Thursday, November 28, 2013

Let's write our own constitution for Scotland

In a doorstop of a White Paper published this week, Scotland's SNP government promises an opportunity for people to be involved in drafting a new constitution for Scotland. We should seize this rare chance to identify where power actually lies and map out what real self-determination would look like.  

The SNP government has to propose a new constitution, because how could you have a new country without one? The other main political parties must oppose the whole idea – because they believe the British constitution and the union of England, Wales and Scotland is the last word on democracy. Were it so!

Scotland's Future promises "an open, participative and inclusive constitutional convention" to "ensure that it reflects the fundamental constitutional truth - that the people, rather than politicians or state institutions are the sovereign authority in Scotland". The convention will have a direct role in shaping the constitution following the approach of the US constitutional convention of 1787, the SNP government claims.

But the truth is that the draft people will be consulted on is certain to consist of a robust defence of the status quo, where profit-driven growth invariably trumps the needs of people and the environment. It will enshrine capitalist property “rights”, support company law and leave land in private hands. Political power will remain firmly out of reach for the majority.

And it won't be the people living on estates and battling poverty that are consulted, but the bodies that make up Scotland's close-knit elite. So in order to discuss the kind of revolutionary constitution that shook the world in 1787, we will need to draft it ourselves. We should establish People's Assemblies across Scotland to ensure that the people, not the corporations and not the professional politicians of any stripe, decide matters.

Most of the White Paper is a referendum day shopping list of childcare, inflation-proofed pensions and wages, and an end to the hated bedroom tax and universal credit. All this is promised in the midst of a global economic crisis and Scotland would have no immunity to a renewal of the banking crash. In fact, with RBS in line to be the trigger of the next financial crisis, Scotland would be hit hard.

Further, fiscal independence is a myth whatever the currency. With the SNP government determined to remain in the pound, its room for manoeuvre will be minimal, to say the least. In any case, the Bank of England, which decides money supply, interest rates and so on, does so in the interests of the bankers and the corporations. If an independent Scotland is compelled to join the euro as the price of European Union membership, it wil be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

The White Paper points to the eurozone as an example of a single currency operating well in many independent states. Where has the SNP been for the last five years? What price Greek, Spanish or Irish independence when it came to defending people from horrifying austerity, mass unemployment and poverty imposed by Europe in the name of defending the euro?

In 670 pages and 170,000 words the SNP outlines a social democratic paradise to emerge fully formed from a “Yes” vote. First minister Alex Salmond says it is "a mission statement and a prospectus for the kind of country we should be". But we all know what happens to company mission statements and prospectus's when the market crashes and the economy slumps!

Opening up a discussion about what a new constitution should contain is very important. But to use all this flannel (from the Celtic "wlana" wool - as in pulled over eyes) as our starting point would be accepting a nationalist and mostly illusory explanation of the future.
The referendum creates an opportunity to adopt a fundamentally different approach to independence, self-government and self-determination and we should take it up now, not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the SNP's false dawn.

We have launched a discussion about an alternative view of self-determination for Scotland on A World to Win’s network. Let us know what you think. 

Penny Cole

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Unite against destructive trade 'partnerships'

“Localists of the world, unite!” That’s the timely call  from the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) to join the global resistance movement against two planned trade deals that would undermine decades of achievements.

Hundreds of advisers from the world’s most powerful corporations are working hard in secret sessions on the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is between the European Union and the United States. 

The two partnerships are set to overturn national and regional regulatory barriers to trade, and undermine the work of communities across the world who have been working for decades to build more just, sustainable and locally-based alternatives to the global corporate economy. 

Once agreed, the partnerships would pass control over not just food but health, the environment and the global financial system into the hands of transnational corporations like Monsanto.

TPP provisions include intellectual property, trade in services, the environment, labour rights, government procurement and state-owned enterprises. The vast scope of TTIP includes the reduction of all tariff barriers, reducing regulation to the barest minimum, protection for intellectual property and restriction of subsidies to state-owned enterprises.

The TTIP would, for example, override the recent French state’s ban on fracking and open Europe up to the import of genetically-modified organisms. The GMOs are high-risk products whose consequences are largely unknown. As Brian Emerson of ISEC explains:

“Pro-local initiatives have grown by leaps and bounds, including farmers’ markets, food cooperatives,’ buy local’ and ‘move your money’ campaigns, small business alliances, and local renewable energy projects. However, ‘free’ trade treaties are a mortal threat to local economies worldwide.

“Like trade treaties before them, the TPP and TTIP facilitate a race to the bottom that favours large, mobile corporations at the expense of local producers, small businesses, and workers. What’s more, these treaties subordinate local democracy to corporate interests, and hamstring the ability of communities to shift direction toward more prosperous local economies. To continue the inspiring success of their movements, localists need to join the global resistance against these treaties.”

Some 600 corporate trade advisers to governments of 12 countries - United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam - have just completed six days of talks on the TPP, paving the way for an agreement by the end of 2013.  

The second round talks on the TTIP, intended to open up a Transatlantic Free Trade Area between Europe and the USA, finished two weeks ago. 

ISEC is a non-profit organisation “dedicated to the revitalisation of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide”.  Its emphasis is on education for action: moving beyond single issues to look at the more fundamental influences that shape our lives.

ISEC’s film The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, an unholy alliance of governments and big business continues to promote globalisation and the consolidation of corporate power. On the other are the localisers.

Many, like those in the Transition initiative, who have been patiently building alternatives to the reckless exploitation of the planet’s resources, have been avoiding a head-on confrontation. Whilst ISEC has been promoting localisation as an alternative to globalisation for three decades, an analysis of the secretive TPP/TTIP deals show that the real heart of the problem is the capitalist corporatocracy.   

ISEC’s call for resistance is important. But we have to go further. Some are beginning to discuss concrete alternatives. The Moving Beyond Capitalism conference, in Mexico next year shows that the momentum for real transformation is gathering pace.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

For the times they are a-changin'

We all know that wide swathes of the global media are dominated by celebrity nonsense which breeds a deep cynicism towards the entertainment industry. But when celebrities like Morrissey, Russell Brand and now Antonio Banderas suddenly speak out against the status quo, something else is happening.

A few days ago, singer Morrissey publicly thanked Russell Brand for standing up for rebellion in a 2,000-word tirade which the former Smith’s front man posted on the fan website

He supported Brand’s call to abstain from voting in rebellion against the 'broken political system”. The "most powerful vote you can give”, Morrissey said, “is No Vote".

He mourned the lack of real debate in the UK: “At what point did the dis-United Kingdom become a cabbagehead nation? Where is the rich intellect of debate? Where is our Maya Angelou, our James Baldwin, our Allen Ginsberg, our Anthony Burgess, our political and social reformers?

“At what point did the shatterbrained scatterbrains take over – with all leading British politicians suddenly looking like extras from Brideshead Revisited,” he asked.

Brand’s famous Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman has had nearly 10 million views on YouTube. In the face of a lot of pooh-poohing and an attack by fellow comedian Robert Webb – who said that Brand had caused him to re-join the Labour Party (how sad is that?)  – Brand has stuck to his guns. He insisted recently:

"I'm happy to be a part of the conversation, if more young people are talking about fracking instead of twerking we're heading in the right direction. The people that govern us don't want an active population who are politically engaged, they want passive consumers distracted by the spectacle of which I accept I am a part."

Perhaps most dramatic of all, from within the very heart of the beast, the times they are a’ changing. More and more Hollywood stars are joining the fray to encourage young people to question the system and seek alternatives to it.

The unearthing of a 1997 video of Matt Damon reading a 1970 speech by late US activist-historian Howard Zinn is adding to the momentum on the internet. It makes clear that Brand’s condemnation of the impoverished nature of our democracies expressed feelings which extend far beyond British borders.

There is an immediacy in Damon’s voice as he calls for civil resistance, including “the right to abolish the current form of government”. Damon’s call – via Zinn – is for people to stop obeying laws that protect the rich and imprison the poor, whilst allowing the true criminals to go free. The international tenor of the speech is striking in its call for a “declaration of interdependence” amongst the people of the world.

Veteran actor Donald Sutherland says he wants his film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire to inspire “a youth-led uprising against injustice that will overturn the US as we know it and usher in a kinder, better way”.

Now actor and director Antonio Banderas has called for an end to corporate power. He has told Spanish CNN interviewer, Ana Pastor that we are living in a “post-democratic era”.  Praising former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez he lamented the corporate corruption of Barack Obama’s presidency.

In response to Pastor’s questions about the financial crisis Banderas blamed “the markets, the lobbies, the big corporations” and suggested they didn’t have to take responsibility when countries and governments had problems. “We’re not being governed by the people we voted for.”

When Pastor asked “How do you put a stop to that?”, Banderas responded: “You break it like Chávez did in his day, you get all these big corporations and you nationalise them. There was no other way out.”

Banderas, Morrisey, Brand and Sutherland are straws in the wind of a seismic change that is pretty much global in its scope. The old politics is dying on its feet – not before time – and these artists in their own way express the yearning for an alternative. We should use the opening they have helped create.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, November 25, 2013

RBS is a vulture bank driven by debt

From the disaster at the Co-op Bank, driven into the hands of hedge funds by incompetent management, to the Royal Bank of Scotland, which forced small firms out of business so it could buy up their assets on the cheap, the message is clear.

Five years after the great financial crash of 2008, the regulators still haven’t got a clue what is going on and bad debts are threatening to bring the whole system crashing down in an even more calamitous way.

What’s the government been doing? Apart from bailing out banks like the RBS, the answer is precious little. The banking bill going through parliament ignores or weakens many of the recommendations made by the Banking Commission set up by the ConDems.

The Commission proposed strict separation between the lending and trading arms of the global banks. But the government, fearful of the reaction of the financial sector, watered this down.

As to the notorious RBS, which after it was nationalised continued to pay vast bonuses to senior staff, including disgraced CEO Fred Goodwin, it has taken a self-commissioned report by Lawrence Tomlinson, a care home entrepreneur, to expose how the bank is wrecking small businesses. His report claims:

“The experiences of many businesses across the country suggests that, at least within RBS, there are circumstances in which the banks are unnecessarily engineering a default to move the business out of  local management and into their turnaround divisions, generating revenue through fees, increased margins and devalued assets.”

Viable companies told Tomlinson that RBS had put them into the hands of what they called the bank’s “hit squad”, which imposed vast fees and fostered a “climate of fear” among its struggling customers. When the firms went into default, another division of RBS bought them for a song as a way of reducing the bank’s nominal debts.

RBS is desperate because its debts are astronomical. Over and above the £36bn of toxic loans RBS has put into its “bad bank account”, The Herald reports that there are a “number of enormous landmines that continue to lurk just under the surface”, amounting to a staggering £1 trillion.  

Over to the Co-op Bank. Once it was part of a group that had its origins as a mutual created to help working people and the labour movement. Today it is a shambles, driven into the ground by people like former chairman the Reverend Paul Flowers, whose colourful private life has boosted tabloid circulation.

His is a story of sex, drugs and politics that helped bring down a bank. After owning up to a £1.5bn capital shortfall, it was recently acquired by vulture funds group LT2. Poor management and light-touch UK financial regulation lay behind its demise.

Flowers, who once underestimated his bank’s asset base by £44bn in public evidence, was appointed to the Co-op’s board in 2008 after using his network of labour movement contacts to his advantage. In the last months of New Labour in 2010, he was appointed chairman of Co-op Bank.

The Financial Times reports: “Crucially, he had been made a non-executive director of the bank the year before, passing a lengthy ‘significant influence function’ interview. So he got only a light grilling from the FSA on his suitability for promotion. Labour links counted in his favour, say people familiar with process.”

In 2009, the Labour government persuaded the Co-op to buy out the Britannia Building Society, which came with vast debts. This was a major factor in the Co-op’s eventual collapse. The ousting of Flowers in June this year was too little too late to save the bank.

Of course, the ConDems are milking the Co-op story for all its worth for their own political ends. But the Blair-Brown governments and their ministers also share political responsibility for the debacle at RBS and the Co-op, not that they will ever acknowledge it.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK - myth and reality

Beyond the speculation about who killed John F. Kennedy and the reasons behind his assassination 50 years ago today in Dallas, myths have endured about his supposedly liberal, even left-wing, views and policies. Oliver Stone’s film even suggests that’s why he was shot.

While the real truth behind the assassination remains elusive after a half a century – few accept that a lone gunman in the shape of Lee Harvey Oswald was responsible – it is possible to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Kennedy’s political life.

He was a conservative in social policy, a fervent anti-communist and a defender of America’s imperial power. In his early years in politics, Kennedy had a working relationship with the notorious Joseph McCarthy, whose witch-hunts divided America.

Kennedy had only been in power a few months when he authorised the previous administration’s plans for an invasion of Cuba in April 1961. The infamous Bay of Pigs operation was intended to overthrow Fidel Castro and reverse the Cuban revolution. As we know, it ended in fiasco and defeat. This did not deter Kennedy from other foreign adventures to stop “the spread of communism”.

