Friday, 20 March 2009


THOUSANDS of riot police are to tackle G20 protesters who plan to use giant sand pits to bring London to a standstill.

Up to 3,000 officers will be on duty for the two days of next month's summit of world leaders. They are preparing to face an alliance of radical protest groups who they believe are plotting to use trucks to dump huge quantities of sand in the streets.

Senior police sources say the protesters plan to bring children to play in the giant sand pits, making it impossible for officers to use force to remove them.

The demonstrations, centred on the City, could be on a scale not seen since the height of the May Day protests of the mid-Nineties. At the same time Scotland Yard is involved in security for the leaders of 20 countries, including President Barack Obama, attending the summit on 2 and 3 April at the ExCel centre in Docklands.

The £10 million operation for the summit is the biggest yet mounted by Scotland Yard with Mr Obama arriving on 31 March.

Scotland Yard, which is co-ordinating an operation involving six forces, said it was expecting simultaneous protests at several locations across the capital.

Specialist police climbers will be on standby to tackle demonstrators planning to scale tall buildings. One group, Climate Camp, will set up in the City in an attempt to highlight the cost of global warming and what they claim is inaction by business on the issue. This group alone could attract up to 2,000 protesters, some of whom are meeting this weekend to discuss tactics.

Officers also fear a new development in which thousands of students could also take to the streets to join the protests.

One of the key organisers is believed to be a senior lecturer at the University of East London.

Police say they are seeing a re-emergence of protest groups such as Reclaim the Streets and The Wombles. They are forming alliances with new groups such as Fossil Fools and Financial Fools.

All police leave in London has been cancelled for the summit.

Officers will work more than 10,000 shifts to deal with the protests and other events, including a Mexican state visit in the days leading up to the summit. The Yard's entire firearms team is also being deployed, with armed undercover officers mingling in the crowds as well as snipers on rooftops.

Police say that during the summit they will be involved in the security of 40 diplomatic groups.

Exact details of how they will protect the world leaders as they travel in convoys from central London to the ExCel centre in Docklands are being kept a closely guarded secret. However it is understood there will be unprecedented security arrangements which will involve the closure of sections of the Docklands Light Railway to create a secure route for convoys.

A number of the foreign protection teams are also expected to be given Home Office permission to carry guns to protect their leaders.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who is organising the Scotland Yard operation, said: "The number of protected delegations and the number of protests combining means that the scale of these events will be hugely challenging.

"We are deploying our best and most experienced officers to deal with these events and we are highly experienced in handling large-scale protests. We also have a very flexible plan to deal with this."

fuel poverty

Around five million households are believed to have suffered fuel poverty this winter – meaning they will spend over ten per cent of their income on energy bills.
Millions of older people, the unemployed and families on low incomes who have just suffered through one of the coldest winters in years will be devastated and dismayed to lean that this afternoon The Fuel Poverty Bill was thrown out of parliament because not enough MPs could be bothered to vote.
The Bill proposed to make homes more energy-efficient and introduce lower prices for vulnerable households, but was rejected in its second reading in the House of Commons. It received 89 votes for and two votes against - but needed 100 votes to get through. The failure of this Bill is a devastating blow for millions of the most vulnerable in our society who will now be left struggling in fuel poverty."

"War Games"

Six years today since Washington launched its "shock and awe" campaign against Iraq, raining bombs and missiles on Baghdad. Despite the massive opposition of people across the world to this war and the change from the Bush to the Obama administration, the war in Iraq continues, with no end in sight.

Just within the past week the following incidents have been reported:

• On March 16, a 12-year-old Iraqi girl riding in a car with her father was killed when US troops fired on the vehicle as it approached them near the northern city of Mosul.

• On March 15, American forces shot a woman dead during a raid in the Hamdan district of western Mosul.

• On March 13, US troops killed two farmers in the Jallam district of Samarra in Saladin Province. Witnesses told the Iraqi press that the troops shot the men without provocation.

During the campaign, Obama postured as an opponent of the war and criticized his rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, because of her vote to authorize the invasion. Once in office, he kept on all those who had directed this war—Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus, and Iraq occupation commander Gen. Raymond Odierno—while making Clinton his secretary of state.

