Monday, April 30, 2012

Quebec Classroom War Shakes Canadian Elites

Thousands of students protested against the fee rises in Montreal last Saturday
There's been an almost total media blackout around the rest of the world, so you'd certainly be forgiven if you've not heard of it, but young people in the largely French-speaking province of Quebec in Canada are taking part in perhaps the biggest student uprising since Paris 1968.

Nearly two hundred thousand students  have now been striking and holding regular, militant demonstrations for twelve weeks. Ostensibly, the dispute is over the Liberal government's plans to increase tuition fees by $1,625 (just over a thousand pounds). But significant though this amount is - it is small in comparison to tuition fee rises elsewhere in North America, and indeed in Europe. There is a sense that the rise is the straw that broke the camel's back.

Véronique Boulanger-Vaugeois, an unemployed graduate who has been active in the student movement, told the National Post that: "For me the student movement, the student strike is just one part of everything we have to resolve[...]The student movement is one in which the youth give us the energy, give us the power to refuse what is going on right now." But is also an expression of outrage against "the entire capitalist, neo-liberal context that over time ends up having a very harmful impact, both locally and internationally, on the environment and on humanity."

The Canadian ruling class senses that a student victory could prove a turning point in class struggle generally, and is determined to hold out. Montreal Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michel Leblanc declared that Quebec's government "shouldn't give in or make any compromises". In the province's major daily La Presse, a former editor argued that students must be defeated so as "break" the "mold" of "attachment to the status quo … of acquired rights". The current editor was more explicit, spelling out elite fears that "If the Charest government were to follow the advice of the left and wets who, while in favor of the tuition fee hikes, tremble at the sight of a ‘crisis,’ there would no longer be the means to carry out any reform whatsoever in Quebec."

Further, in 'quality daily' Le Soleil, senior civil servant Bernard Guay reminisced about the good old days of fascism:
"We must organize to regain lost ground. In the 1920s and 1930s, the fascist movements did this by giving leftists a taste of their own medicine. This lesson was so seared into their memories that three quarters of a century later, they still demonize this reaction of political good-health."
While police have certainly not been slow to brutalise the student demonstrators, Guay's comments give some indication of what the Quebec and Canadian governments may be plotting, as student bodies continue their refusal of phony government 'offers'. Most fundamentally, students need workers to come to their aid, as part of a new movement for the defence of working class living standards, and precisely those "acquired rights" threatened by the ultra-rich.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Times Rich List Charts Rising Fortunes of 'The 0.0000161%'

Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal has 12,700,000,000 reasons to be cheerful
The Sunday Times has published the 2012 edition of its annual Rich List, and revealed that the wealthiest thousand people in the UK saw their fortune grow by an estimated 5% since last year, as working class people around the world face an unprecedented assault on their own living standards. In many cases, this was a direct 'reverse Robin Hood' transfer of wealth to the absolute richest.

For the seventh year running, the list is topped by steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal on £12,700m. Just £385m behind Mittal is Alisher Usmanov, boss of Russia's biggest iron ore company. Compatriot and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich is in third, on £9,500m. Ironically, the top three bucked the general elite trend, with each seeing a decrease in their worth compared to 2010.

The Telegraph reports that:
"Some of the biggest gains have been made by those who do not fall in the billionaire bracket, or even those with fortunes of over £750m. The wealth of individuals with between £330m and £750m has gone up 7.8 per cent this year, with those worth £328m to £151m seeing their fortunes grow by 9 per cent. That compares to a rise of just 2.5 per cent in the wealth of the richest 100." 
The Rich List is always a sickening affair, but as the contradictions in capitalist society become all the more horrific, the statistical breakdown is absolutely dizzying. Forget 'the 1%' of Occupy, just the wealth of this 0.0000161% of the UK population would be enough to make a huge improvement to our lives, were it to be equally distributed.

The total of £414 billion amassed by this ultra-parasitical layer would make a significant dent in the national debt of £1.3 trillion - the primary excuse for the government's colossal spending cuts. Were just the increase since last year to be shared between the population of 62 million, it would still amount to £333 each - enough for a cheap holiday perhaps, or more likely one month's food bill. If this top thousand were to be totally expropriated, the shakedown would net us £6,660 per person.

This needs to happen.

Shop owned by National Front mayoral candidate picketed by anti-fascists

The following is a press release from Liverpool Antifascists:

On Saturday 28 April, Liverpool Antifascists picketed Quiggins Attique, owned by National Front mayoral candidate Peter Tierney.

Anti-fascists held a banner aloft over the shop front between 10am and 12.30pm, whilst giving out leaflets and speaking to passers by. Tierney, previously a member of the British National Party before defecting to the National Front, has a prior conviction for attacking a trade unionist with a camera tripod. He was also involved in another fracas in December 2010 which saw his brother charged with assault for punching an anti-fascist.

The response from members of the public was overwhelmingly positive. The only exception was a man who lives above the shop, who tried to threaten the picket with a large dog and a chain wrapped around his hand. He soon fled when the threat failed. Throughout the event, Tierney stayed within his shop and kept it closed until around 2pm. It was due to have opened at 10.30am.

In the past few months, we have seen the National Front resurrect itself by linking up with the North West Infidels street movement. Both represent a shift back to more openly neo-Nazi policies and more open violence from the far-right. If they are not met with active opposition, they will only grow in confidence and feel safe to attack ethnic minorities, trade unionists and other opponents without repercussions. There can be no doubt that the fascists have abandoned all pretense of 'respectability.'

Once more, the 'march and grow' tactics of Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts are in vogue, and the worst example of that was on February 18 when they were able to run amok in full view of the police in the City Centre. We need to make sure that never happens again and see that they are met with mass opposition wherever they go. 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

[1] Liverpool Antifascists is an autonomous group of local activists, dedicated to driving fascism from the streets of Liverpool. We exist to confront fascist ideas, activities, and organisations wherever and however they occur.

[2] On February 18, 250 fascists from groups including the North West Infidels gathered in Liverpool to oppose "the IRA." In reality, this was a march by the local Irish community. The march suffered sectarian abuse along the route, whilst the mob of fascists in town forced the police to block the roads. A number of left wing activists and ethnic minorities were attacked in the City Centre by the far-right, even in full view of police, without consequence.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Oil Haulage Drivers Frustrated by Unite Manoeuvers

Tories effectively shut stations in March, in a union-breaking attempt
On 26th March, Unite announced a "massive turnout", as drivers in the oil haulage industry voted to strike against employers hellbent on attacking their working conditions and living standards. We are now more than a month down the line, and the Unite hierarchy has successfully pissed away the strike mandate, which has elapsed under the anti-trade union laws. And for what? According to Angry Trucker, who was at the report-back to stewards on Thursday: "the government safety regulators have accepted the need for improved training systems. And the employers have guaranteed they do not intend to break the law. Not exactly groundbreaking."

No sooner had Unite published the ballot in April than the papers were full of screeching articles about truckers 'holding the country to ransom' over the Easter period. Sensing a "Thatcher moment" - a chance to score a big symbolic victory over organised workers - the Tories went on the attack, with Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude famously telling motorists to store "a little bit in the garage as well in a jerrycan". Despite the fact that Unite had not given the mandatory seven days' notice of strike action, huge queues piled up at petrol stations as a direct result of government scaremongering, with many forecourts forced to close for business until truckers brought fresh supplies!

With millions of drivers stocked up on fuel, and the army being trained up to deliver it, Unite simply sat on the ballot. They quickly announced that no strike would be held until after Easter, and then the union and corporate executives began a marathon series of meetings at the "conciliation service" ACAS. The original deadline to call a strike expired on 16th April, but in a highly unusual move the employers agreed to an extension of more than a week. This was not a magnanimous act of generosity on their part, but rather a calculated attempt to give the union bureaucrats more time to do their bidding.

And so they did. Top Unite officials reached an agreement with the tanker companies at ACAS, and duly referred it back to shop stewards at the end of the week. But the shop stewards overwhelmingly recommended rejection of the 'deal'. As Angry Trucker explains:
"The fuel tanker bosses seem to have decided hot air can replace concessions in the tanker drivers dispute[...] the only area where there appears to be movement is on training. Here, the employers have agreed to suggestions put by the relevant statutory bodies for industry specific training and qualifications meeting most of the union’s requirements."
However, no real progress has been made in regard to the adoption of industry-wide bargaining and common pay and conditions, or on pensions, where final salary pension schemes are being replaced with inferior money purchase schemes.

So essentially, there has been no material step forward for the (already trained) two thousand truckers at the centre of this dispute. And yet the union fat cats had the cheek to present this shabby 'agreement' to a membership who demanded a strike over the exact same conditions in March!

Truckers have until 11th May to vote on the 'deal', and a large rejection is expected. In that event, a new strike ballot would have to be called before the drivers could officially take action, and we can expect that union officials would drag their heels even then. Assistant general secretary Diane Holland was careful to play to both employers and the membership, when she commented that "Delegates felt the proposals did not meet members' expectations and are recommending that members reject them in the consultative ballot."

But the employers she meets with know well where her priorities lie. As a union bureaucrat, Holland and all the Unite tops have separate and often contradictory interests to the grassroots, because their well paid position as a go-between depends on them successfully imposing the will of the bosses.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why the Ruling Class Loves a Good Recession

Marx and Engels characterized the "executive of the modern state" as being "but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie". This can easily be seen in the cabinet structure, where ministers with different responsibilities argue for 'their' own area of responsibility. But ultimately it is the Prime Minister who must make the casting vote, and it is the finance minister - or chancellor in the UK - who holds the purse strings. The ruling class thrives on economic growth, and yet since their rise to power Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne have deliberately pursued policies which have led to today's inevitable revelation that the UK economy is shrinking again. How can this be accounted for?

This morning, the Office for National Statistics announced that the UK was officially back in recession, having experienced negative growth for two consecutive quarters. This is being called a 'double dip', because it is the second recession since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, and the country has had no significant growth since then. Commentators who only yesterday were predicting growth of around 0.2% growth, are pronouncing themselves shocked at a 0.2% reversal. And at Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon, Cameron himself declared the figures were "very, very disappointing".

But for all their mendacity and corruption, leading politicians are rarely stupid. Since John Maynard Keynes, the bourgeois have at least theoretically understood that increases - rather than reductions - in government spending stimulate a stagnant economy. When PMs and Chancellors since then have refused to do this, it has been because they've had an eye on the longer term picture, and have focused on reshaping the economic landscape. But no, that's a polite way of putting it. I really mean taking a sledgehammer to working class living standards.

Think what has happened since the official end of the last recession, at the end of 2009. Unemployment has risen from 2.5 million to 2.65 million. Nevertheless, the scale of even this rise is masked by the huge increase in underemployment, due to employers cutting hours. But even hourly pay rates have dramatically failed to keep pace with inflation, leaving working people several percentage points worse off than they were. And generally, when they have been in work, they've had to work much harder, as they cover for a combination of lost hours, lost colleagues, and demands for productivity increases.

For all the talk of "a loss of confidence", it's time to get down to brass tacks. Question: where does profit come from? Answer: from the unpaid surplus labour of the worker. But this profit can only be realised when there is someone to buy the commodity or service being offered. As the unemployment and underemployment figures since 2009 illustrate, the growth since then has not resulted from any great increase in sales. On the contrary, it was the economic representation of sweat wrung from the working class.

The plain truth is that when people have less money to spend, they spend less money, and less profit is able to be realised, so companies start laying more people off. The government's spending cuts have exacerbated this, especially in construction, which is plummeting despite the coming Olympics. Such is the magnitude of the current crisis, the economy is on the verge of entering a hellish downward spiral. Indeed, despite the opportunistic Labour calls for a "Plan B", it will.

The politicians - and behind them the international banksters - are hellbent on using the economic crisis to reduce our living standards to those that existed before the working class made huge gains in the aftermath of World War Two. They figure that a recession makes this easier, as workers are more likely to put up with their lot, for fear of losing their jobs, their homes, and so on. However, an elastic band can only be stretched so far before it snaps back, and that day is fast approaching.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ray The Spark Needs Your Solidarity! Please Help!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an interview with Ray - an electrician from the north-east who played a leading role in the grassroots 'Sparks' rebellion. Precisely because of his eminence in the struggle against the construction companies' BESNA attacks, and precisely because that struggle has so far made significant gains, Ray is facing a disciplinary.

Ray is therefore calling for solidarity from Unite members in the north-east, regardless of whether or not they work in construction. If that is you, and you'd like him to get in touch with details of how you can help, please email me at ad_nauseam@riseup.net, and I'll pass on your details. If that is not you, please spread the word through social networking sites, or get in touch with any suitable contacts you may have.

'An injury to one is an injury to all' has long been a slogan of working class organisation, but its meaning sometimes gets lost through repetition. If Ray is punished for standing up to the bosses, and taking part in the most inspirational workplace struggle in recent UK history, then we will all be the worse off for it. Will you let this happen? Of course not! Thankyou!

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Repeat After Me: Fuck Queen and Country!"

The Queen's diamond jubilee is just six weeks away, and the media will be saturated with sick-makingly sycophantic drivel about what a great woman Elizabeth Windsor supposedly is.

Of course, as anyone with any capacity for logic understands, this is utter rubbish. She is perhaps the very least amongst us, having parasitically leeched billions from the public purse throughout her ridiculously pampered eighty-five years, during which time she has contributed literally nothing to the public good. At a time when the ultra-rich are battering the rest of the population, the passing of six decades since she first sat on a particularly posh chair will be used in an attempt to stun and stupefy us into submission. The spectacle badly needs to be punctured.

In 1977 - the silver jubilee - the Sex Pistols did just that with their cheekily-titled anti-royalty anthem God Save The Queen. Ever a toady of the establishment, the BBC famously banned the record, and apparently fixed the chart so that it only 'officially' reached number two. Nevertheless, the lyrics and visceral anger seared its way into the minds of millions, and the idea that "There's no future in England's dreaming" resonated with a generation thrown on the scrapheap by the Labour government of James Callaghan.

A Facebook group called 'Sex Pistols for Diamond Jubilee No.1' reckons this should be the Pistols' year, and in one sense it would be great to see. But unlike when Rage Against The Machine beat the X-Factor contender (and more importantly Simon Cowell) to the Christmas number one, even the lead singer of the band concerned isn't up for it. John Lydon - now a butter flogger - declared that:

"I would like to very strongly distance myself from the recent stories and campaign to push God Save The Queen for the number one spot. This campaign totally undermines what the Sex Pistols stood for."

What a tosser.

So on to a song which I thing has a much better claim - Repeat (UK) by the Manic Street Preachers. To people who've heard nothing older than perhaps A Design For Life, the Manics are a pleasant enough if sometimes bland outfit. Those people need to hear Repeat from their debut album Generation Terrorists! Like the Pistols' God Save The Queen, it has the power to reach a disaffected generation. The sound is pure punk, and the lyrics are as follows:

"Repeat after me
Fuck queen and country
Repeat after me
Death sentence heritage
Repeat after me
Death camp palace

Useless generations
Dumb flag scum
Useless generations
Dumb flag scum

Repeat after me
Fuck queen and country
Repeat after me
Royal Khmer Rouge
Repeat after me
Imitation demi-gods

Useless generation
Dumb flag scum
Useless generation
Dumb flag scum

Useless generations
Dumb flag scum
Useless generations
Dumb flag scum
"

The 'Manic Street Preachers - Repeat (UK) for Diamond Jubilee No 1' Facebook group is here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sparks Electrician on Defeating the Corporate and Union Bosses

Sparks blocking Park Lane traffic days before BESNA started collapsing
A few weeks ago Ray, an electrician from the north east of England, commented on a repost of my article on the rank and file Sparks group's defeat of BESNA - a construction company contract which would have cut wages by up to 35%. I asked him if he would like to be interviewed and share his critical perspective on the struggle so far. I'm delighted to say he agreed.

You say it was your union branch which took the initiative to "give unqualified support" to the Sparks struggle. What do you mean by this, and how did this happen?

The most rational answer originates from the realisation that employers do not operate from benevolence or some form of altruism. Their entire reason for existence is to make money from their workers. If they can't make money or not enough money they sack people. In the north east the most recent example of this is the closure of the Alcan aluminium smelter at Lynemouth in Northumberland. Here the plant made a healthy profit of about 25% but the parent company wanted profits of I think 40%. The owners refused to sell the company to anyone who might introduce competition and hence interfere with profits. So last week the smelter closed with the loss of 500 jobs. 

So it came as no surprise when the construction companies demanded a modernisation of the construction industry that involved wage cuts of up to 35% with savage attacks on terms and conditions of employment. Indeed the employers quite openly and freely told everyone that the reason for their modernisation plans was to improve profitability.

These attacks did not come out of the blue. Years of sniping at union organisation and the gradual erosion of national agreements led to BESNA. I think the final realisation of just how weak the union was came with the utter disaster of the BA dispute.

In August 2011 my branch Newcastle Central was almost uniquely placed to coordinate the defence of electricians and the attack on the employers. There was a group of workers that the employers thought was easy pickings, the [Unite] union wasn't doing anything constructive and therefore people just had to organise themselves in the way that history has taught us to do which. We could not just sit back and watch while employers set about destroying wages and terms and conditions of employment. The question was quite simple, 'whose side are you on?'

Unfortunately the union is now determined to get rid of branches like mine because they cannot properly control them.

Exactly what did you and your colleagues do to earn the label "cancerous" in the email Unite chief negotiator Bernard McAulay sent Gail Cartmail?

I really do not know the answer to this. You would have to ask McAulay. I would guess that there was an idea amongst the union bureaucracy that there was a group of people who were acting independently of the union and therefore dangerous. For example in July 2011 when BESNA first appeared the union told workers to wait until the new year to see what the employers would do. Ordinary members of the union responded by organising themselves in a way that bypassed the entire bureaucracy of the union machinery. This action directly confronted the employers and the police. This I think was the reason for the term "cancerous" – that is spreading and completely out of control that threatened the authority of the union.

How did the Unite bureaucracy manage to worm themselves back into a leadership position, after Sparks had taken their initiative?


The bureaucracy regained control in a benign seemingly innocuous manner by going to sincere well meaning union members to convince them that the best way forward was to help the union to fight the employers in the way the union thought best. 'We the full time officials want to defeat the employers the way to do this is make the union bigger and stronger'. In the north east we - like all R&F [rank and file] meetings - had a tradition of open meetings where anyone could attend, speak and vote. The union desperately wanted to stop these discussions because they had no control over the content.

No one knows exactly when it happened but reports started coming in of people being called before management and told of what they had said or done at union meetings. Organising emails were produced by management. Slowly people started to think that meetings and discussions were maybe a bit too open. In the workplaces management started to threaten people with the sack over unofficial actions. The union refused to promise support for workers who the company disciplined. The union advice was don't rock the boat.

The union bureaucrats are also expert at working out what they can offer individuals and organisations. The price of taking inducements is however control by the union.

Just as there is no particular instant when day turns into night, we can only distinguish between the two, so it is that we now know that the bureaucracy is firmly in control. History  teaches us that we have to take control decisively and react quickly. If things are left or the initial dispute is not won quickly the bureaucracy of whatever organisation will regain control.

If you look at the tanker drivers dispute you will see that the union was ultra careful to be in complete control from the very start.

Why do you think Balfour Beatty - and then all the other construction companies - suddenly pulled out of BESNA?

Employers like everyone else will take the easy way. BESNA was introduced as a done deal – take it or leave it because the employers probably saw the union as easy meat. This is what the employers would prefer because a massive defeat leads to demoralisation of the workforce. Then the employers ran into determined resistance from workers that looked as though the employers were heading for a massive defeat. Things were worse than just a defeat at the hands of a small but determined workforce. Such a defeat would have been inflicted completely outside the laws of the land, the union bureaucracy and the Labour Party. It would have not only given confidence to all those who want to take on the employers and government but it would have shown these workers how to do it. Would the union and employers want such a thing? Clearly time for Plan B.

Plan B was to get the union and employers into meaningful discussions about the best way to modernise the industry. The entire and only reason for BESNA was to increase profitability. When BESNA collapsed the union promised meaningful negotiations that would take place and be completed within a strict timetable. It is now thought by the union that negotiations are best carried out in a more relaxed open ended timescale. It was decided that the ordinary members would be represented in the form of a combine during negotiations with the employers. Negotiations are to commence shortly about pay rates for next year. The last I heard is that this combine will not take any part in the negotiations. Is wage cuts of less than 35% as originally planned by BESNA the best way to modernise the industry or will it be remembered that there has been no wage rise in the industry for between 3 to 6 years? So instead of a wage cut what is required is a wage rise of at least 25%.

What do you think are the main challenges facing the Sparks over the next few months? What strategy do you think Sparks should adopt in their fight against the construction companies?

These two are closely related. It is the politics of trade unionism generally. In this country we are happy to negotiate the details of wages, and terms and conditions of employment. We do not understand that we already run society while a tiny handful of parasites take and control the wealth we create. We seem content to allow as natural the great inequalities in society without asking the reasons for the inequalities. We often wonder why it is that the share price of a company can go down when although it is still making fantastic profits the profits are not quite as much as the financiers expected.

People may have seen Richard Branson on the TV a few days ago explaining that he doesn't go into work much these days. Instead he said he spends most of his time engaged in sports and taking part in charitable events.

On one level this sounds all pretty reasonable but while Branson is flying his balloon and cuddling starving children who is it that operates his companies so that his income is maintained? If Branson was to float off into outer space tomorrow never to be seen again how is it that his corporations would operate as normal? Clearly the same people as before would do exactly the same things as before. The only difference is that a different parasite would get the loot.

The real challenge in the short term is for workers to understand that the function of the negotiations is allow the union and employers to maintain this status quo of going to work to make profits for the employer without asking questions about why things are why they are.

The strategy of workers must be to understand what it is that stopped the employers dead, that we have to be clear what we want. In the short term we want an end to BESNA and a reasonable pay rise. In the longer term we have to understand that ONE way the bosses have kept control is by the blacklist. This was operated and maintained because of the use of agency working. So to my mind the long term plan must be the end of agency working.

If negotiations do not look as though they will deliver what we want then stronger measures will be brought to bear. My idea from day one in August last year was to have coordinated strikes at Grangemouth, Seal Sands and Immingham. Shut down these sites and very quickly not only will all petrol and fuel supplies cease but the North Sea oil industry would close down.

While we are doing this we might even get a debate going about the wider politics of the boss system and how to get rid of it. 

What is the nature of your disciplinary charges?

I have no idea what it is that I have said or done. Allegations have been made that I brought [Unite north east regional officer] Bill Green into some form of disgrace but no evidence has been produced. On one level the accusations could be just no more than a warning to others. 

If you are a Unite member in the north east of England and would like to help Ray with his disciplinary, please contact me via the comments section. Alternatively, please pass this message on to any contacts you might have.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bogus 'Ceasefire' in Syria as Washington Prepares War Pretext

As ever, America's imperialist propaganda is breathtakingly hypocritical
To get some idea of how absurd the Syria situation is, imagine the following scenario:

The United States government is under attack by an insurgent group, which lists kidnappings and bombings in its modus operandi. The insurgents are being aided by Canada and Mexico, with Mexico planning to seize some US territory in order to create a 'humanitarian corridor'. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration tries to put down the insurgency. Sure, it is often brutal and uncaring in doing so, but when did any regime respond with passivity in the face of a guerrilla uprising? Meanwhile, threats from China and Russia have compelled Obama to agree to United Nations inspections, and finally a 'ceasefire'. But the terms of the ceasefire demanded by America's imperialist rivals stipulates that the government forces remove themselves from towns and villages first, before the 'rebels' stop their attacks forty-eight hours later.

In February I described how: "The past couple of months have seen a sustained effort to create a pretext for attacking Syria. The Syrian government - like the Libyan Gaddafi regime before it - is currently undertaking a brutal crackdown on the "rebel" movement which emerged from last year's 'Arab spring'. Of course, the same could be said of the Bahraini government for example, but Bahrain is an American ally. So the Obama administration is using its Arab League proxies - each of which receives large foreign aid and military assistance from US imperialism - to give the coming military intervention a regional popularist colouring."

This pretext could now be only hours away from its rollout. Yes, the Syrian 'rebels' have an extra forty-eight hours to continue their terrorism. If the regime of Bashar al-Assad puts up any defence during that time, you can expect the international powers and their lickspittle media to denounce him, and step up their support for the 'rebellion' - which is led by former regime figures and Islamists, and has no positive programme for the Syrian people. After that, the bloodletting will dramatically increase on all sides, and amongst civilians with no love for any army.

The imperialist struggle to remove Assad is for once not primarily based on the desire for control of natural resources within the nation ruled by the west's latest demon. Its aim is to remove the only regional government sympathetic to Iran, which is being targeted by hugely provocative economic sanctions ahead of an international conference on its nuclear programme.

The US and Israel are determined - for slightly different but overlapping reasons - to remove the clerical Iranian regime, and replace it with one more willing to aid US imperialism. For Israel, Iran is a local rival, and it threatens its immediate sphere of influence. For the US, Iran is a massive source of oil wealth, albeit one that is presided over by a government allied to China and Russia - America's up and coming rivals on the world stage.

War in Syria will almost certainly be followed by a conflict in Iran which will dwarf that of Iraq. And there is no guarantee that China and Russia will simply sit on the sidelines and allow their influence and oil supply to be diminshed. As I warned in February, the Syrian war potentially contains the seeds of World War Three.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Anti-Elitism Protester Disrupts University Boat Race



This afternoon, the annual Oxford V Cambridge university boat race was disrupted by self-styled 'anti-elitism' protester Trenton Oldfield, who swam towards the vessels as they made their way along the River Thames. Martin was promptly arrested, and was booed by the hoorays as he was led away, but his act merits our support and solidarity.

His manifesto is republished in full below:


ELITISM LEADS TO TYRANNY  

THIS IS A PROTEST, AN ACT OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, A METHODOLOGY OF REFUSING AND RESISTANCE. THIS ACT HAS EMPLOYED GUERRILLA TACTICS. I AM SWIMMING INTO THE BOATS IN THE HOPE I CAN STOP THEM FROM COMPLETING THE RACE AND PROPOSING THE RETURN OF SURPRISE TACTICS. THIS IS ‘PEACEFUL’ ... I HAVE NO WEAPONS (DON’T SHOOT!) MY ONLY FEAR, IS NOT SWIMMING FAST ENOUGH TO GET IN THE RIGHT POSITION TO PREVENT THE BOATS.

PERFORMANCE UPON THAMES
This part of the River Thames is very well known to me having previously worked in the area. I have continued to visit it as often as possible as it is one of the London reaches I became most fond of, mostly because of its unregulated Wooded Tow Path, the expansive foreshore at low tides and the wildlife habitats in the adjacent Leg of Mutton Reservoir. It is a beautiful place, one of the more serene spots in London. Best to visit when it has been dry for a few days as the path can be very muddy and puddled.  

Setting aside the compelling natural environment for a moment, this reach is also the site of a number of past and present elitist establishments; Fulham Palace, Chiswick House and St Paul’s Schools and a large collection of other ‘independent/public/free schools’. It is also where Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minster of the Government lives with his family, despite his constituents living hundreds of miles away in post-industrial Sheffield. Most notably and most importantly for today, it is a site where elitists and those with elitist sympathies have come together every year but one for the last 158 years to perform, in the most public way, their ambition for the structures and subsequent benefits from elitism and privilege to continue. (They even list in the programme which public school the rowers attended before Oxford or Cambridge)

The boat race itself, with its pseudo competition, assembled around similar principles of fastest, strongest, selected ...etc, is an inconsequential backdrop for these elite educational institutions to demonstrate themselves, reboot their shared culture together in the public realm. It is also inconsequential to the performance that the overwhelming majority of the population continue to remain interested in their own lives and disinterested in the boat race. The boat race, while accessible to everyone, isn’t really advertised or promoted as something for the general public to attend, you know when it’s on because it is part of the social networking calendar. This is a public event, for and by the elites with broader social relations aims. The fact that it happens in the public realm (visible) almost exactly as it has done for the last 158 years also becomes important; the untouched; the unchanged is significant. Most standing alongside the Thames today are in fact the pumped-up though obedient administrators, managers, promoters, politicians and enforcers; functional, strategic and aspirational elites. The transnational-corpo-aristocratic ruling class (invisible) haven’t turned up today and would never consider doing so, despite the best endeavours of Bollinger, Xchange and Hammersmith & Fulham’s mayor.

HISTORY IS A WEAPON
When hasn’t elitism lead to tyranny? When hasn’t the belief of being ‘more’ than another person led to tragedy? Who benefits from elitism? One won’t be surprised to learn the etymology of the word ‘elite’ derives from ‘the elected’ ... unfortunately not elected by democratic means, but rather, elected by god. Yup...‘elected’, ‘selected’, ‘chosen’ ... by god ... inherited. When has this understanding of oneself or by a group of people ever been a good thing? When has this understanding not resulted in tyranny? Is tyranny surely not the inevitable outcome? And in contrast, when hasn’t the pursuit of equality, not resulted in these long passages of tyranny being overcome, even if temporarily?  

Everyone will remember some of their history lessons ... where people have been taken advantage of by people that believe themselves somehow better, more entitled than another individual or group of people. Most recently this has included the enclosure and eviction from the commons, transatlantic slavery, imperialism and colonialism, fascism, holocausts, genocides and dictatorships and migrant labour camps. It is difficult to grasp, as many of us are still heady and have strong memories of the previous ‘boom’ decade, but we are in the middle of the early stages ... or we have just about reached the precipice of another era of mass enslavement and the large scale enclosure of ‘Our Public’. What is happening in the UK, for example, is not ‘privatisation’ but a contemporary demonstration of full scale enclosure of Our Public. Couldn’t happen again ... why not? Why wouldn’t something different but similar happen again? What policies, what institutions, exist to prevent something similar from happening again? What evidence is there that this isn’t happening? When did Our Public last experience an injection of its own readily available dose of agency and liberty?

To enclose and to enslave requires the audacity, cunning and daring to take advantage of our natural kindness, our belief in others, our respect for authority, our desire to please, and our apprehension about ‘causing waves’, our hope for all to have a better life, somehow. It also depends on our disbelief, despite having experienced it, that other people would purposefully set out to harm us for their own advantage. More recently we have also been encouraged, though the evidence displays the opposite much of the time, that a whole raft of institutions exists that work to prevent human catastrophes like our right to protest being denied, detention without trial or charge, the monopolisation of  industries, and essentials like food and water. These institutions were established to prevent slavery, genocide, indentured labour and groupings of indices of deprivation and poverty from occurring.  It is likely many in the western Baby Boomers generation (large percentage of the UK population), who have benefited so much from these institutions, are finding it very difficult to consider that these institutions might now be turning against them, their children and their grandchildren?

Could what is happening in the UK (and around the world); the state of exception with Olympics, the wholesale removal of countless civil rights, the project to create fear and suspicion of others, the transfer of our money into the vaults of a handful of corporations, the ongoing wars, the pomp and ceremony for unelected official anniversaries, the amazingly high unemployment, the devastation to public services such as health and education, the isolation of education due to high fees, the entangled corrupt relationship between the media, police and politicians, the racism, the increasing misogyny, the forced labour in supermarkets, the spying on our emails, skype calls, the control of food production and distribution and the reductions of tax burdens for the richest ... could these all be best understood as the process of enclosure? Do we resist now setting out to avoid something akin to slavery and imperialism? Or do we hesitate and find ourselves and our children without agency once again and in a long battle to gain it again? How long might it take and how many lives might this demand?

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
There is a concerted effort to disintegrate ideas of Our Public; to atomise and divide us. Only yesterday did a British government minister suggest that citizens should ‘shop’ (dob-in) people they know to be organising or attending a protest related to the forthcoming Olympic Games. Along with the brutality the police and military are prepared to use against organised peaceful protestors, it seems it might be time to employ ‘little war’ / ‘guerrilla tactics’.

My swim into the pathway of the two boats today (I hope) is a result of key guerrilla tactics; local knowledge, ambush, surprise, mobility and speed, detailed information and decisiveness. There is no choice but to be apprehended in this action. I know this area very well and have planned the swim as best as I can, taking into account all the local knowledge I have gained over the years. Guerrilla tactics could be summarised as; ‘preparation, creativity, daring and attrition’.The aim of employing these tactics is to shift from being a ‘victim’ ... of having things done to one, to being the ones setting the agenda, placing elites more and more on the back foot, increasing their costs, causing confusion, fermenting internal mistrust, creating embarrassment (a Tory’s worst nightmare?), frustration and manifesting a vulnerability. This will provide the time and space for an ongoing development of post-elitism, post-capitalist thought and debate.

Our current disorganisation and indirection is an advantage. In the past, guerrilla tactics have been employed by small groups of people. Today there is the opportunity to also undertake this alone, as an individual. Part of my inspiration for today’s action comes from a protest action that took place 99 years ago – when Emily Davison ran into Epson Derby race. On the 4 June 1913 Emily ran into the horse that the king had entered. She died from the injuries sustained from action. She was demanding rights for women. It was an individual act born of a political and philosophical position. This action is also part inspired by the anti-imperialism activists and guerrillas. This includes trans-Atlantic slaves who not only forced their freedom by revolting but undertook tactics of breaking tools, working slowly, acts of sabotage, feigning illness and maintaining their cultures. They found ways to continually undermine the system in small and large ways.

We all need to make a living and sometimes we do this by taking jobs we disagree with or find out are likely to detrimental to our children’s future. Being in these jobs also provides us with a great opportunity to employ civil disobedience and guerrilla tactics.  It is the chance to match the personal and the political. Security guards are possibly in the best position. Examples of actions might include:
  • Setting off Fire Alarms in buildings where we work, perhaps at strategic times, when a particular meeting is meant to happen that will agree the cutting of services, for example? (This action seems morally okay as all the emergency services happily deployed vast numbers to participate in the filming of a Bond movie the other weekend on Whitehall).
  • If you work in a private company or government department that is helping enclose Our Public perhaps you could work slowly, make mistakes, loose documents, sending large documents to clog up email accounts?
  • If you are a taxi driver can you take the passenger the slowest possible and most expensive route?
  • If you are a plumber can you ‘store up’ a problem in the office of a conservative think tank office you have been called to?
  • If you have a tow truck company can you park in front of Nick Clegg or David Cameron’s driveway, accidentaly? Could you tow their car away?
  • If you ride a bike and it’s difficult to find somewhere to lock your bike (as bike racks are taken away), can you lock it the one of the corporate bikes which now litter our streets everywhere?
  • If you clean the bathroom of someone that considers themselves elite or is an elite sympathiser, like a right wing professor, can you never put loo paper in their bathroom?
  • If you work in a restaurant where elitists eat, can you serve the food once it is cold or cook the wrong food?
  • If you are a builder repairing the house of an elitist can you also bug it and share the footage and audio online?
  • If you are a pest controller and you are called to the office or home of an elitist or elitist sympathiser can you fail at destroying the pest and possibly introduce new pests?
  • Can you take up the time of a ‘VIP’ you work for by arranging time consuming meetings, asking as many questions as possible? Can you make them late?
  • If you work in a call centre, can you refund people and find the best discounts?
  • If you are a student and attend a talk, can you challenge the professors? Can you take the stage and highlight to the audience the work they have done in contrast to academia?
  • Are there networking events designed for the elites and their sympathisers where you could let off a stink bomb?
  • If you work in audio-visuals for meetings/conferences could you put up the wrong slides, or turn the correct ones upside down and remove cables, rendering the equipment unusable?
  • Could you plan your own government or council made up from people you admire and trust – in similar vain to Football Manager and publish it on the internet?
  • Are there events like today’s boat race that you could do something similar to Emily Davison with? Is this possible in the lead up to and within the Olympics itself?
This is a special call to security guards. The elite depend on you the most. Without you they are nothing.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins

Ok, maybe I'm five years and more late with this review, but it's Easter, so it seems as good a time as any to offer my thoughts on one of the most controversial books of this millennium.

And why has it been so controversial? Well, no to put too fine a point on it, it cuts through the bullshit by which many, many people make a living. But more than that, it implicitly sticks the boot into a system of social control - an essential prop of the capitalist system. Not that Dawkins would put in those terms, of course. And therein lies The God Delusion's limitations.

Amongst those prepared to consider it rationally, there can be little doubt that Dawkins is an extremely talented writer. From his earliest published work The Selfish Gene (1976), he has demonstrated an ability to explain extremely complicated subjects in a way comprensible for lay readers, without over-simplifying great scientific theories.

One essential component of this capability is Dawkins' schooled and elegant materialism, and it is a real pleasure to read his descriptions of evolutionary processes, in response to religious misrepresentations of Darwin. Similarly, he is able to shoot down pseudo-scientific and philosophical claims for the existence of a god or gods with a skill and depth of knowledge born out of almost constant debate with religionists over the years. These elements are covered in greater detail here.

So far, so rational, and so enjoyable. But when he leaves home territory and comes to the social and political, Dawkins parks his materialism and becomes a philosophical idealist. He is not exactly alone in this - materialist explanations of society are currently unfashionable, and you have to seek them out. More than that though, you need to reconcile yourself to the idea that the Marxists were right all along.

And there's a strong suggestion Dawkins has investigated Marxist perspectives on religion. Though he sketches a crude outline of a Marxist position, he is clearly familiar with the idea that, as he puts it: "religion is a tool used by the ruling class to subjugate the underclass". But even though he appears to agree that the idea has merits ("It is surely true that black slaves in America were consoled by promises of another life, which blunted their dissatisfaction with this one and thereby benefited their owners."), Dawkins backs away from the social, and instead confines his search for a "Darwinian" - that is purely biological - explanation for the persistence and prevalence of religious belief and practice.

This leads him to some reactionary - not to say irrational - conclusions. For instance, when describing the July 2005 London bombings, he lays the blame solely at religion's door, despite acknowledging that many had been expecting what was called 'blowback' after Tony Blair's decision to involve the UK in the conquest of Iraq - a war which Dawkins himself opposed. Nevertheless, he contends that the bombers did what they did because they were religious, and were looking forward to a life in Paradise as reward for their 'martyrdom'.

It is worth spending some time unpacking this thought. If religion was the sole cause of the London bombings, then why don't many more Muslims do a similar thing? For that matter, shouldn't many more theists literally fight in the name of their god? No, specific Muslims set explosions off because they were deeply moved by the suffering of their co-religionists in the Middle East, and in the absence of a mass working class movement they saw terrorism as a way of possibly bringing that suffering to an end. Of course there were personal factors in play as well, but the religious feelings of excitement and floatiness Dawkins cites from a failed Palestinian suicide bomber were surely the body's way of coping with what - in purely biological terms - is the ultimate irrationality.

At times like this, Dawkins stops being a scientist of any kind, and manifests as a smug, quite posh and very comfortably-off man, shaking his head in disbelief that others can be so deluded. And this lack of comprehension is exactly why he can put forward no practical proposals for overcoming religion and its obscurantism.

Like Dawkins, I was raised an Anglican. But unlike him, for a while I was really into it. And so I understand the attraction religion holds for many, many people. I also completely identify my own experience with that famous Marx quote, which in its more complete form reads: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people." 

But then Marx went on to say that: "To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of tears, the halo of which is religion."

See? So much more beautiful - and potentially useful - than saying 'Stop being so deluded!' over 406 pages.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

April Issue of The Commune

Another fun-packed edition of The Commune is out!

The editorial looks with horror at the prospect of yet more "liberal wars for democracy" - or more accurately 'oil wars' - in Syria and Iran. It concludes:

"We do not think that wars are too expensive, or that they are ‘mistakes’. Nor do we in any wish to play down the crimes of the Iranian or Syrian régimes against their own people. But most importantly, we do not accept that the plight of those peoples should become a tool of Western foreign policy. If we are to avoid yet more ‘humanitarian’ Iraqs and Afghanistans, we must intransigently oppose intervention of any kind, anywhere."

Inside, Bob Goupillot and Allan Armstrong of the Republican Communist Network argue the communist case for Scottish independence, rather going against my contention that it is an unwelcome diversion from class issues. There's also an article from the Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan, as they mark another year of opposition to the US/UK occupation, the Karzai government, and Taliban elements now in negotiations with western imperialism.

My own article celebrates the Sparks rank and file electricians' success in overturning pay cuts of up to 35%, but warns that: "they must continue to resist the Unite leadership's attempts to strangle their movement. If Sparks are to finally defeat the construction companies' attacks, they must continue to strengthen their solidarity, and draw in other groups of workers. The time will come when this requires a conscious split from Unite."

Also, Sheila Cohen cites the example of the Sparks to argue for a re-orientation of the struggle against austerity:

"This, comrades, is how to fight the good fight. The plethora of “anti-cuts campaigns” which have mushroomed across the country since – well, since Thatcher really began to sink her teeth into us all, since “New Labour” showed itself to be viciously distinct from the bad-enough old variety, and since the Con-Dems graced us with their reinvention of concepts like “education” and “health care” – hold in common their fundamental absence of – well, teeth. The only people who can fight these cuts are those who, like the Sparks, have both teeth and muscle born of their firm grounding in – guess where – the workplace."

Click here for the PDF, and here for a full list of articles.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Thirty Years Since Argentina Reclaimed Las Islas Malvinas (Falklands)

Today marks three decades since the Argentinean dictator Leopoldo Galtieri's troops landed on the Malvinas islands. As we all know, Margaret Thatcher reacted with fury, and launched what became known as the Falklands War, with the loss of many lives on both sides. Today, tensions are rising between the two nations once more. But who really has the best claim to the islands, and what gets politicians in both hemispheres so worked up about them?

Like all these things, the question of sovereignty depends on when you start telling the story. Different parties tell the tale in different ways, in an attempt to add shaky credence to their claims. In fact, the first claim to the apparently uninhabited islands was by France, which controlled them from February 1764 – April 1767. As the British Empire expanded into South America, it wrested control from them, before losing it to the Spanish for fifty years. After the Spanish were kicked out by the Argentines, they were controlled by the United Provinces (of Argentina) for two years from 1829, until the United States intervened, holding them for a matter of weeks, before the Argentineans re-took their hold. But this reign was also only to last a few weeks, before Britain recaptured them, and insisted on reverting to the name Falkland, after a seventeenth century British naval commander.

It should hardly need stating that each of these changes was the islands being taken by force - i.e. mass murder - between states. There was no 'morality' in any of this, and the present day inhabitants about whose "self-determination" the British ruling class pretends to care so much are only there - and only 'British' - because their ancestors and predecessors were planted there to cement the British claim.

Media jingoism rallied the public around Thatcher
When Galtieri sent his forces to the islands in 1982, it was to a large extent to provide a nationalist diversion from the ruthless class war he was pursuing on the mainland. He headed a military junta, and with US support the military tortured and killed somewhere between 9,000 and 30,000 people deemed left wing "subversives". Following a crisis, capitalist growth had improved slightly, providing employment, but then deteriorated once more. He needed an external focus for the ambitions of the masses, as so often down the ages, a military adventure was chosen to play that role.

Galtieri was apparently not expecting Thatcher's government to declare war on Argentina. After all, there had been talks on joint sovereignty, and he calculated that their mutual ally - the United States - would stand up to Thatcher. Though there was much talk behind the scenes, the US allowed Thatcher to proceed, perhaps mindful of the threat of example provided by a major imperialist nation being thrown out of their colony. And anyway, Thatcher's domestic situation mirrored that of Galtieri. Official unemployment stood at 3.6 million, and the ruling class was facing militant fightback across many industries, as well as in cities such as Liverpool. It was widely expected that Labour would win the next general election, under Michael Foot. But Foot supported Thatcher's crusade, and dug his own political grave. Nine hundred died in the ten week war, and Thatcher rode a wave of jingoism to her second general election victory.

Fast forward to 2012, and both Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and British Prime Minister David Cameron are both sabre-rattling over the islands once more. Again, their fate serves as a nationalist diversion for both ruling elites. But oil exploration is also on their minds. In 2010, the British government awarded drilling contracts for the waters around the islands. The estimated 60 billion barrels are equivalent to the North Sea oil off Scotland, which has helped sustain the British economy for twenty-five years.

There are no 'good guys' when ruling classes collide - only two sides of 'bad guys'. However, the people of Argentina deciding what to do with oil 450 km off their coast makes much more sense than British politicians half the world away profiting from it.

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