A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Labour caves in to racist bigotry

Most contenders for the leadership of the Labour Party think that a failure to take a tough line on immigration cost the party the general election. They blame Labour’s inability to engage with voters’ “legitimate concerns” over the issue. Even the editor of the left-leaning Prospect magazine last week urged Labour to become the “anti‑immigration party”. For some on the left, Labour’s capitulation to anti-immigrant sentiment is inexplicable. But Labour has a long history of bending to such ideas—and it does so because of the nature of the party. Governments’ approach to immigration is often shaped by the needs of the bosses—which they describe as the needs of “the economy” or “the national interest”. Labour accepts this idea of a “national interest” and sees its role as managing the capitalist state. In reality this means backing up the bosses—and working class interests get crushed. Labour has also swallowed the argument that workers have fixed racist views, and thinks it has to be too in order to keep votes. Looking at Labour’s history shows how this plays out in terms of immigration. The ruling class has a contradictory attitude to immigration, shaped by the economy and the racism that is inherent to their system. So, following the Second World War, the British economy was in dire need of more workers. Labour governments helped to recruit thousands of people from the Commonwealth to work in the “mother country”. But by the late 1950s British capitalism’s desire for labour was abating.

The Tories and right wing press demanded immigration controls. In 1962 the Conservative government passed a law that sought to block black migration into Britain.
By accepting that black people were a problem, the Act legitimised the views of every bigot. Initially, Labour leaders promised to repeal the legislation if they returned to office. But this opposition didn’t last. Some in the Labour Party began to argue that, if they joined the anti-immigrant clamour, it would block the right from being able to mobilise around it. They also accepted the idea that anti-immigrant feeling was widespread—and worried about losing votes. During the 1964 election twice as many Labour candidates mentioned immigration in their election addresses as the Tories. One Labour candidate even issued a leaflet warning, “Large-scale immigration has occurred only under this Tory government. The Tory Immigration Act has failed to control it—immigrants of all colours and races continue to arrive here.” This gave credibility to the idea that immigration controls were a way of maintaining the “national character”. After Labour’s capitulation, the clamour for ever-tighter controls grew. Following Labour’s re-election in 1964, the party rushed through ever more restrictions—which made racists bolder.

In 1968 Tory MP Enoch Powell made an infamous speech predicting that “rivers of blood” would flow in the streets unless immigrants were repatriated. Labour’s response was to rush through a new immigration bill to stop Kenyan Asians with British passports from entering Britain. This fed prejudice and undermined the basis of Labour’s support by boosting the right—the Nazi National Front increased its vote. When Labour was in office in 1976, immigration officers at Heathrow airport secretly forced Asian women to undergo virginity tests. Labour was against the Tories’ Nationality Act from the opposition benches in the 1980s. Yet it didn’t repeal the Act when it was re-elected. And in its 13 years in office, New Labour made life harder for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Its 2009 Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Act aimed to “strengthen border controls to ensure that newcomers earn the right to stay”. The Act ended the right of people to apply for citizenship after five years’ residence. Gordon Brown introduced the poisonous slogan of “British jobs for British workers” and used the points‑based immigration system to make it harder for non-EU migrant workers to come here. Immigration minister Liam Byrne in 2007 said that immigration had “deeply unsettled the country”. Many Labour Party members, and some Labour MPs, are rightly disgusted at the party for caving in to racist arguments. We will work with these people in campaigning for the rights of migrants. But Labour accepts the framework of capitalism—and that’s why it fails to stand up for migrants.

Youth job lambs to slaughter

The latest unemployment figures saw those looking for a job top 2.5 million, unemployment of 16-17 year olds rise by 4.4%, and the number of economically inactive reach its highest ever levels. But neither the Conservative nor the Lib Dem wing of the new government has proposed serious measures to provide jobs for workers and young people facing the brunt of this ongoing crisis. Instead the headlines are £6 billion cuts in public services to reassure the 'markets', code for multi-billionaires like George Soros and co. But why is it a priority to reassure the wealthy fat cats and not unemployed young people? During the election campaign, an unemployed young woman called Vicky Harrison committed suicide because of the hopeless situation she felt confronted by, after receiving over 200 job rejections. How many more young people feel in a similar situation? How much more are they in need of reassurance than wealthy hedge fund managers who only noticed the recession because their bonuses were five figures rather than six. We were abandoned by Labour during the onset of the recession, and the Tory/Liberal coalition is not going to change that situation.

The Conservatives during the general election talked about abolishing the Future Jobs Fund. Youth Fight for Jobs criticised this scheme because it did not offer permanent jobs, only six month placements, often on the minimum wage. Because of their temporary nature, they were likely to be low skilled, and more fundamentally did not ultimately change the employment outlook. The number of vacancies is dropping (now at 475,000) while the number of unemployed increases. This scheme has already created anger amongst young people forced onto it, many of whom will undoubtedly welcome its abolition. But signs are that the Conservatives will introduce schemes which are less useful than that. According to the Financial Times: "The Tories promise to create 400,000 apprenticeship or training places and give smaller companies a £2,000 bonus for every apprentice hired but have made no pledge to continue Labour's £1 billion in Future Jobs Fund."

During the 1980s, Thatcher's government reacted to mass unemployment with the Youth Training Scheme (YTS), but its inadequacy in providing a real way out for young people provoked mass opposition, including school student strikes involving 250,000. As Seumas Milne, commentator, says: "The prospect of ... Iain Duncan Smith dragooning the sick and jobless into privatised cheap labour schemes is a sobering measure of the new reality." This sort of scheme could provoke a reaction comparable to the protests in the mid-eighties. Benefits are widely expected to be "reformed" ie cut, and used to force people into schemes that will not benefit them. Big attacks are already expected to continue in further and higher education. Many young people have continued in education, or re-entered, to gain skills and avoid the thankless task of chasing non-existent jobs. But cuts in colleges and universities will still go ahead, while many young people are worried about attacks on grants for those in colleges (EMA for 16-19s, ALG for those above 19). Further down the line, the cap on university places remains in place and the threat of university fee increases. Many young people voted Liberal Democrat because they were seen as an alternative to the main political parties, especially because they promised eventually to scrap university fees.

However, the details of the coalition deal make it clear that the Liberal/Tory coalition will definitely not abolish fees, and most likely will preside over increases in charges for students, with Conservative and Labour MPs voting them through. The only thing that would stop them are cynical calculations in order to cling onto power in the face of organised mass opposition. This coalition will implement Conservative attacks on young people and the unemployed - the attacks that were found in the manifestos of Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems. The new cabinet is two-thirds private school, two-thirds Oxford and Cambridge university educated, with multi-millionaires well represented within their ranks. Youth Fight for Jobs will continue to organise for a mass fightback, for a programme of job creation to solve the problems of unemployment, for free education to allow people to develop to the best of their abilities, and for a living wage that will allow those in work to live a decent life.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Reject the millionare government

Other than a Tory majority this Conservative-Liberal coalition is the worst possible outcome of the general election, since it is the most effective platform available for cuts, austerity and unemployment. Cameron and Clegg tell us that the coalition has been formed ‘in the national interest’. That’s the code phrase for their own class. The façade of equality within the coalition projected by making Clegg Deputy Prime Minister is a deception perpetrated by a Tory leadership which was determined to get their hands on the reins of power by any means necessary. It is an embrace of death which is already tearing the Lib Dems apart. In return for the trappings of office the Lib Dems have decided to underpin a reactionary coalition and sign up to the onslaught on jobs, pensions and services which the Tories have been preparing. The cuts agenda and deficit reduction are the cornerstones of this anti-working class coalition. Yet in the election campaign the Lib Dems supported Brown’s approach to the crisis, which was for a limited level of government stimulus (and quantative easing) in order to maintain demand in the economy for another year. This was inadequate, and did not avoid cuts, but it had temporally cushioned the crisis — though it was based in the illusion that the economy would recover next year and that the working class could then be made to pay the bill.

However this was an important difference which would have kept more people in work and created better conditions for a fight back. It has now been junked in favour of Tory proposals for an immediate £6 billion slashing of public expenditure with much more to come. This can only make the economic situation worse and a full-scale double-dip recession more likely. The backdrop of crisis across Europe throughout the election period should have served as warning on this. There was rioting in Athens and so-called ‘contagion’ was threatening Spain, Portugal, and Italy. To this mix was added fresh instability in the banking system and the markets and the threat by Sarkozy to pull France out of the Eurozone unless Merkel accepted the EU’s €750bn bailout fund for the single currency. The Lib Dems capitulated to the Tories knowing that there was alternative deal with Labour and the nationalist parties on offer — the so-called progressive alliance. This was not a project that we would have called for or supported but we are not neutral on whether the Lib Dems line up with the Tories or against them even though neither of these parties represents the interests of the working class. Caroline Lucas put it well, saying that neither side was progressive and that she would have supported any measures put forward on a case by case basis. For the Lib Dems this represented a spectacular betrayal of their own principles.

The Labour offer held out a real possibility of replacing Britain’s bizarre and corrupt electoral system, which has under-represented them for so long, with some form of Proportional Representation (PR). This is something which the Lib Dems have correctly called for over many years. It would completely change the scandalously anti-democratic “first past the post” system which deprives millions of voters of representation in parliamentary elections. It does not represent workers’ democracy, of course, but it is an extremely important working class democratic demand. A Labour-Liberal coalition would have been a less effective platform for cuts which is one of the reasons the Lib Dems gave for rejecting it. Such a government would have come under massive pressure from the media to implement a cuts agenda. It is true that the arithmetic was tight with the Labour option and that it would probably not have lasted 5 years. But it could have lasted long enough to ensure that the next election would not be under the “first past the post” system. What the Lib Dems have ended up with is a coalition in which all the cards and the key ministries are in the Tories’ hands. The Tories have offered them a referendum on the Alternative Vote system. It is not PR since it is not proportional and is arguably no better than first past the post since it would have no effect on the constituencies dominated by Tory or Labour inbuilt majorities which are the distorting factor in the first past the post system. One thing the Lib Dems extracted from the Tories was early legislation on fixed term Parliaments. This would mean that the next general election is scheduled to be on Thursday May 7th 2015.

This is a very important electoral reform measure in itself, although five years is too long for a government to hold office. Its purpose in these circumstances is a good illustration of the Lib Dems’ cynicism. They wanted to make sure that the Tories did not use them to get into power only to spit them out again when they thought they could win a full majority. The outrageous proposed change of parliamentary procedure to require 55% of the vote to pass a motion of no confidence in a government is another example of the Lib Dems’ desperation to be in office. Whether these safeguards can guarantee a stable government for five years of economic distress and attacks on the working class is another matter. There are some limited progressive measures in the deal between the parties: the abolition of identity cards; the postponement of the inheritance tax relief and a rise in capital gains tax. Most of the rest of the coalition agreement is Tory policy. Trident, the one issue on which the Lib Dems were out of step with establishment politics, is to stay. There is an unspecified commitment to raising the tax threshold, which is sure to be kicked into the long grass. It is also clear that a substantial rise in the regressive VAT is in the offing. On immigration the Lib Dem proposal for an amnesty after 10 years has been junked in favour of the reactionary Tory proposal for a cap on non-EU immigration.

One of the vile features of the election campaign was the repeated racist attacks by both the Tories and Labour equally over their amnesty proposal. Behind these attacks was the bankrupt attitude which rendered all three main parties unable to tackle the far right during the election campaign other than to compete with them on how many migrants they could stop coming in and how many they could throw out. This makes them directly responsible for the advances made by the BNP and UKIP in the campaign. The reason why both the BNP and UKIP won worrying scores at the national level was because the main parties insist on competing with them rather than opposing them. The war and the environment were marginal issues in the election campaign and nothing has changed with the coalition agreement. The Lib Dems have also collapsed on nuclear power. The Tory policy of a new generation of nuclear power stations is coalition policy with the Lib Dems having the right to abstain when it comes to a vote. The agreement is against a third runway at Heathrow and other London airports — but there is nothing about Boris Johnson’s proposal for a new airport in the Thames estuary. The most divisive issue facing this coalition government is that of the European Union (EU). It means the Euro-sceptic Foreign Secretary William Hague sitting in Cabinet alongside life-long EU enthusiast Lib Dem ministers. The agreement not to go into the Euro zone in the current Parliament and a referendum on any transfer of powers to the EU is unlikely to contain this issue even inside the Tory Party.

The coalition is hugely controversial in both of the parties involved. The right-wing of the Tory party regards it as a sell-out as do most of the rank and file of the Lib Dems. This means that the coalition will come under massive pressure once the decisions on cuts start to be taken particularly since neither party has a mandate from the electorate for the cuts they are intending to make. Labour is already indicating that it is unlikely to oppose the cuts in general but may object to some of the details. They say they want to be a ‘responsible opposition’. This would be a scandalous capitulation to the concept of “national interest” peddled by the Con/Lib Dem coalition and the media but it is in line with the way they have governed and fought the election in the interests of business. The performance of the left in the election was a disaster. It is true that the two great positive outcomes of the election were the defeat of Nick Griffin in Barking and the election of Caroline Lucas in Brighton. We congratulate those involved in both campaigns. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) result was weak. It made no impact on the election at national level and is unlikely to be the basis for anything after the election. Respect polled far better than any other part of the left but lost its MP and most of councillors. It will need to regroup and revisit its strategic approach. The need for an effective party to the left of Labour remains a crucial element of the fight back. One lesson this the 2010 election is that the left should redouble its effort to create a united and pluralist party of the left.

This makes the response of the trade unions to the situation of first class importance. Most unions have so far remained largely passive in the face of cutbacks. This has to change as a matter of urgency. The unions must demand that gaps in the budget created by the banking crisis are tackled through the cancellation of Trident; ending the war in Afghanistan; withdrawal from Iraq and energetic collection of taxes from big business, the banks and the rich. As a minimum corporation tax should be raised back to at least the levels levied under Thatcher and the key demand for a million green jobs supported. We must seek to build a mass campaign in the trade unions and Labour Movement to press for the rapid implementation of progressive electoral reform based on PR. The Labour movement must also rally against the dangerous slide towards racist, anti-immigrant policies. Years of the unions trailing meekly behind Blair and Brown have brought us to the very brink of a Tory government. Only the movement of the working class and the creation of an effective coalition against the cuts can save the working class from fresh, massive and damaging attacks.

Bitter bite of Tory cuts

We are now getting an early taste of just what Tory Britain will be like and it's a bitter taste indeed. For all of those who argued that there was no point in a Labour vote at the recent general election, it should be a sharp lesson. There is no doubt that new Labour was far too close to the Tories and Lib Dems in its policies and there's certainly no doubt that we were never about to see a social revolution brought about by Vladimir Illyich Brown. But the butchery that we are seeing brought into existence now is far more extreme, far more drastic and far quicker and less thought out than anything projected by Labour, so much so that that tens of thousands of people are facing harm to their lives that could have been avoided or at least postponed and more vulnerable to trade union pressure had there been a Labour government. In a matterof days, Tory Chancellor George Osborne and his Lib Dem henchman David Laws have dreamed up £6 billion of cuts to land on us all within a few weeks in an emergency Budget that shows all the signs of being more like a butchers bill than a logical programme. Lofty talk about not cutting front-line services begs the question of whether such front-line services can function without the administrative and technical backup that allows them to get on with the job and, of course, they can't.

The Lib Dems appear to have undergone a Damascene conversion to cuts that, not a fortnight ago, they were damning as over the top and irresponsible. Evidence of things to come is seen most clearly in the NHS, which has been instructed by the Department of Health to set aside a £2 billion pot to pay for one-off costs such as redundancies. A DoH spokeswoman said that "2010-11 will be the last year of significant growth for the NHS. "The NHS will need to plan now so it can continue to deliver service and quality improvements in the future. But with £2 billion worth of redundancies facing the service, that will be a damned sight more difficult to do than to talk about. Rather than "service and quality improvements," we can expect to see jobs go in the thousands and, when jobs go in a labour-intensive NHS, service standards will inevitably go with them. And that's not even counting the jobs that will have to go to pay for the £2 billion that is to be spent on the cutbacks. It's a downward spiral which will be difficult to halt, because the effects won't only be felt within the service. Taking up to 36,000 staff out of the service and onto the dole queues will remove a huge chunk from the spending power that manufacturing, wholesale and retail trades rely on. Shunting tens of thousands onto benefits will have an equally calamitous effect on public expenditure, which will then result in this cuts-mad and callous government attempting to slash the bill by restricting the amount of and access to benefits. With the same thing happening across the public sector, all the signs then point to the much forecast and much dreaded double-dip recession.

This brutal hacking back of the economy is so potentially damaging that it's impossible to forecast where such a downward spiral would end. The coalition of the ungodly clearly believes that the private sector will somehow recover and plug the gap created by the public-sector massacre, with new jobs appearing out of thin air, created by a market revived and fertilised by government largesse to the rich and the entrepreneurial. But faced with a manufacturing sector that is dying by inches and a consumer market crippled by job losses, how this would happen is beyond the understanding of mortal man. Not, apparently, by the Bullingdon butchers aided by their Lib Dem chums. It's just that no-one has yet explained how the conjuring trick is going to work. While the nation was swept up in the furore of the general election, the local elections sneaked by without a bat of an eyelid. Although some might argue that ultimate power lies at No 10, this doesn't mean local councils are mute when it comes to how to spend their government-allocated money. Just as there's a national budget, each local authority has its own mini-budget too. And many councils make their most progressive changes when coming head to head with an opposition government. So for Labour voters there's hope yet. Not only did left Labour MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott increase their majority in the general election, Labour fared remarkably well in the locals.

Let's go through some of the statistics. Labour has gained 415 seats on councils since the last election, increasing its number of councillors to 2,945 - its best performance since the party's landslide victory in 1997. Labour has also gained control of 17 councils across the country, 10 of which are in London, bringing the total number of local authorities under its control to 40. Out of the 23 councils that Labour retained control of, it gained seats in 20, made no change in the two local authorities of Manchester and Preston and only lost seats in Stevenage, losing just three councillors. It is also the only party to have complete control of any council in the country, with the two London authorities of Newham and Barking & Dagenham, where it fought off the BNP threat. By contrast, the Tories lost a number of councils, most notably those to Labour in the London boroughs of Ealing, Harrow and Enfield. The latter has long been seen as a young, up-and-coming Conservative stronghold compared with its neighbour Barnet - a traditional stuffy Tory borough that won't be going red for some time. Not only was Barnet Margaret Thatcher's old stomping ground during her time as MP for Finchley & Golders Green, its current mayor and Assembly Member for Barnet & Camden Brian Coleman once described Haringey as a place "where respectable folk have to lock their car doors as they drive through it." And let's not forget the well-publicised comments of Barnet's Mill Hill Councillor John Hart, who said of Marxists that they "were the laziest bastards on Earth."

Former Barnet Council leader and newly elected MP for Finchley & Golders Green Mike Freer defended Hart's comments by saying Hart had formed his opinions "when he used to work with Marxists at his university's student union." The local polls also saw Labour gain control of 13 local authorities which previously had no overall control, including Camden and Islington in London and Coventry and Doncaster elsewhere. What's interesting this time around is, aside from it being far from a landslide Tory victory in the general election, Labour has done extraordinarily well in the local elections, particularly in London," said Keith Flett, socialist historian and chairman of the TUC in Haringey. In 1997 the Tories were practically wiped off local authorities but this time around, at a time when Labour has had a lot of bad press, the party has actually become the ruling party on many councils. I see this as being a key battleground over the next year. Working people have voted Labour because they don't want Tory cuts." In Haringey Council in north London there were just a few seats separating the Liberal Democrats and Labour, which has run the council for over 40 years. In the wake of bad press following the child protection failings that led to the death of Baby P, everyone thought the Lib Dems might just clinch the public vote and rule the council. But Labour support in the poorer east of the borough was unwavering and, instead of the Lib Dems winning three seats to gain control of the council, they lost three. Flett added: "You ask any Afro-Caribbean living in Tottenham how they voted and they will reply: 'We vote Labour' - and that's all there is to it. "People's intelligence goes beyond the expectations of the sensationalist tabloid media to the extent that voters realise that the death of Baby P has very little to do with party politics." The tabloids might think they can bend public opinion at will, but you can bet The Sun was left nursing a bruised ego following the Tories' underwhelming performance.

Despite getting the full backing of the biggest-selling newspaper in Britain, despite the Iraq war inquiry and despite Gordon Brown's howling gaffe of calling a pensioner a "bigot," the Conservatives still could not muster enough support to win an overall majority of the vote. In fact they did appallingly considering the circumstances - showing that local people were not fooled by the tabloids' ranting. Deputy leader of Haringey Council and Tottenham Hale Councillor Lorna Reith believes the local electorate did not buy into the press reports surrounding Baby P. "The issue of children's safeguarding and baby Peter didn't come up on the doorstep," said Reith. I think those residents who were particularly concerned had probably followed the stories in the press and were aware that our Ofsted report in January showed we were making good progress. In 2006 borough turnout for the local elections was just under 36 per cent and this time it was 60.3 per cent. A higher turnout is usually beneficial to us." Even the Lib Dem leader in Haringey Robert Gorrie had to confess he was not surprised that Labour won again. "Disappointing, yes. Surprising, no," he said. "The Greens and Conservatives again won no seats and, as such, the Lib Dems remain the only alternative to Labour in Haringey." Perhaps turnout was a key factor here. Local elections are not normally held on the same day as general elections, which means that in some areas double the number of people voted at the locals compared with 2006. Could this be a sign that the majority of people in the country who choose not to vote would vote Labour if it came to it?

Robin Wales was re-elected as Newham Council's mayor with a staggering 64,748 votes - a majority of nearly 50,000 over the second-placed Tory candidate. The borough is led by the mayor and cabinet and got the largest swing to Labour in the country. "Across London the results show that the Labour vote held up well," he said. "Although the national result was disappointing, winning back London councils is a real achievement. Clearly the general election turnout was beneficial because it made it more likely that our voters would turn out to cast their vote. And London voters have had first-hand experience of a Tory administration through the Mayor Boris Johnson - the results indicate they don't like what they've seen. In Newham we got the largest swing to Labour in the country and this suggests that we benefited from more than just increased turnout. For example, we've got the biggest range of free events in London, we give all primary school children free school meals and last year we made £12 million available for locally directed projects." A Labour Party spokesman added: "We are very proud of the hard work and dedication from our Labour teams across the country, which meant we took back control of a number of councils. Once people see the reality of Conservative or Lib Dem councils, they are keen to return to the progressive policies of the Labour Party." Britain will certainly be seeing the reality of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition all too soon, as the parties of the right formulate their slash-and-burn policies. Lessons will have to be learnt - but the tragedy is that we'll be learning the hard way.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Fall from grace of yellow Tories

How far the Lib Dems have sunk is debatable. Some say that they were pretty low on the food chain even before their distasteful deal with the Tories for a seat or two at the big boys' table. But the distance of their fall is measured in the fact that the yellow-blue coalition held its first Cabinet meeting yesterday, but Deputy Prime Minister and groveller-in-chief Nick Clegg is only going to his members to seek approval of the deal on Sunday. Tough luck if you happen to be a member whose last possible ambition was to climb into bed with the Tories, but that's the way it goes with these most undemocratic of democrats. Chairman of the party's federal conference committee Duncan Brack even had the brass neck to claim that, "in holding this special conference, we are demonstrating again that we are a democratic party which listens to and trusts its members." Stable doors and horses, Mr Brack. No harm in getting used to the doublethink that the Lib Dems have to keep working on if they are to keep even a vestige of self-respect, one supposes, but Mr Brack really ought not to be wasting the two-faced flannel on his own members. They can see as easily as him which way the wind's blowing. It remains to be seen if they have any more spine than their parliamentary colleagues demonstrated. And the wind's blowing in a very chilly direction as far as anyone who thought that the Lib Dems had any trace of progressive credentials is concerned.

Gone is the opposition to any "like-for-like" Trident replacement. In its stead is a commitment to the continuation of Britain's nuclear weapons status, with just the sop that Trident replacement will be judged on value for money. No matter how much the posh chaps at the top wriggle and writhe, that certainly wasn't the rank-and-file Lib Dem understanding of the position.  As far as civil liberties are concerned, ID cards are certainly going and good riddance to them, but new blue-yellow Home Secretary Theresa May's first utterance was "more police on the street and less paperwork for them to fill in." Suggestions of the old "sus" laws spring immediately to mind, with all that implies for black youth in the inner cities. In the new Cabinet, the cracks have started appearing even before the first week has ended. New Business Secretary and Lib Dem economics guru Vince Cable has taken a public slapping down by George Osborne. No sooner had rumours started circulating in the City that Mr Cable was to take responsibility for the reform of Britain's banks than the phone calls were made and Mr Osborne leaped in to quash the rumours. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills had said that Mr Cable would jointly chair a Cabinet committee which is to determine the shape of the UK banking industry.

But Mr Osborne put an end to all that nonsense, briskly stating that the Treasury was going to remain in charge of banking policy and the financial services sector and that he would be chairing that key committee. That was a short old rise to glory, wasn't it Vince? To cap it all came the coalition's so-called accord on National Insurance. The deal worked out put paid to any pretensions that the Lib Dems might have had to positive policies. Under it, the bosses won't face Labour's proposed rise in National Insurance contributions, but the workers will. Progressive, it ain't. And it's all put into perspective by the suggestion that the coalition will legislate to raise the threshold for a successful no-confidence vote in Parliament from the traditional 50 per cent-plus-one level to a new 55 per cent mark. Not a lot of trust there between the so-called happy partners, it would appear. It's not difficult to discredit this lot. In fact it's rather like shooting fish in a barrel. But it remains to be seen if Labour can ditch its new Labour losers and reform itself into a fighting progressive force to oppose a new generation of warmongering, cutback-obsessed profiteers, this time outside their own ranks. We live in hope. So it would appear that the people have spoken and the Tories and Lib Dems have not listened to a single word they said - as is usual. For it is a completely and absolutely reactionary government that now holds the reins of power. The Lib Dems, who made such a play of being neither Tory nor Labour, but something completely different, have shed their protective coloration and come out in the open for what they are, at least in their national leadership, just plain old closet Tories.

The tens of thousands of people who voted Lib Dem in this, and indeed in many previous elections, just to keep the Tories out, have been discarded and their views ignored by a Lib Dem leadership which, sniffing at a couple of seats at the top table, jettisoned everything that they claimed to believe in to get a taste of it. And in country constituencies, many of which have seen resounding battles between Liberals and Tories and in which the Labour Party regularly comes a poor third, what choice now faces the Lib Dem voter? The answer is, precious little. They can now vote for the yellow Tory or the blue Tory and that isn't going to please them in the slightest. And what of the thousands who voted Lib Dem because that party's policy on Trident was better than anything else on offer? That particular policy hasn't been exactly prominent in the posh chaps coalition's utterances so far and merely including it in a spending review will convince no-one. Then there's Europe. Granted that Tory scepticism on Europe wasn't for the best of motives, how will William Hague sit with the Europhiles in the Lib Dem fold? Again the answer is brief. Not very well. All in all, it would seem that the Lib Dems have just committed a very public act of hara-kiri in the pursuit of a few seats in the second rank of a Tory government. Not that that need concern us very much.

They were always the acceptable face of Toryism anyway, and their pronounced anti-trade unionism will probably be a good fit with the Tories as they nestle into their new blue-yellow brotherhood. And brotherhood it most definitely is. The lack of little except white men in suits - with the exception of Theresa May, whose policies seem to be more anti-women than pro - is the most evident thing about the Cabinet line-up so far. So what does this mean for Labour? Well what it should mean is that the battle for the centre ground, which was always new Labour's flagship strategy, has failed dismally and that should mean the unmourned end of the dismal new Labour project. It should mean a return to policies to benefit working people and an end to the nonsense about being the "natural party of business" and all the class-collaborationist drivel that was spouted during the Blair-Brown era. But the new Labour clique don't give up that easily and there are already signs that they are regrouping and preparing to put up yet another set of candidates for the vacant leadership slot who will dance to the City's tune whenever the bell rings. This quite simply cannot be allowed to happen. With the new unity of declared and previously undeclared Tories that this improbable coalition represents, it would be unthinkable to to try to approach Parliament with anything other than a progressive platform of policies clearly differentiating Labour from the Libservatives.

New Labour has failed, even in its own limited terms, and it is time for the trade unions and the other organisations of the working class to flex their underused muscles and warn that only a radical and progressive opposition will succeed in toppling this government. It's time for Labour to remember its roots, to rebuild its relationship with the labour movement and to abandon the pale impersonation of a government for suburbia that it has adopted for so long. There is a huge fight on cuts and jobs coming and it has to be won. And if Labour hasn't the belly for that fight, it will be fought without, or in spite of, them.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Moral crisis in the Catholic church?

"A scandal crying out to heaven." This is how dissident theologian Hans Küng described the widespread revelations of the physical and sexual abuse of children and adolescents by Catholic priests, nuns and brothers in the US, Germany, Ireland and other countries. That someone who remains a Catholic, despite repeated clashes with the authorities, can portray the situation facing the church like this gives an idea of the scale of the issue. Many of us might have preferred him to use the more alliterative and accurate "crime", but the tenor of his criticism is clear. As a result of the revelations, and the role of leading church institutions in attempting to cover up the abuse, Catholicism is going through one of the greatest crises in its 2,000-year history. Trust in the church's leadership, already shaky in many of these countries, has effectively collapsed as a result of the failure of bishops and cardinals to deal with the abusers. And now the scandal has prompted an unprecedented leadership crisis, with the pope himself under scrutiny. For the current pope, Benedict XVI, used to be Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who between 1982 and 2005 was prefect of the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Formerly known as the Inquisition, this organisation is supposed to discipline priests who violate the church's moral or theological doctrines.

But far from disciplining those accused of abusing children, Ratzinger appears to have been at the forefront of a concerted effort to conceal his priests' crimes. In an open letter to the Catholic bishops, Küng accuses the pope, in his previous role as head of the Inquisition, of presiding over a universal cover-up of clerical abuse. Küng writes, "There is no denying the fact that the worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger." He continues, "During the reign of Pope John Paul II, that Congregation had already taken charge of all such cases under oath of strictest silence. Ratzinger himself, on 18 May 2001, sent a solemn document to all the bishops dealing with severe crimes, in which cases of abuse were sealed under the secretum pontificium, the violation of which could entail grave ecclesiastical penalties." Prior to his elevation to cardinal, Ratzinger was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982. Numerous claims of clerical abuse in Bavaria date from this period, but although Ratzinger was responsible for disciplining his priests, he never reported the claims to the civil authorities. He wasn't alone. Ratzinger was one of many bishops, archbishops and cardinals across the Catholic world who acted to prevent allegations of maltreatment by priests from being aired in public.

In Ireland the leader of the Catholic church, Cardinal Sean Brady, has admitted that in 1975 he forced two boys, aged 14 and 15, to swear an oath of secrecy and not reveal what a paedophile priest had done to them. Most legal systems acknowledge that children cannot be taken into custody and intimidated into making statements or swearing oaths. But apparently not the Catholic church. The 2009 Murphy report outlines the role of the Irish church in covering up child abuse. It summarised the church's motives as follows: "The maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities." This could be pretty well applied to Ratzinger, who as pope now sits on untold wealth in the Vatican. But what were the cases with which Ratzinger and his fellow bishops and cardinals were linked? They included that of Monsignor Bernard Prince, who was sentenced in 2008 by a court in Ontario to four years in jail for abusing 13 boys between 1964 and 1984. In 1991, although allegations had been brought to the attention of his bishop, he was appointed to a post in Rome. This happened on Ratzinger's watch.

The year 1985 saw the case of Californian priest Stephen Kiesle, a self-confessed child abuser. The bishop of Oakland wrote to Ratzinger for approval to defrock him. Ratzinger replied that although the reasons for the bishop's actions were clearly of "great importance", the bishop also needed to consider the welfare of the priest and the church. Two years later he was indeed "reduced to lay status", but in the intervening two years he worked as a volunteer on a project in the Bay Area where he was once again accused of abuse.

But the church didn't simply cover up the abuse. It failed to protect the victims in the first place. And its frequent response to allegations was simply to move the perpetrator to another job. This often had the effect of facilitating further abuse, since the priest in question could simply take up where he left off, safe in the knowledge that his punishment wouldn't amount to much more than this. In countries like Ireland, where the church and state were closely intertwined, to describe this simply as a "scandal" is to let all those involved off the hook. A criminal conspiracy might be a better description of what took place. Because it wasn't just ordained priests who carried out the abuse. Religious "congregations" like the Christian Brothers were deeply implicated in claims of physical and sexual maltreatment, especially in Ireland where some 18 of these congregations were either in charge of children in education or in residential care (the Brothers of Charity and the Sisters of Charity). In Ireland, the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (known as the Ryan Commission after its chair) found that 80 percent of males whose claims of abuse were investigated were in the care of the Christian Brothers, in primary and secondary schools and in the infamous "industrial schools", which the order was paid by the state to run. The Ryan Commission report is worth reading, if you have the stomach for it.

This commission was established in 1999 to hear evidence of abuse from people who allege they suffered abuse in institutions. These included the industrial schools of Artane and Letterfrack, in which the children were little better than slave labour; boarding schools and orphanages run by congregations like the misnamed "Sisters of Mercy"; and of course the infamous "Magdalene laundries", where women who'd had the temerity to become pregnant outside of marriage were forced to live out their days in drudgery. For a small country (with a population of 4 million) the statistics contained in the report are shocking. Between 1914 and 1991 some 170,000 Irish children passed through some 261 institutions run by religious congregations like the Christian Brothers. Of these children, some 35,000 alleged maltreatment, with 1,700 giving evidence of abuse. Over half of these involved sexual abuse. Some 800 religious figures were directly implicated. But, aided and abetted by right wing politicians, the congregations have mostly managed to evade compensation claims from the victims, and so far have only paid out a fraction of their liabilities. Why was the sexual abuse of children by clerics and others so widespread in both church institutions and in its so-called "pastoral" work? Certainly, the church's role in education and social welfare, especially in Ireland, but in other countries as well, placed its priests in day-to-day contact with children. But this doesn't explain why their crimes were so prevalent.

The explanation is complex but involves a historical examination of the relationship of the hierarchy to ordinary Catholics - a relationship which increasingly demanded obedience and subservience - and the changing views of the church on human and sexual relations. All of these combined to produce a toxic cocktail that is finally being challenged. Catholicism might have started out as the religion of the poor, but by the Middle Ages the church had accumulated enormous wealth. To preserve this wealth, the Catholic church introduced rules of celibacy. This had nothing to do with the teachings of Christ. The rationale was that if priests could not marry and have children, the wealth would remain concentrated in the church's hands. The growing distance of the church's leaders from their followers, and its changing material circumstances, had an effect on its ideas. Increasingly, humanity was viewed as inherently sinful and in need of "spiritual guidance". The most positive qualities of human beings - the power to create and the ability to love - were transferred to god. And the more powerful god grew, the more humanity itself was demeaned as sinful and base. In what became a neat justification for the rule of celibacy, human sexuality was decried. The reality of two adults enjoying each other's bodies was seen as subverting god's power, on the basis that passion and conjugal love detracted from the humility required to "devote oneself to Christ".

As a result, the clergy made a virtue of their own celibacy and spiritually elevated themselves over the rest of humanity - simply because they claimed not to have sex. This was always a lie, of course, but it was the product of a set of ideas in which sexuality was seen as sinful and demeaning. The distortion and repression inherent in this ideology had a terrible impact on the most vulnerable people in the church's care - children. The notion that sex was "an occasion for sin" contributed to an atmosphere of repression within the church. The furtive secrecy this engendered meant that abusing priests tended to target those who were most vulnerable. Young people were particularly at risk because they could be silenced. And moreover, even though only a minority of priests raped children, those who did knew that they would be protected by vows of secrecy designed to protect both reputations and assets. All of this means that the hierarchy's silence on clerical child abuse was not because of a few "rotten apples". It was a conspiracy by an institution that has consolidated its power through the ages by demeaning real human feelings, while at the same time accumulating wealth by the most hypocritical means. As a result, we know that clerical child abuse has a long history. But in the modern age the alliance of the church and state in many countries resulted in a burgeoning of the power of the church which added to the impulse to dominate and abuse, physically if not sexually.

The role of the church as an agent of social control meant that maltreatment of the people in its care became a weapon, a means of exerting power. Nowhere was this more true than in Ireland, where the church already played a central role in education. This pre-dated independence, going back to the 19th century and the divide and rule policies of the British. But once the Irish state was established, the church's power and prestige were further enhanced. The nationalist movement which ousted the British was steeped in Catholicism. The policy of the party which came to dominate the new state, Fianna Fáil, was that there should be a "Catholic state for a Catholic people".  In part this reflected the class position of both the leaders of Fianna Fáil and the Catholic hierarchy - they shared an interest in ensuring the working class of the new state was obedient, both before the pulpit and before the institutions of the new state. It's also reflected the fact that anti-Catholic prejudices and practices were a central aspect of colonial policy in Ireland, so to an extent the ending of British rule represented the beginning of a new freedom for Catholicism, and the hierarchy took advantage of this. But the boost to the power of the church represented by its domination of education and health in Ireland was also owed to the fact of the relative underdevelopment of the country and the refusal of its elite to fund decent welfare services.

As a result, what should have been a voluntary organisation was transformed into an arm of the state. The extent of shared confessional values at the top of society hastened this process and provided a key role for the church in acting as an arm of the state to control and police the poor. And this was crucial. For the state, the church played a vital role in ensuring the obedience of children, both in "normal" education and in the industrial schools. And for most of Ireland's history, the bulk of the children in both these categories were poor. A child could end up being placed in an industrial school simply for playing truant. The Christian Brothers who ran these institutions despised their charges. "What are they but illegitimates and pure dirt?" one Christian Brother remembered being told by his superior. The children were constantly told that their families were "scum", "tramps" and "from the gutter". These were the circumstances in which abuse was effectively legitimised. The strength of the links between church and state in Ireland is testified to by the fact that as late as 1996 church control over primary schools was guaranteed by the Dáil (parliament) in a bill brought, ironically enough, by a Labour minister for education, Niamh Bhreathnach. And this was at a time when extensive revelations about clerical child abuse had already begun to emerge. In other words, the church's role in education was seen as such a given that even the social democratic left didn't dare challenge it.

But the erosion of the church's authority, from the 1980s onwards, allowed revelations of abuse to accumulate and eventually come to the surface. Ironically, this erosion of authority was in part a result of the resurgence of the Catholic right in Ireland in the 1980s. They won a key referendum, on abortion, and successive plebiscites on the introduction of a limited form of divorce resulted in defeats for the liberals and the left. But these victories for reaction prompted a backlash that at first was subterranean. It was also muted by the extent of emigration during these years, as many left, prompted mainly by economic considerations, but also by disgust at the outcome of the various referenda. It's difficult to be certain, but the campaigns around abortion, contraception and divorce - especially since they centred on matters related to sexuality and human freedom - probably encouraged survivors to feel they could begin to come forward. Greater awareness of individual rights may also have helped. And the decline in vocations to the priesthood also weakened the church. But whatever the initial reasons, the church was soon faced with a crisis in one of the countries where its position had seemed unassailable. It's not that Irish people never knew anything about what went on in the schools, orphanages and laundries. They did, and they talked to one another about it. Every family has its own stories. I heard a story about someone, who shall remain anonymous, schooled by the Christian Brothers, and on more than one occasion watched as they lost control of themselves and lashed out at a fellow pupil for some minor misdemeanour.

This person's mother went to the now infamous Goldenbridge Convent, run by the Sisters of Mercy. When this person was a child, she used to terrify them with stories about the nuns' treatment of the girls, and especially the orphans, who of course were entirely within these women's power. The main theme of these stories was cruelty and, while much of it was petty, there was often a sexual element as well. The worst aspects weren't mentioned, merely hinted at. In part at least, this person's mother was trying to make the point that however badly they thought they were treated at school (this was the 1970s), her experiences in the 1950s were far worse. Of course, for much of Ireland's history people's attachment to the Catholic church and its rituals wasn't simply based on fear. The poverty of the country, and the hardships faced by large numbers of working class people, meant that for many the church provided comfort and solace. In addition, the influence of the church over so many different spheres of life ensured there was little practical opposition to the often-expressed credo that "outside the Catholic church there is no redemption". And this was the problem. Most people thought there was nothing you could do, and no one thought of telling anyone that might be able to do something about it, because they didn't believe they could, or would. That's not necessarily the situation today. But the church and its allies are fighting back.

In a throwback to the era before widespread revelations emerged, they have attempted to dismiss the allegations (and thereby the evidence) of abuse as "gossip". Unbelievably, they have also tried to equate the sexual abuse of children with homosexuality, claiming that the abuse was restricted to a small number of gay priests. Their strategy has involved a number of other themes as well. One of these is to invoke charges of anti-Catholicism and try and portray themselves as the victims. Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, an aide to the pope, set the tone, telling reporters, "This is a pretext for attacking the church... There is a well organised plan with a very clear aim." The church's other strategy is to identify liberalism and secularism as the problem, rather than the criminal practices of abusive priests and those who have protected them. According to this view, the priests involved may be guilty of sin, but liberals and secularists are guilty for encouraging freedom and discussion about sexuality, which confused these poor celibates and led to the unfortunate incidences of abuse. This stance conveniently ignores the fact that sexual abuse by clerics predates the post-Vatican II era, though conveniently enough for the church relatively few of these cases will come to light. All of this means that the outcome of the debate is not a foregone conclusion. But bitterness at the abuse runs deep. Catholics were led to believe that they could trust their priests and religious figures, and the abuse of that trust - in every sense - has seriously undermined the church. The problem for them is that every new set of revelations about the failure of the hierarchy to act, and the involvement of the Vatican, stokes the bitterness. Survivors' protests have been a potent symbol of this, with many holding aloft children's shoes as poignant symbols of the vulnerability of the victims they and others like them once were. These protests are a constant reminder of the church's iniquity and a threat to its power.

But there have been more significant repercussions as well. In Ireland the teaching unions have been polling their members on church control of schools. One such poll, conducted by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, showed that over 80 percent of primary teachers believe the Catholic church should relinquish control of some or all of its schools. The poll came as the department of education drafted an initial list of ten to 12 urban areas where it believes the Catholic church could divest itself of some schools. This list will be sent to the Catholic bishops next month. A move to end ecclesiastical control over education would be a serious blow to the church in Ireland, and one that every socialist would welcome. The pope himself is unlikely to get off lightly. He has attempted to head off allegations of abuse in Malta by visiting the island, whose population is one of the most devoutly Catholic in the world. From his point of view at least, the visit seems to have been a success. But it is unlikely that his reception in Britain when he arrives here in September will be anything like as warm. There have even been calls for his arrest. Whatever happens, his reception is certainly not going to be anything like that afforded the previous pope, who visited Britain in 1982, well before the current crisis began to break. For the former Cardinal Ratzinger, that must feel like a long, long time ago. The Pope has stated that homosexual activity is an evil threatens the future of the human race. I would have thought that all the kids put off sex for life by the most efficient paedophile organisation in the world which doubles as a religion would have had a much more devastating effect.

Democracy is dying

So that’s what “democracy” means. Every five years or so we vote – and that’s the end of it until the next election. Of course, having a vote is certainly better than not having one. But the hung parliament has led to backroom discussions – and we are all as excluded as the thousands of people who couldn’t get into polling stations after 10pm on election day. The truth is that what we voted for bears little resemblance to what we got. The Tories have far more seats than can be justified by the number of votes they got. In this situation, many, including myself, are calling for a change to the voting system, in the shape of proportional representation. The first-past-the-post electoral system, which allowed Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair to win election landslides with just two fifths of the vote, is indeed unfair. The last time there was momentum for PR on the left was when the Tory election victories in the 1980s and 1990s looked like they would never end. Then it was out of desperation – a belief that only by changing the voting system could the Tories be beaten. Now it is out of frustration that all the parties are so similar. After the Second World War, the Labour and Tory parties completely dominated British politics, sharing around 96 percent of the popular vote between them. Last week they got just 65 percent between them. Yet parliament is still dominated by the two biggest parties.

That’s why socialists support electoral reform although we need proper debate about what form takes. The strongest argument is that it would help break the dominance of two increasingly unrepresentative big parties, opening up a space for the left – and this is true. Voting systems like multi-seat constituencies or alternative votes and a list system are more democratic than what we’ve got. But the left should not obsess over PR and get trapped in a debate about constitutional reform that in many ways serves the interests of the big parties. For example, Southern Ireland has a “fairer” electoral system – yet politics is dominated by right wing parties and corruption. The Northern Ireland Assembly was structured after enormous care and effort to provide proportionality and parity of esteem, yet it has copper-fastened sectarian division and put the bigots of the DUP in charge. Greece has PR – but this has not prevented the government trying to impose swingeing cuts. In Britain, the radical left is fragmented and electorally very weak. The collapse of the existing party system could even make things worse if the only alternatives come from the far right – racist parties like UKIP and the BNP.

The problem with today’s democracy, and with the dominant view of democracy in our society, is that it is far too limited. To address that we need to go far beyond which type of voting system we want. To make democracy truly relevant to the majority of working people, what is needed is not just political democracy but also economic and social democracy. The capitalist class can live with political democracy alone – the election of parliaments and governments – because the decisive levers of power are not in parliament. Control over society really lies first in the boardrooms of industry and the banks, and second in the permanent institutions of the state, above all the armed forces. The capitalists own and control the former directly, and the latter is bound to it by a thousand economic, social and ideological ties. By these means they can turn parliament into a talking shop and bend governments to their will. We got an insight into the real base of power when the media with demands to reassure “the markets” that the new government would be formed quickly. Marxists call what we have now “bourgeois democracy” – democracy that is based on and enshrines the rule of the capitalist class, the bourgeoisie.

To move beyond this to a system based on real power for the masses, it is necessary to extend democracy to production and work, and then other areas of social life. This means democracy in every factory, call centre, supermarket, school, university, hospital and post office. It means workers’ democracy. That cannot be achieved without overturning capitalist property ownership, law and the state – with a workers’ revolution that will enable the working class to run society. In the full glare of publicity the three main parties jostle and manoeuvre over power. But, in the background, there is a much more fundamental assertion of power.This is, of course, by the famous “markets” that hover threateningly over the politicians as they negotiate. The process began even before the general election took place. At the beginning of last week the Financial Times reported that the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange was planning to open at 1am that Friday morning, three hours after voting ended. This was to allow traders in gilts—British government bonds—to start buying or selling them as soon as the result of the election began to become clear. It was clear that there was only one outcome that was really acceptable to the bond markets—a majority Tory government that would immediately implement unprecedented cuts in public spending.This announcement amounted to hanging a sword of Damocles over the heads of the British electorate.

When the voters failed to deliver the result the markets had demanded, the latter’s spokespeople were absolutely furious. Sir Martin Sorell, chief executive of the advertising empire WPP, spluttered on Radio Four’s World at One on Friday last week that a hung parliament was the “worst possible” result. Alan Clarke of Paribas pontificated to the Financial Times that “the UK could lose its top triple A credit status because of its failure to deliver a majority government with the authority to tackle the country’s public finances immediately”. Arnaud Mares of Moody’s, one of the three agencies that rate the credit status of states and firms, said he assumed that “the incoming economic team could muster convincing parliamentary support for a fiscal adjustment that was no looser or slower than outlined by all three political parties during their respective election campaigns.” All this reminds us that Jimmy Carville, one of Bill Clinton’s advisers, said in 1993 that, “if there was reincarnation... I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.” Let’s remind ourselves of what’s really going on here. Less than three years ago, the banks, hedge funds, and the like precipitated the biggest financial crash and the worst economic slump since 1929. The ratings agencies were condemned only last week by the French and German governments for their contribution to this disaster by giving triple-A ratings to various financial instruments that are now mostly worthless.

To prevent a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s, states increased their spending. They found that money largely by borrowing. This was a good thing because it helped to maintain demand for goods and services. But, as a result, budget deficits have risen. Now all the banks and other financial institutions that were saved thanks to this spending and borrowing are denouncing the rise in deficits as an economic scandal that can only be expunged by the most savage cuts in public services. To get an intimation of the kind of suffering that this will cause, look at Greece. The austerity programme extracted as the price of the country’s “rescue” by the International Monetary Fund and the eurozone will slash wages, pensions, and services. As a result the Greek economy is projected to shrink by 4 percent this year and by 2.6 percent in 2011. In other words, slashing the deficit is economic nonsense. Its only justification is to increase the profits and bolster the power of the very forces that unleashed the crisis in the first place. But, at the same time as demanding austerity, these same forces are scurrying back to the state to rescue them again. Last Sunday’s New York Times anxiously reported: “The fear that began in Athens, raced through Europe and finally shook the stock market in the United States is now affecting the broader global economy.” The European Union emergency package agreed at the weekend is designed particularly to bolster the bond markets. The sacred “markets” that sit in judgement of mere voters and elected politicians are themselves deeply fragile, riven with deep fractures.

Reclaiming the modernity mantle

To talk of "modernisation" is to speak the language of neoliberalism. To be radical and revolutionary, to transform this, reform that - to anyone under 40, these terms evoke the rhetoric of what Peter Mandelson called "the Blair revolution" of 1997 as much as the Russian revolution of 1917. While it couches itself as the very thrusting edge of modernity, neoliberalism harks back to an earlier, allegedly better time, that of neoclassical economics, the system of the workhouse and "self-help." Nonetheless, the actual effects of neoliberal capitalism - the destruction of working-class communities, of entire countries' economies, of the very notion of "society" - are extreme in their effects. Bertolt Brecht once claimed that "communism is not radical. It is capitalism that is radical." Capitalism is the system that makes all that is solid melt into air, the furnace of all traditions - while communism, at least as he imagined it, tries to slam on the brakes and to take control of a relentlessly accelerating, unmanned vehicle. Today, where the remains of the welfare state that have survived the last 30 years are facing even more extreme attacks in order to repay a "deficit" created by the bank bail-outs, the right is again posing as fearless, unsentimental and radical. How should we respond?

For historian Tony Judt, the left must assume its mantle as the new conservatism. He claims that social democracy, as a counter-movement both to laissez-faire capitalism and communism, was a movement against insecurity. As generations got further and further from the Depression and the war, the security of the new social infrastructure was carelessly, thoughtlessly discarded. Politicians like Gordon Brown bizarrely argued that their speculative boom meant "an end to boom and bust." Judt argues that such arguments only seemed credible because, by the 1980s, "few in the West are old enough to know just what it means to watch our world collapse." Yet he implies that we will do, sooner rather than later. Judt says that the welfare state and social democracy are still viable, more so than the seamless fantasies of neoliberalism. But his argument goes further than this. "The 20th century narrative of the progressive state," he writes, "rested precariously upon the conceit that 'we' - reformers, socialists, radicals - had history on our side ... if social democracy has a future, it will be as a social democracy of fear. Rather than seeking to restore a language of optimistic progress, we should begin by reacquainting ourselves with the recent past ... the left, to be quite blunt about it, has something to conserve. It is the right that has inherited the ambitious modernist urge to destroy and innovate in the name of a universal project."

We can leave aside Judt's occasionally glib anti-communism and the conventional amnesia over social democracy's record of grim political conformism. From the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht in 1919, to collaboration with colonialism and imperialist wars, to standing idle in the face of Hitler, social democrats have a far less impeccable a moral record than they think they do. His central point is intriguingly counterintuitive - the left should appeal to the memory of the recent past rather than the imagined future. Frankly, it sounds preferable to smashing in the windows of McDonald's. But what does this mean for those who have no memory of social democracy? What use are memories of Nye Bevan to those who can't remember Thatcher? Curiously enough, the main outlet for this yearning for the recent past is not in party politics, which - with some Marxist-inflected exceptions which Judt no doubt disdains, such as Die Linke, France's Nouveau Partie Anticapitaliste or the "pink tide" in Latin America - remains overwhelmingly neoliberal. It can be found instead in much contemporary art and music. Here, over the last few years something often described as a "nostalgia for the future" has obsessed over the lost gains of the post-war settlement, to often brilliant effect. The Ghost Box record label, for instance, shows an obsession with the public modernism of an earlier era - the egalitarian spaces of comprehensive schools and council estates, the unearthly sounds of the BBC's avant-garde Radiophonic Workshop or the minimalist design of cheap Pelican paperbacks.

This isn't at all a phenomenon localised to the "democratic" side of the ex-iron curtain - east European artists have spent much of the last two decades playing with the futuristic dreamworld of "actually existing socialism" as if to reimagine its collective spaces without its petty brutalities. This nostalgia is not for the recent past itself - it is a yearning for the future that it promised. Such artists hold up yesterday's examples of social democratic modernist design as a quiet protest against the crassness and barbarism of postmodern capitalism. But it is also as a reminder that it failed to bring about a new society. The social democratic welfare state was, for many, not so much a settlement as a step on the way to something else - socialism. Yet it seems unlikely that socialism can be rekindled by appealing to past hopes and dreams that few can remember. Nostalgia for lost dreams of the future only has value if it can actually help create a viable path forwards - otherwise, it's English Heritage with spacesuits. The left would do well to remind people that poorer societies than ours spent more on health and welfare than we do and that they considered education a right, not a product. But such lessons from history must be combined with a new modernism of the left. To hand the mantle of "modernity" to the right is to give it a powerful weapon against which halcyon memories, real or imagined, are powerless.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Betting on bankruptcy?

As speculation swirls as to whether the European Union (EU) or the International Monetary Fund will bail out Greece - a deal that in either case would stipulate crippling austerity measures on Greek workers--questions are emerging about the role that large banks played in making the crisis worse, and then profiting off it. Specifically, the question is whether the banksters hushed up the scale of Greece's debt situation, and then used that inside information to speculate on a potential default. Goldman Sachs is at the center of the scrutiny. Recent reports show that the firm consulted Greece as far back as 2000 on ways to take on more debt--and then hide it by packaging the liabilities into complex securities that were then counted as assets. It's the same kind of financial trickery that contributed to the massive housing boom and bust in the U.S. By hiding its new debts, Greece could circumvent stringent conditions on government budgets that the European Union imposes on member countries. And if that's not bad enough, it seems that Goldman used its insider knowledge of Greece's precarious financial situation to bet on a potential default by Greece. Thanks to its complicated financial maneuvers, the super-bank stands to make a killing in the event Greece defaults or needs to be bailed out. The culprit here is a familiar one. Goldman and other speculators are using credit default swaps as a way of gambling on the possibility that Greece will default--that is, it won't be able to repay its debts on time.

Credit default swaps are a kind of insurance policy that pays off if a particular bond or security defaults. The ostensible purpose of these credit default swaps--a form of the financial instruments that Wall Street calls "derivatives"--is for big investors to obtain financial protection against the possibility that a number of their investments could go bad. The idea is that the firms issuing credit default swaps agree to pay off what the original debtor owed. These swaps were popular during the sub-prime mortgage boom--they were supposed to be insurance for investors who bought securities that were based on large numbers of mortgage loans being paid off on time. It sounds fine in theory. But there are huge problems with credit default swaps. For one thing, the market for swaps is completely unregulated, and they aren't traded on public exchanges. That means a lot of backroom dealing can occur. Moreover, there's no limit on how many credit default swaps can be created and issued. So the market can swell to many times the size of the original assets or investments being "insured." Thus, the possibility that credit default swaps can turn from financial insurance to a gamble by speculators on whether homeowners or companies or whole countries will default on their debts. The lack of regulation allowed the market for credit default swaps to swell to such an enormous size, so that movements in the prices of derivatives can have knock-on effects on the real economy. Since 2000, the market for such swaps has ballooned from $900 billion to more than $36 trillion.

Credit default swaps helped drive the insurer AIG into insolvency. AIG had issued so many swaps backing up securities based on mortgage loans that when the U.S. housing market collapsed, the federal government nationalized AIG and pumped billions of dollars into the company so it could pay off its swaps. Because of all this, complex derivatives can have a massively destabilizing effect on the economy; which prompted super-rich investor Warren Buffet to call them "financial weapons of mass destruction." Importantly, investors don't actually have to own the asset that they are arranging a swap to cover. Thus, swaps can become a tool for gambling on defaults occurring--and can even contribute to defaults taking place. This is the equivalent of everyone else on a street buying fire insurance on one person's house--and then collecting when the house burns down. There's a reason that's illegal in the insurance business--the incentive is for all kinds of people to load up on insurance and then commit arson to collect. But on Wall Street, the same sort of activity applied to financial investments--called naked credit default swaps--is perfectly legal. In the case of Greece, it seems that the speculators have pushed the country closer to default.The growing demand for credit default swaps covering Greece have made it increasingly difficult for the country to raise money with newly issued bonds unless it pays a steep price--if it can find buyers at all. That increases demand for swaps still further, and so on, as the vicious cycle plays out. These practices forced even Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke--hardly a critic of Wall Street--to admit last week, "Using these instruments in a way that intentionally destabilized a company or a country is--is counterproductive."

In Greece's case, the firestorm began last October when the government revealed it had a budget deficit that amounted to 12.7 percent of its gross domestic product. Overall, Greece's debt stands at $300 billion. As a percentage of GDP, that's three times the limit for member nations of the European Union. Concerns about Greece--along with Portugal, Italy and Ireland--have shaken confidence in the EU's currency, the euro, and prompted the EU to pressure Greece to get its books in order. The Greek government promised to cut the gap to 3 percent of GDP by 2012 by freezing public-sector salaries and raising taxes. It raised taxes on fuel earlier this month and has announced a series of further measures, including making Greeks collect receipts for goods and services, like taxi rides, in an effort to fight tax evasion. But more painful cuts are in store.

Greece has until March 16 to convince EU finance ministers and the executive European Commission that the steps it has already announced are enough. It also needs to borrow or refinance $72 billion--with nearly half of that amount due in April and May. The interest rate that Greece would have to pay on bonds that can raise this money is currently being valued at 7 percent--nearly double what Germany has to pay to borrow and 3 percentage points higher than Greece's borrowing costs before this crisis. This is the result of investors betting in various ways against Greek bonds. The problem has become so vexing that the German government is trying to identify speculators in Greek debt to prevent them from profiting from any bailout. Here is where Goldman Sachs' damaging influence comes into play. In 2001, Goldman advised Greece to turn some of its debts into derivatives that could then be counted as assets rather than liabilities, thus hiding the real level of debt. As the New York Times described: "As in the American sub-prime crisis and the implosion of [AIG], financial derivatives played a role in the run-up of Greek debt. Instruments developed by Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and a wide range of other banks enabled politicians to mask additional borrowing in Greece, Italy and possibly elsewhere...Critics say that such deals, because they are not recorded as loans, mislead investors and regulators about the depth of a country's liabilities."
A report in the German newspaper FAZ indicates that AIG sold the credit default swaps on Greece. Ultimately, these transactions enabled Greece to borrow 1 billion euros without adding to its official debt--and according to Bloomberg, Goldman was paid $300 million for arranging the deal. And that was just one deal. According to the New York Times, a legal entity called Aeolos, created in 2001, gave Greece cash upfront in return for pledging future landing fees at the country's airports. A similar deal in 2000, called Ariadne, did something similar with revenue from Greece's national lottery. Similar deals were structured by Goldman and other banks, including from Europe. In late 2009, Goldman came calling again. A team, led by Goldman President Gary Cohn, proposed that Greece push debt from its health care system into the future by creating another set of derivatives. The proposal was rejected. But Goldman wasn't done. It had loaded up on credit default swaps covering a default by Greece. "Wall Street, led here by Goldman and AIG, helped to create the debt, then helped to create the hysteria about possible defaults," Marshall Auerback, a professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, wrote. "As [credit default swap] prices rise and Greece's credit rating collapses, the interest rate it must pay on bonds rises--fueling a death spiral because it cannot cut spending or raise taxes sufficiently to reduce its deficit." The overall amount of swaps on Greek debt hit $85 billion in February, up from $38 billion a year ago, according to the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, which tracks swaps trading.

As a result of these activities, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Reserve Bank are investigating the role that Goldman played. But given the kid-gloves treatment that Goldman has received--not to mention the extent that it's already been bailed out by the government--it seems highly unlikely that anything will come of these inquiries. As Gretchen Morgenson wrote in the New York Times: "If the past is prologue, we might see a case or two emerge from that inquiry five years from now. The fact is that credit default swaps and other complex derivatives that have proved to be instruments of mass destruction still remain entrenched in our financial system three years after our economy was almost brought to its knees." Worse, it's now clear that the U.S. government will do whatever it takes to bail out financial firms out and keep them solvent, even when their gambling blows up in their faces. This implicit guarantee is only encouraging more reckless behavior. Whilst Goldman cashes in and likely gets off scot-free for helping to cause the crisis, the working class stands to be punished brutally. Over the past month, the Greek government has already announced wage freezes, bonus cuts, tax crackdowns and pension reforms meant to save about $6.7 billion. New measures that could be part of a bailout plan engineered by the EU could include a 2 percent increase in the country's value-added tax--already at 19 percent--higher fuel prices and the possible abolition of one of two additional months of pay received by public-sector workers and employees at many private firms. In other words, the costs of Greece's default are being passed on to workers.

What's more, Germany's involvement in the bailout is creating a race to the bottom across national borders in Europe. "Germany has, in the last 10 years, been through very painful social reform, which means curtailing rights and social benefits, and pushing back the retirement age," Thomas Klau of the European Council on Foreign Relations told the New York Times. "The argument in Germany is 'Why should our workers work to the age of 67 to enable Greeks to retire earlier?'" The harsh measures in Greece will ultimately make things worse. As economists Simon Johnson and Peter Boone wrote, austerity programs in Greece and other countries with high debt loads could "massively curtail demand, lower wages and reduce the public-sector workforce. The last time we saw this kind of precipitate fiscal austerity--when nations were tied to the gold standard--it contributed to the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s." In addition, privatizations--also done at the behest of financial firms like Goldman--mean that former sources of government revenue, such as toll roads, are no longer in the state's hands--leaving it even less able to pay its public debt. Thus, the pay cuts and austerity programs could end up exacerbating defaults and necessitating another round of reductions--exactly when governments should be running up deficits to hire unemployed workers, pay out benefits and stimulate economic activity. That's the cost of the vicious cycle that the banksters set in motion.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Stand by Greek workers

As was not only predictable, but inevitable, the people of Greece have turned out onto the streets in their tens and hundreds of thousands to show their resistance to the draconian economic measures being forced on them by the European Union and the ECB. The organised Greek working class has sent and is still sending a strong message to its own government and those "friendly" governments that are supposedly bailing out the Greek economy. And that message is that they will not stand idly by while, under the pretext of friendly assistance to their country, the privatisers and market parasites of the EU strip them of their wages and their pensions, extend their working lives and demolish their public sector. They will not allow a weak, supposedly socialist, government to collapse under pressure applied by a pincer movement of the EU on the one hand and the finance sector on the other. Rather, they will fight on the streets and in the factories and offices to ensure that those who caused the crisis will pay for it and that isn't the Greek working class. In this country, the Greek crisis has produced an outbreak of appallingly bigoted national stereotyping, with the Greek people being variously described as lazy, shiftless and indolent and greedy in the Tory press. Such slanderous and vicious assaults on a people who are the victims, rather than the offenders, are distasteful in the extreme, but illustrate well just how far down the line the capitalist offensive will go to justify its raids on the living standards of ordinary people. We must be very clear on this. The Greek bail-out is no such thing.

It is an orchestrated attempt to turn Greece into a wasteland, a battleground where free-market capitalism can first kill civil society in the country and then pick over the corpse, stealing what it can and wrecking what it can't, a forced auction of a whole country's assets to the highest bidder. And what rankles deepest with the organised working class in Greece is that it is the representatives of capitalism who caused the crisis in the first place, it is those same capitalists who will benefit from the auction of the country and it is that very same class that isn't being asked for any sacrifices to remedy the crisis that they caused. Let's not forget also that the latest episode in the Greek crisis was precipitated by yet another capitalist edifice, the ratings agency structure that downgraded Greek debt to junk status - those same ratings agencies that gave AAA ratings to billions of dollars of residential mortgage-backed securities which precipitated the near collapse of the world economy. The Greek trade unions are quite clear about it. They will never accept the destruction of their country as the price of bailing out a rich class of greedy tax evaders and profiteers. And in their statements over the last few days, they send a warning to workers in other countries. They are right to do so. The measures being forced on them by the EU as the price of support are precisely the same measures being punted by the new Labour, Tory and Lib Dem friends of the ruling class to reduce the national debt level in this country.

This is no coincidence. It is part of the world-wide drive by capitalism to reverse the tide of history, to attack working class living standards and to shrink the edifices built up to benefit ordinary people. The price of a decent life for all is to high for capitalism to accept. The capitalist system has bought itself a continuation long past its sell-by date, but it is no longer prepared to tolerate the carrot. It's now time for the big stick, because they will not tolerate anything eating into their profits and civil society is doing just that. We wish the Greek workers well in their fight and urge everyone to show what solidarity that they can. Our fight will come sooner than we might expect.

Election egg on all faces

There was a great deal of egg on a few faces on Friday and it was on the faces of the three self-satisfied party leaders who so oleaginously greased their way across our TV screens over the last week or two in staged and rigged "debates" that were nothing of the sort. Tory toff David Cameron had the egg white all over his face after the electorate refused to back his party for a parliamentary majority even standing against Labour's attempt for a rare and difficult fourth term. No matter what gloss he tries to put upon it, his masters in the shires and the boardrooms will not be best pleased. He couldn't even beat a sitting government in the middle of a financial crisis. And the yolk was on media-manufactured Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg, whose "Clegg bounce" turned out to be nothing more than press hysteria motivated by a desire to do anything possible to block Labour survival and resulted in a reduced number of seats for his party. New Labour's Gordon Brown took the rest of the oeuf. His walking-on-eggshells attempt to be all things to all voters backfired on him hopelessly and he has found himself clinging to power by his disintegrating fingernails. The message that came across was loud and clear for anyone with the ears to hear it. There was so little difference between the "nice-party" Tories, the business-friendly new Labour and the "I-don't-know-quite-where-I-stand" Lib Dems that voters ended up with no clear motive for supporting any one of them. That message was underlined by the votes for the few Labour candidates who have had the courage and the pride to stand up and be counted as socialists.

Their votes ran hard against the national trend and increased. In Hayes and Harlington, John McDonnell polled 23,377 votes as against 19,009 in 2005. In Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn took his vote to 24,276 from 16,118 in 2005 and, in Luton North, Kelvin Hopkins lifted his vote from 19,062 to 21,192 in 2010. In Hackney and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott has had a belting result, with a rise from 14,268 to 25,500. Progressive activity against the fascists also helped the Labour vote. In Barking, where anti-fascists have fought hard and long, Margaret Hodge's vote soared from 13,826 in 2005 to a spanking 24,628 in 2010, while the disgusting Nick Griffin foundered dismally. The Tories are banging on about their "right" to attempt to form the next government, while the pathetic Nick Clegg bleats on about their "right" as the party with the most seats to try to do so. Of course, no such right exists. Constitutionally, the initiative rests with the incumbent Prime Minister, in this case Mr Brown. But where grabbing power is concerned, the constitutional arrangements that exist can go hang as far as the Tories care. Mr Cameron is already manoeuvring to try and talk the Lib Dems into a coalition, although without proportional representation on offer, it would be an absolutely unprincipled and opportunist Lib Dem leader who went for the deal - so it might happen. Labour, on the other hand, has fewer objections to PR and a deal is possible there, if Mr Brown can overcome his reluctance to offer more than a referendum, which has not met Lib Dem expectations in the past.

There could even be progressive benefits to be found on a deal on PR, provided a suitable system could be agreed, so it is tempting to watch and hope that an accommodation can be agreed that provides for an anti-Tory alliance of some form. Because the overwhelming priority is to keep the Tories out of office and keep their avaricious hands off the public sector. But we must keep this in mind. The biggest loser in this election has not been a party, but a poisonous clique. New Labour is dead and it just remains to accord it a suitable burial. Then we can set about building a working-class force that will bury the Tories that Mr Brown has been so signally unable to defeat with his pallid and bloodless apology for a socialist platform.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Noxious election campaign stirs up racial division

This general election has been the one most dominated by immigration since 1979. Consider the two most important incidents of the past month.The first was hapless Gordon Brown’s encounter with Gillian Duffy in Rochdale. Brown’s behaviour—polite and patient to her face, calling her “a bigoted woman” behind her back—played into a favourite myth peddled by the tabloids and the British National Party (BNP). This is that “liberal elites” are happy to see Britain flooded by migrants and refuse to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of “ordinary people” about immigration.Brown himself clearly subscribes to a version of this myth. Having been caught out, he rushed to apologise to Mrs Duffy. This no doubt reflected a conviction that “ordinary people” are generally “bigoted” and that all Labour leaders can do is pander to anti-immigrant prejudice, however much they may privately dislike it. This is a longstanding attitude. The diaries of Richard Crossman, Labour cabinet minister in the 1960s, repeatedly express the belief that his working class voters in Coventry were racists who wanted tighter immigration controls.The second key event for Brown was, of course, the final television debate between the leaders of the three main parties. This was descending into tedium until immigration came up. We were treated to the spectacle of Brown and David Cameron rounding on Nick Clegg to denounce the Liberal Democrats’ proposal to offer an amnesty to some illegal immigrants. This was partly about the representatives of the old two-party system whacking the new kid on the block.

But Cameron and Brown were also trying to signal that they were hard on immigration. The anger that Clegg displayed in his clashes with Cameron on this issue no doubt reflected anxiety that he was being portrayed as “soft” on migrants.The irruption of immigration in the final stages of the election has almost certainly worked to the Tories’ advantage. The Financial Times newspaper carried a piece on the subject last Saturday. Apparently Cameron initially resisted considerable pressure to make immigration central to the Tory election campaign, “fearful that the anti-immigration message peddled by his predecessor Michael Howard would spoil his attempts to detoxify the Tory brand. “Mr Brown’s travails and the debate questions have done Mr Cameron’s job for him, pushing immigration to the centre of the campaign without forcing him to look like the ‘nasty party’ of old. The subject was one of the hottest topics on Twitter on Friday.Tim Montgomerie, editor of the ConservativeHome website and voice of the party’s grassroots, was among those pushing for more aggression at the start of the campaign. But on Friday he told the Financial Times he was now ‘much happier’ with Mr Cameron’s strategy. It’s very interesting that the issue came up in all three debates and Cameron hit the issue very hard in the last one.’”Cameron’s strategy bears some resemblance to Margaret Thatcher’s in 1979. Immigration wasn’t formally central to the Tory campaign then either. But Thatcher had already, in her notorious World in Action interview of January 1978, made it clear where she stood: “People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.”

This phrase—and particularly the use of the word “swamped”—was enough to signal to anyone hostile to migrants that Thatcher was one of them. It remains to be seen whether the way the election has tilted towards immigration will help to scrape Cameron together a parliamentary majority. Almost certainly it will benefit the hard anti-migrant parties—the BNP, but also UKIP. At 1979 general election, the Anti Nazi League had reversed the advance of the National Front. Alas, the BNP and the EDL are still on the offensive. Whoever forms the next government, anti-fascists will have plenty to do to undo the damage caused by this noxious election campaign.

A better democratic alternative

What could be done with £18.9 million? It could help fund a local hospital or school. But that figure is the limit on political parties for national spending in this general election. Cameron, Clegg or Brown's face on billboards, with a ridiculous message, are funded from the £18.9 million. And this figure is before the individual constituencies spend their money on their candidates. A British general election is nowhere near as expensive - yet - as in America, where a billion dollar election took place in 2008. But all three big parties have tried to get donations from companies. When Blair became leader and later prime minister, New Labour got millions from big business. However, the capitalists no longer believe that discredited New Labour can carry out the size of cuts to services and living standards that they require to make ordinary people pay for their crisis. And although Alan Sugar gave £400,000 recently, most big business funding to New Labour has dried up. The capitalists' hopes that the Tories will be elected were shown by Cameron's party getting the lion's share of donations in the week ending 13 April. They received nearly £1.5 million in a week from just 33 individual 'gifts'! They have also had millions of pounds in recent years from self-declared 'non-domiciled' Lord Ashcroft to spend in marginal constituencies.

The Liberal Democrats only received £20,000 that week but that was before the media-inspired 'Cleggmania' took hold. Increased donations will probably be reflected in the next figures. However, the Lib Dems have been allowed to keep a donation of £2.4 million from convicted fraudster Michael Brown! With the backing from big business cooling, New Labour has relied more on the trade unions to fund their campaign. The government has given workers very little in exchange over 13 years and trade unions have an even more restricted right to strike than in 1997. Yet still the trade unions fund this pro-capitalist party. Recently, the building workers' union Ucatt gave £371,000 and shop workers' union Usdaw donated £266,000 of their members' money. Unite has donated £11 million to Labour since the merged union was founded in 2007. Likewise Unison has given Labour around £1.5 million each year. Socialists do not believe trade unions should be non-political but they should donate money to parties representing their interests. New Labour does not do that. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has received donations from the RMT transport union but what effect could it have if trade unions funded genuine workers' candidates with millions of pounds? Trade unions must stop funding New Labour and put their resources into building a fighting alternative for workers.