Thursday, January 31, 2013

First Nations in front line of fight against fossil fuels

Protests in 30 Canadian cities, organised by First Nation Canadians of the Idle No More movement, are demanding the right-wing government rescind new laws that breach historic treaties and open the door to land theft and environmental destruction.

The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper smuggled new measures into a Budget Bill, sparking protests and a hunger strike led by Chief Theresa Spence and other tribal leaders.

The British Crown has a key role, because the omnibus Bill C–45 transfers responsibility for treaty issues and land rights to provincial governments. Yet Idle No More insists the tribes signed national treaties with the Crown, and it is illegal to transfer responsibility away from the national parliament.

C-45 lumps together more than 550 provisions on 30 topics, ensuring that it was impossible to examine it properly before the Conservative Party used its majority to force it through. Measures to protect water and rainforest can be set aside and treaty land privatised.

Campaigner Joe Weasel Child says Bill C-45 “provides the minister of Aboriginal Affairs as well as self-serving or misguided native politicians and unscrupulous lawyers the power to expropriate First Nations’ lands and resources for quick cash, corporate greed and to perpetuate the image of a wealthy Canada.”

It will also be used to facilitate construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline, running west from the Alberta tar sands through British Columbia to the harbour at Kitimat. It would cross rivers and lakes, the Rocky mountains and hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness, much of it treaty land.

Tankers would collect the bitumen for transportation mainly to China and a leak at Kitimat would pollute not only the ocean but also the Great Bear rain forest, the world's largest remaining coastal temperate rain forest.

Enridge, the company proposing to build it, has had 800 oil spills since 1999, including a 2010 pipeline burst that released 3.8 million litres of toxic tar sludge into the Kalamazoo River, Michigan.

Idle No More is also springing up in the United States, where American Indian people fought but failed to prevent construction of the Keystone pipeline which runs from the Alberta Tar Sands. It was completed in early 2012 and has already suffered 11 major leaks, including one in May that spilled 21,000 gallons in North Dakota.

This year president Obama must take a decision on whether to allow an extension on a route through South Dakota and across the Nebraska Sand Hills, through Oklahoma and Texas to Port Arthur, where tankers for China will be queuing up. He faces an unlikely opposition that include the Republican governor of Nebraska, American Indian tribal elders, environmentalists, farmers and ranchers.

The Nebraska Sand Hills are a unique eco-system of pristine wetland and prairie. They also form the porous natural cover for the giant Ogallala Aquifer. The fossil water of the Ogallala supplies one-third of the country's irrigation and 82% of the drinking water for people who live within its boundary.

James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute, says burning tar sands puts civilisation itself at risk. “The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million to 393 ppm over the last 150 years. The tar sands contain enough carbon — 240 gigatons — to add 120 ppm,” he explains.

For historic reasons, the first nations of the America (Canada, US and south) and Australia, find themselves in the front line of the opposition to ruthless extraction of fossil fuels. It is not an exaggeration to say that the struggle they are leading is a life or death one for the human race and life on earth.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bankrupt states - bankrupt system

Things aren’t going well in Europe. France is totally bankrupt, according to employment minister Michel Sapin. According to the radio interview he actually said, “there is a state but it is a totally bankrupt state”.

Though immediately denied by the country’s finance minister Pierre Moscovic, Sapin’s candid comment does much to explain the flight of the country’s super-rich. They don’t like the government’s plans to increase taxes on the wealthy. At the same time, president Hollande’s government appears to be floundering in the face of the crisis.

Movie star Gerard Depardieu has been given a Russian passport by president Putin. Bernard Arnault, an entrepreneur operating in the luxury goods market was – until he left for Belgium a few days ago – the country's richest citizen and listed by the Billionaires Index as the 14th richest person in the world. And now it seems former president Nicholas Sarkozy is heading to London with his heiress wife Carla Bruni for “economic” reasons.

No doubt they’ll be welcomed by the ConDem’s Home Secretary Theresa May, despite her increasingly tough stand against immigration which, she says, pushes up house prices, forces people onto benefits, and suppresses wages for the low-paid. But May’s tired attempt to blame the foreigners for the worsening state of the British economy won’t wash.

In the totally interconnected and interdependent economy of global corporations, neither France, nor any other country in Europe, or indeed the rest of the world, is immune from the rapid disintegration now under way. 

The muted optimism promoted by Davos World Economic Forum spin-doctors – accompanied by a warning against nationalist protectionism from Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder – is already out of date.

The latest figures from Spain have joined Sapin’s candid admission in introducing a note of reality. Spain’s retail sales crashed by 10.7% in December, compared with the same month in 2011. The retail slump actually accelerated, from 7.8% for November and an annual rate for 2012 of 6.8%.

With unemployment soaring and incomes falling, retail sales in Spain have now fallen for 30 months in row and the decline has quickened since the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, implemented further austerity measures – increasing VAT, slashing services, wages, jobs and pensions. Unemployment rose above 26% last month – a jaw-dropping 60% amongst young people – and is predicted to climb higher. Declining car and house sales indicate that the economy will continue to shrink. The deeper you look the worse it gets.

Production from Spain’s car industry has fallen below 2 million vehicles for the first time since 1993, crashing 17% last year. The industry has shrunk by a third from its high point before the 2007-8 crash. Car exports plunged even faster, plummeting 18% and dimming hopes that foreign trade can lift the economy out of slump as internal demand shrinks.

The Citigroup bank says it now expects Spain's economy to contract by 2.2% this year and another 2% in 2014, pushing unemployment to 28%. The bank is clear that Spain’s programme of austerity is being overwhelmed by the effects of the slump. The country’s public debt will surge from 88% to 110% of GDP in just two years.

Whether they admit it or not, capitalist states throughout the world are bankrupt. Their debts can never be repaid.  The USA’s world-beating debt has its political class in a stranglehold of mutually assured destruction. Deep across-the-board spending cuts seem certain to kick in on March 1 through what is known as the “sequester”.

It’s not only the states that are bankrupt, it’s the entire system of profit-hungry capital accumulation that is unsustainable and dangerously out of control. At Davos, there was talk of the “worst of the crisis being over”. All the indications are that the opposite is true.   

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Exclusive: Government memo tells Bulgarians and Romanians to stay at home

Romanians and Bulgarians will be entitled to come to Britain and work at the end of this year because they are citizens of a European Union member state. However, the ConDem government is working on a publicity campaign to dissuade them from leaving for our sunny shores.

The government’s advertising agency, Snaatchi and Snaatchi, has prepared a list of reasons why Britain is not the place to come to if you are a Bulgarian or Rumanian. The reasons could just as easily apply to anyone else who is thinking about settling in Britain.

Advice (draft) from HM Government, London, January 2013

  1. Britain is in the middle of a severe austerity programme. The standard of living is falling rapidly and dramatically. You’d be better off at home.
  2. If you intend to use local services, you may discover that these no longer exist. This especially applies to libraries and day centres.
  3. Many people have two or even three part-time, low-paid jobs in an effort to make ends meet. So be prepared to do without sleep.
  4. Lots of health care provision is being outsourced or privatised. So if you’re coming for medical reasons, forget it.
  5. Many British politicians hate foreigners of all kinds. Many are members of the ruling Tory Party. Ukip, in particular, encourages an intense dislike of anyone from the EU.
  6. Britain is thinking of leaving the EU so you could be stranded here with no rights whatsoever or even be thrown of out of the country.
  7. A special warning to any Roma people of Bulgaria and Romania: the authorities, including the police and local councils, will not take kindly to your presence in their neighbourhoods.
  8. If you are slightly foreign looking, there is a strong chance that our police will stop and search you under our anti-terror laws.
  9. Housing in Britain is the most expensive in Europe and the government is cutting benefit support towards rent. So you may have to share 10 to a room.
  10. If you are disabled in any way, be aware that you will need to be examined by government contractors repeatedly to make sure that you are fit for work.
  11. Rail transport is the most expensive in Europe. So it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to visit friends or relatives in other parts of the country. London’s Tube network is overcrowded and is also very expensive. So bring your horse.
  12. Most of our politicians say very much the same thing about building a “responsible capitalism”. So if you are looking for a place where democracy works, Britain isn’t the place.
  13. Britain’s banks don’t really function any more. They are also prone to selling you things you don’t need. So if you’re looking for a loan, you will be out of luck.
  14. Pay-day loans are, however, available. Interest rates are often more than 100% so be prepared to sell your body to pay back the lenders.
  15. There is a long waiting list for food banks which provide basic necessities for hard-up families. So don’t come thinking you can get help in this way.
  16. Many parts of the country are regularly under water as a result of extreme and unpredictable weather. It’s probably better where you are.
  17. Sporting and cultural events are prohibitively expensive for most people. It would be cheaper to stay home and watch the football in Bulgaria or Romania.
  18. The present government is getting tough on immigration, even if you are legally entitled to be here. You could find yourselves in the political spotlight as politicians look for someone to blame for the economic crisis.
So HM Government’s advice to you is to put off your trip to Britain until better times arrive. We’ll be in touch. It could be some time before you hear from us.

Prime Minister David Cameron
Home Secretary Theresa May 
on behalf of HMG. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Demand for social justice spurs Egypt's new street revolt

Events in Egypt are spiralling out of control of the Muslim Brotherhood government that replaced Hosni Mubarak’s regime. But behind the anti-Morsi movement in Egypt is something much bigger and deeper – the unfinished Arab revolution.

With the new government lacking legitimacy in the eyes of large swathes of the population, the street has defied the state of emergency and 30-day curfew in the cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez declared by president Mohamed Morsi last night.

The measure, which gives police sweeping powers of arrest, shows that nothing is settled since the Tahrir Square revolution of 25 January 2011. The high point of  of the Arab Spring inspired movements as far flung as New York and Wisconsin, London and Tel Aviv but has unfinished business.

The uprising that ousted Mubarak took place under the slogan “bread, freedom, social justice”. None of these demands have been met. The Egyptian economy is in free fall, with the currency rapidly losing value. One in four of the 15-29 age group is officially out of work, with real numbers much higher. The government is heavily in debt. A loan being negotiated from the International Monetary Fund will come with draconian conditions that will lead to food price increases (already cancelled once by Morsi).

During Friday’s anniversary celebrations, protesters demanded the establishment of a minimum wage and the suspension of the new constitution being forced through by the Muslim Brotherhood government. The shout “irhal, irhal!” – “leave, leave!” was directed at Morsi. 

After a Cairo judge sentenced to death 21 football supporters who were accused of killing local fans during football riots last year, demonstrators in Port Said directed their anger against Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government and the police.

They chanted “Down with Brotherhood rule!, and "Down, down Morsi, down down the regime that killed and tortured us!" as they carried the coffins of their dead through the streets of Port Said. It is widely believed that the violence at the 2012 football match was in fact orchestrated by the police or Mubarak supporters. Many died in street clashes.

As Egyptians and others around the world reflect on the second anniversary of the 25 January 2011, many are asking what was achieved and whether or not it can be defined as a revolution. In a group of articles called The Revolution Will Not Be Celebrated, the Jadaliyya website editors conclude that the conflict between the people of Egypt and the Morsi regime can only deepen.

The real danger, they write, comes from those who maintain that “the revolution ended with Mubarak’s departure and that what followed was ‘politics as usual’.” January 25 is reduced, they say, “to an event of the past... and not a living phenomenon and an ongoing struggle that has ways to go”.

It is not simply a battle against “the wielders of power”, Jadaliyya writes. Partisans of the revolution in Egypt “face a serious battle against the hegemonic narrative that the days of the revolution are over and that the country has re-entered a state of normalcy in which contentious political action is no longer deemed socially or legally acceptable.”

The notion that opposition to Mubarak was confined to Cairo is disproved. Amro Alim’s amazing photo essay shows how street art in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, reflected the mass movement against the regime.

Many are beginning to realise that protests are insufficient and that other courses of action are needed. Members of the Ultra football club took direct action on Saturday, occupying Cairo’s metro and Sixth of October bridge. Another group, the Black Bloc militants, have also appeared on the streets.

With its powerful history and huge population, Egypt occupies a pivotal position within the Arab world. The renewed revolutionary fervour in the country – coinciding with deep unrest in Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and Libya – points to the fact that there are no solutions within the old capitalist framework built by Mubarak. Social justice will require a social revolution.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, January 25, 2013

EU referendum also about who rules Britain

In raising questions about Britain’s membership of the European Union, the leader of the Tory Party has put constitutional questions about the state and democracy on the agenda. While David Cameron would like to confine these to the EU, we should make how Britain itself is governed the main question.

Naturally, as a ruling class politician, the prime minister is mostly concerned about prospects for the City of London and the major corporations when eurozone countries hand tax and spending policies to the European Central Bank – without the people of Europe having a say. Countries outside the eurozone – like Britain - could find themselves at a disadvantage.

