Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

The Torygraph Pours Scorn on Corbyn at Glastonbury Festival

June 28, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn was one of the guests at the Glastonbury Festival last week, introduced on stage by no less a man than Michael Eavis himself. Corbyn gave a roaring, impassioned speech, inveighing against the Tories’ attack on the welfare state, their privatisation of the NHS, and their forcing of millions into poverty. If I recall correctly, he also mentioned how the Grenfell Tower fire was a direct result of decades of Tory policies dismantling health and safety legislation for the benefit of private landlords. He ended with a rousing passage from Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, urging the British people to rise up ‘like lions’ ‘for ye are many, they are few.’

And the crowd loved it. They cheered, and there were spontaneous chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ This graphically showed the popularity of the Labour leader, at least with a section of the young and not-so young people, who can afford to go to Glastonbury.

Needless to say, the Tory press hated it. The I newspaper yesterday carried a quote from the Telegraph, in which they moaned that it was ‘the day that Glastonbury died’, Eavis was going to lose tens of thousands of visitors and supporters of his festival by inviting Jeremy Corbyn on, and what did it say about the Labour party anyway, when it’s leader was cheered by metropolitan liberals able to afford the exorbitant entrance and camping fees.

Actually, it says that the countercultural spirit of Glastonbury is alive and well, that Eavis has always been against at least some of the policies the Tories espouse, and that the Tories contemplating the spectacle of the young and hip supporting Labour are nervous about their own future.

Michael Eavis was awarded an honorary doctorate or degree by Bristol university at their graduation ceremony a few years ago. Bristol uni is rather peculiar in the conduct of these ceremonies. While other universities and colleges allow the person awarded the degree to make a speech themselves, at Bristol it’s done a special orator. The orator describes their life and career, while the person being so honoured stands by, smilingly politely, until they are finally given the scroll, when they say ‘thank you’. The orator in his speech for Eavis said that he was basically conservative, who shared the work ethic.

Well, perhaps, but I can remember the 80s, when the local Tories down in Glastonbury hated him, the hippies and the other denizens of Britain’s counter and alternative cultures, who turned up to the pop festival with a passion. They were trying to get the festival banned at one point, citing the nuisance and frequent drugs violations.

As for Eavis himself, I can remember him appearing in an edition of the Bristol Evening Post, in which he made it very clear what he thought about Reagan and Thatcher’s new cold war, and the horrors committed in Nicaragua by Fascist death squads trained, equipped and backed by Reagan’s administration. Accompanying the article was a picture of him wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘How Can I Relax with Ray-Gun on the Button?’, which mixed a reference to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s notorious disc, which had been banned by the Beeb, with the American president’s ‘Star Wars’ programme for a space-based anti-missile system.

As for the hip young dudes cheering Corbyn on, whom the Torygraph sneered at as ‘metropolitan liberals’, this is the crowd the Tories, and Tory organs like the Telegraph, would desperately like to appeal to. These are wealthy people with the kind of disposable incomes newspaper advertisers salivate over. These people also tend to be tech-savvy, which is why the Torygraph imported an American technology guru a few years ago to try and make the rag appeal more to a generation increasingly turning to the Internet for their news and views.

It didn’t work. Sales continued to decline, along with the quality of the newspaper as a whole as cuts were made to provide the savings needed to fund the guru’s wild and fanciful ideas. The young and the hip are out there, but they ain’t reading the Torygraph.

And their also increasingly not joining or supporting the Tory party. Recent polls have shown that the majority of young people favour Labour, while the Tories are strongest amongst the over fifties. For any party or other social group to survive, it has to appeal to young people as well as those of more mature years. And the Tories aren’t.

Lobster a little while ago carried a piece on the current state of the Tory party, which reported that a very large number of local constituency parties really exist in name only or have very, very few members. The membership is increasingly elderly, and several local parties responded to inquiries by saying that they were closed to new members. In short, the Tory party, which was at one time easily Britain’s largest party with a membership of 2 1/2 million, is dying as a mass party. Lobster concluded that it was being kept alive, and given millions in funding, mainly by American hedge fund managers in London. It should be said here that the party is also benefiting from extremely wealthy donors elsewhere in industry, and the very vocal support of press barons like Murdoch, Rothermere, and the weirdo Barclay Twins.

The Telegraph’s attitude also seems somewhat hypocritical considering the attitude of the press to the appointment of a Conservative editor of Rolling Stone magazine way back in the 1990s. This young woman praised George Bush senior, stating that he ‘really rocks’. This caused a murmur of astonishment amongst the media, amazed at how a countercultural pop icon could embrace one of the very people the founders of the magazine would have been marching against back in the ’60s and ’70s. The magazine was accused of selling out. It responded by replying that it hadn’t, it had ‘merely won the revolution’.

Nah. It had sold out. As one of the French philosophers – Guy Debord? – wrote in The Society of the Spectacle, capitalism survives by taking over radical protest movements, and cutting out any genuinely radical content or meaning they had, and then turning them into mere spectacles. This is what had happened to Rolling Stone. And as Glastonbury became increasingly respectable and expensive in the 1990s, there were fears that it was going to go the same way too, at least amongst some of the people writing in the small press culture that thrived before the advent of the internet.

I don’t remember the Torygraph saying that Rolling Stone had ‘died’ by appointing a deep-dyed Republican as its editor. And I imagine that it would have been highly excited if Eavis had called on Theresa May to appear on stage. Now that would have killed Glastonbury. But the appearance of Corbyn on stage shows that Glastonbury hasn’t yet become a cosy item of bourgeois entertainment.

Corbyn is one of the most genuinely countercultural politicians in decades. He stands for policies which the political establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party itself, loathe and despise. Until a few weeks before the election, all the papers were running very negative stories about him, as well as much of the TV news, including the Beeb. Corbyn is a threat to the free trade policies that the Thatcherite political establishment and media heartily support, and so they attack him every way they can.

But as the mainstream media attacks him, ordinary people support him. Much of the support for Jeremy Corbyn came from ordinary people on blogs and vlogs outside corporate control. Counterpunch a week or so ago carried an interview with one of the ladies behind Corbyn’s campaign in London. She described how they set up apps for mobile phones, to show volunteers for his election campaign which wards were marginal so they could canvas for him in those vital areas. She said that they had so many people volunteering that they had to turn some away.

And youth culture was part of this mass movement. Kids were mixing his speeches in with the music they listened to on their ipods, so that there were movements like ‘Grime4Corbyn’. Again, this was being done spontaneously, outside party and corporate control, by ordinary kids responding to his inspiring message.

Glastonbury is now very expensive, and unaffordable to very many of the people that Corbyn represents. But this does not mean that it is only wealthy metropolitan liberals who support him, or that the well-heeled souls, who sang his praises at Glastonbury at the weekend were somehow fake for doing so ‘champagne socialists’, in Thatcher’s hackneyed phrase. Corbyn also has solid working class backing and the support of the young. He is genuinely countercultural, and so had every right to stand on stage.

And he certainly does share some of the ideals of Michael Eavis himself, at least in the ’80s. As I said, Eavis made his opposition to American imperialism and war-mongering very plain. Corbyn has said that he intends to keep Trident, but in other respects he is a profound voice for peace. There is a minister for peace and disarmament in his shadow cabinet, and he has said that he intends to make this a proper ministerial position.

And so Corbyn stood in Glastonbury, with the support of the crowd. A crowd which the Tory party hoped would support them. They didn’t, and it’s frightened them. So all they can do now is moan and sneer.

Cartoon: Cameron, Clegg and the Tories as David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’

June 26, 2017

There isn’t much to say about this cartoon, except that it was based on the film poster for David Lynch’s disturbing flick, Eraserhead. This is about a man with one of the weirdest hairstyles in cinema attempting to look after a weird, mutant baby, whose head resembles an eraser, hence the film’s title. It’s set in a crumbling, dystopian world, whose audio backdrop is in industrial noise. It’s been described as a horror movie, although it’s not quite that, as well as surreal, which it certainly is.

I thought it was a suitable metaphor for the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, as they’ve certainly done their best to make Britain as decadent and dystopian as possible. This is a Britain in which austerity killed 30,000 people in 2015 alone, according to researchers at Oxford University. Over a hundred thousand people are now forced to use food banks to stop themselves from starving, where 7 million people live in ‘food insecure’ households, where the family members don’t know if they’ll eat tomorrow. Families where the mothers are starving themselves in order to feed and clothe their children.

And all the while more people are forced into poverty through wage freezes, and cuts to welfare benefits. A country in which the poor, the unemployed and the disabled are vilified simply for being poor.

It’s a Britain where the NHS and the schools and universities are being privatised for the profit of private healthcare companies and school management companies, and in which uni students will graduate owing something like £40,000 worth of student debt.

This is a Britain in which homelessness is on the rise. Except you won’t see it, because local councils are passing laws to clear the homeless off their streets, so the site of them begging doesn’t annoy or upset the richer residents.

It’s a country where public services, like the trains, are being starved of investment so that their share value remains artificially high, and the bosses can award themselves big bonuses.

It’s a country where the private energy companies also keep prices high for the same reason.

It’s a country, whose natural beauty is in danger of being plundered and despoiled, as the government despises clean, renewable energy sources, and removes environmental protection legislation for the benefit of fracking companies.

It’s a country that’s heading rapidly towards dictatorship and authoritarianism, as New Labour, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation setting up secret courts, in which the defendant may be tried behind closed doors, with vital evidence and the identity of his accuser also kept secret, if the government decides this is required for reasons of ‘national security’. Just like the judicial system in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Stalin’s Russia.

But to make sure you don’t realise that this country is becoming a crumbling dystopia, the media do nothing but lie about how evil the left is, and how wonderful everything is under the Tories, including the BBC. A media dominated by a very few newspaper magnates – Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay Twins, Richard Desmond, Vere Harmsworth and a pair of Russian oligarchs.

So I drew David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith all in black and white with the same weird hairstyle as the film’s hero, played by Jack Nance, like the film’s poster.

This is the face of the Tory-Lib Dem government as it was a few years ago. But things haven’t changed since under Theresa May, who’s gone full steam ahead with all the old, wretch Tory policies.

Don’t have nightmares! Just vote for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour poverty, to end austerity and the predatory capitalism that sustains it.

End Workfare Now! Part 2

June 20, 2017

Arguments for Workfare

The arguments trotted out to support the workfare policies are these.

1. Everyone has a duty to work. Those who take money from the state have a reciprocal obligation to work for the support they have received.

2. Following Moynihan in America, it’s argued that part of the problem of poverty in society is communities, where there are families, which have not worked for generations. In order to break the cycle of poverty, these people must be forced into work.

3. It’s also argued that many individuals have also been unemployed for so long that they, too, have lost the habit of working. These people must also be forced to work.

4. The unemployed are also socially marginalised and excluded. Workfare helps them, its supporters argue, become integrated into society and so become productive members of the community once again.

5. It is also claimed that workfare allows people to acquire new skills. In 2012 a report was published on the exploitation of the people forced to work for free as security guards for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A spokesman for the ConDem coalition responded to the claim by stating: ‘The work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable.’ As Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols sang back in 1977 ‘God save the Queen and the Fascist regime.’

6. Workfare somehow reduces government spending on welfare programmes. Liam Byrne, New Labour’s advocate for workfare, who was quoted in the first part of this article, said ‘The best way to save money is to get people back into work.’

In fact there are serious arguments against just about all of these points, and some of them simply aren’t factually true. Let’s deal with each of these arguments in turn.

The Duty to Work

If people have a duty to perform free work for the goods and services that are provided freely by the state, then the middle classes and the elite should particularly be targeted for workfare, because they use the state infrastructure and its services more than the proles and those at the bottom of society. But the middle and upper classes most definitely are not required to perform these services. One of the worst policies of Mao’s China during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of the 1960s and ’70s was the policy of taking skilled workers, intellectuals and artists away from their work to perform manual work elsewhere in that vast nation. It was bitterly resented, although at the time it was in line with the idea of creating a classless ‘workers’ state’. The respected TV critic and broadcaster, Clive James, in his column for the Observer, reviewed a programme that exposed this aspect of Chinese Communism. James was horrified at the effect this had had on breaking the health and skills of those sent to labour in the fields, such as a dancer for the state ballet. But if such forced labour is unacceptable for the middle and upper classes, it should also be so for those, whose only crime is to be without a job.

Furthermore there are also strong objections to performing workfare for a profit-making company. Those who do so, like those poor souls working free of charge for the big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, are helping to make these companies even more profitable. It isn’t society that profits from their work, but extremely wealthy individuals like David Sainsbury and his shareholders, and the people running his competitors, for example. This parallels the exploitative nature of Stalin’s gulags and the Nazis’ use of skilled Jewish workers by the SS. The gulags were the immense archipelago of forced labour camps used to punish political prisoners and other victims of Stalin’s regime. Over 30 million Soviet citizens are estimated to have been imprisoned in them at the height of the terror. The vast majority were totally innocent. The system was used to industrialise the country, whose economy had formerly been dominated by agriculture. Under Stalin, the heads of state enterprises would supply lists of the types of workers they needed to the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, the state secret police. The NKVD would then arrest workers with those skills, and supply them to the businesses as requested. In Nazi Germany, the SS also formed an enterprise to exploited the skilled Jewish workers, such as jewelers, they had imprisoned. They were put to work producing luxury goods, which were then sold by the SS. They even produced a catalogue of the products made by these slave artisans.

This claim also implies that low income people have a duty to work in an inferior position for the benefit of their social or economic superiors in a master-servant relationship. This is a distortion of the concept of duty. The same idea also leads to the view that if you are unsuccessful in the labour market, you therefore have a duty to work for nothing, a view of society that is both regressive – harking back to some of the worst aspects of the Victorian era – and alienating. On the other hand, if you are performing work that is unprofitable, then there should be no duty to perform it. If it is genuine, valuable work, then the people performing it should be paid the current market rate, not simply provided with unemployment relief.

Standing also makes the point that the concept of duty has led to the belief that people should be forced to find work. But the use of coercion is divisive and actually undermines the commitment to work. He also argues that it actually amoral, because it takes away from workers their ability to choose for themselves whether to be moral. Plus the fact that workfare is not levied on the idle rich, or the friends and relatives of the politicians forcing it on others

Multigenerational Families of the Unemployed

The number of families that actually fit this description is so small as to be negligible, both in America and over here in Blighty. The academics T. Shildrick, R. MacDonald, C. Webster, and K. Garthwaite examined this issue in their Poverty and Insecurity: Life in Low Pay, No Pay Britain (Bristol: Policy Press 2012). Their research revealed that only 1 per cent fitted the description of a family in which two generations were unemployed. Official attempts to find these pockets of intergenerational unemployment have similarly turned up next to zilch. The whole idea is rubbish, but that hasn’t stopped papers like the Daily Fail claiming it’s true.

Getting People out of the Habit of Not Having a Job

Researchers have also looked at this one, too, and guess what? Yup, it’s similarly rubbish. There are very few people like this. But rather than acting as an incentive to find work, actually being forced to work unpaid in poor conditions may actually act as a deterrent. The Anarchist activist and writer, Alexander Berkman, made this point about work generally in his 1929, What Is Anarchist Communism? He made the point that much poor work was caused by forcing unwilling workers to perform jobs that they did not want and weren’t interested in. He pointed to the experience of prison labour, as an illustration. In prison, those workers, who were forced to perform such jobs did so badly. However, if they were given a job they enjoyed, then their work rapidly improved. He also made the point that Standing also makes about poorly paid but necessary work, that instead of forcing people to do it, wages should be increased to encourage workers to do them, and increase the social respect for those, who did those jobs. In a very stretched comparison, he described how both road sweepers and surgeons both helped keep people health. Surgeons, however, were given respect, while road sweepers are looked down upon. He felt this was simply a question of money, and that the social stigma attached to cleaning the streets would be removed, and the two professions given equal respect, if road sweepers were paid the same amount. This is too simplistic, as the surgeon is far more skilled than the road sweeper. But sweeping the streets and related dirty jobs would undoubtedly be more attractive if they were better paid.

Integrating the Jobless Back into Society

Far from being calculated to help the long-term unemployed back into society, the type of work that they are forced to do under workfare is humiliating. In many cases, this is quite deliberate as part of the government’s ideology of ‘less eligibility’ and dissuading people from going on benefits. And studies by the researchers and the DWP itself have also found that workfare makes absolutely no difference to whether a claimant gets a job afterwards.

Enabling the Unemployed to Acquire New Skills

This is also rubbish, as the type of menial work people are giving under workfare, in which they sweep the streets or stack shelves, are by their nature unskilled. And if a skilled worker is forced to perform them for months on end, this type of work is actually like to make them lose their skills.
Workfare Cuts Government Spending

This is also rubbish. In fact, workfare increases government expenditure on the unemployed, as the government has to pay subsidies to the firms employing them, and pay the costs of administration, which are actually quite heavy. And the work those on the programme actually perform doesn’t produce much in the way of taxable income, so money doesn’t come back to the government. Furthermore, most of the people on benefits are actually working, which makes Liam Byrne’s statement that the best way to save money is to get people back into work’ a barefaced lie.

In addition to demolishing the government’s arguments in favour of workfare, Standing also provides a series of further arguments against it. These are that the jobs created through workfare aren’t real jobs; workfare is unjust in its treatment of the unemployed; it stops the unemployed actually looking for jobs for themselves; it lowers their income over their lifetime; it also acts to keep wages down; it keeps the people, who should be working at those jobs out of work; it’s a dangerous extension of the power of the state; and finally, it’s a gigantic scam which only benefits the welfare-to-work firms.

