Wednesday, 28 September 2011

From Canning Town to Muirkirk and Back



This is just a quick short and to the point post this morning comrades, just an attempt to get something up on my blog as it’s been a few days since I did anything, that is because I am up  in Scotland paying, and I must say, a very long overdue visit to my family who live in and around the former mining village of Muirkirk, Ayrshire. I will have much more to say about that visit in a post that I am planing in the next few days, as soon as I get back to London, and of course re-accustomed to that way of life. 

It is also very important that I say something about the terrible news of yesterday, where in North Yorkshire at the kellingley Colliery one miner died after two had become trapped by a roof fall, this blog sends its condolences to that miners family and friends. Of course everyone will know that the latest tragedy follows on sadly from that at Gleision Colliery, some two weeks ago when Charles Breslin, Phillip Hill, Garry Jenkins and David Powell all lost their lives, and I understand that only yesterday inquests opened on the four miners who became trapped when the mine flooded, this blog will have more to say about these tragedies at a more appropriate time, so in the meantime my thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost a member whilst out working to make a crust, and of course helping to turn in a profit for the bosses and owners of the means of production. 

So more about that latter; and in the next few days I think I have some very exciting posts, we have the Labour Party conference with Ed Miliband’s keynote speech yesterday, we will be looking at that and what it means in terms of where is Labour going now, but more on this subject when I get home to East London, and back in to the class war as we head towards Autumn and the possible, probable industrial action of public sector workers.

I will be looking at the entrenched global jobs crisis as the numbers of long-term unemployed have risen sharply, By the first quarter of 2011, one-third or more of the jobless have been out of work for more than one year in France (40.5%), Germany (47.3%), Italy (50%) Japan (50.2), South Africa (68.3%), and Spain (40.5%).

The incidence of long-term unemployment has increased most sharply in Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the US, and now I am thinking will we see unemployment triple here or what, and to a new historic high in the months that are about to unfold? 

Well with much to consider on my journey home today, and with my batteries recharged, its time to get as they say stuck in comrades, see you on the streets!”           

           

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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Capitalism in Crisis



As we all know world stock markets slumped sharply on Thursday following reports indicating a slide into recession in Europe and the US, together with a rapid slowing of growth in Asian markets.

Three years after the Wall Street crash of 2008 that did so much damage, and I will be biased here and say to the many lives of working people; finance ministers, central bankers and economists assembled in Washington for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank present a picture of perplexity and fear as the crisis spins out of control and lurches toward a full-scale depression.

On the other side of that great watery pond stock prices went into free fall, with the Dow Jones Industrial average ending the day down 391.01 points, or 3.51 percent. The S&P 500 fell 3.19 percent, and the NASDAQ composite plunged 3.25 percent. The two-day slump in the Dow Jones average was the steepest since the financial meltdown in 2008.

Commodities also fell sharply, with the S&P GSCI index of 24 commodities plunging 4.9 percent. Oil fell below $80, hitting a six-week low. The fall in share prices for raw materials and energy firms was driven by expectations of a worldwide downturn in demand and particularly by signs that manufacturing in China will shrink for a third month in a row.

Stock markets across Europe lost heavy as selling took place in London, Frankfurt and Paris. The latest declines mean that many leading European markets have now lost around 20 percent of their value from their peak two years ago.

The main factor in the slump in the euro zone is the decline in economic activity in its biggest economy, Germany. The “recovery” in economic activity in the euro zone countries during the past two years always clothed huge deviations between individual economies, an ocean of depths so deep as to be unmeasurable while a number of euro economies are actually in recession most notably Greece - others are hovering on the brink of the abysmal  -Portugal, Spain, Italy and close to home the Republic of Ireland . Levels of economic activity in the euro zone were mainly pulled upwards by the growth in its biggest economy, Germany.  

Now Germany is also angling or if you like galloping towards recession. The German PMI index fell to its lowest level in more than two years (50.89 percent). The slide in the figures for both manufacturing and service industries marks the eighth straight month of slowdown in the German economy. 

The indications of a slide into recession in Europe and the sharp market downturn come on the heels of a series of warnings that other parts of the world were also in the grip of recession or rapidly slowing growth.

On Tuesday the International Monetary Fund declared in its World Economic Outlook report that “The global economy is in a dangerous new phase” and warned of a double dip recession in the US and Europe. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said that the global economy is “in a danger zone.”

US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke announced on Wednesday that the US economy faced “serious downside risks.” The measures announced by Bernanke to increase liquidity to American banks means a continuation of the cheap-dollar policy which has forced up the value of the euro and increased the prices of European exports, thereby contributing to the current reverse in the European economy. In Washington on Friday, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde invoked the need for urgent and coordinated action to confront a deteriorating economic and financial situation. “There are dark clouds over Europe and there is huge uncertainty in the US,” she said. “And with that we could risk a collapse in global demand. Well, so what? Let’s remove the clouds and remove the uncertainty. Easier said than done, and it requires clearly a collective action.”

The slide into recession on both sides of the Atlantic has been accompanied by growing tensions between the traditional postwar partners. The increasingly antagonistic relationship between the two sides was most clearly revealed following the visit by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to a meeting of European finance ministers in Poland last week.

Geithner received a cool reception from European ministers when he raised the proposal for an economic stimulus plan for Europe. A number of European leaders, including the head of the eurogroup of states, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, promptly rejected Geithner’s plan.

Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter was especially blunt in her criticism of the US proposal and Washington’s economic policy as a whole. She told the press: “I found it peculiar that the Americans, although they themselves have significantly worse fundamental data than the euro area, explain to us what we should do, but when we make a proposal ... they say ‘no’ right away.”

US-European frictions have also been exacerbated by the continual pressure from US-based rating agencies on European banks. On Monday, the Standard & Poor’s rating agency cut the credit rating of the Italian economy and then followed on Wednesday with a similar downgrading of seven Italian banks, including Italy’s leading bank, UniCredit.

The agency justified its decision by noting that it had targeted banks with high levels of exposure to the sovereign debt of other European countries. The S&P downgrade also included the Italian branch of the French bank BNP Paribas, thereby increasing pressure from the financial markets on the French banking sector. The French CAC 40 index racked up the biggest losses on Thursday (down 5.25 percent), reflecting fears of a collapse of the French banking sector.

The Italian prime minister reacted to the S&P decision by publicly rebuking the ratings agency whose assessments, Silvio Berlusconi declared, “appear dictated more by newspaper articles than reality and appear to be tainted by political considerations.”

While tensions and chauvinism are rising across the Atlantic, national divisions inside Europe are also intensifying. The move into recession by both the US and Europe is the consequence of the decision by their respective governments to make virtually unlimited sums of capital available to the banks—funds which are then recouped in the form of massive austerity programs directed against the working class.

What began as a debt crisis in a number of peripheral European nations has now quickly spread into the heart of Europe itself. At the same time, leading nations in Europe - first and foremost Germany - are intent on tightening the screws of austerity on the European mainland. Leading members from the parties involved in the German governing coalition welcomed the Italian downgrade and pressure for more austerity. Peter Altmaier, from the Christian Democratic Union, noted earlier this week: “The case of Italy shows that we’re not just talking about Greece.”

The political elite in Germany and across Europe is determined to maintain the policy of austerity which is plunging Europe into a new recession and means mass unemployment and poverty for millions more European workers.

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Monday, 19 September 2011

Reprieve at Dale Farm




Gypsies, and I don’t know why, but I always feel a wee bit uncomfortable calling anyone a gypsy, I think that its a word I have heard used more often than not as a form of abuse, it could possibly be that and, I do suspect that we non-gypsies have have done that terrible damage to this wonderful and otherwise romantic arm of the human race.

Romani Gypsies have been in Europe for more than 1,000 years and have had a sizable presence in Britain since the early 1500s. There is also another group, the Irish Travellers, which I think one should be very careful not to confuse the two groups which is often done and especially by the media and authorities alike. 

The inhabitants and resident's of Dale Farm are Irish Travellers, this is a very important distinction that we should make when attempting to understand and comment on the struggle being waged at Dale Farm by the Travellers and their supporters who are standing strong against Basildon council’s attempts to evict the 400 Travellers who after today's showdown remain defiant.

Irish Travellers are a largely nomadic group, with values culture and traditions that manifest themselves in ‘Traveller Nomad-ism’  no permanent home but move about according to the seasons. That’s not to say this is a fixed and fast way of life, because many have in recent years made permanent their home to all extent and proposes on static sites and locations such as that to be found at Dale Farm. In East London some have moved off the road and made home in houses and dwellings that now serves as living quarters for their families, I have the pleasure to count many amongst my friends, and therefore have a little knowledge about their distinctive lifestyle both on and off the road. 

Irish Travellers were recognised as an ethnic group in the UK in 2000 following the High Court case of Kiely and others v. Allied Domecq and are now protected under race relations legislation. Irish Travellers sometimes are referred to as ‘Minceir’ or ‘Pavees in their own language known as Cant/Gammon, the survival of this language is a testament to the resilience of this minority group in the face of numerous pressures and threats.

It is difficult to identify the exact origins of Irish Travellers. Some claim they are the descendants of the dispossessed from the war with Cromwell in the seventeenth century or the ‘Great Famine’ in Ireland in the mid nineteenth century. However there are some who contest such claims and propose much earlier origins. Of evidence which points to the existence of nomadic groups in Ireland as early as the fifth century AD and by the twelfth century the name Tynkler or Tynker is said to have been given to a group of nomads who had maintained a separate identity, social organisation and dialect. 

Like many poor and excluded groups in Ireland Irish Travellers have emigrated in order to secure better material conditions. In 1995 it was claimed that there were 19,000 Irish Travellers living in Britain but as they are not included as a census category it is difficult to reach an accurate figure. Irish Travellers in Britain and Ireland remain a highly marginalised group with a poor health profile and access to services. They are also suffering as a result of the national shortage of sites as many do not have secure or authorised places to live. They are also highly discriminated against. The campaign for Travellers’ rights is a key battleground for human rights and equalities in Britain, and Dale Farm should be seen as part of that struggle. Today the Travellers at Dale Farm won a reprieve when the High Court granted an injunction that stops Basildon council from carrying out the planned evictions, but another hearing takes place on Friday and I hope that we can feed off this boost and double even treble’numbers on site as a victory here would gives us all such a spring of confidence, and so badly needed.

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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Miliband must change not the trade unions



“There are cuts that the Tories will impose that we will not be able to reverse when we return to government,” declared Ed Miliband. “And getting the deficit down means rooting out waste too.”

I think such sentences, a string of words and affirmations made in his address to the TUC congress just this week gone are indeed an indication that Labour under his leadership, will sit on the sidelines whilst workers in the public sector take industrial action in defence of pensions, jobs and of course services.

It is not rocket science - Miliband had and has no intention of supporting workers in struggle, he did not go to deliver a fraternal brotherlike address to the representatives of Britain's Trade Union Movement, and from a leader of a party that was originally founded to represent and bring about change and give voice in favour of working people. No not at all, in no way was that his intention, he cashed in his chips, and he went to congress to speck to the city, to the bankers and financers of the political economy, he went to say ‘look under me capitalism will always be safe’. 

It could have been any Tory mouthing off and spouting on about waste and deficit, but it wasn't, it was a Labour Leader that relied and owes his very position to the many trade unionists who gave him their support during his successful leadership bid, without whose support he would not have been elected as Labour Leader a year ago. 

And just what brass-neck cheek he had, to tell those assembled, that they had to change; and its this part of his speech that stands-out more than anything to me, let’s have a look at it:

“But in truth, strikes are always the consequence of failure. Failure we cannot afford as a nation. Instead your real role is as partners in the new economy. But, as you know better than I, just 15 per cent of private sector workforce are members of trade unions. You know that you need to change, if that is to change. 

So it is hardly surprising then, that on Tuesday Miliband was heckled and jeered as he delivered this his first speech to the TUC. 

However let us be clear here, and always remind ourselves, that strikes are the result of conflict, a conflict that is as old as capitalism itself, a conflict that will never change so long as a small minority own and control all the worlds wealth and resources so as to continuously extract profits, and always at the expense of workers pay and conditions - that wont change ever, so its a bit rich to say that workers and their democratic organisations must change instead. And if indeed only 15 per cent of the private sector workforce are currently unionised, then that is the direct result of Thatcherism and her anti-union legislation, but also we have to say and regrettably above all else, the refusal of New Labour to reverse such legislation or the extensive programme of privatisation of the Conservative governments between 1979 and 1997. All the utilities and enterprises privatised by the Tories not only remain in private ownership but working people are now forced to pay very dearly for them as the recent hikes in the cost of Gas and Electricity has clearly demonstrated, and this coming winter will be ‘hell and hardship’ for many. So I suggest that we do need change, but Miliband is looking in the wrong direction - do something about fuel poverty and the ever rising cost of food in the shop's would be a good start. 

So whilst I am on it now, let me say that the change that is required, is from a party that when in office last, did nothing to reverse the steep cuts in taxation introduced for the very rich by the Conservatives, coupled with the continuing failure to do anything effective about the big increases in rewards given to the top ‘fat cats’ of industry, and this has simply meant the perpetuation of the Thatcherite legacy of gross inequality. 

The change that was required then and is desperately needed now, was to attack and if you like yes, change the inequality that continued to widen in Britain even under New Labour, and now of course getting far worse under this present government and regime.

Do you know I could go on and on, about what Labour should have done when they had the chance for change, but I will only get myself wound-up thinking about it, and no more so than that of welfare reform which under them was not seen as a means of extending and improving social provision against the hazards of life, deprivation and poverty in retirement but as a way of saving money. They extended means-testing and paved the way for what this government is doing right now. Millions of our children were allowed to live in poverty whist they used the statistics as a play thing, but they failed to change a thing, and now Miliband thinks he has a clean sheet of paper, that he can come to the TUC and lecture us about change, when there still is a whole pile of agglomerated  rubbish from the Blair era that needs burning comrades!”

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Friday, 16 September 2011

Atos Kills National Day of Action



by hackneyunemployedworkers
Sunday 23rd October, 11am-5pm
Somers Town Community Centre, 150 Ossulston Street, London, NW1 1EE
(5 minutes walk from Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross stations)
Wheelchair accessible
Join us for a meeting with like-minded people to share ideas and strategise to stop the government’s attacks on welfare.
Welfare is being systematically attacked:
  • Unemployed people are being forced to work without pay.
  • Disabled people are being deprived of their entitlement to benefits through the devastating Work Capability Assessment process.
  • People can now be left destitute for up to two years through benefit sanctions.
  • The right to housing is under attack: Housing benefit cuts are set to make thousands homeless. The right-wing called for evictions in response to the riots, even before courts had found people guilty.
  • Private companies stand to make millions through bullying claimants on the Work Programme.
  • Legal aid cuts make it harder to challenge bad treatment.
  • The only benefit that was available to people under 18 – EMA – has been abolished by this government.
  • Single mothers are being forced to be job-seekers when their children are at an even younger age.
  • Asylum seekers are forced to survive on incomes far below benefit levels, which are already set at subsistence level.
  • The full impact that the Universal Credit will have is yet to be understood.
But people across the UK are organising to defend welfare. The Boycott Workfare campaign recently forced the “Making Work Pay” conference to relocate at short notice. Atos, the private company responsible for depriving hundreds of thousands of people of sickness benefits, has had many of its offices occupied, costing it thousands of pounds. Claimants are sharing information on how to challenge the bullying and discrimination that is rife in the new set-up.

This gathering is open to everyone who wants to take action to defend welfare. 
We are a claimant-led network – our response to welfare reforms is led by people who feel their effects the most – but the attacks on welfare will affect us all whether we are in work or may need welfare as parents, if we become unemployed, due to sickness or disability, or as pensioners.
We plan to run the day with lots of discussion and chances to share ideas and information in workshops and an open space session where we can set the agenda on the day. If you can offer a workshop or would like to propose something for the agenda, please get in touch.
Please help make the day happen:
  • Let us know you can make it!
  • The network does not have any funding, so if your group or union branch can make a contribution to the costs of the room or participants’ travel, please help raise funds for it. Groups and individuals may want to approach union branches or organise fundraisers to raise funds for your travel.
  • Let us know if you can help with food, childcare or facilitation on the day.
  • Forward this invite to anyone else you know who might be interested, post it on your blog or social media; mention it at meetings, and help spread the word!

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Newham where it pays to be in politics




Some 2.51 million people are now unemployed, representing 7.9 per cent of the total workforce. Youth unemployment rose by 78,000 to 973,000. Almost a fifth of 16 to 24-year-olds are now out of work. The number of people claiming unemployment benefit rose by 20,400 in August and now stands at 1.58 million. And the numbers working part -time because of a shortage of full-time positions also increased to 1.28 million, the highest level since 1992.

And so this is the bleak black picture that fills the landscape as we move into the winter months of the year, and for many they will feel the cold as early darkness descends. No more so than in my own locality of Newham; and of the two Parliamentary constituencies of East Ham and West Ham, where unemployment now stands higher than the national average at 23.1% and 14.5% respectably.

This week a massive new shopping mall opened in Stratford ‘The Westfield City Mall - with its 300 shops, 70 restaurants and bars, a 17-screen cinema, tenpin-bowling ally and the UK's largest casino, but to me its a reminder that there is an other way of life out there... for some, if only you had the money. I doubt very much if any or many of my neighbours will ever be able to afford to do their shopping and socialising or whatever there, still its nice to know that we have Europe’s largest urban shopping centre all of 1.9 million sq ft of it and where as Westfield promotes, ‘you're sure to find just what you're looking for’.

Westfield is sited next to the Olympic Park and yet another insult to the local community who were sold this on the back of a complete pack of lies, that it would bring jobs and regenerate the area, which I have to tell you was promoted by a Labour Council led by an elected Mayor, Sir Robin Wales. And Sir Robin this week hailed the Westfield development as more important than the long-term future of the Olympics. Dare I say it Sir Robin...even more than the long-term future of the local unemployed population who have not benefited whatsoever?”

Newham is a Labour controlled council with 60 members all Labour and no opposition, and run by Sir Robin Wales, who is its elected Mayor. Sometimes, I think it may as well be run by by Dick Turpin, especilally when you consider that that Sir Robin pays himself £80,695 and his helpers lifted £24,333 as elected councillors, and paid this sum for what they call special responsibility allowance’ on top of a basic allowance of £10,734.

So who said that politics doesn't pay?”
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Thursday, 15 September 2011

communities falling apart and at the seams



The numbers of homeless people, that’s men women and children without a place they can call ‘there own home’ has risen by 17%, according to the latest figures released by the Government.

The statistical information published recently by the Department for Communities and Local Government, measured the rate of homelessness between April and June this year.

A total of 11,820 applicants were accepted by local authorities as being legitimately homeless, in need of "homeless help" and therefore eligible to go on to a council house waiting list. This figure is 17% higher than in the same quarter in 2010.

Homeless charity Shelter says the rise should act as a warning to the Government and have called for an end to cuts. But Housing Minister Grant Shapps said that despite the recent rise, homelessness was still at an "historic" low level.

For those that don’t know, the effects of experiencing homelessness can mentally scar a person for the rest of their life. And I would like to think that I know what I am talking about, having spent a period of my own life without an abode. I don’t tell you this lightly or is it a badge that I wear on my sleeve, but sometimes you have to share information so that others you hope will at least start to understand. For me my journey through the maze of homelessness came to an end ten years ago. And yes it is like a maze, a  complex system of paths and tunnels in which it is easy to get lost and a great many do. 


Whenever I consider homelessness I always put it into context and circumstance, and of course’ around the world, for it is and I am sure readers will appreciate, a condition not alien or contained to Britain alone.  The number of homeless people around the world varies widely among countries. For example, an estimated 3 million people are homeless in Europe, with up to 1,200 homeless people registering as such every night in Brussels the home to our European Parliament. In Brazil, there is a deficit of 6.6 million housing units, and 20 million homeless people, who live in favelas, shared clandestine rooms, hovels or under bridges and viaducts, or are squatters, in some of the county’s largest cities. 

Chapter and verse can be given of the condition we call homelessness, so as I move back to the point of this post, some more interesting and yes...Oh, so shocking’ statistics...

Close to home; Scotland has 40,123 homeless applications accepted in 2008-09 More than 505 are asked to leave their accommodation following domestic issues. I think this really is fascinating!” Well what I mean is, here we have evidence, that the family unit as favoured by capitalism’ is breaking down?”

Ireland has an estimated 2,366 people homeless in the city of Dublin every night.

Do you know what really takes the the bloody biscuit?"

We in the UK have the highest levels of homelessness in Europe, with more that 4 people per 1,000, are estimated to be homeless.

The truth is that no one can say with any conference or certainty, just how many are homeless?

I know from my own experience that there are pockets, and large pockets of homeless people, and what some wrongly call an under-class in these areas. They have had, a long and probably well established family history and connection. And its another story altogether, why and how this has come about, but the thing is...It has.

These communities are falling apart and at the seams, but still there remains something good lingering amongst these people, and in time I think it will come to the surface in service, and once more when its needed the most. In the meantime these people will for a time continue to be ripped off by the establishment both locally and nationally. They will continue to be displaced and treated with disrespect in their own backyard. I know people who sleep in the corridors of if you like...other peoples flats or maisonettes, these homeless people have more of a local connection than those who now live in the many flats they once grew up in and played and made friendships amongst. It is amazing that a hostel that holds 500 single and otherwise homeless men, stands facing opposite a new modem, block of penthouse suite’s for sale private apartments now under construction in Canning Town

What’s happening in my locality is happening everywhere, how can you describe a system which all over the world denies people and keeps them back from the most basic requirement - shelter. 

Property and ownership lies at the hart of everything that both Thatcher and Reagan did when they were in office, their policies in there different ways transferred economic power from the state into private hands in which the market dominates, and housing is such an example, and now of course its that which is falling apart, and very well demonstrated in the article by Patrick Butler that I highlighted here yesterday on the homeless crisis in middle-England.

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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Homelessness: it's now a crisis in middle-England



This piece is from Patrick Butler’s Guardian blog, and I think that its significance is important that I should promote it on The Socialist Way.  
  
Homelessness: not, generally, thought to be a pressing problem in the leafier parts of commuter belt south east England. That, however, is changing. Take Runnymede, a wealthy borough by the Thames in greenbelt Surrey. To its surprise, it is experiencing an explosion in families presenting to the council because they have nowhere to live.Back in 2007, Runnymede had just 19 homeless acceptances. This soared to 51 in 2009-10 as the recession took hold, stabilising at 49 last year. This financial year, however, homeless acceptances have accelerated: there were 32 in the first three months alone (compared with two in the same period in 2007). Even when you strip out of that statistic nine families made homeless as a result of a fire, the figure is the highest the council has had in the last four years.To continue reading the full article

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nuclear unemployment



There are now 2.51 million people in the UK, that’s 7.9% according to the Office for National Statistics, and an increase nationally of 80,000. This is the biggest recorded increase this year, but what stands out like a sore-eye is the number of young people who's fate it is to be languishing with us older workers on the dole queue.

The Youth jobless rate went up from 78,000 to 973,000.  The number of people who are claiming their jobseeker’s allowance increased from 20,300 to 1.58 million during the month of August. The total number of people who have jobs went down by 69,000 and is now recorded at 29.17 million. 

According to Chris Grayling the Employment Minister or should that be Minister for Unemployment he said:

 “Clearly this is a very unwelcome set of figures. Any increase in unemployment is something we really don’t want to see happen. The data would reinvigorate the government’s determination to take steps to get the economy growing and create private sector jobs.” 

The government is now calling for the private sector to augment a part of the total number of lost jobs in the public sector that are the result of spending cuts that have been done in order to reduce the debts of the country, better known as austerity. 

For the second month in a row we have seen, nay experienced an increase and swelling of the unemployed rank and file frogmarched down to the local dole office. Of course the sacking of public sector workers has been a contributing factor here, but with so many now not having the spending power they once enjoyed and in the run up to Christmas; the already tightening of belts surly this can only exasperate an already worsening domestic consumer market, which will lead to more job losses as shops close and emptiness descends on the high street, it may even finish it off. 

I think that unemployment is about to go nuclear with the release of such a destructive energy, which will have all sorts of negative impacts on our society already spreading an impatience of frustration of which the recent riots were a manifestation, and only a fool would rule out the non-possibility of civil disobedience.

On this very subject I am still gathering my on thoughts, particularly as an unemployed worker and will be writing more in the next few days.  

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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The killing machine came to town



Underlying and always inherent in warfare throughout the ages has been the search to find better and more efficient ways for one human to kill another, for one army to wipe out another army, for one nation to conquer another nation.

Each generation has hoped to be the one to build the ultimate weapon, the weapon that no human, army or nation can stand against. 

So they are able to dominate and control the whole world.

The arms trade is an immense industry, one of the largest industries in the world, and it has major effects on how millions of people live their lives - or more to the point, don’t live their lives in longevity and oldness.  

Most of the arms trade is legal and part of the world economy of general global trade in goods and services that flows from one country to another.

Today in Newham and where I live, and indeed a stones throw away from where I actually live in Canning Town, well in fact in Custom House, but still part of the old docklands, the killing machine came to town. Sorry I may have lost you, so do let me explain. When I look out of my windows I have a good view of the ExCel Centre, and it was here today and for the next three, that forty-six countries in all will show off the latest weapons of mass destruction, I say mass destruction because that’s what weapons are put quite simply.

A 1,000 weapons manufacturers have laid out their ware and merchandise of lethal objects in glass cases, ranging from guns that can fire shells more than 30 miles to the small hand gun and parang rang of knife.

Such US giants as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Dynamics are in attendance, so are representatives from the Israeli arms industry.

Liam Fox, the defence secretary, was there and in a speech he praised the UK arms firms for their role in Libya whilst promoting the cause of weapons exports, he said: 

“For too long, export potential has been ignored when initiating projects for the UK’s use. That needs to change...Defence and security exports play a key role in promoting our foreign policy objectives: building relationships and trust, sharing information and spreading values.”

Well Fox and the government keep going on about so-called values, and these values dismiss the fact that military spending actually exceeds the combined spending on all forms of heath and education, that there are 900 million people who cannot read and write in countries that spend more on arms and military than they do on education - some values!”  

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unions could bring a great deal of experience to a new society



In Early Days of capitalism employers, in there pursuit for maxim profits, were able to act with almost complete ruthlessness in their treatment of workers. They could take advantage of every rise of unemployment or the inflow of immigrant workers to reduce wages to a bare minimum, using the lockout if necessary to starve workers into submission. 

They imposed excessive hours of labour and ordered temporary extensions of normal working hours without giving any overtime pay.

They employed workers in overcrowded and insanitary factories and workshops, and exposed them to frequent accidents from dangerous machinery. They introduced new working processes and machinery at  will, often replacing men by lower-paid women and children. Factory discipline was like that of a military force, and workers who ‘mutinied’ could be sacked and, by arrangement with other employers, blacklisted, so that they could not get work elsewhere. Employers accepted no responsibility for payment of wages during sickness, and workers sacked or disabled had to rely on their own resources. 

And so against such a background, and this is only part of the story, for Trade Unions were formed to resit these and other pressures. The basic idea was that, by combining together, workers could get better terms, protect individuals against victimisation and provide payments out of funds during strikes or lockouts.

So with that quick history lesson out of the way I now turn to our modern British Trade Union Movement, which through its own combining meets annually as a congress. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) opened its proceedings yesterday in London, and for the first time since since 1902 at its London base Congress House.

It meets at a time when there is hanging around like little green apples about to drop, an enormous degree of uncertainty; uncertainty surrounding the global economy, and for us an uncertainty in Britain, an uncertainty of what will be the kickback from the eurozone economy, and of countries like Greece whose banking system crisis intensified yesterday as fears mounted of default soon. And with other economies hitting the canvas floor I personally think in terms of world depression on its way. Britain’s dominant services sector saw growth slowdown at its fastest pace since the 2001 foot and mouth crisis”.

Just to mention the US, were things are in an advance state of decay and yet like over here the media, the establishment would prefer to have people think that the worse of the recession is over even though in its aftermath new records of the wrong kind have been set. 

Well-nigh 1 in 6 American workers have lost their jobs, this is the highest job-loss rate in the last 30 years, and add to that the 1 in 9 college graduates that have lost jobs. Three years after the recession began, the economy was still 7.7 million jobs short, this has led to the $447 billion jobs plan that President Obama outlined last week to a joint session of Congress in a desperate attempt to keep the support of unions, liberals and Democrats - elections next year.

What an irony then that an hour south of Wall Street, where bankers can be heard complaining about how hard it is to survive on a million dollars a year, other Americans are having to make do with less. 

Tent cities reminiscent of the famous “Hoovervilles” of the Great Depression have been springing up in cities across the United States, the official fingers given for homelessness is 700,000 but I find this hard to accept considering the vast size of the country. Then add together the 40.8 million people or 13% of the country that live on food stamps I think that I am able to depict the way the world is looking this week as our very own trade unionists meet in deliberation; and so I thought the following should be considered and I would very much welcome others impute and ideas.  

One of the proud boasts of the more advanced capitalist states is that we are democratic. In fact, government leaders hardly ever stop going on about it. Certainly in the more liberal countries, legal rights provide for freedom of expression and political organisation. In Britain, these were won after long, bitter struggles against the predecessors of present Tories and Lib Democrats who resisted the growth of democracy sometimes with ruthless state violence. But they will be the last to let these facts of history stain their present dedication to the democratic ideal. We are all democrats now – or are we?

Do the freedoms won in Britain mean that we live in a democratic society? Far from it. We may be able to promote political discussion, put up candidates and vote but what about our participation in decisions which directly affect all our lives such as what goods shall be produced, and how they should be distributed? Our lives depend on these decisions but where is the democratic participation? There is none. And then again, most of us spend most of our waking hours either at work, getting ready for work, or recovering from work. But how many of us have any say in how the places where we work and the work itself is organised? 

What say do we have about how the real resources of labour and materials should be allocated to solving our problems. We have no say in any of these decisions. 

September sees this Annual Conference of the TUC whose founding members in the 19th century were in the forefront of the movement for democracy. But that was some time ago and a lot of people would say that since then the TUC has rather lost its way. The TUC now gives the impression of being part of the status quo and as a result no longer seems to have a progressive role. Should the battle for democracy be content with our right to elect governments to rule over us when a truly democratic society would involve all people in the important decisions affecting our lives? Socialists can suggest how trades unionists can recall the early struggles for democracy and rejoin that battle. In doing so, they would re-capture their vision of a better world and play a constructive part in working for it. 

In the past many trade unionists looked to nationalisation as a means of building a democratic society but this has been a diversion that led nowhere. For example, in the case of the coal mines it was believed that under nationalisation the miners would run the mines for the benefit of the community. In fact the Coal Board replaced the mine owners and the miners went on being exploited. In its worst forms nationalisation subjected millions around the world to the brutalities of state capitalist regimes which suppressed democratic rights. Foolishly, some people still believe in nationalisation but experience shows that we should now put that myth behind us and make a proper distinction between nationalisation and common ownership. 

A recurring complaint of the TUC and others is that the world is now largely under the control of the multi-national corporations who are able to move production to sources of cheaper labour plunder natural resources and corrupt local politicians and officials. All this is true but where are the practical ideas for bringing it to an end? In fact, the entire organisation and running of factories, offices and services is under the authoritarian control of boards of directors and their managers. These are the hierarchical structures from which the great mass of people are excluded. 

Elected councils

Within this authoritarian structure it is true that trade unions do the best they can to protect the interests of their members but their struggles are mostly defensive and as a result they are compelled to fight the same battles over and over again. The time for the trade union movement to break out of this narrow defensive role is long overdue. An organisation like the TUC, with its research departments, is well placed to conduct discussions with socialists on how production and the work place could be democratically organised. With common ownership, control of production by boards of directors and their corporate managers would immediately cease. The exploitative operations of the multi-nationals would be brought to an end. This would leave workers with the job of carrying on with the useful parts of production and services and for this they would need to be democratically organised. At this point control of all units engaged in production and distribution, services such as schools and hospitals, and useful parts of the civil service and local administration etc., would switch to management committees or councils elected by the workers running them. 

Unlike boards of directors and corporate managers, works committees would not be responding to the economic signals of the market. They will be responding directly to the needs of the community. In this way, the links connecting production units and services in socialism will be far more extensive than the buying and selling that connects capitalist units with their suppliers and market outlets. One immediate difference would be that access to information throughout the world structure of production would be unlimited. There will be no industrial secrecy, copyright or patent protection. Discussion about design, materials or technique will be universally open and the results of research will be universally available. As well as having access to world information systems, production units will operate in line with social policy decisions about priorities of action. This would indicate the ways in which particular industrial and manufacturing units would need to adapt or possibly expand their operations. This would require some units to take on more staff and this again could be administered by elected management committees 

As well as sorting out the environment and energy supply we can anticipate now that possibly the biggest job in socialism would be to provide housing together with essential services like water and electricity plus furniture and equipment for all people. No doubt the most urgent task will be to stop people dying of hunger but the supply of comfortable housing will require a vastly greater allocation of labour than any necessary increase in food production. This means that a great surge of required materials and equipment will flow through the units producing building supplies. A structure of housing production that is generally adjusted to the market for housing under capitalism, which is what people in socialism would inherit, will in no way be able to cope with a demand for housing based on need. So, within the wider context of a democratically decided housing policy, in which questions of planning and the environment would have been taken into account, the job of implementing housing decisions would eventually pass to the committees or works councils throughout the construction industry. 

What we would see in these arrangements is not just the replacement of corporate management with democratic control, we would also see the liberation of the community’s powers of organisation and production from the shackles of the profit motive. 

For many years now the TUC and the trade unions in general have languished in a role which provides little scope for action beyond preparing for the next self-repeating battle with employers. They tend to be bogged down in bureaucracy and run by careerists and timeserving officials for whom the future means little more than their pensions. It has to be said that this does present itself as a sterile accommodation with the capitalist system. 

But in fact the unions could bring a great deal of experience to bear on the question of how a new society could be organised democratically in the interests of the whole community. Certainly in the developed countries they have organisation in the most important parts of production. They have rulebooks that allow them to be run locally and nationally in a generally democratic manner and they also enjoy fraternal links across the world. All this is already in place. By setting their sights beyond the next wage claim and by becoming part of the socialist movement, once a majority is achieved, they could so easily become part of the democratic administration of industry that would replace the corporate bosses and their managers who now organise production for profit.

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Friday, 2 September 2011

The foundations of ‘Broken Britain’



The last few days I have been thinking about the condition of the housing market; and just what a horrible thought that just is, a market for providing the most basic of requirements - shelter.

The defining policy of ‘Tatcherism’ has got to be what they did with housing. They raped ‘intentionally’ a stock of housing that had helped to glue together stability and cohesion in the greater community, and  today I will argue that we have seen the weakening of social cohesion, the breakdown of trust and community along with increases in crime and violence because of this. The Housing Act 1980 was indeed an act of piracy; buccaneering that was cleverly contrived; such planning and manipulation that helped fool thousands into thinking that they were a part or could be a part of the home-owning democracy. The results were immediate and prompt, an explosion in homelessness all over the country. 

We would also do well to remember that the Labour Party was vehemently opposed to the 1980 Act but by 1987 had dropped its opposition to the Right-to-Buy.

When Thatcher said: “Popular capitalism is nothing less than a crusade to enfranchise the many in the economic life of the nation.” Then Labour has been seen to in-braced every word with such enthusiasm.

But never mind them, let us review a little history here, which I think is important in nailing the crutch of my argument to the door post. During the last 30 years 2.5 million council houses have been sold off since the Right-to-Buy scheme was introduced. The scheme, enabled council house tenants to buy their homes at massive discounts which in turn led to the biggest increase in home-ownership during the last 50 years.      
Back then the proportion of people who were homeowners increased from 59% to 70% with around 10% of that increase was attributed directly to council house sales. And council houses collectively worth £85 billion have been sold off, however now the number of people buying their council home has been steadily in decline for some years. 

It was indeed a nice try on the part of the Tories, who did two things, they handed over to their friends the means to make more money from housing finance, and at the same time tie a working class down to the pull of a system that would help to keep them in their place whist at the same time giving the illusion of a stake in property ownership, even though it took a lifetime before that actuality would be reached. I always look at it as whatever happens, the banks always know that in the end analysis, they will always end-up with the bricks and mortar making them a profit time after time after time.

And so the near collapse of the banking system ended the hopes and dreams curly of thousands, the stargazes of ever owning their own homes. 

There is nought wrong with owning your own home, but it has to be said; what a tangled spiders web of real deceit, a very misleading falsehood that has comeback to bite the working classes on the backside in this relatively short span of time of just a few decades. The children of the many who swallowed that hook line and sinking weight of home-ownership are now unable to place a foot on the housing ladder. It’s a real shame that Margaret Thatcher is not a full shilling these days, because I would love her to understand that her ‘property owning democracy’ has failed the test of time, and whereas she may not have been for turning back, her housing bobble has burst big-time. Far from seeing council estates transformed by home-owning former tenants, the Right-to-Buy has led to fractured communities, exploitative landlordism and now a severe lack of housing, this is Thatcher’s true legacy, and I suppose you could say the foundations of ‘Broken Britain’. Much of what remains of the Right-to-Buy evangelism has done more harm than good - the idea that ownership breeds responsibility in a way that council tenancies never could is a complete buncombe - go on show me an owner of the 'means of production' that has ever been responsible. The collectivist delusions of the past are being swept away with the realty of truth.   

The housing market is said to play a key role in shaping macroeconomic performance, with millions of jobs that have been linked directly or indirectly to property and the construction sectors, and as we have seen during the last few years the potentially strong household wealth effects of changes in property prices on consumer confidence, as borrowing demand and incentives to save along with the fall in value or wages, the cost of living has taken a nose dive for the most negative of experiences.    

And with all the indicators now pointing in one awful direction, I think that I can now say and unfortunately with a degree of confidence, that nothing is set to get any better as we stand upon the hourglass of a renewed and renegaded economic meltdown of world capitalism. 

Falling house prices, low interest rates, and no one buying as the phantom of mass unemployment is about to haunt and be an unwelcome visitor in many a home in the months to come, as this government allows the visible disembodied soul of the unemployed to pay the price for the crisis of capitalism, and if need be with their homes. So don’t be surprised to see the springing up of tent cities.               
      

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