, enjoy respect, and have a decisive role in forming their own future.

Community gatherings are already taking place in Lewisham, Clapham and Tottenham and other areas. There is a desire to mend the damage to town centres, small shops and people’s homes as well as address the deeper causes of the riots. This offers the opportunity to discuss practical ways to replace the bankrupt political establishment. The development of assemblies for the widest possible debate and action is the order of the day.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The real looters

The coalition government has placed an emergency army battalion on standby and is considering authorising the use of water cannon and tear gas to quell disorder and looting around the country.

But the threat of a mailed fist is a desperate response to an out-of-control social and political crisis. It cannot possibly solve the deeper issues that lie behind the anger and contempt for authority seen in British cities since Saturday night.

The looting of sportswear and plasma screens from high street shops shrinks to insignificance in comparison with the havoc wreaked in the global economy by those in charge. The hard men and women who have come to the aid of the ailing capitalist system have their own economic wrecking ball.

Governments in the United States, Europe and elsewhere have sought to resuscitate growth and bring about a recovery of production following the 2007/8 credit collapse. But their attempts have precipitated a new, far deeper crisis as the debt tsunami engulfs the world’s richest nations.

The truth now emerging is that a return to profitable growth is impossible without imposing equally impossible intolerable conditions of exploitation. ‘Austerity’ doesn’t even begin to describe what must follow if capitalist society is to survive.

It’s not only government cuts that will hurt people. Over the last seven days alone, £200billion was wiped from the market - and about £300billion in the past month, drastically reducing people’s pensions and savings.

The United States, still the world’s biggest economy, is no longer able to inspire confidence in the global financial markets. On Friday it experienced a humiliating downgrading of its debt. Standard and Poor, one of the credit rating agencies which speak for the gamblers, speculators - so-called ‘investors’ - whose interests seem all-powerful today, expressed their contempt for the outcome of the US political process and are driving the crisis into a new, more dangerous stage.

President Obama whistled in the dark when he responded on Monday to the historic downgrade of US debt. “No matter what some agency may say, we have always been and always will be a triple-A country,” said the President, as he tried to reassure the investors whose power commands governments.

But whether or not Obama believed that his words could unite the warring factions amongst Democrats and Republicans into accepting his demand for slashing cuts to Medicare and tax increases, they failed to halt the world’s stock markets plunging into the darkness.

The Federal Reserve’s despairing decision to hold interest rates at historic lows for two years cannot restore the US economy any more than it has in the UK in the last two years or in Japan in the last decade. The towering edifice of fantasy credit and debt has to be eliminated, and as a consequence the capitalist economy will contract. Surplus productive capacity has to be physically destroyed.

The nature of the capitalist system is the heart of this crisis – a system first revealed around 150 years ago when Karl Marx published the first volume of Das Kapital, his analysis of the capitalist mode of production.

The words of a critic were incorporated into an afterword to the second German edition in 1873. “The scientific value of such an inquiry” he said “ lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. And it is this value that, in point of fact, Marx’s book has.”

Resolving the current crisis by replacing the present system with a democratised economic and political form of society is on the order of the day.

Gerry Gold

A World to Win economics editor

Monday, August 08, 2011

The story of a riot foretold

Riots across London are a result of rising anger against the corrupt and repressive Metropolitan Police, and against the poverty and unemployment hitting the poorest first.

The police version of the shooting of Mark Duggan after the Met's CO19 firearms squad fired into the taxi he was riding in is falling apart. They claimed an officer was shot, but was saved by his radio - and then Duggan was shot in self-defence. Now it appears the bullet in the radio may have been police issue.

Duggan’s family was only allowed to see his body 36 hours after he was killed. When they and about 100 supporters stood peacefully outside Tottenham police for four hours on Saturday night waiting for answers, nobody was prepared to talk to them. Police instead formed a confrontational line across the front of the police station.

As the protests escalated across Tottenham, it appears that a 16-year-old girl was beaten when she advanced towards a line of police to remonstrate with them, saying all the community wanted was answers. An extreme sense of injustice rapidly built up, leading to two nights of rioting across London and opportunist looting as well. This fury on the streets shows that the issues behind Britain’s 1985 inner-city riots have never been resolved. The regeneration of estates like Broadwater Farm and other deprived areas is being reversed by the economic crisis.

The Coalition’s slash and burn budget cuts are affecting the poorest boroughs. The London Borough of Haringey slashed its budget for youth services by 75% after the Coalition cut its grant by £41million. Labour Councillors who voted for this must share the blame for the riots.

Eight out of 13 youth clubs in Tottenham – safe havens for youth trying to avoid “post-code wars” and crime – have been closed. Local youth at the end of July warned in a filmed interview that there would be riots. There are currently more than 50 people for each unfilled job in Haringey, and the number claiming jobseekers allowance has risen 10% this year. There are plans to cut as much as 25% from the budget for courses for 16 to 18 year olds at North East London College, with a big campus in Tottenham.

And Tottenham is not an exception. A sense of extreme alienation amongst tens if not hundreds of thousands of youths in London and around the country is simmering and will continue to erupt in explosive ways. Added to the sense of injustice is a lack of trust in the police and the political system as a whole.

Back in 1985 local MP Bernie Grant took the side of the community, when riots broke out after the death of Cynthia Jarrett. Yesterday, slick New Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, condemned the violence and looting and commiserated with injured police. He said nothing about the killing of one of his constituents.

The same political, police and media establishment that colluded to hide the crimes of the News of the World, is coming together to attack the youth. Small wonder that big swathes of the community feel unconnected from any political process.

Now the right-wing media are calling for strong leadership and a strong arm to put an end to the disorder on the streets and in the financial markets. It seems the Coalition is not brutal enough for them.

These are important warning signs. A bold approach to re-shaping society is urgently needed that will unite the youth and communities across the generations to challenge this rule while it is still possible to do so. Democratising the economic and political basis of society through the formation of local People’s Assemblies, which will self-police communities, offers a positive way forward.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Jailed for protesting against Big Oil

An oil contracts auction is so important, so very essential to the continuing smooth functioning of the world's most profitable industry, that it must be protected from any kind of disruption or underhand dealing, even to the extent of jail sentences.

At least that is the case if you are an opponent of the United States' "drill, baby, drill' policies. In 2008, in its dying days, the Bush administration had a last hurrah for their friends in the oil industry. They held an auction of drilling rights, many of them on protected land, and protesters were outside the federal building in Salt Lake City.

Tim DeChristopher, then a 27-year-old economics graduate, decided to go into the auction and make a speech denouncing it. But he was mistaken for a bidder and given a paddle "Bidder 70" - and so he bid.

DeChristopher was charged with two criminal offences, tried and has now been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. This is in spite of the fact that the Obama administration later overruled most of the contracts sold in the auction. Only two of the parcels of land DeChristopher bid for can be legally sold, and with the help of supporters he recently offered to pay the $166,000. But the government refused to accept the money, and the plots will now be auctioned again.

But oil contract auctions are less sacrosanct when the global oil corporations themselves are making the bids. They can rob a whole country blind and get away with it, as the following story illustrates.

In 2009, Iraq auctioned off two oilfields, representing 60% of the country's oil deposits, and awarded a 20-year operating contract to BP and its partner company CNPC. The contracting process was “the most transparent ever”, according to the Iraqi oil minister but many commentators couldn't see how the figures stacked up to be profitable and many companies didn't bid.

But after being awarded the contract, it appears BP/CNPC was able to secretly renegotiate the terms, achieving more profit at the expense of the Iraqi government and people. A report from Platform, based on leaked documents, shows that all the major risks have now been transferred from BP/CNPC on to the Iraqi taxpayer.

If any constraints are placed on production, because of an OPEC decision for example, or because infrastructure isn't completed, the Iraqi government will pay BP/CNPC as much for not producing oil as to produce it. In the published contract these risks were to be shared.

A key anti-corruption clause has also changed. In the published contract, Iraqi government officials would have to approve any spending over $50 million. In the secret contract, the figure has risen to $100m, undermining the Iraqi's chance of getting value for money.

And finally BP/CNPC are not to be held liable for any geological damage to Iraq’s oil reservoirs as a result of producing oil too quickly or inefficiently. Given BP's record in the Gulf of Mexico and at its operating plant in Texas, the Iraqis must be crazy to accept this clause.

But BP/CNPC will get away with it, just as they have got away with recklessly damaging the environment, the livelihoods of thousands of people and the health of their own employees in incident after incident. No BP executive has been charged with a criminal offence, none of their board members will spend two minutes in jail, never mind two years.

The US government wants DeChristopher to be made an example of, and in a memo to the court stated: “To be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behaviour.”

But in his address to the court De Christopher said the opposite is the case: "The closer we get to that point where it’s too late, the less people have to lose by fighting back. The power of the Justice Department is based on its ability to take things away from people. The more that people feel that they have nothing to lose, the more that power begins to shrivel."

Penny Cole

Environment editor

It's the system, stupid

A sketchy deal on spending cuts which allow the US debt ceiling to be raised is no more than an acknowledgement that law-makers in even the world’s largest national economy can make little if any impact on the deepening crisis.

The credit ratings agencies whose pronouncements are treated as holy gospel say that the America’s AAA rating won’t last. And it’s easy to see why. US debt, already at a staggering $13 trillion, is forecast to rise without pause through to 2016.

As it does so, the cost of financing the debt will have to come out of current budgets, leading to further cuts in health and welfare benefits. Political turmoil in Washington, with Barack Obama looking increasingly like a lame duck, one-term president, only adds to the sense of crisis.

Stock markets nose-dived on news of the vague compromise which, like the UK Coalition’s savage austerity programme, is founded on false expectations of growth. Market speculators immediately turned their attention back to Europe, driving up borrowing rates once again for Italy, where Berlusconi has called an emergency meeting, and Spain, where prime minister Zapatero yesterday postponed his holiday to deal with the crisis.

Throughout the post-war period, the world economy grew as it had to if profits were to be maintained, but the global trend in the rate of that growth has been relentlessly downward. Throughout the period of globalisation a series of ever sharper, deeper and more extensive crises saw the rate plummet and then recover, but the recovery was always weaker than the crash.

During 2007/8, when a series of individual mortgage defaults undermined the extreme fragility of the global house of cards built from credit and debt, the growth rate threatened to turn negative for the first time. This prompted the panic which saw governments and central banks flood the world with more credit, which as debt has now rebounded with such devastating effect.

Sovereign debt quickly overtook private and corporate debt, and now all are in the same boat – with the rudder entangled in a net of credit default swaps, holed below the water line and sinking fast towards a collective default. The long-hoped for “return to growth” is just that – a hope.

Reports on manufacturing this week reveal that output is not just slowing badly in the US the world’s largest producer, but actually shrinking in China, the world’s second largest, and in the UK – the seventh largest.

The universal consequences of the crisis and attempts to fix it include inflation boosted by fantasy finance and unemployment as public bodies cut spending. Corporations respond in their usual ruthless way in a desperate bid to maintain profits.

Foxconn, the world's largest maker of computer components which assembles products for Apple, Sony and Nokia, is in the spotlight after a string of suicides of workers at its massive Chinese plants, blamed on harsh working conditions. The Taiwan-based company currently employs 1.2 million people, with

most of them working on the Chinese mainland.

The corporation’s classic response is contained in its plans to introduce a million robots to its production lines over the next three years to cut rising labour costs and improve efficiency. If it is successful, the products it turns out will be highly competitive, but will flood onto a declining market as the global economy slows further. And because labour is the source of all value, the rate of profit on the whole operation will shrink dramatically.

It’s just another example of the inescapable, contradictory logic that ensures that in the midst of a crisis – and this is unarguably the worst in the short history of capitalist society - any attempt to fix things has exactly the opposite effect. In the 1992 US presidential election campaign, Bill Clinton taunted his opponent with the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid”. Actually, it’s the system, stupid.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Met 'institutionally corrupt' says ex-spy

It’s a plum number: £260,000 a year salary, Thames-side flat, luxury car complete with chauffeur and a bullet-proof pension. And there’s a vacancy if you feel like applying.

The Metropolitan Police are currently seeking a new boss in the wake of hackgate which brought down its top two officers last month. Former Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and counter-terrorism chief Assistant Commissioner John Yates resigned within the same 24 hours on July 18.

Both were seen as being compromised by their too-intimate relationship with News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis. More and more evidence of the web of connections and cover-ups is still emerging.

Top contenders include Cressida Dick who replaced Yates as head of the anti-terrorism section. She remains best known for her role in the killing of Brazilian electrician Jean de Menezes as he travelled to work on the Underground. Dick was commander of the operation that resulted in de Menezes being executed as he sat reading his paper.

Joint favourites are Sir Hugh Orde, president of the unaccountable and secretive Association of Chief Police Officer and Deputy Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe. But as yesterday’s London Evening Standard notes, the position is actually a poisoned chalice. The Met is clearly in disarray and losing credibility by the day.

Yesterday it had to chastise its own colleagues in the City of Westminster’s “counter-terrorist focus desk” (whatever that may be when it’s at home). Under the auspices of Project Griffin, which is supposed to raise awareness of security issues, a police station in Belgravia last week asked citizens to inform on any anarchists they might spot, stating:

"Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local police”.

The appeal provoked accusations that this amounted to the criminalisation of anyone with an anarchist bent of mind. Some called on people to report suspect police officers to their local anarchist branch. Now the Met has had to soothe its critics, stating that it “does not seek to stigmatise those people with legitimate political views”.

Serious divisions within the Met and between Scotland Yard and the military also came to light yesterday. Met detectives have sat on documents showing that the News of the World had been snooping on an army intelligence officer’s emails for four years. Ex-army spy Ian Hurst complained that his computer was secretly hacked for three months after he wrote a book alleging that an IRA member was actually working as a double agent for British intelligence.

Hurst complained that he was shocked to find that these crimes were not investigated by the Met, “which, given everything else that happened reinforces my belief that that Met is institutionally corrupt”.

Apart from more revelations about its incestuous relationship with the media, there is another serious issue. When the London Olympic Games open in July 2012, the Met will face its biggest-ever challenge.

The current “ring of steel plan” involves an army of 27,000 police and security officials. Assistant police commissioner Chris Allison has announced that there will be 300 search and scanning entry points in the main Olympic stadium alone.

Not surprisingly, he anticipates that security threat levels will rise to “severe” before and during the games. The Olympics organising committee LOCOG will be installing thousands of CCTV cameras and hundreds of search arches, which will mean an average 20-minute wait for spectators.

The Olympics will be certainly be a target for those seeking everything from publicity to revenge. Recent history demonstrates only too clearly that existing have huge difficulties in preventing those who have no qualms targeting innocent civilians.

It is a misplaced hope to rely on the forces of the capitalist state to protect the population from possible acts of terror or protect human rights. A deconstructed and re-shaped democratic state is a realistic and positive approach to this issue.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Monday, August 01, 2011

Arab Spring meets Jewish Summer

The rhythmic Hebrew slogans used at many of the protests are strikingly similar to punchy Arabic lines that have reverberated throughout the Middle East since January: "Ha'am doresh / tzedek chevrati" ["The people demand social justice"], one observer noted.

On Saturday night, more than 150,000 people – out of a population of seven million – gathered in 12 cities across Israel as part of the biggest social movement the country has witnessed.

Small-scale actions that started with tents being pitched in Tel Aviv and other cities over soaring housing costs have grown into a mass movement against the right-wing Netanyahu government, unemployment, the ruling families who own most of the economy and deep inequality.

Recent demonstrations have included marches against the prices of petrol, boycotts of expensive cottage cheese that forced manufacturers to lower prices and lengthy strikes by social workers and doctors over pay and working conditions.

Middle-class Jews and Israeli Palestinians have come together in local encampments in a way that seemed unimaginable only a few weeks ago. And they have shaken the country’s ruling economic and political elites to their core. There were reports that Bedouin tribesmen had joined the marchers in outlying towns. A poll by showed that 87% of Israelis support the tent city protests.

In echoes of the movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Spain, many on the march demanded fundamental change. It was a moment when the Arab Spring met the Jewish Summer. One of the placards read: “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu!”

Activist Daphni Leef, who initiated the first tent village protest in Tel Aviv against housing prices two weeks ago, told a crowd of 70,000-100,000 Israelis gathered outside the city's main art museum that "we don't want to replace the government, but to do more than that. We want to change the rules of the game".

A steady influx of wealthy diaspora Jews from New York, Miami and Paris who bought up flats in Israel's big cities has driven up prices in many affluent neighbourhoods along the Mediterranean coast in cities such as Tel Aviv and Netanya, in addition to Jerusalem.

Since 2008, the price of an average apartment has gone up by 55% rent by 27%, far in excess of wage increases.

Many protesters say they do not want to live in the distant suburbs, where rent is cheap but amenities are far. Public transport is notoriously bad in Tel Aviv, where people joke that "the Messiah will arrive before the new light rail is built".

Efraim Davidi, a political scientist at Ben Gurion University, says there is a simple reason why the vast majority of Israelis support the protesters against the government. "The situation of working families is getting worse and worse. It's very difficult to buy an apartment, car, food," says Davidi. "Prices here are like in Europe, but salaries are like those in the Third World."

The Arab Spring is making itself felt in this unlikely context. The regimes being challenged are quite different, but the impulses are similar – corruption, inflation, unemployment, inequality and a failure of the existing political system.

In Israel, the Zionists who dominate a nationalist state founded on a single ethnic group have used the threat of an external “enemy” in the shape of Arab regimes to hold sway over a seemingly pliant population.

The shattering of the Mubarak regime and the heroic uprising by the Syrian people in the face of a murderous assault by the Assad dictatorship has served to loosen the Zionist grip. As The celebrated author David Grossman told the crowd: "The people are loyal to the state, but the state isn't loyal to them."

The idea that the Jewish state represents all Jews equally is being exposed and blown apart and with it will go the raison d’être of the Zionist regime itself. Class rather than ethnic and religious questions are now coming to the fore in Israel, with the nature of capitalist rule on the agenda. A real unity of Jewish and Arab workers in the region, leading to self-determination for the Palestinians, is a greater possibility now than it was before the Arab Spring.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor