Sunday, June 19, 2011

feather-bedded and gold-plated

Ian Bell, the Herald's columnist has written a useful article about the attcks on state workers pensions. He points out that public sector pensions account for 1.5% of GDP. By 2027-28, the percentage is projected to rise all the way to an “unsustainable” 2%. It also takes no account of the effect of shedding half a million jobs thanks to George Osborne’s 2010 spending review.

"A reformer was invariably someone who wanted to make a bad situation better. Not any more. In the mouths of politicians these days, reform is a word meant to give credibility to changes that are liable to be unpleasant, unpopular, or both...When you are told you will have to work longer, pay more and receive less in old age for your pains, it’s little comfort to hear that your lot has been “reformed”..."

Negotiations are at an end even as the talking continues is the position, it seems, of Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, who will defend his “fair and reasonable” proposals, of the pre-determined outcome. No pensions until the age of 66; employee contributions increased by at least 3%; and a less generous settlement come retirement.

The unions could kick up a fuss, of course. But they should heed Vince Cable, business secretary: if they persist, he might feel the need to "reform" industrial relations law concerning strikes.

Summarised, the message might be this: don’t bother to negotiate, don’t bother to protest. As Mr Alexander is happy to explain, if opposition to "reform" continues, his next offer is liable to be worse.

Why should anyone [except MPs ,of course] be feather-bedded with a gold-plated pension in these hard times, when private sector workers enjoy no such luxuries? It amounts to this: private sector workers have been screwed, so it’s only fair that you, too, should be screwed.

The TUC says most public sector workers receive pensions of between £5000 and £8000 annually. The PCS union claims the average retired civil servant gets £4200.

Lord Hutton’s review of arrangements proceeded on the basis that half of pensioners receive less than £5600 a year and 10% less than £1000. His averages (for 2009-10) were as follows: local government, £4052; NHS, £7234; civil service, £6199; teaching, £9806; armed forces, £7722. Only 10% of retirees had pensions of £17,000 or above. These tended to be retired policemen and fire officers, but in those professions employee contributions – 8.5% to 11%, depending on the scheme – were far higher than most. 1% of workers in receipt of £37,000 a year. Two-thirds of them were doctors and consultants, and most of those could have bought far larger pots had they pursued private medicine.

If anything has been learned from the Coalition Government it is this: the more they get, the more they demand. They cite the national interest. But by what bizarre logic did the cost of Britain’s public sector come to be the reason and cause for underwriting criminal behaviour in international banking? Mr Alexander’s reforms are intended to raise billions, not improve the life of a single underpaid council worker contemplating retirement.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

who owns the north pole - part 32

Efforts are being made to sign a common treaty on the Arctic citing the kind of treaty on the Antarctic. But experts invariably pointed out that the situation in the Arctic is altogether different. The Antarctic is no man’s land, and there is no economic activity under way there. Meanwhile in the Arctic, some countries border on the ocean, and there are two-way treaties, and international law provisions regulating the situation. The European Union can access the Arctic Ocean via Greenland only. The five countries that border on the Arctic Ocean are the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia. Denmark is an EU member-nation that owns Greenland, - the world’s biggest island. Even the countries with no immediate access to the Arctic Ocean, such countries as Japan and South Korea, technologies are being developed full steam to produce oil and gas from under ice cover.

The Arctic shelf is the area that contains the greatest oil and gas deposits in the world. Oil and gas giants are clearly not about to lose hundreds of billions of dollars in profits. But once power resources are mined, they should be delivered to consumers. The development of technologies, high mineral resource prices and China’s growing market are but some factors that make one think of new ways of transportation. The change of climate is being followed by a major change in logistics. Ice melting in the Arctic opens new ways of navigation, first of all, the Northern Sea Route, which is the shortest link between Europe and Asia, and also between Europe and the US West Coast. The route runs parallel to Russia’s northern coast, so it is likely to become an effective alternative to the Suez Canal some time soon.

In 2009, 70,000 tons of iron ore were for the first time transported to China along the Northern Sea Route, in just 18 days, or half the time that it would take the delivery via the Suez Canal. The suppliers saved 300,000 dollars worth of fuel. In 2011, Russia’s biggest shipping company, Sovkomflot, is due to send 15 ships along the route, which is navigable even in winter, if transport vessels are escorted by icebreakers.

from here

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


We are used to reading of gallant and dedicated police officers rounding up criminals and packing them of to prison, but what are we to make of this news item? "Members of Orlando Food Not Bombs were arrested Wednesday when police said they violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless in Lake Eola Park. Jessica Cross, 24, Benjamin Markeson, 49, and Jonathan "Keith" McHenry, 54, were arrested at 6:10 p.m. on a charge of violating the ordinance restricting group feedings in public parks. McHenry is a co-founder of the international Food Not Bombs movement, which began in the early 1980s." (Orlando Sentinel, 2 June) Feeding the homeless? What a despicable crime. Truly capitalism is a crazy society. RD

Monday, June 13, 2011


From time to time newspapers run obituaries of famous men and women but we had one recently for a dog! It was a rather special mutt though. You see it was a millionaire. The Maltese dog called Trouble had been left $12 million by the New York hotel mogul Leona Helmsley. "Legal battles ensued and a judge cut Trouble's inheritance to $2 million. She was placed with Carl Lekic, the general manager of the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, in Florida, who had played with her many times. He was paid $5,000 a month for the privilege. He told the trustees that Trouble required $100,000 a year for a security guard (the dog had received many death and kidnapping threats). $18,000 for vet costs, $1,200 for food and $8,000 for grooming." (Times, 10 June) All this insanity is happening in a world where millions are trying to survive on $1.25 a day.RD

Fear and loathing in Glasgow

Taken from here

In Glasgow a stabbing occurs every six hours - and many more go unreported. Survey after survey, from the World Health Organisation to the United Nations, identifies Glasgow as one of the most violent cities in western Europe. Among young males aged between 10 and 29, the rate of homicide is similar to Argentina, Costa Rica and Lithuania. Alcohol-related death rates are three times the British average while Scots have one of the lowest life expectancies in Europe. Three-quarters of all weapons crimes in Scotland occur in the Strathclyde policing district in and around Glasgow. Between 5000 and 6000 are recorded each year and more than 2200 hospital beds are taken up with the victims.

The nightmare is constant, a cycle of violence that each weekend sees the alcoholic and drug addicted, chronically unemployed and angry, the young and the old, take to the streets armed with knives, machetes and even samurai swords to battle the demons of disillusionment - and each other.

"I know it sounds like I'm talking about savages but we can be called to a gang fight and there'll be fathers n' grandfathers shouting 'C'mon, get him'. This is what we are dealing with in West Scotland." - Inspector Dougie Stevenson, head of the Strathclyde Gangs unit.

Plain-clothes police officer, Barry Inglis - " can see it everywhere; generations have been doing it, grandfathers, fathers, sons, grandsons. We hear it all the time when we bring kids in: 'I did it when I was a boy, what's the problem?'''

Dr Marjorie Black, a forensic pathologist with the Scottish Crown office "Most of it is known to be gang related: there is this culture of defending turf … in Glasgow, if you stray into the wrong area, you are seen as fair game."

The Strathclyde police mapped 167 gangs, all guarding territory and turf rather than drugs - some covering just a few streets and laneways. The very existence of gangs for the kids of dysfunctional and distressed families offer a sense of belonging and security.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan of Strathclyde's Violence Reduction Unit "The violence we see here is of such intensity that it's almost unique in western Europe … accepted as legitimate, a community norm, something that cannot be changed...

Says Dr Christine Goodall from Medics Against Violence: "Research shows us that that if you live in a deprived area in Glasgow, you were three times more likely to have a facial injury or trauma. If alcohol is involved, the likelihood rises and is seven times higher than if you lived in a more well off neighbourhood. We were seeing people in their 20s with cirrhosis of the liver, kids of 14 who would take hours to be stitched up and when you tell them the scar would be there for life, they'd say it was OK … for them it was a badge of honour..."

Carnochan also explains "The young men's faces are scarred from the conflict but these scars label them not as the victims they are, but as fighters, violent men. This means they can't get jobs, find a relationship. Functioning in a society that is fearful of violence is difficult, too…we shouldn't forget that either."

Socialist Courier says that the youth of the housing schemes are right to think there is no hope within the present system but wrong to sit back and wallow in its excesses. Socialists say that society can be better than it is. Under capitalism tackling the “causes of crime” means nothing other than more empty words and broken promises, fuelling another, destructive, cycle of cynicism. Only socialism, where a real community of interests can be established and will resolve the destabilising and dehumanising days of capitalism. When community relationships break down, when drink and drugs to numb the pain of the daily rat-race becomes the norm, then society is in serious trouble.

See also the Socialist Standard article on knife and gun crime.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


When socialist speak of class division we are often accused of being outdated, but here are recent figures that prove our point. "Last year was another good year for millionaires - though their pace of growth is slowing. According to a new report by Boston Consulting Group out today, the number of millionaire households in the world grew by 12.2% in 2010, to 12.5 million. (BCG defines millionaires as those with $1 million or more in investible assets, excluding homes, luxury goods and ownership in one's own company). The U.S. continues to lead the world in millionaires, with 5.2 million millionaire households, followed by Japan with 1.5 million millionaire households, China with 1.1 million and the U.K. with 570,000. ...The most important trend, however, is the global wealth distribution. According to the report, the world's millionaires represent 0.9% of the world's population but control 39% of the world's wealth, up from 37% in 2009." (Wall Street Journal, 31 May) Yes, startling though it may seem - less than 1% of the world's population own 39% of the wealth. RD

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Who owns the North Pole - Part 31

No country owns the geographic North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. The surrounding Arctic states that border the Arctic Ocean — Russia, Norway, the United States, Canada and Denmark (via Greenland) — are limited to a 200 nautical miles economic zone around their coasts. Nations will and can fight.

Canada is investing $100 million over five years (2008-2013) in its new Geo-mapping for Energy and Minerals (GEM) program to provide the geoscience knowledge necessary for private sector exploration companies to guide investment decisions.

Norway’s foreign minister has been quoted as saying regular military flights by the Russians up and down Norway's coast had helped to justify the purchase of four new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter combat aircraft to the Norwegian public.

The poor die younger in Glasgow

Average life expectancy for both sexes in greater Glasgow is lower than in Albania and nearer to that of the Palestinian territories than to the wealthier London boroughs. Residents of Kensington and Chelsea will live more than a decade longer than those from Glasgow.

Age Concern UK expressed regret at the continuing variations. Director Michelle Mitchell said: "As the state pension rises to 66 by 2020, it is people living in poorer areas with lower life expectancies who will see their retirements cut short."

“In just four years the difference between the life expectancy of women in Notting Hill and those in Glasgow has increased by two whole years,” said TUC chief, Brenden Barber in response to the growing inequality. “Women living in the poorest areas will lose significantly more of their retirement years than those living in wealthy Britain.”

Dr Simon Szreter, professor of history and public policy at Cambridge University, said: "Life expectancy has a longstanding correlation with social class and income. The rich have got richer and the poor have stayed the same."

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A plague upon both houses

With a referendum looming in the future, once again Socialist Courier declares its policy:-

The world-wide working class has a common interest, to end its exploitation and solve its problems, to join together to establish a world without frontiers in which the resources of the planet will have become the heritage of all, so that there can be production to meet needs and not for profit. One world, one people, where cultural differences will still be celebrated, but where we’ll all be citizens of the world. It is clear, then, why socialists don’t take sides in the debate about whether it is better for workers there to be ruled from Edinburgh or from London.

The SNP argues that the problems facing workers in Scotland are due to “Westminster rule”. If only there was an independent Scotland, they say, separate from the rest of Britain, then there would be full employment, higher wages, job security, better state benefits, a healthy health service and all the other things politicians promise at election times. But it is absurd. This would be a purely political constitutional change which would leave the basic economic structure of society unchanged. There would still be a privileged class owning and controlling the means of production with the rest having to work for them for a living. An independent Scottish government would still have to operate within the constraints of the world capitalist system. It would still have to ensure that goods produced in Scotland were competitive on world markets and that capitalists investing in Scotland were allowed to make the same level of profits as they could in other countries. In other words, it would still be subject to the same economic pressures as the existing London-based government to promote profits and restrict wages and benefits.

Our opposition to the SNP should not be interpreted as support for the pro-union parties. We are just as opposed to them. A plague on both their houses is what we say.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


There are many examples of how heartless capitalist society is. Millions starving while food is destroyed to keep up prices, people being denied the basics of human survival while billionaires exult in their obscene wealth. However even by capitalism's heartless treatment of the poor and vulnerable the following must rank as amongst the most bestial."The Government has ordered an urgent review into the "inhumane" abuse of people with learning disabilities at a residential hospital filmed by BBC Panorama. Police arrested four people after secret filming showed vulnerable adults at Winterbourne View, in Bristol, being punched, slapped and taunted by carers." (Daily Telegraph, 1 June) Needless to say all these victims came from families who could not afford the lavish treatment enjoyed by the owning class.RD

poverty porn

Last year Socialist Courier posted about The Scheme now the Onthank housing scheme in Kilmarnock, featured in the BBC Scotland's documentary series The Scheme has become a tourist destination.

At one point residents erected a sign charging "all scheme tourists £1 entry" - with a view to erecting a children's playground with the proceeds (only for East Ayrshire Council to haul it down within hours as illegal "fly-tipping" and as one resident said the fastest response to dumping "rubbish" ever recorded in the scheme.)

"The reason we put up the first sign is you will pay to go into a zoo or safari park, and they are coming here likes it's a safari park but with human beings on show. That's why we put up the sign, as a joke," said Karen McLean

Author and social commentator Peter York said it was understandable that the television programme would draw in spectators: "...the white working class has become the one group that can be baited and no-one complains as they would any other social class, and you have a situation where people want to see these people as they would animals in a zoo."

The Scotsman commentator Mark Smith writes "The characters in The Scheme are the alter ego of the filthy rich. They are the casualties of our capitalist society, the flawed consumers, those who, through little fault of their own, cannot step up to the plate at the altar of the free market. Yet still we deride them for reaching out to grasp some of the spoils from the rich man's table: the mobile phones, the 40in televisions, the designer gear." He goes on to say "To identify the human misery apparent in The Scheme as a symptom of the unequal nature of society is uncomfortable. It requires that we look at ourselves and at our positioning within that unequal society. It is far easier to cast judgments, to bemoan the depravity of the poor."

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