Labour’s recession is far from over

The big story of the past week, along with the preceeding resignations by Blairite ministers trying to topple Brown?

Millions of Labour supporters stayed home; two fascists won seats in the European parliament on a reduced turnout. Yes, their vote fell, but they won seats because of the low turnout.

I won’t give you the obligatory post dedicated to how and why they made a breakthrough. Oxygen of publicity and whatnot.

So, Brown’s clinging on, having ceded more power to Lord Mandelson, who is now virtually deputy Prime Minister – and unelected, like many in the reshuffled Labour cabinet. Having faced down the parliamentary party in a stage-managed meeting, Brown’s hoping that an economic recovery will save his premiership.

Darling, in situ as Chancellor, despite rumours the PM wanted to replace him with Ed Balls, warns against complacency in seeing “green shoots” of recovery. As well he might, he knows how much government spending will have to be directed towards those made unemployed. Oh, and the banks – mostly owned by the public these days – they aren’t lending to our manufacturing base…

Mandelson, negotiating with the new owner of Vauxhall, is unable to guarantee jobs will stay in the UK. So much has been devoted to bailing out the banks, there’s not much room for manuoevre – not unless there’s another radical change in approach.

A senior Tory let slip that they intend to cut spending by 10% on all but health, education, and international aid, if they win the next election. To Labour’s cries of “Tory cuts!” – the nearest they get to a class analysis of Her Majesty’s Opposition – the reply comes, from both the Tories and the corporate press, that Labour is committed to 7% spending cuts across the board.

As Ann Pettifor has pointed out, to cut spending in the next few years will be a disaster for an economic recovery:

As things stand, any fragile signs of economic recovery will quickly be crushed by the failure of government to intervene and spend at an appropriate level. Instead, government cutbacks will impact with considerable force on the fragile economy, and will hurt the middle and working classes. As the year proceeds many will discover the true, and often pitiful value of their pensions, and will be hurt by cuts in services and job losses in the public sector. This will hamper recovery and deepen, if that is possible, the alienation of British voters from the Labour government.

And don’t forget, this is the woman who was writing about the debtonation before it began.

She continues in the same article to outline the blades which may slice through any “green shoots”:

Foreign direct investment could fall globally by 45% this year, according to the same report, and corporate profits will decline by 20-25%. Global trade is down 25%, and the EIU predicts trade will be down by 10-15% by year end – the worst figure since 1945.

In April this year, consumer prices turned negative in the US, the UK, Germany and Japan. This may be good news for consumers, and may help lower food prices for the poor, but it is not good for the economy as a whole. Businesses cannot profit from negative prices, so they are bankrupted and lay off employees. The rocketing numbers of unemployed (whose plight is seldom taken seriously by orthodox economists) will cut back on borrowing and shopping and may even default on loans. This is not good news for the productive sector of the economy, and it’s very bad news for the banking sector. Banks have still not fully de-leveraged the debts on their balance sheets. Now, thanks to rising unemployment, non-performing loans are “set to rise sharply around the world over the next 12-18 months” according to the EIU. This is very scary, if one considers that there are still $600tn of liabilities in the form of derivatives on balance sheets out there – backed up by a mere $38tn of so-called credit default swaps (in reality a form of insurance on derivatives).

More banking trouble, in other words…

Pettifor concludes:

Nothing has been done to restructure the global economy and limit financial imbalances – including Anglo-American deficits and the Chinese surplus. Indeed these matters were not even discussed at the last G20 summit. Big, reckless money continues to be made from currency speculation, just when the global economy requires currency stability.

We – employees, consumers, investors and borrowers – have been misled and fooled by the economics profession and finance sector for years before this crisis. As a result of our gullibility, we lost $60tn of wealth in the past year. We would be wise now to dismiss their vain efforts at confidence-boosting, and instead rest our judgments on the real world economic outlook.

Back to politics, word is that Balls and Darling are split on how to present the supposedly “inevitable” cuts in public spending.

Hardly confidence boosting!

As far as this modest blogger can tell, the debate isn’t on what to cut, but on when to admit the cuts are coming.

In the leadership challenge that never was, the unions didn’t bark – despite the looming cuts and failure to aid the car industry. For sure, a change of leader – even to someone more in touch with the needs of ordinary people – would bring forth a general election at the worst possible time. With MPs expenses hanging in the air, Labour voters are unlikely to show up at polling stations and register support for the party any time soon.

For the Labour grassroots, there’s no difficulty in choosing between Trident, PFIs, the Afghan war, ID cards – or investing in a new generation of social housing, a Green New Deal, and helping workers to stay in their jobs. However, there’s no means by which the party’s grassroots can influence policy; even the parliamentary party has a tough time defeating unpopular measures, like Royal Mail privatisation, which hasn’t yet been ditched.

According to opinion polling, most voters agree Labour has abandoned its traditional supporters and believe that the Tories are most interested in helping out the rich. So what gives with the BNP victories, then? Well, it’s worth remembering that the Green vote was up – they campaigned on job creation through a Green New Deal to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries, all very practical. But if your main themes are not echoed in the media, it’s difficult to get ahead. The upcoming by-election in Norwich could see the Greens win their first MP, should the support be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I’m wondering exactly where this announcement by John McDonnell will lead:

If we go beyond November without real change visibly under way, what hope is left of Labour not only remaining in government but also surviving as an effective political force at all?At that stage the only responsible act in the long-term interests of our movement would be to offer a real change in political direction by mounting a challenge to the political leadership of the party and letting the members of the party decide. Let me give notice now that this is the path I will take. If this route is blocked again by MPs failing to nominate, then the alternative is Labour MPs making it clear at the next election that they stand on a policy platform of real change as “change candidates”.

Of course, they will be standing as Labour candidates but binding together as a slate of candidates committed within Labour to advocating a change programme, setting out the policy programme they will be advocating as a group and supporting in parliament if elected. Only in this way can we demonstrate to the supporters that want to come home to Labour that there is the hope and prospect of change.

I can’t see a policy debate being tolerated, not without the capitalist media emptying another bucket of shit over the heads of New Labour and calling for a Cameron coronation. Hence the talk of the Blairites toppling Brown without recourse to either the PLP, the members, or the unions – with the Cabinet nominating one of its ranks to become party leader and PM.

So, the question is, will McDonnell and co. defect to form a new workers’ party? If not, will parties like the Greens back this new “change candidates”?

The threat of good deeds: why did the police arrest aid convoy men?

The state broadcaster bans a charitable appeal on behalf of charities raising funds to help Gaza residents rebuild after Israel’s attack – for fear of being associated with criticism of the “good terrorism” carried out by the UK’s ally.

Now those travelling to Gaza to deliver aid to people who have been bombed are targeted by police as though they were about to bomb people! (If only there was the same readiness to seize weapons destined for Israel!)

All of the men arrested have been released without charge. The action taken by police looks suspiciously like an Islamophobic media stunt designed to smear the Viva Palestina convoy and feed into the hysteria about Muslims that the corporate media are drumming up.

Preston’s socialist councillor Michael Lavalette wants answers:

The three Burnley men arrested on Friday night under anti-terror legislation were today (Thursday) released without charge. The men had been held for six days in a secure detention centre in Manchester. The men were arrested on Friday as they drove to join the ‘Viva Palestina’ convoy taking humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Also arrested, as part of the same operation, were six men from Blackburn. They were kept isolated in police vans for 7 hours before being released without charge. Some of those from Blackburn were religious scholars.

The arrests and the treatment of the men in question raise serious questions about policing in Lancashire and about the ‘targeting’ of both the Gaza Convoy and Muslim men in the region. There are serious questions that now need to be answered from Lancashire constabulary. Questions like:

1. Who ordered the stop and arrest of the 9 men?

2. What evidence of ‘wrong-doing’ did the police have?

3. Why (given the fact that the convoy organisers submitted all the names, passport and visa details of those on the convoy) did the police not act sooner if they had ‘real’ or ’significant’ concerns?

4. Who provided the police with the (now obviously flawed) ‘evidence’ that suggested the men were involved in wrong-doing?

5. This was clearly a national police operation. Who led the operation? Did it have Government clearance?

The suspicion is that this was a politically motivated operation to disrupt the convoy. Where are the Labour Ministers on television or in the press defending their operation and explaining the actions that were taken?

The Gaza Convoy is a humanitarian mission and the men travelling from Lancashire had vehicles that were laden with gifts from children in our area for the children of Gaza. The disruption of this trip is nothing short of a disgrace.

George Galloway condemned the timing of the arrests, the arrests themselves and the deliberate efforts of the police to create a story in the press the purposes of which appears to have been to discredit the aid convoy to Gaza. Viva Palestina reports that there was a drop of 80% in donations following the broadcast of the arrests and the police allegations on the BBC on Saturday afternoon.

“Nine innocent people were prevented by the police from joining our convoy with vital aid to meet the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said George Galloway this afternoon.

“The follow up action by the police, which has apparently included the strip-searching of an Imam and his wife in their own home in Blackburn, has gravely damaged their relations with the community whose trust they need to win.

“Anyone with any sense can see that it is in everyone’s interest to encourage Britain’s Muslim community to engage themselves in democratic politics. That is precisely what this convoy – and the huge political, and humanitarian effort throughout Britain’s often alienated Muslim communities which lies behind it – is about.

“To arrest innocent men in such a provocative and hyped operation will achieve precisely the opposite of that engagement. The timing of the operation is seen locally as an attempt to smear and intimidate the
Muslim community and I must say they seem to be right.

“The arrests were clearly deliberately timed for the eve of the departure of the convoy. Photographs of the high-profile snatch on the M65 were immediately fed to the press to maximise the newsworthiness
of the smear that was being perpetrated on the convoy” said Galloway.

“I am writing to the Chief Constable of Lancashire to demand an explanation and will consult Viva Palestina’s lawyers with a view to seeking compensation for the real financial and public relations damage we have suffered as a result. I will also be writing to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to demand action against those who seem to have abused their power and authority as a police officers to produce this really damaging outcome.”

But the events of the last week also raises another significant issue. For the last two years the Government has attempted to divide the Muslim community in this country by launching a programme called Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE). PVE has come with substantial sums of money that can be directed towards projects aimed at stopping ‘extremism’. The funded projects have been varied (and its certainly the case that there is a need for ‘good projects’ in our city and amongst the poorest communities). But PVE isn’t about providing services. Its about obtaining surveillance and criminalising sections of the Muslim community.

For example, how is an potential extremist defined? People who fall under suspicion include those who have an interest in global politics (so opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or opposition to the murderous regime in Israel could lead to someone being identified as a potential ’extremist’.) Of course that could include someone like me – but I’m not subject to PVE surveillance because I’m not Muslim, and this is the crux – its the combination of the political interest with the religious beliefs and style of dress of the individual that marks them out as ’suspicious’; and its one reason why converts to Islam are particularly targetted. Here is the Government’s own document PVE – A Strategy for Delivery (May 2008), which states that:

“The most severe terrorist threat currently comes from individuals and groups who distort Islam. … It is
not the role of Government to seek to change a religion. However, where theology is being distorted to justify violent extremist rhetoric or activity and threaten both Muslims and non-Muslims, Government should reinforce faith understanding and thereby build resilience.”

PVE is actually an extension of the ‘war on terror’. Its intention is to isolate the ‘enemy within’. In this form it is no different to other historic strategies of ‘divide and rule’ that the British state has used to isolate and intimidate minorities such as the Irish community in the 1970s or Communist Party members at the hieght of the Cold War.

PVE was piloted in a number of places across Britain – including Preston and Reading. Both these areas were included because police sources argued they were ‘hotbeds’ of extremism – though there is no evidence of this being the case in Preston at all (there have been no high profile ‘terror’ arrests in Preston and there is no network of ‘political islamists’ in the city.)

In Preston one of the major PVE interventions is called the Channel Project. Here is what the police have to say about it:

“The Channel Project is all about supporting vulnerable individuals. It is a local and community-based initiative between the police, local authority and the local community. The project takes referrals from a number of sources on individuals that may be vulnerable to becoming involved in violent extremism. A joint risk assessment of each individual case is then made by project members and any issues of concern are identified. A programme of intervention tailored to the needs of the individual is then developed and implemented. Involvement of community partners is key. They will have expertise and insight into the process of assessment, referral and intervention. This process will make the vulnerable person confident
in their rejection and condemnation of violence. If you would like to know more about this initiative.”

The language used makes it seem almost ’social workesque’! The ‘needs’ of ‘vulnerable individuals’; a ‘programme of intervention’ etc. You have to stop for a minute to realise that all of this is being done without the knowledge, input or consent of the ‘vulnerable individual’! (Their ‘vulnerability’ remember is opposition or hostility to the imperial policies of the British state combined with the fact that they are Muslim!)

But of greater concern is their claim that they take ‘referrals from a range of people’ (people with a grudge? spies in the community? the security services? who?) and that ‘involved community partners’ are key.

There is an old saying that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. The ‘involvement of the key community players’ essentially means those that have taken funding for their projects – certainly that was the indication of what was happening in Derby and Reading (two PVE areas featured on Panorama on Monday evening): once the projects get their funding the police and security services come calling asking ’surveillance’ questions.

The PVE agenda brings a ‘dirty money’ reward to a few ‘community leaders’, but in the process it turns them into an outreach of the security services. The events of last week-end and the harassment faced by 9 innocent Muslim men in Lancashire should bring to an end this form of ‘engagement’.

Police state in the UK?

A former securocrat issues a warning:

Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.

Dame Stella accused ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists.

“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Dame Stella said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.

“It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state,” she said.

But wait – there’s more! International criticism now:

In a further blow to ministers, an international study by lawyers and judges accused countries such as Britain and America of “actively undermining” the law through the measures they have introduced to counter terrorism.

The report, by the International Commission of Jurists, said: “The failure of states to comply with their legal duties is creating a dangerous situation wherein terrorism, and the fear of terrorism, are undermining basic principles of international human rights law.”

The report claimed many measures introduced were illegal and counter-productive and that legal systems put in place after the Second World War were well equipped to handle current threats. Arthur Chaskelson, the chairman of the report panel, said: “In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world.

“Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights.’’

These warnings aren’t being heeded. In fact the nebulous category of “extremist” is to be broadened:

The government is considering plans that would lead to thousands more British Muslims being branded as extremists, the Guardian has learned. The proposals are in a counterterrorism strategy which ministers and security officials are drawing up that is due to be unveiled next month.

Some say the plans would see views held by most Muslims in Britain being classed by the government as extreme.

According to a draft of the strategy, Contest 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote Sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Contest 2 would widen the definition of extremists to those who hold views that clash with what the government defines as shared British values. Those who advocate the wider definition say hardline Islamist interpretation of the Qur’an leads to views that are the root cause of the terrorism threat Britain faces. But opponents say the strategy would brand the vast majority of British Muslims as extremists and alienate them even further.

This counter-terrorism “mission creep” into the realm of politics is worrying. Not least because it will be counter-productive.

If the government truly wanted to tackle violent extremism it would pull our armed forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This would also be a hugely popular move – most especially for military families who are seeing their loved ones killed and injured in conflicts that can only make us less safe.

Protectionism for the rich, unemployment for the rest of us

Protectionism is bad, says unelected business minister Mandelson, with regards to the striking construction workers and their demands for employment.

Now wait a minute! Is this not a little inconsistent? Having bailed out the UK car industry and the UK banking sector the Lord of Darkness has decided that protectionism will lead us unto Depression!

Mandelson has nothing to worry about, he will be protected by the big business interests that he serves.

The super-rich look after their servants: he will have his protection from the Russian oligarchs who let them holiday on their yachts, from the non-jobs he will get from big businesses seeking little legal changes here and there. He’s been given a job for life in the House of Lords – he doesn’t need protecting from being sacked!

After borrowing billions of pounds to hand to the banks and car companies Mandelson has the cheek to say that protecting workers will damage the economy!

Brown is saying that the bravery of the strikers – fighting for their jobs and their living conditions – is indefensible. This from the coward who wept whilst begging MPs to vote for Heathrow extension, who was too scared to oust Blair, too scared to call an election, too scared to give us the promised referendum on the EU constitutional treaty.

This man, who sends the armed forces to Afghanistan to die for big business interests, has no guts at all. He would never risk being made a criminal to defend other people, he would never fight for justice.

He tells us his promise two years ago of “British jobs for British workers”, a slogan stolen from the fascists, was supposed to be understood as “skills for British workers”.

But most people took this at face value – that it meant UK companies would have to first offer jobs locally before going overseas to find workers. No-one thought that it meant firms could deny jobs to unemployed locals and bring replacements in on ships!

But in truth, EU laws allow firms to undercut wages by importing migrants who they are obliged to pay only the minimum wage.

If big business can now import labour as well as export jobs, what hope is there for workers residing in the UK?

What of Brown’s drive to get the long-term unemployed into work? Why would firms employ people who have disabilities or who have been out of work for long periods when they can easily import healthy workers from overseas?

There will inevitably be massive reductions in wages for those fortunate to keep their jobs – employers will use the threat of wholesale importation of labour to drive down wages and break up union agreements.

Brian Denny, writing in the Morning Star, highlights the role that EU law is playing in undermining workers’ terms and conditions:

THE use of Italian contract workers at Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire is the latest example of employers across Europe going on the offensive and undermining organised labour.

Refinery owner French oil giant Total gave the £200 million contract to Italian company IREM as it was the cheapest tender.

More than 300 of its employees are today being kept on barges berthed at the docks in nearby Grimsby and are being ferried to the refinery to work.

The company claims that the Italian workers are on the same wages as their British counterparts, but, even if this was true, sleeping on containers in the freezing seas on the Humber estuary constitutes a lower social wage for these workers.

The fact that British energy workers do not know the conditions that these contractors are employed on is enough in itself to set alarm bells ringing.

This process undermines the very idea of collective bargaining, a concept which is under attack in a number of ways by employers and the European Union.

Total is exploiting EU law which demands the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour, a neoliberal model which facilitates a race to the bottom in wages and conditions.

This process began back in 1987 with Margaret Thatcher’s Single European Act, which Tory MP John Bercow later boasted was about imposing a single market to achieve the “Thatcherisation of Europe.”

This internal market was designed to slowly remove barriers to the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour, the so-called “four freedoms,” until capital could move anywhere and any time regardless of the consequences.

Rather than liberate workers, it has enslaved them by turning people into commodities, with very few collective rights, to be exploited and dumped without regard to social models built up over generations in the member states.

We saw this process at work in the Irish Ferries dispute in 2006, when Irish seafarers were displaced by sweated Latvian and Polish labour being paid a third of the wages.

The Gate Gourmet strike of 2005 also saw low-paid Polish workers displace local staff, mainly British Asian women.

Four recent judgements by the European Court of Justice, known as Laval, Viking, Ruffert and Luxembourg, have also enshrined this race to the bottom in ECJ case law and gives huge new powers to employers to bring in contract labour anywhere within the EU.

The ECJ and the European Commission are effectively implementing a programme to narrow the scope for member states to preside over their different social models and labour markets in the context of foreign companies posting workers to their territory.

In the Luxembourg case, the ECJ does not even recognise Luxembourg’s right to decide which national public policy provisions should apply to both national and foreign service providers on an equal footing.

This process is also being played out at Staythorpe power station near Newark, where employers in the energy sector are also refusing to employ local unionised labour.

French engineering group Alstom has been contracted by energy privateer RWE to build the power station and two companies, Montpressa and FMM, have since been subcontracted to carry out construction work.

It is clear that the the employers’ response to the growing economic crisis is to exploit neoliberal EU rules on “free movement” and drive down wages, exclude organised labour and maintain their profits.

A stark illustration of this is the fact that the spontaneous strike action came a day after Shell reported the biggest annual profit in British corporate history of £21.9 billion, leading to renewed calls for a windfall tax on energy companies.

But the use of cheap foreign workers as a battering ram against organised labour is not a new concept.

In 1934, as European countries followed the United States into the Great Depression, French writer Antoine de St Exupéry described Polish miners expelled from French coalfields once they had fulfilled their usefulness as “half-human shadows, shunted from one end of Europe to the other by economic forces.”

This is the European reality for more and more workers as Brussels imposes its increasingly discredited neoliberal economic model that treats labour like a tin of beans.

Even Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has said that angry energy workers were “entitled to an answer.”

Yet while new Labour remains wedded to the creation of a pseudo-state called Europe, where democracy and workers’ right only exist in the past tense, then more and more workers will be asking the same questions.

It’s like a fascist state, fascists complain

Okay, so it’s illegal. It’s leading to people having their privacy invaded.

I’m talking, of course, about the leaking of the personal details (including home addresses as well as hobbies) of members of the white supremacist British National Party.

But putting people’s personal details online – this is the kind of thing fascists do, isn’t it?

Well, a former employee of the BNP (and so, one assumes, a racist sympathiser) is said to have uploaded the information.

As Jeremy Dear, the general secretary of the journalists’ union, blogs:

I’ve had neo-nazis threaten me at home, publish my details on Redwatch, the right-wing website designed to target and intimidate journalists and trade unionists, and was once physically assaulted by them and had to go to hospital. The BNP have staged demonstrations outside the NUJ’s head office and have issued threats to dozens of our members – particularly in Yorkshire. How sickening to hear Nick Griffin on Five Live this morning say he would use the Human Rights Act against to protect privacy when he stands for abolishing the act.

The fascists have also taken the opportunity to do some Muslim-bashing while they are busy insisting that they are being victimised.

If nothing else good comes of this exposure, perhaps it will help a few racists understand what it’s like being bullied – some might even empathise with ethnic minorities facing abuse and discrimination.

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