Friday, September 28, 2012

Drone attacks are state-sponsored terrorism

On March 17, 2011 some 40 individuals – including 35 government-appointed tribal leaders known as maliks, as well as government officials – gathered in Datta Khel town centre in North Waziristan in Pakistan.

They were there to attend a jirga — the principal social institution for decision-making and dispute resolution in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA.) On the agenda was a dispute over a nearby chromite mine. Four men from a local Taliban group were also reportedly present, as their involvement was necessary to resolve the dispute.  

Though drones were hovering daily over North Waziristan, those at this meeting said they felt “secure and insulated” from the threat of drones, because in their assessment at the time, “drones target terrorists or those working against the government.”      

At about 10.45 am, as the two groups were engaged in discussion, a missile fired from a US drone hovering above struck one of the circles of seated men. Several additional missiles were fired, at least one of which hit the second circle. In all, the missiles killed a total of at least 42 people.  

When President Bush left office in January 2009, the US had carried out at least 45
drone strikes  Since then, President Obama has reportedly carried out more than five times that number: 292 strikes in just over three and a half years.

A key feature of the Obama administration’s use of drones has been a reported
expansion in the use of “signature” strikes based on a “pattern of life” analysis. Presumably that included the meeting outside the bus station in Datta Khel, which local military commanders had been informed of in advance.

The results of this particular drone attack are among the many documented in an exhaustive report into the practice and legality of drone strikes. It is the result of nine months of research  by the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic of Stanford Law School and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law. Drones hover 24 hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. The report concludes:

Their presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they’re powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behaviour. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatised by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.

Closer to home, the UK has begun work to open up its civilian airspace to unmanned drones for a variety of activities. While 76 countries are known to possess so-called unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, the UK is one of only three countries (along with the US and Israel) currently using armed drones, in its military operations in Afghanistan. A report by Drone Wars UK says the UK has spent or committed over £2 billion on purchasing, developing or researched UAVs since 2007.

Drone attacks are a form of state-sponsored terrorism, although the US report limits itself to suggesting that they undermine respect for the rule of law and international protections. But those went out of the window with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Drone attacks are their illegal continuation in another form. They are among Obama’s greatest “achievements” in four years in power.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, September 27, 2012

India's nuclear expansion at the people's expense

Opposing the expansion of nuclear power is always dealt with ruthlessly. But the Indian state of Tamil Nadu’s charges of treason laid against protesters must be a first. The protesters have also been gassed, injured and one killed in clashes.

India has six nuclear power plants and seven more are under construction. In 2010 a government plan proposed aiming for a nuclear capacity of 63,000 megawatts by 2032 – more than 13 times the present generating capacity.

At Kudankulam, in Tamil Nadu at India’s southernmost tip, two 1,000MW reactors have been built by a Russian/Indian consortium. The first is currently being loaded with fuel and is expected to start production in days, the second by the end of the year. Four more reactors are planned.

Police fired tear gas at thousands of people approaching the plant to stage a protest, and more than 200 have been arrested in the course of the opposition campaign. Police are trying to make charges of waging war on the country stick, though a recent judicial review suggests they may not get away with it.

In nearby Tuticorin, a fisherman was killed when police fired into a crowd. Earlier this month, 500 fishing boats blockaded the estuary where there are plans to dump coolant water and “low level waste”. Fishermen say most countries, including those in the European Union, will no longer import their fish because of the risk of contamination.

The Indian government blames foreign NGOs for fomenting the protest and accuses the campaigners in the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) of being ignorant and manipulated. There are thought to be around 5,000 policemen posted around the plant.

India has international nuclear agreements with Russia, France and the USA. It is importing uranium from Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Namibia. Indian corporations are expanding into uranium mining with a recent exploration contract in Niger.

Plans for US firms to build reactors have been shelved because the corporations are worried about Indian law allowing victims of industrial accidents to sue for damages. But some media suggest a secret deal has been signed with Atomstroyexport, the Russian partner at Kudankulam, waiving this right and indemnifying the company against any claims.

The Tamil Nadu state government initially postponed completion of the project after the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima in Japan. Under government pressure, and claiming to be convinced about improved safety measures, they caved in, although governments in Kerala and West Bengal are holding out.

Safety claims do not convince PMANE, who point out that the Asian tsunami of December 2004 flooded the area where the Kudankulam reactors are and that there are frequent tremors in the area.

More than a million people live within 30km of the plant, and it would be impossible to evacuate them if there were a natural disaster leading to a nuclear accident.

But the Indian government is determined to push ahead. It has accepted massive loans from the Russian government for its nuclear expansion, and costs have soared since the initial agreement.

The PMANE rightly asks who the real beneficiaries of the Indian nuclear expansion will be: “Is it all for us, the people of India? Or for the corporate profits of the Russian, American and French companies? Or for the Indian military? Are the lives and futures of the Indian citizens inferior to all these?”

