Friday, April 20, 2018

The future is going backwards

The World Bank is proposing lower minimum wages and greater hiring and firing powers for employers as part of a wide-ranging deregulation of labour markets deemed necessary to prepare countries for the changing nature of work.
A working draft of the bank’s flagship World Development Report – which will urge policy action from governments when it comes out in the autumn – says less “burdensome” regulations are needed so that firms can hire workers at lower cost. The WDR draft says: “High minimum wages, undue restrictions on hiring and firing, strict contract forms, all make workers more expensive vis-à-vis technology.”  The draft for the 2019 WDR says that if workers are expensive to dismiss, fewer will be hired. “Burdensome regulations also make it more expensive for firms to rearrange their workforce to accommodate changing technologies.” The draft says “Rapid changes to the nature of work put a premium on flexibility for firms to adjust their workforce, but also for those workers who benefit from more dynamic labor markets” .
Peter Bakvis, Washington representative for the International Trade Union Confederation, said the proposals were harmful, retrograde and out of synch with the shared-prosperity agenda put forward by the bank’s president Jim Yong Kim. Bakvis said the draft “puts forward a policy programme of extensive labour market deregulation, including lower minimum wages, flexible dismissal procedures and UK-style zero-hours contracts. The resulting decline of workers’ incomes would be compensated in part by a basic level of social insurance to be financed largely by regressive consumption taxes.”
He added that the WDR’s vision of the future world of work would see firms relieved of the burden of contributing to social security, have the flexibility to pay wages as low as they wanted, and to fire at will. Unions would have a diminished role in new arrangements for “expanding workers’ voices”. The paper “almost completely ignores workers’ rights, asymmetric power in the labour market and phenomena such as declining labour share in national income,” Bakvis said.
The International Labour Organisation has also expressed alarm at the proposals, which include the right for employers to opt out of paying minimum wages if they introduce profit-sharing schemes for their workers.
The paper says that labour regulations “protect the few who hold formal jobs while leaving out most workers” and the sort of social protection schemes that began with the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the late 19th century were not appropriate because they covered only a third of developing country populations.
Bakvis said the draft did not “examine options for incentivising the formalisation of work, despite the considerable efforts the ILO has made toward that goal and the real progress that has taken place in some developing countries to deliver the benefits of formalisation: legal protection of workers’ rights, including their right to safe workplaces, and access to social security.
“Instead, the WDR takes informality as an inevitable state and, worse, implies that it should even be promoted. Nor does it examine how the undermining of labour market institutions through deliberate corporate strategies such as outsourcing and disguised working relations [for example, classifying Uber drivers as independent contractors] can be countered by providing legal protections for these categories of workers.
“Workers in the platform economy who have engaged in campaigns for recognition of their rights have encountered fierce resistance from their companies.”
Bakvis added that the report insinuated support for companies such as Uber by agreeing that their workers were not employees but were “emerging as a separate labour category”.

Working and in debt

NHS staff, council officials and gig economy workers are among the most regular applicants for payday loans, which charge interest of up to 1,325% per year, industry data has revealed.


In Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, city council workers were among the most frequent applicants for the ultra-high interest debt last month, according to figures from a loan comparison website.
In Leicester, workers for the courier company DPD applied for the most loans after people in the NHS. The most common reason given for requesting the loans was “to pay bills”. 
Around 300,000 people a month take out the high-cost short-term credit. At the end of 2016, 1.6 million people had payday loan debt, with the average loan just over £300. Around one in eight of the debtors was in arrears, according to the Financial Conduct Authority.
After NHS staff, supermarket workers for Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s applied for the most loans in March, followed by staff at McDonalds, the supermarket Morrisons and Royal Mail. Next came the British Army – which has already banned payday loan adverts from military bases and publications – Amazon and workers for the outsourcing giant Capita.
NHS workers’ representatives said it showed “a terrible state of affairs”.
“No one should be so desperate for money that they have no option but to go cap in hand to unscrupulous lenders,” said Unison head of health, Sara Gorton. “It shows how much harm years of government pay restraint has caused.”
Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said the figures showed how “austerity, low wages, and insecure work are driving people to take on high cost debt from rip-off lenders just to put food on the table”

