Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sick Society

PRIME Minister David Cameron and former Prime Minister Tony Blair have been arguing over whether British society is deeply sick or just a bit off-colour around the fringes.
For once Cameron is right, British society is deeply sick and the rot comes from the top. The disease is capitalism and it divides the human race into the ruling class who have endlessly increasing wealth, comfort and ease at the expense of the working classes face lives of increasing poverty, debt, drudgery, unemployment, poor housing, poor education and lack of opportunities.
Under Blair’s government working people did get some amelioration in the social wage, better public services, access to higher education — though it was Blair who introduced student tuition fees.
There was a complex network of support services for the disabled involving benefits and services from the NHS and local government. It was often a fight to get it but it was a legal entitlement.
There was access to legal aid to secure justice, not just in criminal cases but in housing, benefits, family law and immigration. There were advice centres for working people to direct them and support them in getting grievances resolved.
There were youth services and dozens of inner-city projects aiming to steer young people away from street crime while their debt-enchained parents were forced to work so many hours they were left with little time for their children.
It was still a very unequal society and the wealth gap was growing steadily.
But the thousand-and-one services smoothed off the worst of the rough edges and made it just about tolerable. And workers on the whole just want to get on with their lives and feel secure from one day to the next. It takes a lot of pain to drive them to contemplate either rebellion or revolution.
But Cameron’s cuts — way beyond what was necessary to deal with Government debt and driven by right-wing Tory ideology — are supplying that pain. For a long time workers in Europe or even the United States would wonder at how passive and resigned the British working class has been, how much they have put up with that would have sparked anger and uprisings elsewhere. In other countries such measures as car clamps and street CCTV cameras never worked because they were automatically vandalised by outraged citizens as soon as they appeared.
Blair’s education policy of sending hundreds of thousands of young people into universities — ultimately at their own expense — gave people the illusion that they could rise in society and become middle class. In reality it was a way of keeping unemployment figures down and at the same time ensnaring young people into a lifetime of debt and passivity.
Both Blair and Cameron are promoters of the obscene proposition, dominant now throughout the global ruling classes, that poverty is a choice — that the poor are too lazy to make the most of their lives and their misfortunes entirely of their own making because they have “the wrong attitude”.
Dozens of self-help books promote this idea, telling people they must keep a positive (meek and acquiescent) attitude, change everything about themselves to fit in with what their capitalist bosses want, give their whole lives over to work and wealth will inevitably come their way. When this fails to happen they are told it is they who failed — not that they have been failed by capitalist society.
Cameron’s approach sweeps these illusions aside. His cuts are pure, ruthless class war. And they hurt the most vulnerable in society.
Young workers can see that those at the top — the bankers, MPs, top police officers, the Murdoch set — are all in it to make as much money as they can for themselves and to keep it to themselves. They can see how sick this society really is at the top.
They are a couple of generations away from the levels of class consciousness of the workers who built the trade unions, created the labour movement and fought for state welfare but they are starting to learn.
Those who are being hastily imprisoned for their role in the recent riots — 90 per cent of them have neither a job nor a place in higher or further education — will come out a lot less naïve than when they went in. For a start they’ll find a way to deal with street CCTV cameras.
But it is up to us to help them achieve a proper class political perspective, the importance of education, agitation and organisation — not just to defend themselves from ruling class vindictiveness but to go on the offensive against our truly sick ruling class.

