Friday, June 28, 2013

Memo to McCluskey: you can't fight the ConDems with hot air

The second wave of austerity without end, if not halted, will mean the end of many public services, a huge increase in unemployment and huge subsidies for big corporations so they can cash in on infrastructure projects.

A continuing massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the private sector is what lies at the heart of the ConDems’ latest budget cuts pencilled in for 2015-16. They are intended to commit the next government to the planned spending cuts.

There won’t be a problem for the Tories. And with Labour pledged to stand by the coalition’s cuts, it means that the general election scheduled for 2015 will be as meaningless as the 2010 one in terms of voter choice.

A vote for any of the mainstream parties will bring massive, sustained cuts in public spending on services provided by local councils, further real wage cuts as well as further attacks on welfare benefits. Your vote will count for very little indeed.

Ed Miliband’s party says it needs “time” to think about its response to chancellor Osborne’s decision to extend the time before unemployed people can lodge a claim to seven days. In other words, Labour supports it, as they do other benefit cuts.

The more you look at Osborne’s plans, the more astonishingly savage it all gets. To finance more roads, nuclear power stations and a railway project designed to favour shareholder dividends, the latest package - £11.5bn of spending cuts for 2015-16 – is in addition to what will have been five years of austerity.

It will lead to the sacking of another 144,000 public sector workers, delivers student debt into the hands of private sector specialists in extortion, ends pay rises for public sector workers and forces millions of unemployed and those in work but dependent on benefits into increased reliance on food banks and payday loans,

There will be a sell-off of publicly-owned land,  social housing rents will rise faster than inflation and vital services provided by local councils will simply cease to exist. And yet, the savagery does not begin to match the scale of the crisis facing capitalism in Britain and globally.

As revised figures revealed by the Office for National Statistics show, the sadistic scale of this new round of slashing cuts in government spending fails by light-years to match up to task set for the coalition by the 2007/8 crash and its aftermath, as  the spending review will have been based on earlier, much more optimistic estimates. The recession was deeper than thought. Compared with the 1997 to 2008 average, output is now 17.7% below that line.

The growth in output that the system requires to expand is simply not coming through. Instead, the crash continues to take its toll. With mountains of debt still in the system – with trillions added by central banks since 2007 through “quantitative easing” – worse is to come.

Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson said the scale of cuts would have caused social unrest in any other era. "At almost any other moment in the past 60 years, announcements of spending cuts of this scale would have created a storm. As would an announcement that 144,000 public sector jobs would go in one year as part of a programme that could see one million jobs lost by 2017-18."

The absence of the “storm” that Johnson refers to is down entirely to the Labour and trade union leaders’ response – or should that be lack of one. Labour has effectively endorsed the government’s plans, including the singling out of benefit claimants.

As for the union leaders, it is hot air all round. Last week, Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, talking of making Britain “ungovernable” while TUC general secretary Francis O’Grady also made militant noises about resisting the ConDems. Well, Osborne’s new attack is a golden opportunity for them to make good on their rhetoric.

Don’t hold your breath. 

Gerry Gold and Paul Feldman

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Obama's greenwash won't wash

President Obama's much-publicised climate change speech this week was simply a smokescreen for the forthcoming decision to allow the second phase of the Keystone tar sands pipeline to go ahead.

Obama claimed to be boldly taking on the climate change deniers in Congress, by issuing a presidential memo instructing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use Clean Air laws to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

But there's little to get excited about here, because the level of the cap is unstated. It won't be announced until next year for possible implementation in 2015. No doubt the level will still be mired in political and legal battles long after Obama has left the White House.

Campaigners are convinced this is a sleazy trade-off to silence opposition to Keystone 2.
And it seems to be working, with the Sierra Club, one of the US's biggest environmental organisations and a key member of the anti-Keystone campaign, issuing a gushing call on its members to "thank the President".

But what Obama actually said was "climate change issues" will be "relevant" to the decision on the pipeline carrying heavy crude tar sand products from Canada to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Relevant maybe, but not decisive. As Tom Steyer, former hedge fund investor turned environmental activist said, curbing emissions will be meaningless if Keystone goes ahead.

Obama made much of the fact that the US is now the world's biggest gas producer. He failed to point out that this "natural gas" (sounds nice doesn't it?) mostly comes from fracking. Across the US, communities are being destroyed by this process, which pollutes water supplies and makes people ill. But he mentioned none of that.

Obama claimed the fact that the US is once again building nuclear power stations as a positive. But given that there are already some 65,000 tons of dangerous nuclear waste in temporary storage throughout the US, it is hard to see how this can be a good thing!

He used this speech to herald federal support for stepping up gas exports, but isn't that just what the Thatcher government did and look where it got the UK. The North Sea gas supplies are all gone, burned up or sold cheap on the world market.

Energy supply relies on Russian imports, pushing prices through the roof. No wonder the state is so excited about shale gas as an alternative. A new survey by the British Geological survey showing there is a greater quantity of shale gas than was previously thought is being presented as some wonderful bonanza.  

The boom in unconventional oil and gas is a mark of how desperate governments are to keep the fossil fuel market stable. The question is, do we want to pay the price in pollution and health risks? The British and US governments say yes, but then they would, wouldn't they?

Obama pointed out that since 2006 the US has made the world's biggest emissions reductions. But just as in the UK, most of this was achieved by switching power stations to natural gas.

He also claimed natural gas is a 'transition fuel' whilst the economy switches to renewables but that will turn out to be as much of a fraud as here in the UK where renewables still amount to just 7% of the UK energy mix. In fact the only fuel that increased its share in 2012 was coal!

What Obama described was a fantasy climate change policy. It delivers big profits, needs no significant public investment, pushes fundamental change far in the future and requires no change in behaviour by companies. This may be the corporate government's dream scenario but for the rest of us, it's a total nightmare.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Food sovereignty goal is a fight for the commons

For humans as for all living beings, nothing is more important than food. So the people who produce it fulfil a supremely important role in any society. They feed humanity and care for nature. Future generations depend on them to protect the earth.

But, they and the safety and nutrition of the food they produce and we all consume, are under attack. The system that exists exclusively to generate profit from every facet of human activity is the problem.

Now, La Via Campesina, a twenty-year-old international peasant movement, is calling rural and urban organisations and social movements to transform and build a new society based on food sovereignty and justice.

La Via Campesina gathers together more than 200 million peasants, small-scale producers, landless people, women, youth, indigenous, migrants, and farm and food workers, from 183 organisations and 88 countries. The Jakarta Call, issued by their sixth conference is as clear as could be: 
We reject capitalism, which is currently characterised by aggressive flows of financial and speculative capital into industrial agriculture, land and nature. This is generating huge land grabs and a brutal displacement of people from their land, destroying communities, cultures and ecosystems. It creates masses of economic migrants, climate refugees and unemployed, increasing existing inequalities.
 Transnational corporations, in complicity with governments and international institutions, are imposing under the pretext of green economy GM monocultures, mega mining, dams and fracking projects, large tree and bio-fuel plantations, or the privatisation of our seas, rivers, lakes and forests. Food sovereignty wrests control over our commons back into the hands of the people. 
In place of the corporate takeover of the food chain by global companies like Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Syngenta, Nestlé, and McDonalds they are fighting for a system of “agroecology”. This builds on peasant agriculture, artisanal fisheries and herding which still remain the source of most of our food. 

The Jakarta Call explains that peasant agroecology is a social and ecological system encompassing a great “diversity of technologies and practices” and removes “dependencies on agro-toxins, rejects confined industrial animal production”. It also uses renewable energies, and guarantees healthy food. 

“It enhances dignity, honours traditional knowledge and restores the health and integrity of the land. Food production in the future must be based on a growing number of people producing food in more resilient and diverse ways.” Campesina argues that agroecology defends biodiversity and also works towards reducing global warming.

Our agricultural model not only can feed all of humanity but is also the way to stop the advance of the climate crisis through local production in harmony with our forests and waterways, enhancing diversity and returning organic matter to natural cycles.

La Via Campesina is demanding a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform. It would include:
• full rights over land
• recognising indigenous peoples’ legal rights to their territories  
• guaranteeing fishing communities’ access and control of fishing areas and ecosystems, and recognising pastoral migratory routes  
• a massive distribution of land as well as livelihood and productive resources to ensure permanent access to land for youth, women, the unemployed, the landless and displaced.

They insist that land is not a commodity, calling for existing laws and regulations to be reinforced, and new ones introduced to protect against speculation and land grabbing.

They oppose the misappropriation of seeds through various forms of intellectual property and the contamination of stocks with GM technology, insisting on sharing seed, implementing the principle of the Peoples’ Heritage Seeds Serving Humanity.

For this comprehensive programme of demands to be implemented, replacing the rule of capital is a priority. Replacing that with the social stewardship of nature and democratic control over sustainable production will enable us to halt the present destructive processes in their tracks.   

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Secret police show how rotten the state is

The revelation by former Met officer turned whistleblower Peter Francis that he was ordered to find dirt on the Stephen Lawrence family in the wake of their son’s murder is shocking in itself. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the state within the state.

Behind the Special Branch which ran the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) of which Francis was a member, is the internal spy agency MI5 and its operatives who remain in the shadows. And there are undoubtedly other secret units we know nothing about whose job is to “defend the realm” – the ruling classes and their state institutions.

Politicians and senior policemen will disavow their more unsavoury activities, claiming they knew nothing about them, just as former Met commissioner Paul Condon did over the Francis allegations. The SDS made the Lawrence family a target when the regular police themselves were indifferent to catching his killers.

Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw protesteth too much about this particular incident. His regime oversaw secret “extraordinary rendition” – aka kidnapping – flights by way of UK airports, torture authorised by the external spy agency MI6, and a whole series of fabrications that suggested Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Francis revealed on Channel 4 Dispatches that he asked to find anything that could smear the Lawrence family to would weaken support for the family in the wider community. Ostensibly, the police wanted to prevent “public disorder” in the wake of the 1993 killing. In practice, as the Macpherson inquiry reported in 1999, the Met was institutionally racist and botched its investigation from the start. The SDS’s infamous smear attempt was kept away from the inquiry.

Police/MI5 infiltration is as old as the state itself. Before the SDS was created, Special Branch ran agents inside left-wing parties, trade unions, civil liberties groups and other campaigns like CND. Not only did they report their intelligence, they also acted as agents provocateurs.

This can involve suggesting actions that could be illegal, setting people against each other to encourage political division, subverting an organisation’s finances and much more. As recently as 2011, the trial of eco-activists who allegedly tried to break into Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station was abandoned when the role of secret policeman Mark Kennedy in the plans became known.

A number of women are taking action against the police for psychological damage caused by other members of the SDS who befriended them and had sexual relations. In one notorious case, an officer called Bob Lambert had a child with an activist before disappearing back to Special Branch. Another woman told Channel 4 she had been “raped by the state”.

In 2008, the work of the SDS was taken over by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) which is part of the Special Operations directorate of the Metropolitan Police. 

Meanwhile, joke of jokes, the police are investigating the activities of their own undercover agents! The chances of this establishing the truth are less than zero. Nor would a public inquiry demanded by Francis – who himself was psychologically wrecked by his experience – get closer to the truth.

The fact is that the state will do whatever it takes to – as Channel 4 was told – to “prevent change from happening in the world”. That’s the priority. Anyone who thinks the police and other institutions are there to serve the public should put the idea out of their minds.

With the authority and legitimacy of the state increasingly questioned by people all round the world, the lurch towards total surveillance is gathering momentum. In Britain, the government spy station GCHQ in Cheltenham is teamed up with the National Security Agency in the US to track and monitor internet traffic on a global basis.