Kennedy was the first president to send soldiers to Vietnam, 16,732 of them, supposedly as mere “advisers,” but many of them actually combatants. He was continuing a colonial war during which the French had been defeated. Kennedy had told the New York Times after the failure at the Bay of Pigs and the erection of the Berlin Wall: “Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place.”  

Throughout 1963, the war in Vietnam was intensified to the point where Kennedy himself decided that South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem needed to be removed  because he was seen as an impediment to winning the war. Kennedy authorised the coup that resulted in Diem's overthrow and assassination on November 1, 1963.

There have been attempts to distance Kennedy from the decision to remove Diem. But analysis of documents released by the National Security Archive in 2009 together with audiotapes, confirms that the decision to go for a coup involved the president and was not taken behind his back by officials and the CIA.

After Kennedy’s death, the war in Vietnam was stepped up to the point where 500,000 US soldiers were involved. Over 500,000 Vietnamese were killed, along with nearly 60,000 American soldiers. The United States pulled out in 1975 after defeat on the battlefield and the country was unified after North Vietnamese forces entered Saigon.

On domestic policy, Kennedy was a social conservative and lukewarm supporter of the civil rights movement. For example, he tried unsuccessfully to talk Martin Luther King out of his march on Washington in August 1963, which ended with a multi-racial rally of 250,000 demanding economic justice.

King held the crowd spellbound with his inspiring, momentous “I have a dream” speech about how “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’”.

He rebuked the country’s leaders for breaking the promises contained in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, to guarantee the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad cheque, a cheque which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"
King was also gunned down, killed in Memphis where he was supporting a strike of low-paid municipal workers, in April 2008. Historically speaking, his loss to the American people has proved greater than that of a president who for all his charisma was a man who upheld the status quo.          

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fracking Capitalism for a fossil free future

From Algiers to Falkirk, New Brunswick to Colorado, Pungesti to Salford, Zurawlow to Balcombe, people are uniting to halt a new and damaging industry. They are using protest, lobbying, the courts – any tool they have to stop their communities being fracked. They have faced down police with guns and tear gas and local councils who support the corporations against their voters.

A new pamphlet – Fracking Capitalism – exposes the unholy alliance that wants to bring this risky business to a community near you. Politicians are bribed with promises of jobs, tax revenues, political donations and cheap energy, and unite with the corporations to try to convince people it will bring lower fuel bills - it won't and we explain why.

In a chapter entitled “Trapped by the corporate-state web”, the pamphlet reveals how the connections between lobbyists, former BP chief Lord Browne, government departments and ministers got the moratorium on fracking lifted. New licences are being granted, tax breaks announced and the planning system brought into line with the needs of the frackers.

Yet even this is not enough for prime minister David Cameron who told journalists: “On fracking, we do need to take action across the board to help enable this technology to go ahead. There is a worry people are going to have to go through so many different permits in order to start fracking that they simply won’t bother, so we need a simplified system.”

So the government may its reserve powers to decide permits at ministerial level, cutting out the troublesome and slow-moving local authorities, and community opposition.

In Scotland too, it is Holyrood that will decide and the SNP government has unconventional gas in its sights. A little publicised section of its policy paper Maximising the return from oil in an independent Scotland states:

New global opportunities have emerged around the recovery of unconventional oil and gas. Given the skills, technology and expertise which resides in Scottish companies, the development and recovery of these resources could potentially offer significant benefits for the Scottish oil and gas supply-chain. However, it will also be important to develop an improved insight into the wider economic impacts of global unconventional reserves on conventional markets.

Get it? The worry is not that global fracking will wreck eco-systems, fresh water supplies and speed up global warming – just that it might produce so much cheap gas that Scotland's oil and gas industry will suffer. But to offset this, Scotland can become a global fracking technology powerhouse!

Imposing fracking has devastating consequences for communities and their environments, and it will speed up climate change. The pamphlet calls it The road to ecocidal suicide and details all the evidence.

Fracking Capitalism shows how these ecological considerations are secondary in an economic system driven by profit and shareholder value. Industrialising with fossil fuel energy has caused climate change, and fracking is just the latest chapter.

Research published this week in the magazine Climatic Change traces responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions over the last 100 years to just 90 corporations. They are one third corporate giants like BP, Chevron and Exxon-Mobil, one third nation states like China and Russia, and one third state-owned (or formerly state-owned) companies such as British Coal. It is a who's who of the corporate/state web that rules our lives.

Fracking Capitalism offers an alternative to staying on this path – an action plan for the eco-social crisis these giants have created. Going beyond building resistance to fracking, to creating a movement to put power firmly in the hands of presently powerless communities, is what is proposed.

A World to Win wants to hear what you think about these ideas and stands ready to work with individuals, campaigns and movements for this kind of fundamental change.

Get your copy of Fracking Capitalism today.

Penny Cole
Environment Editor

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

This hunger is no game - it's ConDem Britain 2013

Malnutrition, hunger, debt and homelessness. That’s the price increasing numbers of ordinary people are paying for ConDem austerity as the fiction of “economic recovery” passes the majority by.

Cases of malnutrition treated at NHS hospitals in England have nearly doubled since the 2008 economic crash, as the costs of heating and eating rise and incomes are driven down.

Primary and secondary diagnoses of malnutrition – caused by lack of food or very poor diet – rose from 3,161 in 2008-09 to 5,499 last year.

Increasing desperation to avoid starvation in one of the world’s richest and unequal countries has seen the number of visits to food banks rise to around half a million a year, according to Oxfam.

The largest food bank operator, the Trussell Trust, fed 26,000 people in 2008 – but the number has risen to more than 350,000 in the last five years. Adrian Curtis, its UK director, said: “It’s not surprising that rates of malnutrition have also increased. We see people coming to food banks who’ve gone without food for days.”

Now, a second food bank is opening in prime minister Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency. Carterton mayor Lynn Little said she took the decision to open one in the town because so many people use the existing facility in nearby Witney.

She said: “There is a need for it because over the last few years we have had the recession, utility bills have gone up and the cost of food has continued to rise.”

Hard-up parents, brothers and sisters are joining pupils at one in five of the schemes run by charity Magic Breakfast. Founder Carmel McConnell said: ‘More and more schools are giving out food to parents and siblings. Families have seen the cost of food rise and rise while wages have stayed the same.”

There are also an estimated 80,000 children homeless, according to the housing campaign Shelter.

Cameron himself will be celebrating the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which raised its growth forecasts for the UK amidst more gloomy predictions for the rest of the world’s economy. 

The OECD, which groups the world’s richest countries, increased its estimates for UK growth to 1.4% this year and 2.4% next year, significantly higher than its   forecasts in June. 

