Monday, September 30, 2013

ConDemned to climate change as profit comes first

The ConDems’ answer to the stark warnings contained in the latest scientific assessment of climate change is to put forward policies that will actually intensify the ecological crisis.       

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows that humans have used up between a half and two thirds of the amount of emissions possible before we dangerously overheat the planet.

But the government’s response to the 5th IPCC report on climate change can be summed up as follows:
  • Chancellor George Osborne states he does not want the UK to be at the forefront of tackling climate change
  • Energy minister Michael Fallon wants to end the obligation on energy companies to fund improved insulation in people's homes.
  • Justice minister Chris Grayling says that fracking for shale gas is the way forward
  • Climate Change minister Owen Paterson says that climate change is not all bad - fewer people will die in the winter for example.
In other words, the ConDems will do everything in their power to serve the interests of the energy corporations and the banks who finance dirty fuel. And it is the same reaction from governments right across the globe.

Since the IPCC is all about modelling trends, maybe somebody should model the trends of global government responses to their reports.

Here are statistics that could be input into a new International Panel on Capitalist Climate Chaos model:
• Since the 4th IPCC report published five years ago an additional 200 billion tonnes of CO2 have been released into the atmosphere.
• CO2 emissions are 60% higher than at the time of the first IPCC report in 1990.
• To avoid dangerous climate 60% of energy will need to come from renewables by 2030 (International Energy Agency). We are on track to achieve just 18% globally.
• An industry report predicts that world coal-fired power plant capacity will increase more than a third from 2010 to 2020.
• The role of gas in the global energy mix will increase by one third in the period from 2010 to 2018.
• The UK Treasury wants 30 new gas power stations built.
• Every climate summit has failed to achieve a global binding agreement on reducing emissions.

You might ask how is it possible for governments to go on financing the work of the IPCC and even to say they believe that climate change is happening, but at the same time to continue along this path?

It is because they exist only as functionaries of a capitalist hegemony that attempts to rule every aspect of human society at this point. Everything is predicated on production for profit. Competition for markets means costs are constantly being driven down.

And it’s got a lot worse since the recession, which coincided with publication of the  previous IPCC report. So Osborne can say that being competitive is more important than tackling climate change.

Desperate for solutions, it seems that some members of the IPCC are putting their faith in a renewed carbon market. This time, market forces will be shut out, unlike previous schemes such as the EU model that had to be bailed out and restructured recently. They believe this could enable governments, finally, to agree binding limits on emissions. It's all a pipedream.

Our present planetary social and economic system cannot make progress when global co-operation and mutual assistance are needed. No amount of pressure on governments and states is going to change this fundamental.

In the scales against this we can put modest progress towards environmentally sensitive production, recycling, pollution reduction, carbon sequestration and development of renewables.

All the efforts of scientists, researchers, businesses and foundations to find a different way of living and producing, are not wasted. They represent a road map for the future. The climate scientists who are holding up a mirror to the system are allies of fundamental change.

But they and we must stop wasting our time stirring and stirring the empty pot of international climate talks and market “solutions”. Instead we need to write a new plan based on meeting people's needs and not on generating profit, for growth in equality and fairness rather than growth in commodities, and for a democratic, bottom-up political structure where we can make this happen.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Climate deniers losing the battle for public opinion

As the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prepares to publish its latest scientific assessment tomorrow aimed at informing policy makers, the deniers are readying themselves for a new assault on the truth.

Since the previous 2007 fourth assessment report confirmed the reality of anthropogenic climate change – that is change resulting from human activity – companies like Exxon Mobil, other fossil fuel corporations and free market champions like the filthy rich Koch brothers have spent huge sums of money trying to undermine it.

They have funded fake science and personal attacks on scientists. "Big hitters", like former chancellor Nigel Lawson have been recruited to the campaign. They have repeatedly rehashed denialist nostrums for publication in the right-wing press, including the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph.

But the result of all their efforts is that only 11% of British people believe that the climate isn’t changing as a result of human activity, according to a recent poll, and in the US, the figure is the same.

Yale University continuously tracks US public opinion and finds that Americans’ belief in the reality of global warming increased by 13% over two and a half years, from 57% in January 2010 to 70% in September 2012.

And the number of Americans who say global warming is not happening fell by almost half, from 20% to just 12%.

The reaction in Australia to the decision of new right-wing prime minister Tony Abbott (who famously called climate change "crap") to shut down the government-funded independent Climate Commission just two days after taking office, confirms that the deniers are on the wrong side of public opinion.

The commission was headed by Tim Flannery, one of the world's top climate scientists. It produced groundbreaking studies on the potential for solar power and the background to the extreme weather currently experienced in Australia.

In a matter of days Flannery and his colleagues were back in business as a publicly-funded, independent foundation. Individuals, companies and organisations from all over Australia sent in money to restart the work.

As Flannery points out, 123 heat records were broken across Australia last summer and the bushfire season has begun already, at least a month early. Australians know crap when they see it.

The IPCC has dealt as best it can with the fact that the rate of warming has slowed over the past 15 years. Scientists are still not entirely agreed on the reasons for the hiatus, though the absorption of heat by the deep oceans is a major suspect.

To accommodate this uncertainty, the report widens the predicted range of lowest and highest temperature increase scenarios from between 1.5C to 4C to between 0.9C and 5C.

And in the final analysis the science shows that humanity is on course over the next few decades to raise global temperatures by more than 2C compared with pre-industrial levels.

However, the fact that the public is increasingly immune to climate deniers' self-serving message, does not mean politicians will be galvanised by this report to act on climate change. Quite the opposite.

Here’s just one example. David Cameron's adviser preparing for next year's global climate summit in Paris is one Tara Singh, a former lobbyist for the energy corporation Centrica. I don't think she will be proposing a binding deal on emissions reductions or cuts in fossil fuel subsidies.

Just as the Australian people themselves are now having to sustain climate science so we will all, as a global population, have to find ways to act on it through a renewal of democracy, legal protection for our natural home and a co-operative, sustainable energy economy based on insulation and renewables.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Move over Ukip, One Nation Labour is the real deal

Move over Nigel Farage and your eurosceptic-patriotic Ukip outfit. If you want real social populism (as opposed to social-ism), Ed Miliband and his One Nation Labour are the better brand, or so he would like you to believe.

If you think that “Britain can do better than this”, Miliband will lead the way. In fact, he used the phrase no fewer than 17 times during his speech yesterday.

One Nation Labour is to become a party of small business and angry consumers, raging at the energy corporations (while leaving them in control), threatening land owners and praising the armed forces.

Above all, it’s British. So the Scots have to join in, and forget dreams of independence which, if achieved, would prevent Britain from “doing better than this”.

After setting out to overturn the roots of the party of labour by severing its formal connections with the trades unions, Miliband is on a rebranding exercise which must have his Marxist father turning in his grave.

And - we must presume from the rapturous standing ovation greeting his confident, hour long speech - he has the agreement and support of the majority if not all of the delegates present.

The emphatic turn to nationalism was already evident way back in 2007 in the days of Gordon “British jobs for British workers” Brown. But Miliband’s One Nation Labour is frankly breathtaking. The word xenophobia comes to mind.

Just so we all know where his allegiances lie, Miliband opened with a heartfelt tribute to “our troops” and “our brave police”. Hundreds of thousands of former miners who battled the police in 1984 in defence of jobs will take note.  

Now the new “mass membership” party stands up for 1.5 million small businesses (good) against the strong, vested interests identified as Rupert Murdoch, and the six big suppliers of gas and electricity (bad).

Miliband’s view is as narrow and blinkered as it is possible to be. The world outside the United Kingdom consists only of the unmentioned, unidentified “others” who are to be defeated in the “race to the top”, plus cheap labour shipped in by recruitment agencies and gangmasters. Does he mean China? The US? Germany?

How the race to the top victory is to be achieved without driving wage levels to the global minimum must remain a mystery. All that’s proposed is a mandatory charitable donation from big to small businesses and a form of barter, trading apprenticeships for immigrant labour.

Somehow, exports will increase and Britain will become great. Again. Rule Britannia.

The One Nation populist appeal is clearly designed to outflank Ukip – way out on the right wing. It’s a real mystery why some are attempting to label Ed as “red”. Just for proposing to regulate the energy market?

What was missing from the speech was much more interesting than what we actually heard.

Apart from the slow pace of “recovery”, no mention of the global crisis, no mention of Europe, the US, China, Africa, the Middle East, anywhere at all. And no mention of capitalism, naturally.

Nothing about the majority of non-tax paying global corporations who laugh in the face of national governments, of which Amazon and Google are just the most famous.

And, bizarrely missing from the demagogic message, was anything bar a passing favourable mention of the banks, some of whom it seems pay a living wage!

Nationalism? Support for the little man, the small business? As the Financial Times noted in assessing Miliband’s speech: “There is whiff of Poujadiste populism about all this.” Pierre Poujade led a briefly successful right-wing populist movement of small traders and peasants against the Paris elite in the 1950s.

One Nation Labour is in a naked bidding war for votes, playing the nationalist card to rally a disillusioned public, in a shameless effort to win the 2015 election with policies snatched out of the air.

With the electorate’s disdain for Westminster, big business and the rich growing at a rate of knots, Miliband wants to cash in on widespread discontent. Be warned: One Nation Labour populism is a dangerous road to go down.   

Gerry Gold

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Egypt's military ratchets up the misery in Gaza

The military-led Egyptian regime, which yesterday banned the Muslim Brotherhood as well as its political wing which won last year’s elections, is also ensuring that Palestinians cannot escape from the biggest prison camp in the world.

We are talking about Gaza, where 1.6 million people – most of them UN-registered refugees - live in a tiny enclave, with its borders controlled by Egypt and Israel. It’s never been easy getting in and out but things have taken a turn for the worse since the Egyptian army deposed Mohammed Morsi as president and then butchered thousands of his supporters.

The military regime accused the Hamas government in Gaza of being in league with the Muslim Brotherhood government. This slender allegation has been used as a pretext to impose draconian controls on the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Tunnels formerly used to bring goods into Gaza – they have been a lifeline – have been collapsing on top of the smugglers.

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says only an average of 150 people per day have been allowed to cross into Egypt after its authorities closed the Rafah crossing following the July coup. This was just 15% of the number of people allowed to cross in June.

One of the consequences of the Egyptian-imposed blockade is that money is running short in Gaza and, as a result, importing goods from Israel has also slowed to a trickle. Gazans requiring medical treatment in Egypt have also been affected by the closure.

The Egyptian crackdown has sent the Islamic-inspired Hamas government into a tailspin. It is desperately trying to avoid a confrontation with the Egyptian military. Initially, Hamas condemned the “terrible massacres” in Egypt following the overthrow of Morsi.

Since then, backtracking has been the order of the day. Earlier this month, Gaza's prime minister Ismail Haniya condemned "attempts to draw the resistance into sideline battles away from the [real] enemy [Israel]". He added: "The government is not steering the people towards fighting Egypt or towards aggression against any state, regardless of the unprecedented pressure and circumstances the Palestinian people are under."

Adnan Abu Amr of Umma University in Gaza, said: "Hamas faces a crisis and strangulation that is forcing it to step back and minimise the chances of a clash with Egypt. (They hope) this will stop any unexpected Egyptian moves.. The situation "requires that Hamas appear flexible. Standing up to the Egyptian army is not in their interest."

For ordinary Gazans, the situation remains bleak. As students all round the world settle down for their new year, spare a thought for Manar Alzray, 23, an honours graduate in English language and education. She had planned to continue her education in Canada, where a foundation generously granted her $62,000 to take up a place at Trent University.

But the closing of the Rafah crossing prevented her from completing all the formalities at the Canadian embassy in Cairo. Her online application hit some technical problems and the term has started without her.

“Yet, I have not lost hope,” says Alzray, who has received some of the best grades and test scores in Gaza. “My application to Edinburgh has been pushed to next year, and I am currently applying to Oxford University and the University of Cambridge as well. Next year, I am determined to be in Britain. I will have a pocket full of money and I will hold my head up high. I will be happy, and so will my parents. In 10 years, I will be telling my children this story and laugh at the hard times.”

Let’s hope she’s right. But with the Israeli government continuing to block any movement towards an independent Palestine with its settlement programme and the US-backed and financed Egyptian military regime engaged in its own crackdown, optimism is in short supply.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, September 23, 2013

Labour in race to the bottom over immigration

Ed Miliband says he wants to halt the “race to the bottom” in wages, jobs and employment rights. Fine sentiments, except that when it comes down to policies, Labour is in its very own race to the bottom over immigration.

On Friday, Nigel Farage, the leader of the nationalist-populist Ukip, blamed migrant workers from Eastern Europe for many of Britain’s woes. He ludicrously claimed that “Romanian crime gangs” were at the centre of a London crime wave. Farage demanded action to prevent the free movement of Romanian workers into Britain from January 1 under European Union rules.

Less than 48 hours later, Miliband and his immigrant spokesperson Chris Bryant were at it. Trailed in the media as a policy that offered “a Brit job for each foreign worker hired”, Miliband was quoted as saying: “Any firm that wants to bring in a foreign worker from outside the EU will also have to train up someone who is a local worker."

