Note of Branch Meeting on 19 May 2016

The principal item on the agenda of the branch meeting on Thursday, 19 May, was a discussion and debate on the forthcoming EU Referendum.

The official campaigns and how they are being reported in the mass media were criticised. The misuse of public money and resources by the government in promoting the case for staying in came in for particularly severe criticism. Specious economic “facts” – actually forecasts by the same neo-classical and neo-liberal economists who had failed to predict, or even understand, the causes of the 2007-8 financial crisis – were uninformative and counter-productive. It was agreed by the meeting that the decision whether to stay or leave turned on the effect this would have on the growth in solidarity, consciousness and ability to act of the working class, both nationally and internationally. This could not be assessed in a binary way,  rubbishing all counter-arguments without consideration and emphasising immediate effects. What was required was a dialectical approach which took into account the origins and continuing development of the EEC/EU and how its democratic structures and recognition of trade union rights had developed. Such analysis pointed to exit.

The meeting agreed on the importance of national self-determination. While this pointed to exit, the Scottish and Irish dimensions were complicating factors. The potential for exit to encourage Scottish independence, resulting in the fracture of the working class on the UK mainland, had to be factored in, as had the effect of re-introducing a de-facto border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. These considerations deserved debate, not partisan dismissal.

The meeting welcomed the decision by Croydon TUC to hold a public debate at Ruskin House on Thursday, 9 June to be introduced by Mark Serwotka (Stay) and Eddie Dempsey (Leave). The meeting commended the branch’s officers for encouraging Croydon TUC to take this initiative.

Follow the Cuban Model

In the posting last week I suggested that resistance to antibiotics should be added to the threats facing humanity. This has been confirmed by the Final Report to government from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) published today. In the preface to this report, Lord O’Neill, now a government minister, accepts that routine surgeries and minor infections will become life-threatening once again and that the hard won victories against infectious diseases of the last fifty [surely sixty plus] years will be jeopardized. Unless action is taken, the report concludes, the number of deaths each year from AMR could balloon to 10 million, at a cumulative cost to global economic output of $100 trillion. On this basis, by 2050, the death toll could be a staggering one person every three seconds and each person in the world today will be more than $10,000 per annum worse off – quite a problem when the world average income is currently less than $18,000 per annum – but such distributional matters tend not to concern Tory ministers.

Some of the report’s recommendations are obvious, including restricting doctors from prescribing antibiotics until they have confirmed with tests that they are actually required. Others are conspicuous by their absence and reflect the prejudices of the government of which Lord O’Neill is a member. These include the need to block TTIP so that US factory farming methods dependent on intensive antibiotic use are not forced on us when this agreement with the  EU is signed. Leaving the EU is the best, possibly only, way of stopping TTIP  – what a shame that the official Brexit Campaign, dominated as it is by right wing Tories, is so reluctant to point this out.

The report concludes that remedial action can be financed from existing NHS budgets. That will generate a huge sigh of relief from a government unwilling to provide an adequate level of funding for even current services. It depends, however, on the assumption that the drug companies can be made to pay. The key recommendation is a new settlement with Big Pharma, a so-called ‘pay and play’ requirement: pay for the investment in new antibiotics and inoculation in exchange for continuing their privileged position as monopoloy suppliers to governments. Given Big Pharma’s record of dodging taxes and ripping off governments, this has all the prospects of a snow ball in hell. The knee jerk reaction from the trade body the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry was, as would be expected,  immediate rejection.

Big Pharma is the epitome of capitalism and the illusion that if we give the rich and powerful everything they want, the welfare of everyone else will be enhanced. The truth is that, as with global warming, international, profit driven enterprises cannot be trusted with the fate of humanity. They will always put the interests of the elites who own them or feed off them as managers first. They must be cut down to size, stripped of their monopolies and, in the case of Big Pharma,  replaced with democratically controlled research institutes. If the impoverished Cubans can do it, so can we!

Can we have our votes back please?

Interviewed yesterday on Channel 4 News, Naom Chomsky identified global warming and nuclear war as the two greatest threats to humanity and criticised the presidential contenders in the US for ignoring both. While I’d be inclined to add two more – growing inequality and the threat to humanity posed by the potential collapse of anti-biotics – it has to be pointed out that these concerns did not feature in our last general election either. The only election I can recall where they were raised was that for Labour Leader, won decisively by Jeremy Corbyn. He, however, faces an uphill struggle to persuade the Parliamentary Labour Party. Most Labour MPs and many of their elected counterparts in local government cannot wait to unleash a coup to topple him, and to hell with the members and supporters who so decisively elected him.

The recent mayoral election in London was largely about personalities and race, not policies. The successful Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, promised to freeze fares and build more affordable homes. Neither appeared very likely, but the significant number of left inclined voters in London voted for him anyway on the grounds that he wasn’t Zac Goldsmith, the millionaire Tory candidate; and, if he failed to get elected, the Parliamentary Labour Party would use it as an excuse to try and unseat Jeremy Corbyn.

Having won on Corbyn’s coat tails, there were some immediate signs of trouble ahead. At his inauguration Khan cold shouldered Corbyn and, in his public statements then and thereafter, showed little understanding of why he had been elected. His acceptance speech was full of self-congratulation for his personal achievement as the “son of a bus driver” for having risen so far. He was now, he told us,  “living the dream”. He has, however, waited until today to reveal in the Guardian his true colours. He wants Labour to return to the policies Blair and Brown. In other words, he sees war, growing inequality, privatisation and protecting the rich as a fair price for a Labour victory at the next general election and the further personal advancement that appears to mean so much to him. He has fired the starting gun for the campaign to topple Corbyn.

The Guardian should be ashamed for giving him a platform for this act of treachery. He should have been politely directed to the Daily Mail or The Times where his true audience awaits. Meanwhile, can we have our votes back please?

 

Watch Out, Rupert!

The BBC is running scared of the government in the run up to the Charter Renewal negotiations. Any criticism of the government has to be ‘balanced’ or, better, as in the case of the ongoing police investigations into Tory over-spending at the last general election, completely ignored. Examples of this ‘balanced’ approach to news management were provided today (9 May) by the interview with Professor Jeffrey Sachs on the Today Programme  Professor Sachs, an economic adviser to the UN General Secretary, criticised Britain’s sponsorship of tax havens and predicted that the government would not be pressing for their abolition at the forthcoming inter-government summit on Thursday. The summit will be hosted by David Cameron, but he’s unlikely to use his position to press for abolition as this would not be acceptable to his City backers. The BBC, nervous of upsetting the government, immediately interviewed a City “tax expert” who reassured listeners that tax havens were nothing to do with avoiding tax (and, anyway, were not even called “tax havens”). Their purpose was to provide a neutral legal framework to facilitate international contracting. Needless to say, the respectfully supine interviewer, Sarah Montague, took all this nonsense at face value. Balance restored!

What a shame that the BBC’s commitment to ‘balance’ could not extend to reporting even handedly on the elections last week. Criticism of Jeremy Corbyn was the predominant theme. When, embarrassingly, Labour actually did quite well in England, the focus shifted to Labour’ s poor results in Scotland and the awkward fact that this was due to the previous Blairite leadership and nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn was ignored.

There are, nevertheless, two bright spots to lighten the gloom enveloping broadcasting. One brave BBC reporter, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (what a brilliant name – surely it must be a spoof?), dared to stand up to government this week (well, not actually ‘stand up to’, it was more a case of disrespect). Unfortunately, the government in question was the government of North Korea and he was duly expelled. Watch out, Rupert – try that at home and it’s your livelihood that will disappear, not your entry visa. The other bright spot is Channel 4 News. It’s currently much less biased than either BBC or ITV news and fully deserving of the award it received at last night’s BAFTAs. It’s hardly surprising then that, in the words of Peter Kosminsky at last night’s BAFTAs, the government intends to “eviscerate” it.

Meeting the challenge

For an excellent report on and pictures of the Croydon May Day march and rally at Ruskin House last Saturday, you can do no better than see this report on the Sangha Kommune website. I was within earshot of the author of the report when he had his reported encounter with the passer by who, on seeing the hammer and sickle flag, declared that we were “forty years too late” and challenged us to provide an example of where communism had been successfully implemented.

There is not a lot one can do in such situations other than respond with confidence and good humour. This the comrade did with much skill and courtesy. Marches and street demos are not ideal situations for educating and persuading confrontational members of the public who have swallowed the anti-communist propaganda that permeates capitalist society. Of course, we could have pointed out that, without the attempt to build socialism in the USSR, we would have lost the Second World War and he and his family would not be around to challenge us. One could also point to the considerable achievements of Cuba where, by prioritising health and education, life for ordinary people is far better than it is for ordinary people in other developing countries. Finally, one could counsel caution about writing off too soon China’s attempt to build socialism. Of course China faces problems, but we should not let the distorted reporting in our mass media persuade us that China has given up on building socialism. China is taking its own, long term path, and we wish them well. As Marxists, it is, however, our critique of capitalism and our understanding that it is a historical phase that will eventually collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions (and the shove we will give it at the right moment) that leads us to believe that we can and must build something better and more permanent before the capitalists destroy the world.

For a more comprehensive statement of the Case for Communism, try the CP pamphlet of the same name by John Foster, available from the CP shop for £2 plus 50 pence postage. He puts it much better than I can.

Branch Meeting in April: debate on EU Referendum

The Croydon Branch met at Ruskin House at 7 pm on Thursday, 21 April, our usual third Thursday of the month. The Political Discussion this month centred on the EU Referendum.

Disappointment was expressed at the poor quality of the coverage of the debate in the mass media. This was partly due to the Government’s “project fear” strategy”. This employed the argument that the decision should be based on “facts”, much like its Gradgrindian policy for education. Yet the Government‘s official pamphlet failed the provide any “facts” on Exit despite the cost to taxpayers of £9.3 million, just opinion. The subsequent Treasury report purporting to show, as a ‘fact’, that every household would be £4,500 worse off by 2030 was equally specious. Yet the official Exit campaign could offer little response that was not xenophobic or racist.

In the view of the meeting, the political issues that needed to discussed were

  • The balance of class interests in the UK and the EU and whether these would be improved by Exit.
  • The lack of democracy in the EU.
  • Whether the UK by exiting could ameliorate the consequences of likely future EU collapse, whether triggered by the instability of its external and internal borders or by the inevitable collapse of the Euro.
  • Whether leaving would enable the UK to block TTIP – this question was subsequently answered in the affirmative by Cameron when he persuaded President Obama to say that the UK would ”go to the back of the Queue” (SIC) in any trade negotiations with the USA after we left. TTIP is the only pending negotiation!
  • How best to show solidarity with the workers in the EU, especially those in Greece currently subject to fierce attack and likely soon to endure worse.
  • The consequences of the UK as a whole voting to leave but Scotland voting to stay. Would the breakup of the UK be too high a price for workers in the UK to pay?

Fortunately, branch members on Croydon TUC have succeeded in persuading Croydon TUC to hold a debate in May where these issues will be raised and discussed. Watch this website for more details when known.

The other date to note is the Croydon May Day march on Saturday 30 April. Assemble at noon outside Marks & Spencer, North End for speeches and then a march to Ruskin House led by a pipe band. Comrades were encouraged to attend and help staff the Party stall at Ruskin House afterwards.

New Tactics?

The Peoples Assembly is to be congratulated on organising the London march and demonstration against austerity yesterday. The effectiveness of weekend marches in bringing about the social change that we so desperately need is, however, coming into question.

A weekend demonstration and march almost brought down the government in February 2003 and almost halted the invasion of Iraq. The forces of reaction do not, however, stand still in the face of a successful tactic. The government has leaned to counter weekend demonstrations and marches by simply ignoring them, by levying charges on the organisers in the form of traffic management orders, policing costs and mandatory insurance, and by limiting the media coverage they receive. Such adaptive behaviour by the forces of reaction is nothing new. For example, the building of barricades in Paris was almost the trigger in 1848 for another French Revolution, but as Engels pointed out in his 1885 Preface to Marx’s paper on the Class Struggles in France, the army learned how to smash through barricades with cannon and go round them by ruthlessly smashing their way through adjacent houses. When this happened, the soldiers no longer saw behind the barricades “the people,” but rather a gang of rebels and agitators. The spell was broken, and building barricades ceased to be an effective strategy for pursuing social revolution.

This is not to say that weekend demonstrations and marches serve no purpose. Despite the obstacles put in their way, Croydon TUC will be organising its annual May Day March through North End to Ruskin House on Saturday, 30 April. On Sunday, 1 May, trade unionists across London will assemble at Clerkenwell Green and march to Trafalgar Square. These events are worth supporting. New tactics are, however, also required. The Croydon Assembly, an initiative by Croydon TUC to reach out to communities and organisations in the area and draw them into discussion, debate and action is one example. Another is the initiative by French workers and students to Rise up at Night or Nuit debout and occupy public spaces to debate and discuss, melting away in the day and returning the following evening. Reminiscent of the tactics adopted by Occupy, but possibly harder for the authorities to counter, could this be the next way forward?

DODGY DAVE

Revelations that David Cameron “has done nothing wrong” by avoiding tax are reminiscent of the debacle at the end of the last Tory government. Tories, Dodgy Dave included, think everyone is out to feather their own nests and really don’t see what all the fuss is about.

Taxation policy has played a significant part in bringing us to our current state and it’s abundantly clear that the current tax system in this country is deeply dysfunctional as successive governments shift the tax “burden” from those most able to pay tax to those least able to pay. As the late Ken Gill said: “You pay tax and you buy civilisation.” Most people, but not, it appears, Tory politicians understand that taxes are a price we pay for a decent society.

Even under capitalism it is possible to devise a tax structure that does not place the entire burden of taxation on ordinary working people and their families, but it requires an unapologetically class-based analysis such as that employed by the Party’s Economics Commission in arriving at the Party Pamphlet From each According to their Means, available from the Communist Party Shop or from Communist Party, Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD, (020) 8686-1659.

The criteria employed by the Economics Commission were that taxes should be redistributive, capable of promoting “social justice,” reflective of the ability to pay, simple to understand, predictable, unavoidable, compatible with each other, objective to assess, transparent and free from interference by those hostile to the interests of the working class, including Tories, parliamentary lobbyists, senior civil servants and the judiciary.

The detailed proposals, included:

  • Tackling the estimated £120 billion lost to Britain through tax avoidance and evasion via introduction of a robust, general anti-avoidance rule which actually “does what it says on the tin” and which includes serious financial or other penalties for those found to have broken the law — giving HMRC the resources it needs to do the job properly along with an end to its current big business-friendly mode of operation; and radical proposals to clamp down on tax havens and the transnational corporations that use them.
  • Unilateral action to end the special tax status of all tax havens under British control
  • Restoration of corporation tax to between 30 per cent and 40 per cent, linked to restoration of a form of advance corporation tax to reduce the incentive for corporations to pursue tax avoidance strategies and windfall taxes on corporations’ recent super-profits.
  • Introduction of new 60 per cent rate of tax for earned income over £60,000 a year, and a 70 per cent rate for unearned income over £60,000 a year.
  • Innovative proposals for the abolition of all current property taxes and replacement with a land value tax (LVT), with the aim of shifting the burden of taxation away from earned income and reducing the scope for tax evasion. This would return to society the value of land that society itself creates and help tackle the evident social injustice generated by the concentration of land ownership in the hands of small elite.
  • Tackling the growing gap between rich and poor with the introduction of an annual wealth tax of 2 per cent and higher rates for the “mega rich,” ending “non-resident” and “non-domiciled” exemption from British income and wealth taxes; and steps to prevent capital flight by implementation of robust exchange controls.
  • Reforming current environmental taxation — which has an important role to play in changing behaviour as well as raising revenue, with the aim of promoting sustainable economic development — by moving to a “tax-and-dividend” approach for addressing the problem of global warming — with Britain acting unilaterally, if necessary, by way of example, with the introduction of standardised carbon tariffs on imports.
  • Support for a financial transaction tax (Tobin tax) on trade in currencies to give Britain greater control of its economic policy and introduction of a financial activities tax (a levy on banks’ profits and remuneration packages).

Now those really would give Dodgy Dave some sleepless nights.

ARE THE TORIES EVIL?

The emotive question whether Tories are actually evil was posed by Rafael Behr in the Guardian Opinion Column on 30 March. Good question! While acknowledging that one doesn’t have to stray far along the spectrum of left opinion to encounter this view, Mr Behr was inclined to dismiss the proposition. In his view crackpot conspiracy theories are increasingly shaping our view of governments and policies. But we do not need to resort to conspiracy theories to conclude that some Tory policies are intended to benefit only a tiny minority of the population and to damage the rest. If your personal morality leads you to conclude that those responsible are evil, so be it. Aneurin Bevan’s famous comment that Tories are “lower than vermin” comes to mind. Communists, however, tend to take a more objective and less personalised view. We see a struggle between classes in which the venality or otherwise of Tories is largely irrelevant.

A prime example of a Tory policy that is intended to benefit a tiny minority is the government’s flagship policy, Austerity. This is the policy of cutting expenditure on public services and social welfare in order to reduce government borrowing by 2020 to the level prevailing before the 2007 banking crisis. Austerity will result in a national economy by 2020 in which government spending on social services and welfare will be comparable to that in the US economy – a society where the poor get by on charity and food banks and where services such as health and education are provided to those who can afford them by profit driven corporations. Furthermore, this state of affairs is intended to be permanent. There is no government commitment to restore public services and amenities after government borrowing has been reduced to the 2007 level. What we get in 2020 is what, according to Tory intentions, we will be stuck with.

The lack of opposition to Austerity can be explained by a docile capitalist controlled media (including the BBC) and the residual, malign influence of New Labour on the Parliamentary Labour Party. Both accept the Thatcherite mantra There is No Alternative. Government borrowing needs to be reduced, but cuts in public services and social welfare is not the way to go about it. Proper taxation of corporations and scrapping Trident would go a long way to doing it.

Labour controlled local authorities have also been slow to blame the Tory government for the cuts to their services they are being forced to make, preferring to differentiate themselves from their local Tory opponents by claiming that their cuts are (slightly) more humane than those their opponents. This strategy has been criticised by the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his criticism has been picked up by, amongst others Croydon TUC who will be sending a delegation to discuss the matter with Croydon Council Leader Tony Newman on Tuesday. We welcome this initiative by Croydon TUC and wish them well.

No More Mr Nice Guy

The Tory government, having secured the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate, is hell bent on making irrevocable changes to our society by the time of the next general election. These changes are intended to permanently disadvantage working people and their families and to secure their continued exploitation. They include

  • Handing over every school and the council owned land on which they stand to Multi Academy Trusts run by unaccountable and profit hungry businesses.
  • A Trade Union Bill which puts insuperable legal barriers in the way of industrial action and which will make most strikes impossible or illegal. One feature, the requirement of pickets to give their names to the police, is a step along the road to a fascist state.
  • Cuts to disability and welfare payments – don’t trust them not to go further despite the reassurances following the Budget fiasco
  • Underfunding of social services and resort to food banks
  • A Trade Union Bill which is also intended to slash trade union funding for the Labour Party while turning a blind eye to corporate funding of the Tory Party
  • Dismantling the NHS
  • A commitment to sign up to TTIP
  • Undermining social housing and an end to secure, affordable housing, whether to buy or to rent
  • Education cuts and crippling student loans
  • Cuts to arts funding and library closures
  • intimidation of the BBC
  • An abject failure to address global warming – the greenest government ever? I think not.

The aim of the last New Labour government under Blair and Brown was to halt the direction set by the previous Tory administrations under Thatcher and Major but not to roll their policies back. This was a critical mistake and the Tories have duly taken full advantage of it. What is there for them to lose? Our aim next time should be not only to roll back the Tories’ policies but this time to go further. We need to oppose every Tory advance with one for ordinary working people which will hurt the Tories and their modest number of supporters. Simply by way of illustration, here are some of the policies we could promote now in opposition to theirs:

  • Education – public schools to be nationalised and turned into comprehensives
  • Trade unions – a requirement for every employee to be in a union
  • Welfare payments – a living wage for all
  • Social services – public servants, not charities, to provide comprehensive social care
  • Party funding – a total ban on corporate donations and corporate lobbying
  • NHS – a tax on private health care
  • TTIP – a free trade area with Cuba and Venezuela
  • Social housing – a huge, high quality council housing programme
  • Arts funding – a public theatre, library and art gallery in every town and a tax on ownership of works of art not open to the public
  • BBC – national newspapers to be published only by co-operatives owned by their readers
  • Global warming – a ban on flying and other conspicuous carbon consumption by wealthy individuals unless they can demonstrate real need.

Perhaps then the Tories will understand that Newton’s Third Law of Motion applies to societies as well as to inanimate bodies: for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. We’ve had enough and we are pushing back: no more Mr Nice Guy.