Political Ranting in Prose form WHO?
Just another ranter raving from the lunatic fringe.

WHY?
Why not? To stop myself going crazy. As my mother used to say, 'better out than in'.

So I'm going to share some of my better tirades, ideas, blags and slogans with you, if you can be bothered to read on.

RA

Illustration all credits with the greatest respect go to the great Ron Cobb.

Swings and roundabouts

I’m starting this just after midnight on election night and the pundits are panicking (looks like bookies are better at it). If I have any readers, you might be thinking that my last post showed I was equally adrift but I don’t think so. JC got a better showing in the campaign than he’s had previously but the make-up of the Labour Party hasn’t changed yet. To be honest, I hoped it would be wiped out and most of the Blairite hacks gone. If they’re still in their seats, then I reckon my assessment of the future has yet to be disproved unless .. a good result makes them recalculate their view of their leader. I’d be happy with a hung Parliament (trying to ignore visions of lamp-posts in Parliament Square) with a weak Tory government and a strong Opposition of different parties that actually stop their more vicious policies. The best outcome would be the public waking up from its zombie condition and becoming politically active. Much is being made of the youth/student vote – reasons to be cheerful. Yes, I’m an optimist really. Opposition is useful!

I’m puzzled that the SNP has lost so much support but even more that the Tories have gained at the nationalists’ expense when the Scots weren’t in favour of Brexit. I’m too far away to know what that’s about. Apologies to any friends in the North.

Resurrection time ..
JC lives! .. despite the best assassination attempts of his colleagues. Will his disciples do a better job this time? Mandelson leads the recalculation with his familiar ‘No Labour’ refrain that, to get into power, they need to win over Tory voters. That’s not why they got 40% of the poll this time. Will Jeremy keep steering left? Ask your bookie.

The May Queen got herself well tangled up on her pole (’scuse the pun) but, if I were to wear my most cynical hat, I might suspect she planned to lose so that Labour got lumbered with the EU negotiations and catch all the flying smelly stuff that’s going to come with that. Whatever – now is not the moment for the rest of us to relax.

RA 9.6.17

The Labour Party – a post-mortem

The British Labour Party – born 1900; died 1995 – was a coalition of different tendencies. This is pretty much the standard model of political parties in liberal democracies and these divisions are always a source of internal tension and power struggles, which usually subside if that party comes to power but surface again when in opposition. Generally though, parties that do get into government tend to hold together despite the cracks.

However the Labour Party in the UK was unique in its mixture compared to similar parties elsewhere. Whereas most European social-democratic parties had some kind of marxist basis 1, the Labour Party differed in that the UK already had a strong trade union movement that was indigenous and not much influenced by Marx or marxist thinking. The UK also differed in that in the last half of the 19th century, the Liberal Party had been seen as the defender of working class rights and interests. But by the end of that century the limitations of that relationship were showing more clearly as the mass trade unions, like those of the railway workers and miners, became more powerful than the older ‘craft’ unions. As the pressure for a voice for workers in Parliament increased, those Liberals who favoured ‘social’ liberalism over economic liberalism joined with trade unionists and socialists (social-democrats) to form the Labour Representation Committee. This was the body that grew into the Labour Party.

So, from its inception, the Labour Party was a reformist one and at times has included or worked with groups, like the Independent Labour Party (ILP), the Co-operative Party and the Fabian Society. Its constitution was famously written by two Fabians, Sydney and Beatrice Webb in 1917 and adopted in 1918. The Webbs, like all Fabians, were avowedly reformist, despite their admiration of Lenin and the Russian Revolution, nevertheless they included in that constitution the famous Clause 4:-

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

This short declaration of intent became the battleground for nearly all the future battles between the left and the right of the Party.

The centre of the dispute was the phrase, ‘common ownership’. For the Webbs and many others it meant nationalisation, for the Co-op Party it meant co-operatives, but for many left socialists it meant full workers’ control. Many within the Party saw nationalised industries and services, preferably under a Labour government, as the same thing as workers’ control.

I’ve seen a photo of a group of miners setting up a signboard outside their pit in 1947, which read: “This colliery is now under worker’s control”, whereas the ‘truth’ was shown in the one below.


In fact both groups of men were as deluded as the Russian workers who thought that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ meant they were in control. ‘On behalf of the people’ here meant, as in Russia, on behalf of the government. In other words, state capitalism.

