Saturday, 30 August 2008

Clays Lane

Two years ago: I was one of 450 members of the Clays Lane Housing Co-operative, situated in Stratford Newham. The co-operative was Britain’s’ largest and Europe’s second biggest purpose built and fully mutual. I’m not certain how the co-operative originally came to be established or even who its founding member’s were way back in the early 1980s, all I know is that over the years it provided a home for literally thousands. I first stumbled across it when a former girlfriend who incidentally was a member of the communist party’s YCL invited me to a party, on what became known to the many as simply the Lane, neither had it occurred at that time; in my wildest thoughts that sixteen years on; I would not only be resident but an elected member of its management committee – what a small world.
Clays Lane Housing Co-operative was established to address the lack of housing for single people. Initially funded and supported by organisations through the Housing Corporation a government semi-public quango, there were up to 450 contractual tenants, all single people between the ages of 18 and 59. Tenants upon being offered places were required to purchase a £1 share so as to become a full voting member of the co-operative, which entitled them to attend and vote in both annual and general meetings, to elect and stand for the management committee, participate in the co-operatives affairs and receive its services.
The Lane, consisted of an enclave of ten courtyards all named after one of the Rochdale pioneers, founding fathers of the co-operative movement. I was the reprehensive for Banford Courtyard whilst on the management committee and chair of maintenance, but that’s another story. With 57 (Heinz) shared houses in red or yellow brick (containing four, six or ten bedrooms) and 50 self-contained flats. We had a community centre (with a shop, cafĂ©, meeting hall and training rooms) which also housed the co-operatives office and workshops. Located on the top of a hill next to the Eastway Cycle Circuit (previously in an other life, “an old landfill site”, the West Ham Tip). This provided spectacular views across Hackney Marches and the Lea Valley. The estate was designed in theory to engender a strong local community – its motto was “A community – not a housing estate”. The housing was arranged into ten courtyards, each of which held a monthly meeting to discuss issues that may have arisen, receive reports from committee members.
In 2000 the Housing Corporation under the Leadership, of former print workers trade union leader Baroness Brender Dean, instigated a standard inquiry into the affairs of Clays Lane; subsequently it received a report of poor management. It proposed that the co-operative’s house stock be transferred to the Peabody Trust, one of the UK’s largest housing associations, because of its better financial security, and the Government approved the transfer.
In 2001 the co-operative elected a new committee with a majority determined under the direction of the late Dr. John Lynn, an out of work school teacher, to resist and turn around this attempted liquidation by hostile organizations and individuals.
What happened at Clays Lane serves as an example why socialists should reject in its entirety the co-operative vision as an alternative to capitalism?

The cooperative movement began with the application of cooperative principles to business organization as Robert Owen (1771-1858) advocated, considered by some as the father of the cooperative movement, he made a fortune in cotton. Owen believed in putting his workers into a good environment with access to education for themselves and their children. Owen’s philosophy would later be named by Karl Marx; utopian socialism, and indeed Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto; “The undeveloped state of the class struggle, as well as their own surroundings, causes Socialists of this kind to consider themselves far superior to all antagonisms. They want to improve the condition of every member of society, even that of the most favoured. Hence they habitually appeal to society at large, without distinction of class; nay by preference, to the ruling class.
For how can people, when once they understand their system, fail to see it in the best possible plan of the best possible state of society? Hence, they reject all political and especially all revolutionary action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful means, and endeavour, by small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure, and by force of example, to pave the way for the new social Gospel.”
Marx and Engels where proven right in the fullness of time, the evidence speaks for itself; even Owen’s ideas of “villages of co-operation” where workers drag themselves out of poverty by growing their own food, making their own clothes and ultimately become self-governing ended in failure as finally did Clays Lane. The cooperative model is the creation of a system of society within society, the Rochdale Pioneers, pronounced that their society, should be ‘politically neutral’ and that principle was held for decades almost as a sacred cow; many still advocate that school of thought today. However the one thunder-mental single failure of the cooperative movement; is its mimicking; of the capitalist system’ especially seen in the retail and banking system; dressed up words such as surplus still equals profit, no mater how you look at it, and its weakness will always be, that its surely venerable to predatory plundering, pillaging and marauding from the cold-blooded society; that is capitalism in which innocence and decency prove fatal. In 1997 the Co-operative Wholesale Society held an internal investigation into activities of two senior CWS executives and their dealings with entrepreneur Andrew Regan. As part of a bid defence CWS suggested that Regan in his attempt to gain control of CWS in a £1.2 billion bid to take over, had acted inappropriately, eventually his bid was seen off and the two senior CWS executives were dismissed and imprisoned for fraud. Then the inside story of how Co-operative Bank almost came to be sold for £110 million 14 years ago is told for the first time in a new book written by the Bank’s former Managing Director, Terry Thomas. Mr Thomas, now Lord Thomas of Macclesfield, was MD at the Bank’s Manchester headquarters for nine years after originally joining as Marketing Manager in 1973. And in his autobiography An Inclusive Community with Integrity the Labour/Co-op peer — tells of the shock at being informed by the then Co-operative Wholesale Society Chief Executive David Skinner that the Bank would be put up for sale and of his two-year long battle to reverse the decision. It emerged that one potential bidder was controversial entrepreneur Andrew Regan, the businessman who tried to buy CWS. Lord Thomas says in the book that Regan’s plan in relation to the Bank was to sell it on to the Allied Irish Bank for “a multiple in terms of pounds of what CWS had been prepared to sell the Bank for in the first place”.From its humble beginning; no one will deny, that the cooperative movement helped to sustain many a poor working family with relatively cheap food and services. I remember as a boy the coop milk float was a common sight on our streets, and that people were members of various savings clubs like the one offered by its funeral service, the cooperative introduced into Britain the supermarket, but this only sped- up its own demise on the high street along with a general move to house retail in the shopping mall.
The cooperative business; and business being the operative word here, has survived as a business because its run and organized within the capitalist framework from banking to retail, today The Co-operative Group, which runs the fifth largest UK supermarket chain, agreed to buy Somerfield in a £1.6 billion deal in July.
Co-operative Travel has outlets, which it calls ‘implants’, in 22 food stores, including rival chains such as Tesco and Asda.
The group is opening travel outlets in its existing supermarkets, where refurbishment is taking place. It recently opened an agency in its food store in Peacehaven, Sussex, and further outlets will open in food stores in Glasgow and Swansea.

It would be quite remiss of me not to mention the political wing of the co-operative movement; The Co-operative Party, it describes itself as Britain’s second largest centre left party and has 29 members of parliament and over 300 councillors throughout the country. It was setup at a special Congress in 1917 it was resolved that a Co-operative Representation Committee (soon renamed the Co-operative Party) was set up.
It fought six seats in the 1918 'khaki election' and saw its first MP elected: Alfred Waterson in Kettering. He took the Labour whip in Parliament, as the Movement saw that its interests would be served by an alliance with Labour. An electoral agreement was signed in 1927 and has remained (though amended) ever since. The party has recently appointed Michael Stephenson as its General Secretary a former adviser at 10 Downing Street.
The Truth is that the co-operative party, the co-operative group clearly embrace the capitalist “ethos” whatever they call it, mixed economy, market economy or command economy. It’s best comparable to a bag of liquorice allsorts. The co-operative road is a reformist one, full of potholes and deep crevices, a road which has proven over a lengthy period of time to knock more workers down than hold them up. Society is clearly a number of people living together in community, having daily dealings and relations with each other in our everyday affairs of life, and in that life every living person must be a wealth consumer a condition of our entire existence, it cannot be escaped. Wealth is produced by the application of human energy to material provided by nature. All wealth, as the term is understood in political economy. Even the “working-power” of the battery lying chicken is not an exception, for the chicken is wealth, the product of human energy applied in chicken breeding and rearing. Two things, which are fundamentally necessary to the production of wealth, are labour-power and nature-given material. All normal people within certain limits of age possess one of these essentials of wealth production, namely, labour-power. So to be self-supporting – access to the means of production is a must then, only thing is – the things necessary for wealth production including nature-provided raw materials and machinery are not owned by the majority, but have been grabbed and ring fenced long ago by a few who now own them along with the means of production and distribution, and on this the whole structure of modern society is based and all relations in society take their shape from it. We that do not own the means of production have to sell our labour-power to the owners of the means of living in order to obtain minimal subsistence able to purchase life’s necessities from the coop. This is life’s setup that society situated is divided into two classes - employers and employees; those that possess and those who do not possess. So the two-class nature of society, with property as the differentiating agent, is shown to be founded on the ownership of the means of living by the capitalist class.

Sir Ian 'could lose his job' over £105,000 Olympics contract

Sir Ian Blair faces careerthreatening allegations over the awarding of a lucrative Scotland Yard contract, it emerged yesterday.
Legal papers submitted by Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur claim proper procedures were not followed when a firm received £105,000 to review the work of his Olympic security planning team.
It was given to Hitachi Consulting, run by Martin Samphire, a former colleague of Sir Ian's friend and skiing companion Andy Miller.

The Darling Buds Of.........

Chancellor Alistair Darling last night admitted Britain was struggling badly in the worst economic situation for 60 years.
In the most grim assessment yet, the man who holds Britain's pursestrings in Downing Street said of the crisis: "It's going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought."
And he confessed Labour has its "work cut out" to persuade voters to give the party another chance.

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Grip Of Terror

It is worth noting that the Taliban did not take power until seven years after the Russian withdrawal. By 1996, half of Kabul had already been destroyed by the mujahideen, who had been armed and supported by the USA. Tens of thousands were killed in fighting over the city.
Today Afghanistan is in the grip of terror. Human Rights Watch has described atrocities “committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled into power by the United States and its coalition partners after the Taliban fell in 2001″ and who have “essentially hijacked the country”. The report describes army and police troops controlled by the warlords kidnapping villagers with impunity and holding them for ransom in unofficial prisons; the widespread rape of women, girls and boys; routine extortion, robbery and arbitrary murder.
The Human Rights Watch spells out a desperate situation for education in Afghanistan. “Schools are being shut down by bombs and threats, denying another generation of Afghan girls an education and the chance for a better life. Human Rights Watch found entire districts in Afghanistan where attacks had closed all schools and driven out the teachers and non-governmental organizations providing education. Insecurity, societal resistance in some quarters to equal access to education for girls, and a lack of resources mean that, despite advances in recent years, the majority of girls in the country remain out of school. Nearly one-third of districts have no girls’ schools. ”
Afghanistan is now the world’s largest producer of heroin, in 2004 it produced 90% of the world’s crop. No alternatives exist for farmers and the promised new roads and irrigation projects that would allow diversification have never materialised. The UN World Food Programme reports that: “over 50 percent of children are malnourished in Afghanistan, while one in three of people living in rural areas are unable to meet daily basic nutritional requirements.”

Thursday, 28 August 2008

And Finally....

Prime properties in the heart of rural England have finally been drawn into Britain's sliding housing market; it emerged today, as Nationwide Building Society reported that prices are falling at their fastest annual rate in almost 18 years.
Savills, the UK property agency specialists in the high end of the property market, said that deals involving country piles worth up to £5 million are declining, following a 45 per cent fall in transactions in Central London where prices fell by 7 per cent.
The company said: "Prime country property was initially less affected than London but is now following suit."
The company confirmed that it will cut jobs as a result of the dire market conditions but declined to comment on how many staff will lose jobs. In the UK alone, Savills employs 3,000 people.
Nationwide, the UK's largest building society, said the decline in house prices was now reaching double digits and falling at a rate not seen since the fourth quarter of 1990.
"House builders, in particular, have been reporting significant reductions in site visits and reservations of new properties since this time last year in spite of a big increase in the use of sales incentives."
Yesterday, it emerged that Taylor Wimpey, the UK's biggest house builder, is selling less than half a house a week on each of its sites, despite offering substantial incentives to homebuyers.
Uncertainty over house prices has prompted speculation that thousands of estate agents will be made redundant.

Pocket Money Is Cut Through Credit Crunch

According to a recent report many kids have seen their pocket money cut as a result of the global credit crunch, as their parents struggle to keep on top of repayments and cope with higher living costs, all of which have impacted heavily on household finances’ pocket money.
The data shows that it is not just the nation’s adults that are being affected by the credit crunch that has caused so much havoc in the financial markets, as the knock on effect is also impacting on kids’ financial situations.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Deal Or No Deal?

This is a letter that I sent to the Newham Recorder way back in May I think, they didn't publish it as they favor letters groaning on about dog litter and such other petty frivolous trivialities.
If employment is the key to getting people out of poverty (Sir Robin Wales) then why is it that half of the children that live in poverty in Britain today, live in households where someone is working?

A number of factors conspire to create in work poverty; housing costs and council tax deserve some blame, like the recent hike in our council rents. The root of all in-work poverty is obviously low pay despite both the minimum wage and reformed system of tax credits under New Labour.
Ministers are unlikely to achieve the goal of halving child poverty by 2010, because the public finances are suffering from "underlying weakness" and the government is in grave danger of breaking its own fiscal rules, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The Darling Budget’ has ploughed £870m into anti-poverty measures, but we will still see 450,000 children growing up in poverty in 2010, £3bn is needed for a reasonable chance of hitting the child poverty target anything else is just whistling in the wind!

I have read a great deal about the reported views and thoughts of Mayor Wales, and have to respectfully say that some of them sound like they were taken from a script penned by the writer Johnny Speight, for that charter Alf Garnet, who was supposed to be a figure of ridicule. The Mayor is of course nothing like Alf Garnet, but his remarks are all the same very worrying and demeaning to the good people of Newham.
At a conference organised by the Commission for Racial Equality in 2006, Sir Robin said "that people in Newham struggled to get out of bed by 11am as they were so used to being unemployed, this was because they were locked into a lifestyle, often going back generations, of doing badly at school and living on benefits". More recently the Mayor has sided with the Housing Minister Caroline Flint, who has suggested that unemployed council and housing tenants should seek work or face losing their homes.

In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher became the personification of government that was uncaring and callous that set about closing down industry after industry, unemployment became the order of the day part of the strategy to reinvigorate British Capitalism and handed over the family silver on a platter of privatisation, gas, electricity and water where amongst the first utilities to go, the devastation of her polices left whole communities buried beneath the rubble of the Berlin Wall, no more so than in East London. The closure of Docklands came to symbolize this, with the end of the road for the many not just employed in the docks but in other industries, some were of course connected with dock work but not all. The picture is a memory and not a dissent one; this is the legacy that has left a generation or more without the start in life that any descent parent would hope for there children in the 21st century, instead our children are forced to compete along with the unemployed and others for the low paid dead-end jobs stacking shelves in the supper market or sweeping the floor at McDonald’s.

If only Sir Robin could even start to understand what difficulty’s our young people strive to overcome in order to step upon the career ladder, the same has to be said for the older unemployed among us, it’s all to easy to stigmatise the unemployed as being lazy and work shy as some do never offering any evidence to back there high pitch hypothesis.
Any help that develops the skills and abilities of individuals to obtain and sustain fulfilling employment must be welcomed as a step in the right direction remembering that we work to live, not live to work. I say this because most of the government sponsored schemes introduced by New Labour that become mandatory after a given period of unemployment, seem to pressurise (speaking from experience) rather more than giving practical support, in other words making the unemployed jump trough hoops in order to meet the set targets made by the private companies so as to be able to maximize there own profits which are shelled out from the public purse, one such company is Instant Mussel a pathways to work contractor that went into administration last month with more than 200 of it’s employees being laid off and joining there clients on the dole.

Sir Robin Wales and the New Labour project have over the course of three administrations demonstrated if nothing else, to be the true baton carriers of Thatcherism, the new party of big business, who’s only goal is faithfully servicing the interests of it’s big backers an oil company or a casino, no mater what it costs in life or dignity.

Is It The Big One?

From This Months Socialist Standard

There’s a joke amongst stock exchange gamblers about the analyst who predicted nine of the last three bear markets. The same could be said about some critics of capitalism who have been predicting the next Great Depression since 1945.Capitalism is an uncontrollable system and another 1930s slump cannot be ruled out. But history never repeats itself exactly, not even as a farce (not that a repeat of the horrendous 1930s could be viewed as a farce). Every slump or recession is different because capitalism is anarchic and unpredictable. In fact, if it wasn’t then capitalist governments might have a better chance of developing some policies to avoid them. The socialist case against capitalism is not dependent on capitalism being in a slump.Even in times of “prosperity” capitalism does not, and cannot serve the interests of the majority who are obliged to sell themselves for a wage or a salary to get a living. Unemployment may be lower and real wages may be rising slowly, but the basic fact of profits being derived from the unpaid labour of those who work remains. And profit-seeking dominates decisions about what, where and how to produce. Priorities are distorted as profits always come before meeting needs.Obviously more people are discontented in a slump than at other times but history does not provide any evidence that slump conditions are consistently better for getting across the socialist message. The priority for an unemployed person is a job or rather the money needed to buy things that goes with a job. Socialism could indeed immediately solve this problem by ensuring that everyone’s material needs were met, but socialism cannot be established until and unless a majority want it and are prepared to take the necessary political action to get it. Socialists, however, cannot produce this immediately by waving a wand. In the meantime unemployed people want a job and have been known to follow all sorts of demagogues who promise them this. Socialists do not subscribe to the view “the worse, the better”. Even so, slump conditions do expose the irrationality of capitalism. Closed factories alongside unemployment queues. People in bad housing alongside stockpiles of bricks. People in need of food alongside food mountains and, worse, food bonfires. In short, poverty amidst potential plenty.But are we heading for another big slump? Nobody knows. Capitalist opinion is divided. Anatole Kaletsky, writing in the Times (17 July), reported that “according to the overwhelming majority of financial analysts in the City of London and Wall Street, the world is now in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s”. He disagrees. He regards this merely as a panic reaction amongst bankers who are seeing their expected profits disappear.Socialists don’t know either but the very fact that another big slump cannot be ruled out confirms in itself that capitalism is an irrational and uncontrollable economic system. The sooner it is got rid of and replaced by a system under human control and geared to serving human needs the better.
Introducing the Socialist Party The Socialist Party is like no other political party in Britain. It is made up of people who have joined together because we want to get rid of the profit system and establish real socialism. Our aim is to persuade others to become socialist and act for themselves, organising democratically and without leaders, to bring about the kind of society that we are advocating in this journal. We are solely concerned with building a movement of socialists for socialism.We are not a reformist party with a programme of policies to patch up capitalism.We use every possible opportunity to make new socialists. We publish pamphlets and books, as well as CDs, DVDs and various other informative material. We also give talks and take part in debates; attend rallies, meetings and demos; run educational conferences; host internet discussion forums, make films presenting our ideas, and contest elections when practical. Socialist literature is available in Arabic, Bengali, Dutch, Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Polish, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish as well as English.The more of you who join the Socialist Party the more we will be able to get our ideas across, the more experiences we will be able to draw on and greater will be the new ideas for building the movement which you will be able to bring us. The Socialist Party is an organisation of equals. There is no leader and there are no followers. So, if you are going to join we want you to be sure that you agree fully with what we stand for and that we are satisfied that you understand the case for socialism.
The Socialist Party
Socialist Standard August 2008

Monday, 25 August 2008

What's It All About.....Afghanistan

With the proverbial clock a ticking, on the Presidency of George W. Bush and his gang of vile gremlins, it seems that the administration of 'These Here United States' is having billboards erected throughout Afghanistan, and offering a 'Sheiks Ransom' for information that leads to the arrests of Osama Bin Laden, (Bin Liner) Taliban Chief Mullah Mohammad Omer and the US Al-Queda member Adam Gadahn.
As the curtain begins to descend on George W. Bush, one last shot in the dark is being made to bring in illusive' Bin Laden, the nemesis of Bush. Tens of thousands of troops are still searching for the fugitives that we are all led to believe remain at large, while Afghan officials claim they are across the border in Pakistan. Violence in Afghanistan is reported to be at its highest level since the 2001 invasion. On Friday scores of innocent citizens (76) died in a military operation by American and Afghan troops in the Western part of the country. It is said that the Taliban is gaining so-called "hearts and minds" because of the sheer anger of ordinary people at the coalition bombardments on innocent civilians, even the Afghan government has accused American bombers; allegations that are denied. Kandahar has seen much of the violence and has become Afghans most troubled province, last week a new governor replaced the old one accused of torture and corruption. In this week alone the coalition lost three Canadian , ten French and three Polish soldiers, and if that's not enough wasted young life, then add to that, the ten civilians killed in the province when a landmine exploded, a judge gunned down outside his home and a child that died when he played with the wires of a buried mine.
The Taliban was once derided as a ragtag rabble unable to match the might of the US troops, but have transformed into a fighting force - advanced enough to mount massive conventional attacks and claim American lives.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

"In Good Company"

My local newspaper (Newham Recorder) last week carried a report that alleged; two neighborhoods are among 15 council wards with the highest number of criminal residents. Revealed apparently by the Metropolitan Police in a new bid to cut offending. Police say each one of the wards contain hundreds of serious criminals - who are believed to lore others into a life of crime.

Canning Town North and Forest Gate South were identified by analysis of criminals' home address. The report concluded by saying that there is a plan to monitor and assist people released from prison in these areas, with the aim of preventing them falling back into crime.

I moved to Canning Town North about two years ago having been 'decanted' by the council from my previous residence, so as to make way for the 2012 Olympics. So you can imagine how delighted I was to discover that I'd moved into a neighbourhood of good company. I love living in Canning Town, it's got history, character and plenty of atmosphere, despite it being in the top 5 per cent of the most deprived areas in the UK with local people suffering from poor health low education and poverty, a recent report to Newham council stated that 1 in 2 children live in poverty.

In 1809, an Act of Parliament was passed for the construction of the Barking Road. Originally known as Hallsville, the area is thought to be named for the first Viceroy of India, Charles John Canning, who suppressed the Indian Mutiny about the time the district expanded. Today Canning Town is changing and soon it will look very different as the area is currently undergoing a 1.7 billion regeneration. Looking down Barking Road I always notice the huge Banks and buildings of Canary Wharf, home to the real criminality in the world, and if I look out of my living room window I have a view of the Royal Docks City Airport and the ExCel international exhibition and conference center, the host venue for the British Motor Show, the London Boat show and the International Arms Fair an exhibition of the latest in weapons of mass destruction. This event sponsored by our own government, has in the past invited defence officials from countries with questionable human rights records, including Libya, Saudi Arabia, China and Indonesia. Incidentally the ExCel center is now owned by the United Arab Emirates government who acquired it for £318 million.

Things certainly ain't wot they use to be - or are they? The other day I shared a table with this nice OAP in the cafe in Rathbone Market, he recalled unlocked front doors, gossiping grannies sitting outside on their chairs along the street, the cheery market banter, barrel organs, knife grinders, street cries, pie-and-eel shops, chestnut vendors, pawn shops, the old pianos wheeled out on to the pavement, beer flowing and the neighbourhood knees up mother Brown, kids swinging on lamp Post, skipping calling every other person 'auntie' or 'uncle' a sense of community spirit he said; "so powerful that not even the bombs and doodlebugs could break it." But behind the nostalgia he said: "Things were, so bad at home money-wise we were actually starving. I used to go to school in bare feet in frost." This wonderful old man left me with the impression that the working class East Ender in particular found something that money can't buy, and children never doubted where they belonged or who they were. I remember that the late Queen Mother said something about looking the East End in the eye after the palace received a bomb courtesy of Hitler, during the war. But the truth is that the ruling class have never been able to look workers in the eye when committing its daily great crime in the world as a whole. Increasing international competition is creating a 'race to the bottom' in labour rights, resulting in straightforward exploitation for many and increasing stress at work and job insecurity for others. The under-funding of health and education is resulting in declining public services for many in both North and South. Overall, poverty is rising in many countries - while inequality is increasing almost everywhere. The proof of the evils and inadequacies come when capitalism blames the workers.

Monday, 18 August 2008


The other day I had a very interesting but challenging conversation with an individual; about slavery, Cuba and the old Soviet Union that was. This person was convinced that Cuba and the Soviet Union under Lenin, but not Stalin, were the worlds first ever "Socialist States". In vain I tyred to point out that both countries were in fact Sate Capitalist controlled, with the means of production owned and run by the government and a replaced ruling class. Such conversations really do help to develop one's ability I feel, to take the socialist case and cultivate coherent arguments based upon fact and alternative. The harder the opposition and resistance, the more shackle's to knock off - the better. It's amassing the things that people perceived the world to be, and there concepts of what socialism is and how it would come about. In this case my equal thought that it would only be achieved in one country at a time, like it had been in Russia and then Cuba, and that it was necessary for a country like Cuba to trade with the rest of the capitalist world, in order to survive. He also thought that wage labour was not as bad as the black African slavery of 15th century. This was all fascinating and for days I have thought and gone over in my mind all the arguments and questions of that conversation. I like to think I know my own mind, and I like to think that I act on my principles. This has led me, at times, to work harder at politics. Knowing my mind, I also know that a good mind must be flexible and open to change. The older I get the more I realize that there are few absolutes and many perspectives, but no substitutes for socialism. I didn't learn easily. I argued, confronted, scoffed and denied. But in the end what the Socialist Party (SPGB) has been propagating for over a hundred years, blew my mind. Out of a sense of "yes let's get on with it.

"Slavery lives and thrives under capitalism as it has always done, as the terms wage slave; and slave to the job implies. No one will argue that Slavery (also called thralldom) is the same, the social-economic system under which persons - known as slaves - are deprived of personal freedom, compelled to work, held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, deprived of the right to leave, or to refuse work, or to receive compensation (such as wages) in return for their labor. Today it is estimated that 27 million slaves work without pay under threat of violence and unable to walk away, its not legal anywhere but happens everywhere. In the US 90 cities have been found to have labour slavery, they are enslaved cleaning houses, working on farms and coerced into the sex industry. Feudalism and the Peasants Revolt come to mind and the shout of King Richard to the peasants "you shall have no captain but me." Karl Marx described feudalism as the economic situation coming before the inevitable rise of capitalism. Marx defined feudalism as the power of the ruling class (the aristocracy) that rested on the control of arable land, leading to a class society based upon the exploitation of peasants who farm the land, typically under serfdom. So serfs were bound legally, economically and socially, whose labour landowners held property rights too, and if that was not bad enough spare a thought for the serf slave, they had the fewest rights and benefits and were given the least. They owned no land, worked for the lord exclusively and survived on donations and handouts from the landlord.

What we find the more we look into history and the past, is that slavery predates the written record and it can be found in almost all cultures and continents. Both Athens and Rome had slaves, at the same time, to be a slave in ancient Greece or Rome did not necessarily involve degradation. Unlucky slaves were sent into the army or the mines; lucky ones might serve as a tutor to children. Capitalism made the modern slaves that developed the nation, it forced rural people to move to the cities due to the loss of subsistence agriculture, and the theft of land.

I read that Kirk Douglas, the actor best known for his role in the 1960 film 'Spartacus' is campaigning for an apology for slavery, and that in July the US House of Representatives passed a resolution that apologized to the Black Americans for the inhumanity, injustice, cruelty and brutality of slavery. A similar bill is being considered for the Senate. But apologies are nothing new. They apologized to Japanese-Americans for confining them in concentration camps during World War II. And the US government apologized to the people of Japan for dropping the atom bomb on them. Earlier this year the Senate apologized to the Native American Indians, for the genocidal atrocities committed against them. However the damage and the deplorable conditions created by those atrocities are still being felt today, especially on reservations. A few years ago the Senate also apologized for the governments failure to intervene and put a halt to lynchings of approximately 4.000 African-Americans. What's that saying - "better - late - than - never"? But have better - late - than - never apologies and acknowledgment of wrong doing, made any difference.....

Friday, 15 August 2008

Steel Town

I do love the image caught in this photograph of Lysaghts (Scunthorpe) steel works, taken in about I think the early 1960s, and the cars not bad.
Lysaghts was decommissioned and shutdown about twenty years or so ago, the funny thing is that where a steel works once stood, a chicken food processing plant operates today, executing over a million chicken's a week for major food outlets in the UK. I remember, and not so long ago that you could set your watch by the sea of traffic coming and going, too and from the works at the end and beginning of each shift at Lysaghts, most of the traffic was bicycles or mopeds running on the fuel by-product obtained illegally, from the coke ovens department, the stuff use to fall into a trough, and it was easy to fill up your tank with it, although it did mess your bike up after a time, still it was free....Oh happy days!
Steel is nevertheless still being made at the Scunthorpe works of Corus, formerly the Appleby-Frodingham Steel Company, and has been since 1890 and remains one of the UKs premier steel plants with the currant capacity of 4.8 Mt/year of liquid steel. The works an integrated site today with a somewhat unique mix of products including heavy plates, sections, semi-finished billets and slabs, wire rods fabricated construction products and rails.
I have admittedly, an admiration for steelworkers having grown up amongst them and for a while having been an operative on the coke ovens. It was not surprising to fined out that according to the environment agency; in the year 2000, Scunthorpe was the home to one of the biggest polluting businesses in the United Kingdom.

When I worked on the steelworks so did 27,000 of my neighbours today the workforce is just under 4,000. The defining moment for steel came during Thatcher's first term and the 1980 steel strike. In some ways looking back it seemed to be a kind of rehearsal for what was to come in the form of the miner's strike. At the time this state-owned steel industry (The British Steel Corporation) was saddled with comparatively technologically backward plant, and was struggling to put it mildly, in the face of much more competitively prices imported steel. The biggest Trade Union the ISTC was led by one of the most rightwing, servile bureaucracies in the whole labour movement, headed by Bill Sirs, who would later go on to become one of Thatcher's friends due to his encouraging of strikebreaking in the 1984-85 miners strike. When the closure of a number of steel works was announced at the end of 1979, the union called a strike and stayed out until April 1980, when the leadership threw in the towel. Steelworkers Fought, and fought hard, with pickets being dispatched to try and stop the use of steel by British Layland and other companies. On a number of occasions, steelworkers were brutally beaten by the police. In the aftermath of the defeated steel strike, came the jobs massacre. The BSC chairman Sir Charles Villiers was replaced by hot-shot Ian McGregor who sacked tens of thousands of steelworkers. Again McGregor was involved in something that seemed to be a dry run rehearsal - for the role of butcher he was subsequently appointed by Thatcher to enact against the miners. And the rest is history.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Capitalism Will Strip The World Naked - If We let It?

Most of this week I've been following events in the news with regard to the climate camp, set up in the past week by environmental protesters near the Kingsnorth power station in Kent, Garden of England. Its the site of Britain's first coal-fired power station to be built in more than 30 years and the Eco-activists at the camp are campaigning to stop it's construction vowing to shut it down.
If that sounds familiar, then expert help was at hand; in the form of Arthur Scargill, who evidently extended his sympathies to the protesters on the the issue of over-zealous police officers. However Arthur was there to argue the case for coal and he said; "I agree with their campaign for a cleaner environment policy and agree that we should be putting an end to nuclear power, I do not agree with stopping coal power. I am saying that we can use clean coal by removing the CO2 by using a process called carbon capture, and I think that we can fit Kingsnorth, and any other coal-fired power stations, with the technology to do this. That way we can extract all the oil and gas we need from coal, just like we did during the war, without hurting the environment. It will also allow us to use up all the coal supplies that we have that will last us for 1,000 years."
Interesting hey? Well when you think about it, we only have about six thousand trillion cubic feet of gas reserves left in the world, that sounds a lot, but given our current rate of use, it equates to between 60 and 65 years of supply. And as for oil, it is estimated that there are about 1.27 million barrels left in current reserves across the world, while this may also sound a lot it represents about 44 years of supply at current usage levels.
This in all probability explains the rapid growth in bio-fuels, ethanol and bio-diesel. And with it comes a major impact on world grain and livestock provision. Even the IMF warned that an increasing global reliance on grain as a source of fuel could drive up food prices. The spectre of food shortages is upon us, casting a long shadow across the globe, causing riots in Africa, consumer protests in Europe and panic in food-importing countries. In a world of increasing affluence for the few, the hoarding of rice and wheat has begun. United Nations peacekeepers fired rubber bullets and used tear gas to control mobs rioting over rising food prices in Haiti in April of this year, is this a gustation of things to come?
In 2005 the United States overtook Brazil to become the world's largest producer of ethanol while the European Union is the largest bio-diesel producer, this trend could also exert additional stress on already high exploited land and water resources world wide, adding yet another dimension to the nightmare. However some optimistic experts give a vision that would see markets automatically readjust to food shortages, as higher prices make it more profitable once again to grow crops for people rather than cars.
Whatever experts say, there's one thing they don't say, and will never say, even if Hell freezes over, and that's under 'capitalism' human beings and the natural world are on a collision coarse. Human activities in the pursuit of profits and unrelenting greed, inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment, mankind and critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices under 'capitalism' put at serious risk the future that we wish for our descendants and human society the planet and the animal kingdom, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.
Whilst it is admirable for green politics, die-hard environmental campaigners and woolly-minded hippydom to spend a few nights in a field in Kent under the stars, drawing our attention to this one power station amongst many, it remains that bringing environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earths systems we depend on, we must first recognise that the larva that is capitalism needs to be replaced as a system whose interests are proven to be diametrically opposed to any sustainable relationship devoid of profits on a planetary scale, only in a world socialist society, a real world community, in which the Earth and its natural resources have become the common heritage of all humanity will we be able to manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively and in the interests of the whole community.

Friday, 8 August 2008

What A Wonderful World

Figures released by the National Housing Federation show that many households have gone without power in the past 12 months because they could not afford to pay their energy bills. The figures included a survey of prepayment meter customers, who tend to be on lower incomes but can pay up to £400 more per year for their energy than wealthier customers. In addition the survey found that 14% of all gas prepayment meter customers have 'self disconnected over the last year because they cannot afford to top up their meter'.
As The Socialist Way reported earlier, British Gas has increased charges to domestic costumers by a massive 35%. They have done this whilst millions in Britain are living without basic utilities and millions more are under threat of disconnection or are amassing debts to pay their bills. In 2004, 23,000 households had their energy supplies cut off, amongst them was George Bates,89, and his wife Gertrude, 86, they were found dead weeks after their gas supply was cut off on an unpaid bill of just £140. Mr Bates, a retired postman, had died of hypothermia siting in his armchair and Mrs Bates was found lying on the floor having died of a heart attack. Its should not be of concern that Mr and Mrs Bates, did not pay their bill or even whether they could afford to pay it,although it was subsequently discovered that they had £1.400 in cash in their home and £19.000 in the building society, but what is of concern was the brutal decision made to disconnect the gas supply of two frail pensioners ultimately resulting in their premature deaths, as if British Gas had singed their death warrants.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Reformism... Doesn't Pay!

I thought it might be interesting to reproduce on The Socialist Way blog, a recent exchange between myself and Tony Collins, a leading member of Galloway's Respect Party. The original subject was on housing, but what the debate clearly establishes if nothing else, is that Respect has nothing more to to offer except the old failed polices of state intervention and state control, and despite the repeated demonstrations by 'old Labour' that reformist policy put simply, don't work and that the record shows, that capitalism cannot be made to work in the interests of the majority.
Tony Collins is part of what has been describe as a re-groupment of the International Socialist Group (ISG) Socialist Resistance and a group of former members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). In a recent statement the new group said: "The role of revolutionary Marxists is to build Respect, which will locate itself in working-class struggle - in the workplace in the community, amongst the oppressed and in the broad party".

The Exchange
TC. But Jim, unless I've read you wrong, you seem to be saying that there's no point in even fighting for reform. I think your wrong to say that most thing's have been already achieved by reforms. The struggle goes on everyday - everyday they try to take things from us, and everyday we try to beat them back. But the wider point is that Respect is not a revolutionary party. Its aim is not the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by Socialism. It is a broad coalition that is trying to get a working class voice in the political system and that will necessarily mean that most of the time we're working for reforms - better council services, an end to privatisation, support for workers on strike.
Your starting point seems to be, "no point in doing that - the only solution is revolution". At least that's what your first post meant.
I agree, in the end, that's what we want. But we're involved here with broad, old-labour - style political groups like Respect. How dose this fit in there, where reform is the thrust of everything we do?

The Reply
Jim. Tony what is an old-labour -style political group? Is it what was known as the broad church that some use to cite in the old-style Labour Party, with the likes of Gaitskell, Morrison, Healey and Hattersley?
Oh yes, Ralph Mctell's song an anthem to the homeless and dispossessed, whenever I listen to his "Streets of London" I wonder back twenty years or so and remember the hostels that housed the homeless in Tower Hamlets, and amazingly, well organised, successful campaigns led by the homeless themselves, in particular the residents of Tower House on Fieldgate Street Whitechaple.
700 men formed an association, the sole aim of which was to bring about an improvement to the appalling and horrifying living conditions prevailing at the time. Tower House was one of many purpose-built hostels, built by the plilanthropist Lord Rowton and opened in the late 1800s to provide cheap accommodation for workers needed to service industry especially the docks. By the 1980s Rowton Hostels had transformed into Rowtons PLC quoted on the stock exchange, by now specialising in hotel and banqueting with the chairman who was also a Church of England commissioner, under his leadership the companies three remaining hostels became not only run down, but the most profitable part of the whole business.
The crimes of capitalism are many and know no bounds if profit maximising. In an independent environmental health report conducted on behalf of Tower House Residents Association and reported in the Observer newspaper; it found that the 'Tuberculosis' bacterium, was on the floor and walls of the whole building, living in the sordid dirtiness, the chances of contracting or becoming infected with the illness was a hundred time higher than the national average, and in the words of a friend who sadly passed away some years ago; "I was treated better and lived in luxury as a prisoner of Adolf Hitler".

I well remember dosser, doss-house was the words everyone used back then, but the lads in all humility broke down the stereotype's and in the end along with their comrades in the sister hostel (Arlington House) helped staff unionize and fought on successfully for the compulsory purchase of the hostels by the local councils. Today Tower House is an upmarket block of apartments with rents for a one bedroom flat starting from £350 a week meanwhile the homeless as always are still sleeping (skippering) out on the streets.
I had the privilege to have been both resident and Secretary of the Tower House Residents Association. I can see, that still as ever this world is crying out for change, millions of children die each year of starvation while billionaire's spear themselves as always no indulgence, why is it Utopian to suggest a world of abundance and co-operation, a world that will never be won from beginning to end through reform!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Class Struggle Aboard the 'Titanic'

To commemorate the 100 years of publication of the Socialist Standard the monthly periodical of the Socialist Party (SPGB). The Party published in 2004 a selection of seventy articles chosen from the ten thousand published in its organ during its hundred year history of activity and socialist propagation. The result was a beautifully put together book 'Socialism Or Your Money Back' which illuminates an unbroken proud but humble intervention that still goes on today.

When I think of Gordon Brown or Harold Wilson, I end up thinking about Ramsay MacDonald the first Labour Prime Minister, and when I think of him, I then remember the story by Hans Christian Anderson, about the Emperor who hires two tailors who promise to make him a set of remarkable new clothes that will be invisible to anyone who is either incompetent or stupid. When the emperor goes to see his new clothes, he sees nothing at all - for the tailors are nothing more than swindlers and there aren't any clothes. Afraid of being judged incompetent or stupid, the emperor pretends to be delighted with the new clothes and 'wears' them in the grand parade through the town. Everyone else also pretends to see them, until a child yells out "he hasn't got any clothes on!.

It is said that people who point out the emptiness and pretensions of powerful people and institutions are often compared to that child who says that the emperor has no clothes. The Socialist Party has for more than a century been pointing out the emptiness and pretensions of the powerful and their institutions, whilst propagating at every given opportunity the socialist alternative to the slavery enforced by capitalism onto the billions on prison planet earth. 'Socialism Or Your Money Back' is not only the reproduction of written articles that first appeared in the paper Socialist Standard, but exemplifies in all its shame the failings, deliberate and otherwise of all the reformist parties that have ever claimed to stand for change. My own personal favourite article is one that appeared in 1912 a powerful moving, condemning exposure of the class struggle aboard the 'Titanic'. For that reason and because it is very well written, I've decided to copy it on to my blog so others may not only enjoy its brilliant composition, but also see the relevance that it retains in today's world, as if its speaking to us through the years.

The Class Struggle Aboard The 'Titanic'

Once again humanity has been staggered by an appalling catastrophe, in which hundreds of human lives have been thrown away, and hundreds of homes plunged into grief and despair. Once again the wild cry of horror has vibrated through the world, and the multitude have been not only shocked, but astounded, as if the unexpected had happened. Once again the newspapers have been slobbering sentimental platitudes and unctuous hypocrisy as though this were not the best thing that has happened for them for many a long day.Once again the machinery of bogus inquirers and sanctimonious 'Charity' has been set in motion in order to hide awkward and incriminating facts. And finally, once again have the flouted working class, on whom the brunt of this stupendous sacrifice to Mammon has fallen, begun to forget all about it.
Well, there is nothing at all unusual in that. The workers have proverbially short memories. They have forgotten Featherstone; they have forgotten Whitehaven, they have forgotten Bolston, and in a few short days they will have forgotten the 'Titanic'.
Murder of workers is so common; the workers are so used to it, that they cannot even recognise it for what it is. When the murderous rifles of the soldiery shoot unarmed workers down, it is only the operation of the law, and there's an end on't. When mine-owners neglect to keep their mines ventilated, and blow hundreds of miners into eternity, or brick them up in the pit to be burnt alive, it's a lamentable occurrence but quite an accident, and again there's an end on't. And now that the vast 'unsinkable', the floating city, has carried its full living cargo to the bottom of the Atlantic, the workers arouse themselves in horror of it for a day or two, note with approval that the Royal Family have donated about one day's income to the relief fund, and then slip quietly back into their sleeping sickness.
And, of course, they are to be helped to do this by a sham enquiry which will start out with the set purpose of fixing the blame on the iceberg, or at most on the dead officers who were supposed to have control of the ship, But this enquiry is a mere blind, a cunning attempt to cloak the real position and screen from blame the real culprit.
The enquiry in America, for all its seeming fierce determination to get to the bottom of the matter, and for all the awkward evidence it has elicited, was only embarked on for the purpose of skating the surface. If they could fix the blame on the White Star people, then so much the better for the American shipping interests. But beyond this they did not go; beyond this they never intended to go; beyond this they dared not go. All their virtuous indignation is of a piece with the 'patriotism' of their grandfathers, who poisoned Washington's soldiers with villainous provisions with an unscrupulousness even modern Chicago fails to beat.
To those who understand modern conditions no enquiry is necessary in order to apportion the blame. The starting point of the enquiry will, of course, be the hour immediately preceding the collision. They will go on the worn-out assumption that the captain had the command of the ship. No one will ask why was the 'Titanic' built. No one will dare to suggest that the captain and his officers had not the command of the vessel.
Yet this way lies the truth. In the very designing of the 'Titanic' is the first word of the tragic story, in keeping with which is every jot and tittle of evidence to the end. In the luxurious furnishings - the swimming baths, the flower gardens, the racquets courts - read the secret catastrophe. The ship was built to carry rich passengers across the herring-pond.
Almost the first comment that was made by the newspapers when the fatal news cane to hand was that among the first class passengers aboard the vessel were millionaires who were collectively worth £30,000,000. This in itself is significant. The fares of those six hundred first and second class passengers must have totalled an enormous sum, compared with which the passage money of the steerage was a negligible quantity. The 'Titanic', then, was essentially built for rich passengers upon whom the White Star Company depended to enable their vessel to 'earn' a dividend.
The course is clear from this. The ship was on her maiden voyage; it was necessary to convince the wealthy, whose time is so extremely valuable, that she was a fast boat. So, as it is admitted, there was a general order to "smash all records" - which was duly done. This explains why the lookout men had glasses until they reached Queenstown, but not afterwards - record smashing on Western voyage commences at Queenstown. When records are to be smashed it is very inconvenient to have the lookout seeing too much - especially when the ship is an 'unsinkable' and well-insured. It also explains why the vessel was on a wrong course at a wrong speed, and why no notice was taken of the lookout's warning.
Much will be made of these latter facts, no doubt, and the dead officers will be blamed. It must not be forgotten, however that capitalist companies invariably choose for responsible positions those men to do what they are paid to do. It is all moonshine to talk of the captain being in command. They command who hold his livelihood in their hands. If he will not take risks and get the speed they want, then he must give place to one that will.
So at the bottom it is greed for profit and the insatiable desire for speed on the part of the rich that is responsible for the disaster, whatever conclusion the Committee of Enquiry may come to. Of course, they will not give any such verdict as that, for that would be to indict the capitalist system.
The actual details of the wreck afford a further opportunity of pressing home a lesson. The evidence of the survivors and the evidence of the official figures of the saved, show that even on the decks of the sinking liner, and to the very end, the class struggle was on. Those who had clamoured for speed were the first to monopolise the boats, and the way was kept open for them by the officers' revolvers. Even the capitalist newspapers are compelled to admit the significance of the figures. Of the first class men 34% were saved; of the steerage men only 12%. Figures like those are eloquent enough without the evidence of the officer who admitted that he kept steerage passengers from a half-filled boat with shots from his revolver.
Much has been made of the fact that the cry 'Women and children first' was raised, and it is not necessary to cast aspersions on the courage of any man who survives. The salient fact is that it was not a question of courage of but class. 'Women and children' meant women and children of the wealthy class. Of first class women and children practically all were saved, some even with their pet dog. Of the steerage women and children more than half perished. The 'chivalry' of the ruling class does not, save in very rare instances, extend itself to the class beneath them.
We are not of those who expect any great results from this ocean tragedy. Working class lives are very cheap, and the age that abolishes the Plimsoll Line at the demand of those greedy for profit is hardly likely to insist upon the provision of proper means of life-saving or the careful navigation of passenger vessels. Murder by wholesale may be committed without doing violence to 'law and order', so long as it is committed by the capitalist class in the 'legitimate' scramble for profits. The law only moves against the Crippens and the Seddons, but the murders quite commonly committed by the capitalist class are not one whit less foul, for all nobody is hanged for them.
First published in the Socialist Standard May 1912
"And the band played on"
For a copy of "Socialism Or Your Money Back"

