Monday, 31 March 2014

Equal marriage and its political implications

On Sunday the first "gay marriages" were held in the UK. I prefer to use the term equal marriage as really that is what they are and should be known as. Marriage is a right or at least should be to have legal and equal rights as everyone else seems something so obvious to me that I can’t believe we have waited till now for this. But as we know Britain is a fairly conservative nation with its governments bowing to pressure from religious and faith groups into holding back moves to bring in equal marriage into law. So at last LGBT people can marry who they like and I do hope this is just the start of greater things for this community. It’s a well over due matter and the fact a Tory lead government has been the one to bring it in shows how far to the right the labour party has moved as it couldn’t bring this about in its 13 years of government. Ok we had civil partnerships but this was a half way house to what many in the LGBT community really wanted full legal and equal rights for all. I know a lot of people in the conservative party voted against this putting out such wooly reasons why this shouldn’t be law. The reasoning was hugely offensive and discriminatory and showed the Tories for the out of touch backward looking party at least on its back bench's anyhow. Whether David Cameron truly believes in equality for LGBT people I am not sure but certainly he has to be credited with bravery for taking on many in his own party to get this important law through in the commons and beyond. So well done to all who have been fighting hard for this for a very long time let’s hope this can be just the start of the LGBT revolution. Solidarity

BNP gathering support via food banks

An interesting development which many who keep a keen eye on the far right have seen as their next development looks to becoming reality. "British National Party activists are going door to door with mobile food banks in a bid to win support ahead of the local and European elections, The Independent can reveal. The far-right party has even produced a YouTube instruction video to teach volunteers how to build trust with voters in deprived areas by offering soup, teabags and washing powder on the doorstep. The BNP said the scheme had been “pioneered” in London last year and others had been set up in the Midlands and the North-West. Food stalls have also been set up in places such as Havering in east London. The tactics echo those used by the Greek far-right group Golden Dawn, which distributed food to the public at the height of the country’s economic crisis. The BNP leader Nick Griffin visited Athens in January at the movement’s invitation, as part of efforts to set up a Europe-wide coalition. ked about the tactic, BNP spokesman Simon Darby said the bedroom tax and the high cost of energy was driving the need for free food. “It’s beyond belief. People are really, really struggling to make ends meet. It’s no joke. It really is a genuine need for people,” he said. “It [giving out free food] is a very, very practical way to express sympathy with people. So many people are cynical about politics now. “It’s a way of getting people to trust you and bringing real meaning to politics … a way of embedding yourself in the community.” Mr Darby denied the food was a bribe and said it would be given to non-BNP supporters. The BNP wasn’t making a profit and he did not think it was against election law. The demonstration video uploaded to YouTube last week shows a BNP London organiser delivering food in Union Jack bags to an elderly woman. He encourages other activists across the country to engage in “door-to-door food bank activism”, saying all that’s needed is a “trolley and an assortment of tinned products”. An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said she had not heard of political parties giving out food in this way in the UK. “I assume if we knew it was going on, we would want to consider the matter and see whether anything needed to happen with it.” She said any donations of food worth more than £1,500 to local branches would have to be reported to the commission. There is a criminal offence called “treating” which specifically relates to giving food, but this requires “a corrupt intent” to influence voters. " From all this is a concern which we must be wary of. The far right will always use tactics like this to build support in working class areas. We must tackle them head on to root them out of our communities where we can.

Is the Green party a left wing party and should the left support them?

