Friday, December 31, 2010

Let the sleeping giant speak in 2011

The leaders of the Trades Union Congress are not noted for dramatic statements or exaggerated, let alone rapid, reactions to political change. The TUC’s current general secretary, Brendan Barber, has spent his time in office promoting harmony between social classes and compromise not confrontation.

Therefore alarm bells should ring when Barber warns that 2011 is going to be a “horrible” year, with cuts in benefits and public services, and an increase in unemployment. And that it “could well be the year when the country starts to say no to government”.

Barber is sitting on a ticking time-bomb consisting of more than six million trade unionists, mostly in the public sector, who are about to bear the brunt of the Coalition government’s massive assault on spending. These workers are waiting for some leadership to resist the cuts – and none is, as yet, forthcoming. When their anger explodes, it will threaten men like Barber as well as the government.

The level of suffering will be enormous. A report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, predicts that unemployment will reach 2.7 million in the year to come, the highest leel in 17 years. The draconian cuts in public spending will push unemployment up rapidly, as the private sector fails to absorb the 330,000 public sector jobs due to disappear by 2015.

Job losses will coincide with rapidly rising prices of everything from basic foodstuffs to fuel and utility bills. Rail commuters in the south-east of England face fare rises of between 7.8% and 15% from Sunday for a second-rate service.

There is no question that last month’s unprecedented and militant action by school and university students and their families against soaring tuition fees foreshadows what is to come. Those cuts affected a relatively small section of the population – the middle classes and aspiring working class people. The next wave will touch almost everyone.

The most courageous amongst the union leaders, rail and tube workers’ leader Bob Crow has called for strikes: “We can expect to see workers in both public and private sectors out on the picket lines fighting for jobs and against savage attacks on pensions and standards of living. There is no reason for working people to pay the price for a crisis we didn’t create and which is wholly down to the banks, speculators and politicians.” Too right.

Barber and Labour leader Ed Miliband are fond of dismissing the government's deficit reduction plans as purely “ideological” or “politically motivated” and in so doing deliberately exempt the system known as capitalism. The Coalition’s cuts are, as we establish in our booklet Beyond Resistance, a desperate gamble to keep capitalism in Britain going under conditions of financial and economic crisis which threatens the break-up of the European Union itself.

No country, not even the much vaunted BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) is exempt from the crisis. After the 2008 crash, China’s economic growth was artificially stimulated by what one globalisation analyst describes as a “violent domestic stimulus” of 4 trillion yuan ($580 billion) . . . about 13 per cent of gross domestic product in 2008 and constituted ‘probably the largest such programme in history, even including wars’.” (Charles Dumas, author of Globalization Fractures).

Those who have been studying the big global picture and the historic changes which are re-shaping our world are not mincing their words. Just listen to Jeffrey Garten, former US undersecretary of commerce under Bill Clinton. He warns of “exceptional turbulence as the waning days of the global economic order we have known plays out chaotically, possibly destructively.”

The fact is that the kind of corporate-driven, credit-fuelled capitalism we have known it for the past three decades has come to a shuddering halt. The prospects for 2011 are a deepening recession and further financial collapse.

We should seek a rebirth of human culture – and a decent life for ordinary people on the planet – arising out of the ashes of global capitalism’s “bonfire of the vanities”.

But it will certainly not be achieved through the TUC’s call for everyone to huddle together on a demonstration at the end of March, by which time tens of thousands of council workers will have lost their jobs as local authorities – many of them Labour controlled – implement the Coalition’s spending cuts.

Nor will plans for protest strike action aimed at forcing the government to change course and stop the cuts be adequate to the task. That is a key lesson from the general strikes in Greece, Spain and Portugal during 2010 where “socialist” governments have smashed public services and pensions.

There is a sleeping giant at the base of our society who has yet to speak. That is the vast majority of people who have everything to gain by throwing off not only the bankers, speculators and politicians who serve them, but the system of private ownership for profit over which they preside.

Let’s make 2011 the year to begin the struggle for power against the ruling political, financial and economic elites, building a network People’s Assemblies to complete this absolutely necessary transformation.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Thursday, December 30, 2010

'False victories won't save the planet'

The Cancun Agreement, hailed by climate secretary Chris Huhne as a “significant turning point”, is in reality a further step down the road to runaway global warming and resulting ecological disaster. Not one of the key points of the agreement signed earlier this month gives any hope for the kinds of radical actions that are urgently needed.

It is even a step back from the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, which committed UN member states to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that would keep warming below 2 degrees. Despite the fact that Cancun includes commitments by China and the US, which were not parties to the Kyoto Protocol, total pledges on emissions reductions would put the world on track for between 2 and 4 degrees of warming by 2050.

At this level, a series of feedback mechanisms will come into play, leading to dangerous, runaway climate change. There is no reason to believe that in the midst of the economic and financial crisis, countries will improve on their current pledges.

The agreement on finance for countries who protect forests is riddled with loopholes. For example, palm oil plantations and other arboreal cash crops, even those planted on land illegally cleared of virgin forest, will qualify for funding. And even worse, it extends the failed market in carbon credits into this crucial area of the world’s eco-system.

The offers of finance for developing countries of $30bn now and $100bn dollars “later”, is contemptible. The $30bn figure is about one year’s average profits for the world’s biggest oil corporation Exxon-Mobil. And whilst the climate fund will be run by a panel of developing countries, rather than the World Bank, what money will they have to distribute?

There was no agreement on who will donate the money, or when. Rich countries will continue to recycle their existing aid commitments or simply fail to live up to their promises, as they did with the Millennium Goals.

A new inspection regime will check that countries are meeting their targets – but given that the targets themselves are voluntary and too little, too late, this is not going to have any impact on rising temperatures.

The commitment to a scientific review of progress after five years is laughable, given that the agreement reached in Cancun ignores entirely the climate science which should be the foundation of these global discussions.

The final fate of the Kyoto Protocol will be decided next year at another climate summit to be held in Durban. The Protocol is the only legally binding agreement on emissions reductions, and it runs out in 2012. It requires emissions cuts from only 37 or the richest industrialised nations – not including China and the US – and it is likely now to wither on the vine. Amongst those countries who ratified it, Japan, Russia and Canada have made clear that they will not support its continuation.

