Education: Open and Free

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At a time when governments are becoming ever more prescriptive in their education policy, abandoning child-centred education for one in which a dim and doctrinaire Secretary of State for Education determines not only what is taught but how it is taught, the Communist Party is moving in the opposite direction. The philosophy behind the Party sponsored Communist University in South London (CUiSL) is that adults learn from each other in free and open discussion. Rejecting the traditional model in which the student is seen as an empty vessel for the teacher to fill, every member of the class takes turns to research a topic and present their findings to the class. This is then discussed and analysed by the class which is chaired and moderated by another student selected by the class. Topics are themed under a general heading which lasts for five or six classes. As Marxism provides an all encompassing world view, these themes range widely across political, economic and cultural issues.  There is no indoctrination and no pre-determined “right answer” to be reached by the end. The CUiSL motto is “Question Everything”.

The classes have proved highly successful. Operating at a level that some participants have described as equivalent to that of a university tutorial, they are nevertheless open to everyone, regardless of experience, political affiliation and formal education qualifications. Access is open and no fees are charged. Classes are held at 7 pm on the first Tuesday of each month at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD (photo above). There is no class in June – predictably not so that students can celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee but rather to enable some of them to attend the Morning Star AGM that evening at the Bishopsgate Institute. The next CUiSL class is therefore on Tuesday, 3 July.

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Mainstream Economist’s Failure to Understand the Global Economic Crisis

Chris Guiton

There’s been something of a debate in the bourgeois press recently about the failure of the mainstream economics profession to get to grips with the global economic crisis. What’s also worrying, over and above their ‘head in the sand’ focus on narrow mathematical models that constrain wider debate about the failure of neoliberalism, is their inability to recognise that a major shift is taking place in the way capitalism operates. As capital finds it increasingly difficult to make profit out of ‘making things’, it’s shifting its focus to ‘making money out of making money’. In the process a huge shadow banking system has been created where multiple financial institutions act like banks, but operate with impunity around the edges of the regulated banking sector.

It’s abundantly clear that this system is having a hugely de-stabilising effect on the broader economy by exacerbating economic cycles; engaging in inherently risky, often fraudulent lending; distorting markets through price-fixing and misuse of market intelligence; and fostering parasitic behaviour that actually destroys value by reducing the capital available for genuine wealth creation. The implications for the future of capitalism are significant as its internal contradictions build, its inherent instability becomes clearer and the prospect of catastrophic collapse looms closer.

Of course, this helps build the case for socialism, but it feels like the left needs to stimulate wider debate on the subject to steer people away from any notion that the current crisis can be resolved with a bit of tinkering at the margins. Maybe something for consideration through the pages of the Morning Star or debate at local events in the Croydon area?

Tory Assault on Workers’ Rights

It’s worth reflecting for a moment on the timing of the Beecroft report on employment laws, which includes proposals to slash redundancy rights, curb unfair dismissal claims, water down TUPE rules and abolish the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate. The report was completed in October 2011, but has only now been published. Whatever the protestations of Business Secretary Vince Cable, this feels like the right-wing of the Tory party asserting its power in the face of polls that are looking distinctly difficult for the Government. The fact that Business Minister Mark Prisk, who reports to Cable, felt able to boast in Parliament that the Government was “already actioning 17 of the 23 topics” raised by Beecroft indicates their confidence.

The Government is clearly hoping to use the economic crisis as cover to give significantly more power to employers by curbing employment rights and undermining trade unions. And they must be looking with approval at what’s currently happening to employment rights, collective agreements and wages in Greece. All this begs the question: when will they dust off their proposals to implement serious curbs on trade union rights? It’s evident from previous reports in the media that advanced plans already exist to: introduce a minimum turnout for strike ballots which would render much industrial action illegal; ban strikes in what would be deemed ‘essential services’ (eg the public sector, transport etc); and restrict facility time for union reps. And the suspicion is that the only thing preventing the Government from moving ahead with this agenda are tactical questions about timing and the constraints presented by fighting problems on other fronts as they struggle to regain the political initiative.

This suggests three points: constant vigilance on the part of unions and the left to combat any moves to curb employment and trade union rights; action to re-invigorate a pro-active campaign to force Britain to sign up to the International Labour Organisation convention on freedom of association, organisation in the workplace without hindrance (including the right to strike) and effective collective bargaining; and continuing pressure on Labour to strengthen links with the union movement, particularly in the wake of Ian Lavery MP’s positive call to action on workers’ rights yesterday following his election as chairman of the Trade Union Group of Labour MPs.

 

 

Tories Starting to Look Rattled

Chris Guiton

The news that Rebekah Brooks and others have been charged with perverting the course of justice is another indication of the cynical business ethics that characterise the workings of News International. Taken with the announcement that Jeremy Hunt’s special advisor, Adam Smith, and the former News Corp lobbyist, Fred Michel, will be required to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry, this is another nail in the coffin of the Con-Dem Government. With the close links between the Tories and the Murdoch empire exposed for all to see, if the firewall currently provided by Hunt disappears, then Cameron is in real trouble and the political damage will be significant.

In parallel, George Osborne’s judgement – even on its own economically illiterate terms – is also being called into question by people normally regarded as friends – the CBI and British Chamber of Commerce are simply the latest. I sense vultures starting to circle around both Cameron and Osborne and wonder when the Tory grandees – known for their ruthlessness when it comes to wounded Tory leaders – will conclude they have to go!

The left face a big challenge and are up against a particularly brutal and avaricious ruling class. But the Government are politically and economically wounded and starting to look distinctly rattled. If anyone is any doubt, this is the time to take the fight to the Government and redouble efforts to get them out!

Time to Debate the Re-Nationalisation of the Utilities

Chris Guiton

It was reported yesterday that the privatised water companies are continuing to waste astonishing amounts of water because of their failure to reduce leakages – and have been set leakage reduction targets by Ofwat, the industry regulator, that are so weak as to be virtually meaningless. This raises a key question about the ownership and operation of all the privatised utilities. It’s self-evident that shareholder interests are always going to predominate over the interests of consumers, employees and taxpayers. And that regulators are always going to struggle to minimise profiteering, prevent consumer rip-offs and encourage investment.

In this context, it’s worth noting the concept of ‘regulatory capture’. Well-understood by economists, this describes a situation where the regulatory agency established to act in the public interest, promotes instead the commercial interests of the industry it purports to regulate because of the latter’s economic and political muscle and the nominal interest taken by government in exercising genuine supervision or control over that sector.

No amount of rhetoric about ‘new targets’, ‘holding companies to account’ or ‘price caps’, whether from the Government or Labour, is ever going to change this situation. With £billions extracted annually from the privatised water, energy and rail utilities surely it’s time for a national debate about the merits of re-nationalisation – and the different forms this might take – of what are natural monopolies that used to belong to us all.

Rise of Extreme Right in Greece and the need for a United Front.

By John Eden

The acute political and economic crises in Greece as led to a polarisation of society, and the emergence of the fascist Golden Dawn Party, described as a street fighting group, their attacks at the moment have been against “illegal” immigrants, scapegoats just as the Nazi’s use the Jews to come to power, this is a very serious development as Golden Dawn will have a lot of sympathy amongst the supporters of the Right wing New Democracy Party and it’s break away the Greek Independents who between them got about 30% of the votes in the recent elections, even though the latter two parties differ over the EU German – French imposed austerity measures.

At the moment the struggle is still in the parliamentary sphere, and it is here first that the extreme right and fascist must be stopped, But the three main left parties are split, if they had formed a united block at the recent elections they would have won 147 of the votes only 4 short of a majority, in fact probably enough to form a minority Government based on no to the austerity measures. Of course none of this could have been foreseen, hindsight is a great thing.

It looks at present there maybe another election soon, I believe that only the formation of a United Front of all left forces against the rise of fascism, including those members of Pasok who fear the rise of the extreme right, will block the further rise of the Fascists in Parliament.

Local Election Challenge for Labour

Chris Guiton

Labour are rightly congratulating themselves on their success in the local elections. But this presents them with a challenge. Their new-found strength in councils across the country will be wasted unless they come up with creative ways of combatting centrally imposed cuts to services and jobs, which exploit the clear weaknesses in the current Government position. This will mean working with unions, community groups and others to fight back against the Con-Dem’s slash and burn assault on the people of this country.

They could start by recognising the opportunities presented by the elections to dispel Tory myths about the causes of the recession, become a focus for local resistance and mobilise a broad cross-section of people against the cuts. The alternative is likely to be even greater voter apathy at the next general election and a Labour Party fatally holed below the waterline because of its association with Con-Dem austerity policies.