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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Bedroom tax legal challenge dismissed in high court wall of resistance needed !

Today a high court ruling on the much hated bedroom tax was heard below i republish a article from todays Guardian on the matter. It is clear that legal route is one of th ways of defending ourselves but we cannot rely on the bourgeois courts and law to protect us. We must urgently organise mass resistance and solidarity in our communities including anti eviction armies to defend people under threat . "Ten families have lost their attempt to overturn the government's "bedroom tax" on the basis that it was highly discriminatory and contrary to article 14 of the European convention of human rights. Two judges ruled that courts should not "micromanage" policy decisions and that the provision of discretionary housing payments granted local authorities enough flexibility to deal with shortfalls in rent arrears. The new housing benefit rules took affect from April and mean that thousands of families have had to switch accommodation to meet either a 14% or 25% reduction in housing subsidies depending on whether they have one or two extra rooms. The 10 families, which include someone with spina bifida, brought the case to the high court in May arguing that the policy – which reduces financial subsidy for those considered to have one or more extra bedrooms than required – discriminated against those with disability. They have said that they will appeal against ]\the decision. However in their ruling, Lord Justice Law and Justice Cranston came down strongly against the secretary of state's inability to have set down other regulations following from a previous housing benefit challenge to payments made to families with disabled children in the private sector. In that case in March last year, judges founds that size critieria for housing benefit in the private sector could discriminate against disabled children who needed a bedroom each because of health needs. In their ruling today, judges said that the secretary of state was relying on "departmental circular" to implement policy ordered by the courts in March last year which was not sufficient. "The secretary of state has no business considering whether to introduce regulations to conform housing benefit provision with the judgment in Gorry. His is obliged to do so." In a statement from one of the three solicitors firms bringing the cases, Richard Stein from the human rights team at Leigh Day said: "This is a most disappointing result. We will be seeking an urgent appeal to the court of appeal. "Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs."

Talking of under consumption

There is many theories for the causes of the current financial crisis we are living through and i have mentioned many myself on this blog. Is there one theory or many ? Its a interesting question and i’m currently lookingat all to see if any fit. One theory which is popular and is pushed by many is the theory of under consumption. This theory is a keynsian analysis of crisis and thus is a bourgeois theory i’m afraid. Unfortunatly even some Marxists stand by this theory and take it into the workers movement. In Karl Marx’s excellent work we can tell that marx many years ago dismissed this theory as a cause of crisis. Marx writes in volume 2 of theories of surplus value in reply to a question of under consumption of the mass’s being the cause of crisis. “The word over-production in itself leads to error. So long as the most urgent needs of a large part of society are not satisfied, or only the most immediate needs are satisfied, there can of course be absolutely no talk of an over-production of products— in the sense that the amount of products is excessive in relation to the need for them. On the contrary, it must be said that on the basis of capitalist production, there is constant under-production in this sense. The limits to production are set by the profit of the capitalist and in no way by the needs of the producers.” (p.527) “Defined more closely, this means nothing more than that too much has been produced for the purpose of enrichment, or that too great a part of the product is intended not for consumption as revenue, but for making more money (for accumulation): not to satisfy the personal needs of its owner, but to give him money, abstract social riches and capital, more power over the labour of others, i.e., to increase this power.” (ibid p.5 Overproduction happens because production is for profit In Mick brooks’s excellent piece on understanding the crisis he mentions under consumption as a theory i quote below “ Engels, in his chapter on ‘Production’ in Anti-Duhring, is a stern critic of Duhring’s under-consumptionist interpretation of capitalist crisis. He points out that the restricted consumption of the masses is a permanent feature of capitalism. “But unfortunately the under-consumption of the masses, the restriction of the consumption of the masses to what is necessary for their maintenance and reproduction, is not a new phenomenon. It has existed as long as there have been exploiting and exploited classes. Even in those periods of history when the situation of the masses was particularly favourable, as for example in England in the fifteenth century, they under-consumed. They were very far from having their own annual total product at their disposal to be consumed by them. Therefore, while under-consumptionism has been a constant feature in history for thousands of years, the general shrinkage of the market which breaks out in crises as a result of a surplus of production is a phenomenon only of the last fifty years;” (pp. 395-396). But if under-consumption (in the sense that the workers can’t buy back all the commodities they produce) is a permanent condition of capitalism, then how on earth does capitalism survive, let alone develop? What happens to this excess production (the surplus)? It is quite true that workers can’t buy all the value they produce. Surplus value ends up, of course, in the hands of the capitalist class. This is just another way of saying capitalism is a system where production is for profit. This under-consumption, this inability to realise commodities already produced is really only a potential problem. It would only be a real problem if all the capitalists were to instruct their workers to make workers’ wage goods. In that case the workers would be unable to buy those goods. But why should we assume that this will happen? The workers haven’t got the money to buy the goods, because the capitalists have kept some of it. That is their surplus value. What do the capitalists do with it? There are two possibilities: either they consume the entire surplus unproductively (very rare in practice). In this case the surplus is still spent. It is spent by the capitalists on themselves. The alternative is that the capitalists invest it. If they invest it, that also ‘solves’ the problem of under-consumption for the time being – because the surplus has now been spent on capital goods. Not all capitalists oversee the production of goods they expect to be sold to the workers. Iron and steel capitalists never sell their products to the masses (though, of course their output enters into consumer goods targeted at workers). They are producing capital goods and they know it. Other capitalists specialise in the production of ‘luxury’ goods for consumption by capitalists. Marxists call the products of this sector elements of uncapitalised surplus value. For both these sections of the capitalist class their customers are exclusively other capitalists. The demand for capital goods, for workers’ consumption and for luxury goods is provided by the incomes of the classes generated in the production process, and by the investment decisions of the capitalist class. Of course how much you ‘need’ is determined under capitalism by how much money you’ve got. We expect the relevant sort of goods in roughly the right proportions to meet this purchasing power to be provided by the usual operation of the market. Capitalists in search of profit try to produce commodities aimed at meeting a need. (Actually capitalists produce nothing. Workers produce commodities under the instruction of capitalists. Please accept this as shorthand.) If nobody wants the good, nobody will buy it and the capitalist will make a loss. And purchasing power is derived from the revenues from capitalist production. (Getting the proportions of the material elements of production right is a real problem in an unplanned system..) There is no reason at all, at this level of analysis, why all these products cannot be sold to people (workers and capitalists) who have the money to pay for them. We should no more automatically expect capitalism to produce too many workers’ consumption goods than too many luxury goods or too many capital goods. So there is sufficient purchasing power in the economy to buy all that is produced. And the goods should be in place to satisfy this purchasing power. There seems to be no over-production/under-consumption problem, since markets exist for the surplus. There is always someone out there to buy these products and someone else to sell them. The cause of capitalist crisis must be sought elsewhere. If the crisis were really caused by the ‘restricted consumption of the masses’ we would expect it to be manifested by an over-production of consumer goods relative to capital goods. In fact this is by no means the usual case in actual capitalist crises. Most crises have actually begun in the capital goods sector. If the crisis were caused by under-consumption we would expect the workers to suddenly cease providing an adequate market for the capitalists, so triggering the crisis. Actually workers’ consumption usually falls as they are laid off as a result of the crisis, further shrinking markets. Their restricted consumption is thus a symptom of the crisis, not its cause. If capitalists generally accumulate a great part of their surplus, then we can expect the capital goods sector to grow relative to consumer goods in the economy. But the effect of this accumulation of capital is to make the workers more productive and therefore make the problem of over-production potentially more severe in the future” Marx indeed was quite fierce in his ideas that under consumption was not the cause of crisis but a result if you like. In Capital Volume II, Marx pointed out that towards the end of the boom, as it was on the point of toppling over to bust when there was relatively full employment, was the time when workers were likely to make gains in real wages and increase their share of national income. “It is a pure tautology to say that crises are provoked by the lack of effective demand or effective consumption…If an attempt is made to give this tautology the semblance of greater profundity that the working class receives too small a portion of its own product and that the evil would be remedied if it received a bigger share if its wages rose, we need only note that crises are always prepared by a period in which wages generally increase and the working class does receive a greater share in the part of the annual product destined for consumption.” (p. 48 Marx was clear that the most important law of political economy is the Law of the tendancy of the rate of profit to fall. This was backed up twice in two places it was that important marx felt.  Marx made this statement twice, in the Grundrisse  written in 1857-8: and in almost exactly the same words in the 1861-3 economic manuscripts (Collected Works Volume 33, p.104): “This law, and it is the most important law of political economy, is that the rate of profit has a tendency to fall with the progress of capitalist production. Some say this is a tendancy and only a tendancy but Marx took a different view to how we see tendancies today For those that the law is simply a tendency, suggesting that it doesn’t matter. “It is a tendency and not a law, as Marx emphasised,” in the section Tendency always applies that for Marx all economic laws take the form of a tendencyFor Marx a tendency has the meaning of a force at work, not a statistical trend. For instance: “Such a general rate of surplus-value — viewed as a tendency, like all other economic laws — has been assumed by us for the sake of theoretical simplification.” (Capital Volume III p.275) with thanks and references Mick Brooks http://www.karlmarx.net/marx-crisis-theory/marxisttheoryofcrisispartone Karl Marx capital volume 2 and 3 Karl Marx theories of surplus value volume 2

