Zombie Capitalism

It is refreshing to see a clear analysis of the state of British capitalism in a national newspaper.

What is needed now is a response from British workers determined to get rid of it for good.

The article by can be found here.

A key aspect of this article is the call for an analysis of alternatives, for new visions that return power and control to workers and communities.

Our party has already produced a series of visions covering many industries, and many aspects of work and cultural life. We started this a decade ago in the wake of the financial crisis.

Over the coming weeks we are revisiting and updating those visions.

To access these updated visions, use the ‘Britain‘ tab on our web site.

 

Drowning In Debt

What is the likelihood of a repeat of the economic crisis of 2007/8 happening in Britain some time soon?  Elements of that debt crisis are all too present in today’s British economy.

Figures from the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) highlight the frightening extent of a growing crisis in Britain’s personal debt.  3.1 million people have taken out one or more payday or doorstep loans this year at exorbitant levels of repayment interest. Outstanding spending on credit cards, car finance and other loans is £203 billion, just short of the £208 billion outstanding before the 2008 financial crisis.

Most British people do not have substantial savings for a ‘rainy day’.  6.5 million adults, or one in eight have no cash savings at all. Nearly a third of working people do not pay into a private pension. Rather than looking forward to a well-earned retirement, many view it with alarm and fear. The number of people ‘just managing’ financially is 14 million. The FCA characterises ‘just managing’ as those who would face disaster if they lost their job or received a large unexpected bill.

35-year mortgage terms accounted for over 15% of new loans in the first three months of this year – up from 2.7% in 2005 – which means homeowners are saddled with more debt for longer. Reports have also indicated a rise in the number of mortgages with the amount borrowed more than 4.5 times the income of the borrower, suggesting that people are taking on more debt.

If interest rates continue to rise, rising mortgage payments may put pressure on many people. A one percent rise would raise monthly repayments across all those with mortgages from today’s £544 by an average of £31.50, or 6.1 per cent. Younger households would face the biggest average increases in repayments in both cash terms (£43.60 among 25-34 year-olds) and proportional to other groups (8 per cent among 18-24 year-olds).

The Treasury’s proposal to give people in serious debt a six week grace period to seek advice does not, of course, address the fundamental issue of why people get into debt. The key reason is the attack on workers through austerity, a deliberate low wage economy via wage restraint and poor quality jobs through to the lack of investment in infrastructure, housing and training.

 

Nurses Take on Government – End the Pay Cap

Almost a decade of austerity finds much of our NHS crumbling. Today, the fight to restore what was the best health service in the world was taken up by 10000 nurses, as they marched on London.

Over the last decade, the Royal College of Nursing has seen a dramatic change in its approach to industrial action. Many of its members now take the view that only direct action will shift this government.

The RCN has warned that unless the next Government drops the 1% cap on pay, it will hold a ballot on industrial action. Earlier this year, members of the RCN voted overwhelmingly in support of direct action – nine out of 10 support action just short of a strike, while almost four out of five back strikes.

This call to arms now needs to be taken up by all public sector workers, most of whom have suffered the same pay cuts for many years.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Venezuela Fights Terror with Democracy

Having failed to oust the government electorally and with their economic sabotage exposed, the fascist oligarchy has relied on violence in the hope of provoking civil war, giving the US an opening for military invasion to assist the fascists into power under the pretext of ‘saving Venezuela’. Their ‘demonstrations’ and violence occur in less than 5% of the country but they rely on the western media to create the impression of crisis and chaos.

Fascists Rely on Violence

The violence has increased from the ‘guarimbas’ (blocking of roads with wires to decapitate motorcyclists), burning barricades and hurling projectiles at police, to the assassination of Chavista activists by hired killers and attacks on public buildings, including health centres. On 20th April 2017 for example, opposition terrorists attacked the Hugo Chavez maternity hospital in Caracas with stones and Molotov cocktails with patients and health workers inside who had to be evacuated. On 21st  April they attacked the El Valle maternity hospital. UNICEF condemned the attacks which our media kept silent about.

The Supreme Tribunal of Justice was attacked several times between the 4th and 8th of April, including an attempt at arson. On the 5th May 2017 they tried to set a petrol tanker lorry on fire on the motorway. A public bus with passengers aboard was stoned and petrol bombed. In that period 43 young people and children, seen as Chavista supporters, were killed by ‘opposition’ terrorists.

US officials and the western media have characterised the election of the Constitutional Assembly as a ‘power grab’ by Maduro designed to abolish the National Assembly. In fact, such abolition is outside the power of the CA or the president and the CA’s committees which are leading economic reforms include members of the NA. Trump has threatened ‘military options’ and increased the economic sanctions started by Obama. But this economic warfare and threatened military attacks have in fact backfired. Even right wing Latin American politicians have rejected US military intervention.

While the executive led by President Maduro has been leading the fight against destabilisation, the people and progressive forces needed a democratic forum to discuss the changes required to the economy and to carry out peaceful dialogue with genuine critics and patriotic opposition parties and politicians. The call for dialogue was supported by, amongst others, the Pope and by the Latin American international bodies UNASUR, CELAC and ALBA.

Venezuelan Economy

The election of the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela and its work in tackling current economic and political problems has been an important blow against the right wing fascist opposition and its US backers. For a time, economic difficulties in the country caused by the drastic drop in the price of oil and economic sabotage by the ‘Oligarchy’ or economic conservative elite, decreased support for the government. As a result, the opposition won a majority in the National Assembly (NA) and used this to try to overthrow the elected government, worsening economic problems without presenting a positive alternative. Having been discredited and facing electoral humiliation, they boycotted the elections to the new Constituent Assembly (CA).

The Venezuelan economy is quite developed, producing, for example, steel from its own resources in iron ore and coal, but it is over-dependent on oil. Its GDP is about a seventh of the UK’s with half Britain’s population and is made up of 50% oil products, 15% manufacture, 3% agriculture and the rest in services and other sectors. Oil products make up 95% of its exports and produce 50% of the government’s revenue.

Chavez and the current government appreciated that over-dependence on oil have to change through a strategy of ‘economic diversification’. The huge progress in social investment particularly health, education and housing has made the fall in government revenues more critical and the need for change urgent. The programme of work of the CA reflects this with plans to increase manufacturing, agriculture and export of non-oil products. The structures for Latin American economic cooperation created by ALBA will help.

There are shortages of consumer goods but food, health, education and housing continue to be provided for the people even if the wealthy endure inconveniences. As Maduro put it, ‘The people’s government is standing and will not allow the Oligarchy or US imperialism to take Venezuela’. Britons must stand with Venezuela.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

American Imperialism is Alive and Well

For a President who initially promised an ‘America First’ policy during his election campaigning, Trump has shown that US Imperialism is alive and well.

Examples include his threat to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran, the continued interference in Venezuela, where a desire to get American hands on their oil reserves is a key motivation, his recent promise to put more troops in Afghanistan and his aggressive threats towards North Korea.

North Korea understands only too well the dangers from the US. Painted as a paranoid, evil country by the western press it is worth remembering what the US did to it during the Korean war. By the time of the armistice in July 1953 there had been an estimated 1.3 million military and civilian Korean casualties out of a population of about 9.6 million before the war. Its entire infrastructure, including the greater part of its towns and cities, had been obliterated.

Much of the destruction was caused by aerial bombardment. The US Air Force dropped 635,000 tons of explosives, more than the entire Pacific Theatre of WW2, including 32,000 tons of napalm.

Not surprisingly North Korea prioritises national defence in its constitution, having a policy of ‘songun’ or ‘military first’. They understand only too well that even countries which give up their nuclear ambitions, like Libya, will still be attacked. For this reason they consider their nuclear programme to be a defence ‘in the present world where the law of the jungle prevails’ (statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry).

Grenfell Fire Opens Debate on Regulation

The outcome of the enquiry into the causes of the Grenfell fire won’t be out for some time but many involved in fire safety are debating the adequacy of the current regulatory regime, in particular ‘The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005’ (RRFSO) and part B of the Building Regulations.

Before the RRFSO the regulation of fire safety in buildings used by the public was the responsibility of the Fire and Rescue Service. Landlords and premises owners had to have a Fire Certificate which was issued by the Fire Service after a thorough examination of the building plans and inspections on site of the building. Regular inspections followed which ensured maintenance was up to date, no un-authorized alterations had been made and fire hydrants were working. The visits also familiarized the local crews with the situation they would face in a fire.

The Blair government introduced the RRFSO, removing the need for Fire Certificates and the direct control of fire safety from the Fire Service. Instead it has become the duty of landlords and premises owners to obtain a ‘Fire Risk Assessment’ from an expert, but the required qualifications and experience of the experts are not defined. Enforcement of the regulation has become the responsibility of the Fire and Rescue Service who check that the Fire Risk Assessments have been done and kept up to date and that the control measures and maintenance are being carried out.

Inspection Resources Are Inadequate

The system could work well if the Fire Service kept the required resources to make the necessary checks. Until 2010 the resources were maintained but since they have been reduced. There has been a 17% reduction in finances between 2010 and 2016 according to the National Audit Office. This has affected the checking but also public education and fire awareness visits to schools and other groups. Fires and fire fatalities have halved in the UK in the last ten years and this may have led to complacency and cuts by government.

Many interested parties would like to see the mandatory publication online of the Fire Risk Assessments. This would bring transparency of the fire safety regime in a building to tenants and users. So far, the government has not implemented this. Meanwhile the capacity of the Fire Service has been reduced and needs to be re-built.

Discussion on the fire safety part of the Building regulations has concentrated on its clarity and on the fact that the data on fire tests is not transparent as it is commercially sensitive but there are other fundamental issues.

Until 1985 when Thatcher’s minister Michael Heseltine changed the regime, all Building regulation checking was done by Local Authorities for set fees which depended on the cost of construction of a project and were the same in the whole of England and Wales with similar regimes in the rest of Britain. There was no competition in the provision of this service. The Building (Approved Inspectors etc.) Regulations 1985 allowed private sector ‘Approved Inspectors’ to check and approve building construction for Building Regulation compliance. These AIs had to be competent and be independent of the project developer. There are no longer set fees for the work. They now depend on competition among providers of the service which include the local councils.

Serious Concerns:

  • When the time allowed for checking a project in the tender is reached the pressure to complete the check is high and more thorough considerations and discussions are at times avoided.
  • Inspectors now need they feel that they need to be popular with large developers so they are selected as checker for future projects. This may influence decisions on controversial matters.
  • Is the investment in training and professional development being sustained? Initially the AIs employed many ex-local authority inspectors but as many of them retire there may be a loss of expertise.
  • There are the delays in updating the regulations at a time when the pace of technological development and changes in materials and methods of construction is greater than ever before. The fire safety part of the regulations was updated in 2006, 2010 and 2013.

A good regulatory regime must keep up with societal and technological change and provide flexibility in the way its requirements are met, so it is rightly subject to frequent debate. When it works well it protects society and assists industry with clarity on requirements.

The government’s mantra of ‘deregulation’ is misconceived and  undermines safety and industry.

Save

Save

Save

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.

 

 

Save

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.

Save

Please subscribe to Receive the Worker Newsletter

We Leave The EU In

Meta