Thursday, January 31, 2013


From time to time news filters down to us mere mortals what gigantic incomes are enjoyed by the owning class. A recent example was the case of Richard Handler, chief executive of Jefferies International the investment bank. "In a report filed with the SEC, the investment bank revealed the former junk bond trader was paid £19 million, comprising a base salary of £1 million, a cash bonus of £5 million and £13 million in stock. ..... Mr Handler still trails Lloyd Blankfein, of Goldman Sachs, who was paid £21 million last year." (Times, 30 January) These vast incomes are being enjoyed by a tiny minority whilst millions of people are trying to survive on $2 a day. RD

We need a need-based health service

The NHS is failing to provide needs-based care in areas of blanket deprivation, GPs working in Scotland's poorest areas will tell MSPs. The GPs from The Deep End group, which represents 100 practices in the poorest parts of the country are expected to warn that the health service's approach is a "recipe for widening health inequality" when they appear before the Public Audit Committee.

The report warned that the distribution of GPs in Scotland does not reflect the higher levels of poor health and greater need in poorer areas and that "deep-seated inequalities remain between the least and most deprived communities" despite research showing higher rates of multimorbidity (more than one chronic medical condition) in patients from the most deprived areas.

This, combined with "dysfunctional links between general practice and other parts of the NHS", is "a partial explanation of 20 years of failure in addressing inequalities in health. The GPs called for more time for doctors seeing patients in deprived communities, as well as better integration with other services such as social work and addiction services. "The focus should be on sustainable development, with an emphasis on continuity and the productive power of long-term relationships."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Great Lamb Robbery

The NFU of England and Wales has highlighted  that while farm-gate prices have dropped by nearly one- quarter, and wholesale prices for UK legs of lamb are down by 17%, prices in the shops for UK product have only fallen by 2% in the same time period. Figures also show the wholesale price of New Zealand lamb has dropped by 23% (year on year), and yet the retail price for consumers has only come down 12% in the same period.

Are the supermarkets thinking it's better to be hung for a sheep than for lamb in their profiteering?

Struggling Scots

It is not independence most Scot are struggling for - it is to pay their bills.

One in six Scots households are raiding their savings to pay for day-to-day living expenses as they struggle to cope with higher utility, food and fuel bills in the face of another year of frozen wage packets. Almost half of people have admitted in a new poll to regularly delving into their savings last year, with one-third unable to put any money aside in 2012.

 40% of private-sector workers were given a freeze in their 2012 pay settlements. 250,000 council workers are due to see their wages go up by just 1% in April, ending a two-year freeze.

Citizens Advice Scotland  chief executive Margaret Lynch said: "This report shows the grim reality of what life is like for Scotland's families in today's economy...The economic equation is simple: basic living costs are going up all the time while household incomes are frozen, or falling. So people are struggling just to pay for the essentials in life – things like rent or mortgage, fuel and food."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Some Poetry by Langston Hughes


The ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamonds and jade,
Sit silently on their temple shelves
While the people
Are afraid.
Yet the ivory gods.
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond-jade,
Are only silly puppet gods
That the people themselves
Have made.

I Dream A World

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Rid, Rid Rotten Revue show

This legendary show put on by the Glasgow branch of the Socialist Party back in the early/mid 1980s, has now been transferred from tape cassette to digital and can be accessed following the links below. The venue was The Admiral Bar. It was a 'revue' show, described as "An evening of music, songs, sketches and humour, and just a wee bit of social comment." It's all very skilfully joined together by the Master of Ceremonies, Richard Donnelly.

Peter Ross, a contemporary of a young Billy Connolly and worked with him in his pre-comedy days, plays guitar and sings.

The files have been uploaded to a site called 'DropBox', but you don't have to be a member to access them - they are publicly available to anyone with the correct web address:

The MP3 digital file for Side A can be played or downloaded from Side B is at

Alternatively, there's a link for each individual song/sketch etc.

If you click on:
this opens up all 23 tracks and a note file with track info on it. You can choose to download each one individually, or do the whole lot in one download as a 'zip' file.

Here's the track listings
01 Introduction Dick Donnelly
02 The Red, Red, Rotten Revue Peter Ross
03 That's Why the Worker is a Slave Hughie Armstrong
04 The News at Ten Terry Ross
05 Survivors Terry and Ken
06 Knocking at Heaven's Door Hughie and Dick
07 Going up to Heaven Peter Ross
08 Pie in the Sky Peter Ross
09 Flash Harry Vic Vanni
10 What a Swell Party Hughie Armstrong
11 Introduction Dick Donnelly
12 Ah Wis Like That... Ken, Hughie, Ian, Campbell & Terry
13 Tra-la-la, twiddle-dee dee-dee Peter Ross
14 Drinking Doubles Peter Ross
15 The Craven Vic Vanni
16 You're a Worker... Peter Ross
17 Unemployment Blues Peter Ross
18 The Ultimate Nationalist Hughie Armstrong
19 Home Rule for Govan Peter Ross
20 A Lass in Plunderland Terry
21 Boring Employment Hughie Armstrong
22 The Red, Red, Rotten Revue (Reprise) Peter Ross
23 Closing Comments Dick Donnelly


Products like iPads and iPhones may seem modern and attractive but behind their manufacture lies the usual capitalist tale of exploitation. 'Apple has discovered multiple cases of child labour in its supply chain ...... An internal audit found a flipside to the western consumer's insatiable thirst for innovative and competitively priced gadgets. It uncovered 106 cases of underage labour being used at Apple suppliers last year and 70 cases historically. The report follows a series of worker suicides over working conditions at Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles must-have products such as the iPad and iPhone, and lethal explosions at other plants. (Guardian, 25 January) Child labour, lethal explosions and suicide -hardly "modern and attractive" is it? RD

Nice Norway

"If you look around the world, I think there are more or less decent societies. Norway is pretty decent in many ways." Chomsky said in an interview.

It is all a matter of degree. But we should not look at capitalist countries with rose-tinted glasses.

We read:
The Norwegian government's pension fund, which invests its huge oil income in more than 7,500 companies in 46 countries and is worth about £250bn. Its portfolio is more like a dirty list of the world's worst corporations, including numerous oil, mining and agribusiness corporations criticised for their human rights record and environmental impacts. The fund also invests in half a dozen tax havens and numerous Israeli and other companies accused of contributing to the occupation of Palestinian territories.

Norway's StatoilHydro, 67% owned by the government, operates in several countries accused of corruption and dire human rights records, such as Azerbaijan, Angola, Iran and Nigeria, and is eyeing up Iraq. Ministers have been speaking openly about reorienting Norwegian diplomacy to push into new oil markets such as Saudi Arabia.

On the environment, Norway's benign image is also removed from reality. True, nearly all domestic electricity comes from hydroelectric plants and Norway was one of the first to adopt a carbon tax to address global warming, in 1991. Yet with 0.1% of the world's population, Norway emits 0.3% of greenhouse gas emissions; if oil exports are included, the figure may be about 2%. The government is committed to making Norway carbon neutral by 2050, yet this will partly be achieved by buying carbon reductions in other countries, not reducing to zero Norway's own emissions.

Norwegian arms exports – little known outside the country – are booming. Although amounting to 0.1 per cent of world arms exports, Norway's weapons sales have tripled since 2000, reaching £336m worth in 2007. Norwegian arms were used by the US and Britain during the invasion of Iraq while a lack of controls in Oslo have allowed high explosives sold to the US to be re-exported to Israel for use in the occupied territories.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Whenever capitalist politicians find themselves in an economic crisis they always look for ways to cut government expenditure. They do so without recourse to their favourite electioneering ideas of "fairness" or "social justice". 'The squeeze on tax credits and benefits will push 200,000 more children into poverty, the government has admitted for the first time. This suggests that in total a million extra children will be in poverty as a result of government welfare measures. The extra 200,000 children in poverty is a result of the government's decision to lift most in-work and out-of-work benefits by only 1% a year over the next three years, instead of increasing them in line with inflation.' (Guardian 17 January) Once again it is the needy and vulnerable who suffer in capitalism's economic downturns. RD


Politicians love to paint a picture of a Britain where the majority of people live deeply satisfying lifes, but recent statistics would seem to show a less than cheerful existence for millions of the population.'Almost 30% of people in Britain are unable to afford even a week's annual holiday, up from less than a quarter before the financial crisis, according to an analysis by the Office for National Statistics, which reveals the day-to-day struggle facing many families. The finding is part of a wider report comparing levels of poverty and social exclusion across the UK and the rest of the European Union. More than a fifth of the population – 22.7%, or 14 million people – were considered "at risk of poverty or social exclusion" in 2011, the latest year for which data is available.' (Guardian 16 January) RD

Exploiting nature

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has approved a scheme by Scottish Coal to empty Loch Fitty, near Dunfermline in Fife, to dig up 3.4 million tonnes of coal from underneath its bed. Sepa's experts initially warned the plan would have a negative impact on people and the water environment. But internal emails show their initial advice was revised to make it more favourable to the development, at the request of senior managers.

"This looks like a desperate attempt by Scottish Coal to generate extra profits by ripping out every last ounce of coal from beneath Fife that it can," said Lang Banks, the director of WWF Scotland.

Existing mines are running out of coal, so Scottish Coal is anxious to extend them or dig new sites to meet the demand for coal to burn in power stations like Longannet on the Firth of Forth.

The Tyranny of Work

The mental health of Scottish workers is being put at risk thanks to the "relentless pressure" of management systems meant to increase their productivity. Unions and researchers claim workers have suffered extreme stress, depression and in a few cases threatened suicide.  Austerity has allowed some firms to use management techniques to make their staff's lives a misery.

The impact on the mental health of employees was highlighted in the report Performance Management And The New Workplace Tyranny. Phil Taylor, professor of work and employment studies at the university in Glasgow, carried out the research.  He said performance management had evolved into a "continuous, all-encompassing" process of "tight monitoring and strict target compliance".

Taylor said: "Many who have been in the workplace for 10, 15, 20 years, talk with great pain about how the workplace they joined has been transformed beyond all recognition over those decades and the aspects of work that gave them a degree of happiness or satisfaction – such as talking to colleagues, satisfying customers or doing a good job – have been subordinated to the pressure of targets. That is a genuine degradation: people shouldn't have to work like this. You are only as good as your last score, and you can have people who have been utterly loyal and committed to an organisation and excellent performers, then being thrust into the underperformance camp. That can exacerbate feelings of pressure and can lead to stress, which compounds the difficulties of actually doing the work and makes it difficult to get out of that category."

Mary Alexander, deputy regional secretary of Unite in Scotland, said an example from the financial industry showed it could take as little as six weeks from being put on a performance improvement process to being fired. She said, sales targets which were being set were often "not achievable and unrealistic".

Dr Andrew Fraser, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland said: "We know that a tough and unsupportive working environment, and specifically workplace bullying and harassment can have a negative impact on a person's mental health and that, as a result of sustained bullying, some people may experience stress and anxiety. If that experience is sustained and not addressed by management at all levels, workplace stress may lead to depression which is a major risk factor for suicide." 

Meanwhile another report  reveals than more than 500 Scottish construction workers were blacklisted for jobs because of union activity. Personal details about 3213 workers were discovered at a Worcestershire-based firm called The Consulting Association. The files were used by more than 40 firms including Balfour Beatty, Robert McAlpine, Laing O'Rourke and Costain to check the backgrounds of potential workers. On the list are 142 workers from Glasgow, Clydebank and Dumbarton, 53 from Ayrshire, 51 from Edinburgh, and 28 from Aberdeen.

 The Consulting Association had links with police and security services. Construction industry directors were addressed by a "key officer" from the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (Netcu), a Huntingdon-based police organisation set up to counter "extremist" protest groups.

Quote of the day

Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College, complains that his pupils are suffering unreasonable discrimination. He claimed there are 62 pupils at Wellington bright enough to get an Oxbridge interview this year, but said he only expects 20 offers of places to come in.
He said: “From our perspective it looks as if some public school students are being discriminated against"

The rich seem to think their offspring are entitled to a place at the Oxbridge

Saturday, January 26, 2013


For more than 25 years Cardinal Roger M. Mahony served the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles, but his retiral nearly 2 years ago is hardly likely to be a peaceful one. 'Internal church personnel files released this week as part of a civil court case reveal that he and his top adviser knowingly shielded priests accused of child sexual abuse from law enforcement. ...... Lawyers for the Los Angeles Archdiocese fought for years to prevent the release of the files, but a demand for transparency was a primary goal of the more than 500 victims of clergy abuse who signed a record settlement for $660 million with the archdiocese in July 2007. When a judge ordered the files to be made public despite the church's objections, the archdiocese fought to be allowed to redact names and identifying details. But it recently lost that battle and now awaits an imminent cascade of 30,000 more documents that could further tarnish Cardinal Mahony's legacy.' (New York Times, 22 January) The Roman Catholic Church like other institutions inside capitalism may speak movingly about honour and morality but in practice they are prepared to spend $660 million to keep their child abuse secret. RD


Socialists are scorned by the "practical" people who want to deal with capitalism's problems one by one in a series of reforms of capitalism instead of getting rid of the whole system. Here is a recent example. 'A coalition of 100 UK development charities and faith groups will on Wednesday launch a major campaign to lobby David Cameron, the prime minister, to use Britain's presidency of the G8 to leverage action on ending global hunger. The If campaign is the largest coalition of its kind since Make Poverty History in 2005, the last time Britain held the G8 presidency. ..... In a report published to coincide with the launch, Enough Food for Everyone If, campaigners estimate that 28% of children in developing countries are underweight or stunted.' (Guardian, 23 January) The report goes on to say that at present "one in eight people go to bed hungry every night, and each year 2.3 million children die from malnutrition." This is the result of "practical" solutions. RD

Who owns the North Pole - part 56

 The white wilderness' black plague

The Arctic is changing at a breathtaking pace, which has oil and gas companies flocking to the region. Thawing sea ice and improved technology is opening up the race for natural resource exploration in the Arctic Circle, home to nearly a quarter of the world's untapped oil reserves. Natural resources that will become much more accessible when the Arctic ice melts are of critical importance. International oil companies are racing to develop new oilfields in the Arctic.

China is hungry for natural resources, and the Arctic is home to a wealth of them. Beijing insists that its interest in the region is first and foremost for research purposes, that the Arctic can help shed light on climate change, that it offers useful shipping routes, and so on and so forth. Beijing would also welcome a chance to be granted observer status on the Arctic Council. At a conference in Tromsø, the Chinese ambassador to Norway resorted to a linguistic slight of hand to justify his country's focus on the Artic region: Northeastern China, Zhao explained, stretches almost to 50 degrees north latitude, making his country what he called "a near-Arctic state." According to that logic, the German island of Sylt, which lies at 54 degrees north latitude, could also be described as "near-Arctic" -- but no one would.

Chinese companies have understood that although oil and gas from the Arctic could make a long-term contribution to the country's energy supply, it won't come cheap. China will have to "play by the rules of capitalism." China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) wants to acquire its Canadian competitor Nexen, but the deal first has to be approved by US authorities. Beijing's raw-materials managers are also eyeing Greenland. Just outside the capital, Nuuk, a British company has teamed up with Chinese financiers to develop a giant iron ore mine. Over 2,300 Chinese workers will be employed here, boosting the island's population by 4 percent. The total investment will be around €1.7 billion.  Chinese investment in Greenland's mining sector would be as welcome as investment from any other country. "China is all over the world. It is no surprise that they are also interested in Greenland's resources," said Sara Olsvig is a member of the Danish parliament who represents a separatist party in Greenland.

Norway's new Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide declared that "the Arctic is not special in legal terms; it is just an ocean." The Antarctic is protected by a special treaty. "Some people have the misconception that the Arctic is similar to the Antarctic, a common heritage of mankind. But whilst the Antarctic is a continent, the Arctic is an ocean. And it is governed by the law of the sea. It is an area of opportunity."  The fate of the Arctic affects the whole planet. Yet Norways minister insists "We need no specific rules like the ones that apply to Antarctica. The Arctic is not something completely unique compared to other waters."

For the Danes, European Union solidarity ends at the Arctic Circle. Countries like Germany are only welcome as "guests," say Danish polar strategists. Diplomats from Finland, Iceland and Sweden are upset; indigenous groups are furious. Five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean are meet behind closed doors to discuss the region's future. Many of those who have interests in the Arctic are not invited. "This is our homeland, why shouldn't we have a say?" asked Gunn-Britt Retter, a Norwegian who defends the interests of the Sami people in the Arctic Council. Members of the Inuit Circumpolar Council are also displeased.

 The Arctic Council produced a carefully crafted diplomatic text. the existing legal framework "provides a solid foundation for responsible management by the five coastal States." The statement also emphasized that "We ... see no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean."  The Arctic Council use scientific data and the somewhat vague rules of international law to increase and extend their influence. Outside investors need legal security, and to know that the agreements they enter into won't suddenly lose their validity.

"We are witnessing a unique historical situation,"
says Rüdiger Gerdes, a physicist studying sea ice at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, in Bremerhaven, Germany. "As new ocean territory opens, it awakens new greed."

 "Around the Arctic there is neither the technology nor the capacity to respond to oil accidents,"
says Alexander Shestakov, the head of the WWF Arctic Program. "That isn't just the opinion of an environmental organization, it's an acknowledged fact." Environmental protection has never been a high priority for Russian strategists, who see the energy sector as the instrument Moscow can use to cement its position as a world power. For decades, Moscow ignored environmental degradation above the Arctic Circle. Putin has promised to adhere to "strict environmental guidelines," but just how little these assurances mean can be seen in the pioneering project at the Prirazlomnoye oilfield. If an accident occurred here, the platform's crew would be left completely to its own devices, with the closest rescue team stationed 1,000 kilometers away in the Barents Sea port city of Murmansk. Gazprom Neft Shelf is the Gazprom subsidiary that holds the license for the Prirazlomnoye oilfield, and its emergency plan for handling potential environmental damages currently consists of three axes, 25 buckets, 15 shovels, 15 rakes and two all-terrain vehicles. The drilling platform's insurance against environmental damage amounts to a laughable €180,000. In December 2011, a mobile drilling platform called Kolskaya sank in the Sea of Okhotsk, 200 kilometers off the coast of Sakhalin island, while being towed by an icebreaker. Gazflot, another Gazprom subsidiary, had been using the platform outside of the approved season. With 53 of the 67 crew members on the rig declared dead or missing in the icy sea, it was the largest number of causalities that an accident in the Russian oil sector has seen. According to state-run regulatory authorities, pipelines here in the world's largest country burst at over 25,000 locations each year. Greenpeace estimates this leads to leaks of 5 million tons of oil -- seven times the amount that flowed into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform. Snowmelt here in spring and rain in summer wash around 500,000 metric tons of oil into the region's major rivers and then into the Arctic Ocean.

"The companies would rather pay the laughably low fines,"
Greenpeace activist Roman Dolgov says. When Greenpeace reported 14 oil spills in Komi last year, Russia's environmental authorities fined Lukoil, a company with annual sales of €80 billion, a total penalty equivalent to €27,500.

Yekaterina Dyakova, a biology teacher at the village of Ust-Usa said "Everywhere else, oil is seen as black gold," she adds. "For us, it's the black plague."

Once the villagers drank the water from the river, but to do so now could be fatal. In between the rainbow-colored streaks of oil, pale foam floats toward the Arctic. A doctor has kept records of patients' medical histories in Ust-Usa and the surrounding villages. The incidence of cancer is 50 percent higher than it was in 2000, and children and teenagers suffer from respiratory illnesses twice as often. Few men in these villages ever reach retirement age. Average life expectancy here is 58, compared to a national average of 70.

Scottish Nationalism

Due to a broken link Socialist Courier is re-posting Vic Vanni's 1975 articles on the history of Scottish nationalism

Scottish Nationalism

Nationalists believe that all classes in society should hold allegiance to "The Nation". Socialists do not and point out how nations have always been the creation of a ruling group having nothing to do with working-class interests.

What is a nation? It is simply the people and the territory which have been appropriated by a class of robbers at some point in history. It has less to do with a common language, religion, race, culture, and all the other things which nationalists imagine or pretend are essential ingredients in the making of nations.

This is certainly true of Scotland and far from having a common history or anything else the population there are mainly the descendants of native Picts, invaders from Ireland (the original Scots), Western Europe and Scandinavia. After centuries of what were really tribal wars the whole land came under one king by the middle of the ninth century and the nation was born –by the coercion of the people and in the interests of a class of bandit chieftains.

Right up until the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1707 there were really two distinct nations in Scotland. The Highlanders  spoke Gaelic and had a culture (way of life) very different from that of the dialect-English speaking Lowlanders. Indeed

“In rural districts, the Scottish dialect or dialects was barely intelligible even to a Scot of another district”
(James G. Kellas. Modern Scotland –the Nation Since1870. p. 7)

So the nationalist idea of a once united Scotland is just a myth. Yet no one can deny that despite over two hundred years of Scotland's incorporation within the United Kingdom most Scots feel themselves to be part of a separate nation. This can be explained by the fact that the Act of Union allowed Scotland to retain its own law, religion, and education system thus ensuring the continuation of national identity.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Socialists used to say that the perfect worker from the standpoint of an employer would be one who left school, worked two nights and a Sunday for fifty years and then dropped dead on the first day he went to collect his old age pension. If that seems a bit cynical then you haven't heard about this Japanese politician. 'Japan's new finance minister has claimed that the elderly should 'hurry up and die' to help ease the cost to the taxpayer of caring for them, it has emerged. Taro Aso made the controversial statement as he discussed how to deal with the country's emerging demographic crisis as its population continues to shrink while life expectancy soars.' (Daily Mail, 22 January) RD


Researchers found that patients were almost 10% more likely to die when there were fewer medically-trained staff available. 'It is thought that those being treated in overstretched hospitals are more prone to developing fatal complications and infections because they are not properly monitored. The study from the University of Southampton and Imperial College London looked at almost 70 million records of patients who had surgery between 1997 and 2009. .....They found that across the NHS every year around 28,000 patients died as a result of complications which might potentially have been cured, the Daily Mail reported.' (Daily Telegraph, 22 January) The alternatives seem very clear - be a member of the owning class and get the best possible health care or be a member of the working class and risk the chance of death because of possible lack of staff. RD

Religious Belief

Readers of Socialist Courier may find this article by Jeff Schweitzer on religion of interest.

The human brain manages to make sense of a chaotic world by picking out patterns from the noise bombarding our senses. We don't see the trillions of photons coming into our eyes as pointillist smears of colors; we see trees and forests. We process all of that incessant sensory input and come up with a familiar scene filled with grasses, animals, lakes and mountains. In addition, we are extraordinarily good at matching cause to effect so that we can quickly learn the behaviors necessary for survival. Burning your hand quickly teaches that fire causes pain. Understanding patterns, combined with correlating cause and effect, will save your life.

Unfortunately, this incredible talent for seeking patterns and linking cause to effect has a dark side, too. Humans see patterns where none really exist and cause where only chance reigns supreme. We cannot seem to turn off our pattern-seeking or cause-effect neurons. Sometimes the results are benign: We identify animal shapes in cloud formations or see a human face in a rock cliff or in an outcropping on the surface of Mars. A baseball player wears the same underwear during a hitting streak, believing that the underwear is the cause of his good fortune. These are silly manifestations of our mental abilities, but with no consequence. The dark side appears when we attribute cause and effect falsely in a way that has long-term impacts on our behavior and society.

Religion was born of fear of the unknown, of the drive to control the uncontrollable, of the need to have mastery over one's fate in the face of an uncertain world. The first ideas of religion arose not from any awe of nature's wonder and order that would imply an invisible intelligent designer but from concerns for the events of everyday life and how the vast unknown of nature affected daily existence. To allay fears of disease, death, starvation, cold, injury and pain, people fervently hoped that they could solicit the aid of greater powers, hoped deeply that they could somehow control their fate and trusted that the ugly reality of death did not mean the end. Hope and fear combine powerfully in a frightening world of unknowns to stimulate comforting fantasies and myths about nature's plans.

The human brain is extraordinarily adept at posing questions but simply abhors the concept of leaving any unanswered. We are unable to accept "I don't know," because we cannot turn off our instinct to see patterns and to discern effect from cause. We demand that there be a pattern, that there be cause and effect, even when none exist. So we make up answers when we don't know. We develop elaborate creation myths, sun gods, rain gods, war gods and gods of the ocean. We believe we can communicate with our gods and influence their behavior, because by doing so we gain some control, impose some order, on the chaotic mysteries of the world. By making up answers to dull the sting of ignorance, we fool ourselves into thinking we explain the world. Religion was our first attempt at physics and astronomy.

Of course, the biggest and most wrenching unknown served by religion is that of our fate upon dying. As a matter of survival, we are programmed to fear death, but perhaps unlike other animals, we have the cruel burden of contemplating this fear. Religion is one way we cope with our knowledge that death is inevitable. Religion diminishes the hurt of death's certainty and permanence and the pain of losing a loved one with the promise of reuniting in another life.

But fear of the unknown, fear of mortality and hopes for controlling and understanding nature's course do not represent the only foundation on which religion stands. Another is social cohesion. We are social animals, gregarious by nature. Cooperation is what makes the human animal -- a weak, slow and vulnerable creature -- a powerful force on Earth. But cooperation becomes more difficult with increasing numbers. Some means of maintaining social order is necessary. Early societies soon learned that rules of behavior imposed in the form of rituals enabled large groups of people to live in close proximity. Rituals create norms against which people can readily judge the behavior of others in diverse social settings. Any deviation from the norm is easily spotted and can be quickly addressed. In this way order can be maintained. Notice that modern-day teenagers express their rugged individualism by dressing identically. Any nonconforming outlier would be easy to spot. Religion offered, and offers still, an obvious means of enforcing societal rules by promising a joyous afterlife for conformers or eternal punishment for those who misbehave. Religion is used as a bribe to induce good manners.

Finally, religion was eventually transformed into an important source of raw political power, divorced from any role more benign. If religion is used as a tool to control individual behavior, someone needs to develop those rules and ensure their enforcement. Who better to act as behavior police than religious elders, shamans or high priests? What better way is there to manipulate and bend people to your will than by making up the rules by which they must live? With that influence over the daily lives of every citizen comes power traditionally reserved for city-states and empires, with all the normal trappings, including armies, treasuries and palaces.

Fear of death, the need to explain away the unknown, hopes for controlling one's destiny, a desire for social cohesion and the corrupting allure of power are the combined masters of all religion. We see all of that in the face on Mars.

The full unedited text is here

Burns Night

To some, Robert Burns was a political radical and thinker, a seditious revolutionary and a staunch republican. Research suggests that Burns was an active member of The Friends of the People, formed in 1792 and the first organisation in Scottish history to openly call for universal suffrage for all men, rich or poor. This early proto-democracy movement never really had mass support in Scotland, and was crushed by government forces by 1794. "Robert Bruce's March To Bannockburn", better known as "Scots Wha Hae", was written in response to the trial of the radical Thomas Muir. Thomas Muir sentenced to 14 years imprisonment and deportation to Botany Bay, amongst the charges he was indicted with was singing ‘Ca Ira’ in public, an unofficial anthem of the French Revolution. The last line of Scots Wha Hae is “Let us Do or Die!” - was the oath of the French revolutionaries.

Burns was an advocate of "make love not war" as penned in  "I Murder Hate".
"In wars at home I'll spend my blood-
Life-giving wars of Venus.
The deities that I adore
Are Social Peace and Plenty,
I’m better pleased to make one more
Than be the death of twenty.”

In ‘Address of Beelzebub’ Burns uses satire and has the poem’s narrator, Auld Nick, praising the landlord class encouraging them to actually brutalise their tenants even more than they have been doing.

“And they, be Damned, what right hae they
To meat or sleep or light of day
Far less to riches, power or freedom
But what your Lordships like tae gie them.”

"Man Was Made to Mourn - A Dirge" is a cheerless poem and yet another example of Robert Burn's loathing of the class differences between the workers and the land-owners. Burns once told his brother that "he could not well conceive a more mortifying picture of human life than a man seeking work."  Burns felt it was horrible that a "wight," a human being, needing to earn money and wanting to be useful to people, was able to work only by permission of somebody else -  somebody who could make profit from him! That humiliating and desperate "sentiment" came to life with "Man was Made to Mourn," It shows again his deep compassion for the man trying to find work in order to feed and house his family. Two lines raise it to the level of a modern proverb:
'Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!'

Throughout history, countless thousands continue to mourn as a result of pain, torture, and loss of life inflicted upon them or those near and dear to them--innocent men, women, and children.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Capitalism kills millions in its wars. It starves millions to death amidst plenty, but the awful feeling of helplessness and despair that it engenders in everyday life can only be guessed at by the following statistics. 'The number of people taking their own life in the UK rose "significantly" in 2011, latest figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown. Some 6,045 people killed themselves in 2011, an increase of 437 since 2010.' (BBC News, 22 January) RD


Capitalism is a social system based on slumps and booms and no amount of political posturing by so-called statesmen will change that. 'The number of jobless people around the world rose by 4 million in 2012 to 197 million and is expected to grow further, the UN labour agency warns. In a report, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said the worst affected were youth: nearly 13% of the under 24s were unemployed. It said global unemployment was projected to rise 5.1 million this year and by a further 3 million in 2014.' (BBC News, 22 January) This immense waste of human endeavour is the norm for capitalism. Inside world socialism think of the abundance that these millions of producers could contribute to society. RD

Banking on charity? Don't !

Charities lost a protracted battle against the banks.

The trustees savings banks which operated prior to 1986 had a tradition of charitable giving. When TSB Group plc was floated in that year there were established several charitable foundations. The Deed of Covenant dated 10 September 1986 by which TSB Group plc ("the Company") bound and obliged itself at quarterly terms to pay to the reclaimer the greater of "(a) the amount equal to one quarter of one third of 0.1946 per cent of the pre-tax profits (after deducting pre-tax losses) ... or (b) the sum of £9,730".

Following the banking crisis of 2009 and the takeover of Halifax Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group tried to change the terms of its relationship with the foundation. It wanted to half its donation and put its own staff on the foundation’s board. The following high-profile dispute resulted in the bank and foundation formally breaking their links, which will come into effect after nine years notice.

The foundation should have received £3,543,433 but the bank interpreted the small-print of accountacy rules to mean they were required to only pay £38,920 and has had this upheld by the Supreme Court.

There is enough food

Almost one billion children will be trapped in poverty by hunger and malnutrition by 2025 unless action is taken, a new campaign has warned.

 Kathy Galloway, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said: "In a world where there is enough food for everyone, the fact that not everyone has enough to eat is nothing short of a scandal.

 Actor John Michie, is supporting the campaign. He said: "We need to solve the underlying issues which create global hunger once and for all. People are denied access to land that could produce food. Parents work tirelessly, but still can't afford to feed their children. It's unfair, it's unjust and the truth is it's totally preventable. If we get enough Scots behind this campaign we can make world leaders listen."

Did the politicians listen in 2005 when hundreds of thousands of charities churches and celebrities marched in Edinburgh to "make poverty history"? Did they listen when tens of thousands besieged Bush, Blair and the G-8 at Gleneagles?

Socialist Courier over the years has witnessed numerous campaigns and pleas from well-intentioned folk and organisations but they have always fallen short in identifying the real cause of poverty and  hunger - the capitalist system and because of that failure they mis-direct their policies and solutions to symptoms and not the root of the problem. They repeat red herrings and political baloney. Reformers have wait for crumbs to fall from the overflowing plates of world capital.

  IF a socialist world came about we would be able to stop people dying from hunger immediately and rapidly increase world food production to reach a point where every person on the planet would have free access to sufficient good quality food to maintain good health. It is not a utopian fantasy – but a practical, revolutionary proposition. Let’s campaign for the abolition of capitalism and not misdirect our energies in pleading to politicians.

Part time job - full time poverty

Citizens Advice Scotland warned that the number of people in part-time work is pushing many to the brink of poverty.

Norma Philpott, chief executive officer of Citizens Advice and Rights Fife, said: “We are increasingly seeing people who are struggling to make ends meet because they can’t find work with enough hours. The rise in the number of people coming to us for help accessing food banks and the proportion of people turning to payday loans shows that many people who can only find part time work are being pushed into poverty.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Food for thought

The Toronto Star Business section (1/12/12) reported that US home
improvement giant, Lowes, has offered $1.8 billion to buy Quebec-based
Rona. The idea is that the industry is somewhat 'overbuilt' in Canada,
meaning that the big players got greedy and expanded ahead of the
demand. The "good" thing would be that the takeover would lead to a
store 'rationalization' meaning reduction of the number of stores.
Somewhere in all this jargon is the fact that a lot of people are going
to lose their jobs -- but that's the last consideration when
accumulation of wealth is at risk. John Ayers


The leaking Japanese nuclear plant has led to badly polluted waters around Fukushima, and has led many to be wary of the fish catch in the area. 'A murasoi fish, caught close the the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, is over 2,500 times the legal safe radiation limit for seafood, the plant's operator Tokyo Electric has revealed. ....... The Japanese government has admitted that levels of contamination in the area are very high, but says that high levels of cesium were only detected in fish that are found nearest to the site of the disaster.' (Independent, 21 January) This reassuring statement by the Japanese government must put local minds to rest, but we wonder how many MPs will be having a murasoi fish supper tonight. RD

Depressed Scotland

The number of people in Scotland prescribed antidepressants has reached record levels, with more than one in seven people taking the drugs. There has been a steady rise in usage. There were 1.26 million drugs dispensed in 1993/94, increasing to 5.01 million in 2011/12.

The diagnostic criteria for depression as two weeks of low mood, irrespective of any change in the circumstances of the patient which might have left them feeling down. It even proposes that being low two weeks after bereavement should be considered depression.

Glasgow GP Des Spence argues treating depression like a medical condition is distracting attention from what really makes patients unhappy. "I think we use antidepressants too easily, for too long and that they are effective for few people (if at all)." Dr Spence's  concern about the widespread use of antidepressants is they leave the real reason for someone's poor mood unexplained. He said: "Improving society's wellbeing is not in the gift of medicine nor mere medication, and over-prescribing of antidepressants serves as distraction from a wider debate about why we are so unhappy as a society."


Jeanie Spence (Jute and Flax workers, Dundee), Lamont (National Federation of Women Workers), Agnes Brown (National Federation of Women Workers), Mary McArthur (national leader and general secretary of the National Federation of Women Workers) and Rachel Devine (Jute and Flax Workers, Dundee).
 In 1900 Dundee was associated with one product: jute. Jute was the cheapest of fibres, but it was tough. As such it was the ideal packing material. Jute bagging and jute sacks were used to carry cotton from the American South, grain from the Great Plains and Argentina, coffee from the East Indies and Brazil, wool from Australia, sugar from the Caribbean and nitrates from Chile. Dundee was ‘Juteopolis’ – synonymous with its main industry. This association of place and product was not unusual. We still link Clydebank with ships, Sheffield with steel, Stoke-on-Trent with pottery. Throughout the late nineteenth century, over half of Dundee's workforce worked in the textile sector, which, from the 1860s on, was dominated by jute. Migrant workers arrived in Dundee in thousands. By the end of the 19th century, the city had quadrupled in size. Many of the immigrants were from Ireland, poor and Catholic. Many Catholic Irish immigrants faced discrimination and bigotry in Presbyterian Scotland. They were attacked from the pulpit and in the street. The Irish women working in the jute mills of Dundee were an exception – they were widely accepted.

Raw jute was produced in significant quantities in only one region of the world: the deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bengal in India. And for a short period – long finished by 1900 – Dundee and the surrounding district had a near monopoly on its manufacture. The Dundee jute industry was composed of many firms, most of them carrying out only one part of the process of buying, transporting, manufacturing and selling jute. Big profits were made in jute, but these were invested overseas rather than in the local economy. From the 1870s on, investment trusts launched by Dundee businessmen, channelled enormous sums into foreign investments and particularly into American railway, land and cattle companies. Dundee's ‘jute barons’ preferred to invest in American stocks rather than in developing new industries in Dundee. The result left Dundee dangerously dependent on the jute industry.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Food for though

How capitalism creates war. Japan is beginning to wake up to the fact
that China is a military as well as an economic power as the latter
flexes its muscle in SE Asia. Japan is retaliating by providing its
first military aid abroad since WWII, spending millions on training
troops in Cambodia and East Timor and providing the Philippine Coast
Guard with 10 new cutters worth $120 million. In other words, it is
building alliances against China for future confrontations that would be
called on in the event of military action. Too bad they can't put this
kind of forward thinking into scientific, medical, and educational
activities that would benefit mankind! John Ayers


Every Sunday priests will rebuke society for its greed and trot out the old slogan of "blessed are the poor" and lecture the gullible about the evils of materialism. During the week however the church is a little less noble. 'Behind a disguised offshore company structure, the church's international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929. Since then the international value of Mussolini's nest-egg has mounted until it now exceeds £500m. In 2006, at the height of the recent property bubble, the Vatican spent £15m of those funds to buy 30 St James's Square. Other UK properties are at 168 New Bond Street and in the city of Coventry.' (Guardian, 22 January) RD

Who put the swizz in Switzerland

Statistics say the Swiss are the richest people in the world, with net financial assets of nearly $148,000 per capita. That is a third more than the average for the next two wealthiest nations-Japan and the United States. But the ownership of that wealth, including stocks or physical assets such as land and housing, is much more unequally shared in the nation. 

The top 1 percent in Switzerland control more than a third of the nation’s wealth, which is slightly larger than the share owned by the richest 1 percent in the United States. Switzerland also has the highest density of millionaires in the West, with 9.5 percent of all households having $1 million or more, and the greatest number of ultra-rich families - 366 households worth more than $100 million. Ten percent of all the world’s billionaires live there. The number of super-wealthy foreigners lured to Switzerland has doubled in the last decade, to more than 5,000. Their taxes are based on the rental value of their property rather than their income or wealth, on the condition that they do not work in the country.

Swiss companies accounted for five of the top 10 best-paid chairmen in Europe in 2011. Nestle Chairman Peter Brabeck has accumulated a fortune of up to $215 million. Credit Suisse’s  CEO, Brady Dougan received $75 million stock windfall he received in 2009. The annual list of Switzerland’s wealthiest 300 people published by Bilanz names has Ikea founder Kamprad in first place, at $38 billion.

China's class struggle

More than 1,000 furious migrant workers besieged a factory in Shanghai and held 18 Japanese and Chinese managers against their will for more than a day, after the workers were subjected to unequal regulations. 400 police freed the managers.

The workers of Japanese electronic appliance maker Shanghai Shinmei Electric staged a strike and besieged the factory for two days following the introduction of a new factory policy calling for heavy fines, demerits or immediate termination for workers who made a mistake.

A worker wrote via a microblog about the desperate situation management allegedly put them in. "We earn less than 2,000 yuan a month, but we could be subjected to fines of 50 to 100 yuan for arriving late or spending more than two minutes in the toilet,"

 The National Bureau of Statistics last week revealed the country’s Gini coefficient – which measures income inequality. The official figure of 0.474 is a belated acknowledgment that China has a serious problem. On the Gini scale, 0 is perfect equality and 1 is total inequality – any rating above 0.4 is considered to be dangerous to social stability.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Capitalism is a competitive and complex social system, with major banks and investment companies speculating on which way the market trends will go. 'Goldman made about $400m (£251m) in 2012 from investing its clients' money in a range of "soft commodities", from wheat and maize to coffee and sugar, according to an analysis for The Independent by the World Development Movement (WDM). ..... Christine Haigh of the WDM said: "While nearly a billion people go hungry, Goldman Sachs bankers are feeding their own bonuses by betting on the price of food. Financial speculation is fuelling food price spikes and Goldman Sachs is the No 1 culprit."' (Independent, 20 January) M/s Haigh may condemn such speculation and speak in moral terms about world hunger, but capitalism is amoral and its only goal is profit. RD


If you are a member of the owning class you can afford the best that society can provide. Along with the best food, clothing, housing, travel and education, you can also enjoy the best of medical treatment. If you happen to be a member of the working class you suffer a much different fate. 'Last night, Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said there is poor care "dotted" all over the NHS of the kind that was uncovered at Stafford Hospital. Between 400 and 1,200 more patients died than expected at the hospital due to poor care. Failures at the hospital included patients left in soiled bed sheets and lacking pain relief.' (Guardian, 21 January. RD

O Dear me, The Jute Mill

"O Dear me the World is ill-divided...Them that work the hardest, are aye the least provided"
 The Jute mill song is based on the experience of women workers in Dundee who would work up till they had their babies and then had to scrape a living from pitiful wages. It reflects on the deep inequality in society. It speaks to a great many people then and now on how working for a wage feels like degradation with little to show for it at the end of the day. The lyrics manage to convey the lack of time in the workers life. Wage labour swallows it up and divides it into blurry sections called work and rest. They are always on the clock.

Buying Scotland

Billionaire Danish fashion magnate, Anders Holch Povlsen, has become the second-largest private landowner in Britain with the purchase of the 20,000 acre Gaick estate in Inverness-shire.

 Povlsen already owns the Glenfeshie, Ben Loyal and Kinloch estates, has increased the 43-year-old's land portfolio in Scotland to around 150,000 acres. It is second only to that of the Buccleuch Estates, with an estimated 280,000 acres. He has been criticised in some quarters for mounting a "land grab" of Scotland to take advantage of farming subsidies.

Rob Gibson MSP, a member of the Scottish Government's Land Reform Review Group, told The Herald: "It will be interesting to see what plans this gentleman has in terms of biodiversity and the local community. Some estates are used as private kingdoms by their owners..."

Povlsen, whose family owns Bestseller, the Danish fashion company that last year had a turnover of £2bn, also has substantial farming interests in his home country and owns areas of forestry in Romania.

Drop in pay

The real value of average earnings of all employees resident in East Lothian has dropped by 13.3 per cent since April 2008, new research has revealed. 

The Scottish Borders, the drop was 20.3 per cent.

In Scotland as a whole a 9.5 per cent drop in the real value of earnings

Deprived Scotland

A boy born in the most deprived 10 per cent of Scotland would have a life expectancy of just 68. That is eight years younger than the national average, and 14 years below boys born in the least deprived parts of the country.

 Rates of mortality for heart disease are twice as high in deprived areas, at 100 per 100,000 under-75s, compared with the national average. Cancer mortality rates are 50 per cent higher in poorer areas, at 200 per 100,000.

The number of Scots aged under 25 who are out of work has doubled to 90,000 since 2008, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said.

The report also highlighted the rise in part-time employment, from 70,000 in 2008, when the economic crisis hit, to 120,000 now.

The Scottish Government insisted Westminster benefit cuts were the biggest threat when it came to poverty and inequality. Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The Scottish Government has powers to do a lot now. They don’t need to wait for constitutional change."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Food for thought

In the financial pages of the press it was recently announced that to
remain profitable Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. Would cut 4 500 jobs by
2016. Citigroup Inc., recovering from the financial crisis stated that
it cutting 11 000 jobs worldwide to save $1.1 billion a year in
expenses. For a company to survive it must make a profit and sometimes
that involves firing people. These are the iron-clad laws of capitalist
economics that will never change under the profit system. Insecurity for
all workers is a by-product of it. John Ayers

The Freedom Illusion

Both unionism and nationalism ultimately represent class interests other than our own. A Scottish government will do what the markets demand and be as staunch defenders of capital as the UK government. We all may be Scots, but a few Scots will continue exploiting the majority of other Scots, thieving the labour power of the working people of Scotland. While devolution has brought some benefits, such as free prescriptions and university places, and perhaps full independence may offer a few more concessions, whether independence will make the lives of working class Scots better or worse is a question of the degrees of capitalism. People may vote for separation if they feel it will make them better off but surely we know that this would be one more capitalist class illusion.The Scottish working class is promised a share of North Sea Oil should they vote yes in 2014, but like all modern ruling class politicians, the SNP would fail to make good on any pledge to increase working class living standards. Achieving independence, (even a left-wing republic), is certainly a more “realistic” possibility than expecting socialism to be established but it won’t affect capitalism. Little will change.

An independent Scotland will not be a socialist Scotland, nor would it be on the path to such a thing no matter how much some leftists might argue otherwise. Those who pretend otherwise are simply sloganising and phrase-mongering in support of a "good" nationalism. Talk of Scots being free and ruling themselves is appealing rhetoric which masks the continuation of the class system: the working class will not become empowered but wealth and power will remain concentrated in the hands of a few. The decision-making power of the Scottish state itself will always be subject to the vagaries of the world market of the multinationals or the business strategies the City of London (remaining within the £) or the policies of the EU ("Independence in Europe" a la Greece, Ireland and Spain !!!).

A smaller nation state won’t lead to a smaller and more democracy and it won’t replace representative democracy with participatory democracy. To suggest otherwise is simply naïve.  "Russia could not produce the World Revolution," conceded Maclean, despite his nationalist fervour. "Neither can we in Gorbals, in Scotland, in Great Britain...” He also disparaged the campaign for reforms that appear popular among “progressives" nowadays “Taxation of land or capital, including the Capital Levy, is of no use to the workers.”

Our opposition to independence is based on a class opposition. An independent Scotland would not solve the problems facing the working class. Our task is not  the break-up of existing states but to build the unity of the workers across all borders to abolish nation states. The socialist real idea is to not create your own little national state but for the working people of the world to unite and throw off the shackles that chain them.

 "Man to Man, the world o'er, Shall brothers be"
- Robert Burns

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Food for thought

We are constantly told that 'if you've got what it takes and work hard
you can make a fortune'. One such person who seemed to personify that
attitude was John Letnik, a Hungarian immigrant who came to Canada with
nothing and eventually opened a restaurant called "Captain John's".It
was on a ship in the Toronto harbour. The City of Toronto shut it down
six months ago to make way for a planned park. Letnik refuses to move
and lives on the ship in squalor and vows to go down with it. He spends
his nights sleeping on the carpet and hopes to find a buyer so he can
pay back taxes of $568 000 and 'leave with dignity', a quality that is
in shorter supply than the water the City is promising to shut off. Like
reforms, financial success can be fleeting in a profit society. John Ayers

Fact of the Day

The world's richest 100 people earned enough last year to end extreme poverty for the planet's poorest people four times over, Oxfam said. report

 The net income last year of the 100 richest people was 240 billion US dollars (£150 billion) in its report.

Have cash can travel

The cost of train tickets increased by 3.9 per cent this month  but Scotrail boss Stephen Montgomery won't be too inconvienienced. His pay package rose from £279,000 in 2011 to £333,000 last year, a £54,000 rise, which includes bonuses, a car allowance and National Insurance contributions. The firm, which is owned by Aberdeen-based FirstGroup. His boss Tim O’Toole, head of FirstGroup, stands to pick up share awards of nearly £1m, on top of a basic salary £846,000.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Inside capitalism there is a mad scramble for profits and in that scramble human health or dignity has no place. A recent example is the air pollution in the Chinese capital of Beijing . 'Readings from both official and unofficial monitoring stations suggested that Saturday's pollution has soared past danger levels outlined by the World Health Organization. ..... Air is unhealthy above 100 microgrammes. ..... Official Beijing city readings on Saturday suggested pollution levels over 400. Unofficial reading from a monitor at the US embassy recorded 800. ..........Last year Chinese authorities warned the US embassy not to publish its data. But the embassy said the measurements were for the benefit of embassy personnel and were not citywide.' (BBC News, 12 January) Not only are the Chinese capitalists poisoning their own people they are telling others to keep quiet about it. Big bucks lead to big lies. RD


Desperate for work many Mexicans come to the USA and Canada and work on the farms there. Concerned about migrants settling permanently the Canadian government has very strict rules to deal with this. Only married men are eligible for the Canadian program, preferably those with young children, and their families must remain in Mexico. Another incentive to return home: a cut of the migrants' wages is placed in a Canadian pension fund, receivable only if they return to Mexico. 'Once in Canada, the workers live like monks, sleeping in trailers or barracks, under contractual agreements that forbid them from drinking alcohol and having female visitors, or even socializing with other Mexican workers from different farms. Most of their time in Canada is limited to sleeping, eating and working long days that can stretch to 15 hours, without overtime pay.' (Washington Post, 5 January) RD

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Scotching the myth of independence

Those who control the Scotch whisky industry are overwhelmingly based outside Scotland.

Diageo has more than 35% of the whisky market, and if it can secure control of India's United Distillers, including Whyte & Mackay, that will push up to 40%. Pernod Ricard in France, has around 20%. LVMH, with Glenmorangie, Remy Cointreau, which recently paid a  £58m for Bruichladdich distillery on Islay, and Japan's Suntory which has Morrison Bowmore, control another 20%.

Professor John Kay, the UK's most influential business economist writing in Scotland's Economic Future, claims a mere 2% of the global retail sales value of Scotch whisky ends up in Scottish pockets. The reason is that more than 80% of the whisky distilled in Scotland is foreign-owned and the majority of value of leading brands values is accumulated overseas.

"Value added from Scotch whisky is reported as around £3 billion – about 2.5% of Scottish GDP – but this figure reflects essentially arbitrary transfer prices and export valuations,”
writes Professor Kay, “wages and salaries and purchases of goods and services used in whisky production amount to only about £400 million. To this should be added the returns to beneficial Scottish ownership of whisky-related assets. With retail sales of whisky around the world totalling perhaps £25bn, the Scottish economy appears to derive modest benefit from its most famous product."

The Scotch Whisky Association priorities are not interchangeable with Scotland's because membership is dominated by multinational giants who have no reason “to maximise Scotch for the benefit of Scotland.” Membership is dominated by multinational giants for whom whisky is one category among many, and which are answerable primarily to shareholders, mostly outside the UK. The SWA does represent 95% of the distilling capacity, with 80% of the SWA owned by just 5 companies, the largest of which also provides the Chairman.

Donnie Blair, a former head of strategic affairs for Diageo said  "The industry is neither Scottish nor a success," Blair does not trust multinationals, with more profitable spirits in their portfolios to maximize Scotch for the benefit of Scotland, and is unmoved by statistics about millions invested in new distilleries and other plant – £1bn in four years according to the SWA. "Investments in Scotland are always presented as some kind of favour or gift to the Scottish people," Blair says. "In fact they are a normal cost of doing business, designed to generate even greater profits from Scotch."

Scotland is being used as a production facility. Profits like the whisky, going overseas.

 Economic commentator Alf Young comments "It's extraordinary we're having this debate about independence, and we don't have a debate about the independence of our corporate base".

 In 2011 there were over 2,000 foreign owned companies in Scotland employing over 280,000 with a combined turnover of over £87 billion. Manufacturingaround 70% non-Scottish ownership and control: 10% rest of UK, 60% plus foreign owned.

How can Scotland become truly free? How can Scotland aspire to being a truly sovereign nation? Is Greece independent? Is Spain independent? They have their own elected Parliaments, representatives to the U. N. and other international bodies; but are also beholden to foreign banks from whom they have saddled themselves with billions of dollars of debt. Their financial and social policies is decided by the European Central Bank. All the ceremony of statehood; all the trappings and the pomp - all the form without the substance! The banking moguls understand it. The multi-nationals know it.

 Richard Leonard of the GMB union explains that “the commanding heights of the Scottish economy are externally owned and controlled”. More specifically, he points out that the ten biggest private-sector employers of GMB members in Scotland are all either UK-owned and controlled, quoted on the London Stock Exchange or highly dependent on the whole UK market.  The inevitable conclusion is that political independence will not alter the fact that strategic political, economic and corporate decisions will still be taken in London.

We can admire John MacLean's and James Connolly’s stand against the slaughter of World War One, but their nationalism we cannot accept. It would  be nice if struggles for national independance could magically result in a classless society, but that's, unfortunately, not the way societies progress. Scottish' capitalism is not only tied to the British capitalism but also to international capitalism. Any kind of Scottish state that didn't offer benefits to corporations would see capital flight and a serious drop in its economy -- the Scottish socialist economy is a myth. Nationalism just replaces one set of bosses with another, and also helps to divide the working class. As if an "independent" Scotland would be any less affected by the world slump or being sacked by a Scottish boss be more agreeable. Will a social revolution come about through consitutional moves towards independence?  No! All moves towards independence have entrenched the power of the Scottish elite. The SNP have been bank-rolled by millionaires like Tom Farmer and Brian Soutar.

National independence is a chimera.  Scottish independence is a distraction from building working class solidarity against capitalism.  Nationalism is, at best, a dead-end and, at worst, reactionary. The socialist objective is to liberate humanity, not liberate nations.

Food for thought

An article in the Toronto Star, December 1, focused on the destruction
of the 'beautiful, pristine Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest" in
Wisconsin by Mexican drug traffickers who are using the land to "grow
millions of dollars worth of marijuana and leaving behind their garbage,
poached deer carcasses, fertilizer, and pesticides" Investigators say
that it's likely just the tip of the iceberg. The advantages to the
traffickers are, not having to cross a border and less likelihood of
detection on public lands. In a socialist society the need for
artificial stimulants would be low to nothing as the stress of daily
life in this society would virtually disappear, and the lack of money
and profit would end trafficking and those who work in that field would
be able to make a real contribution to society. John Ayers

law for the rich

Scotland's legal profession is still dominated by a privileged elite, according to the latest figures on admission to university law courses. Fewer that one in 12 entrants to law degrees at Scottish universities comes from a deprived background.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Food for thought

With perfect timing, UNICEF Canada released a brochure entitled,
"Survival Gifts -- Keep a Child Alive. Help a Child Thrive". It contains
a list of forty-five gifts one may contribute to in order for a child to
survive. Typical examples are anti-infection tablets $20, exercise books
$23, clean water kits $28, malnutrition relief bundle $30, child
survival kit $44. It's easy enough for anyone with any love for humanity
to contribute but to do so helps maintain the status quo that causes the
very problems we are being asked to solve and as long as no one
questions the status quo, children will continue to starve and die from
malnutrition and preventable diseases. The best thing anyone can do is
to work to remove the cause of all poverty, including child poverty. John Ayers


A sure-fire election winner for aspiring politicians is to be seen as supporting families. Get photographed kissing babies or hugging mothers is a godsend at the polling booth, but the reality behind this schmaltz is far different. 'Soaring energy bills are forcing one in four mothers to turn off their heating in the depths of winter in order to afford food for their children. Fuel poverty is resulting in thousands of families resorting to wearing extra clothes and using blankets in their homes. More than half of families turn off the heating in their houses when the children are out, while 45 per cent of adults keep warm using blankets or duvets during the day, according to a survey. ..... A shocking 23 per cent of families are already having to choose between buying food or using heating, according to a survey by the Energy Bill Revolution campaign.' (Daily Mail, 6 January) Warm shows of affection by politicians wont heat up your kid's bedroom. RD

All Out or All for Socialism?

RMT general secretary Bob Crow, Unite leader Len McCluskey and civil servants’ union PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka have backed a general strike. TUC delegates voted last year to look into holding a general strike in 2013. POA assistant general secretary Glyn Travis, whose union pushed the motion, said he was “upbeat” about the discussions so far. It is clear though that those trade union officials are talking about a one-day token gesture,  a glorified day of protest, rather than a revolutionary challenge for power. Even if union executives were to set the wheels of a strike wave in motion, the rank and file would be woefully unprepared for it. The strike would be seen by many as simply another day’s pay lost. The government would have little to fear from a 24-hour stoppage and it would just be a matter of "business as usual" the next day.

The Chartists in Britain were the first raised the question of a general strike. They called it a National Holiday and the Holy Month. In the writings of James Connolly and Tom Mann it was syndicalism and industrial unionism that would express the power of the workers at the point of production and by the general strike take over society. It would also provide the framework for the future workers’ republic.

In the case of the preparations for a General Strike in the UK in the period 1919 – 1921 despite the detailed planning, several hundred local Councils of Action were formed, a National Council of Action formed by the executives of trade unions and organisations affiliated to the Labour Party was called to arrange a general strike. plus extensive support among workers, the trade union leadership of the day were able to sabotage the entire project. When the circumstances had changed and the previous preparations had disappeared, the 1926 General Strike was relatively easily defeated with long-lasting set-backs for working people. The Greeks and the Spanish  have had a number of general strikes recently. What has been accomplished and what are the lessons? Austerity has continued, if not intensified, despite those general strikes.

The very question of such a momentous stage in the struggle against capitalism, needs lengthy discussion and the clear presentation of the successes and failures such strikes have had. For if such an idea is not already being widely discussed and absorbed among the organised and unorganised workers it has little chance of occurring. Plus if it has not become widely accepted by the majority that such a step is possible and practical, its consequences could be self-defeating. People will not enter any industrial struggle unless they can envision what a victory would look like and hold a belief that an alternative policy is both feasible and available. An ill-prepared or poorly supported general strike could be an enormous self-inflicted defeat for the working class. Empty sloganeering gets us nowhere. If we are to build towards a general strike, we need to lay foundations in every workplace and every community and we need to ensure that no one is under any illusions that this will be an easy fight.

Importantly, it should be noted that 24 hour general strike would be evidence of the potential power and organisation of the working class and the level of organisation beforehand that would be required to make it a carrying it off a success would indicate a rise in political consciousness to independently organise.  But after 24 hours everyone would have to go back to work and the question would be "What now?" An indefinite general strike to challenge for political power in one form or another? Who really believes the  working class is currently in a position to issue such a challenge and prevail?

It is simply impossible to end capitalism by trade union militancy alone. Engels wrote to Laura Lafargue (Marx's daughter) "whenever we are in a position to try the universal strike, we shall be able to get what we want for the mere asking for it, without the roundabout way of the universal strike" As Luxemburg asserted: "In reality the mass strike does not produce the revolution, but the revolution produces the mass strike."
 Our aim is not a general strike but advancing the organisation, consciousness and power of the working class movement which will require an effective potent working class political party, built on solid foundations of the workers themselves, and confident of the success of the practical and achievable objective of socialism.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Food for thought

Recently, Andrew Weaver, a scientist at the University of Victoria, BC, said, We are losing control of our ability to get a handle on the global warming problem. "One wonders when we ever had that ability in capitalism's pell mell dash to make profits regardless of the consequences. In 2011, 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide were pumped into the air from burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. That amounts to 2.4 million pounds per second, according to the journal,
"Nature Climate Change". Most carbon stays in the air for a century so it's unlikely that signatories to the Kyoto agreement can keep temperature increases to two degrees centigrade. John Ayers


In recent years Spain has been struggling with a dramatic economic crisis, leading to an unemployment rate of 25 per cent and massive evictions. 'Spain's housing market collapsed in 2008 after a housing bubble, hurting the economy and causing a homelessness epidemic. As a result, more than 50,000 delinquent Spanish homeowners were evicted in the first half of 2012 alone, and 1 million homes lie empty in Spain, according to Reuters.' (Huffington Post, 3 January) These evictions have led locksmiths in Pamplona refusing to carry out evictions. This move they think could essentially stop evictions in Pamplona because even if the police kick a family out of their home, the evicted can still get back in if no one has changed the locks. This desperate move is doomed to failure. The only solution to the problem is a new society of world socialism. RD

Against Nationalism

 Socialists assert the primacy of the working class struggle over all others. The working class has no allies among the capitalist of any country. The battle lines may not be clearly demarcated in this era of media sound bites and dis-information but there is no question that the real struggle is between capital and labour. That is the bottom line. It is time to return to basics. There are no common interests between workers and their exploiters, whatever flag is waved.

An independent Scotland would not be a socialist Scotland.  To think otherwise is to encourage the myth that there can be a Scottish road to socialism. In calling for a spoiled referendum paper in 2014 we are in no way shape or form endorsing unionism. We are arguing that the only way forward for workers in Scotland and across the world is through the fight for socialism.

For a "nation" to arise there had to come first the development of private property, of social classes, rulers and ruled, masters and subjects. First arose the State, the chief general system of control used by the master class against the subject classes. The State must have definite territorial boundaries. If there is no private property there can be no State; if there is no State, there can be no "nation." The State is not the product of the "nation," the "nation" is the product of the State.

States may be characterised according to the class relations that mark the system of production expressed by the State. Thus, there may be slave States, feudal States, capitalist States. The feudal States were run by a given clan of a tribe that had become differentiated into masters and serfs bound to the land owned by the ruling family. Feudal States, in their backward economic relations, were unable to be national States and could evolve so only when capitalism, with its markets, commerce, towns, money, written records, and corresponding development of the circulation and production of commodities, could unify the country. Capitalist States are under the control of business mainly merchants, or by industrialists, or by bankers all operating in the capitalist market.

Fundamentally, it is not decisive just what kind of government is actually established or who actually gives the orders - whether workers, peasants, land-owners, small shopkeepers, lawyers, war lords, or such - what is important is: Who rules whom? What class is basically the beneficiary of the State's rule; that is, who is the real boss? And that is the capitalist.

 We do not advocate nationalism but people in socialism have to, in the end, direct their own lives and administer the places where they live. But those will not be countries.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Amidst all the carnage of the Middle East in recent years we were led to believe that noble ideas like democracy and freedom were at stake, but it seems something less noble was up for grabs. 'The Iraqi government is spending billions of dollars to restore the country's military power but analysts say arms purchases won't peak until 2020. And Baghdad, angry about the slow delivery of U.S. weapons systems, may well switch the emphasis of its procurement program to Russia, the Czech Republic and possibly even China, to speed up amassing firepower for its military forces.' (United Press International, 4 January) Billions of dollars of armaments is a lucrative market and you can be sure there will be fierce competition between nations to grab as much as possible without any concern about such things as democracy or freedom. RD