As long as business is good, state capitalism seems to work in the workers’ favour, but they have no say as to the use of profits, the investment of more capital or the development of the industry. The classic case was the GPO, which successive governments milked, whether or not it made money, and hid that extraction from the public when calculating its ‘losses’.

On the other hand, workers didn’t help themselves much either. Trade unions fought for their members interests first and foremost 2 and rarely co-operated. This was reinforced by the ‘closed shop’ which was intended to safeguard unionised workers from having their wages undercut by non-union workers. Instead it led to constant ‘demarcation disputes’ about who had the ‘right’ to a particular job. It also created resentment among those unemployed workers excluded from work. The trade unions in the UK never had ‘too much power’ but they did become inward-looking and self-satisfied. Too often they failed to react to new technologies in time or to keep the public on their side until it was too late.

When the Tories under Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, they had their plans to destroy union power in place. Using the right-wing press as their shock troops they pinned the economic downturn, caused by the steep price of oil when OPEC 3 was formed, on Labour and the unions. Cameron and Co have done exactly the same with the collapse of the banks in 2008. In both cases this has left the Labour Party speechless with panic, so it turned on its own left wing for a scapegoat.

If the right wing of the party consists of liberals and reformists who believe in accommodation with capitalism and getting workers the best ‘deal’ they can, the left is, or was, a more varied mix. It included militant trade unionists, left socialists who believed in the gradual achievement of Clause 4’s aims by ‘evolution not revolution’ and, by this time, various Trotskyists. The biggest group of these were organised in Militant Tendency, though there were others, notably the International Marxist Group (IMG, aka the ‘Migs’).

These groups were mostly the product of the near-global revolution of 1968. That year was the high point of radicalism that had spread across the world following WW2, driven by the liberation wars of colonial peoples, civil rights struggles of minorities and a general rejection of the political status quo – especially of the so-called Communist Party, but also the social-democratic parties. But, while the latter were seen as part of the problem, some at least, like the UK Labour Party, could be pushed into making useful legislation. However, with the defeat of those uprisings in France, Czechoslovakia and the USA, militants who still believed in political revolution looked for other tactics. Trotskyists, who saw themselves as the true heirs of Marx, in the UK began a programme of ‘entryism’. This involved joining the Labour Party, not with the intention of taking it over, but pushing a left-wing agenda and ultimately recruiting as many of its disaffected militants as possible before leaving with them and setting up a ‘real’ revolutionary party. Unfortunately their ‘analysis’ of the situation in 1980s Britain failed to take account of the forces against them and the lack of fight amongst the working class. They became the best target the Labour right had had since the Communist Party in the 1930s.

The settling of accounts came in 1986. One bunch of right-wingers had already jumped ship in 1981 and set up the Social Democratic Party, unconscious of the irony that the first with that name was founded by Karl Marx. Then the right sat back and let the triumphalist left write the manifesto for the 1983 General Election. This reasonable, if hopelessly optimistic, wish-list, dubbed by Gerald Kaufman as ‘the longest suicide note in history’, was then blamed for the party’s third defeat in a row. Everyone else knew that had been caused by Thatcher’s ‘victory’ in the Falklands War.

So, at the Labour Party Conference in 1985, Neil Kinnock declared war on Militant Tendency. Those who did not renounce the faith were soon expelled. The right wing of the party had finally won and awarded themselves a red rose to celebrate the fact (thus alienating all their supporters in Yorkshire). Nor was this their only error. Not only did they get rid of those invasive Trots, they also lost most of their young activists who were in touch with the ‘grass roots’ – not perhaps the Labour hard core voters and trade unionists who still had jobs, but all the rest whose lives and livings were being decimated by Thatcherite ‘monetarism’ and the mass exodus of capital and industries to cheaper off-shore havens of exploitation.

The defeat of the Tories in 1997 was misread by the right as a vindication of their policies. They followed up Kinnock’s ‘New Realism’ – neither new nor realistic, just the mantra that they’d never win again without middle-class votes – with New Labour. A wave of, mainly university-bred, MPs and ‘advisors’ took over in the sure belief they could run capitalism better than the Tories. For a while they did.

Sadly, in fact, Labour was already dead. At the party conference in 1995, they had ditched Clause 4 and with it any pretence that they were a party of ‘labour’. They had watched as the Tories wiped out whole industries, sold off nationalised ones, sold off council housing to tenants, sold mental hospitals and school playing fields to ‘developers’, destroyed the National Union of Mineworkers and outlawed any effective industrial action by other unions. When they got back in power under Blair, none of this was reversed. Furthermore they had colluded in the enforcement of the Poll Tax until mass action broke it down. Ignoring the haemorrhage of working class activists and belief, they put their faith in ‘floating voters’ and the residual traditions of sympathy in the once-upon-a-time industrial heartlands.

They’ve lost the plot and don’t know where to look for it. The slaughter of their Scottish MPs in the election of 2015 was not a result of rising nationalism – the referendum made that clear – but a total loss of any trust in the Labour Party to defend them from the Tories’ depredations, whether in power or not. The Labour leadership weren’t even able to defend themselves from the ludicrous lie that they, and not the casino banks, were responsible for the economic collapse since 2008. They weren’t because Gordon Brown had made it clear in 1997 that he would be continuing Tory economic policies. To admit that would be to reveal how far right they’d moved. There’s nothing left to choose between them and the liars and thieves running the country. Small wonder that many working class voters looked to UKIP’s clowns to save them from redundancy and penury.

I see little hope for the future of that corpse being revived. In the last two years there has been a major revival of Labour’s membership under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. To the horror of the Labour right wing, the left has returned stronger than ever but they refuse to accept it. They’re totally glued to the idea that a socialist Labour Party in unelectable and are doing everything in their power to stop Corbyn and his supporters in their tracks. So far, apart from saying so out loud in public, they’ve collaborated with zionist activists to accuse of anti-semitism any critics of the Israeli government’s policy of apartheid and ethnic cleansing in the West Bank. They’ve even tried to accuse the Trotskyists of trying to take over the party again, even though they’re shadows of their previous selves. No trick is too dirty to use. Corbyn, meanwhile, continues to try to hold the party together and, outnumbered by his enemies in Parliament rolls over and reluctantly agrees with the right’s policies and lies. Unless he finds his backbone, the Labour Party isn’t just a headless chicken, it’s a gutless one too.

ra 10.5.15, updated 1.5.17

1 Although many European socialist parties still have their roots in marxism, the rise of the Communist Party after the Russian Revolution saw them all rejecting it and any attempts at revolutionary change.

2 This was almost always built into their constitutions, which saw their rôle as solely looking after the interests of their members within the current system and nothing more. So they’ve had no other agenda beyond fighting for more pay, improving conditions of work (rarely) and hanging on to jobs and old practices in the face of changes in their industries and services. The NUM, the union with the best record of defending other workers, especially nurses, was crushed with Labour’s approval. The Tories had managed what Barbara Castle and ‘In Place of Strife’ had failed to do.

3 The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, who had organised themselves for the first time to get a fair price, instead of letting the oil companies continue to rip them off.

Disclaimer: the above is a personal and frankly partisan (not party) opinion piece of someone who lived through the second half of the 20th century and been on the fringes of some of the events described. Historians and partisans of other credos will undoubtedly trash it. Good luck with coming up with a better one.

Getting flocked

The vultures are joining Donald Trump (hereafter known as DT – delerium tremens) at the feast. So far Farrage and Gove. Who’s next? Marine Le Pen? Berlusconi? Every other sociopath and neo-fascist on the block? Even that Nobel Prizewinning war criminal and friend of Putin, Henry Kissinger, got in on the act. Opposition is growing but there’s no reason to relax – the last time we were here was the Reagan-Thatcher axis and we’re still living with the consequences of that nightmare. At least the Wicked Witch of the West put a dent in our home-grown fascists’ aspirations by nicking their policies. Now they could be partying on the White House lawn.

Every sane person is fearful of the prospects for the future but that’s not enough – we need to get organised. As the old Berlin anarchists slogan said, ‘Tu wat!’ – Do something. So look out for who’s running your favourite campaign and join it .. or start your own. Resistance is useful.

RA 20.1.17

Multiculturalism ..

.. has had a bad press in recent years and, personally, I’m not surprised. 30 years ago there was a major debate on the Left and in the Labour Party as to which was the best approach to dealing with the racism endemic in this country, multiculturalism or anti-racism. I favoured the latter and this is why.

I love living in a multicultural and multi-ethnic country. It was part of our national DNA long before the slave trade made racism a necessary excuse for treating other human beings as beasts to be slaughtered or worked to death. As post-war immigration brought more and more of those formerly enslaved or colonised peoples to this country, racism fell out of fashion amongst most of the political class, with significant exceptions. Those immigrants brought as much of their home cultures with them as they could and this led to some frictions with the local populations. Likewise there were and are aspects of our ‘British’ culture that did not sit well with all those incomers. Multiculturalism was supposed to be the answer to this clash by suggesting that each community should live by its own values without interference, except where these broke ‘our’ laws. I shouldn’t need to list all of the times this has gone wrong, from female genital mutilation to ‘honour killings’ and child sexual exploitation. Those examples may seem to be one-sided but, interestingly, the authorities have had less difficulty in trying to suppress Afro-Caribbean activities like smoking ganja and shooting each other (there’s an element of cause and effect there – not the smoking but the suppression).

Consequently a parallel debate has arisen between ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’. Too many people think they mean the same thing but they don’t. Integration is a two-way process of people from different backgrounds learning to understand each other and live together. Assimilation means that the newcomers must become identical with the residents. Like the British did in India and Africa …

What the white British people needed to learn, and are still groping their way towards, is an understanding of their prejudices and how to deal with them. In a nutshell, when you hear the phrase “I’m not a racist but …”, you know that what follows will be a racist statement. It would be better to say “I am a racist but .. I’m trying to learn not to be one.” Meanwhile those new communities still clinging to their old cultures need to realise that, while they have a right to their own beliefs, in this country they do not have the right to impose them on their families or other members of their community. Tough lessons all round and a way to go but we can still do it.

RA 25.3.17

Scab & picket/ The women, as usual

On 4th March this year the Trade Union Act came into force but you could be forgiven for missing that event. I’m not going to try to describe all its features – all you have to know is that it’s the latest move in the Conservative Party’s long campaign to screw workers into their place. We’ve had decades of media barons (some of whom are real ones) telling us that union barons (who aren’t till they retire and didn’t cause too much trouble) have ‘too much power’. What that means is any power at all to protect workers from the greed of their employers.

It took a long time to build up this structure and it was always in the face of legal and illegal resistance, from the Combination Acts, which got the famous Tolpuddle Martyrs sentenced to transportation to Australia, to the secret blacklists of union activists and other ‘troublemakers’, which reappear each time after another one is exposed. At the beginning of the 20th century the forerunner of the CBI, the bosses’ trade union, was formed under the slogan of one of its founders, “If we all club together, we can beat the workers down.” Usually though the clubbing was left to the police. In the UK then unions began as mutual aid societies, through which members’ subscriptions would pay workers and their families some subsistence in case of sickness, death and lay-offs, long before it became legal to go on strike. As these were generally organised amongst those in the same line of work, in this country they became trade unions while, in countries like France and Spain, they’re formed along political lines, from right-wing to hard left. Thus these tend to be much bigger and therefore potentially more powerful than ours.

Striking has always been a tough decision, whatever the right-wing media may say. There are very few workers secure enough in their jobs and their finances that they can lose wages without a really good cause. Likewise unions have very limited resources compared to bosses or governments and so, if strike pay runs out, strikers can face real hardship and, in the past, starvation. This is why strike-breakers, scabs, are hated so much. A ‘blackleg’ was a miner who was sneaked in to work during a strike and was recognised by the coal dust on his legs under his coat on his way home in the days before pithead baths. Seeing his children go hungry a striking worker could very easily be moved to a violent response. Because our whole industry and society once depended wholly on coal for their power supply, mineworkers became the most powerful trade unionists in the UK. Because coal miners tended to live in small communities, where nearly everyone depended on the work provided by the nearby pit, communal ties and solidarity were the strongest and crossing a picket line, any picket line, was a sin few would commit at any price.

It was that fear and hatred of strike-breakers that led to the doctrine of the ‘closed shop’ – you can’t work here unless you’re in the right union and you can’t get in the union unless you have the job – and ‘demarcation’ – you didn’t presume to do another man’s (or woman’s) work. These made sense in terms of preventing bosses using cheaper labour to undermine the workers’ negotiating position and was often a question of safety, if those replacements were untrained or less skilled. However it later became a source of irritation and outright stupidity, including inter-union disputes, which saw trade unions losing credibility among the general public, particularly from the 1960s onwards. Too many working-class people read the Sun and too many of the lower middle classes read the Mail as they pumped out their endless streams of lies and misinformation about unions, socialism, immigrants, the Common Market/EU and all the other targets of their masters – banks and big corporations, mostly based in the US. The slogan that unions had ‘too much power’ became widely accepted, even among sections of the Labour Party. But they did nothing much to stop apprenticeships disappearing or to call out the lazy, cheapskate bosses who preferred to poach workers already trained by other firms. The ‘Winter of Discontent’ of 1978-79 saw unions go head to head with a Labour government over the latter’s attempts to hold down wages despite rapidly increasing inflation. The Right milked this for all it was worth and the Labour leadership turned on the Left in a desperate attempt to win back middle-class voters. When Thatcher’s government took power in 1979, thanks to the tactics of the Labour Party’s right wing, they immediately began to unpick the ‘One Nation’ consensus that had evolved during and after WW2. The unions were their main target and especially the miners. They were determined to break the NUM once and for all and had been planning this before they won that election.

Mineworkers had not just been the most militant of workers, starting the General Strike in 1926 and holding out longest, but they would also come out in support of those, like nurses, who couldn’t strike. Then they’d brought down Edward Heath’s government in 1974. The divided miners’ strike of 1984-85 was engineered by the Tory government. No expense was spared to break it. The police were let off the leash and the resultant clashes, like Orgreave, became inevitable. Not many people know this, not even cops, that the police had had their own strikes in 1917 and 1919. They had been bought off with better pay and conditions and a no-strike-allowed association, the Police Federation. Thatcher made sure of their loyalty by another pay rise almost as soon she came to power.

The TUC and the Labour Party sat back and watched the striking miners be ground down and defeated by Ian MacGregor, the man who did the same thing in the States. If you want to know what that was like, go watch a film called ‘Harlan County USA’ and see a picket murdered by the mine’s security chief. Of course, no prosecution. So did none of those so-called ‘democratic socialist’ leaders foresee what was coming? Not only the complete destruction of the British coal mining industry within a matter of years, their communities left to rot, but the continued disempowerment of trade unions with one new regulation after another. Membership dropped through the floor as industries were outsourced to cheaper, non-unionised workforces abroad, thanks to the lifting of exchange controls so that capital could move freely around the world even if workers couldn’t. Those who still had a job realised that the union’s ability to protect them was vanishing and preferred to spend the ‘subs’ on other things. They also agreed to changes in their contracts that saw colleagues being made redundant while new technologies got them working longer hours for a bit more money. Jobs were thus sold off cheaply and the investors got richer. Labour, both the old and the ‘New’, did nothing but collude in this.

So, if you’re lucky enough to be working and not in the union, just hope that management likes you and you don’t get bullied or sick. That’s when having someone to back you up is crucial. If you are in the union but it doesn’t seem to do much to help you, get involved – a union is what it says, a group of people and is only as strong as its membership. Don’t agonise, organise.

The women, as usual …
Right now we’re coming up to International Women’s Day. It’s a good time to remember that it was established in commemoration of a strike in 1908 by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in the USA; the strike of the ‘match girls’ of Bryant & May’s factory in 1888 was the spark that led to the growth of the new mass trade unions in this country that we see today; then in 1917 women in Petrograd’s factories went on strike for ‘bread and peace’ and started the real Russian Revolution in February of that year (old calendar) that brought down the Tsar and ended the Romanov dynasty. As the Western Times reported of the ‘bread riots’ in Exeter in 1854, ‘The women, as usual, were the beginners of the disturbance.’ As we face the nightmare of a world dominated by bigots, xenophobes, religious fascists and megalomaniacs like Trump and RaasPutin, be sure that women will be at the front of the resistance.

RA 6.3.17

Spooks, spies & plausible deniability

Ricky Tomlinson has stirred up a little media storm by accusing the late Richard Whiteley of being an MI5 agent when Mr T was fitted up with the other flying pickets of the Shrewsbury 24. This had led Whiteley’s partner to claim that he was not in any way capable of such a rôle. Now I don’t know the details of the accusation but the lady and possibly the accuser seem to share the same confusion most people have between ‘agents’ and members of the security forces. The latter, the real spooks, are employees of the British state with military ranks and are, for the most part, ‘handlers’ while the latter are mainly civilians or possibly members of the armed forces of other states who do the actual spying, possibly for pay or out of ‘patriotism’ or for other personal reasons. They don’t have to steal real secrets, often they just report what they see to add to the general picture the handlers are building up of their targets, whether those are individuals, organisations or whole countries. Anyone can be an agent, aka informant or ‘useful idiot’. Others can actually do things, like spreading lies and counter-propaganda or even acts of sabotage. It depends on the job. I’m not saying that security officers never do any spying of their own, GCHQ is an obvious example, but it’s rarer than you think. And let’s not forget Special Branch, who are just policemen who carry out most of the leg-work for MI5, including surveillance, undercover work and, when they get lucky, arrests of suspects because the spooks don’t have those legal powers.

James Bond has created an image of the spy as a super-hero with ‘a licence to kill’, but he’s the fictional creation of a former spook. The heads of our secret police, MI5, and our spies, MI6, have consistently denied that they kill people and the double-0 squad does not exist. Of course it doesn’t, that’s what the SAS is for. The Special Air Squadron was created during WW2 for, initially airborne, guerrilla actions like those of the Marine Commandos. It has been suggested that its later activities have been more like those of the special tactical team of the Waffen-SS led by the infamous Otto Skorzeny, who rescued Mussolini from his first captors in 1943. This was a military outfit for political objectives. While they may operate in overt military activities, they also do so in situations where the involvement of the UK government should not be visible. For years they worked in the states of Muscat and Oman and the other sultanates of the southern Arabian Peninsula, where they kept the local rulers, who’d made deals with western oil companies, in power and fought off rivals, nationalists and supposed communists. This under-the-radar counter-insurgency was fictionalised by Patrick McGoohan in the ‘Danger Man’ series and mentioned in passing by Ranulph Fiennes on Radio 4. At other times it’s obvious that they were labelled ‘advisors’ or ‘mercenaries’. Their most high-profile action was the execution, or murder depending on your point of view, of an IRA team in Gibraltar in 1988. That’s the doctrine of ‘plausible deniability’ in action.

So, when your heart stops beating with pride at the display Daniel Craig put on with Lizzie’s stunt double at the London Olympics, consider how these secret police, spies and assassins protect our liberties. The question then is whose is the ‘our’?

RA 2.3.17

In fidelity

There are two pieces I’ve already written on the topics of patriarchy and on romantic love but want to start with their most long-lasting and deepest ingrained outcome – monogamy. I’ll leave out Islam and any other cultures that allow polygamy but the implications for women are much the same. Likewise the gay and lesbian relations ’cos I’m less clear on how it works in those communities. For heterosexuals then, our lives, our histories, literature, talk shows, law courts, therapists’ and counsellors’ consulting rooms are full of the effects and failures of monogamous fidelity. But in the West, at least, the place of women and their economic and political independence has changed out of all recognition, whatever remains to be achieved in terms of equality. Yet this insistence on fidelity persists and it’s not just the men who demand it and/or deviate from it. Why?

It goes beyond financial security and even the effects of parents’ examples – our culture is steeped in this concept that the relationships of couples, at least heterosexual couples, ought to be exclusive. There have been attempts by many individuals and movements to move beyond that restriction but they have all tended to fail at some point. Nevertheless, as researchers into human behaviour have shown beyond all doubt, we are a promiscuous species. So why is it so difficult to break free of the bonds of monogamy (or monotony)?

I’m not a sociologist or anthropologist and don’t have any figures to back up my views but have lived through these contradictions for the last 50 years and that’s just in my own relationships. While women may seem to have most to lose from infidelity, especially if they’re dependent on their man’s income and have children, there are plenty of men who are just as hung up about it. One reason might be the fear of being alone in a very unsettled and competitive world after feeling secure for some time. This might be overcome if there was a sense of greater fluidity in the field. By this I mean that, if there were more potential partners available, we might be less inclined to cling on so desperately to the one we have. Those same rules certainly seem to apply in the job’s market.

Another possible scenario is when women become really economically independent. In English we used to have the expression ‘to swear like a fishwife’. These ladies, wives of fisherman, had the job of selling their husband’s catch and effectively managed the finances of the family .. moreover they carried very sharp knives. Whether this gave them more sexual freedom I can’t say – perhaps there’s a study out there somewhere – but I’m forced to a comparison with women with a similar rôle in places like Burma, where an Indian friend of mine lost his virginity as a passing fancy to a young woman from a similar background as our fishwives as he could never had done at home in Punjab. Then another band of self-employed matriarchs are still celebrated in the history of Brazil – the baianas. Even under slavery some Africans were allowed to provide services as independent traders, presumably on payment of some kind to their masters. In Salvador, the capital of Bahia state, women ran the markets and even traded with Africa. They wore their wealth in gold plaques on their chests. They also preserved their tribal deities, suitably disguised as Catholic saints. This is a description by a real anthropologist, Ruth Landes: ‘The black priestesses of Bahia accept lovers, not husbands. What matrimony gives in prestige, it takes away in freedom and happiness. None of them is interested in formal marriage before a priest or judge. None wants to be a handcuffed wife, a Mrs Someone-or-other. Heads erect, with languid swings, the priestesses move like queens of Creation, condemning their men to the incomparable torment of jealousy of the gods.’ – quoted in ‘Century of Wind’ by Eduardo Galeano. Take away the gods and there’s hope for us all.

RA 7.1.17

Where did all these rough sleepers come from?

tank500px_optIn the 1950s, 60s and 70s the only people you saw living rough outside of central London were old ‘tramps’. Then, in 1984, Thatcher’s government reduced Jobseekers Allowance and Social Security benefits for 16-25 year olds and suddenly every city had young people on the streets because they couldn’t afford to ‘top-up’ their rents. When Labour came to power they didn’t reverse that. In many towns and cities voluntary organisations do a lot to help but they can’t provide much in the way of accommodation. Most have only limited space for some who are stable enough to prepare for permanent housing. But nowadays there is little short-term accommodation for the homeless since the old system of ‘the spike’ hostels for vagrants ended. It is true that some homeless people have become habituated to this life-style, but they’re a minority. Most end up on the street because it can now take the DWP up to 6 weeks to process a new claim or when someone changes locality, despite computerisation of their systems. If the Tories’ plan to stop all Housing Benefit for under-21s goes ahead it will put thousands more on the streets. Those of us lucky enough to have a roof over our heads have no reason to be afraid of rough sleepers. If you are threatened by someone physically or verbally, tell the police. Otherwise have some sympathy at least. It’s tough way to survive, especially in winter, while local authorities try to bring in PSPOs (Public Space Protection Orders) to chase the homeless out of sight with the threat of fines (which they obviously can’t pay) and confiscation of property, ie what little shelter they can carry. At the same time at least one privately-run prison has been discharging people with a tent and sleeping bag because there are no probation hostels or other accommodation available! This situation and those attitudes which ‘blame the victim for the crime’ of being on the streets is intolerable. There are no easy solutions without a general change of attitude. Start by giving your MP and local councillor a hard time for a change.

RA 3.10.16, updated 2.1.17

Safe in our hands

‘The National Health Service is safe in our hands/ is too expensive’
The UK’s NHS is one of the best, if not the best, health service on the planet. However, if this Tory government has its way, it will be a thing of the past or, more accurately, just the label on a dismembered, mostly privatised mockery of what we had. This is not paranoia – it’s already happening. Besides which Jeremy Hunt has made it clear that’s what the Tories want. Regarding a review of the service, he’s quoted as saying “The NHS is the best health system in the world but we know there is still too much variation in care. Sir David’s proposals go hand in hand with the NHS five-year forward view on how to meet the challenges of the future, and they will be food for thought for hospitals and commissioners looking to innovate, supported by the £200m transformation fund we announced last week.” ‘Sir David’ is David Dalton, Chief Executive of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, tasked by Hunt to “make it easy for NHS super-heads to take over struggling organisations”. ‘His report, produced in December 2014, suggested that concessions could be established by which companies are given contracts to operate publicly-funded hospitals.’ (Wikipedia).

Why? Partly ideological hatred of anything created by the Labour Party, but mostly simple greed. Tory hostility to public ownership of industries and services is not that they’re inefficient (that’s a lie drummed into us by the bosses’ ‘free press’) but because they have to help pay for them and can’t make any profit out of them.

When the NHS was created, Aneurin Bevan had to let the consultants (medical, not management) keep their private practices in order to bring them on board. At that time, at least, the ‘professions’ had the power to stand up to government. That concession left a split in the NHS which led to a two-tier service where those, who could afford it, could buy a faster and better level of treatment. Thus the nationalised part was always left looking less effective. Nevertheless it worked and became an essential part of people’s lives in this country. However no-one foresaw the scale of the costs involved and cuts were made – one of the first to go was free dental treatment (1951). In the 1980’s the government came out with the mantra that ‘demand on the NHS could be infinite’ unless it was restricted. This is another old school lie. The population isn’t infinite, nor is it sick all the time and the same thing could be said about the demands on other kinds of insurance that function quite happily, even making big profits. Insurance companies use actuarial tables to work out the levels of risk and make provisions accordingly. The NHS could do the same instead of being made by the government to waste time and money on meeting targets and dealing with the bureaucracy of internal markets.

Meanwhile, there are some facts of which you may not be aware. One is that the Secretary of State for Health is since 2012 no longer responsible for the NHS. Another is that there are plans to close hospitals and some critical services – maternity, stroke care, serious accident and emergency cases – and centralise them in bigger hospitals, whatever extra travelling times that will incur. To make room for these extra burdens, those hospital will unload their ‘bed-blockers’ to go home to die in the care of social services which, themselves, are at the point of collapse due to underfunding. These patients will no longer be the responsibility of the NHS but of local authorities, whose budgets have been slashed by the government. So local politicians can either take the blame for the inevitable failures or for raising Council Tax to make it work. HMG says ‘It’s not our fault’! Great system.

Right now we need to fight off the cuts being made and reverse the ‘reforms’ while we still have a real national health service.

RA 23.11.16

Keeping order

Today is the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Some readers may know what that was but, for the benefit of the others, it was a mass action in 1936 to stop thousands of members and supporters of the British Union of Fascists from marching through a largely Jewish part of East London. I suspect that the majority of those who have heard about this will think it was a battle with the fascists. It wasn’t, it was a battle with the police. Here’s a newsreel clip: Battle newsreel on YouTube

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been on a demo when trouble broke out. Every demo or march or event I’ve been at where a ‘riot’ occurred was started by the cops. Sure someone may well have thrown an empty drinks can at them, maybe even a bottle, but those individuals are always safely back in the thick of the crowd. The ones who get battered and arrested by our increasingly well-armoured police are those brave souls on the front line. This is called ‘keeping the peace’ or ‘protecting public order’ and that’s when the fighting begins.

These confrontations have a long history, both here and across the globe. One of the most notorious in the UK in recent times was the Battle of the Beanfield. On 1 June 1985 the Peace Convoy of travellers, trying to get to Stonehenge for a festival, were intercepted and some forced off the road by police into a field, whereupon their vehicles were attacked and wrecked. The people in those vehicles, including pregnant women, were beaten and arrested. A brief video clip was aired on television some time later and what it showed was brutal – unarmed and unprotected people being manhandled and hit with batons, windows being smashed, the interiors of vans trashed. What it also showed was police in riot gear, with their ID numbers concealed, causing criminal damage and assaults which, if had been done to them, would have been classed as grievous bodily harm. In other words, it was a police riot. No charges were brought against those officers*. Journalists and photographers were arrested or threatened. Films were ‘lost’. The travellers lost their homes and I’ve been told that some of the travellers even lost their children, because they were taken into care by Social Services and sent for adoption.

One officer, who was present, left the police and became a criminologist. He later made this observation, “When you have a body of men … and a hierarchy of authority, violence is bound to occur.” This is all I can remember, but what it means is, that it’s not sufficient to blame the men on the ground for breaking the rules, because they know their actions have been implicitly sanctioned by their superiors. One policy could be banned is that of officers being told to conceal their identifying numbers in these situations … and advising reporters to stay away!

Now, not all coppers are bastards but the point I’m making is that the job is. The question is, whose ‘peace’ is being kept, whose ‘order’ is being protected? Why do fascist marchers get more police protection than anti-fascists? Why do strikers and pickets get beaten up but not thieving bosses? Why are Romanies and other travellers prevented from stopping for a night’s rest, while you’ll be told to shut down if your party or festival music disturbs the sleep of well-off neighbours? Work it out.

Update: 11.10.16
As J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, said in 1968, “Justice is merely incidental to law and order.”
That’s telling it as it is.

RA 3.10.16

[* A number of the travellers successfully sued Wiltshire Police for ‘false imprisonment, damage to property and wrongful arrest’ and one police sergeant was found guilty of actual bodily harm. It was only a token victory because legal costs swallowed all the compensation they were awarded. If you want to see some more, here’s a documentary made in 1991: YouTube video ]

A word to the wise
The word ‘mob’ comes from a legal term in Latin, ‘mobile vulgus’, which my dictionary translates as ‘the fickle multitude’ but I prefer ‘the mobile common people’. The state wants you screwed into your place (and in debt) – Don’t move! Sit still! – and, especially, don’t organise yourselves without the authorities sayso.