And obviously, from a political point of view, he is keen to outflank the right-wing  populism of Ukip, whose fear and loathing of foreigners in general and Europeans in particular knows no limit, and bring his own eurosceptics into the fold.

But in his long speech, Cameron was also compelled to cloak himself in the language of democracy and emphasise the right of people to decide for themselves. In doing so, he opened up a can of worms for the ruling class because voters are also deeply troubled by a self-evident “democratic deficit” in Britain as well as the EU.

One of Cameron’s stated reasons for announcing a referendum on the EU in 2018 if the Tories win the next election is the “gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years”. He says that this “represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent”.

But his remark that the “EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf” puts him on dangerous ground. Because while this is true, it also applies to the electorate’s relationship with the state and political institutions in this country.

When he points that “people are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity” he wants to confine this to countries like Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland.

But this could and should be extended to what’s going on in Britain. The vicious austerity drive imposed on working people, which has seen a massive transfer of wealth to the rich, may appear as the result of decisions taken at Westminster.

But in reality, the policies flow from the ConDems’ slavish commitment to maintaining the status quo of corporate and financial power. Their source is equally as “further and further away” as those carried out in the eurozone. No mandate was sought for the cuts before the last election – by any of the parties.

The deficit was so huge as a result of the global crisis that, from a capitalist point of view, it had to be cut. And that meant taking the axe to public spending to persuade the financial markets not to impose exorbitant borrowing costs. Not much democracy at work here Cameron!

So we should extend the debate about democracy. We should make the central issue who rules Britain and by what means. Have, as Cameron claims, the people actually lost control and their voice to Brussels? Or, as is the case in practice, they never had either in the first place?

The British state and its institutions rule for the powerful, the elites, the rich and the establishment in general and a referendum on membership of a crisis-ridden EU that is beyond reform won’t change that.

Labour certainly won’t raise these fundamental questions. They are solely concerned that a referendum might undermine the “national interest”, by which they mean those of business and finance. Hell would freeze over before Ed Miliband talked about anything else.

A campaign is gathering pace around the project for an Agreement of the People for the 21st century. It proposes a new constitutional settlement in Britain that would spur democratic transformation everywhere and lay the basis for a Europe where powers rests firmly in the hands of the people. Lend it your support.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Memo to Attenborough: Capitalism, not human beings, is the earth’s 'plague'

TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s programmes are usually fascinating and informative but when it comes to his views on population control, he is talking rubbish. Reactionary rubbish at that.

“Human beings are a plague on the earth,” Attenborough says in an interview with the Radio Times. If we don’t limit “the frightening explosion in human numbers, the natural world will do it for us”.

Attenborough (president of the Malthusian Optimum Population Trust) calls for urgent measures to cut population growth in developing countries: “We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves…”

But Ethiopia is actually a classic example of why this is absolute nonsense. If the calories grown in Ethiopia stayed in Ethiopia then there would be no problem feeding the whole population. But the government’s economic plan is dependent on forcing its own citizens off the land and handing it over to global agribusiness to grow crops for export.

Ethiopia has had a consistently high annual growth in GDP throughout the last two decades. In 2011, it was 7%, compared to an overall global growth rate of 3.9% in the same year, and most of this expansion is accounted for by agriculture.

The government has a 10-year plan to double the size of the economy, and this means doubling industrial agriculture and agricultural products such as refined sugar and leather. This is to be achieved by selling or leasing millions of acres of land to global agri-businesses.

The removal of a planned total of 1.5 million rural families to new "model" villages in four regions, including approximately 45,000 households in Gambella province, is well underway. Claims that people are going voluntarily and that jobs and services are waiting for them are a pack of lies.

One group of refugees from Gambella is taking legal action against the British Department for International Development. Britain is one of the biggest contributors to the Protection of Basic Services (PBS) programme which pays for corrupt officials and soldiers and infrastructure for the clearances.

The legal action, undertaken by British law firm Leigh Day, is being launched from the world’s biggest refugee camp at Dadaab in northern Kenya where Ethiopians fled after reaching the “model villages” to find there was nothing there.

The World Bank endorses the Ethiopian government’s desire to get people out of what it calls “overpopulated rural settings”, but it admits that in spite of all this recent growth “the absolute number of poor is almost the same as 15 years ago and a significant proportion of the population remains just above the poverty line and vulnerable to shocks”.

It is true that population of Ethiopia is growing at around 2.1% per year, but that rate of growth is slowing. The fertility rate, i.e. the average number of births per woman, is still relatively high at 5.7, but this is also slowing. The rate of births always increases when early deaths from wars, disease or famine increases. It slows when things are more stable but it takes time for that social change to take hold.

As more and more land is cleared of people or of trees and jungle, and subjected to the intensive farming practices of the global chemical corporations, so desertification and greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase. Famine and hunger also rises, as we have seen.

If there was a fair distribution of food, care and support, health and education in Ethiopia and all the countries of the world, and if the people owned the land they farm, there would be no problem feeding people. This approach would also protect the eco-system because it would be sustainable.

People are not the problem, Sir David, global capitalism and its relentless drive for “growth” is. I hope you will be making a programme about that soon!

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The real cause of growing global inequality

At a global level, the top 1% (60 million people), and particularly the even more select few in the top 0.01% (600,000 individuals – there are around 1,200 billionaires in the world), the last 30 years has been an incredible feeding frenzy.

Inequality has grown dramatically in many countries. In the US the share of national income going to the top 1% has doubled since 1980 from 10 to 20%. For the top 0.01% it has quadrupled to levels never seen before.

This goes way beyond America. In the UK inequality is rapidly returning to levels not seen since the time of Charles Dickens. In China the top 10% now take home nearly 60% of the income. Chinese inequality levels are now similar to those in South Africa, which are now the most unequal country on earth. Even in many of the poorest countries, inequality has rapidly grown.

Globally, the incomes of the top 1% have increased 60% in 20 years. The growth in income for the 0.01% has been even greater. Following the financial crisis, the process has accelerated, with the top 1% further increasing their share of income.

The luxury goods market has registered double digit growth every year since the crisis hit. Whether it is a sports car or a super-yacht, caviar or champagne, there has never been a bigger demand for the most expensive luxuries.

These are some of the statistics collected together in “The cost of inequality: how wealth and income extremes hurt us all”. This is Oxfam’s contribution to an avalanche of analyses and opinions tumbling out in the days leading up to the gathering of the super-rich and their hangers-on in Davos this week.