In a rambling interview with Andrew Marr, the Labour leader added: "I do want to get low skill immigration down and therefore overall immigration down, yes. In our first year in office we will legislate for an immigration bill which has secure control of our borders, cracks down on exploitation of workers coming here undercutting workers already here.” For good measure, Bryant in an article for the Huffington Post, warned about the dangers of a “growing reliance on overseas workers”.

All this is pandering to the most reactionary point of view, that workers’ wages have been driven down by cheap labour from other countries. This is nationalism pure and simple, looking for a scapegoat when the causes are to be found in the economic system itself.

Miliband – first generation British, by the way from a family that fled Nazi persecution – implies that if low skilled workers are blocked off, wages would rise in proportion. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. How, for example, does Labour explain that in earlier periods of mass immigration to Britain, in the 1950s and 60s, wages did not fall and unemployment was relatively low?

The movement of workers is an expression of the globalisation of the capitalist economy that has happened largely at the expense of wages, conditions and jobs in every country, including the United States. Here, average weekly earnings are still 14% below their peak achieved in 1972, having fallen 40 years in a row.

In Britain, as the power of globalised capital to dictate to governments and trade unions grew, so the share of wealth going to workers actually fell. The wage share of annual national income (GDP) reached a high of 64.5% in 1975, falling to a record post-war low of 51.7% in 1996 and was 53.2% in 2008 – close to where it was more than a decade before

As the 2009 TUC report Unfair to Middling explained: “The declining wage share has been driven by the introduction of flexible labour markets since the 1980s (with the paring back of employment protection rules); economic liberalisation (including privatisation); the increasing constraints on collective bargaining; a reduction in the demand for unskilled labour resulting from technical change; and the global transfer of jobs triggered by globalisation.”

And in another report, The Great Wages Grab, the TUC found that by 2010 the average full time person in work would be paid £7,000 more than they actually were if wages had kept up with economic growth and “if the best paid had not increased their wages at the expense of everyone else”.

And this was after 13 years of New Labour governments!

Miliband’s shameful race to the bottom over race and immigration is already suffering internal contradictions. The original policy of getting employers to offer an apprenticeship to a local person for every “foreign worker” hired has fallen foul of the requirement to make jobs available to workers from all European Union member states.

With living standards for most falling away rapidly – a situation certain to worsen when fuel and transport costs rise sharply in the next few months – Miliband and Labour are looking for anyone but capitalism to blame. One Nation Labour is as reactionary as its new name would suggest.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor


Friday, September 20, 2013

One Nation Labour is Blairism Mark II

Over the weekend, rebranded One Nation Labour will almost certainly vote for proposals to end the historic relationship between the trade unions and the party they founded over a century ago.

When One Nation Labour assembles in Brighton for its annual conference, they will have before them a slim document from former general secretary Ray Collins. Vaguely worded, it calls for a consultation on changes that are essentially already on their way.

Dubbed as an interim report, Building A One Nation Labour Party is designed to get the trade unions to act like turkeys and vote for Christmas. Behind the bland words about Ed Miliband wanting to “mend not end” the relations with trade unionists, there is another agenda.

The Labour leader can’t be a One Nation politician – he has borrowed the idea from the 19th century Tory prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who claimed he was representing all classes – until he distances himself from “special interest” groups.

These are now seen as including the trade unions, who represent six million working men and women in Britain and their families. Up until now, those in unions affiliated to Labour have had part of their subs transferred to the party, giving them a nominal membership.

Responding to Tory jibes about “being in the pocket of the unions” – in reality, nothing could be further from the truth – Miliband wants to replace this arrangement. In future, trade unionists will have to personally join Labour. No matter that the party will lose up to £9 million a year in subs this way – this is One Nation Labour in practice.

Some unions like the GMB and Unison have expressed their opposition. But what’s the betting they endorse the Collins’ report on Sunday, paving the way for a special conference next March to ratify concrete rule changes?

After all, that’s what they did in 1995, when the then leader Tony Blair and his deputy Gordon Brown told the unions that dropping the commitment to socialism in the party’s constitution would help them to win the general election. Miliband is saying the same thing.

Tellingly, Collins sees the change in the relationship with the trade unions as part of the process that the Blairites began, with his report saying: “Importantly, these proposals go with the grain of the last big reforms of the Labour [Party] 20 years ago.”

In fact, what’s the difference between Miliband and Blair in their approach to politics? Not much in essence. At the 2004 Labour conference, Blair pledged to put “power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few”. For good measure, he added: “It is New Labour that now wears the one nation mantle.

So when Miliband told the Trades Union Congress that “change must happen” and that this was “only way to build a truly One Nation party so we can build a One Nation country", he was telling us nothing new. He wears a hollow crown.

Either as New Labour or One Nation Labour, it’s the same grand deception. Miliband, like Blair and Brown before him, believes that ordinary people can somehow benefit from a ruthless market capitalism, with a few adjustments made here and there.

Miliband’s One Nation nonsense is founded on his vision of a “responsible capitalism” which will pay higher wages because it’s somehow good for the economy. Yet there are many Britains, many nations: the stinking rich living in luxury homes and ordinary people falling behind with their rent because of the bedroom tax; global corporations and their shareholders on the one side and those on zero hours contracts on the other; the wealthy with their hold on the political process and an electorate whose votes count for little.

None of this will change while we continue to live in a class-divided society.

As Labour gathers, some polls put the hated Tories on level pegging. In the end, you need a microscope to spot the difference between the original One Nation party and the pretenders to the throne.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Naomi Klein also relies on corporations to deliver on climate change

An unseemly row is raging between author Naomi Klein and some big environmental groups  Klein made the shocking claim that they are more damaging to the fight against climate change than climate change deniers, because of links with the corporations and their dependence on the market.

Ian Pooley, vice-President of the Environmental Defence Fund, has hit back, accusing Klein of publicity-seeking and of "waging ideological warfare instead of tackling climate change". He points to his own organisation's success in campaigning for the US Clean Air Act as an example of how partnership with business can work.

In reality, the Clean Air Act was passed in the teeth of opposition from coal burners and was then watered down by George W. Bush. Now President Obama has reneged on a promise to reverse that, because of the need to reduce regulatory burdens on business during the "recovery".

In other words the drive for growth and profits will always trump environmental benefit, and gains can always be reversed.

So what is Klein's alternative view? She believes that climate change is "potentially the biggest disaster-capitalism free-for-all that we've seen yet". "Disaster capitalism", is Klein's term for corporations making huge profits out of crises.

In Shock Doctrine she even suggested that the corporations organised crises to provide fresh opportunities or as a cover for forcing through unpopular policies. But surely capitalism is not just one big conspiracy and on the whole prefers consumers who are alive and waged?

In any case, Klein suggests that corporations and governments have a real grip on the situation, and can manipulate situations at will. In fact, as the crash of 2007-8 demonstrated, they often have no idea what is really going on within their own system and cannot control the outcomes of market forces at will.