Workfare and Real Jobs

According to the ideas of the market economy developed by the pioneer of free trade, the 18th century philosopher Adam Smith, workfare jobs don’t actually constitute real jobs. Smith believed that the market would actually produce higher wages to entice people into performing unpleasant jobs. On this reasoning, if workfare jobs were real jobs, then they would have a definite economic value. They would be created through the operation of the market, and the workers in them would also be paid proper wages for performing them.

There are also moral problems in the definition of what constitutes a ‘real job’ that someone on workfare should have to perform. If it is defined as one paying the minimum wage, then workfare is immoral as it puts downward pressure on the wages and conditions of the people already performing those jobs, forcing them into poverty. If those ‘real jobs’ are defined as those which are dirty, dangerous, undignified or stigmatizing, and so unpopular, they would have the opposite effect of what the advocates of workfare claim – that they are encouraging people to find work.

The solution for progressives is to make the labour market act like it is supposed to act, rather than it actually does in practice. Adam Smith was quite wrong about wages adjusting upwards for unpopular jobs in a market economy. The wages provided for work should match both supply and demand, and people should not be made into commodities as workers. They should have enough economic support to be able to refuse jobs they don’t want. Instead of assuming that people need to be forced to work, there should be the presumption instead that most people actually do. It is arbitrary and ultimately demeaning for all concerned to try to identify people who are somehow ‘undeserving’. Genuine supporters of equality should want the wages in unpleasant jobs to rise, until there is a genuine supply of willing labour.

End Workfare Now: Part 3

June 20, 2017

Workfare Is Unjust

Workfare unfairly penalises the unemployed. For example, in 2011 the ConDem government made the conditions imposed on benefit claimants and the penalties for avoidance under the Labour government’s New Deal even more stringent. Those performing workfare were required to work for up to thirty hours a week for 28 days. The work performed was to be that which benefited the community. Taken as wages, this meant that claimants were working at a rate of £2.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage. If they turned the job down, or didn’t complete the course of mandatory labour, they had their benefits sanctioned for three months. This was increased to six if they repeated the ‘transgression’. This is unjust, because no-one else in society is expected to work for the minimum wage except convicts in prison.

It’s also unjust in that it makes the economically insecure even more so, and takes away the way long-accepted social right to refuse to work. At the same time, it gives power over the unemployed to the state’s bureaucrats and the private outsourcing companies. Also, forced labour is offensive against human dignity and does not lead to increased personal development.

Workfare Stops People Looking for Jobs

Spending thirty hours a week on workfare actually cuts down on the available time the unemployed are able to spend looking for work. P.A. Gregg, in their book Job Guarantee: Evidence and Design (Bristol: Bristol University Centre for Market and Public Organisation 2009) actually found that because of this, workfare actually stopped people from getting jobs.

Lowering Incomes over Life

Workfare is also unjust, as instead of giving people the ability to acquire a career, or jobs leading to one, it may instead lower their long-term income by keeping them in a series of low-paid, temporary work. People should have the right to decide for themselves which jobs to take and what they should do when it affects their long term prospects. If the state instead forces them to take a certain course, then it should also be required to compensate them if the course demanded is the wrong one.

Workfare Keeps Wages Low

By forcing people to take low-paid jobs, and making this a threat to force other workers also to take jobs that pay less than they would otherwise take, workfare leads to lower wages. The Labour Party in the UK declared that it was in favour of a ‘national living wage’ above the minimum. However, it then contradicted this intention by stating that those performing workfare would do so at the minimum wage. The Labour party may have meant this to stop those on workfare competing with those in paid employment, though MPs like Liam Byrne have shown themselves to be every bit as spiteful and punitive in their treatment of the unemployed as the Tories. In any case, this policy still puts on pressure to force wages downwards.

For there to be a genuine living wage, politicians should increase and strengthen the ability of the unemployed to bargain for higher wages. It is only when workers really have an effective ability to bargain that employers are either forced to pay a living wage, or decide that the job is unnecessary and the potential productivity too low. Standing concludes from this that ‘The reality is that the utilitarian mindset does not care about the precariat’.

Workfare Labour Replaces Genuine Workers

If the jobs performed under workfare were genuine and productive, it would be unfair to workers in those jobs, and to the short-term unemployed, as the government-subsidized labourers supplied under workfare would replace existing workers, or stop them hiring other unemployed people. In 2011 Tesco collaborated with the Jobcentres to create 3,000 unpaid placements for those on workfare, who would work for the company for four weeks. Homebase and Asda were
also keen to use such unpaid labour. As was Poundland, which also announced that it was taking on benefit claimants, though it denied that this would affect their existing recruiting activity. Whatever those companies said, clearly their use of cheap workfare labour was replacing paid workers and stopping the unemployed from getting permanent jobs with those companies.

Workfare Extends State Power

When the High and Appeal Courts upheld the challenge to performing mandatory workfare by the geology graduate, who objected to having to work in Poundland, and a young chap, who had been sanctioned for refusing it, the Condem government responded by rushing through emergency legislation making the refusal to perform workfare punishable by sanctions. The procedure in which the legislation was rushed through parliament was supposed to be use only in national emergencies. The legislation further contravened accepted notions of justice, in that it acted retrospectively. That is, it punished actions committed before the laws against them had been passed, an idea that strikes at the very notion of justice enshrined across the world in human rights laws. The Labour party, which should have opposed this motion, didn’t. They abstained, and members of the Shadow Cabinet were told that if they voted against the motion, they would have to resign. This demonstrates just how deeply workfare had become embedded as the official ideology of the state and the main parties.

Welfare-to-Work as Corporate Scam

The private companies administering workfare, such as A4E and Ingeus, have profited immensely from this new, growth industry in unfree labour. They are paid £13,500 for every person they manage to put in a long term job. If the job is only short-term, then they receive only half that amount. There is thus considerable pressure for them to choose only those most likely to obtain long term employment, and thus discriminate against vulnerable minorities, including the disabled. The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, complained that more of the people being referred to these companies were those with disabilities, who had been judged ‘fit for work’ according to the tests imposed for the Employment and Support Allowance awarded to the disabled to help them maintain their independence.

The workfare companies also have wide powers in deciding which ‘work placements’ to put people on, and what counts as ‘community benefit’. The DWP permits them to place workers in private companies if this is considered to benefit those firms’ local communities. For a long time the DWP has refused to publish the information on the allocation of workfare labourers to private firms. The government flatly refused to reveal the identities of the participating firms on the grounds that if they did so, the scheme would fail due to public pressure forcing them to drop out. A list of the firms involved has recently been released after a series of Freedom Of Information Act requests. The two largest workfare contractors also refused to comment, when they were asked if they were forcing the workers contracted to them to work for private companies.

Additionally, many of the private companies administering the scheme are run by, or have links to, politicians, which is symptomatic of the general corporate corruption of parliament and the revolving door between corporations, MPs and senior civil servants. Tomorrow’s People, the charity that became notorious for stranding the workfare labourers it had employed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee under London Bridge, where they were forced to sleep, was run by a Conservative peer.

Conclusion: End Workfare Forced Labour

Workfare is thus highly exploitative, and should be banned. It is the thin edge of a wedge leading to the increasing use of force against the poor and unemployed. One staff member from the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux described the situation to Standing thus

The boundaries of the acceptable are being pushed further in the direction of unfree labour. We’ve been here before – breaking stones in return for food during the Irish famine, and similar schemes in 16th & 17th century England, the difference being that technology means peoples’ activity can be monitored more and informal economy lifelines are being pushed further underground. I was talking with a colleague who has picked up growth of prostitution as one means of survival. I don’t know what it would take to break us (society, whatever that means) out of apathy to make protests against what we’re doing to ourselves.

Standing also makes a very apt point, directed at those members of the Left, who refuse to take a stand on it, fearing that it would damage their parties’ chances of winning elections. He states

It is a moralistic policy that should be passionately opposed by every liberal and progressive. If doing so puts political success at risk, so be it. Values matter.

This looks like a dig at Blairite New Labour, which has consistently abstained on the workfare issue instead of firmly opposing it. The Blairites based New Labour’s electoral success on appealing to swing voters, and not challenging Tory policy, except on the grounds that they could administer it more efficiently and were more concerned with social justice. The latter view is particularly specious, as in many cases New Labour went much further in its austerity and privatisation programmes than the Tories. It’s a concern that still motivates the Blairites in their repeated campaigns against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s not an excuse for failing to tackle this new form of forced labour, a system that is slowly edging towards real slavery.

Bibliography

Alexander Berkman, ‘Lazy Men and Dirty Work’, in George Woodcock, ed., The Anarchist Reader (Fontana Press: 1986) 334-338.

Alex DeJonge, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Fontana/Collins 1986) 270-2.

‘Miss World and Mrs Mao’ in Clive James, The Crystal Bucket (Picador: 1982) 232-4.

Guy Standing, A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (London: Bloomsbury 2014) 262-79.

‘Labour Service (Reicharbeitsdienst – RAD)’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1988) 213.

‘Unemployment’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London

May Abuses Constitution to Cling to Power – Just Like Hitler

June 19, 2017

No, this isn’t another example of Godwin’s Law. This is a very real instance where the Tories and the Nazis pursue similar legalistic tactics to seize power without a democratic mandate.

Remember back last summer, when one of the comments incorrectly cited by the Israel lobby to support their accusations of anti-Semitism against one of Corbyn’s supporters was a quote from Martin Luther King? The great civil rights leader had said ‘Everything Hitler did was legal’. Historically, MLK was absolutely right. Hitler and Mussolini came to power through the skillful manipulation of their countries’ democratic institutions and their constitution. They were even careful to make sure that the Holocaust – the horrific mass murder of six million Jews – had a legal basis in the German constitution. A few years ago the Beeb staged a drama documentary of the Wannsee Conference, the infamous secret meeting of the Nazi leaders to plan the genocide of the Jewish people in occupied Europe. At one point the drama showed the Nazi party lawyer briefly raising a point against the enactment of the Holocaust. He wasn’t against it for any moral reason. His only objection to it was his concern that it wouldn’t be legal.

Far from being popular revolutions, as they claimed, the Nazis and the Italian Fascists before them were able to seize power through democratic campaigning, and exploiting the political weakness of their right-wing rivals as the various coalitions that had governed Italy and Germany broke down. The governing right-wing parties needed a coalition partner to form a government. And Mussolini in Italy and then Hitler over a decade later were asked to join them in government. The Fascists and Nazis then exploited the political impasse to become the dominant party in these new, rightist coalitions, and then used a series of political crises to ensure that they became the only party following their victory in an election. In the case of Mussolini, the Fascists with the aid of the right wing of the Liberal party altered the Italian constitution so that the whole of Italy became a single electoral district, thus giving them the majority they needed to seize power as the only permitted political party. If the constitution had not been altered, and the separate, individual electoral districts had retained, Mussolini probably wouldn’t have one the election at all. In fact, he was personally embarrassed by the results. In Mussolini’s home town of Pridappa, nobody voted for him or his thugs.

It’s very clear how this situation also applied to Black Americans before the ending of segregation. America is a democratic state, which prides itself on its constitution and democratic institutions. Yet it was also state where Blacks, and other ethnic minorities, such as its indigenous peoples, were marginalised and oppressed through a set of regulations designed to maintain White political and social dominance, a set of regulations that were clearly anti-democratic in that they violated the fundamental democratic principle of equality for everyone under the law, but which nevertheless also claimed a basis in democracy through the support of the majority.

Now it seems Theresa May is also trying to manipulate the British constitution so she can cling to power without a clear electoral mandate. The elections have resulted in a hung parliament. The Conservatives have the largest number of seats in parliament, but lack an overall majority. So May has been desperately trying to form a coalition with the extremely right-wing DUP, a party with connections to Loyalist terror gangs in Ulster, such as the UDA and UVF. And Mike has also reported how she has cancelled next year’s Queen’s Speech, citing the need to maintain a solid government for Brexit, in order to hang on to another two years of power.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/18/desperate-theresa-may-is-playing-fast-and-loose-with-our-constitution-to-keep-herself-in-power/

I don’t think Brexit is particularly important to May. It certainly isn’t to the great mass of the British people. In a poll, only 15 per cent said it was a priority. However, it is a priority for business, and just about the only issue May has left to campaign on, now that a majority of the British public have shown that they don’t like the promises outlined in the Tory manifesto. The Tories are busily revising this to exclude the most unpopular, such as the Dementia Tax.

Meanwhile, the Tory whips are trying to drum up support for May as this country’s defence against ‘Marxist’ Jeremy Corbyn.

This really is the tactics of the Nazis. The Nazis and the Italian Fascists were crisis regimes. That is, they claimed their mandate to rule through a desperate crisis – the threat of Communism – which was facing their countries. In both cases, the threat of a Communist revolution or insurrection was gone when they seized power. Nevertheless, they were adept at exploiting the fear of a Communist uprising amongst the upper and middle classes.

And they exploited their nations’ constitutional provision for government by presidential decree for the duration of the crisis. This had been invoked by Hindenburg, the right-wing German president, in the late 1920s and first years of the ’30s when the coalition between the SDP, Catholic Centre Party and the Liberal parties broke down. It was then adopted by Adolf Hitler, who used it to keep the regime in power.

The German constitution dictated that the state of emergency could only last four years unless it was renewed. And so every four years, Hitler had to call the Reichstag, which was composed solely of members of the Nazi party, to renew the state of national emergency that kept the Nazis in power.

Similar to the way May is using the crisis of negotiations with the EU to extend her term in parliament beyond her actual democratic mandate to govern.

The Tories are now showing that they’re an active threat to democracy in this country. Blair’s New Labour and the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, passed a series of legislation providing for secret courts. If it is deemed necessary for reasons of national emergency, a person may be tried in secret, with the evidence against him kept from both him-or herself and his/her lawyer. The accused may also not be told the identity of their accuser.

It is exactly the type of legal system that was set up in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

And now May is also seeking to manipulate the British constitution, so she can secure a few more years of rule without the support of the British electorate.

This is another step towards authoritarianism and dictatorship, in which parliament only becomes a rubber stamp, or indeed a democratic façade, for an antidemocratic administration.

This has to be stopped. Now.
May either forms a workable coalition government. If she cannot do so within the next few weeks, then there should be absolutely no question of calling another election.

And this time voting her and her vile party out.

Thoughts and Prayers to the Victims and Emergency Teams of the Grenfell Tower Fire

June 17, 2017

Like the rest of the country, I was shocked and horrified by the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in London. I have also been profoundly moved by the great community spirit of the victims. The people of the block were of all ethnicities, cultures and religions, but they all pulled together to support each other escaping from this horrific event. I also have nothing but admiration for the courage, professionalism and sheer heroism of the fire fighters and other first responders, who did what they could to save people from this conflagration.

I therefore send my thoughts and prayers to the victims and rescue workers, and the various charities that worked to give them somewhere to sleep after their homes were destroyed, and were collecting to provide for them after they lost everything in the fire.

I hope they will be housed soon, and will get satisfaction from the Kensington Council and this despicable Tory government, who have passed the legislation that allowed this to happen.

Mike has put up several fascinating posts about it, but one of these is particularly suitable for this post. It’s simply of a sweat/T-shirt on which someone has written their message of love to the victims. You can see it at:

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/16/this-image-speaks-for-itself/

More Tory Lies as May Claims that ‘Austerity Is Dead’

June 15, 2017

On Tuesday Mike put up a post commenting on May’s claim that she was going to end the austerity foisted on the country by Cameron, Osborne and Nick Clegg. The trio had claimed that cutting services, privatising the NHS, and dismantling the welfare state even more ruthlessly, were what was needed to pay off the debt Labour had incurred trying to prevent the global economy collapsing due to the bankster’s recklessness. The result has been wages cuts and a massive increase in poverty as the poor, the unemployed, the sick and the disabled were thrown off benefits for the flimsiest of reasons.

Instead of blaming the bankers for the economic crisis, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers went back to the using refrain of blaming ‘high spending’ Labour for ‘living beyond our means’.

As Mike points out in his post, cutting government investment is the one thing you don’t do during a recession. State investment stimulates the economy, which means that businesses start making money again, which generates more tax revenue.

This one of the arguments in support of welfare provision against unemployment. If unemployed workers have some kind of income during a recession, they can afford to spend some of it, thus generating more income for businesses and the state. It’s basic Keynsianism, and it works. Unlike the grotty free market economics embraced by the Tories. That has only succeeded in increasing the debt.

Now Theresa May has decided that austerity should be ended. Not because she has woken up at last to the fact that it isn’t working, and in fact is damaging the British economy. Or because she’s suddenly grown a conscience, and has realised the immense human cost of the Tories’ austerity policies in terms of tens of thousands of people, who have died in misery. Or the 7 million plus British people now living in ‘food-insecure’ households, who don’t know if they’re next meal is going to be their last.

No, it’s because the Tories lost their overall majority, thanks to a revived Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn. Mike comments

And now, further cuts are being abandoned – not because austerity’s ends have been achieved, but because the Tories have realised they will forfeit votes if they continue.

Everybody in the UK, who isn’t filthy rich, should be furious. We should be marching on Tory MPs’ homes and offices with blazing torches and pitchforks, shouting “Burn the monsters!”

The last thing we should do is tolerate this latest cynical reaction to prevailing trends. Tories represent greed and power. The only reason they abandon their pursuit of greed is when it may harm their hold on power.

Mike isn’t the only one who’s furious at this cynical U-turn and the cavalier fashion in which the Tories have shrugged off their responsibility for destroying so many lives with a brutal, callous and entirely wrong economic and social policy. He concludes

Even now, on the BBC’s Daily Politics, Tories Michael Howard and Dominic Grieve are talking about the need to live within our means. The fact is that it is entirely possible, if Tories are stopped from siphoning off our money into their bank accounts.

The end of austerity is to be welcomed.

The end of the UK’s problems will only come when the Conservatives are banished from Parliament forever.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/13/austerity-is-dead-says-may-because-it-was-never-needed-we-should-be-enraged/

In fact, the I newspaper also reported on the same day that the Tories were revising their manifesto, and dropping the more unpopular policies, such as the ‘Dementia Tax’. This was accompanied with noises about how we lived in a democratic society, and the Tories were a democratic party, so they were responding to the demands of the electorate.

There were also statements designed to reassure Tory supporters that this time, May herself would be performing better in public. They claimed that she was now a more naturalistic speaker, and that ‘the Maybot is gone.’

I find all of this very difficult to believe. The Tories are inveterate liars, who lie constantly without compunction. You only have to look through Mike’s blog for the past week or so to find very long lists of May’s promises, which she has subsequently broken. Such as her promises to put workers on the boards of companies. The campaign of her predecessor, David Cameron, was one long series of lies. He and IDS, the minister for culling the disabled, claimed that they were going to ringfence spending on the NHS, campaigned against hospital closures by Blair’s New Labour, and tried to present the Tories as now being more left-wing and friendly to the poor. He also stuck a windmill on the roof of his house, and claimed that his would be ‘the greenest government ever’.

Once in power, the NHS was being cut and privatised, hospitals closed and given over to private management companies, conditionality for welfare benefits massively increased, and any semblance of environmentalism thrown out completely. The windmill went from his roof, and in came the privatisation of Britain’s forests, the repeal of various pieces of legislation protecting the environment, and the go-ahead given to fracking.

The fact that Howard and Grieve were talking about ‘living within our means’ – which is Tory-speak for not spending anything on the poor and state services, like the NHS and education, means that the Tories really don’t believe it.

And yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting that Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, and Sajid Javid are calling for May’s proposed cap on energy bills to be scrapped and the party should return to its ‘free market roots’.

Mike quoted Labour’s shadow energy minister, Rebecca Long-Bailey, and concluded:

“If correct, this is potentially another stunning U-turn from a weak and wobbly Prime Minister,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“One in ten households are living in fuel poverty and customers are being overcharged a whopping £2 billion every year. Theresa May unequivocally guaranteed a price cap before the general election but now it appears she is preparing to row back on that promise. It now looks like this price cap was simply an election gimmick and that the Conservatives were never serious about taking action to keep energy bills down.

“Britain needs a serious and long term approach in order to bring energy costs down, not cheap gimmicks that may simply be thrown into the bin just a week after the General Election.”

She’s right; Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid are wrong. What do YOU think the Tories will do?

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/06/14/the-tory-energy-price-cap-pledge-was-a-lie-or-at-least-philip-hammond-wants-to-make-it-one/

I think it’s blatantly obvious what the Tories will do. They’re lying now about ending austerity, but perfectly serious about abandoning the energy bill cap. If they get in again, May will reintroduce all the policies she claimed she abandoned, and the Tories will once again chant the old Thatcherite chorus of TINA – There Is No Alternative.

There is. It’s Jeremy Corbyn. He’s this country’s hope to stop further NHS privatisation, welfare cuts, starvation and deaths.

Does the ‘I’ Really Believe People Hate May Because of her Gender?

June 7, 2017

On the front page of the I, the paper boasted that it had an article by novelist Philippa Gregory on the eight prejudices that have historically been levelled against women rulers.

Is this supposed to imply that opponents of Theresa May are motivated solely by sexism?

It wouldn’t surprise me. After all, the paper gave a lot of support to the various female Blairites, who claimed that voting for Jeremy Corbyn and not for his female rivals in the Labour leadership elections was very, very sexist indeed. Despite the fact that Corbyn had far better policies for women, while the Harriet Harman and Angela Eagle had all been Blairite neoliberals, who had backed the failed economic and social policies that have actively harmed women.

If this is what the newspaper intends, then I have got news for them.

May’s gender is completely irrelevant to me.

I would loathe and despair her, even if she was a bloke called Terry. Just as I despised her male predecessors, the unfunny comedy double act David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

I despise May because she has

* Cut and done everything she could to privatise the NHS, running it into the ground.

* Cut and done everything she could to privatise the education system.

* Maintained the current system of tuition fees, which are loading students with mountains of debt.

* Carried on with Cameron and Clegg’s policies of massive welfare cuts, including the Bedroom tax and the humiliating and murderous Work Capability Tests, which have thrown thousands off benefits and into misery and starvation.

* Cut the numbers of police, armed services, border guards and other services back so that Britain was left dangerously vulnerable. A policy that ultimately allowed the Manchester and London terrorists to commit their horrendous crimes.

* Lied about her intention to put British workers in the boardroom, while she’s done just about everything in her power to get rid of workers’ rights.

* Her policies have also resulted in stagnant wages and maintained high levels of unemployment, to the point where most of the people on benefit are those ‘hard-working’ folk she and the Tories have patronised with their condescending rhetoric.

* Shown that she is completely incompetent to negotiate a fair deal for Brexit, which will enable British firms and other organisations contact with the EU and access to their markets.

* Done everything in her power to support the erosion of our precious civil liberties begun by Major, Blair, Cameron and Clegg. This means the massive expansion of the surveillance state and the malignant system of secret courts, in which you may be tried without knowing the crime, the evidence against you, who your accuser is, and behind closed doors. Like Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.

* Cut taxes for the rich, while transferring the burden to the poor. Which, incidentally, was one of the reasons behind the French Revolution.

* Repealed legislation protecting our environment, so she can sell off Britain’s forests and trash our green and pleasant land with fracking for the profit of her friends in the oil industry.

* Supported Tory policies that have, instead of drawing the peoples of our great island nation together, have instead caused even further division by supporting islamophobia, fear and resentment of immigrants, and general racial intolerance.

* Not that she’s simply worked up racial intolerance. She and the Tory press have also done their utmost to whip up prejudice against the disabled to justify cuts in their benefits. The result has been a massive increase in hate crime against people with disabilities.

* Carried on with policies which will result in the break-up of the United Kingdom after three hundred years in the case of Scotland and England, and two hundred in the case of Britain and Northern Ireland.

The ‘Celtic Fringe’ – Scotland, Wales and Ulster don’t want Brexit. The Welsh and Scots Nationalist leaders want their nations and Ulster to be part of the Brexit negotiations. And all of the Northern Irish parties want to keep the open border with Eire. But all this is in jeopardy through May’s high-handed attitude to the nations, and her determination to promote only ‘Leave’ supporters to manage Britain’s departure from the EU.

And I could probably carry with more. Much more.

This is why I despise Theresa May and want her voted out, along with the party that chose her and has done so much serious harm to this country and its people for seven years.

I therefore urge everyone to vote Labour tomorrow to get her and them thrown out.

Theresa May Wants Greater Regulation of the Internet after Terror Attacks

June 6, 2017

Here’s another threat to liberty in the UK: the further expansion of the massive surveillance state erected by New Labour and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

After the terrible atrocity in Manchester last week, Theresa May and the Tories demanded greater regulation of the internet in order to crack down on terrorism. At first, this doesn’t look too unreasonable. ISIS and al-Qaeda before it have disseminated their propaganda through the Net. Several British converts, including the stupid schoolgirls, who ran off to the Middle East to be jihadi brides, were drawn to the terrorists through the loathsome beheading videos these butchers put out.

However, there are dangers as well. Further regulation means that the state has greater powers to spy on all of us, and presents a danger to free speech and conscience generally.

In this clip from the David Pakman Show, Pakman and his producer, Patrick Ford, point out the dangers of such legislation. They cite the intelligence whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who made the point that despite the massive expansion in the American surveillance state after 9/11, there is no evidence that the increased policing of the net prevented further terrorist attacks. They also ask their audience to imagine what would happen, if a generation arose, who believed climate change did not exist because all references to it had been scrubbed from the Net, or if the government used its regulation of the Web to whip up support for another war.

Pakman and Ford state clearly that they are afraid we Brits are going down the same road America went down after the attack on the Twin Towers.

Pakman and Ford are absolutely right to be very worried about this. Blair stood for the expansion of the surveillance state in Britain before 9/11, as did John Major, the Tory prime minister before him. And privacy and civil liberties groups have been extremely worried about this intrusion into the lives and private matters of innocent citizens and the threat it poses to genuine freedom.

The terror attack in Manchester was just the latest pretext to take more of our freedoms away. A few years ago it was the threat of paedophilia and pornography. Tom Pride, of Pride’s Purge, found that some of his readers were finding it difficult to view him, because their internet provider had decided that his blog was ‘adult’ and so not suitable for children. The blog is indeed adult, but only in the sense that it’s a political blog, dealing with an adult topic. Which sometimes involves very forthright language from Mr Pride. But it certainly ain’t porn, and its blocking – and those of similar left-wing blogs – looked very much like an attempt by the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers to clamp down on left-wing bloggers.

Just as YouTube has taken the campaign against fake news as the opportune to demonetise left-wing vloggers. This will force left-wing news programmes off YouTube by denying them the advertising money they need to support them.

Britain has some of the harshest anti-terror legislation in Europe. Thanks to Blair, Cameron and Clegg, British law now provides for secret courts, where you can be tried without knowing the precise charges, the evidence against you, or who your accuser is, and where the press and the public are excluded, if the government decides that a normal, public trial would be a threat to national security.

As I’ve pointed out time and again, this is the travesty of justice the great Czech writer, Kafka, described in his book The Trial and The Castle, and which became horrific realities in Nazi Germany and Stalinist USSR.

As Pakman and Ford point out, no-one is arguing that governments shouldn’t have the tools they need to prevent terrorism. But this should not mean a further erosion of civil liberties.

I believe we are very much at that point now.

Don’t let May use the terror attacks to create a totalitarian surveillance state, where the only material allowed on the Net is right-wing, Tory propaganda.

Vote Labour on June 8th for a sensible approach to terrorism.

The Ancient Near East’s Influence on Roman and Ancient Greek Law

June 3, 2017

I’ve written several pieces about the possible origins of western democracy, not in ancient Greece and Rome, but in the ancient Near East. Early civilisations like Sumeria and Mari had popular assemblies and councils of elders, which voted on issues, while the karem, or chamber of commerce, also influenced royal decisions. Apart from being of interest in itself, the existence of these institutions in the political systems of the ancient Middle East, is something of a challenge to people like Boris Johnson. Johnson’s a public schoolboy, and so is steeped in the Classics. As shown in his TV series a few years ago about the splendour of the Roman Empire, he seems to believe that everything great and noble in the world came about through ancient Rome and its predecessor, Greece.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found this entry for Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, HB £38.50). This says

Throughout the twelve essays that appear in Ex Oriente Lex, Raymond Westbrook convincingly argues that the influence of Mesopotamian legal traditions and thought did not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but rather had a profound impact and the early laws and legal developments of Greece and Rome as well. A preface by editors Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub details the importance of Westbrook’s work for the field of classics, while Sophie Demare-Lafont’s incisive introduction places Westbrook’s ideas within the wider context of ancient law.

As I said before, perhaps if there was great appreciation of the achievements of the ancient Near Eastern world, and the debt that the modern West owes to its civilisations, there would be greater reluctance amongst the political and military class to invading and destroying these countries.

The Iraq invasion created the chaos that spawned ISIS, which, along with al-Qaeda and the other Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa, have destroyed millennia of culture and history, as well as butchering those regions’ people.

But the Americans and British have also done their share of cultural vandalism. Nicholas Wood and Annabelle Pellens in their book The Case Against Blair, describe how the Americans levelled the ancient city of Babylon in order to use it as military base.

Now imagine the sheer outrage from Classicists like BoJo if the same thing was done to the ruins of Athens. Not that Greece isn’t seeing it’s ancient heritage destroyed by Neoliberalism, as museums are closed, archaeological sites looted and antiquities sold off due to the EU’s austerity programme. And for all his avowed enthusiasm for the Classical world, I haven’t heard BoJo speak out against that, either.

It’s long past time that a halt was called to imperialism, neoliberalism, and the destruction of the world’s cultures, and the massacre and exploitation of its peoples.