Posts Tagged ‘EU’

UKIP Candidate: Licence Islamic Clergy and Mosques

February 17, 2015

I found this piece on the Ham & High site through Hope Not Hate’s news column. Entitled, Hampstead and Kilburn Ukip candidate: ‘My great aim is to licence the mosques’ it reports the highly controversial views on Islam by Magnus Nielsen, the UKIP candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. It describes Nielsen’s background and career, including his reasons for joining UKIP in 1993. He seems to feel that the EU is about to collapse, and that UKIP has the necessary policies for getting the country ‘back on track’ when it does.

However, the article begins with his highly controversial attitude towards Islam. It notes that he got into the news last year for describing Islam as ‘organised crime under religious camouflage,’ and that it’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad, ‘was a gang leader of criminals’.

He now declares that his ‘great aim is to licence the mosques and licence the clergy’.

“So that if the clergy are preaching doctrine that is in contravention of UK law and human rights then they lose their licences.

“If the mosque can’t find a licensed imam, they have to close down until they can.”

When asked if the same should apply to other religions, whose preaching he could find offensive, such as Roman Catholic priests or Jewish rabbis, Nielsen shrugged it off with the reply “I don’t think the other religions would present the same sort of problem”.

The interviews at http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/politics/hampstead_and_kilburn_ukip_candidate_my_great_aim_is_to_licence_the_mosques_1_3956520.

Now Nielsen should be entitled to express his view of Islam and its founder, no matter how bigoted and offensive others may find it, without fearing for his life in attacks like those against Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish supermarket in France, and Lars Vilks and a local synagogue in Copenhagen this weekend.

Nielsen’s anti-Islam Comments close to Hate Speech

His attitude to Islam is, however, extreme and some would consider that they border on the illegal. His description of the religion as ‘organised crime’ seems to me to come very close, if not actually into, hate speech. It suggests that all Muslims are criminals, or criminal sympathisers, simply because of their religion. It is illegal in Britain to make comments designed to stir up racial or religious hatred. While anti-Islam bigots like Geert Wilders are generally very careful to argue that they’re aren’t racists, because Islam is not a religion, it certainly comes close to what they act would consider as provoking religious hatred.

Licencing and the Erosion of Freedom of Belief

As for his plans to licence Islam and the mosques, this is a profoundly dangerous and deeply counterproductive policy. Firstly, gives the state the power to regulate and interfere with citizens’ private religious beliefs. While there should be limits to what is legally acceptable, such as the promotion of terrorism, this gives the state too much power to decide what their citizens may or may not believe. It brings the country close to having the same highly authoritarian attitudes towards religion, like China, where only government approved religious groups are officially tolerated. The result of this has been the vicious persecution of Falun Gong, as well as those Christians, who do not wish to submit to official government control. And this is after the vicious persecution of all religions, including Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity, by an aggressively atheist form of Communism during Mao’s bloody ‘Cultural Revolution’. If such laws are applied to one religion, it could quite easily be applied to another, or stretched to include a secular philosophy that, in the view of the authorities, presented a similar danger. It isn’t hard to see how an intolerant, fiercely nationalist regime could move from licencing and banning Islam as potentially terrorist, to prosecuting conscientious objectors and anti-War activists amongst other religions or secular Humanists for being ‘insufficiently patriotic’, or harmful to morale in wartime.

The Libertarian Alliance’s Attack on Charities for Political Liberalism

The threat presented by such legislation isn’t an exaggeration. In the 1980s what became the Libertarian Alliance carried out a long campaign to have various charities and international aid organisations deprived of their charitable status. These charities’ campaigns against hunger and poverty in the Developing World were, they argued, political. And hence they attacked respectable charities like the Roman Catholic organisation, CAFOD. And this is quite apart from the concerns American liberals had about the sweeping provisions of Bush’s Patriot Act, and the powers granted to the authorities to investigate perceived anti-American individuals and groups. Among those placed under suspicion were even Quaker anti-war protest groups.

Official, Reforming Islam vs. the Islamist Counterculture

It’s also useless and counterproductive. The Egyptian-German scholar, Bassam Tibi, in his book Islam and the Cultural Accommodation of Social Change, points out that the mosques in Egypt are already strictly controlled by the state. Furthermore, the country’s westernisation and modernisation movement came from its Islamic leaders in the 19th century. These were members of the ulema – Muslim clergy – who were impressed by the great advances in the natural sciences and engineering that the West had made. They wished to introduce these to the Egypt and the Islamic world so that their people could also enjoy the benefits.

The radical Islamism of the terrorist extremists comes from outside this official milieu. It’s an underground movement that has been formed in opposition to the official, liberal Islam of the 19th century reformers and their 20th and 21st century successors. Despite the close supervision of the mosques in Egypt, and the proscription and persecution of the extremists, these groups still emerged to become a powerful, destructive force. I can’t see that licencing the mosques over here would have any effect in stamping out extremism. Most of the domestic terrorists appear to have been radicalised outside the mosques, often on-line. This form of propaganda by the extremists would continue, and it is probably that an underground Muslim counterculture would emerge, parallel but outside and beyond official, tolerated Islam.

Licensing Islam Would Drive Moderates Away

It may even have a negative effect. Lobster’s columnist, Corinne DeSouza, has written about the failure of the British intelligence agencies, particularly in Iraq. She notes that since Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq, far fewer Iraqis have offered their services to British intelligence. It’s not hard to see why. While some would be prepared to pass sensitive information on to a sympathetic foreign power in the hope of overthrowing an oppressive dictatorship, far fewer would want to take the step of becoming an active collaborator with a foreign occupying force. Similarly, if the mosques and their clergy were licenced, it would possibly drive away liberal Muslims and actively discourage them from passing on information about terrorism or extremist preaching to the authorities. Licensing the mosques would be a sign that, as far as the British authorities were concerned, Muslims did not really have a place in British society and were barely tolerated. Few Muslims would wish to co-operate with authorities in a regime that automatically viewed all Muslims, regardless of sect or shade of belief, as potential terrorists and traitors. Any Muslim that did so could easily find themselves reviled as a ‘chocolate Muslim’ – an Islamic ‘Uncle Tom’.

Bigots Also Unpopular in British Islam

There is a problem in this country with preachers of hate. Finsbury Park mosque was closed because it was a centre promoting terrorism. I also recall a number of other scandals with other extremist preachers, like Kalim Saddiqui. He was actually filmed by the Beeb back in the 1990s telling his congregation that ‘British society is a massive killing machine, and killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ Saddiqui was one of the most notorious of the bigots, and there were demonstrations and protests against him by moderate Muslims. One of the complaints of the moderates is that you don’t hear enough of the counterdemonstrations, only of the protests and ranting of the militant firebrands.

Stress Common Britishness; Treat All Extremists with Same Rights and Contempt

Much more positive is an even-handed approach to tackling extremism, to show that it’s not Islam that is under suspicion or attack, but simply those, who would preach murder, hate and death in its name. And that those prosecuted for such offences will be treated exactly the same as their non-Muslim counterparts, demanding death and horror in the name of whatever they believe in.

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Cameron Blocks EU Funding for Food Banks

February 27, 2014

cameron-toff

Cameron contemplates the poor from the standpoint of his own privileged background.

Yesterday’s I carried the story that the EU had voted funds to be available for spending on food banks across the EU, including in Britain. Their offer of help was, however, refused by Cameron, who declared that funding for food banks was best done at the national level. So basically, Cameron and the Coalition refused their money because he doesn’t want the EU superstate interfering in this part of British politics. He’s obviously afraid of appearing beholden to the EU when he goes up against the Europhobic section of his party, and UKIP. He wants the poor to starve, so that he can cow them into submission while appearing as the strong man of British nationalism and independence.

There is thus absolutely no reason why anyone, who was unemployed, or whose job is insecure, to vote for any of the Eurosceptics after this, whether Tory or UKIP. They’d clearly rather you starved.

The attitude reminds me of Iran’s refusal of foreign aid in the 1980s. I can’t remember quite when, but sometime in that decade, perhaps 1987, there was a terrible earthquake in the north of Iran, in one of the Turkic speaking provinces bordering Azerbaijan. There were immediately offers of help from the international aid agencies, including charities like Christian Aid. The regime flatly refused them, seeing them as a means by which the Great Satan of America and the West would spread decadent, foreign beliefs like Christianity. And so the people of the region suffered. The result was, unsurprisingly, a legacy of anti-clericalism and hatred of the regime. Cameron’s refusal of aid from the EU should do the same over here.

Looking at him, it’s clear that he shares the same contempt for the poor and starving as Marie Antoinette, who said ‘Let them eat cake’. The only difference is, the starvation from which the French people were suffering was a natural famine. This time it’s definitely caused by the Coalition, who are also aristos nearly to a man.

And after that, came decades of revolutionary war and bloodshed.

Flooding Somerset for the Frackers?

February 13, 2014

somerset village and fracking plant montage

Image from the Guardian article ‘Fracking the Nation: the Dash for Gas beneath rural Britain’ from 28 June 2013. The picture is captioned ‘From this to this … ? The village of Compton Martin in Somerset, left, and a Cuadrilla shale gas drilling rig near Blackpool’.

In my first post attacking Cameron for his lies about the floods in Somerset, I received this comment from Amnesiaclinic

The DM found the 2008 document put out by the EA to comply with the EU directive on habitats. There is also the trojan horse of Agenda 21 stalking in the shadows. The general idea is that areas are left to go back to nature (costs less) without letting the locals in on what has been decided. So dredging and pumping, very expensive are out as they are expensive and unnatural. So I say stop all the flood defences for london – far too expensive and let them sink or swim.
Also, there were lake villages in Somerset with houses on stilts – that might be useful! Plus coming together as communities and buying up all the EA equipment and doing it themselves.

People are very angry as they have seen this coming.

Other commenters concurred. Kathrynd posted this comment, pointing to an article from the Central Somerset Gazette

Barry is probably spot on. http://www.centralsomersetgazette.co.uk/Somerset-flooding-EU-plan/story-20556464-detail/story.html.

This links to an article reporting the arguments by Richard North, who runs the Defence of the Realm and EU Referendum blogs. North argued that there was a deliberate policy by the Environment Agency to allow increased flooding in Somerset and elsewhere as a form of flood management. This was intended not just to replace flood defences, but also to replace intensive farming with new, and diverse forms of managing the countryside. Part of this was the intention that part of Somerset’s wetlands should be allowed to regenerate naturally and revert to the wild. This new environment was to be termed ‘washland’.

The policy was first proposed at an EU meeting in Warsaw in 2003. This seems to have influenced a Defra document, published the next year in 2004, entitled Making Space for Water, setting out the same policy. On page 23 the document acknowledged that the same issues were being discussed in the EU. The EU’s policy was published in a COM final (2004) 472. The policy then became European law under directive 2007/60/EC of 23rd October 2007. This stated in recital 14 that as well as preparation, protection and prevention, river management should also be conducted “with a view to giving rivers more space, they should consider where possible the maintenance and/or restoration of floodplains, as well as measures to prevent and reduce damage to human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity”.

North then goes on to make the following points

Just so that there should be no doubts as to where the policy thrust law, DG Environment in 2011 issued a note, stressing that flood risk management “should work with nature, rather than against it”, building up the “green infrastructure” and thus offering a “triple-win” which included restoration (i.e., flooding) of the floodplain.

By then, the Environment Agency needed no encouragement. In its March 2008 plan it had decided that, “providing a robust economic case for maintenance works on the Somerset Levels and Moors remains a challenge” (p.131).

We believe, the Agency said, that “it is appropriate to look again at the benefits derived from our work, particularly focussing more on the infrastructure and the environmental benefits, which previous studies have probably [been] underestimated”.

We have, they said, “international obligations to maintain and enhance the habitats and species in the Somerset Levels and Moors, and it is within this context that all decisions have to be made”.

And, with that, they were “doubtful that all the pumping stations on the Somerset Levels and Moors are required for flood risk management purposes. Many pumping stations are relatively old and in some cases difficult to maintain. It is necessary to decide which ones are necessary particularly in the context of redistributing water”.

Of six policy options, the Agency thus adopted the sixth, to: “Take action to increase the frequency of flooding to deliver benefits locally or elsewhere, which may constitute an overall flood risk reduction”. This policy option, they said, “involves a strategic increase in flooding in allocated areas” (p.141). The Levels were to be allowed to flood, as a matter of deliberate policy.

North is obviously a Eurosceptic, highly critical of the Green movement and its environmental policies in Somerset. However, there is another possibility why the floods have been allowed to occur, quite apart from environmental concerns: fracking.

Owen Williams suggested this in his comment

I don’t suppose I’m the only one thinking about the coincidence that the Somerset Levels sit on top of a large Shale Gas deposit, am I? Can it really be pure coincidence that the Levels have been allowed to flood so severely – and it has been allowed, the EU edict more or less confirms it – just as the Fracking industry rears its head in the UK? I’m not saying that the Government deliberately flooded the Levels – no man can control the weather – but that they knew that the Levels would eventually flood with such severity as they have, and that they seem too well-prepared to exploit the opportunity.

What happens next will be as simple as it will be brutal to the people who live on these flood plains: the Government will make the requisite level of noise about helping these poor souls, while actually doing nothing at all; this will be to first encourage them to leave of their own accord, before setting up a buyout scheme to relieve people of their property and ‘help them to move on’; the people will only be offered a mere fraction of what their land or property is actually worth in its damaged state. And then, finally, the Government will issue a Compulsory Buyout Order to forcibly grab the land, and take action to remove those who can’t or won’t leave on their own. They’ll then quietly auction off the rights to commence the fracking process on the land, in return for a share of the profits, all of which will line their own coffers, rather than go into the public purse.

In short, the Somerset Levels will become an industrialised disaster area poisoned beyond repair by fracking, and the people who’ve lived there for however many generations will be unjustly displaced and robbed of their livelihoods with no-where to turn. The Government will continue to sit pretty above “commoners’ problems” as it always does, and Big Industry will continue to profit off the backs of people’s misery.

Meanwhile, down on earth, everyone else loses everything horribly, through no fault of their own.

What a pleasant country we live in. ¬_¬

When I replied to Owen, I thought it was unlikely that this was a deliberate policy, but found it quite credible that the fracking industry would move in after the area’s population had been cleared out due to the disaster.

Now I’m inclined to believe that Owen’s right, and that there may indeed be a definite policy at work here.

I was talking to a friend yesterday, and she recalled reading an article in either 2003 or 2007 – she couldn’t remember which – in which it was stated that the affected areas in Somerset should be abandoned to flooding so that fracking should begin. This confirms what Owen said in his comment.

Now without any documents to prove this, it’s all just hearsay and speculation. The memory does play tricks on people, though not as often as it appears to affect members of the Coalition, who regularly deny having said or done anything that conflicts with their policies. However, as the picture at the top of this post shows, there is a campaign to begin fracking in Somerset. This has provoked angry opposition from local people, concerned about the possible effect on the environment and drinking water.

The proposed fracking fields at the moment are in the Mendips, as shown in the map below

coalfield_licences

This covers a long list of communities and villages in Bristol, Bath and north-east Somerset. A list of them can be found at this website here: http://somersetfrackgate.blogspot.co.uk/p/coalbed-methane.html. Proposed sites for fracking include Keynsham, a small town between Bath and Bristol and the hometown of the comedian Russell Howard, and near Chew Valley Lake, a local reservoir in the Whitchurch and Chew Magna area just down the road from South Bristol. Among the groups campaigning against fracking in this part of Somerset are Frackfree Somerset, based in Saltford and Keynsham.

Frackfree Somerset.

Fracking, almost needless to say, has the backing of David Cameron and the government. More sinisterly, the Somerset County Gazette reported in its 27th January 2014 issue that the government was considering reforming the trespass laws so that fracking companies can drill under people’s homes without their permission. This contradicts the Conservative stance on both sides of the Atlantic that, apart from big business, the stand for the property rights of the small businessman and ordinary people. Remember all that stuff Margaret Thatcher used to say about small businesses and how she remembered living above the shop when she was small? I also remember Clint Eastwood stating that part of the ideology of the Western was having your own land. This disproves it. The Conservatives stand only for the property rights of big business. Like the corrupt cattle barons fought in Westerns by the likes of John Wayne, they’re quite prepared to use any and all means to force others off their property so that they can move in.

BBC News this morning reported that some of the victims of the Somerset floods wish the government to buy their properties at market rates. I don’t know if this will happen or not, though I’m sure that the government will buy their land, and then start to develop it. And it’ll be interesting to see if this includes fracking.

Cameron and Ceaucescu: United in Opposition to Journalistic Freedom

February 3, 2014

I’ve reblogged Mike’s and David Hencke’s pieces about the threat to journalistic freedom posed by recent government legislation that would force journalists to reveal their sources to the police. If they do not, then the police may seize their records, including their computers.

Make no mistake, once this passes into law, these powers will be used. There have been a number of cases already where British journalists have had their computers, notes and records seized by the police after they have released information that the authorities would rather have kept under wraps. The EU can be just as bad. One German journalist working in Belgium had his computer and documents seized by the police after he started revealing just how corrupt the European Union was. He was lucky. One of the female officials inside the EU itself, who started raising awkward questions about the amount of corruption, ended up falling from the top floor of a Brussels multi-storey car park in highly suspicious circumstances. The EU is, of course, one of the bête noirs of the Tory Right, but this hasn’t stopped the Tories from emulating them in this attempt to suppress free speech.

David Hencke’s piece about it reports that some journalists’ organisations are protesting about the legislation. The Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice wondered how the Right-wing press will react when they’re at the sharp end of this piece of legislation. I have to say I doubt they will make much fuss at all, except if this is done by a Labour government. Then it will be seen as another example of their Marxist perfidy. The parapolitical magazine Lobster has several times stated that a number of right-wing newspapers, like the Sunday Times under Andrew Neil, were used as conduits for disinformation by the British secret state. And there are certainly a number of journalists all too ready to collaborate with the harassment and intimidation of their fellow journalists, who are not prepared to betray their sources to the authorities.

About a decade ago Private Eye ran a story about a female journalist on one of the broadsheets, who had been working on a story about the activities of the terrorist organisations in Ulster. This attracted the attention of one of her male colleagues, who made much about his supposed links to British intelligence. He approached her several times saying that his masters ‘wanted a word’, and demanded to know, who her sources were. When she made it very plain that she was not going to end her career as a journalist by betraying them, he threatened her with the words, ‘Well, we can do this the nice way, or the nasty’.

Now I’ve made my disgust at terrorism of any variety very plain on this blog. However, it goes without saying that to get a story, and give the public a clearer picture of what’s really going on, good journalists sometimes have to talk to some ‘bloody nasty people’, to use a phrase describing certain members of the British Far Right. A lot of intelligence work, supposedly, simply involves going through the papers every morning. It’s hard to see how a piece of legislation that allows the police ample powers to force journalists to reveal their sources can serve the interests of national security, as it would have a chilling effect on journalists investigating anything that remotely touches on terrorism, or organised crime or anything else that would remotely excite the interest of Inspector Knacker. The press would be simply reduced to reporting safe subject, and repeating the statements passed on by their governmental superiors.

Pretty much like Tass did during the days of the former Soviet Union.
Hmmm… now I know what the business model for the new, Coalition-friendly BBC is. Possibly German radio under the Nazis would be a closer analogy. I wonder if Oliver Letwin is going to change his job title to ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment?

Either way, the Coalition has taken another step towards totalitarianism with this latest assault on free speech and free journalism. Ceaucescu, the Communist president of Romania, was so paranoid that his secret police, the Securitate, held copies of the typescript from all the typewriters in the country, just in case someone, somewhere, was writing all that nasty samizdat stuff that got authors like Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak published in the USSR. It’s only a short step to that from the government’s desire to allow the police to force journalists to reveal their sources without the current judicial checks and balances. Ceaucescu also caused massive starvation within his own country by exporting most of their agricultural products to get hard currency, leaving his own people poor with little food on sale in the state shops. Obviously this is not at all like the glorious, Thatcherite administration of David Cameron, where there is plenty of food in the shops, affordable to all, except the unemployed, who have to rely on foodbanks and skips, in hardship and famine created by his welfare policies. But then, which apparatchik in any of the totalitarian parties had much time for the ‘narod’, the people, the lower orders?

It took centuries for Britain to develop a genuinely free press. It’s now under sustained attack. If this succeeds, then we will be back in the 18th and 19th century, when journalists were regularly sued and put out of business for publishing ‘subversive libel’ when they attacked government policy or its ministers. And this would suit David Cameron, Osborne, and the rest of the pukka-Etonian establishment now in power just fine. After all, you can’t have the proles rocking the boat, can you?

An Anthropological View of Homelessness in America – With Lessons for Britain

February 3, 2014

Anthony Marcus, Where Have All The Homeless Gone? The Making and unmaking of a Crisis (New York: Berghahn 2006)

America Homeless

We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man.
We got a kinder, gentler kind of napalm

– Neil Young, ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’.

I’ve posted a couple of piece before on some of the points this book makes about homelessness in America, and its relevance to Britain. One of the most important was the way the massive debt crisis of New York City’s municipal government in 1975 formed the template for Mrs Thatcher’s destruction of the welfare state in Britain, and the Coalition’s further attempts to end it altogether in the second decade of the 21st century.

The End of the Welfare State in New York and the Beginning of the Homeless Crisis

New York did have something like Britain’s welfare state, even a form of the dole and affordable, rent controlled housing. In 1975 it overspent to the point where it was unable to pay off its debt. In return for giving the City the right to issue bonds allowing it to finance its debt, the City was placed under the fiscal management of a consortium of businessmen and bankers to ensure its fiscal good government. These made swingeing cuts in the City’s welfare provision, to the point where millions were thrown out of their jobs. Unable to pay their rent, many were forced to move away from New York, while others were forced onto the streets. The rent controls remained, but instead of keeping housing affordable, they resulted in many landlords being unable to afford to maintain their properties. As a result, many were left without basic services like electricity or water, others were abandoned completely as landlords went bankrupt. Some landlords even firebombed their tenements to collect on the insurance. The result was a massive increase in homelessness. At the same time, the location and visibility of New York’s rough sleepers changed. Instead of being confined to certain run down districts – the traditional Skid Row of urban American geography, the homeless moved out into the more upmarket residential districts and even into the city centre.

Racial Stereotypes of Homelessness

The Black community was particularly hard hit. Many of the homeless men interviewed by Marcus were well-educated, from reasonably affluent, middle class backgrounds. However, the Black community particularly relied upon the municipal government, either directly or indirectly for their jobs, and so were disproportionately hit when those jobs were shed. The result was that the stereotypical image of a homeless person in the period in which Marcus worked – the late 1980s and first years of the 1990s – was a poorly dressed, mentally ill Black person. Marcus takes particular care to counter this stereotype, as it formed the basis for the campaigns of several of City’s leaders, like Mayor Dinkins, to tackle homelessness. It ignored the vast numbers of homeless Whites and the homeless Blacks, who were articulate and dressed neatly. While much effort was directed at those groups that corresponded to the stereotype, these people were ignored as they simply didn’t match contemporary ideas of who the homeless were.

The book is based on the doctoral research Marcus did amongst a group of fifty homeless Black men working for one of the City’s homelessness projects from 1989 to 1993. It is his attempt to answer the question of what happened to public awareness of the issue of homelessness. He points out that from 1983 to 1993 homelessness was one of the biggest American political issues. There were rock songs about homeless people, and universities, charities, politicians, and activist groups attempted to study and tackle the issue.

This concern evaporated from 1993 onwards. The crisis continued and the availability of proper, affordable housing continued to fall, but increasingly less attention was paid to the issue. Funds for its study dried up, and the academics researching it moved away to fresher, and more lucrative areas of study. Marcus quotes one of his former research colleagues as laughing when Marcus told him he was writing up his Ph.D. research, declaring that homelessness was so last century.

Critiques of the ‘Cultures of Poverty’

Much of Marcus’ book is a critique of the narrow historiographical focus that determined that rather than tackle the root causes of the homeless crisis in lack of suitably paid jobs, affordable housing and welfare policies that would allow the unemployed to get and retain accommodation, saw the problem exclusively in terms of the supposed moral defects of the homeless themselves in a mirror-image of the ‘cultures of poverty’ view. This grew out of the previous studies of American homelessness centred around Skid Row, the decrepit section of American towns occupied by single-occupancy hotels for the homeless, and a population of homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes and other marginal, transgressive or bohemian groups. The other major influence was Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America, which examined the squalor and poverty in urban Black ghettoes. As a result, when the American welfare state, under Richard Nixon, began to tackle unemployment and homelessness, it did so with the assumption that the homeless themselves were somehow responsible for their condition. They were supported, but that support was made as unpleasant as possible in order to force them to come off welfare whenever possible. Hence the penalisation of the unemployed through demeaning forms of state support such as food stamps, rather than a welfare cheque. Seen the similarity to the attitudes of Cameron, Clegg, IDS and McVie yet?

Cultures of Deviancy and Violence in Homeless Shelters

This attitude by the authorities that there is a ‘culture of poverty’, created by and defined by the idleness, drunkenness, profligacy and other inappropriate behaviour of the poor themselves is particularly attacked by Marcus. He found that there was no difference in morals and behaviour between the homeless people he studied, and those of the wider population. This included the ‘shelterisation’ debate surrounding the perceived culture of violence in the homeless shelters. These had been set up in New York in response to the finding of a judge that the City had failed in its legal duty to provide shelter and wholesome food for a homeless man that had been turned away from one. Marcus states that for most of the residents of these shelters, their greatest problem was finding a lead long enough to reach the wall socket so that they could do their ironing. Nevertheless, the violent criminals included in the shelters’ population meant that the developed a reputation for being dominated by ex-convict bodybuilders and their transvestite shelter ‘wives’. Marcus found that rather than being a gay space, homeless gay men were subjected to the same levels of abuse and intimidation they experienced in the outside world. Their attitude to the ex-cons was that they weren’t really gay. At the same time they had their transvestite lovers in the shelter, they also had heterosexual relationship with wives and girlfriends outside. One of Marcus’ gay informants told him that if you watched the ex-cons outside, they never held hands or socialised with their transvestite shelter partners. He concluded that they were really heterosexual men, who just wanted to have sex and weren’t concerned with whom they had it in the single sex environment of the homeless shelters.

Marcus concluded that the shelters developed their reputation for violence and bizarre behaviour, as few researchers actually interacted or examined the way their residents behaved outside of its environment. The methodological problems were too difficult, making it almost impossible. So instead the academics concentrated on their behaviour inside the shelter, and unconsciously assumed that their behaviour was formed by it. Marcus gradually came to the opposite conclusion – that the men in the homeless shelters acted as they did, not because of the environment of the homeless shelter, but because that was what they did anyway. So the various types of bizarre and slovenly behaviour, which normally remained hidden in the confines of a private home, such as one resident, who never got up on a Sunday morning but simply urinated into a glass by the side of his bed, was suddenly on public display.

Homeless Not Radically Different or Separate from Rest of Population

Linked to this was a wider problem in identifying just who exactly the homeless were. Many of the individuals studied only spent part of their time sleeping in public. Other nights they slept round a friends or girlfriends, or were given room in an airing cupboard or basement by a kindly janitor in return for doing cleaning work. There was also a wider population of young people sleeping on the floors of friends while they looked for an apartment after graduating from university. These middle class, educated Americans weren’t seen as homeless.

And many of the Black homeless men Marcus interviewed didn’t see themselves as homeless either. They compared their state to that of young Whites, who had just graduated. It was a similar stage of carefree abandon until they finally hit maturity and sorted themselves out, got a proper job and apartment. Marcus also notes that for many Black homeless men, their condition meant acting out a variety of roles. He called them The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The Good was the White man’s negro, who accepted mainstream, White American culture and values when it meant impressing White academics or employers in order to get a job or a place on an educational programme. The Bad was that of the angry, violent Black man. His informants told him they had to adopt this pose, as otherwise Whites would just see them as ‘niggers’ and disparage or exploit them. They had stories of an effeminate ‘White man’s Negro’, who tried to fit in with the culture of his White colleagues and bosses, only for him to be exploited and sacked. Interestingly, the models taken for this role of violent, rebellious Black masculinity were all race-natural. They included ‘Leatherface’, from Tobe Hooper’s class bit of grue, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Sean Connery’s James Bond. Indeed, many of Marcus’ Black informants identified by Connery so much that they felt sure that Scotland’s cinematic hard man was Black, at least partly. The Ugly was a term coined by Marcus himself, and referred to those homeless, who dressed badly and had lost both their sanity and dignity. It was a role the men studied by Marcus most disliked, because of its passivity, and lack of masculinity. Nevertheless, many homeless Black men adopted it in order to get some of the benefits that were only available through this role.

Disillusionment with Regime in ‘Not-for-Profit’ Housing

Eventually the scandal surrounding the violence and criminality within the municipal shelters became so great that the City authorities were forced to act. The system was privatised, so that instead or supplementing the vast municipal shelters were a system of ‘transient’ accommodation run by not-for-profit corporations. These were supposed to be smaller, and more responsive to their residents’ needs than the City homeless provision. Marcus examines these too, and demonstrates how many of the shelter residents became increasingly disillusioned with them, even to the point where they preferred moving back to the shelters or onto the streets.

What Marcus’ informants most objected to was the intense regimentation and supervision of almost every aspect of their lives. This was supposedly to help the homeless develop the right attitudes and habits that would allow them to move out of the transient housing and into a proper apartment with a proper job. In practice, this control was absolute and degrading. Security was tight, and the inmates were rigorously searched as they entered the building. The not-for-profits, like the shelters, also broke up heterosexual couples. Many of the homeless studied by Marcus had mental health problems of varying severity. Some were particularly ill, while others were less affected. Marcus says that in some the level of mental illness was so slight, he suspected that it may have been a pretence by the sufferer to get off the streets by feigning illness. Well, you can’t blame them for that. As part of the conditions of residence, these men were forced to take medication to combat their mental problems. They complained that it left them feeling like zombies, and deprived them of their sexual functions, a sense of emasculation, which, naturally, they particularly resented.

Lack of Economic Opportunities for Moving into Paid Work in Homeless Shelters

Coupled with this was the way the system knocked back any homeless person, who tried to get a proper job and move out of the hostel. I’ve already blogged on the experience of one homeless man, who hopefully moved to a Salvation Army home in the expectation that he would be given worthwhile work. He wasn’t, and spent his time there sweeping up, for which he was paid 17c an hour. Other homeless men in not-for-profits elsewhere found themselves unable to get work, that would pay sufficiently well for them to get a proper apartment, or a place on one of the few rent-controlled tenements held by the City. The amount of welfare paid to the homeless, which came down to a take home pay of $100 a month for those in the shelter, and $540 for those on the streets, simply wasn’t enough for them to get an apartment and support themselves. As a result, many of the most ambitious and enterprising homeless men got jobs, which they soon lost and so had to move back into the shelter. The social workers and shelter staff were aware of the problem and did their level best to try to dissuade them from trying to get proper jobs so that they would retain their SSI welfare payments. In the shelter, however, the only jobs these homeless men could do were ‘make work’ jobs, sweeping, cleaning and so on. Some of the homeless thus preferred to get jobs outside, as book keepers or security guards, or working off the books as labourers unpacking trucks for local grocery stores. These were better paid, and in the case of one homeless man, gave him status and power over the ex-con hard men working underneath him. They did not, however, pay well enough for them to get a home of their own. Marcus observes that the system seemed to have been set up in the expectation they would fail.

The Crisis in the Black Family: No Different from White Family

The book goes on to tackle the issue of the Black family, and its role in the lack of Black achievement compared to that of immigrant groups such as Asians and Latin Americans. Marcus notes that the Black family is seen as weaker, and more prone to breakdown, than the family structures of other ethnic groups. This lack of family support is seen as being the cause of the lack of social and economic advance in the Black community. Politicians, religious leaders and activists have compared the fragile Black family with the supposedly more robust structures of that of their immigrant counterparts. Instead of conflict and breakdown, these families have a high degree of mutual support and integration, so that immigrants groups like Koreans and Latinos are able to use the unpaid labour of other family members to set up prosperous businesses. Marcus shows how, as a result, Black American churches, community groups and the Nation of Islam exhort their members to take Maya Angelou’s ‘Black Family Pledge’ and emulate the family structure, solidarity and work ethic of their more prosperous immigrant counterparts.

This view of the dysfunctional character of the Black family is similarly permeated by the ‘cultures of poverty’ debate. The Black family is seen as having a uniquely dysfunctional structure and lack of values, that hinders Black Americans from achieving the same success as their White and immigrant compatriots. Marcus again takes issue with this, and demonstrates that the comparison between Black and immigrant families is false. Like is not being compared with like. Marcus states that the structure of the Black family, while different from that of recent immigrant groups, is actually no different from that of White America. He states

‘It will be my argument that, indeed, African-American families living in poverty are generally less suited to certain types of mutual aid in poverty than are their immigrant counterparts. however, this is not because of a defect in the black family or some failure to live up to American kinship norms. Rather, it is because the cultural templates of the black family, even among the poorest and least integrated into “the mainstream,” are fundamentally similar to those of other American families. Nuclear and neo-local in its norms, the African-American family, like its white counterpart, is built around voluntary companionate marriage; the shared values, identity markers, and consumption patterns of its members, and the right to seek individual accomplishment and emotional self-realization. Typically supported on a foundation of legally regulated wage labor, subsidized mortgages, individual savings, public education, state entitlement programs, and socio-legal protections by police and courts, this family type, which I will refer to as the “consumption family,” appears dysfuncational in the absence of such state provisioning and when compared to certain immigrant kinship structures, which I will refer to as the “accumulation family”.’

The “Accumulation Family” of Immigrants to America

Marcus then goes on to describe the “accumulation family” as ‘built around extended kin networks, intense group sacrifice, delayed or permanently postponed gratification, and large amounts of captive low-wage or unpaid family-based labor, particularly from women, children, new arrivals, and other dependents with less recourse to external labor options and social rights’. Marcus points out that while Black families are more likely to break down or experience real difficulties, this is not because Blacks somehow have a different set of family values from their White compatriots. They don’t. It’s simply because the Black family is generally under more acute social pressure than White families, due to the poor social and economic position of Black Americans.

As for the “accumulation family” of southern European, Latin American and Asian immigrants, this depends very much on the unpaid labour of its weaker members – women, children and new arrivals. As such, members of these ethnic groups may increasingly see it as exploitative and backward as they assimilate the values and social structures of their new home, and go from being people with one feet in America and the other in their country of origin, to more or less acculturated Americans.

Housing Panic and Social Solidarity with Squatters, Homeless and Anarchist Activists

Marcus also investigates the way the housing panic over increasingly rents and the threat of eviction created a strong sense of solidarity between ordinary citizens in New York’s slum districts, and the squatters, homeless and Anarchist activists sharing the neighbourhood. The world-wide economic depression of 1982-3 resulted in New York receiving hundreds of thousands of immigrants from eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia, as well as the yuppies graduating from the University. At the same time as the blue collar workers moved out, the white collar financial and IT workers moved in. Rents shot up, to the point where some of the buildings that were worth less than $2,000 in 1977 were worth half a million or more by 1990. Many landlords were, however, prevented from increasing their rents for long-standing tenants through the City’s stringent rent stabilisation laws. Some landlords attempted to circumvent these by putting in unnecessary renovations, as recently renovated premises were immune from the controls under the legislation. Other long-standing tenants, particularly the elderly, found themselves subjected to violence and intimidation, including being thrown down stairs, in order to force them to move out. The result was that slum and low-rent districts, like Hells Kitchen, Loisaida (the Lower East Side), the printing district, West Harlem, and the Bowery became gentrified, and relaunched under the names Clinton, the East Village, Tribeca, Morningside Heights and Noho.

The result of this was that ordinary working and lower middle class New Yorkers suffered increasing alarm at the prospect of being forced out onto the streets. This resulted in popular sympathy for the murderer and cannibal Daniel Rakowitz, who killed his girlfriend, a foreign dancer, after she tried to throw him out after their affair had ended. He was caught serving up her remains as soup to the local homeless. In the East Village, tensions between the municipal authorities and ordinary residents exploded into violence when the police tried to clear the homeless, who had occupied Tompkins Square Park to form a ‘tent city’. Local residents insisted that the violence was cause, not by the homeless, but by anarchists, squatters and youths looking for trouble from outside the area, as well as some local residents. Marcus was told by one waiter at a plush restaurant that ‘this is total war and we need to make the neighbourhood unlivable for yuppies’. In fact, Marcus does point that some of the homeless did fight back, but the fiercest fighting was done by the other groups identified in the riot. He also notes that when some of the yuppies renting properties in the area were questioned, many of them were in fact in the same boat as the rest of the residents, and spending more than half their income on rent.

Marcus believed that the solidarity between the anarchists, squatters, homeless and the area’s ordinary residents occurred because for nearly a decade these groups had created a local counterculture centred on homelessness. In 1990 a group of anarchists, squatters and homeless from Tent City took over the remains of Public School 105, located on Fourth Street between Avenues B and C, and turned it into an alternative community centre. They intended to turn it into permanent, semi-permanent and temporary housing for the homeless, as well as setting up remedial reading, GED-high school equivalency test preparation and plumbing, carpentry and electrical repair classes. It also became the focus for various other anti-gentrification and radical, anti-state groups. A local Communist group, the ‘Class War Tendency’, set up classes in political economy, while a radical priest, who was a housing activist, helped the homeless to set up a soup kitchen in the Community Centre. As a result, the cops moved in in force to retake the Community Centre and clear out its homeless and radical occupants. Marcus notes that the anarchists, squatters and Tent City homeless believed that they were defending everyone’s right to a home, and many people in the neighbourhood concurred.

The radicals lost the battle for Public School 105. In 1991 Mayor David Dinkins cleared them from Tent City in Tompkins Square Park. Four years later, in August 1995, his success, Giuliani, moved in to clear the squatters out from three large tenements on 13th Street between Avenues A and Avenue B. They were successful, and although some residents attacked Giuliani as ‘Mussolini on the Hudson’, this time there was a lot less sympathy for the radicals. There still was a housing problem, and many of the anarchists, squatters and homeless people from the Park remained in the area. However, the housing panic was over, and there was a sense of defeat about being able to beat the forces of authority and create an alternative community.

American Thatcherism, Clinton and the Rise and Fall of Homelessness as an Issue

The final chapter examines the political forces that shaped the housing crisis and ultimately led to it becoming a forgotten issue. Marcus states that while most writers consider that the problems were the result of the ‘Reagan Revolution’, the cuts in state expenditure and particularly welfare that eventually led to the crisis began with the Democrat, Jimmy Carter. It was Carter, who tried to overturn Nixon’s Keynsianism and Great Society/New Deal ideology. He did not, however, have any coherent ideology, and so his attempts to cut expenditure were modest. This was to change with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s PM in 1979. It was Thatcher, who took over and turned into a coherent ideology the Chicago School economic theories, tried to break the unions, privatise public services, cut welfare spending, transfer public sector housing to the private sector, and made ‘liberal use of the military at home and abroad’. He states that in her war against the Labour party, she attacked notions of social democracy, and corporatist or civic belonging. Although she was forced out by the poll tax riots, Thatcherism remained the dominant ideology.

Thatcher’s ideology was taken over and shared over the other side of the Atlantic by Ronald Reagan. Although, unlike Thatcher, Reagan could not produce a coherent ideology, nevertheless the values he espoused were so deeply embedded in American culture that ultimate his reach was deeper, and Reagan’s attack on the unions, the New Deal and the welfare state, such as it was, was far more thorough than Thatcher could achieve.

Nevertheless, Reagan’s reforms were still hotly contested in the decade from 1982 to 1992. This changed with Bill Clinton’s election. Suddenly there was much less coverage of homeless issues in the media, and public concern about homelessness vanished. Homelessness remains, and there is still a homeless crisis with rising rents and a lack of affordable housing. However, although Hilary Clinton briefly touched on the issue during her senatorial campaign against Giuliani, few Democrats or Republicans seemed to wish to return to the issue. Marcus considers that public interest in homelessness disappeared due to the economic boom of the last years of Clinton’s presidency. This revitalised formerly moribund sectors of the American economy, unemployment was at its lowest for several decades and there was a general feeling of optimism. Amidst the boom and growth, there was little appreciation that poverty was still present and needed tackling. Marcus states that despite this optimism and the boost to the financial sector of the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalisation and information technology, the economy will inevitably contract to plunge millions into poverty and misery once more. The book was published in 2006. We only had to wait four more years before this happened.

Homelessness and Poverty Caused by Structure of Society, not Individual Failings

He believed that now, when the good times were still rolling, was the time to tackle poverty, rather than wait till after the next set of riots. He makes the point that although there was much discussion at the time about Reagan’s removal of the safety net and those who were ‘disappearing through its cracks’, no one ever raised the question about why the safety net should be necessary in the first place. The homeless crisis was just part of deteriorating social conditions across America, which saw ordinary citizens having to work harder for much less rewards. He writes

‘A safety net is only as important as the height of a jump and the distance that can be fallen. In a wildly productive society that has achieved exponential increases in productive capacity through technological and work process innovations, the last twenty years have seen housing costs increase dramatically, the average workweek grow by 20 to 30 percent, job security disappear, real wages drop, and the employment market tighten. In addition to all these problems facing all working Americans, the eight years under Clinton saw the United States imprison more people than during any period in the nation’s history. Only contemporary postcommunist Russia, with its dying industrial economy, imprisons as many people per capita.

Despite eight years of America’s greatest economic boom, none of these are signs of social health for the nearly two hundred and fifty million ordinary citizens who comprise the non-Other America. But these developments have been particularly severe for the fifty-plus million Americans at the lower ranges of the wage and skill hierarchy, who remain as poor and miserable as when Michael Harrington wrote his book about them. Though the declining safety net was a problem for most of my informants, it was only one of the aspect of the bigger problem: the rising bar that they were unable to successfully jump.’

Marcus states that the various solutions to America’s homeless problem failed because of the ‘cultures of poverty’ view of the problem: that poverty was created by particular individuals, who lacked the moral values and industrious attitudes of the rest of the population, and who therefore were profoundly Other, and the creators of their own misery. He sees this view of the origins of poverty as similar to Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘there is no society, only people’. He states of this view, that began with Michael Harrington’s The Other America that

‘Harrington and those who came after allowed that social policy was ultimately the institution for fine-tuning problems in the distribution of resources. However, their unrelenting focus on problematic groups rather than the overall social concerns facing a modern citizenry represented, at best, a progressive era model of “the poor” as loss leaders for proactive social policy. In its more common pedestrian form, it represented a positivist particularism that completely failed to view the parts as a product of the whole, blaming the pinky finger for being small, rather than identifying the hand as determining the morphology and function of the pinky or blaming the Black family for being dysfunctional rather than American kinship for producing the Black family. Such functionalist and particularist logic has proven a distraction from discussions of how America is coping with the challenges of overall social life.

When social policy is based on this particularist individuated model for the obligations and entitlements of citizenship it inevitably fails. This is because it assumes exactly what needs to be demonstrated: that the challenges being faced by the individual or group of individuals are the result of individual differences of culture, history, temperament, and the like, and not the result of being an identifiable part of a social organism. Solutions, even generous ones like the McKinney Homeless Act [this was the act that voted a billion dollars to providing shelter for the homeless] that do not consider the nature of the organism that produced a sick part, but only focus on the section deemed pathological, inevitably involve a form of social excision that is at best provisional.’

As a result, rather than identifying the economic and social factors behind the housing crisis, asking what went wrong so that a prosperous city with a surplus of affordable housing suddenly experienced a massive increase in visible homelessness, scholars instead studied the homeless themselves as an ethnic group that somehow created the problem through its cultural difference. The homeless are homeless because society has become increasingly competitive. People are being forced to jump higher and higher simply to survive. And those at the bottom simply do not have the economic, social or psychological resources. He also states that in addition to the growth and optimism experienced during the Clinton boom years, when the party of the New Deal/ Great Society anti-poverty bureaucracy once again occupied the White House, another factor contributing to the massive lack of interest in homelessness is the War on Terror.

‘The optimism and complacency of the Clinton years that hid vast seas of unvocalized misery among overworked, underpaid working-class people in post-Reganite America has given way to the ultimate silencing: the endless war on terror. However, the bar remains high, the speciation of America is firmly embedded, and the extent of planning for a rainy day is massive growth in police forces and prisons throughout the United States. The crisis remains well managed, but the future is not bright.’

Marcus suggests that the poor and homeless are social barometers measuring the problems experienced in society by Americans generally

‘They measure the amount of competition, the level of functioning that is necessary to survive, the displacement of those who must labor to live, and the degree of comfort and security that we can claim for our own lives. If they are drowning from the high price of housing, declining real wages, rising costs for education, declining public health, and the revival of nineteenth century diseases, then the rest of us are probably “up to our necks in it”‘.

American Model Producing Global ‘Race to the Bottom’ for Workers and the Poor

He suggests that instead of using Durkheimian functionalism, scholars should instead adopt a Marxian approach to examine the growth of policies by nations around the world intended to make their economies more competitive by modelling them on that of America. The result is a race to the bottom for wages, standards of living, and the overall quality of life. With its advanced, massively productive economy, America could, however, become a global leader in the opposite direction and reverse this three-decade trend for worse wages and working conditions.

Conclusion: the Lessons for Britain

Although some of the issues Marcus tackles are unique to America, much of the book is immediately relevant over this side of the Atlantic as well. Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives took over Harrington’s ‘cultures of poverty’, and as The Void, Another Angry Voice, Mike over at Vox Political, and many, many other left-wing bloggers have shown, the Coalition’s unemployment policies are based on blaming the poor and jobless for their problems. Hence the pretext for workfare, the various courses the unemployed are placed on, and the sanctions system: they’re simply devices for inculcating the correct values of industriousness in the workforce, just as Victorian paternalists worried about raising the poor out of poverty through getting them to accept the same values. The same attitudes are screamed every day from right-wing rags like the Daily Mail and the Sunday Express, and TV documentaries on the unemployed like Benefits Street.

The British Black Family and Chavs

The chapter on the misinterpretation of the dysfunctional structure of the Black family in America in also relevant here. Black activists in Britain are also worried about the greater incidence of breakdowns amongst Black families on this side of the Atlantic. One explanation for the general poor performance of Black boys at school and their greater involvement in crime and gang culture is that, due to the breakdown of their families, many boys simply don’t see their fathers, and so don’t have positive role models in a caring dad.

This patterns also extends outside the Black community to the White lumpenproletariat, now demonised as ‘chavs’. There’s similarly a pattern of broken homes, poor educational attainment, violence and criminality amongst the boys here. And this is similarly ethnicised as the result of a distinct, ‘chav’ culture, rather than the result of a variety of social and economic pressures permeating society generally. And if we’re talking about cultures of recreational violence, then historically the upper classes have also enthusiastically taken their part. In 18th century France there was a group of aristocratic youths, who described themselves as ‘les Rosbifs’. They consciously modelled themselves on the boorish behaviour of the English country squires, and so swaggered around swearing a lot and sported cudgels, which they used to beat up members of the lower orders. Oh what fun! As sociologists and historians studying the history of such youth cultures have said, there really is no difference between these and the mods and rockers, who used regularly used to beat each other senseless down in Weston during Bank Holidays when I was a teenager. These days it’s all rather more genteel. They simply join the Assassin’s Club at Oxford, and wreck restaurants.

The Benefits Cap Blocking an Escape from Poverty and Homelessness

The description of the problems of the homeless in trying to get out of poverty and into accommodation, and failing due to the cap on their benefits, is also immediately recognisable over this side of the Atlantic. The Tories are capping Housing Benefit here as part of their scheme that people on benefits shouldn’t be wealthier than those in work. The result of this is similarly going to be increased homelessness and further geographical isolation, as people are forced to move away from high-rent areas, especially in London. Not that this’ll bother Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the Bullingdon thugs. As the architecture of the new apartment blocks shows, they really don’t want to have to look at the poor. These have a separate entrances for the rich Chinese at whom they’re aimed, and the rest of us plebs, who may well include working and lower middle class Chinese Brits, who’ve been here for generations but lack the massive spondoolicks of the new, global elite.

Solidarity between Squatters, the Radical Left and Ordinary Citizens in NYC and Bristol

As for the politics of squatting, and the need for anarchists and radical activists tackling this issue, there are also lessons for Britain here as well from the experience of New York in the 1980s and 1990s. Johnny Void over at his blog strongly supports squatting amongst other forms of anarchist activism. He has pointed out on his blog that despite the scare stories run by the press about ordinary people coming back from holiday to find their house or garden shed has been taken over by squatters, this in fact has been relatively rare. Most of the squatting has been the occupation of abandoned buildings. I’ve put up on this blog a video from Youtube of homeless activists in Bristol, including a group of homeless squatters, who’ve taken over a disused building in Stokes Croft. They too were facing eviction, despite the fact that the place has been abandoned for forty years.

The issue of gentrification and the eviction of poorer, particularly Black residents, in favour of far more affluent tenants is a very hot issue here as well. A few years ago there were riots in Stokes Croft against Tescos, which had just opened another branch in that ward. The people there feared that it would force out of business local shops, and so reacted to defend their community businesses from the commercial giant. The New York experience shows that it is possible to get ordinary residents to support squatters, anarchists and other left-wing radical groups simply through a common concern for the same issues – in this case homelessness – and by being good neighbours.

Poverty and Homelessness a Problem for Society Generally Across the Globe Thanks to the ‘American Model’

Like America also, many of the poor in Britain are actually those in work, who have also seen their wages decline in real terms, despite recent lies by the Coalition, and are finding themselves having to work longer hours. The European Round Table of Industrialists, at the heart of EU’s campaign for integration, is behind much of this on this side of the Atlantic. Regardless of our different political cultures, we Europeans, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, from the North Sea to the shores of the Baltic, have to work ourselves to death to compete with the Developing World. And as Greg Palast has shown in his book, Armed Madhouse, the result of this in the Developing World is that they have lowered their wages and raised working hours to truly horrific levels in response. Well, if nothing else, it shows that Marx was right in his view that working people across the globe have to unite to combat the problems of capitalism. ‘It was the bourgeoisie who shot down the Great Wall of China’, he says in the Communist Manifesto. Hence the slogan, ‘Workingmen of all countries, Unite!’ Globalisation had meant the increased exploitation of ordinary people across the world. It’s a global problem that needs to be stopped now. We can start by throwing out three decades of Thatcherism and the culture of Neo-Liberalism.

The EU’s Corporate Official in Blair’s Britain

January 16, 2014

In the same issue as the review of the Corporate Europe Observatory’s Europe Inc., Lobster also carried a piece identifying Sir David Simon of BP, as one of the five UK members of the European Roundtable of Industrialists. ERT is one of the major industrialists’ organisation formulating EU economic policies on behalf of multinationals. Sir Simon was also, according to Lobster, a member of the EU’s Competitiveness Advisory Group, set up by the then European President, Jacques Santer, in 1995 following suggestions from the ERT two years earlier in 1993. According to Lobster, Sir David Simon was then (1998) the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe under Tony Blair. The piece on him finishes with ‘So when the Blair government begins telling us that wages are too high in Britain, you will know from whom it is coming’.

Assuming this to be correct, this indicates that the multinationals in Brussels has been trying to control British economic and social policies in line with their plans for Europe for nearly two decades. Osborne’s plan to increases the power of multinational big business through the TTIP really does seem to be the latest stage in this campaign, conducted with the full backing of the multinationals’ representatives and officials in Britain.

Source

‘Watch What Simon Says’, Lobster 34, Winter 1998, p. 23.

The TTIP and Corporate Power in Europe: Europe Inc.

January 16, 2014

One of the posts I put up to do way on Lobster’s review of a book analysing the structure of the EU and the way it is influenced and controlled by large corporations with little democratic accountability. I did so in order to provide a bit more information to Mike’s excellent post over at Vox Political on the TTIP and the way this will leave democratically elected national governments at the mercy of multinational corporations, and result in further dismantling of the British welfare state and the final privatisation of the NHS. In addition to the short book review I blogged about earlier, I found a much longer review of a book by the same organisation in Lobster 34, Winter 1998, which provides a little more information on the corporate and corporatist interests at the very heart of the EU. These are the organisations pressing for the destruction of the welfare state and the privatisation of nationalised industries across the European Union.

Europe Inc: Dangerous Liaison Between EU Institutions and Industry was the first publication of the Corporate Europe Observatory, a foundation based in Amsterdam set up to ‘monitor and report on the activities of European corporations and their lobby groups. They were also beginning to publish a quarterly newsletter, Corporate Europe Observer, with its first issue being published in October 1998. The newsletter cost about £10 a year in hardcopy, but was emailed free. The CEO could be contacted at ceo@xs4all.nl or at PO Box 92066, 1090 AB Amsterdam. They also had a website at http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/.

The main EU organisation representing the interests of transnational corporations (TNCs) and promoting economic policies that favour them is the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT). It is the ERT and the multinationals it was set up to serve that are behind the EU’s plans for ‘completing the internal market’ through the liberalisation and deregulation of a number of industries, such as energy, telecommunications, and transport, as well as the EU’s aim of promoting global free trade. They are also behind the use of ‘benchmarking’ as a tool used by EU decision-makers for comparing European industries with their competitors in the rest of the world. This is done by comparing wages, taxes, infrastructure and potentially all other areas. The ERT in general simply outlines general policy.

The formulation of detailed legislation favouring the multinationals is done by UNICE (the Union of Industrial and Employers’ Confederations of Europe) through its highly efficient lobbyists. This affects every aspect of European legislation.

The ERT has also produced a number of offshoots to tackle additional problems where necessary. In 1994, after the ERT had successfully placed the Trans-European Network infrastructure programme on the EU’s political agenda, it created the European Centre for Infrastructure Studies (ECIS). This has had an almost symbiotic relationship from its very beginning with the European Commission, with both aiming for the completion of the TENs programme.

The ERT has also become highly influential through the establishment of various EU working groups, which have often been set up by the EU on the ERT’s own recommendation. These include the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG), which also has official EU status, and which effectively doubles the ERT’s influence, and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue (TABD). The ERT was also the parent organisation of the Association for the Monetary Union of Europe (AMUE). This was the organisation behind European Monetary Union and the single currency.

The book also notes that there are thousands of other lobbying firms and organisations in the EU, of which the ERT, UNICE, ECIS and AMUE are merely four of the most powerful. One of the other lobbying organisations is EuropaBio, which campaigns for the abolition of restrictions on biotechnology. Another is the World Business Council of Sustainable Development (WBCSD), whose membership overlaps considerably with the ERT. It, however, describes itself as one of the world’s most influential green business networks.

The ERT and UNICE are responsible for influencing the EU’s Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) process. This has the goals of strengthening the powers of the European Council and Commission, and their ‘ability to act’, ensuring that the EU adheres to the schedules for the adoption of the single currency and the expansion into central and eastern Europe and for establishing global free trade. They are also responsible for combatting any revision of the EU treaties that might undermine their goals of promoting EU global competitiveness through the introduction of environmental or social legislation.

Small and Medium-sized businesses are also represented in the EU through a number of organisations, one of which is the European Union of Craftsmen and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME). Although this is represented in a number of EU advisory bodies, it is excluded from the most influential of these, such as the Social Dialogue and the Competitiveness Advisory Group (CAG).

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is also represented in the Social Dialogue advisory body, along with UNICE and CEEP, which represents the public sector. The Social Charter states that ETUC has to be consulted, but globalisation and the creation of the internal market have undermined the trade unions national position. The employers’ bodies ensure that commitments to the Social Chapter are kept to an absolute minimum. There is thus very little that the trade unions both in the EU and at the level of the member states can do to force the employers to accept legislation aimed at improving pay and conditions for the workers.

The green lobby similarly has problems being properly represented in the EU, as it lacks the necessary financial clout and organisation. They also have difficulties getting access to the major officials formulating and developing EU policies and legislation, particularly in the European Commission. They have had greater success gaining access to the European Parliament. Industry is, however, far better represented here through giving MEPs job, assistants and presents. The green movement, at least when the book was produced in 1998, was strongest at the local and national level.

There is a group set up to promote dialogue between social and environmental groups, industry and public organisations, European Partners for the Environment (EPE). This has organised meetings on a variety of topics at the request of the European Commission, but has made no attempt to alter the EU’s development model, so that it will not immensely damage the environment or the EU’s peoples.

It was corporate lobbying that was behind the establishment of the Phare and Tacis aid programmes, set up to assist western multinationals wishing to expand into the countries of central and eastern Europe. Europe Inc ends with the conclusion

‘It is not enough to look at the democratic gaps in the EU decision-making structure to explain why corporate lobby groups have gained such a strong foothold in the apparatus. The strong grip of TNCs on European economies, which is a direct consequence of the creation of the Internal Market and increasing globalisation, must be challenged. Economic dependency upon TNCs leaves governments with little option but to adapt to the agenda proposed by corporate lobby groups. To effectively reduce the political influence of TNCs, European economies must be weaned from their dependence upon these corporations’.

Lobster has ceased publication in hardcopy, but is still very much alive on-line, including an archive of its back issues.

So there it is. The mass privatisation of public industries and utilities across Europe, the single currency, and the reduction in wages and working and living conditions for workers in the name of global competitiveness, are all the result of lobbying by multinationals and their organisations, like ERT. The TTIP is merely another step in this larger economic programme, specifically that of the TABD, but one that would have massively detrimental effects for national economies and working conditions right across Europe. It also struck me reading Lobster’s review of the book how much ERT’s aims resembled that of the authors of Britannia Unchained, who also demanded a reduction in British workers’ pay and conditions in order to make us compete with India and China.

The EU, Corporate Power, and the ‘Democratic Deficit’ at the Heart of Europe

January 16, 2014

Last night I reblogged and commented on Mike’s piece, over at Vox Political, on the forthcoming American-EU trade agreement, the TTIP, and how this will lead to further destruction of the British welfare state, the NHS and British national sovereignty and democracy in favour of multinational corporations, all thoroughly backed by George Osborne. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, is an opponent of the EU, though from a Left-wing, rather than Conservative perspective. His opposition to the EU is based on the way it undermines national sovereignty in the interests of multinational big business. As well as running articles on the propaganda campaigns by Edward Heath and his successors to persuade the British public to accept membership of the EEC, as it then was, Lobster has also published reviews of a number of books critically analysing the EU, its policies, and the role and immense power of big business within it. One of these was of the book Europe Inc: Regional and Global Restructuring and the Rise of Corporate Power, by Belen Balanya, Ann Doherty, Olivier Hoedeman, Adam Ma’anit and Erik Wesselius, published by Pluto Press in 2000, published in Lobster 39, Summer 2000.

The book was produced by the European Corporate Observatory, which had a website at http://www.xs4all.nl/~ceo/. The magazine considered the book ‘a devastating analysis of the various forums attached to the EU, which ensure that corporate opinion prevails’ and states as an aside that there are 10,000 corporate lobbyists in Brussels. The book provides immense information on the role of the Bilderbergers and other elite groups, such as the European Round Table of Industrialists and their PR firms, in setting up and managing the European Union.

The review begins with a very telling anecdote taken from Norman Lamont’s memoir of his period as Chancellor, In Office, about his meeting with the Dutch Finance Minister, Wim Kok. During their conversation the question came up, whether the European electorate themselves should vote on joining the single currency. According to Lamont, Kok was very firmly against letting the European peoples’ have a say in this vital question:

‘If we let Parliaments interfere (sic) in this matter then they may vote against the single currency and Europe will never find its destiny.’ This little snippet can be found on page 23 of Lamont’s book.

The single currency has been a disaster, and the austerity imposed by the EU authorities on countries such as Greece to manage the fiscal crisis created by the banking crisis has led to immense suffering and unemployment. Nevertheless, the big corporate interests that seek to control the European economy continue their demands for even greater control of the international economy. Osborne’s championing of the TTIP will give this to them, and cause even greater damage to the lives and livelihoods of everyone else in Britain and Europe.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.