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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Three years ago, the world watched in awe as the world’s stock markets plummeted. The accounts of some of the world’s biggest banks turned out to be as fictional as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. To avoid imminent collapse, they crawled with their begging hats to their respective governments. The subsequent bailouts have bankrupted previously prosperous economies, with ordinary citizens facing decades of austerity as a result.

The collapse of the world’s economy was the inevitable result of three decades of neo-liberalism, which, along with rampant deregulation, saw the suppression of wages and destruction of workers’ bargaining rights. Now that their experiment has went belly-up, we have been asked to foot the bill. In the run up to the November 30 strike, no one should forget how this crisis started, why it happened and who was at fault. Have you ever met a school dinner lady who traded in derivatives? Have you ever came across a teacher who sold a credit default swap or a bus driver who engaged in predatory lending? Of course not. People like this did not cause the crisis, so they should not be asked to pay for it.

Contrary to received wisdom, public sector pensions are not “gold plated”. Half of public sector pensions are less than £6,000 a year. The real gold plated pensions are actually found at the top of the private sector. Last year the TUC found that the directors of the UK’s top companies have an average pensions pot of £3.8 million, with some reaching well over £5 million. It’s often pointed out that workers in the private sector are granted much less generous terms and conditions. That may be so (as a private sector worker, I know that well), but surely that’s an argument to fight for better terms and conditions and, of course, pensions in the private sector? Attempts to equalise the misery and create an artificial divide between workers in the private and public sectors must be opposed.

The spectacle of those at the top continuing life as usual while public services are decimated must be one of the most infuriating things for workers forced into taking strike action this month. At the end of October, it was revealed that the pay of the UK’s top company directors rose by 43% in the past year, increasing to an obscene £2.7 million a year. For David Cameron to say public sector pensions are “unaffordable” while top bosses take home millions is dishonest, to say the very least. This statistic alone easily debunks the patronising drivel that “we are all in this together”, a meaningless slogan continually espoused by a cabinet of millionaires.

With ever more unions joining the biggest strike since 1926, the media are gearing up for a predictable smear campaign. “Union barons” and “union bosses” will be attacked with the most venomous vitriol, while the real barons and bosses who destroyed the economy in the first place will go unscathed. Deliberate half-truths and outright falsification will littler the newspapers in the run-up to November 30 in an attempt to turn public opinion against the unions. This is a key reason why trade union activists need to be engaging with people on the ground.

Although the immediate issue with the November 30 strike is pensions, it is part of something larger and much more intense. Across the globe, a class war being waged. While the working classes in the Middle East are rising up to demand democracy and economic fairness for the first time, the working classes in the West will be fighting increasingly hard to retain the gains we have made over the past 60 years. The eternal conflict between capital and labour is intensifying. Warren Buffet, one of the richest individuals in the world, confirmed this recently when he said: “Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically.”

The November 30 strike represents the beginning of a hard fight ahead. Most importantly, it should not be seen by activists as an end in itself. One day of strike action isn’t going to change the intentions of the bosses’ class; that will require a long, drawn-out struggle. Radical action will be required, including general strikes and civil disobedience. It’s a struggle everyone should get involved in – all our futures are at stake.

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The announcement by Greek Prime Minister George Panpandreou to hold a referendum on whether or not to accept the Troika’s latest “bailout” has been met with the predictable fury of Europe’s leaders. Such are their democratic credentials, the very thought of the Greek people having a say on the austerity being inflicted upon them sparked outrage. Under intense pressure, Papandreou balked and called off the proposed referendum.

Everyone needs to keep a close eye on the events unfolding in Greece. What happens there will affect us all. The very existence of the European Union is on the line; if the Euro collapses, the EU is likely to go down with it. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. The ethnic cauldron that makes up much of Europe could very well boil over, the results of which most do not care to think about. The prospect of war in the continent is a very real one. Don’t just take my word for it; German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a stark warning in the Bundestag last month when she said: “No one should think that a further half century of peace and prosperity is assured. If the euro fails, Europe will fail.”

Distracted by X-Factor and other hollow gimmicks, much of the population seem oblivious, and contently so, to the enormous events unfolding around them. Capitalism is now in its biggest crisis since the 1930s, with even the “top” bourgeois economists at a loss as to what to do to next. In all likelihood, capitalism is heading towards a period of prolonged and deep recession. Many are even plausibly predicting another depression. If this materialises, the ramifications on working people will obviously be enormous.

The sense of urgency among Europe’s leaders to save the EU project stems from the continent’s collective memory of fascism. They know the EU is the cement that has maintained peace in most of Europe since 1945. Its collapse will create a political vacuum in many countries, which the far-right will doubtless take advantage of. Across Europe, a tide of extreme nationalism is gaining ground. Muslims have replaced Jews as the targets of “acceptable” racism in today’s society. Fascist-friendly comics, such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express, spout their racist, reactionary vitriol without any real controversy. Their headlines attack Muslims on a daily basis, accusing them of being “terrorists”, “benefit scroungers” and “imposing their values”. Such disinformation in mainstream discourse provides fertile ground for the spread of fascism. This can already be seen across much of Europe. In 2009, the BNP polled 1 million votes in the European Parliament elections. The increasing popularity of the odious English Defence League since then is another case in point. Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party has made considerable gains in Holland. Latest opinion polls show that 16.9% of Finns support the True Finns Party. 15.2% of the electorate in Denmark have expressed sympathy with the Danish People’s Party.

Such alarming statistics should come as little surprise. In deep crises, people will naturally look to areas outside the mainstream for solutions. Fascists provide extremely impressionable people with “easy” answers. Many people, unfortunately, find it easier to blame their problems on immigrants and minorities, rather than study the economic, social and political issues which dominate their lives.

One important point to bear in mind is that fascism is good for big business. Do not fall under the illusion that capitalism is compatible with democracy and human rights. Capitalism is there to make profit. What happens to the environment, societies, families and individuals is simply immaterial in the dark race for profit. If fascist states provide profitable outlets for big business, you can rest assured that they will take these opportunities.

Without a viable left alternative, the rise of fascism in many parts of Europe is a distinct possibility. Earlier this week, the Irish Independent reported that a significant number of people in Athens have been brandishing the portraits of some of the country’s top generals. In a nation which got rid of a military junta just 30 years ago, this is an extremely worrying development. Despite the inspirational resistance to austerity shown by the Greek working class over the past number of years, fascism can still creep in through the back door.

Since 2008, the capitalist class have been using the crisis as an opportunity. They have taken advantage of people’s shock and have begun the process of slashing wages, conditions and, of course, jobs. They are attacking all the gains made by the labour movement over the past 60 years. That being the case, this should be seen by socialists also as an opportunity. The time is ripe for the airing of new ideas and alternatives to a system organised for the pursuit of profit, as opposed to social need. To stop fascism before it grows, progressives and socialists need to provide a clear programme detailing what we stand for. We should discuss and debate this thoroughly, as it is the only way to clarify our ideas and strive towards what we hope to achieve.

The opening of opportunities for the building of a better and more humane society come once in a generation. Let’s not miss this one.