Sunday, 31 October 2010

No War but Class War - October 2010

This month, the scale of the attacks on the working class in Britain to shore up the ruling class became clear. Under the banner of the Comprehensive Spending Review, chancellor George Osborne wrought attacks on the unemployed and disabled, tax hikes, and at least 1 million job losses.

The response to the cuts agenda  has thus far been lacklustre, at best. However, in the weekend following the CSR it looked like there were at least a few people up for a fight and, although the same compromising bureaucratic nonsense was there, something of a radical militancy was beginning to break through. Fire-fighters in London organising mass pickets and blocking the way for scabs is just one example.

The last weekend of the month saw people respond with direct action to the disparities in how ordinary people and big corporations are treated by the state.

Across the country, protesters blockaded the entrances of Vodafone stores, in response to the news that the mobile phone company had an outstanding tax bill of £6bn. This became the focal point for a mass outpouring of anger, which saw the flagship store in London closed.

The Northampton Solidarity Federation made the reasons for this quite clear in a leaflet handed out at the event;
Those of us working for our living, or even claiming benefits, have our tax deducted at source. But the rich, and companies such as Vodafone continually avoid their tax bill – and with the blessing of government.

After cancelling this £6bn tax bill, Osborne appointed Vodafone’s finance director to the government’s Advisory Board on Business Tax Rates. Presumably to work out more ways in which the elite can avoid paying tax.

But it’s not just Vodafone.

It’s been calculated that UK corporations succeed in avoiding paying £12bn tax every year, and the wealthiest people in the country (Osborne and his friends) avoid or evade up to £120bn!

Whose interests are the government looking after? IT ISN’T OURS!
And, as Laurie Penny pointed out in the New Statesman, this was not the act of old hands;
This is not just the usual troublemakers making the usual nuisance of themselves. They are very young, they are very resolute, and they are certain that the left's usual response just won't cut it anymore.
That the present attacks have inspired such radical action from people who aren't long-in-the-tooth class warriors can only be a good thing. We have to hope that they can maintain that fighting spirit - perhaps with some improvement in tactics and security - without being demobilised by the traditional left.

LibCom provides a helpful round-up of other struggles across Britain this month;
Taxi drivers in Rossendale vote to strike

Taxi drivers in Rossendale, Lancashire, have voted for strike action in protest against the council's plans to implement penalties on drivers.

Under the scheme, drivers will be hit with point-based penalties if they break one of 34 rules. Drivers who accrue more than 20 points in a year will have to resit their test or have their licence revoked. For example, sounding a horn to announce arrival at an address will result in four points.

The decision was taken at a mass meeting of 150 cabbies. At the time of writing, the Taxi drivers have voted to strike within the next fortnight.

Sellafield workers in strike over pay

Workers employed by Babcock, a contractor at Sellafield nuclear plant, have struck and held up traffic at the entrance to the site.

The workers, who are members of the Unite union, are owed back pay relating to a promised annual pay rise which never materialised. They have been taking regular strike action and have imposed an overtime ban. They held up traffic at all four entrances to the site leafleting other workers.

Strikes at Swindon Leisure Centres

September saw two strikes at Swindon's leisure centres, parks and car parks after the Tory-run council moved to withdraw shift allowances for compulsory overtime at antisocial hours.

The ballot was organised by Unison, which backed the strikes. The cut represents a significant drop in pay for many workers, resulting in the loss of as much as £300 a month. The strike has led to the closure of car parks and the winding down of leisure centre activities. The hardship fund set up for the strike is reported to have received £1500 in donations so far.

AstraZeneca workers fight on

The strike by workers at AstraZeneca in Macclesfield has continued into October. The dispute began last month after the company, which reported pre-tax profits of £1.8 in the three months to June this year, implemented cuts to staff pensions (whilst Chief Executive David Brennan boosted his pension entitlement to £17,500 a week).

The strike vote saw a 70% backing for action being given by GMB members, with the Macclesfield drug factory seeing the first strike in its history.

A GMB-organised demonstration marched from the AstraZeneca site to Macclesfield town centre on the 6th of October before returning back to the site, on what was the sixth day of strike action. 
The response of French workers to their government's attacks has been far more determined and explosive. Nicholas Sarkozy's plans to raise the state retirement age have been met with waves of protests, strikes, blockades and occupations.

The Mouvement Communiste offers an in-depth report and analysis of the situation, and states that one of the main weaknesses of the protests there is that strikes have not hit the private sector. However, they remain optimistic because "in many places very tiny groups of people tried to organize themselves on a rank and file basis to do something, for instance blocking the economy."

This may be unrealistic, but it "allows people to create horizontal links that could be useful for the future." There are people willing to fight, and the point is to build upon that.

In Peru, the textile exporter Topy Top sacked 35 workers for organising into a trade union. Peruvian textile workers say they are routinely bullied and "brutally harrassed" by their employers and that legal systems favouring the bosses have led to their working day reaching more than 12 hours in some cases.

A 2008 study from the Fair Labor Association found that workers were afraid to join a union for fear of retaliation, and regularly worked 60 -77 hour weeks. The company had no health and safety policy and did not provide adequate safety equipment or clothing and was unable to demonstrate that it had any protections against the use of child labour.

In 2009, there was strike action against Law 2242, which effectively allows textile exporters to end anyone's employment within two months without having to state a reason. However, little has changed and these sackings are just the latest incitement against workers.

As a result, campaigning publication Periodico Humanidad has published a callout through the International Workers Association for actions to be taken at the outlets of transnational fashion chain Zara, one of Topy Top's biggest clients, on October 9th. This call was taken up by, among others, the Brighton and Liverpool locals of the Solidarity Federation.

In the United States, the Jimmy Johns' union has been facing difficulties in its struggle to be recognised by bosses. According to a press release on the IWW website;
Franchise owner Mike Mulligan decided to go beyond the pale. His managers asked workers to wear anti-union pins, fired pro-union workers, threatened a mass firing, implemented an illegal wage freeze, tightened policies and retaliated against union members, offered bribes, and pressured workers to vote no. He broke the law repeatedly in order to win, and he just barely won. That's not right. We are calling on the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] to set aside the results of this election.
This tactic is typical of union busting companies in America, most notably Starbucks and Walmart, But Starbucks, at least, now have a fighting union presence and Jimmy Johns workers are determined to join them. The union has filed to have the election results nullified, and at the same time "the workers also plan to mount a campaign to win their demands without union recognition."

In different parts of the world, workers are taking struggles into their own hands and forcing their demands upon the bosses. And those who suffer the backlash are receiving international solidarity. As the attacks on our class become more savage, this trend will only continue to grow.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

A simple point, well made

Today, the English Defence League travelled to Amsterdam to demonstrate in support of Dutch Freeom Party MP Geert Wilders. The day was, by all accounts, an abject failure for the group and a decisive victory for antifascists. The reasons why are very telling.

There wasn't a single green ribbon tied to a lamppost in sight. There had been no "peace vigil" the night before. Antifascists hadn't joined with politicians to urge people to concede the streets to the far-right.

What there was, however, was a huge crew of Antifa - particularly from Ajax football club. Not only did they outnumber the fascists, they confronted them head-on and refused to even let them reach their meeting point. The EDL were thus told to leave for their own safety by police.
The far-right weren't driven off the streets. They didn't even get to take them over in the first place. And there were no scenes of rampaging hooliganism that neccesitated communities to defend themselves in Bradford, Leicester, and elsewhere whilst antifascists smugly looked on and condemned that which they'd done sweet fuck all to stop.

In case you missed it, here's the point: the EDL failed because they were met with direct, physical, and militant resistance. The antifascists won because they took part in the struggle rather than detatching themselves from it and claiming intellectual or moral victories whilst real people suffered violence.

It's a lesson we would do well to remember. Especially those who look on with disgust or discomfort at militant antifascism.

A response to Jack of Kent on the Bonfire Night Strike

I admire David Allen Green, better known as Jack of Kent, for a number of reasons. His often pro bono defence for victims of spurious libel claims, and his campaigning against the UK's libel laws in particular. However, he falls drastically short on his understanding of labour relations.

Earlier in the week, he wrote a blog for the New Statesman, asking "are public service strikes ever an abuse of power?" A provocative question, and one that provoked a strong reaction from a lot of people.

The key point, in my opinion, was this from Latte Labour;
Don't get me wrong, by the way, I am not accusing Green of betraying anyone. He is consistently doing what liberals do, using appeals to disinterested reason, fairness, balance, and public-spiritedness to support the status quo whilst appearing progressive.
Which, of course, is the main issue at hand. Many bloggers and political commentators vociferously hate trade unions and strikes, and can often be quite articulate in their objections. But they are also honest in their biases. Nobody could accuse the Devil's Knife, for example, of disguising his opinions on the matter.

But Green is. His blog ends on a question, apparently leaving the matter unresolved. But reading through the whole thing, it is apparent that the question was answered before it was asked.

He thinks the Fire Brigade Union calling a strike on Bonfire Night is "shocking." He believes that "public-service unions seem to get away with it again and again." And he is of the opinion that "any strike by public-service workers can arguably be worse for certain vulnerable and impoverished members of society than any George Osborne Budget." But he offers the question as though still awaiting the answer.

As if to back up this pretext, he today gives us a follow up post which addresses both sides of the argument by asking direct questions of the respective press offices. It is worthwhile reading, and it aims at objectivity. Indeed, the conclusion that "it is rather hard to see which side is abusing their power more" suggests that it has been reached.

But the neutral conclusion is only there if we ignore the economics of labour relations and the one simple fact behind them: the employer and the employees do not start from a level footing.
As the owner of capital, the employer has the upper hand, and this is precisely why employees must combine to assert their interests. This is no radical Marxist doctrine. You can discover the fact easy enough in the work of Adam Smith, that hero of classical liberalism - Green's professed ideology.

From which point, we get the reason for strikes in the first place. Since it is our labour power which drives production, with the bosses merely parasiting off it through illegitimate property rights, it is the withdrawal of that labour which is our greatest leverage when taking them on. If we rely only on the kindness of our employers, we are simply welcoming that race to the bottom.

All of which is lost on Green, who is baffled that the FBU would call a strike on Bonfire Night "of all days." This is, after all, "the busiest time of the year for firefighters." So why on earth would they choose that date?

Applying common sense, I made this point in a tweet (as yet unreplied to);
Striking at a time of no critical impact to the employer is like building a bonfire with damp wood.
And the idea of the effective use of labour power in industrial relations being an "abuse" of that same power, almost by default, is exactly the same covert support for established power that Latte Labour spoke of. Indeed, it is the central plank of the propaganda model analysis of the media put forward by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman.

If Green wants to have an objective debate on this question, that is fine. But for that he has to have the debate without the framework which answers the question in favour of established power before it is even asked.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Quote of the day...

...goes to Boris Johnson;
The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs. I'll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together.

We will not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London. On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.
The statement was immediately rebuked by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whom Charlie Brooker aptly describes as the "sad-eyed defender of the new reality."

Clegg had to emphasise virtually every other word as he said "disagree with what Boris Johnson has said on the policy and I certainly and very strongly disagree with the way in which he has expressed his views." Just in case we weren't aware of how strongly and passionately he felt about this.

But then, "point a camera in his direction, and Clegg will construct an earnest argument in favour of virtually any unappealing concept you can throw at him." Because Boris was quite right in what he was saying, and though it may not neccesarily be "Kosovo style" (since we as yet lack an armed struggle and a genocide), what is going on is absolutely "social cleansing."

As I've pointed out before, housing benefit levels are not high because of the claimants, but because of the landlords. The signs stating "no DSS" disappear once the money goes up, and the cap on payouts does nothing to address this. The practice continues, and more people are made homeless.

Some people, such as Libertarian / mentalist Old Holborn;
Why should an ordinary bloke, struggling to pay the mortgage on his two bed house in South Croydon, skint from the season ticket be forced to pay for anyone unemployed to live in an area he himself could never afford? Is that fair?

Why do those who work live in the suburbs? Choice? Of course not. It is the nearest place to their workplace they can afford. All of us would live off the Kings Road or in Covent Garden if someone else was paying the rent. Alas, they are not.
But the "ordinary blokes" of this world can only not afford it precisely because of private landlords, not the people who happen to be renting their properties. The problem arises because, due to "rents on artificial scarcity, as a result of the state’s enforcement of artificial property rights." Not because somebody relying on state welfare happens to be caught in part of that web.

So, whilst I have my (significant) disagreements with him, on this occasion I'm with Boris. David Cameron's social cleansing, and the prospect of exacerbating "a London where the rich and poor cannot live together" needs to be actively resisted.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

First they came for the disabled...

...but fortunately Bendy Girl, now armed with her own YouTube account, is on top form;


This covers pretty much everything I wanted to say about the claim that "75% of incapacity claimants are fit to work," and more. Especially on the idea that the "tough new benefits test weeds out the workshy," rather than shoving people into a more vulnerable position.

As such, further comment is superfluous.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The EDL threaten Christmas mayhem over recycled tabloid myths

The English Defence League, spiralling further into irrelevance as far as real issues facing the working class are concerned, has decided to save Christmas. It has issued letters to councils across the country saying they will "close down" any town that "bans" the festival to "appease Muslims."

At this point, it is unclear what their aim is besides beating the tabloids to the punch in the annual tradition of re-writing the old, and thoroughly discredited, "Christmas is Banned" yarn.

And, as I pointed out last year, it is bullshit;
Late last month, the Daily Mail reported that "David Cameron was facing a backlash from his own party after it emerged the Conservative official cards have the message 'Season's Greetings'." This after "he derided politically-correct Christmas cards which do not mention the word Christmas as 'insulting tosh'" two years ago. Thus, the paper is given occasion (not that it needs an excuse) to throw out clich├ęs about "pandering to the extremists of the PC brigade" and "white middle-class Guardian-reading left-wing do-gooders with a misguided guilt complex and too much time on their hands." That the "controversial" cards actually contain a greeting which originated with the Victorians and attained its modern form in 1920 goes unmentioned.

That same day, the Daily Express told us with considerable indignation that "Britain’s biggest Christmas cracker factory has ditched dozens of risque gags in favour of more politically-correct alternatives." Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I've never come across anything other than tame, cheesy, and utterly godawful cracker jokes. I've certainly never had the pleasure of those "about mother-in-laws, transvestites and animal cruelty," which we're to believe have been replaced by "a new selection guaranteed not to offend."

John Midgely, of the rent-a-quote organ Campaign Against Political Correctness asks us "shouldn’t Christmas be the one time people can be free from PC in their own home?" One might be tempted to answer that we would be, if people like Midgely and the Express would stop rehashing old nonsense as an excuse to moan.

But, perhaps in the interests of keeping journalists who can't do basic fact-checking employed, the circus rolls on. The latest offering comes from yesterday's Mail, with the headline "Council renames Christmas festival 'Midwinter Celebration' sparking PC row." The author, one Chris Brooke, alleges that Bradford City Council "face[s] accusations of being oversensitive to ethnic minorities by keeping the reference to Christmas out of he family event on the last Sunday before Christmas Day." The first falsehood is that there is in fact only one complaint, from the Rev. Paul Flowers, whose rage is in full flow when he asks "why, oh why, must they now resort to the stupidity and banality of advertising a bland "Midwinter Celebration" when the season is clearly  Christmas and should be appropriately named as such?"

The answer is offered to anybody willing to read a little further. Even in the Mail, you can usually find at least one sentence alluding to the truth of the matter. Thus, we discover that far from "being oversensitive to ethnic minorities," the aim of the event is to "celebrate traditional seasonal  activities that are relevant to the history and heritage of the hall and the communities it supported over many centuries," and is being run in the midst of "a wide range of events to celebrate Christmas." Whilst there, "families will be able to 'listen to authentic music' and see traditional medieval folk plays as well as participate in workshops including sugar mice and herb bag making," hardly what you would expect from a politically correct event aimed at "denying" and "erasing" tradition.

But then, political correctness isn't actually a real phenomenon. It's the invention of right wing cranks looking for an excuse to spew out nationalistic and / or religious hyperbole. If more people take note of this fact, and disseminate the truth to those who believe the lies, then maybe we can put to death the ridiculous "culture wars" that serve only as a convenient distraction from the real issues we all face in our lives.
Distracting from the real issues, however, is what the EDL do best.

That's why, when several thousand people marched against the Lib Dems for supporting the cuts, they "marched" against them for apparently “refus[ing] to tackle the threat of Islamic Extremism.” And why they deliberately doctored a photo of Merseyside TUC president Alec McFadden to say "protest against the troops" when he was calling for people to "protest against the cuts."

It's also why, whilst millions of people will be worried about the effects of the Comprehensive Spending Review, they're pissing in the wind about non-existent bans on Christmas.

But what really gets me is EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon's quote that “working class people” in the UK are “at boiling point” over the “Islamisation of Britain.” His evidence? The fact that "yesterday’s Daily Star poll found 98% of readers fear that Britain is becoming a Muslim state."

The first thing to question here is how Yaxley-Lennon (better known by his more proletarian pseudonym "Tommy Robinson") defines "working class people." If his definition includes the phrase "Daily Star readers," at any point, I'd say he's doing us an incredible disservice.

Unfortunately, this wouldn't be surprising. As part of their traditional tactic of warping class consciousness to suit their agenda, one thing the far-right has always done - unfortunately often aided by the snobbery of establishment liberals - is to define class on the basis of a shallow and extremely patronising caricature. Amongst other things, this includes an appeal to wilful ignorance.

The working class, when at its strongest, had a vibrant intellectual culture. It drove our politics and maintained our class consciousness. It served our desire to educate and upskill ourselves. And its decline is part of the campaign to roll back every advance that organised workers have won.

This is exactly why fascists, witting or unwitting stooges of the bosses, promote an anti-intellectual parody of class. The de-skilling of labour is ignored in favour of racial or nationalistic epithets, reason and logic become taboo, and "student" is all-but synonymous with "middle class." It is exactly the same ideological trickery put forward by the media.

Yaxley-Lennon is wrong. The majority of the working class aren't "at boiling point" over Islamisation, because it just isn't happening. But the media and far-right continue to parrot the lie, excluding opponents from their narrow definition of working class by fiat, and it continues to gain weight.

Or, as Anton Vowl put it;
98 per cent. Ninety-eight per cent of Star readers fear that Britain is becoming a Muslim state. Now, it's easy to point to the publications of Richard Desmond - the Daily Express and Daily Star - and wonder why exactly that kind of fear might be occurring at such an alarming rate

The point needs to be challenging the myths put out by the media, more vociferously and publicly than ever. They are no longer just the fodder for "Disgusted of Tumbridge Wells" to vent his spleen, but an excuse for the far-right to take to the street to cause mayhem.

At the same time, antifascists need to be on the alert. Every recycled myth now brings with it the threat of mob-handed fascists. We must be ready to confront them so that hey cannot make good on their threat.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Let "reckless militancy" reign

Thousands of fire fighters in London are set to strike from 10am on November 5 to 9am on November 7, in a dispute over new shift patterns and management bullishness over the matter. Naturally, the bosses they're challenging and the politicians that serve them aren't happy.

The action, we are told, is "cynical" and "reckless." It has prompted fears, predictably stoked by the Daily Mail, of "a new wave union militancy."

Fire authority chairman Brian Coleman asked "what sort of union orders its firefighters to go on strike over Bonfire Night?" Clearly, the man needs a lesson in the history of the labour movement, and exactly how exercising your labour power as leverage against the employer works. Or, more likely, he is a wilfully ignorant buffoon trying to force his staff into accepting the race to the bottom.

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, of Parliament’s All Party Fire Safety and Rescue Group claimed that the firefighters were "endangering the lives of people for the sake of a change to their shift patterns." This became the flimsy excuse to call for no-strike laws on firemen.

He "would support anti-strike legislation if it stops putting people’s lives in danger." The idea that not trying to impose unfavourable conditions on those saving said lives might be a far better solution appears not to have crossed his mind. Not that we would expect it to, for the only consistent principle on the right is that the bosses must be favoured over the workers, at all costs.

Personally, I would hope that there is a return to "old fashioned, militant muscle," as Tory fire minister Bob Neill put it. Especially now, it is vital that workers stand up for ourselves.

Likewise, reports that striking firefighters responded to scabbing with direct action is to be welcomed. According to the BBC, "footage has emerged showing a group of people surrounding a fire engine returning to the fire station at Southwark Bridge Road, south London." At the same time, "images and names of some of the contract workers were put on a Facebook page set up in support of the strike."

Initiating violence against anybody is unacceptable, and I in no way advocate a return to the days when scabs were attacked and even murdered by pickets. But naming and shaming them, or blockading them so they cannot act as intended, is not even close to such a scenario.

Those who cross the picket line are not neutral parties. By doing so, they side with the bosses, and far more needs to be done to directly impede them in that effort.

More broadly, it appears that the firefighters' strike has thus far exemplified what pickets should be. The Socialist Worker reports that "at the picket’s peak more than 200 firefighters and supporters were gathered outside the fire brigade’s Southwark Training Centre in south London." This is exactly the kind of rank-and-file mass participation and solidarity that organised workers need on all picket lines, especially as the struggles intensify with the cuts.

The bosses and politicians, along with their mouthpieces in the media, are right to "fear" the militancy of the working class. It is a threat to them and their ability to use us and dispose of us as they see fit. That is exactly why I welcome it and say bring on the fight.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

To the disabled people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Bendy Girl has put out an impassioned plea for disabled people to come together as a collective, and to stand up against the abuse that so many of them face. Her appeal is quite simple: that people should tell their stories and make their voices heard.

The video is below;

The website where these stories will be collatted is The Broken Of Britain, and stories can be emailed to thebrokenofbritain@gmail.com.

It's a remarkably simple idea, but then all the best ones are. The only way that attacks on our class can be resisted is through collective resistance, and the first step to building such resistance is organising people. Letting them know that they're not alone, and that they can speak up.

This is what Bendy Girl is trying to start, and it is already starting to grow into something viable.

At present, it is only on the internet, true, but that is a valuable organising tool. It is also the only lifeline for many people with disabilities, as was pointed out numerous times after Nadine Dorries's utterly twattish rant about Twitter users. This makes it the perfect base camp for such a campaign.

More, if it can connect with on-the-ground movements, such as the Disabled Peoples' Direct Action Network, it could develop from pressure into active resistane. And, given how bullish the present government is being over austerity for the poor to bail out the rich, that will almost certainly be a neccessity.

Especially in the present climate, every sign that ordinary people are willing to take action for themselves has to be welcomed. What Bendy Girl has initiated, therefore, is one of the most positive signs yet that the government may habe at least a serious fightback on their hands.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Class grumblings

I'm currently at Northern College, Barnsley, on a residential trade union education course. As a brief interlude to this, today I travelled to Sheffield to take part in the nation-wide anti-cuts demontrations organised by the trade unions.

The event had its downfalls, and there were mixed messages from the speakers there. But, broadly, I have to say it made me less cynical than I was on the day of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

This wasn't because of the broader left, who were still offering the same stale, quasi-radical message as ever. It wasn't because of the event organisers, who had Labour speakers on the platform to attack the Lib Dems. It certainly wasn't due to the TUC, who can't have a national demo until March, when it will be too late to deal with the present attacks.

It was because of members of the public and rank-and-file trade unionists. There were 1,500 people on the march and demo here, similar turnouts at other demos, and 20,000 in Edinburgh. People are worried about the present situation and, even if they might not know what, willing to do something about it.

More than that, it was because you soon realise by talking to people that the anarchist movement is not singing a tune that nobody else will dance to.

They know that Labour are another ruling class party who will lead the working class up a dead end road in the name of electoral success. They know that an effective campaign must be bottom-up and led from the grassroots. And they know that static protests and petitioning will not get us anywhere.

The trick now is to tap into that feeling and offer a genuinely radical alternative. This will not be easy. But we need to know that there is a potentially receptive audience out there.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.2

Friday, 22 October 2010

Of "austerity hypocrites" and strawmen

Writing for the First Post, Brendan O'Neill has branded "liberal, left-wing and green-leaning commentators" who oppose the measures in the Comprehensive Spending Review as "hypocrites." This smacks of a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the real issue. At best, it is callous idiocy.

O'Neill makes his case thus;
So don't be fooled by their crocodile tears today - they laid the cultural foundation stones for this age of hardship.

These austerity hypocrites have short memories. This week, the Guardian's George Monbiot wrote an angry piece about the Tory-led cuts agenda, claiming that it will help the rich and hurt the rest.

"When we stagger out of our shelters to assess the damage, we'll discover that we have emerged into a different world, run for their benefit, not ours", he said.

This is the same Monbiot who wrote a piece in 2007 titled 'Bring on the recession'.

"I hope that the recession now being forecast by some economists materialises", he said, because only a recession could give us "the time we need to prevent runaway climate change".

A recession would hurt poor people, he acknowledged - but that was a price worth paying to halt out-of-control economic growth.

Inspired by Monbiot, in 2008 some deep greens kick-started a campaign called Riot 4 Austerity - which says it all.

Their reactionary demand, dolled up in radical garb, was for a 90 per cent cut in carbon emissions - a move which would have a far more devastating impact on people's daily lives than any of the slashes Osborne has come up with.
This is just one example of how, apparently, "the cultural zeitgeist today says that wealth is bad, frugality is good; abundance is destructive, austerity is eco-friendly; wanting stuff warps us, giving things up is pure." Thus  these "liberal prejudices, propagated by the well-off" are as responsible for the current situation as Osborne.

Firstly, I must point out that I am neither a liberal, nor a member of any "intelligentsia." I am certainly not "well-off." Nor are many of the others worried about the cuts, such as those who blog at Where's the Benefit.

We're ordinary people, and we're worried by and opposed to the austerity measures of the present government. Go figure. Some of the worried are even disproportionately affected by the measures as disabled people, women, or single parents. How weird is that?

Being kind to O'Neill, we might assume that he's not referring to us, but only to the media commentators, the Labour party opposition, and/or various champagne socialists. I don't - I think he's an insincere arse looking for a stick to beat everyone who opposes the cuts with - but others may. Even on that basis, he's arguing on the basis of a cheap, over-flogged strawman.

I don't doubt that Monbiot said what he did. There are two strains of the green movement, alas dominant, which I dislike: the primitivists and the privileged. Both have a tendency to anti-humanism and the latter especially to pretend that class has no bearing on things whatsoever.

But Monbiot is not the left. He's not even the green movement. He's a single individual, paid to write for the Guardian, who many on the left - including MediaLens and anarchist Climate Campers - are critical of. And yes, that includes his "emphasis on guilt as a precursor for individualistic lifestyle change." If he demands austerity, there are many more on the left who challenge that.

But others attacked in the piece deserve no such criticism. Johann Hari, who O'Neill says "called on the government to enforce wartime-style rationing in order to save the planet from almost certain fiery doom" did nothing of the sort.

O'Neill presents Hari as believing that the government "must "force us all" to live more frugally and sensibly." When, in fact, his article stated that "green consumerism is at best a draining distraction, and at worst a con." Yes, he's advocating state action of a sort that I disagree with, but he wants the state to "force us all" to live greener, not "more frugally."

Hari, though I have disagreements with him on a variety of issues, at least aims for consistency in what he says and has certainly not called for the kind of brutal austerity that we're seeing now.

The other point to be made is that, more broadly, anti-capitalism doesn't equate to saying that "we must learn to live with less "stuff"." This is an idiotic strawman. The vast majority of anti-capitalists are not primitivists, and we don't yearn for everyone to go back to living in mud huts any more than we want a brutal, totalitarian state in the model of the Soviet Union.

What we do want is an end to a specific socio-economic order, wherein ownership is divorced from labour and intertwined state and corporate power conspire to maintain the power and privilege of a minority on the back of everyone else's labour and at our expense. In fact, we believe that replacing that with worker and community self-management would increase prosperity more broadly and end much injustice. And what George Osborne is implementing is the opposite of everything we stand for.

The "new age of austerity" is not the result of any "cultural Zeitgeist," and the blame can not justifiably be lumped with those who oppose it and those who suffer from it. But we will need to keep restating this point in the face of propaganda by the ideologues and the wilfully ignorant.

Jimmy Mubenga deserves justice - those who survive him deserve solidarity

On the 12th of this month, Jimmy Mubenga became the first person to die during deportation for 17 years. Now, detainees in Dover immigration detention centre have issued a statement demanding an official investigation into his death.

The statement, signed by 25 of the detainees, also asks that "all those responsible for this brutal crime at the UKBA, G4S and British Airways are held responsible and punished accordingly."

According to the press release;
Detainees in other detention centres around the country are said to have been disturbed by the news and many said they fear that the same might happen to them when they are "deported in the caring hands of G4S." According to campaigners, detainees in various detention centres started to organise mass protests but these soon died out as many feared "management's retaliation."
This is a truly appalling state of affairs and reveals just how backward our border regime is.

A week after Mubenga's death, a report for the Institute of Race Relations (PDF) which "has catalogued a roll call of death of the 77 asylum seekers and migrants who have died either in the UK or attempting to reach the UK in the past five years as a consequence of direct racism or indirect racism stemming from policies."

Even the overview makes grim reading;
  • 15 died taking dangerous and highly risky methods to enter the country. With legal barriers in place to prevent them securing visas or work permits to enter legally and sanctions applying to above board carriers, the desperate stow away on planes and lorries or attempt to cross the channel in makeshift boats or cling to trains. The number recorded here is probably only a fraction of those who have died in this way. Our figures rely on news reports and, by virtue of the subject matter, these deaths are not news.
  • l 44 died as an indirect consequence of the iniquities of the immigration/asylum system – by taking their own lives when claims were not allowed, by meeting accidental deaths evading deportation or during the deportation itself, by being prevented medical care, by becoming destitute in the UK.
    Of these:
    – 28 died at their own hand, preferring this to being returned to the country they fled, when asylum claims were turned down. And compounding the process is the fact that some of those in detention and known to be traumatised and particularly vulnerable appear not to have been provided with the medical (especially psychiatric) support they needed.
    – 1 died accidentally as, in terror after a raid by police and immigration officials, he took evasive action.
    – 1 person died during the deportation process itself as he was being deported to Luanda, Angola escorted by three guards from G4S, a private security company.
    - 4 people died after being deported back to a country where they feared for their safety. The actual number is certainly far higher.
    – 7 people died because of being denied healthcare for preventable medical problems.
    – 2 people died destitute and unable to access services.
    – 1 baby died as a result of possible safety failings of a housing provider contracted by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
  • 7 died in prison custody, either being held for deportation or while awaiting trial or serving sentences for charges involving false documentation.
  • 4 died in the course of carrying out work which, by virtue of its being part of the ‘black economy’, carried particular dangers and few protective rights. (The numbers listed here are probably a gross underestimate, as work-related deaths of people who are ‘illegal’ will often go unreported in the media.)
  • 7 died on the streets of our cities at the hands of racists or as a consequence of altercations with a racial dimension. Often the victims had been moved, via the government’s dispersal system, to areas where they were particularly isolated and vulnerable to attack.
As Harmit Athwal, a researcher at IRR and the report's author, told the Guardian;
Racism percolates right through the immigration-asylum system – from forcing people to risk life and limb to enter, forcing them to live destitute on the street, prey to violent racist attack. That 28 people died at their own hand, preferring this to being returned, when their asylum application failed, to the country they fled, is a terrible indictment of British justice.

Asylum seekers are demonised by the mass media as illegals and scroungers and to appease popular racism, governments across Europe, in addition to making access to refugee status much more difficult, have decided to accelerate the deportation of the many who have 'failed'.

Such forced deportations of those terrified of being returned to the countries they have fled – often areas in which we are involved and at war – will inevitably lead to more deaths.
Now, with the ruling class shoring up their own position through savage attacks on the working class, such problems are only set to increase. Politicians and the media will serve their traditional role of offering up reaction and fear-mongering to distract from the real issues, whilst the far-right will seize upon this as a way to push their own agenda.

Let's be clear on this point: although the BNP tap into people's frustrations, this does not in any sense make the solutions they offer the right ones. The whole point here is that the BNP, as so many other fascist groups before them, take genuine grievances against the current system and spin them to offer a scapegoat and division.

As an example, let's take social housing. The reason that we are suffering a severe shortfall in social housing and long waiting lists at present has nothing to do with migration and everything to do with successive governments that have put private profit ahead of public welfare. Studies have shown that migrants do not "jump the queue" for social housing, and I have previously debunked attempts by the Daily Mail and the BNP to rubbish those findings. What we have, instead, is a policy that goes back to the Thatcher era whereby money made from giving council tenants the "right to buy" was not reinvested in housing stock. As Liverpool Antifascists point out, "councils are not allowed to build new houses with the money from the sales, and housing associations have built very few. This has meant that total social housing has reduced from 35% of housing stock in 1965 to about 21% today." At the same time, "successive governments have left it to the private landlords to provide more houses but this just hasn't happened. As always, the system we are ruled by prioritises profit over the needs of real people, whatever our colour or race."

This is the realisation that needs to be made if we are to stop people turning to the BNP out of sheer frustration. Private greed is a genuine threat to our lives, unlike living with people of other races who are - like us - just trying to get by.
But, of course, distorting the issues leads working class anger up a blind alley and helps to drive a wedge between people who share common interests, common problems, and - if they organised together to fight the class war - a common solution.

That, as a reult, we have people suffering in detention centres and dying during deportation, whilst fascists are in more elected positions and have their arguments heard more widely than ever before is just collateral damage. Indeed, given that it exacerbates the issues, it may even be an intended or desired side-effect of the carnival of reaction.

This is why the death of Jimmy Mugembahas gone unreported by much of the press. Truth is only acceptable when it fits the dominant narrative.

It is also why we need to not only reject, but actuively challenge the media/far-right narrative on immigration. As fellow working class people, crushed underfoot by the state and capitalism, migrants deserve our support and solidarity - not our hatred.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Comprehensive Spending Review and the prospect of actually doing something about it

Today, George Osborne revealed the outcome of the Comprehending Spending Review (PDF). The document did not bring the world to its knees, or cause the complete destruction of everything we hold dear. But it remains an important landmark in the escalating class war waged by those at the top.

The welfare budget is to face an additional £7bn of cuts. This is on top of the £1.8bn cuts in housing benefit, announced in the June Budget, and £11bn of other welfare reductions announced previously.

Bendy Girl, over at Where's the Benefit, expands on just one impact of this decision;
One of the quietest announcements in today's Comprehensive Spending review was that the High Rate Mobility component of Disability Living Allowance will be removed from those resident in care homes. On the face of it that might seem a sensible place to save money, after all if someone lives in a care home surely they don't need to worry about transport, but this is certainly the nastiest, pettiest cut of all. Petty because the numbers of people resident in care homes is a very small proportion of the overall awards for high rate mobility meaning the sums of money to be saved are minimal. But downright nasty, disdainful and cruel because people resident in care homes are far more likely to use the mobility component of their disability living allowance to pay towards the phenomenally expensive specialist wheelchairs they need rather than a vehicle. 
This is not the only area in which the most vulnerable will suffer either. I have previously written about the poverty and hardship that the disabled and families with disabled dependants face. The CSR looks set to exacerbate that, and no doubt more details will emerge as its recommendations are put into practice.

On the public service front, the government has promised to "prioritise the NHS, schools, early years provision and the capital investments that support long term economic growth." Thus, health spending will see a 1.3% real terms rise by 2015, including an extra £2bn for social care.

The positives of this settlement are as follows;
  • real terms increases in overall NHS funding in each year to meet the Government’s commitment on health spending, with total spending growing by 0.4 per cent over the Spending Review period;
  • an additional £1 billion a year for social care through the NHS, as part of an overall £2 billion a year of additional funding to support social care by 2014-15;
  • a new cancer drugs fund of up to £200 million a year;
  • expanding access to psychological therapies;
  • continued funding for priority hospital schemes, including St Helier, Royal Oldham and West Cumberland; and
  • capital spending remaining higher in real terms than it has been on average over
    the last three Spending Review periods.
Unfortunately, more broadly, the news is not as positive. About 490,000 public sector jobs are likely to go, with the knock-on effect to consumer spending resulting in at least as many job losses in the private sector.

This will pull people further into poverty by stretching an ever-reducing welfare budget across more people, whilst the increase in VAT to 20% will drive up a cost of living which is already increasing far faster than most workers' wages. The end effect of which will be to drag the country back into recession and perhaps even depression.

But this is not news. We all knew that the CSR would be an attack, and that the government's agenda was class war, making us pay for the rich's crisis, etc. We expected that - and have been saying it since before they took power. All that I've done above is stick figures to arguments I already knew.

The important question, long overdue an answer, is where we take those arguments and what we do about the problem at hand. Other, that is, than offer up endless bluff and bluster.

I went to an anti-cuts demonstration outside the Royal Liverpool Hospital today. It was lively, and the people there were sincere enough, but what I saw there - and the evidence of similar scenes across the country - doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.

There were lots of flags and banners. People chanting and making lots of noise. Various Trot organisations hiding behind their newspapers or getting people to sign up to mailing lists under the guise of a "petition." And absolutely no indication, whatsoever, that a coherent strategy exists for anything beyond getting people to join The PartyTM, to sign up to the appropriate front group, or to at least buy a copy of the paper.

Myself and other comrades from the Solidarity Federation have been all but banging our heads against a brick wall trying to make the argument for something more effective.

We are not a political party, and we only offer membership to those who agree with the aims and principles of anarcho-syndicalism, so this is not a recruitment drive. Our paper is free, so it's not about making a sale. Our only goal is to advocate a class struggle rooted in and led by the rank-and-file of the working class, with an open and democratic structure so that resistance cannot be demobilised from above, and an emphasis on effective actions rather than legal ones.

This is not a position unique to anarcho-syndicalism, either. There are many others, anarchists, socialists, and working class people concerned about what's happening, who take a similar line. But this is not a line supported by those who declare themselves our "leaders."

The Labour Party is only willing to shout and kick up a fuss now that it's in opposition. In power, it offered similar cuts, and even now "Red" Ed Miliband warns against strikes or serious action to combat the cuts. Let alone to challenge capitalism. The unions are stifled by a bureaucracy keen to keep its seat at the top table and terrified of illegal strike action. And the various far-left parties offering themselves as our vanguard suffer the same top-down demobilisation combined with an absurdly insular world-view.

The problem is that, beyond this spectacle, there are untold numbers of people with an acute, first-hand awareness of the problems of capitalism. Many willing to do something about it. But it is easy to see why, faced with the "scene," many of those who do get involved soon wash their hands of the whole thing. And why so many others avoid it all together.

The challenge is to make the argument that organisation and resistance is possible whilst by-passing all that bullshit, and building enough momentum to actually put it into practice. Especially as the fallout from the CSR looms large.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Lord Young's review offers neither "common sense" nor "common safety"

As regular readers will know, I'm more than a little sceptical about Lord Young's intentions. Not least because he views health and safety regulation as "a burden that we have to eliminate."

However, I must admit that his report, Common Sense, Common Safety (PDF), makes interesting reading. Not least because within it Lord Young makes many of the same assertions that I do with regard to the myths the media have built up around "elf 'n' safety."

Hat tip to Tabloid Watch for saving me work by fishing out the following quotes;
Britain’s ‘compensation culture’ is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation payouts for personal injury claims and by constant adverts in the media offering people non-refundable inducements and the promise of a handsome settlement if they claim.
And;
One of the great misconceptions, often perpetuated by the media, is that we can be liable for the consequences of any voluntary acts on our part. During winter 2009/10, advice was given on television and radio to householders not to clear the snow in front of their properties in case any passer by would fall and then sue.

This is another manifestation of the fear of litigation. In fact there is no liability in the normal way, and the Lord Chief Justice himself is reported as saying that he had never come across a case where someone was sued in these circumstances.
And;
We have all read countless media stories blaming health and safety regulations for all manner of restrictions on our everyday life...

The Health and Safety Executive runs a successful ‘myth of the month’ page on its website; however, there is no end to the constant stream of misinformation in the media.

Again and again ‘health and safety’ is blamed for a variety of decisions, few of which actually have any basis in health and safety legislation at all.
The key point is that, so often, "the health and safety aspect of the story is a media addition." Unfortunately, it isn't just tabloid hacks like Richard Littlejohn who will "continue to get their 'mileage' out of it if they keep exaggerating or inventing these 'health and safety' stories."

Lord Young himself, after agreeing that the media take on health and safety is borne of myth, then agrees with their position on what to do about it. Hence the calls for "simplification" and "easing burdens" in a variety of areas as a prescription for a problem which doesn't exist. If the issue is "perception," as he accepts, then changes to legislation aren't necessary at all.

But they still crop up in his recommendations. He laments that safety regulations exist in all workplaces rather than just "hazardous" ones, and dislikes the fact that "risk assessments [are] compulsory across all occupations."

For example, he wishes to "exempt employers from risk assessments for employees working from home in a low hazard environment." It is couched in language that sells it as "common sense." After all, why obsess over the "low risk?" Except that home workers are still the responsibility of employers whilst on the clock. Particularly if they require specialist equipment as a result of disability, which is more difficult to manage when they are out of the office.

In fact, identifying and offering reasonable adjustments for health issues from back pain to crippling arthritis is part of the risk assessment process. Rather than being a burden, this is "immensely liberating" for disabled workers and allows them to carry on working effectively.

Performing a risk assessment simply means making sure that reasonably practicable measures exist to deal with foreseeable risks and hazards. Which, one would have thought, is common sense.

Not to mention, as Senior TUC health and safety policy officer Hugh Robertson notes, "the average employer will never see a health and safety inspector, and even if they are failing to fulfil their basic legal obligations, such as risk assessment, the chances of them being prosecuted are virtuallynil unless they kill or seriously injure anyone."

Amending the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences (RIDDOR) Regulations is also on the agenda. Young wants to "extend to seven days [from three] the period before an injury or accident needs to be reported." Needless to say, such a move would be open to untold abuse. Especially given that so many accidents already go unreported, with 1.2 million people suffering work-related illnesses as a result.

The proposal that "police officers and firefighters should not be at risk of investigation or prosecution under health and safety legislation when engaged in the course of their duties if they have put themselves at risk as a result of committing a heroic act" is nothing more than a prescription to deal with an outright myth.

As is the idea that "officials who ban events on health and safety grounds should put their reasons in writing." Stories of such bans are spurious at best.

The entire raft of proposals to deal with a "compensation culture" are redundant given that "in nearly all cases there are less claims than there were 10 years ago," and "people can't claim compensation unless they have been injured because someone else is at fault."

All through the document, the stories Young admits are fallacious are trotted out as justifications for various recommendations. The fact that something "is seen as a cost and burden on business" becomes irrefutable proof that it must be scrapped, regardless of the fact that every single health and safety protection had to be fought, tooth-and-nail, for.

If businesses could profit from throwing its staff into a meat grinder, they would find ways to argue that prohibitions against doing so were an unnecessary "cost and burden."

This document, and the review behind it, is nothing more than a way of implementing an ideological attack on health and safety whilst conceding that every justification for said attack is fabricated and overblown nonsense. That "the aim is to free businesses from unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and the fear of having to pay out unjustified damages claims and legal fees." says it all.

David Cameron may be "delighted" that Lord Young has "put some common sense back into health and safety." But the rest of us - especially workers who depend on proper health and safety in their jobs - ought to be very worried.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Project Prevention and blackmail from the moral high ground

It appears that an American "charity" has come to the UK in order to bribe drug addicts to get sterilised - that bribe being the grand sum of £200. The move has been condemned by drugs charities, and rightly so. This is perhaps the stupidest idea I have ever heard.

Barbara Harris, founder of Project Prevention, justified herself to the BBC thus;
Mrs Harris set up her charity in North Carolina after adopting the children of a crack addict.

Damage to children
 
Speaking to the BBC's Inside Out programme, she said: "The birth mother of my children obviously dabbled in all drugs and alcohol - she literally had a baby every year for eight years.

"I get very angry about the damage that drugs do to these children."

After paying 3,500 addicts across the United States not to have children, she is now visiting parts of the UK blighted by drugs to encourage users to undergo "long-term birth control" for cash.
There is a debate to be had about how to deal with the issue of drug addicts who have children. Drug charity Addaction estimates that there are 1.3 million children living with drug dependent parents. And it can be passed to unborn children, causing brain damage and over complications.

But if there are ways to address this, what Project Prevention offers is not it. They may stop a random sampling of addicts from having children, but they have not done anything to stop that group from being addicts. All they have really done is give said addicts the money for a few good fixes which will drive them further into the gutter whilst patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

Project Prevention claims that "unlike incarceration, Project Prevention extremely cost effective and does not punish the participants." But it doesn't help them either. Their true motive is "to reduce the burden of this social problem on taxpayers," and "trim down social worker caseloads."

Or, let them suffer but let us not have to do anything about it.

They claim also to "alleviate from our clients the burden of having children that will potentially be taken away," but unlike serious drug charities, alleviating the addiction isn't even on the agenda. Give them £200, take their nuts, and return to our suburban bubble whilst they rot on the street.

Hence Addaction's verdict that "that there is no place for Project Prevention in the UK because their practices are morally reprehensible and irrelevant."

They offer the following alternative;
Sex education and contraceptive advice is part of drug treatment work in this country. Women who use drugs can access all types of contraception free on the NHS including a number of long term options.

Addaction is one of the UK’s largest providers of drug treatment. Our first-hand experience shows that people can make positive changes with the right support – both for themselves and for their children. In fact, many of our clients stopped using drugs because they became a parent.

It’s certainly true that too many children are growing up with drug-using parents, but working with the whole family – as Addaction does – helps stop drug use and improves a child’s prospects dramatically.
This may not be as quick and easy. But in the long term it allows for the development of effective treatment methods and actually addresses the underlying problem of drug dependency rather than simply snipping at a symptom.

Just as criminalising drugs and locking away dealers only exacerbates the problems of the drug trade being in criminal hands, so bribery and sterilisation will only make the problem of addicts being sucked into destructive lifestyles worse. Alongside the extra money for a couple more fixes, they have tacit consent to continue the downward spiral from people interested only in their loins.

We are long overdue for a sensible debate on the problems around drugs and how to address them. Hysteria, reactionary dogma, and schemes to simply shove the problem out of sight and mind are only making the issue more difficult to address.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

500 pickets arrested in India, international solidarity needed

 Via Ann Arky, I have come across the following news on Labour Start;
Over 500 workers employed by Foxconn have been arrested and jailed in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The jailing follows a dispute with the company, which signed an agreement with a union belonging to the ruling party in the state -- a union which had no support at all among the workers.

Meanwhile, the strike continues and the union is holding solidarity demonstrations and rallies all over the state. They have called for international support.
As Ann Arky points out, "if India as one of the worlds largest industrial areas can lock up strikers without a murmer from the rest of the world it will become the pattern." We cannot allow that to happen.

The ongoing crisis of capital is global, as is the class war being waged against the workers for the power and profit of a few. In response to that, our struggle also has to be international and where we know of it we cannot let the plight of our fellow workers pass unremarked.

This is why there have been international actions in support of 35 trade unionists sacked for organising in Peru. (See here and here.) It is also why this latest injustice deserves a response.

Foxconn, also at the centre of the recent worker suicides in China, deserves especially to be on the receiving end of our ire. As In These Times notes, their "militaristic model is perfectly suited to the evolving workplace culture of the global economy—homogenized, disciplined, robotically efficient."

They are providing a model for industry which crushes workers underfoot with untold efficiency, and it is in the interests of every member of the working class worldwide to fight that.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Quote of the day...

...goes to perpetual moron Richard Littlejohn, who for once has managed to come up with a coherent and sensible opinion I actually agree with;
I discovered this week that twice as many men have died in accidents on British building sites since 2001 as have been killed in action in Afghanistan. But you won’t be seeing a Panorama special on them any day soon.

Unlike the Chilean miners, there won’t be any movies made about these unfortunate construction workers, nor any book deals or newspaper serialisations.
The only problem is that he spoils it almost straight away with;
Call me callous, but I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if 33 men had been trapped down one of our few remaining British mines.

Under our modern elf ‘n’ safety culture, the emergency services are actively discouraged from risking their own lives to save others.
It's like the pride you feel when you finally train your dog to go outside in order to relieve themselves...only to have it turn around and eat its own shit. If there was ever any hope for the hateful, ill-informed, ranting bigot (Littlejohn, not the dog), it has since given way to a feeling of creeping despair.

In fact, Littlejohn's point about workplace deaths is entirely correct. But this is because health and safety legislation is too weak, allowing employers to get away with gross negligence on a regular basis.

And that problem, I might add, is exacerbated by hacks like Littlejohn perpetuate the myths and half-truths on this issue, as part of the ideological attack to water down protections for workers. In fact, it was Littlejohn himself who coined the term "elf n safety" to trivialise the issue.

As Upon Nothing comments;
Well, Richard, which is it? Is Britain just as dangerous a place to work as Chile or is it a country in which ‘elf ‘n’ safety culture’ is all-powerful? You cannot have it both ways, either ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ is wrapping up the entire country in cotton wool, or ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ is failing because twice as many men are still dying on building sites than are dying on active service with the Army in Afghanistan.
Quite.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Gillett and Hicks may be gone from Liverpool, but football's capital crisis has barely begun

Liverpool Football Club has been bought by New England Sports Ventures (NESV). Fans are, justifiably, glad to be rid of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. But is this really the fresh new beginning that they were after?

The most immediate problem - namely, the threat of Liverpool's holding company going into administration and the club being docked 9 points - is likely to be averted. According to the club, "the transaction values the club at £300m and eliminates all of the acquisition debt placed on LFC by its previous owners, reducing the club's debt servicing obligations from £25m-£30m a year to £2m-£3m."

So, on that front, fans can breathe easy. But the idea that simply changing owners will do anything to address the broader issues facing LFC (and, indeed, all football teams) is wishful thinking. Contrary to chairman Martin Broughton, the sale doesn't "comprehensively resolve" anything.

Football 365's MediaWatch section puts Broughton's comments in perspective;
"This is a great day for Liverpool Football Club and the supporters...I just hope we can deliver what we have set out to do. We have found the right owners. There will be money to invest in the squad" - Martin Broughton on John W. Henry, October 6, 2010.

"This is great for Liverpool, our supporters and the shareholders - it is the beginning of a new era for the club" - Rick Parry on Hicks and Gillett, February 6, 2007.

"NESV wants to create a long-term financially solid foundation for Liverpool FC and is dedicated to ensuring that the club has the resources to build for the future, including the removal of all acquisition debt" - A statement from New England Sports Ventures, October 6, 2010.

"We have purchased the club with no debt on the club. We believe in the future of the club" - George Gillett, February 6, 2007

"Our objective is to stabilise the club and ultimately return Liverpool FC to its rightful place in English and European football, successfully competing for and winning trophies...NESV wants to help bring back the culture of winning to Liverpool FC"- NESV, October 6, 2010.

"The Hicks family and the Gillett family are extremely excited about continuing the club's legacy and tradition. We are particularly pleased that David Moores and Rick Parry will have a continuing involvement in the club. For us continuity and stability are keys to the future" - A joint statement from Hicks and Gillett, February 6, 2007. 
The fact is that the major problems facing football remain. It is still operating on a business model which sees the sport and the fans who follow it as the absolute last priority for clubs. The danger that dangerously high wage costs will collapse clubs still remains.

In over a decade, wages for footballers have risen by 550%, whilst revenue has oly grown by 400%. This is hitting the clubs' bottom line, and driving up prices for tickets and merchandise. One result of this is that the cultural connection between the sport and the working class - as a result of families following teams across generations - is being torn apart by cost.

Meanwhile, competitiveness on the pitch is dying. Clubs with the most money claim a monopoly on the best players, the best coaches and training facilities, and thus the best performances. At the same time, the emphasis on buying in talent makes it more difficult for youngsters to go into the game.

None of this will be impacted by Liverpool getting a new owner. The reduced debt will not see ticket and merchandise prices go down, nor reduce the gap between the football club and the supporters which are now a market rather than a community. And the detrimental effect on local economies of turning teams into moveable franchises is an increasing problem.

The solution is the same as that in employment and communities more generally - taking the power away from a detatched board of executives and the capitalist class, and returning it to workers and local communities. In essence, the Spirit of Shankly union's ultimate goal of supporter ownership of LFC.

Unfortunately, it looks as though Liverpool fans will have to learn the hard way. There can be no "nice" capitalism, and changing the boss doesn't remove the underlying issues.