Ultimately, it won’t do them any good. We, the people, have had enough. Whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Peter Francis are coming out of the state’s woodwork. The edifice is rotten and every day more and more people realise that. So whoever’s reading this on behalf of the state, the game is up. You'd be better off becoming a whilstleblower!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, June 24, 2013

Assemblies can become the new democratic politics of the people

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, the first major rally against the ConDems’ austerity programme since last autumn’s TUC demonstration, showed that many rank-and-file activists are looking for a way forward that is beyond protest.   

Endorsed by a range of well-known personalities and financially backed by the trade unions, the Assembly drew some 4,000 people. At a time when anger against austerity has reached boiling part, it was no great surprise that it would be well supported.

There was also a sense that calling it as a People’s Assembly might provide an opportunity to go beyond the usual top-down speechifying and empty left rhetoric, of which there was quite a lot. In fact, there was too much altogether!

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, whose union provided support for the event, spoke about the possibility of mass industrial action and demanding of the corporations: “Pay your tax, you greedy bastards”. If they didn’t, he even called on people to make Britain “ungovernable”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We are all in this together . . . you can count on us. The TUC will back strike action all the way, whenever people vote for it.” The semi-religious theme of hope was on everyone’s lips, including everyone’s favourite, Owen Jones.   

But behind the speechifying, there was precious little in terms of perspective. The two elephants in the room – capitalism and the Labour Party – received no mention from any of the main speakers. As for the global economic crisis, that might as well have been taking place elsewhere in the solar system.

While McCluskey’s call is welcome, where Unite and other union leaders have been in the three years of ConDem onslaught. There have been local, independently staged anti-cuts protests, but at a national level, the trade union leaders have sat on their hands.

There was a half-hearted fight on pensions which ended in capitulation and nothing in defence of the NHS. A pledge made at last September’s TUC conference to fight the public sector pay freeze, was, for example, abandoned.

The main speakers never once mentioned that on the very same day, the two Labour Party Eds – Miliband and Balls - were pledging to continue the government’s austerity programme if and when they were elected in 2015.

People’s Assembly chief organiser John Rees, writing for the Morning Star, kept schtum about the democratic deficit and the subservience of parliamentary politics to the corporate agenda. By directing his fire only against the Tory Party’s conference in Manchester, the unstated suggestion is that Labour could be the alternative when clearly it is no such thing

Rees called for “a culture of resistance, a supportive protest environment where strike action can become widespread and co-ordinated”. That’s how he sees the role of People’s Assemblies. It’s a narrow, limiting view.

One of the few contributions that got to heart of the matter came from the eloquent disability activist and comedian Francesca Martinez. She emphasised that “most of us are unrepresented” under the present coalition “between politicians and big business” and that this leaves us in new terrain. We live under “neo-capitalism”, she said in a daring reference to what is.

The calls from O’Grady and McCluskey should not be ignored, however. They reflect the huge anger within the working class which the trade union leaders are trying to corral.  At the same time we must be acutely conscious that limited strike action will not turn this government nor any other.

The creation of People’s Assemblies around the country would be an important step. Campaigning to make them more than a way of letting off steam and turning anger into protest actions is the way forward.

In an overflow venue down the road from Central Halls, thanks to the work of campaigners from the Occupy movement, there was a well-attended session on democracy. A range of views revealed a real desire for a way forward other than waiting for a Miliband government.

In a workshop held by the Agreement of the People campaigners, there was support for Assemblies to become nationally networked, permanent, standing bodies and for a consensus to break the power of the current political system. There was backing for the idea that Assemblies could become a different way of doing politics and could discuss and draft a new constitution.

Instead of an “ungovernable” Britain, as McCluskey wants, we actually need a Britain governed democratically by the people. That can be achieved through a network of assemblies to create a new democratic economic and political system that replaces the power of capital and finance once and for all.

Corinna Lotz

AWTW secretary

Friday, June 21, 2013

Brazilians join the global revolt

When a million people take to the streets in 100 cities in self-organised, angry demonstrations against the ruling elites and their failure to meet their needs, they are joining a global revolt against the system.

As André, a student at the University of São Paulo, told us: “Many Brazilians on the streets see a clear connection with the inspiring moments of Occupy in the USA and Europe and mainly with the mass movements in the Middle East.”

He said that president Dilma Rousseff, an ex-Marxist, is implementing the most “ambitious neoliberal programme” in the country. “We are privatising airports, ports, highways and every piece of infrastructure that we still have.”

Brazil has been held up as a shining example of an emerging economy that would lead the global economy out of its historic recession, a member of the so-called Bric countries (the others are Russia, India and China).

But growth has slowed to a halt, privatisation has become a mainstay of government policy and inflation has taken off. Public spending has focused on prestige projects like next year’s World Cup and the Olympic Games scheduled for 2016 at the expense of social projects.

So it’s no accident that the Confederation Cup taking place in Brazil this week – a trial-run for next year’s World Cup – coincided with the uprising that has shaken the country from one end to the other.

The rise in bus fares which triggered the revolt have been joined by a range of other issues. The targets of the protests, now in their second week, have broadened to include high taxes, inflation, corruption and poor public services ranging from hospitals and schools to roads and police forces.

"Stop corruption. Change Brazil", "Come to the street. It's the only place we don't pay taxes", "Government failure to understand education will lead to revolution", "We want to change everything wrong in our country", "Stop police violence", were just a sample of the slogans and placards.

In the capital, Brasilia, tens of thousands of protesters marched around the landmark modernist buildings that house Congress and the Supreme Court and briefly set fire to the outside of the Foreign Ministry. Police said about 80 of the protesters, some with homemade explosives, made it into the ministry building before they were repelled.
The swelling tide of protests prompted Rousseff to cancel a trip next week to Japan.  

"What am I protesting for?" asked Savina Santos, a 29-year-old civil servant in Sao Paulo. "You should ask what I'm not protesting for! We need political reform, tax reform, an end to corruption, better schools, better transportation. We are not in a position to be hosting the World Cup."

