Sunday, March 29, 2015

Maid To Order

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The following is an abridged and adaptation of an insightful article at the TruthOut website on migrant domestic workers by Arianne Shahvisi, a professor of philosophy at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon.

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild describes the migration of domestic labor from poorer countries to wealthier countries as a global heart transplant. Women workers from a few pockets of the global South prop up caring services in the rest of the world as full-time employment, coupled with increasing levels of privatization, turns care work into a tradeable commodity. This is evident in hospitals, nurseries and care homes the world over, but takes on a particularly strange dynamic when migrant domestic workers - many of whom have their own children - are raising the children of other nations, so that the women of those communities may be liberated from one of the burdens of womanhood. Migrant domestic workers resist definition. Their work is unique in that it is a complex yet direct mock-up of global society: It is symbolic of binary power relations between genders, races, nations and classes.

A quarter of a million migrant domestic workers serve the ‘middle classes’ of Lebanon, whose population is just 4 million. They have no recourse to domestic labor laws and no right to remain in the country in the event of terminated employment. Instead, as in many other countries across the region, migrant workers enter Lebanon through a "kafala" system of sponsorship, in which the state leaves it to the host household to manage the visa and legal status of their sponsored domestic worker and grants a residence permit on the strict condition that the worker remains in the custody of the household throughout the term of her employment.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

We Said it Then, We Say it Now (4)

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Another in our series of past election manifestoes. This one is from February 1974, a year that had two general elections.

A SIMPLE BASIC PROPOSITION

From The Socialist Party of Great Britain

General Election Statement

THIS snap election does not enable us to put up any candidates and run a worthwhile campaign. But we have important things to say. In all reason, by now you must be nearly submerged under the deluge of election propaganda.'Honourable settlement'; 'Fair shares'; 'One nation'. Cynical phrases that reek of unreality. Do you really think that whichever Government is elected, it will mean any major change or solve the fundamental problems that confront us. In a lifetime you have seen successive Governments making bold promises, trying to grapple with situations, going out of office, their promises unfulfilled.

YOU and millions like you are now asking Cannot something be done? Must we always live with unemployment, war, price rises, industrial conflict, poverty and insecurity? The answer is an emphatic YES if you continue to support those out-moded political ideas that you have held in the past. This challenge is not only to the Tory supporter with his idea of 'a national identity'; to the Labour man with his 'radical' proposals for more nationalisation; to the thousands of young people on the ' Left fringe' who still talk of 'Revolutionary situations'; 'Smash the State', etc.ideas as phoney as they are harmful to the workers. Our challenge is to everyone. The time has come for you to take an honest look at your position, and urgently. To take a stand in the class struggle. Not to try and patch up by social reform, a wreck of a system, but to take part in a world-wide movement to build a new way of lifea Socialist society.

SOCIAL problems arise from the inexorable workings of the capitalist system. These are not British problems but world problems, linked with world capitalism, whether in Russia, America, China, or the rest of the world. A crazy set-up, where the world and its riches are owned by a few. Where you, the worker, sell your ability to an employer, the capitalist, in order to live. Where profit is the lynch pin in production. Profitable buying and sellinghuman needs an afterthought. This is the system which Heath and the Tories have been unable to control. Like the previous Labour Government, they have been blown off course. They might get returned to have another crack. Or will the Labour Party breakdown gang be given another chance to fumble with running repairs; they were hardly successful last time. Frankly, the outcome is no concern of ours.

THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN is a revolutionary organisation. Our one object is the establishment of Socialism. A Social system in which the means of production and distribution are owned by the whole of mankind, regardless of race or sex. COMMON OWNERSHIP. A WAY with buying and selling IN with production for use. AWAY with money IN with distribution according to need. AWAY with the wages system IN with contribution according to ability. IN with co-operation for the common good. Socialism will alone solve the basic conflicts that confront society. It cannot be established by waving a magic wand, by a new political leader or a bunch of so-called intellectuals. It is YOU and YOU alone who hold the key. Socialism will be democratically brought about by political action, when you in a majority understand and desire it. Not a moment before.

SOCIALISM is not just a bread and butter effort. It can release and utilise our potential, so long strangled by the un-natural atmosphere of capitalism. The new society will mean fulfilment to us as human beings.

LET your imagination run riot. The possibilities for achieving a full and enjoyable life are legion. It's up to you. 1974 could be a momentous year in your life. Find out more about THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN. Help our movement for Social Revolution.

February 1974



Free Market Capitalism - Products, Profits, Privatisation

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The Project on Government Oversight found that in 33 of 35 cases the federal government spent more on private contractors than on public employees for the same services. The authors of the report summarized, "Our findings were shocking." 

Yet our elected leaders persist in their belief that free-market capitalism works best. Here are a few fact-based examples that say otherwise.

Health Care: Markups of 100%....1,000%....100,000% 

Broadcast Journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1955: Who owns the patent on this vaccine?
Polio Researcher Jonas Salk: Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?

We don't hear much of that anymore. The public-minded sentiment of the 1950s has yielded to the neoliberal winner-take-all business model.

In his most recent exposé of the health care industry in the U.S., Steve Brill notes that it's "the only industry in which technological advances have increased costs instead of lowering them." An investigation of fourteen private hospitals by National Nurses United found that they realized a 1,000% markup on their total costs, four times that of public hospitals. Other sources have found that private health insurance administrative costs are 5 to 6 times higher than Medicare administrative costs.

Markup reached 100,000% for the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, which grabbed a patent for a new hepatitis drug and set the pricing to take whatever they could get from desperate American patients.

Housing: Big Profits, Once the Minorities Are Squeezed Out 

A report by a coalition of housing rights groups concluded that "public housing is a vital national resource that provides decent and affordable homes to over a million families across the country." But, according to the report, a privatization program started during the Clinton administration resulted in "the wholesale destruction of communities" and "the displacement of very large numbers of low-income households of color." 

It's gotten even worse since then, as Blackstone and Goldman Sachs have figured out how to take money from former homeowners, with three deviously effective strategies:
  1. Buy houses and hold them to force prices up 
  2. Meanwhile, charge high rents (with little or no maintenance) 
  3. Package the deals as rental-backed securities with artificially high-grade ratings

Private Banks: Giving Them Half Our Retirement Money 

The public bank of North Dakota had an equity return of 23.4% before the state's oil boom. The normally privatization-minded Wall Street Journal admits that "The BND's costs are extremely low: no exorbitantly-paid executives; no bonuses, fees, or commissions; only one branch office; very low borrowing costs.."

But thanks to private banks, interest claims one out of every three dollars that we spend, and by the time we retire with a 401(k), over half of our money is lost to the banks.

Internet: The Fastest Download in the U.S. (is on a Public Network) 

That's in Chattanooga, a rapidly growing city, named by Nerdwallet as one of the "most improved cities since the recession," and offering its residents Internet speeds 50 times faster than the American average.

Elsewhere, 61 percent of Americans are left with a single private company, often Comcast or Time Warner, to provide cable service. Now those two companies, both high on the most hated list, are trying to merge into one.

The Post Office: Private Companies Depend on it to Handle the Unprofitable Routes

It costs less than 50 cents to send a letter to any remote location in the United States. For an envelope with a two-day guarantee, this is how the U.S. Postal Service recently matched up against competitors:
  • U.S. Post Office 2-Day $5.68 
  • Federal Express 2-Day $19.28 
  • United Parcel Service 2 Day $24.09 
USPS is so inexpensive, in fact, that Fedex actually uses the U.S. Post Office for about 30 percent of its ground shipments. As Ralph Nader notes, the USPS has not taken any taxpayer money since 1971, and if it weren't required by an inexplicable requirement to pre-fund employee benefits for 75 years, it would be making a profit. Instead, this national institution has been forced to cut jobs and routes and mailing centers.

Privatization places profits over people. Average Americans are the products, and few of us see any profits.

by Paul Buchheit - taken from here (and find links)

An old music hall song comes to mind:

"It's the same the whole world over,
It's the poor that gets the blame,
It's the rich that gets the pleasure,
Ain't it all a bleedin' shame?"

Let's remember capitalism didn't start being nasty last year, last decade or even last century but, being a system built on profit, it will squeeze profit from any nook and cranny, any opportunity at whatever cost - that is its business. Our business is to arm ourselves with the facts and to spread them far and wide to demonstrate that it (capitalism) won't go away quietly but will need to be pushed by the will of the majority global population. The sooner the better.

 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Scrap Capitalism

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From the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is time to forever scrap forever this cock-eyed system that takes from the poor and gives to the rich; that preaches austerity for the 95 percent whilst the elite get yet richer; where millionaire leaders shed crocodile tears over poverty as they live in luxury. Somehow it has been sold to us that this is usual – moreover it is the only way to organise society, and it is good and healthy. You could not make it up.

We could share all the world. Scrap capitalism, abolish the monetary system and suddenly the playing field is not so uneven. We will not have achieved utopia but many of the idiocies of the current system will have gone: life will not be quite so problematic. No longer would the accountant who finds havens for the rich to hide their wealth to avoid tax earn a thousand times more than the carers looking after the health of your old aunt – because there would no longer be wages. No more wages slavery, just imagine. You’d be able to do what you do and be able to take what you need.

You will no doubt be told it’s mad and totally unachievable. But think what would have been said about the internet or triple heart bypass surgery 50 years ago. Human beings are incredibly intelligent – just look at how much and how quickly we can achieve things when we set our minds to it – and we in the Socialist Party are simply saying the world can be organised in a more intelligent way. It cannot be seen as either intelligent or necessary that most of the wealth of the world is given to so few.

All the other parties offer you some variant of what we have already – possibly a few more checks and balances. Sadly history shows that, whatever the government, the rich come out on top. We are here to say it need not be like this.

Howard Pilott,
Socialist Party’s PPC for Brighton Pavilion


A Time to Party!

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“To convert the ballot box from a means of fraud into a means of liberation”- Engels

The Socialist Party is fundamentally different from all other parties. Its aim is revolutionary. It expresses in political terms the aspiration of the working class to freedom. The only issue in this general election is capitalism versus socialism. It is the question of the right of one class of human beings exploiting another class of human beings to the very point of physical existence. It is an issue of human freedom versus human slavery. The workers have always been and still are the world’s slaves yet is they who have produced all the world’s wealth. The people of the world have achieved many great things except their own freedom. But an awakening is bound to come. It will dawn upon them that society is divided into two classes - capitalists and workers, exploiters and the employed; that the capitalists, while comparatively few, own the nation and control the government; that the courts and the soldiers are at their command, while the great majority of people remain in slavish misery.

The Socialist Party candidates do not plead for votes but expect that when workers fully understand their exploited condition it will be freely given to them. We, in the Socialist Party, endeavor to dispel the prejudice that exists and end the darkness that still prevails within the working class. We offer the enlightenment of political education and the power of political organisation. The appeal of the Socialist Party is to all, regardless of nationality, sex or race.  Economic slavery is the world’s greatest curse today. Poverty and misery and crime are its inevitable results. The Socialist Party is the one party which stands squarely and uncompromisingly for the abolition of wage slavery; the one party pledged to the industrial freedom of all the people. So long as the world’s resources and technology are the private property of a privileged class the mass of people will be at their mercy, poverty will be their lot. The struggle in which the world is engaged today is a class struggle and that in this struggle the workers can never win by giving their votes to capitalist parties. The big vested interests, the plutocracy, rule the land and loot the people with the same brutal defiance under either Labour or Tory governments. Too often people make their choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. No longer can the political harlots of capitalism betray the workers with manifesto promises manufactured for that purpose. It is now time to abandon once and for all political parties of whatever name which do not challenge the very existence of capitalism as an institution.

The working class will never be emancipated by the grace of the capitalist class, but only by overthrowing that class. It is self-defeating for working people to turn to pro-capitalist parties on polling day as it would be for them to turn to the employers’ associations when they are striking. Businessmen despise the working class. Why should the working class give their support to a pro-business party? Withdraw that support and capitalism begins to die. The boss-class can enslave and rob the workers only by the consent of the workers when they cast their ballots in elections. Every vote cast for a capitalist party, whatever its name, is a vote for wage-slavery, for poverty and degradation. Every vote cast for the Socialist Party, is a vote for liberation. We urge workers to make their power felt in this election.

The Socialist Party’s objective is not only to destroy capitalist despotism but to establish social democracy. Standing as it does for the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery, for social self-rule and the equal freedom of all, the Socialist Party is the party of progress and the party of the future. Its triumph will signal the birth of a new civilisation and the dawn of a better days for all humanity. If you understand and accept our case for socialism, join the Socialist Party and hasten the day of victory. Don't wait until to-morrow. Join now! Its members are men and women who think for themselves and have convictions of their own. If you want socialism, we are inviting, nay, we are challenging you, to join us and do your part. The Socialist Party offers the only remedy, which is socialism.

The Working Class Voice
Brighton Kemptown - Jacqueline Shodeke
Brighton Pavilion - Howard Pilott
Canterbury - Robert Cox
Easington - Steve Colborn
Folkestone and Hythe - Andy Thomas
Islington North - Bill Martin
Oxford East - Kevin Parkin
Oxford West and Abingdon - Mike Foster
Swansea West - Brian Johnson
Vauxhall - Danny Lambert



Thursday, March 26, 2015

Another World Is Possible, Without the 1%

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 'There will be no victory in the fight against poverty unless this trend of worsening inequality is reversed,' writes Winnie Byanyima of Oxfam International. 

 Activists from around the world will defy the terrorists to attend the World Social Forum in Tunis on March 25, determined to make the occasion a beacon for free speech, justice and equality. I am proud to join the leaders of Greenpeace, ActionAid, Civicus and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) in highlighting the urgent need to tackle the vested interests of the 1 percent, in order to build a better world for all of humanity.

If you are in the top 1 percent of the global wealth stakes, our economic system works exceptionally well. Since the financial crisis in 2008, most of the wealth created in the world has ended up in your bank accounts. By next year, you could own more wealth than the rest of the world put together.
This is not just a global phenomenon. The growing gap between rich and poor is a reality for seven out of ten people on the planet. Last week the World Bank calculated that ten Africans own more wealth than half the continent. Statistics like these are actually a cold shower on people’s natural, positive aspirations to improve their lot – they’re telling us the 99 percent won’t get there, or anywhere close.

Wealth is used to entrench inequality, not to trickle down and solve it. Our research shows how pharmaceutical and financial lobbyists spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence government legislation in their industries’ favour, saving them billions of dollars, for instance by securing the banks’ huge state bailouts. Across the world, we see that great money doesn’t only buy a nice car or a better education or healthcare. It can buy power: impunity from justice; an election; a pliant media; favourable laws. With the privatisation of our universities it can even buy the world of ideas.
There will be no victory in the fight against poverty unless this trend of worsening inequality is reversed. This is recognised by figures as diverse as the Managing Director of the IMF and the Pope. But we cannot win it under the current broken economic system.

This is a system that sees a world possessed of huge wealth nevertheless leaving the vast majority of humanity behind with virtually nothing at all. One where women are systematically exploited; at the current rate of progress it will take 75 years before women are paid the same as men, never mind that women’s unpaid care work continues to remain invisible. And it is a system that is leading us to runaway climate change.
Yet the 1 percent are quick to tell us that there is no real alternative. Sadly, they say, nothing is ever perfect and of course there will be winners and losers (and typically, by implication, talented winners and feckless losers). But that we should be grateful – it’s the best we can hope for.
What an appalling failure of imagination. What a shocking lack of faith in human invention, ingenuity and spirit. I am sure of two things. One is that another world is possible; the second that it cannot be imagined or created by the 1% – it is up to us.

I believe we can build a human economy where people are the bottom line. We need a world where people do not have to live in fear of the economic repercussions of getting sick, or losing their home or job. Where every child gets to fulfil their potential. Where corporations pay their fair share of taxes and work for the good of the majority, not just their shareholders.  Where the planet is preserved and sustained for our children and their children’s children.
This is not an impossible dream, it is a practical possibility, well within our reach. To get there we need to organise. We need to harness the boundless energy and creativity of our youth. We are many, they are few.

from here

We hear and read constantly of this 'broken economic system' and then are usually given some lame ideas for reforming it to improve discrete areas of some of our lives for an indeterminate period, reforms that very soon either fail to materialise or quickly fade into something less than promised or expected. It's heartening to note that Winnie Byanyima didn't go that far but the semi-redacted (by me) sentence in her final paragraph is one clue that we shouldn't get too excited about her having woken up to the whole reality of capitalism. Reforms have been an integral part of capitalism from its beginnings, enabling different parties to come to power for a spell after spinning stories for the electorate. And where are we as a result of that? Does she really believe it's possible to attain all she speaks of within the current system knowing the power of the 1%?  They're never going to let that happen.

We can agree with her that 'another world is possible and that it won't be created by the 1%' and also that 'it is up to us,' however let's not even waste time thinking about trying to fix it. Rather the solution is to abolish it altogether in favour of a system organised by and in the interest of the vast majority based on common ownership and democratic control. That system is socialism.




The Body Count

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A few years ago a study published in the respected medical journal stated the death toll of the Iraq war was one million. E-mails that the BBC was able to procure based on the British Freedom of Information act show that Blair’s advisors were fairly frustrated at first to hear that the Lancet study’s method of investigation was unshakeable. The government finally declared that, even though the method had also been used in other conflict situations, the Lancet numbers were much higher than those provided by statistics from other sources, and that this demonstrated how greatly estimates could vary depending on the method of data collection. From the very small circle of scientists who had initially expressed fierce criticism, after a while the only thing one heard was that “there is considerable debate amongst the scientific community over the accuracy of the figures.” From then on, most of the media would mention the study, if at all, only with the addendum “controversial.” This label, however, is simply untrue. This new study by the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other groups examined the toll from the so-called war on terror in three countries — Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – confirm the obscenely high deadly toll of the Iraq war and others since. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware. In Afghanistan, the longest war in NATO’s history, Wikipedia  reveals the number of 14,576 domestic and foreign security forces killed, and between 12,500 and 14,700 civilians killed (as of 2012). Searching for the number of Al-Qaida and “Taliban” members, it is stated that no reliable data are possible. This in turn suggests that the other figures indicated are somehow reliable. But in fact, they are not. This is not meant as criticism of the diligent Wikipedia writers, rather as a comment on the general superficiality used to deal with the devastating consequences of the war.

The U.S.-led Multinational Force (MNA) in Iraq, the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF-A), also in Afghanistan, have carefully kept a running total of fatalities they have suffered. However, the military’s only interest has been in counting “their” bodies: 4,804 MNA soldiers have died in Iraq between March 2003 and February 2012, the date when the U.S. body counting stopped. As of early end 2014, 3.485 ISAF and OEF soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2001.

The picture of physically wounded military personnel for both war theatres is incomplete. Only the U.S. military is identified: (a) 32,223 were wounded during the 2003 Iraq invasion and its aftermath, and (b) until November 2014 20.040 were wounded in Afghanistan. No figures are known for mental disorders involving military personnel who have been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Officially ignored are casualties, injured or killed, involving enemy combatants and civilians.  This, of course, comes as no surprise. It is not an oversight but a deliberate omission. The U.S. authorities have kept no known records of such deaths. This would have destroyed the arguments that freeing Iraq by military force from a dictatorship, removing Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and eliminating safe-havens for terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal areas has prevented terrorism from reaching the U.S. homeland, improved global security and advanced human rights, all at “defendable” costs. U.S. journalist Nir Rosen noted, “the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis are not better off, … the children who lost their fathers aren’t better off, … the hundreds and thousands of refugees are not better off.”

The desire of governments to hide the complete picture and costs of military interventions and wars is nothing new. For the United States, the history of the Vietnam war is emblematic. The immense toll on Southeast Asia, including the estimated death of at least two million Vietnamese non-combatant civilians, and the long-term health and environmental impacts of herbicides such as Agent Orange, are still not fully recognized by the majority of the American people. Such historical amnesia can be traced to widespread cover-up by US authorities and their media minions of the crimes against humanity committed in “our” name. Similarly, the Vietnam war’s consequent political destabilization of the region, associated with the rise of the horrific Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, is reminiscent of the recent "post-war" destabilization in Iraq and neighbors that has been conducive to the rise of brutal Caliphate "wannabes" such as ISIS that is now terrorizing the region. The war in Pakistan is therefore a consequence of the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan. It began in 2004 with the massive advance of the Pakistani military against Al-Qaeda hide-outs and “Taliban” in southern Waziristan. The initial hope that this could contain the war has turned into its opposite. The war intensified, terrorist reprisals increased, and the war spread to other areas of Pakistan.

A politically useful option for U.S. political elites has been to attribute the on-going violence to internecine conflicts of various types, including historical religious animosities, as if the resurgence and brutality of such conflicts is unrelated to the destabilization caused by decades of outside military intervention. As such, underreporting of the human toll attributable to ongoing Western interventions, whether deliberate, or through self-censorship, has been key to removing the "fingerprints" of responsibility. Today, permanent acceptance of war and occupation is most easily accomplished by using humanitarian, human rights pretexts for war, such as “reconstruction,” “stabilization,” “securing human rights” or “democratization.” After the so-called “global war on terror” was at first justified as a (pre-emptive) self-defense, even later on the continued occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were likewise explained by those alleged goals. While at the beginning such military interventions were called “humanitarian interventions,” today their proponents try to classify them as part of the so-called “Responsibility to Protect” which Western states try to enshrine as a new norm in international law. According to first estimates, the war in Libya in 2011, where NATO intervened in support of insurrectionary forces, has cost at least 50,000 Libyan lives. Even though the intervention was justified by the claim of “protecting the civilian population.” Unfortunately, the justification of military interventions in order to “fight terror” is still part and parcel of the political debate, even though there is enough evidence that a substantial part of terrorism is engendered by military, intelligence, and economic interventions of the very same countries that consequently make use of the pretext of terror to politically legitimize their military and geo-strategic expeditions.

The total body count in the three main war zones Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan during 12 years of ‘war on terrorism’. comes to the conclusion that the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs. And this is only a conservative estimate. The total number of deaths in the three countries named above could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.

Aside from the number of the victims of a conflict, it is of course also important to know who is responsible for them and to what extent. A priori, of course, those who started the war also carry the main responsibility for all victims. Since the assault on Iraq unequivocally constituted an aggression in violation of international law, the U.S. and its allies are also responsible for all its consequences. United States military forces have killed more innocent foreign civilians than the forces of any other country since the end of World War II, an uncomfortable truth for a nation whose people overwhelmingly consider themselves liberators, even as their government has supported countless brutal dictatorships

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On the campaign trail

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Good turnout of 50 Tuesday evening for the "Keep Our NHS Public" campaign meeting in Oxford Town Hall. The platform speakers were all trade unionists and, in their opening speeches, detailed the union struggles against some of the private companies that had won contracts to do work for the NHS. Some such as Balfour Beatty and Carillion were big companies from the construction industry with a long record of anti-trade unionism. The speakers described some succesful union actions to stand up to them and convincingly argued that "privatisation" in the NHS was also a way of reducing pay and conditions in the health service.
This was not a hustings meeting but any candidates present were allowed 3 minutes to put their case. First off was James Morbin, the TUSC candidate, (his first appearance). He said "No cuts", "Nationalise the drugs companies". Dr Helen Salisbury, of the National Health Action Party, said "Vote for Me as I'm standing on this single issue". County Councillor David Williamson, speaking on behalf of the Green Party candidate (who was present but didn't say anything), said he'd once been a Labour parliamentary candidate but had left to join the Greens which was now the party of the Left. He reminded the meeting that it was the last Labour government that had introduced PFI into the NHS. Our candidate, Kevin Parkin, said that there could only be a secure free health service in a socialist society and that an isolated one within a production-for-profit economy would always be under the threat of being undermined, as it was being.
In summing up, the three speakers took off their trade union hats and put on their Labour Party ones. Which meant that the case for voting Labour got much more time than given to other candidates present all together. One of the speakers was Andy Newman, the ex-Trotskyist who runs the "Socialist Unity" blog and is now the Labour candidate for Chippenham.  He claimed that it was the election of a Labour government in 1997 that had saved the NHS, forgetting to add that in the 2005 general election he had stood against Labour as a "Socialist Unity" candidate in Swindon North (and got 208 votes).
Next activity in Oxford: a literature stall this Saturday at 12 noon in Manzil Way, off Cowley Road.
While in the North East, our candidate had this letter published in the local Hartlepool Mail, which covers part of the Easington Constituency:
Have Your Say
LIFE is more like a nightmare for the vast majority of people in the world today.
It is claimed that the present way society is organised is ‘civilised’ and ‘humane’.
A society that has more than two billion people going to bed hungry every night, cannot make the claims of being civilised nor humane.
A society that has hundreds of millions with no access to clean water or sanitation, cannot make the claims of being civilised nor humane.
A society that allows tens of thousands of children under five to die every day of starvation, or directly attributable disease, cannot make the claims of being civilised nor humane.
A society that can allow less than 100 people to own more accumulated wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion, cannot be seen as sane, rational, nor indeed civilised nor humane.
These obscene figures and others, are why myself and the Socialist Party are so vehement in our opposition to the present way society is organised (capitalism) and why we are just as vehement in pressing the case for a different way of organising society.
One based upon the ‘common ownership and democratic control of the means for producing and distributing what we, as human beings need to live’.
Where the Earth and everything in and on it, will belong to all people, equally, without distinction of race, sex, age or any other of the false divisions that capitalism throws up, to cloud the real issues!.
Where the watchword ‘from each according to ability, to each, according to need’ will be the overriding principle.
Steve Colborn,
The Socialist Party PPC

We Said It Then, We Say it Now (3)

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Another in our series of past election manifestoes. This is from 1970

Capitalism or Socialism 

We live under Capitalism. This is what it means...

       A CLASS DIVIDED society where the means for producing wealth belong to a privileged few.

       The rest of us WORKING FOR WAGES which are less than the value of what we alone produce.

       CONFLICT over wages between us and our employers in which the government, whichever party is in power, always protects the employers' interests.

       PRODUCTION FOR PROFIT so that even basic human needs are neglected if there is no profit to be made in satisfying them.

       ECONOMIC RIVALRY between states leading to wasteful and terrifying preparations for war.

       RACISM with workers using other workers as scapegoats for the restrictions capitalism imposes on them.

       WORLD HUNGER while food is destroyed and the means to provide plenty for all lie unused.

All the other parties promise to run capitalism in your interest. They have always failed. They always will. This is not because they are dishonest or incompetent. It is because the capitalist system can only be run as a profit-making system in the interest of those who live off profits.

THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN says: Trying to reform capitalism is futile. It can never be made to serve human interests. Abolish it and establish Socialism instead.

THE ALTERNATIVE - SOCIALISM means:

       The world-wide COMMON OWNERSHIP of the means of production and their democratic control by the whole people.

       PRODUCTION SOLELY FOR USE to satisfy human needs and to abolish hunger, slums, bad health, lack of education and all other aspects of poverty.

       FREE ACCESS for all according to need to the common store of wealth. The abolition of buying and selling, money, prices and profits.

       USEFUL WORK based on human need with only one quality—the best we are capable of. No more working for wages for an employer.

       A WORLD WITHOUT FRONTIERS and the disbanding of all armed forces.

SOCIALISM has never existed anywhere. Certainly not in state capitalist Russia or China or under Labour governments in Britain.

This socialist world of peace and plenty can be ours just as soon as a majority of us want it and organise to get it.

But its establishment is not something we can leave to politicians and leaders. It must be the work of ordinary people like ourselves.

Edmund Grant, candidate of THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN in Hornsey.

(18 June 1970 General Election)

The Workers’ Choice in 2015 
Brighton Kemptown - Jacqueline Shodeke
Brighton Pavilion - Howard Pilott
Canterbury - Robert Cox
Easington - Steve Colborn
Folkestone and Hythe - Andy Thomas
Islington North - Bill Martin
Oxford East - Kevin Parkin
Oxford West and Abingdon - Mike Foster
Swansea West - Brian Johnson
Vauxhall - Danny Lambert



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MOONLIGHT BEHIND YOU? (our weekly poem)

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MOONLIGHT BEHIND YOU?
(Apologies to Noel Coward)

Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, admits to
‘screwing up’ after being forced to concede that he was
‘moonlighting’ by still running his software business under
the alias of ‘Michael Green’ when he became an MP

Who’d want to purchase a used car,
From ‘Honest Grant V.Shapps’;
In view of all his posturing,
And his poor memory lapse?!
Who’d want to buy some software from,
The so-called Michael Green; (1)
When he was really Grant V. Shapps,
Behind a smoky screen?

His product known as ‘Stinking Rich’,
Would make “a ton of cash”;
For those of the same vapid mind,
And equally as flash.
“A chancer” says the Guardian,
And so he’ll likely sue; (2)
Because flash gits will always try,
To cover-up what’s true.

But some will still go nuts in May, (3)
And vote for his smooth charm;
But others will use common sense,
And see right through his smarm?
Shapps somehow seems to typify,
Most politics today;
Self-serving and quite vacuous,
In each and every way.

(1) Shapps used the alias, Michael Green,
when selling his software, ‘Stinking Rich’.

(2) The Guardian newspaper revealed that
he threatened to sue a constituent who
tweeted an exposure of his double life.

(3) General Election in 2015.

© Richard Layton

Changing The Food System - Democratic Decision-Making

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When the idea of food sovereignty emerged twenty years ago, from the mobilisation of campesinos in Costa Rica and from the protest marches of small farmers in the Indian state of Karnataka, it had one important lesson to teach us: policies in the areas of food and agriculture should not be taken hostage to the exigencies of international trade. This idea was central to the establishment in 1993 of the Via Campesina, which was soon to grow into the largest transnational social movement in existence, now spanning 164 local and national organizations in more than 70 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, and representing an estimated 200 million farmers.

As an antidote to the globalization of food markets, food sovereignty was very much a product of its times. The Uruguay round of trade negotiations launched in 1986 was nearing its conclusion, and at the request of major developing countries, agriculture had been placed at the centre of the table of the big bargain to be struck: food, it was becoming clear, was set to become the next frontier of the great mill of commodification, and farmers from the world over were asked to compete against one another — and let the least competitive disappear. 

Food sovereignty was, first and foremost, a story of solidarity against adversity, of cooperation against competition. The trade negotiators wanted their farmers to compete: instead, rallying behind the new slogan, they decided to unite. A strange ballet of words occurred: those talking about trade « liberalization » were condemning farmers to new forms of pressure and coercion from the global marketplace and from the large agrifood companies that dominate it, while those speaking of food « sovereignty » meant in fact the opposite of food wars — they meant alliances across national borders.

With food sovereignty, a set of new displacements occurred: social movements replaced governments as the main source of legitimacy; the building of resilient communities through small-scale farming and the relocalization of agrifood systems was given priority over the search for efficiency gains and economies of scale; and (in the words of Jan Douwe van der Ploeg) the art of farming replaced the business of agriculture as the way to describe the future role of farmers.
Food sovereignty activists and their allies were attacked on a number of grounds. They were accused, first, of pitting the interests of food producers above those of consumers, especially urban consumers, who were supposed to want abundant and cheap foods (and a variety of foods all year round), with the longest shelf-life possible. 

We now understand much better the limits of such an approach. We have come to realize, over the past twenty years, the considerable damage inflicted upon us by the « low-cost » food economy that left it to the large agribusiness actors to take care of feeding us, through the supermarkets and long food chains. Ill-health from bad diets made up from industrially processed foods, low wages in the food sector (from the tomato-pluckers in Florida to the fast food workers in the McDonald outlets), and ecological damage on a large scale - all can be traced back to the obsession with more production, bigger scale, and the lowering of prices at all costs. Low prices, we now insist, should not serve as a substitute for decent wages, and for social policies that should allow everyone, even the poor, to afford prices that are fair for all. 

Food sovereignty activists were accused of denying the benefits of trade, and the efficiency gains that can result from each region specializing in what it is comparatively best at producing.
To this, their answer has been--our answer has been--that trade over long distances, controlled by the companies who own the logistics and control the networks, and the ability to source their bananas or their soybean from farmers located thousands of kilometers away, is not the only trade there is; that local and regional markets have been neglected and insufficiently supported; and that this neglect has not simply allowed the expansion of long-distance trade, but to a large extent also resulted from long-distance trade being given priority in public policies. Food sovereignty activists are now able to point, moreover, at the considerable risks that countries take when they depend on imports for their food, as global markets undergo regular shocks and prices regularly spike. Resilience requires diversity, including a diversity of markets; uniformity breeds the exact opposite.

These debates have dominated the past twenty years, and they are still very much alive. No clear winner has emerged yet. The battle for food sovereignty still must be fought, in the streets, in the fields, and in pages of The Guardian or of the New York Times — all spaces that must be occupied and recaptured.
But a generation has passed, and the problems facing the food systems have grown bigger. Food sovereignty today is much more than it was: it is invoked by food policy councils in North America, from Toronto to Oakland; it is the rallying cry behind the growth of farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture; it is a slogan heard in food banks that seek to reconnect people to their local farmers and to the food systems they depend on more broadly; it is referred to by those who want to produce their own food, through vegetable gardens in their urban neighborhoods or in the schools to which they send their children. 

Unambiguous food sovereignty

This represents a remarkably diverse set of initiatives, and it may be tempting to conclude that the key advantage of food sovereignty is in its ambiguity, allowing different experiments to unite behind it, and gradually contribute to filling out its meaning. Though there is much truth in this view, this should not blind us to the fact that there exists a deep underlying convergence behind these various attempts to transform food sovereignty from slogan into action. Second-generation food sovereignty seems to present five key characteristics:

- First, it seeks to build bridges between urban consumers and local farmers, by inventing different ways to rebuild local food systems. This is in part a change in strategy: The frontline was the World Trade Organization ministerial summits in Seattle or Hong Kong, but it is now the local school board, the company’s canteen, or the local farmers’ market. Alliances are being built at local level between citizens, farmers, and municipalities. Food sovereignty was accused of placing the interests of farmers above those of urban consumers: by some magic, it is now the urban middle-class, often joining forces with low-income communities claiming more food justice, who are the most dynamic part of the movement.

- Second, these various innovations that form food sovereignty today are democratizing: People were passive consumers, responsible ones at best, they’ve now become active citizens, seeking to reclaim control over their food systems and to exercise their right to choose. It is not simply that the act of consuming has become political. It is more than that: people seek to co-design food systems, to participate in shaping them, to recapture them. We were familiar with the slogan of workplace democracy; we must now open up our eyes to food democracy.

- Third, the social innovations that form the food sovereignty movement seek to strengthen social links. As Polanyi has remarked in his “Notes of a Week’s Study of the Early Writings of Karl Marx”, the ascendancy of the market economy has had the effect of corroding human relations: just like useful goods have been objectified into commodities and human needs transformed into demand, «the personal relationship of individuals co-operating with one another» has been degraded into « the impersonal exchange-value of the goods produced by them». The penetration of market relationships in all spheres of life thus has impoverished human relations: people are individualized and less and less socialized, they are assigned roles as producers and as consumers, as buyers and as sellers, and they communicate through prices. 

When people establish a food policy council, however, when they create a community garden, or when they join forces to convince the school board to buy local and organic, they move away from the roles preassigned to them by the division of labor within society: they redefine their social identities, acting as citizens to reshape their environment.
This not only allows them to escape the sense of disempowerment that we experience in our roles as voters and consumers, as we realize that casting a ballot or buying responsibly has hardly allowed us in the past to provoke society-wide transformations. It also brings about considerable benefits in terms of public health. Stronger community links, richer social relationships, it has been shown, are the single most important predictor of increased life expectancy, more even than the avoidance of tobacco or of excessive alcohol consumption, or even of a lifestyle that is active rather than sedentary.

Fourth, food sovereignty initiatives favor resilience over efficiency. They are guided by the realization that we have entered an uncertain world — and that the pathway to recovery is largely unchartered. Peak oil, the imbalances in the cycle of nitrogen, genetic erosion as a result of the spread of monocropping schemes, soil degradation, the repeated shocks that result from climate changes, the logistical nightmares associated with the congestion of cities — these well-documented threats will mean in the future more instability, more volatility, and the need to invent more solutions and to do so faster.

Resilience is at the heart of the movement and it is a major concern now to many bottom-up, citizen-led initiatives that claim a right to food sovereignty. The keywords here are relocalization, diversity and (as an outcome of both) reduced dependency. The more that solutions can be designed locally, using local resources (in addition to outside resources rather than simply instead of them, for these outside resources may remain available as a back-up solution should local systems break down or prove insufficient), the less vulnerable any local system will be to outside shocks — such as a sudden increase in energy prices, a breakdown of supplies, or an economic crisis that placed basic items out of reach of the poorest.
And the more these solutions are diverse, the better the local system will be equipped to deal with contingencies, unpredictable by definition in the form that they will take, but that nevertheless we can predict with assurance shall happen.

- Fifth, finally, the motivations and interests of food sovereignty are closely aligned with those of agroecology. As a contribution to the science of agronomics, agroecology aims to reduce the use of external fossil-based inputs, to recycle waste, and to combine different elements of nature in the process of production in order to maximize synergies between them. But agroecology is more than a range of agronomic techniques that present some of these characteristics. It is both a certain way of thinking of our relationship to Nature, and it is growing as a social movement.

The truly green revolution

Agroecology is the truly green revolution we need for this century. It invites us to embrace the complexity of Nature: it sees such complexity not as a liability, but as an asset. The farmer, in this view, is a discoverer: he or she proceeds experimentally, by trial and error, observing what consequences follow from which combinations, and learning from what works best —even though the ultimate « scientific » explanation may remain elusive. This is empowering: the farmer is in the driver's seat, where she constructs the knowledge that works best in the local context in which she operates. In contrast, so-called « modern » agriculture, which is in fact twentieth-century agriculture, did the exact opposite: it sought to simplify Nature. What to do on the field was defined by whatever was prescribed by « science » developed in laboratories. The path from research to practice was unidirectional, and it was seen as unproblematic: since solutions were based on science, they were considered universally applicable. The experiential knowledge of the farmer was irrelevant at best; at worst, it was treated as « prejudice », and as an obstacle to the top-down implementation of sound scientific prescriptions from « experts ».

In this view from twentieth century science, the complexity of Nature is a problem: simplify it if you can, and never mind if this means robbing from the farmer her developing artistry, and transforming that art into the literacy of reading instructions for use on the spray bottles and on the seed bags.
As a social movement, agroecology encourages peer-to-peer exchanges of information between farmers. It prioritizes local solutions relying on local resources. And it transforms the relationship between the farmer and the « expert » from the department of agriculture or from the international agency, not in order to reverse it and to replace one hierarchy with another, but in order to move towards the co-construction of knowledge, as most clearly illustrated by participatory plant breeding.

Making the links

The links between food sovereignty, transition initiatives and agroecology are not circumstantial, or a question of tactical alliances. They are based on a shared diagnosis and on a similar impatience with the system we inherit. The mainstream food system, they note, is corporate-led, energy-thirsty, and so obsessed with « low-cost » that it treats as externalities--as costs to be borne by the whole of society--the ill-health, rural depopulation and ecological damage it is associated with. The time for alternatives to develop has come. Alternative food systems should allow people to democratize, to relocalize, and to be guided in our search less by the imperative of efficiency demanded by the markets, and more by the quest for ownership that citizens demand.

There is considerable resistance to be expected. Vested interests, neo-Malthusian anxieties, sunk costs, growth-obsessed macroeconomics, a certain idea of « progress » or or « modernization », shoppers’ routines and gendered division of roles — these are all major obstacles to change.
But the conventional food system is not made of one piece only, and it can be transformed. Alternatives can emerge bottom up, as social innovations conceived as experiments, increasing pressure for change. That, ultimately--the broadening of political imagination--is what food democracy is about.

Olivier De Schutter - professor at the University of Louvain (UCL), the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008-2014)

from here

Around the globe are increasing calls for inclusion in decision making by organised groups insistent on having control over their own future. Thanks to improved communications and access between continents global citizens are discovering solidarity of which they were once unaware. Now is an era, unknown to many just a brief time ago, when at the click of a button up to date information can be found from all quarters of the planet. The time is ripe for spreading the socialist message of a world of common ownership with no room for elite minorities - a world in which poverty gives way to comfort, privilege to equality and all forms of slavery to freedom for all.

 

Monday, March 23, 2015

We said it then, We say it now (2)

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Following on from the earlier 1929 election statement, we re-publish another from our archives which is a fine statement of the socialist case in easy-to-read, popular language, some which still finds an echo today, especially the opening and closing paragraphs. Even the historical detail can simply be updated, references to the atomic and hydrogen bomb can simply substituted by the Labour Party present support for the Trident Missile programme.    

General Election, 1955
MANIFESTO OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN

FELLOW WORKERS,
Once again you are asked to do the most important thing in your lives — Vote. All the candidates are supporters of capitalism. It makes no odds which lot get in. They all do the same job for the same people, run the system which keeps you poor and your boss rich. Their election addresses are not worth the paper they are written on. Petty details apart, there is no difference between them.

Actions speak louder than words. Judge from your own experience. What difference did the Labour Government make? Profits have been going up for several years. The Labour Party has ordered the atomic and hydrogen bombs, broken strikes, increased the cost of living, and conscripted men into the army. They now say that they have a 'Positive Peace Policy', and that Britain should stop hydrogen bomb tests. Even if feasible this would not ensure peace. There can be no peace as long as capitalism lasts. The cause of war is the fight for profits. Profit is the aim of capitalists. A vote in this election is a vote for the hydrogen bomb.

In spite of a post war boom, which should be the best time for workers, industrial wage rates have done little more than keep up with the cost of living index, and millions of clerical and other workers are worse off than before the war. Millions are working over-time to keep what they had before the war.

Dockers, miners, and railway men have found that nationalisation has got them nowhere. They are back where their fathers were, striking to keep heads above water, but now against the strongest employer of all—the Government.

The same Daily Herald which announced the Loco men's strike for six shillings a week more, reported that "All profit records have been smashed by the £440 million Imperial Chemical Industries. The Chairman announces group profits of £47,684,602; an increase of £10,616,452 on last year, which was a record."

A vote in this election is a vote for low wages, high profits and high prices. The Tories running short of pie-crust have resurrected that hoary old vote catching gag "Clear the Slums"; they are going to "clear 200,000 people out of the slums every year". This is in 1955, not 1855, after Labour and Tory have been in for years.

One thing all their election manifestos show is that the same old problems are still with us, only larger. War, High Prices. Bad Housing, Low Pensions, Free spectacles, 'Helping the family', Fair shares. What is all this but another way of saying that most people are worried and exhausted by POVERTY. Britain has the finest health service in the world, but no one yet knows the results of atomic bomb tests. Fewer babies die at birth, but more little children are killed on the roads. We work shorter hours but take longer to get home. Rickets and scurvy are gone, but polio and cancer increase.

Workers must stop voting for the Guv'nor, or his office-boy the Labour Party, and start thinking how to vote for themselves. Why are the majority poor? Because they work for wages. The world is still run for the rich few. The workers CAN alter all this. They CAN organise to capture the Governmental power to establish a new system of society — Socialism. In several countries now the workers are the majority, yet they still allow themselves to be fooled into supporting 'the least of two evils' which (after they support it) becomes the worst evil. The workers do not know their own strength at the polls. They could go straight out for socialism, which would remove the CAUSE of their problems.

Socialism is not nationalisation. The Tories know that the Labour Party is not socialist. Socialism will be a society in which private property in machinery, factories and land will not exist. The wealth produced by labour will belong to the whole community. This society will be based on the mutual confidence and sensible co-operation of all for the common good. It will do away with owners; the rich, hardship, inequality and frustration will be wiped out. This will give everybody a chance to do his best in a money-less, class-less world, where a man's work for society will be the sole test of his worth. People will work happily because useful labour is essential to a healthy life. They will NOT work for an employer's profit but directly for each other.

Some who read this will agree with everything said — and still vote for the Labour candidate. They do not see that this is useless. The number of socialists is still small. This prevents us from contesting. Because socialists are few they must stand clearly for the interest of the working class. Nothing but harm can come of attempts to get support by watering socialism down into something else. A vote for a programme of reforms is a vote for capitalism. All the other parties will catch votes on the strength of promises which leaders make but never keep. socialists reject this disastrous idea. Socialism can only be established by democracy. Each one must know what he wants and instruct his representative to carry out his order. Even a small band of resolute workers can do much, by clear example, to show those who still waver, the alternative to capitalism. Those workers who have seen through the Tweedle-dum sham of the capitalist parties are forced to bide their time and vote indirectly by writing SOCIALISM on their ballot paper. Let none be inactive on this score. To all working men and women who, sick and tired of the old gang, weary of the hypocrisy and corruption of professional politics, dominated by money, we say the future is not hopeless. The choice is YOURS. Vote SOCIALISM — or for your own destruction.