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.

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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.