King Macron’s Empire

Monsieur Macron’s recent ‘enthronement’ at the Palace of Versailles, a la Napoleon before his adoring En Marche! (Let’s Go!) supporters, signals a new autocratic rule.

Over a quarter of voters abstained in the election.  Macron only won the first round with 24% of the vote, against Le Pen’s 21%.  In the run-off he got 66% with the highest number of abstentions since 1969.  More people rejected the candidates than voted for Le Pen. The turn-out was the worst in modern times, with a total of just 48.7%.

Macron, a wealthy banker and ex-civil servant, saw his opportunity lay in leaving a discredited ‘socialist’ party. He is a leader elected without any political mandate, who wants government to function just like any other capitalist enterprise – notice any similarities here? On Trump’s visit to France, Macron did little to suggest he was any different from the US President.

Macron sees himself as a Thatcher figure who will radicalise French politics. The claim that his new party En Marche! is above the old two party system is spurious, as it is made up of powerful figures from both ‘old’ parties and their supporters who remain in the shadows. For example ‘les Gracques’, are a secretive pressure group staffed by influential chief executives and civil service bosses, who decided that the old ‘socialist’ party no longer served the needs of a neoliberal establishment.

One of Macron’s first announcements was £10 billion of tax cuts. Alongside these are overtures (bribes) attractive enough to lure City firms to Paris. The government also says it will bring France’s public deficit below the EU target of 3% of GDP this year for the first time since 2007.  France, however, has a shortfall of more than £7 billion in this year’s budget.

Another crucial announcement is his intention to destroy France’s hard-won labour laws, to make it easier to hire and fire staff and reduce redundancy payments.  Street protests have taken place.  It will be a test of France’s trade union solidarity.

At the G20 Macron showed himself to be a neo-colonial racist, referring to Africans as being uncivilised. There are still strong trade links with former colonies, especially focused on the extraction industries. The vast amount of trade is one way, to the benefit of France. The West African CFA franc and the Central Africa CFA franc are two currencies used in Africa, guaranteed by the French Treasury, which legalise dubious currency manipulation. ‘Francafrique’ means that the CFA zone countries must deposit 50% of their currency reserves into a fictitious operations account managed by the French Treasury.

Despite the cuts to the French military, which sparked the resignation/sacking of military leader, General de Villiers, Macron has vowed to expand France’s influence over former colonies.  He and Merkel have also agreed to develop a joint fighter plane, putting defence at the heart of Franco – German relations.

Macron is ambitious for himself, which could be a threat to Merkel and Germany’s domination of Europe.  EU austerity persists.  Macron’s election is a threat to French workers and peace in Europe.

 

 

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The Role of the EU in the Grenfell Fire

What is the link between the Grenfell tower fire and the EU? The Blair government was keen on Britain joining the Euro and to do so Britain had to adopt the Maastricht stability criteria. These require that the countries deficit should not exceed 3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that the total debt must not exceed 60% of GDP.

To try and achieve this the government adopted ‘creative’ accounting so that government debt did not appear in the public sector accounts.  One way to do this was through Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) which allowed the private sector to invest in public services such as building new hospitals or school buildings, which are then paid for by the public sector over many years. This of course requires paying higher interest than the government would pay if it borrowed directly or increased the public debt.

The second method was the creation of ‘Arms Length Management Organisations’ (ALMOs) such as the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which could then receive the finance for housing improvements but not appear in the council’s accounts. Of course, both devices allow increased power and profits for the private sector. A PFI was used to deliver the dangerous and flawed refurbishment Grenfell cladding while the housing was managed by the KCTMO. The consequences are now tragically clear.

Grenfell, Just Like Piper Alpha – A Failure of Deregulation

The horror of the Grenfell tower block fire recalls the Piper Alpha Oil platform fire in 1988 in which 167 oil workers died after a preventable gas explosion. This followed years of deregulation by the then Thatcher government and drastic cuts in maintenance and safety procedures by Occidental Petroleum when the oil price fell. The oil extraction platform had been adapted to extract gas and the living quarters were located next to pressure units against safety practice.

The gas explosion had tragic consequences, including the highest death toll ever in an oil platform and a £1 billion insurance pay-out, of which only £66 million (just 6.6%) was paid to the families of the workers who died in the fire. The subsequent investigation report had over 100 recommendations about improving safety in the North Sea. (Source: The Guardian July 4th 2013)

The Grenfell tower fire follows decades of policies by governments undermining council housing and cuts to Local Government, which reached an extreme logic at Kensington and Chelsea.  Following the Thatcher government’s ‘Right to Buy’ policy whereby council houses could be bought at discount prices the Blair government came up with the idea of creating housing organisations separate from councils. They made this re organisation a condition for the receipt of finance to repair and modernise council houses.

Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) is one of these ‘arms length’ organisations. It now manages 10,000 social houses and flats. The policy intentionally created a break in accountability between the elected councillors and tenants in council housing. It also resulted in organisations like KCTMO no longer having access to expertise from the council’s technical departments, which have since been greatly reduced in size and capacity. The KCTMO was therefore reliant on the private sector for the design and implementation of refurbishment schemes such as the over cladding which has turned out fatally flawed, as are many more around the country.

Some councils such as Sandwell did provide expertise to their arms length organisation and used private consultants and three contractors to implement a refurbishment programme for 40 blocks. As a result, the over cladding system used the non-flammable mineral fibre, ‘Rockwool,’ for the insulation layer and aluminium in the outer rain screen panels. The system also contains fire barriers in the cavities at each floor. But, an essential feature was that engineers and clerks of works regularly checked the installation on site.

Today, many local councils no longer have the technical expertise and resource capacity to properly control such schemes. Paradoxically this situation does not even benefit the private sector, as the lack of proper control means that there are shortcuts taken and good consultants and contractors are not given the opportunity to tender on a fair basis to implement safe quality schemes.

The inadequacies of Kensington and Chelsea Council were all too apparent in its lack of organisation in response to the emergency caused by the fire.  Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, councils, which are defined as category 1 responders, have a duty to have in place ‘Emergency Plans’ and arrangements to make information available to the public. Such plans name officers, operatives and organisations, who must make themselves available and act. Indeed, ‘Resilience officers’ should continuously update the plan and organise emergency exercises to test the plans, in cooperation with the police, Fire and Rescue Service and others. The plans list the evacuation centres, means of transport and arrangements with hotels which might accommodate people. Quite obviously no such plan went into action during or after the Grenfell fire and curiously this matter has not been questioned or highlighted by the media.

The aftermath of the Piper Alpha Oil Platform fire resulted in much greater safety in the North Sea oil industry, a great upsurge in trades union organisation among oil workers and public questioning of the Thatcher mantra of deregulation.

Out of respect for the victims of the Grenfell fire and the thousands of tenants now at risk throughout our country a major reversal of current policies on public housing and the role and resourcing of Local Government is now required.

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Vote Labour. Oppose the Tartan Neo-liberals of the SNP.

In the next seven days a lot of ground has to be won by Labour, so we can have a government committed to support the many not the few and to avoid the disaster of another five years of Tory austerity. It is correct to say that austerity policy is a choice, but so is voting for the SNP and to do so will help cement the Tories’ lead.

For Britain the present polls, show a narrowing of the Conservative lead over Labour (from over 25% to five or six percent). Also in in a recent Ipsos Mori Poll on the 31st May, Labour in Scotland showed a slight improvement in the popular vote from 20 % in the local elections to 25%. There has been a decline from 50% in intentions to vote SNP since the general election, the figure is now 43%. However the same poll shows 53% of Scots are against “independence”.

In the election debate on Wednesday 31st, Corbyn asked Angus Robertson of the Scottish Nationalists whether he had heard the results of the referendum to leave the EU. The SNP choose to ignore the democratic mandate of the 2016 vote just as they ignore the 2014 “once in a generation” referendum for Scotland to stay together, united in Britain. The SNP disregard democratic votes.

The SNP could be responsible for Britain being run by Tories. They want to see Scotland remain in the EU or the Single Market, in thrall to the European Commission and the European Central Bank. On their web site, they say without irony that the single market was supported by the Tories and ask why this has changed. Indeed Thatcher fostered the idea and signed the Single European Act; need we have any more proof that the SNP are the tartan neo-liberals.

Rebuild Britain – Vote Labour

The British people are presented with two great opportunities for progress, Brexit and the election of a Labour government.  Indeed both are related; the Labour Manifesto proposes many progressive measures, which can only be implemented outside the European Union and its single market with its ‘Four Freedoms’. These allow the worst employers to move workers and even replace whole workforces through agencies using EU workers with lower wages and conditions. They can also move capital from places where the workforce is well organised and the political environment not to their liking and move goods and firms without regard to local standards or the social and economic consequences. Additionally, EU restrictions on public spending and investment prevent governments from supporting their industries.

Being free from EU controls and restrictions provides great opportunities for Britain but these cannot be limited to the ability to have trade agreements with many more countries than just the EU. It must be based on a vision of investment in the British people, our communities, public services, industry, agriculture, fisheries and culture. The Labour Party Manifesto provides such a vision and a detailed and affordable cost plan to implement it. It gives the lie to the policy of ‘Austerity,’ which pretended that privatisation and public service cuts were needed, as the country could not afford the services or investment and also to the idea we need to transfer our resources to transnational corporations.

The measures to rebuild the public services, improve wages and the right to Trade Union organisation, to stop university fees and invest in our schools including art provision recognise that our future depends on investment in our youth. At the same time they protect the NHS, the old and the disabled, recognise their contribution and stop the invidious attempts to divide our people.

The recognition of the need for investment in infrastructure throughout Britain, not just in London, promotes a vision of the whole of the country, its economy and people as one with a great future if we all join in this great endeavour.

We had the courage to leave the EU. Now we must show that courage by voting Labour on June the 8th.

No Second Referendum

Sturgeon and the Tartan Tories are again talking of having a second independence referendum, just as the Westminster British government moves to invoke Article 50. The SNP hope Scotland would be independent from the UK and remain in the EU; or an alternative raised at the end of last year is the differentiated Brexit. This idea means that Scotland remains in Britain, but stays within the single market or has a special relationship within European Free Trade Area. The Scottish government sees itself competent to negotiate these deals.

In a poll last month carried out in Scotland by Panelbase for the Sunday Times, 51% of those polled did not support a second referendum. In fact support for a second independence referendum has gone down from 43% in last June to 27% this January. As workers we must get ready to oppose both of the second referenda that that opponents of British working class democracy would foist on us.

No Independence in the EU. Workers Unite.

The “parcel of rogues” in Holyrood are pleading for an odd sort of independence. Being in the EU is no independence. Often we have heard the Europhile comment that the nation state is out-dated. This is a key concept in neoliberal thinking; that globalised corporations alone should have any independence. Neoliberals work to replace national sovereignty with the corporate sovereignty of massive multi-national corporations.

For neoliberals and the proponents of transnationalism the basis of democracy is to be the boardrooms of the largest companies and financial institutions, of unelected transnational bodies such as the EU commission and the European Central Bank and trade agreements such as Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The basis of legality is to be those shadowy Investor State Disputes Procedures exposed by the protesters against The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), CETA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Security and policing is to be done through mercenary private security organisations.

Finance capital nowadays has no country and it is the workers who live in these islands who must defend the gains made in the centuries long struggle of working people, whether in Scotland, Wales or England.

The Politics of Displacement

Theresa May is the latest example of a British Prime Minister who is desperate to renew the illusory ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America. Any trade deal with the US and Britain might entail swapping the tyranny of the EU for the tyranny of US companies who want to devour our public services such as the NHS and Education for private profit. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would still be alive and well for Britain.

In contrast to May’s obsequiousness in the US, her speech to EU foreign ministers at Lancaster Gate a week earlier, gave a clear outline of what leaving the EU would mean for Britain and the EU. Sadly, MPs in all parties continue to peddle the same myths about what we in Britain voted for in the Referendum. We voted to leave the Single Market, the Customs Union and against the ‘Free Movement’ of workers, goods, services and finance.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party continues to write a succession of suicide notes addressed to the labour movement, on whom it has turned its back. Corbyn may be the party leader but he is not in full control.

Similarly, outside of Parliament many ‘remoaners’ still deny that the British people knew what they were voting for. Some trade unionists and ‘leftists’ prefer to shout slogans to each other demonising Trump. Have they forgotten how murderous other US presidents were, as indeed were some British Prime ministers such as Blair and Cameron? It is always safe and cosy to take the moral high ground about a foreign leader and congratulate each other in the conviction that protesting is actually political work; it most certainly is not.

Workers in Britain face many problems that we are still failing to address. The American people must deal with Trump. We in Britain must deal with our own employers, government and parliament, not least to ensure there is no backsliding on our exit from the EU. As trade unionists we have to be in the forefront of rebuilding Britain, not waiting for a politician to make another speech.

We do not have the luxury for ‘displacement politics’. Our country’s future is too important.

Autumn Budget is no Joke

The Chancellor’s Autumn statement clearly demonstrated that the Tories can only offer more misery and despair for Britain. It was a perfect opportunity to ditch the failed ideological policy of austerity. But the Chancellor reaffirmed that the Tories are the party of austerity, despite the Prime Ministers supposed concern about those who are just about managing.

The economic outlook was full of doom and gloom, based on the belief that tax receipts will fall, inflation will rise, wages will stagnate and growth will decline. Working people have still not seen any rise in real pay. It is predicted that average earnings at the end of this decade will, after inflation, still be below their level before the recession of 2008. All this designed to frighten us into submission and accept the inevitable. Workers need to take up the challenge and fight for their wages against these attacks.

The key to Britain’s current economic situation is not austerity but investment for growth. Key industries such as nuclear, defence and energy are struggling from a lack of skilled workers. Research and development and science and technology require additional funding and future funding guarantees. None of this was present in the autumn statement to a level that will have a significant impact on the prosperity or productivity of the economy.

However the Tories can find £240m for grammar schools and £7.6m to restore a crumbling country house, whilst ignoring calls for social care and NHS funding.

It is obvious that the political parties have been shaken by the huge Leave vote, and this was reflected in all the talk about the so-called Jams, and some small concessions. However, the underlying push is still for austerity and to combat this we will need to set out and demand our own agenda for a post-EU Britain.

Hammond made a joke about this being his last autumn statement, but it will be no laughing matter for the people of Britain while the Tories remain in power.

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