Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Daily Mail and the art of making the facts fit the editorial byline

The following post comes from the excellent Five Chinese Crackers, who have turned debunking the vitriol of the Daily Mail into an art form. With immigration certain to be a hot button issue at the general election, the continuing brutalisation of migrants in detention centres, and the Tories already looking to "unofficially" co-opt the BNP's clothing, such a dose of reality is long overdue for the tabloid media.

Regular readers will already know what the Daily Mail does when statistics are released that do not fit with what the paper wants to tell its readers about immigration, but James Slack (the Home Affairs Editor, no less. Ooh - get him) gives us a lovely lesson for new readers and old alike. Aren't we lucky!

Statistics were released on Thursday that should by rights please the Mail. You can find them here and here. A clue as to what they might be is in the page title of the article on the website (top left in the picture below the fold), which is strangely not the healdine of the story anymore:

See, we can't have that sort of headline. Goes against the narrative!

The new headline is 'Two passports a minute are given to foreigners as 1.5m issued since Labour elected'. It focuses on one of the few things in the latest statistics that the Mail can scare us with, since almost everything the paper wants to see falling fell and most of the things it wanted to see rise rose.

It's also not true. There are 1,440 minutes in a day, 525,600 in a year and 6,307,200 in 12 years. If two passports a minute were given to foreigners (interesting they're still referred to as 'foreigners' and not new British citizens) between 1997 and 2009, we'd be lookiing at a total of 12,624,400. That's twelve and a half million, not one and a half.
Here's what the article says:

Passports were given to foreigners at the rate of two a minute last year.
Officials approved a record 203,865 citizenship applications, 58 per cent more than in 2008.
Another 190,000 immigrants were given the right to settle in the UK in 2009 – a rise of 30 per cent on the year before.
Ah. So we're not talking about the time since 1997 like the headline implies - we're talking just one year.

Still, how many minutes were there in a year? 60 X 24 X 365 = 525,600. For two a minute, we'd be looking at 1,051,200. Five times the number we have. Unless we add the number of people given grants to settle, who I don't think are elegible for passports. Even if they are though, we're still looking at more than double the number we have to equal 2 a minute.

We have a Slack maths classic. Not quite equal to making 55 people seem like over 10,000, or adding together figures he must have known would give a misleading total before adding almost a billion extra pounds to the total - but it's a pretty good one.

Still, the numbers have obviously risen since last year. Why is that? The Mail says:

Officials claim the massive rises during the past year may have been caused by migrants rushing to beat the supposedly tougher system of earned citizenship due to start next year.
Okay. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't. Whaddayagunnado? But the actual statistics document, the one the figures presumably come from, says:

The number of decisions made in 2009 has recovered from the comparatively low level in 2008 when staff resources were temporarily transferred from decision-making to deal with administration of an increase in new applications.
Left out the bit that explained how the number of decisions made last year was 'relatively low'. Managed to keep the bit about the big increase in applications though. Funny that.

Notice also how he manages to say 'supposedly tougher' before telling us that the waiting period rises from 5 years to 7 or 8 years, which is most certainly tougher.

There's a scare quote from Damian Green before we move on to more statistics, which are:

A raft of statistics released yesterday showed that huge numbers of students continue to pour into the UK – despite concerns about bogus colleges and visas.
In the final three months of 2009, 61,715 student visas were issued – an astonishing rise of 92 per cent on the same period in 2008.
Alarm bells start to ring when you see the time frame shifted and zeroing into specific types of visa. They ring even louder when you check the stats and see there's a new category for student visa that wasn't there the year before.

There could be reasons for this rise that are explained by the introduction of the points based system. Maybe it covers more people than the old Student Visa System. Maybe it was rubbish at doing what it was supposed to do - make it tougher for people to cheat the system when they're not really a student. Maybe the new system created a backlog of applications that were dealt with later in the year. There seems to be an anomaly here. In Q2 there was a drop in the number of student visas granted of 10,000 compared to last year. Looking at the year as a whole:

The number of student visas issued to main applicants was 273,610, an increase of 31 per cent compared with 2008 (208,800).
So we have a much smaller rise than for the last quarter, which is of course why that was focused on instead of the whole year. Put this straight after the guff about passports and it makes it look like immigration's rising, right?

We're approaching the bottom of the article, so here's where we get the more positive (from a Daily Mail point of view) numbers. here's what we get:

The figures revealed a shift in the source of the arrivals.
Notice the wording there. Slack's about to start talking about the drop in the number of Eastern Europeans, and he segues between what he's already said by mentioning a shift in the source of arrivals.

He does this directly after talking about things that have risen (and exaggerated some of those by pretending they were at a rate of 2 a minute), which makes it look as though the number of 'arrivals' overall has risen, just from places other than Eastern Europe. In fact the number of people arriving in the country for more than a year has slightly fallen.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the tabloid bait and switch.

Here's how he goes on to report the Eastern European figures:

The number of Poles registering to work fell by a quarter at the end of last year, but arrivals from Latvia and Lithuania more than doubled.
Heh. When the numbers drop they're just people registering to work, but when they rise they're arrivals. See what he did there?

At least he gives us the overall drop from Eastern Europe since 2007 rather than last year. Pat on the back for that one.

After this, we get:

In the year to June 2009, 146,000 British nationals emigrated and 87,000 came back to the UK.
Remember that coverage when those numbers were different? They hit the front page then. They're bunged at the bottom of an article about something else now.
Next, it's this:

This meant that net emigration was 59,000, down from 89,000 in the year to June 2008 – and a peak of well over 100,000 in 2004. In the same time period, net immigration by non-British nationals was 206,000, down from 257,000 in the year to June 2008.
We've been given a figure for the total number of British citizens immgrating back to the UK, but only a net figure for non-British. Do you think that might be because it would contradict the main thrust of the article and ruin the bait and switch, even buried this low?

Right, now we're really, really close to the bottom,it must be time to get on with the asylum seeker figures, so here we go:

Actually, no we don't. There's no mention of that either, aside from the page title, which is probably only still on the website by mistake.

There. Lesson over. When figures aren't all what you want them to be, cherrypick the ones that are, exaggerate them, use them in a bait and switch that covers over some of the figures you don't like that you actually bother mentioning.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

No War but Class War - February 2010

In the past two months, there has been an incredible international show of support for the Belgrade Six. All being members or associates of Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative (ASI), the Serbian section of the International Workers’ Association (IWA), they were arrested last September on trumped-up charges of international terrorism. However, as an open letter from Serbian intellectuals to their government stated, "in its essence, the trial against the six young people is a political one. This is why we demand the the withdrawal of this senseless indictment."

After protests and acts of solidarity across the globe, it appears that demand has been met. As the acting IWA secretary, the incumbent being one of the six, said, "the Serbian state is in full retreat as the case against the Belgrade 6 is falling apart. The six comrades are free and unlikely to be returning to jail as the charges against them are reduced hopefully to something very minor."

However, it is important that anarcho-syndicalists are not complacent, as this might not be the end of the road;
The fight is not over, the Belgrade 6 may still face serious charges when they return to court on the 23rd March. We must keep up the pressure on the Serbian state. But the fact that they have been released and the terrorist charges dropped is a massive victory, but the campaign must continue until all charges are dropped and the Serbian state is held accountable for actions.
In Germany, the Free Workers Union of Berlin (FAU-B) faces perhaps an even greater struggle. The FAU-B is, like ASI, part of the IWA. It had been organising workers in the Neue Babylon GmbH cinema and fighting for a labour contract since June of that year. However, Babylon cinema started legal proceedings against them. In Germany, no workers' organisation is legally allowed to take collective action or call themselves a union unless they can demonstrate an ability to negotiate contracts on behalf of workers, and under this rule the FAU-B have effectively been banned.

In this, the mainstream trade union ver.di (part of the umbrella organisation and effective union monopoly DGM) were complicit. This month, a judge upheld the ban. Anarcho-syndicalists have had little voice in the country since they were last outlawed in 1933, and this resurgence offered the threat of a good example in defiance of the country's strongly centralised union structure. However, the struggle is far from over, and the global day of protest at the end of January was just the start of the fightback.

Another anarcho-syndicalist struggle is building in Poland, where the Green Way restaurant chainhas been using unpaid labour. Although illegal, workers were required to do two free 13-hour shifts as a "trial period." This aside from the fact that working conditions were poor. The particular outrage in this situation, unfortunately not uncommon in Poland, arises from the attempts of Green Way to market itself as "fair trade" and supportive of a "healthy lifestyle." The issue has come to a head as the Związek Syndykalistów Polski (ZSP) calling for a boycott of the chain.

The war between the Greek state and the working class has become even more fierce in the wake of the austerity measures imposed from without by the EU. As well as increased fascist activity, with demonstrations in Athens and Larissa smashed by anti-fascists, there have been continuing waves of strikes. The culmination of this was the General Strike which has seen massive protest marches across the country and clashes with the police in Athens.

According to BBC News, this is "the second general strike in two weeks and coincides with growing anger at the EU's response to the crisis." Although the mainstream media is holding to the line that "the brief clashes were a distraction from the union's main message that Greece's rich should pay for the crisis, not the working and middle classes," the fact is that many in Greece want something much more radical. Their country is being torn apart from the inside out and the governmental "socialists" have no better a record than their predecessors on collaboration with fascists and repression of the working class.

It would appear that working class resistance is growing even in America, where a variety of important struggles have been taking place. Most prominent amongst them is the struggle against Starbucks by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). According to Fort Worth organiser Michelle Cahill, their key demands are "better and cheaper healthcare, increased wages, more hours, and better working conditions." The struggle has had an impact even on those outside the union, with district management in New York challenging the sexual harassment of a company vice-president.

Across the US, General Motors and Delphi workers have come out in open revolt against United Auto Workers (UAW) and its plans to concede hard-won rights and get members to open their contracts yet again. As Labor Notes reports, "breaking the agreement makes individual plants less secure," especially as "the union also promised a wage freeze for production workers and a $3-an-hour hour wage cut for skilled trades." However, "at an informational meeting in Lockport, New York, members told officers “they’d had enough promises and weren’t willing to take any more pay cuts.”"
Back in New York, workers saw a remarkable success when "the owner of a New York boutique chain accused of shorting workers by $1.5 million was taken away in handcuffs." After "months of organizing in the stores by the Retail Action Project," the owner "faces up to four years in jail and civil action to recover the wages stolen from 150 workers."
By contrast, workers in Mexico face bloodshed. As Labor Notes reports;
Class war in Northern Mexico, being fought in the Cananea copper mine, could soon turn much bloodier. After dissolving the militant Electrical Workers union in October, the Mexican government is now going after 13,000 striking miners, who are determined to hold their ground—and their mines.
The government is “going to try to take Cananea over by force, to eliminate the most powerful independent union in Mexico,” according to Jerry Fernandez, international relations director of the United Steelworkers union, which has worked closely with the miners throughout the strike.

If this happens, it may mean a bloodbath in Cananea, one of the largest copper mines in the world. Owner Grupo Mexico has declared that “the collective bargaining contract with the mining union from today on does not exist,” based on a court decision designed to break the strike.

The workers disagree. The courts did not allow the union to present evidence, accepting the company’s claim that the mine is inoperable—even though it has plans to reopen the mine as soon as the union is broken and the strikers are dislodged. In fact, Grupo Mexico’s chief financial officer predicted this week the mine would return to production by July.

Given this decision, the Steelworkers doubt the independence of the Mexican courts from the federal government’s offensive against independent organized labor.
This action amounts to nothing less that state suppression of working class organisation, and the Mexican miners deserve the full solidarity and support of their comrades around the globe. Labor Notes is asking supporters to please send appeals to Santiago Canton, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, urging him to ask the Mexican government not to use force against the Cananea miners, lest they become the mourned Cananea martyrs. Email Dr. Santiago Canton at

In Britain, the contradiction of opposition to privatisation and the willing compromise of union leaders remains painfully apparent. A number of upcoming and ongoing struggles illustrate the stark choices faced by workers.

An unofficial one-hour walkout, sparked by the treatment of two employees facing disciplinary investigations, has reignited the Royal Mail dispute. After being derailed by union leaders who promised (with nothing to show for that promise) no strike action before Christmas, the tightening of the screw in various workplaces threatens to ignite the various issues faced by Royal Mail workers in a way beyond the control of the union bureaucracy.

British Airways workers, denied their right to strike by the courts before Christmas, now find the Unite union leadership putting action mandated by their latest ballot "on hold." As WSWS reports, "Unite refused to set any date for action and instead promised that a strike would not take place over Easter" whilst "claim[ing] that it is possible to arrive at an equitable solution with BA management through negotiations." However, "the airline is pressing ahead with its plans to shed a further 4,900 jobs in addition to the 1,000 already lost, as part of its £80 million cost-cutting drive."

Management's draconian response to the second strike ballot demonstrates the futility of attempts to negotiate;
The vast majority of crew who voted in this ballot will have done so before the High Court decision [on changes to working practices]. We hope Unite will bear this fact in mind as it considers its next steps.

We will not allow Unite to ruin this company. Should a strike take place, we will do everything we can to protect our customers’ travel plans as far as possible.
The clear message is that "as far as BA is concerned, there is to be no future payback in return for supposedly “shared” sacrifices." The only recourse left with any hope of success, despite the timidity of union leadership and threats from management, is direct action.

Unite, of course, is one of the five unions which supported the latest redrafted version of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS). Along with unions such as Prospect, which represent the unaffected senior civil servants such as Sir Gus O'Donnell who are actually forcing the changes, it voted for a scheme which would have left the lowest paid public sector workers with no protection and made them roughly £20,000 cheaper to get rid of.

Fortunately PCS, whose members outnumber the combined membership of the other unions five times over, has not agreed and its members have voted for strike action to force the government's hand on the issue. The first action in this campaign, barring a return by management to the negotiating table, will be a two day strike on the 8th and 9th of March.
This issue is particularly vital as we approach a general election, where the parties are competing with each other over who can make the harshest cuts. Make no mistake, however, that these cuts will affect low-level staff and front-line services first. Though all the rhetoric is about senior civil servants and "gold-plated" pay deals, it is ordinary workers who have lost out with the closure of 130 tax office closures, it is 800 ordinary workers who are being made redundant at the end of March, and it is ordinary people who will feel the effect as severely understaffed services become even less capable of functioning efficiently.

In this regard, PCS have a credible reputation as a fighting union willing to stand up for their members. More so than many other mainstream unions, they have responded to the troubles of ordinary workers and been willing to fight for greater concessions from management. However, stuck within the confines of extremely limiting trade union laws, they are far from perfect. Though less timid than the Unite leadership, PCS officials are still part of a union bureaucracy which makes compromise and sell-out part of their self-interest. As such, grassroots level members and organisers should follow very closely the actions of their leadership in this dispute.

As the fightback in this class war picks up pace, however, there need to be more actions organised outside of any formal trade union hierarchy. That is why solidarity with groups willing to undertake such a task, like the FAU-B, ASI, and ZSP is vital in raising the class consciousness required for such action.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Gordon Brown is not free, and neither are we

Today's Times asks "is Gordon Brown free?" The question comes in relation to the news that "the UK made a faster than expected climb out of recession in the final three months of 2009 with growth of 0.3%, official figures showed."

According to Ian King of the Times, "the upward revision in fourth-quarter GDP data is certainly encouraging, not least because it comes only 24 hours after news that business investment collapsed by almost a quarter on the same period last year." BBC News tells us that this was due to"stronger growth in services and production," although "there was still a chance that the economy could contract again in the current quarter."

Economics editor Stephanie Flanders thinks that "the big picture is that we are still looking at a weak and fragile recovery, after a recession that now looks to have been slightly deeper than we thought." In her estimation, "the expenditure figures show all the strength coming from household spending" whilst "investment and net trade took away from growth." She is understating things somewhat when she says this is "not an encouraging sign for the future."

In fact, it only makes the picture look bleaker. Just as we have borne the brunt of spending cuts and increased public debt, so ordinary people have also been the main source of economic strength in the so-called recovery. Industry and capital, after receiving a running total of £1.3 trillion in government aid, has slashed jobs and refused to invest. Even by the criteria of the capitalist economic model, this is an astounding failure. In the context of which, Gordon Brown's pledge to "stand up for the many" by "protect[ing] frontline services" from spending cuts and "protect future jobs and new industries" isn't even a bad joke.

Of course, anybody with a long enough memory will tell you that the Tories only represent something even worse. But don't be fooled into thinking that Labour are a viable alternative, or that "recovery" means anything as thousands of jobs and livelihoods remain under threat. Whatever politicians and the media may say, we are still in an appalling mess. And we can't vote ourselves out of it.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

At HMRC, the true cost of public sector cost-cutting emerges

Yesterday's Liverpool Echo carried the story that ninety staff in the Bootle Office of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will lose their jobs in March. HMRC apparently took the decision not to renew the contract of these members of staff on the basis that there was "not a business need" to do so. "There is no suggestion at all this will affect customer service," according to HMRC spokesman Dave Gostelow.

Local PCS union rep John Virtue, however, begged to differ. PCS has commented that it is "deeply saddened" and "angered" by the job losses, and according to him "this anger is made worse by the fact the work will still be there, long after our members have been made redundant." Recent evidence suggests that he is right.

In January, the Daily Mail reported this;
Hundreds of thousands of workers could pay £1,300 too much tax next year due to a major Revenue and Customs computer blunder.

A new system has sent out a stream of incorrect tax codes.

Many employees have received two or three different codes in the post - and in some cases all have been wrong. 
After I reported last August that there are "around 4.5 million individuals who have overpaid in total some £1.6 billion of tax" and that these cases, according to the Revenue's own publications, are essentially being written off, these additional "blunders" become even more outrageous. Given that the 90 people losing their jobs in Bootle - of a total 800 nationwide - are amongst those responsible for dealing with this colossal fuck-up, the idea that there is no "business need" for them to keep their jobs is utterly ludicrous.

As John Virtue told the Echo;
The only way to address the problem over tax codes is to put enough resources in place so we can correctly deal with taxpayers’ affairs. We have argued for several years now we simply do not have enough staff to do the job effectively.
This decision shows that the right-wing argument for public sector job cuts on the basis of "efficiency" and "value for money" is nothing short of dogmatic nonsense. Even this one decision, in the midst of much broader attacks on low-paid public sector workers, has created an enormous backlog of work and drastically reduced the possibility that the several billion pounds owed by HMRC to the public ever being repaid. One might also ask why the ordinary workers who administer public services are being cut back on whilst MPs and knighted senior civil servants who do little other than offer press releases and slash vital jobs remain untouched.

Indeed, the whole mess is "beyond logic" and "this decision shows utter contempt for the taxpayer" and for the working class.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Solidarity with Greece against capitalist austerity

All flights into and out of Greece have been cancelled as hundreds of thousands of Greeks take to the streets in protest against the austerity measures imposed by the EU to "save" the Greek economy. This follows months of unrest over the same measures, which amount to an attack on the working class there. Public sector pay has been frozen, the retirement age raised, and taxes increased.

According to the BBC;

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says that for the second time this month, Greece will be isolated from the rest of the world for 24 hours as all flights into and out of the country have been cancelled.

Commuters will be left without most forms of public transport, while public schools, ministries, and municipal offices will be closed. Many hospitals will operate only with emergency staffing.

Archaeological sites, including the Acropolis, will be closed to tourists, chipping away at the country's international image, our correspondent says.

Demonstrations are also being held in Athens and Thessaloniki. Our correspondent, who is at a demonstration attended by at least 20,000 people in the centre of the capital, says the mood is resolute.

The country's two largest trade union groups, the private sector GSEE and the public sector ADEDY, fiercely oppose the government's austerity measures and are predicting a substantial turnout among their two million members.

"The Greek people are well aware that the fiscal situation of the country is in terrible shape... but the measures are not fair," said the head of the GSEE, Yiannis Panagopoulos.

"We demand a fair distribution of the burden so that wage-earners and pensioners do not pay the price for a crisis they did not create." 

That last sentiment should be familiar to workers in Britain and across the world. Greece is not the only place where the working class has been made to shoulder the burden for the crisis of the capitalist class - it is simply the most explicit and devastating example. Greek workers who turn out on the streets deserve our full solidarity. The austerity measures which they now suffer only serve to show that the EU, whatever else it may be, is an organ of international capital and stands against the interests of the workers.

The Greeks need our support and solidarity as they fight this battle, but there needs to be more than this. As I have argued previously, there needs to be a recognition that the struggle ahead is not limited to any one industry or any one community. It crosses sectors and borders. If we are to fight back, we need to do so not within a union, or a business, or a nation, but as a class.

Whatever the nuances of a different century, the old slogan still rings true. We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Drawing a truly sorry saga to a close...

Update: the date of court appearance has been moved from March 15th to March 17th. Details here.

As those who have been paying close attention to the far-right in Liverpool will be well aware, antifascists in the city have been following the court proceedings of Peter Tierney with some interest. On St George's Day last year Tierney, a self-proclaimed "super-activist" for Merseyside BNP, assaulted an antifascist leafleter in Liverpool City Centre. After months of court appearances, the whole sorry saga finally comes to an end next month.

Criminal proceedings against Tierney begin on March 15th, with three days of court time set aside for the event. Liverpool Antifascists intend to picket the first day of the proceedings in its commitment "to spread the word about the violent thugs that Merseyside’s British National Party has in its midst." They urge everybody who is opposed to fascism and the politics of violence and intimidation to join them, in order to drown out the voice of the BNP - who intend to picket on the same day, in support - and demonstrate that Liverpool remains a distinctly antifascist city.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Tierney was violent and temperamental even before he joined the BNP. The stories, from road rage whilst driving his Land Rover, to altercations with patrons of the "Midian" goth night when held at the former Quiggins centre, are not hard to come by. They point to someone who fits in well not only with a party which attracts terrorists and thugs, but also with a branch of that party even more violent and confrontational than most.

Tierney's brother Andrew is also amongst the brutish core of the local party. Although his main role is as a supposedly "freelance" photographer, taking photos and videos that end up on Redwatch and other sites, he is not afraid to advocate violence. During a confrontation with antifascists in Halewood, he was heard to say "let's get some local lads in, nothing to do with us, of course." This after his brother called one man a "shithouse" for not rising to provocation.

The case against Peter Tierney appears to be overwhelming. Merseyside BNP claim that he acted in self-defence, and that a "UAF lowlife thug" was found guilty of a "major public order offence." The libellous leaflet they recently distributed in Fazakerley even claims that the antifascist in question (not a member of UAF) was "guilty of violence against BNP OAP's. However, as I reported at the time, his hearing at the Magistrates court resulted only in a fine for breaching Section 5 of the Public Order Act under duress - essentially, swearing in public in response to fascist intimidation tactics. The trial also exploded the lies put about by Tierney and the BNP, with both assault and criminal damage charges thrown out as untenable.

Also worthy of note is a quick hearing at the Magistrates Court were Tierney was able "to get the draconian bail restrictions put upon him lifted." According to his story, the bail conditions leave him thinking "how am I going to pay the bills," because "most of my business as a self employed person is conducted within the Liverpool city centre." This, of course, is a lie. As the Quiggins AttiQue website tells us, "Quiggins now trades from 325 Aigburth Rd. L17 0BL," which is "on the outskirts of town," and nowhere near the City Centre. Just to reiterate, this is one definite incident where Tierney lied in court in order to get his way.

At every step of this trial, Merseyside BNP have used obvious fabrications to distract from the fact of their quick recourse to violence and confrontation at every occasion. This is yet another reason, aside from the violence and the fact that they are fascists, that the BNP must be opposed.

I, as my comrades in Liverpool Antifascists, urge everyone who can to come to the picket. It begins at 9.15AM in Derby Square, on Monday March 15th. Together, we need to stand up to fascist violence and keep Merseyside fascist free!

Monday, 22 February 2010

The bankers and their bonuses are a symptom, not the disease

Today, BBC News reported that "the chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, Eric Daniels, has decided to waive his £2.3m bonus for 2009." The decision was taken "to prevent a row over bonuses" and "follows the decision by Stephen Hester, chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, to forego his 2009 bonus."

These acts come amid concerns that a row over bonuses would "distract attention from the "excellent progress" made by the bank over the last year." However, they do not seem to have been enough to calm the anger over bank bonuses and the disparate treatment of rich and poor through the financial crisis. Though they have made headlines, these waivers have not convinced even mainstream pundits.

Writing for the Guardian, Nils Pratley sums up the sentiment on offer;
We are supposed to cheer the generosity and common sense of Eric Daniels at Lloyds Banking Group in waiving his bonus this year. Forget it. The appropriate response is astonishment that the bank's remuneration committee could decide that Daniels deserved a "full pay-out" of £2.3m in the first place. What does the chief executive of Lloyds have to do not to earn top marks?
The Financial Times, meanwhile, offers several reasons why "this latest round of self-denial [won't] satisfy a baying public." In the first instance, there is the fact that "the executives volunteered their pay cuts, which deprives the hanging-and-flogging wing of the anti-banker campaign of the satisfaction of being able to tear the notes out of their grasping hands."

Less facetiously, we have the fact that "other directors, and bankers below board level – particularly investment bankers at RBS and Barclays – will continue to receive large bonuses, albeit deferred and subject to clawback." Not to mention that they offered the waiver not out of any altruistic sentiment but as a way "to “depoliticise” the bonus issue." The fact remains that "if you want to curb recklessness and excess, it is wiser to rely on carefully calibrated regulation and keen oversight by wary investors than on top bankers’ public acts of humility." But there is more to it than that.

The media has been very careful to build up a picture wherein the injustice of the financial crisis lay in bankers bonuses and, in the same vein, MPs expenses. In essence, the message was that we should look to greedy individuals playing the system if we want to find fault. This ignores the fact that the system itself is inherently unstable. Capitalism, built upon the inflation of capital which doesn't actually exist within a fragile and largely mythologised free market, cannot exist without crisis.

Indeed, capitalism is crisis.

There is no point pretending that, by curbing those greedy bankers, we will solve the problem and restore prosperity. We live within a system where profit is privatised and loss socialised, where the gap between rich and poor is ever widening, and where social mobility is a pale illusion. If we are to challenge that, then focusing all of our anger and energies on the bankers is not enough. We need to challenge the system and the institutions that created the bankers. We need to challenge capitalism.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Why Ron Paul is a reactionary, not a radical

Yesterday, US Representative Ron Paul "won a blowout victory Saturday in the annual Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll," CNN reports. The chief concern of participants was "reducing the size of federal government" and reflects the support of the supposedly "anti-establishment" Tea Party movement and growing "frustration" with the Republican Party on the American right. Although this poll is unlikely to bear on the 2012 Presidential Election, it does demonstrate a worrying trend in American politics.

The Tea Party is an astroturf movement that takes its name from the Boston Tea Party that kick-started the American War of Independence.Its position, like Paul's, is paleo-libertarian. That is, a combination of regressive and ultra-conservative social views with "free" market capitalism. WSWS illustrates precisely what this means in a dissection of Paul's politics;
Attracted at a young age to the free market and anti-socialist nostrums of Ayn Rand and Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises—the father of the modern libertarian movement—Paul entered political life in 1964 when he became involved with the presidential campaign of Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, a bitter opponent of federal welfare programs, labor unions and civil rights legislation.

In 1974 he ran for Congress as a Republican candidate and lost the election. But he won a special election in 1976, after President Gerald Ford appointed Paul’s former opponent to a federal position.

Paul was eventually able to hold his seat in a regular election, and during his terms in Congress he ingratiated himself with the most right-wing elements of the political establishment. He was one of only a handful of Republican congressmen to endorse Ronald Reagan for president against Ford in 1976, and he used his seat on the House Banking Committee to advocate complete banking deregulation and the abolishing of the Federal Reserve Board.

The favor was returned, as Paul was able to gain the backing of the ultra-rich, such as multi-billionaire Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, the largest privately held company in the United States, and Steve Forbes, who would later be instrumental in financing Paul’s reelection campaigns in the 1990s.

After a failed US Senate bid in the mid-1980s, Paul briefly returned to the practice of medicine. In his private practice, he refused to accept Medicare or Medicaid payments from patients, claiming they were paying with “stolen money.” He then launched a presidential campaign as the Libertarian Party candidate in 1988.

The political hallmark of Paul is a combination of populist and even left-sounding rhetoric and the most right-wing positions. This is especially apparent in his economic policies. Paul often denounces “corporate welfare” and the influence that large corporations have within government. He also voices opposition to an inflationary monetary policy on the grounds that the real wages of workers are being eroded.

His actual policy proposals, however, are based entirely on removing any restrictions on corporations and wealthy individuals to amass more wealth and exploit workers even more brutally. In this area, Paul is farther to the right than any other Republican seeking the nomination.

He wishes to eliminate income taxes completely by abolishing virtually every federal department and domestic program. Paul advocates the elimination of the Department of Education, Social Security, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance, and virtually every other gain won by the struggle of previous generations of workers.

Paul blames “illegal immigration” for a whole host of social ills, from the spread of disease, to crime, to the lowering of workers’ wages. He has also proposed amending the Constitution to remove birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, writing in 2006: “The recent immigration protests in Los Angeles have brought the issue to the forefront, provoking strong reactions from millions of Americans. The protesters’ cause of open borders is not well served when they drape themselves in Mexican flags and chant slogans in Spanish . . . We must reject amnesty for illegal immigrants in any form. We cannot continue to reward lawbreakers and expect things to get better. . . . Birthright citizenship similarly rewards lawbreaking, and must be stopped. As long as illegal immigrants know their children born here will be citizens, the perverse incentive to sneak into this country remains strong.”

This thinly veiled racist demagogy has earned Paul the praise of reactionaries such as CNN anchor Lou Dobbs and the support of extreme right elements, from members of the Minutemen Project to Don Black, founder of the white supremacist group Stormfront, who donated $500 to Paul’s campaign.

In his campaign ads in Michigan, Paul sought to divert anger over the destruction of autoworkers’ jobs and living standards with appeals to anti-immigrant and national chauvinism. The North American Free Trade Agreement, he said, was “just one part of a plan to erase the borders...and create a single nation out of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, with a new unelected bureaucracy and money system. Forget about controlling immigration under this scheme. And a free America, with limited, constitutional government, would be gone forever.”

As he did on the eve of the invasion of Iraq on numerous occasions Paul has promoted the idea that the United Nations is a conspiratorial organization planning to implement a “new world order” and that the World Trade Organization is a plot by a “global elite” to strip America of its sovereignty.

Paul’s brand of libertarianism doesn’t prevent him from opposing abortion in terms that are similar to those of the religious fundamentalists. Paul likens abortion to state-sanctioned murder, stating, “Abortion on demand is the ultimate State tyranny . . . Unlike Nazi Germany, which forcibly sent millions to the gas chambers (as well as forcing abortion and sterilization upon many more), the new regime has enlisted the assistance of millions of people to act as its agents in carrying out a program of mass murder.”

He has proposed legislation that would remove from all federal courts the jurisdiction to hear cases relating to abortion. This would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade and allow the states to criminalize all abortion procedures.

Paul has similarly tried to remove federal court jurisdiction to decide whether the phrase “under God” can be included in the Pledge of Allegiance, voted to ban federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and voted to prevent same-sex couples from adopting. His consistent record of attacking democratic rights has prompted his supporters at Lew to write a column approvingly posing the question, “Will Ron Paul Be the Candidate of the Christian Right?”

Ron Paul’s appeal to the extreme right and fascist groups is not a new phenomenon. In a recent article published by the New Republic, James Kurchick highlights the contents of some of Ron Paul’s newsletters, published during the time after Paul finished his first terms in Congress and returned to the practice of medicine. Kurchick describes an issue of the newsletter that was published after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles in the following manner, “’Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began,’ read one typical passage. According to the newsletter, the looting was a natural byproduct of government indulging the black community with ‘civil rights, quotas, mandated hiring preferences, set-asides for government contracts, gerrymandered voting districts, black bureaucracies, black mayors, black curricula in schools, black tv shows, black tv anchors, hate crime laws, and public humiliation for anyone who dares question the black agenda.’ It also denounced ‘the media’ for believing that ‘America’s number one need is an unlimited white checking account for underclass blacks.’”

A newsletter issue reporting on the Louisiana Senate primary election campaign of former Ku Klux Klan wizard David Duke in 1990 stated, “our priority should be to take the anti-government, anti-tax, anti-crime, anti-welfare loafers, anti-race privilege, anti-foreign meddling message of Duke, and enclose it in a more consistent package of freedom.”

In response to the New Republic exposé, Ron Paul issued a statement on his website claiming that material in the articles are not his words but were contributed by numerous writers for his newsletter, which Paul did not edit and that Paul was not aware of what was being published. It is entirely unbelievable that Paul had no knowledge of the content of articles printed under his name for over a decade.

Moreover, Paul has repeatedly made his opposition to civil rights legislation clear. As recently as 2004, he marked the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which outlawed the system of apartheid-like racial segregation in Southern schools and public places during the Jim Crow period—by denouncing the measure from the floor of Congress for infringing on the “rights of private property owners,” including the “customer service practices of every business in the country.”
This mix of racism and regressive opposition to genuine liberty is reflected by the Tea Party movement.

For example, we have Tea Party leader Tom Tancredo's now-infamous rant that Barack Obama was only elected president because “we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country.” As Sunder Katwala at Next Left points out, "literacy tests were made illegal in the 1965 Voting Rights Act after being one of the key measures used to systematically disenfranchise black voters in the US South." This call for a return to the racist Jim Crow laws at any rate ignoring the fact that "exit polls show [Obama] led among voters of every level of education." As an exclamation point on the racist element, we have the Washington Independent's report that a Tom Tancredo staffer pleaded guilty last year to hitting a woman after calling her a ‘nigger’. He was allowed to keep his job.

Though not overtly fascist, this movement does, like the far-right in Britain and Europe, represent a virulent form of reaction that threatens to channel genuine grievances away from workable solutions and towards policies that favour the capitalist and ruling class. For a real alternative, people need to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, though obviously unreported by the mainstream media, that alternative is growing in the form of anarcho-syndicalism and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). As Infoshop reports;
For decades IWW members in the Twin Cities were without a place to call home, but beginning in November, the branch will open shop in the historic Grain Belt Bottling House in northeast Minneapolis—a neighborhood whose early residents had a vision of industrial organizing that was instrumental in establishing the One Big Union here and beyond.

In 1905, two northeast railroad workers—William Bradley and Fred Henion— participated in a private Chicago conference that laid the groundwork for a unique labor organization that would later be dubbed the Industrial Workers of the World. Unlike the American Federation of Labor, the IWW proposed that all workers in an industry should harness their power together in one union, instead of dividing themselves according to the many different crafts or trades on a job. This new union grew quickly, and for several reasons, it immediately appealed to Northeast workers employed in the Harrison Street Railyard and in the massive Mill District. The IWW welcomed immigrant and non-white workers, as well as “unskilled” workers, who were denied membership by the exclusive, craft-based AF of L locals.

Just as in 1905, the IWW is thriving and continues to organize in industries that are considered low-wage and “unorganizable” by today’s large business unions. The determined efforts of local IWW branches have yielded considerable success in several workplaces, and subsequently we have seen the Twin Cities branch grow exponentially in just a few short years. With this expansion has come the need for a gathering space, and the Bottling House fit the bill.

Along with the connection to the union’s past, this landmark offers room for significant future growth. The office will now house the meetings of workers in food service, transportation, retail and education to name a few. They’ll hold basic organizer trainings and courses from our Work Peoples’ College. The building’s sizable atrium provides an ideal venue for large public discussions, film showings, and gala events. All in all, this space will become a destination where local working people can access myriad resources on labor law and organizing and meet others struggling to make their jobs and communities better places for all.
It is not just in the North East that the IWW is thriving, and the growing campaign against Starbucks is just one area where genuinely grassroots organisation is having an effect.

With the media on-side, always more willing to give publicity to reactionary movements than progressive and revolutionary ones, breaking the Tea Party's monopoly of resistance will be a difficult struggle. But it must be done. However radical they proclaim to be, Ron Paul and the Tea Party represent only another lobby for the elites and the property rights which give them power and privilege. If the people of America want to struggle for genuine freedom, they need to reject the false flag of right-wing libertarianism.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Tiger Woods and the pantomime of celebrity

On Friday, Tiger Woods issued an apology for his "selfish and foolish" behaviour, and insisted that he "owe[s] all those families" who "used to point to me as a role model for their kids" a "special apology." This has prompted much heated analysis in the media over whether he will win over the public, whether the apology was heartfelt, when he will return to golf. And other such inanities.

It took the New York Times to offer some perspective;
The nation is fighting wars overseas.

Politicians continue to wrestle over health care reform and attempt to pull the country out of a harsh recession.

Yet for 13 ½ minutes Friday, much of the nation stopped to listen to a 34-year-old golfer discuss the marital missteps that led to one of the greatest falls from grace in American sports history.

What a precious waste of time. The obsession with Tiger Woods’s personal life and infidelity says more about our misguided priorities as a nation than it does about Woods. It also speaks volumes about the current state of the news media that unashamedly feeds this obsession. We create these inventions only to tear them down.
The only thing missing from this analysis is the fact that the whole charade - Woods's dependence on the media, his "fall from grace," this humbled apology - is not just about "satisfying the public’s thirst for spectacles." Indeed, such a thirst is part of a culture artificially generated by the media, a culture specifically designed to distract from reality with spectacle. As long as people care deeply about sport and celebs, but couldn't give two shits about the political situation that determines everything in our life from pay and comfort levels to basic liberties, they are controllable.

The propaganda model is there for those who actually read the news and follow world affairs. For the vast majority, spectacle and gossip offer a complete distraction from that. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out in Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media;
This is an oversimplification, but for the eighty percent or whatever they are, the main thing is to divert them. To get them to watch National Football League. And to worry about "Mother With Child With Six Heads," or whatever you pick up on the supermarket stands and so on. Or look at astrology. Or get involved in fundamentalist stuff or something or other. Just get them away. Get them away from things that matter. And for that it's important to reduce their capacity to think.
Of course, life isn't all about activism and politics. People have ordinary lives to lead - raising families, working, socialising with friends, etc - and sports and other hobbies can play an important part in that. However, when it reaches the point where half of the world's media is focusing on a man who putts for a living apologising about something about which only he, his wife, and his immediate family have any legitimate reason to be concerned or curious about, something is clearly wrong.

Whilst we build ourselves idols out of sports players and other "personalities," the destruction of jobs, livelihoods, and industry continues without relent. There is a class war on, and its time we turned off the TV and fought it.

Friday, 19 February 2010

A call to militancy

Two months after I last reported on it, unions have finally announced that it will ballot steel workers on possible strike action against the mothballing of the Corus steel plant on Teeside.

According to Unite, "the mothballing of Corus’ Teesside site is a disgraceful charade. The union has reason to suspect that Corus never had any intention of selling this plant and they now intend to close the site which will have a devastating affect on the local community, which has a rich 150 year heritage of iron and steelmaking." The GMB, quoted by BBC News, echoed this by saying that "the decision to mothball the plant suggests that Corus did not really want to keep it open or sell it to another steel company." Not only would there be 1,600 immediate job losses, but a further 8,000 workers in jobs dependent on the plant would also be put at risk.

Business Secretary Peter Mandleson "maintained the plant will be protected by the company, with a view to re-opening once a buyer has been found." However, the inaction that accompanies platitudes from Gordon Brown that they are "desperately looking" for investment should say it all about the government's stance here. Whilst the bankers who crashed the economy are worth £1.5 trillion, the workers who keep it afloat are worth nothing.

The Corus closure is just the latest incident in the redeclared class war that has come with the recession. If we want to face off these attacks, then we need to recognise that much more dramatic action is needed. The GMB is asking members "to respond" to this incident on the basis that it is "bad for Britain and for our manufacturing industry," but there is so much more at stake.

The time has long passed for action within individual industries to be effective. Employers are combining their efforts to cut costs and maximise profit at the expense of those who generate it, and the government offers tacit support. Workers need to take note of this, and combine their efforts, even in spite of the union leaders who stick rigidly within the confines of Margaret Thatcher's anti-union laws. Last year, oil refinery workers broke the law by walking out in wildcat strikes, and 645 were sacked. However, this sparked further walkouts across the country and the workers burned their dismissal letters in defiance. Ultimately, they were reinstated, showing the power of broad-based working class action in the face of prohibitive laws enacted in favour of the bosses. But, because of their position and self-interest, paid union officials, leaders, and bureaucrats cannot and will not support this. It has to be done around them.

If we are to fight back in this class war waged by the rich, then there can be no question that we need to restructure worker organisation and resistance so that it comes from below. And, with all workers living under this threat, we cannot carve out the struggle along traditional trade and sector lines. The only viable next step is General Strike.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

That old chestnut

Today, my curiosity was piqued by this article from the Independent;
The British military and the Foreign Office are stepping up surveillance of Argentinian naval action following the threat from Buenos Aires to blockade the Falkland Islands.

The imminent arrival of a British company’s oil rig in the area is an immediate source of friction between the two countries, which has reignited 28 years after the war with the discovery of rich petroleum and gas reserves around the islands. 

The Argentinian government has declared that it was taking control of all shipping between its coastline and the disputed islands it calls Islas Malvinas and the adjoining South Georgia, a claim promptly rejected by the UK. 
According to Frederico Thomsen, a political analyst in Buenos Aires, "for centuries the Falklands were about some sheep, penguins and fish – and even so, we had a war. Should someone find ‘black gold’, things will get uncomfortable and nationalists will be stirred."

Call me cynical, but my own thoughts on the matter more resemble those on offer from the Daily Mash;
Dr Julian Cook, of the Institute for Studies, insisted the political conditions in 2010 were completely different from 1982, adding: "Last time round we had a deeply unpopular government presiding over a failing economy and absolutely desperate for a quick, easy war to turn its fortunes around.

"Oh right, I see what you mean."
The difference, this time round, is that Thatcher didn't also have an illegal, protracted, and deeply unpopular war to distract from. Is Gordon Brown hoping not just to turn around his electoral fortunes but also to revive the passion for aggressive militarism that dies a little more every time another young soldier does?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Merseyside BNP rattled by Liverpool Antifascists leaflet

Over the past few weeks, Liverpool Antifascists have put in considerable effort leafletting and campaigning in Fazakerley ahead of tomorrow's By-Election. It has seemed an uphill struggle, given the considerable man-hours the BNP were putting into their campaign and the utter disregard for the ward from the other parties.

However, our message was never in support of any other party, and certainly not of the status quo - it was a warning to voters that the BNP is not the solution it pretends to be. If nothing else, this message has rattled the BNP themselves, who felt the need to deliver a scrappy, poorly-written response to our leaflet.

It begins thus;
You may have recently received an anti BNP leaflet through your door. That leaflet was delivered by a government financed organization called the antifascists/UAF (United Against Fascism Freedom). The UAF is a backdoor LABOUR PARTY state-funded anti-democratic outfit that has been set up with the intention of interfering with the political process. Lies, smears, violence and the tampering with ballot boxes are some of their usual activities.
Liverpool Antifascists are, of course, an autonomous group with no connection to UAF or the Labour Party. We certainly aren't state funded, all our fund-raising and campaigning being done at grass-roots level by volunteer activists. It needn't be stated that this is lies, setting the tone for a desperate leaflet not to keen on facts.

The idea that we (or even UAF, for that matter) "organise Muslim protests against our homecoming troops" is a fallacy that shouldn't even need rebutting. Liverpool Antifascists' stance, for one, is crystal clear: "Fascism & Fundamentalism - Two Sides of the Same Coin!" However, this obviously ridiculous lie sets the tone for the more serious accusation that follows;
Last year on St. George’s Day a group of our members – many of them ELDERLY – were attacked in broad daylight behind the St. George’s Hall in Liverpool city centre. One of the convicted below is a LABOUR PARTY SPONSORED thug who PLEADED GUILTY to an attack on the BNP, at Liverpool magistrate’s court on Thursday 29th October 2009.
In fact, it was BNP activists Peter Tierney and Steve Greenhalgh who perpetrated the assault. Tierney's weapon of choice was a camera tripod, with which he succeeded in splitting an anti-fascist's head open. As for the idea that "all of this was caught on CCTV and would exonerate the BNP, it's funny how that evidence never surfaced at the trial of the accused anti-fascist (who is neither with UAF, nor Labour party-sponsored). As previously reported, both assault and criminal damage charges were thrown out as untenable and he "pleaded guilty" to a breach of section 5 of the Public Order Act - essentially, swearing in public!

The leaflet contains a picture of the anti-fascist in question under the caption "GUILTY OF VIOLENCE AGAINST BNP OAP'S." This is a clear case of libel by the British National Party.

After all of this nonsense, the leaflet then attempts to "debunk" some of the actual content of our leaflet. The first offering is this;
You will also be fed lies about a BNP protest against the TUC; which contrary to what you may have heard, was not against the TUC’s action for opposing low pay and privatisation – we actually AGREE on that. Our protest was against the TUC spreading lies about the BNP and using member’s money for political intimidation and discrimination against employees based on their political beliefs. Unlike the TUC the British national Party believes in free speech for EVERYONE.
This, too, is a pathetic attempt at damage limitation. Merseyside BNP, a month before the conference, publicly declared their intent to campaign "against the Anti British Communists who will be attending," positing that one Merseyside trade union leader "struts around in a communist uniform whilst hero worshiping[sic] the Russian mass murderer Stalin." Also noteworthy is that, although they insist they agree on opposition to low pay and privatisation (the BNP has never commented about a single workers' issue that did not involve immigrants or foreigners) it was the march against these things where they handed out leaflets, taking photos of marchers with captions such as "say cheese you Communist anti British traitor." Which is precisely the attitude towards workers that we were pointing out.

Following that, the leaflet offered this novel piece of reasoning;
These liars lie to you by saying we blame migrants for British people being unemployed; however this is a complete LIE. The BNP blames the politicians who are encouraging the migrants to come here and then allowing them to be used and abused by greedy employers. The BNP just supports a fair deal for British people.
One of my comrades at Liverpool Antifascists has already dealt with this question previously;
Parties such as the BNP aim to gain control by turning the working class in on itself. Their distinction between migrant workers and British workers is no different than that between agency and non-agency workers, permanent and temporary workers, or (going back to the turn of the 20th Century) female and male workers. The more vulnerable group is the most heavily exploited, working for buttons and with few rights, so as to undercut the more established and organised group, rolling back their hard-won rights.

But this is not the fault of the more vulnerable group, and the answer is not to remove them from the workplace. “British Jobs for British Workers” may have an instant appeal to those put out of work by bosses who exploit migrants (not by migrants, which is an important distinction) but it makes as much sense as calling for “Male Jobs for Male Workers.” It serves to strengthen the distinction and division, from which only the bosses benefit. History teaches us that this approach is destructive, whilst uniting all workers – regardless of race, gender, nationality, or any other distinguishing feature – to demand fair pay and conditions for all is the only way to win battles.
The BNP may indeed "blame politicians," but they do so in such a way that they still distinguish migrants as "other" and to be opposed. Constant talk of "flood" and "invasion" on both the national BNP website and the Merseyside blog belie the idea from the leaflet that the party recognises that migrants are "used and abused."

From that, the leaflet moves on to the subject of hate crime;
Another ‘story’ you have been told is that police statistics show that race crime rises when the BNP is elected. The police themselves deny this and state that in many areas we are elected race crimes actually FALL – again the LABOUR PARTY is exposed as lying to you.
Leaving aside the nonsense that Liverpool Antifascists has anything to do with the Labour Party, we find the central claim torn apart in this article from the Guardian;
Reports of racial and religiously motivated crime rose following the election of British National party councillors in several far- right strongholds, police statistics have revealed.

Complaints of hate crime increased in wards in the West Midlands, London and Essex after the election of a BNP member, in spite of declines in reported hate crime in the wider police areas. In other wards race crime reportedly rose in the runup to BNP election victories, according to the figures, obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.
The BNP has tried to mask this by pointing to areas where rates have fallen. However, this is nothing to do with BNP elections and rather falls in-line with declines far beyond their constituencies. Not to mention that such declines are outnumbered by BNP areas where hate crimes have increased.

The leaflet ends by urging readers "please, don’t be duped by Labour’s lie machine." I would of course second this idea, whilst adding a plea that people aren't duped by the BNP lie machine either. As the Liverpool Antifascists By-Election leaflet points out, "a vote for the BNP is not a protest vote. It is a vote for fascism."

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The criminalisation of dissent

Last month, when watching the premiere of the new series of 24, I commented on how fictional propaganda offered a hint of where our increasingly repressive and authoritarian society was headed. In particular, my frame of reference was to the proposed use of surveillance drones - previously seen in 24 and spying on insurgents in Afghanistan - against the British public.

However, it seems that the plan ro use the drones "in time for the 2012 Olympics" is somewhat ahead of schedule;
Police on Merseyside have had to ground their new drone over concerns it was being used illegally without a licence.
Merseyside Police said they had been unaware they needed a licence to fly the £40,000 remote control helicopter fitted with CCTV.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it needed to be consulted over any use of the drones, that can fly up to 400ft and reach speeds of 30mph.
The force's new drone was used last week to catch a car thief in thick fog.
Most revealing about this story is that "the police force has had the drone since November" and lists "monitoring large public events" among its "range of uses." Given that "senior officers say domestic extremism ... can include activists suspected of minor public order offences such as peaceful direct action and civil disobedience," we can guess exactly what "public events" will be most closely monitored.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Cameron's "co-operatives" are but a pale sop to workers' control

Normally, I refrain from coment on election pledges by politicians. Not only are they normally much of a muchness, but they are also designed to appeal to a "centrist" consensus largely manufactured by politicians and the media. Even when supposedly progressive promises do seep through, they quickly become so watered down that they have almost the exact opposite effect to that intended.

And that's if the pledge is kept at all.

However, this particular initiative by David Cameron did catch my eye;
David Cameron has pledged to let public sector workers take charge of key health and education services as he made a bid to win over disgruntled Labour voters.

The Tory leader said rank-and-file staff would be encouraged to form co-operatives and direct their own work within national standards.

He insisted the policy could be as revolutionary as former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher giving people the right to buy their council houses.
In theory, it sounds like an extremely positive endeavour. As an anarcho-syndicalist, I am of course strongly in favour of workers taking control of the workplace and self-managing. However, there is little to suggest that this proposal amounts to even a pale imitation of genuine collectivism. Though she is making the point from the perspective of the Labour Party, hardly a model for genuinely socialist organisation, Tessa Jowell sums up the point well;
Two years after it was founded, indeed, the Conservative Co-operative Movement remains a movement without members, which has never held an AGM. Completely contrary to the democratic values which rest at the heart of co-operation, the two chairs of the movement have been appointed by the Party leader, rather than elected by its members.

If they can't get the small things right, it doesn't fill one with hope that the Tories would have any idea how to bring the principles of co-operation and mutualism – the idea that organisations should be owned and run by their members – into our public services.

Co-operative trust schools are, in fact, a case study of how skin deep the Tories' commitment to mutualism really is. When he launched the Conservative Co-operative Movement, Davic Cameron announced that he wanted to "explore how we can create a new generation of co-operative schools in Britain – funded by the taxpayer but owned by parents and the local community." But when parliament debated co-operative trust schools in 2008, not a single Conservative MP was in the chamber at the time.
The rest of her post is aimed at explaining why "Labour has been doing just that," but this is nonsense. Under Labour, the public sector has become more centralised and more tightly controlled. Morale has plumetted in the wake of successive cuts and ongoing privatisation. Cameron was right about one thing when he acknowledged that "there are millions of public sector workers who work in our public services and who frankly today feel demoralised, disrespected and unrecognised." He was also right in that "the chance to set up employee-owned co-operatives to take over the services so you can be your own boss and offer the public a better service the way you think it should be done, not the way some distant bureaucrat thinks it should be done" is the best way forward in solving that problem.

But we should not be under any illusions that the Tories, Labour, or any other leadership could deliver this. Living up to its promise, it would be a significant step towards communism and that cannot come from above. Cameron's promises are hollow, aimed at diverting unrest away from potentially revolutionary fervour and towards electoralism. As are the counter-claims of Labour.

Properly enacted, workers control genuinely could revitalise public services and boost morale. But that will not happen at the hands of those whose interests lie with the ruling class. The problems of the working class can only be solved by the workers themselves.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

On the result of the BNP's membership rules ballot

At a so-called "Extraordinary General Meeting," the British National Party's membership has voted to scrap it's whites-only membership rules and allow black and Asian people to join. According to party chairman Nick Griffin, the vote shows that the party "recognise legal reality" and "now, for one thing, they can't call us racist any more."

I have already discussed in some depth the reasons why, even as an avowed antifascist, I was opposed to the threat of legal action in this case by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). I have to concur with Griffin when he says that "this is a government funded, taxpayer-funded quango telling people who they can and can't associate with, [which] is a fundamental outrage."

However, with judicial approval in March now being the only obstacle to the new, multiracial BNP, we need to be quite clear on one thing. Unless with the constitutional change there comes a massive policy shift, the BNP will remain a racist party. At present, the only element of their constitution set to change is their membership criteria, and so Section 1, Article 2(b) is not under legal threat;
The British National Party stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples. It is therefore committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948.
That, amongst their number, their might now be non-white people acting against their own interest does not change the fact that the fundamental goal of the BNP is an all-white Britain. They remain a racist party.

More importantly, the BNP will remain a fascist party. In the words of my comrades in Liverpool Antifascists;
Genuine antifascists stand opposed to the BNP because they are fascists, not merely because they use racist policies and rhetoric in order to further their cause. Fascism is the use of nationalistic rhetoric and actions to divide and weaken the working class and, though it quickly emerged as a distinct movement, has long been used as a tool of the ruling class to break revolutionary and workers’ movements. That, all of a sudden, there may be non-white faces amongst those trying to destroy the working class does not change this fact, nor make it better.
As such, it is fair to say that this constitutional change not only does not alter the ultimate goals of the party, it certainly does not remove them from the radar of antifascists. As Liverpool Antifascists put it, they "have no place on our streets, no matter the colour of their skin."