The OECD is urging the ConDem government to press on with its combined programme of austerity and cutting government debt, saying it was “important to maintain existing consolidation plans to restore fiscal sustainability”.

This will be no consolation for the millions whose mounting personal debts, intensified by the bedroom tax and capped universal benefit, are pushing them over the financial knife-edge. 

Average household debt is now £54,000 – almost twice the level a decade ago. Total personal debt in the UK totals £1.43 trillion, close to its all-time high. According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), households owe the equivalent of 94 per cent of the UK's economic output last year. Only Ireland has a higher ratio of personal debt to GDP amongst European countries.

Much of it stems from mortgages, but the CSJ is warning that poor people are hit hardest by unsecured consumer debt which has almost tripled in the last 20 years to nearly £160bn. 

Those already deep in debt, those driven to add to it through door-step or online lenders, and those who opt for the Help to Buy scheme which is pushing house prices up are facing the imminent prospect of harsher terms.  

The OECD is not alone in nervously warning of dangers ahead when the inflationary consequences of credit growth mean the UK and the US are obliged to increase interest rates from their historic lows. 

The CSJ said more than 26,000 UK households have been classed as “homeless” by local authorities in the past five years, and warned that the number could increase if interest rates rises. Some 3.9m families do not have enough savings to cover their rent or mortgage for more than a month.

The benefits of the economic “recovery” are visible only to the hedge funds and shareholders of the global corporations, but for the majority who are paying for it the daily struggle for survival can only intensify.
Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Corporate power has sidelined Lincoln's vision

Abraham Lincoln’s two-minute speech at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, delivered 150 years ago today, during the country’s bitter civil war, looks back to the founding principles of the American revolution and forward to a democratic society for all.

How the ideals Lincoln championed in the war against the slave-owning south were soon abandoned by his successors and the new, unified American state, is lost among the events marking his historic address.

Lincoln harked back to 1776, when American colonists threw off the yoke of the British crown, wrote their own constitution and proclaimed themselves independent. The president claimed that it was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”, although the original constitution did not stretch to Afro-Americans or women. 

Nevertheless, the American Revolution shook the modern world, gave birth to the concept and practice of representative democracy, and was the precursor to the great events in France in the following decade. 

Significantly, as the Reclaim Democracy campaign points out, the colonists also freed themselves from control by English corporations. The country’s founders retained a “healthy fear of corporate power” and barred them from attempting to influence elections or public policy. The campaign explains:

“For 100 years after the American Revolution, legislators maintained tight control of the corporate chartering process…. Citizens governed corporations by detailing operating conditions not just in charters but also in state constitutions and state laws. Incorporated businesses were prohibited from taking any action that legislators did not specifically allow. States also limited corporate charters to a set number of years.”

Attempts to introduce the European model of shareholder ownership and legal independence were thwarted for several decades. But the corporations ignored the restrictions. “They converted the nation’s resources and treasures into private fortunes, creating factory systems and company towns. Political power began flowing to absentee owners, rather than community-rooted enterprises.”

While Lincoln was giving his address in honour of the dead Union soldiers, the world around him was changing in more ways than he perhaps grasped. The Civil War had made many corporations rich and they were openly buying people in Washington and state capitals. “During this time, legislators were persuaded to give corporations limited liability, decreased citizen authority over them, and extended durations of charters,” says Reclaim Democracy.

So Lincoln’s declaration at the end of his oration that the end of the war would bring “government of the people, by the people, for the people” was already being hollowed out by corporate power.

Before long, the courts applied doctrines that placed the protection of corporations and their property at the centre of constitutional law, sidelining the citizen sovereignty that followed 1776.

Ironically, it was the 14th Amendment to the constitution, adopted in 1868, and which protected the rights of freed slaves, that was used to grant corporations “personhood”, giving them human rights. Since then, the corporations have established unbridled power over the American political process.

Back in 1961, president Dwight Eisenhower, himself a former general, in his farewell address, warned against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”, adding: “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

In the half century since, matters have deteriorated. What the corporations want, they more or less get. Deregulation? No problem. Bail-outs. Just a phone call away. More weapons production? Ring the Department of Defence.

Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer with two million employees, can remain staunchly anti-union, while suggesting its poorly-paid workers donate food to their impoverished colleagues! Monsanto has a free rein when it comes to untested genetically-modified crops while a delayed government report into fracking is over-reliant on data supplied by the industry itself.

Reclaim Democracy wants to end the power of the corporation and restore the charter system that was established after 1776. In all honesty, that will require a new American Revolution to achieve.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, November 18, 2013

The green revolution is on its way

The scale of opposition to ecological devastation and the damage caused by fossil fuels is mounting globally to a point where some are now forecasting a “green revolution” coming to a neighbourhood near you soon.

The “super typhoon” that devastated large parts of the Philippines is one among many extreme weather phenomena that are now occurring more frequently as a consequence of the impact on ecosystems of climate change.

Scientists are warning that we should expect many more such weather-related disasters. These in turn are sure to drive on the resistance to reckless policies like the accelerating logging of the Amazon rain forest revealed in the last few days.

Michael Klare, US professor of peace and world security studies, has mapped the global movement against what he calls a “human created, fossil-fuelled apocalypse” in a new book, The Race for What’s Left.

Last May, protesters blocked bulldozers preparing the “re-development” of a small inner-city park into a shopping mall in central Istanbul. This protest had, Klare notes, “the most modest of beginnings”. The anger over a few trees grew into a movement against a state “ruling over people like sultans”, one protester said. Protests were held in 70 cities across the country.

While the Turkish upheavals hit the headlines, the massive effects of “airpocalyses” and environmental damage in China have been largely hidden. In October 2012, 200 poor farmers blocked a road in the city of Ningbo near Shanghai to halt the construction of a huge petro-chemical facility. Students joined the protest. Eventually the government backed down. 

The issue of nuclear power has ignited protests which across continents. After Fukushima, a quarter of a million people demonstrated against nuclear power in Germany’s main cities. In Japan itself, 170,000 marched against the re-starting of the nuclear reactors in July 2012.

There is a growing anti-carbon movement across north America. In the 2013 elections, three cities in Colorado voted to ban or place moratoriums on fracking within their borders. 

In Britain, anti-fracking groups such as the Extreme Energy Action Network have created on-line resources which track the widespread nature of the movement and helps people link up easily.

Klare concludes that a green energy revolution may well erupt in your neighbourhood “as part of humanity’s response to the greatest danger we have ever faced”. He notes that a “green revolution” is likely to erupt spontaneously and spread like wildfire to different countries.

Klare mourns the fact that the US-global energy crisis of 1979 did not lead to big investment in alternative energy sources by Jimmy Carter and subsequent presidents. Instead the last three decades saw military intervention by the US, UK and France, backed by their allies, in the Middle East.

Finding this strategy deficient, they are now hoping to turn the US (and on a lesser scale) the UK into a “new Saudi Arabia” by way of a disastrous and ecologically-damaging energy policy.

Klare hopes that the green revolution he is forecasting will “ratchet up the pressure for governments to seek broad-ranging systemic transformations of their energy and climate policies”. In this respect, he is basing himself more on hope than expectation as the major economies are moving in the opposite direction.

At the ongoing UN climate change summit in Warsaw, Yeb Sano, the Philippines' lead negotiator who is on hunger strike in solidarity with those affected by the typhoon, attacked the major economies, saying: "We are very concerned. Public announcements from some countries about lowering targets are not conducive to building trust. We must acknowledge the new climate reality and put forward a new system to help us manage the risks and deal with the losses to which we cannot adjust."

Munjurul Hannan Khan, representing the world's 47 least affluent countries, said: "They are behaving irrationally and unacceptably. The way they are talking to the most vulnerable countries is not acceptable. Today the poor are suffering from climate change. But tomorrow the rich countries will be. It starts with us but it goes to them."

That makes Klare’s concept of a “green revolution” not so much a good idea as a practical necessity.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win

Friday, November 15, 2013

The old politics is dying on its feet - for very good reasons

Why the political establishment has reacted so sourly to Russell Brand’s call for people not to vote and to think about revolution instead, should surprise no one. The comedian touched a raw nerve because the old politics is dying on its feet.   

The repercussions are enormous. When a system of government endorsed by the vast majority for nearly 150 years loses the support of key sections in society, the political class has a right to be worried and angry with people like Brand who point this out.

His fiery exchange with Jeremy Paxman on BBC2’s Newsnight has had getting on for 10 million views on YouTube. Many of those are undoubtedly by a generation switched off from mainstream politics already. Brand was kicking at an open door.

A new survey confirms the worst fears of Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. Some 46% of under-30s say they will not consider voting for any parties, including smaller organisations like the Greens or non-mainstream groups like Ukip. For this generation it’s “none of the above”.

The response wasn’t much better for the electorate as a whole, with four out of ten people saying they were “alienated” from Britain's political parties and say they will not consider voting for any of them at an election.

This research for the Committee on Standards in Public Life tallies with the latest monthly ComRes poll for The Independent, which shows that only with the 45-54 age group do you get a majority who say they are certain to vote at the 2015 election. Two-thirds of the 18-24 age group say they are absolutely certain about not voting next time round. Andrew Hawkins of ComRes, said: "The evidence all points to people being turned off by the traditional party system.”   

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, an advisory body to the government, was set up in 1994 in response to sleaze at Westminster. It has seen disconnection with politics grow ever since. Commenting on its latest poll, the committee says 40% "hold sceptical or deeply sceptical perceptions of standards and do not trust those in public life" and that “an entrenched political disenchantment…appears to have acquired a growing foothold in the British public".

None of the surveys in recent years say that people are indifferent to what goes in society. It’s just that for many, they simply have no effective say or influence, whoever they vote for. And they’re right in that key respect.

Politics at one level can be understood as a mean to achieving organised control  over a complex system of ruling a community or society – aka the state. Accelerating disengagement from this kind of politics coincides with how the relationship between state and citizen has changed.

The transition from a welfare state – which provided affordable housing, free education, support when unemployed or disabled, comprehensive health care, pensions, energy and public transport – to a ruthless market state is the story of our times. Some call it a corporatocracy – rule through and on behalf of the corporations.

A market state does what it says on the packet – make key services and provision subject to market and commercial considerations first. Politics, in this context, is reduced to managerialism, to adjusting markets, to reducing state provision even further. The parties have coalesced around this purpose, and in the process have dissolved existing politics. How is anyone supposed to relate to this?

The standards committee is deeply concerned and wants further research into whether the poll findings harbour “the potential for rejection of the system of representative democracy and for democratic norms”. With respect, the two don’t go together.

We want a democracy that serves the majority, not a system that actually undermines “democratic norms”. The present system of representation has outlived its usefulness and is now a plaything of powerful economic and financial forces.

Moving democracy on, extending it to areas like the workplace, replacing shareholder control with community democracy around a system of people’s assemblies is a model to consider. We should support the initiative launched by John McDonnell, one of a handful of Labour MPs who champion democracy, for a People’s Parliament to discuss where we go from here.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

UK economy living on borrowing - and borrowed time

There’s one thing that prime minister Cameron got right during his speech to the City - the need for a “fundamental culture change”, because the UK economy is diving deeper into debt in a bid by the ConDems to engineer a mini-boom.      

Cameron is now promising a continuing assault on public spending, and a permanent reduction in the size of the public sector, whilst drawing as many people as he can into a life of permanent debt servitude as the ConDems pump up house price inflation.

Imagining what that might add up to isn’t going to cheer up anyone who uses health, education, social services, or anyone dependent on benefits. But as the BBC has been investigating, it’ll be a roll-over bonanza for companies like Serco, Virgin Care and Circle competing for the rapidly expanding marketplace in privatised service provision.

In Wales, it’s not the future that looks grim, but immediately now, this winter. Huge Westminster imposed cuts on budgets have dramatically reduced health and local government spending.

The announcement from local health board Hywel Dda, covering Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire, that it will cancel elective surgical procedures from November 22 throughout the winter period has sent shock waves throughout the country. Local councils throughout Wales are also hard at work on plans to slash the services they provide.  

Many are claiming that the new turn in Cameron’s speech, when the economy is supposedly “returning to growth”, proves that the attack on living standards is driven by “ideology” rather than necessity. This is clearly not the case.

Despite Cameron’s proud claim to have reduced the government's budget deficit by a third, only last week the European Commission forecast that Britain's current account deficit – trade in goods and services –  will rise to 4.4% of GDP in 2014, with little improvement after that.

This is the highest trade deficit of any major industrial country, and far higher than the US, as its exploitation of shale makes  moves the world’s richest country towards energy independence. 

The Commission said Britain still has a structural government budget deficit of 5.7% of GDP even after years of austerity. This compares to minus 1.5% in the eurozone, minus 0.8% in Italy, and a surplus of 0.5% in Germany.  

So-called growth in the UK economy is being driven by a steady fall in the household savings rate, down to 6.2% this year from 7.3% in 2010. The Commission said it expects UK consumers to "dip into their savings" to cover spending. "The debt burden of households remains a distinct risk to private consumption."  

Clearly, the UK economy is living not just on borrowing but borrowed time.

The pressure from the ongoing global economic crisis of capitalism continues to bear down on the UK as it does on the rest of Europe.

Greece’s coalition government will step up its version of permanent, deepening austerity after it survived a no-confidence vote. The challenge was launched by the anti-austerity Syrizia party after riot police ended the five-month occupation by former employees of the ERT broadcasting station.

Their jobs were sacrificed to demands from the Troika - the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - for 2,000 public sector job cuts by last June. 

Now the Troika wants to see a further 15,000 jobs go by 2015 in the budget to be finalised next week, adding to the 27% unemployment rate, and giving no hope at all to the close to 60% of unemployed young people.

Misery for the majority throughout Europe and the rest of the world is certain to increase as corporate control of the democratic process tightens its grip. Talks delayed by the shut-down of the US government have begun between the EU and the US on TAFTA, a transatlantic free trade agreement. This is intended to remove regulatory barriers impeding the growth of the big global corporations. 

What’s needed is a different kind of culture change from the one envisaged by Cameron. Or, as Bob Dylan put it ‘"There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief "There's too much confusion."’ Global, democratic, not-for-profit alternatives anyone?  

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blunkett targets Roma in another shocking outburst

Demonising migrants and minorities is not just the privilege of the Tories. You only have to listen to the latest reactionary remarks of former New Labour cabinet minister David Blunkett to realise that.

Blunkett achieved notoriety during his time as home secretary in the Blair governments for all the wrong reasons. In November 2001, he persuaded parliament in a 90-minute debate to derogate – partially revoke – a section of the Human Rights Act dealing with lawful detention.

Blunkett declared that there was a permanent “public emergency” in the wake of the 9.11 attacks and Britain had to be able to intern terror suspects without due process. 

In April 2002, Blunkett turned his fire on another vulnerable group when he claimed that the children of asylum seekers were threatening to “swamp” some local schools. His incendiary remarks were denounced as “emotive” by the chair of the Commission for Racial Equality (since abolished).

Blunkett’s remarks then were compared to Margaret Thatcher’s talk of Britain becoming an “alien nation” by being “swamped by” newcomers. Now Blunkett has gone one further by declaring that Roma immigrants are responsible for community “friction” and “understandable tensions” in his Sheffield constituency.

Unless the Roma “change their culture” the community could “explode” and there could be rioting on the streets. "If everything exploded, if things went wrong, the community would obviously be devastated,” Blunkett said.

“We saw this is Bradford, Burnley and Oldham all those years ago when I first became Home Secretary. If things implode it’s not outside here that cops it, it’s the community.”

No, this is not UKIP, or a spokesman for far right parties. This is a senior figure in so-called One Nation Labour. Blunkett claimed he did not want to “stir up hate”, but his calls for police to intervene to discourage Roma people “not to spend all their time in the street” points the finger in a provocative fashion.

His remarks on BBC Radio Sheffield came the day after an anniversary of an historic attack on a minority that presaged murder on an industrial scale. On 9th/10th November 1938, Nazi storm troopers led a wave of violent attacks on Jewish people and property throughout Germany and Austria.

Many Jews were killed, thousands sent to concentration camps, synagogues destroyed and Jewish-owned shops smashed. Many fled abroad but as a statement by prominent British Jews points out, Britain was already in the grip of an “aliens scare”.

Newspaper headlines declared: “Alien Jews Pouring In”, and claimed that “Refugees Get Jobs, Britons Get Dole”. The media accused Jewish asylum seekers of “over-running the country. Sounds familiar? In a statement to mark the attack on German Jews, they say:

“75 years after Kristallnacht, racists and fascists inspired by the Nazis continue to attack minorities in Europe. In Hungary neo-fascists target Gypsies and Jews. In Greece Golden Dawn members and supporters brutally attack migrants and political opponents. Here in Britain, minority communities, especially Muslims, have been targeted in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile towards migrants and refugees. 
 “As Jewish people mindful of this history, we are equally alarmed at continuing fascist violence and the toxic sentiments expressed by many politicians and much of the media against migrants, asylum seekers, Gypsies and travellers. 
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their efforts to live here in freedom and safety, to contribute to society, and be treated as equals. As Jews we stand together with all communities seeking to combat racism and fascism here and elsewhere.”
When it comes to the statement’s reference to “toxic sentiments”, Blunkett’s are notoriously up there with the worst of them.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why did it take so long to investigate Arafat's death?

Nine years to the day since the death of Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat in a Paris hospital, it seems we now know the cause – though   not the perpetrators.

The Palestinian authorities themselves, desperate to maintain some kind of dialogue, must take responsibility for the appalling delay in opening an investigation.

Last night’s Al Jazeera documentary pieced together the complex and often contradictory history of what happened after Arafat’s death and why it has taken so long to get this far.

Given his huge stature amongst Palestinians world-wide and the killing of most of long-standing comrades like Abu Jihad by the Israeli state, his death was always going to be wracked with controversy.

The exact circumstances of how and why Arafat how fell ill in his Rafah compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah in the autumn of 2004 were never clarified at the time and no autopsy was carried out.

But now we have the results of a nine-month investigation by 10 Swiss scientists from Lausanne. Their 108-page report, based on samples taken after Arafat’s body was exhumed in November 2012,  states that abnormal levels of radioactive polonium-210 were found in his pelvis, ribs, and in the dirt on his body. The report says that 18 times the normal level of polonium was found, raising the likelihood of poisoning to 83%, much to the scientists’ surprise.

British forensic scientist David Barclay believes that the Swiss results conclusively show that Arafat was poisoned. He says the levels of polonium were 36 times higher than in a normal person and were “smack in the middle” of what would constitute a fatal dose.

The announcement follows the Swiss scientists’ discovery last month, reported by The Lancet medical journal, that they had found traces of polonium in separate tests on Arafat's clothing.

Arafat had been held virtual prisoner in the compound, which was under Israeli siege, for the last three years of his life. His death has been surrounded with rumours and counter-rumours ever since. But the most shocking thing about his death are the strenuous efforts made to prevent the true circumstances from becoming known.

Most parties retrospectively admit it was a mistake not to have held an autopsy back in 2004.  But it was only the work by Al Jazeera which built up momentum, causing the French authorities to open  up a criminal investigation in 2012, and eventually obtain the Palestine National Authority’s permission to exhume the body.

It’s clear that  leading PNA members, including Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qudwa, PNA leader Mahmoud Abbas and security chief Tawfik Tirawi, sought to delay and undermine efforts by Arafat’s widow Suha as well as the Swiss scientists.

The PNA insisted on sending tissue samples to a Russian forensic team, which it turns out, was completely at the mercy of Russia’s foreign ministry.  Al Jazeera journalist Clayton Swisher and his cameraman were pursued and hounded by PNA security men in Rafah. Several agents rifled through the news team’s hotel room, and tailed them by car.

Al-Qudwa claimed that Palestinian leaders decided not to allow an autopsy back in 2004 as it “would have been seen as a huge betrayal by the Palestinian people”, who “were not ready for it”.  They feared disrupting negotiations with Israel – the so-called  “peace process”, and that anger over Arafat’s possible assassination could spark an “Arab spring” in Palestine.

The nine years since Arafat’s death have made matters for the Palestinians. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements have expanded to the point where a viable independent state is a non-starter.

Gaza remains under blockade. Jamal al Khodari, chairman of the Popular Committee against the Siege says the situation in the Gaza Strip is an “humanitarian catastrophe”. There is hardly any clean water and an electricity crisis. All but one border crossing have been closed by the Israel authorities.

Suha Arafat is right to say that peace negotiations with the Israelis should be halted and that the perpetrators of the crime against her husband identified. What is also increasingly clear that one state for all the citizens of Palestine and Israel remains the real solution.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, November 08, 2013

Parliament is spooked by the spooks

A parliament that cannot defend civil liberties and human rights against the secret state is not fit for purpose and ought to be sent packing. That’s one conclusion you could draw from the pathetic performance of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) yesterday.

Another is that members of the ISC have effectively been so integrated into the three-ringed spying circus of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ that their designated role to check on the work of the agencies is just for show, part of a great game played at our expense.

Each and every member of the ISC is a trusted member of the Commons or Lords, cleared in advance by the same security services they are supposed to be checking up on! No danger of them ever rocking the boat and so it turned out when the chiefs of the three agencies appeared in public together for the first time.

If anyone was waiting for the ISC to grill the three over the extent of mass surveillance revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, they would have been sorely disappointed. "They faced a grilling that wouldn't have scared a puppy," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty. "It was tame, predictable, and limp," said Privacy International about the 90-minute session.

They were not asked about issues do with mass surveillance and privacy. No one even mentioned Tempora, the  programme that allows GCHQ to access mountains of date from transatlantic cables that carry internet traffic.

Naturally, no one asked why international encryption standards had been compromised by the joint work of the National Security Agency in the US and GCHQ. Or the compromising of corporations like Google and the eavesdropping on the phones of leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel.

Above all, no one on the ISC asked why these programmes had been kept secret from the public and possibly the government. It’s not hard to fathom why the spy chiefs got an easy ride. Hazel Blears, former New Labour counter-terrorism minister, admitted on BBC2’s Newsnight that she had been on “several visits” to GCHQ and was aware of the agency’s “broad capabilities”.

Presumably she was advised that to reveal this would constitute some kind of crime. Blears didn’t take much convincing. “We've had very, very confidential briefings about what the capabilities were and obviously we were satisfied that they were operating within our legal framework.” So that’s alright then.

As the gentle questioning proceeded, the spy chiefs took advantage to assert that articles based on the Snowden material published by the Guardian, the New York Times and the Washington Post had played into the hands of Al-Qaida. Why, the terrorists were even talking about what the leaks meant for their own security, said GCHQ head Sir Iain Lobban.

The head of MI6, Sir John Sawers added: "Our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaida is lapping this up." He went so far as to claim that the leaks could help dangerous criminals and even paedophiles evade the law.

Yes, the whole state is facing collapse as a result of articles showing how the US and Britain have access to just about every communication they want to intercept, with or without legal authority. This is a standard scare tactic  – blame the messenger and accuse them of playing into the hands of the country’s enemies when in fact the real threat comes from the secret spy agencies themselves who are beyond oversight.

The secret state within the state considers itself above parliament, above political control and above the rule of law. They don’t give a jot about the warning from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the scientist who created the world wide web, that weakening encryption had put at risk transactions made by ordinary people.

As for the ISC, if this is the best parliament can come up with, it shows how unrepresentative and undemocratic this present body is. One is reminded of the words used by Cromwell. When faced with a “Rump” parliament that was doing absolutely nothing useful, he told the sitting: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately ... Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Transform systems to tackle climate change, IPCC concludes

Without a dramatic cut in carbon emissions, earth systems will reach a point beyond the scope of any mitigation or adaptation, according to a leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The publication online of a draft of the report, 2014: Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability, due out in September next year, coincides with news that concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases reached their highest ever annual level in 2012.

The World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin says there were 393.1 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2012, an increase of 2.2ppm over 2011. It was in May last that year that the 400ppm level was breached for the first time.

Between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32% increase in radiative forcing, the process that drives global warming. Carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel burning, accounted for 80% of the increase but the WMO has also measured a big increase in methane.

The IPCC report summarises in graphic detail the result of continuing on this path. Some changes have already happened:
  • Changing rainfall and melting snow and ice are altering hydrological systems, affecting water resources and quality
  • Terrestrial and marine species have shifted their ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, and abundance
  • Increased tree mortality has been attributed to climate change
  • Permafrost is warming and thawing in mountain regions. 
Human health is suffering mainly as a result of poverty and inequality, but climate change is making the situation much worse. And the greatest impact will be on food supplies which could decrease by 2% per decade for the rest of this century.

The New York Times, which first reported the IPCC leak report, summed it up: "The scientists describe a natural world in turmoil as plants and animals colonize new areas to escape rising temperatures, and warn that many could become extinct.”

Huge amounts of money are already being spent to mitigate these impacts by way of cleaning up after floods and tornados; new flood defences; higher food prices; higher insurance premiums; subsidies to drought-affected farmers; the cost of bringing marginal land into industrial food production; food aid and new agricultural methods.

The investment of public resources is massive, though far less of it spent in poorer countries where the impacts are greatest, the report finds.

But without immediate cuts in emissions lasting over decades, it may all be in vain. "Greater rates and magnitude of climate change increase the likelihood of exceeding adaptation limits… In some parts of the world, current failures to address emerging impacts are already eroding the basis for sustainable development."

So we could reach a point where nothing helps, and some areas of the world are almost there already. The IPCC hints at a solution to this eco-social crisis. Looking at actions that can help it states with "high confidence": 
"Transformations in political, economic, and technological systems resulting from changes in paradigms and goals can facilitate adaptation and mitigation and promote sustainable development." 
Such a change is crucial for taking decisions that have long lead in times, including "introduction of new technologies or practices, formation of new structures or systems of governance, or shifts in the location of activities”.