The widespread revolt has shaken the ruling Workers' Party, a bloc that grew out of tumultuous demonstrations by Brazil's labour movement 30 years ago. Now the Workers’ Party resembles New Labour, committed to the market economy in a bid to attract inward investment which has all but dried up.

 "There are no politicians who speak for us," said Jamaime Schmitt, an engineer. "This is not just about bus fares any more. We pay high taxes and we are a rich country, but we can't see this in our schools, hospitals and roads."

Paulo Henrique Lima, 24, one of the organisers, said: “Brazil woke up. The youth are going to the street, the workers as well, to construct a new fight. We are changing the history of this country. We are going to construct a new politics where people have a voice and go to the street to demand this."

Brazil’s emerging revolution confronts the existing state power and its institutions and marks a new moment in the global uprising that, without warning, sweeps across borders.

The same processes are at work in Britain, as shown by the huge support for tomorrow’s People’s Assembly against Austerity in London. Turning local People’s Assemblies into sites of alternative power that can challenge and replace the discredited, delegitimized economic and political system is the challenge here and everywhere!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, June 20, 2013

GM crops: bad science, big profits

You would think that someone holding the post of environment secretary would actually have concerns about, well, the environment. Such is our topsy-turvy world, however, that the opposite is true when it comes to Owen Paterson.

The free marketeer ConDem environment secretary, is a climate change sceptic despite mountains of evidence (as well as casual observation of increasingly erratic weather patterns) to the contrary. No concern for the environment there.

Now Paterson is launching a campaign to get the European Union to dump its ban on genetically-modified (GM) crops that have caused severe problems around the world. Still no concern for the environment, although plenty for the GM corporations.

If the EU does not drop its policy, Paterson wants the United Kingdom to go it alone. He says the government has "a duty to the British public to reassure them GM is a safe, proven and beneficial innovation".

Those are certainly big claims - almost as big as the giant ragweed strangling corn crops in farms across the United States. US farmers are finding that after four or five years growing Monstanto's Round-up ready corn, weeds develop resistance. Up to 15 million acres of crops are now affected.

The farmers must then switch to a different herbicide, and therefore a different GM seed. Monsanto competitor Dow has produced a one with resistance to 2,4-D. This is one of the two components of Agent Orange, the defoliant the US army sprayed on crops and forest during the Vietnam war.

However, we are assured that it is not the component that caused the birth defects – just the one that stripped the land bare. So that’s alright then.

Which brings us to the tiny rootworm, which prevents corn from absorbing water and nutrients from the soil and leaves corps in ruins. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports rootworms have been found in Illinois and Iowa that are resistant to the Bt gene bred into Monsanto seed corn.

Insecticide sales are surging after years of decline, and profits are up. Farmers who already paid through the nose for supposedly resistant GM seed are now buying pesticide to kill the rootworm. Dow/Monsanto competitor Syngenta is cashing in with pesticide sales doubling in 2012.

Pesticides are bad for farmers' health, water supplies and the health of whole populations. As well as killing the rootworm, they wipe out beneficial insects, including bees.

Whilst GM makes lots of money for corporations, it doesn't work in the long term. A herbicide will kill weeds for a time, but eventually a rogue gene will appear that has resistance. That weed will survive spraying, and spread. It will have adapted.

The claims made for GM are based on bad biology, bad botany, bad genetics –  just bad science really. Bad science but big profits, and Paterson doesn't want corporate farmers and the agri-chemical companies missing out on the European market.

He even stooped so low as to repeat the claim that GM is the answer to world hunger. But if the problems faced by US farmers were repeated across the globe the effect would be disastrous.

Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett says GM will make it harder, not easier, to feed the world. "In fact GM is the cuckoo in the nest. It drives out and destroys the systems that international scientists agree we need to feed the world.”

Systems like the one practised by Suman Kumar, who holds the world record for rice yield on his one-acre plot in Bihar in northern India. He achieved 22.4 tons per hectare, where big rice farmers get on average 8 tons.

Kumar and his neighbours are achieving these great yields using a modest amount of inorganic fertiliser and no pesticides or herbicides. They are working with the System of Rice Intensification, where instead of focusing on killing pests and force-feeding, all the effort goes into creating the best possible conditions for the rice plants to flourish.  

As Melchett concludes: "We need farming that helps poorer African and Asian farmers produce food, not farming that helps Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto produce profits."

A revolution in farming on that scale will require a revolution on a political and economic scale too.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

EU-US trade deal threat to food safety

The launch of EU-US negotiations on a new trade deal should set alarm bells ringing for food producers and consumers throughout Europe. If successful the deal will sweep away environmental, health, privacy and cultural standards.

For decades, these have given a measure of protection to the European food industry from incursion by the predominantly US-based global agri-business corporations.

The talks are intended to promote growth by eliminating all trade tariffs and “harmonising” regulations which act as barriers to trade. The G8 announcement of the July 8 start of talks sees the two parties aiming to sign the deal by the end of 2014.

The launch of the new deal – a second-best attempt at the failed World Trade Organisation’s Doha trade talks – will be seen as a direct response to the mounting anger against profit-driven food production manifested in the two million strong worldwide march against Monsanto in hundreds of cities in 52 countries last month.

The ConDem government, in a coalition with lobbyists for the biotech companies, is spearheading the corporations’ campaign.

Britain’s science minister, David Willetts and environment secretary Owen Paterson are pushing for EU controls on new genetically-modified crops and food to be relaxed. Willetts, who has been heavily lobbied by GM campaigners and scientists funded by the GM industry, insists biotech crops could feed the world.

Eight European governments have banned cultivation of a Monsanto GM maize called MON 810, which is genetically modified to kill pests which feed on it, on the basis it might cause harm to other important insects. The eight are Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and most recently Poland, while Italy said it plans to follow suit.

As a result, Monsanto says it has effectively given up on lobbying for approval for new GM crops to be grown in Europe, though it is certain to be active in the negotiations for the new bilateral deal.