So how should people fight back against this allegedly clever and manipulative system? Klein says that in responding to climate change we can "rebuild the public sphere, strengthen our communities, have work with dignity and address the financial crisis and the ecological crisis at the same time. But I think it’s by building coalitions with people, not with corporations, that you are going to get those wins."

Klein highlights as an example the coalition of 100 environmental groups who are calling on the EU to scrap the failed carbon trading system and "start really talking about cutting emissions at home instead of doing this shell game".

But how is that different from what Poole and the EDF advocate? It still leaves us dependent on corporations and governments that serve them. In the one case the goal is to achieve it through regulation and in the other through pressure from below. But both these approaches leave the capitalist system, the cause of the eco-social crisis, untouched.

As former Bolivian ambassador to the UN Pablo Solon writes: "The preservation of nature and the rights of Mother Earth cannot be based on the expectation that the capitalist world will pay for it based on their environmental debt or that the payment will come without conditions and strings attached.

"Yes, it is the right and just thing to demand as they have historical responsibility and the polluter needs to pay. The reality though is that we will never be able to make the capitalists pay until we defeat and replace the capitalist system."

In the end the row between Klein and Poole is a fight in an empty house, where two almost identical visions argue over marginal differences.

At least the EDF recognises that we need to fundamentally change our economy, industry and mode of production. Of course their efforts to do this within the system cannot succeed, but then endless protest and activism cannot do it either.

As Solon says: "Defending the rights of nature cannot be based on the promise of compensation. Nature, in the first place, is not a bargaining chip. Nature is not only our home, we belong to nature."

We must aim for a revolutionary transformation in the way we relate to nature, and to do that we must end the capitalism system of unfettered exploitation, once and for all.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Double, double toil and trouble

There are plans afoot in the United States to block the construction of new coal-fired plants – except for those that capture and store greenhouse gas emissions. China, meanwhile, wants to block new coal-fired installations near major cities to curb air pollution.

But do the expected announcements stack up in terms of halting runaway climate change? In the last 25 years, China’s annual consumption of coal quadrupled. It leapt from 1 billion tons in 1988 to 4 billion now. Despite the target of reducing coal’s 70% contribution to energy production to 65% by 2017,  the continuous pursuit of growth will see total consumption increase further.

Close to 40% of US electricity came from coal in the first half of 2013, so the Environmental Protection Agency proposal is certain to be legally challenged by the hugely profitable coal companies who are arguing that carbon capture technology is unproven.

The US proposal is made possible by two developments. Firstly, fracking for gas has reduced the domestic price of oil to about a quarter of the price of what it was when the world’s richest country was dependent on supplies from the Middle East.

As a result, US coal companies have started exporting coal to Europe where consumption has been growing for the last three years.

The second, even less reliable, factor is this month’s test of a commercial-scale carbon capture coal plant in Kemper County, Mississippi.  Development of the plant has been long and difficult. Mississippi taxpayers are being obliged to stump up at least $2.4 billion of the final cost – subsidising the for-profit Southern Company.

But there’s disappointment for those hoping that the end of carbon emissions is in sight. The madness continues. The business model of the new plant depends on recovering part of the cost by pumping the captured carbon dioxide into a nearby oilfield, enabling more of the liquid black gold to be pushed to the surface. Doh! 

So these two announcements don’t add up to much when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. The scale that’s required to halt and reverse global warming requires a whole new set of production and social circumstances that are way beyond capitalism’s growth-driven system to deliver.

We can also draw on Shakespeare to help us break the eco-social logjam. According to the cultural blogger Wilsonian, Shakespeare dramatised the reversal of human nature in Macbeth as a tragedy of climate change.  
 “The character arc of Macbeth is a synecdoche [a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa] for humanity under capitalism. Macbeth's temptation toward power and sovereignty is the same temptation that lurks in the dark center of capitalism, and it is that temptation that desecrates the earth.”

Ending the rule of capital is within our grasp. As the Wilsonian explains: “The irony of Macbeth is the irony of capitalism in that his rampant will to power sows his own ruin. Anticipating Marx' famous likening of the capitalist bourgeoisie to a ‘sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up’, Shakespeare dramatizes Macbeth's temptation, ascension, and eventual dissolution through the witches' demonic prophecy.

“Shakespeare's witches further resonate with Marx' diagnosis of capitalism – ‘all that is solid melts into air’ - when they too ‘melt / as breath into the wind”. 

We can’t promise a performance of Macbeth at our third “Communicating the Revolution” weekend event on November 16-17. But we can assure you that a presentation by an eminent astrophysicist on evolution and revolution in nature, and what it means in social terms, will be worth listening to. Join us to discuss the eco-social crisis, and what we need to do to turn it around.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Americans find their anti-war voice and throw Obama into disarray

President Obama’s volte face on launching an attack on Syria has little to do with his desire for a peaceful solution to the country’s civil war and everything to do with the ongoing crisis of his administration, which is marked by a lack of public support for military action.

Obama must have thought he had appointed a seasoned veteran as secretary of state when John Kerry, a former presidential candidate and a fluent French speaker, succeeded the experienced Hillary Clinton. But Kerry’s bungling last week saw Obama’s war plans unravel at a rate of knots.

Support in Congress for military action was already in doubt when Kerry said in London that a strike would be “unbelievably small” by comparison with Iraq’s “shock and awe” onslaught in 2003. Republicans prepared to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on Syria, rapidly backed away from lending him their votes in the Senate on the grounds that such an attack would make America look weak and stupid.

Before that, the House of Representatives was showing an overwhelming majority against an attack, driven on by opinion polls showing over 60% of the public against military action. By all accounts, Kerry bungled a second time when he suggested that if Syria destroyed its chemical weapons stocks, a deal could be reached with the Assad regime.

While the State Department and the warlike UN ambassador Helen Rice – she was for “regime change” in Syria – desperately tried to dismiss Kerry’s remarks, Obama breathed a sigh of relief. He quickly took up Russia’s support for the idea and, as we know, a deal of sorts has been struck and the vote in Congress abandoned.

The fact that the autocrat Putin, who runs a ruthless regime in a Russia dominated by oligarchs, where opponents often find themselves jailed, could embarrass Obama politically by writing an opinion piece in the New York Times about the need for “consensus” and referring to the Founding Fathers of the US constitution, only rubbed salt in the wound.

More about that later. Just to say, however, that the latest poll shows that just 36% say they approve of Obama’s handling of the Syria situation, while 53% disapprove. There is overwhelming support for the US-Russia deal, however.

Meanwhile, the sense of crisis surrounding the administration deepened when Obama accepted former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers' withdrawal from the race to be head of the US central bank. He was among the front-runners to succeed Ben Bernanke as head of the Federal Reserve.