Mostly they are aimed at trying to steer the discussion and debate amongst the rich and powerful leaders of the global corporations who make up the membership of World Economic Forum.      

But in its oh-so-gentle warning “Occupy protests demonstrated the increasing public
anger and feeling that inequality has gone too far”, Oxfam isn’t telling the WEF something it doesn’t know already. “Severe Income Disparity” is, after all, one of the top ten global risks featured in the report the WEF commissioned for itself.

There may well be quite a number of well-meaning, even enlightened multi-billionaires in attendance, in between visits to the ski slopes. After all, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are way up there on the list of the world’s richest and having seen the writing on the wall they’ve committed to giving away truly huge amounts of money. Buffet is even calling for greater taxes on the rich.

Oxfam argues that extreme wealth and inequality is economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive, environmentally destructive, unethical and not inevitable. The charity lists a range of measures to reduce the gap that have worked in the past, and could work in the future.

But what they don’t do is to look behind the shocking statistics to explain why the disparity between rich and poor has grown so far and so fast in the last 30 years. If they did, they’d be looking at a profit-driven social, economic and political system which for its survival ensures that the ownership of the world’s resources is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands

In the good times, at least, the value of those resources expands by putting more and more people to work and paying them a declining share of what they produce until they are no longer able to afford the things they produce. And then, in the consequential bad times (like now), the same system is driven to destroy the surplus capacity that is the result of all that accumulation.

So yesterday, the International Labour Organisation reported that the number of unemployed globally is expected to pass the 200 million mark this year. The WEF has nothing to offer humanity and the anger that Oxfam refers to needs to be channelled into making the Davos gathering history.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

McCluskey's sleight of hand is cover for Miliband

Go and read Len McCluskey’s lecture at the London School of Economics. It was tremendous and a breath of fresh air, I was told. So I did. Was I disappointed? Not really, because my expectations were not all that high to start with.

McCluskey has always talked a good talk, telling committed socialists what they want to hear.. The rhetoric, the references to Marx, are all well and good. In practice, however, his leadership of Britain’s biggest union Unite is never as half as committed.

Unite has blocked any suggestion, for example, that Labour councillors should refuse to implement Tory-driven budget cuts. The union leadership short-circuited resistance to ConDem pension attacks and eventually signed on the dotted line.

Ultimately, as we will see, McCluskey’s hopes rest with Ed Miliband. In that he is not alone, of course. There are plenty on the left who believe Miliband is some kind of “open book” who will somehow represent the interests of working people if he becomes prime minister.

McCluskey’s address, “A working class politics for the 21st century”, was delivered as the Ralph Miliband lecture at the LSE. The father of Ed and David was regarded as a Marxist and wrote critiques of Labour and reformism in books like Parliamentary socialism.  

The irony was not lost on McCluskey who noted: “ Indeed, it is sometimes said that there is a common thread linking the generations of Milibands – the father spent his life trying to convince our movement that there was no possibility of a parliamentary road to socialism, while his sons have been loyally putting theory into practice, and proving Ralph right!”
McCluskey gave a swift overview of the historic role played by the organised working class through its trade unions in fighting for democracy, creating a welfare state and establishing a political voice by “influencing government through the Labour Party”. 

When it came to contemporary history, he was on much shakier ground. The weakening of the trade unions was part of the “neo-liberal offensive” which began in the mid-1970s, he claimed. While this is true, McCluskey’s view that this was “not mainly about economics” is plainly wrong. The mid-1970s signalled the end of consensus politics because the post-war international economic framework collapsed in a heap.

The offensive against the working class was driven by this crisis. It was not, as he suggests, that the ruling élites woke up one day and decided that the trade unions had become too strong. While McCluskey frequently uses the term capitalism in his lecture, the concept of globalisation is totally absent.

Yet it is the emergence of a globalised capitalism, with its tremendous hold over nation states, governments and international institutions, that is the real game changer. McCluskey’s view that the offensive was “about restoring what our rulers regarded as the proper social hierarchy, including getting the working-class out of politics”, he is referring to the consequences rather than the cause.

In his lecture, McCluskey spelled out innovative ways that the unions could rebuild their membership and the role they could play in uniting communities against austerity. He praised Ukuncut and other grass roots movements that have exposed inequality and tax avoidance. McCluskey noted the growing anger at local level against the cuts.

But what, you may ask, is this all for. McCluskey told his audience: “So my message to capitalism – if you can send a message to a system – is this:  Mend your ways or risk mounting social breakdown and disorder.”

And who will do the “mending”? For McCluskey, “Labour is the natural, historic, vehicle” for the working class. And here’s the ultimate sleight of hand. McCluskey said that if “in the future” [emphasis added] there is any return to the “discredited recipes of Blairism”, then the Labour Party will be over for him and others.

The fact that all the evidence points says this is already the case. Miliband’s espousal of pseudo-Tory “One Nation” politics, his support for a pubic sector wage freeze, his opposition to strikes, the Labour leader’s commitment to reducing the deficit through cuts,  the espousal of “responsible capitalism”, the backing for the end of universal benefits etc etc – tells its own story.

It was one that McCluskey had nothing to say about.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Austerity with a class vengeance as benefit cuts bite

Most people were aware that the cuts would be harsh and affect the most vulnerable in society. But now religious figures around the country are joining with charities to point to deep privation amongst large numbers of families, long before the full range of cuts are implemented.

In Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool, many people are already experiencing cuts in benefits of £200 to £300 a year. James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, has warned that many cities will suffer from “urban diabetes”, where blood pumps around the heart but fails to reach other parts of the body.

Thousands of families already rely on food banks to survive and numbers are growing fast. In Liverpool, for example, 6,000 families signed up for food parcels in the city in the last six months alone. Last year, 2011-12 food banks fed 128,687 people nationwide; in 2012-13 it is thought this could rise to nearly a quarter of a million.

The ending of universal benefits with the termination of child benefit for all  – a policy promoted by the ConDems but accepted by New Labour Mark II – is being disguised by the introduction of “universal credit”. Within this consolidation of benefits into one payment are severe reductions in what people can claim.

Housing benefit for private sector tenants is being capped and most social housing tenants will have to make a contribution to their council tax. Many families are already deep in debt. It has been left up to charities to try to help those faced with council bailiffs claiming back arrears. One local vicar Rev Paul Nicholson in Tottenham, north London, has set up a group called Taxpayers against Poverty. says that charging council tax to the poor will result in “debt destitution and forced migration”.