And the report warns: "Societal debates over risks from forced and reactive transformations as opposed to deliberate transitions to sustainability may place new and increased demands on governance structures to reconcile conflicting goals and visions for the future."

In other words, the collapse of earth systems and the descent of human society into violence and war is a clear and present danger as a result of the failure to tackle climate change in a planned way.

To prevent that catastrophe, we really need to carry through a social transformation to establish democratic governance as soon as possible. Capitalism as an economic and political system has clearly proved incapable of responding to the challenges outlined by the IPCC.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

How coexistence with capitalism undermines co-ops

Two of the world’s biggest and best known co-operatives are struggling with the impact of the unending global recession. Both are seeking rescue deals by a hedge funds and private equity groups that could lead to their destruction.

Yesterday, the UK’s 150-year old Co-operative Group announced a revised plan to rescue its loss-making bank. Meanwhile, Fagor, the consumer electronics arm of Mondragon – the Basque workers’ co-operative established in 1956 – is racing to secure emergency funding to avert a bankruptcy declaration.

The Co-operative Bank’s troubles began with its acquisition of the Britannia Building Society in 2009. Britannia had made big corporate loans which lost value following the 2008 crash, contributing a major part of the bank’s £709m loss.

Fagor has been hit by the sharp fall in consumer spending across Europe and the collapse of Spain’s speculative construction boom. Sales at the division fell from €1.8bn in 2008 to €1.1bn in 2012. It has not reported positive earnings since 2008 and has accumulated debts of €850m owed to banks as well as other parts of the Mondragon group, including its credit union and its own employees.

Is this a story of the failure of the co-operative model? Most certainly not. Co-operation and collective activities have been fundamental to society since modern humans evolved. 

In the US, for example, as John Curl explains, cooperatives, cooperation and communalism were intertwined with history of the country: from native communities where property was unknown to the self-governed co-operatives who challenged and overthrew the corporate monopoly of the British East India
Company. The ending of slavery, and the gaining of rights including women's suffrage, workers’  rights and union rights, as well as civil rights are other examples he rightly cites.

In the short history of the global rise to dominance of private ownership and the wage-labour contract - the social relations of capitalist production - the modern version of the co-operative movement has pursued contradictory aims. It has attempted to make a place for itself, offering an alternative model whilst coexisting and competing within the capitalist framework.

Curl shows above all how participative economic democracy has been in a constant battle with capitalist wealth concentration.

Two comprehensive reviews of the UK’s co-operative movement - in 1956, and in 2000 – were designed to keep it in bounds, ensuring its survival “in the modern marketplace” whilst preventing the liquidation of assets built up by prior generations of co-operators.

Today’s proposed deal between the Co-operative Group and the LT2 group of vulture funds would, it is promised, embed its ethical values into the constitution of the bank. But the deal also involves the group as a whole - which owns supermarkets, farms, pharmacies and funeral homes - pumping £462m into the bank, equivalent to around £60 for each of the group's 7.9 million owner-members.

This would open a main artery through which the private investors would be able to suck the vitality not just of the bank, but from the whole of the group, carrying out the liquidation of assets the 2000 review was supposed to prevent.

Far from being failures of the co-operative model, the problems at Fagor and the Co-operative Bank show that the time for coexistence and competition, for compromise with the now bankrupt capitalist system is over. Rather then meekly offering themselves up as prey to vulture funds, co-operators must now go on the offensive.

Co-operative enterprises can and should play a key role in the People’s Assemblies which are forming throughout the world. A global network of Assemblies can provide the democratic framework needed to replace capitalist destruction with the principles of co-operation. Such a network could acquire the power to end the rule of globalised private finance capital.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Tax breaks for 'living wage' will reinforce inequality

If Ed Miliband believes that giving employers a tax break to pay the “living wage” will restore, in his words, the broken link between “growth and prosperity”, he is even more cynical and opportunist than we thought.

The first thing to say is that the Miliband proposal is a direct transfer of wealth from taxpayers to bosses who pay paltry wages. They would get a get a tax refund if they agreed to pay the living wage rate. This is state-sponsored and funded capitalism at our expense.

Whether you can actually live on £7.65 an hour, which is the new rate outside London, is questionable. More like a subsistence wage than a living one. Even the £8.80 an hour rate in London won’t get you very far after housing, energy and transport costs.

Leaving that aside for the moment, Miliband bemoans the disconnect between increased economic wealth and living standards as if this was something new, or the result of the economic storm clouds that that broke in 2008.

Yet this process of deepening inequality has been going on for much longer than the three years – it seems like a lifetime – that the ConDems have been punishing ordinary people with their austerity policies.

Miliband has borrowed the idea of a tax incentive for employers from the Resolution Foundation, which researches into low pay. But in a report last year, the organisation’s Commission on Living Standards notes that even in the boom years leading up to 2008, incomes were “faltering for a broad swath of
working households”. The report adds: 
“GDP growth was strong, employment was high and inflation was moderate. Yet from 2003 to 2008 median wages flat-lined, average disposable incomes fell in every English region outside London and spikes in the prices of essential goods squeezed family budgets. What happened in these years broke the familiar rhythm of growth and gain for ordinary working households.” 
This “pre-crisis stagnation”, as the report describes it, was echoed in other countries, most notably the United States where wages have been stagnant for a generation, while even in Germany and Canada they’ve barely risen while the share of national wealth going to profits soared. Shifts in the nature of inflation – with energy and staple food goods hitting the average earner hardest – have intensified the cut in living standards. 
“By the time the crisis struck, these shifts in the nature of inflation meant that low to middle income households were typically paying a £400 premium on their annual shopping bills compared with those on higher incomes.” 
What the Resolution Foundation is describing is the impact of the credit-driven, low-wage period of corporate and financial globalisation. During this period from the late 1980s onwards, trade unions were weakened, wages driven down, jobs exported and many public services contracted out to the private sector.

The easy availability of cheap credit and house-price inflation disguised what was happening, until the bubble burst. Now it’s pay-day loans, charity and pound shops and two or three low-wage jobs to make ends meet. Miliband, of course, was a member of New Labour governments whose policies helped create these appalling social consequences of rampant capitalism.

Without the slightest acknowledgement of his own responsibility for where we are, Miliband has set himself the task of saving the system from itself should his populist, pro-capitalism One Nation Labour win the 2015 election.

But anyone with the slightest acquaintance with economics will know that employers will take a tax break and pass on any extra costs in price rises. And if wages rise in this way, the low paid will face a reduction in various state benefits.

The reality is that inequality in Britain is worse than ever because a system in profound post-globalisation crisis knows no other way. Super-exploitation is here to stay until we find a way to go beyond capitalism itself.
Paul Feldman
Communications editor