Obama's so-called withdrawal plan envisions the continued occupation of Iraq by tens of thousands of US troops for years to come, and there are growing indications that even the limited withdrawals agreed to under the status of forces pact signed with the puppet Maliki government in Baghdad will not be fulfilled. Maliki himself this week declared that despite a June deadline for withdrawing US combat troops from Iraqi cities, none of them would be removed from any city in which there remained a potential for conflict.

To the extent that troops are withdrawn from Iraq, it is to send them to Afghanistan, where the Obama administration is launching a major escalation.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

"Brutal attacks on the unemployed"

FURIOUS left MP John McDonnell warned on Wednesday that Britain's growing army of unemployed will face "brutal" attacks after the government gained Commons approval for its Welfare Reform Bill.
Despite a revolt by nearly 30 Labour MPs, the Bill passed its final Commons stages on Tuesday night thanks to Tory support.
Mr McDonnell protested on Wednesday: "Labour Party members are recoiling from the brutality of welfare policy being pursued by the government when we campaigned so hard in opposition against the same policies from the Tories."
Tory shadow work and pensions minister Theresa May gloated: "Without our votes on the wrecking amendment that Labour backbenchers tabled, the government would have lost."
She said the Tories had set out proposals for "welfare reform" in their manifesto eight years ago. She added: "The government have finally come round to our proposals."
The Bill, which now goes to the House of Lords, will bring in profit-hungry privateers to attack benefit claimants.
It introduces tough workfare-style measures, with cuts in benefits for failing to comply with tight new rules, and aims to force more lone parents back to work.
Labour opponents of the Bill expressed horror during the debate at the imposition of more sanctions on the unemployed when the jobless total is expected to soar to three million.
Walsall North MP David Winnick rejected the slur that a large number of people on benefit are "work-shy."
He said: "When I visited a jobcentre in my constituency recently, I found people eager - indeed desperate - to find work."
Reporting that hundreds of people had applied for each of the few job vacancies in his constituency, he added: "That is hardly an illustration of people being shy of finding work."
Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn protested that similar workfare schemes in the US had led to "severe destitution" among the unemployed.
But Employment and Welfare Minister Tony McNulty accused Labour opponents of the Bill of leaving "those who are in the unfortunate position of being unemployed for any length of time to wallow in that position."
He added: "We are told that we are privatising parts of the JobCentre Plus organisation, but we are not.
"Contracting out - delegating out those contracts - is not the same as privatisation. Those contracts are going to the voluntary sector and the private sector to get them to carry out specific parts of the operation."

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

More than 2 million on the dole!

Unemployment has surged past two million for the first time in 12 years, while the number of people signing on for benefit soared by a record 138,000 last month.
The Government has been hit by a raft of gloomy news, with redundancies reaching a record high, jobs and vacancies falling and more people claiming jobseeker's allowance.

The total number of people out of work, including those not eligible for benefit, jumped by 165,000 in the quarter to January to 2.03 million, the worst figure since Labour came to power in 1997.

The quarterly rise is the highest since 1991, and the total has now increased by 421,000 over the past year, said the Office for National Statistics.

Jobseeker's allowance claimants increased by 138,400 in February, the 13th consecutive monthly rise and the largest monthly increase since records began in 1971.

The new total of 1.39 million is almost 600,000 higher than a year ago and is the highest figure since 1998.

A total of 266,000 people became redundant in the three months to January, the worst figure since records began in 1995 and up by 86,000 on the previous quarter.

The number of jobs fell by 203,000 to 31.3 million in the quarter to December, the largest slump since 1992.

Vacancies fell by 74,000 to 482,000 in the three months to February, the lowest total since comparable records began in 2001.

Other figures showed that average earnings increased by 1.8% in the year to January, the lowest since records began in 1991, while for the month of January alone wages fell by 0.2% - the first time this has ever happened.

Pakistan today

Asif Ali Zardari, has for almost twenty years and more has been a figure of controversy in the political landscape of that which is modern Pakistan. The widower of Benazir Bhutto now occupies the most powerful office in the land – the presidency of Pakistan. Since winning the election in September 2008; he has presided over what is considered by some as a very fragile country, a growing ‘Islamist’ and militant fundamentalism seen by many as a threat to the West including Obama’s new America. Pakistan is exposed like most countries throughout the world to an economic meltdown which can only add fuel to any future political instability that has famously deposited this south Asian country’s name on many a front page of the worlds newspapers since its independence gained from India in 1947.
The economy is very vulnerable to the present world economic crisis even though the majority of its citizens (165,883,000) remain poor and heavily dependent on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods. Many factors, in particular heavy military spending, continuing sectarian and political violence, have slowed up modern capitalist economic growth or any sort of modernization in comparison to other countries that we in the West would consider compatible or expectable to a 21st centaury way of life. This is the 6th largest populated country in the world, and yet in the age of modern communications and flick a switch technology there are today 34 telephones per 1,000 people. In 2000 there were 14 million radios, and 19 million television sets with 219 daily newspaper titles with an average circulation of over 6 million in a country were 47 per cent are literate.
This is the partial back drop of today’s Pakistan that’s led by Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The party interestingly describes itself as a centre-left organisation which is affiliated to the Socialist International. To-date, its leader has always been a member of the Bhutto family; founded in 1967 by Zalfifer Ali Bhutto who was its first Chairman. The party creed is “Islam is our faith; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; all power to the people.”
In recent days whilst writing this article; the country has been experiencing political instability and turmoil in regard to the reappointment of former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was sacked by military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf in 2007. In March 2007, Chaudhry refused to submit to pressure from former military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, to quit his office. This instantly brought tens of thousands of people to rally around him in a movement that ultimately led to elections and Mr Musharraf himself being ousted. But the question of his restoration has since undermined an alliance between the two largest parties of the country, namely the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N).
Nawaz Shaif is the other major player here and leader of Nawaz (PML-N) the main opposition party in Pakistan. Its worth while looking briefly at his background as it sheds some light on who is who, but more importantly where they are coming from and who they really represent. Nawaz Shaif was born into the family of prominent Lahoe industrialists; he became prime minister in 1990, but was dismissed in 1993, clearing the way for the then opposition leader, Benzir Bhutto to form a Government.
After becoming prime minister again in 1997 with a comfortable majority, Mr Sharif brought about a series of constitutional changes.
These were seen as an attempt to stifle any institutional opposition to his rule.
He controversially reversed a constitutional amendment which took away the president's powers to dismiss the prime minister.
A power struggle with the judiciary also gripped the country after Mr Sharif fell out with the then Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah.
Mr Sharif faced possible disqualification from office after charges of contempt of court were brought against him, but these were eventually dismissed.
In 1998, he was confronted by another stand-off after a former army head said the army should formally have a say in the running of the government.
Tensions with the army resurfaced in 1999 when the prime minister used his influence to withdraw Pakistani-backed forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kashmir.
The army has always been a highly powerful institution in Pakistan.
Mr Sharif's overthrow by Gen Musharraf showed how dangerous it was for any politician to attempt to curtail its influence. A rightwing, industrialist, Sharif began his political career as a protégé of another US-backed dictator, the infamous General Zia-ul Haq. Under conditions where the US was working closely with the PPP, the PML (N)'s historic rival, Sharif criticized the US on occasion over the past two years for supporting authoritarian rule in Pakistan and violating Pakistan's national sovereignty. But he has always insisted that he stands ready to work with Washington and strongly supports the decades' long alliance between the Pentagon and the Pakistani military.

His removal from active politics and his subsequent imprisonment led to serious differences emerging within his Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party.
These threatened to become an open split with a decision by some senior party members - led by Mr Sharif's wife - to join an opposition alliance against the military.
The move - which would have meant joining forces with arch-rival Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party - was deeply controversial with some party members.
The split became a reality soon after Mr Sharif was sent into exile and the PML-N came into existence. Erstwhile party loyalists, led by veteran politician Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, announced support for Gen Musharraf.Before the 2002 general elections; the rebels formed the PML-Q (Quaid-e-Azam) with a strong pro-Musharraf stance. In 2002 PML-Q was elected and formed the government in 2002 and remained loyal to “Musharraf” until its subsequent defeat in the 2008 elections.
What becomes apparently clear when one scratches the surface of politics in Pakistan is the shear hold or grip that its ruling class has over the institutions of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of only a few from a very much privileged backgrounds in comparison to the millions who live in ever grinding poverty. Sharif has focused his opposition to the PPP government on the judges’ issue; it is precisely because he has no fundamental disagreement with the PPP-led government's support for the Afghan war or its economic policies. In other words this is simply an old fashion power struggle between the families of the political élite.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

A life on the dole

This coming week unemployment is set to burst through the 2 million barrier, and a report in today’s Observer newspaper; says that mass unemployment is forcing the government to draft in staff to reinforce job centres, with civil servants diverted from child maintenance and disability claims. Over recent years the DWP has followed a policy of down sizing its operations at job centres with the introduction of new technology and time saving strategies or schemes calculated strictly at saving money and has lead to staffing reductions at job centres and the complete closer of some. I was told by my adviser at Canning Town that they have in fact taken on new staff a few weeks ago, to deal with the increase in unemployment and a larger workload placed on its workers.

Shocking figures have revealed that on average there are 10 jobseekers for every vacancy advertised in the UK. In one area of the south-east, 60 workers are available for each job.

The TUC claim that in some parts of the country, the task facing jobseekers is critical. The Isle of Wight has more unemployed workers per new job than any other area. In total, there are 3,152 people chasing 52 advertised vacancies, as its main industries of tourism and manufacturing suffer from the credit crunch.

"These shocking figures blow out of the water the government's claim that there are plenty of jobs available for people who are prepared to look," said Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary.

Gordon Brown and James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, keep stressing that large numbers of job opportunities are available, but research shows that they are heavily outnumbered by unemployed workers. When Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire held a recruitment day recently to hire 150 staff, it attracted a crowd of up to 3,000 people.

Central London emerges as an unemployment blackspot, where the number of vacancies is far exceeded by unemployed workers. There are just 4,275 vacancies across the 12 inner London boroughs, against almost 71,000 unemployment benefit claimants. Hackney, in east London, has 37 claimants for every new job. The claimant count, a key measure of unemployment, is expected to show a sharp rise for February of up to 90,000, when official figures are announced on Wednesday, which would make it the worst month since the early-1990s downturn. On the broader measure favoured by the government, total unemployment is almost certain to hit 2 million, or 6.5% of the workforce.

Since job losses usually lag behind an economic downturn by several months, the impact of the chaos unleashed last autumn after Lehman Brothers collapsed is unlikely to be felt until later in the spring. "There must be a good chance that we get a 100,000-plus monthly rise in unemployment soon," said Michael Saunders, chief UK economist at Citigroup.

As Chancellor Alistair Darling draws up plans for his budget next month, Barber called for more help from the Treasury for the unemployed, including an increase in jobseekers' allowance to at least £75 a week, from the current level of £60.50.

As job losses mount across the economy, analysts are becoming increasingly worried that mass unemployment will exacerbate the downturn in consumer spending and the housing crash, and create a vicious circle.

"Looking ahead, the pressing concern now is whether the rise in unemployment will become self-sustaining by creating a negative feedback loop between demand and unemployment. While we are perhaps not in this territory yet, this is a clear medium-term risk for the economy," said Jonathan Loynes, of consultancy Capital Economics.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Protesters Occupy DWP Offices

Today thirty protesters occupied DWP offices in central London to protest against the new welfare reform bill. The protesters - from the London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP) - are dressed as fat cats running about the offices throwing paper money around and thanking the DWP for bailing them out by taking money from the poor. Approximately twenty police officers were called.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Walter to the Rescue!

In the Socialist Party; we currently have an ongoing dispute within and regarding one of our branches, part of that wrangle is about the way a Comrade behaved, whilst conducting a meeting as its chair, basically abstaining on some vote or another, the details of which I think are unimportant, however he was subsequently removed from the chair and this in turn has led to at times, a most un-socialist, argy-bargy difference of opinion, which is sad, when I think of the stormy whether that lies ahead of workers throughout the world as this economic crisis unfolds daily with possible hurricane-force consequences for us all.
In an attempt to resolve matters some comrades; have turned to Walter Citrine, he was the General Secretary of the TUC during the 1926 General Strike, and the apparent author of what is described as the "bible" of committee chairmanship; “The ABC of Chairmanship”, regarded by many in the reformist labour and trade union movement as the very pragmatic and useful hardnosed model for the conduct of meetings. Some may say, well what’s wrong with that then – nothing if you’re running a top heavy leadership organization like a trade union or branch of the labour party; just like I’ve experienced over the years, wherein the leadership have used this model to keep control over its membership. Citrine strengthened the TUC's influence over the Labour Party and he gave and supported Clement Attlee's government's policy of nationalisation and served on the National Coal Board despite his activities of betrayals and aiding an enemy during that 1926 Strike when as leader of the TUC he agreed terms with the Government to end the strike whilst the miners carried on until the end of that year, when starvation forced them back to work and with cut's in wages; not to mention the many that finished up on the blacklist!

It appears strange then, that for a party that claims to be ‘revolutionary’it would in the end;refer to this dead mans book, in an attempt to resolve a barmy dispute?

Friday, 6 March 2009

Back to no work

The following article appears in this month Socialist Standard. I've lifted it it from there; and as it's author, I wish to dedicate the peace to both my sister and her husband Dave; for all the support they have given me over the years, the priceless value that I place on their past and continued friendship for evermore...

Back to no work

As unemployment spreads more workers will experience the harsh new regime at their local JobCentre.

"British jobs for British workers" was certainly a catchy phrase for Gordon Brown to use, even if he did use it without thinking first. He has done this on a number of occasions now, using unguarded words that in the end have come back to haunt him, such as his oft-repeated claim to have ended the boom-bust cycle.

Our Gordon views protectionism as "the greatest danger the world now faces". For sure, his British worker remark was never meant to offer a jobs guarantee. But as unemployment soars towards three million and beyond, so understandably workers will want to take this Prime Minister's words at face value when many are becoming fearful of joining the ever growing and overflowing reservoir of unemployment.

What started off as a trickle following the much spoken about and on the face of it a new addition to the international vocabulary and language of economists, ‘The Credit Crunch’, has now evolved into a fast flowing river that around the world is sweeping millions into an ocean of uncertainty.

Rising unemployment in China has seen 26 million internal migrant workers from the countryside lose their jobs due to the economic slowdown, and in an almost a copycat move this state capitalist government announced a 4 trillion Yuan stimulus last November to prop up the weakening economy and spur on domestic consumption as the demand for its goods flags in Western countries. By focusing on the country’s 700 million rural residents with a campaign to persuade them to spend more, along with other measures announced such as state subsidies for farmers to buy electrical appliances, the government hopes these efforts will help rejuvenate flagging economic growth at a time when increasing unemployment has raised concerns about potential social unrest.

In a clear manifestation that the economic crisis is rapidly heading into a severe global clinical depression, US employers purged 598,000 jobs in January, the most job losses in a single month since 1974. January's firings in the US raised the unemployment rate there to 7.6 percent, the highest level since 1992. Unemployment rose in Germany by an additional 387,000 in January compared to the previous month, for a total of 3.49 million without work. This pushed up the jobless rate by 0.9 percent, to 8.3 percent. Unemployment in the former East Germany, with a rate of 13.9 percent, is still twice as high as in the West, which stands at 6.9 percent.

In Britain likewise, workers have been sent off to the dole office in their thousands. Since Christmas we have all seen and read the reports of the 27,000 Woolworths workers laid off in the opening weeks of the New Year, and all indicators pointing to things getting far worse. Over the past year more than 3,000 UK firms went into administration – some 1,006 companies in the third quarter alone.

There have been a number of high profile casualties of which the retail chain store Woolworths, with some 800-plus stores nationwide, is the most notable. But it has been followed by the furniture retailer MFI, music chain Zavvi, furniture and home accessories store The Pier, menswear retailer The Officers Club, tea and coffee merchant Whittards of Chelsea, children’s clothing retailer Adams, fashion retailer USC and women’s clothing retailer Viyella. In total, some 40,000 jobs have been lost or are at risk.

As this economic crisis deepens at home and aboard, its human toll becomes even more evident. Thousands are facing job losses or being offered an enforced shorter working week as this malignant disease spreads. Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Tata Steel have all announced job cuts or temporary shutdowns at UK plants. BT has said 10,000 posts are to be slashed – many of those in the firing line will be agency and contract workers, some of whom have worked for BT for years. In Construction, workers in an already battered Industry have been warned to brace themselves for an ‘avalanche of job losses’.

On 6 February, it was widely reported in the Times and other newspapers that Royal Mail intends to shed 16,000 jobs as it strives to cut costs. This new threat to jobs comes despite record profits, the proposed job losses — amounting to almost one in ten of the company’s workforce in a drive to reduce the wage bill by £470 million — come as unions prepare to fight the introduction of a commercial partner to the business.

According to the Independent, “unemployment “could easily reach three million by Christmas next”. The hardest hit will be workers with large mortgages, soaring utility bills and the mountain of debt accumulated during the so-called ‘boom years’ when many of us were pushed and persuasively encouraged by banks and others into using loans and credit cards to maintain a half-decent lifestyle.

And now as unemployment and the fortnightly visit to the local Job-centre-plus looms, it will undoubtedly become a routine and habitual preoccupation for many; the experience may have a profound impact on some who have never as yet sampled the devised arm-twisting of this government service increasingly given over to persuading the unemployed to take up low paid employment. Indeed how the times have changed, and are changing, even for the unemployed, and the way they are treated at the local job centre. If you are one of the unfortunate unemployed you may be familiar with its ambience these days, it’s a far cry from Charlie Drake’s television show The Worker. Most job centres employ uniformed security guards equipped with radios to control clamant progression within the building and some display wall posters forbidding the wearing of baseball caps and hoodies. From day one of a new claim the claimant is forced into signing an agreement that sets out what he/she will do to find work, with the threat of sanctions for any ineffectual claimant’s failure to provide enough evidence of actively seeking work.

Commentators have forecast that young people in particular will be pushed out of the labour market by the global downturn. With many anticipating an increase in youth unemployment—to levels last seen in the early 1980s, when riots swept many inner-city areas—the Guardian reported that "Brown was concerned by the recent youth riots in Greece, and feared something similar could develop in Britain."

The recent ‘reforms’ introduced by New Labour’s Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, in the last Queens Speech, represent an attack on some of the poorest people and their families in our society. They are more evidence that the poor will be made to suffer for an economic crisis that is not of their making. Purnell claims that the changes will “transform lives", but it may prove in the long run to be a transformation for the worse. Even the Tory leader David Cameron heaped on praise, saying that he is "thrilled" with the plan.

All those currently 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 on out-of-work benefits into low paid jobs.
The 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 undertaken by people with criminal convictions.
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 originally set 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's flagship policy to revolutionize welfare by paying private companies to find jobs for the unemployed has since been thrown into crises as firms said there were too many people out of work - and too few vacancies - to make it viable. Responding to warnings that his reforms will not work without major changes, James Purnell, has abandoned plans to announce the preferred bidders for the multi-million-pound contracts. This follows demands from the firms involved for hundreds of millions more in "up-front" cash payments. The government have dressed 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.

The world global economic downturn could see 40 million people lose their jobs by the end of the year with worldwide unemployment hitting between 210 and 230 million, with the inevitable consequences of more of the world’s population cascading down into poverty.

Unemployment is encrusting and besetting the world as workers in every industrialized county are made to pay the price as companies downsize operations in order to survive a crisis of capitalism of its own making. Workers the world over, have more in common with each other than the state frontiers and fostered patriotism of race hatred. It’s a mistake to fall for the theories or racial connotations which capitalism’s apologists use to excuse the many failings of the social system. The only protectionism that needs to be dismantled is that which still denies workers a shortfall of life’s essentials. By removing exploitation and the human suffering arising from both poverty and war socialism will enable men and women to be set free, living lives in the security of world community.

Socialist Standard March 2009

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The parallels of latitude

The slump in the US is deepening,if plunging car sales and a series of negative economic indicators and the ongoing sell offs on the stock exchange are anything to go by. Predictions have been made that unemployment for February, to be announced today Friday, will jump to more than 700,000 in a single month, bringing the unemployment rate to more than 8percent ramming home the non-stop severity of the economic crisis in the US.
California's unemployment alone stands at 10.1 percent, the highest it has been in more than 15 years, with a devastating effect impacting upon the poor, but more so on the "new poor" those who a few year ago would have considered themselves as being middle class.

According to one report the number who are extremely poor in LA County "roughly matches the total population of Washington D.C., and is greater than the total population of Seattle, Los Veges or Miami." Obama and his administration have their work cut out when you consider that cities like Los Angeles have poverty rates higher than the average countryside rate of 6 percent East Los Angele's has a poverty rate of 10 percent.
Food stamp usage has grown dramatically: "By the end of October, the number of people receiving food stamps in L.A. County approached 700,000, the most since May 2002." This is a reflection of the tightening pinch that food prices are exerting on struggling families.

On February 26 carried a revealing report, "California's Newly Poor Push Social Services to Brink." The article describes the devastation, emotional and psychological, as well as financial, that has struck middle-class Contra Costa County, east of the San Francisco Bay area, with a population of one million.

Unemployment in California began rising from less than 5 percent in 2006 to the current 10.2 percent and is expected to be as high as 13 percent by the end of the year, a trend that parallels the evolution of unemployment between 1930 and 1932.

'Remembering the Miners'

IT was 25 years ago today Thursday (March 5) that an announcement to close a coal mine in Yorkshire sparked the most bitter industrial dispute this country has ever seen.

The miners' strike rocked Britain in the 1980s as Margaret Thatcher's quest to close 'uneconomic' pits led to walk outs, violence 'flying pickets' and stark poverty in mining towns up and down the country; when I say up and down the country; much of the unrest did occurred in the north of England, however thousands of miners in the country's newest collieries in Kent were caught up in the strike that changed the face of British industry foever. Some 2,000 miners at the Kent collieries at Betteshanger, Snowdown and Tilmanstone stood in solidarity with their Northern co-workers and were propelled into the middle of the biggest dispute between union and state this country has ever seen.

There were no workers experienced in mining in Kent when coal was discovered in 1890. All the workers had to be imported from traditional mining areas such as Wales, Scotland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands. With the coal industry then booming, few had any incentive to come to Kent so collieries here had to pay higher wages. Uniquely, Kent became a mix of the traditions (often wildly different) of all the coalfields in Britain.

With the opening of Betteshanger Colliery and the redevelopment of Tilmanstone Colliery in the 1920's the demand for miners grew. After the General Strike of 1926, blacklisted militants, unable to work in their home areas, came to Kent, often signing on under false names. Poverty and desperation during the Depression of the 1930's meant that many unemployed miners walked hundreds of miles to Kent pits, unable to afford train tickets.

So on this day of reflection of a time past and bitter battle; still engraved on the minds of many of us who were either involved or supported the miners during that long year, I've have reproduced and article that appeared in the socialist standard five years ago.

The miners’ strike

Twenty years ago this month began one of the most disastrous strikes in the history of the working class in Britain. Not only were the aims of the strike not achieved but the strikers’ union was split and reduced to an ineffective rump. It wasn’t even a case of living to fight another day.

It used to be said that workers can learn as much from an unsuccessful strike as from a successful one. So what, then, were the main lessons of the 1984/5 miners’ strike?

That in the end the logic of capitalism will always win out. The declared aim of the strike was to keep open pits which by capitalism’s standards were “uneconomic”, i.e. were not making the going rate of profit (some were not actually unprofitable in the sense of not making a profit, but the profit wasn’t big enough compared with what could have been obtained if the capital had been invested elsewhere). A government can keep an “uneconomic” activity going for strategic reasons that benefit the capitalist class as a whole, such as security of supply, and the coal industry had in fact been maintained at previous levels for this reason while coal was a strategic home energy source for electricity stations to power industry. But, by the 1980s, North Sea oil and gas was being developed as an alternative and cheaper home source of energy and the government had decided that the time had come to stop subsidising the coal industry. In the absence of strategic security-of-supply considerations, no government can afford to tax the capitalist class to pay keep unprofitable production units open, but will be obliged by international competitive pressures to apply the capitalist rule of “no profit, no production” and close them down.

That no strike can stop a government determined to have its way. Both sides the government and the NUM leadership were aware that the issue of keeping the pits open was going to be a trial of strength. We now know that the government had planned for the show-down well before it occurred, so that it took place on their terms and at a time convenient to them. It was no co-incidence that the government, via the notorious hatchet-man MacGregor they had appointed to run the NCB, provoked the strike at the end of winter when stockpiles had been built up and when the demand for coal would be less.

The NUM leadership openly declared that the aim of the strike was to try to force the government to change its policy (to in effect continue subsidising the coal industry). The NUM President, Arthur Scargill, even unwisely suggested that the aim was to bring about a change of government (as if a Labour government would have behaved any differently, in fact had behaved any differently in the mid-60s when they closed more pits than Thatcher and MacGregor were planning). This provided the government with a weapon to use in the propaganda war to win popular support.

But the government had other weapons in its arsenal, particularly its control of the police force, which was used to contain and ultimately break the strike. Once they had realised that the government was not going to change its mind, the best thing for the NUM to have done would have been to taken the government’s superior strength into account and settle on the best terms possible in the circumstances , such as big redundancy payments and perhaps keeping open some of the pits that were making some profit even if less than the going rate.

This would not have been cowardice or betrayal, but a recognition of the harsh fact that under capitalism the workers are a subordinate class with only limited powers to affect the course of events, certainly far less than those of governments, an unequal distribution of power that is at the very basis of capitalism. Trade union activity, including strikes, is necessary as long as capitalism lasts but it can’t work wonders. Strikes are essentially a trial of strength, testing the situation; once it has become clear what the respective strengths of the two sides are as can happen fairly rapidly, though not always then both sides know where they stand and a settlement can be negated on that basis. Once it had become clear in the miners’ strike that the government was not going to concede and was in fact in the far stronger position, there was no point in going on with the strike.

Don’t follow leaders.

The leadership of the NUM, and in particular Scargill (a former member of the Communist Party who had only left it because they backed someone else rather than him in an election for a union post) and the Vice-President, Mick McGahey (a member of the Communist Party), held the view that union activity consisted in an active minority “giving a lead” to the normally passive majority in the expectation that they would follow.

In other words, they didn’t trust the membership. This led to another grave mistake in the NUM’s strategy: the refusal to hold a ballot before launching the strike. This was doubly stupid. First, because it provided the government with another propaganda weapon. Second, because a ballot would probably have given a majority for a strike anyway. But consulting the membership and allowing them to have the final say as to whether or not to launch it was not part of the mindset of Scargill and the others: they were leaders and they were going to lead. Ultimately, they led the miners to unnecessary hardship and disaster in a strike that went on for much longer than it need have done.
Calling a national strike without a national strike ballot was contrary to the NUM’s rules. It was therefore at least understandable that some miners and union officials should not feel bound by an unconstitutional decision. Thus in Nottingham the majority of miners continued working. The Scargill leadership’s response was to sent in pickets to, if it came to it, try to coerce the Nottingham miners into striking. Of course to have any chance of being effective a strike has to be a solid as possible, but coercing workers who could argue a democratic case for not striking at that moment was bound to be counter-productive. Maybe the leaders of the Nottingham miners weren’t being sincere and were just using the lack of a ballot as a pretext (most Nottingham pits were profitable), but Scargill’s tactics here ultimately led to the break-up of the NUM.

Socialists, as class-conscious workers ourselves, are on the side of our fellow workers involved in industrial disputes with employers, but this does not mean that this is unconditional. Strikes should not be aimed at other groups of workers and should always be run democratically with control remaining in the hands of those making the sacrifice of going on strike; paid union officials should be their servants not their masters or leaders. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all decisions have to be taken by secret ballot; decisions could also be taken by democratically-mandated delegates. But whatever the decision-making procedure adopted it should be democratic.

Were these lessons learned? Not by Scargill for one, who went on to set up his own party the SLP with the same leadership-based policies and tactics as the former Communist Party. Many miners, and others too, did, however, learn the hard way that the government is a class government, or, as Marx and Engels put it, “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”, and that the function of the police is not to give traffic directions or help old ladies across the road but to enforce the will of the government.

But few drew the conclusion that, if the exploitation and oppression of the working class is to be ended, we need to win control of the machinery of government so as to at least ensure that it is not used against us. In other words, the way forward lies in political action. Industrial action, though necessary from time to time, is essentially only defensive and has severe limitations due to the subordinate position of workers under capitalism. What is needed is political action to usher in a classless society of common ownership and democratic control where production will be for use and not for profit.


Wednesday, 4 March 2009


I come to this great capital of this great nation, an America renewed under a new president to say that America's faith in the future has been, is and always will be an inspiration to the whole world.

The very creation of America was a bold affirmation of faith in the future, a future you have not just believed in but built with your own hands.

And I hope that you will allow me to single out for special mention today one of your most distinguished senators, known in every continent and a great friend. Northern Ireland is today at peace, more Americans have healthcare, more children around the world are going to school, and for all those things we owe a great debt to the life and courage of Senator Edward Kennedy.

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