Then there is the “bedroom tax” through which the government plans to claw back £500m a year from the housing benefit bill. People in council homes who are said to be “under-occupying” will charged £11-£20 per week unless they move to a smaller home. The financial and psychological effects of such a deeply intrusive measure is of course not acknowledged by the government’s “impact assessment”.

In areas like Derby, the housing support budget is being cut by 83% per cent over the next two years. Local charities describe it as “catastrophic”. Homelessness is rising, particularly among vulnerable young people who will no longer quality for services. (Cameron has famously proclaimed that no one under 25 years of age will qualify for housing benefits of any kind.) In 2012-13, five out of ten homelessness services had their funding cut.

The most vulnerable people in the firing line are the disabled. Building on the policies of the previous Labour government, people with disabilities are being subjected to horrendous tests by Atos. Last week former Labour Minister Michael Meacher said that 3,500 have died during the assessment process itself and another 7,100 died after being judged to be entitled to unconditional support because they are too ill or disabled to work.

Chief executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, has said Atos has given grounds for concern: “Last quarter, Citizens Advice bureaux had more than 100,000 inquiries about Employment and Support Allowance – a rise of 76%. More than 21,000 were appeals against decisions based on Atos assessments, mistakes that are subsequently overturned and have cost the taxpayer £60m over the past year.”

For many all the future holds is thus a spiral of deepening poverty and debt. The failure to increase benefits in line with inflation means there is a massive transfer of wealth going on. Cuts in benefits to reduce the budget deficit are essentially the price paid to the bankers to help pay for the financial crisis they created. This is austerity with a class vengeance at the heart of it.

A corporate-driven market state has replaced the old welfare state. It will take a complete transfer of power to ordinary people before we can even think of a future better than the one the mainstream parties have laid out before our eyes. 

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, January 18, 2013

The 'war on terror' and the war for resources

The unfolding disaster at the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria, alongside the Anglo-French military adventure in neighbouring Mali, reveal once more the futility of the “war on terror” and with it the West’s total inability to chart an alternative path.

One gruesome result is that workers from around the world have been placed in the firing line at the BP-run plant, caught between the jihadists led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and an Algerian regime that in practice is impervious to human life.

Negotiations were ruled out and helicopter gunships blasted away indiscriminately. Requests from prime minister Cameron to be informed before military action was taken were treated with disdain.

Since the military annulled the Islamists’ victory in the Algerian elections in 1992, over 250,000 people are thought to have perished in subsequent terror and counter-terror operations. Belmokhtar, Algerian-born, himself returned from fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan – no doubt with US backing – to take up arms against his country’s regime.

Naturally, Algiers learned from its old colonial master, France. In the post-war period, the French military and police conducted a vicious and sinister war against the national liberation movement. This colonial “legacy” found its echoes in the conduct of Algerian governments after independence was achieved in 1962.

A half a century later and François Holland, the Socialist Party president of France, recently visited Algeria, made a half-baked apology for his country’s history and got what he wanted – deals to exploit the country’s vast gas and oil reserves and support for his war in Mali.

France’s foreign minister has announced that Algeria has allowed French fighter planes to overfly the country en route to bombing Malian rebels across the border.

As to Mali, you’ve probably guessed the country has mineral wealth that has to be  protected/exploited. This time it’s gold and oil. So no way are the major powers going to let a bunch of jihadists take control, even if they are Malians. Self-determination? Out of the question.

Belmokhtar’s is only one of many jihadist groups involved in cross-border actions in the region. Their presence is testimony of the attraction of terrorism to a generation dispossessed economically and, just as importantly, politically.

The major capitalist powers were always content to play along with authoritarian secular regimes in Algeria, Syria, Egypt and Iraq as well as the oppressive autocracies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. The legitimate claims of the Palestinians were essentially ignored. Defence of energy supplies and strategic allies like Israel have always trumped human rights and political freedom. 

As a result, the West has, not surprisingly, come to be seen by new generations of Muslims as a bearer of bad news in every respect. The invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq, with all their horrific consequences, only served to confirm this viewpoint.

The globalised capitalist system in truth has nothing to offer – either to its own citizens, who are increasingly impoverished as a result of the economic crisis – or to people in the Muslim world.

Democracy? Ah yes. The kind of “democracy” which produces gross inequality, mass unemployment and a loss of political rights as the corporations and banks call the tune? Culture? What the ruling elites mean by this is turning every country into a market-driven, consumer society fuelled by gross advertising (and debt). 

The fact remains that present capitalist society cannot propose a progressive secular alternative to those attracted to the jihad. In any case, the “war on terror”, because it has no end in sight, is a convenient sideshow for Washington, London and Paris at times of social unrest.

So when the political class sheds tears over the deaths of hostages, they are surely of the crocodile variety.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Labour turning Glasgow's historic George Square into retail outlet

Citizens in Glasgow are up in arms over a council proposal to transform historic George Square, into a corporate “retail-led” space with crass “public art”. Many rightly see it is an attempt to drive the political and social life of the city out of this important square

George Square has been the centre of struggle in the city from the 1919 uprising to demonstrations against the poll tax and Trident. Most recently, it was the site for the Occupy movement’s actions in Glasgow.

Without any consultation, the Labour-controlled council has unveiled six options, each more corporate than the one before, in a £15 million project, most of which will be borrowed against future business rates income.

The plans will ban protests and demonstrations from the space. No longer will councillors be within hearing distance of rallies outside their cosy offices. And people simply sitting and enjoying the space, eating their lunch or chatting with friends, will in future be surrounded with the pressure to buy more stuff, or driven out by barriers for big corporate events.

There has been an attempt to play the nationalist card, boasting that Victorian statues, for example of Sir Robert Peel will be removed. But this is a shallow view of history, which ought rather to be taken as a whole – including the fact that many grand buildings in the city centre were built out of the proceeds of slavery.

Virtually in secret, the council commissioned a PR firm to conduct a so-called consultation. When this writer asked under the Freedom of Information Act who was being consulted, and if she could be consulted, she was told that the council didn’t have the information, only the PR firm, and it was therefore commercially sensitive. This is a complete distortion of the meaning of the legislation.

It turns out that just 42 citizens were polled about whether the square should change. Apart from that, it was only corporate and city political bodies that were invited to comment, with the exception of the Scottish TUC who strongly objected to efforts to ban demonstrations from the square.

One of the Council’s notorious “arms length” organisations, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (slogan: “Glasgow with Style”) is driving the plans. Its role is to “create customers”. Council leader Gordon Matheson is the chair with other councillors on the board. There is more about the interchangeable web of corporate politicians and political corporates that run Glasgow on the Restore George Square website.

