Friday, October 29, 2010

High stakes in firefighters’ strike

Firefighter union leaders Mick Shaw and Ian Leahair called for the support of other trade unions and the entire labour movement at a meeting called by the South East Region of the TUC.

“There will be picket lines at all 110 fire stations in London and other trade unionists are needed to provide physical, moral and financial support,” Shaw said last night. The Fire Brigades Union leaders were speaking in advance of strikes planned for November 1 and another beginning on Bonfire Night.

The bitter dispute between the London FBU and the London Fire Authority (LFEPA) may not seem that significant, as it involves only 5,500 operational firefighters. But the Tory leaders of the Greater London Authority (GLA) have served all working fire-fighters with notice of dismissal because they refused to sign a new contract that severely reduces their conditions. Not only is the London fire brigade the third largest firefighting organisation in the world, protecting Europe’s biggest and particularly vulnerable city from fire, but there are major political issues at stake.

Yesterday a spokesman for Prime Minister Cameron said the strike was “cynical” and “reckless” while Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned the strike as dangerous, saying it would cost lives.The government and the employers’ propaganda machine is in full swing in an attempt to swing public opinion against the firefighters. They are the most organised of all public sector workers with virtual 100% membership.

Firefighters are the most militant of public sector and have fought two bitter national strikes - both against so-called Labour governments in last 30 years. Their union broke from Labour after the 2003 dispute, which the outcome of which the present contract struggle in London is related to. New Labour wanted to break up national agreements and "modernise" the service to the detriment of public safety and firefighters' livelihoods and the GLA under the Tories is trying to enforce this. So forcing them to accept worse conditions and ultimately fewer jobs under a new contract would be a defeat for all public sector workers who are facing massive redundancies.

Labour MP John McDonnell, secretary of the FBU group in Parliament warned: “this is a provoked dispute. The model of AssetCo [the company being used for strike breaking] is the shape of the future. If the FBU do not win, job cuts will follow. This is the first wave of privatising the emergency services”.

Ian Leahair said that while the employers claimed the new contract was only about “minor shift changes”, they had spent a lot of time preparing and manipulating decisions. ”We knew this was coming. I have never seen so much bullying and harassment. Fire authority management is already docking pay by up to 80% if an instruction was not obeyed. The FBU will not be intimidated. Unless they withdraw the sacking threat, we will not call off our bonfire night strike. It’s us that go into those fires. If we could avoid this we would. Be behind us!”

Steve Hedley of the tube and rail workers union, RMT, praised the FBU’s “brave decision" to step up their strike. He said that some RMT members had refused to take out trains during last week’s strike. London Underground was threatening court action against the union. Like Jenny Sutton, chair of the London Region of University and College Union and others at the meeting, Hedley was scathing about the TUC call for a demonstration in March. “Spring is too late,” Sutton said. “We cannot wait for that for co-ordinated action. There must be a motion for a general strike.”

The concerted attack on the FBU is a test case of union-busting. Employers watching to see the outcome. The employers intend pick off groups of workers one by one. More than ever, no single group of workers can be expected to win on their own in the face of a united coalition government, vicious anti-union laws and an unprecedented financial crisis. The 500,000 jobs at stake in the public sector as a result of the cuts announced last week cannot be defeated in a series of "local disputes".

The driving down of public spending is driven by the economic and financial crisis. The only way forward is to mobilise the widest sections of the population - wherever they work - in actions that go beyond limited strikes. A World to Win’s call for a network of People’s Assemblies to be formed, to unite trade unionists and local communities and work for a transfer of power, is more timely than ever.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Capitalism feeding off hunger

A capitalist perfect storm has ended all progress in reducing world hunger, and one billion people are now undernourished – 925 million more than before the economic crisis began. In every country, prices are soaring, including in the UK where food prices have risen by 22% in the last three years.

The crisis has been caused by the cumulative effects of:
• An expansion of commodity speculation in food products and land, including the poisonous hedgers and futures traders
• A year of extreme weather, from drought to floods
• Loss of agricultural land to bio-fuels, and urbanisation
• The collapse in purchasing power of the poorest people due to the economic slump.

Commodity speculators have moved strongly into food, betting on shortages and pushing up prices in a world where the food supply is increasingly globalised.

True, the wheat crop will be 30m tonnes lower than last year – a 5.5% decrease, due to drought in China, the heat wave in Russia and the floods in Pakistan. But stocks are not so low that prices could not be kept at a reasonable level. However that would assume a rational economic and trade system – and we are a million miles away from that. The market price of wheat and maize soared by 30% in just a few weeks.

In Russia, the price of buckwheat – a popular staple – has tripled. World meat prices – dependent on grain prices – are at a 20-year high. Egyptians can no longer afford their own basic diet of bread, cheese, tomatoes. Sugar and rice prices are at an all-time high.

According to the UN food price indicator (a figure based on a statistical analysis of 6 key commodities) prices have not reached the 2008 high of 199 – when there were food riots across the world – but they are heading in that direction at 188. The figure increased 14 points in 2010.

Governments across the world are preparing for social uprisings – already 12 people died last month in riots in Mozambique. But those same governments have facilitated the system that has led to the food crisis.

UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, says a combination of environmental degradation, urbanisation and large-scale land acquisitions by foreign investors for biofuels is squeezing land suitable for agriculture.

According to the World Bank, more than one-third of large-scale land acquisitions are intended to produce agro fuels. It is this loss of local agriculture that causes shortages – and not population increases.

Meeting in Rome, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation’s committee on world food security (CFS) established a panel of experts to look at the “causes and consequences of food price volatility, including market distorting practices and links to financial markets, and appropriate and coherent policies, actions, tools and institutions to manage the risks linked to excessive price volatility in agriculture."

This panel will have as much success in changing the system as the International Panel on Climate Change has had in persuading governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; or experts working with the Convention on Bio-diversity have had in stopping the corporations destroying the planet’s eco-system.

The unsustainability of capitalism itself is the real problem, and the food crisis is a systemic, not a sporadic crisis. If we allow a system driven by profit and speculation to keep control of the world’s land use and agriculture, we will face famine on a scale not seen before.

Rioting and looting could well result as food prices rise out of reach. But these are not solutions. The real need is for a transformation in the ownership of land, the way food markets operate, the development of local food and the sharing of expertise and knowledge in a not-for-profit framework. That means grasping the opportunities offered by capitalist crisis to go beyond protest to democratising ownership, production and the political system itself.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Race to the bottom

Ireland’s already severe economic troubles just got a whole lot worse.

Its plan to reduce its budget deficit to 3% of GDP in four years by cutting spending by €7.5bn has been undermined by lower growth prospects both at home and abroad and higher debt interest costs.

So, in a warning of what is to come elsewhere, Ireland’s Fianna Fail government has DOUBLED its programme of cuts to €15bn.

And this comes only days after the UK's Lib-Tory Coalition announced the latest details of its own savage assault on the public sector intended to hit a strikingly similar target.

You can almost feel the brutal threat contained within the official Irish statement:

‘The Government realises that the expenditure adjustments and revenue raising measures that must now be introduced will have an impact on the living standards of citizens. But it is neither credible nor realistic to delay these measures.’

And you can almost see the baseball bats wielded by the bailiffs sent in by the money marketeers who’ve driven up the price of borrowing for Ireland, and a long list of other highly indebted countries.

‘Our obligations are clear. We must demonstrate that we are bringing sustainability to our public finances. We must stabilise our debt to GDP ratio over the period of the Plan. And we must set out our strategy for returning our economy to growth.’

Things are getting rapidly worse for the millions of ordinary people already struggling to deal with the costs of debt repayments incurred when governments decided they had no option but to bail out the bankrupt banking sector in 2007 and 2008 and issued monstrous amounts of new credit in the hope that it would stimulate a ‘recovery’.

Despite better than expected growth figures for the UK in the last half year, its economy hasn’t even recovered half of the production it lost during the first part of the dive into its worst post war recession.

Meanwhile, the world economy is heading into a renewal of decline. Look at South Africa for example. Unemployment there is growing relentlessly beyond 25%. If the workers who’ve given up looking for a non-existent job are included the figure is over 36%. Whilst carmaker Ford has used its government bailout to slash production, sell off Volvo and cut its involvement with Mazda and returned to profit, parts of America have an official unemployment rate of 20%. And one person in five out of work is the official rate for the whole of Spain.

With profit-seeking capitalist society no longer able to offer jobs to so many people – and forcing governments to slash support for the unemployed – belief in the system is being undermined. It’s no wonder that the dream weavers are hard at work spreading the myth of a ‘return to growth and prosperity’. As increasing numbers begin to realise that the game is up, the need for a society that is based on need rather than shareholder returns becomes increasingly urgent.

Cameron has just delayed the details of the growth package that was expected to follow the biggest assault on public spending since the post war creation of the welfare state. Could this be an admission that there’s nothing he can do besides opening the way for a few thousand jobs in off-shore wind turbine manufacture?

It’s high time people – workers, students, farmers, pensioners, the unemployed, communities - formed new kinds of democratic forums and began to explore how to use them to take things into their own hands. As illusions that the system can provide for people’s needs is broken up, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Monday, October 25, 2010

TUC's shameful betrayal

The Trades Union Congress decision, to hold a national demonstration against the spending cuts to take place over five months after they were announced and on the eve of their implementation is shameful.

Worse, it is scheduled to take place on a Saturday, on 26 March 2011, to avoid any idea that it is a call for mid-week strike action instead of gentle stroll through the streets of London.

The context of the decision announced by TUC leader Brendan Barber on Saturday, makes it an act of betrayal as great as any during its more than 140-year history.

With 500,000 public sector workers destined to lose their jobs as the result of the deepest spending cuts in the history of British capitalism, the TUC and its main members have abandoned any pretence of resistance. The decision to hold a march in five months was supported by the main public sector unions, Unison, GMB and Unite. Since the Spending Review was announced, these unions have stressed that they will not take action against the coalition.

A few hundred yards away, just as Barber spoke, striking London firefighters were on the march. They are threatened with the sack and the destruction of their union. The TUC is leaving the Fire Brigades Union to face destruction on its own.

Talk about the impact on jobs, pensions, wages, services etc - and that's it! It’s not simply sluggish – it’s deliberate inaction behind a smokescreen of consultation, education and protest. The TUC is acting like a focus group for the Coalition, promising to feed back public anger so that the government will "see sense".

On Saturday, Barber spouted pseudo-fiery words against the City rich:
“And the bankers who caused this mess,” he said, “will not be affected at all because the pathetically small banking levy will leave them popping the champagne corks right across the square mile.”

The real intention is to reinforce the fiction, that the Con-Dem cuts are simply “ideological”: "The impact of this brutal, ideological and cripplingly unfair [our italics] austerity will be truly devastating,” Barber told London Trades Councils representatives at Congress House.

In other words, there is no crisis of the capitalist system driving the cuts – simply a few greedy bankers.

And public service union GMB leader Paul Kenny continued the fake war by threatening the Coalition with a loss of votes: "As the plan unfolds and its impact is felt in homes and communities up and down the country, the Tory/Liberal authors will find life increasingly difficult at the ballot box," he said.

Some threat.

Some critics of the TUC want next year’s demonstration brought forward and for unions who want to fight the cuts to organise a one-day public sector general strike. But this is inadequate for a variety of reasons:

- it divides public from private sector workers (who will also lose jobs as a result of cuts)
- by limiting the strike to 24 hours turns a general strike, which has revolutionary potential, into a protest,
- it assumes that the government will capitulate under pressure.

Experiences on the Continent, most recently France, show the opposite is true. Several general strikes have failed to move Sarkozy over pensions. At the end of last week, state forces were used to end blockades of fuel depots while the Senate approved the changes. Sarkozy is not for turning and nor is the Cameron/Clegg coalition. At their backs is the global economic crisis and yawning budget deficits which grow larger by the day.

The strike weapon is limited when the issues are about a crisis of the economic system and the power of the state. Strikes need to be supplemented by wider actions. A revolutionary mobilisation is needed to unite communities in a way that challenges the authority and power of government and the state machine.

A strategy of developing People’s Assemblies offers a real way forward to unite all those fighting the cuts. The urgent need is to expose the treachery of the trade union leadership by campaigning for a transfer of power on to a democratically elected network of Peoples Assemblies.

Paul Feldman and Corinna Lotz
A World to Win

Friday, October 22, 2010

The cost of losing nature

The annual cost of global damage to the natural environment has been put at $4,500 billion. This is greater than the annual cost of coping with the financial crisis, according to a European Commission-backed study group.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) puts a value on forests, wetlands, grasslands and ocean habitats, and then costs the damage to, or loss of, this ‘natural capital’. They launched their findings at the 10th meeting of signatories (COP10) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity held in Nagoya, Japan this week.

Pavan Sukhdev, a former banker who leads the programme, said his team measures ‘the multi-trillion dollar importance to the global economy of the natural world’, including forests, which it calls ‘the GDP of the poor’, coral reefs, ocean habitats, wetlands, rivers and even the value of pollinating insects.

He called for ‘a new era in which the value of nature’s services is made visible and becomes an explicit part of policy and business decision-making.’ The report suggests that in future, national measures of GDP and company accounts, should include these costs, which would ‘reset the economic compass’.

‘The time for ignoring biodiversity and persisting with conventional thinking regarding wealth creation and development is over. We must get on to the path towards a green economy,’ Sukhdev stated.

Unfortunately, governments and corporations are heading in the opposite direction. In Britain, Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review, launched on the same day as the TEEB report, specifically attacked measures to support bio-diversity. The Con-Lib Coalition has removed up to £1bn a year by 2014-15 from the development of green energy and other initiatives, by putting income from the Carbon Tax into reducing the deficit instead.

Environmental Stewardship schemes that pay farmers to support bio-diversity have been cut. The 20% budget cut for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will lead to funding cuts and possible privatisation for England’s 224 National Parks and for the botanical gardens at Kew.

Globally, the economic crisis is driving reckless and uncontrolled destruction of habitats. Oil drilling in deep water causes constant leakage; tar sand extraction wrecks forests and rivers; the extraction of uranium for the new generation of nuclear power stations is poisoning land, animals and people. Far from ‘internalising’ these ‘externalities’, the corporations do everything they can to avoid taking responsibility, and paying.

However, the work of TEEB is extremely important in looking to the future, beyond capitalism. This kind of economic management will support new concepts of growth that include the costs of extraction and of recycling products at the end of their (very much extended) useful life. Such concepts of course will exclude the capitalist premise that shareholder profit is the sole measure of success.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time to end the profit system

The Lib-Con Coalition government’s Spending Review is an attempt to rescue an already bankrupt economy. With £81bn cuts in public spending, it is the biggest and most sustained assault on the public sector since the creation of the welfare state sixty years ago.

But the reality is that despite the ruthless measures announced yesterday, the cuts will hardly make a dent on Britain’s budget deficit, which at £162 billion is the largest of the world’s major economies.

The plan is to bring government borrowing down by £149 billion in four years. This is a 19% per cent cut in real terms, as opposed to New Labour’s proposed 12 per cent. But can this gamble succeed? The very measures intended to reduce the deficit will deepen the crisis.

The one million people who will be thrown out of work and those made homeless will need some kind of support. And whilst blighting the lives of countless citizens, especially the most vulnerable, government spending will continue to rise by an additional £38 billion over the coming four years. As Chancellor Osborne announced: “total public expenditure - capital and current - over the coming years will be £702 billion next year, then £713 billion, £724 billion and £740 billion in 2014-15.”

An additional £7 billion cut brings the total cut in the welfare budget to £18 billion so far. The poorest ten per cent of the population stand to lose the most. It is a monstrous bludgeon expected to achieve just a £5 billion reduction in the £43 billion per year interest payments.

The measures include:
• a 30% cut in funding for local authorities
• a 74% cut in the budget for house-building combined with a trebling of rents for new tenants in social housing
• insecure tenancy of council house dwellers
• the minimum possible increase for the NHS, that will leave health care struggling to keep up with an aging population and scientific advance
• ending the universal right to Child benefits
• a 3.4% real cut in education
• cancellation of major infrastructure projects, like the renewal energy from the Severn Barrage
• a 10% increase in rail fares
• a £7 billion cut in the welfare budget
• Culture Department to be cut by 42% with almost 30% cut for Arts Council
• up to 30% cuts in budgets for government departments
• 20% cut in funding for the police
• rapid acceleration in the process of adding a year to the working life of a man and six to that of a woman before they can claim a state pension
• huge and damaging reductions in the settlements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

There is certain to be much more as the contraction of the global capitalist economy tightens its grip. The attempt to reduce repayments to the money markets will be undermined by tax revenues falling faster as the recession turns to slump. The populist gesture of £2 billion to be raised from a permanent levy on banks will surely be passed on in the form of higher costs of borrowing.

Cuts in administration of around 30% over four years will lead to a loss of an estimated 490,000 public sector jobs, 8% of the total. The effects of the overall programme confirms consultancy PriceWaterhouseCooper’s estimate of a further 500,000 jobs evaporating in the private sector as spending is reduced and contracts are cancelled.

The Coalition has issued a sinister threat with its promise that it will always be better to be in work than on benefits. It means that they’re hard at work on schemes to reduce wages across the board. No doubt employers will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of new sources of cheap labour from the enlarged European Union and beyond.

This is only the beginning. The Spending Review spells out that the capitalist state can no longer afford to fund any of the rights or life-support benefits won by unions in a century of struggle.

The intention to reduce the wide and complex range of benefits needed by millions of people suffering the effects of three decades of profit-chasing globalisation to an all-encompassing single payment, and a time-limit on the Employment and Support Allowance reflects a profound contempt for the individuals whose needs have been assessed by cohorts of public sector workers. Capitalism in crisis wants to reduce millions people to bottom-line cyphers of cost before trying to eliminate them altogether.

Calls last night outside Downing Street for “French-style” strikes are a welcome move from the total inaction of the Trade Union Congress. But even industrial action needs a political purpose. The desperate gamblers in No10 and 11 are driven by a real economic crisis of the capitalist system itself.

The solution to the debt mountain comes in the shape of action by People's Assemblies, formed locally throughout the country with a view to defending services, livelihoods, jobs, and homes. Eventually a government formed from a network of people's assemblies will need to take control of the financial sector, cancel the debts and turn it into a not-for-profit service.

The global capitalist classes are watching to see the results of Osborne’s cruel experiment. It’s time to realise that we too must enter new territory.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

All bark and no bite

There was dismay and anger amongst the several thousand trade union members who crowded Westminster Central Hall; some including a large number from the prison officers union, couldn’t get in to the TUC’s anti-cuts rally. People had travelled from Lancashire, Devon, Cornwall, Northamptonshire and around London to take part in the protest meeting and lobby of MPs.

As well as the Prison Officers Association, there were big delegations from Unison, actors’ union Equity, rail and transport workers, public services unions UNITE and GMB, the National Union of Teachers and the Right to Work Campaign. Screen actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Roger Lloyd Pack said they opposed cuts in the arts which will privilege the rich. They all shared a deep anxiety as it emerged that around half a million jobs are to go by 2015.

Tony Woodley, joint secretary of the UNITE trade union, pointed out that for every four public sector jobs scrapped by the cuts, three more would follow in the private sector. He pointed out that the Lib-Con coalition has no mandate for the cuts, and that people “did not vote for the dismantling of their schools, hospitals and communities.”

“Cuts on this scale make no sense,” he said – but they make sense to the coalition, the bankers and the IMF. It’s the survival of the capitalist system that is at stake for them.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber continued the myth that the cuts are just a political choice, not an economic necessity for the ruling class: "They want us to believe....this is economic necessity. Yet economic experts across the spectrum warn us that the cuts are too deep and too rapid.”

Dave Prentis of Unison warned that if the government doesn’t listen, “we will be back. For every one of us in this room today, we will bring a hundred more. We’ll march in our thousands and we’ll vote in our millions,” he said in a fit of demagogy. But vote for what? For New Labour Mark 2?

None of the trade union leaders have any answers. In fact they are determined to hold back any serious movement by workers in the face of the re-shaping of the entire British state. Asked why the British workers were not angry as those in France, Woodley cited the anti-trade union laws making striking difficult. But if they were serious about halting the cuts, trade union leaders would bring every member out and let the law go hang. By directing all their fire towards parliament and the next election nearly four years hence, they hope to act as a lightning rod to defuse and disarm any movement.

And where was Milliband? He was in hiding from the trade union leaders who got him the Labour leadership. The reality is a New Labour government would be doing the same – and it may not be too long before they too are co-opted into this government of desperate decline.

Today’s spending review is not the result of a nasty bunch of old-style Thatcherite Tories. It is a response to the most serious economic and financial crisis of the capitalist profit-based system. As Bank of England governor, Mervyn King, speaking in the Midlands, made plain. Deep tensions underlay discussions at the International Monetary Fund meeting last week, he said.

Global currency conflicts, particularly between the US and China, are evidence of profound disagreements about the way to deal with the crisis. A 1930s-style collapse of business activity and international trade is possible. So much for the cuts being an “ideological exercise”! They are the ruling class’ response to an uncontrollable crisis of the system.

Fighting against the cuts agenda means challenging the ruling class by working for a transfer of power, property and control to a democratically elected and accountable network of peoples’ assemblies Come to the Beyond Resistance conference on December 11 to make this come alive.

Corinna Lotz and Peter Arkell
A World to Win

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sarkozy forms crisis cabinet while unions dither

As oil refineries and public transport depots are blocked, petrol stations run dry and young people riot in the Paris suburbs, political tensions are rising in France. The unrest will climax today in demonstrations throughout the country intended to influence Wednesday’s vote in the country’s Senate.

To quell the huge mobilisation of workers, pensioners and young people, President Nicholas Sarkozy has formed a crisis cabinet to ensure the continuity of fuel supplies, with three departments – the interior, economy and environment ministries put in charge of preventing disruption of supplies.