Monday, 4 August 2008

Socialist Standard On Sale In Newham

This months Socialist Standard has gone on sale at the following newsagents in Newham.

Adam Newsagents
16 Rathboone Market, Barking Road
Canning Town E16

Pyps Newsagent
406 Barking Road
Plaistow E13

Harrisons Newsagents
239 Plaistow Road
Plaistow E15

This list will be updated during the week, in the meantime one for your diary's, the next meeting of Central Branch of the Socialist Party (SPGB) will be held on Wednesday 13 August at the Print Works Pub on Farringdon Road, starting at 6.30pm, the nearest Tube is Farringdon. All visitors most warmly welcome.

The Writing Is On The Wall!

House prices fell at the fastest rate on record in July, £15.000 has been knocked off UK values; mortgage offers tumbled 64%; and Sir James Crosby, parachuted in by the Treasury to kick-start the property market, warned that things will only get worse.
The pain will not be contained to property owners. The Home Builders Federation has warned of the dire consequences for the jobs of 300,000 employed in the building industry, while Homes for Scotland, reveled that 15,000 jobs had already gone, and its Chief Executive Jonathan Fair said: "We are now facing job losses within home building that are already more than ten times the level seen at Ravenscraig in 1992, with the impact being felt the length and breadth of the country."
The writing is also on the wall for thousands employed as mortgage brokers, estate agents, surveying and solicitors officers. Not wishing to be the bearer of bad news, but Planning departments well also be hit.
Financial institutions are already under pressure. Lloyd's TSB and HBOS announced a fall in profits for the first six months dropped from £290m to £2m...............Poor things!

Saturday, 2 August 2008

New Labour.... New Leader?

David Miliband reminds me of Robin the Boy Wonder, and I'm just wondering if after spending his young years training his body, mind and soul, is he ready to take on Brown for the leadership?

I think he will, as a child his career ambition was to be a Bin Man, if he ousts Brown and then replaces him as leader and Prime Minister would this not be the act of vengeance by the Blairite's? He belongs to a group known as the 'Primrose Hill Gang' made up of modernisers who think that, if anything, Blair did not go far enough.

The Primrose Hill Gang is a loose network of young Labour Politicians who's members include Miliband's brother Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander, Pat Mcfadden, James Purnell, Jim Murphy, Andy Burnham, Matthew Taylor, Geoff Mulgan and Patrick Diamond. The Next Generation of Blairite Ministers all.
In 1994 David Miliband was Tony Blair's Head of Policy and a major contributor to the 1997 manifesto. After New Labour's victory Blair made him head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit, a position which he held until 2001 election when he entered Parliament.

Working For Your Benefits

A few weeks ago James Purnell, the work and pension secretary, announced a major new attack on benefit claimants in his new welfare green paper. His claim that the changes will"transform lives" will indeed be borne out, but disgracefully it will be a transformation for the worse for large numbers of the poorest people in our society.

Even the Tory leader David Cameron heaped praise on the green paper, saying that he is "thrilled" with it, and most of it will be fully supported by his party.

All 4.5 million people on 'out-of-work benefits' will be affected, as benefits will be renamed (Employment Support Allowance) and altered. The main aim of the changes is to force at least one million people of out-of-work benefits into low payed jobs.

The new draconian measures include forcing people to work for their measly dole money. After one year of unemployment, claimants will have to do four weeks of work. After two years, they will have to work continuously for their benefits, doing work "such as community work." Previously only people with criminal convictions have been forced to do community work.

Incapacity claimants will face harrowing questioning and more frequent tests and a medical check from someone other than their own GP. Single parents will have to seek work when their youngest child is seven. Drug reported addicts will be 'required to have treatment.

The proposals go alongside plans to increase private sector delivery, consequently reducing jobs in the public sector and ensuring, that rich pickings for private enterprise come before all else!

The government tries to dress up the proposals as part of its fight against poverty, sometimes using the slogan 'work works.' But over half of children living in poverty are in working households with millions of people on low wages that make them little better off than being on benefits.

This green paper comes at a time when the economy is fast tipping into recession as the number of people dependent on benefit has risen by 45.000 since the end of January and the likelihood of hundreds of thousands more jobs likely to go - you couldn't make it up!