None of these bodies have any concern for a genuinely sustainable economy that works for the people. There is no suggestion that serious number of jobs will result from these glitzy activities – just as events like the City of Culture and Garden Festival did not improve the city’s fundamental economic situation.

The question is who owns public space – is it the council and their corporate partners in civic crime, or is it the people?  This is part of the bigger question of what kind of democracy we have and who it serves.

Thousands of city council workers have already been made redundant, and there are plans to get rid of at least 1,000 more between now and 2015. The total will probably be higher because the council was told in September that it is facing a £50m deficit by 2015.

The council meets tomorrow to agree further closures of day services for people with learning disabilities and that is only one of many services that are being devastated by cuts. Meanwhile, youth unemployment in the city now stands at almost 25%.

We need to free ourselves from this system that operates solely in corporate interests and thrives off a repressive economy that benefits the ruling elite but has no benefits to offer the citizens.

Glasgow People’s Assemblies is hosting Assemblies for Change, where the nature of the changes needed, and the route to achieving them, are at the heart of an open discussion. Join us on Facebook and come to the next Assembly for Change event on January 26.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bonanza for private sector in NHS 'level playing field'

More than 100 healthcare companies are rubbing their hands at the prospect of a major expansion of private, for-profit service provision in the National Health Service. They are also plotting to maximise their profits by sidestepping tax and VAT bills.

The ConDem coalition is encouraging Primary Care Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups to contract with “any qualified provider”, whilst enforcing the discipline of the market through the regulator Monitor.

Virgin Care, the medical part of Richard Branson’s empire, has already won £750m of NHS contracts. It provides specialist services, such as dermatology and retinal scanning, and in many areas has taken over running GP practices in partnership with doctors.

Competing with NHS services has always been problematic for companies which have to extract some of the income from the contracts they win in order to satisfy their shareholders.

The costs of services provided by the private sector companies are about £14 higher for every £100 relative to an NHS acute provider. So in order to be able to compete on price, either they pay their employees less, or the quality of the services they provide deteriorates, or both, as is more likely.

So now there’s a cunning plan afoot.

Last June the ConDems launched their Fair Playing Field Review into “matters that may be affecting the ability of different providers of NHS services to participate fully in improving patient care”. An interim discussion paper was published in November. It identified the following: “Corporation tax applies to private and some third sector providers, but not to public sector providers.”

You can almost see the grin on Branson’s face broadening.

So the companies – who no doubt ensured that this problem was noticed by Monitor’s reviewers - are now demanding the same status as tax-funded NHS service providers which pay neither corporation tax nor VAT.

It’s a no-brainer, surely.

Hang on, hang on, hang ON.

Hasn’t here just been a massive upsurge of anger against global corporations like Amazon and Starbucks that pay little or no tax on their operations in the UK?  

Do these companies really want to have their cake and eat it?

Indeed they do. And they must, if the for-profit model of production is to survive, as Paul Polman, chief executive Officer of Unilever, the world's third-largest consumer goods company, makes clear in advance of his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He and his fellow self-appointed masters of the economic universe will ensure that the debate at Davos focuses the attention of the world’s governments on “how the era of Western consumption can be better managed”.

“The structural changes that need to be made for society still haven’t been made," he says. "There has been a growing realisation that our present model of growth, while it has served us well for a long time, certainly has enormous shortcomings which are increasingly transparent.

“Individuals need to get used to lower pensions and welfare payments. Government needs to get used to lower spending levels, businesses need to get used to the costs that come with it and bear their part. Everybody has to chip in. People are realising in the West that our model is not a sustainable model.”

So by borrowing and twisting the language of “sustainability” they’ll be insisting that it isn’t possible to continue with a system where the state often accounts for well over 50% of economic activity. In the emerging economies, the government’s share of economic activity is nearer 20-30%, argues Polman.

Citing France as an “extreme example” of a state with too great a role in the economy  he says: “No system is going to survive if 55-60% of the GDP is [coming from] the government.”

So there we have it. In a contracting economy, either there’s a 1) massive transfer of public sector services to a private sector freed from the burden of tax or 2) the system is doomed. We'd better make sure the second option is taken up and the system replaced by an economy that works for the majority.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Elephant in the room is profit (and Labour)

If you want to understand what New Labour Mark II looks like, then goings on at Southwark Council give you a real indication. The south London borough is one of the capital’s poorest. Yet tonight, the planning committee will rubber stamp a £1.5 billion deal with a global property corporation that provides just 71 social rented units out of 2,300 new homes.

Anticipating the gold rush, developers Lend Lease have already started marketing apartments in a tower block that will be built in the run-down Elephant and Castle area. Prices start at over £320,000 and rise above £1 million for flats with panoramic views of London.

“With zero affordable housing of any type, all of its 284 units will be luxury flats for the open market and some with access to a secluded garden on the roof of a 4-storey building beside the tower. We have yet to see the plans for the drawbridge, moat and boiling oil!,” say campaigners.

It is part of the so-called master plan for the regeneration of the area after 13 years of delay. Local campaigners, who have just five minutes to make their objections plain tonight, are bitter about the deal that has gentrification written all over it. About 300 local residents have submitted objections. All have been disregarded.

The campaign group 35 per cent points out that Southwark Council is actually in breach of its own planning policy which would require about 400 social rented units in the scheme. There are properties for rent – but they won’t be affordable for most residents in the borough.

Representatives of local groups who have objected to the plan have published the points they would like to make but can’t possible achieve in the allotted five minutes.  Apart from the lack of affordable housing, they are angry that the scheme is car-friendly and anti-environmental in many ways.

Over 600 car-parking spaces are proposed despite council policy requiring it to be car free. As they point out, the Elephant has the highest possible public transport accessibility with excellent tube, train and bus links so there is no real need for private cars. A new public park will, in fact, be privately-run and managed.

They point out that the area around the base of a tower block “is an example of how the public realm can become marginalized through the impact of tall buildings” and add: “The proposed cafes around the green space may not be affordable to all local people, and will therefore fail to create a truly human sense of place and inclusiveness for the neighbourhood.”

But with thousands of local people living in sub-standard housing, or on waiting lists, it is the housing element that drawn most anger. In 2010, the developer signed a binding contractual agreement with Southwark, which guaranteed that 25% of the new homes would be affordable. Half would be social rented, providing a minimum of 288 new social rented homes out of the 2,300 total. That number has fallen to just 71 – and the council is ready to give the green light.

