Tag Archives: Cuts

New Year, New Labour

by Anne Archist

Labour are trying once again to re-invent themselves; 2012 has already seen a new attitude that amounts to exhuming the short-lived corpse of Blue Labour.

The media identified prior ‘re-launches’ under Miliband’s stewardship in June of last year and November of the year before, not to mention that his election as leader was itself supposed to de-toxify the Labour brand after the Blair-Brown years. Each previous attempt also utilised Maurice ‘The Baron’ Glasman’s “if you can’t beat them, imitate them” logic; this time, though, the leadership’s ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’ ideology has been dressed up in Beveridge’s old clothes, saved for just such an occasion.

The Baron was disappointed to learn that Jon Crudas had skipped Sunday service.

Blue Labour is enough to make a Marxist miss Brown Labour. At least Gordon ‘Golden’ Brown realised it was “the economy, stupid” and had some tentative ideas what could be done about it – The Baron would rather have us believe that modern society’s inexorable autosarcophagy can be stemmed by getting more bums on pews at St Saviour in the Marshes. Liam Byrne is the whipping-boy tasked with the triumphant fanfair, and is at least an improvement on Glasman. The Baron wrote and said the sorts of things that would make you choke on your bourbon biscuit in shock as you casually perused the Guardian website over a cuppa. Byrne is the kind of character who might make you emit involuntary Marge Simpson impressions, but not cough up crumbs and hot tea over your keyboard.

The big news is that Labour are “reclaiming [Beveridge’s] vision, learning from his political courage, understanding what has gone wrong in recent years as well as what has worked”; they must “become the radical reformers again”. Like a student who forgets to attach their essay to the e-mail, Byrne seems to have all-too-conveniently left out the details. There are hints at what the new approach to welfare policy might be, and some of them aren’t pretty.

Encouragingly, Byrne savages the current system’s treatment of the ill and disabled, and ends on a high note: “Beveridge’s first principles are the right place to begin”. But the warning signs are all there, and we have come to expect no better from ‘triangulated’ Labour: “Beveridge would have wanted determined action from government to get communities working once again, not least to bring down that benefits bill to help pay down the national debt”, “He never saw unearned support as desirable”, so “let’s restore the idea of ‘something for something’”.

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Now, as it happens, although Liam Byrne was neither born nor elected in my local area, he was educated here in his adolescence. I would like to think, then, that having experienced a world where around 30% have no qualifications, unemployment has frequently hit 10% or higher (with youth unemployment particularly high and a relatively high number of people never having worked), there is a high measure of overcrowding and 30% live in council housing, Byrne might have some understanding of the problems facing – and generally the lives of – those who rely on the welfare state in some form.

On the other hand, Byrne also sat on the committee that drafted legislation penalising phone usage by drivers, and then got a fine and points on his license for… yep, you guessed it, using a phone while driving. Perhaps, then, it would be too much to expect of him. While paying lip service to the content of Beveridge’s skilful and considered (though still imperfect) report, one gets the impression that Labour are more keen to vicariously cash in on its kudos than to implement its ideas as policy. This impression is all the more forgivable in light of New Labour’s record, and especially given the continued influence that Glasman’s ideas exercise over the party leadership (despite the formal dissolution of the Blue Labour project after the aforementioned ugly comments made by The Baron himself).

It would be a massive coup if Labour could produce something like the Beveridge report these days. Of late, state-commissioned research has been getting more slapdash and significantly shorter, with all of the loss of detail, balance and elucidation that implies; consider the 2010 Browne report into Higher Education, a total wash-out weighing in at only a nominal 60 pages (which is misleadingly high considering that ~5 pages of that are taken up by appendices and references, and the report itself contains more blank space and pictures than your average colouring book). The 1963 Robbins Report into Higher Education, to put that into perspective, had 335 pages. Obviously I’d rather give the number of words since this is a better standard of comparison, but this is difficult for technical reasons and you get the picture at any rate.

Beveridge struggles to find anything of any intellectual merit in the Browne Report.

It’s not just a question of the length of the report and the level of detail and the development of the logic that was possible as a result. It’s also a question of the mind and principles behind the recommendations; the principles were laid out honestly, the best practical application was explained meticulously and with sharp insight. As Liam Byrne points out in his article, the general public responded so positively that there were queues to buy the report. Beveridge strips his subject matter bare and builds his thought process up in a clear and honest way that can be followed by anyone inclined to do so, rather than filling the text with jargon or tacitly presupposing a narrow ideology. If every report were like the Beveridge report, bureaucracy would not be such a bad thing.

Labour have two choices. They could attach a dynamo to Beveridge’s coffin and prove themselves partially useful by forcing him to spin – with a bit of luck they might be able to power a constituency office with the electricity generated. Alternatively, they can take the challenge seriously and commission talented intellects to conduct a wholesale enquiry into the modern benefits system and its intersections with other areas of state and market activity. Taking this route would mean considering not only issues like the incentives provided by child benefits, but also the relationship between wages and benefits in their various forms, the future of social housing stock, the feasibility of full employment (which Beveridge assumed in his report), etc.

While it may not be immediately apparent, these questions are vital to understanding why the benefits system works as it does, and how it might work differently. The level of benefits or the conditions associated with them do supply incentives to act in one way or another, but they do not do so in a vacuum. The consequence of a particular policy (setting a threshold just so, or banning this type of person from receiving that payment) depends hugely upon other social variables that exist alongside the benefits system but are not themselves part of it. Even Byrne’s colleague Diane Abbott made this point effectively when she noted that the housing benefit bill “reflects a conscious political decision by successive governments to subsidise (mostly) private landlords rather than invest in affordable council housing”.

While we’re looking at benefits from different angles, let’s also remember that there are more things in heaven and earth, neoliberal, than are dreamt of in your economics. It shouldn’t be a surprise if someone values 15 hrs of their time more highly than the £15 difference it would make to their income. We should re-evaluate which factors are taken into consideration in determining payments and how – should 2 friends living together get any more or less than 2 partners living together? We should be clear about what sort of behaviours we are incentivising or penalising and why – do we want less children (say, for environmentalist reasons) or more (to counteract the aging population and pay for their parents’ pensions and healthcare, perhaps)?

If a re-examination of the welfare state dodges problems like this then it will have ensured its irrelevance and its inferiority to the original. In fact, it’s tempting to suggest that Miliband might as well just re-publish and re-read the original Beveridge report in its entirety and apply the principles and arguments laid out in it to the contemporary situation, since it’s difficult to imagine the modern Labour party producing or commissioning anything of great positive significance.

Byrne hits the nail on the head when he says that what is needed is radicalism, though I doubt he has the stomach to put this concept into action – healing the malaise of the welfare state may mean rebuilding the entire taxation system from the ground up, ensuring structural full employment, introducing a universal minimum income (like that proposed by the Green Party), or other wholesale changes to basic components of our economy and society. Byrne is all bluster, but calling his bluff could yield real fruit.

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You want me to join your party? Come back when it looks like this.

by Anne Archist

“Well, I tell you what, boy. Ive been knowing you since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, n****r. and I dont know if I like communism and I dont know if I like socialism. But I know that that Breakfast For Children program fees my kids, n****r. And if you put your hands on that Breakfast For Children program, Im gonna come off this can and I’m gonna beat your ass” – Fred Hampton Sr quoting a black mother.

Most people will recognise the name “Black Panther Party” (BPP), even those who aren’t politically engaged. The party has a (perhaps deserved) reputation for troublemaking and violence, revolving largely around a popular early tactic of patrolling the streets to ensure police officers stayed within the bounds of the law in their interactions with black people. These patrols were armed with loaded weapons, though of course this was a much less remarkable phenomenon in 60s California than a rifle-toting militia walking the streets of Brixton would be! The enduring legacy of the Panthers in my mind, however, is their successful demonstration that large-scale social programs could be organised and carried out by self-organising communities (at least under the watchful eye of a revolutionary vanguard).

The BPP published a party “organ” (that’s Marxese for “newspaper”) like most parties – called, unsurprisingly, ‘(The) Black Panther‘. They carried out political activity influenced by a Maoist theory and Black Nationalism, drawing up a famous ‘Ten-Point Program’ of objectives. Black Panthers entered coalitions with other groups and intervened in a wider movement, as might be expected of any Marxist organisation. The party relied on theoretical and official leaders (amusingly often referred to in Parliamentarian terms –  Huey P. Newton was the “defence minister”, while Emory Douglas was the “minister for culture”), committees and a centralised hierarchical structure. They were, despite their relatively separatist racial attitude, a run-of-the-mill Marxist party in the USA.

What makes the Black Panthers special in my mind is that they are the probably the best example of a party that took seriously the concerns of its working-class constituency in their everyday lives and instigated social projects to address them in a way that helped both the community and the party itself (by earning it a sympathetic reputation, increasing recruitment and donation rates, etc). Fred Hampton even went as far as brokering non-aggression deals between Chicago street gangs and diverting them onto a more politically conscious path by welcoming them into the “Rainbow Coalition” that also included Students for a Democratic Society, the BPP themselves, and other leftist-influenced groupings.

Astonishingly the party eventually established more than 45 “survival programs”, among which were the provision of: free breakfasts for schoolchildren, substance rehab, support for draft resisters, buses for those visiting prison inmates, free clothing distribution, educational programs, even their own ambulance and sickle-cell anaemia testing service! Quite how the party afforded to do this is utterly beyond me – I’d be interested if anyone has ideas as to whether they got funding from any major organisations or foreign powers perhaps… David Horowitz suggests that they received government grants, but also that leading members were embezzling funds – if true this makes the financial feat all the more impressive!

I’m reminded of a discussion at the Anarchist Movement Conference about surveying the opinions of local people about what the major local problems are and how they might be addressed, which are the highest priorities, etc. The goal of this is not, of course, to subordinate the activity of organisers to the will of the politically ignorant – we need not assume that if the survey says “immigrants out”, we should u-turn on a policy of migrant solidarity work. The information gives us a better knowledge base, they (I think it was Liberty & Solidarity) said, from which to conduct propaganda, attempt recruitment, initiate projects and so forth; there is still the possibility of interpreting the data through the lens of our own political theory and attempting to change opinions (as well as act on them) accordingly.

So what am I getting at with all this? Look at the left today. Discounting some anarchistic and often single-issue projects like Food Not Bombs, or else mainstream charity work/volunteering undertaken in addition to political work, can we seriously claim that we’re following in this tradition? I think not. Should we be? I think so – there could be plenty of theoretical justifications from Gramsci etc, but the point is essentially two-fold: firstly people need these things and secondly people will respond better to us if we provide these things. Is this just a cynical tactic of manipulation? No – as I said, the fact that people need them is an important consideration as an end in itself. Moreover though, the question is more one of getting publicity and attention, welcoming people into dialogue, showing that our political positions are not made up of furthering some vested interests or suchlike.

Sceptics should begin to understand the essence of leftist politics and the world we are trying to work towards when they see a woman leading evening classes on political theory or a man feeding hungry children before school. Obviously this question is particularly pressing at a time when government programs are being rolled back and so forth – Patrick has discussed this before. Let’s take the initiative and rediscover this tradition that stretches much further back than the Black Panthers (perhaps Edd could be convinced to write about some of their European forebears?), for the sake of our communities.

 

“You see, people get involved in a lot of things thats profitable to them, and weve got to make it less profitable. Weve got to make it less beneficial. Im saying that any program thats brought into our community should be analyzed by the people of that community. It should be analyzed to see that it meets the relevant needs of that community. We dont need no n*****s coming into our community to be having no company to open business for the n*****s.” – Fred Hampton Sr

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Police protests and the 1917 Petrograd mutiny

by Anne Archist

If there’s one thing that revolutionaries of all stripes, but particularly Leninists, love, it’s a situation that’s in some way comparable to 1900-1920s Russia. I’m not exception to this rule – and why should I be? After all, “those who don’t learn the lessons of history”, etc; understanding the past allows us to better get a grasp on the potential of the present and future, and to interpret events in light of historic parallels, to contextualise them as part of a trend, and so on.  It’s for this reason that I find discussions about police or military insubordination interesting.

For those of you that don’t know, there are apparently concerns that the police will now take to the streets against the very same cuts that they have been protecting by beating and locking up anti-cuts protesters. Well, not the very same cuts, because this time it’s their job. It reminds me of a song I love:

“When the day arrives that you become redundant,
Don’t get angry with the boss and call him names.
You must try to be objective get the matter in perspective;
See yourself as a component, just a cog that is defective,
And with fortitude accept the situation…
That the junk-heap is your natural location!”

Nevertheless, slagging the police off is a tangent – sort of. The thing is that although police are workers, they are nevertheless somehow different from other workers.

Why and how is this so? Well, for a start in this country they can’t legally strike. This means that they are put in a very unique situation in two regards: firstly, in that even basic trade union consciousness is bred out of them by superstructural means (“ideology” and the legal system); secondly, the compensation that the state provides for this inconvenience is relatively good pay and conditions, a serious negotiating attitude (rather than the dismissive one taken towards workers in most sectors), and so on. In addition to this, the state exercises a monopoly on police employment in a way that exists in almost no other industry. There are private doctors and nurses, even private soldiers (mercenaries), but no private police (security guards are by no means the same thing). The question of monopoly is not important, but it reinforces the importance of the fact that the state is selective in who it recruits to the police.

It is selective in more-or-less obvious ways (you would expect to have a criminal record check done when you applied, for instance!) but also in less overt forms; consider the fact that the metropolitan police have shifted towards a policy of only hiring those who have cut their teeth as Special Constables. Special Constables have to be able to give up a degree of their spare time for no pay – this automatically biases their intake towards those who are economically secure, youngsters from more well-off backgrounds, those not working multiple jobs or raising children. These are exactly the sort of people who might be expected to have less sympathy for protest movements, industrial action, youth dissent, etc. Various other accusations of a less structural kind have been levelled at the defenders of Law’n’ord’r – that they are psychologically geared up for brutality by being shown violent combat scenes before deployment at peaceful protests, for instance. I won’t hazard a guess at how true these accusations are or anything like that. For the time being, let’s just settle on the idea that the police can’t necessarily be expected to act as other workers would under the circumstances.

If this is the case, will the police protest in solidarity with other workers? The chances are that, initially, this is the furthest thing from their minds – they are probably planning to protest under the rationale that they are needed in order to ‘contain’ and ‘manage’ the protests of others affected by the austerity measures (after all, “my job is so much more important than theirs”…) and therefore to juxtapose themselves to us as our antithesis, our ‘solution’. The question is not so immediate, however. Will there come a time in the near future when the police decide to work in solidarity with other workers? I’m still sceptical, and in order to explain why I’m going to invoke 1917.

In 1905 (yes, a little further back, but it’s just a pit-stop), soldiers opened fire on the people peacefully processing towards the winter palace, who intended to give a petition to the Tsar,  who was then an absolute monarch with complete power (even being idolised as akin to a god, in fact). This spurred on the protest movement and was a defining event in shattering the illusions that the Russian people had in the Tsar; they now looked on him as a despot rather than as the “little father” (in contrast to the “big father” in heaven). Fast-forward 12 years and Russia is swept by a wave of strikes, marches, meetings, etc. Dissent is everywhere. In a matter of days the troops go over to the socialist movement, provoked to mutiny by the Tsar’s orders to once again open fire on a peaceful movement. They become embedded in proletarian structures instead of the military hierarchy; it is significant that the councils formed by the working class were known as the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

It was significant, that is, in two ways. It showed that the soldiers were sufficiently agitated by their experiences to become a real and vital part of the oppositionist claim on state power. So much so, in fact, that Lenin considered them too embedded in the proletarian movement and wrote a short polemic against the soldiers’ over-representation on the soviets. What it also shows, however, is that the soldiers were not considered in and of themselves workers. If they had been, the name would have been redundant, and comparisons between “the soldiers” and “the workers” would have been phrased as “the soldiers” and “other workers”. Admittedly, police and soldiers are not exactly the same, but this reinforces my feeling that the police are not quite the same as other workers in some important sense(s).

Why did the soldiers mutiny? What stirred them up sufficiently to shoot or chase away their officers and go over to ‘enemy’ lines? Or more precisely, what made them do this when they hadn’t in 1905? Well, firstly, the protests were initiated by women, with International Women’s Day famously marking the real beginning of the revolutionary period. This didn’t mesh so well with sexist notions of feminine frailty still widely endorsed by the Russian church (and widely listened to); the soldiers refused to open fire partly because they held to sexist assumptions. Secondly, Russia was fighting in a world war that required almost total mobilisation; the ranks of the troops had been flooded with peasants in particular, only released from complete serfdom within living memory. These troops were probably more likely to be stationed in the garrisons that would have dealt with protest at home, as the regulars would have been needed at the front. Furthermore, the mutinies were not spontaneous – the various revolutionary groups were in contact with soldiers long before they rebelled, with propagandist literature being disseminated as far as the front, according to Bolshevik accounts.

Having understood the conditions behind the mutiny of the soldiers in 1917 and their obedience in 1905, can we conclude that the police will acquire a class perspective and find common cause with other anti-cuts protests? I imagine not. Today’s police show few qualms about beating up not only women but also children. They are not ‘proletarianised’, let alone drawn from a background of serfdom.  They do not see the putting down of revolt as an unnecessary distraction from the serious business of national defence and a hasty exit from a war they never wanted (if anything, some of them seem to enjoy the overtime).

I’m still in two minds, however – while I don’t think the police could possibly develop this perspective and act accordingly spontaneously, there may yet be room to force the occasion. The only possible hope for this would be a jaw-gritted by genuine support from the left that translated into a physical and significant presence. If we can mingle among off-duty officers, converse with them, show ourselves not to be the hooligan nutjobs they probably sincerely believe us to be, and make an approach of solidarity, it may be warmly accepted and eventually returned.

I’m still not enthusiastic about this. I’m more inclined to support the calls that are being made, straight off the bat, to attempt to police the police march. Thousands of students and workers successfully directing and kettling the police would be a sight to behold, and could even go a small way towards dispelling negative perceptions of protesters if well-behaved. We have to ask ourselves seriously about the political ramifications of whatever tactic we choose, however – would attempting to kettle the police simply aggravate policing on future demonstrations, make us look like ‘troublemakers’ in the public eye, and so on? Perhaps. We shouldn’t be tempted to opt for a tactic simply because it looks cool; unrelenting political thought is necessary when making game-changing decisions such as how to react to the kind of unrest in the enemy camp we are beginning to see.

 

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Turning the anti-cuts movement political for real

by Anne Archist

Note: This article was originally written for The Commune, but they rejected it for being too reformist. It has since been edited to bring it up to date and expand on some of the arguments. I hope that this will allow it to contribute to current debates, especially those raised by Pat around the slogan “bring down the government” and the hollowness of “resistance” rhetoric (part II of that article). The closing paragraph’s assertion that “the left urgently needs to stop regurgitating warmed-over and largely unsuccessful ‘solutions’ from yesteryear in favour of open-minded discussion” was, ironically, in the original text and is not a response to The Commune’s decision not to publish it (although I originally used the term “creative” rather than “open-minded”, which I now feel better expresses what I was getting at).

 

My tentative idea of the moment is that proportional representation is an immediate demand that should be raised by socialists generally, but specifically by the anti-cuts movement. Since the New Labour project began, Marxists have been propping up an essentially bourgeois party as the ‘lesser evil’. Part of the problem is that our tradition has forgotten how to make real political demands of the kind it made through the ranks of the chartists, the suffragists and so on.

This idea of Labour’s being the lesser evil is only fully comprehensible because of the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. In order to prevent a tory majority, it has been necessary to call for Labour votes even through the years of privatisation, manifesto pledge betrayals, warmongering, etc. Not only has this tied the hands of the left, it has caused them to drift further out of touch with many working class communities that have simply sunk into political apathy, etc. These are the much-discussed missing Labour voters – those who gradually became unable to grit their teeth and vote Labour even as the least bad alternative any more, but were too class-conscious (or just too cynical and defeatist) to vote for anyone else either.

It is not just the history of the New Labour project and the effects it has had on the left that has brought me to consider the importance of proportional representation, though. After all, why now? The latest triumphalist claim of the SWP and others is that we will bring down the government. We have to ask ourselves serious questions about what effect this would have – would the cuts be stopped? Labour don’t seem to be offering a strident vision of investment, redistribution and so forth. A graduate tax here and a Keynesian platitude there won’t fix the economy (at least, not for the long-term), let alone do it in a fair and progressive manner.

The conclusion we are faced with is that none of the major parties offers an alternative to the cuts consensus, they just offer different brandings – doubtless the Labour alternative is a shade better, but is a movement that started out by bringing down one government going to settle for a difference of shades? It will have to, as long as we don’t mount a pro-active political attack on the voting system alongside our reactive campaign of ‘resistance’ to the cuts. Bringing down a Labour government in these circumstances would merely shift the shoe back to the foot it started on – all governments under capitalism are ‘bad’, but Labour aren’t even close to the left end of the spectrum of possibilities. ‘Square one’ started with massive threats to public services, privatisation, etc under Labour!

There is another interpretation of the sequence of events unfolding before us. Labour, we are told by some, will shift to the left through the process of struggle. As the fightback is organised, Labour will necessarily (both as a result of genuine pressure from the rank-and-file left and due to its desire to bureaucratically control, and parasitically feed from, the movement) adjust to the objective circumstances and the groundswell of socialistic slogans like ‘full employment’ and ‘make the bankers pay’, according to this view. So far, this has failed to materialise.

Our experience is of a Labour party that has no policies and no real public profile under Miliband – it isn’t making hard-hitting announcements in the press or exercising great propagandist influence over people in their communities. It has surged ahead in the polls purely by being – once again – the least bad option, and moreover by being the only other major party. It is a historic moment when parties like the greens could easily beat Labour on policies and rhetoric, but fail to compete purely because of the voting system. However much minor parties might hate to admit it, there normally are reasons (media scare stories, ill-considered policies, etc) beyond FPTP that limit their success.

So what would Labour do? Perhaps they will try to shift the problem to the next Parliament again by sustaining a deficit, and even have some perverse success in presenting this as a ‘fair’, ‘progressive’ or ‘left’ measure. As one of my comrades has been fond of drilling into people’s heads, though, “there’s nothing particularly left wing about a deficit”. It’s difficult to imagine quite what Labour will do – other than make cuts and/or raise regressive taxes – if sufficient growth fails to materialise. Going back to education specifically, the best they might offer is a moderately progressive graduate tax. Remember all those old slogans about “…without illusions” and “…like a rope supports a hanged man”? It would be politically irresponsible to pretend that Labour will leap into action plundering the rich’s wealth like some kind of born-again Robin Hood after nigh-on two decades of “triangulation”, a policy of class collaboration that would have made even Whig trade-unionists blush.

My initial suspicion is that while we may succeed at softening the blow of the cuts (and fees in education), we won’t really win this battle. However, the battlefield of education will be a cornerstone economically, psychologically and ideologically; a victory here will shift the terrain of the wider questions in our favour. An anti-cuts movement that takes on a non-partisan but political character, attempting to open up political space monopolised by the major parties, could lay the groundwork for a long-term gradual transformation of British politics that might reinvigorate broad-left ideas, reintroduce real political influence (rather than minimal pressure on a decidedly bourgeois party) for the organised labour movement, and so on. Either way, new ideas are rightly emerging about the paucity of ‘resistance’ in and of itself as a spectacle of bravado that will achieve little. Maybe some of my ideas here are wrong, but the left urgently needs to stop regurgitating warmed-over and largely unsuccessful ‘solutions’ from yesteryear in favour of open-minded discussion. I hope that this analysis can at least contribute to spurring people on to do this.

 

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Sussex University goes into Occupation

by nineteensixtyseven

170 students have occupied Sussex Uni against cuts and fees. Rush messages of support in to sussexstopthecuts@gmail.com

The students have released a statement via their blog, which contains the following:

- We demand the University of Sussex management makes a statement condemning all cuts to higher education and rise in tuition fees
- We are opposed to all cuts to public services
- We oppose a rise in tuition fees
- We call for solidarity and support for those arrested or victimised on Wednesday’s demonstration
- We stand in solidarity with others taking action, both nationally and internationally, in the fight against austerity measures.
- We call for all other university, college and school students and staff to strike and occupy in defence of the future of our education system, and to participate in the national day of action on the 24th November 2010.

For more details see this story in The Argus:

A student who only wanted to be known as Tom, said: “About 200 of us have just started an occupation in a lecture theatre on campus in protest at the proposals to cut tuition fees and the cuts to education funding.

“The occupation is calling for students in universities and colleges across the country to follow our lead. People are discussing how long we will stay here at the moment.”

The 22-year-old added that the occupation had been a spontaneous decision and that people had been inspired by the protest in London last week.

He said: “It has brought new energy to our campaign. The support of our Wednesday protest has been carried forward to our campus.”

He said they had decided to occupy the Fulton building because it was new and expensive.

He said: “It opened at the same time they made more than 100 lecturers redundant. We are now reclaiming this space.”

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Some facts about the cuts

by nineteensixtyseven

“The corollary of the big society is the smaller state. If you talk about the small state, people think you’re Attila the Hun. If you talk about the big society, people think you’re Mother Teresa.” Thus David Davis was overheard by the Financial Times in July discussing the Conservative-Liberal Democrat cuts agenda.  The Government have been giving all sorts of fiscal arguments for the unprecedented cuts in public expenditure but they have been unable to shake the accusation that beneath the rhetorical verbiage lies the traditional  Tory desire to shrink the State.

Firstly, as Red Pepper have reported in their handy guide, IMF World Economic Outlook Database figures show that the UK  actually has the lowest government debt as a proportion of GDP among the G7 countries.  Even before the 2007  financial crisis, comparisons of the level of public debt prior to 2007 showed the UK in a much better position than many comparable countries- even Germany, which has been cited as a model of fiscal responsibility.

Another major argument for the need for immediate spending cuts is the international state of sovereign debt. Just on Monday at the Tory Conference, George Osborne told us to “look at Ireland, and Greece, and Portugal, and you will see that the dangers have not passed.” However, the UK’s debt is qualitatively different from that of Greece, making a comparison unhelpful. The average debt maturity of Greek government debt is around 8 years, for Portugal it is 6 years and for Ireland it is a mere 5; the average for the UK is 14 years, one of the longest in the industrialised world. In other words, most of the debt UK’s debt will not mature for at least a decade.

Furthermore, the spectre of rising interest rates has been raised, but gilts are set at a fixed repayment rate once government bonds are purchased.  Therefore, the majority of government debt remains unaffected by contemporary economic conditions.  Indeed, on Sunday Germany just paid off its reparations from the Treaty of Versailles so one has to wonder what the rush is.  After the Second World War, with debt at around 250% of GDP, the UK managed to build that National Health Service; after the financial crash the Government has opted for brutal austerity.  These choices are political choices, not driven by objective economic necessity.

A  final reason why the UK cannot be compared with the countries mentioned by Osborne is that foreign investors only hold 30 per cent of the £800bn in outstanding UK gilts, much lower than Eurozone countries. Over 80 per cent of Irish debt is held externally, and the percentage for Greece and Portugal is similar.  According to the Financial Times: “This means the UK market is not subject to the more capricious nature of overseas buyers that are more likely to take flight in the event of negative news flow or poor economic data.”

Importantly, Ireland, which has been mentioned as a model for governments to follow in imposing austerity measures is now facing the prospect of a double-dip recession, not having grown at all since the first quarter of this year.  Spain, another austerity-stricken country, has had her credit rating downgraded after austerity was implemented, with the credit rating agencies citing poor prospects for further growth.  This could easily be the UK after the Comprehensive Spending Review.

In closing, the IFS has said that the cuts planned by Osborne will tackle 110% of the structural deficit, which is much more than is necessary by even the government’s dubious standards.  One is led to the obvious conclusion that Osborne and the Tories wanted to reduce the state anyway and are seizing of the flimsiest of evidence to cut us back to the 19th century.  The 25% plus cuts planned for public expenditure will, as well as lead to mass public sector unemployment, hit private sector growth in areas such as the construction industry which are dependent on public sector contracts.

These cuts, supported by only 36.1% of voters at the election, are ideologically-driven and tantamount to class war waged by the rich against the poor.  While the banks prosper under business as usual, it is the sick, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged who are left to bear the brunt of the economic crisis.

A variation of this article will soon appear in The Cambridge Student.

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TUC gets it wrong… Then right… Then wrong…

by Anne Archist

Having been reduced to sitting in front of the TV in order to better ambush the DHL van I’m waiting for (which, judging by past experience, is driven by Godot), I’ve been watching the coverage on BBC News of the TUC conference. It’s good to see the trade union movement stepping up the response to the cuts somewhat. Of course, it’s worth tempering that optimism with a nod to Patrick’s recent contributions about the kind of rhetoric and so-called strategies they’re peddling; on the other hand, the unions are in a much better position than far-left tendencies to turn platitudes into concrete results at least insofar as moderating the extent of cuts and influencing the private sector’s response.

One interesting thing about this analysis is the extent to which the BBC are pushing their editorial narrative in the face of the facts. The correspondent at conference must have brought up the threat of a general strike, poll tax-style “riots” or a “winter of discontent” at least half a dozen times, and seems intent on insisting that this represents a “return to the trade union militancy of the 70s”.

So far as the actual evidence goes, the composite motion the BBC have focused on seems to be rather tame overall – “it doesn’t mean the TUC calls a general strike”, according to Bob Crow. Derek Simpson also rejected the possibility of a general strike. All the union leaders that have been interviewed have disagreed that this is a return to union militancy or the language of the 70s. Nevertheless, the BBC haven’t “changed the script” (metaphorically or literally).

One dissenting speech was allowed regarding the near-unanimous vote on the composite motion, coming from the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) delegate whose name I didn’t catch. He argued that “the tone” of the motion and of conference altogether was wrong; specifically, that the TUC was focused on convincing the people “in this room” rather than the wider public support necessary. His argument was essentially a concession to the “we’re all in this together” pisstake of the government, in that he seemed to argue that the unions need to engage more constructively with employers and that trying to place the burden squarely on the rich would be unpopular and unrealistic, etc.

The delegate was right in one sense – the tone does seem to be wrong. Granted, not actually being present at conference means my opinion is based on partial evidence, but the TUC has been sending very mixed messages to the public via the media. The motion that was so strongly passed “reject[s] all cuts”, but on the other hand we heard wavering like Derek Simpson’s suggestion that “we acknowledge the cuts have to be made … it’s the timescale” as opposed to Mark Serwotka’s position that there shouldn’t be “a single penny cut”. As well as continuing to maintain moderation, legality, etc, the TUC’s leading bureaucrats seem to be unable to stay “on message” and are already rolling over to the “inevitability” of cuts. This is evidenced also in some anti-cuts campaigns.

Labour’s paltry showing also deserves mention. Harriet Harman seemed keen to reassure conference that Labour would defend the political levy – in other words, they will defend our right to give them money. How philanthropic of them. When it was put to her by the studio anchor that “there’s nothing that’s going to put the recovery at risk more than co-ordinated strike action”, Harman gave a pathetic weasel answer which more or less agreed.

Some on the left have argued that, in the words of a speaker at a local trades council meeting recently, “everything is dialectical” (well, it is and it isn’t…) and that therefore the defeat of the coalition would drive labour significantly to the left. She wasn’t clear on whether she meant the event of their defeat or the process by which their defeat was achieved, but I’d be sceptical about either. Harman is putting forward the oh-so-left position that maybe we could half the deficit over 4 years (implicitly still by – smaller – cuts); now, undoubtedly this would be a preferable short-term situation, but surely a long-term systemic deficit is a real problem, wherever you lie on the political spectrum (at least so long as we have to deal with a market system)?

Harman’s proposals would merely put off an even more extreme backlash against workers, claimants, public tenants and service-users; the only way of avoiding it altogether is by putting the screws on the rich for once and investing in infrastructure and public services.

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Are Cuts REALLY Necessary?

I wasn’t originally going to post this here, but then I was informed that it was rejected by the opinion pages I wrote it for after they had already published several of my articles – this follows a change of editorial staff. So, with that in mind, I thought it would be better that it gets published somewhere rather than gathering dust. It’s written for a more mainstream audience than most of my posts on this blog, but hopefully people will find it of some use. I should be able to quote sources if anyone would like me to back up the numbers.

by Anne Archist

There is not, in fact, a consensus that the current programme of cuts is necessary. Dissenters include mainstream groups like the Green Party, the public-sector union Unison, and soft-left think tank Compass alongside the more usual suspects such as Red Pepper magazine and socialist organisations too numerous to list. Some have gone so far as to suggest that no cuts whatsoever are economically necessary; I’m talking about Compass, contrary to expectations, as most socialist groups are championing cuts in defence spending at the least. The case against cuts, then, deserves a closer look than the media are currently willing to give it.

Let’s stick to round numbers and call the deficit 170 billion (it’s actually 167); just to be clear, ‘deficit’ means that the state is paying out 170 billion more than it’s receiving in tax money – don’t confuse this with national debt, which is also taking up a lot of column-inches at the moment. That means we’re borrowing 170 billion a year (although it’s worth noting that about 75% of our debt is internal – from UK institutions, not abroad). Even leading economists are clear that there’s no reason the gap has to be closed immediately, but let’s humour the right wing – let’s see if we can demolish the deficit without widening inequality and aggravating the poverty endemic in our society.

How about we start by collecting the 120 billion in tax money that’s avoided, evaded, or written off? Let’s follow that up by a hefty 40 billion garnered by returning corporation tax to their pre-1997 levels, introducing the fabled ‘robin hood’ financial transactions tax, and making the bankers’ bonus tax permanent. The last 10 billion can be closed using a combination of progressive changes to capital gains tax that would bring it into line with income tax rates, a vacant property tax, and the abolition of tax exile status for those not genuinely living and paying tax elsewhere. That’s 170 billion raised in taxes, without a single cut.

Let’s, for the sake of rhetorical flourish, stick in 10 billion of cuts. Let’s not direct them at public sector workers or services, though. Let’s direct them at trident, the ID cards and associated schemes, and money-saving through renationalising PFI hospitals. What to do with the 10 billion, you ask? Well, the abolition of tuition fees would be nice (about 6 billion), and those people clamping down on tax evasion have to come from somewhere (1 billion = 40,000 public sector median wages). There is a whole raft of other less substantial adjustments and cost-cutting measures that wouldn’t hurt anyone except the obscenely rich, offering opportunities to further tackle poverty, homelessness, social exclusion, etc. Consider that as “optional” to my plan.

So, to recap, we’ve managed to close the deficit without cuts or regressive measures like VAT hikes, and have swapped trident and the database state for free education. Of course this is just one plan, and that’s my whole point – there are alternatives. “We have no choice” is a good way of shutting down debate, but it simply isn’t true. The scope, timing, and targeting of these cuts is political and ideological. Don’t just take my word for it, read Unison’s Alternative Budget, Red Pepper’s Countering The Cuts Myths, or Compass’ In Place Of Cuts.

This would be a lot to ask of any of the major parties in the current (hysterical) political climate, but I’d actually consider this a very restrained programme in the grand scheme of things. It keeps a relaxed level of tax on the rich and business, and doesn’t even touch higher-level income tax or NI contributions, which together would yield nearly 30 billion. In reply to previous critics of my articles, I won’t shy from admitting that I have no personal affection for capitalism; on the other hand this programme doesn’t take any steps whatsoever that could convincingly be described as socialist, such as genuinely “raiding” accumulated wealth (they’ve hesitantly dipped into this in France for about half a decade) or capping public sector wages (some earn as high as 1.5 million per annum).

And yet, for some reason, I won’t be holding my breath for a call from George Osborne.

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