Wednesday, July 31, 2013

They take the profits - we pay for the clean up

Somehow, the public always ends up with the bill for dirty energy operations, whilst the corporations take the profits and run. In 2010, it was estimated that dealing with the UK's nuclear waste would cost £49bn. Now that has more than doubled and some say it could rise to £100bn.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is on the point of taking back in house the clean up of the UK's biggest nuclear headache at Sellafield though it has already paid a private company billions.

The US/UK/French consortium NMP has had £70bn so far but the work is way behind schedule and there have been criticisms of how they operate. Indeed they have been fined £700,000 by a court in Carlisle for sending low-level radioactive waste to an ordinary landfill site.

That didn't stop the NDA giving them £54m in performance bonuses in 2012 – now it seems even the authority has had enough.

Next year, the NDA will award contracts for cleaning up the old Magnox power stations and the agency is so nervous that it will not even give an estimate of the cost.

But the question is, why are WE paying for this? Didn't the new operators, when the companies were privatised, take on these responsibilities as well as the chance to make money? No, they did not.

Another example of corporations walking away is in Scotland, where KPMG acting as receiver for bankrupt coal companies Scottish Coal and Aardvark, won a court ruling saying any buyer will not have to fulfil obligations to control pollution and restore land at existing sites. So these will remain as scars on the landscape with no remedy in sight, other than by throw piles of public money at the problem.

Anne McCall, of wildlife charity RSPB, says: “It is unthinkable that private companies can cause such damage and then walk away when finances get tight. We simply cannot wipe the slate clean when such a terrible legacy has been left by Scottish Coal and Aardvark."

So what would the legacy be if fracking is allowed across the UK? Fracking pumps a mix of water, sand, and chemicals into fissures in shale rock made by controlled explosions. The water loosens the shale, the chemicals dissolve minerals and the sand props open fractures so that the gas or oil can be extracted.

Chemicals used include acids, detergents and deadly poisons. After the fuel is extracted, deposits of radioactive elements and huge concentrations of salt are left in the earth's surface as well as thousands of gallons of dirty water to disposed of.

The Con/Dem coalition are giving huge tax breaks to the fracking companies, and have changed planning laws so local communities have little chance of keeping them out.

And when the gas has been extracted and the companies have fracked off to the next project? Those communities will have to live with the long-term damage.

Of course, as far as Lord Howell is concerned that only matters if the damage is in nice, rural areas; it is OK if fracking takes plae in the former industrial areas of the north of England.

This is not just some old buffer speaking. Howell is a former energy secretary, up until three months ago an energy adviser to the government, and president of the BP/Shell sponsored British Institute of Energy Economics which promotes fossil fuels.

He is worried that if the middle classes in leafy areas in the south-east are affected, they might rise up and in a spirit of fair play, demand an end not only to their own local problem but to the whole fracking project across the country. Let's hope they do!

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wanted: A Chartism for our times

As Labour prepares to terminate its historic relationship with the very trade unions that founded the party, the questions of democracy and representation assume an even greater importance.

Ending the special relationship that allows automatic transfer of funds from trade unionists to the party, firmly shuts the door on the age of parliamentary-based reformist policies and politics.

In Britain, for the last 100 years or so, that has taken the form of unions mobilising to return a Labour government that would carry out a reformist programme in parliament. In practical terms, of course, that hasn’t happened for a very long time.

That’s why there’s a harking back to the 1945 Labour government that introduced the welfare state and the National Health Service. More recently, the Blairite governments of 1997-2010 were 100% pro-business and indifferent to the demands of the trade unions.

The reasons for all this are not hard to fathom. Corporate-driven globalisation created a world economy dominated by transnational companies and financial institutions. Nation-state powers were consequently reduced to facilitating the market economy. Reformist politics was ejected into the far reaches of the galaxy.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has effectively acknowledged this change, abandoning traditional state intervention in favour of encouraging a kind of “responsible capitalism”. In his dreams!

The Agreement of the People for the 21st Century campaign brings the broken political system out into the open and focuses on the need for a constitutional transformation. Drawing its name from the inspirational struggle of the Levellers during the English Revolution, the Agreement seeks to re-enfranchise a powerless electorate.

In the first part of the 19th century, the Levellers’ fight for democracy was taken up by the Chartists which was the first independent workers’ movement. The Chartists had six demands that won the support of millions of people throughout Britain. It was the eventual winning of the vote and parliamentary reform that made Labour a possibility at all.

Representative democracy has arguably had its day, however. Labour doesn’t even claim to represent working people’s interests and democracy is noticeable by its absence at all levels of society but in particular in the workings of the state which holds the power.

So, taking our cue from the Levellers and the Chartists, we should draw up a contemporary set of demands. Our modern charter could say :

We  declare that the present state is a barrier to the real democratic control of society and has effectively disenfranchised the 99%. The right to vote, won in centuries of struggle, has been undermined. We propose the transformation of the present political system along democratic lines. We favour a transition from representation without power to a popular sovereignty through an Agreement of the People. Our demands are:

  1. A people’s convention to develop a democratic constitution for the 21st century that transfers economic power away from the corporations and political power away from the state.
  2. Building a new, nation-wide democratic tradition from the ground up through, for example, Peoples’ Assemblies.
  3. Rights to justice, transparency and accountability; the rule of law; the right to self-determination within and without Britain and the promotion of equality and diversity globally.
  4. Human and social rights, including to associate, demonstrate and strike independently of the state; the right of minority communities to equality in all areas of social life; the right to affordable housing; to free continuing education and training and to free health care at all levels.
  5. The right to co-operative ownership in place of shareholder control; to democracy and self-management in all areas/activities of the workplace; to common land ownership in towns and rural areas.
  6. the right to live in a sustainable environment shaped by ecological care and not profits; the right of nature, including human beings, to exist free from abuse and despoliation.

In the 19th century, the reformist wing of the Chartists prevailed over the revolutionary or “physical force” wing of the movement which wanted to overthrow capitalism altogether. The physical-force Chartists weren’t wrong – they were just ahead of their time.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, July 29, 2013

Army rule in Egypt rejected by new movement

With the brutal murder of 74 – probably more - pro-Morsi supporters and persecution of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members by the army leadership, the Egyptian revolution enters a dangerous and crucial phase.

The shootings on Friday night by Egypt’s military have been condemned by Human Rights Watch as targeted killings by snipers. Minister of Defence and coup leader general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for support in dealing with “terrorism”, gave the army the green light to deal brutally with the Brotherhood.

Live rounds were fired directly into protesters’ heads and chests from buildings overlooking the Muslim Brotherhood’s sit-in in Rabaa al-Adawiya in eastern Cairo. Brotherhood supporters are demanding the release of detained former president Mohammed Morsi – elected after the fall of Mubarak - during a 30-day sit-in and are clearly prepared to die to achieve their objective.

But a new movement, the Third Square, has emerged in the city of Giza, which represents people-revolutionaries who support neither the military’s June 30 coup nor Morsi’s regime.

One of the protesters,  Ahmed Adel, said: "We are a group of young people whose views are not represented either in Tahrir Square or Rabaa al-Adawiya." He was critical of Egyptians being forced to choose between two camps "just because the Muslim Brotherhood failed" saying that he wants neither "religious fascism nor the army." 

Meanwhile, Fatma Ramadan, a member of the executive committee of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), has denounced the EFITU's decision to support al-Sisi's call for pro-military demonstrations as well as the Muslim Brotherhood’s attack on Egyptian workers and trade unions, saying: 
“Did not the military forcibly end your strikes in Suez, Cairo, Fayyoum, and all over Egypt ? Did not the military arrest many of you and subject you to military trials just for practising your right to organize, strike, and protest peacefully? Have they not adamantly worked to criminalize this right through legislation banning all Egyptians from organising peaceful protests, strikes, and sit-ins? Do not be fooled into replacing a religious dictatorship with a military dictatorship.” 
The new status quo has been satirised by anti-Mubarak film-maker, Aalam Wassef. He has made a surreal music video in which he does his laundry in front of a banner saying “Resist”.  The pre-Mubarak world has been turned upside in two years, he says.

The former revolutionaries, Wassef’s song goes, are now members of the Couch Party, while the Brotherhood are now the “felool” – the remnants of the old regime, and the old regime – the army – is playing at being revolutionaries.

Many hailed the removal of the elected government of Morsi in June by Egypt’s powerful army leaders as a victory for the people. But Egypt’s army officers, as Jadaliyya website says, “are promoting a narrative in which they have (once again) intervened heroically to save the day and ‘protect the revolution’.”

Meanwhile, the demands for bread, freedom and social justice, which lay behind the revolutionary toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year autocracy in February 2011, remain unfulfilled.

The January 25 revolution – and indeed the Egyptian revolution itself – goes far deeper than the search for an elected government. As far as Jadaliyya is concerned, “it encompassed a host of demands for far-reaching institutional reforms and social and economic rights”.

The partisans of “bread, freedom, and social justice” represent a huge swathe of people-revolutionaries who back neither the Brotherhood nor the army. Egyptian writer Khaled Alkhamissi, author of the prophetic novels Noah’s Ark and Taxi, which foretold the fall of Mubarak, said last week:

 “We are living in a vibrant social era in Egypt. . . We are not in a process of transformation from A to B, as representative democracy is dying everywhere. We need to properly analyse the revolutionary process that has been going on for almost ten years ... and we need a manifesto of demands.”

The Third Square and Egypt’s revolutionaries face the challenge of moving beyond subversion and resistance.  The battle is on to grasp the nettle of state power. That means creating new democratic political and social institutions that can express the needs of Egypt’s workers, farmers, professional people and youth.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, July 26, 2013

Capitalism's Arctic plan - get the oil, destroy the lives of millions

Citizens of every country will pay a massive, painful price for the melting of Arctic sea ice, even though capitalist corporations and governments view it as a potential profit bonanza.

A study in the journal Nature models the economic impact of the release of 50-gigatonnes of methane from melting permafrost and shows it would result in flooding, sea-level rise, agriculture damage and health impacts amounting to a cost of $60 trillion – roughly the size of the entire global economy last year.

And a parallel study confirms that this release of methane is already happening at an alarming rate. The melting of the Greenland ice sheet started a little later this year but is spreading fast and will probably match last year's record melt by September.

The result of this annual trend is that permafrost in the Arctic, in Siberia and Alaska is melting, releasing methane and speeding up global warming.

The methane could continue to be released gradually, albeit on a rising trend, or there could be a sudden pulse as tipping points are reached. This would push temperatures up so fast we could reach 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2035.

Once you say that of course you are really saying "anytime" because emissions of all greenhouse gases continue to rise and no effort is being made to halt or slow them. A feedback effect could kick in at any moment.

A slowing of the rise in temperatures over the last few years provided a breathing space. 
But instead of using this to take urgent action to halt the growth in emissions, it was simply exploited by climate change deniers to say there is no global warming.

Now we know that much of the heat was being absorbed into the deep oceans and as they lose their capacity to soak up more, warming will take off again. Indeed, the overall upward trend has never halted, with all the hottest summers on record taking place during this disputed period.

Corporations and governments may be greedily eyeing the Arctic, but alongside the process already in train, this scenario would result in the worst possible conditions for agriculture. The worst effects would be in Africa, Asia and South America, but no country is immune as farmers from Europe and America can testify.

But the opposite of action to halt emissions is happening; Lloyds of London estimates more than $100bn will be invested in extraction and shipping in the Arctic in the next five years.

Writing these blogs, one begins to feel a bit like the Trojan prophetess Cassandra who was locked up as a madwoman by the fellow citizens for warning them the war with the Greeks could only end in disaster.

But so be it – the truth can always bear repeating, which is that without system change we cannot begin to start to slow and then reverse climate change. If the corporations are permitted to start operating in the Arctic, the consequences are unthinkable.
Solutions are tantalisingly within reach – from permaculture, perennial grains, recycling of waste products to support organic farming, to abandoning fossil fuels in favour of locally-planned renewable energy strategies, and, in the case of the Arctic, leaving the fossil fuels and minerals in the ground!

But capitalism cannot permit this approach. As Bolivian climate strategist Pablo Solon puts it: "In this race to the top, capital needs to colonize territories and natural resources, decrease the cost of human labour, develop new technologies and promote new financial, investment and trade rules that allow capital to have more and more profit."

As a result, capitalism has already, in Solon’s words, "reached and surpassed the limits of the Earth system". To redress the damage, and to have a future for humanity, we must move to a model where humans work in harmony with nature and that means that the absolute supremacy of growth and profit must be overthrown.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sleeping giant threatens rule of China's corrupt elite

China is in the grip of a profound social, political and economic crisis. The evidence is there in corruption scandals, a fading economy and a rising tide of desperate resistance by ordinary people.

Several senior staff at GlaxoSmithKline's China operation are under arrest for bribery. They gave doctors and officials billions of yuan's worth of foreign travel, supplied prostitutes and handed over cash in return for boosting GSK products. More arrests are said to be imminent.

The trial has begun of former Communist Party (CPC) high flier Bo Xilai, accused of taking bribes, embezzling money and buying sex. He is the politician whose wife faces life imprisonment for allegedly murdering British businessman Nick Heywood. Similar charges were proved against former railways minister Liu Zhijun who was given a suspended death sentence.

The fact that it is these two officials on trial and not others, is only due to the fact that they are losers in continuous in-fighting in the CPC. The fact is that they are all at it.

Users of Weibo, the social network popular in China, are more and more taking their courage in their hands and publishing hundreds of accusations. Particularly disgusting are the stories of mass abuse of women. It seems the CPC has reintroduced the feudal crimes of concubinage and forced prostitution.

The impossibility of getting any redress through the courts or government is leading people to acts of total desperation. This month alone:

- an unemployed man set off an explosion on a bus in the south eastern city of Xiamen, killing himself and 47 others. Chen Shuizong left a suicide note expressing despair at being totally impoverished.

- in Dongxing, Guangxi, a villager stabbed to death two CPC officials trying to enforce the one child policy. Their crime is not entirely clear, but it is likely they were trying to force the man's wife to have an abortion.

- at Beijing airport, a man in a wheelchair injured himself by detonating an explosive device. It seems 34-year-old Ji Zhongxing, from the eastern province of Shandong, was protesting the authorities' refusal to investigate the beating he received from police in 2005, which left him partly paralysed

Driving this social and political upheaval is a deepening economic crisis. Growth continues to slow and exports fell 3.1% in June compared to the previous year, the highest monthly fall since the global crash. The price Chinese firms can get for their products on the global market fell for the 16th successive month.

The government is trying every way, from enforced retraction to Keynsian investment to fiscal measures, to shore up growth. Banks have been told to stop lending to businesses in sectors where there is oversupply, particularly industries making materials for construction. Local authorities have been instructed not to give land or planning permission to any new ventures in these sectors.

A collapse in tax revenue from falling consumer sales has added to the sense of crisis. The government has responded by lifting credit controls, to encourage people to borrow to buy consumer goods.

The government has pledged to keep unemployment below 5% and to improve its image. A commission is trying to convince people they are now "down-to-earth, honest and upright", and to regenerate support for nationalism and what they call, without irony, "the Chinese dream".

Hong Kong's relatively independent Oriental Daily News concludes that: "If the ruling authorities cannot reverse social injustice, narrow a rich-poor divide, eliminate bureaucratic officialdom and combat judicial malpractice to create a fair and equitable social environment where the weak have hope and where most people can live in equality and dignity, cases like the fatal stabbings on the streets of Beijing and the Xiamen bus explosion will not stop."

An increasingly confident working class is demanding and getting better wages and conditions. As a result, firms are moving out of China to even lower-wage countries. The CPC bureaucracy knows that they are facing a sleeping giant which when roused will shake the rule of the corrupt elite of oligarchs and local tyrants.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Climate chaos is also the failure of political systems

While you enjoy the warm weather, consider this. “Atmospheric Rivers” will become more frequent and intense as global temperatures rise this century in response to increasing concentrations of  carbon dioxide in the  atmosphere

You might ask what these “rivers” are. They are described as narrow regions of intense moisture flows in the lower troposphere that deliver sustained and heavy rainfall to mid-latitude regions such as the UK. And, according to a new study, they are on the increase while winter flood events will become more frequent and more severe.

This is just one of the variety of consequences arising from the burning of coal, oil and gas which fuelled the industrial revolution of the 19th century and the globalisation of capitalist production and consumption from the last period of the 20th century.

Globalisation and war have seen the extraction, refinement and distribution of fossil fuels concentrated into the hands of a small handful of giant corporations. Their shareholders demand ever greater efforts to extract what remains of the resources buried deep beneath the surface by millions of years of planetary evolution.

They rub their hands with increasing glee as their lobbyists for continued economic growth stir dissent and confusion ensuring that no agreement on action to slow, let alone stop or reverse global warning is reached between the governments of the world. There’s every reason to expect no better outcome from the climate treaty talks scheduled for 2015 than all those that have taken place in the last 25 years.

Even if there were agreement, the International Energy Agency is warning that any action would come too late to give even a 50% chance of keeping the global temperature increase since the start of the industrial revolution below 2 degrees centigrade.

Why? Because competition between the remaining corporate contenders under intense pressure from their customers also competing on costs in the industrial sectors, drives investment in a continuing technological revolution. This provides previously unimagined access to “new” reserves.

Ultra-deepwater drillships, subsea oil and gas infrastructure and multi-well-pad drilling to machine-to-machine networking, floating LNG facilities, new dimensions in seismic imagery and supercomputing for analogue exploration make fracking – hydraulic fracking –  look positively old-fashioned.

Investment advisers Oil and Energy Insider – one node in a network of private intelligence networks looking like an offshoot of the CIA – big up the prospects, saying these technologies put the idea of peak oil to bed for the foreseeable future.

And the IEA is looking both ways. Originally set up in the wake of the 1972 oil crisis, its mission was to ensure continuity of oil supplies. Now it claims it works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy – but without compromising growth.

Academic Robert Manne says a rapid, global-wide, consciously engineered transition from a fossil fuel to a clean energy civilization would involve one of the largest transformations in the history of humankind. And he’s right.

But he’s pessimistic. The post-war international “system” of nations is entirely unfitted to the kind of broad-ranging international cooperation now required, he believes. “The domestic political systems of the nation states potentially of greatest importance in the struggle against global warming – that is the advanced Western democracies — tend to paralyse the possibility of necessary emergency action.”

To put it another way, the democratic system prevailing in the global capitalist system of nation states has failed. So that means building a new system, more suited to the task of taking human society into a new not-for-profit age, one in which care for the “oikos”, Mother Earth, our home, becomes the overriding priority.

One way would be to rapidly establish a global network of local people’s assemblies, using the worldwide communications networks as the foundation for wide discussion and participation as the precursor to the takeover and redirection of the resources currently in the hands of the 1%.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Miliband to apply coup de grace to Labour's history

What a day! There was wall-to-wall media coverage of just one of 370,000 babies born yesterday around the world and confirmation that Labour is pressing ahead with plans to break its current links with the organisations that created the party in 1900.

Are these events linked in any way? I think they are – in one important respect. They both contribute to what Antonio Gramsci referred to as the hegemony of the ruling class in terms of penetrating the rest of us with their outlook and ideology.

Hegemony is not a pretty word and also hard to pronounce (try it). It means domination or supremacy. Gramsci was a founder-member of the Italian Communist Party. Despite being an MP, he was seized by Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1926 and spent the next six years in jail.

Although he died a few years after his conditional release on health grounds, his Prison Notebooks were smuggled out of jail and later published. Gramsci wanted to understand why the masses in the major capitalist countries seemed to support the state political system. So he investigated how the ideas of the ruling class were the dominant, or hegemonic, ideas in society.

An essential, even “socially accepted function of any state is, as Bob Jessop, professor of sociology at Lancaster University, explains is to “enforce collectively binding decisions on the members of a society in the name of their common interest or general will”.

So how are these “common interests” articulated? How are we persuaded, for example, that monarchy is good for every single person and that we should be happy that there is another addition to the royal family? This particular notion is achieved by way of social traditions, culture, ideas that we are born into, through the education system, the church and, of course, the media.

From the BBC to the “liberal” Guardian, there was only one story yesterday – the birth of one single baby. “Duchess in labour as the world awaits news”, said the BBC website. Yes, the whole world was standing by! The Guardian had rolling “live coverage” all day long.

A good day to bury bad news. So off the headlines went (in no particular order), the terrible situation in Syria, the end of the welfare state, outsourcing the NHS, surveillance state, tax cuts for fracking, global recession etc. Then later in the day, in stepped Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party with his own particular contribution to hegemony.
Whatever came later, the foundation of the Labour Party by the trade unions at the beginning of the 20th century challenged the hegemony of ruling class ideas. It had been accepted until then that workers could only find representation through the Liberal Party.

The Tories bitterly opposed the scheme whereby trade unionists automatically had part of their subscriptions passed on to Labour to fund its campaigns and election work. So in 1927, the Baldwin government banned the practice. Instead, trade unionists had to opt into paying the levy. Labour opposed the move and pledged to repeal the law, which was in force for two decades.

Miliband is, as we know, proposing that Labour now follows what the Tories did in 1927. And yesterday it became known that his party is calling a special conference in March 2014 to get the rules changed. For good measure, the voting rights of the unions are to be further reduced.

This then is Miliband’s contribution to passing on the ideological domination of the ruling class. He doesn’t care that the party will lose millions as a result. Miliband is more interested in impressing middle-class, middle-England voters in the general election scheduled for 2015.

So Labour, having abandoned its famous socialist Clause 4 in 1995, is applying the coup de grâce to its history. Naturally, the Guardian, dresses this up as “reform” when it is nothing of the kind. More hegemonic deception!

You can point to numerous, every-day examples of this process. What is a more difficult task is to develop ideas and, above all, practices that challenge not just the grand illusions and deceptions but also the capitalist power structures that lie at the heart of the hegemony that Gramsci was referring to.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, July 19, 2013

George Obsorne - CEO of Britain PLC

“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” So wrote Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. And today George Osborne confirmed how true this observation remains.

The chancellor, or should that be the chief operating officer (CEO) of Britain PLC, announced that firms involving in fracking – the highly-dangerous, controversial, ecologically-damaging extraction of shale gas – will only have to pay a 30% top rate on production.

That compares to 62% on new North Sea oil operations, rising to 81% for established offshore fields. Leaving aside for a moment that Osborne’s father-in-law is head of a lobbying organisation for big oil and gas companies, the position is clear.

The government, any government, will use its authority to command the state to do what’s best for business – often to the detriment of a particular community or society at large.

Desperate to create new energy supplies as North Sea oil runs down, the government is hoping that a shale gas bonanza is the answer to their prayers. Hence the tax breaks announced today.

Every day there’s another example of this ever-closer alliance with business that is the hallmark of this particular period of globalised capitalism. Last night, the UK’s state-owned blood supply was sold to a US-based private equity firm.

The Department of Health sold an 80% stake in Plasma Resources UK to a Bain Capital. This company was founded by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, which paid £230m for a controlling interest.

This is consistent with the approach of all governments over the last 30 years. In 2004, New Labour prime minister Tony Blair said: “Our aim is to open up the system, to end the one-size-fits-all model of public service, which too often meant one supplier fits all, with little diversity, irrespective of how good new suppliers – from elsewhere in the public sector, and from the voluntary and private sectors – might be.”

In 2011, David Cameron remarked: “From now on, diversity is the default in our public services. What does that mean? It means that instead of having to justify why it makes sense to introduce competition, as we are now doing with schools and in the NHS, the state will have to justify why it makes sense to run a monopoly.”  

As a result, public services wholly provided for by the state are an increasing rarity. Today roughly £1 in every £3 that government spends on public services goes to contractors of one sort or another. That’s about £100 billion a year. That’s a bigger proportion than in any other country, the US included.

With the state lacking expertise in contract negotiating, let alone auditing what’s going on, the scene is set for creaming off the top, also known as scamming or gaming. Last week it was revealed that government contracts for tagging offenders held by G4S and Serco had been suspended.

The firms had been charging for tagging people who were either dead, in prison, or never tagged in the first place. Even this government had to act when the truth came out. This week, an extensive report by the Institute for Government into the outsourcing bonanza, gave chapter and verse on “gaming” by all sorts of agencies. The report noted:

“Such ‘gaming’ behaviours included excessive ‘parking’ of service users with complex needs and ‘creaming’ of users who are easier to support, and therefore more profitable to serve… Such gaming was most apparent in the Work Programme where the combination of low fees and specific design choices in the ‘payment by results’ system of reward acted to discourage investment in helping those who were less likely to get back into work swiftly.”

Choosing easier-to-pass qualifications is an education form of “gaming”, often used to maintain or attract fund. One head teacher told the researchers: “Schools that turn themselves around often do it… [by] exploiting tactics to improve exam results in the short term which are not about the experience that every child gets in every lesson.”

For Osborne and his corporate chums, however, it really is one big game which ends with directors and shareholders laughing all the way to the bank.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Corporate lobbyists prepare ground for Heathrow expansion

News that Heathrow is proposing not one, but two new runways in its submission to the Davies Commission on aviation expansion, is the culmination of a crafty lobbying strategy that swung into action as soon as the last election was over.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats won votes in London for their commitment to overturn New Labour's decision to go ahead with a third runway. As soon as David Cameron got his feet under the table, that policy was rolling backwards.

Corporate lobbyists told him he would eventually have to agree and suggested how to do it. Set up an enquiry, they said, shift the debate away from whether new capacity is needed at all, in light of runaway climate change, to be about where in the south-east new capacity will be.

Let everyone put forward their views - even Bonkers Boris and his hair brained island gateway plan.

Get Howard Davies, former head of the Confederation of British Industry – one of the main cheerleaders for airport expansion – to finalise his commission’s report after the next election, so it is not an issue in London. Then whichever party is in power can study it carefully – and then give Heathrow and the airline industry what it wants.

The Financial Times has called the Davies Commission a "battle of ideas", but it is no such thing. It is just underhand chicanery to circumvent popular opposition in London, including in Tory or Lib-Dem strongholds like Richmond and Kingston.

Heathrow made the astonishing claim that by adding a third, and then a fourth, runway they would be able to reduce the noise nuisance. They must think we are plane stupid.

The new runway will increase the number of flights by 54% from 480,000 to 740,000 each year. About 250,000 people are already deemed to be suffering from noise nuisance so how can more than doubling the number of flights make it quieter?

Heathrow runs at 98% capacity, unlike rivals at Paris Charles De Gaulle, Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt which all have spare capacity. They want to use it to add more long-haul flights to the industrial and commercial hubs in India, China, Brazil and Russia. Heathrow does not want to be left behind.

Whilst Heathrow has proposed three possible sites for a third runway - either to the north, northwest or southwest of the existing airport – this may be no more than a trick. The southern route would put wealthy homeowners in Richmond and Twickenham under the flight path. One of the northern routes would require demolition of the village of Harmondsworth.

The second northern route is almost the same as the original proposal and would mean demolition of 2,500 homes in Harlington, Cranford Cross and Sipson and this is the one Heathrow wants.

However,  they were at pains to stress that it is the government that will make the final decision, adding a figleaf of democratic accountability over the whole sordid adventure.

The government's advisory Committee on Climate Change has written to Davies, reminding him that aviation emissions are included in the UK's legally binding emissions reduction targets.

The target, which is to reduce economy-wide emissions by 80% against 1990 levels by 2050, can only be achieved if aviation emissions are reduced to 2005 levels by 2050.

This is totally incompatible with Heathrow's plans for airport expansion. Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd., which owns Heathrow, Stansted and Aberdeen airports, is itself owned by a holding company called FGP Topco. It is in turn wholly owned by Spanish firm Ferrovial.

This year the Chinese Investment Corporation – aka as the Chinese government – bought a 10% stake in Heathrow and the Qatar government sovereign wealth fund is waiting for European competition regulators to rule on whether it can buy a 20% stake.

These investments are for one purpose only – to get a return on capital that makes it a business proposition. So, in the end, neither the quality of life for Londoners nor the dangers of climate change will be deciding factor. As always, it will be business as usual.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Don't let them kill off the NHS

“As long as you’ve got your health.” It’s a refrain I remember my mother sharing with her friends and relations as we were growing up in the 1950s, in the days when the National Health Service, established in 1948, was new.

Socialised medicine, offering universal access to tax-funded health care, free at the point of delivery was as good as a revolution for the majority in the UK. Well, almost.

The history books show that the NHS, as part of the welfare state, was conceived of partly in response to the revolutionary aspirations brewing amongst the victorious fighters returning from action in the Second World War.

Now at 65, having reached pensionable age, the NHS is itself ailing.

The A&E unit at Trafford General Hospital, from where the NHS was launched in July, 1948, is to shut. Eleven more hospital trusts have joined Mid Staffordshire in “special measures” due to concerns over unusually high death rates and poor care.

From worldwide acknowledgement as the healthcare model to be admired, providing the best care at least cost, the NHS is now falling back in terms international ratings.  

Amongst the biggest and most complex organisations in the world, employing 1.3 million people, the NHS has been through many reorganisations as it grows and changes to meet the needs of the now aging population, and to take advantage of new technologies.

But the causes of its current sickness are more external than internal.

Since its inception the NHS has been subject to exploitation by private sector for-profit suppliers of drugs, medical equipment, information systems, you name it.  The news that Big Pharma company Pfizer is party to a legal price-fixing scam exploiting loopholes in the cosy Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme that has set “acceptable” profits for years, is just the latest example.  

In 1992, Conservative prime minster John Major’s introduction of the Private Finance Initiative into public sector projects was a key moment in the transition from welfare state to market state. This was taken forward after 1997 by Blair’s New Labour.

Through 30-year leasing contracts with private sector developers, the NHS and other public sector services, deliberately starved of direct funding, became saddled with monstrous debts and are now conduits for the transfer of wealth.

Taxes are collected and passed through the public sector to the private sector organisations. On its way through, the labour of those who work in the public sector become the source of the profits distributed to the shareholders in the private corporations.

New Labour’s introduction of business-type foundation trusts, which set hospital against hospital in competition for private patients, leading inevitably to financial calamity in some cases, was another moment in the transition to the market state.

It seems the previous government turned a blind eye to mounting problems. Now the ConDems are opening up whole swathes of the NHS to the private sector in a further twist of the knife.

In the 10 years leading up to the current great recession, health spending in the United Kingdom grew in real terms by 5.7% per year on average. This came to an abrupt halt in 2010 as health spending dropped by 1.9%, in real terms, with a further 0.4% fall in 2011.

Now there’s talk of an end to the ring-fence protection in England, following the example of Wales, where the health budget has already been cut by more than 20%. Hospitals are shutting, jobs being slashed, services disappearing.

Throughout its 65 years, the NHS has co-existed with capitalist social relations. As in most countries, expenditure on health care has been predominantly through the public sector. The deepening global crisis is rapidly undermining that uneasy co-existence.

Socialised healthcare is a model for a society motivated by the needs of the people. Rather than watch the wrangling over the blame for its decline, we should build new forms of democracy that can convert the rest of the economy to its principles. With goods and services like the NHS under the direct control of producers and users, we could achieve the type of society we need.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Virtual' Romanistan the way forward

The commemoration of the murder of Romani prisoners by the Nazis in the Auschwitz concentration camp in August 1944 is a chance to reflect on the future of the Romani people in the UK and around the world. But instead of being overwhelmed by their history, Roma campaigners see their history as offering a way forward not only for themselves, but for the world community.

For the first time, the Nazi genocide of their people, the Porajmos (destruction), is being linked to a ceremony in Hiroshima to remember victims of the atomic bomb dropped on the city.The event is timely. It comes just as the European Roma Rights Centre has detailed attacks against Romas in Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech and Slovak Republics.

In these and other EU countries, including Italy, a wholesale suppression is “operated from behind a smokescreen of rules over documentation, planning law and even people trafficking,” says campaigner Grattan Puxon,

Amongst the acts of violence are firebombings, shooting, stabbings and beatings, which have left eight people dead and many others injured. The report says there is an increasingly racist climate and that offenders are not being successfully prosecuted.

And lest we think the UK is exempt from anti-Roma attitudes, prejudice is being fuelled by Channel 4’s “observational documentary” Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, now being marketed around Europe. UK Romani campaigners are rightly enraged by the humiliating depiction of Irish and English Travellers and Romany Gypsies in this crass portrayal of their culture. 

Mike Doherty, of the Irish Travellers Movement, in a penetrating deconstruction of BFGW, describes it as “car-crash television that feeds into - and inflames - the extremely visible political and social conflict around Gypsy and Traveller site provision in the UK and nods towards…the death of the idea of multiculturalism.  in Europe”. He adds:

“It uses sleight of hand to allow the viewer to laugh at cartoonish and seemingly racist representations of some of the most marginalised and persecuted ethnic minorities... the prejudiced tropes fly thick and fast.”   

Romas see the 1971 World Romani Congress, held in Orpington near London, as a key historical moment, which placed their culture on the map. It established April 8 as Roma Nation Day. Then in 2000, the Fifth Romani World Congress put forward a ground-breaking claim: non-territorial nationhood.

An extraordinary statement in 2001 rejected the “consubstantiation” of concepts of state and nation, which, it said “is still leading to tragedies, wars, disasters and massacres”.

The history of the nomadic Roma nation cuts through the merging of state and nation. The Roma nation’s dream, could offer to the world community and individuals belonging to other nations a new way for the “new world” of the 21st century, it added.

Granting the Roma’s request for nationhood, the statement proposes, could enable all of humanity to make a substantial step forward. “We offer our culture, our tradition, the resource which is in our historic refusal to search for a state: the most appropriate awareness of the contemporary world.”

Puxon, spokesperson for the  April 8 movement, is calling for co-ordinated mass action, voter power and an “upgrade in self-representation”. He notes that anti-Roma injustice and abuse is being confronted by activists in Germany, Paris, Prague and Skopje.

Roma numbers within the European Union are set to double by 2050. Puxon believes this will make their demands irresistible. But, alongside other people’s movements, Roma writer Ronald Lee’s dream of a Romanistan – a nation with or without a token state – is gaining momentum.

As Puxon notes, “long-term survival has been the single greatest achievement of the scattered Romani communities” but now the communities can come together to create a virtual Romanistan.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bulgarians in revolt against a country 'parcelled out to business interests'

A month of continuous demonstrations against the Bulgarian government has brought the Balkan state’s population alongside struggles in Egypt, Brazil and Turkey that are directly challenging political systems.

Bulgaria is the poorest member of the European Union and heavily dependent on aid from Germany and France. The country which once had a rich agricultural sector is also importing most of its food from the richer EU states.

The Russian newspaper Pravda observed: “There are barely any local products in stores, everything is imported. Meat comes from Germany, tomatoes from Turkey and Greece, garlic from China, potatoes from the Czech Republic. This happens in the country with the annual average of 320 days of sunshine and fertile soil. Bulgarian authorities consider local production unprofitable.”

The crisis is so bad that the country’s health system is on the point of collapse because high numbers of medically-trained staff have quit the country to work in other EU states.

Earlier this year, a mass movement brought down a right-wing government. Now the target is the regime led by the country’s Socialist Party. The party came out of the ruins of the Bulgarian Communist Party which had presided over a Stalinist regime until the revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in 1991 led to its collapse.

Yesterday, the embattled government, which has assumed many characteristics of the old regime, denied speculation that it was about to resign. The foreign minister went on TV to urge protesters to “focus on a more positive direction with specific requests for specific policies, not just calls for resignation of the government."

This pathetic plea is certain to fall on deaf ears, however. The mass of the population is impoverished, cannot afford energy prices and sees the government of prime minister Plamen Oresharski as highly corrupt.

The current round of streets protests was triggered by the decision to appoint media mogul Delyan Peevski as – wait for it – national security chief. The government eventually abandoned the decision, but this only emboldened the protests. Now the opposition nationalist and right-wing parties are threatening to boycott parliament, a move that could force the resignation of the government.

In the last week, demonstrators have once again poured onto the streets of the capital Sofia, with the country’s “corrupt” political system in the firing line. They gathered in front of the parliament chanting “mafia,” “resignation,” “go away with peace.”

The demonstrators clashed with riot police on several occasions as they decided to change tactics and blockade the parliament building. Up to 10,000 people have been out on the streets every evening since June 14.

At the last rally, Viktoria Katova, a 24-year-old protestor, said: “Things can't get any worse. I'd rather go for 10 snap elections in a row than put up with this corrupt, insolent political class that pretends it does not notice us”.

Another 55-year-old protester, physical education teacher Nikolay Staykov, said: “This isn't democracy. Bulgaria has been parcelled out to different business circles... what we have here is a state mafia. All the parties are the same... We must wipe all that out and build the political system up from scratch.”  

The situation has so disturbed the EU bureaucracy that the French and German governments issued an unprecedented joint statement and had it published in the country’s mass circulation paper.

“It is clear that the Bulgarian public insists that the political, administrative, judicial and economic elites subscribe to the principles of public interest. It is obvious that the society fears the penetration of private interests in the public sphere,” the statement said. There was, they added, no room for the “oligarchic model” in the EU.

Yet it is this oligarchic-type of merging between state and corporate interests that is now pretty universal, not just throughout the EU but in most capitalist countries. This is one of the key factors behind a wave of global struggles. Behind them are not only economic demands but aspirations for political democracy. That’s what makes them revolutionary.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The planet is drowning in waste

The planet is being overwhelmed by waste of all kinds, from plastic bags to throwaway digital devices. Even remote areas such as Alaskan beaches, often refuges for rare species, are increasingly blighted by tonnes of indestructible   objects and harmful and unsightly refuse.

The UK produces some 228 million tonnes of waste a year. In addition to household rubbish, there are growing mountains of agricultural and industrial  waste, as well as by-products from from power generation such as toxic nuclear waste. 

The waste issue has become so serious that the government has been forced to work on a “waste prevention programme”. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is due to publish the result of a consultation this December.

The way in which leading electronic brands brazenly defy the letter and spirit of laws and regulations is a global issue. Over the last decades a new and dangerous situation has arisen as millions of digital devices are used and jettisoned after only months of use.

As electronic waste increases exponentially on a global scale, a new study from India highlights that even where rules and regulations are in place, implementing them is another matter.

The report reveals that state pollution control boards and implementing agencies have failed to put any systems in place in the two years since the rules came into force.

The way in which companies evade regulation in India is naturally as true in other countries, including Bangladesh, China and Pakistan, Ghana and Nigeria which have become dumping grounds, often from richer states, spawning an escalating e-waste crisis

Short Circuit, a wide-ranging report by the Gaia Foundation, documents the scale of electronic waste on a global scale. It says that what we see as “re-cycling” is in fact turned into “down-cycling”, and can give people (consumers), a “false sense of security”.

Using a Buddhist term “Bardo”, the report says that humanity is at a critical juncture and that this requires a different view of our relationship with the earth. Amongst other proposals, the report lays down some excellent strategies for “zero waste”.

These are: reducing consumption and discards; reusing discards; extended producer responsibility; comprehensive recycling; comprehensive composting or bio-digestion of organic materials; citizen participation; a ban on waste incineration; effective policies, regulations, incentives and financing
structures to support these systems.

You could add to the list by including a ban on unessential packaging and the use of non-recyclables; including waste products within the production process a whole; the phasing out of landfill as a form of waste disposal; the nature and source of materials to be labelled on all products; products to be vetted for built-in obsolescence; the standardisation of interfaces for all devices and electronic products; the re-use of materials, especially metals and minerals; and resources  allocated for training in up-cycling skills.

The speeding up of built-in obsolescence in order to increase sales is vital for corporations to generate profit as the rate of technological change increases.  It is the system of production for profit – aka capitalism – which is at the heart of the problem.

So, ascribing the root of the eco-crisis to human existence on the planet as Gaia theorists do, is seriously misguided. The capitalist system of production alienates us from nature, not our desire to consume. As the example from India shows, even with laws in place, the needs of corporate profit will trump ecologically desirable ones.

Breaking away from the lethal cycle of production for profit is the great challenge of our time. We are part of this system and consumers within it. But we have the urgent need, the right and the power - collectively to put an end to it before it ends us.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Tennis is a game that's hard to love

Andy Murray, Wimbledon champion. I was there to see it, even if it was just on the big screen inside the grounds, a couple of hundred metres away from the Centre Court. I'd spent the night ill-equipped in a tent to be there, queuing along with a few thousand more.

Cost £8 entry. £7.50 for a watered down Pimms, £2.50 for a water (that HSBC were giving away free in smaller sizes admittedly, with their “literature” in the queue and all in all £100+ to arrive, eat and get home.

I wanted to be a professional tennis player. I wanted to win Wimbledon. Definitely a dream, like many other people. And like many others, I didn't make it. Yes, I was good. I had the physical attributes, but not the mental, strength not as a youngster anyway.    

A big part of the reason I wanted to win Wimbledon was genuinely to give something to those Brits who followed tennis and who had to suffer defeat all too early in the two-week tournament, year, after year, after year. I wanted to make them feel proud to be British. Really.

Andy Murray is a truly amazing tennis player. He's almost the very best on the planet at tennis. He deserves to win Wimbledon. Few have worked harder over the years, with so much talent. Yet for all the patriotism on the hill at Wimbledon, thousands of people celebrating his win, I didn't feel so uplifted by his victory and this feeling, if anything, has got worse since Sunday.

Wimbledon, the tournament for me anyway, got it badly wrong. All these crazy young tennis enthusiasts leaping up and down, shouting and yelling, hugging each other on Murray's victory and yet a few minutes after Murray had left Centre Court, walking around the grounds, life seemed to carry on like any normal Wimbledon day I'd witnessed over the years.  

Lots of us went to the grand entrance at Wimbledon to wait for Murray to appear with the trophy, but the security guards weren't shy, telling us, "He's not coming out, he's busy doing press. There are no plans for an appearance." Yet, soon after we'd left Wimbledon, he did appear on a top balcony, a little remote from the public, like a royal at Buckingham Palace (even if he did do an impressive fist pump and not a royal wave.)

Of course, he's to be knighted soon, an open secret judging by the pictures appearing from Downing Street where all three leaders of arguably the same party took delight in the reflected glory.

What did the papers say about Murray's win? Well, I read it was the highest rating TV programme of the year so far; 17 million viewers had it on. The Independent also reported that Murray stands to earn £100 million winning the crown. The Telegraph, £200 million. In prize money he's worth £18 million already. Plus he already gets a load of money from RBS bank, Adidas and Rado watches.

Indeed ,on winning the US Open last year, Murray can be seen immediately afterwards, not celebrating and letting himself go, but instead searching for his Rado watch within his rackets and stuff, which his girlfriend, Kim Sears helps him locate, so he can be photographed wearing it, whilst holding the trophy aloft.

I believe in sport. It's better than killing each other. It spurs us on to ever higher levels of ability. It keeps us fit. It's entertainment. Patriotism? Well, people who didn't know each other were hardly engaging much in the scheme of things beyond two minutes of Murray's victory. And anyway, who cares what country you're from? People are people now in the 21st century, no?

A top 100 tennis player is worth so much and lives in such a little corporate bubble, that they are hardly in touch with normal people. But maybe they are in touch with modern politicians, (see picture!) just as long as they are successful, God help 'em.

I was therefore wondering why so many still come out and support a multi-millionaire who really is trying to win Wimbledon for himself and those closest to him? Clearly many people are patriotic and they love a winner. Wimbledon would be nothing at all without its tens of thousands who support it each year.

But, to me, the people deserve far better. A game to love? Yes. But those in power make it very hard for me to do so.

Dylan Strain

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Global capitalism's new world disorder

Yet again, in its latest world economic outlook the International Monetary Fund has been forced to cut its forecast for growth worldwide. Even as it casts around for signs of optimism in Japan and the UK, there is no hiding the profound corrosion of the global capitalist economy.

As Greek workers take to the streets again protesting against the latest round of slashing cuts in public sector jobs, Athens-based IOBE think tank is predicting that the country’s economy could shrink by as much as another 5% this year.

The Greek economy is now in its sixth year of deepening recession, shrinking 6.4% last year. "Fiscal consolidation and improved competitiveness have not been coupled with successful implementation of the structural reforms programme," said IOBE.

In plain language, it means that cuts in public sector spending, jobs, wages, pensions and working conditions actually have to deepen. They have already reached a point where millions have fallen into deep poverty. Unemployment is set to rise again, from 26.8% at the lat count to nearly 28%.

"As long as the recession persists, the economy isn't only burning fat but also productive tissue," said Nikos Vettas, the new head of IOBE.

But it’s not just Greece. The ongoing contraction in the eurozone is worsening. The forecast for the US economy is for it to slow – especially as the effects of its version of cutting government spending, known as sequestration, is magnified by the slowing down in the central bank’s credit expansion programme. This is expected to begin in September and global markets are already jittery about the consequences.

In summing up its review of country by country and region by region differences Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist concludes:

“But you wonder whether there is not something behind. I think behind this is a slowdown in underlying growth – not the cyclical component but just the average rate,” said Blanchard. “It’s clear that these countries [Brazil, China and Russia] are not going to grow as fast as they did before the crisis.

“A permanently slower growth rate in big developing countries is likely to have profound repercussions for the world economy and translate into weaker growth for advanced countries as well.”

Blanchard’s concern about China, in particular, is well founded. The country’s banks are said to be veering out of control. Bank exposure to corporate debt has reached $4,200bn. It is rising at a 30% rate, even as profits contract at a 35% rate.  Ratings agency Fitch says China's public debt may be as high as 50%-70% of GDP when "correctly counted" and it is unsure whether the authorities can absorb the looming financial crisis.

So we can be sure that a continuation of the existing world disorder will have disastrous consequences for the majority. For the 99%, who have nothing invested in the capitalist way of doing things, and nothing to lose from its replacement, another model, another way of organising society is certain to prove attractive.

Into the breach, with steps the steps the New Economic Foundation  ‘economics as if people and the planet mattered’, which says: “In our model growth is driven by the existence of a gap between the current income levels of firms and their future expenditure plans. Private banks are the only agents capable of filling this gap through the creation of new credit. A confident banking system, willing to grant credit to firms for productive investments, is thus a necessary prerequisite for the economy to prosper.”

But the NEF’s “new model” is the same old credit-and debt fuelled model of capital expansion that opened up the world to rule by global corporations and led to the crash.

What can we learn from the last four decades? Capitalist for-profit production has drawn the world together in an interdependent global network oriented to accumulation and dependent on growth for the benefit of shareholders. By switching to a democratically controlled not-for-profit model of production and distribution we can further develop that interdependence for the benefit of all.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Miliband follows in Tories' footsteps with opt-in plans

Whichever way he dresses it up, Ed Miliband’s plan for trade union members to opt-in to paying a subscription to Labour is an historic break with the organisations that formed the party and have since provided the bulk of its funds.

At present, members of unions affiliated to Labour have a small part of their subscriptions automatically transferred to the party’s coffers. They have to opt-out of paying the political levy if they don’t want to support Labour financially.

Labour was a somewhat reluctant creation in 1900 of a trade union movement that wanted its own representation in parliament. Now Miliband is effectively breaking that link. And he’s not the first to try to impose an opt-in. The Tories did it – over 85 years ago.

In 1927, in a vindictive piece of revenge in the wake of the 1926 General Strike, the Tory government led by Stanley Baldwin enacted just such a law. The Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act not only made general strikes illegal.

The Act also banned unions from automatically passing subs over to Labour, replacing it with the same opting-in proposal that Miliband is making. So now he is doing the Tories’ dirty work for them after they made hay over the Falkirk selection farrago.

Labour has called in the police following allegations that its main funder, the Unite union, was recruiting members to the party without their knowledge in order to get its nominee adopted as the candidate for the upcoming by-election.

Back in 1927, Labour and the Trades Union Congress fiercely opposed the Tory legislation. On May 2, the shadow leader of the Commons, J.R. Clynes, a former leader of the party, told MPs:
We say that to reduce the trade unions with regard to their political income to the level of making each man initiate the payment of contribution, without the educative effect of any prior collective action—[Interruption]. I know that there are many Members in this House who would not have them educated — without the educative effect of prior organised action, would be to make a mockery of any political liberty whatever, or of the use of any funds for political purposes.
He said attacked the legislation as a  “malignant endeavour on the part of the Government to back up organised capital in the struggles with organised labour” and pledged that Labour would repeal the legislation when in power. The trade unions had to wait nearly 20 years before that could happen.

How times change! Labour has since been transformed into party that embraces corporate-driven globalisation – aka as free-market or neo-liberal capitalism – beginning with the abandoning of the famous socialist Clause 4.  

While the Tories are free to take money from business, the trade unions, by contrast, are viewed by Miliband and those around him as “sectional interests”. Miliband’s party gets £8 million a year from union subs. This will plummet if his plans are adopted.

This is not “mending” the relationship with unions affiliated to Labour. This is not reforming it. Miliband’s proposal is effectively ending it.

However long it takes to get through, Miliband’s declaration of war on the unions is designed to impress the middle-classes and business, to show that  “responsible capitalism” is his only policy. So Labour will go on backing spending cuts and attacks on welfare while offering only token opposition to ConDem attacks on the NHS, education and human rights.

Two things become clearer as a result. Representation of workers’ interests in parliament through the Labour Party is a dead duck. And that’s official. Secondly, parliament itself is an arena now totally dominated by and subordinate in every sense to the requirements of a capitalist system in deep economic and financial crisis.

New democratic forms that go beyond the limitations of representation, that deal with the question of power, of who rules Britain, are therefore urgent questions. We should thank Miliband for prompting us to look beyond Labour and a discredited, corporatist political system.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Monday, July 08, 2013

Labour provides cover for state spies

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, will say today that she is “appalled” by revelations about the Metropolitan Police’s use of undercover agents.

But to what extent are her calls for “scrutiny” a justification for continued snooping on huge numbers of people, as well as a cover for what happened in 13 years of New Labour rule?

High ranking police chiefs are involved in what is no so much a scandal as fairly routine practice. For example, retired deputy assistant commissioner John Grieve has admitted to authorising the bugging of Stephen Lawrence’s friend Duwayne Brooks.

Sir Norman Bettison, former West Yorkshire chief constable, already tarnished over Hillsborough disaster inquiry, is now said to have tried to influence the Lawrence inquiry.

The Met’s image is now so bad that ConDems policing minister Damien Green is calling for the “stables to be cleaned”. He says that recent disclosures are “hugely damaging”.

These “historic scandals”, as Green calls them, come on top of the continuing saga of US whistleblower Edward Snowden who revealed that Britain’s very own spy agency, GCHQ, works hand-in-glove with the American National Security Agency and its internet snooping programme, Prism.

Yesterday Snowden said that GCHQ was even worse than the NSA. It is the only body to operate what he terms a “full take” system of information. That means it  monitors all data crossing its path for a total of 30 days.

Cooper continues to praise parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). So what should we make of her call for more “oversight and scrutiny”? Cooper became a member of the ISC after New Labour won the 1997 election and remained on it until 1999.

So she can’t be unaware that under the Blair governments, there was, according to a new book about undercover police agents, an “unprecedented increase in the undercover infiltration of political activists”.

Authors Rob Evans and Paul Lewis document how in 1999, a new squad of police spies was brought into existence – the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. Its funding was supplied by the Home Office, then under secretary of state Jack Straw.

As the unit expanded, it received more than £30 million of public money. A new definition of who they were to spy on was created: “domestic extremism”. The authors say that the definition went beyond those engaged in criminal actions.

More significantly, it applied to those who “wanted to prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy”, possibly “outside the normal democratic process”. Such a catch-all phrase covers virtually any form of protest. And funding under New Labour doubled, with animal rights’ surveillance taking the largest amount.

Corporate lobbying by Big Pharma and the banks who wanted the state to protect their nefarious activities led to more funding and a huge growth of surveillance, agent placing and deliberate entrapment. Money was not a problem for police spies like Mark Kennedy who received some £250,000 out of the state’s coffers.

No activist group or organisation – no matter how benign and peace-loving – was (or is) exempt. Climate Camp, anti-G8, anti-roadbuilding and anti-McDonalds’ campaigners, animal rights activists – you name them, they were all in the frame.

As some activists became concerned about individuals who for one reason or another became suspect, they began to uncover some deeply-placed spies, much to their horror. Women victims of undercover spying are being backed by Occupy London to take legal action against the police.

In the recent new round of spending cuts, the secret state bodies were the only agencies whose budget has not been cut, with MI5, MI6 and GCHQ receiving a 3% real terms increase in their annual budget of £2.6 billion.

Protecting citizens’ from criminals and terrorists is not the primary aim of these agencies or their spies in political movements. They are to defend the interests of corporate power, happily lining their own pockets in the process. It’s high time to open all the secret files and disband these spy agencies.

Just don’t expect Yvette Cooper to join such a campaign. She and Labour are part of the problem, not the solution.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary