Saturday, February 27, 2010

Capitalism: A Dirty Word

Three of us went last night to see Michael Moore's latest film Capitalism: A Love Story at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. It was less than half full with only 30 others there.

The film does contribute to helping make "capitalism" a dirty word, but that's about it. Capitalism is defined, as by its supporters, are "free enterprise", "profit" and "competition" and the worst excesses of the unregulated competitive pursuit of profits by private corporations are exposed. But the analysis is weak : that things weren't going too badly -- workers had steady jobs and were able to adopt a "middle class" lifestyle -- until Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980 and financial deregulation was introduced and started a feeding frenzy by financial institutions that eventually led to the crash of 2008. It's basically an attack on Wall Street and the New York banks on behalf of blue-collar workers. Moore denounces "capitalism" as being against both the "American value" of democracy and the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. As a solution he offers worker-run co-operatives and a Europe-style "Welfare State" (which the film naively claims would have been introduced in America if Roosevelt hadn't died in 1945).

Still we mustn't be too churlish and it can't be a bad thing that capitalism is becoming a dirty word even in America. It deserves to be. Let's hope that the film encourages people to look further into what capitalism is and find out how it can never work, or be made to work, in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers. And that socialism, not welfare capitalism, is the way out. Hopefully the leaflet we handed out and left lying around will help towards this.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Glum Councillors

One of my favourite blogs is Glum Councillors a collection of stock photos of local councillors posed, pointing at graffitti, vandalism or potholes in the road. Much like the one here.

Now, this phenomena relates to a style of boss politics - vote for me and "I'll get things done for you." A kind of gift relation, we give our votes, they give us public service. Of course, really, fixing the roads is a technical matter for the highways officers, councillors are there to be political - to decide priorities, direction and style of a council. Most of the time they are simply there to oversee moneybeing handed down to them from Whitehall to spend on non-discretionary matters.

Once, I'm sure I've written about it here, when out campaigning, someone asked us 'What are you going to do about the potholes in the roads?' the comrade who was with me suggested giving the guy a shovel. That's not far off our attitude, not necessarilly dig it yourself, but you can organise yourselves, and if you have a problem, get it sorted, without asking the boss man to do it for you.

Doubtless I could (and probably will) write about roads, road transport and its condition, but the point I want to make here is anyone can go around saying 'I'll do my best for you' and promise to nag officials to do their jobs (Fib-Dems are very good at that) but we're not contesting elections for that reason - we think there is a political decision to be made about the type of society we are living in, and that is the platform we stand on.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies and Lib Dems

Went down to Brixton Town Hall today to pick up the nomination papers and electoral registers for the two wards we'll be contesting in the local elections. Somebody gave me a leaflet. As it was in blue I assumed it was a Tory one but when you opened it it turned out to be a from the Liberals. Obviously aimed at Tories, it proclaimed "The Conservatives can't beat Labour here. Only the Lib Dems can".

What, the Liberals think they can win Vauxhall? If they did then the Cameron clone who is their Leader would be Prime Minister and Vince Cable (the only Liberal politician anyone knows) would be Chancellor and have to put his money were his mouth is. Vauxhall is one of the safest Labour seats in London where the Alternative Vote isn't needed as the Labour candidate got nearly 53% of the vote at the last general election. Then I realised that I'd strayed over the border into the neighbouring constituency of Streatham.

The Liberal leaflet contained the claim they use everywhere -- it's a two-horse race and we're in it with a good chance of winning. Here in central London they're appealing to Tories to vote Liberal to keep Labour out. Further out, to the South West, where there are three Liberal MPs (including Vince Cable) they're appealing to Labour supporters to vote Liberal to keep the Tories out. The leaflet had a bar graph showing Labour and Liberal neck and neck with the Tories trailing in third place with well under half the Liberal support. The caption said "The results from the last elections here, in 2009". The last elections, in 2009, were those for the European Parliament. Here are the actual figures for the whole of Lambeth (not just Streatham): Labour 15990 Liberal 11340 Tory 10537 Green 10394 Others 9339.

The lesson of this? Don't believe any statistics you read on Liberal leaflets. The chances are they are falsified.

There was a political point on the leaflet that needs taking up. It claimed "Everyone knows someone who's lost their job because of the way Labour have run the country". We hold no brief for Labour (obviously not) but this is not true. The government is not to blame. Everybody will know someone who's lost their job but it's because of the way capitalism works and would have worked whichever party was in power. Rival politicians would have us believe that if only their party had been in power things would have been different. Not true. What is responsible for the social ills we face is not which party is in office but the profit system we live under. The way out is not to change the politicians who form the government but to replace capitalism with socialism. To make this point is why we are contesting the elections.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Weapons of class war

My attention has just be drawn to this: Commander's Guide to Money as a Weapons System Handbook seemingly a genuine US military guide that says what we have been saying for years - money is a weapon.