Summers was known as Mr Deregulation under president Clinton, with some now holding him responsible in part for the financial collapse of 2007-8. He was also in favour of switching off the Fed’s printing of money sooner rather than later, which sent markets into a spin. Democrats also opposed his nomination because in 2005 he suggested that women had less innate ability in maths and science than men. Ironic, then, that the job looks likely to go to current Federal Reserve vice-chairman Janet Yellen. She would be the first woman in the role.

Back to Syria. The Putin-Obama deal is intended to reinforce the status quo while putting any political solution to a destructive civil war on the back burner. Russia can keep its ally Assad in power, ridiculing any suggestion that the regime would use chemcial weapons when it is quite capable of doing so and the UN report suggests it did. Moscow can keep selling arms to Syria and retain its naval base, while maintaining its historic sphere of influence in the region which dates back to Tsarist times. Obama is relieved that he didn’t suffer defeat in Congress for a military adventure that could have easily sparked a wider Middle East war.

In all this, the right of the Syrian people to self-determination, free from the malign influence of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and other states with their own agendas, is never mentioned. Major power politics has prevailed once again over the interests of ordinary people. However, as the events in Washington show, the American people have found their anti-war voice which makes you optimistic that the old order can be challenged.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, September 16, 2013

Weapons of financial mass destruction threaten new meltdown

On the fifth anniversary of the great global financial meltdown, set in motion by the collapse of Lehman Brothers on Wall Street, the government’s narrative about the state of the economy is odds with those in the know.

On the one side, the ConDems are talking up indicators that could indicate that things are on the up and up. They hail accelerating economic growth, rising house prices, official figures about falling unemployment, record profits for the banks and continuing low interest rates.

But sober financial experts on both sides of the Atlantic warn that none of the causes of the biggest crash in history have been removed. Indeed, quite the opposite.

Chief among the indicators that another meltdown is looming is what some term “the financialisation” of the economy. This is a renewed and massive increase in the power and size of the banks and the global money markets. Alongside this are huge rises in government debts.

At the same time, the oversight that governments, financial experts and international institutions insisted was needed to prevent a repeat has not happened. Putting in rules and regulations in place – with powers to enforce them – has proved to be impossible.

Daily Telegraph financial writer Jeremy Warner has warned that “the underlying fault lines that created the crisis in the first place” have worsened. And his concern about the absence of serious financial reform is amply reinforced by Time magazine’s cover story, “How Wall Street Won, the myth of financial reform”.

Rana Foroohar writes that the “financialisation of the American economy, a process by which the nation has become inexorably embedded in Wall Street” just keeps rolling on. She notes:

US financial institutions remain free to gamble billions on risky derivatives around the world. A crisis in Europe, for instance could still potentially devastate a US institution that made a bad bet and in turn, send shockwaves through the $2.7 trillion held in US money market funds, much of which is owned by Main Street investors.”

Faroohar’s recommendations point to the scale of the problem. She says that what is needed is to fix the too-big-to-fail problem; limit leverage; expose “weapons of mass financial destruction”; bring shadow banking into the light and “reboot the culture of finance”.

In her dreams!

Her argument is reinforced by the top US Federal Reserve official responsible for oversight, Daniel Tarullo.  He says that regulators should force the biggest banks to reduce their borrowings and improve their liquidity. Post-financial crisis rules were inadequate and left too much “too-big-to-fail risk”.

Despite new financial rules introduced by president Obama, the reality is that regulation has proved impossible. An extraordinary investigation by journalist Massimo Calabresi demonstrates how the privatisation of banking oversight has turned financial regulation into a massively profitable  - and politically incestuous – industry.

Under new US laws, private accounting firms have taken over from publicly- accountable examiners. The complexity of global banking and the legal attempt to “control” them have become so complex that it appears that only outside consultants can actually fathom them.

But this “insider knowledge” comes at a deeply compromising price. The reality is that the “the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street [is] still spinning like a top”, Calabresi concludes.

Julie Williams was disgraced in her role as primary regulator for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. But this did not prevent her from becoming gamekeeper-turned-poacher. Earlier this year she was hired by the giant accounting firm Promontory as managing director. And, you’ve guessed it, Promontory helps banks self-regulate and find a route round government oversight. Promontory raked in nearly half the £1 billion consultancy fees paid by the banks to private consultants.

The story of Promontory and the US regulators is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg and that independent – or any other - regulation is a pipe dream. The last five years are proof if proof be needed that the financial markets are an out-of-control beast.

The global capitalist economy remains debt driven while the financial sector still resembles the house of cards that fell apart in 2007. Stand by for Meltdown II.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win secretary

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mail sell-off is market state's 'wild experiment'

The privatisation of the Royal Mail after centuries in state hands is not simply a carve-up of a public service for the benefit of big business and shareholders. It’s also another step down the road towards a fully-fledged market state.

A market state’s task is to provide opportunities for capitalism within the formerly public realm. That can mean everything from taking over parts of the NHS, running prisons, operating trains and – now – delivering letters and parcels.

This vision of the contemporary capitalist state is shared by all the mainstream parties. Royal Mail can be privatised quickly because the previous New Labour government created the conditions for this to happen.

In 2006, the Royal Mail lost its 350-year old monopoly and the British postal market became fully open to competition. A bid to privatise the service failed after a revolt by backbench Labour MPs.

But last year, legislation was passed which created the conditions for next month’s sell-off. The mail service will be sold on the stock market and quickly fall into the hands of equity funds, pension funds and global investors. It will be run for profit which means a ruthless rationalisation of services, especially outside the major towns and cities.

Naturally, the sale of Royal Mail has been brought forward to try and beat the programme of strikes planned by the Communication Workers Union.  The CWU is pinning its hopes on a Labour government renationalising the service. That’s not going to happen, as Ed Miliband’s party is committed to the present government’s spending plans. And that doesn’t include spending £3 billion or so in taking the royal mail back into public ownership.

Labour’s policies are being shaped around Miliband’s idea of “pre-distribution” and “responsible capitalism”. The role of the state here is to encourage and “incentivise” the private sector to pay better wages and treat their workers better. Old-style state control it isn’t.

As for Miliband’s would-be partners in a future coalition government, it is significant that the privatisation of the mail service is being pushed through with enthusiasm by Vince Cable, the business secretary. Once touted as a Liberal Democrat that Labour could work with, Cable is totally pro-business.

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU, points out the overwhelming hostility among the public to privatisation, with 70% opposed according to one poll. But that cuts little ice with a government responsible for a national debt that is increasing at a rate of £3,200 a second. The sale of the Royal Mail won’t make a huge difference, but every little helps.