The ban on the maize and other forms of GM has been made under an EU environmental protection provision known as the “Safeguard Clause”. Even so large quantities of GM soya and maize are imported into Europe, including Britain, entering the food chain as animal feed.  

Monsanto’s bid for domination of the global food chain received a major setback in May, when Japan and parts of South Korea banned US wheat imports after the discovery of a unlicensed genetically-modified crop growing in Oregon. The corporation is now facing a class action lawsuit from farmers in the state.

The company is, however, celebrating its defence of patents – intellectual copyright controls over food - in a court victory against farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman. Having bought Roundup-ready soybean seeds, he had the temerity and ingenuity to find a way, he thought, of bypassing the company’s patent. This would have allowed him to reinstate ancient farming practices and replant the seed he’d grown. No such luck.

But no court action, worldwide protests, nor import bans will be sufficient to stop Monsanto in its tracks. Monsanto, producer of the infamous Roundup herbicide, has been in this sordid business for decades, originally with its manufacture of PCBs and Agent Orange, as well as Bovine Growth Hormone, banned in Europe.

Since 2011 it has been advising US farmers to engage in an arms race to protect their crops, using a cocktail of their pesticides when Roundup resistant “superweed” mutants developed and infested millions of acres of farmland.   

Meanwhile radical alternatives are beginning to emerge. Following a showing of the World According to Monsanto film in a quiet rural Welsh pub, organised by the local Transition Town group, the audience, including farmers, unanimously voted for a proposal to set up a country-wide, not-for-profit seed co-operative. It’s the way to go!

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Memories are made of this

Anyone who has had the nerve-wracking experience of a hard-drive breakdown or losing or damaging digital devices will be only too aware of how fragile memory storage can be.

Cloud computing with its power to store vast amounts of information in unspecified locations in the ether (though your stuff is actually held in earth-based servers) is both wonderful and spooky.

But what would happen if a huge magnetic storm wiped all this stored data out, in a kind of digital apocalypse? It’s a question that writer Hari Kunzru asks and tries to answer.

Kunzru’s Memory Palace is set in a future where “Magnetisation” has erased the world’s information systems. What is left of humanity now lives in an age of decline, in which it is forbidden to remember.

Memory – so what is it? And what is the future of the planet and ourselves? The internet - vice or virtue? Museums as banks of memories - what are they good for? Can we return to a pre-knowledge state of innocence?

All this and plenty more is brought to life in a thrilling project at London’s Victoria and Albert museum. The V&A, one of the world’s greatest memory banks for the applied arts, commissioned a team of 20 artists and designers to create a “walk-in story” based on Kunzru’s book.

The venture is accompanied by high and low-tech artworks, including an interactive app and website called the Memory Bank.

In Kunzru’s tale, a group of revolutionaries, the Memorialists, are trying to defy the sinister new masters of the universe - the “Thing”. They resort to an ancient technique in which space is used as a way of placing memories and call it the  Memory Palace.

The reason that the Thing wants to wipe out all memories of the  ancient golden age (The Booming) before the storm is because it wants to introduce The Wilding, when humans “live in complete union with nature”.

Therefore any notion of knowledge and memory – exactly what makes us human – must be brutally suppressed. The internet is denounced as “a conspiracy of fools and knaves, a plot against nature”. Civilisation is evil and anti-nature in the crude world of warriors which the “Thing” seeks to impose.

Kunzru’s story and these artists’ response to it raises searching questions at a time when, despite the huge advances in our understanding of natural processes, human kind is pushed towards a global eco-disaster.

In their installations, artists bring to life the mental and physical place that Kunzru describes. They imagine London as a Mad Max world, a decaying cityscape, providing a dramatic idea of what a post-global warming world might look like.

Jim Kay’s exquisitely complex three-dimensional cabinet, for example, is a shrine to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution which is banned by the new rulers. Other illustrators, graphic designers and makers help to tell the story.

Memory Palace is a massive exercise in collaborative working and a brave effort to place museums into the forefront of our brave new world. At a time when “re-wilding” is being proposed by some as a possible solution to the eco-crisis, it offers a salutary critique. The show also challenges the notion of original sin, that knowledge and civilisation are the causes of human downfall.  

Kunzru’s look backwards at our own age of the digital revolution and global corporations lacks a certain edge. Perhaps it’s down to the implied conflation of the Booming with capitalism. There did not appear to be any struggle between the rulers and the ruled at that time.

But it’s only a story after all!

Or is it? Our rulers are constantly trying to overwhelm historical memories that challenge their power. For example, the story of the English Revolution of the 1640s hardly figures in schools or universities.

So let’s praise the collectives and individuals who created the exhibition for asking the questions. They have thrown down a challenge to the rest of us to take the story onwards.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

For those with access to Sky Arts, you can see Hari Kunzru’s documentary on Sky Arts 1 HD at 8pm on June 19.

Monday, June 17, 2013

People's Assemblies can move beyond resistance

The powerful response to the call for the People’s Assembly against Austerity on June 22 confirms that the build-up of opposition to the ConDem cuts is reaching boiling point, presenting a unique opportunity to move beyond resistance.

Over 3,000 people have registered for the Assembly, many with the support of the major trade unions.

Clearly, people welcome the fact that the Assembly brings together all those fighting against austerity. The support of key figures like Tony Benn, Owen Jones and Ken Loach has helped boost attendance.

What is crucial is the perspective for and beyond the Assembly. The draft statement is absolutely explicit about the intended direction of travel, declaring: “We have a plain and simple goal: to make government abandon its austerity programme. If it will not it must be replaced with one that will.”

The statement insists that the government’s austerity programme is not “necessary” and that the “banks and the major corporations should be taxed at a rate which can provide the necessary resources”.

To that end, there is a call for a national demonstration and civil disobedience towards the end of the year, the building of local Assemblies and a recall of the national Assembly in 2014.