Even though the viability of the scheme is described as “problematic” in the report to the committee, the council is determined to push ahead. Despite the fact that there is no renewable energy in the scheme, no local jobs target, a reduction in community facilities and scant regard for cyclists, Southwark will give its approval.

The shocking, outrageously commercial nature of the project is right up New Labour Mark II’s street. This is the an example in practice of the “One Nation Labour” that Ed Miliband rattles on about. As Southwark shows, Labour is the developer’s friend first, second and last. It’s a public-private partnership where the public loses all round.

Paul Feldman

Monday, January 14, 2013

Another Anglo-French colonialist adventure

Prime Minister Cameron has seen fit to rush transport planes and military help to boost French president Francois Hollande’s military adventure in Africa. They are both trying desperately to stoke up chauvinist enthusiasm and a big diversion from their lack of popularity at home.

Hollande justifies France’s bombardment of Mali - the world’s 24th poorest country with the third highest infant mortality rate – on the grounds that he must protect French citizens and “democracy” against “terrorism”. But his intervention in the former French colony has precious little to do with either.

The crisis in Mali has ratcheted up since a military coup last March by a group within the 7,000-strong Malian military. President Amadou Touman Touré, who led the 1991 democratic uprising, was overthrown by disgruntled officers. The army was in disarray because it failed to defeat ethnic Tuaregs in the north of the country.

After the Gaddafi regime was overthrown in Libya, some 2,000 heavily-armed Tuaregs returned to their Malian homeland. The Mouvement National de Libération de l'Azawad (MNLA) rebels seized control of three key cities – Kidal, Gao and the legendary cultural and trading centre of Timbuktu.

Some 100,000 Malians - perhaps more - became refugees and fled to neighbouring states. By July the UN estimated that the crisis in Northern Mali affected 380,000 people.Al-Qaeda forces moved into the situation, demanding the implementation of sharia law.

But while both Hollande and Cameron are billing their adventure in Africa as a battle against al-Qaeda terrorism, Jeremy Keenan, who has written extensively on the Tuaregs, has pointed to a more complex and sinister build-up to the present crisis.

The rise of the MNLA movement for the self-determination of Azawad – the Tuareg name for northern Mali - was a not only a problem for the Malian army but, a huge shock to Algeria. He says:

“The distinct possibility of a militarily successful Tuareg nationalist movement in northern Mali, which Algeria has always regarded as its own backyard (the Kidal region is sometimes referred to as Algeria’s 49th wilaya), could not be countenanced.”

Whilst crocodile tears are shed by the big powers, it was in fact the notoriously brutal Algerian security service, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) which supplied, supported and orchestrated the Islamist “terrorist” groups in northern Mali.

After the three provincial capitals of Azawad fell to the rebels without resistance, the entire area was in rebel hands. On April 5 the MNLA declared Azawad an independent state. “The declaration of Azawad’s independence received no international support, nor was it ever likely to do so,” Keenan adds.

In July, Tuaregs rejected the Islamist influence of al-Qaeda, warning that their homeland could be turned into another Afghanistan. But the MNLA rebels fighting for an independent Azawad were marginalised and lost their influence to the Ansar al-Din Islamists.

The rebels who now control the north of Mali appear to have widely diverging aims, the independent US Huntingdon news network has said.  One wing is demanding independence for the north. Another says its goal is to create an Islamic republic operating under strict Sharia law – which might be all of Mali or simply the northern half.

There is a certain déjà vu when you hear the words of French Socialist Party president Hollande. When a big-power leaders embark on military action against a former colony, it is invariably “on behalf” of the people living there while in reality it is in pursuit of strategic aims and ambitions of the major powers. There are, for example, oil reserves in the Tuareg-controlled Sahel area.

Isn’t there a strange similarity between Hollande and Cameron, who is upping the ante in his sabre-rattling against Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas/Falklands islands alongside his nationalist, anti-EU rhetoric?  They are both trying desperately to wave the flag and draw attention away from their deep unpopularity at home. Let's hope it'll be a repeat of the 1956 Anglo-French Suez debacle!

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, January 11, 2013

Angry Israelis ask Palestinians who they should vote for

As Israeli right-wing nationalist/religious parties try to outdo each other in their reactionary appeal in the run up to this month’s general election, a remarkable online action is offering Palestinians in the Occupied Territories a proxy “vote”.

On a Facebook community called Real Democracy, disillusioned Israeli citizens are offering their votes to Palestinians on the West Bank who live under military law and have no say in their future. They have agreed to take instructions from Palestinians who respond as to how they should vote on February 22.

Earlier today, Shahaf Weisbein wrote: “I am an Israeli citizen and have the right to vote. Acknowledging the fact that millions of Palestinians are affected directly the decisions and acts of the government I am given the ‘opportunity’ to choose, I hereby give my vote to any Palestinian who wishes to use it. This is not a democracy, it is an apartheid regime.”

Mousa Maria replied to her: “Just this month, 25 people were arrested in my village by the Israeli army for participating in non-violent demonstrations… We are not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. We only oppose the policies of the Israeli government. Our goal is to free our land, from settlers and soldiers. Our goal is freedom.”

There’s an anonymous message from a serving Israeli soldier, who came to Israel from Texas three years ago as a committed Zionist. The soldier says her views have “changed dramatically and is supporting the campaign.                        

Bassam Aramin, who lives in East Jerusalem, tells Ofer Neiman that he is a bereaved father, his 10-year-old daughter having been killed by an Israeli soldier in 2007. He says Neiman should use his vote in favour of the left-wing Hadash Party.

East Jerusalem and the West Bank now have an estimated 500,000 Israeli settlers, as a result of the illegal construction programme pursued by successive governments. Their very existence has made it impossible to continue with the so-called peace negotiations, which have been stalled since 2010.

Politically, it looks likely to get a whole lot worse inside Israel itself. Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government has accelerated settlement building and launched repeated attacks on Gaza, is now facing an even more right-wing opponent in the shape of Naftali Bennett. This millionaire, ex-commando favours outright annexation of large parts of the West Bank.
Polls show that Bennett's far-right, Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) will finish third in the parliamentary election and have to be included in any future coalition. He has dismissed as a “dead end” efforts to achieve a two-state solution.

His party is cashing in on the widely-held view that there is no apparent solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. This is actually the case as far as the Zionist political elite is concenred. It is determined to give nothing at all when it comes to an independent Palestinian state.