The wave of protests against the Sarkozy government’s attack on pension rights has closed schools across France and seen clashes with riot police on the streets. Workers at France’s 12 refineries are in their eighth day of strike. Protesters are blocking access to many fuel distribution depots round the country.

It is the sixth day of weekday protests and work stoppages called by national labour union confederations since June, but the unrest has intensified since last week when unions at railways and refineries began open-ended industrial action, joined now by truck drivers and delivery workers. Since September 7, pension protest numbers have involved a staggering 15 million people, according to official sources.

A majority of French people -- 71 percent in one poll -- back protests against the plan to raise the minimum and full retirement ages by two years to 62 and 67 respectively, a measure the government says is the only way to stem a ballooning pension deficit.

France is one of a very few countries remaining where pensions arrangements are almost universally provided by the state. Payments to pensioners are taken out of current tax receipts. Trade unions have fought long and hard to protect the right to a decent income after a lifetime of work.

It is no accident that the French Senate is voting on the same day that the UK coalition government finally gives the details of its unprecedented assault on the public sector. These two events, and many similar are choreographed by the return to recession which marks the end of the phoney recovery. Capitalist society has entered into a period of contraction and nothing can be allowed to stand in its way.

But as the French state steps up its operations, leaders of France’s main trade unions have no plan beyond pressurising a government that is determined to see through cuts in pension provision.

All the union chiefs know that Sarkozy will not give in and are feverishly even now considering their exit strategy even as the fuel shortage worsens and protests spread to the volatile suburbs, the banlieues. As the right-wing daily, Le Figaro, notes, the union confederations are divided over their strategy facing a government which will not give in to their demands. The strategy of the Confederation General de Travail (CGT) faces pressure to call a general strike, something which it has signally failed to do so far. The mass defence of jobs, services, benefits and rights is leading directly to a confrontation with the state, something that they and the other union bureaucrats are desperate to avoid.

Workers and students should join forces with local communities to form People’s Assemblies that can move beyond protest and challenge the French state. The French ruling class and union bureaucrats are haunted by the spectre of the 1968 General Strike, when the possibility of people’s power arose but the opportunity wasted.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Monday, October 18, 2010

Firefighters' union fights for its future

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which has consistently fought to defend the wages and conditions of its members, is about to engage in a momentous struggle in London that could well determine its very future as an organisation. So much is at stake that the FBU needs all the practical and active support it can muster from other unions.

Tory leaders of the Greater London Authority (GLA) are planning to sack over 5,600 firefighters and re-employ only those prepared to sign a new contract that severely reduces their conditions. The contract is being unilaterally imposed after the London FBU failed to reach a negotiated agreement with the employers.

The capital's firefighters are to stage eight-hour walkouts on 23 October and 1 November following a strike ballot in which 79% of FBU members voted in favour. Employers have already removed 27 fire engines from stations and handed them to private contractor AssetCo, which has strike breakers standing by.

That fire engines can be handed over just like that to a private firm is a result of decisions taken by the previous New Labour government, which the Tories are building on. It never forgave the FBU for holding a national strike eight years ago which led ultimately to the union’s break from Labour.

Conservative chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority Brian Coleman said: "I have to say, firefighters who don't sign the new contract won't be re-employed." In a reference to former US president Ronald Reagan's move to sack 11,000 striking air traffic controllers who refused to return to work in the early 80s, Coleman told London radio station LBC: "If it means 'doing a Ronald Reagan' – where he got rid of the air traffic controllers – I've got 948 firefighters who voted not to go on strike, together with the non-union members and the officers, I reckon 2,000 will sign their new contract."

Fire commissioner Ron Dobson and Coleman want to extend the day shift by two or three hours, a move which would wreak havoc on FBU members’ family lives as well as lead to cuts in fire cover throughout the capital (as revealed in a top-secret document leaked to the FBU). Thousands of firefighters have rallied and marched since the moves were announced in August.

London FBU leaders who called the strike ballot urged firefighters not to “be bullied out of our jobs”, and told them that a “yes” vote “may be the single most important act of your career”. Members responded positively, with an overwhelming “yes” on a 79% turnout.

The GLA’s anti-union stance is in a foretaste of what is rapidly coming up the line. Workers throughout the public sector are preparing to defend jobs, services and working conditions ater the spending axe falls this week. The FBU is joining a march against the cuts this Saturday, called by the rail union RMT, and is organising its own rally and lobby of Parliament on November 17 against systematic plans to wreck the fire service.

Clearly the FBU and the RMT, which is striking against job cuts on the Underground, are the first in the firing line. With the destruction of the FBU as an organisation the aim of the Tories, the old union adage that an injury to one is an injury to all was never more appropriate.

FBU and RMT leaders should appeal to their members to support joint, indefinite strikes against the cuts and the Tory-led GLA. Such a call could inspire other workers in the public sectors whose own union leaders are running for cover rather than standing firm. RMT leader Bob Crow has already called for unions to link up with local communities to broaden the fight against the coalition. The vicious attack on the FBU is as good an opportunity as any to put that policy into practice.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, October 15, 2010

For the TUC and Miliband, resistance is futile

As the coalition puts the finishing touches to next week’s budget cuts, which are certain to devastate services and jobs, you might wonder what the trade union leadership and the Labour Party are up to. Keeping their heads down, is the answer.

While French unions battle the Sarkozy government over pension cuts, our very own Trades Union Congress has called a lobby of Parliament for the day before the cuts are made public. Why then, you might ask? It’s because they don’t want loads of angry workers turning up outside of the Commons once they’ve heard the bad news.

As for a lobby, that is really going to frighten the Lib-Con government! Nothing like seeing your MP and asking him or her to oppose the cuts, to put the fear of God into elected representatives.

And that’s it as far as the TUC is concerned. Perhaps they’ll be a demonstration in March next year, probably on a Saturday to avoid workers having to strike to be there. For the main part, the most dramatic changes to public services and the role of the state will be implemented without official opposition.

When it comes to Labour under Ed Miliband – or should that be Millipede? – they might as well be part of the coalition. Miliband has already spoken out against holding strikes against the cuts and agrees that the budget deficit has to be reduced.

By blocking Ed Balls from becoming shadow chancellor, the job he coveted most, Miliband revealed his hand. Balls’ view is that the government is cutting too much of the deficit too quickly. His argument, essentially, is that the cuts are not really necessary. By giving the job to Alan Johnson, a man who on his own admission knows little about economics, Miliband moved closer to the coalition’s policy.

The reason for this is not hard to fathom. Miliband, Balls, Yvette Cooper and other senior members of the shadow cabinet, fully signed up to the New Labour project. At its heart, was the acceptance that market-driven, globalised capitalism is the only game in town. Whatever you do, don’t upset the bankers.

And, despite the collapse of the banks and the subsequent recession, this is what they still believe. That is their ideology, their world outlook. So when the Tories step up the creation of more Academy schools, raise tuition fees and introduce a market framework in the NHS, they are building on what Miliband and others did in government.

This is the political reality as Britain staggers on towards a further banking crisis and with a national debt that is eating up £70 billion a year in interest rates alone. The International Monetary Fund has revealed the startling prospect that US and European banks need to refinance around about £2.75 trillion in debt over 2011 and 2012. The IMF also repeated its claim that European banks were still hiding losses off their balance sheets, having written down only around a quarter of expected losses.

And guess which country is in the worst position? You’ve worked it out. Britain’s banks need to refinance to the tune of £800 billion over the next two years, nearly a third of the refinancing the IMF has identified. With state finances looking like a sea of red, the idea of another bailout – should the banks, as is almost certain, be unable to refinance on their own – looks highly improbable.