Hayes is confident that his members – 96% of  who say they are against privatisation, despite being offered a bribe in the form of shares –  will vote for a programme of rolling strikes. “Privatisation will destroy a national public service and lead to a race to the bottom on jobs, pay and conditions. It is vandalism, and must be stopped.”

But how? The British capitalist market state is the most advanced in its ambitions to divest itself of its former role as custodian of public assets and will sell them to whoever wants to buy them.  Railways, airports, water, nuclear power stations and much more are owned by global corporations and banks whereas the American state jealously guards national assets from foreign control.

Even when it comes to the mail, only a handful of countries have privatised their services. In Argentina, it was such a disaster that it had to be renationalised. A taste of what British postal workers can expect is shown by the experiences in the Netherlands . PostNL, formerly a subsidiary of TNT, is driving down wages and conditions and is planning to restrict deliveries to three days a week.

So Hayes is partly right when he says the ConDems’ plans amount to a “wild experiment”. But that’s the nature of the beast. Rather than relying on Labour, the CWU would be better off joining with the teachers, firefighters and other sections coming into conflict with the coalition this autumn.

Their aim should be to develop support for action to oust the government and launch a discussion on what kind of new, democratic economic and political system should replace the discredited market state. That’s the way to protect and develop public services.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, September 12, 2013

For a world without the WTO and 'free trade agreements'

From the supermarkets that dominate food sales, through distribution systems, to agriculture and its increasing dependence on chemicals and back down the chain to gene research, the story is one of the concentration of power in fewer and fewer corporations.

By 2011, as this report shows, the world’s top 10 seed companies controlled three quarters (75%) of the market for their products. The same six global corporations
control 75% of all private sector plant breeding research; 60% of the commercial seed market and 76% of global agrochemical sales. Some also have links to animal pharmaceuticals.

For the authors, the ETC Group, “this creates a vulnerability in the world food system” not seen since the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in 1945.

No one is anyone any longer much surprised by the destructive impacts of the competitive pursuit of profits on people’s lives and on the ecological systems that we depend upon. As the ETC point out:

“The agro-industrial farming system has been spectacularly successful at encouraging uniformity, destroying diversity, polluting soil and water, corroding human health and impoverishing farm labour”

In its 2013  report, Cost of Inaction, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that, for smallholder farmers in 37 sub-Saharan African countries, the costs of pesticide poisonings (lost work days, outpatient medical treatment, and inpatient hospitalisation) amounted to $4.4 billion in 2005 (not including the cost of lost lives and livelihoods, environmental health effects and effects of other chemicals).

UNEP projects the total cost of pesticide-related illness and injury in sub-Saharan Africa between 2005 and 2020 could reach a staggering $90 billion.

You might even laugh out loud in a kind of helpless desperation at the latest antics of the big pesticide producers Bayer and Monsanto whose products are designed to kill insects. Bayer produces neonicotinoid-based chemicals which scientific studies show to be implicated in the massive die-off of the bees which all of humanity depends on to pollinate the crops we eat.

In an attempt to fend off any extension - and even reverse - the new European Union ban on neonicotinoids, Bayer has embarked on a rebranding exercise, presenting itself as a promoter of bee-health. Monsanto, the world’s number one seed producer, and manufacturer of killer chemical Roundup, goes a step further. It has bought Beeologics, an R&D company providing targeted control of pests and diseases. Its mission is “to become the guardian of bee health worldwide.” LOL.

But it’s not all bad news. Corporate control of the food chain is very far from being a completed process. There’s still time to end it.

The vast majority of farmers - peasant farmers who continue to feed 70% of the world’s population –  are not tied to the corporate food chain. And the majority of the world’s meat and milk is still produced by small-scale farmers in mixed crop-and-livestock systems, rather than the new profit–led systems of industrialised intensive production.

La Via Campesina, representing the interests of small, peasant farmers worldwide, puts forward its proposals to coincide with the latest meeting of the World Trade Organisation now underway in Bali. 

“We are living a global emergency situation, greater than any that we have lived, and intellectual property rights for profit should not have precedence over nature and humanity. Trade is needed but a different kind of trade, one that is not based on the exploitation of people and nature and whose rules benefit the communities and not the corporations.

“The kind of trade we need is complementary and equitable trade not corporate free trade. To really address the climate crisis, a world without the WTO and the FTAs [free trade agreements], one that is not dominated by transnational corporations and the global free trade regimes, is necessary!

“We have to change the system, and we have to do this now.”

What more can you say?

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Attenborough's 'theory' of evolution is nonsense

Once again Sir David Attenborough presents a mish-mash of scientific fact and fiction, to promote his ideas about the need to clamp down on population growth. In an interview with the Radio Times, he makes the astonishing claim that humans have stopped evolving.

"We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 90-95% of our babies that are born. We are the only species to have put a halt to natural selection, of its own free will, as it were," he tells this week's edition.

"Stopping natural selection is not as important, or depressing, as it might sound – because our evolution is now cultural … We can inherit a knowledge of computers or television, electronics, aeroplanes and so on."

Scientifically speaking this is rubbish. Evolution is not about healthy babies, it is about genes. As evolutionists like Stephen Jay Gould explain, evolution is actually co-evolution. It results not from the strength of a gene, but from the interaction of any organism with its environment.

There are billions of genetic interactions - many more will die out after one two generations than go on to become established in whole populations. But for these interactions to continue, a rich and diverse environment is crucial. After the great extinction following the Cambrian era, 90% of species were wiped out and the evolutionary process moved at a snail’s pace for the next 15 million years.

Evolution is simply alert to the opportunity for adaptation; survival is a by-product, as Dr Ian Rickard explains in his critique of Attenborough's views.

Attenborough claims human cleverness will prevent us from becoming extinct. But that is not necessarily true. There is a fragility to life on earth, and it is entirely possible to reach tipping points where life is no longer sustainable. If the absolute power of capitalist-induced alienation is not ended, we humans can create an environment where we cannot live.

We will not be able to soldier on despite all our technology and cleverness. Some 99.6% of all the species of life that have ever existed on earth are now extinct, and we continue to eliminate more, in what is being called "the 6th mass extinction". We may end up without the genetic material to continue to evolve.

So what conclusions does Attenborough draw from his ideas? Shockingly, that the Chinese Communist Party's enforced one-child policy was probably, overall, a good thing. "There's no question it's produced all kinds of personal tragedies," he concedes, but adds: "On the other hand, the Chinese themselves recognise that had they not done so there would be several million more mouths in the world today than there are now."

Attenborough uses this argument to support his views about “sustainable consumption”. But there is no logic to this argument! During this period of forced implementation of the one-child policy, which held back the population, China actually made the world less sustainable. It became the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the largest polluter.  

This population argument is just one more distraction from a recognition of the real cause of the greater ecological crisis – the global capitalist system with its drive for continuous growth. The phenomenal leap in greenhouse cases coincides precisely with the intense globalisation period that was launched 30 or so years ago.

Attenborough is saying we can carry on business as usual if we can only eliminate a few million "mouths". That is a dehumanising claim. It gives comfort to those who are insisting we must endure a period of "destructive capitalism" in order to overcome the current crisis.

While his TV programmes may be fairly illuminating at times, Attenborough’s views on population and evolution are very, very reactionary.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Distrust of politicians reaches new heights

We live in a Britain where a clear majority see themselves as working class, where trust in politicians continues to plummet and where new generations are the least likely to have party loyalties and to vote at general elections.

Lack of endorsement of the current political system of representative democracy is the clear message that shines through the latest British Social Attitudes survey that tracks people’s views, comparing data gathered over a 30-year period.

What emerges is a snapshot of an electorate that is independent, interested in politics but increasingly disconnected from existing institutions and the way they are ruled. The politics chapter is worth studying in detail. Key findings include:

-      75% agreed that the political parties are only interested in votes, up from 64% in 1987.
-      Two-thirds of those in the early 20s or early 30s identify with a particular party, compared with 85% in the same age group back in 1983.
-      In 1987, almost half (46%) of the British public said they had a “very strong” or “fairly strong” identification with a party. That’s now down to 31%.
-      Fewer people have voted in the last three general elections than they have in the past and researchers say we could be on a “downward trajectory”.
-      There’s been a long-term decline in the numbers saying it’s their duty to vote, falling from 76% in 1987 to 62% in 2011.
-      Interest in political issues has actually risen, with 36% saying that have a great deal/a lot of interest compared with 29% in 1986. Most of the increase is to be found amongst older people, however.
-      Non-electoral participation has largely increased over 30 years. Many more now say they have signed a petition on taken part in a protest.

When it comes to “trust” in politicians, the figures are quite remarkable. One in three (32%) say they almost never trust government, up from a mere 11% in 1986. And  the proportion who “just about always” or “most of the time” trust government has almost halved, falling from 38%  to just 18%.

So that’s over eight out of ten voters who don’t care to lend their trust to government. This scepticism is currently reflected in the polls that reject any plans to attack Syria, whatever the situation over chemical weapons.

Contemporary Britain, says the BSA report, is “marked by strong and pervasive class
divisions”  - where 60% think of themselves as working class -  which in turn “lead to sustained and possibly increasing inequalities across classes”. The authors find it a “paradox” that at the same time fewer people identify with any political party.

There is a relatively simple explanation for this, however which the report does not delve into. Labour in particular has made strenuous efforts to distance itself from representing the interests of the working class. This morning, Labour leader Ed Miliband is, for example, telling the trade unions that their traditional membership links with the party have to change so that he can stand a better chance of winning the next election.

Behind Miliband’s shift is a more profound process that’s been under way for about the same period as that covered by the BSA, namely corporate-driven globalisation with its dependence on deregulated markets, low wages and fewer and fewer workplace rights.

New Labour bought into this and became a neo-liberal, capitalist party. This is something union leaders still find hard to stomach or acknowledge while ordinary working people clocked on to it some time ago. No one should be surprised that fewer and fewer people want to “identify” with Labour in these circumstances.    
The BSA survey is a valuable piece of research. It paints a picture of a democracy in decline, with the major parties committed to the status quo. Giving the right to vote a new significance will require a fundamental shift in the political system, along the lines of creating a real democracy. You could do worse than support projects like the Agreement of the People for the 21st century campaign and others fighting for democratic emancipation.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Monday, September 09, 2013

Unions losing their 'voice' as Labour plans long goodbye

Frances O’Grady, the first woman general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, says “trade unions should have a strong political voice”. She’s so right because as things stand, their traditional “voice” in the shape of Labour is fading away.

The last week has been wracked with tensions and real as well as apparent turn-arounds in the trade unions’ crucial and historic relationship with the Labour Party. A schism emerged when one of the party’s biggest donors, the GMB, announced that it would cut its affiliation fees by 90% in response to planned rule changes by Labour.

These will terminate the present arrangement, whereby members of affiliated unions have part of their subs forwarded to the Labour Party. In future, individual members would have to “opt in” to membership to make a financial contribution. Labour will hold a special conference next year to make the changes.

Meanwhile, the party has had to back off from allegations of vote-rigging in a parliamentary candidate selection process in Falkirk, Scotland, in what appears to be a behind the scenes deal between the Unite union and Labour leaders. Yet the claims originally triggered Ed Miliband’s plans.

He remains unrepentant. Miliband’s unapologetically arrogant anti-union stance remains nothing other an abject sop to Tory-Liberal ideology and a continuation of Tony Blair’s policy of weakening, reducing and finally eliminating the links between Labour and the unions that founded the party at the start of the 20th century.

His hand is strengthened by a YouGov survey for the Labour UnCut blog.  According to the results, Miliband’s move to make trade unionists “opt-in” is backed by 60% of members of unions affiliated to Labour. The poll result is double-edged. It’s not surprising that trade unionists feel disgruntled and let down by Labour which has endorsed most ConDem policies and implemented the cuts at local council level.

New Labour governments drove on not only the marketisation/outsourcing of public services but the introduction of an authoritarian surveillance state. Their rejection of the socialist Clause Four of the Labour Party’s constitution heralded the transformation of Labour into an openly capitalist, neo-liberal party. Blairite “modernisation”, is being continued by Miliband.

The right to have political representation was achieved through historic political and legal struggles that began in the early 19th century. But now more than ever, workers and trade unionists are losing even the semblance of a political voice. Thus, Miliband and his co-thinkers are completing the reversal of the very process that gave rise to their party in the first place.

Motions put to this year’s TUC reveal the rising tide of discontent against the ConDems destruction of the welfare state and the growing sense that even if Labour were elected in 2015, nothing much would change because the party has accepted ConDem future budget cuts.

A crucial composite put by Unite and seconded by Unison, proposes that “Congress believes that the crisis facing people and their local services is so severe that we cannot wait for a general election in 2015, we must act now.”

It calls on Congress to “instruct the General Council to organise in the course of 2014 a nationwide march against poverty, focusing on the bedroom tax, food banks and other effects of government policy designed to draw in working people and their communities in all parts of the country and to unite people around the trade union movement”.

Council should, it says, “facilitate a co-ordinated programme of civil and industrial action involving trade unions and other campaigns”. The motion, which is certain to be passed, also calls on unions to “promote and support the day of action called by the People’s Assembly for 5 November 2013”.

This is not what Miliband, who speaks at the TUC tomorrow, particularly wants to hear. And he definitely won’t be backing strikes against the government.

