Barber-ed retorts

Apologies for the excruciating pun, there.

A little bit of comparing and contrasting.

Tom Mellen in The Morning Star, writes:

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber called for a national debate on inequality on Friday after warning that Britain has a growing group of “soar-away super-rich” who are cut off from the rest of society.

Mr Barber also warned that “simmering resentment” among millions of public-sector workers over pay could cause clashes with the government.

In his New Year message, he called for more help for workers at the bottom of the heap and faster progress on the government’s pledge to end child poverty as well as making workplaces fairer.

Mr Barber observed that “simply closing the non-domiciled loophole would raise enough to halve child poverty.

“No-one particularly enjoys paying tax, but it is the price tag for a civilised society and it’s about time that we had a proper debate about whether those who can afford it are paying their fair share,” he declared.

Mr Barber pointed out that, “if the super-rich and big companies are not paying their fair share, it means that the rest of us, including small and medium-sized businesses, are paying too much, that public services are not getting the growth they need and that we do not have the resources to end child poverty.”

He insisted that vulnerable workers should have their rights properly enforced, while “abuse and exploitation” of agency staff should end.

Mr Barber attacked the government for planning to limit pay rises in the public sector to 2 per cent a year over the next three years, noting that “the arguments for doing this do not stack up and the risks are big.

“It does not just threaten the recruitment, retention and morale of public servants but will damage an industrial relations system that has minimised conflict in the public sector,” he predicted.

Communist Party of Britain general secretary Rob Griffiths applauded Mr Barber for “identifying the problem,” but he wondered: “What is the point of further debate?”

Mr Griffiths observed that, according to the office for National Statistics, “500 of Britain’s 700 biggest companes pay little or no tax on their enormous profits and the richest 10 per cent own three-quarters of the country’s wealth.

“We need a wealth tax on the super-rich and a windfall tax on banking and oil super-profits,” he insisted.

So, a gentle response from the CPB.

Now, here’s The News Line‘s editorial, titled “Barber’s two ‘big worries’, the crisis of capitalism and workers’ anger!“, pulls no punches:

BRENDAN Barber the TUC general secretary in his New Year message confesses that he has two ‘big worries’ for the year 2008.

He said ‘2008 may be a rocky year. After a decade of steady economic growth and stability, prospects for the economy are distinctly uncertain. The full effects of the credit crunch triggered by irresponsible lending in the USA sub-prime mortgage market have yet to work their way through the economic system. Northern Rock has already been taken in its wake.’

The implication is that Northern Rock is only the first to go.

After years of denying that there was such a thing as a crisis of the capitalist system, he is now at a complete loss about what to do about it when it stares him in the face. He certainly does not propose a socialist alternative. He does not mention the word ‘socialism’ in his entire New Year message.

All he can write is a plea for more regulation: ‘For many years we have been told that over-regulation and red tape are the biggest barrier to economic growth. Yet the biggest threat to the world economy has come from a failure to regulate the US mortgage market, and its biggest victim here flows from a regulatory failure in UK banking system oversight.’

He actually thinks that the crisis of capitalism is a product of a lack of government inspectors!

Inspectors cannot prevent or resolve the crisis of capitalism. The only way to do this is to expropriate the capitalists and the bankers. That means nationalisation and the advent of a socialist planned economy, with workers management of industry. But this is anathema to Brendan Barber.

He continues that ‘My other big worry is the simmering resentment across the public sector at government pay policy. Public servants have already suffered a cut in their living standards this year.

But the government is planning a further three years of reduced living standards.’

Note, his worry is not about the government policy, but the response of the working class to it!

His answer is not to take on the government and smash the policy, but to plead for ‘more help for those at the bottom . . . We now have a growing group of the soar-away super-rich. . . . This is why I hope that in the year ahead we can have a proper debate about tax. We need a campaign for fair tax.’

It is the old bankrupt Kinnock battle cry of tax the rich, to try and prevent the massive anger in the working class over Brown’s wage cutting policies exploding into mass strikes and revolution. It is a cowardly evasion of the issues involved.

In fact, the bosses, are being driven by the developing crisis to attack the jobs, wages, and working conditions of the working class. Far from taxing the rich they are everywhere increasing the taxation of the poor.

The job of the TUC is to provide leadership in this struggle to the working class to defeat the bosses and the bosses Brown government to go forward to a workers government and socialism. Barber has no intention of providing such leadership.

He showed where he stood on this issue when he sold out the sacked Gate Gourmet workers, alongside their union leader Woodley.

Now both face a much bigger struggle on the UK’s airports where BAA workers are due to take strike action to defend their pensions, and the BAA bosses are preparing to bring in replacement workers and to sack the strikers, in another Wapping.

Barber and leaders like Woodley and Brendan Gold have no answer to this bosses attack except to equivocate, preliminary to capitulating.

The TUC must tell the BAA bosses that the introduction of replacement workers will be met by the TUC calling a general strike to defeat the BAA and the Brown government that is supporting the bosses.

Barber and Woodley are incapable of leading this struggle, where socialist policies and the struggle for socialism are vital. They must be forced to resign and be replaced by real leaders at once.

Chance, as they say, would be a fine thing…

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British govt wants negotiations with Taliban

[Tuesday]

This story by Louise Nousratpour is from yesterday’s Morning Star (see also the Guardian and the take of Lenin the blogger).

THE Brown government admitted on Monday that it could not win “hearts and minds” in Afghanistan through military means and must start negotiating with the Taliban.

Ministers have consistently refused calls to negotiate with the Taliban, which has always signalled its willingness to talk, as a matter of “principle” – claiming repeatedly that “we do not negotiate with terrorists.”

Last year, then chancellor Gordon Brown declared that Britain was engaged in a struggle “between justice and evil” on which there could be no compromise.

But, in an apparent U-turn, Britain has now decided to back a strategy which will focus on winning so-called “moderate” Taliban leaders over to join the puppet Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.

Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German said: “This confirms exactly what we have always said – that Britain cannot win in Afghanistan and must negotiate with the people who represent large sections of Afghans.

“That is what they want to do through this new strategy and they are doing the same in Iraq.

“If Britain and the US are now willing to talk to the Talibanis in Afghanistan and the Ba’athists in Iraq to win the ‘moderates’ over to their side, one must wonder why they didn’t take this approach before going to war with those countries,” Ms German said.

“The occupiers must now come clean and admit that they can play no role in the future of Iraq or Afghanistan and should leave.”

Communist Party of Britain general secretary Rob Griffiths said that the measure was just the latest in a series of “fairy tales” about Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan which had been exposed as “lies and deceptions.”

He added: “The only progressive role Britain and the US can play is to get out and let the Afghan people determine their own future.”

Respect MP George Galloway added: “This is an indication of the bankruptcy of Gordon Brown’s policy of sending more young servicemen to the war-torn country.

“It also shows that the occupation in Afghanistan is losing in the face of growing popular resistance – there is no doubt about that.”

CPB to drop support for Labour Party?

[Thursday]

The following article by the CPB’s general secretary was printed in The Morning Star on Monday and is now available online at the Scottish Committee’s site. The implications of the article are discussed by Liam Mac Uaid, who concludes:

“The defeat of John Mc Donnell’s campaign, the upcoming likely fights around public sector pay and the amputation of what remained of Labour Party democracy are obliging the CP and its supporters to re-assess their traditional support for Labour. This is one more stage in the process of making the socialist party to replace it. Now who is going to start organising the spaces where these debates can be had?”

It is worth noting that when Respect was initiated, the CPB debated joining the nascent coalition. Alas, a majority voted to stick with Labour. Times have changed, as Liam notes, but there would be obstacles to the CP signing up to Respect – the Mayoral elections, the fact that Respect does not operate in Scotland, etc.

I think Griffiths is right to try to open a debate within the CPB, and the Labour left, about the representation of working people. Though they might be considered by the CPB as part of the sectarian left, the Socialist Party have been campaigning for a new workers party for a while now and the SWP make up the majority of Respect – The Unity Coalition.

(Respect is going through some internal wrangles at the moment, which can be used to attract the Labour left and might give the CPB pause for thought: I cannot view John Rees’ recent statement in isolation from the recent debates and last Friday’s hit-piece by Newsnight: “Labour not only wants to avoid having rows in the media but it wants to avoid having any debate at all.” Rightly, Respect refused to talk to Michael Crick, who cut his teeth witch-hunting Militant in the early eighties, but unfortunately the debate was not carried out openly within the party. In future, I suspect that things will be different.)

Whilst holding the “reclaim Labour” position, the CPB have stood candidates in elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and in England as part of Unity for Peace and Socialism, the development of which is still being considered. The Socialist Campaign Group has failed to challenge the leadership at Westminster or Edinburgh and is haemorraging members: the latest loss was Bob Wareing who has been deselected as MP for Liverpool West Derby, a position he has held since 1983.

The stark reality behind new Labour’s plans for conference
Wed 26 Sep 2007

ROBERT GRIFFITHS highlights the stark reality behind new Labour’s plans for conference.

OVER 100 years ago, the TUC initiated the steps which led to the founding of the Labour Party.

This was a great political leap forward for working people and their families. They had seen through the Liberal Party’s claims to speak for labour, to represent the interests of workers as well as those of factory owners, coal barons and shipping magnates.

Although many delegates to the Labour Representation Committee were still wary of socialist ideas, the resolution adopted at the committee’s second conference in 1901 urged trade unionists to unite on an independent political platform for:

“(1) The defence of the legal rights of combination.

“(2) The passing of such laws as will put an end to a system under which the producer of wealth has to bear an enormous burden in the shape of rents and profits which go to maintain large classes of non-producers.”

Millions of working-class voters subsequently elected Labour governments in 1924, 1929, 1945, 1951, 1964, 1966, 1974 (twice), 1997, 2001 and 2005.

They did so not because they believed that it would lead to a socialist society. Most people long ago realised that Labour Party leaders “played the game” to win votes and not upset the Establishment too much. Compromises came to be expected from Labour governments in office, some sellouts even.

But all Labour regimes tried to redistribute wealth, improve social and welfare provisions for workers and their families, defend and enlarge the public sector, extend democratic rights, oppose overt forms of racism and, in international affairs, uphold the League of Nations and the United Nations in the face of naked military aggression by one sovereign state against another.

Labour often fell a long way short. The Communist Party in Britain was formed in 1920 to mobilise workers and people generally to fight for progress and socialist revolution. Communist attempts to stay in and then affiliate to the Labour Party were rejected by right-wing Labour leaders, despite at times winning substantial trade union support.

Nevertheless, a large section of the working class has stayed loyal to Labour. The Communist Party has long recognised this reality, working in alliance with others on the left to improve Labour’s policies rather than try to replace it as the mass party of the labour movement.

But the “tectonic plates” have been shifting in ways which the trade union movement and the left can not ignore.

In its first term, the new Labour government honoured commitments to a national minimum wage, increased employemnt and trade union rights and devolution for Scotland and Wales. But, since 2001 in particular, new Labour has governed primarily in the interests of big business.

Wealth has been redistributed, but to the richest one-tenth of the population, who now own 71 per cent of Britain’s vast wealth, while the poorer half of the population own just 1 per cent, down from 6 per cent when new Labour first took office.

The basic state pension has been continuously devalued and future workers will have to get to 68 before qualifying for it.

‘Transforming Labour’s annual conference into half big business seminar, half Nuremberg rally will do nothing to make it “more democratic”.’

Unlike those trade union delegates in 1901, Gordon Brown and new Labour believe that our anti-trade laws should remain as repressive as they were 100 years ago, and that the real wealth producers in our society are the multimillionaire City fat cats, PFI pirates and private equity tax dodgers.

New Labour has indulged in an orgy of privatisation and contracting out. The profiteers have been given a red carpet into our state education and health services. PFI repayments will cost more than £100 billion over the next 12 years.

Our civil liberties have been curtailed to a degree unknown in peacetime, with internment without trial and expensive ID-card “dog licences” on the way. Incessant government attacks on asylum-seekers and migrant workers have stoked up racism, turning the BNP into the most successful fascist party in Britain’s history.

Blair – with Brown’s shameful acquiescence – has locked us into the foreign policy of the most reactionary circles of US monopoly capitalism. The United Nations has been treated with contempt. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers have died so far in Afghanistan and Iraq, while the giant US energy, construction and armaments corporations have reaped the benefits.

Now, Prime Minister Brown is ripping up international disarmament treaties by committing Britain to the US Star Wars project and a new generation of nuclear weapons.

We do not have a Labour government in any social democratic sense. Brown’s latest proposals to abolish contemporary motions at the Labour Party annual conference will complete the anti-democratic, anti-trade union drive begun by Partnership in Power.

His claim in last Saturday’s Guardian to want “every member to have an equal say from the start of the policy process to the end” would make a cat laugh.

Completing the transformation of Labour’s annual conference into half big business seminar, half Nuremberg Rally will do nothing to make the Labour Party “more open and democratic.” Nor will giving members a plebiscite every four years or so on the basis of take it all or leave Labour without an election manifesto.

If Brown really is keen to “show members – and future members – that what they say counts,” when will they get an opportunity to vote for a referendum on the EU constitution – sorry, reform treaty – for public ownership of the railways, for withdrawal from Iraq, against replacing Trident or for fair taxation of the super-rich?

One wonders how and why trade union representatives on Labour’s national executive committee fell for such tosh last week.

As experienced negotiators, would they go back to their members in a workplace and say: “The boss and his management team have asked us not to table proposals at the annual pay negotiations in future, because it embarrasses them. So, we have agreed that our ideas will instead go direct to a joint policy forum which may, after a year or two, put unamendable proposals to a future annual meeting.”

What has been conceded in return? “The boss has promised to listen more as he continues to cut our pay, raid our pension fund, outsource our jobs and spend our taxes on new weapons of mass destruction.”

And what if he doesn’t listen? “We will review the situation after two years and ask him to restore our right to table proposals.” And if he doesn’t hear you or refuses? “We’ll table a resolution.”

Sharp-witted Morning Star readers may now be spotting a flaw in the logic.

Trade unions, the Communist Party and the non-sectarian left must do all in their power to combat the most reactionary new Labour policies, despite this latest feeble cave-in by union representatives.

The Left Wing Programme provides a unifying, coherent and progressive alternative with its proposals for a wealth tax on the super-rich, a windfall tax on banking and oil superprofits, public ownership of transport, energy, banking, armaments and pharmaceuticals, an end to privatisation, equal pay audits and a huge programme of council house-building.

But we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room, which is that the Labour Party in the grip of new Labour.

Some unions have already disaffiliated and more may regretably follow as their members have enough of attacks on their jobs, pensions and living standards.

Individual membership has more than halved – from 407,000 in 1997 to 182,000 today – and millions of former Labour voters have deserted the Labour Party at the ballot box.

The trade unions and the people of Britain need a mass party of labour. If, as in the US, we all agreed that we do not have one, we would be united in trying to create one. Opting out of the struggle to reclaim or re-establish a mass political party of the labour movement offers no solution.

From this Labour Party conference, every trade union, whether affiliated or not, and every socialist organisation has a responsibility to outline its proposals for reclaiming or re-establishing Britain’s mass party of labour.

Robert Griffiths on the Empire’s limits

[Friday]

The limits of empire

Wed 05 Sep 2007

ROBERT GRIFFITHS joins the dots between British imperialist rule in India and the equally racist occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

AMONG the spate of articles marking the 50th anniversary of India’s independence on August 15, several raised the question of whether Britain cleared out too soon.

They argued that a more protracted “transition” to independence might have reduced, if not eliminated, the chaos and slaughter which accompanied British withdrawal and Indian independence.

As it was, millions of people migrated between India and the breakaway Muslim state of Pakistan in the summer of 1947 as intercommunal violence between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims claimed half a million lives.

The subtext of these articles for today is that Britain needs to “stay the course” in Iraq and Afghanistan, ensuring peace and security so that eventual withdrawal does not plunge those countries deeper into civil war.

President George W Bush delivered a similar message with his speech on August 23, only he used the example of the US flight from Vietnam in 1975 to warn against “cutting and running” from Iraq today.

The draft-dodging son of an oil tycoon has long believed in fighting for ignoble causes to the last drop of a poor soldier’s blood.

But the use of India and Vietnam as “precedents” to avoid now in Iraq and Afghanistan also demonstrate something else, namely the arrogance, ignorance and racism of the imperialist mindset.

Let’s take the question of India first.

The fact is that, from the end of the second world war, British rule in India rapidly became untenable. The question was not how long would Britain decide to stay, but how much longer would the presence of the colonial administration be tolerated. The mass struggle of India’s people supplied the answer in the course of 1946 – months, not years.

In February 1946, for instance, a general strike and uprising in Calcutta united workers and students, Muslims and Hindus. One week later, Indian naval ratings mutinied in barracks and aboard three warships, hoisting the flags of Congress, the Muslim League and the Communist Party in place of the Union Jack. Tanks helped kill 500 solidarity strikers in Bombay, where martial law had to be declared.

The British Labour government’s promise of negotiations to transfer sovereignty failed to prevent the mutiny from spreading to other sections of the imperial armed forces in India.

In Travancore, peasants marched and occupied their villages against landlordism and the threat of famine, with the Communists organising a general strike from October 1946 which provoked another large massacre by the colonial military.

Meanwhile, Communist-led risings of peasants and landless labourers were underway in Telengana and Maharashtra. In the course of 1946, there were 1,629 industrial strikes in Bengal alone.

This whole, decisive period of mass struggle was entirely overlooked in recent anniversary articles and programmes in the British media. Covering it up in order to concentrate exclusively on Gandhi’s pacifism serves several useful purposes for the imperialist mindset.

First, it denies the capacity of subject peoples to resist in huge numbers with courage and ingenuity. Occupied natives are to be portrayed instead as compliant if not welcoming. When roused against occupation, this is attributed to a simple-mindedness which makes them prey to Communist and terrorist agitators, as in a recent BBC programme about the Malayan “emergency,” or to mystic, messianic leaders such as Gandhi.

Second, non-violence is upheld as the only legitimate form of protest against occupation – a lesson which violent oppressors everywhere wish the oppressed to learn.

Third, this approach makes it possible to argue that occupations – sorry, “humanitarian interventions” – end as the result of “moral” considerations in the pursuit of justice. In other words, imperialism operates in accordance with moral force, not brute force.

In the case of India, denying the role of mass struggle also denies its potential for building unity among different sections of the Indian people. The imperialist mindset sees only differences and divisions among the occupied and the oppressed.

Even today, most news reports about India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka seize upon ethnic and religion-based conflict as evidence that, having foolishly spurned the benign embrace of empire, these countries are forever doomed to pay the price in disunity.

The role of empire in promoting divisions invariably goes unmentioned. For example, nowhere in the recent coverage was it pointed out that British political leaders and the intelligence services had been promoting Mohammed Jinnah’s Muslim League for a separate state of “Pakistan” from the early 1930s.

Or, for that matter, that Britain had legislated for the “right” of states run by feudal native princes to opt out of an independent India, thereby necessitating armed struggles in Travancore (now part of Kerala) and Telengana (which includes Hyderabad).

Indeed, delaying British withdrawal enabled the colonialists and local reactionaries to fan communal strife for a few more years before independence.

It was a strange feature of this period that, while the utmost military force could be mustered to suppress united non-sectarian action by peasants, industrial workers or students, the colonial power seemed powerless to suppress the instigators of communal riots and massacres in Calcutta, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab.

In the case of Vietnam, the imperialist mindset again excludes the struggles of the oppressed.

We are invited by the Hollywood myth manufacturers to sympathise with the plight of GIs, whether they are killed, missing in action or brutalised by war. The atrocities committed by the occupiers are mostly hidden and the crucial strategy of divide and rule goes unmentioned. Even today, the war is portrayed as the Communist north attacking and conquering the “democratic” south.

Now the imperialist mindset wants to rehabilitate the ludicrous notion that the US had an option to fight on. In reality, by 1973, there was no prospect of a military victory or even of propping up the southern puppets for more than a few years.

US forces had no real choice but to quit Saigon, leaving behind the world’s biggest brothel and three million dead Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians.

So it is today. When Iraqi and Afghan resistance make it impossible to stay any longer, the imperialist powers will have to go and they will go without a second thought about the fate of the collaborators or civilians left behind.

In the meantime, calculations in Washington and Whitehall about staying in Iraq and Afghanistan have nothing to do with securing democracy, fostering stability, preventing civil war or wanting to avoid further military or civilian casualties. As ever, the key considerations relate primarily to US geopolitical, military and energy interests.

How cold-blooded these calculations can be were brought home to me in 1993, when I learnt that IRA and Sinn Fein representatives had begun talking to British government officials.

But the willingness of the Irish republican movement to contemplate a ceasefire as part of a comprehensive peace process were being interpreted by the British as a sign of battle-weary weakness.

In February 1993, an IRA bomb in Warrington had killed two children. Tory government ministers announced that the killers would be hunted down relentlessly and that talks with such heinous terrorists were unthinkable.

In private, meanwhile, the arrogant attitude towards the Irish republicans continued. Then, in April, a truck bomb in Bishopsgate destroyed City premises to the value of £350 million.

British government representatives urgently sought another meeting, where they greeted the Irish republicans with words to the effect: “OK, lads, we’ve seen what you can do, so let’s get down to business.”

The IRA had hit British state-monopoly capitalism where it really hurts – in the wallet. Discussions recommenced in earnest.

The Tory government eventually admitted on November 29 that it had been involved in secret contacts with the IRA and Sinn Fein, the bombs stopped and the first ceasefire was officially declared in August 1994. The government’s grief and fury had been strictly for the cameras.

Most of the top decision-makers in Britain’s state apparatus do not lose a moment’s sleep over the deaths of children, civilians or soldiers, whether British, Iraqi or Afghan, and never have done.

The imperialist mindset breeds such callousness alongside arrogance, racism and the ability to lie without blushing.

Defeated in Iraq, and on EU?

[Monday]

Finally it happens. The British Army retreats from Basra City to the airport. Surely the next step would be to fly the remaining service personnel home to safety? (When it happens, it will not be for long – Afghanistan awaits them.)

It is now clear that Britain is slowly exiting Iraq. What remains is the battle over who lost the occupation. The former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, is in no doubt that it was the fault of the American government, and Major General Tim Cross is in agreement. The American government is publicly blaming interference from Iran (which is rich, coming from the American government). It seems that in private, the Bush administration is pointing the finger at Britain. The resistance in Iraq derives mainly from the Iraqi people, and blaming Iran helps build the American case for intervention in the affairs of Iraq’s next-door-neighbour.

The row between this troubled couple, Britain and America, is akin to two bald men fighting over a comb that doesn’t even exist. The imaginary comb – grateful Iraqis prostrating themselves to American imperialism – was dreamt up by the marketing boys in the States. And now that the armed forces are exiting Iraq, the Tories are talking up a full inquiry, threatening to revisit the lies of the past. This might just be pre-election blether, but it could be seriously damaging to Anglo-American relations if an official investigation into the invasion of Iraq ever takes place. Will the notion of “humanitarian” aggression survive the break-up of the special relationship?

Will the relationship even end? It would appear that the British ruling class has a choice between the United States and the European Union.* Getting closer to allies in Europe now means integration into a multinational state. The European constitution, rejected in France and Holland, has returned as a “treaty”. Pressure is on Brown to allow a public vote, as promised in the days when the “amending treaty” was called by its rightful name.

Again opportunistically, the Tories are calling for the referendum to go ahead. Some New Labour ministers are said to be supportive, but all must be praying that another country rejects the “treaty” first – there is no way, short of widespread fraud, that a public vote could return anything other than an overwhelming “no”.

Keith Vaz, the former Europe minister, has already called for the referendum to go ahead. Perhaps he values New Labour’s hegemony in Westminster more than a capitalist superstate in Europe. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.

The difficulty over Europe could be the reason why Douglas Alexander officially and clearly denied there were plans for a snap election. Other motives might include the anger felt by the labour movement at Brown’s continuation of New Labour’s neo-liberal agenda. Perhaps if Brown can ride out the conference season and deal with the Europe issue, he will be ready to call a general election in the spring of next year.

Or perhaps he’s planning to wait two and a half years? Who knows.

What is certain is that the ruling class is taken with Brown’s style: continued class collaboration, rather than confrontation. The Tories might have promised to hold back an attack on the public sector for a few years if they win the next election, but Brown is better placed to hold back working class militantcy.

* Whilst rewriting the CPB’s manifesto I came across the following observation:

Although one side of British imperialist interests dictates the necessity for an alliance with US imperialism, another side of those interests dictates the need for closer unity with the West European imperialist powers grouped inside the European Union.

It isn’t an “either or” scenario for the British bourgeoisie, but as it becomes ever more clear that the US is in terminal decline, Europe looks like the best option. Hence my wondering about Brown making a tacit turn against America in the event of a referendum on the European consti-treaty.

The wrong question

[Friday]

Worthy of your consideration, this article appeared in the Morning Star yesterday:

The wrong question – John Foster on the SNP ‘conversation’ on independence
Thu 23 Aug 2007

JOHN FOSTER on why the SNP ‘conversation’ on independence conceals the issues facing Scotland

“I AM all for a Scottish parliament,” then Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary Jimmy Jack told the first Scottish Assembly in 1972.

After a significant pause, he added: “Because – wait for it – there is not the slightest shadow of doubt that it will be a workers’ parliament.”

Edinburgh’s Usher Hall echoed with the applause from the hundreds of trade union and shop stewards representatives and local councillors drawn from across Scotland.

The representatives of the business community from chambers of commerce and the Scottish CBI tried not to look abashed.

They were present in order not to be seen to be absent, but they had nothing to say. They could not figure out how a Scottish parliament could be made to work for them. They feared democracy, as big business always does when the working class is mobilised.

Today, the situation is almost reversed. Big business has got the Scottish Parliament figured. It knows exactly what it wants. It is the labour movement that seems adrift.

This is the backdrop, a potentially dangerous one, to the “conversation” that was launched last week by Scotland’s SNP government in its discussion document entitled Choosing Scotland’s Future. This sets out three options.

The first is that the powers of the Scottish Parliament should continue to evolve within the terms of the existing Scotland Act. This permits new responsibilities to be added by mutual agreement between Westminster and Holyrood. Control over railways and railway franchising in Scotland was added in this way in 2004.

The second option is that devolution should be structurally extended, including, if desired, fully fledged federalism. This would involve a new constitutional settlement granting the Scottish Parliament radically new powers over areas such as taxation, economic policy, trade, welfare, pensions, energy and broadcasting.

The third option is the SNP one – independence. Scotland’s parliament would have full sovereign power and the Act of Union would be repealed.

The “conversation” seeks to engage all sections of Scottish society in discussion over these options. It does so in order to frame the terms for a new referendum in line with the SNP election pledge. The SNP government’s preferred date seems to be 2010.

Since taking office, the SNP leaders have shown themselves to be masters of tactical manoeuvre.

By taking stands on class sizes, nuclear power, Trident, bridge tolls and NHS privatisation, they have consistently thrown Labour onto the back foot.

They have done so again on the referendum. The original SNP commitment was simply to hold a referendum on independence. With support currently fluctuating between 22 and 32 per cent, it was very likely to lose.

By adding a third option, it has both shown “flexibility” and thrown the other political parties into disarray. The Liberal Democrats are inclined to go for the second option, Labour and the Conservatives for the first.

But none of them has any strongly developed rationale. The “conversation” has started and the SNP have already begun to lob in issues that are creating their own bandwagons of local interests. Broadcasting is the most recent.

The other parties are in a quandary. The magician’s box is open. Do they deny everything and enter two years of negative campaigning? Or do they get drawn onto a territory full of booby traps laid by the SNP?

Viewed through the eyes of political commentators, there is little doubt as to who is winning.

SNP First Minister Alex Salmond is portrayed as reasonable, moderate and flexible yet also a man of principle. Labour ex-first minister Jack McConnell’s image was negative and wooden – a puppet tied to the agenda of new Labour in Westminster. His replacement Wendy Alexander will find it difficult to do better.

As played out in the editorial columns of the Herald and Scotsman, this game of political snakes and ladders is mesmerising the Scottish public.

But, in reality, this is what it is. A game. It hides the class issues. Labour’s problem is that its current denial of these issues means that it cannot break the spell.

Put bluntly, the SNP parliament will be a parliament for big business.

The subtitle of Choosing Scotland’s Future is Independence with Responsibility in the Modern World. The SNP-favoured option three is for “independence in the European Union.” And, with quaint sentimentality, the 1603 union of the crowns will also be preserved so that the Queen can continue to reign in Scotland as in England.

The SNP has so far issued no statement on the EU reform treaty. It calls for a referendum on Scotland’s future. But it has no current position on a whether a referendum should be held on a constitutional change of much greater magnitude in terms of the rights of working people.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein is demanding a referendum. In the Irish Republic, it is campaigning for a No vote on the grounds that the reform treaty will further compromise Ireland’s economic sovereignty and, in particular, the ability of its parliament to place any limits on the power of big business.

So far, the SNP has been silent on the whole issue. As, of course, has the Labour Party in Scotland.

But the big business agenda is clear. It wants the reform treaty to copper-fasten the ability of the EU to pursue neoliberal, big business policies without interference from national parliaments – particularly in the coming years, as it seeks to impose “flexicurity” on the labour market.

But it also wants to be able to manipulate national parliaments in a competitive race to the bottom and reduce the remaining safeguards for labour.

Who can promise the lowest corporation tax? Or the “lightest touch” in terms of business regulation? Or the lowest infrastructure costs in terms of social services – and the most scope for private operators?

The SNP-favoured independent sovereign Scottish Parliament would have no power to decide trade policy or interest rates.

It could not even interfere with Hyster moving its plant from Irvine to Northern Ireland. To do so would be to interfere with that abstraction beloved of all monopolists – the free market.

But the SNP has already promised that an independent Scottish Parliament would use its power to lower corporation tax. Its discussion document raises the prospect of “lighter” corporate regulation and that fiscal autonomy would “make Holyrood more accountable.”

In 1972, “Scottish business” was, in fact, largely owned and based in Scotland. Today, almost all the big companies and finance houses are controlled by institutional shareholders based in London or New York. Their interests are increasingly short term. They look for safe, high-profit niches in privatised provision with public subsidy. Merger, buy-out and asset stripping are their quickest ways of turning a profit.

These are the people who control Scotland’s resources and, by and large, its press and media as well. They will also be predominant in the new Scotland unless the trade union and labour movement mobilises itself to pose the class alternative.

Back in 1972, the power of the demand for a Scottish Parliament was that it could take on the unaccountable power of big business and provide a public-sector alternative.

Then, the anger of a Mick McGahey could shake the Usher Hall.

The ability of faceless men to decimate communities. The irresponsibility of private capital. Is it different today? Who will say it?

Only when they do will the “great conversation” become real and the spell of the SNP be broken.

Scottish Labour’s McDonnell moment?

[Friday]

McConnell’s out, so here’s Scotland’s McDonnell-style nearly-contest for Party leadership:

Scottish Labour left debates leadership vote
Thu 16 Aug 2007
Author: Morning Star
LEFT-WING Scottish Labour supporters will meet this weekend to consider challenging Brownite Wendy Alexander for the party leadership.

The Campaign for Socialism announced the emergency meeting on Thursday after potential candidates Andy Kerr and Margaret Curran ruled themselves out of the contest.

Ms Alexander, who is sister of International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, announced her candidacy on Wednesday, following the resignation on Tuesday of former first minister Jack McConnell.

“We can use our time in opposition to reform and reorganise the party in Scotland and find new ideas to reconnect with the people of Scotland,” she declared.

Any leadership candidate would require nomination by six MSPs for inclusion on the ballot paper. The Campaign for Socialism has five members in the Holyrood Parliament.

Campaign for Socialism secretary Gordon Mackay was confident, saying: “We are putting up a candidate to win. We need to have a debate, but there’s no point going into an election believing you are going to lose.

“We are absolutely confident that they will be going on the ballot paper and we will see a change in direction in Scottish politics.”

Communist Party of Britain Scottish secretary Susan Galloway warned: “Wendy Alexander is very close to Gordon Brown.

“She would ensure that the Scottish Labour Party carries on much as it did under Jack McConnell.”

CPB Scottish committee member John Foster added: “We would welcome a challenge from a principled left-wing position, which would allow policy issues to be debated.

“Only if that is done will the arguments against privatisation and for the public sector, for the non-renewal of Trident and for withdrawal from Iraq be taken into the Labour movement.”