Monday, 29 July 2013

Defend workers rights join a trade union

A big day in legal rights for workers today as their rights at work are significantly dented. I’d urge you all now if you are not already to join a trade union as unions are there to protect your rights oh well they are supposed to anyway. Some unions have already pledged to cover the extra cots that workers will face but you need to be in a union for this help and support.
Elizabeth George from the law firm Leigh Day has called plans to charge people to take action against their employer a retrogressive step, and claims that the system will be thrown into chaos through a lack of preparation for the changes and inadequate information for claimants and their representatives. Full information was only released one working day before the fees are introduced, late on 24 July. From today (29 July 2013), workers making an unfair dismissal or discrimination claim against their employer will have to pay fees of up to £1200, regardless of the manner in which they have been treated at work. The first fee is an ‘Issue Fee’ and must be paid at the same time as the claim is issued It will be £160 or £250, depending on the type of case being brought. The second fee is a ‘Hearing Fee’ and must be paid before the full hearing takes place. It will be either £230 or £950, again depending on the type of case. The lower fees will be for cases such as wages claims whilst those bringing claims for unfair dismissal and discrimination will have to pay the higher fee. Whilst some provision is being made for those on low incomes, who may be exempt from paying fees under the ‘Fee Remission Scheme’, the details on how to apply for this remission were only announced on 24 July.
Details on who qualifies for the fee remission scheme have been made available; an unmarried claimant with no children will not qualify if they are earning over £13,000. A married person with 4 children will be ineligible if the combined household income exceeds £29,000. Elizabeth George, a Barrister in the employment team at law firm Leigh Day said: “This sends a very dangerous message to employers who will be less inclined to abide by their legal obligations as the risk of being challenged will be much reduced. “These fees will disproportionately hit those suffering discrimination because of their age, race, disability and gender with women returning from maternity leave particularly hard hit as they’ll be judged on their salary when they left rather than their statutory maternity pay."
In 2012/ 13 there were 191,540 claims brought in front of the employment tribunal which has seen a 74% rise in the number of sex discrimination claims. Ms George explained: “Whilst we cannot know the number of legitimate claims these fees will dissuade, the introduction of substantial and often disproportionate fees will undoubtedly see many people having to put up with discrimination and unable to challenge unfair dismissals however badly they have been treated. “We have already seen guidance from lawyers advising employers to wait to fire people as it will be cheaper and the chances of being taken to Tribunal will be less following the introduction of fees. “Instead of standing up for people suffering unlawful discrimination in the workplace, the Government is doing the exact opposite by potentially penalising those who get pregnant, those who are disabled, those who fall ill and those who grow old.”

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Iain Duncan Smith, what kind of man is he?

I’ve been shocked but not surprised by the BBC’s latest show of “we pay your benefits” carefully depicting benefit claimants and trying to push the government’s propaganda and ideology and it seems to be working as far as I can tell. Even in today’s Guardian IDS as some people have called him is claiming he is very pleased with his work on welfare and says we must do more though. “This government has embarked on one of the most aggressive programmes of welfare reform Britain has ever seen, and we already have a proud record of achievement. There is no doubt that changes to the welfare state are desperately needed. Our reforms will put an end to people being left on sickness benefits year after year; they will eradicate the trap that has left so many better off on benefits than in work; and they will ensure the benefits bill is sustainable over the longer term. Questions have been raised about whether the dramatic pace of our reforms is too difficult to implement. But these doubts ignore my department's proven track record of delivering change and show a lack of ambition from the people raising them. Look at what has already been achieved.” He may see it as a achivement in hammering the poor but I do not see it this way at this most brutal attack on the poorest in society in a generation. As Laurie Penny who I’m not always a fan of in her piece in the New Statesman today wrote “The camera may not lie but sometimes it tells truths you weren’t expecting. As the government’s flagship benefits cap is rolled out across the nation, amid protests from homelessness charities, women’s rights groups and food banks already overwhelmed by demand, the BBC is devoting hours of its prime-time schedule to pitting the underpaid against the unemployed. The spectacle of one single mother telling another in the tin-can aisle at the supermarket that she’s greedy because she wants her kids to have a hot meal says a great deal about modern Britain. It tells us whose suffering matters and whose children will never have their dinner dissected for our scorn on national television. The BBC1 programme Nick and Margaret: We All Pay Your Benefits (11 and 18 July, 9pm), echoing the rhetoric of the Department for Work and Pensions, pits “taxpayers” against “shirkers” and asks how we can “make work pay”. Of these gristly little semantic nuggets of state propaganda, “making work pay” is the most noxious – a mantra that’s incanted by every jobsworth Tory in every debate, in line with the logic that if one repeats a lie for long enough it will function as truth. Taking away benefits will not “make work pay”. The reason why work doesn’t pay is not that benefits are too high. It is that wages are too low. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, with the rising cost of living, there have been 40 consecutive months of contraction in real wages in the UK. In many occupations, the basic pay is too low to cover rent, food and bills, especially in London and the south-east, where housing costs are out of control. This is why a large proportion of housing benefit is paid on behalf of those who are in work, straight into the pockets of private landlords. Then there’s “the taxpayer”, a phrase that is deliberately misused to imply that only those in waged work pay taxes. Everybody who buys a warm Cornish pasty puts pennies into the Treasury. Drawing an arbitrary distinction between “taxpayers” and “people on benefits” implies that those who rely on state support are taking money directly out of the pockets of workers, when they are being supported by a system to which we all contribute, which is there to help all of us should we find ourselves ill or unemployed. The anxiety to separate the interests of “taxpayers” from those of the unemployed falsely suggests that unemployment benefits are now the main drain on the state. Despite savage welfare cuts, state spending on unemployment remains high because unemployment remains high, for the simple reason that one cannot “incentivise” people into jobs that aren’t there. A far higher proportion of state spending goes on subsidising tax cuts for multinational corporations and arms dealers, maintaining our nuclear weapons programme and having a military presence abroad. “Taxpayers”, though, are not being invited into the homes of devastated Afghan families, taken on tours of the Trident base or shown around the mansions of offshore millionaires and asked to make judgements about how their taxes are being spent. The idea is preposterous. Poor people are supposed to make moral judgements about other poor people only. We can afford to offer Vodafone billions in tax breaks but God forbid some kids in Ipswich get a second-hand PlayStation. “

Is there a lack of demand?

Many economists and even so called Marxists put the crisis down to a lack of demand in this post I will outline why I don’t feel this is the case. Mainstream economists and politicians in the main capitalist economies are in a dilemma. They could not come up with a convincing explanation of why there was a financial collapse and the ensuing Great Recession. When former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, was asked in the US Congress, right in the middle of the slump, if he could explain what had happened, he responded, “I am in a state of shocked disbelief.” He was questioned: “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology was not right, it was not working (House Oversight Committee Chair, Henry Waxman). “Absolutely, precisely, you know that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well”. The conventional wisdom was unable to explain the huge disruption in modern capitalism. Now mainstream economics is in a dilemma. They are not sure what to do to fix it. Is not the lack of effective demand really a description of a slump rather than its cause? Many Keynsia economists including Paul Krugman who some seem to hold a lot of faith in even so called marxists puts the cause of this crisi we are living through down to a lack of effective demand. In his well-known (among economists) attack upon the failure of neoclassical economics to explain economic recessions and particularly the Great Recession (How did economists get it so wrong? 6 September 2009, NYT Magazine), Krugman presents his ‘co-op babysitting’ example. He says “a recession is a problem of inadequate demand. There isn’t enough babysitting demand to provide jobs for everyone who wants one.” But this is not an explanation, but a description. Inadequate demand arises in the baby coop because people hold onto the money rather than buy babysitting services. This is really yet another refutation of Say’s law. All it shows is the possibility of a breakdown between buying and selling because of money. Marx had described that possibility over 150 years ago. It’s not new. But in Krugman’s example, there is no explanation of why or when the coop starts hoarding money rather than spending it; it just starts happening. Krugman puts it down to ‘irrational’ people and ‘imperfect’ markets (the latter, a neoclassical explanation). As Michael Roberts points out in his article http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/effective-demand-liquidity-traps-and-debt-deflation/ “Some Marxists reckon crises and slumps are not caused by a lack of effective demand or excessive debt or financial instability, but by falling and low profitability in production. The impact of falling profitability can be postponed by credit (fictitious capital) expansion, but then the eventual slump will be exacerbated by the need to clear this excessive debt. This is my view. Other Marxists reckon the crisis is due to ‘the anarchy of capitalist production’ (that’s too vague and too high a level of abstraction as an explanation for me). Or some say it is due to ‘underconsumption’, or a lack of spending power by workers. That’s pretty much the Keynesian view (just a description of a slump not an explanation).” The Keynesians think that the crisis in capitalist production is simply one of insufficient spending or ‘effective demand’. So the government must step in to fill the gap if the private sector cannot deliver. But is the lack of spending not caused by a lack of income? As Mauldin hints: “The problem is not merely one of insufficient spending: the key problem is insufficient income. By definition, income has to come before spending. You can take money from one source and give it to another, but that is not organic growth.” What Mauldin does not specify is that ‘organic growth’ (i.e. growth not based on fictitious capital) under the capitalist mode of production depends not on income as such but on the share that goes to profit. If that is insufficient,then organic growth based on productive investment will not materialise, whether the government spends more or less. Its clear to me as told by Marx that profits follow investment and profit cannot be made out of thin air so speculating on stock exchanges is one idea that I’m not convinced on as you need to create surplus value in order to realise profit in affect this is what Marx called fictitious capital in other words crating no real value. As Marxists we understand that only the products of human labour contain surplus value, because surplus value can only be extracted from workers’ labour-power (as in manufacturing). When this surplus value is realised (i.e. commodities are sold), it becomes profit in the hands of the capitalist class. Financial speculation, on the other hand, does not create new surplus value. Instead, it exchanges shares, stocks and financial instruments which are essentially claims on existing or future surplus value being produced. But these claims on surplus value become commodities in their own right in the hands of the speculators. As a result, their monetary value, their price, fluctuates in line with supply and demand. In fact, their price can get completely out of sync with the value they actually represent. So getting back to my main question is a lack of demand the cause of the financial crisis we can revert to the experts they being Karl Marx and Frederich Engel’s. “The word overproduction in itself leads to error. So long as a large part of the needs of society are not satisfied, or only the most immediate needs are satisfied there can of course be no talk of an overproduction of products, in the sense that the amount of products is excessive in relation to the need for them… The limits to production are set by the profit of the capitalist and in no way by the needs of the producers (i.e. workers).” (Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, p. 527) Marx clearly explains that production under capitalism is determined by the profitability for the capitalists and not demands of the masses. “But unfortunately the under-consumption of the masses, the restriction of the consumption of the masses to what is necessary for their maintenance and reproduction, is not a new phenomenon. It has existed as long as there have been exploiting and exploited classes. Even in those periods of history when the situation of the masses was particularly favourable, as for example in England in the fifteenth century, they under-consumed. They were very far from having their own annual total product at their disposal to be consumed by them. Therefore, while under-consumptionism has been a constant feature in history for thousands of years, the general shrinkage of the market which breaks out in crises as a result of a surplus of production (i.e. crisis of overproduction) is a phenomenon only of the last fifty years;” (Engel’s, Anti-Duhring, pp. 395-396). Engel’s outlines that the under-consumption of the masses is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, in all class societies the exploited never receives the full portion of their product: the surplus goes to the ruling class. If under consumption was a cause of crisis, capitalism would permanently be in crisis! The market shrinks (i.e. demand falls) as a result of the crisis of overproduction. It still doesn’t explain why crisis occur when they do. Comrades, it is time to erase the bourgeois-Keynesian schema that dictates crisis is caused by lack of demand. This is a classic crisis of capitalism as brilliantly explained by Marx in his three volumes of Capital. The underlying cause of the crisis is the falling rate of profit. With thanks to Steve Dobbs of West London Socialist party branch http://socialismiscrucial.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/overproduction-is-not-due-to-underconsumption-marxist-theory-of-crisis-pt5/ And Michael Roberts and his excellent blog.

The long term view of capitalist development or degeneration

There is much talk in the financial press and among economists of the risk that the major capitalist economies could be slipping back into recession. Economic data for the US and Europe are indicating a significant slowdown in economic growth and a weak recovery in employment and investment. Is this just a temporary blip or does it represent a significant downturn? I would like to answer that by returning to the long view. The long view I’d describe is Karl Marx’s law of the tendancy of the rate of profit to fall which I believe is the underlying cause of the capitalist crisis and indeed is the cause of most if not all crisis’s and is Marx’s 3rd law of capialistmotion which we must look at to understand the changes in capitalism and how we stand today. Just taking the post-war period, there was a Golden Age of profitability from 1946 to 1965 when the rate of profit (ROP) was high and even rising. During this period, economic recessions were few and relatively shallow. Then there was a period of crisis when profitability fell steadily until it reached a nadir in 1982. During this period, economic recessions were more frequent, violent and deep i.e. 1969-70, 1974-5 (the first simultaneous post-war economic recession) and 1980-2 (the deepest recession since the 1930s). After 1982 there was a recovery in profitability right up to 1997. This was the period of so-called neoliberalism that many have argued constitutes a completely new structure of capitalism based on ‘financialisation’ and neoliberal policies of privatisation and weakening of the labour movement (see my comrade Steve Dobson’s excellent post “neo liberalism a new stage of capitalism” a http://socialismiscrucial.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/neoliberalism-a-new-stage-of-capitalism/ There was only one significant economic slump in 1990-1. What next? Once the ROP starts falling, it takes a few years before an economy moves into recession. The ROP has usually been falling for three to four years before that happens. On that basis, the US economy will not drop into a new recession until about 2014 onwards. The debate continues among Marxist economists, but if the underlying cause of capitalist crisis is a falling ROP, then a new slump is unlikely to develop until 2014. But it confirms that even the Great Recession of 2008-9 was not big enough to restore a sustained rise in the ROP. That is because it has not destroyed enough value in accumulated capital or in the excessive build-up of debt (fictitious capital) before 2007. More destruction of value is necessary to do that. That there is still much fictitious capital in the system is revealed by the value of the stock market relative to a measure of the real value of the companies the stock prices represent. James Tobin, the leftist economist, developed a measure to tell if the stock market was overvalued or not and whether it would be heading down. It is called Tobin’s Q, measuring the stock market’s value against the replacement value of all the assets of the companies in a stock market index –for the US S&P-500 stock index (the top 500 companies It is difficult to fully predict how the economies of the world will develop by focusing on Marx’s works in volume 3 of capital and especially the chapters on the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall are crucial to understanding crisis I feel. I am studying all sorts of facts and figures trying to get to grips with crisis and Marx understands there are many views out there with lots of figures which prove something different. We must be careful to pay attention to all sides of the debate and be sure to uphold the law of Marx who was sure of the cause of capitalist crisis’s despite not finishing volume 3 all his work was there if not published it was in draft form ready for Engel’s to publish and edit and place in order the content was always there. Marx didn’t call this law the most important in political economy for no reason at all. Let’s get with the programme and take up Marx’s ideas again and apply them to 2013.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Making work pay, what a con

The Tories and the government’s whole idea about making work pay I’ve discovered me a complete lie. The whole idea pushed by Iain Duncan Smith tat no one should be able to gain more being on benefits than in work. Already this is ridiculous as many are in work who claims benefits due to low pay. Much like myself I am a part time office worker doing 16 hours a week at present and claim working tax credits to top up my pitiful pay. This still puts me way below the average wage of a worker in Britain coming in just shy of 10k a year. This week I’ve been notified that my working tax credits are to be lowered or cut if you like by £200 from what I got last year. My pay is a tiny amount above the minimum wage I would not be claiming tax credits if I was earning a decent wage so the idea I’m earning too muc is stupid. The government or HMRC if you like claim I have earnt too much in the last year so I shouldn’t get so much next year. Making work pay therefore is an absolute joke my wages have not gone up or down in the last year and as a result I’ve applied for working tax credits once again so how has HMRC worked out I shouldn’t get the same as last year? Is this down to inflation or government cuts? In which case I am highly dubious that my extra £200 will help the government all that much. But of course this is not about paying of far deficit or anything like that it is a clear attack on the poorest in society. Rhetoricof a general strike is one thinglets see some action and something which can provide hope to many struggling by today. I will no doubt have to cut back on some of the things I spend on in a month cutting back on some of the things I enjoy to make up the short fall. I am also disabled registered blind and do get a extra component to my working tax credits yet this really isn’t much and I am still struggling by every month to live. I do live with my mum at present as no where cheap enough to move out to so I am hoping my cut in benefits wont mean I can no longer pay my mum rent. How this works out that I should be one of the people to pay for the private sector and the bankers mess I do not know but as we know big business’s run off laughing to themselves to the banks evading and avoiding tax to the tune of billions. Fair? I think not. This has really fucked me off if I’m honest and made me realise how little fight back there has been to the cuts. A couple of marches from A to B to listen to Ed Miliband and a 1 day public sector strike are not what I call an effective fight back. Many people are angry and growing angrier by th week. With the bedroom tax no more than a plaything to the mainstream parties who can say how bad it is a actual fightback is still needed desperately. No wonder unions are not looking to fight back most of the leaders are on good money and the cuts are not affecting them as yet. Change is going to have to come from below the unorganised I feel. No political party seems prepared to stand up and fight back so it is left to the down trodden and the disenfranchised to fight back. Unions are one thing but when they are offering no lead to fight back we could do with the money some of their full timers are on but their advice of sitting back and waiting for a labour gov is frankly insulting to many of us who’re struggling. I’ve had enough if you have to join me in the fight to change things. We need a new way of doing things work has never paid for many people and is even less now its time for change in 2013!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

How workers won the NHS

courtesey of Jon Dale, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales), first published in the Socialist The National Health Service (NHS) is 65 years old on 5 July. Those people who remember life before it are getting fewer. With non-stop news of overflowing Accident and Emergency departments, hospital scandals and whistle-blowers, is the NHS just another brand going through a tough time? Maybe one whose time has been and gone. The Tories and their press deliberately encourage this view. After all, the goods sold by those companies can still be obtained elsewhere - so does it really matter if the NHS disappears in all but name? Wouldn’t treatment still be available from GPs, clinics and hospitals? And so long as they’re free to use does it matter who provides them? The NHS was created after World War Two, when working class people were determined there would be no return to the poverty, hunger, squalor and diseases of the 1930s. The history of healthcare and the struggle to win a national health service has vital lessons for today’s health workers, trade unionists and all of us who use the NHS at some time in our lives. Jon Dale writes on the birth of the NHS. Illness, injury and childbirth meant terror for working class families before the NHS. The Workers’ Birth Control Group had the slogan, "It’s four times more dangerous to bear a child than to go down a mine." The ruling class feared that if it did not concede real improvements, workers would take action and fight for even bigger change, threatening the entire capitalist system. A similar situation had existed after World War One. There was a strong mood for real change. Workers had had enough of pre-war poverty and the horrors of the trenches. Russian workers overthrowing their ruling class and starting to create a workers’ state gave an inspiring example. The Labour Party agreed its socialist Clause 4 in 1918. The election programme of Labour, then still a new workers’ party, called for widespread nationalisation and minimum standards of health, education, leisure and income for all. Its vote jumped from 400,000 in 1910 to 2.5 million in 1918. Labour’s growth was one reason why Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George set up the first Ministry of Health in 1919. Workers did not wait for government action to give them a better life. Almost seven times more days were lost in strikes in 1919 than in 1918. Troops and tanks were sent in to break up a huge strike in Glasgow. Tens of thousands of British soldiers and sailors mutinied in Calais and started to establish a trade union. Liverpool police went on strike. London dockers refused to load a ship, the Jolly George, with weapons destined for imperialist armies sent to crush the gains of the Russian revolution. Russian revolution Lloyd George promised to build "a land fit for heroes". He meant that workers could depend on his government to deliver reforms and there was no need to follow the revolutionary road of the Russian working class, or Germany and Hungary where revolutionary uprisings also occurred. In 1920 Lloyd George asked the king’s physician, Lord Dawson, to report on an organised health service. Dawson proposed a watered-down version of plans already put forward by a group of radical doctors, the State Medical Services Association. But his plan was soon shelved. In 1921 a new slump sent unemployment soaring to two million. Right-wing union leaders called off solidarity strikes by rail and transport workers against cuts in miners’ pay. Seeing the weakness of the working class’s leadership, the government decided there was no need to make concessions. Four months later public spending cuts were announced - on a scale not repeated until today’s Con-Dem coalition. By 1925 workers were regaining militancy. A new threat of a general strike was made against attempts to cut the pay of a million miners. A Royal Commission on National Health Insurance recommended extending it to workers’ dependents. The 1926 general strike was defeated when right-wing union leaders called it off, although it was growing and paralysing the government. The Royal Commission’s plans were scrapped. Healthcare for many remained dependent on ability to pay for it. The 1930s were a period of mass unemployment, terrible poverty and humiliation of working class families through the means test. Socialist ideas gained support and the Labour Party reflected this with a programme calling for widespread nationalisation. Many middle class people also moved towards left-wing ideas, feeling that capitalism was failing as a system. This move to the left was given added impetus with fascism seizing power in Germany and war on the revolutionary Spanish workers. The Socialist Medical Association grew from 200 to 2,000 members. Left-wing doctors within it drew up detailed plans for a socialised health service, both preventative and curative. In 1934 it moved a motion at Labour Party conference calling for a national health service. The ruling class felt far from confident that it had the mass support they needed during World War Two. Calls to defend king and country - the ’British way of life’ - did not inspire workers in factories, mines or the armed forces who had suffered in the depression. Pre-war health services were completely inadequate for mass casualties from air raids and the forces. Many middle class people, forced to use municipal former Poor Law hospitals for the first time, were horrified at their primitive state. Voluntary hospitals provided better medical and nursing care but were bankrupt. Run as charities, they relied on fees from private patients, legacies and fund-raising events but could barely keep going, asking for government bailouts. Faced with this grim situation, the government formed the Emergency Medical Service. For the first time, aspects of healthcare were planned on a national basis. The advantages of cooperation between hospitals and doctors instead of competition for business were soon seen. (The disadvantages of competition are being seen now it has been driven into the heart of the NHS by Cameron’s government.) Beverage report To show the working class it would not return to 1930s’ mass unemployment and misery - and fearing a revolutionary wave as followed World War One - the government asked William Beveridge to produce plans for social security. When this civil servant’s report came out in December 1942 60,000 copies were sold overnight, with 600,000 sold in two years. He wrote: "A health service providing full preventative and curative treatment to every kind of citizen... without an economic barrier at any point... is the ideal plan." Beveridge’s plans were opposed by some of the ruling class. Even before Beveridge, an editorial in the Times in March 1941 warned of their post-war fears. "In the aftermath of the war there will be a strong and widespread temptation to abandon the sense of a common effort for a common cause, to resume the rivalry between capital and labour for the extraction of a maximum profit from the process of production... "If such trends were to prevail... our whole society - national as well as international - might well be in sight of disaster." On Beveridge’s proposals, Prime Minister Winston Churchill claimed they were unaffordable. Sir John Forbes Watson, director of the Confederation of British Employers said (in private): "We did not start this war with Germany in order to improve our social services." Other ruling class members were more far-sighted. Tory MP Quintin Hogg, later a cabinet minister, warned in the 1943 parliamentary debate on Beveridge’s report: "If you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution." Tory Health Minister, Henry Willink, proposed healthcare should be free but the existing hotchpotch of hospital services should be left untouched. Today’s Con-Dem Health and Social Care Act is returning towards his plans. Labour’s individual membership climbed sharply at the end of the war, with a million members by 1950. With pressure from trade unions, workers and their families, and the ranks and junior officers of the armed forces, Labour was committed to real change after the war. "The Labour Party is a Socialist Party and proud of it," said its 1945 election manifesto. "... the best health services should be available free for all. Money must no longer be the passport to the best treatment." Labour won a huge majority in the 1945 election. Aneurin Bevan, a former Welsh miner, was appointed minister of health. Bevan’s plan to create a national health service involved nationalisation of 3,000 voluntary and municipal hospitals. There would be free hospital treatment for all. He proposed general practitioners be paid salaries, new health centres where they would be encouraged to work and controls on new GPs entering wealthier areas to promote services in poorer areas. Everyone could register with a GP and dentist, receiving free consultations and treatments. Opticians would also give examinations and prescribe glasses without charge. British Medical Association leaders strongly opposed these plans (although they did not speak for the whole medical profession). Dr Alfred Cox, a former BMA secretary, described them as a big step to dictatorship under "a medical Fuehrer". The British Medical Journal warned that it was inconceivable that "private practice as we know it today can survive as much more than a shadow of itself." (Today the BMA’s position is to the left of Labour’s!) Bevan negotiated with these leaders and made significant concessions. NHS consultants could continue private practice with private beds in NHS hospitals. GPs remained self-employed, contracting to provide services to the NHS. Hospitals remained under the control of senior managers and senior consultants, with no democratic control from the local community or health workers through their trade unions. Nevertheless, the modest involvement of local councillors on hospital boards was more than now exists with Foundation Trusts. The 1945 government’s biggest concession of all was to leave capitalism in place, only nationalising bankrupt industries (like the hospitals). Drugs and medical supplies remained private business. In fairness to Bevan, there were few effective drugs in 1948. The NHS spent £39 million on drugs in its first year (that’s £1.13 billion at today’s prices). It now spends about £12 billion a year on drugs. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the economy’s most profitable sectors, making 80% profits in some cases. It should be nationalised and integrated into the NHS with compensation only paid on the basis of proven need. Bevan expected NHS costs would fall once the untreated burden of illness was dealt with. In fact, NHS costs have risen faster than general inflation throughout its history. New drugs, joint replacements, transplants, radiotherapy, scans and much more have been developed. Improved living standards and prevention of many infectious diseases have contributed to an ageing population. Many more people now live with chronic conditions needing long-term treatment and care, leading to rising costs. Life in unequal capitalist society is still responsible for ill health, including many cancers, much mental illness and rising obesity. There is now a widening gap between the health of the richest and poorest - and their access to healthcare. Low pay, benefit cuts and the bedroom tax will force more into overcrowded, poor quality housing. Many can’t afford good food or adequate heating. The infectious diseases and malnutrition of the 1930s are set to return. Counter-reforms In 1945 the ruling class feared workers’ revolution and conceded the NHS. It was so popular that later Tory governments dared not attack it. Bosses benefited from a fitter workforce. Unemployment was very low for 25 years after the war so they needed workers back at work after illness or injury. That started to change after the 1979-81 recession, which saw unemployment soar. The decline of manufacturing industry left big business looking for alternative sources of profit. Public services have been in their eye since then. But even Thatcher took a cautious line with NHS privatisation, restricting it mostly to cleaning, laundry and catering. What held her back was fear that Labour and the unions could mobilise the tremendous support for the NHS among the working class and throw out her government. She needn’t have worried. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s New Labour accelerated down the privatisation road. Health workers and working class families have our arms tied behind our backs without a party opposing all cuts and standing for renationalisation of the NHS. Union leaders who rejected a national campaign of demonstrations and strikes to defend the NHS gave the Con-Dems confidence. As in 1921 and 1926, union weakness led to government aggression. At last, unions have organised a national demonstration in defence of the NHS on 29 September outside the Tory party conference in Manchester. This should be promoted energetically and followed by a 24-hour general strike. Despite all the negative publicity, the NHS still has tremendous support. A massive strike could be built, splitting the government apart. What was won through struggle in the past will not be given up without a fight.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Ted Grant's Notes on Marxist Economics

http://socialismiscrucial.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/ted-grants-notes-on-marxist-economics/

Stand by for royal baby tidal wave

We are told we are moments away from the birth of the next royal in to Britain. Is this a time we should all celebrate and forget about our woes? No doubt the BBC, sky Channel 4 and the rest will have wall to wall coverage of this so called momentous occasion forgetting this is a regular every day event for many women and families around the world. The birth of another royal who the tax payer will no doubt fund does not cheer me up or do much to ease my growing anger at the rich. As millions in Britain and around the world struggle by with an estimated half a million last year using food banks do forgive me if I don’t jump out of my seat with my Union flag waving it profusely. I struggle to muster up any support for the royal family considering none of them have ever had to toil in their lives swanning about from country to country from royal engagement to another being a so called British ambassador like we are in desperate need of one of them. I will be thinking of the many struggling families with new born babies this week who will be wondering where the next meal is coming from and when they may next get work or if they can’t find a job if their benefits will be stopped. I am not a monarchist if you can’t tell already I’d be for a republic if only because it would be a step towards socialism and a true democracy which we are as far from today as ever it sometimes feels. Having a royal baby born live on your TV screens does nothing for me and I’m sure millions and millions will join me in sighing hugely at the absurdity of it all. Where is the real news you may ask What a good day to bury some bad news for the Tories. Now what was that about Lynton Crosby again?

A Very Public Sociologist: Martin Smith Resigns from the SWP

A Very Public Sociologist: Martin Smith Resigns from the SWP: That's it. He's gone. The "indispensable comrade", Martin Smith has - according to a slew of internet rumour and gossip - ...

Sunday, 21 July 2013

London Olympics, a year on, legacy? What legacy?

It is a year since the opening of the London Olympics. As protests rage in Brazil against the profiteering and corruption revealed in the preparations for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics the question is raised, what exactly was the legacy of the London games? Neil Cafferky, first published in Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales) Judged purely as a sporting event, the London Olympics can be seen as a success for the organisers. However, the enormous scale of the games – in terms of their cost to the host nation and their commercial, cultural and political impact across the globe – means they cannot be assessed simply in sporting terms. The question of the games’ wider legacy has particular importance in Britain. Enormous amounts of money were spent by the state (£6.71bn according to latest figures) at a time when public services are being cut or privatised, working conditions are worsening and pay is stagnating. Given the costs of hosting the Olympics it is reasonable to ask why governments are willing to embark on such a project in the first place. From the perspective of the capitalist class and its representatives in government, broadly speaking there are three potentially positive outcomes from hosting the games: domestic and international prestige, advertising the host city as an international business centre, and urban regeneration (or turning poor areas of a city into profit-making ones). Hosting the Olympic Games carries with it a great deal of international prestige. In the case of Seoul (1988) and Beijing (2008), they were used to advertise those countries’ emergence as modern industrial powers. This political dimension leads some on the left to dismiss mass sporting events as ‘bread and circuses’, a distraction from the problems of everyday life. Although this is true to some extent there is a limit to how much sport can paper over the fault lines in society. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the London Olympics themselves. It is questionable whether the Con-Dem coalition received any political boost from the games at all. Only a few weeks after the closing ceremony of the summer Olympics, chancellor George Osborne was booed by the crowd at the Paralympic Games in the same stadium! The Con-Dem coalition’s cruel persecution of disabled people on benefits, as well as the general unpopularity of his government’s austerity policies, undoubtedly played a part in this. For the rest of 2012 and well into 2013 the opinion poll ratings of the coalition partners have been in decline. While the direct political impact of the games has been minimal there is a broader ideological purpose that hosting the Olympics serves. There are striking parallels between the way the games are funded and organised and the right-wing vision of how public services should be provided. In both cases the bulk of the funding comes from the public purse. The delivery of those services, however, is farmed out to private-sector providers who cream off a considerable profit as a result. The farce that was the G4S security operation will be grimly familiar to any public-sector worker with experience of companies like Capita. The unprofitable and unglamorous part of the work, of course, is placed in the hands of unpaid volunteers. This is not to criticise those who volunteered their time to assist, and who played a crucial role in the games’ success. But there are similarities between this method of keeping the expense of the Olympics down and David Cameron’s talk of ‘the big society’, where charities fill the gaps in public services left by underfunding and privatisation. In the commercial sphere, the legacy of the games is mixed, to say the least. On the plus side, are the new jobs and increased commercial activity generated by the new Westfield shopping centre in Stratford. The direct economic impact of the games so far, however, has been disappointing given the huge outlay of sums involved. According to the Evening Standard, “688 jobs would be created in the first year [of the Olympics] rising to 1,061 after the third year and contributing £260 million to the London economy”. (14 January 2013) The proposed regeneration of housing in the area is presented as a chance to improve an impoverished part of London. The London Legacy Development Corporation has received £640 million for 160 acres of land zoned for 6,500 houses. (Evening Standard, 14 September 2012) The involvement of property developers means that it is unlikely that the new homes will be affordable for existing residents in Newham. Instead of regeneration that benefits working-class people, particularly locals, it seems more likely that the Olympics will simply accelerate the trend where inner-city London is gentrified and working-class people are driven out to surrounding suburbs. A study by the University of East London on the economics of hosting the games found that the private-sector led regeneration under the mantle of the games was likely to result in widening inequality and disruption of working-class communities in the area. Another, frequently touted legacy of the Olympics is that the example of sporting excellence will inspire a generation of young people to take part in sports. For those who excel there will be modern infrastructure to help them reach the top. The reality is more complicated. A recent study by Sport England quoted in the Independent (14 June 2013) found that, although numbers participating in sport had gone up by 1.4 million since 2005 (when London won the bid for the Olympics), participation in sport had actually declined since the Olympics themselves. There are a number of factors that may explain this. The report cites the unusually cold and wet weather since the Olympics, for example. But cuts to the public sector are also a factor. Many local sports facilities that are the starting rung for children in sport are funded by local councils. They are often the first in line for council cuts. In Sheffield, the Don Valley Stadium, where Olympic heptathlon champion, Jessica Ennis, began her participation in athletics, is to be demolished. The council has blamed shortage of funding for its decision to close the stadium. A similar process is under way in schools where playing fields are sold off to bridge funding shortfalls. Cuts in education are also leading to a shortage in specialist physical education teachers. The UK Sport and Youth Trust reported: “We have seen a rise in the number of youngsters wanting to get involved in sport after the Olympics but we do not have the specialist PE teachers in primary schools. There is a lot of enthusiasm but not the know-how to provide the right kind of opportunities. We have inspired a generation but can we convert it into participation?” This question goes to the heart of the matter. Bearing in mind the relentless cuts in public services and children’s playing fields, longer school and working hours, etc, the avenues to participation in sport are being systematically closed to most working people by the logic of increasing austerity and unbridled capitalism. To compound the problem, capitalism sets up a false division between sport as elite performance and sport as leisure and play. The former is a multibillion-dollar business that monopolises vast amounts of funds from governments and the private sector. Sport as leisure is either left entirely in the hands of the private sector in the form of gyms and commercial facilities or is dependent on charities as publicly funded facilities are cut. A socialist society would treat access to sport in the same way as it would treat access to healthcare and education: an essential public service vital to the development of the individual and the wellbeing of society. With wealth controlled by working people, wasteful spending on advertising and sponsorship could be used to ensure communities have access to the best sporting facilities, free at the point of use. Proper funding for PE teachers in every school could ensure that talent is spotted early and developed. Sharing out the enormous wealth generated by a modern economy among all workers would allow the working week to be significantly reduced, allowing greater access to sport and recreation for all ages. The removal of the dead hand of profits would see achievement in team and individual sports that would far exceed anything seen under capitalism. That would be a real sporting legacy.

An outspoken socialist

Some may think I’m outspoken and have ideas above my station. But I have always been the same I wear my views and opinions on my sleeve passionate may be one word to describe me but I truly do put everything into things I believe in. I may not always be right and can accept when I’m wrong if given the facts to show I am wrong but when I believe in something I am strong and forthright in my views. People around me will more often know what I think on things it is quite easily understood my opinions and people round me are left in no uncertain terms. I am a Taurus who is a passionate character by nature and I live up to this tag. People have always tried to pin me down as this or that but I’m constantly updating and refreshing my thoughts and feelings. As the world changes so do our opinions. Even as a Marxist you have to take into consideration the changing times and new events as anyone would do. But being outspoken shouldn’t always be viewed as a bad thing as a radical and loose cannon. Many see someone who thinks for themselves and isn’t dictated to as someone to watch out for but I’d beg to differ. I like to think and read as much as I can I always have done and always will. I’m currently in the socialist party and I hope I can develop my thinking within the party if at some point I can no longer develop my thinking and understanding of the world I may end up outside the party I do hope this won’t ever happen but who knows what will happen in the future. I am proud to think for myself and not readily accept a party line all the time. Whilst I agree with a lot of what the socialist party says and puts across as its demands I still like to think I can think for myself and develop my own ideas and decide if they are the right ideas. Whilst I understand fully democratic centralism, others may not agree I do understand its true meaning and not the bureaucratic centralism that we are often used to in parties of the left these days. I am keen to learn the works of Marx, Engel’s, Lenin and Trotsky to formulate rounded our Marxist position. I may be a loose cannon or someone the party isn’t so keen on as I like to think outside the box and not just swallow the line but I think this is healthy I think we should all think critically about everything. Be cynical if you like I think its healthy and good for us to dies trust means you are thinking and thinking is a good start to changing things. I may not always be liked I accept that I try my best t put forward the ideas of Marx and his thinkers. Being careful to take every argument on its merit and not just pump out propaganda you may or may not fully get is interesting so far I’ve tried to assess every argument as it comes and I think this is the right way to go. An independent mind is important for all and especially Marxists the party is one thing but being in control of your own ideas whilst striving hard to represent the party is absolutely essential I feel.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Living in the real world: Why the Unions are Refusing to Name a General Stri...

Living in the real world: Why the Unions are Refusing to Name a General Stri...: Has the workers' movement has "not recovered" from 1926 general strike? Back in November last year, a resolution originati...

Let’s strike together

There are a growing number of reasons for workers to take strike action in the UK. Be it in the Royal Mail with the serious threat of privatisation or teachers facing performance related pay or even council staff facing cuts to jobs and pay and let’s not forget the 1% public sector pay freeze too. There are many reasons why a 24 hour general strike could be right for many. It is time to start to rebuild the coalition of the willing much like in November of 2011 where we had nearly 3 millin workers taking strike action we need to co ordinate ballots again and build for a national day of action in the autumn I feel. 'Cut, cut, cut' go the Con-Dems as they attack pay, welfare, jobs, services and pensions. No wonder the mood for action against the government's austerity agenda is growing. Teachers in the NUT and NASUWT unions have called a rolling programme of strikes, culminating in a national strike in the autumn. Lecturers in the UCU are consulting about strike action over pay. CWU members are preparing to fight the privatisation of Royal Mail. PCS civil service union members are discussing further action to defend pay, jobs and working conditions. FBU members are balloting over pensions. Unison members in Scottish local authorities are balloting on pay. All workers have a reason to strike - let's do it together. Come to the lobby of the TUC to demand a 24-hour general strike. The Con-Dem government has announced a stock market floatation of the majority of Royal Mail within nine months, with the rest to follow at a later date. This is the biggest potential privatisation since the dark days of Thatcher. It threatens a national service which has been in public ownership for 479 years. It puts the universal service under threat, almost certainly means higher postage rates, and is a major threat to postal workers' jobs and working conditions. In its recent consultative ballot CWU members voted by 96% in opposition to privatisation on a 74% turnout. The union must now capture this mood. The CWU has announced that it will have no choice but to proceed with an industrial action ballot if it can't get a watertight agreement on protection of its existing national agreements. This is a fight which will decide what type of postal service we will have. One to serve the needs of the people or one to serve the needs of greedy investors only looking for a profit. Time for united action now! The CWU should call for all the unions under attack to build united action. There is no time to waste. A 24-hour general strike would be a serious blow to all the government's cuts and privatisation plans. Gary Clark, assistant branch secretary, Scotland No.2 branch CWU Teachers will build on the success of recent strike action in the North West, with 90% of schools closed or partly closed. Further action has been called by the NUT and NASUWT. In the week commencing 30 September there will be strikes in the Eastern, East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside regions and in some of Wales. In the week commencing 14 October there will be strikes in the North East, London, South East, South West regions and in the rest of Wales. And there will be a one-day national strike before the end of the autumn term. "NUT and NASUWT members have every reason to build the strongest possible action to defend our pay, conditions and education. However, we are not the only unions looking to oppose attacks on our livelihoods and our services. Instead of striking separately, wouldn't it be better for unions to strike together and have the biggest possible impact?" Martin Powell-Davies, member of the NUT executive Lobby the TUC conference - For a 24-hour general strike! Bournemouth, 8 September 2013 12.30-3pm, Hardy Suite, Hermitage Hotel, Exeter Road (opposite Bournemouth International Centre) National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) rally followed by a lobby of Congress. Speakers include: RMT general secretary Bob Crow, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka and POA general secretary Steve Gillan. Transport details email info@shopstewards.net For more information and a model resolution on the lobby see: www.shopstewards.net

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Brazil change is on the agenda

The mass protests, demonstrations and actions that have shaken and still are shaking the pro-capitalist governments of Turkey, Brazil and Egypt show that the key emerging capitalist economies are not immune from the slump that has engulfed the advanced capitalist economies. The advanced economies still contribute some 55-60% of world GDP (depending on how you measure it). They remain the dominant influence over the world capitalist economy. The Great Recession and the subsequent weak recovery have led to a significant fall in trade and investment flows to the emerging economies, particularly to the largest so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa). Their growth rates have also begun to fall away. In addition, the largest by far of the BRICS, China, is experiencing a 2-3% pt fall in its super-fast growth rate and that has been enough to cause sharp drop in the demand for commodities (agricultural and raw materials), the main exports of other emerging economies. So the crisis is a world-wide one. Take Brazil. The nationwide street demonstrations of the past few weeks have sent shockwaves through Brazil’s political elite. There is widespread discontent with a ruling class that is seen as self-serving and corrupt. More than a million Brazilians have poured on to the streets in recent weeks to protest against a litany of grievances, from corruption and poor public services to outrage at billions of pounds in taxpayers’ money being spent to host the 2014 World Cup. It seems that the carnival for Brazilian capitalism of recent years is now over. As Tim vickery of the BBC sport who is there in house South American football correspondent noted that the government in Brazil may be able to see off the mass protests for this year by making concessions even if not all of what the protesters are demanding but some will be granted no doubt. Tim made a excellent point on the World Football Phone in the other week on BBC 5 live that the Brazilian government will not be able to make concessions over the world cup which all the capital is already tied up in the stadia and other projects to improve the nations image in time for the tournament and for the Olympics that Rio is hosting in 2016. So when the world cup comes around this time next year there will be no concessions that the government can make that could appease angry protesters who will see lovely stadiums but insufficient transport and public services this is sure to set off new waves of protest. If the Brazilian government is still in power by next year it could be a very bumpy period for it with Brazilian workers now taking to the scene in the forms of mass strikes. Although smaller on scale compared to the mass protests seen a few weeks ago it is still a hugely significant mergence of the working class and more importantly the labour movement to the scene of battle. Brazil is waking up after a long period of low class struggle the working class is flexing its muscles once again. Full support to them I say.

In defence of the NHS

Did too many nurses treat too many people and caused the financial crisis? Quite clearly not yet the NHS is under major attack from all angles and who is going to save it is the question. I certainly wouldn’t trust labour to given their record in government the last time introducing foundation hospitals and PFI’s galore. The Keo report is out today and reveals some interesting findings. This below was in the Guardian today. “The NHS medical director Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, whose investigation into 14 hospital trusts follows reports of unusually high death rates. Photograph: Fiona Hanson/PA The report into unusually high death rates at 14 hospitals is to reject claims that the hospitals investigated have between them killed thousands of patients through poor care. The review by the NHS medical director, Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, will dismiss the two mortality indicators that were used to justify the probe into the 14, which was launched on the day Robert Francis QC published his damning report into the Mid-Staffordshire care scandal. Keogh's report will say: "However tempting it may be, it is clinically meaningless and academically reckless to use such statistical measures to quantify actual numbers of avoidable deaths." That is a reference to the two indicators – known as hospital standardised mortality ratios (HMSR) and summary hospital-level mortality indicator (SHMI) – which are used to flag up hospitals where apparently unusually high numbers of patients are dying. Both indicators were used by the Department of Health in February to justify the choice of those 14 hospitals for investigation. The 14 had had unusually high death rates in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, as judged by one or both indicators, it said. Keogh's dismissal in such strong terms of the measures comes after media reports that there were anything up to 13,000 excess or avoidable deaths at the 14 trusts that Keogh and his team of expert inspectors have been looking into. Members of the inquiry team have voiced concerns about the choice of the 14 on the basis of HMSR and SHMI data. One said they were "a very blunt instrument" for examining something as complex as "excess" mortality – that is, deaths that, according to a complicated range of factors, could potentially have been avoided if the quality of healthcare had been better. Inquiry team members – who include senior doctors, NHS leaders, patient safety experts and patient representatives – privately fear that the statement by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to the Commons about the report, expected on Tuesday afternoon, will give an overly negative picture of the team's findings. The report will also contrast with much of the pre-publication coverage by stressing that mortality rates in all NHS hospitals have been falling for the past 10 years, with overall mortality down by an estimated 30%. Keogh's report will also note that that improvement is even more impressive when the increasingly complex caseload faced by hospitals – driven by rising numbers of older patients and those with long-term conditions such as dementia, heart disease and breathing problems – are taken into account. The report, which Keogh will discuss with the media for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, will emphasise that staffing problems were found at all 14 trusts, and stress that the geographical isolation of many of the hospitals was a factor in that. His findings may also reopen the debate about whether the NHS should have legally backed minimum staffing levels – which supporters such as the Royal College of Nursing call "safe staffing" – in order to guarantee that set numbers of nurses are always on duty, and whether the NHS in England's need to make £20bn of efficiency savings by 2015 is forcing hospitals to cut corners and potentially endanger patients. Many of the review teams which conducted in-depth inquiries into each of the hospitals found what they regarded as too few staff. Each of the 14 trusts' individual action plans will include advice on workforce issues, especially ensuring they have enough staff that has the right qualifications. Many rely on agency staff, especially overnight and at weekends, though the inability to fill rotas can see nurses moved from where they usually work to a ward or department where there are too few available. All the 14 trusts are understood to now be looking urgently at providing safe staffing levels across their hospitals at all times, following the Keogh team's visits. The Francis report came close to suggesting minimum staffing levels and showed how inadequate staffing levels at Stafford hospital were a key factor in what the then NHS watchdog the Healthcare Commission estimated to be between 400 and 1,200 extra deaths between 2005 and 2009. Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, which represents hospital doctors, said: "It is clear that parts of the system must change to better meet patients' needs. The NHS is struggling to cope with increasing pressures on acute services, patients with increasingly complex needs, and a breakdown of out-of-hours care. Patients' demands have changed and so our hospital services must change." Thompson said the NHS's move to offering key services seven days a week rather than five, strong clinical leadership by doctors, greater use of audit data about outcomes in key treatment areas and better collaboration between NHS staff would all help. The 14 trusts under review Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS foundation trust Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS foundation trust Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust Burton Hospitals NHS foundation trust Colchester Hospital University NHS foundation trust The Dudley Group NHS foundation trust East Lancashire Hospitals NHS trust George Eliot Hospital NHS trust Medway NHS foundation trust North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS trust Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS foundation trust Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS foundation trust Tameside Hospital NHS foundation trust United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS trust

Monday, 15 July 2013

Is the UK economy picking up?

We have heard in the last few weeks a set of upgrading by various monetary agencies including the IMF who have upgraded the UK’s growth figures for the coming period. Is this optimism to be believed or is this the markets reacting to a quieter time in the summer months as markets tend to slow during the summer months somewhat. It is a bit of a mixed picture on the global scale with China still rocketing ahead there is still this hard landing being talked of and how China can land as softly as possible without crashing the system. China is hugely in debt and is increasing that debt all the time. “The interesting development is that there has been a pick-up in the pace of expansion since April in the UK and Japan. This would seem to confirm that the fear of a ‘triple-dip’ or ‘double-dip’ recession in the UK was unfounded. Indeed, now all the economic forecasters are raising their guesses on UK expansion, including the IMF, from their dismal forecasts of a few months ago. But just as the forecasters overdid their view on the UK to the downside, they are probably now swinging to be over-optimistic on the upside. At best, UK GDP is going to grow by just 1% in real terms this year and even less per head of population. And the world economy as a whole is slowing down in its expansion. driven by slower growth in China and the other major emerging capitalist economies. Just as the very weak recovery in the advanced capitalist economies dragged down overall global growth between 2009-12, now it seems that the supposedly fast-growing emerging economies will dampen the impact of any relatively faster growth in the advanced economies. In particular, the Chinese economy slowed to 7.7% a year in Q1-2012 from 7.9% at the end of 2012. It is going to be even slower in the quarter just gone and through the rest of the year. Of course, a real growth rate of 7%-plus is huge compared to the rest of the world, but it is not enough to absorb the flow of new labour into Chinese industry and services. Elsewhere, Brazil, India and other major emerging economies are also slowing. But it is the US economy that remains key to the health of the world capitalist economy – it remains the largest, the biggest trader and the dominant financial force. And if we look at the US economy through the eyes of its combined manufacturing and services sector PMI, it remains stuck in a low-growth path, where it has been for almost the whole time since the end of the Great Recession. If anything, the trend is for even slower growth going forward.” So the UK is trapped in an up and down cycle depending on wider forces be it the Euro zone or the US economy which are all linked into the UK. The UK of course exports 50% roughly to the Euro zone so what happens in the Euro zone will be crucial to the UK’s so called recovery. It is true the UK has seen a little bit of growth but I do think the economists who have had gloomy news for a few years now are clinging onto any bit of positivity they can and as a result being far too optimistic now after months of pessimism. “Much has been made of the latest US jobs figures. Employment rose 195,000 in June and after upward revisions for previous months, it seems that average employment growth is now 200,000 a month, higher than the less than 150,000 in the first quarter of this year. But that increase has not made much of a dent in the unemployment rate because more Americans out of work have attempted to look for jobs after having given up for a while. Indeed, the measure of long-term unemployment rose in June, from 13.8% to 14.3%—the highest level since February. This suggests that new jobs are being snapped up by new claimants while those who lost their jobs in the Great Recession remain on the scrap heap, with their benefits being cut or expiring. Moreover, just as in the UK, most of these new vacancies are not full-time permanent jobs at good wages, but part-time, low grade work. The number of people working part-time rose by 322,000 to 8.2 million. These people aren’t working part-time because they want to—it’s because they can’t find full-time work. And of the jobs created in June, 60% were in low-paying positions: 75,000 jobs were created in the leisure and hospitality sector and 37,000 jobs were created in the retail sector. This will eventually translate into low or falling productivity in the US economy, just as it has done in the UK. US corporations are taking advantage of the huge reserve army of labour still out there to introduce part-time and temporary jobs to save labour costs – reduced benefits, no holiday or sick pay etc.” This is one of the tactics currently being used to try and keep the rate of profit up as best they can in the face of huge economic difficulties world over. It will not and cannot last. Capitalism is in a rut it is struggling to get out of. Only re organising society along democratic socialist lines with workers gaining power and owning the means of production and socialising production could we see an escape for the working class’s across the world. With extracts and references from http://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/the-world-is-slowing/ “Marks indicate extracts for clarification

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Dave Nellist: The Coventry MP who gave away half his pay

In a rare sense of inpartiality or maybe more in a sort of looking back at what used to be the BBC has commissioned a fantastic piece on former Militant Mp and now fine socialist party activist Dave Nellist I think its worth sharing below : Dave Nellist is still an active member of the Socialist Party Many MPs rush to condemn proposals to give them an 11% pay rise; few have taken the lead of the former member for Coventry South. From his election in 1983 to his deselection by Labour in 1992, Dave Nellist kept less than half his salary. Along with two other Labour politicians - Terry Fields, MP for Liverpool Broadgreen, and Pat Wall, MP for Bradford North - Mr Nellist chose to "get by" on a wage closer to that of the people he represented. Mr Nellist, now 60 and still an active member of the Socialist Party, was unemployed for the six months before he was elected, but had worked in a factory for many years. He would only accept the average wage of a skilled factory worker in Coventry, which amounted to 46% of his salary as an MP. Each year the remaining 54% was donated to charitable and political causes. 'Want for nothing' Mr Nellist said he saw his political career as being akin to that of a union rep in a factory. "At the time time, we were going into the [MP] job like a convenor in a factory, we had the time to do the job but not three times the wage or holidays," he said. "The engineering union used to work out the returns of all the factories in Coventry and averaged their wages - equivalent to £28,000 or £29,000 nowadays - so that was what I took home. “Start Quote We should pay our MPs so they share the pain and the gain” End Quote Dave Nellist Former MP "I accepted every penny of the full salary, but as the Labour Party we gave away roughly £35,000 [per year in today's money] to help the families of miners in the 80s, community groups, pensioners." He said receiving less money did not damage "the responsibility" he had to his family and he was very proud of the way his children grew up. "They didn't want for anything. We went camping as a family for two weeks every year - and still do - like many people. "I came off factory wages and into that job on the same. I've never had anything different so you don't miss what you've not had." Mr Nellist added that as a Coventry City Councillor for 12 years until 2012, he continued to take home the same wage by reducing the hours of his full time job at an advice agency. He dismissed the idea that the more someone is paid, the more they will achieve. "Why should MPs be any better? How many millions have we been paying the bankers, how many millions do we pay footballers? "I don't accept the idea that those prepared to live the same life as their constituents are going to be any fewer representatives." Pay rise 'bung' On Thursday the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said salaries should increase to £74,000 by 2015, but perks should be cut and pensions made less generous, something Mr Nellist described as "scandalous". "The suggestion by [Ipsa chairman] Sir Ian Kennedy that the pay rise would be a way of keeping MPs from claiming more expenses is frankly amazing - I was almost lost for words," he said. "It's basically saying they'll get a bung on their salary as a way of keeping them in line." Mr Nellist believes public representatives like councillors and MPs should be able to empathise with the people affected by political decisions. "With a 9% average fall in people's earnings, MPs should not be getting a rise - it insulates them from those day to day problems like food and fuel which have rocketed. "Millions have to get by on much less [than MPs] so that is why we should pay them so they share the pain and the gain." Mr Nellist fears the impact of the proposed pay increase for MPs will add to a perceived disconnect between the public and politicians. "I think it will contribute to a growing disillusion in politics and politicians in general - at a time when millions are having it very tough, those people who may lose their jobs could become very angry if this happens. "The best people go into politics to do a proper job and to represent the people, not for the money."

Bureaucrats will be bureaucrats

Today was the Durham Miners gala a big fixture in the labour movements calendar and hot after the recent decision by Ed Miliband to weaken the trade union link between the trade unions and the labour party even more this was always going to be a hotly contested miners gala with various strong opinions on show. Len Mccluskey disappointed me and not for the first time. He came out in support of Ed Miliband his favourite Mp right now and shows no sign of stepping down in his support for the labour leader. Len disappoints me as the socialist party actively critically supported him in the latest leadership election which he romped home as expected. I can proudly say I did not vote for him and I am so glad I didn’t. What I have heard since has less than convinced me that Len is nothing but a left bureaucrat who speaks radical and likes to pose left but will be one of those filing in to 10 Downing St as and when Milibnd gains power as he most likely will do in 2015. I have no shame in admitting I could not vote for Len or Hicks in the last general secretary election no one stood out for me. Comrades told me Len had moved the union to the left which he may have done but still I felt unite was no where near good enough and a vote for Len is a vote for slow yet study progress which is not good enough in this current period. Yes he may have reluctantly supported the sparks eventually but he did not do it by his nature he had to be forced into it. Neither Hicks nor Len support a breaking of the labour link they all call for a reform and a democratisation of the political fund which indeed the socialist party do support but I don’t think this goes nearly far enough. Len McCluskey is a prisoner of the bureaucratic elite in unite and its useless layer of full time officials I’ve had the unfortunate experience of knowing a few and my god if they are the best the union has we are seriously fucked. I’d say all in unite and Len in particular should take head of what Bob Crow said today at today’s Durham miners gala and whilst Bob annoys me in the fact he does not mention TUSC he at least has the right direction of his political outlook. Len unfortunately as much as the socialist party don’t like to admit it is a bureaucrat and what do they do? Look after them and always will do. Their role as Miliband has probably told him is to keep the workers down and not provoke trouble before 2015 where Len and Miliband hope to ride to victory with the labour party. Luckily we have some good trade union leaders including Bob Crow of the RMT union who I’ve always liked and states it as it is. Being quoted in the Daily Mirror today Bob Crow says: An RMT press release: RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: "When Tony Blair is wheeled out to underpin Ed Miliband's attack on the affiliated unions than you know that this is a panic move driven by the demands of big business and a right wing media who would prefer that the working class have no voice at all. "RMT was expelled from the Labour Party almost a decade ago and in that time we have actually increased our political influence as we have had the freedom to back candidates and parties who demonstrate clear support for this trade union and its policies. "With this latest assault by Labour on the unions the time is right to start building an alternative political party that speaks for the working people and the working class communities that find themselves under the most brutal attack from cuts and austerity in a generation. "Clinging to the wreckage of a Labour Party that didn't lift a finger to repeal the anti-union laws despite 13 years in power is a complete waste of time."

Friday, 12 July 2013

Say no to Mp’s having a pay rise for workers representatives on a workers wage!

It has emerged that MP’s are to vote themselves an increase in their pay of an average of 11% on what they already earn. This is a recommendation from IPSA the body who now oversee’s MP’s pay and expenses since the expenses scandal. Of course Mp’s will have to approve this but there is no doubt many MP’s feel themselves hard done by and wish to be paid more. Some MP’s claim they could earn more elsewhere as chief executives of companies or even as head teachers in schools. This is all nonsense of course MP’s are already in the top bracket of pay in this country and any increase will shatter the myth that we are all in this together with public sector workers for example being in the middle of a long term pay freeze which in affect is a big pay cut if you take into consideration inflation.. MPs' pay should be increased to £74,000 a year from 2015, the Commons expenses watchdog has said. MPs currently earn £66,396. But the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) also recommends cuts to perks such as meal allowances and taxis and a less generous pension scheme. The BBC has learnt that an independent review into MPs' salaries is to recommend a pay rise of more than 11%, compared with what they are paid now, to be implemented after the next general election. But the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) will unveil proposals which will also include cuts to MPs' pensions and expenses. The package they will propose will include: • An increase in MPs' salary to around £74,000 - a rise of over £7,500 a year from the current salary of £66,396 a year. • A less generous pension scheme • Cuts to MPs' evening meal allowance - an extra payment if they work late - and restrictions to claims for taxi fares • Lower "resettlement grants" paid to MPs who lose their seats I really don’t think ordinary working people will swallow this and will further anger them with the cuts they are facing too it will not go down well with many people. What we need are Workers representatives on a workers wage. Militant MP’s who were elected in the 1980’s Terry Fields, Dave Nellist and Pat Wall all only took the average wage of a skilled worker of the area they represented. They took no expenses and only used the money they got to do their job nothing more. Any excess was handed back and independently checked to the labour movement and the party they represented. Having MP’s who don’t go into politics to further their own financial interests is key. This is TUSC’s pledge that if any of our candidates are elected none of them would benefit by entering into parliament. They are there to give a voice to working people and the voiceless it should not be a ticket to a free lunch.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Why unite should disaffiliate from the labour party

Unite who pays millions into labour every year and are by far labours biggest donor who have been caught up in the latest debacle in Falkirk west. Its time for unite to disaffiliate I believe. For many years the unions have paid into labour hoping for better this day has never come. Now unite has finally started to punch its weight in the labour party it’s found itself caught out and demonised. This should tell Len and all those in the leadership of our union that this strategy of “reclaiming labour” is flawed and will end up wasting millions of member’s money and ultimately loose us jobs and valuable time in building an alternative... I am a unite member and am proud to be so I am less proud of our unions political campaigning its weak at best pathetic at worst. Millions of our hard earned pounds go to the labour party without us having a say. The political fund should be opened up and democratised as a first step. Why should a select few who are labour party members decide what the unions political fun is spent on this is hugely undemocratic and must be brought to an end as soon as possible. As a member of the socialist party who campaign within TUSC I cannot understand why unite who apparently is moving to the left I’m far from convinced given they are still giving discounts and vouchers to use in marks and Spencer who still use workfare well played comrades looking out for those young low paid workers I see there !. There is no logical reason why unite and all unions for that matter would fund the labour party those who oppose breaking the link cannot even use well there is no alternative anymore as there clearly is. TUSC may not be a party but it is ready and waiting for bigger unions to take it up and get involved and mould it to represent ordinary workers at all levels in a union. I wont stop paying my political fund levee with unite as ridiculously if you stop paying this all of your political fund is stopped which is not what we are arguing for. We as Marxists argue the political fund should be democratised at the very least and at most broke totally with labour and we should be backing each candidate on merit if a labour party member is against the cuts which a few have been then that’s fine as long as they agree to unites position of opposition to all cuts to jobs and services I have no problem with that. The thing is this would quickly come to a head as those who do oppose the cuts in labour are in a minority bringing the need for a question on political representation for workers firmly back on to the agenda. Labour claim they want more working class candidates this is code for more working class candidates who agree with our line of slower cuts. This is not good enough and unite should not be bounced into supporting union backed pro austerity candidates even if they are so called working class. Its time for those in unite who are serious about fighting the cuts to make up their minds do we go on funding labour for ever and a day or do we make a clean break and start a fresh. I say we opt for the later.

Little media coverage of 7/7 attacks over weekend, why is this?

Yesterday was July the 7th 8 years on from one from a horrific day for London and the day in which 52 innocent people lost their lives in the London bombings on our public transport network. Yet if I’m not mistaken I saw very little coverage or any commemorative programmes on TV or even much in the papers why was this ? In the first year and a few after there was huge coverage church attending candle lit vigils and much more yet this year 2013 there was very little at all ? After the Woolwich attack as I’m still not convinced it was terrorism as such in the traditional understanding of such a act I get the sense the ruling class are holding back on pushing 7/7 after the division and heightened racial attacks after Woolwich on mosques and on Muslims in general. Perhaps they fear that stoking up the flame again will see this situation burn out of control ? It is an interesting thing. I for myself never will forget that day in a hot early July we’d just won the right to host the Olympics in London the day before and the day after was one of the darkest days in London’s history if not in Britain’s too. I remember the news reports it was scary and those innocent victims will never be forgotten. In the edition of the socialist the week after the bombings the socialist party wrote The photographs of the victims, the details of where they live, their cultural, ethnic and religious background – including Muslims – demonstrates that it was not the 'rulers' but the 'ruled', ordinary working-class people, who were blown to smithereens, or who had their lives blighted by terrible injuries, by the perpetrators of this obscene terrorist act. Those who carried this out deserve unequivocal and unqualified condemnation. But so do those who have created the conditions for the growth of terrorism. Cynically using the sense of grief and determination to face down the bombers, Blair has rushed in to argue that the 'Iraq war had nothing to do with the events of 7/7'. Ken Livingstone and eminent 'Islamic scholars' in The Independent all agree with Blair's arguments. However, this was not the view of the government's own Joint Intelligence Committee, which stated before the Iraq war that the terrorist threat "to western interests… would be heightened by military action against Iraq". So we mustn’t forget the London bombings and all victims of terrorism but also we must not give in to divide and rule be it on ethnic, religious or any other lines the ruling class likes to try and divide us for their own ends. Say no to occupation of western troops in foreign engagements for every nations and its people to have full and proper self determination to liberate themselves from oppression much like the Egyptian and Tunisian mass’s showed how to during the Arab spring.

China’s pollution overload

China’s carbon emissions have almost doubled in five years By Sally Tang, Socialist Action (CWI Hong Kong). This article first appeared in Socialism Today (July/August 2013), the magazine of the Socialist Party (CWI in England and Wales). People in China’s cities are choking on smog. This past winter the capital Beijing, and other northern cities, suffered their worst air pollution readings on record. In mid-January the US embassy in Beijing, which irritates the Chinese regime by publishing its own widely watched statistics, said levels of PM2.5, tiny particulate matter that can lodge in the lungs causing serious damage, were 40 times the safe level set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). On an expressway linking Beijing to Hong Kong and Macau, there were 40 car accidents in nine hours due to smog reducing visibility. The main causes of air pollution in China are coal burning, cars, construction sites, and the expansion of industry. China’s coal consumption has seen explosive growth, to 4.05 billion tons last year. China now burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined. Since the failed Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, China’s carbon emissions have almost doubled. Facemasks are common in cities today. Air purifiers are also popular products for those who can afford them. Mike Murphy, CEO of Swiss company IQAir in China, says sales of household air purifiers tripled in the first months of this year. The lifestyles of children have also changed a lot: schools cancel outdoor activities; parents keep their kids at home. Rich families choose international schools as these have spent money on air filtering systems. People are perplexed by the worsening air quality over the last couple of years. Improvements promised by the government have not materialised. Less than 1% of China’s 500 biggest cities meet WHO air-quality guidelines. According to the World Bank, 750,000 people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Parents are worried about the health of their children. Some company executives speak of a trend of losing talented people, as some middle-class and upper-class parents, and foreigners, are leaving China because of the pollution. But for most of the population – farmers, migrant workers and the poor – there is no choice but to stay and live with it. In June, premier Li Keqiang announced ten new measures aimed at improving air quality, in an attempt to dampen popular anxiety. Heavy polluters must release detailed environmental information to the general public, and the government vowed to reduce major emissions at heavily polluting industries by more than 30% by the end of 2017. But similar promises have been made before and Li’s new measures contradict government efforts to maintain economic growth at 7-8%. The Chinese ‘Communist’ Party (CCP) state does not have a unified position on these issues, however. Local governments pursue their own interests often in defiance of Beijing’s orders. They manipulate statistics and try to suppress information, including the protests against polluting industries. Earlier this year, over 16,000 dead pigs were found floating in the Huangpu river, which supplies one in five Shanghai residents with drinking water. The pigs were dumped by farmers upstream in Jiaxing, a major pig-farming region in neighbouring Zhejiang province. A few weeks later, the same area saw the outbreak of a new bird flu virus, H7N9, which has so far killed 37 people. The WHO warns this is “one of the most lethal flu viruses”. Both examples show the dire effects of a farming industry run for profit: unsafe and over-crowded conditions, abuse of antibiotics and other chemicals. Researchers have uncovered abusive use of antibiotics in large quantities at major pig farms, with cocktails of drugs used. Some farmers feed organic arsenic to pigs as it makes them look pink and shiny, meaning more profits, despite the fact organic arsenic is a carcinogen. The environmental ministry admitted for the first time, in a report issued in February this year, the existence of ‘cancer villages’ in China – with cancer rates high above the national average. This phenomenon has been recognised since 1998, but is denied by the CCP authorities. But this report was denounced as ‘inappropriate’ by top health officials at the March meeting of the National People’s Congress (China’s fake parliament). Instructions were sent out to local media to avoid using the term ‘cancer villages’. Industrial pollution of drinking water, usually by factories built upstream, is the main cause of cancer villages. The factories discharge untreated sewage, containing high levels of heavy metals or other toxic substances, resulting in clusters of cancer illness. There are now 459 cancer villages in China, while the national death rate from cancer has increased 80% in the past 30 years to 2.7 million fatalities every year. Rural China has also seen outbreaks of lead poisoning as a result of factories and smelters that dump their waste into rivers and landfills. Lead poisoning causes brain, kidney, liver, and nerve damage, and children are especially susceptible. In recent years, thousands of individual cases have been reported across at least nine provinces. A Human Rights Watch report in 2011 accused government officials of “arbitrarily limiting lead testing, withholding and possibly manipulating test results, denying proper treatment to children and adults and trying to silence parents and activists”. The economic boom in China over the last 30 years has produced an acute environmental crisis. The country is grappling with seriously polluted air, water, land and food. According to a 2013 report, of the ten most polluted cities in the world, China has seven, including Beijing. The crisis of contaminated food – rice, milk powder, cooking oil, vegetables, fruits, etc – leaves nobody unaffected. News reports in May revealed that nearly half the rice sold in Guangdong, China’s richest province, contained unsafe levels of cadmium, which causes cancer. The government has hundreds of special farms supplying safe crops to the elite. This reinforces a vicious cycle of government inaction over pollution combined with repression against the victims. In 2008, a toxic milk powder scandal caused the death of six babies and resulted in tens of thousands of children getting kidney disease. The government used repression to silence parents’ groups who wanted to find out the truth behind the affair. Zhao Lianhai, whose own child was a victim, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail because of his activism on this issue. An official report showed that 90% of all environmental protests in 2012 were linked to water pollution. It found that 57.3% of the groundwater in 198 cities in 2012 was ‘bad’ or ‘extremely bad’. One third of rivers and 75% of lakes are seriously polluted, and around 1,000 lakes have disappeared. Unsafe drinking water is being used by 320 million people, and 190 million are sick every year due to water pollution. The last two years have seen a big increase in environmental protests in China. In cities including Dalian, Tianjin, Xiamen and Kunming, thousands have protested against the building or running of chemical plants. The re-emergence of capitalism in China combines the worst features of neo-liberal capitalism together with repressive one-party dictatorship. It means chaos and an absence of even minimal democratic controls. China now leads the world in the production of solar voltaic cells and wind turbines, but around two-thirds of capacity from its wind farms is wasted as the electricity grid lacks the technology to absorb it. The solar industry, which is mainly for export, has built up vast overcapacity and is also a huge consumer of coal power. A socialist solution is needed in order to solve this chaotic situation and to save millions of people’s lives – that is, the abolition of capitalism and democratic public control over the economy. With thanks to comrade Sally Tang, Socialist Action (CWI Hong Kong)