However, there is also deep uncertainty about the direction Israel is heading in, with over half the electorate saying the country’s path is wrong. And, just as dramatically, an astounding 31% of voters remain undecided with two weeks to go to the election.  
The Israeli-Palestinian electoral rebellion launched last month being conducted through social media has over a 1,000 supporters and finds a growing response among the Palestinians. It neatly exposes the hollow claim that Israel is the “only democracy” in the Middle East simply by showing that oppressed and occupied Palestinians have no say in an election in which the main candidates have them in the firing line.

With the settlements in West Bank making it impossible to conceive of two states living side by side from a geographical yet alone political point of view, a bi-partisan single country where Israelis and all Palestinians have the vote must force itself on to the agenda sooner rather than later.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Drought is good - for Monsanto's profits, that is

The drive to put the chemical industry totally in control of agriculture is resulting in record profits for agri-chemical giant Monsanto and record droughts last year for the United States, Brazil and other parts of South America.

Hang on – isn’t it a bit tenuous to directly connect the one to the other, the profits to the drought? Well, the global corporations and their servile governments would say so, but if you unpick the relationship it is clear enough.

Monsanto’s earnings in the three months to November 2012 were $339 billion, up from $126 billion the previous year, that’s two and a half times greater. This resulted from a 27% increase in sales of genetically modified corn seeds, mainly to farmers in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, and of pesticides, particularly the weed killer Roundup.

It is axiomatic that if Monsanto sells more GM corn seed it will sell more Roundup, because the main characteristic of GM corn is that it “Roundup ready” and can tolerate repeated applications. It’s a deadly symbiotic relationship that is polluting land and water supply throughout the world.

Of course, all this intensive cropping needs more fertiliser. Since 1990, consumption of fertiliser in Brazil has increased by 7% every single year and in China and India by 5%.

This intensive style of agriculture abuses the soil by forcing it to produce more than it is organically able to. As the soil become impoverished, more and more fertiliser and pesticides are applied. As the markets for grain increase, more and more land is drawn into this cycle of degradation.

Over the past five decades, global arable land increased by 67 million hectares, much of it from cleared forests or scrub, transforming carbon sinks into carbon emitters.

Why do we need these vast quantities of grain and oil crops? It is not for food, but to service the expansion of the highly profitable (deeply unhealthy) meat diet from the developed capitalist economies to the rest of the world. And it is also to expand into the highly profitable (and subsidised by us) bioethanol market.

The global industrialised food system is responsible for one-third of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a partnership of 15 research centres around the world. And agriculture is responsible for 86% of that, closely followed by fertiliser manufacture and refrigeration.

Last year was the hottest in US history (as far back as the records go) with more than 62% of the land mass suffering some level of drought. The drought has continued into winter and next year’s early wheat may not germinate. There have been wildfires in December.

In north-eastern Brazil, cattle are dying in thousands and farmers are reduced to feeding them cactus. The drought threatens power cuts in big cities like Salvador and Recife, as the water falls below the levels where hydro-electric power stations can function.

But Monsanto’s US order book is reported to be extremely healthy. The drought has made American farmers fear a seed shortage so they are getting their orders in early. Monsanto’s scientists are working flat out on “drought-resistant” seed – so they can profit further from the climate crisis they helped create.

This is entirely in line with the logic of a system that
- squanders billions of tons of animal, including human, waste instead of composting it into organic fertiliser
- feeds protein and carbohydrate to cattle while humans starve
- clears rainforest to grow palm to make bioethanol, and calls it “tackling climate change”
- adds to greenhouse gas emissions by transporting food thousands of miles from places where people are starving, to places where they are dying from obesity-related diseases.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Davos elites warn of "perfect global storm" threat

Listening to the ConDems lecturing the low-waged and unemployed about “fairness” as they cut their state benefits when measured against inflation, reinforces the view of a government at war with ordinary people while protecting the rich and powerful.

The policy adds weight to the contents of the latest edition of Global Risks, which the World Economic Forum produces each year before the world’s ruling elites gather at Davos to try and reshape the world in their image.

At the centre of its concerns are the prospects of loss of confidence in government leadership and the threat of increasing unrest as inequality widens. With the ConDems held in contempt by large sections in society, and Labour presenting itself as Coalition Lite, the WEF is right to be concerned.

The report was published on the day that European Union joblessness reached a new record high. Youth unemployment in Spain has passed 56%. No wonder Global Risks says that a eurozone meltdown cannot be ruled out.

The report is a 80-page crystallisation of responses from “1,000 experts from industry, government, academia and civil society who were asked to review a landscape of 50 global risks”. Presented in the language of systems theory, the results are sobering:

“Continued stress on the global economic system is positioned to absorb the attention of leaders for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Earth’s environmental system is simultaneously coming under increasing stress. Future simultaneous shocks to both systems could trigger the ‘perfect global storm’, with potentially insurmountable consequences.”

Just like any membership organisation, the WEF’s over-riding concern is for the impact these threats will have on the prosperity of its members. So who are they, what does the WEF do for them, and what is it that they see as being under threat?

The WEF ranks high in the organisations through which the collective needs of the global corporations are brought together to influence the thoughts and actions of the rich and powerful and through them to guide the work of the world’s governments.

It’s A-Z lists of strategic and industry partners comprise the big players in every industry from ABB, one of the world's leading engineering companies to Zurich Insurance Group, a leading insurance provider with a global network of subsidiaries.

The WEF runs several highly sophisticated and well-funded “global leadership programmes. Its has a forum of 200 to 300 “Young Global Leaders”.  A Network of Global Agenda Councils of over 1,500 “premier thought leaders” commit their “extensive knowledge, expertise and passion to jointly shape the global, regional and industry agenda”. 

Academia isn’t left out. As well as The Knowledge Advisory Group (KAG) - senior administrators, provosts or vice-presidents who have been nominated by their university to participate – the Global University Leaders Forum (GULF) is a community comprising of 25–30 heads of top global universities. 

All of these “communities” are brought together every year at Davos. Their task this year is to consider how to mitigate the effects of the major risks – to somehow find a way of using these risks to increase profitability for themselves. Their collective enterprise is recognition of the need for them to band together to protect the integrity of the capitalist system of production, distribution and exchange.

This is how the global ruling class works. They think, analyse, develop plans and strategies, lobby and line up political proxies to put into practice what the WEF considers necessary. What the WEF tells us is that  global, collective analysis and decision-making is crucial if not critical.

While the WEF plots and plans we would do well to do the same because change isn’t going to happen otherwise. Much can be learned from the techniques the WEF deploy, not just to counteract the power of the capitalist elites but to replace it with a community of peoples and their interests.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor