Sunday, 31 January 2010

Greece in chaos as killer cops' trial delayed

The following report comes from Bristol Anarchist Black Cross, covering the ongoing turmoil in Greece as it relates to political prisoners there and the police who murdered Alexandros Grigoropoulis.

You don’t hear much about Greece in the news these days, just the odd snippet buried away on the inside pages of the ’serious’ newspapers, or perhaps on their on-line business/economic sections. If you check those then you may be aware that the Greek economy is in such a mess they may be kicked out of the eurozone, which is one reason the euro has dropped so much in value these last few weeks.

You may be aware of a degree of unrest amongst the workers, faced by severe austerity measures proposed by the ’socialist’ government. You probably wont have heard about the massive mobilisations by farmers that have brought much of the country to a halt and closed its borders to the north. You almost certainly wont have heard about the trial of the killer cops that was due to start this week. Thats the cops who shot to death the 15 year old kid, that started the insurrection on 6 December 2008, that led to 17 days rioting across much of the country, and led to the ongoing low-level insurrection happening ever since.

Killer cops briefly in court, Korkoneas on right

The 2 killer cops facing trial are Epaminondas Korkoneas, for voluntary homicide, and Vassilios Saraliotis for complicty to voluntary homicide. Korkoneas is no friendly neighbourhood cop, a former specialist soldier he went on to work for ’security’ within the Golden Dawn fascist group in Greece. They claim they meant to fire in the air after being confronted by youths in Athens, but the bullet took a ricochet. And made an outright kill. What a defence!

Logically, they should be tried in court in Athens, but citing ’security’ their friends in government moved the trial to Amfissa, a small town 200km north of Athens. The trial was due to start in mid-December 2009, but was delayed by the government citing ’security’ due to its proximity to the anniversary of the killing. The trial was due to start on 20 January, but was immediately adjourned until today (23 January) because, wait for it, their chief defence lawyer was busy with another case elsewhere!

The mother of the murdered 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, has fought long and hard to have the trial moved back to Athens, but her arguements have been chucked out by the courts. Presently her own mother is very ill in hospital, so she may well refuse to make the journey to court each day. She recently issued a statement condemning the behaviour of the authorities, and the actual investigation for ignoring some facts completely, causing a lot of embarrassment but no changes. The state always protects its own.

Protest march in Amfissa 20 January

In the run up to the trial, anarchists and others visited Amfissa for a spot of counter-information, and found a town under police siege. despite this they reported a fair welcome and hearing. The text of the leaflet they distributed is worth reading. Also in the run up to the trial, anarchist detainees at Amfissa prison were moved with no notice. Awaiting trial for alleged bank robbery, the elderly Alfredo Bonnano, and Christos Stratigopoulos, were moved to Korydallos prison near Athens. Also moved was long term anarchist prisoner Ilias Nikolaou, transferred to Diavata prison near Thessaloniki. This may have been done because the 2 killer cops are almost certainly inside the Amfissa prison too now, and the state feared more trouble in the prisons. Or maybe they feared protesters would overwhelm the police in Amfissa and help the prisoners escape? Either way, protesters attempting to get to Amfissa on 20 January, faced severe harassment getting there, and a massive riot police presence when they got there. Of course they did get there, and held 2 noisy angry protests skirmishing with the cops (photos). Elsewhere in the prison regime, over 300 prisoners at Grevena prison have been on hungerstrike since 11 January protesting their inhumane conditions. Expect more of this.

Watch this space! Or rather consider what you can learn from events in Greece, and then DIY.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

The mainstream media and the snobbery doctrine

In today's Dail Mail, Amanda Platell tells us how "it's shabby values, not class, that are to blame for society's ills." Given that it's the paper's hallmark, one perhaps shouldn't be too surprised at the poisonously snobbish invective that followed this headline. Nevertheless, it serves to highlight all that is wrong with the mainstream debate on the subject of class, and why electoral politics is a zero-sum game that serves only elite interests at our expense.

We get an idea of what is to come from the first three paragraphs;
Harriet Harman's 'equality bible' was published this week - 450 pages of dripping, liberal invective that lays all the blame for society's ills on the class system.

According to this queen of social engineering, people's 'life chances, from cradle to grave, are shaped' by their class origins.

Yet when it comes to looking for the real cause why so many of the working class do worse at school, earn less and die younger, the blame must be placed elsewhere - on the countless numbers of feckless parents.
That's right. Forget the fact that our economic system is built upon a system of private property which allows the owners of said property to maintain a stranglehold on the workforce. That whilst social mobility has ground to a halt, the richest few got even richer. Or that, in every crisis perpetuated by the wild excess of those with capital, it is the workers who have had to suffer the brunt and pay the costs. It's our fault, and we deserve all the shit that's heaped upon us.

The proof of this absurdity? The fact that a branch of Tesco recently banned people from entering wearing pyjamas. As Platell puts it;
Welcome to the world of Britain's slum mums, where women without an ounce of self-respect go shopping dressed like slobs in elasticated-waist nightwear and fluffy slippers.

One of those banned from the store (in a rundown inner-city area once controversially branded 'the estate of missing fathers') whinged: 'Do they have any idea how difficult it is to get three kids off to school when you are a single parent? We haven't got time to get all dolled up.'

The working class of the past had enormous self-respect. Men, however poor, wore suits and ties.

Women scrubbed front steps. Mothers wouldn't have been seen dead wearing pyjamas in their own kitchen, let alone in public.

The tragedy is that the shabby values of these slum mums are passed on to their children. Until this sloth changes, no amount of social engineering will have any effect.

The truth is that it's not being born working class that destroys children's chances in life, but the way they are brought up in broken homes by parents married to a welfare culture that leeches away any sense of self-respect or ambition.

If your only role model is a slob of a mother who doesn't work, can't bother to get dressed in the morning, lazes around smoking, eating junk food and watching Jeremy Kyle-style TV shows all day, what chance is there for you?
There simply aren't words. How exactly do all of these imagined vices follow on from wearing pyjamas? Whatever your opinions on the practice in and of itself, the idea that wearing pyjamas outdoors is symptomatic of "broken homes in a welfare culture" is as absurd as believing that all teenagers who wear dark clothes worship satan or are likely to shoot-up their school. That Platell had to work her yearning for "a government that has the willpower to dismantle Britain's ruinous benefits system that keeps rewarding slum mums for bringing up generations of children destined for illiteracy, worklessness and premature death" into a rant about pyjamas shows how deep her snobbery runs.

However, Labour is already working hard to be the government of her dreams. In October, it announced a measure "requiring single parents with children aged 10 or 11 to look for work, or risk losing benefits." And the Welfare Reform Bill introduced "plans to fine jobless single parents with pre-school age children if they did not prepare for work while receiving benefits." Given that "working-age people on benefits remain well below the minimum income standard," this is nothing short of a drive to force single parents into povery. Only the blithely, wilfully ignorant could see "fecklessness" where there is an oppressive class system.

As Sue Gerhardt notes in the Guardian;
The first two or three years are the crucial window when various systems which manage emotions are put into place. In particular, it is when we learn to exercise self-control and to be aware of other people's needs. Without these basic emotional skills children may not grow up emotionally competent.

But to achieve this basic emotional literacy, babies need to be with people they are attached to well beyond nine months. They need to be with people who are safe and familiar, who know them well, respond to them quickly and, above all, love them. The idea that their main caregiver should be forced by economic necessity to take paid employment – or encouraged to let someone else manage their baby's emotional development – is ludicrous.

As "JH", a single parent opposing proposals in the new welfare reform act, wrote: "I have the love and the commitment – why is that not recognised? I don't see how paying a stranger to care for him, while I seek similarly underpaid part-time work (perhaps even caring for someone else's children) will benefit either of us, financially or otherwise."

The evidence is that it is highly unlikely to benefit her child – particularly if he is put into low-quality nursery care – since the earlier babies are put into nurseries, and the longer they are there, the more likely their emotional distress will result in them being aggressive and difficult at school. Recent research by Clancy Blair at Pennsylvania State University also suggests that children's academic achievement is highly dependent on the emotional foundations that are put in place in the first couple of years.

Yet instead of moving towards greater support for early parenting, the government is sending the message that this is a luxury we cannot afford. Mothers should leave their babies and get back to earning money. The worthy goal of lifting children out of poverty is invoked. Of course we don't want children to feel excluded from society, to suffer from their parents' financial anxieties, or to live in communities of workless, frustrated adults. Yet it is simple-minded of the government to conclude that forcing parents into work is the most effective way to end child poverty.
Simple-minded is putting it delicately, whether we are referring to the government or to commentators such as Platell. As the ideological defenders of the capitalist system, they are invested in convincing the rest of us that it works. Poverty is the fault of the poor, and those who would take welfare to keep themselves and their families alive rather than dying in a ditch as the wretched should are filthy scroungers to be mocked and scorned. Notions of class are only acceptable with racial, gender, or even religious prefixes as a way of dividing workers against themselves.

Platell serves this system well. Though I imagine that, placed in the position she so derides, she would do much more than "whinge." Of her, then, I offer the same judgement I did of Bill Wiggin.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Howard Zinn (1922 - 2010): A Tribute

It is something of a macabre coincidence that I am currently in the middle of reading A People's History of the United States because its author, Howard Zinn, died on Wednesday. According to Reuters, "family members said Zinn, who for decades was a fixture in the U.S. civil rights and anti-war movements and lived in Auburndale, Massachusetts, died of a heart attack on Wednesday while traveling in California."

I am no eulogist. The words I write here cannot hope to do justice to the life of a man who spent his entire life fighting against injustice and for change, and who wrote history with a class consciousness unheard of in academia. However, as an introduction to the remarkable existence Zinn lived, and thus the impact of his death, there are few as good as this tribute by Democracy Now!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The trial of Geert Wilders and freedom of speech

Eight days ago, right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders went on trial, charged with incitement and discrimination against Muslims. According to the Times, "Wilders, who has made no secret of his ambition to become Prime Minister, has called his indictment a political trial but the Amsterdam Court of Appeal decided that it was in the public interest to prosecute him because his comments have been “so insulting to Muslims”."

Wilders is something of a hero to those who believe that Islam represents the greatest threat to freedom and civilisation, not least because of the martyr status attributed to him. This trial comes after the debacle last year in which Home Secretary Jacqui Smith attempted to ban him from entering Britain only, in an irony no doubt lost on anti-immigrant groups who support him, to have the decision overturned by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal.

Douglas Murray of the Telegraph sums up the sentiments of the Dutch MP's supporters;
There is nothing hyperbolic in stating that a trial which has just started in Holland will have unparalleled significance for the future of Europe. It is not just about whether our culture will survive, but whether we are even allowed to state the fact that it is being threatened.


The Dutch courts charge that Wilders ‘on multiple occasions, at least once, (each time) in public, orally, in writing or through images, intentionally offended a group of people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion’.

I’m sorry? Whoa there, just a minute. The man’s on trial because he ‘offended a group of people’? I get offended by all sorts of people. I get offended by very fat people. I get offended by very thick people. I get offended by very sensitive people. I get offended by the crazy car-crash of vowels in Dutch verbs. But I don’t try to press charges.

Yet, crazily, this is exactly what is going on now in a Dutch courtroom. If found guilty of this Alice-in-Wonderland accusation of ‘offending a group of people’, Wilders faces up to two years in prison.

If anyone doubts the surreal nature of the proceedings now going on they should simply look through the summons which is available in an English translation here. It shows that Wilders is on trial for his film Fitna. And for various things he has said in articles and interviews in the Dutch press.
The trial, then, is one against freedom of speech. "The most popular elected politician in Holland is on trial for saying things which the Dutch people are clearly, in large part, in agreement with.  Things which, even if you don’t agree with them, must be able to be said."

It is no secret that I disagree entirely with the notion that the West either is or should be at war with Islam. Islam will not dominate the world, and those so preoccupied with it are usually motivated by either some form of bigotry or by the fact that they are - not to put too fine a point on it - batshit crazy. There are serious issues to be raised with Islamic countries, from the subjugation of women, the oppression of homosexuals, and suppression of basic freedoms to the very fact that Thoecracies still exist in the 21st century. And preachers of hateful and extremist doctrines, such as Anjem Choudary, need to be condemned as vociferously as are Christian hate preachers from the US and the fascists of the far-right.

But none of this amounts to a culture war. It certainly does not amount to a negation of workers' struggles, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism. And it is no excuse for being taken in by the crusading rhetoric of the US and Britain as they wage wars for control of strategic markets and resources. Wilders is no hero, boldly warning Europe as its culture is threatened from within. He is a reactionary with an axe to grind, dragging us away from the real struggles we face into the murky waters of single-issue identity politics.

However, just as his views are a distraction from reality, so is the legislative opposition to his views. Yes, he should be opposed, but that can be done with relative ease using only reason. As with the proscription of Islam4UK or the legal measures against the British National Party's "whites-only" constitution in Britain, his prosecution benefits only the state by granting it more power to suppress freedom of thought, speech, and association.

Even the most hateful and inflammatory of opinions, short of direct incitement to violence, must be recognised as within the mandate of free expression. Though, of course, agitating for a free and equal society requires that such views are opposed, and attempts to enforce them met with physical resistance, there must be no recourse to censorship.

If they are not universal, extended to even the most loathsome elements of society, basic freedoms such as freedom of speech mean nothing at all.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Why surrendering to reaction benefits nobody

The Attourney General, Lady Scotland, is to review the sentencing handed down to the Edlington "torture brothers." The two, aged 10 and 11 at the time of the offence, were given an indeterminate sentence of at least five years for "prolonged sadistic violence" against two other children. The sentence provoked outrage as "too soft," with the parents demanding that the boys' anonymity be removed, and campaigners saying that "the minimum tariffs were too short."

According to BBC News, "pressure group Phoenix Survivors, which campaigns for justice for victims of childhood sexual abuse, said it had already appealed over the minimum tariff "on the grounds that it is unduly lenient"." Tabloid propaganda against the idea of rehabilitation has already begun, with the Daily Express telling us that "the feral young savages who almost ­tortured two boys to death could cost ­taxpayers £5million in round-the-clock efforts to rehabilitate them," whilst the Daily Mail's urges "name the Devil Boys: We must not let them hide," and the Sun repeats the victims' father's claim that "they will kill if released."James Bulger's mother Denise has told Sky News that "if they are not named, it means they have got away with it and that is completely wrong."

Such a kneejerk reaction is entirely understandable. This was a truly appalling crime, more so because it was committed not only against children, but also by children. However, understandable though it may be, such a reaction ultimately helps nobody.

In the first instance, surrendering to hysteria only impairs our ability to understand why it occurred in the first place, which is vital to making sure that it never happens again. Easy though it may be to label these boys as "evil" or "monsters," it is hyperbole, not an explanation. People are not born with a fully-eveloped and unalterable personality at birth, and only the derranged would label newborns as "good" or "evil." People are the product of their upbringing and surroundings, and if we are to look at this issue seriously, we need to look at exactly what that meant for the "torture brothers."

The Belfast Telegraph offers us a telling snapshot;
They grew up in a toxic household, witnesses to violence and abuse which no children should ever have to see. Their father was an alcoholic, their mother a habitual user of drugs grown by their father in his allotment.

They were beaten regularly, allowed to watch violent horror and pornographic films and given drugs at night to keep them quiet. Their lives knew no boundaries; they lived in an atmosphere that even the most imaginative Hollywood horror movie-maker could scarcely imagine.
Such upbringings have had equally dramatic effects before. In December 2004 Stephen West, son of serial killers Fred and Rose West, was jailed for nine months for grooming and having under-age sex with a fourteen year old girl. As the Daily Mirror recounted almost a year later, he "was beaten as a child and unwittingly made to dig his sister Heather's grave in the back garden." He "had one of the most traumatic and distressing childhoods one can imagine" and two years before his conviction, "he tried to hang himself but survived when the rope snapped."

As Johann Hari notes, "his childhood doesn't make his behaviour acceptable - he is a human being with free will - but it adds a hint of moral complexity to our firebomb-tossing, naming-and-shaming rage."

Of course, such arguments will not sway the hysterics. Indeed, any reading this will already have switched off and condemned me as "making excuses" for society's demons. In Hari's words, "few of us want to see shades of grey, especially when it comes to something as visceral as defending our children." But if we don't examine those shades of grey, and the moral complexities within, then the safety of children will take a backseat to rage and a primal demand for blood retribution.

The release of James Bulger's killers, John Venables and Robert Thompson, with new identities provoked much outrage in Britain. However, as the Guardian points out, "if there is a precedent for the reform and rehabilitation of child criminals publicly assumed to be intrinsically evil and beyond help, then it comes in the form of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson." Despite popular perception that the two have "gotten away with it," they left prison "equipped with A-levels and an ability to speak fluently about emotions and remorse."
Peter Minchin, head of placements at the Youth Justice Board, is utterly correct when he says that in a decent society "you can't wash your hands of people who are still so young," and "you can't throw away the key." If those who commit such acts can be made to feel remorse for them and be rehabilitated, then it should be done. That, after all, is a key element of restorative justice.

But, as the reactionaries will no doubt cry, what about the children? The victims can't get this second chance, so why should the perpetrators?

Leaving aside the broader fact that vengeance is not justice, there are practical reasons why they should. In rehabilitation, we learn what it is that drives people to commit the most horrendous of attrocities. These children will, as the Express so furiously recounted, "spend their days having one-to-one tuition from teachers trained to deal with pupils who have fallen behind in their learning, effectively getting a top-class ­private education tailored to their needs." The key element in this is psychiatric, and as such they will "benefit from the “blueprint” that proved so successful with the Bulger killers."

But so will other children. In learning more about such cases as these brothers, we learn about the factors that create them and the motives that drive them. These facts are vital if we want to be able to recognise children like this before they offend, and to offer them treatment and rehabilitation without having to wait for others to get hurt or killed in the interim. Unfortunately, a focus on preventive measures, on recognising tand dealing with this threat before it causes harm, is something that rarely gets discussed in mainstream discourse. Like so many other things, it is lost in the frenzied demands for punishment and vengeance.

This is why, if we want children to be safer, and such outrages to occur less,we must actively challenge reaction and hysteria. As well as utterly dehumanising those who surrender to it, it amounts to a deliberate negligence of child welfare.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The frail recovery of the rich ... and increased misery for the poor

BBC News gives us reason to pause, wipe the sweat from our brow, and breathe a sigh of relief that it's all finally over;
The UK economy has come out of recession, after figures showed it had grown by a weaker-than-expected 0.1% in the last three months of 2009.

The economy had previously contracted for six consecutive quarters - the longest period since quarterly figures were first recorded in 1955.

There have been recent recovery signs - last week UK unemployment fell for the first time in 18 months.

The UK's had been the last major economy still in recession.

Europe's two biggest economies - Germany and France - came out of recession last summer. Japan and the US also emerged from recession last year.
Except that it's not, really.

Whilst economists may be able to display cautious optimism in the name of big business, the fact remains that over 1.3 million people were made redundant during the past year, which is "is double the fall in employment and equivalent to 4.4% of people in work before the downturn."

As in America, Europe, and elsewhere, we can expect the class war against workers to continue unabated. That "there were 6.2 million fresh claims for jobseeker's allowance between April 2008 and November 2009," which is "seven-and-a-half times the rise in the unemployment claimant count during the recession," gives us some indication of the true impact of the downturn on real people. And the irony is that signs of "recovery" in GDP are only going to make that worse.

John Wright, of the Federation of Small Businesses, told the BBC;
In order to strengthen the recovery it is important that we boost consumer confidence and demand and that interest rates are held steady as continued investment in the economy will be the key to ensuring a sustainable recovery.
But what does this mean in terms of working people? With pay and conditions under a steady and sustained attack from both bosses and ministers, and a steady increase in costs as the recovery continues onwards, misery in the real world only looks set to worsen. As Richard Evans points out in the Telegraph, "recovery can bring its own problems; for a start, rising demand tends to stoke inflation, which could prompt the Bank of England to raise interest rates – good news for savers, but not something that hard-pressed home owners would welcome."

And Mark Dampier of Hargreaves Lansdown is even more pessimistic;
We have been living through a phoney war, mainly because of the electoral cycle. No political party has the heart or the courage to tell it as it really is. So we won’t get a real Budget until after the election and this will probably be worse than the infamous 1981 Geoffrey Howe Budget. So the real war will begin probably some time in July.

What can we expect? I strongly suspect that the big tax takers – basic-rate tax and VAT – will rise, VAT to 20pc and basic-rate tax by 2p to 5p in the pound.

The high level of government and consumer debt makes me feel quite pessimistic. It took over 300 years for us to have £380bn worth of public debt. It has taken this government 12 years to bring it to £850bn. Reducing it will mean a huge shock to our finances.
The worst is yet to come and as usual the burden will fall - heavilly - on the poorest. As Dampier points out so blithely, "the recession is not over for most of us."

Monday, 25 January 2010

Stranger than fiction

Last night, as those who follow my Twitter account will have noticed, I watched the first episode of Season 8 of 24. It's an amazing show, not only for its revolutionary and continued use of real time as a storytelling device, but also because of the action set-pieces and the outstanding performances of the cast.

However, it's let down by the fact that it's propaganda, as both A Very British Dude and Johann Hari, amongst others, have pointed out before me. It is pretty much a recipe for the glorification of torture and spreading the message that "opposed to the United States" is part and parcel of the definition of terrorism. One upside to this, however, is that in portraying the dark underbelly of the intelligence world, even in propagandised form, it offers hints at what's happening in the real world.

What caught my attention in particular last night was the show's use of "drones" as part of CTU's surveillance upgrade for the latest series. A "drone" is, essentially, a mobile surveillance camera. The creators of 24 gave it some optional extras, such as anti-ballistic missile technology, but the central purpose is obvious: spying. We've seen them before, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And now, it seems, they are headed for Great Britain;
Police in the UK are planning to use unmanned spy drones, controversially deployed in Afghanistan, for the ­"routine" monitoring of antisocial motorists, ­protesters, agricultural thieves and fly-tippers, in a significant expansion of covert state surveillance.

The arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which produces a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for war zones, is adapting the military-style planes for a consortium of government agencies led by Kent police.

Documents from the South Coast Partnership, a Home Office-backed project in which Kent police and others are developing a national drone plan with BAE, have been obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.

They reveal the partnership intends to begin using the drones in time for the 2012 Olympics. They also indicate that police claims that the technology will be used for maritime surveillance fall well short of their intended use – which could span a range of police activity – and that officers have talked about selling the surveillance data to private companies. A prototype drone equipped with high-powered cameras and sensors is set to take to the skies for test flights later this year.
And there, if ever it was needed, is the addendum to my argument about the increasing repression of the British state. We're now to receive the same treatment as the "insurgents" in the Middle East, with the added pleasure that we're paying for the increasing restraint on our ability to dissent. Oh, and that the intelligence gained on us (at our expense) will be sold to the highest bidder for marketing purposes.

Just when you think somebody's bound to pull the curtain back and reveal the whole thing to be a practical joke, it gets worse. Johann Hari is kind enough to explain why the age of the killer robot isn't a sci-fi fantasy anymore;
When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, they had no robots as part of their force. By the end of 2005, they had 2400. Today, they have 12,000, carrying out 33,000 missions a year. A report by the US Joint Forces Command says autonomous robots will be the norm on the battlefield within twenty years.

The NATO forces now depend on a range of killer-robots, largely designed by the British Ministry of Defence labs privatized by Tony Blair in 2001. Every time you hear about a “drone attack” against Afghanistan or Pakistan, that’s an unmanned robot dropping bombs on human beings. Push a button and it flies away, kills, and comes home. Its robot-cousin on the battlefields below is called SWORDS: a human-sized robot that can see 360 degrees around it and fire its machine-guns at any target it “chooses.” Fox News proudly calls it “the G.I. of the twenty-first century.” And billions are being spent on the next generation of warbots, who will leave these models looking like a ZX Spectrum or the bulky box on which you used to play Pong.

At the moment, most are controlled by a soldier – often 7500 miles away – with a control panel. But insurgents are always inventing new ways to block the signal from the control centre, which causes the robot to shut down and ‘die.’ So the military is building ‘autonomy’ into the robots: if they lose contact, they start to make their own decisions, in line with a pre-determined code.

This is “one of the most fundamental changes in the history of human warfare,” according to P.W. Singer, a former analyst for the Pentagon and the CIA. In his must-read book ‘Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution and Defence in the Twenty-First century’, he warns: “Humanity has started to engineer technologies that are fundamentally different from all before. Our creations are now acting in and upon the world around us.”

Humans have been developing weapons that enabled us to kill at ever-greater distances and in ever-greater numbers for millennia, from the longbow to the cannon to the machine-gun to the nuclear bomb. But these robots mark a different stage. The earlier technologies made it possible for humans to decide to kill in more “sophisticated” ways – but once you programme and unleash an autonomous robot, the war isn’t fought by you any more: it’s fought by the machine.
This does not bode well, especially with another front in the War on Terror opening. We have now reached a point where our governments can use exactly the same technology with which they are waging illegal wars for the control of markets and resources as tools to suppress their own people.

Against this, the only weapon in our arsenal is defiance. Over a thousand people took over Trafalgar Square with exactly such a sentiment on Saturday. This protest centred around the fact that increasing numbers of photographers are being "questioned and then subjected to a search, usually under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (S44.)," "despite a Home Office Circular in September that made it clear they should not be used to target photographers." In staging such a protest, these people became precisely the type of "domestic extremists" that new drones will be used against as a matter of "routine," aptly demonstrating that all those opposed to a police or surveillance state are fighting the same battle.
Further actions, such as Flashpoint 2010: Mass Photography Shoot Out, are vital not only in challenging the legislation already in place but also in the broader struggle against state authoritarianism. Long may the resistance continue.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

How Haiti became a microcosm of globalisation

As SchNews notes in its excellent analysis, Haiti - The Aftershock Doctrine, "Haiti is a unique place. The only nation to be founded by a slave rebellion, its angry population of African slaves managed to defeat the French back in 1791. Renamed as Haiti - the original Arawak name for the island - it was the Cuba of its day- an inspiration to enslaved peoples the world over and a thorn in the side of the imperial regimes."

Now, in the aftermath of this recent disaster, it faces imperial domination once again;
Unable to reconquer Haiti militarily, the people of Haiti have been subjected to blockades and one sided trade agreements ever since. The prize for most outrageous treaty probably goes to the 19th century French government, which demanded that Haitians pay France reparations for lost earnings following the loss of ‘their’ slaves.

As French neo-colonialism was replaced by the American variety, years of massive loans on impossible interest rates has meant that any money from Haiti’s cash crops have gone directly to international banks, after corrupt leaders took their cut.

The infamous hereditary dictatorship of ‘Papa’ Doc and ‘Baby’ Doc Duvalier ruled the country with a unique form of voodoo oppression between 1957 and 1986. The three decades of Duvalier rule saw Haiti change from being able to feed its population to becoming a cash crop economy reliant on US food imports.

One of the many unpleasant sights from the Haitian disaster was former US presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton standing together, earnestly encouraging people to help Haiti. Haiti’s former president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was deposed by Bush Senior in ’91, reinstated on Clinton’s orders by US troops (on condition that he sign up to harsh neo-liberal measures), only to be deposed by the Marines in 2004.

All of this provides some sort of context for the relief effort that’s underway. Lack of money and the complete absence of almost any social function of the state meant that when the magnitude 7 quake hit so close to Port au Prince, whole neighbourhoods of the slum city disintegrated. The airport, seaport, roads and communication links were all so badly built and their destruction so total that the normal routes for aid and rescue teams were barred.

Whilst everyone else from Medicine San Frontiers to the Icelandic government were busy sending food, medics and drinking water, the Americans dithered, sending the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson three days later, without emergency relief supplies but with plenty of sidewinder missiles and combat helicopters. Even as the rest of the world pitched in, the Americans claimed they couldn’t deliver aid without making sure Haiti was safe first. In that peculiar form of helping that we’ve learned to know so well, the Americans sent in the marines (again). Some 10,000 troops have been, or are about to be deployed - a readymade army of occupation.

As of Tuesday, the US military is officially in direct control of Haiti. But then, in reality, Haiti has been effectively under occupation on and off for years now. The troops providing aid should be seen in this light - As the Geneva Convention states: “The duties of the occupying power include ... providing the population with food and medical supplies; agreeing to relief schemes... maintaining medical facilities and services; [and] ensuring public health and hygiene.”

In an effort to prove that the military presence is somehow necessary, the US media has been hard at work painting a picture (just like New Orleans post Katrina) of criminal gangs, mass lootings and ‘human rats’ (to quote Time Magazine) that need pacifying in order to be given assistance. Yet the word from agencies on the ground is that, apart from the desperate search for food and basic supplies, the population has been relatively quiet.

The militarisation of the Haiti aid effort has caused huge problems for international NGOs. Medicine Sans Frontiers has publicly criticised the USA for slowing down and mismanaging the aid effort. Since Sunday MSF medics and 5 planes carrying 85 tonnes of drugs and surgical supplies have been turned away from the airport due to the prioritisation of military air traffic.

Francoise Saulnier, head of MSF’s legal department said, “We lost three days, and these three days have created a massive problem with infection, with gangrene, with amputations that are needed now, while we could have really spared this to those people."

Just as it did in Iraq, the US military has been trying to control the flow of information out of Haiti. Yesterday ( 21ST) the military ordered the removal of all international journalists from the Haitian capital’s airport, without bothering to supply any explanation.

Assuming that aid workers can prevent starvation and disease from taking many more lives, the aid effort will slowly turn into a reconstruction effort. As much as Haitians no doubt appreciate any help right now, the form of aid will have a major bearing on Haiti’s direction over next few decades. The IMF is talking about a Marshall Plan for Haiti. Originally the plan was for a loan of $100 (£60) million that included demands for wages cuts and raised prices.

Public pressure from debt relief activists such as Jubilee USA, complete with the facebook campaign “No shock doctrine for Haiti” managed to curtail some of the most obviously exploitative aspects of the IMF’s proposal. Anti-capitalista Naomi Klein called this victory "unprecedented in my experience and shows that public pressure in moments of disaster can seriously subvert shock doctrine tactics."
In the midst of this crisis, CNN breaks the following news;
The U.S. military is gearing up for a possible influx of Haitians fleeing their earthquake-stricken country at an Army facility not widely known for its humanitarian missions: Guantanamo Bay.

Soldiers at the base have set up tents, beds and toilets, awaiting possible orders from the secretary of defense to proceed, according to Maj. Diana Haynie, a spokeswoman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay.

"There's no indication of any mass migration from Haiti," Haynie stressed. "We have not been told to conduct migrant operations."

But the base is getting ready "as a prudent measure," Haynie said, since "it takes some time to set things up."
Not only are American interests being protected on land with tens of thousands of US troops, but the US government in the guise of the Department of Homeland Security have initiated Operation Vigilant Sentry to keep away any Haitians who might think of fleeing their devastated country. If we were in any doubt about this, the US have been using radio broadcasts to tell Haitians quite explicitly;
Listen, don't rush on boats to leave the country. If you do that, we'll all have even worse problems. Because, I'll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that's not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.
Those perpetrating Shock Doctrine imperialism will readily repatriate those fleeing it, though an easing of restrictions means Americans can adopt their babies. As such, it appears that the Haiti crisis has come to embody the injustices of neoliberal globalisation in microcosm.

If you wish to show solidarity with the Haitian people suffering this fact, you can join the Facebook group, "No Shock Doctrine for Haiti," here. If you wish to help the people with a donation, both Medicine Sans Frontiers and Medicine Du Monden have reliable credentials of avoiding corruption by state interests.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Increased alert levels amount to beating the drum for war

On Christmas Day, a zealot travelling from Yemen to the United States singed his pubic hair in the name of Islam.

This event raised some questions, since the "jet bomber" (a rather auspicious title for someone who never actually succeeded in bombing a jet) was on a US watch-list and there were some apparent intelligence failures. Security officials took this as an excuse to introduce new security measures which cause a headache for travellers and possibly violate child protection laws, but do nothing at all to combat terrorism. As I reported earlier in the month, the governments of the United States and Britain used the event as a pretext to ramp up already ongoing aggression in Yemen.

As such, this news comes as little surprise;
The UK terror threat level is being raised from "substantial" to "severe", Home Secretary Alan Johnson has said.

The new alert level means a terrorist attack is considered "highly likely". It had stood at substantial since July.

Mr Johnson refused to say it was linked to the failed Detroit airliner bombing, and said the government would not reveal specific intelligence details.

The home secretary stressed there was no intelligence to suggest a terrorist attack was imminent.
There's a general election coming, of course, and a new war needs justifying. And so the threat level can go up despite there being "no intelligence to suggest a terrorist attack was imminent." We're meant to believe, however, that this is simply to tell us that we must be "more aware." As Lord Carlile put it, "if you don't tell the public to be vigilant, they're not going to be vigilant." I'll leave aside the temptation to apply the same logic to the government and wonder who's telling them to be condescending, scaremongering pricks.

In the more immediate term, London plays host to "two major international conferences, on Yemen and Afghanistan, in London on Wednesday and Thursday." Reuters India tells us that whilst the Afghan conference "is intended to chart a path for the country to take greater responsibility for its own security," the Yemen conference addresses the "fear [that] the southern Arabian country could become a failed state allowing al Qaeda to use it as a launchpad for more international attacks."

The Yemeni government will no doubt seek to use international concern to crush "a Shi'ite revolt in the north and separatist sentiment in the south." However, as "the Obama administration is considering proposals to sharply expand Pentagon powers" in the area, the key aim of the conference is to build up this latest front in the War on Terror. The People's Daily tells us that "British ambassador to Yemen Tim Torlot said Wednesday that there are no financial aids proposed for the Yemeni government in the coming international conference on Yemen." As such, we can assume that the discussion on how to "coordinate aid to the Arab world's poorest country" will have quite different goals in mind.

The valuable deep water port of Aden, and thus access to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, and other vital shipping lanes, is at stake in this intervention. History tells us of the devestating effect that US-UK hegemony over the region will have on the people there. History also tells us what happens when a devestated and desperate people strike back.

No wonder the terror threat has risen.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The last word on Tory MP Bill Wiggin

On Tuesday Kraft Foods secured a deal to buy fellow confectioner Cadbury for £11.9 million. The deal, which has been in the making since a £10.9bn offer was rejected last September, has angered shareholders. More vitally, the takeover raises significant fears over jobs. This concern is particularly acute after Peter Mandleson's admission that the government could do nothing to protect jobs. Cadbury workers now face an uphill struggle, with their very livelihoods hanging in the balance.

Hence why these comments by Tory MP Bill Wiggin are utterly beyond the pale;
I worry that by sending out such negative signals it puts people's jobs more at risk. No-one wants to hire a whinging workforce when you could have a positive upbeat one.
I was going to write a longer piece on the Tories and their utter contempt for the working class, as well as why class struggle and the will to stand up for yourself are vital. However, as I argue such points enough on this blog, I'm going to allow myself to be lazy and simply voice the first thoughts I had when I read this story;

What an utter cunt.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

No War but Class War - January 2010

In September last year, a group of six Serbian anarcho-syndicalists was arrested for a molotov cocktail attack on the Greek embassy last year. Although the organisation Black Elijah (Crni Ilija) has taken full responsibility, and the six are members of indikalna konfederacija Anarho-sindikalistička inicijativa (Union Confederation Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative), they remain in jail. As the Anarchist Federation states, "what is really taking place is an attack on anarchist organisation in Serbia, just as is taking place in other states simultaneously." On January 3rd, anarchists held a demonstration in Belgrade to that very effect.

Fish workers have now added to the struggles ongoing in Greece, with Egyptian workers blockading the small port in the village of Nea Michaniona. According to reports, they "accuse the owners of vessels of exploiting the method of payment to present less earnings and shrink the workers’ money." The owners responded by launching a lawsuit against the strike, which was judged “illegal and abusive” by the courts. Despite this, "the fishworkers will go on  with their struggle and their Union has decided repeated one-day stikes for the days to come."

Recent updates tell us that "the Egyptians are determined to continue," and like all other workers they deserve our solidarity. But it is important to note that they also represent a growing demographic of migrant workers who are willing to stand up for themselves. Several days ago, I reported on the migrants in Italy who were rioting against their use as slaves by the mafia, with tacit state support. A one day migrants' strike is being organised for March 1st, whilst Italy's Interior Minister has blamed the unrest on "mistaken tolerance," and vowed to crack down despite increasing international pressure. At the same time, No Borders Brighton reports on "an international call to action to hold protest vigils" in support of the 254 Tamil refugee passengers detained in Merak by the Indonesian navy, at the request of an Australian government unwilling to take responsibility for them. These actions are vital, but there needs to be a growing recognition of the fact that class crosses international boundaries and that migrants are part of the class struggle against global capitalism.

The working class of Iran have, since the violence against them during last years unprecedented May Day rallies, been engaged in tireless efforts to organise resistance to the Islamic Republic. Due to repression in the country, news on such efforts is hard to come by. However, from the "Support workers councils in Iran" facebook group, we do learn that "workers have continued their strikes for the unpaid wages and in the process they have founded a number of (underground) organizations." Such organisations include the Metal Workers council in the Isfahan Steel Company, whose public statement makes the following call;
Considering the total absence of conditions for open activity, the Council calls upon all workers to set up autonomous labor cells throughout Isfahan Steel. It is our strong belief that without forming these cells, the workers will not be able to advance their aims in any meaningful way. The prime goals of these cells would be to disseminate news and information, to unify the rank and file, and to elect individuals who can represent them and provide leadership for their efforts. These cells could take form on the basis of friendship networks, sports and recreation links, in-house loan associations, etc.
Although workers' resistance in Iran is still young, and will no doubt go underreported in Western media, it holds considerable promise. If the workers council can live up to its aims, and other workers councils along similar lines appear, then there is no telling of their potential. Nevertheless, it will be worth watching closely as events unfold.

Last October, Mexican President Felipe Calderón dissolved the state-run electric company Luz y Fuerza and sacked its workers. Since then, they have been occuipying factories in order to demand their jobs back. However, the Sindicato Mexicano de Electristas has effectively abandoned 24,000 of its members by "asking that the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the state-owned successor company to Luz y Fuerza, hire 20,000 workers who have not accepted their termination and severance pay." Angered that over half the 44,000 workers who had lost their jobs had fallen by the wayside in the union's considerations, workers have taken to wildcat action in defiance.

North of the border, Labor Notes describes how hospitality workers union UNITE HERE has "drafted a new constitution that announced democracy provisions protecting dissenters, reformers, and open debate inside the union."This, in itself, is an important development and one which workers in Britain, for example, would do well to force upon their own bureaucracy-ridded organisations. Within UNITE HERE, this has opened up a debate about "pink sheeting" and the role of the rank-and-file in decision-making which is long overdue elsewhere as well.

At the same time, bus drivers at Georgia Tech University are challenging union-busting activities by their employer. The university "chose Groome Transportation, a notorious bottom-feeder operation," over their former bus company First Transit after it "signed a nationwide neutrality agreement" under union pressure. Their campaign is being supported by United Students Against Sweatshops, and the support of students in general will be vital in their campaign. Especially given the weakness of the labour movement in the US, all moves to challenge such activities are welcome and long overdue.

Members of the Canadian Auto Workers union are engaged in a "bitter struggle" with US company Catalina Precision Products over severance pay and benefits. The struggle has been ongoing since march last year, when "management told employees not to report to work until further notice." In order to gain severence vacation pay, blockades of CPP facilities were neccesary, during which battles with the police and management ensued. It is important to note that "international solidarity was enough to spook the company," as this reflects the global nature of the class war. However, "this fight is far from over," and we must continue to support our fellow workers in their struggles.

In Britain, disputes between the Fire Service and bosses are threatening to erupt, with fire fighters on Merseyside already operating an overtime ban. This comes as the service is threatened by £200 million of cuts, which would dramatically affect the running of the service. Merseyside fire fighters were able to fend off £3.5 million in cuts in 2006, and with all public services threatened by looming cuts, the fire fighters may once again provide a model of resistance for the public sector.

Meanwhile, after the victory at Lewisham Bridge last year, more school occupations loom. Last week saw a brief sit-in at St Matthews School in Wishaw;
Five protesters refused to leave St Matthew’s Primary School in Wishaw. The four parents and a grandmother began the protest just after 3pm on Thursday when pupils left the building for the day and took resident in a parents’ room. They left at approximately 9am on Friday morning.
The necessity of such actions, alongside the recent university occupations in Greece, Austria, and California, show us that it is not just jobs that are affected by the class war waged by the rich. In seeking to maintain their power and privilege, they are willing to attack every basic provision available to the working class. Cuts in public services do not mean, as the free marketeers argue, cuts in the power of the state. They mean increases in the power of private capital and, most significantly, limitations on our ability to obtain medical care, on fire and rescue services, and (in this particular case) on the quality of education available to our children.

The need to fight back could not be more apparent.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Community self-defence from a revolutionary perspective

Today, businessman Munir Hussain was freed by the court of appeal, who gave him a two-year suspended sentence over 30 months in jail. Hussain was convicted in December of attacking an intruder in his home with a cricket bat. With a media frenzy surrounding the case and the broader issue of self-defence against criminals, the Guardian had this to report;
Lawyers say today's judgment that released the man who jailed for attacking a burglar had nothing to do with the law of self defence and everything to do with the unique facts of Munir Hussain's case.

Despite the recent media frenzy about the rights of homeowners to protect themselves from attack, the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, stated clearly that the Hussain case had "nothing to do with the right of the householder to defend themselves or their families or their homes.

"This is not, and should not be seen as, a case about the level of violence which a householder may lawfully and justifiably use on a burglar."

Instead, experts say, today's decision was about how harshly someone in Hussain's position should be treated for an act of violence described as totally out of character and one which the court of appeal said "can only be understood as a response to the dreadful and terrifying ordeal and the emotional anguish".

"Munir Hussain accepted that he had not used reasonable force and did not appeal against that," said Paul Mendelle QC, a leading defence barrister and chair of the Criminal Bar Association. "The court of appeal relied upon his impeccable character and the fact it was a provoked unplanned attack, and the very strong psychiatric evidence in this case."
However, there is a point to be made on self-defence at this juncture, especially as the Conservatives have taken the opportunity to announce their "commitment to create a 21st century citizen's arrest."

Although this has become a cause celebré of the right-wing media, the case should be made for the right of ordinary people to defend themselves, their homes, and their communities. As I have argued before, the police are essentially a political force used against the working class in the name of "justice." It only makes sense, in such a context, that we break the "monopoly of defence" and stand up for ourselves.

This has nothing to do with conservative rhetoric about "jailing victims and letting off criminals." I am not calling for an even harsher justice system when the one we have is an instrument for preserving established power. The argument must still be made for restorative justice administered at a community level, and the socio-economic upheaval neccesary to eradicate the source of 90% of crime.

Here, my point is specifically about working class self-defence. The radical left has often justified the use of physical resistance and direct action against threats to working class communities such as fascists, and defending your person, home, and family from intruders is a logical extension of this principle.

Groups such as Neighbourhood Watch are nothing more than gatherings of curtain twitchers, thinking they can make a community safer by putting stickers on lamp posts or acting as killjoys towards local kids. But there is no reason that people couldn't organise their neighbourhood along more radical lines, resisting thugs and repelling burglars without treating all kids as villains or getting embroiled in "keeping up with the Joneses" nonsense. Likewise, we need to advocate a defence of posession rather than or private property, recognising that defending your home and attacking private property are not oppositional acts but both a part of working class self-defence.

Making this a political issue can only lead to repressive nonsense, such as the Tories' proposed "grounding orders" on teenagers, and increased police powers. This is not a call for rampant vigilantism, or for fear-mongering about "youths" and minorities. Such reactionary sentiments should be resisted as forcefully as the idea that we must step back and trust in the police to keep us safe. The right to self-defence does not include the right to murder, and the use of excessive force - such as shooting the unarmed - should still be unequivocally condemned.

Community self-defence is also of vital importance against the same police force who are supposed to exist for our protection. Related to experiences with the American police and judicial system, Anti-Racist Action (ARA) outlines a revolutionary perspective on community self-defence;
First, we must understand that the problem is not simply 'police misconduct,' but the conduct of policing under policies set by civilian administrations and political authorities to enforce colonial and capitalist exploitation. "Good cops" and "bad cops" are simply roles played (often alternately by the same cops) to intimidate and control suspects. Community-oriented policing, far from being a solution, is in fact part of the same militarization, described by its advocates in police journals as "the domestic equivalent of psychological operations in the military, to control the thinking of the population and the enemy."

Second, while demanding effective prosecution of killer cops and financial penalties for abusive and brutal cops, we must recognize that the criminal and civil courts have always been part of the problem. They rely on police "testilying" in their day to day operations, and serve to let both the individual cops and the system behind them off the hook. Cities count multi-million dollar settlements for police killings and abuse as the cost of doing business. Only concerted and unrelenting mass action and resistance can wring occasional victories and concessions from the prosecutors and judges, as the Oakland uprising forced the D.A. to file charges against Mehserle.

Third, we must take direct action on two fronts simultaneously. We need to organize the community to defend and protect itself against parasitism, domestic abuse and other ills that the police falsely claim to deal with, and to organize the community to defend and protect itself against police violence and abuse of power. Projects such as the Watch-a-Pig program of the Black Riders Liberation Party, and the various CopWatch projects that help the community lose their fear of the police, point the way. But they must be combined with resistance to gentrification, with gang peace truce efforts that engage youth in constructive social uplift and community building, with opposition to gang injunctions that criminalize the simple association of youth of color. The prison abolition movement must connect up with the opponents of police abuse. On the basis of self-determination and respect for sovereignty, we must build intercommunal solidarity and resistance. People of European descent have a particular responsibility to take up that struggle, recognizing the leading role of colonized communities. But all oppressed people must come together whenever anyone is violated by the cops, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. The link must be made between the militarization of local police forces and of the border with the larger military focus of the Empire globally, and the use of coercive power to maintain domination and economic exploitation of land, labor and resources.

Finally, we must recognize that power concedes nothing without a struggle. The long and debilitating string of failures that have created a crippling sense of defeatism among many oppressed and colonized people inside the US dates from the defeats inflicted by COINTELPRO and the resulting on-going absence of any fighting capacity on the people's side of the ledger. All our actions in confronting police abuse and other social, economic and even environmental ills, must be oriented at rebuilding the fighting capacity of the people. The persistence of police abuse means it is systemic, and the whole society must be changed. We must strengthen our resistance and our resolve to see the struggle through to the final overthrow of a criminal, destructive system and its replacement with a cooperative, sustainable, decolonized social system. This will initiate a dynamic process that will begin to shift the balance of power between the forces of repression arrayed against us and the force of resistance, solidarity, unity and creativity that we marshal.
The most significant failure of the radical left, active on so many issues, has been its inability to offer "a deeper, more committed organizing effort centered on alliance building and sinking roots into communities of resistance." With the momentum of the class war continuing to build, making headway with such effort is now more vital than ever.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Workers suffer as parties compete to make the harshest cuts

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) reports that "up to 200 Land Registry workers are expected in Parliament tomorrow (20 Jan) to lobby MPs over plans to close five offices and outsource work which will result in an estimated 1,400 staff either losing their job or being privatised." This is just the latest incident in an ongoing struggle against job cuts across the public sector.

As we arm up to the general election, Labour and the Tories are engaged in an all-too-familiar tussle about who can be the toughest on public spending. Chancellor Alastair Darling has announced "the most swingeing public spending review in a generation" to show that he is "serious about attacking the £178bn deficit," whilst Shadow Chanellor George Osborne has "identified the first public spending cuts he would make within weeks if the Tories win the general election." In the mean time, real working people face the loss of their livelihoods right now.

In the Land Registry, "1,700 jobs have already been lost over the last two years and plans for more cuts and privatisation will see the loss of yet more skilled and experienced staff." They are not the only department feeling the pich of "knee jerk cuts that could end up costing the taxpayer more in the long term." HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), where "20,000 jobs have already gone since 2006," has announced plans to close 130 offices nationwide. This action "could see up to 1,700 experienced and skilled staff forced out of a job" as "part of HMRC’s plans to cut 25,000 jobs and close over 200 offices by 2011."

At the same time, the government is trying to force through changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, which would allow them to get rid of more staff at less cost. As PCS point out, "the changes will leave many PCS members tens of thousands of pounds worse off in the event of voluntary or compulsory redundancy," which is "particularly cynical at a time when we can clearly see that tens of thousands of jobs are at risk over the next few years."

Not only will thousands of ordinary people be affected by these public spending cuts, but public services will suffer from the effect of fewer staff doing more work. Returning to HMRC as an example, already the department has "failed to answer about 44 million phone calls last year," whilst implementation of a new computer system means that "the Department cannot now begin to clear the backlog of 17 million PAYE cases until its new systems are fully operational in April 2010." Clearly, this becomes an even more insurmountable task with less staff.

As PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka observes;
It is no coincidence that as HMRC staff have been cut, the amount of uncollected tax written off as doubtful has nearly doubled. There is over £130 billion which is uncollected, evaded and avoided which could go towards closing the public deficit.

Closing offices and slashing jobs makes no economic sense and will do nothing to help the recovery. Rather than cuts the government should be investing to recoup the lost billions in tax.
However Alastair Darling, like his Tory counterpart, insists that cuts are "tough, difficult and non-negotiable." The only difference is "timescale," in Darling's own words. Both are agreed that the working class must pay the price of the recession, and both business interests and the tabloid media are near-orgasmic in their approval. As a result Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has warned that "the patience of UK households is likely to be sorely tried over the next couple of years," because "they will see their standard of living fall over the next two years as salary freezes and rising inflation eat into incomes."

There are already hints of resistance. As I reported yesterday, Billy Bragg is refusing to pay his taxes and has launched a Facebook campaign against bank bonuses. PCS are planning to Rally for Public Services at the end of the month. But much more needs to be done. Opposition seems to be compartmentalised according to job or union membership. We need to move beyond this and build a broad-based uprising against the marriage of state power and private profit.

The first step is to demolish the myths and show people the true, human impact of these "swingeing" cuts.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Protesting bank bonuses and remembering poll tax

Today, musician and political activist Billy Bragg has announced that he will withhold his taxes from the treasury unless something is done to curb excessive bank bonuses.

As he explains in the Guardian;
some of us will have recently received a reminder to pay our tax online by the end of the month. I came across mine the day after seeing RBS executive director Stephen Hester smirk as he told a commons select committee that, rather than explain to the public that he was about to pay his staff an estimated £1.5bn in bonuses next month, he'd avoid the ensuing rancour by sloping off on holiday for a long while.

Never mind that RBS posted the worst corporate losses in British financial history last year. He's had his empty coffers replenished with taxpayers' money and now he's going to fill his boots. Watching Hester's "let them eat cake" moment on TV, I felt both outraged and at the same time powerless.

Outraged because we'd spent the week being softened up for painful public service cuts by both the government and opposition and powerless because I knew that neither party has the will to do anything about excessive bonus culture.

Googling RBS, I found that, as part of the loan they took from the government, the chancellor has the right to veto the bank's bonus payments. That loan made us all shareholders in RBS. By rights, that veto belongs to us. So I wrote to Alistair Darling telling him that I would be withholding my taxes on 31 January unless he used our veto to limit the RBS bonuses.
The full text of his letter to the Chancellor can be found here. And you can support Bragg's stance by joining the NoBonus4RBS Facebook group and "by simply writing a letter to the Chancellor informing him of your decision to withhold your tax payment until he acts on bonuses."

It is unlikely, of course, that Alastair Darling or Gordon Brown will react by using their veto in favour of the British public. The government, despite all pretences towards democracy, is one which serves the rich and powerful and is prepared to wage class war against the poor in order to maximise profit and power. However, as Bragg writes, "if nothing else, we may discover if people in this country care more about banker's bonuses than they do about who will be the Xmas No1."

With a general election looming and the promise that voting will not do anything to better our situation, it may also provide a starting point to connect with people who are angry about the current state of affairs but have no clue what to do about it. As Ian Bone points out, "March 31st this year marks the 20th anniversary of the glorious POLL TAX RIOT." Back then, combined with a mass non-payment campaign, the riots sounded a death-knell for the hated community charge and contributed to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. And this after the woman had deccimated the union movement along with the working class communities it represented.

The twentieth anniversary of the poll tax uprising should be duly remembered. The best way to do this is by combining Bragg's letters of protest with mass direct action.