Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Hungry Thirties

During this world crisis of capitalism a great many on the so-called left like to cunningly conjure up images of the hungry thirties; a time undoubtedly of mass unemployment, hunger marches and the rise of fascism at home and abroad. Many social commentators of the time were fulling over each other trying to paint the picture of a world in poverty Jack London and George Orwell come to mind. It may even be argued that the conceptualisation of the hungry thirties or even what some describe as the 'devil's decade' may have attained for that decade a far worst press stereotyped without escape. This concentration upon unemployment and social distress does much to distort our view of that period. It would be vacuous of course to suggest that the 1930s were not for many millions around the world a time of great hardship and personal suffering, and as if the world was ever free under capitalism from ravishing and assaulting poverty. Even in the 1930s living standards were rising along with new levels of consumption, upon which a considerable degree of industrial growth was based. The economic record shows in the aftermath of the Great Crash and financial crisis of 1931, new industries began to forge ahead at an unprecedented rate. The Central Electricity Board meant that Britain had one of the most advanced systems of electricity supply in the world. As a result consumption of electricity rose fourfold between 1925 and 1939, and it became the driving dynamo of new industry as mass production methods began to be used for the manufacture of consumer goods. Under this new forging capitalism beginning to shape the way we live today, important developments occurred in the patterns of trading and marketing, goods were packaged and priced by the manufacturer, rather than by the shopkeeper. Motor transport allowed direct delivery to multiple branches and the first mail order schemes were introduced. Under the impact of the this retailing 'revolution', almost a thousand chain stores were built in the inter-war period, showing virtually no decline in the depression. Marks and Spencer, for example, one of the most successful of the clothing retailers, opened 129 stores from 1931 to 1935 and extended 60 more. By the outbreak of the Second World War, Marks and Spark's, Lipton's, Sainsbury's and Woolworth's had become household names in almost every medium-sized town. bringing with them a wider range of foodstuffs, clothing and household gods than had been previously available at the traditional corner shop. It is ironical then to think that Woolworth's was born in one recession and then died in another 78 years later. It is worthwhile noting that in the 1930s employment opportunities were expanding for shop workers, clerical staff, transport employees and the professional and managerial salariat. The background to many of these developments is of the thirties wich is most easily forgotten amid the prevailing image of the 'hungry thirties'.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Power of the Power Provider

EDF accused of spying

I read today that EDF, France's state owned nuclear energy operator and my own domestic electric supplier is alleged to have paid investigators to infiltrate the anti-nuclear movement around Europe, that's according to testimony given in a French judicial investigation. The investigation is looking into whether the state firm condoned illegal practices as part of a surveillance operation. I don't know about this but my household bill has increased by approximately 20% in the last two years, which translates into £10 a week from my meagre dole money

The EDF affair has exposed an underworld of computer hackers and private investigators who have worked for some of the world's so-called respected companies. Pierre Francois, the deputy head of EDF's production security division, said he had organised surveillance on Greenpeace in France and Europe since about 2002.

Last month judges opened an investigation into allegations that state-owned EDF hired a private detective agency run by a former member of the French secret services to illegally spy on environmentalists and infiltrate their ranks.

Last week, in front of the investigating judge, the head of Kargus Consultants confirmed his involvement in hacking into Greenpeace computer systems and said a senior EDF official knew about the operation.

A computer expert from the detective agency admitted hacking into Greenpeace computer systems. The scandal sparked outrage among anti-nuclear campaigners in France, where the state has a troubled history with activists. Twenty-four years ago, the French secret service bombed the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior.

Saturday, 18 April 2009


It is almost the end of yet another month of this present year, thousands have lost homes, jobs or both, the economic crises of capitalism has barely or scantly left a family unaffected or untouched in the length and breadth of the whole country. Banks have been handed billions if not trillions, and their discredited heads have taken astronomical and large amounts of cash in severance pay, rewarded and honoured for a job well done, pre-credit crunch of course, even though they created and led us all into it. It is with this background in mind, that I come to reflect upon the G20 summit of world leaders that was held in the Excel center not so far away from where I live in Caning Town East London, in fact I have a view of this venue from my flat windows. For me the irony of this chosen location prickle's my contempt for the whole rotten caboodle of capitalism.
Here in one of the East London Boroughs, with one of the highest rate's of almost every think imaginable that constitutes derivation and poverty, from unemployment to child poverty, our so-called world leaders gathered in what some described as an over large aircraft hanger to address the world recession under the stewardship of Gorden Brown desperate to save the world this time around and his job in the process. But this post is not about the actual summit or new giant stars like President Barack Obama appearing for the first time in the splendid assemblage of a world galaxy of leaders. No,instead this post is about dissent in a recession; and has it begun to lead to repression, are we seeing the apparatus of the state use the force at it disposal to quell, suppress and crush protest and disagreement, that is the question?

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, historians noted a marked deterioration in the conditions of workers, for example between 1800 and 1840 there was a shortage of meat in London; out of 8.5 million Irishmen, close to a million literally starved to death in the famine of 1846-1847; the average wage of hand loom weavers fell between 1805 and 1833 from 23 shillings a week to 6s 3d. Interestingly, the average height of the population - good indication of nutrition - rose between 1780 and 1830, fell in the next thirty years, then rose again. The 1840s were known, even at that time, as the 'Hungry Forties'. Riots, mostly related to food shortages, broke out in Britain. "Here I am between Earth and Sky, so help me God. I would sooner lose my life than go home as I am. Bread I will have", is quoted from a rioter in the Fens, giving an idea of sheer desperation that led in the end to riots; and all over the country. The nineteenth century riots is just one example of cause, effect and consequence. The history of world capitalism has stonewashed it's self of dissent and throughout it's existence up and to this very present time. The G20 summit and the peaceful protest of that day may lay down a marker of change for the worst.

Even before the G20 summit of world leaders began in London, five people were arrested in Plymouth under the Terrorism Act, reportedly accused of possessing “material relating to political ideology”.

All were released without charge, but the fact that political activism is considered a criminal offence in 21st century Britain was subsequently writ large on the streets of the capital.

On April 1, a massive police operation was set in place around the G20 summit. Hundreds of people, legally exercising their right to protest, were “kettled”—forcibly held behind police cordons for up to seven hours—in the side streets of central London.

It was behind one of these cordons that Ian Tomlinson—attempting to make his way home after work—was attacked from behind by a baton-wielding masked police officer. He died moments later.

Eyewitness accounts, video footage and photo stills provide conclusive proof that the police’s attack against Tomlinson was par for the course during the protests.

The police actions had nothing to do with ensuring “public safety”. If anything, they constituted a deliberate attempt to provoke disorder as the pretext for further repression. This is underscored by evidence of plain-clothes officers armed with batons striking out at demonstrators, as well as the participation of the Territorial Support Group—a special quasi-paramilitary police unit which was involved in several of the most publicised incidents, and whose identification numbers were concealed.

Police now routinely photograph and demand the identification and addresses of people taking part in lawful demonstrations.Less than one month before the protests, section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 came into force, providing for the arrest and imprisonment of anyone taking photographs of police officers.

In one instance during the G20 protests, recorded on camera, police officers instructed photographers and news crews to leave the vicinity within 30 minutes or face arrest.

This in a country whose population is now one of the most heavily surveyed in the world. The UK has the greatest concentration of closed circuit TV cameras per head of population. Moreover, without any parliamentary debate let alone public consent, recent legislation has compelled all Internet service providers to retain data from emails and website visits for up to one year. Details of phone calls and text messages can be similarly stored, and made available to the government and other official agencies.

As if such powers were not enough for police to be aware of the movements of any potentially “significant” individuals, on April 13, police in Nottingham carried out the unprecedented “pre-emptive” arrests of 114 people. No crime had been committed. The arrests were made purely on the basis that the police “suspected” a plan by environmentalists to target a power station in Nottingham. While no charges have as yet been made, the arrests were used to mount a trawling operation, raiding homes and seizing personal papers and computers.

In between the London and Nottingham operations, police in the north-west of England mounted major “anti-terror” raids, involving dozens of armed officers. Twelve men, mainly foreign students, were detained as part of what was claimed to be an operation against an imminent terrorist attack.

Once again no charges have been made. Under British anti-terror laws, suspects can be held for 28 days without charge. It is widely reported that no evidence has so far been recovered to substantiate claims of a terrorist emergency.

All the recent police operations are predicated on the more than 200 pieces of separate anti-terror legislation enacted by the Labour government over the last years, and consolidated in the Terrorism Act 2006 which criminalises the mere expression of opinion deemed unacceptable by the Home Secretary.

At the time, then Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the measures on the grounds that political exigencies meant the “rules of the game” had changed.

This established a new legal principle—guilty on the say-so of the powers-that-be. The “rules” now in operation are those where armed police swoops and the targeting of political dissent is a matter of routine. In February this year, in a move which received barely any coverage, the Association of Chief Police Officers set up the Confidential Intelligence Unit, targeted at “domestic extremists”. Assuming the “counter-subversion” functions usually conducted by MI5, the CIU is dedicated to the surveillance of radical groups, including placing informers amongst their numbers.

The assault on civil liberties is not specific to Britain. It is a tendency evidenced throughout the so-called “advanced democracies”. Indeed proclamations of “democracy” increasingly function as a thin veneer, behind which the state has abrogated to itself near autocratic powers.

That this finds no principled opposition from within the ruling establishment or its liberal “critics” must serve as a warning.