At home and abroad it is a weapon in warfare, particularly class warfare by the rich against the poor. Looking through, some of the funds are for 'entertainment' and raising the prestige of the military.

So, as the strapline goes "Money is my most important ammunition in this war."
-MG David Petraeus, 101st Airborne Division Air Assault.

Focus on Vauxhall

OK, so that was the national stats, lets throw in what we know about London:
For October to December 2009:
  • The employment rate was 68.7 per cent and there were 3.71 million employed people.
  • The unemployment rate was 9.1 per cent and there were 373,000 unemployed people.
  • The inactivity rate was 24.2 per cent and there were 1,253,000 working age inactive people.
  • According to this constituency profile (which I will add to the sidebar) back in June 2009 Vauxhall had a nearly 4% greater unemployment rate than London (which was about 2% over the national average), so we could reasonably infer that Vauxhall will have greater than 12% unemployment, around 9 to 10 thousand unemployed.

    What emerges from even these scant glances through the official statistics is the shocking normality of these conditions, that such widespread unemployment (and as we have seen from previous posts) poverty should nt be a burning priority, but an after thought to servicing the wishes of the insanely wealthy.

    The Tories like to beat Labour with the "class war" stick. We, though, are calling for class war, for a struggle for the thousands and millions abused and held down by the wages working to organise themselves to abolish that condition.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010

    The statistics speak

    According to National Statistics' Labour Market Statistics Statistical Bulletin - February 2010 (PDF) there is an interesting employment picture in the UK.
    The number of people in full-time employment fell by 37,000 on the quarter to reach 21.22 million, the smallest quarterly fall since the three months to July 2008. The number of people in part-time employment increased by 25,000 on the quarter to reach 7.67 million. There were 1.04 million employees and self-employed people working part-time because they could not find a full-time job. This is the highest figure since records for this series began in 1992 and it is up 37,000 on the quarter.
    That is, on top of the 2.46 million actually without jobs, 663,000 of whom have been out of work for over a year. they are included in
    The inactivity rate for October to December 2009 was 21.3 per cent, up 0.2 on the quarter but below the record high of 23.3 per cent recorded in 1983. The number of inactive people of working age increased by 72,000 over the quarter to reach a record high of 8.08 million. This increase in inactivity was largely driven by the number of students not in the labour market which has increased by 62,000 on the quarter to reach 2.26 million, the highest since comparable records began in 1993.
    3.5 million people comprise the make-up of the reserve army of labour that is essential to capitalism, our system of society could not exist without thse 3.5 million. A great many more re hunkering down and taking themselves out of the jobs market as long as they can until things clear over.

    Of course, these figures are dwrfed by the 21.22 million who are actually in full-time employment. But for every seven people who have a proper job, one person is un-or-underemployed. That would be true, if unemployment were scattered around, but we all know it concentrates, in communities like Lambeth, which have high levels of unemployment and low pay generally.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Last time

    Here's a reminder of how we did last time we stood candidates for Lambeth Council, four years ago in May 2006.

    The results for the two wards we are planning to contest this time can be found here for Ferndale and here for Larkhall.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    Mute inglorious Milton.

    According to the BBC, poverty is linked to poor language acquisitiion among poor children.
    Children from the poorest homes are almost a year behind middle class pupils in language skills by the time they start school, research suggests.
    Now, as of 2008, according to the Lambeth State of the Borough report:
    The proportion of children and young people living in poverty is higher than average, as is infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, childhood obesity, primary and secondary school permanent exclusion levels and the proportion of 16-18 year olds who are not in education, employment or training.
    Lets put this into perspective with some detail
    Two in five (41%) London children live in poverty compared to 28% nationwide. This rises to 51% in Inner London. Borough level figures are not available, but Lambeth can be expected to exceed the Inner London figure. Just over a third (33.8%) of children in Lambeth live in families on key benefits compared to 24% in London; Lambeth ranks as the 11th highest in Great Britain and more children live ‘in care’ in Lambeth than across the capital and the rest of the country (110 per 10,000 children under 18 were looked after, compared to 70 in London and 55 in England).
    Over half of children in Lambeth are living in poverty. That's half who will be robbed of their potential to achive by the cumulative drag on life chances created by poverty. So much for Labour's pledge to end child poverty. They've barely dented it.

    Saturday, February 13, 2010

    Local elections too

    Even if the general election isn't on Thursday 6 May, there will be elections that day. In London all the borough councils will be elected, including Lambeth. The Socialist Party will be contesting two wards here: Ferndale ward and Larkhill ward. We have already leafleted the wards twice and will be doing so again in the near future.

    Here is an article from one of our leaflets:

    The Brixton Pound – What for?

    In September a group of enthusiasts, supported by the Council, launched the Brixton Pound. These are vouchers that can be used, instead of pound coins and £5 and £10 notes, to buy from shops in Brixton – provided, that is, that the shop is prepared to accept them.

    But what's the point (apart from helping local shopkeepers)? What difference does it make what coloured pieces of paper we have to use to get the things we need to live? The real problem is that in present-day, capitalist society we have to use money at all to obtain these, and that the amount of money we have will always be rationed by what we get as wages or as benefits. That restricts and distorts our lives.

    But it doesn't have to be like this. If the waste and artificial shortages of capitalism were eliminated we could easily produce enough to go over to getting what we need on the basis of the principle from each according to our abilities to each according to our needs. In other words, free access to what we need without having to hand over coloured pieces of paper or to use cards or vouchers of any kind.

    Maybe you think that this wouldn't work because (other) people would take too much. Soledad Brother George Jackson answered that one in one of his prison letters:

    "Consider the people's store, after full automation, the implementation of the theory of economic advantage. You dig, no waste makers, no harnesses on production. There is no intermediary, no money. The store, it stocks everything that the body or home could possibly use. Why won't the people hoard, how is an operation like that possible, how could the storing place keep its stores if its stock (merchandise) is free?
    Men hoard against want, need, don't they? Aren’t they taught that tomorrow holds terror, pile up a surplus against this terror, be greedy and possessive if you want to succeed in this insecure world? Nuts hidden away for tomorrow's winter.
    Change the environment, educate the man, he'll change. The people's store will work as long as people know that it will be there, and have in abundance the things they need and want (really want); when they are positive that the common effort has and will always produce an abundance, they won’t bother to take home more than they need.
    Water is free, do people drink more than they need?"

    The person whose face appears on the Brixton ten-pound note – CLR James – also saw free access and "from each according to ability, to each according to need" as the ultimate goal. We see it as the immediate goal if we are ever going to get off the treadmill of having to work for money to buy the things we need to be able to go on working for money.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    All Socialists Now?

    It looks as if there will be two other candidates in Vauxhall claiming to be socialist.
    1. Joseph Healey, "Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Vauxhall at the next general election - the green, socialist alternative". We met at hustings for last year's European Parliament elections when he was on the Green Party's list. The Green Party as a party stands for small-scale capitalism.

    2. Jeremy Drinkall, of Workers Power, "the British section of the League for the Fifth International", a Trotskyist grouping (what else with a name like that?). They are trying to get the endorsement of the "Trade Unionists and Socialists Coalition" set up by Militant (falsely calling themselves us) and the SWP, but are by no means certain to get it. What this ridiculously named Trotskyist sect stands for is of course state capitalism under a vanguard party (them)

    Naturally we've challenged the both of them to debate.

    Watch this space for the outcome.

    Murder by poverty

    Well, lefty blogs are awash with rumours today. But let's leave them to one side, and look at somethign much more improtant.

    Something, noticeably, the BBC doesn't seem to find all that important, as they report on a study by Sir Michael Marmot. This report isn't on their websites front page (as write), nor on their politics page.

    Look at the headline: "Poorest in England live 7 years less on average" It says it all, really. We are being robbed of years on Earth. Simple as that. The poor, and there are many of them in Lambeth, simply do not get the basic right to live as long as the wealthy. Look back on your last seven years, all that happened in it, all that happened to your familly. That is what they are robbing from you.

    In typically capitalist money concern way, we get: "Professor Mike Kelly, of the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) said: "Public health interventions are extremely good value when compared with the costs of clinical interventions." It would be cheaper, it seems to pay us better.

    The BBC won't bang the drum, so we have to. Get out there, blog about this. This is the story of the year. The story of last year. The story of all years to come until we get rid of this unequal society.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    Your vote counts

    Well, electoral reform is back on the agenda.

    Our view? In a nutshell: so long as the mechanics are in place so that a majority of workers can organise to effect socialism, then it doesn't matter precisely how you count the votes. So far as we're concerned, it is the movement of the vast majority in the interest of the vast majority that matters. Getting a technical victory by counting one more nose than the rest isn't what we're about.

    What we remain more concerned about is the rights of minorities to try and become majorities, which are hampered by the mainstream media focusing on the existing parties and making it difficult for candidates to be heard on the stages where they need to be in order to make their case.

    Tuesday, February 09, 2010

    Where we stand

    Well, I was going to kick off our campaign by, well, kicking off and giving some of our opponents a good slagging off. That is to come, though. Instead, let me try and tell you about Lambeth.

    In the sidebar, you can see a link to Lambeth Statistics.

    Here are some interesting facts about Lambeth (the borough where the Vauxhall Parliamentary Constituency lies).
    Only 67% of Lambeth's working age residents were classified as employed in 2006/2007, compared with 69% across London and 74% nationally and in May 2007 17% were benefit claimants.

    In 2007, there were around 10,000 businesses in Lambeth; but more than three-quarters of these had fewer than five employees (ABI 2007). In fact according to the 2007 Lambeth Economic Digest 99.65% of businesses in the borough are Small or Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Conversely, in the north of the borough there is a cluster of large firms, 48 of which employ more than 200 employees; among these are the national headquarters of IBM, Shell, and the ITV network. Nearly all employees employed in the borough work in the service industry (94%), with roles in public sector, education and health particularly prevalent.
    There are around 270,000 people who live in Lambeth. There are 117,000 jobs (obviously, not everyone employed in the borough lives in the borough, and vice versa). Of the residents, 122,000 are in employment. 19,000 are self employed. 7% are retired. 13,000 are unemployed.

    Median gross annual income is £32,000 - and they calculate that added value across the borough is £25,000. So, in this overwhelmingly working class borough, if (in an imaginary land) the workers secured the fruits of their labours by hand or by brain, they'd be living on an income of about £50K each. Of course, such a thing couldn't be achieved within the market system, but it is that base inequality of all that hardwork, and the massive gap between the efforts and the fruits that forms the ground we stand on. We hope the workers of Vauxhall will look at their situation, and decide enough is enough, and signal to their fellow workers the world over that they are prepared to do a something about it.

    Monday, February 08, 2010

    2010 Vauxhall Manifesto

    Here we go again, kids, another year, another election. Our Executive Committee (which is directly elected from our membership), are charged by our rules to agree our election addresses.

    They did this on Saturday just gone. Below is the platform on which we will be contesting the General Election:
    Capitalism Must Go

    These elections are taking place in the middle of the biggest economic and financial crisis since the 1930s. In a world that has the potential to produce enough food, clothes, housing and the other amenities of life for all, factories are closing down, workers are being laid off, unemployment is growing, houses are being repossessed and people are having to tighten their belts. And for once the main parties are being honest in offering more of the same, competing with each other as to which of them is going to impose the most “savage cuts”.

    Capitalism in relatively "good" times is bad enough, but capitalism in an economic crisis makes it plain for all to see that it is not a system geared to meeting people's needs. It’s a system based on the pursuit of profits, where the harsh economic law of "no profit, no production" prevails. The headlong pursuit of profits has led to a situation where the owners can't make profits at the same rate as before. The class who own and control the places where wealth is produced have gone on strike – refusing to allow these workplaces to be used to produce what people need, some desperately. So, as in the 1930s, it’s poverty in the midst of potential plenty again. Cutbacks in production and services alongside unmet needs. Why should we put up with this? There is an alternative.

    But that's the way capitalism works, and must work. The politicians in charge of the governments don't really know what to do, not that they can do much to change the situation anyway. They are just hoping that the panic measures they have taken will work. But the slump won’t end until conditions for profitable production have come about again, and that requires real wages to fall and unprofitable firms to go out of business. So, there's no way that bankruptcies, cut-backs and lay-offs are going to be avoided, whatever governments do or whichever party is in power.

    What can be done? Nothing within the profit system. It can‘t be mended, so it must be ended. But this is something we must do ourselves.

    The career politicians, with their empty promises and futile measures, can do nothing for us. We need to organise to bring in a new system where goods and services are produced to meet people's needs. But we can only produce what we need if we own and control the places where this is carried out. So these must be taken out of the hands of the rich individuals, private companies and states that now control them and become the common heritage of all, under our democratic control. In short, socialism in its original sense. This has nothing to do with the failed state capitalism that used to exist in Russia or with what still exists in China and Cuba.

    THE SOCIALIST PARTY is putting up a candidate, here in Vauxhall, to give you a chance to show that you don't want capitalism but want instead a society of common ownership, democratic control and production just for use not profit, with goods and services available on the basis of "from each according to ability, to each according to needs".

    If you agree, you can show this by voting for us. But more importantly get in touch with us to help working towards such a society after the election is over.
    Stay tuned, as ever, for incisive comment and discussion of the ins and outs of an election campaign.