The Misery of the UK Poor

Hundreds of thousands of the poorest families in Britain are going without basic necessities, according to two separate surveys.
Citizens Advice said as many as 140,000 households are going without power, as they cannot afford to top up their prepayment meters.
And the Living Wage Foundation - which campaigns for fair pay - said many of the poorest parents are skipping meals.
The survey conducted by Citizens Advice suggests that most households which cannot afford to put money in the meter contain either children or someone with a long-term health condition. Some people are left in cold houses, or without hot water.
"It is unacceptable that so many vulnerable households are being left without heat and light," said Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice.
A separate survey for the Living Wage Foundation suggests a third of working parents on low incomes have regularly gone without meals, because of a lack of money. Around a half of those families have also fallen behind with household bills.
"These findings reveal the desperate choices low paid families have to make, and show why it's so important that more employers take a stand by paying the real Living Wage, based on what they need to live, not just the government minimum," said Tess Lanning, director of the Living Wage Foundation.

Capitalists expect to be centeniarians

UBS wealth management polled 5,000 high-net worth individuals (HNWIs), defined as having at least $1m in investable assets, across 10 countries including Germany, the UK, US and Taiwan, and found that 53% expect to live to the age of 100. 

The UBS report, entitled The Century Club, concluded: “The idea of living a century was once confined to science fiction. But no longer. For the world’s wealthy, living a 100-year life is not an outcome they consider a mere possibility. It’s one they expect.”

Numerous studies have provided evidence that wealth inequality is linked to health inequality. Last year, data compiled by the Department of Health showed that in the UK the gap between rich and poor in relation to “healthy life expectancy” – defined as a life free of disease or disability – had widened to almost 20 years.
A University of Washington study in the US in 2017 came to a similar conclusionon a “life expectancy gap” between affluent and poorer areas of at least 20 years.
 Three-quarters of Germany’s wealthy elite anticipate reaching 100 while less than a third of HNWIs in the US believe they will live that long. In Switzerland, Mexico and Italy the figure is more than two-thirds. In the UK, nearly a third (32%) expect to reach the age of 100.



Macron's New France

Owen Jones writes in the Guardian that Macron is far more popular internationally than in France, where dissatisfaction with his presidency has surged to 58% less than a year after his election. French scepticism towards Macron contrasts sharply with his own lack of self-doubt. He refused to be questioned by journalists because his “complex thought processes” were ill-suited for such a setting.

Macron is a pound-shop Margaret Thatcher, redistributing wealth to those with too much of it, while assaulting workers’ rights and France’s hard-won social model. His tax changes have gifted the hundred wealthiest households more than half a million euros a year: the top 1% captured 44% of his new tax breaks. For the less affluent, it’s a different story. This former investment banker has slashed housing benefit, and hiked taxes on pensioners – in a country where the average monthly pension is just €1,300 (£1,100). His policies have shifted the workplace balance of power from workers to bosses. French students are staging occupations and protests against more selective entry requirements for universities, derided as an attack on free universal education and France’s social model.

Another pillar of his agenda is privatisation, including of France’s airports and part of the national energy utility. His confrontation with rail workers is seen as an attempt to lay the foundations for a catastrophic British-style privatisation of the railway industry. EU-mandated deregulation will mean foreign companies can soon compete with the state rail company SNCF, and Macron is transforming it from a state enterprise into a limited company; exactly what happened with the formerly state-owned France Télécom.

A man who courted left-leaning voters by promising a humane policy towards migrants and refugees now has them firmly in his sights. The number of days a person without papers can be imprisoned in a detention centre is to be doubled; the consideration time period for asylum has been halved, meaning fewer refugees will be accepted. Charities warn that refugees fleeing war will be deported. Macron’s interior minister, Gérard Collomb, claims that communities are “breaking up because they are overwhelmed by the inflow of asylum seekers”. No wonder the far-right Front National has described his policies as a “political victory”.

Macron is presented as an oasis of moderation, a bulwark against the extremes. But there is nothing moderate about slashing taxes on the wealthy, attacking workers’ rights or demonising refugees. He represents an essential ingredient in the revival of French fascism.

Hustings in Southwark

We have received one invitation to a hustings in Southwark and know of two others.


The invitation is from:


 The Southwark Pensioners Action Group from 10am to noon on Monday 23 April in the Crypt at St. Peter's Church, Liverpool Grove, Walworth, SE17 2HH.

The other two are:

Saturday 14 April 3pm to 5pm at Christ Church Peckham, 676-680 Old Kent Road, SE15 1JF on Planning & Regeneration, organised by Southwark Planning Network.

Wednesday 18 April 7pm to 9pm at Bells Gardens Community Centre, 19 Buller Close, SE15 6UJ on Housing, organised by the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations.




European Figures for Refugees (graphs)



Thursday, April 19, 2018

The waste of waste

American households toss out 150,000 tons of food each day — roughly a pound of food per person per day.

The volume of discarded food wastes what is equivalent to the yearly use of 30 million acres of land, alongside the use of 780 million pounds of pesticide, and 4.2 trillion gallons of water. The rotting food also emits methane as it disintegrates in landfills, adding to the atmosphere’s stock of greenhouse gases.

Lisa Jahns, a nutritionist at the USDA, told the Guardian, “Consumers aren’t connecting the dots, they don’t see the cost when they throw food in the trash.”

Wishing to happy returns to Israel's 70th birthday

 Stalin was crucial to the establishment of the state of Israel. On Stalin's instructions, Czechoslovakia provided arms and training that enabled the fledgling Zionist armed forces in Palestine to win the war of independence in 1947-48. Stalin's motive was to undermine the position of Britain in the Middle East. For some years the Israeli government continued to rely on Soviet military and diplomatic support, while keeping silent about the persecution of Soviet Jews, then at its height. (For more on this episode, see Arnold Krammer, The Forgotten Friendship: Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947-53, University of Illinois, 1974.)
In 1953 the Israeli-Soviet alliance finally broke down. Israel switched to the other side of the Cold War, obtaining aid first from France and then from the US. Alliance with "the West" also entailed maintaining good relations with anti-semitic regimes, notably in Latin America. Consider Argentina: a disproportionate number of Jews were among those killed, imprisoned and tortured by the military junta that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. Given the "anti-democratic, anti-semitic and Nazi tendencies" of the Argentine officer corps, we may assume that they were persecuted not merely as political opponents but also as Jews. Meanwhile a stream of Israeli generals passed through Buenos Aires, selling the junta arms. (See http://www.jcpa.org/jpsr/jpsr-mualem-s04.htm and http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Terrorism/Argentina_STATUS.html; also Jacobo Timmerman's book Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.)
 Israel is now a powerful, militaristic capitalist state and a nuclear power. It might have been hoped that the Jews' terrible history would have encouraged them to something more hopeful.

Poor Education

The gap between disadvantaged pupils in England – children eligible for free school meals – and their peers is equivalent to one whole maths GCSE grade.


England would have to double the number of disadvantaged pupils achieving top GCSE grades in maths to match some of the best countries in the world, a new report has found.  The country is in the bottom half of developed nations for the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in maths, analysis from thinktank Education Policy Institute (EPI)and UCL Institute of Education (IOE) academics has revealed.
Just one in 10 disadvantaged pupils in England achieve the top GCSE grades in maths, while nearly twice as many disadvantaged pupils in Singapore achieve these top grades. 
The report concludes that the countries that achieve both high academic performance and equity between pupils from different backgrounds tend to avoid selection by ability, streaming and setting – and they have a significant focus on attracting and retaining high-quality teachers.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “This report confirms that the government’s education reform programme has failed some of our most disadvantaged learners. This should be a national scandal and education ministers should be ashamed of their record." She added: “The government’s inability to confront the harmful practice of ability grouping, coupled with its desire to further expand selective schools, will exacerbate the challenges highlighted in this report and further entrench educational disadvantage.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We have to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students, and the greatest barrier in doing so is teacher shortages, which are particularly acute in schools with high levels of disadvantage because these schools often face the greatest recruitment challenges. It cannot be a coincidence that maths outcomes for disadvantaged pupils are the most concerning finding in this report given that teacher shortages are very severe in this subject.” He added: “The government must do more to ensure they have the vital resources of teachers and funding – both of which are in desperately short supply.”

America's Terrorist Crisis

Three members of a right-wing militia known as the Kansas Security Force and the Crusaders, with a hatred of Muslim immigrants have been found guilty of plotting to blow up a mosque and apartment complex that housed Somali refugees. They schemed to destroy t to slaughter every man, woman, and child in the building.  Agents found bomb-making materials, guns and “close to a metric ton of ammunition”.

The only fucking way this country’s ever going to get turned around is it will be a bloodbath” and “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim”.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/apr/18/kansas-terror-plot-kill-muslims-conviction

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Disasters doesn't make equality

After wildfire and mudslides ravaged Californian towns had at least one consolation: the trauma united the community. Everyone had suffered in some way. Flames scorched the hillsides last December in the biggest wildfire in California’s modern history. Weeks later torrential rain unleashed huge mudflows. The grief and devastation prompted an outpouring of solidarity.

“We’re going to come together and do what great Americans do all the time. We’re going to help each other,” said Oprah Winfrey, one of many celebrity residents.
Now, three months after the mudslides, normality is returning. Roads and businesses have reopened. Insurance companies have started paying some of the claims totalling $421m. Tourists are back. One segment of the population, however, is struggling to recover: the largely Latino service workers – maids, nannies, gardeners, caregivers, cooks, waiters, busboys – who earn near minimum wages and live in the shadows, paycheck to paycheck. Many recently returned to work after enforced layoffs and discovered they would not be paid for any lost time.
“Not a cent,” said Zita Nevarez, 38, a barista and single mother who lost six weeks of work. She was unable to pay rent or her daughter’s school fees.
“I had hoped for some compensation from my employer, some help, but nothing,” said Serafin Torres, 45, a maintenance worker who lost seven weeks.
Angelica Garcia, 30, a florist and single mother, could not pay utilities after losing three weeks’ salary, resulting in her gas and electricity being cut off. “I have three children. It was very difficult,” she said, tears welling.
Few such workers have spoken out publicly, to avoid antagonising their employers. However, a handful spoke to the Guardian on condition the employers not be identified. Another reason some are unwilling to speak out: they are undocumented and fear deportation. Lacking legal status also bars them from seeking emergency relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).
Those with US-citizen children are eligible for federal help but have hesitated to apply lest their details be passed on to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), said Frank Rodriguez, of Cause, a grassroots advocacy group for California’s central coastal region. “In this political climate, people don’t want to take the risk.”
The solidarity is no myth, though. Some businesses have paid full or partial salaries for lost weeks. Employers who received business interruption insurance payments had a moral but not legal obligation to help cash-strapped employees. “That’s if you want to show you care about them.” Residents have also helped workers, who tend to live out of town, by establishing a fund gifting individuals up to $600. It has raised tens of thousands of dollars. Such efforts are welcome but do not offset systemic forces that marginalise service and agricultural workers, forces amplified by the natural disasters, said Rodriguez, of Cause. “There is a huge class divide. The gardeners and maids and others who make this city thrive are still struggling. We feel there hasn’t been enough support.”
Ben Romo, a community recovery and engagement coordinator with Santa Barbara county’s emergency management office, said,  “This disaster has really brought this community together in remarkable ways. People are stepping up.” However, the fire and mudslides had greatly strained poor families who were struggling even before the disasters, Romo said. “Their needs have far exceeded our resources for many years.” The inability of undocumented people to access some government assistance posed further challenges, he said.
"Service workers, however, were muffling any grievances. “If they speak too loudly, they become more visible and they don’t want Ice raiding any of their employers.”

Hurting the Disabled

Disabled people are being forced to skip meals and sit in cold homes in a climate of benefit and social care cuts, according to new research on behalf of the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity.
Almost a quarter of disabled adults aged 18-65 in the UK missed at least one meal in the last year, while a fifth said they were not able to keep their home warm. The Leonard Cheshire research into the human cost of cuts to services and financial support for disabled people paints a bleak picture of families struggling to cope. More than one in four (27%) working age disabled adults reported having less than £50 to spend each week after deducting income tax, council tax and housing costs.
The financial situation is compounded by a growing social care crisis, with more than half (55%) of disabled people of working age saying they did not receive the vital support they needed in 2017. This suggests deteriorating social care for disabled people, with comparable research released by the charity in 2016 finding 48% of respondents were without social care.
Leonard Cheshire said their latest research shows the impact has been “catastrophic” with essential heating, food or travel often becoming unaffordable.
Neil Heslop, the CEO of Leonard Cheshire, said: “Our research lays bare the appalling situation many disabled individuals and families find themselves in. Every day, thousands of people are teetering on the financial brink, unsupported and isolated..."
Previous studies of disabled people by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the charity Scope show a considerably higher rate of deprivation than in the general population; in 2017, less than 8% of non-disabled people were in food poverty while those without disabilities have to spend half as much on energy bills as people with health conditions.
 A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found disabled people had disproportionately borne the brunt of tax and welfare changes since 2010, with disabled families facing an annual income loss of up to £10,000.

Who We Are and What We Do


Logo Template - Logo_63m
The class struggle is a political struggle. It cannot be fought successfully by the workers unless they have a political weapon, which means, their own political party. The capitalist class has its own political parties and interest groups and sees to it that they remain committed to its basic interests, the maintenance of the capitalist system. The capitalists see to it that they remain under their control. They provide them with media exposure, provides them with funds, running into millions each year. In some places, the capitalists are in direct control of these parties, in others, its allies are in control.
Although as a political party committed to using elections to capture political power the Socialist Party surprisingly does not regard vote-getting as of supreme importance. We do not present a programme of attractive promises as a lure for votes. We seek only an actual vote for socialism and our manifestoes do not flatter the electorate but simply endeavours to convince them of the case for socialism. We make it clear that the Socialist Party wants the votes only of those who want socialism and disparages vote-seeking for the sake of votes and we hold in contempt those political opportunists seeking election for the sake of office or personal advancement. The Socialist Party stands squarely upon its principles. The Socialist party buys no votes with false pledges.
The ballot expresses the people’s will. The ballot means that the worker is no longer dumb, that at last has a voice, that it may be heard and if used in unison must be heeded. The appeal of the Socialist Party is to the exploited class, the workers in all trades and professions, from the most menial to the highest skill, to rally together and put an end to the last of the barbarous class struggles by conquering the capitalist government, taking possession of the means of production and making them the common property of all, abolishing wage-slavery and establishing the co-operative commonwealth. As individuals we are helpless, but united we represent an irresistible power.
The Socialist Party will not unite with any other party that does not stand for the democratic overthrow of capitalism and if it were ever to compromise and make such a concession, it will have ceased to be a socialist party. We are not here to play the filthy game of capitalist politics. the Socialist Party condemns the capitalist system. In the name of freedom, it condemns wage-slavery. In the name of modern technology, it condemns scarcity and poverty. In the name of peace, it condemns war. In the name of humanity, it condemns the murder of little children. In the name of enlightenment, it condemns superstition. The battles of the workers, wherever and however fought, are always and everywhere the battles of the Socialist Party. The education, organisation, and co-operation of the workers is the conscious aim and the self-imposed task of the Socialist Party. There is no party leader or bureaucracy within the Socialist Party boss and there never can be unless the party deserts its principles and ceases to be a socialist party. Each member has not only an equal voice but is urged to take an active part in all the party’s administration. Each local branch is an educational centre. The party relies wholly upon the power of education, knowledge, and mutual understanding.
The Socialist Party proposes to use all the legislative and administrative machinery within the state and which the working class endeavour to take into its possession as the method of emancipation. We accept the vote and parliamentary action as revolutionary. The value of political action to the Socialist movement is called in question by anarchists who suggest what they consider to be more speedy means or more effective methods to be adopted. They expect nothing and never expected anything from parliamentary action. They maintain that participation in parliamentary action is a waste of time and effort, and they relish the disappointing and the poor results parliamentary action has so far has achieved for the Socialist Party. We cannot expect results unless voters themselves get the understanding and the spirit of organization, which has yet to develop. Where people cannot imagine a way out of intolerable conditions there cannot be a great political movement and no amount of political propaganda can produce a movement.
Our primary function, however, is to organise as a political party, independent, class-conscious, and democratic. The function of anarcho-syndicalists lies with the unions. These two functions are not absolutely distinct and separate, they are co-ordinate, and to some extent interdependent. Yet they are not identical. The trade unions can help us, we can help them. Socialists should be the subordinate partner in the matter of supporting industrial disputes. The Socialist Party declines to dictate the policy of the trade union in conducting the strike, nor do we expect the trade unions to abandon the immediate objects and demands in order to make the socialist revolution.

ISLINGTON JUNCTION:
Bill Martin

RICHMOND BARNES:
Adam Buick

SOUTHWARK BOROUGH AND BANKSIDE:
Kevin Parkin

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Australia Opts for Fossil Fuels

Australia is currently aggressively developing its natural gas resource. By the end of 2018, it is likely to overtake Qatar as the world’s largest liquified natural gas (LNG) exporter.

Under new rules, fracking would be able to take place in 51 per cent of the Northern Territory's 1.4 million sq km (540,000 sq miles.

Meanwhile, Western Australia is leading the way on developing gas. The scale of the developments in WA is enormous: a recent report states that the total global emissions from all of WA’s gas reserves (conventional and unconventional) is equivalent to 36.4bn tonnes of C02, that is eight times more than the planned Adani coal mine would produce in its lifetime. The domestic carbon footprint from exploiting WA’s unconventional gas reserves, currently subject to a fracking inquiry, would be three times the amount Australia could emit if it were to comply with the Paris Agreement. Chevron’s Wheatstone project, one of four LNG facilities currently operating in WA’s northwest, is set to release 10.4m tonnes of CO2 annually, a staggering 12% of the state’s total emissions. Yet currently there is no requirement for the company to offset these emissions.

Gas has been promoted as a “bridging” fuel in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, due to its greater flexibility and lower emissions when compared to coal. However, it is still a fossil fuel with significant greenhouse gas emissions on combustion. Furthermore, any advantage it has over coal is lost with even small rates of leakage, as methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. There are limits to gas use if we are to keep to a global carbon budget that restricts warming to less than 2°C as agreed to in Paris.

With the current 1°C of warming above pre-industrial levels Australia is already experiencing severe climatic impacts. Increasing heat and rainfall extremes, bushfires and storms have already directly affected the health of many Australians both physically and psychologically. Those most vulnerable in our communities – children, older Australians and the economically disadvantaged – are already disproportionately affected.In the longer term are the agricultural and socioeconomic consequences of reduced rainfall and droughts on food production and changing patterns of infectious diseases such as dengue and Ross River virus. Further warming will undermine many of the global health gains secured over the last century. The impacts of climate change will unfairly affect people in developing nations, the poorest in those countries, those least able to cope and those least responsible for the problem.


DEFEND DEMOCRACY

Workers in Britain can say what they want and do what they want within very broad limits, and their children can study hard in school and college so they can graduate and join the well-off professional class as doctors, lawyers or engineers, but when it comes to social power most British workers have very little if they are not a part of the elite.

Who has predominant power in the United Kingdom? The short answer is those who have the money - or more specifically, who own income-producing land and businesses - have the power i.e., corporations, banks, and agri-businesses. But they have plenty of help from the managers and experts they hire.


How do they rule? Again, the short answer is through open and direct involvement in policy planning, through participation in political campaigns and elections, and through appointments to key decision-making positions in government. The simple answer that money rules has to be qualified. Domination by the few does not mean complete control. Wage and salary workers, when they are organised, sometimes have been able to gain concessions on wages, hours, and working conditions. Most of all, there is free speech and the right to vote. The domination by the ruling elite does not mean control on each and every issue, or lack of opposition, and it does not rest upon government involvement alone. Involvement in government is only the final and most visible aspect of ruling class domination, which has its roots in the class structure, the nature of the economy, and the functioning of the policy-planning network. If government officials did not have to wait on corporate leaders to decide where and when they will invest, and if government officials were not further limited by the acceptance of the current economic arrangements by the large majority of the population, then power elite involvement in elections and government would count for a lot less than it does under present conditions.

 Contrary to what many believe political parties are not very responsive to voter preferences. Their candidates are fairly free to say one thing to get elected and to do another once in office. This contributes to confusion and apathy in the electorate. It leads to campaigns where there are no "issues" except "images" and "personalities" even when polls show that voters are extremely concerned about certain policy issues.

Many equate socialism with dictatorship, yet, with the coming of the modern industrial state, most of the world’s population has lived under dictatorship. In the world today there are many countries under dictatorships of varying degrees of ruthlessness; that is to say countries in which the government is not responsible to the electorate, and in which political parties and trade unions are suppressed, or are allowed to exist only as organs of the government itself, and in which freedom of speech and opposition propaganda are denied. The Socialist Party, in conformity with its adherence to democratic principles, is opposed to all dictatorships. The Socialist Party has always insisted on the democratic nature of socialism, and on the value that the widest possible discussion of conflicting political views has for the working class. We do not minimise the importance of democracy for the working class or the socialist movement.

Under a dictatorship, the traditional forms of working-class political and economic organisation are denied the right of legal existence. Freedom of speech, assembly, and the Press is severely curtailed and made to conform to the needs of a single political party that has for the time being secured a monopoly in the administration of the State machine. Under political democracy the workers are allowed to form their own political and industrial organisations and, within limits, freedom of speech, of assembly and of the press is permitted, also the possibility of the electorate choosing between contending political parties.

Dictatorship in various forms exists at the present time, basically because of the political immaturity of most of the working class all over the world. Instead of being united by world-wide class consciousness they are everywhere divided: divided between the nations by the poison of nationalism; divided inside the nations by religious, racial and other superstitions; divided also by the failure of many to appreciate the importance of democracy. Nationalism plays a powerful role in thwarting the growth of class consciousness; by inducing workers in the newly created countries of Africa to accept oppression for the supposed benefits they will later receive when industrial development has been speeded up; by the readiness of the workers in countries holding colonies to condone what is in effect a dictatorship imposed on the colonial peoples.

Dictatorship does not exist in a vacuum: like every other social phenomenon it is related to, and has its origin in, a social background. That background is capitalism which inevitably gives rise to working-class problems, consequent frustration, prejudices and bitterness which can be exploited by the opponents of democracy. With equal inevitability it also gives rise to problems of a specifically capitalist nature: such as maintaining the profitability of production; securing new and retaining old markets; the necessity of forging 'national unity' when faced with a war with rival capitalist groups, and so on. It is precisely in an attempt to solve these problems that the ruling class in certain circumstances has recourse to dictatorship. As long as the workers support capitalism and capitalist policies they will be tempted ultimately to give their support to the policy best calculated to meet the political and economic needs of capitalism, though that policy may be one of dictatorship.

We are said to have democracy in that we have free elections which allow us to choose whatever form of government we wish, unlike countries where a single-party dictatorship exists. Such dictatorships usually allow elections where the people may approve or disapprove of given candidates within the dictatorship but have not the freedom to vote for any other parties or for independent candidates. In other words, the people have imposed on them by force, corruption or the control of information a specific political regime and have not got the necessary democratic machinery to challenge that regime.

We are convinced that democracy cannot be defended by an adoption of the 'lesser evil', that is, a policy of concessions to and compromise with non-fascist parties and elements of capitalism. We do not unite with non-socialist organisations which claim to be defending democracy. Democracy for the working class can only be consolidated and expanded to the extent that the workers adopt the socialist standpoint. To renounce socialism so democracy may be defended means ultimately the rejection of both socialism and democracy. Looking at the vast sums of money involved in our allegedly democratic elections we can hardly claim that they are "free"! In fact in most of the so-called democratic countries, it could be said that the astronomical costs of challenging for political power have been deliberately manipulated in order to ensure that those who cannot attract rich backers will be denied meaningful access to the democratic process. Effectively this means that in the same way as people in dictatorships are denied the right to make real political changes, in Britain and other allegedly democratic societies prohibitive financial restrictions are placed in the way of the working class organising politically to effect real economic change. The idea of fair and free elections would give the ruling class political apoplexy. This does not mean that socialists equate dictatorship and bourgeois democracy. Within the latter, we are free to organise politically and to develop our support to the extent where we can eventually overcome the embargoes and impediments that capitalism’s restricted democratic forms impose on us, whereas in the former any socialist work is necessarily clandestine and can invoke severe penalties.

The democratic state has been forced, against its will, to bring into being methods, institutions, and procedure which have left open the road to power for workers to travel upon when they know what to do and how to do it. In this country the central institution through which power is exercised is Parliament. To merely send working-class nominees there to control it is not sufficient. The purpose must be to accomplish a revolutionary reorganisation of society, a revolution, in its basis, which will put everybody on an equal footing as participants in the production, distribution, and consumption of social requirements as well as in the control of society itself. So that all may participate equally, democracy is an essential condition. Free discussion, full and free access to information, means to implement the wishes of the majority which have been arrived at after free discussion, and the means to alter decisions if the wishes of the majority change. Socialist production needs to be organised democratically-a dictatorship organising production for use would not be socialism.



ISLINGTON JUNCTION:
Bill Martin
RICHMOND BARNES:
Adam Buick
SOUTHWARK BOROUGH AND BANKSIDE:
Kevin Parkin

Poisoned Air

More than 95% of the world’s population breathe unsafe air and the burden is falling hardest on the poorest communities, with the gap between the most polluted and least polluted countries rising rapidly, a comprehensive study of global air pollution has found.

Cities are home to an increasing majority of the world’s people, exposing billions to unsafe air, particularly in developing countries, but in rural areas, the risk of indoor air pollution is often caused by burning solid fuels. One in three people worldwide faces the double whammy of unsafe air both indoors and out.

The report by the Health Effects Institute used new findings such as satellite data and better monitoring to estimate the numbers of people exposed to air polluted above the levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. This exposure has made air pollution the fourth highest cause of death globally, after high blood pressure, diet and smoking, and the greatest environmental health risk.

Experts estimate that exposure to air pollution contributed to more than 6m deaths worldwide last year, playing a role in increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease. China and India accounted for more than half of the death toll.

Burning solid fuel such as coal or biomass in their homes for cooking or heating exposed 2.6 billion people to indoor air pollution in 2016, the report found. Indoor air pollution can also affect air quality in the surrounding area, with this effect contributing to one in four pollution deaths in India and nearly one in five in China.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/17/more-than-95-of-worlds-population-breathe-dangerous-air-major-study-finds

THE MORAL HIGHGROUND (weekly poem)

THE MORAL HIGHGROUND

To demonstrate the moral high ground over Assad
and his use of chemical weapons, the US, the UK
and France have launched air strikes against Syria.

All chemical weapons are beastly,   
And using such weaponry’s sad; 
But when we bomb folk, 
The victims don’t choke,  
So dying’s not nearly as bad. 

When we fire off the odd missile, 
And blow off a leg or a head;
Conventional arms,  
Retain their old charms, 
And slay just as many instead. 

'Collateral Damage' is Newspeak, 
'Civilian death toll' is not;      
We don't use a gun,  
Close quarters we shun,    
We ‘neutralise’ without a shot.  (1)

When we help to re-arm the Saudis,
It’s boosting our export campaign;
We’re full of pity,
But it’s, “tough titty”,
For Yemeni kids who’ve been slain.

There's nothing like WMD's,  
For punishing States we don’t like; 
We'll snub the UN,    
Again and again,     
And goodies can get on their bike. 

Our missiles are much nicer weapons, 
Than that horrid chemical gas;  
Such things are frightful,   
Our strikes are rightful,   
Says May trumping out of her ass.  (2)

(1) ‘Neutralise’ is US Military Newspeak for ‘kill’.

(2) Mrs May faces questions in Parliament for not putting
the matter of air strikes on Syria to a Parliamentary vote.

© Richard Layton