Amidst the cheering and clapping with which delegates greeted agreement in Cancun, just one country stood out against – Bolivia, whose ambassador Pablo Solon denounced the talks as being swamped by diplomacy and nothing to do with real action on climate change. He said:

Unfortunately, a convenient realism has become all that powerful nations are willing to offer, while they ignore scientists’ exhortations to act radically now. Bolivia may have acted unusually by upsetting the established way of dealing with things. But we face an unprecedented crisis, and false victories won’t save the planet. False agreements will not guarantee a future for our children. We all must stand up and demand a climate agreement strong enough to match the crisis we confront.

He is quite right, and if the governments of the world are so in thrall to the needs of the corporations that they cannot deliver such an agreement, then the peoples of the world will have to find another way forward to protect themselves, their families and the eco-system of which we are a part.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

German corporations demand survival of the fittest

The Eurozone is cracking apart as German-based industrial corporations demand the end of support for poorer, peripheral debt-laden countries so that wages can be forced down. In the back rooms of the financial powerhouses the talk is of leaving Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Belgium to collapse, throwing millions into permanent unemployment.

Why? Because globally co-ordinated attempts to bring the world’s financial institutions back from the brink of Armageddon by printing money, failed to produce anything more than a temporary – and phony – recovery of growth.

Phony, because the figures did nothing to hide the close to 10% unemployment in much of the developed part of the world, rising to 20% in Spain. Phony, because increased manufacturing filled stock levels but didn’t translate into enough increased sales. Phony because investment in China is giving way to inflation and export-dependent growth is slowing there and in India.

And now the debt contagion that is the principal feature of the global capitalist crisis, has spread to local and municipal authorities in the United States and other countries.

More than 100 US cities are already facing the prospect of bankruptcy. American cities and states have debts in total of as much as $2 trillion. In Europe, local and regional government borrowing is expected to reach a historical peak of nearly €1.3tn (£1.1tn) this year.

Cities from Detroit to Madrid are struggling to pay creditors, including providers of basic services such as street cleaning. Last week, Moody's ratings agency warned about a downgrade for the cities of Florence and Barcelona and cut the rating of the Basque country in northern Spain. The debts of Naples, Budapest and Istanbul's have achieved unenviable “junk” status.

You don’t need to try to imagine the consequences. Just look at Detroit. Fifty years ago, Detroit was home to almost 2 million people. Today, many of the once bustling, car-clogged streets of the motor city are largely abandoned. The population is less than half what it was. One in five houses is empty – in some areas it is eight out of ten. Property prices have collapsed to the point where houses can be had for $100, although the average price is $7,500 (£5,000). The city council gives homes away to those prepared to pay the outstanding property taxes.

Now the city authorities, faced with talk of bankruptcy, plan to downsize Detroit by cutting off services, such as policing and sewerage, to large parts of the blighted metropolis in an effort to pressure residents to move to core neighbourhoods of a smaller city.

The mayor of Detroit, Dave Bing, said that his administration cannot afford to go on providing services such as schools, firefighters, buses and rubbish collection to large areas of the city where the population has dropped sharply. The fall in the number of people paying property taxes has left a $300 million hole in the budget.

Bing told the Detroit Free Press that no one will be forced to move but those who remain outside of designated parts of the city "need to understand that they're not going to get the kind of services they require".

In Britain, rising interest rates and declining tax income are hitting hard already, driving the government’s deficit to record levels yet again. This can only intensify the increasingly shaky Coalition’s drive to cut spending, forcing hundreds of thousands out of work.

It couldn’t be clearer. Capitalist society is no longer able to provide the basics of life for the majority. Its replacement cannot come a moment too soon. People’s Assemblies can surely become the organising focus for a new kind of not-for-profit society. Remaking the financial system will be amongst their first tasks.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

This will be our last blog before the holiday period. We will resume publication on Thursday, 30 December.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Don't let capitalism off the hook

Embarrassed by the vitality and determination of the student movement against higher tuition fees, some trade union leaders are making militant noises about co-ordinated strike action against the government’s spending cuts. Whether words become deeds is debatable.

Len McCluskey, the new general secretary of Unite, Britain’s largest union, has written in The Guardian that trade unions ought to be “preparing for battle” and should not let the anti-union laws paralyse them in the face of the cuts onslaught.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC), says McCluskey, will meet early in 2011 to discuss “co-ordinated industrial action and to analyse the possibilities and opportunities for a broad strike movement.” But before anyone gets too excited, let’s examine what is happening on the ground.

Yesterday, the TUC general secretary Brendan Barber and union leaders met David Cameron for mince pies and tea at Downing Street at their request. Afterwards, Barber would only say that they had warned Cameron of the consequences of the deficit-reduction plan, as if the prime minister didn’t know already. Only Bob Crow, leader of the RMT transport union, voiced support for McCluskey.

McCluskey, whose union’s endorsement was critical in getting Ed Miliband elected as Labour’s new leader, criticised the party’s front bench for meeting the Tory cuts programme halfway. Somehow he managed to excuse Miliband himself, although the Labour leader accepts that the budget deficit should be reduced. He simply wants the Coalition to move more slowly.

While Miliband quickly distanced himself from McCluskey’s support for strike action – showing that he who pays the piper doesn’t necessarily call the tune – in practice they agree in one key area. Labour-controlled local councils are busily preparing to make substantial cuts. Some like Lewisham have started implementing them already.

Instead of demanding that Labour councils refuse to draw up cuts budgets for 2011-12 based on substantial reductions in central government grant, McCluskey only says they should not be blamed “for the problem” because to do so is a “shortcut to splitting our movement”.

No-one is actually blaming them for the crisis. But local trade unionists rightly are demanding that Labour councils refuse to make the cuts as a matter of principle. Work on drawing up the budgets will begin immediately after the holiday season is over, with a view to getting them through the council by early March.

The TUC demonstration against spending cuts scheduled for March 26 will, therefore, be too late to save tens of thousands of jobs and services from the axe. Conflict between workers and Labour councils is inevitable in the next few months and trade unionists will want to know why McCluskey has nothing to say on this issue.

There is also meeting of minds between McCluskey and Barber on the ground of economic illiteracy. Both insist that the cuts are purely “ideologically driven”, being simply an attempt to destroy public services and the welfare state and are, therefore, totally unnecessary. If only it were that simple.

As we show in our downloadable Beyond Resistance booklet, the cuts are “ideological” only in the sense that capitalist governments are motivated to do everything they can to sustain the profit system. Britain’s budget deficit is part of the same global debt crisis that brought down the banks.

Deficits are a clear and present danger in so far as both governments and the financial markets are concerned. More to the point Barber and McCluskey cannot explain, for example, why parties in Greece, Spain and Portugal who call themselves socialist, have implemented massive cuts and faced down a series of general strikes.

