Friday, September 30, 2011

SOCIAL IMMOBILITY

One of the boasts of the present government is that we now live in a society of social mobility wherein someone from an impoverished background can still have access to a higher education. Like most of their boast it is nonsense. "A quarter of English universities failed to meet their targets to admit substantially more disadvantaged students last year, a government watchdog has revealed. Cambridge, Bristol, Exeter, Durham and University College London are among 23 institutions that admit making insufficient progress in widening their mix of applicants in 2009-10, leading to accusations that the intake of the most selective universities is "increasingly privileged". David Willetts, the universities minister, said the report was proof that social mobility had stalled." (Guardian, 29 September) RD

THE SICK SOCIETY

Inside capitalism everything has a price. If you can afford it you can get the best food, clothing, housing and entertainment. Conversely if you don't have the money you have to do with the cheap, the shoddy and the second-rate. Regretfully this applies to health-care too. "The lives of thousands of non-cardiac NHS emergency surgery patients are being risked by poor care and delays in treatment, leading surgeons say. The Royal College of Surgeons says poor access to facilities like operating theatres and scans means some abdominal emergencies are not spotted in time. The RCS also says not enough patients receive critical care after surgery. ....The RCS adds that junior staff are often left to deal with complications." (BBC News, 29 September) They call it the National Health Service, the national ill-health service would be more accurate. RD

Thursday, September 29, 2011

pay-cut for bank staff

Scottish employees of Clydesdale Bank face a large cut in take-home pay after the Glasgow-based institution said it will ask them to put 9% of their salary into its previously non-contributory pension scheme. Clydesdale will phase in contributions, starting at 3% of salary in 2012 and going up to 9% by 2014

“In common with many other organisations, it has been affected by reduced investment returns as a result of the downturn, the expectation of lower returns in future as well as improvements in life expectancy rates generally.” a spokesman for the bank said

Those who do not want to contribute will be offered a lower benefit based on 1/80 of salary rather than 1/60 for those who put in money. The bank has also cut the annual increases for benefits accrued after April 2012, switching to the lower Consumer Prices Index rather than the Retail Prices Index. This measure will be capped at 5%.

And for the bank executives? Unite union said the people being hit by the latest "substantial" changes "are not wealthy bankers, but frontline banking staff who serve customers in call centres and bank branches". Unite's national officer David Fleming said the move would "trigger hardship for employees" and was a "real blow". He said it was wrong "to introduce changes that will require staff at National Australia Bank to ultimately make a 9 per cent contribution, over three years, when household budgets are already extremely stretched."







Wednesday, September 28, 2011

POVERTY IN THE USA

The United States of America is the richest country in the world today. Many other capitalist countries envy its vast productive capacity, but the working class of the USA don't share in this abundance. "The ranks of America's poor swelled to almost 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment left millions of Americans struggling and out of work. The number of uninsured edged up to 49.9 million, the biggest in more than two decades. The Census Bureau's annual report released Tuesday offers a snapshot of the economic well-being of U.S. households for 2010, when joblessness hovered above 9 percent for a second year. ....The overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent, or 46.2 million, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. The official poverty level is an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four." (Associated Press, 13 September) RD

Oily capitalists

Ian Suttie is currently ranked at 13th on Scotland's Rich List with an estimated fortune of £340 million. But the Aberdeen-based tycoon might overtake both metals magnate Mahdi al Tajir, worth about £1.55bn, and Sir Ian Wood, head of the Wood Group and worth £1.119bn, as a result of his company's stake in a significant oil find. Suttie is head of First Oil & Gas, an independent company which has a 30 per cent stake in the Kraken Field discovery. His firm's potential share is estimated at about £3.2bn. Even after development and tax costs, First Oil and Mr Suttie stand to gain more than £1bn once the field begins producing oil in 2015.

Suttie, a director of 40 companies, has had a chequered career since he started out as a chartered accountant. Nine years ago, he took over the Richards textile factory in Aberdeen after the Broadford plant, once one of the city's leading employers, went bust, leaving hundreds of workers without a pension. As part of the deal, the sprawling 8.5-acre site was sold for £5m to a company called Hawkrow, of which Mr Suttie was the sole director. Mr Suttie moved the company's operations to the Northfield area of the city. But the textile firm he created went into receivership in November 2004, leaving the 196 remaining workers without a job. Union leaders accused him of asset-stripping after it was revealed that First Construction, the successor company to Hawkrow, was behind ambitious plans for a £50m urban village development at the Broadford site.

In November 2005, he was cleared of cheating the Inland Revenue out of thousands of pounds in tax which should have been paid on the interest on one of his bank accounts. He had been charged with four counts of fraud in connection with his tax returns over a four-year period, but walked free after he told his trial at the Sheriff Court in Aberdeen he was unaware that his £1m Bank of Scotland account at the centre of the case was an interest- bearing account because he never looked at his statements!