Is the Green party a left wing party and should the left support them? I like the Green party know a fair few of their members and all seem genuine to me. A fair few are what I’d even describe as socialist and left wing. But are the greens a party that the left could rally behind and more to the point are they even left wing at all? All very interesting questions. I would say personally from my experience they’re on the left without a doubt where you place them after that becomes a big debate. I’d almost compare their politics today as almost old labour style politics of public ownership and higher tax’s on the rich as a basis to go forward. I see the greens as an interesting party with lots of variety and some very forward thinking individuals including their on single MP in Caroline Lucas who I like a lot and have heard speak on a number of occasions. I think she is independent and speaks out on things she believes in and is not tied to a party line like many MP’s are. Whether you are in favour of parliamentary politics or not you cannot fail to notice the green party of late having taken control all be it in a minority fashion in Bright and Hove. Yes the ruling group fronted by the greens have passed on cuts and no amount of hand ringing can get away from this fact for me. Having been a socialist party member and previously stood for TUSC this did not go down well in the anti cuts movement when the green lead council in Brighton passed on the cuts and look to again this year too. But do we therefore right off the greens as a party and a wider movement all because of Brighton city council? Maybe if you are a dogmatic sort I suppose. I tend to look at things a bit more rationally these days in a sense. Those of us outside the party often point to the record of the Greens in Germany, where the party joined a neo-liberal coalition and voted for the Afghanistan war, and in Ireland, where they joined a right wing government and cut healthcare and benefits while saying it was OK because they were creating new cycling schemes. Against this we are told that the Green Party of England and Wales is different – the most left wing Green Party in Europe, even. Does this all stand up ? Well the Brighton council thing does not want to go away it seems and the greens will be judged on this their claims to the contrary. Of course that is not the whole story of the Green council in Brighton. As you might expect, it has been pursuing many sustainability initiatives. More significantly, it has just declared that no Brighton council tenants will be evicted if they cannot afford their rent because of the bedroom tax. And councilors have been active in supporting all sorts of other local campaigns. But when it comes to the key issue of fighting austerity, there is scarcely even a cigarette paper between the Greens’ “fairer” cuts and Labour’s. The bogeyman of Eric Pickles’ administrators coming in and making the cuts is used to justify… making the cuts. Spotting the pattern After the first Brighton budget, the Greens held a vote at their conference on whether it was the right to make the cuts. It wasn’t even close – two thirds backed the Brighton councilors. It was at this point that Joseph Healy, one of the founders of internal left wing grouping Green Left, quit the party on principle. As he noted “A few days later at the party’s national conference, despite vigorous objections from Green Left, the party voted to support the Brighton decision. Pragmatism had defeated principle, realpolitik triumphed over radicalism. While the Green Party has many good socialist members, and some radical policies, it is not a party of the left – deliberately so. It has always included different wings of the green movement. Quite a large element of the membership are devoted to an agenda of ‘cycling and recycling’, with a narrow focus simply on environmental issues. While there are many who see themselves as part of the left, they are happy to work alongside those who use the phrase “neither left nor right” with a straight face. Open expressions of leftism are widely seen as a turn-off to voters, and class is generally not thought relevant. The party just voted to put a commitment to “social justice” in its constitution, but that’s as far as it is willing to go. The consequences of this are that Green politicians’ positions can be all over the map. I l have a lot of time for the greens but are they ultimately the answer. I am not sure. I do think they have much to offer and have some very good genuine members but I’m just not sure managing the left side of capitalism is a goal worth fighting for. . Of course we’ll all work with Greens in the battles we face against austerity – and with the many people in Labour, too, who want to oppose the Tories’ destruction of everything we’ve worked for. There is too much at stake not to. But the Green Party offers no solution to the problem of working class representation, or a left alternative to the mainstream consensus. After all, if the Greens are the answer, then why are so many crying out for something new?

The future for the BBC

I am no hater of the BBC for sure it puts out some questionable political lines and is in all in tenses and purposes a state broadcaster for the government of the day due to its connection with its government funding which is huge. But this week and a few weeks before have seen a debate erupt on the current role of the BBC and its possible future roll in society and beyond. At present the BBC is run as a public body funded partly by government but mostly through license fee payers who most if not everyone has to pay to watch TV in the United Kingdom. This for many years has been seen as a poll tax comparison where no matter how much you earnt you will always have to pay for the TV license and if not you would face a big fine and even jail if it came to it. For years many have seen this as an out of date system where the BBC tries to compete with the likes of SKY TV run by Rupert Murdoch who can go out and get the best programmes first before anyone else due to their independence from anyone and their shear buying power. But what about the future of the BBC. This week there has been talk of decriminalising the non payment of the TV license. I see this as a big step forward in all honesty. Whilst I am a fan of the BBC having been one of its big users in recent times with its excellent I player and its fantastic local radio services including local radio commentary of all football league games including my local side Stevenage FC which for a blind person is very useful indeed. But do the BBC loose out in this sense in not being able to legally chase non payers of the TV license. I am not so sure I do think there are many untapped funding resources the BBC could explore before having to change its own running model as it is at current. Many have said this may see the BBC loose much needed funding but I do not agree I think this is a well over due change to things and hopefully this can give the BBc the kick up the backside many and even me feel it needs. On a media and journalistic basis the BBC is falling behind the others out there offering a similar service it is slow to react to news and often is left trailing its competitors. For example Sky news hosted the first live TV debate on the EU between UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg leader of the Lib Dems in the past the BBc would have been the only game in town for this sort of political discussion but no longer the likes of SKY have beaten them to it and this wont be the last time unless the BBC buck up their ideas I suggest. The BBC is seen as a bloated bureaucratic monster paying way over the odds to directors and managers this must change for it to survive. In this age of austerity the BBC must be seen to be keeping in line as best it can. I do hope the BBC stays around for many more years to come and is not privatised as some in the last week are suggesting is its only way of surviving. I do not agree there is a place for public broadcasting but it does certainly need to freshen up its act without a doubt to keep not only relevant but up to speed in this ever changing society of ours.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Why I won’t be voting this may

I have voted in the past and have even stood in an election myself but this year I feel no enthusiasm at all to go and vote at all. Let’s look at my options Tories. Well lets not even go there I’m so unlikely to vote Tory you may as well bet your mortgage on it they do not represent me and never have done. Lib dem, really? Seriously not worth bothering with, Tories in yellow ties. Labour. I was once a member of this party believe it or not and many working-class people will continue to vote labour till they are blue in the face. Fair enough what else is there in all honest? But if the only thing they have to offer come May and next years general election is well we’re not the Tories in name then don’t even bother. UKIP. Well the nastier more racist version of the Tories. Tories on steroids I heard them described as once quite apt I thought. TUSC and other left parties. Not worth bothering with in my opinion. I do not feel voting changes things and voting for a so called radical calling themselves a socialist or whatever may make you feel like you’ve done your bit but what can they really do inside a capitalist system riddled with ways of silencing any who try and change things from within. I have no intention of voting this year. It’s clearly something a lot of good people still look towards but for me you’re banging your head against a brick wall. People say power is with elected officials. It is not it’s with the capitalist as it always has been. Remember the old phrase if voting changed anything they’d make it illegal. It’s not so please draw your own conclusions. Best thing we can do is get organised in our own communities, workplace’s and lives. Join a trade union. Talk to your work mates or local neighbours. There is much to be angry about right now without a political election campaign to trouble people and divert good resources and time and money into. Let’s begin today by building solidarity and strength in our own actions. We do not need leaders to represent o us we can represent ourselves very well already without self appointed leaders looking to rise to power on the backs of the poorest in society. Say no and don’t vote this may.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The long term implications of last week’s budget

Many people have described last week’s budget as against the young and for the pensioners I think this miss's the glaring point that it was for me probably the most class based pro elite budget George Osborne has come to the house of commons with to date. The long term implications for this budget and what it could do to the economy could be wide and quite stark. I do think the grounds are being laid now for the next economic crisis around the globe and the UK will not be able to avoid this so much this time. China which has a huge shadow banking system worth an estimated 50% of GDP is very unstable and that isn’t starting to mention the USA with its huge debt overhang and the euro crisis which on the face of it seems like it has gone away although things are still not right across the single currency. We have seen austerity budget after austerity budget since 20011 from the coalition government and even on George Osborne’s own omission he has failed to eliminate the deficit this parliament which he promised to do. The reason why our loyal opposition is not making more of this you ask? Well they too are wedded to the same financial path of austerity as the Tories and the lib dems. They are all quite literally in this case all in it together. Some may think the recent "recovery" if you can call it that is cause for optimism but I’d be far more cautious personally. "The scars of 2008 remain and the UK economy is in big trouble with austerity and declining living standards here to stay. Below are five things about this year’s budget; a document which outlines a ‘recovery’ based on presumptions that, quite simply, aren’t going to happen 1. Low interest rates are setting the stage for another bubble just like the one that preceded the crisis of 2008. Yesterday Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, criticised the BoE and his predecessor, Mervyn King, when he said that its almost exclusive focus on low inflation meant it had failed to also keep an eye on financial stability. In other words the BoE had no problem stoking bubbles with low interest rates if that meant it also kept a lid on inflation. Interestingly enough Carney also pointed out that “It doesn’t take a genius to see that similar risks exist today”. He noted how risks were brewing because of the current period of of ultra-low interest rates – historically without precedent – saying that this could breed “potential complacency and excessive risk-taking” in financial markets. Sound familiar? Near 0% interest rates are necessary for any growth at all in the UK at the moment but they are also creating similar conditions which led to the last financial crisis. 2. The OBR is plucking numbers from the air on projected productivity gains (again). The economy can grow for a while yet, especially if unemployment falls to 5-6%. Alongside big numbers entering work (and workfare) is however the unresolved (and often ignored) problem of falling productivity. If and when unemployment does fall as low as 5-6% productivity *will have* to increase for growth to continue. The Bank of England expects productivity (output per hour worked) to go up in the next quarter as does the Office for Budget Responsibility. Indeed the OBR is today saying that they anticipate 1.2% productivity growth in 2014 and 2.2% growth the following year. The only problem is that this’ is completely at odds with all the data since 2008 and all of the BoE’s predictions over the same period. Where do those numbers come from? My guess is that it’s a case of the OBR and the Bank of England collectively sitting on their hands and saying ‘productivity has to go up sooner or later, right?’ For more on why productivity matters for any prospective economic ‘growth’ check out the recent video we did for #NovaraTV 3. Its also making ridiculous claims on future wage growth. Sooner or later the Bank of England is going to have to increase interest rates. That will probably happen later this year and if wages are still not keeping up with inflation by then (as has been the case for the last six years), consumer demand - and growth – is likely to take a hit. If wages don’t grow this year and rates go up, even by half a percent, that has huge consequences for the economy. As I recently wrote on the LRB blog: “Late last year the bank reported that average outstanding mortgage debt remains high, at £87,000, and that any rate rise not accompanied by an increase in real wages would cause serious problems. The number of households ‘most at risk of financial distress’ would double to nearly one in six if their mortgage rates went up by 2.5 per cent and their incomes did not improve.” Wages have been in decline for six years. If it stays that way and interest rates begin to inch back towards their historical average (even that of the recent past) the government has big problems. Wage growth is now crucial and without it any increase in interest rates might prove politically difficult. Furthermore the projected increases in household consumption - around 2.5% between 2014-18 – make little sense if interest rates are going to go up even a few percent. 4. … and on exports. The OBR expects export growth of 2.6% in 2014, rising to 4.7% in 2015 and 5.0% in 2016. In 2012 exports of goods and services increased by 1.1% (with imports increasing by 3.1%), while in 2013 that figure was 0.8%. That was in the context of reasonable global growth with the US and the BRIC economies seeing more demand than they probably will after 2015. In spite of that the OBR is projecting increases in UK exports not seen in the last several decades. That is all within a context where one of the UK’s biggest exports - oil – is seeing falling output. The projected numbers on UK exports - averaging around 5% over the period 2014-18 – is utter nonsense and without precedent. Seen alongside falling North Sea output I would argue it is impossible. While industry surveys have been pointing to increased export orders for a while, Samuel Tombs, an economist at Capital Economics, claimed these have been “misleadingly upbeat . . . we would not place too much weight on them”. The OBR is making claims for the next half a decade on the back of confidence surveys and figures for very short period – it’s a bit like when your mate shows you a video of a 12 year old wonder-kid on YouTube saying they are going to be better than Cristiano Ronaldo. 5. …and yeah, on fixed investment. Business investment is still 26% lower than it was in 2008 and while there was a dramatic increase in business investment in the final quarter of 2013 – 8.5% – that was the outlier in the data, not the norm. The OBR is now confidently predicting that kind of growth in business investment not just for the next three months, or even the next year, but all the way through to 2018. Compare that to 0.7% growth in business investment in 2012 or, worse still, the 0.5% contraction in 2013. It’s a bit like saying that your best striker scored a hat-trick in the last match of the season and is therefore going to score 150 goals next year. Clutching at straws doesn’t do it justice. The UK, in spite of a massive currency devaluation in 2008, still has a major trade deficit and if there is any truth in this year’s budget it is the realisation that the UK is not going to become a net exporter any time soon. Alongside that massive trade deficit – and exports of goods fell in the three months to November last year – is a budget deficit of over £100 billion. The Treasury is now saying that that deficit will be eliminated by 2019 with a small surplus being run that year – a ‘return to normal’. This is of course complete nonsense: the UK has only run five budget surpluses since 1980 and that was with the bonanza of North Sea oil and the cash garnered from privatisation of, well, pretty much everything. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that budget surpluses - without outlandish projections of growth, investment and productivity gains – are impossible. Final point. This data states that by 2020 households will be as indebted as they were when the economy tanked it in 2007/08. Less ‘march of the makers’ more march of the mickey-takers." 5 things about this year’s budget came from the excellent Aaron Bastani Over at novara media on residence Fm every Friday afternoons. Always a top listen

Monday, 24 March 2014

A citizen’s income

A interesting idea I’ve come across via the green party I’m not sure if it was their idea originally but a citizens income guaranteeing all a basic standard of living seems a really positive interesting idea and worth exploring more. I know there will be the claims of where wills the incentive to work be if we all get paid anyway let me explain. Work dominates our lives at present it forms the basis to much of what we strive for as wage labourers. Let’s not forget that a colossal amount of work is done in society that is not formally regarded as ‘work’. I am talking specifically about parenting, care of the disabled by family members, and voluntary work in the community. At the moment, much of this work goes unremunerated – and is even regarded as inferior to proper, ‘paid’ work in the formal sense. (”What are those mothers doing at home when they should be out looking for a job?” is a question often barked, usually at poor mothers). A CI finally provides the financial space for this socially invaluable work to happen. What sort of a society are we if we don’t recognise the importance of these tasks? There is also the class politics of this – how it affects the relationship between labour and capital. It seems to me that ‘welfare reform’ has a very specific agenda, which is to create a more pliable workforce. If people in work know that there is no longer much of a safety net, then they will hold on more tenaciously to jobs with bad conditions and bad pay. All of that means higher profits. A Citizen’s Income – a new, bolstered welfare state – begins to tip the bargaining power back in favour of labour. This is why a CI should be taken up by the trade union movement or at least explored to its benefits. But for me, personally, the best argument for a Citizen’s Income is to improve public health, through the stress relief that it would bring. I write this as someone who has been on and off benefits in the past few years, and I can personally testify that the stress of it all sometimes made me feel stressed. As the authors of the Spirit Level suggest, what could fill the explanatory gap between economic inequality and poor social outcomes is, simply, stress. Obesity, depression, addiction – all rooted in the intensely stressful society we live in. A Citizen’s Income – as well as being profoundly redistributive – would, in one fell swoop, lift a corrosive level of stress from our society. And what of the cost and the politics of it all? Well, it’s far more politically palatable than it may sound – as a benefit that would be universal, the divide and rule strategies used by the right to pit the working poor against the unemployed would be blunted. It’s possible that some people would simply not accept the principle that you can get something for nothing, but that is merely because people have internalised the twisted principles of capitalism: and that’s something we’ll have to fight against. It’s far more affordable than it sounds as well: as the Citizen’s Income Trust have demonstrated, the cost would work out at roughly the same as the current welfare bill, which – we must not forget, the vast bulk of which is pensions, housing benefit, and working tax credit. These are just initial thoughts. It’s possible there are serious drawbacks I have over-looked. Two spring to mind immediately. First, the definition of citizenship could be open to abuse – excluding those with a criminal record, recent immigrants etc. Second, contrary to my previous point about the class implications of a CI, it could entrench poor working conditions. It would be imperative those industrial battles continued. But for just now at least, I think this is an idea worth fighting for.

French far right on the rise in local elections

France's anti-immigrant National Front (FN) has surged to power in a former Socialist town-hall bastion and sees more victories in local elections where voters punished President Francois Hollande for failing to tackle unemployment. In what leader Marine Le Pen called a breakthrough for her protectionist anti-EU party, the FN won power in the northern former coal-mining town Henin-Beaumont in a first-round vote on Sunday, and leads in at least six other towns before run-offs scheduled for next week. With turnout levels at a record low of 65 percent after a series of political scandals that have hit mainstream French politicians of both left and right, Hollande's Socialists and their allies won just 38 percent of the national vote, behind 47 percent for opposition conservatives, initial tallies showed. The FN won about five percent of the national vote - a proportionately high amount, given that it only fielded candidates in about 600 of the some 36,000 constituencies across France. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault urged voters across the spectrum to back whatever candidate was best placed to beat FN rivals in Sunday's second round. A triumphant Le Pen said she was not interested in voter pacts with the mainstream right even if that could win her a greater presence on town hall councils. "The National Front is taking root just as it wanted to do - and the crop is pretty exceptional," she told TF1 television. Results released during the night put the National Front ahead in the eastern town of Forbach, in France's former industrial heartland. In the south, the anti-EU party was in the lead in Avignon, Perpignan, Beziers and Frejus, and in second place in Marseille behind the conservative incumbent. 'Exceptional vintage' The party's leader, Marine Le Pen, said the polls marked the "end of the bipolarisation of the political scene" and were "an exceptional vintage" for her party. "The National Front has arrived as a major independent force - a political force both at the national and local level," Le Pen, who won 18 percent of votes in the 2012 presidential election, told TF1 television. The party's Steeve Briois was declared outright winner to run the former northern coal-mining town of Henin-Beaumont, which has long been in Socialist hands. Exit polls also put the National Front ahead in the eastern town of Forbach, in France's former industrial heartland. In the south, it was in the lead in Avignon, Perpignan, Beziers and Frejus and vying for second place in Marseille behind the conservative incumbent. There was some solace for the Socialists as a TNS Sofres exit poll showed their candidate for Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, was ahead of her conservative rival Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet. The strong showing by the National Front will alarm Europe's liberal progressives, with the party long associated with racism and anti-Semitic statements. Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie, was prosecuted several times while party leader for Holocaust denial, once referring to the deaths of millions of Jews as a "detail in the history of World War Two". He has also been prosecuted for incitement to discriminate against Muslims. Since becoming leader in 2011, Marine Le Pen has sanctioned or ejected party members found to have made racist comments in an attempt to make the party more palatable to French voters. Her policies focus on reduced immigration and take a stance against EU enlargement. Does this sound all very familiar to you ? well it should as UKIP are looking to follow the FN's example and route to power. Reason for concern ? very much so i'd suggest. Source:

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Inequality in the UK and the upcoming budget 2014

As the UK government prepares to present an annual budget designed to cut welfare benefits further for the working poor and squeeze real incomes for the average earner, Oxfam reports the country's five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population. In its report, a Tale of Two Britains (mb-a-tale-of-two-britains-inequality-uk-170314-en-1), Oxfam said the poorest 20% in the UK had wealth totalling £28.1bn – an average of just £2,230 each. The latest rich list from Forbes magazine showed that the five top UK entries were the family of the Duke of Westminster, David and Simon Reuben, the Hinduja brothers, the Cadogan family, and Sports Direct retail boss Mike Ashley – between them had property, savings and other assets worth £28.2bn. These are Britain's own top oligarchs (aside from the Russian ones that live in London). Indeed, the 100 wealthiest people in the UK have as much money as the poorest 18 million – 30% of all people. The total wealth of these oligarchs rose £25bn last year to £257bn to surpass the £225bn held by the poorest 30% of British households. And remember household wealth consists of the ownership of a house or flat, pension fund and other possessions like cars. Total household wealth in the UK is £10trn, with the top 10% having £967bn and the bottom 10% just £13bn. The bottom 10% really have no wealth at all except old cars and a few personal possessions. Imagine a room with 100 hundred people. 90 people are so short they can hardly reach the door handle to get out. Another nine people are only high enough to get a drink from the table. But one person is so huge that his or her head hits the ceiling and bursts through it. Such is the scale of inequality and concentration of wealth. Even the top 10% of wealth holders really own only their house that they live in along with maybe a reasonable pension. It's the top 1% or even the top 0.1% who really have wealth in stocks, bonds and commercial property and businesses etc. You see what really matters is not personal wealth but the ownership of the means of production. That gives you power as well as wealth - this is what oligarchs have. What is decisive for capitalism is surplus value (profit, interest and rent), not wage income or spending. Control of that surplus is key. The main feature of the last 100 years of capitalism has not been growing inequality of income. The main feature has been a growing concentration and centralisation of wealth, not income. And it has been in the wealth held in means of production and not just household wealth. What will we see in The chancellors budget tommorrow afternoon ? Well very little to help the poor it goes without saying. I'd predict some more tax cuts including a raising of the tax bands again to £12 k which will be championed by the government in raising the poorest tax thresholds whilst doing nothing to help them with the cost of living. We are also told there will be a extention of the rather fruitless "help to boy" scheme the tories have pushed which has inflated the propety bubbled even more rather than actually helped anyone. This coupled with plans to build a new Garden City in Ebbsfleet in Kent totalling around 15,000 homes is a drop in the ocean to the amount of homes we do need. I am not sure which type of homes these will be but i am sure they wont be cheap and available to all. Now we know from marxist economics that rising inequality is not the cause of economic crisis under capitalism even though inequality cannot and should not be ignored. This is more a consequence of a crisis than a cause of one in the first place. A correlation between rising inequality, slower growth and economic recession does not prove causation. , that instead rising inequality has been a consequence of capitalism trying to avoid slumps from declining profitability by trying to squeeze more out of the workforce in increased surplus value - during the neoliberal era. We can safely say that whatever George Osborne comes up with any rhetoric or fiddling the figures tommorrow we know that inequality will continue to grow under capitalism as it struggles to pull itself out of a crisis one of the deepest for hundreds of years if not ever.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

RIP Bob Crow A militant remembered

I am sad to pass on the news of the passing of Comrade Bob Crow this morning aged 52. The general secretary of the RMT union for many years leading them to successful victories time after time on pay, jobs and working conditions. I understand Bob died in the early hours of Tuesday the 11th of March 2014 of a heart attack. His death will be a huge loss to the labour movement not just in the UK but around the world where his militant stance and taking on the employers one admirers all over the world. While I didn’t agree with Bob on everything such as the his No to EU project and its semi left nationalism and his 145 k a year salary not taking a workers wage we cannot knock his record in fighting for his members and his class as a set of results. Bob was revered by the Tories and the labour party alike who saw him as a troublemaker and hell bent on strikes and bringing the London underground to a standstill. This was not true at all as you would expect me to say. The only reasons tube workers and their drivers got such good pay was through their fight and determination to not roll over and give in to the employer’s demands. I do hope Bob’s legacy is remembered well for me he was one of the greatest trade union leaders in his generation. I just hope we don’t see the crocodile tears from the labour party and their hangers on as they were no friends of the RMT or Bob Crow demonizing him on many occasions over the years. Let’s put our efforts in to making Bob's legacy a one he would have been proud of. As the big man would not have wanted us to mourn his death but to get organised and continue the battle for a better world instead as Bob more than most understood collective power in the workers movement. RIP and solidarity. To all who knew the man.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Should revolutionaries standin elections ?

I thought i'd share this excelletn piece by A-Fed Scotland who put a very convincing case for organising outside of elections and for me this is the best critique of leftists who stand in elections in a long while and is worth a read. "By Mike Sabot in a personal capacity. The original article by Ben Wray (ISG) is here. The only reliable and sustainable basis on which to build a left party is to orientate it towards the only democratic institutions that everyone can engage in and the only institutions that have democratic authority over society – parliamentary elections. In Scotland that means, most importantly, Holyrood. Generally those in the parliamentary left don’t attempt to justify why they participate in elections and see it not only as a useful form of action but, in fact, the primary means of bringing about fundamental social change. It’s just what socialists do, right? Ben Wray should be thanked for elaborating on this. Nonetheless, I’d argue that his case for an electoral party is contradictory and rests on a number of unfounded assumptions. I doubt I can change his mind, but I do think it’s possible and really important that more people are brought around to libertarian communist politics. That means organising as a class where it matters, outside and against parliament. I’ll try and keep this brief and directly respond to some of the points made. Let’s start at the very end of the piece where it’s said that the broad idea is that of ‘challenging the system at its point of greatest weakness: the governmental level’. It seems a bit odd that I need to make this argument, but assuming we’re talking about capitalism here, surely other socialists would agree that the working class is strongest at the point of production and at work in general. It’s there that we can disrupt capital, through organising we can force our demands on employers, or harm their profits through threats of collective action, and actual striking, go-slows, sabotage etc. This isn’t to say that organising around unpaid labour, in our neighbourhoods and against oppressions isn’t absolutely essential and isn’t just as important to transform society, but we need to try to link these struggles to the strategic site of production and work. By contrast, the influence we can have as a class at the level of government is minimal, except where our extra-parliamentary movements can ‘wring’ reforms out of it. Some leftists will recoil immediately, arguing that ‘parliament isn’t democratic, it doesn’t serve the people and the working class increasingly don’t trust it and don’t vote’. This is all true but it isn’t a convincing argument against engaging in parliamentary elections because there are no alternative democratic institutions which possess anywhere near the same democratic legitimacy in society as parliament does. On the one hand, it’s accepted that parliament isn’t ‘democratic’ but on the other, it still has ‘democratic legitimacy’ and is the only institution that ‘everyone can engage in’. In practice, the mainstream left really does accept and endorse parliament as democracy in action, or close enough, and that it’s possible to control it for progressive ends. Otherwise, why bother? But the critique of the institution isn’t explored because it’s seen as unrealistic to reject something which undeniably a) has real power, and b) is understood to be the political arena by the majority. This is what ‘democratic legitimacy’ really means here. The communist argument would be that you don’t start with what is seen as ‘legitimate’ or not, or where the majority are. It is axiomatic that, outside of a period of mass struggle, most people won’t seriously question existing social relations. Gradualist reform and social democracy will be seen as all that’s on offer. What works and how we can recreate a militant labour movement is a different question entirely. What are some basic points against electoralism? Most people can’t meaningfully engage in it. That’s the point. Representation takes decision-making power away from working class people and invests it in a small minority. This order-giver versus order-taker split is an expression of the wider class society. If they’re to be successful, electoral parties have to become ‘popular’ rather than ‘class’-based. They seek coalitions and try not to appear too radical to attract support. The more mainstream they become the greater the chance of gaining seats. Often these parties are mobilised behind a dominant personality with charisma and oratory skills. How exactly do you avoid the situation where some individuals accumulate more power or importance? Some like to argue that it’s possible to be both ‘on the streets’ and in parliament. In reality, parliament takes first place and tends to push out everything else. Where parties are involved in extra-parliamentary activity it’s usually to its detriment, by co-opting things or exploiting them. Whatever the manifesto of left-wing parties, parliament and government is concerned with the political management of capitalist society. It isn’t structurally possible to challenge capital through the state and it’s questionable to what extent reforms can be passed without the leverage of a militant labour movement, and in this conjuncture. The function of electoral parties on the left, arguing the case for a better-run capitalism – whatever the radical rhetoric – is to demobilize and divert from more serious threats, like rank-and-file direct action. Don’t get me wrong, I am not for becoming like the politicians. I believe representatives should take a workers wage; I believe they should be accountable to the community they are elected from None of these things would let the electoral party off the hook from ‘becoming like the politicians’. A workers’ wage doesn’t challenge the hierarchical relationship of representative to represented. And politicians speak all the time about being accountable but most people know this is meaningless. Only recallable delegates are genuinely accountable. Those who don’t vote aren’t setting up co-operatives to run communities or workers’ councils to run workplaces. Their process of re-engagement and democratic renewal will likely pass through parliamentary elections on their way to participatory democratic control of society, if we are to ever get there. Not voting isn’t important in itself, and for the growing distrust of politicians and the electoral process to achieve anything it would have to find expression in new forms of organising. But it’d be naive to think that participatory or direct democracy is something that will be proclaimed one day by parliament – handed down from above. Rather it needs to be prefigured in whatever struggle we’re involved in. The point is, however apparently dire our situation and despite the broad extra-parliamentary left being a small minority, it is both possible and absolutely necessary that we create new directly democratic institutions. Coming from a revolutionary unionist or syndicalist position, I see unions ‘as associations of workers’, rather than as representatives or service-providers, as probably the most crucial institutional forms for class struggle.* The fact that the trade union movement is so weak means that we actually have an opportunity to go about building a new labour movement controlled from below and rejecting collaboration with bosses. A false dichotomy is sometimes raised by the mainstream left that you either have to accept electoralism or you’re for some sort of revolutionary insurrection tomorrow. Instead, we need to take the long road of trying to spread militant rank-and-file organising, of winning small but significant victories and gaining strength. Whether it’s the IWGB in the Tres Cosas Campaign, the IWW in organising service workers or in setting up rank-and-file networks in, for example, the education sector, SolFed’s campaign against workfare – these are all examples of radical unions ‘as associations’ doing really inspiring work. I’d also add Glasgow SolNet’s direct action victories for private tenants and ECAP’s actions by and for claimants, as examples of union-like structures outside the workplace. Put it this way – what do you think the capitalist elite want us to do? Leave parliament to their mates and focus on extra-parliamentary activism, or challenge for democratic control over society? The question should answer itself. The history of left-wing electoral parties around the world is one where the elites were not threatened by their entry into parliament. In fact, in Britain, the Labour Party was welcomed by many existing parliamentarians as a reasonable, collaborative bunch who would help to control the extremists in the labour movement and work for the national good. They were right. The working class is strong to the extent that it is autonomous and can act in its own class interests outside of the state. Where left-wing electoral parties exist in parliament, the extra-parliamentary left should try to argue the case for class struggle politics with their grassroots, use pressure to gain concessions, and keep up a constant critique of the leadership. * For the difference, see the excellent SolFed pamphlet Fighting for Ourselves, pp 12-13." with thanks to A-Fed Scotland for this excellent critique of electoralism

Monday, 3 March 2014

What is going on in Ukraine and whaat should the left response be?

Over the last week huge events have been unfolding and a deeper and deeper worrying situation is developing in the Ukraine and imperialist Russia is now flexing its muscles this worries me greatly but what should our response be to all this ?? "Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans were on the streets yesterday protesting against the Putin regime’s attack on Ukraine. It’s the only shaft of light I can see in a dark sky overshadowed by the danger of war, with 6000 Russian troops reportedly on Ukrainian territory in Crimea, some of them surrounding Ukrainian bases. Russia In Moscow, anti-war demonstrators were detained in large numbers. Each Time protesters assembled on Manezhnaya square in the city centre, more were arrested. Novaya Gazeta, the liberal opposition paper, reported 265 arrests and counting just after 16.00 Moscow time. Voices on the Russian radical left were unequivocal. “It is necessary to call a spade a spade: what’s happening in Crimea these days is a classic act of imperialist intervention on the part of the Russian state”, said the Open Left group in a statement published in English here. “Maidan has opened the sluices of activity of the far-right thugs – and at the same time has spurred to political life great masses of people, who perhaps for the first time perceive that they themselves are capable of determining their fate. This range of possibilities has the potential to resolve itself both into progressive social changes, and into the victory of extreme reaction. But the final decision must, without doubt, be left to the people of Ukraine themselves”, Open Left wrote. Ukraine Large numbers joined demonstrations against the war not only in Kyiv but in all the large Russian-speaking cities in the east. Ukrainska Pravda reported a demonstration of 5-10,000 people against Putin’s aggression in Nikolaev, a predominantly Russian-speaking city in southern Ukraine. The report said that agricultural and public sector workers, students and the intelligentsia were all at the march. In Dnipropetrovsk, a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial city, and Odessa, the predominantly Russian-speaking port city in southern Ukraine, several thousand people joined similar marches. There were demos in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye – smaller than pro-Russian marches … but shamefully downplayed by western media reports. In Kyiv, the radical left called for working-class solidarity against Putin’s militarism. “There’s no point in waiting for ‘rescue’ from Nato”, said a statement by the Autonomous Workers Union, published in English here. “The war can be averted only if proletarians of all countries, first and foremost Ukrainian and Russian, together make a stand against the criminal regime of Putin.” Activists in eastern Ukraine Messages from activists in social movements in eastern Ukraine painted a grim picture. My friend G., a trade union activist based in Dniprodzerzhinsk, emailed to say: “Most ordinary people are cautious or hostile to the [Ukrainian] nationalists, and so Euromaidan got very meagre support here. There have been many rallies here against the accession to power [in Ukraine] of ‘fascists’ and ‘nationalists’. “But after Russia sent its forces into Crimea and threatened war – both sides appeared ready temporarily to drop their differences and defend Ukraine. The bottom line is that this conflict is starting to unite people. Those who openly support Russian intervention are not visible right now. “On the other hand there is the threat of the right radicals coming to power. Yesterday many oligarchs were appointed to the governerships of eastern regions. [Among a string of new governors appointed, Igor Kolomoisky, the oil-to-telecoms billionaire was made governor of Dnipropetrovsk region and Sergei Taruta, the steel magnate, governor of Donetsk region.] And earlier on there were rumours that they are financing Euromaidan, supporting [the right wing populist party] Svoboda, for example. And now we are getting confirmation of that. But ordinary people, workers, have little to say about that.” A radical left activist, D. from Dnipropetrovsk, emailed in a more pessimistic vein, quoting Pushkin: “The people were silent.” [The famous last line of the poem Boris Godunov – GL.] “That applies to workers whether young or old”, he said. The events around the Maidan demonstrations had a polarising effect. “Wide layers were seized by nationalism, Ukrainian or Russian. [...] That’s a catastrophe that could be compared to August 1914 [the outbreak of the First World War]. “Among socialists and anarchists there is a very pessimistic mood. Twenty five years of socialist propaganda from a wide range of left groups and ideas seems to have gone nowhere, disappeared like a puff of smoke. Of course, we didn’t have such great achievements before (in contrast to 1914). But what’s happening now gives the impression that all these decades of socialist work were for nothing have produced no results.” Despite his gloomy prognosis, D. added that, in respect of a possible incursion by the Russian army, “the indignation is overwhelming. In the last three or four days, since the beginning of the military activity in Crimea, I haven’t heard any other reaction.” London In London, home to the largest community of Russian migrants in Western Europe, an anti-war demonstration at the Russian embassy was followed by "TYPE=PICT;ALT=Trafalgar Square" Protest banner in Trafalgar Square today Action at Trafalgar Square, where Boris Johnson, the mayor of London was hosting a festival to mark Maslenitsa (the Russian equivalent of Shrove Tuesday). A banner saying “No invasions! Stop repressions!” was hung over the balcony of the square. The demo organisers were aiming at the event’s Russian corporate sponsors – as they put it, “the largest oil polluter, Rosneft; the union busters Aeroflot; the hate mongering Russian state media and Kazmunaigaz, which was responsible for massacring Kazakh oil workers”. Comments Against what is Vladimir Putin directing this war? The story being told in the western media is that he seeks to undermine Ukraine’s new government – nationalist and right wing, with a neoliberal economist prime minister, and portfolios held mainly by members of Batkivshchina (Yulia Timoshenko’s right wing liberal party) and the extreme nationalist populists of Svoboda. I don’t think this coalition, thrown together in the crisis that followed Yanukovich’s departure, is his main target. Rather, it is the mass movement that accompanied the Maidan protests, which brought ordinary Ukrainians into political and social action on a level unprecedented since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Above all, Putin fears the spread of protest, and popular participation, into Russia. In a previous post, I wrote that “Russian support for separatism in eastern Ukraine, or even, in extremis, civil war” were not the most likely prospects. I was wrong. And now, although military action beyond Crimea is unlikely – or perhaps I mean “unthinkable” because the consequences would be so disastrous – it has to be acknowledged that Putin’s operation in Crimea could spin out of control. I agree with the statement by Open Left in Russia, that the Crimean operation can not solve Putin’s basic problems. His regime is not built on strong foundations. Russia is slipping back into recession, its economy able to maintain its footing only thanks to high international oil prices. In a discussion with British leftists about Ukraine yesterday, the opinion was voiced that “anti fascism”, meaning opposition to the new government in Ukraine, is the priority, and that it would be “no bad thing” if the Putin regime put arms in the hands of “anti fascist militia”. But there are no “anti fascist militia”. The European left should not use this crisis to indulge its own fantasies.Yes; we in Europe should do everything we can to help Ukrainian socialists and trade union organisations who have come under attack from right-wing nationalists and fascists, as I argued in an earlier post. But there is no question about where the greatest threat is coming from to working-class solidarity, to social movements, and to the attempts of people in Ukraine and Russia to shape their own future … it comes from Putin’s militarism. Let’s support the anti-war movement and independent working-class and social movements in Ukraine and Russia however we can. GL, 2.3.14. ■ " From Ukrainians Russians and Europeans against Putin’s war.