Contrary to what McCluskey and Barber think, economic growth and tax justice is not an alternative to the cuts and lets capitalism off the hook. For any strike action to be effective, is will have to be part of a wider movement to bring down the Coalition while working up plans to replace the present madhouse with a not-for-profit economic and financial model. In other words, we need an ideologically-driven struggle against capitalism itself.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, December 20, 2010

The revolution will be digitised

US vice-president Joe Biden has raised the stakes in a global cyber war between those fighting for the right to information about the secret activities of governments and those who protect the warmongering interests of global capital.

By denouncing WikilLeaks founder Julian Assange as “a high-tech terrorist who has put lives and jobs in jeopardy”, he virtually signed a death warrant. Biden also confirmed that the US government is actively seeking a way of charging Assange with espionage.

After originally downplaying the leaks, the second most powerful man in the US Biden has added to Sarah Palin’s baying for blood. Palin has called for Assange to be pursued "with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders”. And we know how the US treats “enemy combatants”.

Assange and his lawyers are currently fighting his extradition to Sweden where the WikiLeaks founder faces charges of sexual molestation, the subject of a salacious witch-hunt in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday. Accusations by two Swedish women he met last August are being talked up in order to cloud the real issues and fuel a character assassination campaign.

The real problem, as Assange himself has said, for the world’s political leaders is not simply that WikiLeaks continues to exist as an organisation. It is the courage of the whistleblowers inside state institutions who actually provide the leaks in the first place.

People like US army intelligence officer Bradley Manning. Manning, who is accused of handing over 90,000 classified Afghan war logs to WikiLeaks, has just turned 23 after being held in solitary confinement for 200 days.

He is detained at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 hours a day alone in a standard-sized cell, with a sink, a toilet, and a bed. US website, The Daily Beast, writes:

The conditions under which Bradley Manning is being held would traumatize anyone. . . He lives alone in a small cell, denied human contact. He is forced to wear shackles when outside of his cell, and when he meets with the few people allowed to visit him, they sit with a glass partition between them … When he was first arrested, Manning was put on suicide watch, but his status was quickly changed to “Prevention of Injury” watch (POI), and under this lesser pretence he has been forced into his life of mind-numbing tedium.

Manning is not the only young person who involved in this secretive cyber and information war. In the past fortnight, the conflict over WikiLeaks drew in thousands of “hacktivists” who brought down credit card companies who refused to process WikiLeaks transactions. A hackers’ collective called Anonymous, organised a mass “DDoS” attack on websites which acted against Assange and WikiLeaks.

DDoS means “Distributed Denial of Service”, and involves the use of “collaborative tools where supporters can voluntarily attach their machines to a botnet in order to assist with a DDoS attack. The preferred tools are usually some version of the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) software.”

Sound like a sci-fi thriller? It is – except it’s true. And young people around the world are being arrested for it. Two Dutch hackers, one aged 19 and another 16 were seized last week, as was a 17-year-old in Manchester. The Met now even has a special e-crime unit called PCeU which specialises in tracking down such people. In Switzerland and Sweden this hackers’ movement has taken the political form of the Pirate Parties.

The case of Julian Assange is about much more than one Australian campaigner. It has taken the war against non-democratic, repressive and secret states into a new dimension. For all Biden’s bluster, the Americans can’t shut down WikiLeaks because its site is replicated by supporters around the globe.

In Britain, students used social networking and micro-blogging to mobilise recently, giving the police the run-around. The notion of the all-seeing, all-powerful state is taking a battering. There is no doubt that the revolution will be digitised!

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, December 17, 2010

Community 'gang-masters' heading your way

Even as local authorities were digesting the destructive impact of the Cameron-Clegg Coalition’s savage assault on their funding, it was revealed that the government is hard at work preparing plans to deal with a sharp downturn in 2011.

These plans will have been given added urgency by the latest uunemployment figures, showing the total without jobs in the UK rose by 35,000 to 2.5 million in the three months to October – the first increase since the spring.

In a surprise for the many economists deluded by self-created dreams of recovery, the private sector failed to create enough jobs to offset those that are starting to be lost in the public sector as the cuts begin to bite.

The jobless rate rose to 7.9 per cent of the workforce, up from 7.7 per cent in the three months to September and taking it close to the 8 per cent peak seen in the first quarter. Unemployment among 16-24 year-olds rose by 28,000 to 943,000, a rate of 19.8 per cent, one in five, and close to the record set last year.

As the latest round of cuts begin to take effect, threatening a further 100,000 jobs in the next few months, research by homeless charity Shelter shows that almost a million households are already in arrears with their rent or mortgage, twice as many as a year ago.

According to Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive: “Every two minutes someone faces the nightmare of losing their home and this research paints a disturbing picture of sharply rising numbers of people who face a daily struggle just to keep a roof over their head.

“We know from the cases we see every day that just one single thing, like a bout of illness, rent increase or drop in income, is all that’s needed to push people into spiral of debt and arrears that can lead to the loss of their home. With tough times ahead and homelessness already on the rise, we’re extremely concerned that this could be the beginning of a surge in the numbers of people losing their homes next year.”

Publication of the Localism Bill provides a clearer view of the government’s direction as it cuts revenue for local authorities, abandons services like housing, education, libraries, social care, focuses on channeling declining tax revenues into restoring the profitability of the banking and finance sector.

Whilst community-run enterprises across the country are already filling some of the void left by Post Office and pub closures, the Bill suggests that this can be scaled up to take on libraries, schools and social care. But the reality is that surviving local services will increasingly be passed into the control of for-profit corporations, be staffed by unpaid volunteers or fall apart altogether.

What the Coalition is really envisaging was revealed in the startling results of a consultation with business leaders participating in the Prince of Wales Business in the Community charity. As well as urging the government to eliminate the checks that prevent unsuitable people volunteering, they asked the government to help them promote the idea of “brokers” on the ground in communities to establish connections between companies and voluntary organisations.

Pretty soon, if the Coalition’s friends and sponsors have their way, those in need will have to depend on profitable paid-for services like the already privatised home care. They’ll be staffed by low-paid workers managed by well-paid “brokers” or “connectors” employed by Sainsbury’s, Tesco or even the global financial conglomerate UBS.

It’ll be just a “community” version of the gang masters who organise people-trafficked cheap labour to pick and pack vegetables, but dressed up in the comforting Big Society newspeak.