Rough Justice


by Daphne Liddle

THE RECENT RIOTS IN London that spread throughout the country gave the ruling class a scare. And now the bourgeois state machine, through the courts, is responding vindictively and handing out draconian custodial sentences to hundreds of people — most of whom were first offenders.
More than 2,770 people have been arrested in connection with last week’s riots; 1,277 suspects had appeared in court by last Tuesday and 64 per cent had been remanded in custody, compared to the 2010 remand rate of 10 per cent for serious offences. And two young men have been sentenced to four years in prison for using Facebook to incite a riot that never happened in Cheshire.
Paul Mendelle QC, who used to chair the Criminal Bar Association, told BBC Five Live: “When people get caught up and act out of character, in a similar way, there is a danger that the courts themselves may get caught up in a different kind of collective hysteria — I’m not suggesting violence or anything like that — but in purporting to reflect the public mood actually go over the top and hand out sentences which are too long and too harsh.”
There have been calls for rioters who are council tenants to be evicted and the London Borough of Wandsworth has already served an eviction notice on the family of one rioter. Similarly they are calling for rioters who are on benefits to be cut off.
These proposals are in total opposition to the international convention on human rights, which bans collective punishments — punishing a whole family for the offence of one member.
And it also puts council tenants and benefit claimants in an unequal position before the law. They would be liable to a far harsher punishment than someone not a council tenant or claimant who is found guilty of an identical offence.
Rendering people homeless and destitute is a very harsh punishment — even mass murderers in prison get food and a roof over their head.
The civil rights group Liberty said: “We fail to see how leaning on magistrates to lock up youngsters and evicting entire families — innocent siblings and all — from their homes — is justified.
“Crude spite is flawed, both in theory and practice, and will lead to more prob lems than it solves. Shutting down entire phone and social media networks — punishing innocent users and those warning others of violence — is as useless as it is disproportionate.”
Prime Minister Cameron has defended the harsh sentences and claims that the courts are acting independently. But the Con-Dem Coalition and the media are exerting heavy pressure on magistrates, many of whom have been sitting day and night trying dozens of cases with little rest. What they are dishing out is anything but carefully considered justice.
And we are seeing staggering levels of hypocrisy from the Con-Dems. A letter in last Tuesday’s Evening Standard accused London Mayor Boris Johnson of breaking shop windows during a Bullingdon Club binge. And Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has a conviction for youthful arson.
But these are minor offences compared to the vandalism against the fabric of our society being committed by the cuts this government is making for ideological reasons and that are worsening the country’s economic position by closing down so much economic activity.
The Con Dems and the media claim that the soft approach to dealing with delinquent youngsters is the cause of the “break down in society”. But the opposite is true.
It is no coincidence that there were no riots under the Labour government but that when we get a Tory-led government that implements savage social cuts we do get riots.
In previous centuries London had a long history of rioting and the London Mob was famous for it. It largely disappeared in the last century as the state welfare system grew in response to demands from the organised working class and labour movement — the sort of benefits that are now disappearing.
The riots have never been a race issue, they are a class issue. Various bourgeois pundits have ascribed them to poverty and to culture but they avoid the use of the “c” word — class.
They are the inarticulate anger of the true proletariat — those who have nothing to lose but their chains and no means of making a living except by selling their labour power on a fragile and temporary basis in a market rigged against them.
The fact that some better off opportunists joined in the looting does not change this.
The tragedy is that these young people are so inarticulate, have so little political perspective and are not yet organised. But they’re learning fast.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Youth rebellion explodes

New Worker editorial

TORY governments and inner-city riots seem to go together. And everything that David Cameron has done since he came to power just over a year ago has laid the grounds for the spontaneous explosions of youth anger and rebellion that have rocked London and now other major cities in Britain.
The job cuts, the benefit cuts, the youth service cuts — and the police cuts have swept away all the carefully constructed but fragile bridges and pathways out of poverty and deprivation that community members, youth workers, advice and counselling services had been constructing since riots of the 1980s.
Now today’s inner city youths are right back where their parents were a generation ago with no present, no future and being bullied by the state.
The police in their turn have their morale at rock bottom. The Con-Dem Coalition praises them and gives words of support while stabbing them in the back with job cuts, funding cuts and swingeing cuts in civilian support services. Then the Met Chief Constable, Sir Paul Stephenson and his number two both resign under allegations of bribery and corruption — and another police chief in Cleveland is suspended under allegations of corruption.
Public respect for the police has plummeted and the lower ranks are feeling the brunt.
The Government also swept away some of the regulations regarding stop-and-search and disgruntled young police officers have been using thus tactic to make a life a misery for youth throughout London — especially black youth.
The killing of a young black man in Tottenham last Thursday — followed by rumours that he had been shot while on the ground, sparked anger. The Independent Police Complaints Commission immediately began an inquiry. After literally hundreds of deaths in custody, the community knows that the role of the IPCC is to keep all information suppressed until the victim is forgotten by all but the grieving family. And after the cases of John Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson they do not trust the police.
But police at Tottenham police station could have defused the whole situation last Saturday if they had consented to a serious discussion with the family and supporters at the peaceful protest there. Instead they remained in their fortress for hours until a rumour began that a police officer had struck a teenage girl at the protest. Then everything exploded.
This is a rebellion, not a revolution. It has no leaders, very little political consciousness, no focus, no structure and no direction. The young rioters have not yet struck the ruling class with anything except fear. They have hit a lot of petty-bourgeois shopkeepers and some people in their own communities have been made homeless.
Mostly the youngsters seem elated at the helplessness of the over-stretched police to stop them and making the most of it while they can to grab some of the consumer goodies they thought they would never be able to afford.
It is not a race riot — black, white and brown youths have been running together. Their parents are Afro-Caribbean, Nigerian, Somali, Indian, Pakistani, Irish, every community you can think of. And their parents are bewildered and afraid. Mainly they are low-paid, very hard up inner city workers who lead lives of debt-saddled drudgery and deprivation.
But there are extreme right-wingers who will try to portray it as a “race war” and there is a danger of right-wing vigilantism.
And there is a much bigger danger. In the enclaves of the ruling class now and officers’ messes up and down the country there will be heated debates about what a hopeless milksop that Cameron is and plans being formed to step in.
Cameron has few options. He does not have enough police to enforce a curfew — and that would upset business in our 24/7 cities. The army is too small and mostly abroad fighting unnecessary wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. He does not have enough water cannon or people trained to use them.
Even worse, probably at the moment many members of the public, politically naïve, would welcome a “strong” force to intervene and “restore law and order” and we could wake up with a new Government that is fully fascist and racist before the organised Left has got its socks on.
One thing is certain, the police absolutely now must ban the provocative EDL march planned for 3rd September through the Muslim communities of London’s East End.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Threat of Police State

By Daphne Liddle

PRIME MINISTER David Cameron has authorised the use of water cannon and rubber bullets to quell the youth rebellion that has spread throughout the country.
Following a meeting of the national security council Cobra, Cameron said that police throughout the country are being issued with baton rounds (rubber bullets) and will have access to water cannon at 24-hours notice.
Meanwhile the Con-Dem Coalition claimed on Wednesday morning that flooding London’s streets last night with 16,000 police officers succeeded in preventing a fifth consecutive night of disorder and looting throughout the capital – though looting and arson continued in Canning Town, Barking and Tottenham.
Cameron made no attempt to disguise his hatred and contempt of the young rebels, referring to a “part of our society” that has “no respect”.
This is rich coming from a man who has, unprovoked in any way, for the past five months rained terror and mayhem down on the innocent citizens of Libya.
And after the parliamentary expenses scandal, the Murdoch media corruption scandal, the resignations of Met chief Sir Paul Stephenson, and his deputy, from their positions at the head of the Metropolitan Police, it is hard to know who these young people are supposed to feel respect for.
And when they see before them the unrestrained greed of the top bankers who take billion pound bailouts from the taxpayers and pocket most of it themselves in bonuses – while they face huge cuts in their living standards and life prospects – it is not hard to understand that the hatred and contempt between those at the top of our society and those at the bottom is mutual and growing.
This is not a race issue – young people of every race and ethnicity are involved and united. It is a class issue.
Cameron can count himself lucky that most of these young people have little political awareness, venting most of their anger in looting big stores and those of petty bourgeois retailers.
Violence erupted on Saturday evening in Tottenham four days after the shooting of a young man suspected of drug related offences. Initially the police claimed the man had been killed in an exchange of gunfire.
Now we know that only one bullet was fired, the one that killed Mark Duggan and then ricocheted into the radio of one of the police officers present. Some say that Duggan had been dragged from the minicab by the police and thrown on the ground before being shot.
The family of Mark Duggan and supporters wanted answers from the police and held a peaceful demonstration outside Tottenham police station. Police ignored their demands to speak to a senior officer for over four hours.
Then, after rumours that an officer had struck a teenage girl protester, the violence exploded. As more joined in it turned to looting. And as police seemed unable to stop it young people throughout the capital saw that police were unable to stop them and went out to share in the rebellion.
The Labour Representation Committee issued a statement, giving the background to the young people’s anger: “In March Haringey Council approved cuts of £84 million from a total budget of £273 million. There was a savage 75 per cent cut to the Youth Service budget, including: closing the youth centres; connexions careers advice service for young people reduced by 75 per cent; and the children’s centre service reduced.
“Haringey has one of the highest numbers of children living in severe poverty, and unemployment in the borough is among the highest in the UK. In London as a whole, youth unemployment is at 23 per cent….
“In Haringey, you are three times as likely to be stopped and searched if you are black; and over two-thirds of those stopped are under 25.”
Some are already suggesting that slowness of the police in tackling rioters in London while allowing fires to get a firm hold before making it safe for fire engines to approach was part of a hidden agenda to stampede the general public into accepting more draconian powers to repress all forms of protest during the
chaotic times ahead as the economy of western capitalism crumbles.
This week’s events demonstrate how quickly Britain’s passive and demoralised young working class can change their mood once they get a little confidence. But the only protection against the vicious backlash to come is to turn their anger into organised resistance that can end the whole rotten system once and for all.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Defending the right to protest

By New Worker correspondent

Campaigners showed their support for arrested students and anti-cuts protesters outside Westminster City Court in London on Saturday. The protest was organised by the Defend the Right to Protest campaign in support of those arrested at Fortnum & Mason occupation in Piccadilly during the TUC anti-cuts demonstration on 26th March and students arrested on the previous anti fees protest.
Activists were told by a senior police officer during the Fortnum & Mason occupation that they would not be detained if they ended their occupation. But they were promptly arrested when they left the building. Police later confirmed that the arrests were for intelligence gathering purposes.
The police originally charged 138 people with aggravated trespass. All their mobile phones, which contained details of secure networks and email accounts used to mobilise and organise actions, were confiscated.
The Defend the Right to Protest campaign is demanding that all prosecutions brought against protesters be dropped and that an inquiry be held into the process that has led to punitive sentences being meted out by the judiciary to those already convicted.

News roundup

RMT on Bombardier ‘fit-up’

RAIL UNION RMT last Tuesday issued a fresh call for the Government to reverse the decision to award the Thameslink fleet contract to German company Siemens in preference to Bombardier in Derby as the union revealed that over £15 million of taxpayers’ money was spent on advisers engaged in the tendering process.
RMT is calling on the National Audit Office to include the advisers and consultants costs in their investigations into the contract – particularly as these well-paid advisers totally failed to include the wider costs to the British economy in the tendering evaluation despite the fact that it is standard practice in other European countries.
The latest scandal around the Bombardier fit-up comes hot on the heels of evidence last week that the Government could simply rule out Siemens as preferred bidders without any comeback whatsoever as a result of the company’s track record globally of being involved in corrupt business practices.
There is no reason why the Government could not now award the work the only remaining and approved bidder, Bombardier in Derby.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “The news that over £15 million of taxpayers’ money has been soaked up in advisers and consultants fees to oil the wheels of the Bombardier stitch up just adds insult to injury.
“This is money that could have been invested in defending train manufacturing jobs in the UK instead of filling the pockets of City consultancy spivs. It’s time to bring this whole shabby exercise to a close and for the Government to step in and award this contract to the Derby work force. We are sick of the catalogue of excuses from various ministers and we are demanding urgent action.”

Rickshaw congestion warning

THE TRANSPORT union RMT last week warned that central London will be “jammed solid” with unlicensed and dangerous rickshaws as we head towards Olympics, with the authorities refusing to lift a finger to clampdown on the unregulated trade.
RMT London Taxi Branch has a clear position of opposition to rickshaws in London and last month RMT parliamentary group convenor John McDonnell successfully objected to the TFL London Local Authorities Bill at Second Reading – specifically on the grounds that it would lead to the continued proliferation of unlicensed, unsafe rickshaws clogging up central London.
This was an important and significant victory in the battle by RMT Taxi Branch to end the London rickshaw trade all together.
Now the RMT is demanding urgent action to clear the rickshaws off the busy streets of the capital before there is a fatality.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “There is a very real danger that the whole of central London could be clogged up with unlicensed and unregulated rickshaws in the run up to the Olympics if the authorities don’t get an urgent grip on the situation.
“Alongside the threat to the livelihoods of our licensed taxi branch members there is also the threat of serious injury to unwary members of the public who have no idea that they are climbing into uninsured and unregistered vehicles on London’s busy streets. We have heard reports of rip-off fares of as much as £50 for a journey of a few hundred metres.
“Our taxi branch is demanding action now before this chaotic situation spirals out of control and we will be leading a campaign on the streets and in Parliament to raise public awareness of the rickshaw threat and to force the authorities to end this trade before we have a tragedy on our hands.”

London nurse wins landmark equal pay case

THE PUBLIC sector union Unison helped a nurse win a landmark equal pay claim against City & Hackney Teaching Primary Care Trust.
The Trust failed to justify Gloria Emmanuel’s pay being lower than her male comparator’s, a maintenance supervisor.
The first test case in the equal pay claims against NHS Trusts – of whether employers can justify paying women less than men under the old Whitley Council pay system – will have implications for thousands of claims being pursued.
Bronwyn McKenna, assistant general secretary of Unison, said: “This is a landmark case that should send out a clear signal to employers that it is not right to pay women less than men….
“Women are bearing the brunt of the Government cuts, as well as facing a rising cost of living. It is unfair to force women to take home less than a man for doing the equivalent job.
“This victory will have implications for thousands more NHS women workers’ cases.”