From http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland/Slick-oilman-surges-to-billionaire.6843883.jp

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

BUSINESS AND POLITICS

One of the illusions that most reformist political parties are keen to foster is that they stand for "the national Interests", "the British way of life" or some such nonsense. They pretend that they represent the interests of the refuse collectors and the shop assistants just as much as the rich business man. This recent piece of legislation gives the lie to that notion. "Britain's top 50 companies are to be given unprecedented access to government ministers in an attempt to spark life into the economy. Bosses of companies including BP GlaxoSmithKline will be able to telephone directly to the top of Whitehall departments in new individually tailored relationships with senior ministers who will act as "buddies"." (Times, 23 September) RD

A living wage or no wages?

According to research by Citizens Advice Scotland workers in Scotland are routinely being exploited by employers who are refusing to pay the minimum wage. The problem is particularly prevalent among young employees, while hotels, restaurants and cafes are the worst offenders.

Susan McPhee, head of policy at CAS, said: “The minimum wage has been law for more than 10 years, but a significant number of employers are refusing to pay it, and as a result workers are exploited on illegal wages. All political parties* accept the principle of a minimum wage, but it seems some employers believe the law is optional. Our experience shows many workers are unaware of their rights or lack confidence in how to fight for them.”

The National Minimum Wage was made UK law in April 1999 and is currently £6.08 an hour for those aged over 21. It lowers to £4.98 for those between the ages of 18 and 21. For 16 and 17-year-olds, the threshold is £3.68. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has the powers to issue a notice of underpayment if an employer is found to be flouting the legal threshold, and employers face a fine to HMRC of 50% of the total underpayment that has occurred since April 2009. The minimum penalty is £100 and the maximum £5000.
Link
* Not all. The Socialist Party doesn't.

We have nothing against workers struggling for and getting higher wages if they can. We favour this, even if we don’t like the term “living wage” any more than “fair wage" and even if we think that ideally this should be tied to struggling to abolish the wages system altogether. What we criticise is to increase the present legal minimum wage and call the result a “living wage”.

First Minister Alex Salmond has spoken in favour of a “living wage” of £7.15 per hour for Holyrood employees. Presumably Salmond has in mind is a wage that would allow a worker to afford decent housing, enough proper food, new clothes, to go on holiday and run a car. Getting employers to increase the wages of anyone paid less £ 7.15 is easier said than done. The unions haven’t been able to do it. Like all reforms of capitalism the minimum wage legislation leaves intact the basic mechanism wherein a small handful live of the surplus value produced by the working class. However even by comparison with previous capitalist reforms this piece of legislation has proved woefully unsuccessful. We pointed out that this was just another empty vote-catching promise which, even if implemented, wouldn’t have had the expected effects.

But let’s assume for a moment that a law forcing employers to pay a higher minimum wage was passed. What would happen?

First, some employers would go bankrupt. Others would withdraw their capital from producing certain goods or services, so their price would rise. Eventually this would stabilise at a new, higher level at which employers would be able to make a profit even when paying the increased minimum wage. So the cost of living would go up, including for workers on the minimum wage. Second, given the increased labour costs, the introduction of previously unused labour-saving machinery would become cheaper vis-à-vis employing living labour. It is generally accepted that higher wages does lead employers to introduce machinery. Employers would do this. So there’d be job losses and unemployment, particularly amongst the unskilled, would grow.

Nor did Marx think much of such demands as “fixing the minimum wage by law”, which was one of the reform demands of the French Workers Party he had a hand in helping to set up in 1880. He wrote, referring to the proposer of this: “I told him: ‘If the French proletariat is still so childish as to require such bait, it is not worth while drawing up any program whatever.' "

Like all reforms of capitalism the minimum wage legislation leaves intact the basic mechanism wherein a small handful live of the surplus value produced by the working class. Socialism is not about redistributing income and wealth from the rich to the poor, but about establishing a society that would not be divided into rich and poor. To adapt Marx, workers should replace the demand for a “Living Wage” by the revolutionary demand for the “Abolition of the Wages System”.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Labour is crap,too

Tom Harris, Labour MP, and aspiring Labour Party leader for Scotland bared the truth to The Herald.

"The only thing keeping us in contention is that all the alternatives are crap. That’s not much of a standard to go by: Vote for Labour because everyone else is crap.”

The Labour Party has no horizons beyond those of capitalism. Throughout its existence, the Labour Party has done everything but what need doing most and said everything but what most needed saying. Although from time to time they paid lip-service by using socialist sounding phrases when it met their purpose of deluding the workers, nothing they have ever said or done has advanced the workers one inch. While certain of their reforms might have helped in keeping workers contented and in staving off unrest, they have had the desired effect of giving the boss class a new lease of life. What would the capitalist class do without a Labour Party to patch up their vile system for them? The past record of the Labour Party in supporting wars, freezing wages, breaking strikes, and forming coalitions, with Tories and Liberals, should be enough to finish them with the working class for keeps; the tragedy is that it won’t.

The miserable failure of the Labour governments has led in Scotland to growing support for nationalist party, the Scottish National Party. The Socialist Party no more supports Scottish nationalism than it does British nationalism.

You can vote for candidates who support all the crap of the capitalist system. For them the only way out is through deception, at times to the extent that they begin to believe their own
lies. Or you can use your vote to show you want to overturn it and end the problems capitalism causes once and for all.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The African "Clearances"

An Oxfam report blames land deals for forcing people off land and destroying homes and livelihoods. It says land deals often have no benefit to the country itself, and instead are aimed at using arable land to grow food for developed nations, to produce biofuels, or simply to speculate for profit.

Dundee West MSP Joe Fitzpatrick “The Oxfam report evokes grave echoes from Scotland’s past, namely the Highland Clearances, when, throughout the Highlands and Islands many thousands of people left their ancestral lands, many after being forcibly evicted.”

Oxfam details that more than 20,000 people forcibly evicted from their land to make way for a British timber company, The New Forests Company, and Fitzpatrick described it as an example of “a new modern-day clearance” in operation.

Oxfam Scotland head Judith Robertson said: “Many of the world’s poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frantic competition for land. Global action is crucial if we are to protect local people all around the world from losing what little they have for the profits of a few.”

Cancer of Capitalism

Professor David Cameron, an expert in breast cancer from Edinburgh University, said new treatments were increasingly being developed which targeted specific subtypes of cancer, helping make them more effective.

"These drugs are expensive. Some of that is the real cost of developing them and some of that is if you are only going for a subset of cancer then your total predicted sales will be less," Prof Cameron told The Scotsman. "The business model of the company will be that in order to develop the money to develop the drug your subsequent sales in the patent lifetime have to be sufficient to cover all your costs. So actually, the cost for rarer cancer is likely to be higher and not lower."

A wee butt and ben?

Hailed as "one of the finest sporting estates in Scotland" and will become the most expensive estate sold on the open market if it meets its extravagant guide price, Millden, a vast estate situated in the heart of the Angus glens, long famed for their grouse moors, has been put on the market for an eye-catching £17.5 million.

Stretching to nearly 20,000 acres, the estate has entertained kings and prime ministers over the years and is described by CKD Galbraith, property agents to the gentry, as the "Holy Grail" of grouse shooting. Located near the village of Edzell, Millden was the first of the sporting lodges built for the Earls of Dalhousie on their Glen Esk estate in the Regency period. Shortly before the beginning of the Second World War King George VI and then prime minister Neville Chamberlain enjoyed a week's shooting.

Along with three recently-improved moors spanning more than 10,000 acres, fishing rights to eight miles of the River North Esk, and extensive woodland, prospective buyers of the estate in Glen Esk will acquire a considerable property portfolio. The centrepiece is the grand Millden Lodge, a 19th-century shooting lodge that includes ten bedrooms, a gun room, a bar, a billiard room, and various cottages for gardeners and gamekeepers. Along with two other lodges, Millden, bought by investment banker Richard Hanson in 2004, boasts a dizzying array of more modest accommodation, from cottages to farmhouses. In all, there are upwards of 30 properties included in the guide price, plus numerous lunch huts, sheds, and outbuildings, plus a staff of 16 to help with maintenance.

Chinese Capitalism

http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/features/Anna-Burnside-The-Commie-consumers.6842233.jp

The national average income is 50,000 yuan (£5,000), less than Angola and Albania. Only 24 million of the population's earnings are above the tax threshold.

But the rich spend spend spend...Conspicuous consumption must become less conspicuous so the Party outlawed billboard advertisements that promoted "hedonism, lavishness and the worship of foreign things".

The new Hurun Rich List, of Chinese individuals with a net worth of over 10 billion yuan (£1 billion), numbers 127.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

GOVERNMENT PAYMASTERS

Recent proposed legislation by the government to allow house building on previously designated green areas has aroused some opposition, but the background to the proposals is likely to cause even more resentment. "Dozens of property firms have given a total of £3.3 million to the party over the past three years, including large gifts from companies seeking to develop rural land. Developers are also paying thousands of pounds for access to senior Tories through the Conservative Property Forum, a club of elite donors which sets up breakfast meetings to discuss planning and property issues. The disclosures are likely to provoke a new "cash-for-access"row and will give rise to fears that planning policies could have been influenced by powerful figures from the property industry." (Daily Telegraph, 10 September) The newspapers fears about "powerful figures" influencing the government seems somewhat naive. The whole purpose of legislation inside capitalism is to accommodate the wishes of the owning class. RD

Food for thought

How many millions have you lost in the stock market lately? Ellen Roseman in "How to Deal With Angry Investors" (Toronto Star, Aug 29, 2011) tells us investors are frightened and angry, no surprise. She gives portfolio managers advice such as, sit down face to face with  clients; listen to people; talk about the challenges; look at the role of cash; review portfolios more often etc. That should put them at ease as they see their life savings going belly-up and retirement disappearing into the distance. It gets more like Alice in Wonderland everyday!

A letter in The Toronto Star recently opined that the London Riots were no surprise considering 20% unemployment and a loss of rights and freedoms over the last two decades, "This (change from citizens to consumers) is the result of a change from democracy to corporatocracy. Western corporations now control the governments, universities and  media, with lobbyists outnumbering politicians..." We might comment that it's the normal operation of the capitalist system for the last two hundred years or so. The writer also reveals that General Electric US made $10.3 billion last year but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact they recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion! John Ayers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Food for thought

It's harder to find a more pristine wilderness than that of the Peel River Watershed in the Yukon Territory. This year the Yukon government has issued 8 341 mining claims. Near the town of Faro, a large wooden sign proclaims, "Yukon's Best Kept Secret". They are not talking about the once largest zinc mine in the world, a testament to toxic damage. The company has long gone and the taxpayers are stuck with a $1 billion  clean-up bill. Two water treatment plants filter toxins out of the mine  tailings; soil and rock must be sealed in plastic before new soil can be  brought in; they are talking about keeping clean-up operations going  until the year 2500! The mining industry promises they will be more responsibly and clean up when they are finished. How believable!

On the other hand, those protesting outside the White House against Protesters of Trans-Canada Corp's controversial pipeline that will bring the clean tar sands oil (well that's what the ads say about that gooey  muck!) from Alberta down to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, are  being arrested (more than one thousand to date) for daring to stand on  the sidewalk and disagree, actually for 'failure to obey'. (must be communists, right Mammoliti? Can you smell 'em or is the stink of tar too great?). Among those arrested this week was Canadian activist icon,  Naomi Klein, "She was arrested outside the front door of the president she thought agreed with her." (Toronto Star report). She said, " It  feels inherently weird and uncomfortable for me to do something remotely critical of this president." This shows the level of understanding of how capitalism works that boggles the mind. What does she think was  going to happen, that Obama would agree with her and take on capital?
Unbelievable! So far as we know, none of those responsible for the mess in the Yukon is under arrest. John Ayers

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Food for thought

The Toronto gravy issue that newly elected mayor Ford promised to get
rid of but can't seem to find, is back in the news. Ford's mouthpiece on
city council, Giorgio Mammoliti set up a Facebook page to support the
mayor. On it he promised to ban whining communists such as those
citizens who spoke against city budget cuts (libraries, day care, and
other such 'gravy' items). He warned that he could 'smell out'
communists among the Facebook members and defined them as 'anyone who is
able to work, doesn't want to work and wants everything for free.' More
than one thousand anti-Mammoliti complaints immediately filled his
bulleting board. This is the level that our so-called leaders have
dropped. Time to get rid of leaders? Yes! John Ayers

Saturday, September 17, 2011

THE US CLASS SYSTEM

A popular myth about the USA is that it is less class-divided than Europe but a glance at recent developments in the housing market should bury that piece of nonsense. At a time when many workers in the USA are losing their homes in re-possessions the owning class is on a spending spree. "Try telling billionaires the U.S. housing market is in the dumps. Many of the world's richest have eagerly been snapping up lavish properties from coast to coast this year. Venture capitalist Yuri Milner broke price records with his $100 million Silicon Valley home purchase, Formula One heiress Petra Ecclestone shelled out $85 million on Los Angeles Spelling Manor, and industrialist scion Alexander Rovt rescued Manhattan Henry T. Sloane Mansion out of foreclosure for $33 million, to name but a few." (Forbes. com, 7 September) RD

Friday, September 16, 2011

Not so cool

Almost a million households in Scotland will now be in fuel poverty after the last of the major suppliers announced a second price rise in less than a year.
Tom Lyon, energy expert at uSwitch.com, said: “We are in danger of seeing energy becoming an unaffordable luxury for the few instead of a household basic for the many. As a result many households are being forced to make unpalatable and sometimes even dangerous choices."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

COOL BUT AT A PRICE

"Wow, what do you think sweetheart, don't I look fabulous in this" some workers may say, but behind their delight lurks the awful exploitation of other workers. "More than two dozen global clothing brands on Tuesday pledged to investigate a spate of mass faintings among Cambodian garment workers, the UN's labour agency said. The retailers said they would provide resources and international expertise to find out why hundreds of their suppliers' employees have collapsed recently, the International Labour Organisation said after a meeting in Phnom Penh. Among the retailers who supported the initiative were Gap, H&M, Walmart and Target, a source who attended the gathering but wished to remain anonymous told AFP." (Yahoo News, 6 September) Who cares about fainting Cambodians, don't I look cool. That is capitalism for you. RD

young and jobless

The number of 16 to 24-year-olds claiming Job-seeker’s Allowance last month leapt by 4500 from the previous year – a 10% rise to 46,300.

Leading children’s charity Barnardo’s warned that many of the young may be left on the employment scrapheap forever.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Food for thought

There will be no relief any time soon. David Olive writes in his
article, "A New World of Work, An Old Way of Working"(Toronto Star, July 30, 2011), "Imagine a world that is entirely materially insecure...scramble for whatever jobs they can get...labour long hours, with no assured wage. Their jobs are always at risk. Others are always prepared to do the same for less...jobs are inevitably of short duration...no benefits, or pensions. In most cases minimum wage laws don't apply...the sheer struggle for existence dominates. Culture, education, holidays? Forget it...

Students of history will recognize this world. It is industrializing England during the 19th century, or parts of Latin America in the 20th. -- The world that Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Freidrich Engels and later Che Guevara described and critiqued. But amazingly and tragically, it is also Canada in the 21st  century."
 
Olive goes on to point out that the 'golden age' of work with fulltime jobs and benefits is being replaced by a stark world of work we thought we had conquered. The futility of reform! Only the establishment of a socialist society can put the boots to this nonsense. How about it? John Ayers

The same old story - same socialist answer

Scottish Socialist Party and its split, Sheridan's Solidarity, stand for an independent Scotland and a workers republic. Socialist Courier can only answer them the same as the Socialist Party replied to John Maclean's Scottish Workers' Republican Party call for the same back in 1925.

"The chief fallacy of their position is their insistence upon a Scottish Workers' Republic. This demand is both reactionary and Utopian. The struggle of the workers of the United Kingdom must be a united one. The workers are under the domination of a class who rule by the use of a political machine which is the chief governing instrument for England, Scotland, Wales, etc. To appeal to the workers of Scotland for a Scottish Workers' Republic is to arouse and foster the narrow spirit of Nationalism, so well used by our masters. Economically the demand is Utopian, as the development of capitalism has made countries more and more dependent on each other, both through the specialisation of industry or agriculture, and also by the force controlled by the Great Powers to suppress or control the smaller nations.

The history of " independent " Hungary, Poland, and the Balkan States shows that the realisation of " political independence " by a country leaves the workers' conditions untouched and actually worsens them in many cases.

The appeal to the worker in this Manifesto to "rally to the cause of a Workers' Republic for Scotland" is made "so that we might win you away from the service of the imperialist gang who direct their activities from London" If the worker is to be won for Socialism, it is by getting him to understand the principles of Socialism, and not by appealing to him to concentrate on Scottish affairs. Socialism is international.”

This is still our position in face of those today who seek to revive the idea of a “Scottish Workers’ Republic”

Rich Scotland

Scotland's million-pound-plus property market is bucking the trend as wealthy foreign buyers snap up prime residential homes across the country. Georgian townhouses in Edinburgh, properties within putting distance of a golf course in St Andrews and Highland sporting estates are particularly in demand by international buyers.

Figures released by the selling agents Savills yesterday show the top end of the property market performing well, with 146 high-value homes costing £1 million or more selling in 2010, compared with 106 in 2009. Sales at £1 million and more during the first six months of this year were up by a third on last year, from 50 to almost 70.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Food for thought

Austerity riots have been experienced all over the world and it is at least part of the cause of the Arab Spring. According to David Olive (Toronto Star, Aug 13, 2011) the American austerity measures have left 46 million Americans (15%) reliant on food stamps – a staggering figure in the richest nation ever on earth! Surely these workers will figure out what is happening to all that wealth. Will they find the socialist answer? John Ayers

Under-employed

While Scotland’s official unemployment rate is 7.7%, combined with people seen as “economically inactive” and “underemployed”, then what it terms as the “full-time unemployment deficit” rises to 17.25% or 468,301 Scots the STUC has said.

Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary, said:
“There are simply far too many people in Scotland at this time unable to access the quality, full-time work opportunities necessary to provide for a decent standard of living for themselves and their families.” He added: “Of course, the UK Government is continuing down the road of austerity, cutting jobs when they are most needed. There is little sign of hope for the half-million people in Scotland who are unemployed, inactive or underemployed.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Food for thought

Capitalism being capitalism, poverty raises its ugly head with an alarming regularity. A group of well meaning advocates for the poor are proposing a new Ontario Housing Benefit to help the poor with housing costs (Toronto Star, Aug 26, 2011). On in five renters in the province spend more than half their income on housing, and for food bank users, that percentage is seventy-two. Renter's incomes fell by $6 396 between 1981 and 2006. More than 152 000 Ontario households are now waiting up to fifteen years for affordable housing. Successive governments have chopped subsidized housing programs or sold them off as liabilities. Astounding, when we have the materials to hand, and construction workers looking for employment. The proposed benefit would give $100 per month to 200,000 low-income tenants. The cost would be $240 million against poverty costs in health care, social assistance, and foregone tax revenue of $38 billion. Of course, government, constrained by short term goals and budgets will never go for the idea just as they had no intention in making good on an all- party promise in 2006 to reduce poverty by 25% in five years. It grew. John Ayers

Who owns the North Pole Part 41- No-one says Greenpeace

Greenpeace director John Sauven he plans to save the North Pole from big oil by building a legal wall, an international prohibition, which will prevent the countries surrounding the Arctic from claiming the top of the world for themselves, in order to exploit the mineral riches which lie under its seabed.

The melting of the Arctic ice, as the global climate warms, is opening up the great frozen wilderness, the world's most untouched ecosystem; indeed, this week a new record minimum for the ice is likely to be reached, surpassing even the record low of September 2007, which was such a plunge downwards it astonished polar scientists. It means that climate change is having its most unmistakable effect so far on the fabric of the Earth. Yet it also means that gluttonous eyes are being cast on the Arctic for what it holds, not least its 160bn barrels of oil, both by the "supermajor" oil companies such as Shell and Exxon Mobil, and the countries by which the Arctic Ocean is surrounded – Canada, Russia, the US, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland). They are looking to extend their territorial waters and consequent sovereignty of the seabed out to 90 degrees North.

"And what we want do," says John Sauven, who is executive director of Greenpeace UK, "is say that this area, which is currently not national territory, this area of sea ice around the North Pole, should be a 'global commons', collectively owned by humanity under the auspices of the United Nations. It has huge symbolic importance as a pristine ecosystem. Yet the oil companies and the surrounding nations are saying, this might be at the ends of the earth, but we're just going to go in and carve it up. The Arctic sums up the complete and utter madness, the bankruptcy of their strategy. They will go to these extreme lengths to dig up the last bit of fossil fuels because they cannot be bothered to deal with energy efficiency and find alternatives, and they're prepared to suffer all the consequences, the impacts on wildlife and the fact that you can't do anything about them. It's insanity."

So now Greenpeace is planning a global campaign to make the North Pole off-limits. Internalionalised. No development. No oil drilling. No territorial claims.

"The Arctic is an iconic part of the global commons, rather like the Amazon for the rainforest," Mr Sauven says. "Is it just to be a grab by these huge corporations to extract the resources, which will have a calamitous impact on the world?"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

GOVERNMENT PAYMASTERS

Recent proposed legislation by the government to allow house building on previously designated green areas has aroused some opposition, but the background to the proposals is likely to cause even more resentment. "Dozens of property firms have given a total of £3.3 million to the party over the past three years, including large gifts from companies seeking to develop rural land. Developers are also paying thousands of pounds for access to senior Tories through the Conservative Property Forum, a club of elite donors which sets up breakfast meetings to discuss planning and property issues. The disclosures are likely to provoke a new "cash-for-access"row and will give rise to fears that planning policies could have been influenced by powerful figures from the property industry." (Daily Telegraph, 10 September) The newspapers fears about "powerful figures" influencing the government seems somewhat naive. The whole purpose of legislation inside capitalism is to accommodate the wishes of the owning class. RD

Snouts in the trough

One-third of Scotland’s “double-jobbing” MSPs are continuing to collect salaries from council jobs, four months after being elected to £58,000-a-year posts at Holyrood.

Unions have criticised those still collecting the salaries, which comes at a time of unprecedented redundancies and reductions in workers’ terms and conditions.

Martin Doran, who heads the GMB union in Glasgow, said: “...my feeling is that this is an obscenity. If these people had any decency they would stand down.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

VILLAINS AND MORE VILLAINS

The use of torture or the mistreating of prisoners is completely unlawful and would never be countenanced by the British Army we are assured by our politicians. So how do they explain the following discovery? "An Iraqi man died after suffering an "appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence" in a "very serious breach of discipline" by UK soldiers, a year-long inquiry has found. Its chairman, Sir William Gage, condemned "corporate failure" at the Ministry of Defense over the use of banned interrogation methods in Iraq. Baha Mousa died with 93 injuries in British army custody in Basra in 2003." (BBC News, 8 September) It is surely significant that the authorities have dragged their feet on this enquiry. Eight years and a year long investigation have helped to blunt the events - or so they hope. His widow and children might think differently. Baha Mousi was found to be innocent. RD

Friday, September 09, 2011

HEROES AND VILLAINS

British newspapers are fond of depicting capitalism as a struggle between the good guys and the bad guys with the British always being the good guys. This is a complete fantasy of course. Whenever it suits their political and economic interests they will side with mass murders, torturers and dictators. "The Security Service MI5 asked Colonel Gadaffi's secret service for regular updates on what terrorist suspects were revealing under interrogation in Libyan prisons, where torture was routine. MI5 also agreed to trade information with Libyan spymasters on 50 British based Libyans judged to be a threat to Gadaffi's regime." (Sunday Times, 4 September) These disclosures only became public when documents were found in the ruins of the British Embassy in Tripoli. RD

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Scotland the Brave?

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, part of the World Socialist Movement, argue that every nation state is by its very nature anti-working class. The “nation” is a myth as there can be no community of interests between two classes in antagonism with one another, the non-owners in society and the owners (the workers and the capitalists). The state ultimately exists only to defend the property interests of the owning class at any given point in history – which is why modern states across the world send the police and army in to break strikes and otherwise seek to protect the interests of the capitalists and “business” at every turn.

The goal of the socialist movement is not to assist in the creation of even more states but to establish a real world community without frontiers where all states as they currently exist will be destroyed. In a socialist society communities, towns and cities will have the opportunity to thrive – and people will no doubt feel an attachment to places that are real and tangible – but nation states will be consigned to the history books where they belong.

Constitutional reform such as Scottish independence is of no benefit or relevance to us. It leaves our lives and the problems the profit system causes completely unchanged. Exploitation through the wages system continues. Unemployment continues. A crumbling health service, a chaotic transport system, a polluted environment, failing schools, rising crime and drug addiction and the general breakdown of society all continue. As far as solving these problems is concerned, constitutional reform is just a useless irrelevancy.

We are told by the nationalists that it would be an extension of democracy, bringing power nearer to the people, so how can socialists not be in favour of this? Yes, Socialists are in favour of democracy, and socialism will be a fully democratic society, but full democracy is not possible under capitalism. Supporters of capitalism who talk about “democracy” always mean only political democracy since economic democracy--where people would democratically run the places where they work--is out of the question under capitalism, based as it is on these workplaces being owned and controlled by and for the benefit of a privileged minority. An independent Scotland can have the most democratic constitution imaginable but this won’t make any difference to the fact that profits have to come before meeting needs under capitalism. The people’s will to have their needs met properly is frustrated all the time by the operation of the economic laws of the capitalist system which no political structure, however democratic, can control.

But socialists are just as much opposed to British nationalism as we are to Scottish nationalism. Just because we are not prepared to back the efforts of Scottish nationalists to break away from the United Kingdom--and vigorously oppose their efforts to split the trade union movement--does not mean that we are Unionists. We don’t support the Union. We just put up with it while we get on with our work of convincing people to reject world capitalism in favour of world socialism.

HOME OF THE BRAVE?

It is the most developed capitalist nation in the world, but there is more to the USA than shiny cadillacs, penthouses and luxury swimming pools. Behind the Hollywood luxury of the owning class lurks the reality for many members of the American working class. "A long way down the US housing ladder, beneath the grisly 'projects' of The Wire and the trailer parks hymned by Eminem, beneath the slums of New Orleans and the ghettos of Detroit, you'll find the long-stay hotel. Cheap, not very cheerful, and pretty much a last resort, these institutions provide four walls and a roof, for a few hundred bucks a month. It's some of the cheapest accommodation you'll find anywhere in the US, aside from a cardboard box. Long-stay hotels can be found in almost every major American city." (Independent, 3 September) RD

THE PRICE OF PROGRESS

The development of capitalism in Western Europe led to the displacement of thousands of farm workers, pollution and human misery. The same development is now taking place in China. "In the dust-blown mountains of China's coal belt, locals have lived for years with choking clouds of soot and the continual roar of mines that never sleep, digging for 24 hours a day. Now they face being buried alive as China tries to extract every last nugget of coal from beneath them. Shanxi Huang Jia Po is a village on the edge. For centuries, 500 farmers have lived here, carving stepped fields into the side of their mountain and planting corn, marrows and aubergines in the fertile yellow soil that covers Shanxi province. But the children of the farmers will have to live somewhere else, because it is only a matter of time before the village falls into the honeycomb of mining tunnels below." (Daily Telegraph, 3 September) In its relentless drive for more and more profit capitalism pays scant heed to the needs and aspirations of the working class. RD

FINANCIAL WIZARDS

The supporters of capitalism are always telling socialists that the owning class enjoy their elevated social status because of their masterful abilities to operate the financial and commercial system. The news that US authorities are to sue 17 major banks for losses on mortgage-backed investments that cost tens of billions of dollars seems to contradict that notion. "The Federal Housing Finance Agency said it was taking action against banks including Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, and HSBC. The agency says they misrepresented the quality of the mortgages they sold during the housing bubble. The values plunged as the US was engulfed in the financial crisis. The FHFA oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.The two firms lost more than $30bn (£18.5bn), partly because of their investments in the subprime mortgages, and were bailed out by the US government. Since the rescues, US taxpayers have spent more than $140bn to keep the firms afloat." (BBC News, 2 September) $140 billions - some masterful ability! RD

Saturday, September 03, 2011

AN ILL-DIVIDED WORLD

We are told by politicians and political commentators that although we live in tough economic times "we are all in this together". This touching sentiment seems a little difficult to grasp when we read about how two members of the capitalist class are coping with the economic situation. "News International boss James Murdoch has declined a $6m (£3.7m) bonus, citing the "current controversy" over phone hacking at the News of the World. His father, News Corp boss Rupert, received a $12.5m (£7.7) bonus. His total remuneration for the year to 30 June was $33.3m (£20.5m), up 47%. James Murdoch saw his pay packet rise 74% to $17m, but said declining the bonus was the "right thing to do". (BBC News, 2 September) RD

NO LOG CABIN HERE

It is a popular myth that US schoolchildren have been taught over the years. How in America you can rise from poverty to become the president of the USA. Abraham Lincoln and his log cabin is usually trundled out in support of the myth. In fact many of the present day US politicians are extremely wealthy individuals as this report illustrates."GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, scheduled to attend a series of fundraisers this weekend in San Diego, is also working on plans to nearly quadruple the size of his $12 million oceanfront manse in La Jolla. Romney has filed an application with the city to bulldoze his 3,009-square-foot, single-story home at 311 Dunemere Dr. and replace it with a two-story, 11,062-square-foot structure." (SIGN ON San Diego, 26 August) RD

CONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION

Inside a capitalist society it is the norm for the poor to to try to survive from day to day whilst the wealthy indulge themselves with the best of everything. It is not enough for some of them though. Not content with the best food, clothing and shelter some of them like to indulge themselves with over-priced baubles just because they can. "A Porsche once owned by Hollywood legend Steve McQueen has been sold for a record-breaking $1.375 million. ...... The car appears in the prologue of the film (Le Mans) being driven through the French countryside by McQueen. According to RM Auctions, who handled the sale at its Monterey, California event on August 19th, it was the highest price ever paid for a Porsche 911. ....Nevertheless, it was far from a record for a car from the noted automobile enthusiast's extensive stable. In 2007, an ex-McQueen 1963 Ferrari 250 was sold for $2.3 million, nearly five times the amount of what similar cars were going for at the time." (FoxNews.com, 26 August) RD

Friday, September 02, 2011

A BILLION DOLLAR DEAL

The conflict in Lybia has proved to be very profitable for the British oil firm Vitol who have supplied fuel and associated products to the rebels and traded oil on their behalf. The deal is estimated to be worth about $1 billion. "The deal with Vitol was said to have been masterminded by Alan Duncan, the former oil trader turned junior minister, who has close business links to the oil firm and was previously a director of one of its subsidiaries. Mr Duncan's private office received funding from the head of Vitol before the general election. Ian Taylor, the company's chief executive and a friend of Mr Duncan, has given more than £200,000 to the Conservatives. Vitol is thought to be the only oil firm to have traded with the rebels during the Libyan conflict. Oil industry sources said that other firms including BP, Shell and Glencore had not been approached over the deal. One well-placed source said this was "very surprising" because other companies would have been keen to be involved." (Daily Telegraph, 1 September) Of course, the other firms are unhappy with the deal and questions are likely to be raised in parliament. The enquiries are likely to be about how political donors were given the business, but no one will query the accepted fact that war and military conflict is often an excellent business opportunity. RD

WARTIME ILLUSIONS

There are many illusions about the cause of World War Two. One of them is that it was a war about democracy. Nonsense. How come the Stalin dictatorship in Russia was supporting democracy? Another illusion was that it was about persecution because of Germany's treatment of the Jews, but Germany was not alone in persecuting the Jews. Even now over 60 years later there is plenty of examples of Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe. "Vandals have desecrated a monument marking the spot in Poland where hundreds of Jews were burned alive during World War II. They defaced the stonework, scrawling 'they were flammable' and also daubing a swastika on the memorial. The monument in the eastern town of Jedwabne honors the victims of July 10, 1941, when about 40 Poles hunted down Jews, closed them in a barn and set it alight. It is estimated between 300 and 400 Jews were killed." (Daily Mail, 1 September) If the second world war was fought to protect democracy or to stop persecution then it failed badly. The truth of course is that the war was fought, like all wars are, over trade routes, markets, sources of raw materials and spheres of economic and political influence. RD

poverty trap for kids

Poverty trap for children as fifth of Scottish families jobless. The number of under-16s living in households without adults in employment rose to 145,000 (15.8 per cent of under- 16s) this year from 141,000 (15.3 per cent) last year. In Scotland, there were 359,000 workless households in June.

Mr Peter Kelly, the director of the Glasgow-based Poverty Alliance, said that if people were going into part-time or low-paid work, their earnings would not be enough to make a huge difference to their lives. "Sometimes you have to question the extent to which giving someone a job can lift them out of the low-income bracket. We want to see people moving into jobs that lift them out of poverty."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

THE COLD WAR HEATS UP

In a multinational race to seize the potential riches of the formerly icebound Arctic, being laid bare by global warming, Russia is an early claimant. "Within the next year, the Kremlin is expected to make its claim to the United Nations in a bold move to annex about 380,000 square miles of the internationally owned Arctic to Russian control. At stake is an estimated one-quarter of all the world's untapped hydrocarbon reserves, abundant fisheries, and a freshly opened route that will cut nearly a third off the shipping time from Asia to Europe. The global Arctic scramble kicked off in 2007 when Russian explorer Artur Chilingarov planted his country's flag beneath the North Pole. "The Arctic is Russian," he said. "Now we must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian landmass." (Christian Science Monitor, 14 August) It is typical of how capitalism operates that global warming should lead to a heating up of international rivalry over the potential profit-making in the Artic region. RD

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