The Localism Bill expects communities to pick up the pieces as the Coalition destroys the last vestiges of the welfare state to protect the capitalist economy. Expect no opposition from local councillors, especially those in Ed Miliband's party. They plan to make the cuts as instructed.

Communities should seize the initiative and form networks of Peoples’ Assemblies which can take over the resources owned by shareholders and run for profit and turn them into not-for-profit enterprises that will serve local people’s needs. The alternative is a bleak wasteland of broken services and mass unemployment.

Gerry Gold
Economic editor

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ethiopia drives farmers off their land

It’s Christmas time, and the old favourites are being wheeled out, including Band Aid’s Do they know it’s Christmas, which in 1984 brought together top musicians in response to the terrible famine then raging in Ethiopia. No-one who saw the Michael Buerk’s reports for the BBC will ever forget them.

Now Ethiopia is one of Africa’s booming economies with a current annual growth rate of 8%. Addis Ababa, itself hosts one of the world’s biggest charity events. The Great Ethiopian Run harnesses the national passion for running to raise money for those in the countryside whose lives have not been improved by the boom.

In the next phase of economic expansion, the government of Meles Zenawi plans to lease 100,000 hectares of land over the next five years to global agribusiness. Companies include Saudi Star, owned by the Saudi royal family, which plans to grow water-hungry crops like rice and sugar.

The Ethiopian government claims the land is empty and unused and that inward investment will improve infrastructure and lift people out of poverty. But In reality this is an enforced land requisition, complete with repression and bribery. Ten people have already been killed in protests.

In a BBC report from the south west of the country, one of those protesting against the plans, explained how the land has been used by Ethiopia’s pastoralist, criss-crossing it with their animals in annual cycles, literally from time immemorial.

He told reporter Ed Butler: “There is no empty land in Gambella without a history. Village areas have been cleared and villagers have been bribed to sell their own farm. They can’t sell the land, it’s not theirs. That land is ancestral land.”

Ethiopian writer Dr Magn Nayang argues that it is possible to achieve modernisation WITHOUT handing over land to the global food companies who are “arguably the greatest generators of poverty, and consequently social and political instability in the world today”.

He recalls how farmers in the 1990s were encouraged to plant coffee, and as a result the price of coffee fell as the market was flooded and the incomes of more than 25 million coffee growers, including Ethiopians, were devastated.This is what happens when you drag farmers who want to stay on their land forever, into the capitalist farming model without the kind of state subsidies enjoyed by European and American farmers. Dr Nayang puts is succinctly:

According to the economic theory of commodity industries, rising production and falling prices continue until profits are so low that investment capital moves elsewhere. The Karuturi Global, the Saudi Star, and the likes are bound to move somewhere else, once they deplete the long-term fertility of the soil. However, poor farmers do not have this option. In fact, poor farmers typically keep trying to expand production even when costs exceed prices in desperate attempts to maintain their incomes and stay on their land.

Agricultural commodity prices are soaring – cotton is up 100% over the year; soybeans 27% and wheat has also increased dramatically. Food prices are rising across the globe. This is partly due to demand from the growing economies of China, India and Brazil. But it is also a result of the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, where money pumped into the economy is finding its way into speculation on commodity prices.

In the meantime, marginal land is being despoiled by intensive farming, water wasted on inappropriate cash crops – and at the end of the day the agri-corporations will move on leaving a desert behind them.

To protect the land, the farmers and the world’s food supply we need a new concept of commonwealth – a local and community-based framework for land use. It would reject the idea that the land belongs to the state, or to anyone – whilst protecting the rights of farmers to go on farming it and having agreed rights over it.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Time to remove cuts councillors

Absolutely savage cuts in council spending announced by the Coalition yesterday will lead to tens of thousands of jobs losses and the devastation of essential local services. The question is: How can this be stopped?

The reduction in government grant will hit poorer inner-city areas hardest. Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Manchester, Rochdale, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Doncaster and South Tyneside face grant cuts of nearly 9% from next April.

With council tax frozen by Whitehall order, the only way these councils can balance their books is to sack workers and shut down services. And it will get worse, with similar sized cuts scheduled for the following three years.

A number of things are already clear. Many if not most city councils are Labour controlled – and they are without question going to make the cuts. This is already happening in places like Manchester, Doncaster, Lewisham and Lambeth.

The official leaders of council trade unions like the GMB, Unite and Unison, agree with Labour councillors. In fact, Unite is calling Labour councillors to meetings to tell them what they wanted to hear and were already planning – that they should not defy the government. Labour leader Ed Miliband is backing this message.

Unison yesterday came out with the obvious statement that “the scale of the cuts means that communities will be feeling the pain for years to come.” Its main campaign is get a million signatures for public services, as if that will make the slightest difference as far the Lib-Con government is concerned.

Unison is supporting the TUC’s call for a demonstration for public services on March 26 next year – by which time the cuts will have been made.

Britain’s record budget deficit – with interest payments on loans alone heading towards the £100 billion a year mark – is what lies behind the cuts. In turn, the deficit results from the global recession that followed the 2008 financial meltdown.

From a capitalist point of view, the Coalition has no choice but to slash and burn. And inevitably, the burden of the capitalist crisis falls on local communities, which will resemble wastelands if these cuts are allowed to stand.

As the students have discovered, the Coalition has no intention of yielding to protest. Nor will Labour councillors, who overwhelmingly are New Labour types without principle or backbone who would like to be allowed to get away with say "we are only carrying out government orders".

A broad strategy is required that goes beyond resistance.

Councillors that refuse to stand up for their communities have no right to continue to represent local voters. A campaign should begin immediately, organised by council trade unionists, to force them to step aside.

They could organise their own ballots on the cuts as a way of mobilising local communities against those planning to vote for job losses and shutting down services.

Trade unionists and communities have to be prepared to take over the town halls themselves and block all attempts to pass cuts budgets.

Local government democracy was wiped out a long time ago. Councils exist to carry out government orders and communities have to create their own local democratic process.

Council chambers should become a base for creating genuine People’s Assemblies in local areas. A network of People’s Assemblies emerging out of the fight against council cuts would be in a position to defy central government and challenge the authority of Whitehall.

Assemblies could begin to work on economic and financial alternatives to a capitalist system that has patently broken down.

A groundswell of resistance is building throughout Britain. Hundreds of council workers marched through Doncaster yesterday against the Labour council’s plans to slash £80 million off spending. They were joined by students from Sheffield University and applauded calls to strike and occupy council offices to fight the cuts. They are heading in the right direction.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, December 13, 2010

Student revolt shows state in turmoil

The continuing wave of student protests against increased fees and education cuts is highlighting a deepening crisis within the British state, one that presents opportunities as well as threats.

Plans for more demonstrations, including today’s against the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, show the real concern not only of students but also parents and teachers about how education is increasingly run along business lines.

It has emerged that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson almost quit over the incident last Thursday when Prince Charles and Camilla’s vehicle came under attack from protesters. The episode made it evident that 3,000 officers failed to seal off streets in central London, once demonstrators had got wise to their kettling tactics.

Stephenson and his ilk are still smarting from being caught off their guard by protesters at Tory party headquarters in Millbank Tower during the protest organised by the National Union of Students last month. In revenge attacks for November, last Thursday’s operations saw massed ranks of police deployed around Parliament Square.

A police cavalry charge was used as a terror tactic. Police used truncheons indiscriminately on defenceless students such as 20-year-old Alfie Meadows, who is recovering from a three-hour brain operation. Officers pulled Jody McIntyre, who suffers from cerebral palsy, from his wheelchair. So far around 180 people have been arrested and the Met is preparing criminal prosecutions against them.

So now Home Secretary Theresa May says she does not exclude the possibility of the police deploying water cannon to curb further student protests. Recent citizen protests in Stuttgart saw serious injuries as a result of their use. That won’t bother the Coalition and no doubt tear gas and para-military riot units won’t be far behind.
Behind the continuing protest movement there is a deeper current of disaffection.

Today’s publication of the British Social Attitudes Survey shows that trust in politicians has reached an all-time low.

This groundswell of distrust indicates that there is a breakdown in the relationship between the state and the mass of the population, especially young people. This is fuelling their evident desire to go beyond and outside the worn-out parliamentary channels of protest and pressure politics.

In doing so they are moving politically ahead the mass of workers who are being held back by the Labour Party and trade union bureaucrats. Young people are not as trapped the those who seek to place a safe cap on things and keep the status quo. They are not hanging around for the feeble stroll around the park being organised by the Trades Union Congress in over three months time.

But today local councils up and down the country are being told how much to cut - how many jobs and services are to disappear, leaving a trail of devastation and misery. Most councillors – whatever their political affiliation – will be voting through the cuts. Ordinary people, not only public service workers, will now be drawn into a wider movement.

So the urgent issue is to continue to explore and develop new political forms outside and beyond local government, the conservative trade union leadership and parliament.

Last Friday a student meeting at the London School of Economics, called to discuss the way forward in the battle against education cuts, proposed that assemblies should embrace not only the national student movement, but also those fighting against the cuts more widely.

And the momentum for building People's Asssemblies took a step forward at the “Liberation beyond resistance” meeting in London on Saturday. There was a wide-ranging discussion on the nature and purpose of People's Assemblies and many proposals made for concrete actions in 2011. Assemblies have the potential to challenge the state for power itself in order to create a truly democratic society, in terms of politics and the control of resources. They are the way to go in 2011.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, December 10, 2010

Parliament as a dead parrot

The events in and around Parliament yesterday represent a watershed – not just for university students but for society at large. Higher education officially became a business and the present political process was shown to have less life in it than a dead parrot.

Years of emphasis on education as the way to success and overcoming accidents of birth are now associated with heavy debts which are impossible for many to contemplate. The hopes of a new generation are being dashed in front of their eyes.

The Tories, building on New Labour’s introduction of tuition fees, used the Lib Dems to impose a market model on universities, turning students into “customers” at a stroke. Ed Miliband, apparently the new leader of Labour, refused to commit himself to overturning the vote which transforms education into something for the wealthy.

No wonder students were driven to confront the state in the shape of the Coalition, the police and the monarchy. And the cracks are showing. Not only were the Lib Dems hopelessly split (leaving Nick Clegg’s position vulnerable), but the police were barely able to cope.

The use of intimidation by police – truncheons, riot gear, cameras, horses, kettling, etc –probably spurred on protests as students became angrier and saw it as a challenge. The hundreds who attacked the Treasury and the Supreme Court could not have sustained this without the thousands who came to demonstrate and felt frustrated when the vote went through.

Outwitted by a spontaneous movement independent of the official “leaders” of the
National Union of Students – who never opposed the original introduction of fees – the police lost control and landed the heir to the throne in the middle of it all. “Off with their heads” hadn’t been heard on London’s streets for some time – until last night.

Furthermore, the students have shamed the leaders of the trade union movement, apart from a minority like Bob Crow of the transport RMT who mobilised his members to join yesterday’s demonstrations. Leading bureaucrats from Unite and other unions are actually going round cities like Leeds telling Labour councillors they have to implement the cuts.

Their refusal to call members into actions against the cuts – and £9,000 tuition fees are a direct consequence of the savage reduction in state support for universities – left students vulnerable to police attacks on London’s streets.

Students, by contrast, are united by the sweeping nature of cuts which affect them all. Not just those already at university but those at colleges (who face the end of maintenance allowances) and schools. They are aware of what their parents had and are enjoying their support in opposing tuition fees.

A spirit of altruism prevails, embracing common interests between poorer and better off students and wider interests of society. Students around the world, from Pakistan to France, are following the struggle in Britain because education is under attack in every country.

Global capitalism is in crisis, as we have tried to explain in our booklet Beyond Resistance (which you can download for free). The state, which props up the system, is transferring the cost of formerly public services like education entirely on to the backs of those who use and need them.

The social system – the government, the state, the corporations and the banks – has lost any moral authority to rule. Its mandate from the ruling elites is to restore capitalism, whatever the cost. Creating a sustainable alternative now becomes a practical necessity. Students have seized the initiative. They are in the best position of all too inspire the wider population to create People’s Assemblies (see tomorrow’s event) to challenge and defeat a state that is heading towards outright suppression of all dissent.

Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary
Paul Feldman, communications editor

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Boosting carbon markets top priority at Cancún

As the Cancún climate talks stumble along, it should be no surprise to anyone to learn from Wikileaks that the United States and the European Union used pressure and bribery to bully smaller nations into signing up to the Copenhagen Accords.

As long ago as 2007, A World to Win denounced the UN climate change process as a forum for the prevention of action on climate change. And nothing has happened since to alter that view.

Even the agreement that were expected to be signed in Cancún – the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) agreement, the proposal for free sharing of green technologies between advanced industrial and poorer nations, and the mitigation fund – are now foundering.

Of course, it would be good news if REDD collapsed. It proposes to draw forest protection into the corrupt and ineffective carbon market, with rich countries paying poor countries to protect forest, then claiming carbon offsets to carry on polluting.

It is simply another route towards “business as usual” and it would not, by the way, protect forests, as illegal logging would doubtless continue. It is not surprising that major corporations sent delegates to a meeting in Cancún in support of REDD, including Walmart CEO Robson Walton.

The draft text still includes plantations – for example palm oil plantations – in the definition of forests. So Indonesia could turn a blind eye to illegal clearing of a forest, and then claim funding for the protection of the resulting palm oil plantation. This is turning logic on its head – or rather it is basing the whole process on the logic of the market.

As the ETC Group says in its report “The New Biomassters – Synthetic Biology and the Next assault on biodiversity and livelihoods”:

New carbon markets are turning plant-life into carbon stocks for trading (in lieu of reducing emissions). But the companies that say ‘trust us’ are the same energy, chemical companies, agribusinesses and forestry giants that created the climate and food crises in the first place.

And at the same time, Silvia Ribeiro of the ETC Group warns:

The Gene Giants are stockpiling patents that threaten to put a choke-hold on the world’s biomass and our future food. The breadth of many patent claims on climate ready crop genes is staggering. In many cases, a single patent or patent application claims ownership of engineered gene sequences that could be deployed in virtually all major crops – as well as the processed food and feed products derived from them.

So what is taking place in Cancún is not a negotiation on climate change, but a further development in the globalisation process, where the penetration of the market into new areas is facilitated and subsidised by governments through carbon off-sets.

Bolivia is accused of putting forests at risk by holding out against the inclusion of carbon trades in any treaty. But as ambassador Pablo Solon said, his government is motivated by the desire to prevent the kind of disastrous rise in global temperatures that would condemn humanity to death.

“We have come to seek an accord for humanity and nature in its totality. The most current research indicates that 300,000 people die each year due to natural disasters. You’re playing with human lives,” Solon said.

But that is precisely what capitalism does – it commodifies everything on the planet, including the labour of human beings, and puts it all to work for the creation of profit. At Saturday’s meeting, “Liberation Beyond Resistance – Towards a Peoples Assemblies Movement” – it will be important to include emergency actions on climate change in discussions about what the priorities for the future must be.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Irish budget won't stop the rot

The Irish Parliament’s vote to implement a further, more savage €6 billion programme of spending cuts and tax increases has done nothing to stop the worsening debt crisis transforming the political landscape throughout Europe and beyond.

Quite the opposite. As Ireland follows Greece, and with Portugal and Spain jostling for position in the queue for aid, the conditions of the Intenational Monetary Fund-sponsored package for the Irish Republic are reverberating throughout the continent. And the pressure is mounting across the Atlantic too.

In the United States, Democrats are in open revolt against President Obama’s deal with the Tea Party-inspired Republicans to continue Bush’s 10-year-old tax breaks for the wealthy, which were widely expected be allowed to expire at the end of the year.

This proposed new deal is part of the political price for agreement on a further debt-funded stimulus. But the markets are worried, and the cost of US borrowing has started to rise.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn the managing director of the IMF says the “piecemeal” country-by-country approach can’t solve the crisis but Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is not alone in blocking proposals for a Europe wide rescue scheme. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders far-right Freedom party teamed up with the so-called Socialist Party to oppose the deal for Ireland.

For the Irish people, the new budget slashes social welfare benefits, public pensions and capital projects, whilst forcing the 45% of low wage earners to pay income tax for the first time in order to rescue the banks and pay the interest on government bonds.

Michael Noonan, finance spokesman for the centre-right Fine Gael party stated the obvious: "This budget is the budget of a puppet government who are doing what they have been told to do by the IMF, the EU Commission and the European Central Bank."

But what he didn’t say is that the demands of these agencies are themselves orchestrated and conducted by the much more powerful forces at work in the rapidly contracting global capitalist economy.

Even as the captive Irish government was applauding itself, warnings of further mass assaults could be detected in the absurdly optimistic growth forecasts underpinning the new budget.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan pins Irish hopes on gross domestic product national income (GDP) expanding by 1.7 percent next year, nearly double the European Commission's forecast of 0.9 percent.

The government is forecasting growth of 3.2 percent in 2012, 3.0 percent in 2013 and 2.8 percent in 2014, but Danny McCoy, head of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation said he saw little in the budget to help job creation or restore economic competitiveness.

In reality, governments throughout the world are in a competitive race to destroy living standards, driven by the needs of an economic system of global corporations competing for declining profits as markets shrink and collapse.

The crisis began when credit-funded stimulus reached its limits. Political parties of the left and right are ganging up together to design and implement “austerity” programmes that can only accelerate the process of contraction. Despite the rhetoric of recovery it is what they are required to do.

Campaigns to resist the assault on people’s lives must be brought together with the democratic and legislative means to replace the moribund capitalist system rather than patch it up. People’s Assemblies can begin to construct a richer form of democratic control based on social ownership and not-for-profit production and finance. Check out A World to Win’s proposals for transforming social relations in our new Beyond Resistance booklet.

Gerry Gold
Economics Editor

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Desert horror for asylum seekers

There has been a hullabaloo about the shark attack on a German tourist in the luxury Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh, on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula. But the continuing plight of a group of Eritrean refugees held prisoner in the Sinai desert, has received little attention, despite the killing of three hostages on November 28.

Until an appeal yesterday by Pope Benedict XVI, only human rights campaigners such as the Italian EveryOnegroup have been raising alarm bells on behalf of the remaining 77 Eritrean asylum seekers who are being held prisoner by people-traffickers.

EveryOne Group, an NGO working to protect refugees and migrants, has appealed to the UN, the European Parliament, the President of the European Commission, the Council of Europe's Committee Against Torture, Egyptian President Mubarak, and the Italian government:

“These people have been held for months on the outskirts of a town in Sinai in purpose-built containers. Their captors are demanding payment of up to US$8,000 per person before releasing them, and are subjecting them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. They are bound by chains around their ankles, have been deprived of adequate food, are given salty water to drink, and have been tortured using extreme methods, including electric shocks, to force friends and families abroad to make these payments. The women in the group, who have been separated from the rest, are particularly vulnerable to severe abuse.”

“Egypt will have legalized the trafficking of human beings, slavery, torture, and cold-blooded murder: a massacre that can be avoided with international diplomatic intervention”, EveryOne Group concludes.

The truth is that desperate asylum seekers have suffered terribly while crossing the Sinai desert for some time now. Easy prey for traffickers, they must cross through Egypt’s long desert border with Israel. Israeli tabloid newspaper Yediot Ahronot, for example, last month documented the horrific conditions in the camps run by Bedouin people smugglers.

This interest in the shocking conditions in Sinai is not an accident. Israel has become an unlikely magnet for asylum seekers over recent years, despite its hostility to migrants from Africa.

The aftermath of war and the brutal rule by the Afewerki government in Eritrea has made even the unfriendly state of Israel an attractive destination for people escaping extreme poverty and religious persecution. The regime in Eritrea, which waged a civil war against neighbouring Ethiopia in which 100,000 people have lost their lives, is amongst the harshest in the region. The country has no constitution, no independent press. Religious minorities suffer persecution.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been warning of a “flood” of illegal migrants and his government is erecting a fence along the 130-mile border with Egypt as well as a detention centre. But Israel is not the only guilty party in this matter by a long way. Brutal treatment by the Egyptian government goes back at least five years, when it put down a protest by Sudanese refugees on their way to Israel.

Egypt is right now in the throes of a contested election. Its 78 million people are suffering high inflation and unemployment under the rule of 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak. His ruling National Democratic Party yesterday claimed to have won 83% of the 518 seats at stake in the National Assembly. But this was after the main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, had withdrawn from the election, protesting against ballot rigging. The Independent Committee for Election Monitoring is today holding an international press conference in Cairo to discuss the parliamentary poll and the deterioration of democracy in Egypt. Election monitors have called on the president to dissolve parliament.

Despite their differences, the present states of Eritrea, Egypt and Israel will never solve the problems facing their own people, let alone those of persecuted religious or ethnic minorities, such as the Eritrean refugees in Sinai. That task belongs to a mass movement, working for the common interests of those living in the region, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, December 06, 2010

Corporate complicity in crimes against Palestinians

Corporations play a decisive role in enabling Israel to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity like destroying Palestinian homes.

Seven key corporations – some of whom actually boast of their role – take centre stage in an indictment handed down by an international tribunal, which met in London recently. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RTP), whose panel includes eminent British lawyers Michael Mansfield and Lord Gifford, heard what it called “compelling evidence” of complicity:

G4S, a multinational British/Danish corporation, supplies scanning equipment and full body scanners to several military checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza. G4S also provides equipment for prisons for Palestinian political prisoners.

Elbit Systems, a leading Israeli multinational, supplied the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (otherwise known as Drones) that were extensively and illegally used in the Gaza conflict. The British army has recently awarded Elbit a $1 billion contract.

Caterpillar, based in the US, supply specifically modified military D9 bulldozers to Israel, which are used in: (i) the demolition of Palestinian homes; (ii) the construction of settlements and the Wall; and (iii) in urban warfare in the Gaza conflict.

Cement Roadstone Holdings, an Irish multinational corporation, owns 25% of the Israeli corporation Mashav Initiative and Development Ltd, which in turn owns Israel’s sole cement producer, supplying 75-90% of all cement in Israel and occupied Palestine.

Dexia, a Franco-Belgian corporation, finances Israeli settlements in the West Bank via its subsidiary Dexia Israel Public Finance Ltd.

Veolia Transport, a French corporation, is involved in the construction of the East Jerusalem light railway. Veolia also operates bus services to illegal Israeli settlements as well as landfills where settlements dump their garbage on Palestinian lands.

Carmel Agrexco, an Israeli corporation, is an exporter of agricultural produce, including oranges, olives, and avocadoes from the illegal settlements in the West Bank. It also exports Palestinian products which are mislabelled as “made in Israel”.

An RTF statement at the end of the two-day hearing said: “It is clear from the evidence of witnesses that this conduct is not only morally reprehensible, but also exposes those corporations to legal liability for very serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. What distinguishes the present situation from others in which international action has been called for, is that in this case both Israel and the corporations that are complicit in Israel’s unlawful actions are in clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Although companies were invited to defend their actions, only Veolia Environment, PFZW pension fund and security company G4S responded to the tribunal in writing. The jurors included former French ambassador Stephane Hessel; Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire; South African professor John Dugard; South African politician Ronald Kasrils; Spanish judge Jose Antonio Martin Pallin and former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

Dugard, who recently served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said: “We are dealing with a criminal enterprise on the part of Israel. Under criminal and international law and in many cases under national legal systems, there is an obligation on the part of states to redress such illegality, but if states do not take action, there is also responsibility on the part of corporations and civil society to redress these wrongs.”

Israel’s response? The Israeli government is currently considering making protest along the lines of campaigning for boycotts and disinvestments a criminal offence. It has also just carried out a new swathe of demolition of Palestinian homes. I am waiting with bated breath for the leaked cable from the US embassy attacking such policies.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, December 03, 2010

'Carrying out orders' is no defence for Labour councillors

Local councils in England will shortly get the news they’ve dreaded hearing ever since George Osborne announced his massive cuts package last month – details of the reduced funding they will get from Whitehall for 2011-12.

Osborne’s “spending review” is based, among other calculations, on slashing local government spending by a mammoth 27% over the next four years. To achieve that, central government grants could be cut by over half, according to independent analysis.

The Coalition has frozen council tax – the only other major source of council funding – so the net result has to be the axing of tens of thousands of jobs, the devastation of essential local services and a sharp rise in charges to local residents. Birmingham City Council is already planning to cut its workforce by 10,000 over the next four years.

Areas like the North-east, where public sector jobs are the mainstay, will be the hardest hit. The Association of North East Councils has written to ministers telling them that they are “undeliverable” unless the government wants to devastate the region, especially as the cuts are scheduled to be heaviest in the first of the four-year cycle in a process known as “frontloading”.

Some Labour-controlled councils are not waiting for the grant announcement. Earlier this week, Lewisham Council passed a £16 million cuts budget amid a stormy protest.

Others like Lambeth leader Steve Reed are making excuses in advance for carrying out government diktats. Writing on his blog, Reed admits that councils “across Britain [including his own] are working out how to implement funding cuts on a scale not seen since before the Second World War”. His main gripe is that the cuts are being “frontloaded” to force councils to close services down “rather than manage the cost reductions in a more sensible and measured way.”

But when all is said and done, Reed and his fellow Labour councillors intend to make the cuts as demanded while claiming that they are not their fault because they originate with the Coalition. That’s true of course – but someone has to carry them into practice and Reed and Labour councillors around the country may moan and groan but they will obey orders because to do otherwise would mean defiance and potentially put them outside the law. And we can’t have Labour councillors put in such a dangerous and difficult position!