Friday, 1 August 2008

Socialist Sunday Schools

When my brother and me were young and growing up in Scunthorpe living in our condemned council house complete with its outside toilet, our parents one day decided to send us to Sunday school for some religious instruction . At first we attended the one organised by the C of E church at the bottom of our ten-foot, that's the native name given to the alleyway that runs in between the back to back houses not that different I suppose a bit like Coronation Street, anyway we attended St John's Church Sunday School every week until it stopped because of the dwindling flock due in some part to the council demolishing the condemned housing and redeveloping that part of the Town. It's not as if our parents were religious, can't remember them ever attending church - then just as we thought it was safe mum packed us off to the citadel of the Salvation Army, citadel that's another word for fortress or strongly fortified building that belongs to an organisation that strongly defends a particular way of life, and did they have a particular way of life. I will remember all my days, the bizarre military uniforms, ranks and brass bands, but above all else this large portrait of Jesus that was hung or positioned high above us at the front of the citadel hall, his blue eyes, long flowing brown hair, but what I vividly remember the most is that no mater wherever you sat in the citadel, the eyes of Jesus were upon you, his eyes seemed to fixate on you as if he was following your every move.

William Booth the founder of the salvation Army writing about the working class, echoed the title of the Henry Stanley book about exploring Africa, calling it "In Darkest England" In this book the working class are depicted as degenerated savages, so then is it any wonder that workers and drinkers from the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, use to resort to throwing rotten fruit and vegetables at the salvationists.
" As there is a darkest Africa is there not also a darkest England? Civilization, which can breed to its own Barbarians, dose it not also breed its own pygmies? May we not find a parallel at our own doors, and discover within a stone's throw of our cathedrals and palaces similar horrors to those which Stanley has found existing in the great Equatorial forest?"

I'm grateful to my parents for a great deal in my life, but have to say that Sunday School mostly use to bore me rigid, for the only use I've ever found for biblical knowledge has been in the odd pub quiz.

'Jesus Wants Me As A Sunbeam'

The English Sunday school movement was founded by Robert Raikes of Gloucester (1735 -1811) and the founder of the Sunday School Union. Raikes was a newspaper publisher a business inherited from his father, he became involved with boys that had been jailed and believed that vice would be better prevented than cured. He saw schooling as the best intervention but the only available time was Sunday's as the boys some as young as six were often working in factories a full six day's a week. This was a time of transformation in Britain, the very beginning of the industrial revolution, the first factories required cheap labour and children provided the owners with that supreme human element in the process of production. In certain branches of factory industry the labour of young people was felt a necessity, but there existed an unwillingness on the part of some parents to allow their children to enter the factory gates, so to overcame this the owners went to the workhouse and by obtaining a large number of pauper children as required furnished the shop floor triggering off what came to be known as the workshop of the world, and the opening of that in which mere human labour becomes secondary and subordinate.

The labour obstacle overcome, children where bandaged under indenture to the foreman or manager under whose superintendence they worked. They were bargained for and sent to their destination in droves; the workhouse glad enough to get rid of them. When these children entered on employment at which they were to spend their lives, they were housed and bedded in sheds; their food was the poorest kind, and frequently insufficient; the beds in which they slept were no sooner vacated by the day shift than the night shift took possession. These children unable to look after themselves, and as there was no one near connected with them by ties of blood, were entirely at the mercy of those who regarded them solely as implements of labour.

The treatment and suffering of these children was heartrending in the extreme; it remained unnoticed until diseases spared among the children and gradually, the public became aware of the abominations of the factory system. It's not too hard to imagine that some children having been brutally flogged to keep them from falling asleep at work may have decided to escape this life of ceaseless drudgery that hurled them in crowds to an early grave, absconded and went on the run turning to a life of petty crime, begging, vagrancy eventually ending up in prison and then to the penal colony of New South Wales, Australia. So in steps Robert Raikes, concerned with prison reform, social status and the lack of education, develops the idea of Sunday School with the Rev. Thomas Stock. The original schedule for the schools, as written by Raikes was "The children were to come after ten in the morning, and stay till twelve; they were then to go home and return at one; and after reading a lesson they were to be conducted to church. After Church, They were to be employed in repeating the catechism till after five, and then dismissed, with an injection to go home without making a noise."
"Give Me The Child Until He Is Seven And I Will Show You The Man."

Within 20 years of Robert Raikes death, 1.25 million children were regular attendees of Sunday School across the country. The Sunday School appeared in American cities in the 1790s following the example of the British, growing rapidly as Protestant clergy and lay people molded them into key elements in an institutional network designed to make the new nation Protestant.

In the twentieth century Sunday Schools were primarily church institutions, recruiting the next generation of members - President George W. Bush and Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. By the twenty-first century, Sunday School attendance in Britain had declined, Nevertheless, Sunday Schools remain a significant institutional tool for religious training used by the state to deliver generations of obedient citizens as many a child could testify.
The Socialist Sunday Schools were set up as an alternative to the Christian Sunday Schools in Britain, and it is said that they arose in response to a feeling as to the inadequacy of the orthodox Sunday Schools. The first was set up by Mary Gray in in 1892 a member of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), she ran a soup kitchen for the children of the Great Dock Strike of 1889.
She stood as an SDF candidate, and was elected, as a member of the Battersea Board of the Poor Law Guardians, a speaker and SDF lecturer spoke indoors and outdoors, at one such meeting she addressed the people of Ilkeston in the market square in July 1897 on "Society As It Is" a friend of Eleanor Marx, she was on the the Executive Committee of the SDF for a time. Her aim, was on realising that the children had little or no education was to make them aware of socialist responsibilities to one another and provide what was lacking in their school education. By 1912 there were over 200 socialist Sunday schools throughout Britain. In the early days they encountered opposition from the local authorities and politicians, who argued that the schools were subverting the minds of young people with political anti-religious doctrines and teachings, and tried in vain to discredit the schools by accusations of blasphemy and revolutionary teaching.

The schools were impeded by a lack of their own premises and met with objections to hiring of suitable halls to the extent that in 1907 London County Council evicted five branches out of hired school buildings. A mass demonstration was held in Trafalgar Square, and in 1926 Fulham Council refused permission on Sundays because it was of a "non-theological character. It was apparent that the reason that Socialist Sunday Schools were encountering so much opposition was because they where seen as subversive by the Establishment.

Whilst it is true that different organisations ran schools like the Independent Labour Party, Communist Party and in Scotland the Socialist Labour Party, all more or less had the same format, schools would attract about 20 to 30 children each week, activity's would include games, songs, and discussions with a speaker like a miner or docker in attendance explaining to the children the role and nature of there employment, in addition the children were given instruction on how to run a meeting from minute taking to chairmaning, always being encouraged to think for themselves and never be afraid to ask that probing question. It was the view of the Socialist Sunday Schools that public education should be secular and purely educational without theological tendencies or the dogma which was preached in religious churches of the day. The Socialist Sunday Schools had it's own special services for naming children, marriage and funerals. Although the movement was secular regulations had to be adhered to, as in the marriage service a register was obligatory to make the union legally binding.
The Socialist Sunday School set out in the beginning to teach children of the working class the virtue of independence, the power to think for themselves and the meaning of Socialist Revolution.
The last Socialist Sunday School closed down in the 1970s and I can't envisage that it will ever resurrect and rise up again in our modern age, when so many other different distractions are thrust and sometimes forcefully, onto our children and from a very early age. The rise of modern industry, the factory system, transformed the balance of political power, within nations, between nations, and between civilisations; revolutionised the social order; and as much changed man's way of thinking as his way of doing. As a result of the way society is organised, the way power is organised, a set of beliefs - an ideology - is produced, regarding the conditions of that society. This 'ideology' includes theories about human nature itself, theories which in themselves serve the interests of the dominant class, they help it preserve its power but are for the most part false. Marx said that organised religion was a good example of what he meant by ideology in action because it taught that people must accept God's will - the status quo - rather than take any action to change things.

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