The essential driving force behind the adoption of such dictatorial methods is not the maintenance of “public order”, but the need to defend the existing order, preserving the wealth and power of a privileged few at the expense of working people under conditions of the greatest breakdown in the world capitalist economy since the 1930s.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

“Broken Britain” ( Part 1 )

Well it's been some time since I've sat down and wrote anything for this Blog, no particular reason really, just had a great deal on my mind recently, as we socialists do most of the time. Its never easy being a freethinker, and that's not a person who believes God created the universe and then abandoned it, rather anything but and nothing of the sort in my case. It's over thirty years now since I first became interested and involved in the possibility's for a better world,and they very much do still exist as they did when I first began to realize that another world was and is yes possible. If only, and this is a big if, if only others were able to see through the mist and cloud that obscures vision - only if.
I've been living for this if, most of my life, the battle of ideas it's become and the battle it truly is, propagating the socialist alternative to a world population shackled as it seems to the anvil block on which metals are shaped by the hammer of the blacksmith. Isn't it true when you think about it, children educated,trained,prepared and schooled to meet the needs of society, not their own life's fulfillment or a right just to be content and expect happiness in whatever form it takes. The curriculum and course of study uses religion and conformity to shape the minds of our young in preparation to only meet the needs of a system of society based on satisfying profit making.

I read to day that Chris Grayling called today for a "war" on anti-social behavior, saying that it was time to "reclaim our streets" from gangs of youths.

The Shadow Home Secretary said that the “grotesque” attack on two boys aged nine and 11 by two young brothers in Doncaster was a wake-up call for “Broken Britain”.

So here we go again, a main stream politician describing Britain as Broken, in this case a Tory playing to an audience who he hopes to find political favour with, for an attack that is not only horrendous as it is unimaginable, carried out by children upon children; indeed this says that something is very seriously wrong with the world we live in, and I would suggest has been for some considerable time. Being not fully aware of all the facts regarding this case as I'm unable to bring myself to read in full the tabloid tattle. It never the less still raises questions that seem to have gone unanswered for long enough. I found it hard to get my head around the murder of James Bulger (16 March 1990 - 12 February 1993) His killers were two 10-year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson (both born in August 1982)

James disappeared from the New Strand Shopping Center, where he had been with his mother Denise, on 12 February 1993 and his mutilated body was found on a railway line at Bootle on 14 February. Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, then 10, were charged with James's murder and subsequently found guilty and imprisoned for a time.

I remember way back then,spending time with a friend trying to work out how two children were capable of carrying out the murder of another child, we never found answers that made any commonsense, other than this had to be a reflection of what our society had begun to become, 'turbulently damaged' a violent downturn for the worst. That downturn continues amongst the young, and 16 years on from the death of James Bulger, who if he'd been alive today, would have been 19 and standing on the threshold of adulthood.

In London much is reported about young people and violence today, particularly knife crime, the number of young people killed in the capital this year already stands at 5 that's just over one a month, last year 28 teenagers were killed, 22 of whom were stabbed.I could go into more detail but you probably are already all to familiar and well informed with what you read and hear in the news, if not daily almost weekly it seems. Why is it that newspapers and politicians always reach for the labels to stick on the young, how often are they labeled 'yobs and hooligans' lambasted and castigated and then the next thing you hear is "I blame the parents" and so on.

Over the last twenty years or so a great many things have changed in our society like the disablement and disappearance of many industries that required skilled manual labour and traditional trades such as bricklayers, carpenters, mechanics and so on, they have ether totally vanished in some case's or new methods are applied that are reliant on less skill or labour input in both production and maintenance. One good example of this is public transport, the buses we use in our Towns and City's are almost everywhere conductor free. London was the last preserve of the bus conductor in Britain, and, for all I know, the world. I suspect that Blackpool trams may still have conductors. So with the driver ( driver conductor ) performing both roles, saving the bus operators the costs of one other person; and it yet remains to be seen if this can even be improved upon after all the London Docklands Railway has run trains without drivers for years now. The point being that the labour required for and in the production of products and services is less than ever it was, why employ a glazier when a window as a whole unit, can be produced in the factory without the use on a building site, of even the carpenter in the process. No question about it, new production applications certainly do improve some aspects of the finish article as well as saving time and money; but for whom, that's the six million dollar question?

Workers never have a say ultimately in the chosen process of production, hired and fired when and if required, has always been the way no mater what particular skill they may have trained for and obtained.

Apprenticeships have been a feature of education and training system for many hundreds of years. The apprenticeship tradition grew, in Britain and in much of Europe, from the medieval guild system, and transferred to the new manufacturing industries of the industrial revolution. Although they had been statutorily regulated under Elizabeth 1st, apprenticeships were left largely to employers and trade unions from the beginning of the 19th century until the mid-20th.

In the 1960s a system of statutory Industrial Training Boards (ITBs) was established in many industries. Under this system firms offering apprenticeships attracted grants funded through a levy on all firms in the sector. At this time, too, formal requirements for ‘off-the-job’ training, involving attendance at further education colleges, became prevalent in many sectors. However, apart from qualifications in these colleges, the principal indicator as to when a person had completed an apprenticeship was whether they had served sufficient time in the trade. ‘Time serving’ could involve seven years in some cases.

With the rapid decline of the traditional heavy industries in the 1970s the number of apprenticeships reduced dramatically. In parallel with the decline of apprenticeships, and partly caused by it, the late 1970s and early 1980s saw a marked rise in youth unemployment.

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