Like the appointment of a woman to head the TUC after 150 years waiting, these actions are well overdue and we unreservedly support them. At last year’s Congress, there was plenty of rhetoric and even talk of a general strike. It came to nothing. This time round, we need deeds to match the words. Or the TUC’s own credibility will be worthless.    

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary 

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Dash for gas exposes corporate-state fix

"Baseless economics" underlie the mad dash for unconventional gas, says economist Nicholas Stern. And whilst Cameron and Osborne link their fate to the fossil fuel corporations, Lord Stern has rubbished their claim that fracking will bring down consumer bills.

Gas, he points out, is an international commodity and will be sold to the highest bidder. UK households already experienced this effect when North Sea gas was pumped on to the world market, leaving fuel costs in the UK unchanged. And when the gas ran out, the price to consumers soared.

As we showed in last week's blog, this has been the experience in the United States where gas exports have increased but household fuel bills remain high and subject to volatile market forces.

Lord Stern lashed the Government for making no real impact assessment. Do we have enough water for fracking, especially in areas where supply is already fragile? Would fracking pollute the water supply? Will it release dangerous quantities of methane? “We’ve not had a proper discussion on these serious issues," says the economist whose pivotal 2006 report called climate change "the biggest-ever market failure".

But the Con-Dems don't care about all that. They are a desperate clique pursuing any financial bubble that might keep greasing the wheels of the state. And unconventional gas is a classic bubble with companies rampaging from one drill hole to the next, causing environmental and financial mayhem.

Dart Energy, which is seeking permission for coal-bed methane capture at the former Airth Colliery in the Forth Valley, has seen its share price collapse after its plans were thwarted by local opposition in Australia. Dart denounced new environmental regulations by the New South Wales government and pointed to the Con-Dems as an example of forward thinking on energy supply (yeah, right!).

The company had to stop trading shares whilst they formulated a new plan and yesterday issued £14m worth of new shares on the Australian securities exchange. They told investors it will kick start operations in Scotland, though they don't yet have Scottish government permission.

So this is a company in trouble by any standards, but Alex Johnstone, Conservative MSP for North East Scotland, demanded campaigners stop attacking such "legitimate businesses". He denounced what he described as “some disgraceful scenes south of the border by environmental organisations “ and said that “we need to encourage companies which have a lot to offer Scotland.”

This yawning gap between the ruled and their rulers, is pushing people to start making their own very different plans for the future. Local campaigners in the area around Airth have worked with their Community Council (Scottish equivalent of a Parish Council) to develop a Community Charter. It sets out their "cultural heritage" which they declare to be: 
"the sum total of the local tangible and intangible assets we have collectively agreed to be fundamental to the health and well-being of our present and future generations. These constitute an inseparable ecological and socio-cultural fabric that sustains life, and which provides us with the solid foundations for building and celebrating our homes, families, community and legacy within a healthy, diverse, beautiful and safe natural environment. This is the basis of a true economy, one which returns to its root meaning (oikos - home, nomia - management)."

Now the big challenge is how to see such a new vision can become our future. As an AWTW network member reports from a meeting in Havant (a possible future target for fracking): 
"People are making the connections between the system that is breaking up lives and communities through austerity, and the shortcomings of a corrupt financial system, and the law-unto themselves that are fossil fuel companies who are continuing to do what they have always done, ever more aggressively. It goes to show you the majority know who is public enemy number one - and they are beginning to see the crucial role the state plays."
Transforming the state to create a real democracy that gives people power over what happens in their communities has to be the way forward.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

'Recovery' based on low pay and falling living standards

Most people in Britain are struggling to make ends meet. Talk of a “recovery” is designed to deflect mounting discontent, but the everyday lived experience is proving more powerful.

The authors of Low Pay Britain 2013 introduce their findings with the prevailing approved optimism: “As we enter a new phase of economic recovery, the key question for the coming years is whether or not renewed jobs growth will help to reverse or reinforce the apparent longer-term shift towards a two-tier workforce.”

But the statistics they provide tell a different story: one in which the faintest signs of “recovery” are founded upon low and declining wages and living standards, and sharply increasing inequality – just as in the pre-crash period of economic growth.   

Though the report provides none of the context, the policy-enhanced impact on British workers of the power of global corporations to drive down wages during the last quarter of the 20th century can be seen in a single statistic. The report notes:

“From a low of just 15 per cent of employees in 1975, the proportion of low paid workers peaked at 23 per cent in 1996. Since then, the proportion has changed very little  – as at April 2012 the number stood at 5.1 million, or 21 per cent.”

The share of overall value generated in the economy that flowed to workers fell in the credit and debt fuelled period of expansion before the 2007 crash. An increasing share was delivered in the form of profits to shareholders and to those at the extreme top end of the pay scale.  

Policy measures adopted to deal with the impact of the global crash of 2007-8 have ensured that cost of living pressures and low earnings growth combined to form a wage squeeze across the entire earnings distribution.

Since 2009, the number of workers earning less than a living wage – the amount considered adequate to achieve a minimum standard of living – has rocketed, from 3.4 million to 4.8 million in April 2012.

The earnings squeeze of recent years has meant that increasing numbers of workers have found it hard to get by on pay alone. There’s been a gradual rise since the mid-1990s in the proportion of families in poverty in which at least one person is in work.

The median salary in Britain is now estimated to stand at around £21,300, some £3,300 lower than its peak in 2005-06. And projections show no signs of recovery in the medium-term.

By the end of the forecast period in 2017-18, median pay is set to amount to £21,200, still significantly lower than the level recorded at the turn of the century.

Just as the pre-crash period of  “growth” was founded upon worsening conditions for the majority, any signs of post-crash “recovery” are dependent upon low pay, sharp reductions in living standard, and an increased dependence on declining state benefits. 

Unemployment figures have been kept low relative to much of Europe through the growth of part-time working, zero-hours contracts and self-employment. The numbers of self-employed have risen sharply since the crash – but their reported income dropped by £4000 - 28% - between 2001-02 and 2010-11 putting them amongst the lowest earners.

Far from offering any hope, general wage stagnation has meant that growing numbers of workers over the last decade have found that being in work no longer guarantees economic security.

British workers are not alone. Low paid work is a feature of labour markets in all advanced economies and, in part, the growth in wage inequality and therefore in relative low pay that Britain experienced in the 1980s and 1990s was common to much of the developed world in the final quarter of the 20th century.

But Britain continues to stand out as having one of the highest incidences of low paid work in the richer, OECD countries. Workers in Britain are twice as likely as counterparts in Italy and five times more likely than employees in Belgium to earn below the low paid threshold.

Welcome to cheap-labour Britain, where the corporations and the state work hand-in-hand to enhance a capitalist economy based on super-exploitation.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor