Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Reckoning - sustainable development for inclusive growth

So hooray Osbornomics is working; we have an incredible growth in GDP of 0.3%. Lets all celebrate. The sad truth of this fact is that it will be taken as evidence of fiscal policy being effective in assuring the future of our nation’s economy.

Unfortunately no fiscal policy can be truly effective until politicians confront the reality that we have fundamental structural problems with the way our economy works. Too much emphasis has been placed on the debt to income ratio of the government and consequently the underlying problems are not even debated, let alone resolved.

If we are to truly improve our faltering economy then we need to democratize the market economy and organize socially inclusive growth.

The USA, the UK and other developed nations have encouraged a mass market economy based on mass consumption. When this mass market economy first arose, during the Bretton Woods era, mass consumption was fueled through the popularization of purchasing power. This occurred initially through a progressive redistribution of wealth and income. Following this initial bout of progressive redistribution in the aftermath of the Second World War there then came several decades of regressive distribution.

The developed world prolonged the mass consumption market economy by permitting a massive rise in household debt. This debt has accrued mainly through a massive overvaluation of housing stock. “A fake credit democracy has come to stand in the place of a property owning democracy”.  Roberto Unger

This situation cannot be resolved by fiscal stimulus alone or even by robust regulation of finance. History tells us that economic depression is resolved only by an expansion of industry; by an increase in production. 

The most significant step that any government can take is therefore to resolve the flawed relationship between finance and production. The retained wealth in the stock markets and in transnational corporations is, in theory, used to finance production. In actuality very little of financial activity relates to production. Consequently rather than acting as a motor to power production, finance is more like the wind, variable and erratic. At one time the wind was integral to world trade, the power behind the fleets of the world. Now the wind is largely incidental, mechanized transport has superseded sail and shrunk the world. However when the weather turns stormy the power of the wind poses a very real danger to the stability of vessels on which we depend. If the ship is blown over then the cargo is lost and the safety of the people who work on the ship is also in peril.

The disjoint between finance and the productive economy has been allowed to persist because of the massive structural imbalance between developed and emerging economies. Nations such as China and India are awash with commercial and capital surpluses and nations such as the USA and the UK are living off foreign money. 
This financial paradox has exempted these societies from the need to face their own problems. As a consequence China has failed to develop a deep internal market on the basis of redistribution and the USA and UK have failed to develop the inclusive strategy for growth that they need.

Periods of sustained economic development almost always occur at times of industrial development. Hitherto this economic development has, with one notable exception, resulted in a regressive distribution of wealth. If our economy is to continue to provide sustenance to human endeavor then the 21st century Captains of Industry must not only harness the force of the wind to propel innovation but must also facilitate social change.

Structural reforms that promote social growth alongside economic growth are vital to facilitate sustained and sustainable development. The world we live in is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous and as such we need robustness embedded into everyday life. Strong foundations to resist the storms that threaten to blow us over.

Sustainable development has been defined various ways; one of the best and best known was in the Brundtland Report.
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
·         the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
·         the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs."
Unilever, Nike and other global names are recognizing the importance of inclusive growth. Even Primark are recognizing that they have a responsibility for the people who produce their cheap clothing ranges. It is not enough for governments simply to attend summits and set targets; they need to actively lead the creation of a new market economy that puts the interests of people, their children and their grand-children first.

 Unless we adopt a model of socially inclusive growth then we cannot hope to leave a better world for our children's children.

The Reckoning - Steve Tilston

Here’s to all the grand children,
Yet to be born great grand children.
All your sons and daughters,
And your own grand children too.

I offer you my hand.
Out across the age’s span.
A misbegotten plan
To leave the reckoning to you

I must apologise,
if it’s written in the troubled skies.
We’ve been peddling lies,
Somehow forgotten what is true.

Though it’s buried deep.
Poison never sleeps.
Through the ages seeps,
To leave a reckoning for you.

We hang on to misguided dreams,
sleepwalk to the brink.
Hey ho, rue the day.
We’re going down in drink.

I have planted seed.
In vain to raise an apple tree.
To entice the bees
to sip the blossom on the bough.

But the bees don’t toil.
Around the tree a serpent coils,
Spits venom in the soil,
And leaves the reckoning to you

I raise to you a toast.
Should trouble come to roost.
For we ate the golden goose,
And left the reckoning to you.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Teach Your Children Well - Graham Nash

Mr. Gove has again picked a fight with the teaching unions; unusually for me I almost agree with him.

The arrangement of the school year does date from an agricultural period and could arguably be updated to provide a better balanced year. The autumn term, for example, is very long and is quite arduous for young children. The summer term, by contrast, is quite short and doesn’t allow nearly enough time to play cricket.

Where Mr. Gove has it wrong is in insisting that children need to spend more time in school. His plans seem to only make the summer holiday shorter; not rebalance the school year. He also wants to make the school day longer.

The Sutton Report does infer that longer teaching hours can have a positive impact on educational development; but does find that this is contextual. Some children, at some schools do better with more contact time. The quality of teaching is paramount.

I would agree that for older children KS2 and KS3, a longer day could be of benefit. But only if this extra time is used for creative subjects and sport. For KS1 children the day is long enough already. A change in school hours would adversely affect these children (in my opinion as father of 2 and parent governor at an Infant School). But having different length of school day would be difficult in a primary school.

The worst part of Gove’s announcement was that it would begin from next September. I know that he is in a hurry to make a name for himself, but rushed and incremental changes are more likely to cause problems then provide solutions.

I would agree that the education system in England and Wales can be improved. My opinion, however, is that it is better to plan for wholesale changes in a few years and at least try and reach consensus with teachers, political parties and local authorities. The Cambridge Assessment Report of a few years ago found that the most significant factor affecting examination performance in schools was the number of changes made to the curriculum and testing procedures.

From my experience as a school governor and from reading around the subject I think that structural changes would be required to produce overall improvement; not merely tinkering around the edges. The fundamental premise behind any changes must be decided on a consensus on the purposes of education; is it to teach the skill of acquiring and using knowledge? To prepare children to be workers? Or to teach them lists of the kings and queens of England?


You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye

Teach your children well
Their father's hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you'll know by

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you

And you, of tender years
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by
And so please help them with your youth
They seek the truth before they can die

Teach your parents well
Their children's hell will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you'll know by

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"4 Way Street"  1970

"Deja Vu"  1969

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Streets of London - ralph McTell

Ralph McTell's most well-known song is now part of the English folkloric tradition. I can remember singing this song at primary school and it was one of the first I learnt to play on the guitar (only the chords - I still haven't quite mastered the fingerstyle version that Ralph himself plays). The song is about the lonely and homeless - the ignored and forgotten members of society. The Welfare State is the safety net that is meant to catch people before they end up on the streets. Welfare is not merely about a hand-out to the poor; it is about providing a minimum level of well-being and a supportive social network. Social Security should not therefore be merely monetary; it is about facilitating communities to ensure emotional wellbeing, companionsip and guidance to all of its members. When these things are taken away then an underclass of people is left without hope or expectation.

If we're not careful many more people will be left destitute and homeless in London and other cities in the not too distant future.

Streeets of London - McTell, Ralph.

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
Hand held loosely at his side
Yesterday's paper telling yesterday's news

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She's no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.


In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea last an hour
Then he wanders home alone


And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman's mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care


The state of Welfare

Erosion of universal benefits is destroying public support for the welfare state

A couple of weeks ago George Osborne stated that “this month, around nine out of 10 working households will be better off as a result of the changes we are making”.
The BBC report on this speech (before it happened, which frankly annoys me, why can’t politicians just give a speech and have it reported after the event? Why must it be released beforehand?) states that;
“This month saw the start of sweeping changes across public services including reform of the benefits system.
Mr Osborne argues that the government has had to take difficult decisions to cut the deficit and the current benefits system is fundamentally “broken”.
Changes include:
  • The introduction of a £26,000 cap on the amount of benefits a household can receive
  • A cut to housing benefit for working-age social housing tenants whose property is deemed to be larger than they need
  • Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment
  • Working-age benefits and tax credits uprated by 1% – a below-inflation cap
The chancellor believes the changes to benefits and tax will be fairer and help ensure that the country can live within its means and compete globally”
For all the rhetoric both in favour and against these cuts I would agree with Osborne on the limited claim that the vast majority of the public are in favour of these changes to the benefit system and do not agree with Labour or other critics of the changes. The very fact that 9 out of 10 people will purportedly be better off underlines the reason why most people agree with the changes. This, however, does not make it the right thing to do.
Osborne and IDS both claim that they are doing this for the good of the poor and that “defending every line item of welfare spending isn’t credible in the current economic environment. Because defending benefits that trap people in poverty and penalise work is defending the indefensible.”
I can’t help but think that it is low wages that means that work does not pay, not a benefits system that barely facilitates survival. JSA is currently £71 per week; for all your expenses this is not a significant sum (think food, heating, travel, internet, phone, and water /sewerage). If you don’t qualify for housing benefit or council tax reduction then you really are going to struggle. IDS may claim that he would manage if he had to, but I think he would find the changes that he would have to make to his lifestyle more then just unpalatable.
Of the four changes highlighted above, the one that is least discussed is the limiting of the rise in benefits to 1%.  Done on the basis that many people’s wages are stagnant or are also limited in a rise and therefore a rise of benefits in line with inflation would be “unfair” to those in work. I can see the logic in this; the problem, however, is that when we, as a society, have decided that £71 is the minimum you need to survive on each week then not increasing this in line with inflation means that people will, by definition, not be able to cope.
Unfortunately for those who are in receipt of benefits they are characterized by a group of people who insist on spending their money on television subscriptions, computer games, cigarettes and lager. Intentionally or not the BBC chose to study a family that precisely fit this description. The number of children that live in this household result in child tax credits of over £300 per week.
There are many more people in receipt of tax credits that are in work then those who are unemployed; however there are many more people of all political persuasions that do not agree with the way that some people choose to spend the benefits that they receive. Is this not what is truly at the core of this debate?
To some extent I do agree with Osborne and IDS that the system is flawed, albeit not in the way that they mean. I don’t agree simply that people get too much money. The fact that ‘benefit dependence’ seems to be widespread is, I would suggest, more a result of pockets of deprivation arising from a paucity of opportunity. Where the system is deeply flawed is in the considerable sum of money paid in housing benefit to private landlords.
Welfare, benefits and unemployment all seem to be viewed as individual parts of a national problem. It would be better if they were viewed as the same issue on a regional basis. Even well-educated people see benefits as being a separate part of the welfare state and thanks to biased newspaper reporting see welfare dependency and fraud as a bigger problem then they truly are.
Pensioners despair of ‘work-shy’ youngsters playing the system when they receive a state-pension, a second-state pension (for some), a free bus-pass, free TV-license (for over 75s), free prescriptions, full access to all NHS facilities, free book loans and a winter-fuel payment.
These are not labeled as ‘benefits’ but they all come from the welfare pot; furthermore although pensioners claim to have worked all their lives to pay for these benefits the hard-truth is that when these people began paying tax 50 years ago the benefits system was nowhere near as generous. The welfare bill is higher now then it has ever been and that is largely due to the number of pensioners.
Health-care, pensions, education and social care are all part of the welfare-state and by attempting to pry out parts of it the whole edifice is at risk of falling down.
The reason so many people are in favour of reducing the welfare bill is that they perceive it to be wasted on undeserving scroungers. I reluctantly agree with Fraser Nelson when he states “welfare reform is one of the most popular things this government is doing. And it’s never more popular than amongst those on low wages, who share housing estates with the welfare-dependent and can see the injustice”.
Furthermore I agree that a tax-cut for the low—paid is desirable. I don’t, however, agree with his argument that “welfare cuts increase the incentive to work”. There may notionally be record-employment but a significant number of people are under-employed and are paid low wages and unemployment is still historically high.
I would contend that the majority of people do not agree with the current benefits because they perceive that they are paying into ‘the system’ and getting nothing in return and others are taking out of ‘the system’ and are not contributing.
This situation arises because of the tendency towards a residual welfare system. Universality was always a central tenet of the UK welfare state, which was intended to be institutional i.e. where need is accepted as part of normal social life and where welfare is provided for the population as a whole. A residual welfare state is where provision is only for the poor. The removal of universal child-benefit made residual welfare the official policy of the UK government for the first time since 1947.
The end of institutional welfare, and the notion of social solidarity that goes with it, follows several decades of joblessness and the sell-off of council housing. The impact of increasing home ownership has been to not only create indebtedness but has also deepened the divisions between those who have and have-not. Once upon a time there may have been some stigma attached to being unemployed but following the dissolution of British industry in the 1980s unemployment became endemic in some urban areas and consequently being on the dole is now the norm.
Imposing onerous sanctions on the unemployed will not create jobs nor will it make those out of work employable. Where employers can be picky they will select those who are already at least partly trained. A brick-layer cannot cheaply be retrained to be a barber; a welder cannot quickly be taught how to be a barista. The issue of benefits is as deeply intertwined with education policy and socio-economic regeneration as it is with job-creation.
So just as an idea how about giving low-skilled, unemployed people the opportunity to re-train? This could be funded by creating local credit-unions specifically to provide training loans – to be paid back when the person is in employment (in the same way that the Student Loans Company was created). This would empower those looking for work to have more control over what they want to do and would give them personal responsibility for repaying the debt. It is not a quick fix and yes some money would be wasted but people need employable skills to find a job.
It would also be handy if there were more jobs and if there was a larger and more flexible provision to help people find a job through the job-centre. Cutting back the resources required to help people back into work (as the coalition did two years ago) are self-defeating.  Apparently there is no money to pay for it; however short-term investment would lead to long-term gain. Finally let us remember that benefits underpayment amounts to more than benefits fraud furthermore HMRC estimate the tax gap to be £30bn. George Osborne should have bigger fish to fry.

This post was first published on Labour-Uncut on April 5th.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

World Wide Suicide - Pearl Jam

"I felt the earth on Monday. It moved beneath my feet... you got to know there's another way"
Iraq deadly bombings hit Nasariyah, Kirkuk and Baghdad

"World Wide Suicide"

I felt the earth on Monday. It moved beneath my feet.
In the form of a morning paper. Laid out for me to see.

Saw his face in a corner picture. I recognized the name.
Could not stop staring at the. Face I'd never see again.

It's a shame to awake in a world of pain
What does it mean when a war has taken over

It's the same everyday in a hell manmade
What can be saved, and who will be left to hold her?

The whole world...World over.
It's a worldwide suicide.

Medals on a wooden mantle. Next to a handsome face.
That the president took for granted.
Writing checks that others pay.

And in all the madness. Thought becomes numb and naive.
So much to talk about. Nothing for to say.

It's the same everyday and the wave won't break
Tell you to pray, while the devils on their shoulder

Laying claim to the take that our soldiers save
Does not equate, and the truth's already out there

The whole world,... World over.
It's a worldwide suicide.

The whole world,... World over.
It's a worldwide suicide.

Looking in the eyes of the fallen
You got to know there's another, another, another, another
Another way

It's a shame to awake in a world of pain
What does it mean when a war has taken over

It's the same everyday and the wave won't break
Tell you to pray, while the devils on their shoulder

The whole world,... World over.
It's a worldwide suicide.

The whole world,... World over.
It's a worldwide suicide.

Friday, 12 April 2013

In Memoriam Margaret Thatcher - Chumbawumba

Just had to share this EP released by Chumbawumba in honour of the passing of Margaret Thatcher.

Musical political commentary is not dead

The Grocer - Ewan MacColl

A tribute to Margaret Thatcher by Ewan MacColl

The Grocer
(Ewan MacColl)
[tune "The Garden Where the Praties Grow"]

Come all you argumentative sods who like to chew the rag,
Who stand at the bar hour after hour on a beery talking jag;
Sit down and rest your feet awhile and give your mouths a rest,
And I'll tell you about the dame they call the "Guardian of the West."

Her hair was the best that money could buy, her eyes were china blue;
I swear they wouldn't look out of place on a frozen cockatoo.
She'd a nose like the blade of a metal saw, a voice like a tungsten drill,
She used it to bore the natives when she'd a couple of hours to kill.

When she was a puking babe in arms, she read in a magazine
About the royals and decided then she'd like to be the Queen;
But the job had already been taken, so she stamped her foot and said,
"If I can't be the Queen or the Prince of Wales, I'll he the PM instead."

And so she moved from NW4 to a pad in Downing Street,
A well-found joint where she and a hunch of deadbeats used to meet;
And they'd all dance round the table, then have a cosy chat;
And in between she'd practice her elocution on the cat.

The lady often said she'd like to have lived in the Golden Age,
Before the days of the unions and the National Minimum Wage;
And she sighed when she thought how Hitler had smashed them all to hell;
"What he could do I can do better," she said, "and probably twice as well."

And so she set out on the job of castrating them one by one,
All except the E.T.U. and that had already been done;
Teachers and civil servants and workers down the mine
Needed a taste of the lady's whip to make them toe the line.

The miners they came out on strike and she went for them tooth and claw,
Nurses and firemen struck as well, she belted them with the law;
They may be gallant heroes when they're saving people's lives,
But they're just a bunch of layabouts when they're asking for a rise.

Well, the lady's reputation plummeted down into the red,
But trouble blew up in the Falklands, it was jam on her gingerbread;
"Thank God for a nice little war," she said, "this is Britain's finest hour!"
So a couple of hundred squaddies died so she could stay in power.

The day a Polish shipyard became a casualty
She rushed to see Lech Walesa, crying "Solidarity!"
"O stay with us, my love!" he said, but she answered with a frown:
"I've got to rush hack to Glasgow, dear, to close a shipyard down."

She doted on brave Colonel North and all that he represents;
And she stuck like shit to a blanket to her favourite president;
And she's madly keen on Bushy-tail of the dear old C.I.A.,
And she carries a torch for Botha and General Pinochet.

Once behind the counter in her father's grocer shop,
She sold butter and jam and flour and Spam and everything else, the lot;
But now the merchandise has changed, old prices don't apply;
She's selling the nation off in lots to all who want to buy.

Pebby Seeger's Notes:
Ewan had an odd attitude towards grocers. It might have been due to his own poverty- stricken childhood when his family was continually in debt to the local grocer; or perhaps it was the rumour that the present royal family can be traced back to a grocer who made his fortune by victualling Napoleon armies...no matter. Margaret Thatcher's father was a grocer and Ewan wasn't about to let her forget it.

Thatcher and 'the markets'

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK between 1979 and 1990, regardless of whether you agree with her policies or not, she was arguably the most influential figure in the UK during the latter quarter of the twentieth century. One of her great successes was in the marketing of Conservative ideology. Part of the reason for this success was her clarity of vision and her conviction in her beliefs. She described her philosophy as simply;
  • Free-market
  • Small state
  • Low tax
  • Independence
  • Individuality
  • Self-determination
Taken in the abstract there is nothing particularly controversial in this statement of philosophy, however her single-minded zeal to reform the industrial landscape of Britain resulted in a much more unequal society.

The reason for this is probably a result of an imbalance between collective and individual freedoms. Society, as a concept, depends on a balance between collective freedom, individual freedom and justice. Thatcher famously derided this concept* and instead focused on the power of money to change lives. Lives were certainly changed by this belief in the power of money; but not all lives were changed for the better.

The basis for her belief in the power of money to enable individual freedom is best depicted by this quote from Galbraith “the greatest restriction on the liberty of the citizen is a complete absence of money”. Thatcher was determined to reduce poverty - to imrpove the lives of the working class. Uunfortunately she went about it the wrong way. Her policies failed to take account of the other restrictions on individual liberty; she was no feminist, she was anti-union and she was responsible for diminishing the powers of local government thereby inhibiting democratic accountability.

The skills and experience of industry were cast aside in a headlong rush to an increased focus on financial services. From the mid-80s financial services began, overwhelmingly, to be a means of accruing wealth rather then servicing production and the wider economy. The financial crisis of 2007 had its beginnings in the financial deregulation in 1986. Furthermore the importance placed on London both as a political and economic centre meant that economic growth in the South-East far outsripped all other regions. This region had always been wealthier but the proportionate increase in  this region (as evidence we could look at house prices) was significantly greater over this period.

The actions of Thatcher’s government and those of the current coalition are strikingly similar in their attempts to do away with the perceived dead-wood. They see industry or the public sector as unnecessary to increasing the wealth of the nation and therefore unimportant. In reality even non-productive sectors of the economy add to its stability and taking these away without first ensuring that there is a secondary means of support can have a significant effect.

To illustrate this I shall use the analogy of a house. Imagine if you will a bungalow with a pitched roof. The front and back walls support the roof and the side walls are therefore non-load-bearing, redundant. As they are not doing anything we could remove them and, providing that the forces stay the same, the roof won’t fall down. We can then erect an expensive looking glass wall to prevent the inside getting wet. This will keep everyone inside dry when it gets stormy and will look pretty and perform marvelously in letting the sunshine in to the dark rooms. But when the wind blows there is nothing to stop the walls from collapsing; there is no lateral stability, as the glass wall is not an integral part of the building. The glass shatters, the roof falls in and everyone gets wet. If we had built a structural framework before we took the wall down then the building would still be stable.

British industry may not have been well run in the 1970’s and during the 2000s it could be argued that there were too many people employed in the public sector, however these had an important buttressing effect against unemployment. They may not have created GDP but they did give people a way of earning a living. I am not in favour of nationalised industry and I would prefer a much smaller central state (albeit with powers and therefore jobs) devolved to local government; however I do believe that government has a role in helping people to support themselves. This, I think, is where Thatcher (and the current coalition) failed. They believe that the state should not intervene, that ‘the markets’ will find a natural balance. 

An example of this was the deregulation of financial services in 1986. The intention was stated as removing the vested interests of the elite and widening access to finance. Mrs. Thatcher apparently believed that this would enable small banks and building societies to thrive. The reality was that the market came to be dominated by big corporate entities comprising many merged banks and former building societies. The government of the time did not intend for this to happen. In my humble opinion this was the inevitable consequence of opening the door to rampant capitalism. Naked capitalism is the enemy of competition; maximum profits are gained by controlling the market and this can only be achieved by either creating monopolies or corrupting the system. Tories now try and blame this on lax regulation by the Labour government of 1997-2010. The laissez-faire culture started long before this; although Labour did not do enough to enforce regulation. They successfully courted businessmen by appeasing the corporations but they were not the first to do this.

My point is of course, that ‘the markets’, unrestrained, will not find a natural balance for the benefit of communities or nations. The only balance they are concerned with is their profit and loss account.

Her acolytes may find much to admire in her leadership but her legacy is tainted with a lack of compassion for the skilled workers who were left without a future and contempt for the unions.  For my part I think it is possible to admire her conviction and appreciate her philosophy whilst also disagreeing with her policies. She was a marvelous orator, a skilled politician but a lousy policy-maker.

*To be fair to Mrs. Thatcher her quote “there is no such as society” is often misrepresented. What she said was that people should not rely on state-handouts on the pretext that ‘society’ is paying them. She explained that society does not exist in the abstract – it is people, your neighbours and their families, your families and the people down the road who pay their taxes. She wished to emphasise that society owes you nothing; you get benefits through a national insurance scheme that all people pay into and therefore have a responsibility to work if you are able. 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Walmart’s worst nightmare - SumOfUs.org

Below is the text of an email I received today - please share.

Today, Sumi Abedin and Kalpona Akter are landing in the United States from their native Bangladesh. Sumi is a survivor of last November’s deadly fire at the Walmart-contracted Tazreen garment factory. The fire killed 117 of her fellow workers. They were told to keep working despite the alarms blaring -- and when they were finally allowed to leave their machines to escape the blaze, the workers found emergency exits locked from the outside.
Traveling with Sumi is Kalpona, a former garment worker who became an organizer and a leader in the fight for safer factories in an industry where 600 workers have burned to death since 2006. It was her investigations that proved that Walmart was sourcing its Faded Glory-brand clothes from the Tazreen factory at the time of the tragic fire.
Thanks to contributions from 1,500 members of the SumOfUs.org community, Sumi and Kalpona have come halfway around the world to confront the big corporations -- like Walmart and Gap -- that treat Bangladeshi lives as just another cost of doing business. They want to force the executives at these companies to see the human consequences of their ruthless pursuit of low prices.
Together, let’s make sure that Walmart, Gap, and other big retailers hear their powerful message that lives of the people who sew our garments aren’t expendable.
Sign our petition to Walmart, Gap, and other brands that source from Bangladesh, telling them to meet with Kalpona and Sumi and commit to taking basic steps to ensure that garment workers aren’t dying in their factories.
The Tazreen factory was a death trap, with faulty electrical wiring, useless fire extinguishers, and doors locked from the outside. They died because the global corporations buying from the factory wanted their products as cheap as possible, and that meant going without basic safety measures.
Worse yet, the corporations who sourced garments from the factory knew the risk of a deadly fire. Inspectors had repeatedly highlighted the dangers at the factory. Walmart had even acknowledged that conditions at its suppliers, including the Tazreen factory, were dangerous -- but it decided that the necessary safety measures were “not financially feasible.”
The Tazreen fire shattered the lives of injured survivors and the families of the dead. Many families have lost their main breadwinner and are now living in dire poverty. But the brands that sourced from Tazreen haven’t even offered compensation to the families of the 117 workers killed.
Click here to demand that Walmart and other corporate executives sit down with the victims and explain themselves.
In the wake of deadly factory fires, Walmart and the Gap have both promised to work with their suppliers to make their factories safer. But they've refused to carry out some of the best measures for saving lives, like establishing truly independent monitoring programs and funding the renovations essential to turning their suppliers' factories from deadly sweatshop into safe workplaces.
Corporations like Walmart and Gap are betting against consumers like you and me. They’re counting on us to lose interest in Bangladesh, and they certainly expect that we’re going to stop asking tough questions about their broken promises. They know they can only afford to treat their workers in Bangladesh as disposable resources as long as consumers don’t hold them accountable. Let's surprise them.
Click here to tell Walmart, Gap, and others to meet with Bangladeshi workers and commit to guaranteeing safe working conditions for the people who make the clothes they sell.
Thanks for all you do,
Rob, Kaytee, and the team at SumOfUs.org

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Working Class Hero - John Lennon

Working Class Hero - by John Lennon
As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so ****ing crazy you can't follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still ****ing peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be

There's room at the top they're telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

Class Consciousness

The notion of class has once again become popular in popular culture. This recent interest owes its existence almost exclusively to BBC coverage of The Great British Class Survey (GBCS) run be several Universities. The study is described as “a new way of measuring class, which doesn't define class just by the job that you do, but by the different kinds of economic, cultural and social resources or 'capitals' that people possess.”

Although it may be interesting socio-economically to divide people into various class groups that may appeal to modern sensibilities the harsh truth is that, politically speaking, there are at most just three classes. The first can be described using the GBCS terminology; these are Elite and Established Middle Class. The third is everybody else.

By reference to politics I mean the relationship that people have with their government. The Elite are either part of the ruling class or retain so much power that they are unaffected by national politics. The established middle class retain sufficient independence that they are largely unaffected except perhaps through financial institutions. The rest of us are at the mercy of the large corporations that have captured global influence over our everyday lives.

For the sake of convenience I shall use the old-fashioned term ‘working class’ to characterise us minions that are the pawns in this game. A term not in favour with many people, it nevertheless describes our position in the neo-feudal hierarchy that dominates our political landscape.

The fact that men are not ‘class conscious’, at all times and in all places does not mean that ‘there are no classes’ or that ‘in America everybody is middle class’. The economic and social facts are one thing. Psychological feelings may or may not be associated with them in rationally expected ways. Both are important, and if psychological feelings and political outlooks do not correspond to economic or occupational class, we must try to find out why, rather than throw out the economic baby with the psychological bath, and so fail to understand how either fits into the national tub..
[C. W. Mills, Power, Politics and People, ed. by I. L Horowitz, 1962, p. 317]

The Labour Movement started out with the intention of representing the industrial working class, a class which is now much reduced. The constitution of the early Labour Party did not, however, just define ‘workers’ as those from heavy industry but those who by “hand or brain” sell their labouring power. The decline in industrial manufacturing in this and other western developed nations has also seen a decline in independent self-employed artisans and shop-keepers and a parallel increase in the numbers of office workers, both professional and administrative. The change in employment has resulted in a realignment of class-consciousness even if the economic and social predicament of these groups of workers has not. 

The Labour movement has long recognised that whether the work is manual or mental, the control manifested in the relationship between employer and employee is still unequal. If in order to reclaim the title of the people’s party this means reclaiming the idea of class as a rallying point then so be it. The work of the Labour Party must be to engage all people in recognizing that the working classes, although not homogenous, are a distinct entity.

"Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication.  Whoever owns them rules the life of the country, not necessarily by intention, not necessarily by deliberate corruption of the nominal government, but by necessity.  Power is power and must act, and it must act according to the nature of the machinery through which it operates.  In this case, the machinery is business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda.  In order to restore democracy, one thing and one thing only is essential.  The people will rule when they have power, and they will have power in the degree they own and control the land, the banks, the producing and distributing agencies of the nation.  Ravings about Bolshevism, Communism and Socialism are irrelevant to the axiomatic truth of this statement.  They come either from complaisant ignorance or from the deliberate desire of those in possession, power and rule to perpetuate their privilege. . . ."
"As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance. . . ." John Dewey

Friday, 5 April 2013

Poor Shamer General - Luke Wright

Hopefully Luke won't mind; this is cross-posted from his blog - http://www.lukewright.co.uk/a-poem-for-iain-duncan-smith

Witty and insightful poem about everyones favourite Tory minister Iain Duncan-Smith.

Composed by Luke Wright (check out his other stuff on www.lukewright.co.uk very talented, genuinely funny with emotional depth).

Saddle his nag, he rides at dawn
a wet-eyed wave to his well-kept lawn
he’s off to mock the lowest born
The Poor Shamer General

All bloody-spurs and jet-black stead
beware all feckless folk in need
he’ll cut just to watch you bleed
the Mail’s support is guaranteed.
Poor Shamer General

Flanked by SPADs and leering chums
he roams the shabby Northern slums
in search of tracky-bottomed mums
to muddle with sophistic sums
then offer up a fist of crumbs
The Poor Shamer General

The poor are litter, he’s the broom
and you don’t need that extra room
so pack your bags, you’re leaving soon
to a slum lord’s crumbling, ice-cold tomb
it’s no mod cons and on the moon
“Say thank-you now” the Shamer croons
Oh Thank-you! Poor Shamer General

But what’s this here? The Shamer’s right?
say red-faced fellows filled with spite
who swallow all of Murdoch’s shite
then vomit it all through the night
hunched-up in rage in laptop light
I understand you’re not that bright
but these people aren’t the ones to fight.
smite the Poor Shamer General

One day it might be you down there
a daily fight for food and air
desperate, hopeless, lonely, scared
let’s show a little kindness, yeah?

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Finally! Exposed! The Deficit Myth! So, David Cameron When Are You Going to Apologise?

Interesting article by Ramesh Patel in the Huffington Post with the title:

Finally! Exposed! The Deficit Myth! So, David Cameron When Are You Going to Apologise?

On the same topic see the following video - Osborne Nailed.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Tracy Chapman - Talkin' Bout a Revolution

I don't think that a social revolution is about to occur; but I do think that the lines
"While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines "
are particularly poignant at the moment when large changes are being made to the way that welfare payments are made to people in the UK. The provision of welfare is not meant to be merely about survival - as a modern civilized nation we are meant to recognise that welfare is about overall well-being. That's why it is not merely a corn dole.

Talkin' Bout A Revolution (Chapman, Tracy L)

Don't you know
They're talkin' bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Don't you know
They're talkin' about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion

Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what's theirs

Don't you know
You better run, run, run
Oh I said you better
Run, run, run

Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' bout a revolution
Lyrics ©:EMI Music Publishing

The Welfare debate

Over two years ago I wrote this piece for Labour-Uncut; it was the first such article that I had written and consequently not the best. However the main points that I make (or intended to make) are still prevalent today. Is it better to pay someone a pittance to live on the edge of society or pay them more to take a ful part in society, a part which may result in a lower burden overall on society. People in work are healthier and therefore make fewer demands on the NHS; people in work are significantly less likely to be involved in crime (and by extension anti-social behaviour) and of course people in work are paying tax. I don't propose that a massive centralized state is the answer, it is not the job of Whitehall to directly provide jobs; but I would expect central government to have a plan about who is going to provide employment and to have some plans for ensuring that NEETS are employable in the future. The plan at the moment seems to be to “free” the market to determine employment and training for all (and we know what a great job the market did with the financial industry). If, therefore, the private market is not capable of providing full employment, which is worse, paying someone to work or paying them to stay at home.

Which is worse: work or welfare?

by Robin Thorpe
The viability of full-employment has been debated since the industrial revolution. Ever since we began replacing human labour with machines, people have sought to create more efficiency in the workplace. Agriculture, manufacturing and construction now need fewer operatives to generate a higher yield. Individuals are increasingly employed in offices and call-centres dealing with the flow of information and money. Those without the skills or opportunities for this type of work are supported by the community as part of a philanthropic welfare state.
The Tory-Lib Dem government seems to have decided that the burden of welfare is too great and that work should be made “more attractive”. This ideological goal is to be achieved by reducing the extent of benefits available to the unemployed (whether through ill-health, redundancy or lack of skills). However, the reality is that often, although not exclusively, people would prefer to be in work, but do not have the opportunity.
At the same time as cutting benefits, the government has chosen to reduce the funding allocation of local authorities, universities, police, military and other public sector employers. These cuts will increase unemployment. The NHS is also being asked to make efficiency savings, which again will probably result in higher unemployment. And further private sector redundancies could arise in businesses that rely on public sector contracts. A by-product of high unemployment is an increase in the welfare bill.
Unemployment is a logical and unavoidable by-product of the type of efficiency savings that the Tory-Lib Dem government is calling for. Reducing public spending and decreasing taxation, to allow for financial growth and increased spending, may sound rational in a Whitehall office. But they fail to take account of true value for money.
In a free market, full employment is not a viable reality. But the government is seemingly pinning its hopes on the private sector picking up the slack in the employment market. But what if it doesn’t? What if the balance sheets show that the current staffing levels are the most efficient? What if the value-added services, previously provided by the public sector, cannot be provided at an efficient cost by the private sector?
The government’s gamble could well result in enormous damage to the health and wellbeing of vast swathes of society. There is recognised evidence that shows that being in work is good for your physical and mental health and is an effective means of reducing poverty and social exclusion. With appropriate support many of those who have the potential to work, but are currently not working because of illness, disability, or social disadvantage, can access the benefits of work. But instead the government is reducing education and training support.
The obvious question is: “Is it more efficient to pay people to be in work or to pay them to be out of work”? Right-wingers might propose that we should not support them at all. Perhaps someone could rewrite Swift’s Modest Proposal to reflect the current crisis afflicting the socially disadvantaged.
Unless government regulates the market in some way, we will see a widening of social division.
Let us assume that private sector organisations take up the mantle and provide some of the services previously offered by the state. And that entrepreneurial business rise up and service some gaps in the market. Surely this will be at an increased cost to the individual? Is that not the essence of the private sector – to maximise profit for shareholders?
Does private enterprise actually do the same job more cost-effectively than a public body? Not without substantially reducing staff remuneration and/or work-related benefits. If this is the case, is it more cost-effective or just cheaper?
Price and value are different entities. If the services that communities enjoy are not to suffer, private enterprise must step into the breach. It follows that if prices go up then some individuals will be without that service. Others will be left with no choice as to whether they pay for a service, especially those living on reduced benefits. There will be no training or support to enable them to re-enter the employment market, as they simply don’t have enough money. The only winners are private investors who pocket a tidy profit.
The crux of the Tory-Lib Dem argument is the creation of profit, and therefore tax revenue, which results in increased investment, which in turn equals more jobs. This is their economic model. But can this model deliver full employment? If not, then the cost of this model is damaging to individuals’ and, by extension, societal, health and well-being.
The key argument against the Tory-Lib Dem economic model is that it benefits mainly venture capitalists: the few and not the many. Is this the way that the big society is going to work its way out of recession?