If any of them had an ounce of political courage, Labour councillors who control most major authorities would resign their seats and fight bye-elections on the pledge of refusing to draw up and pass a cuts budget. They would mobilise their communities and council trade unions to fight the Coalition in the way Lambeth Council of the early 1980s fought the Thatcher government. But don’t hold your breath on this one. Instead, they intend to pass on the cuts and smash services.

In these circumstances, local communities and local authority trade unions have no other choice but to begin a struggle to oust the councillors from their cosy offices and council chambers. They should reject the argument that councillors are just “carrying out orders” because this not an acceptable defence. Let the Coalition send in their own people to do the dirty work.

The way the cuts are being made ready at town hall level prove once and for all that local government is a fiction. We are talking centralised, undemocratic Whitehall control. Local democracy died a long time ago and it’s time to move on. That’s one of the themes for discussion at the December 11 People’s Assemblies event in London. Register for it today.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Cancún farce puts the world at risk

Government officials meeting in Cancún, Mexico, have begun what the annual round of delay and betrayal that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) has become.

There is absolutely no sign of any compromise between delegates representing nearly 200 countries on the key issues that led to Copenhagen’s failure last December.

"We will not be able to negotiate a new treaty in Cancún, that much is clear," host nation Mexico's chief delegate Fernando Tudela admits. The best he hopes for is to “dispel mistrust”, “end the standoff”, “achieve confidence, unity and effectiveness”.

In other words – good public relations and image-building but absolutely no commitment to reductions in carbon emissions. The only area where progress may be made is in throwing money at the governments of poorer nations, supposedly to offset and mitigate the impacts of climate change. So politicians and officials will be bribed, whilst ordinary people will pay the price.

All hope of achieving an agreement on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at these, or any other talks, has now been abandoned. This was confirmed when Japan stated its outright opposition to extending the Kyoto protocol – the binding international emissions cuts treaty signed in 1992.

Bolivia’s UN Ambassador Pablo Solon, condemned proposals known as REDD+ that would set up a market-based system to pay poorer nations to protect tropical forests. "Now they want to put a value on nature ... this is what got us here in the first place," he said adding that rich nations were claiming to take part in negotiating a successor to Kyoto without ever having even lived up to their legal commitments under the existing treaty.

At the summit in Copenhagen last year, the rich nations hi-jacked the meeting and transformed the FCCC process from planning a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, to be instead a forum for implementing a market-driven increase in global temperatures by 2ºC. Such an increase will lead to:
 complete destruction of the world’s coral reefs
 26 million people displaced by rising sea levels, hurricanes and cyclones
 300 million people at risk of hunger due to failing crops
 2.8 billion people without access to clean water.
 Spread of diseases such as malaria and Dengue Fever to new areas
 Mass extinctions in the Arctic with only 42% of the Arctic tundra stable.
 Greenland ice cap melted
 Loss of the majority of the remaining major forests of China, Europe and America.

And as meteorologists have recently explained, temperatures are rising even faster than previously predicted, and a 4ºC increase is entirely on the cards in the case of capitalism being permitted to continue business as usual. That would mean:
 Sea levels rise swamping some island nations entirely and 70% of Bangladesh, Florida, Netherlands and the south of England
 40 million people round Shanghai and 60 million around Calcutta displaced
 Melting of the Siberian permafrost, releasing millions of tons of greenhouse gases and speeding up the warming process even further.

Bolivian President Evo Morales will attend the final week of the meeting, to promote the Cochabamba Accord on Mother Earth Rights, which stated that capitalism is the structural cause of climate change, and is inherently unsustainable.

He is quite right to do so, but perhaps he’s is doing it in the wrong place. NGOs and campaigners have launched a campaign calling for “ten thousand Cancúns”. That’s the last thing we need! Instead we want 10,000 people’s assemblies, in every country, challenging the right of undemocratic governments and global corporations to continue driving the eco-system to the tipping point where life on earth becomes unsustainable.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The contagion of revolt

Protests by students and teachers throughout Europe are mounting as governments try to offset savage reductions in education budgets with increased fees in the losing race to prevent state bankruptcy.

Students marched throughout Britain yesterday as well in Italian cities yesterday in protest against attacks on education, blocking roads and railway lines in some of the biggest demonstrations seen in decades.

Hopes that the feverish activity resulting in an €85bn loan package for Ireland would inhibit the debt contagion spreading throughout Europe and the rest of the world were dashed as global investors immediately sent the rates soaring for lending to Portugal, Italy and Spain as well as Ireland and Greece.

"The crisis is intensifying and worsening," said Nick Matthews, a credit expert at the Royal Bank of Scotland. "Bond [government debt] purchases by the European Central Bank are the only anti-contagion weapon left. It needs to act much more aggressively."

Agreement on a European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to be launched in mid-2013 will be far too late to prevent a string of state bankruptcies. The loan package for Ireland itself postpones the intention of the ESM to force banks and hedge funds to take losses if a country runs out of money. The UK’s contribution to the Irish package is an attempt to ease the strains on the interdependence of the failed Irish economy and UK-based banks.

The ESM, if it comes into force, will not only test the power of the Eurozone governments against the global banks and non-banks, but will require a long process to arrive at unanimous agreement among Eurozone countries that a country is insolvent and qualifies for help.

As the crisis continued to spread, French Minister for the economy, Christine Lagarde says that each European country is facing very different conditions and each should be treated on a case by case basis. Whilst it is true that the levels of indebtedness vary, the development of the global economy means that debt is universal and the fate of each country is entangled with the fate of the whole world system, not just that of the Eurozone or even the whole of Europe.

In the US, the fallout from the mortgage defaults that triggered the global meltdown in 2008 is continuing despite the launch of a second round of quantitative easing or printing of money. US house prices fell for the third month running in September and at a quicker-than-expected rate.

The end of the government’s tax incentive for first-time homebuyers joined persistent unemployment, high rates of foreclosure and an excess of vacant homes. Home prices have plunged by 28.6 per cent since peaking in June 2006.

As every desperate economic measure stokes up social unrest, the time has come for a new kind of politics. Iceland was the first country to be driven into bankruptcy by the global financial meltdown of 2007/8. It has just elected a 25-person Constitutional Parliament to re-write its constitution for the first time in the Republic’s history.

It is a small indication of the much bigger political changes needed to resolve the economic, social and ecological catastrophe caused by capitalist production. The December 11 event in London on creating People’s Assemblies would be a good place to start.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor