Monday, 31 May 2010

Free speech and militant antifascism: Adam Walker and the Red, White and Blue Festival

Whilst the BNP continues to implode following its failure at the General Election, there are two events in the real world which should be a focal point for a 21st century perspective of anti-fascism. They are the Adam Walker tribunal and the Red, White, and Blue (RWB) festival.

The first case, for those who are not familiar, concerns a teacher who faced being struck off for religious intolerance. Walker faced a tribunal by the General Teaching Council following claims that he used a school laptop to post "unacceptable views" to online forums during lesson times. The case became a focal point for attention due to the fact that Walker, as well as being a teacher, is both a former BNP parliamentary candidate for Bishop Auckland and president of the scab* trade union Solidarity.
As it was, Walker was cleared of the charges of racial and religious intolerance. He was found guilty of making personal use of a school laptop during lessons, and will face personal sanctions for "unacceptable professional conduct." On the issue of alleged racism, the tribunal said it was "troubled" by Walker's postings but was not satisfied that the "intemperate" views suggested intolerance.

This verdict, indeed the case itself, evoked a fierce response from antifascists. As well as the protests at the hearings, there were broader calls to ban BNP members from teaching altogether. Any such decision would be a grave mistake, for a number of reasons.

There is the basic point that thoughts are not crimes. Referring specifically to Walker's case, using the laptop and internet forums in school time is unprofessional conduct. However, the actual detail of his posting should be irrelevant. People should not lose their jobs simply for holding "unacceptable views," and there is a distinction between believing that Britain is a "dumping ground for the filth of the third world" and acting on it by, say, treating black children in his class less favourably.

I have made this point innumerable times. Acts of overt racial discrimination should be opposed, and when racists or fascists use violence then force should be met with force. But if the only weapon in use is words, the principle of free speech compels us to respond in kind.

There are also two practical points to be made here. One, allowing such a move gives the state a precedent to dictate which political beliefs are "acceptable" and which are not. I have pointed out many times before that in such an instance "the state is more likely to censure genuine radicalism before it does the reaction of movements such as fascism, and the primary victim would be the ability to question established power."And two, enacting a ban on BNP members teaching would only serve to make them victims, enhancing their credibility and their appeal as "rebels."

At around the same time that the Walker controversy was drawing to a close, the minutes of a Leicestershire BNP regional meeting were leaked to Notts Indymedia. In them, it was revealed that "there will not be a RWB this year, but there will be an event."

The BNP claimed that they were concerned about diverting police money away from fighting terrorism. Notts IMC countered that "large protests at the site in Codnor drove away all but the party's Nazi hardcore." As evidence, they cited the fact that Alan Warner, whose land hosted the festival, "had become tired of protesters who vandalised his property" and told the Derby Telegraph that "I should move on – I have had enough."

But at the same time, it is not unlikely that the party's internal tensions also played a part. And, as one commenter on Stormfront suggested, it "could be security concerns due to the legal requirement to have non white members who may come there simply to cause problems. This was not a factor at the last RWB."

Whatever the truth, the fact remains that the RWB will not be returning to Codnor this year. It is likely that antifascist direct action was part of the reason. The question that follows is whether this should be counted as a victory, and whether action against the festival was justified.

In both cases, I would say that yes, it is. Contrary to the Adam Walker case, this is not a question of free speech, or even of free association. If it was simply a bunch of unorganised Nazis having a party then it would warrant passive opposition and protest, but not direct action. It is the fact that RWB was part of the design of an organisation working to put their fascist politics into practice that justifies a more militant approach.

In the words of the Workers' Solidarity Movement, "we do not oppose the right of racists to free speech," and "The task is not to prevent racists from speaking but to defeat their arguments by putting forward a strong alternative." However, "attempts by fascist groups to recruit members to fascism cannot be tolerated" and such groups "do not have the right to organise, to recruit for such activities."

This, I should note, is entirely aside from the fact that the festival has a reputation for attracting hardcore neo-Nazis. Or that racist jokes and views got a fair hearing there. Such beliefs and thoughts as those above, though unsavoury, are a free speech issue. It is intent and action which justifies militant antifascism. It was because the RWB was part of the organisation and recruitment of a fascist party that it had to be shut down.

The distinction I have made above, between free speech and organisation, is a vital one. Genuine antifascists need to remember it. Our job is to stop fascism gaining a foothold on power, not to push forward censorship by the state.

*See Liverpool Antifascists' assesment of Solidarity here. "Any member of the working class with even an ounce of sense will know not to touch these fascist scabs with a 10-foot bargepole. They are not to be confused with the anarcho-syndicalist Solidarity Federation, whom Liverpool Antifascists consider to be comrades, which actually does have links with the IWW and CNT."

Sunday, 30 May 2010

No War but Class War - May 2010

Like the month before, this month began with riots in Greece. And, once again, the event brought with it the tragedy of lost human lives.

Following May Day clashes, there was a 48-hour general strike. All, of course, provoked by the IMF-mandated austerity measures that look set to cripple the country's working class in order to shore up its rulers. It was during the second half of that strike that three bank workers suffocated  in Marfin Bank.

The media followed PM George Papandreou's line that this was a "murderous act" by anarchists. But Occupied London relayed a statement by another worker from the same bank indicating that the deaths were clearly catalysed by gross negligence and dangerous practices on behalf of their employer, whilst the riots were sparked by disturbingly commonplace police brutality. Members of the anarchist squat of Skaramanga and Patision concurred, saying that "the real murderer, the real instigator of today’s tragic death of 3 people is “mister” Vgenopoulos, who used the usual employers’ blackmailing (the threat of sacking) and forced his employees to work in the branches of his bank during a day of strike."

Nonetheless, the police retaliation against anarchists was brutal, and the approval of the IMF measures only exacerbated the situation there. The struggle faced by workers in Greece looks to be a long one. But the question remains as to whether it can go beyond clashes on the street towards workers' takeover and significant change.

In Britain, the May 6th General Election led to the formation of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. The result was not the outright Tory majority that many working class people had feared, but nonetheless it wasn't a good sign. The policies outlined in the coalition agreement included some positive measures on civil liberties, but also the expected attacks on social welfare and favouring of the rich. Then came the announcement of £6.25 billion worth of cuts, and the unmistakable news that the class war would continue under the new government.

How this will play out remains to be seen, as this month we saw workers still fighting the class attacks by the previous government.

PCS won a High Court victory in its dispute over the Civil Service Compensation Scheme. The Government cannot force through changes without the negotiated consent of the union, and so for the time being the payouts members would receive if made redundant are safe.

However, we can be sure that what is negotiated will be a step down from the current scheme, thus still making it cheaper than it would have been to cull jobs. Union members will have to watch how this plays out very carefully. The rank and file must be ready to resist if Mark Serwotka or his fellow bureaucrats take the well-worn road to member sell-outs by full time union officers.

BT workers have joined the ranks of those standing up to the inherent unfairness of the capitalist system. They have voted in favour of strike action to secure a 5% rather than 2% pay rise - as I explained recently, not an unreasonable demand given the chief executive's £1.2m bonus, or the overall 9.8% rise in the cost of living after last year's pay freeze.

British Airways cabin crew are presently in the midst of what has become a 15-day strike. After BA won an injunction to block the strike, an appeal from Unite in the midst of protests by workers' groups saw this latest anti-worker verdict by the court overturned.

The problem that the strikers face, though, is that chief executive Willie Wash has turned this into a zero sum game. By pushing on with strike- and union-busting measures to the detriment of negotiations, he has reduced the union to two choices: total capitulation or all-out war. The former would have rendered all previous fightback efforts void and cemented management dominance over the workers. The latter may well be the path to mutually assured destruction.

It is hard to see what third way there might be as this latest round of strike action drags on. What is clear is Walsh's goal. As former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said of Walsh's tenure at Aer Lingus, we are seeing "a time when management wanted to steal the assets for themselves through a management buy out, shafting staff interests." The BA staff deserve our solidarity as they fight against a repeat performance.

In the United States, workers secured two considerable victories this month. The first, in Oakland, came as a teachers' strike shut down the district for the day and forced officials to back down on plans to impose harsh new terms and conditions. The second came from hospital workers in Philadelphia. They beat back concessions demanded by their employer on union rights, wages, and working conditions after a month-long strike.

These victories are tempered by the tragedy that occurred off the southern coast of the United States. As the media report on BP's failing efforts to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we should remember that this accident claimed eleven workers' lives and may have been entirely preventable.

This is not the first time BP has had a catastrophic breakdown at one of its facilities. The company has a history of unsafe work conditions and environmental problems, largely due to cost cutting measures a congressional committee once described as “draconian.”
As The Trial by Fire note;
It should come as no surprise that the company bankrolling this disaster, BP spent $3,650,000 in lobbying expenses in 2006 alone, no doubt to influence regulations. The company is one of the largest oil corporations in the world.

According to Beyond Petroleum (formerly British Petroleum, or BP), the rig was drilling 18,000 feet down to get to pockets of gas and oil under pressure when it caught fire.

The rig reportedly lacked a last-ditch safety valve, an “acoustic switch,” that could have potentially averted the massive oil spill. Such safety mechanisms are common in many oil rich countries around the world, but are not mandated in the U.S. because of their high cost.

A History of Neglect:

In 2006, BP pleaded guilty to felony charges after an explosion at their facility in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 workers and injured 170 others.

Carolyn Merritt, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, told reporters while investigating the Texas explosion that:
“[These] things do not have to happen. They are preventable. They are predictable, and people do not have to die because they’re earning a living,”
She was right. Investigators at the sight found problems everywhere:
“There were three key pieces of instrumentation that were actually supposed to be repaired that were not repaired. And the management knew this… They authorized the startup [of the machinery which exploded] knowing that these three pieces of equipment were not properly working.”
Despite Bp’s own rules to the contrary, they had parked trailers full of workers in an open area right next to the broken machinery. At the mandatory safety meeting that morning, management didn’t once mention the dangerous procedure that would soon be taking place.

One worker, scared for his safety, wrote his supervisor: “the equipment is in dangerous condition and this is not taken seriously.” Another wrote “this place is set up for a catastrophic failure.”

But management in London didn’t listen, and the company flourished as a result. BP made a profit of $19 billion that year.

Nearly a year afterwards, the company again faced controversy when it was discovered that one of their pipelines had leaked nearly 4,800 barrels of oil into the Alaskan wilderness. The leak was caused by the company’s refusal to check its expansive pipelines in Prudhoe Bay.

In a leaked memo, inspection and quality-assurance specialist Bill Herasymiuk warned BP’s corrosion, inspection, and chemical team warned of an impending “catastrophe” if practices in the company were not changed.

Sure enough, four years after it was instructed to inspect it, BP found that a six-mile length of pipeline was corroded.
Worker unrest looks set to roll over to Spain and Portugal next. Both have announced significant wage and welfare cuts at a time of record unemployment. Greece is not the only example for workers there to follow, with General Strikes hitting both Yemen and Iran this month.

In Yemen, the protest stems not just from rampant inflation and a devalued currency, pushing workers further into poverty, but also government oppression. The immediate response, as reported by al-Jazeera, was more violence. Clashes erupted "when security forces tried to force shopowners to open the doors of their stores" and it was claimed that "armed men had opened fire on police." The complex situation is a combination of political troubles ongoing since 1994 and more generalised worker unrest as destitution increases.

The Iranian general strike stems from the regime's treatment of dissidents. According to the New York Times, "Iranian Kurds staged one of their largest strikes in recent years, closing shops and bazaars in nearly all Sunni Kurdish cities and towns in western Iran to protest the executions of five people, including four Kurdish activists, on Sunday." This is the biggest act of rebellion since the unrest around the presidential elections.

In South Africa, too, the poor and marginalised are fighting against brutal state repression. Police in Johannesburg have "attacked the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) in the shacks in Protea South." According to the LPM statement, "They went around disconnecting us from electricity and beating those who had been connected to electricity. They tried to burn down Maureen Mnisi’s shack and two people were shot. One died on the scene. Today the police attacked the LPM in eTwatwa, Ekurhuleni. At least three people were shot with live ammunition. One person has died and another is currently being operated on in hospital."

The violence is particularly worrying in the context of the upcoming FIFA World Cup in the country. The Olympic games in China saw a massive crackdown on dissidents, and there is a strong likelihood that South Africa will witness something similar.

As Chris Rodrigues noted in the Guardian, "We should be outraged that a country with such a brutal history of forced removals has, in order to create the right brand attributes, evicted the urban poor and rounded up the homeless. Dumped into so-called "temporary relocation areas" and "transit camps" (during the preliminary draw street children were even held in Westville prison) these disowned South Africans make a mockery of the struggle against apartheid."

The LPM share that sentiment. "We are very worried about the World Cup. Billions are wasted on the World Cup, billions that should have gone to meet the most urgent need of the poor. The government tells us that we must ‘feel it’ but in Protea South we don’t even have electricity. Some of us are in hiding from the police. People have been shot and two people have died in recent days."

This, not an entirely imaginary ban on England flags and shirts, is the real injustice of the coming World Cup. It is also a poignant illustration of how the class struggle is global and why international solidarity is vital.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Peter Tierney on Trial – protest against fascist violence

According to Liverpool Antifascists, it appears that the trial of notable fascist lunatic Peter Tierney is set to resume in two weeks.

I can only echo their call for a public show of opposition to fascist violence;
On Monday 14th June Peter Tierney, high-profile member and donor for the Merseyside BNP, faces trial at Liverpool Crown Court. He is accused of assaulting a trade unionist and anti-fascist protester on St George’s Day last year.

Court proceedings have dragged on for over a year now, and Merseyside BNP would be more than happy to let the incident fade into obscurity. But Liverpool Antifascists are determined that fascists should not be allowed to sweep their violence under the carpet. They are calling for the trial to be met with protests from those who do not want political violence by the far-right to become a feature of their city.

A spokesperson for Liverpool Antifascists said: “This whole saga has dragged on for far too long now. The BNP are banking on this so that people get fed up with it and forget about it, but the fact is that this is not a gaffe or a poor choice of remark. It is an act of inexcusable violence by a high-profile member of a party trying to present itself as ‘mainstream’ and ‘respectable.’

“We are thus urging as many people as possible to turn up outside the Crown Court from 8.30am on the first day of the trial to demonstrate solidarity with the victim of this attack.”

Liverpool Antifascists stress that it is particularly important that trade unionists and other working class organisations take part. Merseyside BNP have a reputation for harassing trade unionists, whom they view as “anti-British traitors,” and their party is part of a fascist tradition which has long attacked attempts by the working class to organise and defend itself against injustice.

Violence by fascists must never be allowed to go unopposed.

Friday, 28 May 2010

When will government drug policy reflect empirical reality?

In April, the government banned the "legal high" mephedrone, reclassifying it as a class B drug. At the time, critics noted that this was an extremely unwise decision, an unfounded and knee-jerk reaction after recent deaths were attributed to the drug. Now, it appears, toxicology reports have proven them right.

As BBC News report;

Toxicology tests have shown that two teenagers whose deaths were linked to mephedrone had not taken the drug. 

The deaths of Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, in March 2010 sparked concern about the synthetic stimulant, which was then legal. 

The Labour government banned the "legal high" in April, making it a Class B drug. 

Former chief drugs adviser Prof David Nutt said the test results undermined the reasons behind the ban. 

But Professor Les Iverson, the current chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), said the decision to recomment a ban on mephedrone was based on "thorough research". 

It is thought further tests are being conducted to try to establish what, if any, substances the pair had taken. 
David Nutt, a Governmental scientific advisor sacked for having a sensible position on cannabis, notes that "if these reports are true, the previous government's rush to ban mephedrone never had any serious scientific credibility - it looks much more like a decision based on a short term electoral calculation." Indeed, "this news demonstrates why it's so important to base drug classification on the evidence, not fear, and why the police, media and politicians should only make public prouncements once the facts are clear."

This is all aside from the fact that bans are completely counterproductive to their stated purpose. Almost immediately after the ban came into effect, the Times reported that "clubbers continue to use mephedrone despite ban."

This comes after news in March that cocaine use "had increased five-fold among 16 to 59-year-olds during the past 12 years and the purity of street samples had decreased." On top of this, "growing numbers of children were being treated for cocaine addiction," illustrating the point that the war on drugs is killing people.

On the other hand, in 2001, Portugal decriminalised all drugs, and has actually seen a decline in use.

Except for some far-right politicians, very few domestic political factions are agitating for a repeal of the 2001 law. And while there is a widespread perception that bureaucratic changes need to be made to Portugal's decriminalization framework to make it more efficient and effective, there is no real debate about whether drugs should once again be criminalized. More significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents—from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for "drug tourists"—has occurred.

The political consensus in favor of decriminalization is unsurprising in light of the relevant empirical data. Those data indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies—such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage—have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens—enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.


The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.
You can download the full report in PDF format here.

Though it seems increasingly futile to make the call when facing a blizzard of hysteria, there needs to be a rational debate on drug policy. Not one dominated by the screaming reactionism of the tabloids and the conservative right, but by reason and facts where Portugal's policy is not treated as utterly insane and unworkable for entirely dogmatic reasons.

As I have noted before, "lives are at stake, and it is blindly obvious that prohibition isn't working."

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Venezuela and the “Bolivarian Revolution”

Via the Anarchist Federation, what follows is an analysis of the socio-economic and political bases of the rise to power of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and of the trajectory of the “Bolivarian” regime. The article was originally written by Sergio Lopez for Kosmoprolet, the magazine of the German Friends of the Classless Society group, and first appeared in English in Internationalist Perspective #51. Part one can be found here, and part two here.

A highlight of every child’s birthday party in Venezuela is a piñata, a brightly-coloured paper container filled with candy or toys dangling from a rope. Taking turns the children try to break the piñata with a stick. When it eventually breaks releasing its precious contents all the children jump at it and try to grab as much of it as possible. It goes without saying that the weaker children are intimidated and squeezed out by the stronger ones. Their share depends upon the size of the piñata, the number of children and, ultimately their capability of standing up to the other children. If there were no interference by the parents, several children would go away empty-handed.

How is this related to the Bolivarian process? How does the game continue? And who are the players?

Stuck in the oil slick

In a materialist understanding, the key to the 'Bolivarian revolution' cannot be the man Hugo Chavez with his real or alleged staff of advisers. Rather, the historical structures, the concrete economic interests and the social tensions within Venezuela are key to understanding Chavez's rise to power, his political actions and his particular rhetoric.

Since the 1920s oil has been Venezuela's most important export good. Ever since, it has been central to all economic, political and social life in Venezuela. Unlike agricultural produce, natural resources were at that time already the property of the state which, hence, as a direct trading partner of the foreign oil companies, had a source of capital at its disposal which is to this day largely independent from the rest of the country's economic activity. It was only in the 1920s that the state exerted its authority against the local chieftains, the 'caudillos', and set an end to the recurring flare-up of bloody civil wars that had shaken the country since its independence in 1821.

Proprietors of natural resources can regulate the access to it, deny it altogether or sell it at a high price. This is the source of the 'absolute rent' Marx analyzed. By founding OPEC, the oil exporting countries could raise this absolute rent and snatch it away from the world market. Moreover, oil has an advantage over its main competitor on the energy market, coal, because the extraction of oil is cheaper than that of coal. Therefore, the oil industry gains a so-called differential rent. Particularly in the years after 1958 the Venezuelan state was in a struggle with the oil companies over a share in this differential rent until it eventually nationalized oil production in 1975, in a way though which still involved the oil companies. For almost a century this state has been trying to strengthen its bargaining power against the transnational oil companies without endangering the whole process of extracting and distributing the oil.

This is at the heart of Venezuela's perpetual anti-imperialism. The character of the negotiations, and which oil concessions are granted, is pivotal for the country's foreign policy. The struggle for political power, the discussion about the attitude towards the oil companies and the appropriation of the oil rent, dominate the political sphere. Also, socio-economic structures have developed in direct dependence on the almighty state and its seemingly inexhaustible sources of capital. This has led to an historically early process of urbanization in the administrative centres and in the areas where the oil is extracted. Today less than 15 percent of Venezuelans live in the countryside (compared to 25 percent of the French and 10 percent of the Germans).

In the capitalist metropoles, the state is financed mainly from the income of its citizens and the surplus value siphoned off from the wage-dependent workers. As the general capitalist it regulates the national economic process as a whole. In Venezuela, however, where one percent of the population is employed in the oil sector, this very sector is responsible for 85 percent of exports, 60 percent of the state’s earnings, and 25 percent of the gross domestic product. Hence, the income of the majority as well as the profits of the entrepreneurs are largely dependent on the distribution of the oil rent which is a share of the globally produced surplus value.

Against this background it is hardly surprising that the state is the main focus of attention in Venezuela. The better part of economic life consists of holding one's ground in the scrap for governmental funding. And the state does distribute its wealth through a vast landscape of bureaucratic institutions by placing orders and granting credits and subsidies of various kinds and sometimes even for social spending. When there is a dramatic increase in the price of oil such as in the years between 1973 to1975 and 2003 to 2006 the whole society lapses into a sort of trance. The rich see a chance to gain even further wealth, while the middle classes sense that their time has come to climb up the social ladder, and the majority hopes that the state will redeem them from their daily misery. Through a variety of infrastructure investments and different forms of social spending the state generates channels for distributing wealth which at the same time alleviate poverty and create a new rank of nouveau riche. For instance, industrial developments are not aimed at creating profitable capitalist enterprises. Rather, they serve as a means of providing the entrepreneurs further governmental incentives while at the same time securing jobs for the majority. When oil prices stagnate or drop, the increased appetite of the nouveau riche is still there. They can satisfy it because they have gained the upper hand and are able to boost state expenditure and import numbers while the majority goes away empty-handed. As a consequence, national debt rises and the masses remain marginalized.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

We need to look at the implications of pensions black holes

BT has become the latest company facing industrial action and the discontent of its workers. According to BBC News, the dispute centres around pay negotations, with the CWU demanding a 5% rise whilst BT has offered 2%.

It appears that "the row over the pay offer could be inflamed by confirmation of a £1m bonus for BT chief executive Ian Livingston." As CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr puts it, "it's my members that actually deliver those targets for Mr Livingston and co. so if it's good enough for him it's good enough for our members."

This is a point often overlooked by critics of worker organisation and strike action. Livingston is being rewarded because BT "had returned to profit, making £1bn ($1.45bn) in the year to 31 March." But he hasn't delived that profit, the workers have.

This despite 35,000 job losses at the company in the past two years and a slew of new procedures which only made their job harder. Last year, Livingston apparently "turned down a pay rise of £50,000," but this doesn't change the fact that it was on the table whilst the workers had to make do with a pay freeze. In light of the fact that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is at a 17-month high, and that the Retail Price Index (RPI) "hit 5.3% in April on a year-on-year basis, up from 4.4% in March and the most since July 1991," this is nothing short of an insult to staff.

Indeed, in light of this, a 5% pay rise is a rather moderate request. Indeed, factoring in the pay freeze and the previous RPI of 4.4% this still amounts to a 4.8% pay cut in real terms. Whilst the chief executive pockets a bonus worth two times his salary and walked away last year with a £343,000 shares bonus.

And what of the fact that "BT is also battling to reduce a giant £9bn pension deficit?" It will take BT 17 years to get rid of this deficit, a problem also faced by Royal Mail (£8bn), British airways (£3.7bn), local councils (£60bn), Cadbury (£12bn), and many other employers. This is often mentioned when industrial disputes arise, perhaps to add weight to the argument for whatever job losses or spending cuts workers are fighting, but the fact is that bosses have only themselves (and perhaps Margaret Thatcher) to blame.

The Thatcher government introduced the concept of "pensions holidays," allowing employers to simply renege on their contributions for as long as they choose. (And, I hasten to add, the obligation to such contributions was laid out in contractual agreements, the sacred cow of the free market right when it happens to benefit employers.)

Delighted by this and consumed by the ultra-short-termist thinking that blights all corporate entities, many employers immediately leapt into the scheme. Even when the inevitable news that this was resulting in a massive pensions crisis hit home, employers carried on taking the "holidays."

There are two implications to this.

The first is that any argument in favour of employees bearing the cost of economic recovery is an argument for theft. When bosses already owe their workers so much, the answer is not to keep taking more. If cuts must be made, then those responsible for the financial decisions (i.e. shareholders, board members, and chief executives) must face them rather than workers.

But then, most ordinary people will have already come to that conclusion. The second implication is much more revealing. As John Band, via the Devil's Knife, explains in relation to British airways, "more than half the company is already owned by the workers, and if things were to get worse then the pension fund has priority over the shareholders as a creditor." Thus, if BA had to go into administration as a result of the current disputes, "it’d be hard work to rebuild BA as a global brand after that kind of collapse, but it wouldn’t be impossible – particularly with worker ownership ending the company’s labour crisis overnight."

This is an extremely interesting point, especially from the point of view of an anarcho-syndicalist. Not only is it the perfect rebuttal to companies trying to maintain profits at the expense of their workers whilst massive pensions black holes exist, it also offers a way to argue and push for worker self-management within the current system as well as without it.

The question now is whether the working class can seize upon this point and make precisely that argument.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Queen's Speech draws the battle lines against the working class

Today, the Queen opened a new parliament and delivered the first programme of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government. David Cameron hailed it as a "radical programme for a radical government." In reality, it was a battle plan to shore up the establishment.

I have dealt with most of the bills and policies proposed in the Queen's Speech before.

For example, I have previously explained why the Tories' "free schools" are a misnomer, and how far they are from genuinely libertarian education. I have also addressed the positives and negatives for civil liberties in the Con-Dem proposals. What I haven't dealt with fully yet, though I have mentioned it a few times, is the issue of spending cuts.

Before we go forward, a rather stark reality check from Adam Ford;
At the time of writing, the UK national debt was estimated to be £914,930,818,716. Okay, that sounds really scary, but what does it actually mean? Well, it means that the government owed nearly a trillion pounds to its lenders. When you're used to dealing with hundreds and thousands, a number like that is mind-boggling, and seems impossible to understand. But when you divide it by the total population, it comes to nearly £15,000 for every man, woman and child, or nearly £32,000 for every person in paid work.

A government can't allow a situation like that to go on; it's poison for the economy. The new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition pledge to cut much of this deficit over the next five year Parliament, as indeed Labour promised before their defeat. But even if they wanted to, our rulers couldn't simply wave a magic wand and make the debt disappear. The money has to come from somewhere, so there are three options.

One: raise taxes to an astronomical level. Two: make enormous slashing cuts to government spending. Three: some combination of the two.
Thus, we knew from the offset that whoever got into power there would be spending cuts and tax rises. We could also predict, given ample precedent, that the vast majority of the cost would fall upon the poor and working class. Job losses and cuts to services were touted as a neccesary evil, with the idea of making those who could afford it pay not even contemplated.

After all, the point of the exercise isn't simply to get rid of the deficit and fix the economy, but to shore up the privilege and profit which would be threatened by its collapse. Taking from those trying to stay rich at our expense simply wouldn't do.

Thus, the government has announced its first £6.25 billion worth of cuts. Child trust funds are among the casualties, but in terms of jobs and benefits we have still yet to see where the axe will fall. However, the announcement in the Queen's Speech of a new, catch-all Welfare-to-Work programme suggests that the £535 million in Department for Work and Pensions savings will hit the unemployed hardest. Whilst, of course, using them as cheap, forced labour for the benefit of the bosses.

On top of this, as PCS point out, "with some departments being told to axe hundreds of millions of pounds from their budgets for this year, the union does not believe this can be done without hitting vital public services."

A major impact of this means job losses, with the scrapping of education agency Becta alone kicking 200 people onto the dole. The option for schools to opt out of local authority control and become academies, as well as harming children's learning, forms part of a privatisation programme. Including the "injection of private capital into the Royal Mail" this amounts to untold potential job losses in order to boost profits for those at the top.

Ford predicts a particularly harsh impact on our home city of Liverpool;
This is because the city's economy is significantly more dependent on public money than most, according to research by Stuart Wilks-Heeg from the University of Liverpool. In 2008, he found that 65% of the previous decade's new local jobs were in the public sector. And yet Liverpool's unemployment rate was over 10%, even in those boom years. Latest unemployment figures show 54,000 Liverpool city region residents claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, and many more need other benefits just to keep a roof over their heads. This might be the tip of the iceberg, because the government currently subsidises other areas of the local economy. It's clear that many Liverpool people face devastation in the near future.
The most worrying part of this is that, as of yet there is no sign of a concerted fightback.

In Greece, workers have rioted and struck with an anger and ferocity that has captured headlines. In Britain, Mark Serwotka has been amongst those calling for "a wave of resistance," but nothing concrete has yet materialised.

Indeed, though his union recently scored a victory at the High Court, there is no sign - though willing to take all the action that the law will allow - that PCS will be any more "radical" than the other unions constrained by the legal system. For the kind of radicalism required to stave off these cuts, the diametric opposite of Dave and Nick's definition of radical, there needs to be a push from the grassroots.

Working class people need to lead the charge in their own defence. The important question is how bad things need to get before they do so.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Rape laws and the callous idiocy of anti-feminism

The new coalition government recently announced that men accused of rape would be granted the same anonymity as their accusers. As well as drawing the misogynistic wingnuts out of the woodwork, foaming, this decision highlights the gross distortionsagainst women in the debate on rape.

Anti-rape campaigners reacted angrilly to the announcement. Women Against Rape called it "an insult," whilst rape victim Jill Saward said it would "send a damaging message." The Guardian further adds that this "would run contrary to the findings of a recent landmark report into rape and the criminal justice system, which recommended that independent research should first be done into the scale and nature of false rape allegations."

A recent survey by Amnesty International found that 30% of the British public felt a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if drunk, 26% thought so if she had been wearing revealing clothing, 34% if she was being flirty, and 22% if she had had many sexual partners. The full report (Word) is shocking, but sadly not surprising.

The right-wing and tabloid media have cultivated this attitude. Stories of false rape accusations outweigh stories of rape on a level completely disproportionate to actual incidence.

To take the Sun as an example, the bias is so overwhelming as to be obvious. "Woman's rape lie led to suicide," "'Too drunk' rape trial: chef Peter Bacon is cleared," and "Jack Tweed: I'm scared to have sex" are just a couple of examples. Their coverage of the new proposals includes an argument in their favour from previously falsely-accused Christine Hamilton, but no corresponding argument against.

To be fair, there are corresponding stories from the point of view of rape victims, but the volume and the editorial weight is clearly tipped towards the stories of women making flase accusations. The Sun's "Woman" section is leading a "Stop Rape Now" campaign, but this appears not to intrude on the propagandistic suggestions that women are making false accusations against men en masse. Indeed, the outrage this way appears to only be against what Whoopi Goldberg qualified as "rape-rape."

Proof in such an utterly batshit-crazy belief lies, as with so many insanities, in the words of Melanie Phillips;
Even before tomorrow's Queen's Speech, our new Lib-Con coalition has achieved a palpable hit. It has upset the feminist Sisterhood.

For this we must all give thanks. After the long years of Labour's Harman Terror, during which extreme man-hating feminism seemed to carry all before it, any sign that common sense may at last be reasserting itself is more than welcome.


It is, of course, an article of faith among such activists that women who claim they have been raped never lie because all men accused of rape are guilty.

This despite the steady stream of cases in which men have been found not guilty after the evidence against them has fallen apart in court, either because it is demonstrably false and malicious or merely flimsy and ambiguous.


Despite such instances, however, the certainty that all men accused of rape are guilty drove government policy during virtually the whole 13 years of Labour rule.

The cry of feminist activists both in and out of government has been throughout that the rape conviction rate, at a paltry 6 per cent, is too low.

But that figure is deeply misleading because it includes all reports of rape, regardless of whether the prosecution service deems them to be well enough founded to be brought to court.

In fact, of those rape defendants who are tried nearly 60 per cent are convicted  -  a higher conviction rate than for other violent attacks.

Furthermore, many acquittals occur because, with casual sex now so common, it has become much more difficult for a jury to decide beyond reasonable doubt whether the sexual encounter in question was consensual or not.

In other words, juries are simply doing their job properly at a time of profound social change.

Nevertheless, feminist activists claim, perversely, that the acquittal rate demonstrates bias against women  -  and have accordingly tried vindictively to load the judicial dice against men. 
It doesn't take a genius to realise that Mad Mel is, once again, attacking a strawman. The left-wing demons in her head do not often correlate to any kind of reality. It is also misleading, suggesting both that the rape conviction rate is much higher than suggested and that there is an anti-male agenda which ruins the lives of countless falsely accused.

The idea that there is a 60% rape conviction rate is shown up as a nonsense just on the fact that at least 75% of rape victims never go to the police (PDF). That alone tells you that there is something wrong with the way we treat the victims of this most horrendous crime. But there's more. The 60% figure should actually be 58%, coming from the "landmark report" by Baroness Stern mentioned earlier.

And even then it is misleading;
Ministry of Justice records show that in 2008 only 38% of rape cases won a conviction for rape itself. Alternative convictions were generally for offences such as sexual assault or sexual activity with a child under 16 – a much easier charge to prove because consent is not an issue. But they could also include non-sexual crimes such as a violent attack that was part of the incident, although the Crown Prosecution Service said this was highly unlikely to occur.

Alternative convictions could come about because of a plea bargain, where a rape or – more likely – attempted rape charge is dropped after a defendant offers to plead guilty to a lesser sexual offence, or because the jury is given two alternative charges and convicts on the lesser one, acquitting the defendant of rape.
According to the British Crime Survey report, Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2006/07, 1 in 20 women have been raped since they were 16, with 1 in 200 in the 12 months. before the survey. This suggests that 85,000 women in England and Wales are raped each year , equivalent to 230 a day. When the number of men convicted of rape is fewer than 800 a year, the idea that there is "a higher conviction rate [for rape] than for other violent attacks" is ludicrous.

Johann Hari made the point starkly back in 2007;
In Britain today, rape has become an almost unpunished crime. Fly-tipping, shop-lifting, cannabis-smoking - all are dealt with more stringently than forcing a woman into sex and forcing her mind into meltdown.

This sounds impossible, but the cool hard academic studies show it starkly: fewer than 1 in 100 rapists now end up behind bars. A British man has to rape over 50 women before it becomes statistically probable he will be sent to prison. As the feminist campaigner Julie Bindel puts it, "rape might as well be legal".
The reasons lie not just in the attitudes that the Amnesty survey described above found, but in the procedures followed by the legal system. As Hari continues;
At the moment, astonishingly, the first time a raped woman sees the lawyers who are meant to be making her case is when she enters the witness stand. As one friend of mine who went through a rape trial says: "He got a year with his lawyers to polish his performance, and I didn't even get 20 minutes to talk over what had happened to me."

But we can't focus only on the problems in the courtroom, because very few rapists ever get that far. The first time a victim describes her ordeal is very often to a rape hotline, so they are in a unique position to help women go to the police - but many are going bust. In 1985, there were 68 women-only rape crisis centres or helplines in Britain. Today, there are only 32 - and they are closing at a rate of two a month, according to the Survivors Trust.

And if they embolden a woman to come forward? The Crown Prosecution Service has to choose to take the case to court. One sexual liaison officer described in a recent Home Office study how the CPS would drop a case "before even the toxicology reports had come back form the lab", adding, "I just feel that the CPS give up too easily, too soon".

There are thousands of cases to back this claim up. In 1998, a school janitor in Grimsby seized a 15-year-old girl, dragged her into an alley and sexually assaulted her. The CPS didn't pursue it. His name? Ian Huntley.
At this point I should note that I am not calling for hysteria. Having argued strongly against the lynch mob mentality before, I have no intention on going back on that point. However, it should go without saying that we do not face a choice between picking up a pitchfork and treating victims as less than nothing. This is a simple matter of perspective. Yes, if women make false accusations, with malicious intent, there should be consequences. But the need to redress a system in which "rape might as well be legal" is a far more pressing concern.

That this latter, far more widespread, problem is being largely ignored is an inescapable condemnation of both the incumbent government and the media which promotes this agenda.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Socialist Workers' Party demonstrate why "revolutionary leadership" is a dead weight for the working class

Yesterday, nembers of the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) invaded the concillation talks between British Airways and Unite. They touted it as a strong show of solidarity by 200 members. In reality, it was a cheap PR stunt which only highlights the irrelevance of "vanguard" parties in workers' struggles.

Superviced by the concillation service ACAS, these talks represented a last-ditch attempt to avert the coming strikes and begin resolving what is an increasingly bitter dispute.

There are issues with the way events have unfolded, such as the continual willingness of the union leaders to sell their members short. Unite drew out the time between the ballot on strike action and the action itself. Their unwillingness to fight was evidenced by their insistence on seeking concillation even as BA shed jobs and declared "We will not allow Unite to ruin this company." Tony Woodley's public comment that the strikes were "unneccesary," as workers were in need of solidarity, was beneath contempt.

However, whilst this does need to be challenged, it is the members who must do it. These issues are a product of the bureaucratic hierarchy present in all unions, and can only be addressed by a grassroots movement to reclaim control of the union from within. Stunts such as the SWP's fail to address this fact, or to achieve anything, and are incomprehensible to ordinary union members who can only see a bunch of Trots causing havoc.

Tony Woodley referred to the SWP invaders as "idiots" and "lunatics," but - as Harry's Place point out - union members "will be saying things far harsher than what their union leader said."

A Very Public Sociologist goes further;
Call me cynical (and one cannot help be after watching the SWP's behaviour for a period of time), but this is about promoting the SWP and has little to do with the demands of the workers themselves. Since its split with Respect and losing ground on the left to the Socialist Party, the SWP have placed more emphasis on narrow party building than was previously the case. That might be more comforting to the leadership and long term members who had their fingers burnt engaging with "the movements", but if it is to build wider influence it has to make its own opportunities. High profile stunts is one such way it can make itself visible to the public at large.

So leaving aside the wishes and interests of cabin crew and the trade union, AND the effects the stunt will have on popular perceptions of the strike, today's been an unalloyed success for the SWP. They were catapulted to the top of the news agenda for the first time since ... well ... when has the SWP ever led a news bulletin? The coverage has also positioned them as a dynamic activist force able to throw convention aside to get its message across - a portrayal that will prove attractive to some. And lastly for the comrades involved, well, a few of them will feel a wee more revolutionary tonight than when they woke up this morning.

I'm sorry though, but this is a pretty poor show. The SWP have let down those they profess to defend, and future such antics will find them further marginalised in the labour movement.
The degree to which they are out of touch and margianlised already is apparent to most people who have dealt with them. Serious antifascists will compare chanting "Willie Walsh, who are you? We support the cabin crew!" whilst disrupting the talks that would have saved the same cabin crew from going on strike to scenes of all-white middle class students leading off with "we are black, white, Asian, and we're Jews..."

The assertion over at Lenin's Tomb that "the protest did not disrupt negotiations" because "the BA management is not negotiating, and the union leadership is neither in a position to compel them to negotiate, nor is it inclined to" is a case in point. As one commenter on Socialist Unity put it, "as if all that matters is that the BA workers strike - no, what matters is that they can defend their pay, conditions, jobs and union. If ever there was an illustration of how a student organization without working class influence can get tactics so wrong, this is it."

But the SWP is just the tip of the iceberg. With a "activist" base of students who like to hide behind the newspapers they're flogging*, and little connection to actual workers in struggle, they are perhaps the archetypal Trotskyite group. However, many if not all of the same critiques that can be applied to the SWP can be applied to their rivals.

Dave Hyland, for WSWS, outlines a couple of these key criticisms as they relate to the recent general election. Unfortunately, he follows this up by declaring that "the advanced nature of the political situation in Britain places before every class conscious and politically aware worker and young person the urgent job of building the Socialist Equality Party as its new revolutionary leadership." In doing so, he unwittingly reveals the real problem with what he calls the "pseudo-left," including his own party.

The working class do not need a "revolutionary leadership."

The "vanguard of the proletariat" is a concept common to both the Leninist and Trotskyist strains of communism, and it is nothing more than a convenient precedent to seize and hold power. In post-revolutionary Russia, it saw the self-organised soviets infiltrated and commandeered by the Bolsheviks, the army re-centralised, and the establishment of a counter-revolutionary dictatorship.

Vanguardism is a dead-end for real, libertarian socialism. In times when it had a chance of gaining power, it was a vehicle for dictatorship. Now, the point is to boost the numbers, fill the coffers, and sell the papers.

Some groups, such as the Socialist Party - being formed from Militant Tendency - do have the upside of actually getting involved in workers' struggles in practical ways. But they hold to the same belief in workers' needing revolutionary leadership, and the same tendency towards building front groups. I also have a personal aversion to their ideology following on from a conversation I had in 2005 with Tony Mulhearn, who informed me that he thought George Orwell was "overly cynical about Stalin!"

Ultimately, workers need to self-organise. Yes, we need to rid ourselves of the dead-weight of union bureaucracy, but that does not mean installing an out-of-touch vanguard in their stead. Serious and effective resistance to the class war can only come from below, at the hands of people who are willing to take direct action but who also realise that looking revolutionary isn't the same as being revolutionary.

The invasion of the Unite-BA talks, then, was an act of attrocious stupidity. But if there is anything positive to be gained from it, let it be that the labour movement pushes away from the trappings of the authoritarian left and its many front and splinter groups.

*I realise that this is a very crude stereotype. I do actually know people within the SWP who are sincere and amiable people. I also have nothing against students or the middle class, especially those who realise their shared lot with the rest of the working class and want to get involved. Unfortunately, that is the stereotype they convey to the working people their party wishes to be the vanguard of, and it is a stereotype that too many of them fit.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Iron Dome, media propaganda, and military Keynesianism

The United States has pledged $205 million to fund the development of the Israeli "Iron Dome" project. Allegedly, this will help defend Israel from Palestinian and Lebanese rocket attacks. But, as is often the case when it comes to Israel, the truth is somewhat more complex.

According to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, "with nearly every square inch of Israel at risk from rocket and missile attacks, we must ensure that our most important ally in the region has the tools to defend itself." The BBC adds that "Iron Dome was conceived and developed in Israel following the Lebanon war of 2006, during which Hezbollah launched about 4,000 rockets into northern Israel" and "southern Israel has also come under fire, with thousands of rockets and mortars fired by Palestinian militants."

Iron Dome seems not only useful, then, but neccesary in the face of such a bombardment. But, as I have noted before, the threat is overstated.

According to Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (PDF), "as of April 27, 2008, a total of 13 Israelis have been killed by Qassam rockets since the attacks started in 2001." However, as Amnesty International point out in Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction (PDF), the end result of an offensive by Israel lasting less than a month was that "some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed, including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and large areas of Gaza had been razed to the ground, leaving many thousands homeless and the already dire economy in ruins."

Also important to note, for context, is that Gaza had been blockaded for 18-months prior to that, and remains so to the present. For the crime of electing a Hamas government in free and fair conditions, they were condemned to brutal collective punishment.

In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC);
The stringent closure imposed on Gaza is having a serious impact on most people's daily lives and has stymied reconstruction efforts. Fishermen's and farmers' livelihoods have been destroyed. Unemployment and poverty are rampant. The availability of medical care is inadequate and water and sanitation services are run down.
Despite this, Hamas offered to renew its existing ceasefire. Israel flatly rejected the offer, favouring war as long as Gaza was under Hamas control. One can only wonder when the US will fund an equivalent Iron Dome to protect the Palestinians from Israel.

As Edward Herman notes for Z Magazine;
In reality, the primary violence is Israeli dispossession, which has taken Palestinian land and water for decades, under U.S. and other enlightened states' protection. Over the years the Palestinians have resisted, mainly peaceably, sometimes by violence, but with very much higher casualty rates suffered by the poorly armed Palestinians (over 20-1 prior to the second intifada, when the rate dropped to 3 or 4 to 1-rising to 100 to 1 in the Gaza war).
Nonetheless, the established line of "Israel at risk from rocket and missile attacks" continues to be parrotted by politicians and the media alike. As such we must continue to expose it for the lie that it is.

But this is far from all. The idea of Iron Dome as any kind of "defensive," even an unnecesary or disproportionate one, is fallacious. According to the BBC, Israeli "officials say the next phase in its development is its integration into the Israeli army."

Tel Aviv University professor and noted military analyst Reuven Pedatzur, quoted in the Jerusalem Post, has a quite different take on the matter;
The Iron Dome is all a scam. The flight-time of a Kassam rocket to Sderot is 14 seconds, while the time the Iron Dome needs to identify a target and fire is something like 15 seconds. This means it can't defend against anything fired from fewer than five kilometers; but it probably couldn't defend against anything fired from 15 km., either.
We've been here before. Barack Obama's policy statement on Israel included the call for "continuing U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems," of which Iron Dome appears to be the end result. The model is clearly the broader US "star wars" system. In both cases, it is not just cynicism which challenges the idea of the systems as "defensive," but the fact that they are quite evidently not fit for purpose on that front.

Johann Hari has made this point before, in some depth;
In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan was increasingly worried a nuclear war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, until a long-suppressed memory resurfaced in his mind. In 1940, he had starred in a hokey movie called ‘Murder in the Air’. He played a secret agent who had to protect a newly invented super-weapon called the “Intertia Projector” which fired an electrical current at any plane or missile approaching the United States, rendering it worthless. In the film, a scientist tells Reagan this weapon “makes the US invincible in war, and promises to become the greatest force for world peace ever discovered.” 

Why, Reagan wondered in the Oval Office, couldn’t he have a real Intertia Projector? Let’s create a machine that would detect any incoming nuke as it approached the US and zap it into nothing! The Cold War standoff would be over! Reagan was losing the ability to distinguish between reality and films: he repeatedly claimed he had been at the liberation of Auschwitz, when he had recreated it in Hollywood. After the Second World War, there had been a few studies trying to invent such a machine – but they all concluded it was “impossible.” Nonetheless, Reagan decided in 1983 to call on America’s scientists to make it happen. 

Everyone was bewildered. Reagan’s undersecretary of Defence, Richard DeLauer demanded to know how such a “half-baked political travesty” got into a Presidential address. As the Pulitzer-prize winning historian Frances Fitzgerald explains: “Most of the scientists and defence experts invited to the White House for dinner that evening expressed incredulity. An umbrella defence of the United States was a virtual impossibility… [But] when the experts insisted that science was not magic and that American technology could no do everything, they would be accused of lack of patriotism.” 

The lack of evidence didn’t deter Reagan’s team. The man he put in charge of the programme, James Abrahamson, declared: “I don’t think anything in this country is technically impossible. We have a nation which can indeed produce miracles.” The programme was dubbed ‘Star Wars’ – which was fitting, since it was science fiction. As the years passed, the US strategic planners developed ever-more-fevered fantasies of how the shield would allow them to strike anywhere in the world without any risk of retaliation. 

By the time Reagan left office, there was a vast industry dedicated to chasing this will-o’-the-wisp. Huge defence contractors – including Boeing and Lockheed Martin – were making billions from it, and giving fat donations to politicians in both parties. In the decades since, the US has spent more and more, and asked the ‘shield’ to do less and less. Now they want it to just take out a single nuke – and it still doesn’t work. The tests only succeed when the interceptors know where the missile is being fired from, where it is heading to, and the warhead continually broadcasts its location to the interceptor. Some success. They have been given a near-impossible-task: scientists compare it to hitting a bullet with another bullet.
Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow at the Arms Control Association, backs this assesment up (PDF);
Getting to ground truth on strategic missile defense is a bit like looking for a faithful reflection in the distorted mirrors of a carnival fun house - nothing is quite what it seems.

Performance details are shrouded in secrecy on both strategic ballistic missile defenses and the countermeasures that would be used to defeat them. Neither strategic ballistic missile offenses nor defenses have been used in combat. Many experts to whom the public has access have a vested interest in spinning evaluations of their capabilities.
This is no less true when it comes to the smaller-scale version in Iron Dome. Indeed, according to Pedatzur, "considering the fact that each Iron Dome missile costs about $100,000 and each Kassam $5, all the Palestinians would need to do is build and launch a ton of rockets and hit our pocketbook." But then we can safely assume that the point here was never defence.

The main point, as I noted during the South Ossetia conflict back in 2008, is that whilst "missile defence" is unworkable in terms of its stated goal, it is more feasible as a way to launch first strikes with impunity. There is historical precedent for the US making such plans.

This is not to say that America will launch a first strike anywhere. Indeed, it is unlikely. Rather, the possiblity of such a thing will allow it to assert dominance and scare off threats on the basis of a more one-sided form of the Cold War MAD strategy. After all, control of strategic markets and resources remains the primary goal of US planners, and if they can maintain that without open warfare then all the better.

At the same time, the industry that has built up around "missile defence" adds to the taxpayer subsidy of private profit through the military-industrial complex. As Noam Chomsky has explained;
Like all advanced societies, the U.S. has relied on state intervention in the economy from its origins, though for ideological reasons, the fact is commonly denied. During the post-World War II period, such "industrial policy" was masked by the Pentagon system, including the Department of Energy (which produces nuclear weapons) and NASA, converted by the Kennedy administration to a significant component of the state-directed public subsidy to advanced industry.

By the late 1940s, it was taken for granted in government-corporate circles that the state would have to intervene massively to maintain the private economy. In 1948, with postwar pent-up consumer demand exhausted and the economy sinking back into recession, Truman's "cold-war spending" was regarded by the business press as a "magic formula for almost endless good times" (Steel), a way to "maintain a generally upward tone" (Business Week). The Magazine of Wall Street saw military spending as a way to "inject new strength into the entire economy," and a few years later, found it "obvious that foreign economies as well as our own are now mainly dependent on the scope of continued arms spending in this country," referring to the international military Keynesianism that finally succeeded in reconstructing state capitalist industrial societies abroad and laying the basis for the huge expansion of Transnational Corporations (TNCs), at that time mainly U.S.-based.

The Pentagon system was considered ideal for these purposes. It imposes on the public a large burden of the costs (research and development, R&D) and provides a guaranteed market for excess production, a useful cushion for management decisions. Furthermore, this form of industrial policy does not have the undesirable side-effects of social spending directed to human needs. Apart from unwelcome redistributive effects, the latter policies tend to interfere with managerial prerogatives; useful production may undercut private gain, while state-subsidized waste production (arms, Man-on-the-Moon extravaganzas, etc.) is a gift to the owner and manager, who will, furthermore, be granted control of any marketable spin-offs. Furthermore, social spending may well arouse public interest and participation, thus enhancing the threat of democracy; the public cares about hospitals, roads, neighborhoods, and so on, but has no opinion about the choice of missiles and high-tech fighter planes. The defects of social spending do not taint the military Keynesian alternative, which had the added advantage that it was well-adapted to the needs of advanced industry: computers and electronics generally, aviation, and a wide range of related technologies and enterprises.
Thus, we can assume the fact that Iron Dome is not fit for its stated purpose to be largely irrelevant. It is not, in fact, there for "defence" but as a visible deterrent and an industrial cash-cow.

What this means for the Palestinians is as yet unclear. Under Obama's lead, despite obfuscation in the media, the US-Israeli alliance has not wavered in its rejectionist stance. Expansion into Palestinian territory has been unceasing, and indirect peace talks (initiated after the failure of direct talks) are going nowhere. This new development seems only to be another barrier to hope and progress.

What we do know is that the fight for justice cannot end.

A nine-ship convoy, under the banner "Freedom Flotilla," is headed to Gaza to deliver aid, despite warnings that they will be stopped for "breaching Israeli law." Palestinians have been staging protests in memory of the damage inflicted by the 1948 war. Direct action by Anarchists Against the Wall persists despite continual repression by the Israeli Defence Force.

The Palestinians are a people under apartheid. Especially in Gaza, their conditions are incomparable even weighed up against the South African struggle. Their oppressor is backed up by the full might of the most powerful superpower in history. Every act of resistance is met with a thousand-fold retaliation, and they are being choked and starved as a people. And still they fight back.

If they can continue to do that, against such overwhelming odds, then the very least we can do is to show solidarity and make sure that their story isn't consigned to the memory-hole by the media.