Posts Tagged ‘Mining’

RT Interview with John Pilger ahead of British Library Exhibition

December 6, 2017

In this edition of RT’s Going Underground, main man Afshin Rattansi talks to the veteran, prize-winning investigative journalist, John Pilger, about his work. The topics covered include NATO wars, Nelson Mandela and mainstream journalism. Pilger is best known for his work uncovering and documenting the horrors of the Vietnam War and the horrific genocide in Cambodia by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. There’s going to be an exhibition of his work at the British Library on the 8th and 9th (of December, 2017), and this interview clearly looks forward to that. Pilger states that he’s delighted that the British Library are hosting the exhibition. He’s a fan of the building, and also notes with satisfaction that this was the place where Marx sat down to write his works, that would eventually bring down the Russian Empire a few short decades later.

The interview consists of a series of clips from documentaries Pilger has made over the years, and his comments about them. And they’re very revealing, not least in the reaction of the establishment to some of his work after it was aired, and the abuse he also got for not treating Nelson Mandela as the saint he became after he was released from prison. And after hearing Pilger’s explanation why he asked Mandela difficult questions, you’ll realise that Pilger was right to do so.

The first clip is of an American squaddie in the Vietnam War describing how he doesn’t understand what he and the other American soldiers are doing in the country. The soldier also doesn’t seem to know why the Vietnamese are firing at them. He only knows that they do, and they have to fight them back. Pilger states that he filmed this at the time there was a massive rebellion throughout the American armed forces, because very many other troopers also couldn’t see why they were in the country being shot and killed either.

And the reaction to that piece by the independent television regulator is revealing. The man was furious, and denounced it as treason or subversion, or some such similar betrayal of the western side. However, the head of Granada, who screened the documentary – it was made for ITV’s World In Action – Lord Bernstein, stood up to the regulator, and told him that this was the kind of journalism he wanted more of. Well done! I wish we had more of that attitude now. Unfortunately, the attitude amongst our broadcasters today seems to be to cave in whenever the government or someone in authority takes offence. So we now have a cowed, craven media that just seems to go along with whatever the elite – and very often that means the clique surrounding Rupert Murdoch and other multinational capitalists and media moguls – decide is news and the approved, neoliberal, capitalist viewpoint.

He then goes on to another clip showing the horrors of Year Zero in Cambodia. Pilger here describes some of the most striking incidents and images that came to him when he was filming there. Like the scores of bank notes floating about, because the Khmer Rouge had blown up the banks. There was all this money, and it was absolutely worthless. He describes a scene in which an old lady was using bundles of notes to light a fire.

Pilger points out that by the CIA’s own admission, it was American carpet-bombing that brought the Khmer Rouge to power. The CIA came to that conclusion in a report that it published. If Nixon and Killary’s best buddy, Kissinger, hadn’t tried to bomb the country back into the Stone Age, the Khmer Rouge would have remained a marginal political sect with no power. In doing so, Tricky Dicky and Kissinger created the conditions which saw Pol Pot and his butchers come to power, and then proceed to murder something like a fifth or more of the country’s people. Pilger also notes that the western condemnation of the Khmer Rouge was blunted by the fact that after they treated into the forest, the West still had an alliance with them and supported them against the Chinese.

However, his coverage of the Cambodia atrocities also brought out British people’s generosity. He describes how the documentary resulted in £50 million being raised for Cambodia and its people. And this was unsolicited. He describes how Blue Peter organised children’s bring and buy sales. He tells how the money raised was used to build factories to make the goods people needed, including clothes. One of the weird orders of the regime was that Cambodians could only wear black, and so there was a demand for normal coloured clothes.

Then on to Nelson Mandela. Pilger points out that Mandela wasn’t a saint, as he himself admitted. ‘It wasn’t the job I applied for’, said the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Pilger got in trouble because he asked Mandela an awkward question about nationalisation. The ANC’s ‘Charter for Freedom’ stated that they were going to nationalise industry, or at least the major sectors, such as mining. Pilger, however, got Mandela to admit that they were going to keep everything in private hands, which directly contradicted the Charter.

Pilger goes on to link this with the continuation of apartheid, albeit in a different form. While race-based apartheid had fallen and been dismantled, a class-based apartheid continued, in which the masses still lived in grinding poverty. Pilger states that, while the ANC had previously been respected, it has now become the subject of hatred and contempt. He also makes the point that Mandela’s accession to power allowed many White liberals to cling on to their power and position.

The next clip is from a piece of domestic reporting Pilger did here in the UK. It’s from a programme he made, following the life and work of Jack, a worker in a dye factory, in which the documentary makers met his family, and recorded his opinions. Pilger states that, while there are more diverse voices heard in the media now, the lives of ordinary, working people are generally ignored and the media is very much dominated by the middle classes. He describes how interesting and revealing it was just to follow the man around, listening to him talk about his life and work.

The last clip is of him taking a female spokesperson from the Beeb to task for its apparent bias against the Palestinians. He asks her why the BBC is content to interview the Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev, armed with the whole battery of Israeli functionaries ready to give the official Israeli view, but haven’t found someone of a similar level, who is able to articulate the Palestinian position with the same clarity and authority. The Beeb spokeswoman replies that the Corporation has tried to find someone to speak for the Palestinians, but they can’t be responsible for choosing their spokespeople for them. Pilger uses this clip to point out how the mainstream media acts as propaganda outlet for the establishment, in a way which RT doesn’t. He also makes the point that Regev is now the Israeli ambassador.

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William Blum on Socialism vs. Capitalism

September 19, 2017

William Blum, the long-time fierce critic of American and western imperialism, has come back to writing his Anti-Empire Report after a period of illness. He’s an older man of 84, and due to kidney failure has been placed on dialysis for the rest of his life. This has left him, as it does others with the same condition, drained of energy, and he says he finds writing the report difficult. Nevertheless, his mind and his dissection of the ruthless, amoral and predatory nature of western capitalism and corporate greed is as acute as ever.

There’s a section in the Anti-Empire Report, where he discusses the advantages of socialism versus capitalism. He notes that there were two studies carried out under George Dubya to see if private corporations were better than federal agencies. And the federal agencies won by a huge margin every time. He writes

Twice in recent times the federal government in Washington has undertaken major studies of many thousands of federal jobs to determine whether they could be done more efficiently by private contractors. On one occasion the federal employees won more than 80% of the time; on the other occasion 91%. Both studies took place under the George W. Bush administration, which was hoping for different results. 1 The American people have to be reminded of what they once knew but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want BIG government, or SMALL government; they don’t want MORE government, or LESS government; they want government ON THEIR SIDE.

He also states that the juries’ still out on whether socialist countries are more successful than capitalist, as no socialist country has fallen through its own failures. Instead they’ve been subverted and overthrown by the US.

I think he’s wrong about this. The Communist bloc couldn’t provide its people with the same standard of living as the capitalist west, and the state ownership of agriculture was a real obstacle to food production. The bulk of the Soviet Union’s food was produced on private plots. Similarly, Anton Dubcek and the leaders of the Prague Spring, who wanted to reform and democratize Communism, not overthrow it, believed that Czechoslovakia’s industrial development was held back through the rigid structure of Soviet-style central planning.

However, he still has a point, in that very many left and left-leaning regimes have been overthrown by America, particularly in South America, but also across much of the rest of the world, as they were perceived to be a threat to American political and corporate interests. And for the peoples of these nations, it’s questionable how successful capitalism is. For example, in the 1950s the Americans overthrew the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz after he dared to nationalize the banana plantations, many of which were own by the American corporation, United Fruit. Benz was a democratic socialist – not a Communist, as was claimed by the American secret state – who nationalized the plantations in order to give some dignity and a decent standard of living to the agricultural workers on them. The government that overthrew Benz was a brutal Fascist dictatorship, which imposed conditions very close to feudal serfdom on the plantation labourers.

Which leads to a more general point about the emergence of capitalism, imperialism and the exploitation of the developing world. Marxists have argued that capitalism had partly arisen due to western imperialism. It was the riches looted from their conquered overseas territories that allowed western capitalism to emerge and develop. Again this is a matter of considerable debate, as some historians have argued that the slave trade and plantation slavery only added an extra 5 per cent to the British economy during the period these existed in the British empire, from the mid-17th century to 1840. More recently, historians have argued that it was the compensation given to the slaveowners at emancipation, that allowed capitalism to develop. In the case of the large slaveholders, this compensation was the equivalent of tens of millions of pounds today. At the time the plantation system was in crisis, and many of the plantation owners were heavily in debt. The slaveholders used the money given to them by the British government – £20 million, a colossal sum then-to invest in British industry, thus boosting its development.

This system has continued today through what the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal termed ‘neocolonialism’. This is the international trading system which the former imperial masters imposed on their colonies after the end of imperialism proper following the Second World War. High tariffs and other barriers were imposed to stop these countries developing their own manufacturing industries, which could produced finished goods that would compete with those of Europe and the west. Instead, the former subject nations were forced through a series of trade agreements to limit themselves to primary industries – mining and agriculture – which would provide western and European industry with the raw materials it needed. As a global system, it’s therefore highly debatable how successful capitalism is in providing for people’s needs, when the relative success of the capitalist west has depended on the immiseration and exploitation of countless millions in the developed world.

And in the developed west itself, capitalism is failing. In the 19th century Marx pointed to the repeated crises and economic slumps that the system created, and predicted that one of these would be so severe that it would destroy capitalism completely. He was wrong. Capitalism did not collapse, and there was a long period of prosperity and growth from the late 19th century onwards.

But terrible, grinding poverty still existed in Britain and the rest of the developed world, even if conditions were slowly improving. And the long period of prosperity and growth after the Second World War was partly due to the foundation of the welfare state, Keynsian economic policies in which the government invested in the economy in order to stimulate it, and a system of state economic planning copied from the French.

Now that Thatcherite governments have rolled back the frontiers of the state, we’ve seen the re-emergence of extreme poverty in Britain. An increasing number of Brits are now homeless. 700,000 odd are forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together, as they can’t afford food. Millions more are faced with the choice between eating and paying the bills. In the school holiday just passed, three million children went hungry. And some historians are predicting that the refusal of the governments that came after the great crash of 2008 to impose controls on the financial sector means that we are heading for the final collapse of capitalism. They argue that the industrial and financial elite in Europe know it’s coming, are just trying to loot as much money as possible before it finally arrives.

The great, free trade capitalism lauded by Thatcher, Reagan and the neoliberal regimes after them has failed to benefit the majority of people in Britain and the rest of the world. But as the rich 1 per cent have benefited immensely, they are still promoting neoliberal, free trade policies and imposing low wages and exploitative working conditions on the rest of the population, all the while telling us that we’re richer and generally more prosperous than ever before.

Back to Blum’s Anti-Empire Report, he also has a few quotes from the American comedian Dick Gregory, who passed away this year. These include the following acute observations

“The way Americans seem to think today, about the only way to end hunger in America would be for Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to go on national TV and say we are falling behind the Russians in feeding folks.”

“What we’re doing in Vietnam is using the black man to kill the yellow man so the white man can keep the land he took from the red man.”

For more, see https://williamblum.org/aer/read/150

Book on Working People’s Environmentalism in the US

September 16, 2017

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States (London: Continuum 2011)

I found this yesterday in the £3 bookshop on Bristol’s Park Street. It’s clearly inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which told the story of the US as it affected ordinary working, blue-collar Americans and other marginalized groups, like Blacks and the indigenous peoples. It challenged the dominant, right-wing narrative of how America was founded by rich, White, and immensely wise Founding Fathers as a uniquely just society. Zinn has since passed away, but his book inspired Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s collection of radical British historical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport. Contemporary scholarship has superseded some of Zinn’s work, paradoxically showing that in some areas such as ethnic minorities, his opinions were too moderate. But the Republicans still utterly despise him and his book. Looking at one right-wing website I found a list of books its readers hated and considered harmful to America. Zinn’s was one of them.

This book on working Americans and the environmental movement is particularly urgent now that Trump is set on trying to complete the destruction of both. I haven’t done more than glance at the book, but there’s a summary of the book’s contents by Kathryn Morse of Middlebury College on the back cover. This states that it’s

An engaging, critical synthesis of 20 years of new scholarship in environmental and labour history, this book tells a new story of the emergence and power of environmentalism as a movement forged by common people in defence of their lives and livelihoods. Countering previous arguments that environmentalism began in post-World War II middle-class suburbs, Montrie redefines environmentalism as a grass-roots, working class response to industrialization and urbanization dating from the early 19th century.

From the start, this movement included workers’ resistance to elite attempts to control nature both for profit and for upper-class leisure. Montrie narrates the growth of working-class environmentalism and its successes and failures from the textile mills of New England, to the Chicago streets around Hull House, to automobile plants of New England, to the coal mines of Appalachia, and to the agricultural fields of California, with other stops along the way. This detailed by accessible book offers a forceful new interpretation of American environmentalism and rewrite the narrative of the modern environmental movement.

The Republicans and the corporate backers fear and despise the Green movement, denouncing it as a strategy for introducing redistributive taxation and Socialism by the back door. They hate the way Greens recommend that rich, polluting industries should be taxed, and clean, non-polluting energy sources – like solar, wind and wave energy – should be developed to replace fossil fuels. These have got to go, as the Republicans and Libertarians are funded and bought by the Koch brothers and other oil and fossil fuel magnates.

And when the Republicans and the corporate paymasters aren’t foaming at the mouth about environmentalist ‘socialism’, they’re claiming that it’s another form of Nazism, because the Nazis were very keen on protecting the German environment. Well, they were, and this had been a major part of the German racist, volkisch movement since the 19th century. But this doesn’t mean that environmental per se is simply Nazism under another form. Where it appeared in Britain and America, it was an attempt by working people and the authorities to protect the environment and allow ordinary people to live clean, healthier lives and enjoy the beauty of the countryside in which their ancestors had lived and worked.

Hitler would have liked the Nazis to have been a party of the working class, but he hated organized labour. The first thing the Nazis did when they seized power was smash the German trade unions. But as this book shows, after the War American trade unions played a major part in the Green movement in the US. Which also explains why the Republicans go bug-eyed about the Greens and Socialism. The environmental movement and its connections to organized labour and the American working people marked a challenge to capitalism and the power of big corporations, not just to exploit the environment, but also to exploit the blue-collar, working women and men, who claimed their rights at work and to enjoy America’s great scenic beauty.

Another strand of their ideological attack on the environmental movement is to claim that it’s pagan, and so Christians should have nothing to do with it. It is true that much modern, Neopaganism is centred on the worship of the earth mother, and that pagans have been particularly environmentally conscious since the emergence of Green movement in the 1960s. But Christian writers were describing the beauty of the natural worlds and the wonders of its creatures as evidence of God’s providential handiwork from at least the Middle Ages onwards, and I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest that caring for the environment in itself is at all antichristian. Indeed, some theologians have pointed to Jean Calvin’s belief that as God has given human stewardship of the Earth, they have a duty and responsibility to protect the environment.

I haven’t really had time to read the book properly yet, but I will have to. Trump and the big corporations which control him are a real, present threat to the environment, working people, and indeed the future of the Earth and humanity, just as the Tories and their paymasters are over this side of the Pond. We have to protect both in order to create a better future and preserve the planet.

Los Angeles Replaces Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

September 2, 2017

This clip from Telesur reports that Los Angeles has decided to drop Columbus Day from the holiday calendar and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The clip states that the city was a centre of indigenous American culture when it was inhabitant by the Tongva tribe. The Tongva were, however, subjected to the Spanish mission system, in which they were forcibly attached to Roman Catholic missions in order to convert them to Christianity. This was part of the wave of dispossession, enslavement, forced conversion and genocide that overtook the indigenous peoples following Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1495.

I’m sure that city council’s decision to replace Columbus Day with a holiday celebrating the Amerindians will be criticized by the Republicans, and the Alt-Right and overt Nazis that have come out of the woodwork under Trump as another ‘loony left’ conspiracy to destroy America and White culture. I can just hear right-wing blowhards and ignorami like Rush Limbaugh even now spouting it over the airwaves, from political platforms and on the Net. But Columbus and his legacy have been immensely controversial for a long time.

Over 20 years ago, back in 1995 there was a storm of controversy surrounding the 500 anniversary of his discovery of America. Indigenous Americans argued that the celebration of his voyage amounted to celebrating their genocide at the hands of the conquistadors and the other European colonisers that followed. From what I remember, the Italian-American community got extremely upset at these remarks, as Columbus was Italian and therefore a great hero to them.

But the American First Nations have history on their side. Columbus’ discovery of the New World – actually the West Indies. He believed he’d actually gone all the way around the world and landed in Asia, and only dimly became aware that the place on which he’d landed might be an entirely new continent at the end of his life. It’s been estimated that the West Indies had a population of 3 million before Columbus’ arrival. The peoples of theses islands included the Arawaks, Caribs – from whom the word ‘cannibal’ is derived, because they were believed to eat people – and the Taino. The rock art produced by these ancient cultures still survives, and has been studied by archaeologists.

These people were then enslaved and decimated as the New World was claimed by the Spanish. They were forcibly converted to Christianity. Those that weren’t were executed. A year after Columbus’ arrival, most of the indigenous chiefs or caciques, who had welcomed him on his arrival, had been burned to death for their continued adherence to their traditional religious beliefs. Those that survived this, were enslaved and worked to death mining and producing gold for the Spanish. Those who tried to resist, or simply didn’t work hard enough, were tortured and mutilated in horrific ways. There are descriptions of Indians having their hands cut off and hung round their necks as a punishment, for example.

The Spanish mission system is also immensely controversial for the very same reasons. There’s been a long campaign by indigenous Californians against the conservation of the mission complexes as part of the state’s culture, because of the suffering they inflicted on the peoples forced into their care. Peoples like the Tongva were enslaved, their members isolated from each other, subjected to a system of cruel punishments. Many of them died from disease and hunger.

We British were also a part of this system of genocide and enslavement. The British popularized the Spanish persecution and extermination of the Caribbean peoples as part of a propaganda campaign to create hostility against them. The Spanish were resented as the Roman Catholic superpower that had threatened Protestant England, and the other Protestant European states. European Protestants drew parallels between their persecution of Amerindians their persecution of Protestants. This created the ‘Black Legend’ of the Spanish in America. However, when we expanded in the West Indies, we also persecuted and sought to exterminate and clear the islands we claimed of the remaining Caribs. Quite apart from the wars and genocide committed by us on the North American continent itself.

However, enslavement and genocide is not the whole of the history of the relationship between Christianity and indigenous people in America. In the 19th century many of the Protestant missionaries working amongst the American First Nations were staunch supporters of indigenous rights, and were profoundly concerned about the threat to them from White settlement. They were in contact, and often close friends, with British missionaries, who had worked with indigenous Australians and Polynesians, who were also members of the British Anti-Slavery Society. These missionaries, American and British, strongly believed that, while Native Americans would benefit immensely from conversion to Christianity, they also needed proper legal protection, and should be left firmly in possession of their ancestral lands. These missionaries formed the Aborigines’ Protection Society in order to defend the indigenous peoples of the British empire from exploitation and dispossession. Several of the 19th century missionaries were also firm in their view that Christianity should not be forced on to indigenous peoples in European cultural forms, but that it should be adapted to their culture. They thus looked forward to these nations developing their own distinctive Christian culture, and so contributing to Christianity as a world religion composed of many different and distinctive peoples and cultures.

BBC 2 Programme on ’21st Century Race for Space’ Next Tuesday

August 30, 2017

Here’s news of yet another BBC programme on space exploration and science. Next Tuesday, 5th September 2017, physicist, broadcaster and massive Carl Sagan fan Dr. Brian Cox will present a programme, The 21st Century Race for Space, on BBC 2 at 9.00 in the evening, on the private companies planning to take humanity into the High Frontier. Among the scientists and engineers he interviews in the programme are Richard Branson and the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

As a new age of interplanetary exploration dawns, it is private companies and their maverick owners who are planning to finance space tourism, asteroid mining and even colonies on Mars. Professor Brian Cox investigates the technical challenges that could stop these billionaires achieving their dreams and also finds out how they hope to overcome the daunting obstacles to human space travel. Sir Richard Branson is among the stargazers explaining how they plan to fly through the heavens. (p. 76).

Another piece about the programme on the previous page, page 75, by David Butcher, also adds the following

When the likes of Richard Branson or Amazon founder Jeff Bezos enthuse about space travel it’s easy to be skeptical. But when Brian Cox meets both billionaires for this engaging look at “the prospect of us becoming a space-faring civilization” he comes away convinced by their vision, their desire to push boundaries and to make sci-fi stuff happen.

And for us, it’s hard to see the various hangars and labs and prototypes and launches and not get the feeling that space tourism, mining on asteroids and trips to Mars really aren’t that far off.

Cox is a good guide, leaning towards the deeper questions implicit in the subject. Ultimate, one designer argues, space travel is about “building life insurance for the species.” Though you hope we won’t need it.

That snippet also has a photo of Cox and with the space scientist, Brian Lillo, in space suits outside a Mars Society Research Station in Utah, ‘exploring the Red Planet’.

I went to a symposium 17 years ago on space tourism at the British Interplanetary Society’s headquarters in London. There are no end of really great ideas, and very motivate, intelligent people out there planning and discussing ways to take people up into the Deep Black for their holidays. One of the scientists, reviewing previous spacecraft designs going back to the early days of spaceflight, showed how sophisticated some of these were. He made the case that we’re actually decades behind schedule in our ability to explore and commercially exploit space and its resources.

Schools Display and Document Folder on the 1920s General Strike

March 13, 2017

The General Strike: Jackdaw No.l05, compiled by Richard Tames (London, New York and Toronto: Jackdaw Publications Ltd, Grossman Publishers Inc., and Clarke, Irwin and Company 1972)

I picked this up about 20 years ago in one of the bargain bookshops in Bristol’s Park Street. Jackdaw published a series of folders containing reproduction historical texts and explanatory posters and leaflets on variety of historical topics and events, including the Battle of Trafalgar, the slave trade, the voyages of Captain Cook, Joan of Arc, the Anglo-Boer War, the rise of Napoleon, Ned Kelley and Wordsworth. They also published another series of document folders on specifically Canadian themes, such as the Indians of Canada, the Fenians, Louis Riel, Cartier of Saint Malo, the 1867 confederation of Canada, the vote in Canada from 1791 to 1891, the Great Depression, Laurier, and Canada and the Civil War.

This particular folder is on the 1926 general strike, called by the TUC when the Samuel Commission, set up to report into the state of the mining industry, published its report. This recommended that the mines should be reorganised, but not nationalised, and although the miners were to get better working conditions and fringe benefits, they would have to take a pay cut. The folder included a poster giving a timeline of the strike and the events leading up to it, and photos of scenes from it, including volunteer constables practising self-defence, office girls travelling to work by lorry, the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and buses and train signal boxes staffed by volunteers. There’s also a Punch cartoon commenting on the end of the Strike. It also contains a leaflet explaining the various documents in the folder, along suggested projects about the issue and a short bibliography.

Poster and timeline of the Strike

Leaflet explaining the documents

The facsimile documents include

1. A leaflet arguing the Miner’s case.

2. Telegram from the Transport and General Workers’ Union to a local shop steward, calling for preparations for the strike.

3. Pages from the Daily Worker, the official paper of the T.U.C. during the Strike.

4. Notice from the Met calling for special constables.

5. Communist Party leaflet supporting the Strike.

6. Handbill giving the proposals of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leaders of the Free Churches for an end to the Strike.

7. Handbill denouncing the strike as ‘The Great ‘Hold-Up’.
The accompanying pamphlet states that this was very far from the truth, and that it was a government lie that the T.U.C. were aiming at a revolution.

8. Emergency edition of the Daily Express.

9. Conservative PM Stanley Baldwin’s guarantee of employment to strike-breakers.

10. Contemporary Analysis of the causes of the Strike’s failure, from the Public Opinion.

11. The British Gazette, the government’s official paper, edited by Winston Churchill.

12. Anonymous letter from a striker recommending that the T.U.C. shut off the electricity.

13. Appeal for aid to Miner’s wives and dependents.

14. Protest leaflet against Baldwin’s ‘Blacklegs’ Charter’.

The General Strike was one of the great events of 20th century labour history, and its collapse was a terrible defeat that effectively ended revolutionary syndicalism and guild socialism as a major force in the labour movement. It left a legacy of bitterness that still persists in certain areas today.

The jackdaw seems to do a good job of presenting all sides of the issue, and the final section of the explanatory leaflet urges children to think for themselves about it. And one of the folder’s features that led me to buy it was the fact that it contained facsimile reproductions of some of the papers, flyers, letters and telegrams produced by the strikers arguing their case.

Looking through the folder’s contents it struck me that the strike and the issues it raised are still very much relevant in the 21 century, now almost a century after it broke it. It shows how much the Tories and the rich industrialists were determined to break the power of the unions, as well as the sheer hostility of the press. The Daily Express has always been a terrible right-wing rag, and was solidly Thatcherite and anti-union, anti-Labour in the 1980s. Since it was bought by Richard Desmond, apparently it’s become even more virulently right-wing and anti-immigrant – or just plain racist – than the Daily Heil.

The same determination to break their unions, and the miners in particular, was shown by Thatcher during the Miner’s Strike in the 1980s, again with the solid complicity of the media, including extremely biased and even falsified reporting from the BBC. It was her hostility to the miners and their power which partly led Thatcher to privatise and decimate the mining industry, along with the rest of Britain’s manufacturing sector. And these attitudes have persisted into the governments of Cameron and May, and have influenced Tony Blair and ‘Progress’ in the Labour party, who also bitterly hate the unions and anything that smacks of real working class socialism.

Archaeology Confronts Neoliberalism

March 5, 2017

I got the latest catalogue of books on archaeology and history from Oxbow Books, an Oxford based bookseller and publisher, which specialises in them, a few days ago. Among the books listed was one critical of neoliberalism, and which explored the possibilities of challenging it from within the profession. The book’s entitled Archaeology and Neoliberalism. It’s edited by Pablo Aparicio Resco, and will be published by JAS Arquelogia. The blurb for it in the catalogue states

The effects of neoliberalism as ideology can be seen in every corner of the planet, worsening inequalities and empowering markets over people. How is this affecting archaeology? Can archaeology transcend it? This volume delves into the context of archaeological practice within the neoliberal world and the opportunities and challenges of activism from the profession.

This isn’t an issue I really know anything about. However, I’m not surprised that many archaeologists are concerned about the damage neoliberalism is doing to archaeology. 15 years ago, when I was doing my Masters at UWE, one of the essay questions set was ‘Why do some Historians see heritage as a dirty word?’ Part of the answer to that question was that some historians strongly criticised the heritage industry for its commodification of the past into something to be bought, sold and consumed. They placed the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. Rather than being an object of value or investigation for its own sake, Thatcherite free market ideology saw it very much in terms of its monetary value. They contrasted this with the old Conservative ethos, which saw culture as something that was above its simple cash value.

Social critics were also concerned about the way Thatcherism was destroying Britain’s real industries, and replacing them with theme parks, in which they were recreated, in a sanitised version that was calculated not to present too many difficult questions and represented the Tory view of history. One example of this was a theme park representing a mining village. It was on the site of a real mining village, whose mine had been closed down. However, other pieces of mining equipment and related buildings and structures, which were never in that particularly village, were put there from other mining towns and villages elsewhere. It thus showed what an imaginary mining village was like, rather than the real mining community that had actually existed. It was also a dead heritage attraction, a museum, instead of a living community based around a still thriving industry.

There were also concerns about the way heritage was being repackaged to present a right-wing, nationalistic view of history. For example, the Colonial Williamsburg museum in America was originally set up to present a view of America as a land of technological progress, as the simple tools and implements used by the early pioneers had been succeeded by ever more elaborate and efficient machines. They also pointed to the way extreme right-wing pressure groups and organisations, like the Heritage Foundation, had also been strongly involved in shaping the official, Reaganite version of American ‘heritage’. And similar movements had occurred elsewhere in the world, including France, Spain and the Caribbean. In Spain the concern to preserve and celebrate the country’s many different autonomous regions, from Catalonia, the Basque country, Castille, Aragon and Granada, meant that the view of the country’s history taught in schools differed greatly according to where you were.

Archaeology’s a different subject than history, and it’s methodology and philosophy is slightly different. History is based on written texts, while archaeology is based on material remains, although it also uses written evidence to some extent. History tends to be about individuals, while archaeology is more about societies. Nevertheless, as they are both about the investigation of the human past, they also overlap in many areas and I would imagine that some of the above issues are still highly relevant in the archaeological context.

There’s also an additional problem in that over the past few decades, the Thatcherite decision to make universities more business orientated has resulted in the formation of several different private archaeological companies, which all compete against each other. I’ve heard from older archaeologists that as a result, the archaeological work being done today is less thorough and of poorer quality than when digs were conducted by local authorities.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure that the editor and contributors to this book are right about neoliberalism damaging archaeology and the necessity of archaeologists campaigning against it and its effects on their subject. By its very nature, the past needs to be investigated on its own terms, and there can be multiple viewpoints all legitimately drawn from the same piece of evidence. And especially in the case of historical archaeology, which in the American context means the investigation of the impact of European colonisation from the 15th century onwards, there are strongly emotive and controversial issues of invasion, capitalism, imperialism, the enslavement of Black Africans and the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For historians and archaeologists of slavery, for example, there’s a strong debate about the role this played in the formation of European capitalism and the industrial revolution. Such issues cannot and should not be censored or ignored in order to produce a nice, conservative interpretation of the past that won’t offend the Conservative or Republican parties and their paymasters in multinational industry, or challenge their cosy conception that the free market is always right, even when it falsifies the misery and injustice of the past and creates real poverty today.

Space Scientist John S. Lewis on Prosperity and the Colonisation of the Asteroid Belt

December 27, 2016

I found this really interesting, optimistic passage below in John S. Lewis’ Mining the Sky (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley 1997).

John S. Lewis is the Professor of Planetary Sciences and Codirector of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona-Tucson. Subtitled, Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets and Planets, the book discusses the ways the immense mineral wealth of the solar system and the access it gives to the energy available from the Sun through solar power can be exploited through the colonisation of the solar system with present-day space technology, or developments from it that can reasonably be expected. The chapter ‘The Asteroid Belt: Treasure Beyond Measure’ describes the vast resources of the tiny, rocky worldlets of that part of the solar system, situated between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Not only does he describe the various metals and other minerals available there, but he also discusses the vast increase in personal wealth that would be given to nearly everyone on Earth if the money gained from the mining of these minerals were shared out equally.

I do not want to leave the impression that enough mineral wealth exists in the asteroid belt to provide $7 billion for each person on Earth. That would not be fair. In fact, this estimate completely ignores the value of all th other ingredients of asteroids besides iron. We know, for example, that for every ton of iron in the asteroids, there’s 140 pounds of nickel. That comes to about $6 billion worth of nickel. Meteorite metals contain about 0.5 percent cobalt, which sells for about $15 a pound. That gives another $26 billion each. The platinum-group metals, which sell for about $460 per troy ounce ($15 per gram, or $6,800 per ound) make up about fifteen parts per million of meteorite metal. That comes to another $1.6 X 10 X 20, which is $32 billion per person. So far that is about $72 billion each, and we are not close to done. Add in gold, silver, copper, manganese, titanium, the rare earths, uranium, and so on, and the total rises to over $100 billion for each person on Earth.

It appears that sharing the belt’s wealth among five billion people leads to a shameless level of affluence. Each citizen, assuming he or she could be persuaded to work a forty-hour week, could spend every working hour for 70 years counting $100 bills at the rate of one per second (that’s $360,000 per hour) and fail to finish counting this share of the take. If we were instead to be satisfied with an average per capita wealth comparable to that in the upper economic classes of the industrialised nations today, roughly $100,000 per person, then the resources of the belt would suffice to sustain a million times as many people on Earth. These 10 to the power of 16 people could all live as well as ninety-fifth percentile American of the late twentieth century. With recycling and an adequate source of power, this immense population is sustainable into the indefinite future. The best use of the wealth of the asteroid belt is not to generate insane levels of personal wealth for the charter members; the best use is to expand our supply of the most precious resource of all-human beings. People embody intelligence, by for the most precious resource in the universe and one in terribly short supply. (p. 196).

Now clearly, this is the ideal situation, presented without the risks and costs of actually reaching the asteroid belt and extracting the wealth bound up in its rocks. I also believe that in practice, much of that wealth would also be consumed by the mining companies or terrestrial government agencies responsible for the belt’s commercial exploitation. But it is refreshing to see humans viewed not as a cost in the process of production, which needs to be eliminated as much as possible, but as a valuable and indispensable resource, which needs to be used in the process of exploration and commercial exploitation as much as possible, and handsomely rewarded for its contribution.

On the next page, Lewis also describes the advantages of solar power for the future miners and colonists over fossil fuels and nuclear fission.

But wait a minute! Why not use solar power? The Sun pumps out power at the prodigious rate of 4 X 10 to the power of 33 ergs per second, equivalent to 4 X 10 to the power of 26 watts. Our supercivilisation needs 10 to the power of 19 watts to keep going. The Sun is pumping out forty million times as much power as we need! But what do we need to do to capture and use that energy? The simplest answer (not necessarily the best-there may be even more desirable options that we have not thought of yet) is to use vast arrays of solar cells to convert sunlight into electrical power. If the cells have an efficiency of about 20 percent, similar to the best commercial cells made at present, then each square meter of cell area exposed to the Sun near Earth’s orbit would generate 270 watts of electrical power continuously. We would need thirty-seven billion square kilometers of solar cells to provide our power needs, an area comparable to the total surface area of our habitats. At about 0.1 grams per square centimeter for the solar cells, we would need about 3.7 X 10 to the power of 19 grams of silicon to make the cells and perhaps three times as much metal to provide the supports and wires for the power-collection system. The asteroids give us 4X10 to the power of 23 grams of silicon, more than ten thousand times the amount we need for this purpose. The cost of the solar power units is set by the need to construct a few square meters of solar cells per person. The cost would be about two hundred dollars per person at present prices, or a few dollars per person at future mass-production prices. That is not your monthly electric bill: it is a one-time-only expenditure to provide all the electric power you will need for the rest of your life.

All this reckons with 1997 technology. New types of high-efficiency solar cells made of gallium arsenide or other exotic materials, combined with ultra-lightweight parabolic reflectors to collect and concentrate sunlight onto small areas of these cells, promise to perform much better than these highly conservative estimates. (pp. 197-8).

This is the solar power available for the asteroid colonies near Earth. In a later chapter, 14, Lewis discusses ‘Environmental Solutions for Earth’.

Lewis certainly isn’t against private industry in space. Indeed, in an imaginary scenario in one of the first chapters he has a future businessman enthusing about the profits to be gained from mining the Moon or other parts of the Solar system. But he’s clearly like many space visionaries in that he believes that humanity’s expansion into the cosmos will bring immense benefits in enriching and raising the personal quality of life for each individual as well as benefiting the environment down here on Earth.

But reading that paragraph on the benefits of solar power does show why some politicians, particularly in the Tory and Republican parties in Britain and America, who are the paid servants of the nuclear and fossil fuel companies, are so dead set against solar power, as well as other renewables. Quite simply, if it’s adopted, these industries immediately become obsolete, the obscene wealth enjoyed by their CEOs, senior management, and the aristocracy of Middle Eastern oil states, like Saudi Arabia, vanishes along with their political power. And the proles have access to cheaper power. Indeed, people using solar power today are actually able to reverse the usual norm slightly and sell power back to the grid.

No wonder the Tories are trying to shut it all down in favour of nuclear and fracking.

Theresa May and the Faux-Feminism of the Tories

July 10, 2016

Okay, it appears from the latest developments in the Tory leadership contest that their next leader will not only be a woman, but probably Theresa May. May’s currently, I think, the Home Office Minister. Another Tory authoritarian, she’d like the spooks to have access to all our telecoms information to stop us joining ISIS and abusing children. Or at least, that’s what she says. Either way, she represents the continuing expansion of the secret state and its determination to pry into every aspect of our lives. Just in case we’re doing something illegal. In the polls Thursday night or so she won something like 144 votes compared to Andrea Leadsom’s 86 and Michael Gove’s 43. There was a shot of her at one of the party rallies, which showed Ian Duncan Smith, the former Minister in Charge of the Murder of the Disabled looking up at her with the same kind of rapture you see in pictures of Rudolf Hess at Nuremberg as he introduces Adolf Hitler.

May as the Modern Thatcher

The papers on Friday were full of the news of her probable victory. The Torygraph ran the headline, ‘If you want something said, go to a man. If you want something done, go to a woman’. Presumably this was a quote from May herself, trying to position herself as a go-getting woman of action, ready to sort out the mess the men have left. It’s also intended to get her support from Britain’s women. Look, she and her PR gurus are saying, I represent all the women in Britain, and their drives and frustrations in trying to get the top job. And I’ve done it, and, so vicariously, have Britain’s women through me. Vote for me, and we’ll sort Britain out again. The Mirror summed up her probable victory with the headline ‘Another Thatcher’.

That’s true, and it looks very much like the Tory party is trying to hark back to Margaret Thatcher’s victory way back in 1979, and the thirteen years of flag-waving, prole-bashing that unleashed. Thatcher was Britain’s first, and so far, only female Prime Minister. Her election was instrumental in getting the Tories female support, and presenting their agenda of poverty, welfare cuts, joblessness and general immiseration as somehow empowering and progressive. It presented a faux-feminist veneer to what was an acutely traditionalist party. Thatcher did not see herself as a feminist, but nevertheless, her lackeys in the press ran features on her deliberately aimed at women and gaining their support. When she was ousted, Germaine Greer, who had been bitterly critical of her time in No. 10, wrote a piece in the Groan ‘A Sad Day for Every Woman’. And this propaganda line continued with other female Tories afterwards. I can remember a piece in the Mail on Sunday discussing what politics would be like in a female dominated House of Commons about the time Virginia Bottomley joined Major’s cabinet. It imagined Britain as an anarcho-capitalist utopia, where everything was privatised, and instead of the police neighbourhoods hired private security guards. And it ran the notorious factoid that’s been repeated and debunked ever since: that managing the country’s economy was like running a household. Women, so the article claimed, automatically had a better understanding of how the economy should be run through their role controlling the household budget. It’s actually rubbish, as the Angry Yorkshireman, Mike over at Vox Political and a number of left-wing economists and bloggers have repeatedly pointed out. For example, when budgeting for a household, you try to avoid debt, or pay it off as quickly as possible. But no-one has wanted to pay off the national debt since at least the late 18th century, and governments contract debts all the time with the deliberate intention of stimulating growth, as well as having the ability to manipulate circumstances in ways that the average householder can’t. They can, for example, affect the economy by setting the value of their currencies in order to promote exports, for example. The Japanese have deliberately kept the Yen weak in order to make their exports less expensive and so more competitive on foreign markets. They can also alter, or affect exchange rates to control public expenditure outside of immediate state spending. Ordinary people can’t do any of this. But nevertheless, the lie is repeated, and as we’ve seen, believed. A little while ago a man in the audience at Question Time challenged one of the politicos there with not running the country properly. He claimed it should have been obvious to anyone who’s had to run a household. Or possibly their own business.

Women Suffering the Most from Tory Misrule

In power, Thatcher – and the Tories’ policies in general – have hit women the hardest. Women tend to work in the poorest paid jobs, those least unionised, and so with the fewest protections. They are also more likely than men to be active as carers, with the immense responsibilities and pressures that entails. The Tories’ austerity policies have seen more women laid off, and more suffering cuts to hours and pay, with worsening conditions. These have been inflicted on male workers and carers as well, of course. I personally know blokes as well as women, who’ve been put on zero hours contracts, of have had to fight battles with the DWP to get disability benefits for their partners. Women haven’t been solely hit by any means, but they have been especially hit.

Tory Feminism only for the Rich

But I’ve no doubt that the Tories will try to hide all that, and positively divert attention away from it, by pointing to the success of May in finally getting to No. 10. It’ll be presented as another crack in glass ceiling preventing women from getting the top jobs. I’ve also no doubt that there will be some noises about making sure that business, industry and parliament becomes more representative of the country. There will be loud announcements about getting more women into parliament, on the boards of business, and in male-dominated areas such as science and engineering.

But this will all be done to give power and jobs to women from May’s background: well-heeled, well-educated middle class public school gels from Roedean and the like. Rich, corporate types like Hillary Clinton in the US. It isn’t going to be for women from council estates and comprehensive schools, ordinary women working back-breaking jobs in factories, as care home staff, nurses, cleaners, shop assistants, office workers and the like, all of whom are increasingly under pressure from the government’s austerity programme. They, and the men alongside whom they work, doing the same jobs, aren’t going to be helped by the Tories one little bit.

The Thin Veneer of Tory Liberalism

May’s faux-feminism is part of a general thin façade of progressivism, which the Tory party occasionally adopts to promote itself. Cameron came to power pretending to be more left-wing than Tony Blair. When he took over the Tory party, he made much about shedding the party’s image of racism and homophobia. He cut links with the Monday Club, went around promoting Black Tory candidates. Gay MPs were encouraged to come forward and be open about their sexuality. In power, he ostentatiously supported gay marriage, presenting it as Tory victory, even though it had practically already been introduced by Tony Blair in the guise of civil partnerships. Cameron and IDS wanted to be seen as liberal modernisers. But all their reforms are extremely shallow, designed to disguise the rigidly authoritarian and hierarchical party underneath. A party determined to make the poor as poor as possible for the corporate rich.

Generational Differences in Voting

Looking through the stats with friends on Friday, it seems that there’s a marked divergence in political attitudes between young women, and those over 55. The majority of women over 55 tend to vote Conservative, according to the stats. I know plenty who don’t, and so this can be challenged. My guess is that, if this is accurate, it’s probably due to the fact that women generally haven’t worked in the kind of manual trades occupied by men, which require considerable solidarity and so have produced strong union bonds, like mining, metal work and so on. It’s also possibly partly due to the prevailing social ideology when they were born. There was a marked lull in feminist activity between women finally gaining the vote in 1928 or so and the rise of the modern women’s movement in the 1960s. During those forty years, the dominant social attitude was that women should concentrate on their roles of wife and mother. Many firms in this period would not hire married women, a practice which caused immense hardship to women, and families generally that needed two incomes to make ends meet. Also, generally speaking, support for the Tories is higher amongst pensioners.

Younger women are more likely to be left-wing and socialist. If correct, this generally follows the trend of the younger generation being more idealistic and progressive than their elders.

I hope that despite all the pseudo-feminist verbiage and lies the Tories will spout from now onwards, trying to make themselves more presentable to the nation’s female voters, women will recognise them for what they are, and vote them out. As soon as possible.

Dennis Skinner on Mike Ashley and Sports Direct

June 6, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has published a piece about Mike Ashley, the founder of Sports Direct, finally agreeing to meet the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, who are investigating the employment practices in his firm. Among the issues they wish to inquire into are claims that working conditions at Sports Direct result in employees working for less than the minimum wage. Ashley was unwilling to meet them at their headquarters, and so invited them to come to talk to him at his headquarters, but this violates parliamentary transparency. So they threatened to apply sanctions. This finally worked, and Ashley has agreed to go to meet them.

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/06/sports-direct-founder-to-appear-before-mps-after-committee-prepares-to-apply-sanctions/

Shirebrook, where Sports Direct’s headquarters is located, is in Dennis Skinner’s constituency, and the left-wing Labour MP has a few sharp criticisms at Ashley and his firm in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences. Especially as the site occupied by it is on former coal tips, which were levelled and the land reclaimed through funding obtained by Skinner as the local MP. Skinner writes

Mike Ashley, the billionaire operator of sports shops on many high streets and the Newcastle United football club in the premiership, owns a huge Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook in the Bolsover constituency. I secured £21 million from Gordon Brown when he was chancellor of the exchequer to flatten Shirebrook’s pit tips and Ashley’s buildings sit on the reclaimed site. So Ashley’s plant was subsidised out of the public purse.

Sadly, MPs such as myself have no control over planning matters and East Midlands regional development agency didn’t heed advice to demand that trade unions be recognised. As a result, if all the workers I’ve seen from the place are representative of the whole workforce there, the warehouse is filled with hundreds of workers on insecure zero-hours agency contracts at little more than the minimum wage. So taxpayers subsidise Ashley a second time by topping up the low pay with benefits to enable his workforce to survive.

No trade union is recognised at Sports Direct in Shirebrook and I know from conversations with countless nervous workers that they’re terrified of speaking out of turn because they fear they’ll be sacked. Almost everybody I’ve come across was recruited through an agency, on poor conditions, rather than through Jobcentres. I know of very few workers there who are on full-time permanent contracts paying a living wage. I wrote to Ashley asking why at Newcastle United, the football club he owns, a trade union is recognised for the players but he doesn’t recognise a trade union for the workers at Sports Direct. Ashley never replied. What’s more, I, as the local MP, have never, on principle, set foot in the warehouse.

Greedy bosses such as Ashley are why I shall be a socialist as long as I breathe. He’s rich beyond the dreams of avarice by exploiting workers. Worth an estimate £3.75 billion, his loot increased by £1.45 billion last year according to the latest Rich List. He’s amassed a fortune even bigger than that grinning tax dodger Richard Branson. The helicopter Ashley flies in, to and from that Shirebrook plant, is paid for by the sweat of men and women who struggle to afford a bus fare home.

The truth is the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) forced Ashley to recognise a union at Newcastle United. Footballers are a tightly knit small group with a transfer value on the market. At Sports Direct, Ashley holds all the cards – the company hiring and firing at will. He dips into a large pool of vulnerable unemployed. (pp. 101-2).

This shows the double standards between the very lucrative world of professional football, and the poor souls, who slave away in sweatshops all over the world to produce the merchandising sold by exploiters and slave drivers like Mike Ashley. Sports Directs’ head should have much explaining to do, but I dare say he’ll get away with it, or escape with a bare minimum punishment due to the fact that he’s one of the go-getting entrepreneurs the Tories and New Labour just love. And bad luck for the rest of us.