In practice, the central demand is based on the notion that this most reactionary of governments is for turning and, if not, that Labour is an alternative. Both are utterly misguided.

The ConDems are cutting not simply because they are viciously anti-working class (which they are) but in response to an historic crisis of the financial and economic system, aka capitalism. The dreaded “C” word does not get a mention once in the draft statement, however, which is a major weakness.

Its exclusion leads to the idea of restoring the status quo of the welfare state through taxing the corporations as the main policy idea. With key analysts forecasting another global crash, such a policy does not begin to match the gravity of the situation we face.

As to installing a government that will “abandon austerity”, the implication is that this is Labour. But Ed Miliband’s party, which is taking shape as New Labour Mk II, intends to continue with austerity and cuts and every day incorporates another ConDem policy.

So Owen Jones’ view that “there is a battle to be won in compelling the party to fight for working people” is based on faith rather than judgement. Unions like Unite which bankrolled Miliband’s election have put the pressure on already – and come away empty handed.

The central issue is the fact that the system is broken – economically and politically. A semblance of democracy is rapidly being replaced by an authoritarian, surveillance, security state as the leaks about the US/UK spy network reveals.

A minimal amount time has been found for discussing this crisis of democracy. Yet it is the key to our future. A World to Win and others have campaigned for a network of People’s Assemblies since August 2006.

We and others in Occupy and the Agreement of the People for the 21st Century see People’s Assemblies as integral to a strategy for moving beyond resistance towards a real democratic political and economic system in place of the façade we have today.

Permanent People’s Assemblies should
-         be inclusive, inviting all sections of the community to be part of their work
-         discuss in depth why there is a global economic crisis
-         draw up, with the help of experts, alternatives to austerity/cuts that go beyond the profit system
-         discuss how to introduce democracy throughout society - in ownership and control of workplaces, land, etc
-         debate the crisis of democracy, where our voices/votes count for very little
-         consider alternative forms of democratic government and self-rule throughout the UK 
-         consider plans to deal with the eco-crisis

People’s Assemblies should not develop into talking shops but rival centres of power to a system that has lost its legitimacy and the right to rule over us. That’s the big challenge and we call on others to help us campaign for this at on Saturday.

Paul Feldman and Corinna Lotz

Friday, June 14, 2013

More of the same won't solve the food crisis

An intensifying global climate and farming emergency is threatening the security and affordability of food while leading international agencies view the crisis as an investment opportunity.

In the UK, the wettest autumn on record, followed by the coldest spring in 50 years has devastated spring wheat. Normally at this time of year UK farmers would export 2.5m tonnes - this year food processing companies will import a similar amount.

In central Europe, the state of emergency continues in the aftermath of unprecedented flooding wreaking havoc across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. At least 18 people were killed, and tens of thousands evacuated.

The European Union is struggling to count the cost in lost production, but the areas affected by the floods and heavy rains are amongst some of Europe's key farming areas, including in Italy.

In the United States, wildfires are raging in drought affected south west states of Colorado, New Mexico, California and Oregon.

Every US state west of a line from Minnesota in the north to Mississippi in the south (with the exception of the far north states on the border with Canada) is now entering a second year of drought.  Some 80% of US agriculture land was affected in 2012 and there is no sign of any let up.

The US agriculture department is warning consumers of 15% price increases for meat, dairy and cereal products.

Meanwhile the eastern half of the US been swept by yet another Atlantic storm. The strength and frequency of these is being driven by climate change. A US government study warns that "for each 1°C increase in tropical sea surface temperatures, hurricane surface wind speeds will increase by 1 to 8% and core rainfall rates by 6 to 18%".

As Peter Kendall, president of the UK's National Farmers Union has said: “Climate change scientists have long predicted that agriculture will face major challenges from global warming. However 2012 has starkly demonstrated the cost that extreme weather events can wreak on farmers and the food supply chain.”

The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2013-2022 says agricultural production will grow by just 1.5% a year on average over the coming decade, compared with annual growth of 2.1% between 2003 and 2012. That's not even enough to feed the growth in population over the same period.

They go on to warn that a repeat of the drought of 2012 could raise world food prices by between 15-40%.

But they can only offer more of the same market-driven solutions, and in fact present the crisis as an investment opportunity for cash-strapped governments:

"Agriculture is an increasingly market-driven sector, as opposed to policy-driven as it was in the past, thus offering developing countries important investment opportunities and economic benefits, given their growing food demand, potential for production expansion and comparative advantages in many global markets."

They do not explain how this approach will feed the world's people, since all the land grabbing and intensive application of chemicals of recent years have totally failed to deliver more food.

There is no room here to set out an alternative agriculture policy, but suffice it to say that growing close to the point of consumption, using organic methods and shifting away from high meat and high processed diets can succeed where industrial farming has failed.

And doesn't that describe pretty accurately the kind of agriculture pursued by those who are currently being driven off their land to make way for the agri-businesses? No profit in there for Monsanto or Walmart though.

The food “plateau” is just another example of how capitalism is incapable of moving forward a single step to meet society's needs, and is actually in reverse. It is time we opted for a very different diet.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Living standards crash as recession cuts deep

The living standards of British workers are being progressively destroyed, during the longest slump in the modern age as the capitalist recession takes its toll on the only people who create value in society.

Wages have decreased by a total of 6% in real terms in the last five years, as people have accepted cuts in pay or reduced hours in order to stay in a job at any cost.

On paper, average earnings increased by 1.3% in the first quarter of 2013, but this is skewed by the massive pay and bonuses of the richest. The reality is that workers’ wages are going backwards, whilst inflation is running at 2.7% per annum.

One-third of workers found their wages were frozen between 2010 and 2011, and 70% experienced real wage cuts, according to a new report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

It compares the situation today to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and finds that it is worse. The slump, says the IFS, has been "deeper and longer than those of the 1990s, the 1980s and even the 1930s. It has seen household incomes and spending drop more and stay lower longer."