Tamil Solidarity Campaign plans protests at Indian embassies worldwide and at the Indian High Commission in London, on 24th of October, 4.00 to 7.00pm. See for more information.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Point of no return in Europe

Impasse. Tipping point. Crisis. Boiling point. Point of no return. Explosion. What words can convey the profundity of the present moment of transition?

The people of southern Europe in Portugal, Spain and Greece have reached the limits of their preparedness to tolerate more brutal assaults in the name of austerity.

But the leaders of the public and private sector unions who have called today’s general strike in Greece do not intend their collective action to bring down the three month-old coalition, let alone challenge the economic and social system. Quite the opposite. 

"We call on everyone to take part in the strike and resist the austerity measures that hurt Greek people and the economy," said Despoina Spanou of the ADEDY labour group.

With unemployment at a record high in Greece – hitting almost 24% at a national level and 55% among young people, the highest in Europe – the leaders want the action to emphasise how deficit-cutting measures at the expense of growth and development are creating an economic death spiral. As Stathis Anestis of the GSEE union group put it: “These policies have led Greece to an impasse and are totally counter-productive.”

The anger is intensified by the European Union, European Central Bank and the IMF who are pushing for further cuts in wages and pensions which have been drastically reduced in the five years since the crash. As well as proposing the introduction of a six-day working week, the Troika aim to cut the minimum wage by 22% and abolish collective labour agreements.

Union leaders, not just in Greece but throughout Europe, have no intention of going beyond resistance and protest actions. Their “alternatives” are based on the notion that present policies are “wrong” and that growth would be better.

But we are patently in a crisis of the capitalist system of global proportions, where contraction is driven by an inner momentum which governments of all persuasions are barely able to influence let alone halt. And the political crisis is growing too, especially in Spain where riot police fired rubber bullets to prevent crowds storming the parliament building yesterday.

In Catalonia, nationalists are turning the anger onto the federal government. Catalan President Artur Mas has called an early election for 25 November, a move towards secession that has stirred dark warnings from the military with echoes of the Spanish civil war.

The people of Portugal have also had enough of austerity, with one draconian package after another imposing longer working hours, 7% pay cuts, tax rises, and an erosion of pensions. Unemployment has reached 15.7% - with one in three young people jobless..

A week ago, more than half a million people marched in cities across the country in the biggest protests against the government since the end of the dictatorship in 1974. The peaceful marches were a milestone in a country where people are not known for a protest culture.

From left to right, from moderates to radicals, from young to old, from professional protesters to first-timers, it was an unmistakable warning shot for the government. Protests were scheduled even in wealthy Cascais, a coastal city near Lisbon famous for its upper-class demography.

In the shadows of the darkening clouds of the planetary emergency brought on by decades of debt-fuelled growth, the crisis engulfs, overwhelms and overpowers the increasingly desperate attempts by agencies and governments to build new defences as the old ones fail to deliver.

You can see that in Britain, where the deficit is rising and only the printing of vast amounts of money by the Bank of England is holding back economic collapse. Yet the TUC is restricting itself to a weekend demonstration and the threat of some scattered, one-off strikes over pay sometime next spring. It just won’t do.

Humanity stands at the threshold of an evolutionary leap in social organisation. Either we cross it, building a not-for profit economy and society based upon co-operation and collective stewardship of the world’s resources, or we will become capitalism's victims.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Revealed: those Cable-Miliband texts

We have been offered details of some the frequent texts exchanged between Vince Cable, the business secretary and leading Lib Dem, and Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party.

How they were obtained, we don’t know. But we thought the “public interest” would be best served by publishing extracts. These cover exchanges from early September this year and go right up until yesterday afternoon. Enjoy!

What do u think of my predistribution speech? Need fairer, responsible capitalism. This is my big idea.
Sent @ 16.42 Sep 6
Great idea imo. Redistribution old hat now!!!! LDs can support predistribution.
Sent @ 16.59 Sep 6
Ed: If bosses play ball we could save billions in pub spending. Genius stuff from US
Sent @ 17.02 Sep 6
Deficit getting worse. So every penny we can save…
Sent @ 17.04 Sep 6
Great to be on with Ed [Balls, shadow chancellor] on Marr’s show. Bit of a stir when I said was on centre-left!!!!!
Sent @ 14.17 Sep 9  
Left/right not issue anymore imo. System needs sorting. Ed’s ego a prob tho!
Sent @ 15.19 Sep 9
Bros gave Ed bad time at TUC. What’s wrong with them? Thgt they were all signed up?
Sent @ 18.30 Sep 11
Think they own me!!! Don’t want to know abt deficit. Pay freeze right for country. Glad Ed was there and not me!!!
Sent @19.07 Sep 11 
Hope my plans on emp tribs ok with you? [Cable is to consult on curbing employment tribunal payouts and other restrictions]
Sent @ 13.05 Sep 14
No probs! Too much conflict in the system. Sort it out Vince!
Sent @ 14.27 Sep 14
Hope u liked my int in D Tel. Cld bring our 2 parties closer. Need to wk 2gether after 2015 [date of next general election].
Sent @ 13.20 Sep 15
Great stuff. Liked bit about saving capitalism from itself. Can we do it? Yes we can!!!!!
Sent @14.00 Sep 15
Nick’s [Clegg] apol on fees was amazing. Cldn’t believe it!!!! Whatever next!!! He can’t last. My turn????
Sent @ 11.01 Sep 19
Hope so. Be gt to have u and LDs with us after 2015. Still more cuts to come. So need to wk closer.
Sent @ 11.05 Sep 19
Vince: Polls show you well ahead. Cld u manage without LDs after 2015? Pity if so.
Sent @ 14.25 Sep 21
Ed: Don’t worry. Public don’t really like any of us. Will they vote? Will need each other imo.
Sent @ 15.08 Sep 21
Vince: Bit lonely in govt. Most Tories won’t speak to me!!!! Keep telling myself in govt in nat interest. Not sure anymore!!!!
Sent @ 8.50 Sep 23
Ed:  Don’t worry. You’ve got a friend in me [believed to be a Toy Story reference]. Tories are out of touch.
Sent @ 8.52 Sep 23
Ed:  Great speech at ur conf Vince. Lvd stuff about Tory headbangers and plebs. Small business bank right way to go.
Sent @ 15.58 Sep 24
Vince: Cheers! They love me here. Nick is done for imo. I could relaunch LDs in time for 2015. But u know LDs. They can’t make up their minds!!!!!
Sent @ 16.20 Sep 24
Ed: I’m here for you. There’s a new third way and we’ve found it.
Sent @ 16.25 Sep 24

Monday, September 24, 2012

Policing and mental health body is 'cosmetic exercise'

The Commission on Policing and Mental Health has been set up following concerns about “how police respond to people with mental health conditions”, according to Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, Britain’s most senior police officer.

But the narrow terms of reference – and the exclusion of agencies who specialise in the areas of black deaths in custody – indicate that the new body is heavily weighted to cast sand in the eyes of those seeking positive change.

Considering that Afro-Caribbean communities are in the front-line of deaths in custody associated with mental health problems, why are the specialist campaign groups Inquest and Black Mental UK being excluded from the Commission?

Hogan-Howe promised an independent body would be set up after an inquest into the death of musician Sean Rigg found that police had used an “unsuitable” level of force before his death.

Rigg, a 40-year-old musician and karate expert, died at Brixton police station on 21 October 2008 of cardiac arrest after being restrained by four officers. Since then, Rigg’s relatives and supporters have been campaigning to establish the truth about his death.

Even the toothless Independent Police Complaints Commission was forced to concede that not only the police, but also the South London and Maudsley Mental Health Trust had not responded properly. It concluded that Rigg’s death was “symptom of a deeper problem – the linkage between mental illness and deaths in or following police custody”.

This is mealy-mouthed phraseology, considering that some 50% of those who lose their lives in police custody are under the care of mental health services and that a significant proportion are black men.

The inquest verdict into Riggs’ death was far more damning: the jury found that the Met and the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust were guilty of a catalogue of errors which “more than minimally contributed to his [Rigg’s] death”.

The Rigg family’s solicitor, Daniel Machover, pointed to the whitewash nature of the IPCC’s findings when the inquest jury delivered its verdict: “....while the IPCC gave the police a clean bill of health in 2010 … the inquest jury was highly critical of every aspect of the police conduct, including the eight minutes restraint in the prone position, a fact totally missed by the IPCC”.

As Black Mental Health UK points out, detention rates for people from the UK’s Afro-Caribbean community doubled during the period of 2005–2010. Afro-Caribbean's are 50% more likely to enter the system via the criminal justice system or the police, 44% more likely to be sectioned, 29% more likely to be forcibly restrained, 50% more likely to be placed in seclusion and make up 30% of in patients on medium secure psychiatric wards despite having similar rates of mental illness as British white people.

The Commission on Policing and Mental Health is to be chaired by the establishment figure, Lord Adebowale. Black Mental Health UK director Matilda MacAttram, said that excluding experts from BMH UK and Inquest, “who have the critical insight needed in this area which would ensure the transformation in police treatment of this vulnerable group, leaves one with the impression that this is nothing but a cosmetic exercise, which will not result in any positive change.”

Given the discrediting of the police in the wake of the independent Hillsborough report, state agencies are struggling to retain credibility, and not only amongst black and minority communities. Cuts in the health service mean that even well-intentioned people in long-established mental health institutions like the Maudsley Trust are failing in their duty of care. Creating toothless commissions cannot disguise this harsh reality.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, September 21, 2012

An Agreement of the People for 2012

In the light of the ConDems plan to turn Britain into a total market state and Ed Miilband’s plan for Labour to “save capitalism from itself”, we present a 2012 draft of the Agreement of the People (with deference to the Levellers and their 1647 version debated at Putney).

 Whereas the current British state political system is undemocratic and unjust in that:    

  • The state is a highly centralised, alienating power that has established itself above society as a whole. 
  • This power is exercised primarily on behalf of dominant economic and financial interests.
  • Legal authority does not come from the people as citizens, but from the Monarchy, Lords and Commons. 
  • The House of Commons is a powerless assembly rather than an independent transforming legislature.  
  • Members of Parliament do not exercise any real control over ministers or civil servants.  
  • A surveillance state secretly monitors and tracks the legitimate activities of activists, trade unionists and protesters.
  • Increasing numbers of “arms-length” quasi-state agencies have been created which are totally unaccountable at central and local level.
  • Local government has lost its relative autonomy and is now reduced to carrying out central government orders and decisions.  
  • The state has abandoned primary responsibility in a number of areas including housing, higher education and care in older age in favour of markets.
  • The states refuses to take steps to cut carbon emissions and other measures to meet the challenge of climate change.
We therefore declare that the present state is a barrier to the real democratic control of society and has effectively disenfranchised the 99%. We therefore propose an initiative that has as its aim the transformation of the present political system along democratic lines.

We propose the goals of building a new, independent and decentralised democracy, from below, creating an inclusive written constitution that serves to protect and enhance our liberty and embraces the aspirations of the powerless majority.

To reach these goals we aim to:  
·         encourage the building of a new, nation-wide democratic tradition from the ground up through, for example, independent Peoples' Assemblies, as a means of transforming the state
·         develop a working coalition of civil and human rights activists, constitution campaigners and all those interested in decentralisation, self-organisation and complete electoral reform
·         carry out actions by non-violent means in support of the rights and issues we stand for
·         develop a peoples' constitution that will defend existing rights under attack and create new ones that deepen and extend democracy

We advocate a new constitution for a 21st century democracy, moving from a constitutional monarchy to a constitutional democracy. This new constitution should have as its guiding principles:

·         justice, transparency and accountability from those elected by the people to govern
·         a decentralised, participatory and inclusive democracy
·         self-government and management in all spheres of social, economic and political life
·         absolute equality before the law
·         an independent, democratically appointed judiciary to uphold the new constitution and the rule of law

The rights set out below, which a new constitution would incorporate, should form the basis of the new democratic state:

Human and social rights
·         The right to organise, associate, demonstrate and strike independently of the state
·         The right to a representative electoral process in balance with a new participatory system
·         The right to set up independent People's Assemblies with decision-making powers and control over resources
·         The right of minority communities to equality in all areas of social life
·         The right to affordable housing for all those in need
·         The right to free continuing education and training

Economic rights
·         The right to co-operative ownership and self-management
·         The right to democracy in all areas/activities of the workplace

Environmental rights
·         The right to live in an environment shaped by ecological care and basic human needs
·         The right of nature, including human beings, to exist free from abuse and despoliation.

Indigenous rights
·         The right to hold and use land held in common
·         The right of communities to continuity of culture, traditions and habitat
·         The right to the free movement of people based on 'no borders' principles

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

A version of this draft was first presented at a democracy day school held by Occupy's Real Democracy Working Group in London.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

'Uncharted territory' as Arctic sea ice shrinks to new low

We are talking about more than “warning signs” now, or even approaching “tipping points”. Climate change is taking its toll in the here and now and only far-reaching, drastic, emergency measures to cut carbon emissions can even begin to have an impact.

Yet governments around the world are either paralysed and/or increasing the output of coal-fired power stations, intensifying heavily-industrialised agricultural production, drilling new oil fields and building more cars.

All are committed to an unsustainable system of production of goods that put profit margins above environmental considerations. The recession has increased risk-taking and cost cutting is the norm. Health and safety? Forget it, say the ConDems. Too expensive.

The latest evidence about the shrinking of Arctic sea ice is conclusive evidence that waiting for long-term “solutions” based on green technology, solar power, wind power or voluntary, individual reductions in emissions is not going to change the dire predicament we are already in.

The Arctic Ocean is blanketed by sea ice that expands during the Arctic winter, reaching a maximum extent in March. Sea ice retreats during the summer, reaching its minimum extent in mid-September. The shiny white ice reflects light and heat that the ocean would otherwise absorb, keeping the Northern hemisphere cool.

Yesterday, scientists at the Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) reported that sea ice extent has fallen to 3.41 million square kilometres (1.32 million square miles) and is now the lowest summer minimum extent in the satellite record.

“We are now in uncharted territory,” said NSIDC Director Mark Serreze. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”

The Arctic used to be dominated by ice that survived through several years. Now the Arctic is increasingly characterised by seasonal ice cover and large areas are now prone to completely melt away in summer. Ice extent has shown a dramatic overall decline over the past thirty years. This year’s minimum will be nearly 50% lower than the 1979 to 2000 average.

This period coincides more or less exactly with the rapid growth in commodity production as the corporate-driven globalisation process took hold. In other words, climate change is unarguably the result of reckless, profit-motivated-and-damn-the-consequences expansion. There’s no escaping the connection between the two.

Even MPs on the Commons environmental audit committee have recognised signs. Their report published today suggest that the ice cap may be at risk of total summer collapse, a view previously discounted by scientists. The MPs warn:

A total collapse would not only lead to further warming of the Arctic, but would be disastrous for its unique ecosystem and wildlife, and may have damaging ramifications for regional and global climate. There are also a number of other tipping points in climate-driven systems in the Arctic that may be approaching with potentially disastrous consequences, such as increased methane emissions from thawing permafrost, runaway melting of the Greenland Ice-sheet and a collapse of the thermo-haline circulation of the Atlantic. These together comprise a wake-up call to reinvigorate efforts to tackle climate change.

Unfortunately, they, like the rest of the political establishment, trade in fine words and are essentially asleep at the wheel. The report limits itself to suggesting that drilling for oil in the region ought to be halted until proper precautions are taken against spills. Talk about missing the point.

The NSIDC’s findings confirm that there is a planetary emergency. Inaction by governments, corporations, the UN and other agencies make them complicit. The global corporatocracy stands indicted and while it remains in place, climate change will accelerate faster and run wild.

Join us on September 27 in London to discuss the eco-crisis and solutions, led off by US senatorial candidate Professor David Schwartzman

Paul Feldman
Communications editor 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Walmart workers and teachers turn up the heat

After eight days of solid strike action against a regressive restructuring of the education system in the third largest school district in the US, teachers in Chicago are going back to school having won a stand-off compromise that solves nothing.

They have avoided a court hearing scheduled for today that would have ordered them back to work, if Mayor Rahm Emanuel had got his way. 

Emanuel, former White House top aide to Barack Obama, is spokesman for a powerful group that believes poorly-performing schools should be closed and reopened with new staff or converted to "charter" schools that often are non-union and run by private groups.

Chicago has been devastated by the long, grinding recession. In the five-year period since the crash, its unemployment rate increased from 5.2% to 9.1% – higher than the national average. So it’s no surprise that many Chicago public school students perform poorly on the tests.

The union distrusts Emanuel, fearing he will use the poor academic record to close scores of schools now that the strike has been called off, leading to mass teacher lay offs. The deal only obliges Rahm to re-hire as few as one-half of those who lose their jobs.

Teachers want more resources put into neighbourhood public schools to help them succeed. Chicago teachers say many of their students live in poor and crime-ridden areas and this affects their learning. More than 80% of public school students qualify for free meals based on low family incomes.

The contract that was agreed with Emanuel includes several compromises, including his key demand that teacher evaluations be based on results of standardised tests in reading, maths and science. Test results will still be taken into consideration but not by as much as Emanuel originally wanted.

The proposed deal calls for an average 17.6% pay raise for teachers over four years and some benefit improvements.

Financial analysts have said the cost of the agreement could exceed the school district's budget and lead to its credit rating being downgraded, forcing it to pay higher interest rates to finance any deficits.

Across the other side of the country striking workers employed in one of Walmart’s warehouses yesterday completed a 50 mile “pilgrimage” with a rally in Los Angeles to highlight working conditions that they said they can no longer tolerate.

In the world’s largest corporation, workers are forced to work in temperatures of over 100F  without a fan, in heat and pollutants that make the workers vomit and get bloody noses, without clean water or regular breaks and with faulty, dangerous equipment.

Raymond Castillo, a 23-year-old warehouse worker who marched with the group said: "I felt joy because of all the supporters that walked with us and that lasted the whole time right by our sides. And I felt proud of myself because I'm fighting for something that I believe in."

Even though Castillo has a wife and one-year-old, he said working in the warehouse was "not worth risking my life." At the end of the pilgrimage, he said he felt inspired and rejuvenated. "I still feel like running more. Right now, I'm bouncing up and down because I’m excited. I'm not even paying attention to my blisters on my feet."  

The exhilaration that comes from collective action reflects the release of mounting but pent-up frustration and anger. The joy felt by one warehouse worker is directly connected to the ongoing revolutionary process that erupted in Tunis in January last year, inspiring the year-old global Occupy movement.  

We saw it in the mass demonstrations in Spain and Portugal at the weekend and the growing resistance to austerity in Italy, Britain and the rest of the capitalist world. A global tipping point has been breached and a period of intense, class confrontation is emerging.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Film protests express a broader anger

As mass rallies and violent protests continue to sweep the Muslim world over an anti-Islam film made by US-based racists, the widespread reaction raises the question about whether the background to the protests is purely religious.

More than a dozen people have died since last Tuesday in protests sparked by the appearance on YouTube of a trailer for the crude, poorly made film, which is entitled "Innocence of Muslims".

Yesterday, the  leader of Lebanon's Shia movement Hezbollah appeared in public for the first time since December 2011 to denounce the film which has sparked worldwide protests. In other developments

  • About 3,000 protesters from the Philippines Muslim minority burned US and Israeli flags in the southern city of Marawi
  • In Yemen, hundreds of students in the capital, Sanaa, called for the expulsion of the US ambassador
  • In Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, hundreds of protesters faced off with police, throwing stones and petrol bombs, while police retaliated with tear gas
  • Hundreds of Palestinians staged a peaceful sit-in protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah
  • Angry demonstrators in the Afghan capital, Kabul, fired guns, torched police cars and shouted anti-US slogans
  • Police arrested at least 15 people at a small protest outside the US embassy in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku

The scale of unrest is drawing comparisons with the Arab spring of 2011. Heading the list of mass protests, are Tunisia and Egypt, the very countries in which two entrenched and hated dictators were toppled last year.

The furore is prompting the question – is this primarily a religious protest? While some may be enthused - or shocked - by the crude religious sentiments and apparent intolerance of the demonstrators, the truth is more complex – but also, in some respects, more simple.

A global mapping of the protests reveals clearly that the notion that the background causes are purely religious – or indeed anti-Western – must be tempered. The countries with the largest Muslim populations, India, Indonesia and Pakistan, have seen relatively fewer violent protests and some large areas of the Muslim world have not been involved at all.

The fact is that Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia, and president Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi of Yemen have been unable to satisfy the demands of the vast majority of their people. Indeed, the Egyptian president was in Brussels at the headquarters of the European Commission at the weekend seeking a €1bn loan.

The new rulers of Egypt and Libya, who are moderate Islamists, are under siege from the more fundamentalist Salafist parties and pro-Qaeda groups.  

Meanwhile, in Tunisia opponents of the new regime are being locked up and tortured after protests in the very same town where the self-immolation of a fruit seller sparked the original revolution of 2011 which toppled dictator president Ben Ali. Radhia Nasraoui, president of Tunisia's Organisation Against Torture, says that dozens of people are being tortured in the country’s jails.

But there is another force, much greater, at work. As one US blogger has noted: “Islamism is only the weaker expression of a broader anger against power in its domestic and foreign forms.”

The religious form masks what is a struggle for power by contending classes in the wake of incomplete revolutions. Those in power are deploying anti-imperialist and religious demagogy to trap those who believe, correctly, that their religion has been insulted.

The aspirations of the poor and dispossessed, as well as the lower middle classes, remain unfulfilled. The Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan notes: “What is irreversible in the Arab world is this intellectual revolution, the awakening that we can get rid of dictators. That is here, and the people have this sentiment and this political power. They feel that they can do it, and it’s still there.”

A different kind of secular, revolutionary leadership which can express and take forward the interests of the oppressed of all faiths, those of no faith, and minorities, is needed to ensure this awakening continues to flourish.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, September 17, 2012

Boot corporations out of the arts

A row has broken about the role of Creative Scotland, successor to the Arts Council, which the poet Don Paterson has denounced as a “dysfunctional ant-heap”.

The so-called “Year of Creative Scotland”, a banal construct with endless TV ads, underlines the merging of arts funding with the tourism and business agenda.

In the ghastly business-speak that dominates public discourse, Creative Scotland describes it as “a chance to spotlight, celebrate and promote Scotland's cultural and creative strengths on a world stage, and to position Scotland as one of the world's most creative nations..."

In other words, to qualify for funding, artistic creations must contribute to Scotland’s “position”. Artists can’t just do their work; they have to fit in with an agenda – exactly the opposite of an independent artistic process. Creative Scotland has abolished grants for running costs and instead artists and art centres must propose endless one-off “projects”.

Paterson accuses Creative Scotland of treating artists with contempt and ignoring them. Consultations are “unprofessional, mendacious, corrupt” and ruined by “nepotism, autocratic whim and lack of oversight”, he claims.

He reports a leading writer seeking help with completing an incomprehensible form being told by a Creative Scotland official it was no tougher than a benefits application and worth the effort “to get something for nothing”.

Paterson calls for all “foolish, short-term, PR-driven, empty and self-conscious celebrations of our own creativity, more appropriate to and becoming of a county the size of Rutland than a real nation”, to be abandoned.

But he goes on to say that arts officials should not be recruited from outside Scotland. He asks how anyone who has not lived here for some time “who does not know our complex history or who has no first-hand experience of the psychological make-up of our citizenry, who is not familiar with the work of our leading artists and writers - possibly react to our cultural biosphere in a way that will not caricature it, elide it, or reinvent the wheel?”

Here Paterson entirely misses the point. The agenda Creative Scotland is responding is the totally home-grown Scottish government version of changes in arts funding that are happening everywhere, throughout the United Kingdom and far beyond.

To see what has happened, just go and see the excellent film installation at Glasgow’s Tramway. It tracks changes in the visual identities of three cultural institutions – the Tate in London, the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. These graphics have changed, as the institutions themselves have changed, to fit with what corporations and governments will buy into.

Andrew Dixon, head of Creative Scotland, is one of the generation that implemented this approach everywhere. It is hardly surprising that the Scottish government chose the man who led the process that delivered the Baltic arts centre in Gateshead.

There are plenty of Scots on the Creative Scotland Board. Sir Sandy Crombie, former CEO of Standard Life and currently senior independent director of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc is its chair. Then there’s Peter Cabrelli, former group human resources director of HBOS plc where he led the merger of Bank of Scotland and Halifax.

The idea that Scots citizens have a shared national “psychological make up” that would help prevent this approach is nonsense. Scotland exists, willy-nilly and whether still part of the UK or on the morning after independence, within the globalised capitalist world, with its obsession with markets and its horrible perspective on art.

Anyway, the whole idea of a national psychological make-up is deeply reactionary. Do we want to espouse such an exclusive concept? Instead, whether in Scotland or anywhere, we should aspire to abolishing bureaucracy altogether and booting politicians and the corporations out of the arts. 

Penny Cole

Friday, September 14, 2012

Who controls water controls life

One billion people – a seventh of the world’s population - are without reliable supplies of water, and each day 3,900 children die because of water deprivation. Even the wealthy United States cannot provide citizens secure access to water.  

Cholera is spreading through Niger and Sierra Leone, caused by polluted drinking water. Fragile water and sanitation systems were damaged by unprecedented floods that left 94,000 people homeless.

At the other end of the scale India’s poor monsoon means the country is facing a drinking water crisis, with reservoirs at 20% of expected supply for the time of year. A new UN publication to mark World Water Week, says:

“Our presence and our actions and their consequences have altered the very composition of the atmosphere in which precipitation forms and from which rain falls. Humans have altered how much land cover exists to capture, store, purify and release water from the sky. Human behaviour is affecting rain and snowfall patterns, how much water flows in rivers, and whether the rivers even make it to the sea.

“Add to this the serious groundwater overdraft, accelerating soil loss in many of the world’s most important food production areas, the widespread contamination of water, and rapidly expanding desertification globally, and the causes and dimensions of the global water crisis suddenly become apparent.”

The UN’s report tends to the view that humanity as a whole, by its existence, is the cause of the problem, and that population growth is the key factor in the growing water crisis.

But this is contradicted by the facts. In the 40 years to 2000, 45,000 large dams and hundreds of thousands of smaller structures quadrupled water storage. What happens to the water then is the question.

The water supply has been stretched to the limit not by the existence of human society per se, but by the predominant economic form of that society. Water is a crucial input in commodity production, which has accelerated under corporate-driven globalisation.

Total industrial water use in the world is about 22%, with high-income countries using 59%, and low-income countries using just 8%. That doesn’t include what agri-business uses.

When a country is subjected to “market reforms” and rapid growth, governments put their populations into competition for water against the corporations. State utilities are privatised and prices driven up.

A Greenpeace report says that at least 10 billion cubic metres of water – equivalent to about one sixth of the annual total water volume of the Yellow River – will be consumed by 16 new coal power bases in China in 2015. This will trigger severe water crises in the country’s arid north west. China is “trading water rights of millions for energy,” it concludes.

Farming crops for direct consumption such as vegetables, grains and pulses makes best use of water, but is losing out to bio-fuels and high-value livestock farming.  

The UN report points out that “alternative” fuels – biofuels, oil shales, oil sands, coal-to-liquids, and hydrogen – can be anywhere from three to ten times more water use intensive than even oil and coal. Rapid growth in these will “intensify competition for already limited freshwater resources in many regions of the world.”

A whole section in the UN report is devoted to looking at whether the next wars will be water wars. Many developed economies are now classifying water supply as a factor in national security. Capitalism in crisis goes to war over resources – whether colonies, or diamonds or oil.

Only removing every crucial resource for life from private ownership and moving to co-operative management for mutual, cross-border benefit, can prevent the water wars so gloomily predicted.

Penny Cole
Environment editor  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A state that serves and protects the powerful

The self-sacrificing and inspiring struggle by relatives of the Merseyside fans who needlessly died at Hillsborough in 1989 to establish the truth, must add to the erosion of public confidence in state institutions of rule and power.

It was an independent panel, not the state, that finally exposed the large-scale conspiracy to cover up police and emergency service failures at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Panel members fought for the disclosure of the documents that revealed that police altered witness statements and ran a concerted campaign to denigrate and blame the fans for their own deaths.

But we’re not just talking about the police here. Other key sections of the state were involved in allowing the police smear story to stand for nearly a quarter of a century.

The judicial system and the coroners’ court also closed ranks to block the real story from coming out. And Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister, was briefed that "the defensive – and at times close to deceitful – behaviour by senior officers in South Yorkshire sounds depressingly familiar".

The executive arm of the state under the Tories did not want to upset a relationship with the police that had served them well.

The same South Yorkshire police force brutally attacked miners at Orgreave, not far from Hillsborough, during their great strike in 1984. Undoubtedly, the contempt of the police for the working class was a factor in their shocking treatment of the Liverpool fans five years later.

What is at stake here is the nature and role of the state, what and who it serves and what can be done to transform how we are ruled.

Lord MacDonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions and now a Liberal peer, knows more than most about the power of the state to rule through secrecy. He told Radio 4 Today’s programme that the “real lesson is the inability of our state”, after an “operational catastrophe is to be truthful about what happened”.

There is a “tendency”, he added, for “British public authorities to see themselves as apart from the public” added to which was a “very deep and long-standing corruption within our police services”.

But MacDonald’s view of a “a culture of deceit” within the police which is “quite breathtaking” still doesn’t get to the nub of things. The police reflect the nature of the whole state, not just its repressive arm.

State secrecy and deceit is the norm, whether it’s the cosy relationship with corporate and financial power, the lies over the invasion of Iraq, or the hidden agenda over issues like nuclear power or the break-up of the NHS. Vital documents are simply kept under lock and key.

The “public authorities” don’t just see themselves as something separate. They are, in practice, just that. Just ask people with disabilities facing gruelling and distressing “assessment” by the Atos corporation.

Our present state system is alienated from society precisely because it exists not to serve people as a whole but to enforce the status quo. It is more accurate, therefore, to describe it as a capitalist state with institutions that ultimately reinforce each other in defence of privilege and power.

Former New Labour home secretary Jack Straw has blamed “police impunity” on Thatcher. That’s only part of the story. This impunity is to be found in the very nature of a force that is effectively the strong arm of the state. Think about Jean Charles de Menezes or Ian Tomlinson. Or Mark Duggan.

The Hillsborough report will impact on millions of people, not just football fans. Confidence in the police and other sections of the state is already at an all-time low.

A state that cannot and will not protect its citizens, economically, socially or physically, does not deserve our endorsement. Hillsborough is the case for a deconstruction of the present state system and its reconstruction along truly democratic, transparent, accountable lines.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Workers hit back as tipping points breached

The impact of the social crisis on individuals in numbers of suicides, prescriptions for anti-depressants and the increasing numbers of people treated for stress at hospitals in England is steadily growing.

The NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre (Hscic) reports that there
were 6,370 admissions for stress – 410 more than the previous 12 months. Admission rates were highest among working-aged people aged 18 to 60, says the Hscic.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, added: ''Concerns about money and debt place huge pressure on people's mental well-being, so it is not surprising if stress and anxiety rise in times of economic crisis.

''We know that the outcomes of recessions – rising debt, unemployment and insecure housing – are associated with poorer mental health in individuals and poorer mental health is often linked to poorer physical health. Sustained periods of stress, anxiety and depression can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease."

The effect of the rapid deterioration in global economic and financial conditions is measured by the reaching and breaching of a multitude of tipping points - individual, social and political. The impact of the inter-related crises also brings individuals together, uniting them in common interests.

As the effects of the global crisis begin to be felt in capped wages, reduced pensions and job losses, growing anger amongst British trades unionists found its expression in a reluctant agreement by TUC leaders yesterday to begin exploring the practicalities of a general strike.

The unprecedented size of yesterday’s mass rally in Barcelona saw up to 1.5 million people on the streets demanding Catalonian secession from Spain, reflecting the now unbearable tensions of unrepayable debt that are tearing the eurozone countries apart

In the wake of the police killing of 34 striking miners at the Marikana mine, unrest sweeping across South Africa's platinum sector has hit Anglo American Platinum, with striking miners blockading roads leading to shafts belonging to the world's top producer.

"Around 1,000 mineworkers had a confrontation with mine security [on Tuesday] night at the Siphumelele shaft and the situation has spread to other mine shafts this morning," regional police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said. Siphumelele is one of four mines near Rustenburg, 100km (60 miles) north-west of Johannesburg, that have been targeted as "restructuring candidates" by Amplats' parent company Anglo-American.

Julius Malema, populist former leader of the ANC’s Youth League has called for a national strike in all of South Africa's mines, as labour unrest in the country has escalated following the closure of two platinum and gold mines.

As the United States heads towards the “fiscal cliff” predicted for 2013, the credit ratings agencies are winding up the pressure on presidential candidates. They are threatening the country’s triple A status should they fail to impose the full weight of the crisis on a population already struggling to survive.

Corporate and debt-driven globalisation transferred manufacturing to the East and undermined the strength of US trade unions. During the 1970s, an average of 289 major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers occurred annually in the United States. By the 1990s, that had fallen to about 35 per year. And in 2009, there were no more than five.

That’s all changing.

On Monday In Chicago, teachers went on strike — their first in almost 25 years. The strike is not primarily about wages but, as the study produced by Chicago Teachers’ Union puts it, about creating schools that students deserve.

The study outlines a vision of the future for Chicago’s school children that resonates with parents and children in the schools. CTU’s study calls for the expansion of art and music programmes, more “wraparound” services to reach at-risk children, the recognition that class-size matters, and equalising funding across schools.

“A country and city that can afford to take care of its affluent citizens can afford to take care of those on the other end of the income scale. There is no excuse for denying students the essential services they deserve,” says their 10-point manifesto.

Their action has pitted teachers against mayor Rahm Emanuel. He was formerly president Obama’s chief of staff and has condemned the strike. So much for having a Democrat in charge of Chicago.

You can send messages of support to the union at

Gerry Gold
Economics editor