All sorts of political scenarios are possible in such an emergency, including a national government. One that can be safely ruled out is the idea of Miliband’s party doing anything other than rushing to the aid of the capitalist system, as they did in 2008. For them, resistance is futile. For the majority, it’s the only option.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Market leaves planet on life support

Yet another report highlights an unprecedented species collapse, with the worst outcomes in tropical areas. It is the only latest in a series of warnings about the dire state of the planet.

The World Wildlife Fund’s biennial Living Planet report, produced with the Zoological Society of London, measures the health of almost 8,000 populations of 2,500 species. It shows a 30% decrease since 1970, but in the tropics the decline is 60%. Populations of tropical freshwater species, for example, have fallen by nearly 70%.

“Species are the foundation of ecosystems,” said Jonathan Baillie, conservation programme director with the Zoological Society of London. “Healthy ecosystems form the basis of all we have – lose them and we destroy our life support system.”

Planetary life support is no concern of the market, however, and the demand for raw materials and energy has doubled since 1966. The world’s carbon footprint has increased 11-fold in the last five decades – at the same time as high-level summits and empty promises have failed to cut emissions or protect eco-systems.

The 31 OECD countries, the richest economies, account for nearly 40% of the world’s ecological Footprint. But twice as many people live in the rapidly developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China .And the report shows that these are now on a trajectory to overtake the OECD bloc if they stay on the same development path.

To carry on at the present rate, we would need two planet earths by 2030. The obscene credit-fuelled globalisation of the world economy has left humanity with an ecological, as well as a financial, overdraft.

Jim Leape, director general of WWF International said: “Somehow we need to find a way to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly prosperous population within the resources of this one planet. All of us have to find a way to make better choices in what we consume and how we produce and use energy."

But this approach is problematic, since the issue of individual choice does not arise in today’s crisis-ridden reality. Ordinary people are not in control of the processes that, for example, use raw materials to produce goods which are obsolete within months. Here in Britain, we are not control of a government that is backtracking on every commitment on renewable energy.

And the unemployed worker in Detroit who has lost her home and lives in her car does not feel she is involved in any kind of “over-consumption”. She certainly can’t make choices about “diet and lifestyle”, as the report recommends.

The real problem is the structural impossibility of curbing the excess use of raw materials and energy within the capitalist model, with its demand for continuous growth and increaed profits whatever the cost in human and ecological terms.

However, the report does point part of the way forward. It seems that high levels of consumption do not necessarily lead to healthier, more successful populations. The UN Human Development Index, which looks at life expectancy, income and educational attainment, can be high in countries with only a moderate carbon footprint.

Mathis Wackernagel, President of the Global Footprint Network, says: “Those countries that are able to provide the highest quality of life on the lowest amount of ecological demand will not only serve the global interest, they will be the leaders in a resource-constrained world."

To offer such leadership – to be able to make choices about what we produce and consume – requires that the majority take control of economic resources and political decision-making. The aim would be to plan an economy that meets real needs: good health, social life, culture, and meaningful work. Not wanted on this voyage will be a new mobile phone every four months, or a dozen brands of the same washing powder.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Missing the point about 'growth'

The consequences of the sudden eruption of global crisis in 2007-8 took many by surprise. Amongst those struggling to incorporate these dramatic changes into their overly fatalistic views are the growing number of people concerned about the depletion of resources and changes in climate.

David Holmgren is the leading advocate of permaculture, a design philosophy which has evolved since its inception in the 1970s as “an integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man”, in other words “permanent or sustainable agriculture”.

Its current all-encompassing vision is one of “permanent or sustainable culture” covering all of human activity, which is divided into seven domains guided by a set of ethics and design principles. Permaculture is defined as an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies.

Holmgren’s views are seminal for many, including those active in the Transition Initiative, who have come to realise that we humans cannot continue to live on the planet, producing in a way which depletes resources and destroys the ecosystems we depend on.

In his latest essay, Money vs Fossil Energy: the battle for control of the world, he tries, as he says, to “provide a framework for understanding the ideological roots of the current global crisis”.

Holmgren finds common cause with many who attribute the current problems to a society that pursues the myth of the possibility of continued economic growth but adopts an approach that is as confusing as it is misleading. His one-sided obsession with growth fails to realise that capitalist society has always been like a roller-coaster. It alternates between periods of growth which reach the limits of credit-fuelled overproduction, alternating with ever-worsening periods of contraction and destruction.

For much of his explanation, Holmgren relies on what he presents as two counter posing camps – the money people, those who believe that wealth is the result of human ingenuity or “human brilliance”, versus those who believe that wealth comes from nature, the oil people.

However hard you look, you won’t find a definition of “wealth” itself in Holmgren’s essay. And it’s this omission that’s at the heart of his pessimistic, fatalist, survivalist conclusion. The best we can hope to achieve, he argues, are “resilient and relocalised economies that will grow at the margins abandoned by the dinosaurs of the declining global industrial culture.”

Holmgren’s one-or-the-other explanation excludes the reality that what we produce – including the reproduction of ourselves – is actually the result of humans applying their ingenuity to the nature that they are part of.

Marx’s investigations led him to the inner dynamic of social evolution to unravel the contradictory opposites of use-value and exchange-value. Use-values are the outer, physical form of commodities, the things we can and do actually use. Exchange value constitutes the amount of socially-necessary human labour expended in the production of the use-value.

Capitalist production is driven by the pursuit of the profits extracted from the production of intangible exchange-value, destroying the ecosystem in a way which arises almost accidentally out of the alienation of present social relationships. A truly global society that supersedes capitalism will consciously organise its social relations to identify and produce what is needed – use-values – in a way which is consistent with maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.

Evidence is mounting that the phony recovery brought about by torrents of credit imagined into existence to prevent financial and economic Armageddon has run out of steam and the feared “double-dip recession” is well under way. Holmgren leaves capitalist society to continue on its path of destruction Surely our task is to replace it.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A mortgage for a degree

Introducing a free market in tuition fees that universities in England can charge students, together with the coalition’s planned spending cuts, will undermine the last vestiges of state-funded higher education.

Students will in future leave university in debt to the tune of around £50,000, if proposals announced today go through. The average degree would actually represent a mortgage rather than the result of three years studying at a place of learning.

Not that Lord Browne, who drafted the report on funding for the Lib-Con government, would understand financial pain. The former chief executive of the BP oil corporation left in 2007 with a £5.3 million pay-off and a £21.7 million pension pot, as well as millions of pounds in shares.

His recommendation that the existing cap on tuition fees of £3,290 a year be scrapped and universities be allowed to charge what they want, imposes market conditions that convert higher education into a commodity to be bought and sold like any other good. Universities in England will then leap to the top of the league table of countries where it is the most expensive to study.

At the same time, government funding seems certain to be directed away from arts and humanities courses as part of spending cuts to be announced next week. Together with the fees rise, access to university education is certain to become more unequal than ever before.

The University and College Union, which represents lecturers, criticised Browne’s proposals. Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, said they “represent the final nail in the coffin for affordable higher education” and would “price the next generation out of education”.

But, of course, all this began with New Labour. The Blair government was the first to introduce tuition fees and business (that’s what higher education is considered to be) spokesman, John Denham, did not oppose the Browne report outright, merely saying: “It is right that students make some contribution towards to cost of their higher education.” The system had to be “fair, progressive, sustainable” – whatever that means.

So any notion that a Miliband government would save the day should the coalition collapse over the issue of a free market in fees (most unlikely), is pure fantasy. The truth is that massive spending cuts and increases in charges across the board are on their way, no matter who is in power.

What the Browne report does confirm that the capitalist state is now setting about in earnest the wrecking the remaining parts of the post-1945 political compromise that was the basis for free education, the National Health Service and social support of different kinds.

Against the background of a deepening financial crisis, the state intends to wash its hands of social responsibility through a combination of contracting out, market forces and the “Big Society” project. What New Labour began, the coalition intends to complete.

The question then arises: what is the purpose and usefulness of a state that cannot provide for its citizens? What is the point in carrying on with a state that is beholden to corporate power and financial markets? What is the point in persisting with the fraud that is known as Parliamentary democracy when it produces a savage assault on the electorate?

To ask these questions is to answer them. We live in a state that has failed, one that is propping up an unsustainable and unstable economic system. Opposing the break-up of higher education and the cuts programme has to go hand in hand with a strategy for creating a real democracy based on the actual origins of the concept – people power.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unequal Britain

Shocking differences within society are revealed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s first ever report into fairness in Britain. And the future looks serious, with the report warning that “the current economic and social crises threaten to widen some equality gaps”.

How Fair is Britain? concludes that while “Britain is a more diverse society than it was a generation ago”, groups such as gypsies and migrants still experience serious prejudice and hostility, not to mention inequality.

Overall, life expectancy has nearly doubled, on average, since 1900. But within this overall improvement, just as on many other measures of quality of life, there are vast differences, depending above all on social class, as well as ethnic origin, gender and location:

*One in five people live in a household with less than 60% of average income
*The wealthiest men and women can expect to live up to seven years longer than the poorest. *Black African women who are asylum seekers are thought to die seven times earlier than White women
* On average women earned 16% less than men, widening to 27% for women aged 40
* Life expectancy in Scotland is around three years lower than in England. More people die early in Scotland than in other Western European country
* Black Caribbean and Pakistani babies are twice as likely to die in their first year than Bangladeshi or White British babies
* Nearly three-quarters of Bangladeshi children and half of Black African children in Britain grow up in poverty
* A quarter of women in their 50s are carers
* Black people and infants under one year are more likely than others to be victims of homicide
* Ethnic minorities were victims of around a quarter of homicides recorded in England and Wales between 2007-10
* One in four adults in Wales lack basic literacy skills, in contrast to one in six in England.

Attacks on vulnerable people and minorities particularly affect children and young people. Two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender school children have experienced serious bullying and even death threats. Equally ugly is the finding that over a quarter of all reported rapes have been against children under 16, boys in particular.

There are some positive developments for those who believe in tolerance and diversity. Almost one out of every 10 British children now grows up in a mixed race household. Gaps in performance by some ethnic minority children have decreased.

And attitudes to homosexuality at the level of civil partnership rights, for example, have improved. But for virtually each of these improvements, serious problems of inequality and discrimination persist as deep scars in society.

For some, there are still, “gateways to opportunity which appear permanently closed, no matter how hard they try; while others seem to have been issued with an ‘access all areas’ pass at birth,” EHRC chair Trevor Phillips notes.

There are many cultural differences as well as accidents of birth which affect the life chances of an individual in our society. But the bottom line and the common denominator for all the inequalities identified in this report is wealth – in other words, economic class.

The poorest 10 per cent of people possess average wealth one hundredth the average wealth of the richest 10%. Put another way, the total net household wealth of the top 10% is £853,000 – almost 100 times higher than the net wealth of the poorest 10%, which is £8,800 or below.

In a society where the gap between the rich and the poor has widened enormously, there can be no surprise that fear, hatred and discrimination persist. A transfer of economic and political power to the majority in society is the urgent precondition for solving inequality.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, October 08, 2010

The great pensions robbery

Public sector workers should pay more and retire later on smaller pensions, according to former New Labour minister Lord Hutton. His proposals form part of the continuing pensions rip-off by both the state and the private sector that condemns millions to hardship in older age.

Measures already taken by the previous government and the coalition since June will reduce the value of future pension pay-outs by 25%. Now Hutton, the former Labour work and pensions secretary, has branded public sector pensions schemes "unfair and unsustainable".

Yet, as Hutton’s interim report commissioned by the Lib-Con coalition acknowledges, the average public pension is £7,800 a year. It’s hardly a king’s ransom and peanuts compared to corporate payouts such as the £650,000 a year to Fred Goodwin, the former RBS boss in charge when his bank collapsed into the arms of the state.

Although the economy is in recession, directors of the UK's top companies have amassed pensions pots worth an average of £3.8 million, according to a recent TUC survey. It shows that the average transfer value for a director's pension is £3.8 million, an increase of £400,000 since last year, providing an average annual pension of £227,726. The average director's pension is 26 times the average occupational pension.

Meanwhile, actual workers enrolled in many private pension schemes – a number of which have collapsed in recent years – are losing up to 80% of contributions in fees and commissions, BBC Panorama revealed this week.

In one HSBC pension plan, £120,000 paid in over 40 years would result in fees and commissions totalling £99,900. The Co-Op Individual Personal Pension would take out nearly £96,000 in fees across 40 years of investment growth upon deposits of £120,000. Legal and General's Co-funds Portfolio Pension would take out about £61,000.

Despite what Hutton says, what is really unsustainable is a profit-driven economic and financial system that robs workers and pensioners on a daily basis and then invests time and resources working out how to wreck existing schemes. It is not, as a wretched editorial in today’s Guardian claims, that we “are living too long and saving too little for the existing public sector schemes to remain viable”, adding: “Meeting the existing public pension shortfall will cost £4bn this year and £9bn by 2014: not affordable now, nor sustainable in the longer term.”

But why shouldn’t part of society’s wealth – which is the source of public spending – be used to fund proper pensions, even if it costs more? It’s the same argument that says the government’s budget deficit can only be solved through massive spending cuts, plunging capitalism into even greater crisis.

There is an alternative and it involves breaking away from a shattered system that takes pension contributions and then makes them dependent on growth in speculative investments in shares and property and/or steals the money in fees. It is about reorganising the economy along worker controlled, not-for-profit lines.

Pension fund managers will then be freed from the self-defeating requirement to maximise income by chasing profits from investments in hedge funds and derivatives, learning from co-operative ventures like Mondragon in Spain. Accumulated funds can then be directed to socially-useful purposes including community-owned and operated renewable energy generation, which in turn can produce income for further investments.

Public sector workers are already facing a wage freeze, redundancies and harsher conditions. Increasing pension contributions will amount to a further pay cut. Some union leaders have threatened strike action over pensions. Labour’s new leader Ed Miliband said strikes would “alienate the public” and he was opposed to them. In practice, the coalition ranged against ordinary workers stretches from one end of the mainstream political spectrum to the other.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Climate negotiations are a con-trick

Suggested targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are almost a third below what are needed to avoid dangerous climate change, according to a report from the World Wildlife Fund. That’s the reality facing the planet, as negotiators at the latest round of UN climate talks in Tianjin, China, wrangle over even these inadequate proposals.

The US and EU delegations are threatening to ditch the UN process altogether unless “emerging economies” accept more stringent emissions cuts than at present. They want India, China and Brazil to propose bigger reductions and accept independent monitoring.

US delegate Ron Pershing denounced other delegates for demanding a return to the climate talks agenda that was ruthlessly and unilaterally junked by the EU and US delegates at Copenhagen. Given that the majority of countries did not accept the resulting Copenhagen Accord, this is arrogance in the extreme.

The Chinese delegation accused the United States of trying to foist higher targets on others when they themselves are unlikely to meet their own, extremely low, target. The US goal of reducing emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 equates to a cut against 1990 levels of around 3%.

But scientists have recommended industrialised countries should cut emissions by between 25 and 40% against 1990 levels by 2020. The Obama administration’s failure to achieve any climate legislation means not only will the US fail to meet even this target, but it won’t fulfil the promises it made for finance or technology transfer to poorer nations.

The WWF report underlines the problem we face. To avoid dangerous climate change, a world emissions budget of 40 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2020 is needed. In fact even with the current promised reductions, we are on track to reach 47.9 to 53.6 gigatonnes in 2020.

And the situation could be even worse than it appears. The WWF is concerned that accounting loopholes can allow double counting or even fictitious claims of emissions reductions. Closing known policy loopholes and accounting tricks currently undermining the integrity of emission reduction targets would add up to another 2.4 gigatonnes saved per year by 2020, the WWF says.

Back at the talks, Bolivian negotiator Pablo Solon insists that industrialised nations are effectively blocking the current talks, which are in preparation for the December Climate Summit in Cancun, Mexico. He added: "If we had a set of commitments that assured developing countries that the measures will cool the planet, these talks would be moving very well.”

And he is quite right, since nothing at the talks has anything to do with a serious attempt to halt global warming. The Copenhagen Accord set out eradicate the issue of “historic emissions” and climate justice from the agenda, although these have formed a key strand of UN climate diplomacy up to now.

The process has degenerated into a diplomatic con-trick, where action to halt climate change is far from the priority. They are little more than a trade war forum, as the EU and US try to ensure the costs of reducing emissions affect the emerging economies, and not their own.

And at the same time, it is absolutely correct that unless China and to a lesser extent India and Brazil, start to cut emissions right away, climate change cannot be halted.
Choosing which side to take between these reckless capitalist behemoths is a waste of time. It is clear whose side they are on – global capitalism and the right of the corporations to carry on business as usual.

As AWTW’s Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions explains, we need an entirely different approach, which eliminates the power of the corporations to decide:

“A new kind of international co-operation would bring together the peoples of the planet in a democratic forum to plan together to halt the growth in emissions and to mitigate the impacts that are now inevitable. They would draw on all the expertise represented by climate scientists, world food and health experts and support each others’ development towards self-government and economic independence.”

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

International currency war under way

The Bank of Japan’s decision yesterday to further reduce its close to zero interest rate looks suspiciously like one of the opening shots in an exchange rate war that will intensify the problems besieging the already weakened major economies.

In dropping below its lower limit of 0.1%, and looking at a small programme of quantitative easing (QE) (aka printing more money), Japan managed to get the yen to fall on currency markets. This has the effect of making its exports cheaper.

But Tokyo didn’t start it. They just followed Brazil’s finance minister who, on Monday, took measures to hold down the value of the real. Guido Mantega warned: “We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency. This threatens us because it takes away our competitiveness.”

Both Japan and Brazil pre-empted the widely expected “return to QE2” – a sequel to the fading effects of the previous programme of money creation by the now struggling Obama administration. Washington wants the dollar to fall to give its exports an edge.

So the alarm bells are ringing at the International Monetary Fund, which is warning that the “recovery” has run out of steam. IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn told the Financial Times: “There is clearly the idea beginning to circulate that currencies can be used as a policy weapon. Translated into action, such an idea would represent a very serious risk to the global recovery.”

It’s not long since world’s leaders in government, banking and finance came together to hammer out the agreements that enabled at least the semblance of a co-ordinated programme of measures designed to restart lending and bring about a return to growth.

Whilst the previous concerted action is credited with averting a financial and economic Armageddon, its effects are best described as a phony recovery. And that is now over. The optimism induced by unprecedented measures couldn’t and didn’t overcome the uncontrollable logic of the capitalist system of production.

The global crisis may have erupted in the financial system but its roots are elsewhere. Throughout its short period of existence on the planet, the capitalist system has been racked by contradictory forces. Competitive pressures have obliged companies to invest in productivity enhancements which, whilst giving the front runners a temporary advantage, inevitably reduce costs, prices and profits for all.

To offset the tendency for profits to fall, greater volumes of every product have to be cranked out and sold, and the pressure for even more productivity accelerates and accentuates the growing economy.

This irresistible objective logic created the globalising corporations that came to dominate the world. And when the surging millions of cars, computers and mobile phones overwhelmed the market, a house of (credit) cards and mountains of debt were created so that consumers who could buy them up. At least until we, and the rest of the economy found ourselves drowning in that very same debt.

Optimism is now being replaced with realism. Cuts in government spending to reduce the budget deficits they’ve accumulated over years of trying to keep growth on track are just one part of the story.

The phony recovery allowed manufacturers to restock their warehouses and showrooms, but there’s still not, and won’t be enough buyers. So the factories that restarted production after the 2008 collapse will go back onto short time and no time.

Competition for the remaining market will sharpen, and the intensification in the rate of exploitation will prove truly shocking, sparking social unrest to match. These are the objective laws which shape the decisions in the boardrooms and in government buildings.

Successful resistance will depend on individuals and communities creating new forms of democracy – People’s Assemblies with the power to terminate the web of contracts and property relationships that tie workers to capitalist employers and ensnare us all in debt. The system of profit-chasing growth must be torn up at its roots. Let’s compost capitalism!

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Tea Party brews up a political crisis

Only in America could a woman like Christine O’Donnell become, in the words of New York Times columnist Frank Rich, “the brightest all-American media meteor since Balloon Boy”.

Rich views “I am not a witch” O’Donnell as a possible godsend for the Republican party as the US mid-term elections loom on November 2. He could not resist adding that the 41-year-old senatorial candidate for the state of Delaware, who is an evangelical Christian, is perhaps best known “for taking a fearless stand against masturbation, the one national pastime with more fans than baseball”.

Laughable as people like O’Donnell and their primitive right wing views might appear, her meteoric rise, like that of Sarah Palin before her, is an indication of the growing hold of the anti-state, anti-government Tea Party movement within the Republican Party (GOP).

O’Donnell provides the GOP with a symbolic figure – a small-town struggler on low-pay with “proletarian cred”. The reality about the Tea Party, though, is that it is bankrolled by the billionaire Koch family who first made their fortune in dealings with the dictator Joseph Stalin. It is making political capital out of the pain being suffered by millions of Americans as unemployment stands at 10% and repossessions leave whole areas of US towns and cities lifeless.

Behind its populist façade, the Tea Party is actually a plaything of massive corporate interests. Amongst its backers are many from the Forbes list of the super-rich. They include oil barons Robert Rowling and Trevor Rees-Jones, and not least, Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation. Through Fox television, Murdoch provides constant favourable news coverage for the Tea Party. Clearly the interests of these super-rich are nothing to do with the Tea Party’s supposed support for small town and impoverished Americans.

The new breed of Republican leaders also include people such as Nevada candidate Sharron Angle. Angle is another Christian fundamentalist who opposes abortion, no matter what, even for incest and rape. She wants to abolish the following: the Department of Education, Social Security, the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, National Endowment of the Arts, housing agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and Planned Parenthood funding. Perhaps surprisingly, Angle is standing against a Tea Party backed candidate.

So where does this leave President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party? Despite their success in passing healthcare, financial legislation and the Recovery Act, the administration’s “Big State” efforts to rescue the economy from meltdown have not stopped the jobs and homes haemorrhage.

While things have taken a slight turn for the better in the latest popularity ratings, the administration confronts a massive melt-down of confidence in a presidency. It began with the highest of hopes and tears of joy when the first-ever African-American was elected only two years ago.

But as the recession turns towards another Great Depression, that euphoria has turned into disappointment and shock. Obama admitted in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine: “We've seen an increase in poverty, and an increase in unemployment, and people's wages and incomes have stagnated.”

Not only is there a distinct possibility that the Republicans will gain control over both Senate and House of Representatives on November 2. Obama is also weathering a major changeover of White House staff.

Behind these harsh realities facing a president hailed for his skills as the great communicator is the historic weakness of the US economy in the face of ruthless competition from China. What we are seeing is a crisis not only for the Democrats but America’s political system as a whole. Some suggest that America is already “ungovernable” and that is likely to be even more the case after the mid-term elections.

Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward has revealed that last November Obama was virtually threatened with mutiny when he tried to overrule the military brass on withdrawal from Afghanistan. A disgruntled military, a possibly lame-duck president and a populist Tea Party working with big business, is a heady cocktail with unpredictable side-effects.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, October 04, 2010

Capitalism's crisis dictates the cuts

As the coalition begins to unveil its public spending cuts, the muddle-headed idea that they are simply “ideologically driven” remains fashionable, especially among those who think protest will produce a government U-turn.

It was the central theme of yesterday’s Right to Work march against the cuts in Birmingham, where the Tory Party conference is taking place. The notion is also at the heart of November’s Coalition of Resistance conference planned for London. Even trade union leaders like the RMT’s Bob Crow – a rarity as someone who puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to actually fighting back – holds this point of view.

The Labourites hedge their bets as they would surely be making cuts themselves if they had been re-elected. They accuse the Lib-Con coalition of wanting to “shrink the state” to benefit big business. (This is a bit rich coming from a party that created £90 billion in contracts for the private sector when in power in “partnership” projects).

There is an inconvenient truth that’s missing from all these viewpoints. It’s summed up just two words – capitalist crisis. The budget deficit crisis which is affecting every major economy, has its origins in the end of the speculative boom in 2007.

The recession that followed the global financial collapse exploded the myth that government deficits could be repaid out of the proceeds of a continuously growing economy. A sharp decline in private and corporate tax revenues ensued, whilst demands for social support like unemployment pay, housing benefits and pensions have grown.

In Britain, the budget deficit reached £162 billion in 2009-10. At 11% of national income (GDP), it is the highest of the group of 20 leading capitalist economies. The national debt - all the previous budget deficits added together - has reached £1 trillion (or £1,000 billion – three times the level of 2001) – equivalent to almost two-thirds of GDP.

Interest payments on the loans that fund the debt are expected to rise to £70 billion a year and could reach £100 billion a year. An estimated £110 billion of the national debt is the result of buying up Northern Rock and other failing banks. A report by the New Economics Foundation suggests further bail-outs are on the way.

Budget deficits are a global phenomenon which are themselves part of a wider financial and economic crisis. In the United States, total national debt is about $13 trillion dollars and rising and is over 92% of the country’s annual income. It is forecast to soar by another $10 trillion between 2011 and 2020. Those who call for “investment not cuts” should be aware that Obama’s administration has failed to revive the US economy with just such a programme.

The global capitalist economy is heading for a depression, according to the International Monetary Fund while others show that the "recovery”, such as it was, is over.

The coalition like all capitalist governments is caught in a vice. They have to cut the deficit to appease the financial markets and prevent state bankruptcy. Yet every cut takes money out of the economy and deepens the crisis. This is a graphic example of capitalism at its most self-destructive.

Rather than capitalist governments being in control and having an “ideological” choice, their actions are severely limited by circumstances. As Steve Barrow, Standard Bank, quoted in the Financial Times (June 28, 2010) said: "It might seem that these things [elections/strikes] don't matter too much as it's the financial markets that have the power to dictate to governments and so bring about change, not the unions and the electorate.''

General strikes in Spain, Greece, France and Italy have failed to halt the cuts because it’s the system itself that’s in crisis. Suggesting otherwise is to let the coalition and capitalism off the hook when we should be preparing a strategy to bring the government down and lay the foundations for a transfer of economic, financial and political power away from the ruling classes.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, October 01, 2010

The continuing tragedy in Haiti

Haitians are no strangers to natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods but January's earthquake was much more terrible in its destructiveness. Yet why, after all the pious promises in the wake of the calamity, is desperately needed aid not reaching the people of Haiti?

All the many ordinary people who responded so generously to appeals from the Red Cross and other relief agencies are entitled to ask when the results of their donations and the massive sums pledged by governments will actually bear fruit?

Some construction has taken place, food aid and medical supplies arrived and were properly used. But the really big stuff, the re-building of all kinds that needs to be undertaken will, it seems, be an awfully long time arriving if governments are left to their own devious and self-interested devices.

Up to 230,000 people perished and one million were left homeless by the earthquake. Almost nine months later people are still dying in the rubble strewn streets from hunger and disease.

Then in February heavy rain triggered floods which caused further damage and claimed more lives, mainly in the southern city of Les Cayes. The sad irony is that the coastal region in and around Les Cayes had been unaffected by the earthquake and so had provided a haven for the many thousands of people fleeing Port au Prince and other earthquake-hit areas.

Reconstruction efforts have all but halted because of lack of funding. Less than 15% of the billions of dollars pledged by the United States and other states and agencies has reached the stricken nation. While trillions of dollars can be spent with ease and efficiency on the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, Haiti has still not received any of the $1.5 billion pledged by the US specifically for earthquake relief.

And of the over $8 billion promised by other countries and organisations, a mere $700 million has actually arrived due to a combination of bungling, bureaucracy, corruption and simple lack of will or sense of urgency. Haiti it seems simply doesn't matter.

However little Haiti actually matters, there is one area where it is of importance and that is as a provider of cheap labour, the attraction of which has drawn foreign corporations to its shores. business parks have been constructed where workers labour for their $3 a day minimum wage while they continue to live in tarpaulin tents. Construction for profit not need one might say.

Another strand in the deepening crisis is the involvement of United Nations troops in incidents of violence there. Troops in MINUSTAH in particular (Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haiti) who have been deployed in a supposedly peace-keeping operation since 2004 are increasingly viewed as an unwelcome occupying force whose actions, which include killings, are leading to an increase in destabilisation. The impending arrival of troops from neighbouring Dominican Republic is certain to add to tensions.

If one believed in conspiracy theories one could credibly say that the deepening crisis in Haiti and the continuing dependence of Haitians on foreign aid with all sorts of strings attached, combined with the deliberate weakening of its governmental structures and undermining of its economy, was a deliberate plot. In a sense it is just that, but the methods are more diffuse and the many interests involved more varied and international than conspiracy theories generally allow.

This battered nation is also the poorest in the Western hemisphere and has, furthermore, been on the receiving end of the most callous and oppressive treatment, in particular by France and the US as well as suffering economic “treatment” by the International Monetary Fund. It has an heroic history of battling against oppression and slavery and should be seen as a beacon of freedom and a shining example to others. Instead, Haitians continue to be mercilessly punished for their past heroism and more recent resistance to foreign intervention as well as to the plundering of the small, wealthy, native elite.

Fiona Harrington