There has been an unprecedented drop in productivity in the UK, with factories producing 10% less than they were in 2007, the year before the crash. The drop in household incomes means that the service and retail sector are poised for further bankruptcies and closures.

And it's the same picture across the world, as the World Bank today cut its forecast for growth in global GDP in 2013 from 3.1% to 3%. This is in effect negative growth because it does not cover even the needs of the increase in global population.

Few new workers are entering the world economy, and this can be seen by the massive levels of youth unemployment everywhere.

The World Bank further predicts that the eurozone economy will shrink by 0.6% this this year. Growth is slowing in China and India.

The TUC today launches a new campaign "Britain needs a pay rise", but it is all empty rhetoric. A Facebook "like" is not going to put a penny in the pocket of workers, unionised or otherwise.

Last year, the TUC conference pledged an all-out fight against the prolonged freeze in public sector imposed by the ConDems. But nothing whatsoever resulted in terms of action, after the Labour leadership endorsed the government’s policy.

More important than the empty words of the suits at the TUC is the political transformation of a whole generation of young people across the globe. They are being excluded from the world economy, not only in Greece, Spain, Portugal and the UK but also in Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and beyond.

And the fact that their response to this is to put themselves in the leadership of movements for democracy is a recognition on their part that this economic crisis – we might say this economic exclusion – can only be solved by political means.

It is governments who enforce the law that growth is the only criteria worth pursuing. They are all, universally, in every country mentioned above, fully committed to the perspective that people's capacity to work is a commodity, like any other commodity. If an individual is unable to sell it, or can only achieve a low price for it – that's just the law of the market.

This has always been the case. It is worth reminding ourselves that the transformation of Britain into a low wage economy predates the economic crash. The wages of full-time workers barely grew between 2003 and 2008 and were negative for the lowest earners, who never benefited from the Blair/Brown credit-fuelled boom.

What has changed is that all pretence that the state is concerned for the poorest and can act to alleviate the worst impacts of this market, has been removed.

Therefore it is not austerity per se we should rail against but the rule of the capitalist market and the exploitation of labour for profit, which is destroying our living standards, our economic future and our planet.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Greek union denounces “coup d’etat”

The besieged people of Greece awoke this morning to blacked-out television screens. They discovered that the conservative Samaras-led coalition government had shut down the ERT, the Greek equivalent of the BBC. No discussion, no warning, no consultation, not even with the two smaller parties in the coalition.

Thousands gathered outside ERT's headquarters after the announcement, and riot police blocked the entrance to a studio in central Athens where protesters had unfolded a banner reading "Down with the junta, ERT won't close!"  In Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, some 500 gathered outside ERT’s northern headquarters. The news editors union called for solidarity from private broadcasters.

The shutdown is a further twist in the spiral of attacks against journalists in Greece. Journalists occupyed the ERT building as their union denounced the shutdown as a "coup d'etat" and called for strikes by all media workers in the country.

The abrupt announcement followed a ministerial decree authorising the government to shut down public enterprises. And it came in the wake of its failure on Monday to find a buyer for the gas utility DEPA part of a general sell-off of state assets. Greece was left unable to meet its bailout targets.

On Monday, inspectors from the so-called troika of lenders, the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, were back in Athens to conduct their latest review of Greece's progress in implementing spending cuts and reforms. They insisted on the immediate sacrifice of 2000 public sector jobs

ERT’s 2,600 staff are to be paid off immediately, whilst, the government story goes, the three domestic television channels, along with regional, national and external radio stations, costing Greece 300 million euros ($400 million) a year, will be restructured, drastically slimmed-down.

According to government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, the 70–year-old public broadcaster had become a "typical case of ... incredible waste", comparing its costs with the private channels.

"At a time when the Greek people are enduring sacrifices, there is no room for delay, hesitation or tolerance for sacred cows," said Kedikoglou.

ERT’s workers occupied the studios, but the state forces took command. Police went onto the mountain and neutralised the people who managed the transmitter, according to Nikos Roukounakis, an engineer at ERT for 30 years.

There are fears that ERT’s orchestra and its valuable cultural archive will be lost forever.

Dimitris Papadimitriou, general director of the radio department and a well-known Greek composer, said that even the 1967-1974 military junta hadn't taken such action.

"Such a thing never happened before, not even during the dictatorship."

Papdimitriou is right to make this comparison.  No previous crisis in the short history of capitalist society bears comparison with the scale of the unfolding catastrophe, in Greece and around the world.

In the wake of the unprecedented 2007/8 crash, central banks and governments dreamed an estimated $12 trillion dollars worth of new credit into existence.  They injected these huge amounts into the global economy which was knocking at death’s door, transferring the cost of mountainous and unrepayable debts across states, individuals and corporations. 

Extending its death agony with such extreme measures as ‘quantitative easing’, guaranteed that a new more severe event would not be long in coming.

The Samaras government’s response to the troika’s demands reflects the desperation and determination of those seeking to shore up the global capitalist economy.  They will allow nothing to stand in their way.

Using the market imperative to shut down a public broadcaster is indeed a form of dictatorship. For this to happen in the birthplace of ancient democracy, and a small country which through its long history has struggled time and again against tyranny, gives this latest twist of events a greater resonance.

What is happening in Greece is a stark warning, not only for Europe but the rest of the world, about the anti-democratic repercussions of the global economic and financial crises.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Snowden exposes how a whole country is under suspicion

US whistleblower Edward Snowden’s courageous decision to lift the lid on the secret state is dramatically changing the stakes in the war between covert spy agencies and ordinary people.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency senior advisor, released 41 Powerpoint slides (link) to reporters which detail the vast nature and the scale of surveillance by US spy agencies through the backdoor of all the main internet giants.

So far the Guardian and the Washington Post have chosen to publish only five of the slides, on the grounds the others could be “too explosive”. Snowden felt he couldn’t live with himself if he kept secret what he knew. He says:

"You don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to have eventually fall under suspicion ... and then they can use this system to go back in time and ... derive suspicion from an innocent life”

Fearing for his security, Snowden has now disappeared from a Hong Kong hotel after naming himself as the source of a leak reckoned to be the most devastating of all time by Daniel Ellsberg, who is someone who should know.

In 1971, Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top secret study into military decision-making during the Vietnam War.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, seeking refuge in London’s Ecuadorean embassy to avoid extradition, says Snowden’s request that all 41 should be made public should be honoured.

Whatever the missing slides may contain, Snowden’s actions show snooping on a scale that goes far beyond that of even the Stasi, to the secret police in the former German Democratic Republic. 

During the Cold War, the Stasi spied on the entire population through a huge bureaucracy of spies, informants and phone tapping. Now Ellsberg has described the NSA, the Federal Bureau of Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency “the United Stasi of America”.
Ellsberg has praised Snowden’s action. He says that what Snowden has revealed show that the 9/11 terror attacks became an opportunity to carry out an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

In his extraordinary interview with the Guardian, Snowden explained why he decided to go public, despite the enormous personal risk.  Although he had a highly paid senior post as an advisor and “telecommunications systems officer”,  he was increasingly horrified by the NSA and intelligence communications targeting everyone and storing the information they gathered from internet companies.

And it was exactly the indiscriminate, secret and unaccountable nature of the surveillance that disturbed him so much.

“Even if you aren’t doing anything that is wrong, they can paint anyone in the context of a wrong-doer ... they may intend to target someone suspected of terrorism but they are targeting everyone,” he said.

Like Ellsberg he is frightened of what he describes as an “architecture of oppression”. He says the secret agencies are “subverting the power of government”.

It’s clear that Snowden has gone to ground because, as he has said, “you can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agency” and not be under threat.

Many aspects of the mass surveillance of an entire citizenry recalls the plot of the science fiction film, Minority Report, a dystopia in which people could be found guilty of “pre-crime”.

In Britain as in the US, we could all be found guilty of pre-crime in what Snowden describes as a possible “turnkey tyranny” – an autocratic state in which the government will give itself even greater powers.

Snowden’s action tears a great hole in the web of lies behind which the secret state that its political apologists like Barack Obama and David Cameron try to hide.

Their state, a corporatocracy which facilitates the rule of corporate profit making, is the gravest danger to the limited forms of democracy we still have.

As David Talbot, of the US Alternet website says, if whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Snowden are “weird”, then it’s definitely time for all of us to get weird.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, June 07, 2013

Miliband's 'epiphany' clear victory for Mammon

And Mammon spoke. Let there be just one party that worships me. And lo and behold, the ConDemLab party came to pass. Some people were astonished and many declared in a firm voice: “We will not vote for this party. But who will represent us now?”

Who indeed. Ed Miliband’s acceptance yesterday of ConDem budget cuts for 2015-16, Labour’s refusal to restore child benefits to all, the attack on older people’s fuel allowances and the party’s plan to cap the overall benefits bill is clear enough.

Having previously stated that child benefit is “an important bedrock of our society”,  Miliband said it would not be a priority to restore it to higher earners. This not only accepts the ConDem cuts but just as significantly abandons the principle of universalism in favour of means testing.

The demonising of the unemployed will continue. Unemployed people with children aged three to four will lose benefits if they do not prepare for work.

RIP Welfare State.

Miliband’s capitulation is, essentially, to Mammon, to the financial markets that dictated first the formation of the Coalition in 2010 and that since then have threatened just about every government running a budget deficit that wasn’t cutting fast enough.

So the Labour leader pledged to match Tory plans to cut the welfare bill. Speaking in one of the poorest parts of Britain in East London, he declared: “The next Labour government will have less money to spend...Social security spending, vital as it is, cannot be exempt from that discipline.”

Incapacity and housing benefit spending will be targeted while employers would be offered a state subsidy to encourage them to pay higher wages. This is “responsible capitalism” at the taxpayers’ expense. What a joke.

So you will not be surprised to learn that the Financial Times, the official mouthpiece of Mammon, welcomed Miliband’s conversion on the road to the money-lenders’ temple. Its editorial talked of Miliband’s “epiphany”, adding: “The Labour leader has made a welcome step towards credibility. He still needs to do more.”

And from the Blairite think-tank Progress, there was praised from co-founder Paul Richards, who said there had been a new “re-engagement with reality”. The Blairites, who never really went away, have their mouthpiece in the shape of Miliband as well as several cuckoos group in the shadow cabinet nest

Which leaves Miliband’s main backers in the trade union bureaucracy with eggs all over their face. Only the other week, Ed McCluskey, the leader of Unite which bankrolled Miliband’s election as leader, was raging against the Blairite influence in the party. Miliband rebuked him and yesterday McCluskey rolled over like the pussycat he is.

In an obviously pre-prepared statement, McCluskey claimed that Miliband’s speech “offers hope that there is an alternative to George Osborne's punishing experiment with the national economy”. He must have been referring to some other secret speech we know nothing about.

And Paul Kenny of the GMB union, who has also been critical in the past, lauded Miliband’s policy for “dealing with the housing benefit scandal”. The real scandal here, however, is that social housing rents soared under New Labour. Council rents in London rose 60% and housing association rents in the capital almost doubled between 1997-2010. This was entirely the result of government policy. In the end, you had to be on benefits to be to live in a property charging £400 a month.

When Miliband was elected in 2010, some people told us there was now a unique opportunity to “recapture” the Labour Party from the Blairites and win back the support of working people. How wrong was that scenario!

Labour under Miliband has reaffirmed its commitment to markets, capitalism, austerity, the cuts, extending the pensionable age, public sector pay freezes and a variety of other ConDem policies. In 2015, the electorate will be offered more or the less the same by the mainstream parties within a pretty rotten, undemocratic political system.

This is truly an historic crisis of political democracy as well as economy which we have to address with bold, revolutionary ideas and policies.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor