Socialist Party | Print
THOUSANDS IN New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast have died of drowning, dehydration, starvation and lack of medical care. Refugee camps are packed with tens of thousands of victims. They have no secure shelter and no regular sources of food and water. Even more have been left behind to fend for themselves in a total hell-hole that was once known for its culture, art, food and hospitality.
The US corporate media has portrayed as criminals the overwhelmingly poor Black residents left behind in squalor because they are taking food, water, clothing and other things to survive. However, the blame for the chaos in New Orleans should lie squarely on the shoulders of Bush, big business, and the system that values profits over lives.
The "American nightmare" of the living conditions faced in the US inner cities is now clear to the entire world. Before the storm, New Orleans had an illiteracy rate of over 40%. Nearly 20% of the city's residents lived below the poverty line. Just like thousands of homes on the Gulf Coast, the roof has been torn off of US society for all to see the rotten underbelly of the world's biggest economic and military power.
The absolutely revolting thing about this entire tragedy is that none of this had to happen. The flood prevention system in New Orleans has seen drastic budget cuts. Over the last five years, over $70 million have been taken away from disaster prevention in New Orleans. Compare that to over one billion dollars each week spent on Iraq. Now, New Orleans looks more like Fallujah, an entire city reduced to rubble with unimaginable conditions and dead bodies everywhere. This is the war at home. It's about time we started fighting back to win some battles.
US workers have been hit over the last 20 years with de-industrialisation, a falling rate of unionisation, and massive budget cuts. Millions have no access to healthcare. One-third of US citizens are in debt. Two million are in jail. There is no future for working-class youth, unless you like flipping burgers or dodging bullets (in Iraq or at home). And it isn't getting any better unless we do something about it.
Mass demonstrations are needed in solidarity with the victims of Katrina. Bush and corporate America won't give up anything without a fight, so we need to bring the fight to them. We need to demand decent jobs, a massive public works programme, affordable public housing, access to free healthcare and an end to the occupation of Iraq.
To win these demands, lobbying politicians won't get the job done. We need to wage a struggle that includes demonstrations, strikes, direct action, and ongoing labour and community organising.
The problem isn't just Bush; the entire system is designed to benefit a few and keep the rest of us living from paycheck to paycheck. Capitalism is a system responsible for war, poverty and environmental destruction. We need a socialist society based on workers' needs, not corporate greed.
Make sure all affected people receive a stable income to get back on their feet after this tragedy. All those who have lost their jobs, have been displaced, or in need from the affected areas should receive a living wage of $500 a week for up to three years.
Immediate interest-free loans for workers, small businesses and small farmers whose livelihoods were destroyed in the hurricane.
Initiate massive public works programmes to re-build and re-employ the US Gulf Coast. Immediately begin building decent, affordable public housing in the safe areas for all those in need due to the hurricane.
Employ Katrina's jobless victims in public works programmes to rebuild the areas affected. All rebuilding and relief workers must receive a living wage with union rights and benefits.
Ensure New Orleans' homes, workplaces, schools and streets are cleansed of the toxic contamination caused by flooded sewage and oil and chemical spills.
Stop racial and class discrimination in relief, compensation, rebuilding, and policing. Relief money received through government and charity should not be put in the hands of big business politicians and bureaucrats. Instead, oversight committees elected from the affected communities, refugees, and relief workers should control the funding and administration of relief and rebuilding efforts.
Don't bankrupt state and local budgets for relief. The federal government should hand over billions for the relief effort. Don't cut social service funding like healthcare and education to pay for relief and rebuilding efforts.
Stop profiteering from tragedy! We need price controls on petrol and other products to protect consumers. Construction should be done for the public good, under democratic community control, not for the profits of a few corporations.
Pay for rebuilding by ending the war in Iraq and taxing big business. This disaster is the direct result of the Bush administration taking funds out of levee-strengthening and other disaster prevention programmes to pay for the war in Iraq and tax cuts for the rich.
Bring the troops home and redirect military resources to rebuilding. This disaster results from decades of corporate tax-cuts by the two major parties, and the resultant under-funding of infrastructure and inner cities. Make the rich and corporate America pay for reconstruction!
HUNDREDS OF thousands are left homeless. Tens of thousands have been shipped to Texas as refugees. Buildings have collapsed. Entire communities have been reduced to rubble. The city of New Orleans, one of the centres of history and culture in the US, will likely be uninhabitable for months. The death toll from Katrina will probably be in the thousands.
Some commentators say this was all unavoidable, but that is a lie. Even the Wall Street Journal printed an article entitled, "Evacuation was a model of efficiency - for those who had a car." The Deep South in the USA is riddled with extreme poverty nearly comparable to a 'third world' country, and New Orleans, despite all the flashy tourism, is no exception.
For the over 100,000 poor residents of New Orleans without any access to cars, there were few options. You could cough up the few pennies you have to take a bus out of town, leaving your belongings, friends, and community behind in order to end up sleeping on the street in some other city.
Or you could go to the Superdome, where over 23,000 people, in horrendous conditions, waited out the storm - only to eventually be shipped (after a dangerous evacuation) to the Astrodome in not-so-nearby Houston, Texas.
Or, as thousands of people decided (or were forced to decide) you could wait it out on your roofs or in your attics, surrounded by destruction and floating dead bodies; you could only hope not to become one of those floating by. The working class and poor have the least stable housing, so it is disproportionately the houses of workers that were destroyed.
In New Orleans (and other places throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, etc.) desperate working class and poor people have resorted to 'looting' in order to get a hold of food, water, clothes, medicines, and other essentials.
As this crisis hits, over 6,000 National Guardsmen from Louisiana and Mississippi - who are supposed to deal with domestic emergencies (although they're often used to break strikes) - are in Iraq helping the US ruling elite's attempts to occupy the country for the benefit of Halliburton, Texaco, Bechtel, and other US corporations.
It is currently estimated that damage done to New Orleans alone will amount to tens of billions of dollars. This sounds like an unattainable sum. But the occupation of Iraq is costing $5.6 billion a month!
Clearly, in the minds of the millionaires and billionaires who rule this country, war and profits come before relief for ordinary people faced with the most difficult of situations. Partially due to the huge amount of resources devoted to the 'war on terror', state and local governments have implemented vicious budget cuts that have caused, amongst other things, less money to be devoted to dealing with natural disasters.
RECENT YEARS have seen a marked increase in the number of hurricanes and other major natural disasters, some of which are probably the result of climate change.
Of course, it would have been impossible to prevent all the damage done by Katrina, but much of the damage was preventable.
New Orleans, surrounded on three sides by water (Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Gulf of Mexico) has a record of flooding during hurricanes.
The city is built below sea level, and it is kept from constant flooding by a system of levees and pumps. The levees are set up to withstand some 'level three' hurricanes, but Katrina was a 'level four' hurricane. There is plenty of technology to create levees that withstand even 'level five' hurricanes.
Also, the system of pumps that gets water out of the areas furthest below sea level runs on electricity, not generators. Of course, electricity has been knocked out not only in New Orleans, but throughout the Gulf Coast. The system could have been run on generators, but this would have cost money, money that big business politicians weren't willing to spend.
In an interesting article in New Orleans City Business from 7 February, 2005, the US Army Corps stated that millions were needed for flood and hurricane protection in New Orleans, but "most projects will not be funded in the President's 2006 fiscal year budget." From 2001 to 2005, government spending on projects to protect New Orleans from massive flooding dropped drastically from $147 million to $82 million.
The Army Corps of Engineers are responsible for maintaining flood defences and in June last year its project manager, Al Naomi, went before the East Jefferson levee authority to request $2 million for "urgent work" that Washington was not paying for. "The levees are sinking," he said. "Everything is sinking, and if we don't get the money fast enough to raise them, then we can't stay ahead of any settlement."
Study after study has shown that working-class and poor areas, like the destitute Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans are hit the worst by flooding due to the lack of investment in prevention.
They claimed there was no money for prevention, but United Airlines was recently given billions in corporate bailouts from the federal government. Billions are spent on destruction, occupation, and oppression in Iraq. And they can't fund projects to minimize damage from inevitable disasters? Ridiculous.
With big business controlling the relief strategy, the situation looks bad for the poor of the Gulf Coast. Even if the water level subsides, the dead bodies, rancid food and raw sewage would lead to a massive outbreak of sickness and disease for anybody who goes back to the region. Electricity and drinking water won't be ready for mass use either.
Right now, Wall Street isn't worried about the dire situation faced by millions due to this disaster. They're worried about the bottom line: profits. Specifically, they're worried about oil. The Gulf Coast has many, if not most, of the oil refineries in the USA. With skyrocketing gas prices and a looming energy crisis in many areas, the big shots on Wall Street are worried about "investor confidence" and a "knock on effect" in the fall of stocks.
They should be worried. The US economy and the world economy will be massively affected by these events. Working people have already been hit hard. Workers can't let big business put the burden of the economic problems on our backs; that's what they'll try to do by calling on us to "tighten our belts".
Bush and his gang are worried. Anger is mounting against Bush on many issues, ranging the war in Iraq, the unstable income and his massive tax cuts for the rich. Already suffering his lowest ever approval ratings Bush fears that this disaster will further undermine him as the realisation sets in that his government cut the spending on flood defences and sent the National Guard to Iraq. Hurricane Katrina could be a turning point in which passive anger turns into active opposition.
We need to fight back to make big business pay for a disaster that they helped to bring about and worsen. We should demand worker and community control of all relief resources. We should demand billions in spending on relief from and prevention of natural disasters.
The capitalist system has its priorities: making stockholders happy by making more profits. To make profits, they want to keep our wages low. The big corporations don't want to be taxed to pay for our social programmes, so they pay off politicians to pass laws and budgets that benefit the super-rich.
We need a party that represents working people, a party with a programme to end poverty, war, racism and environmental destruction. We need a workers' party with a socialist programme that will fight big business to the very end.
LAST SUNDAY, hip-hop superstar Kanye West stated on national television: "George Bush doesn't care about Black people."
Damn right. Bush recently stated (as an attempt to show his compassion for victims): "Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house - he's lost his entire house - there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch."
Lott was the former Senate majority leader who was forced to resign due to his racist comments that glorified segregation in the South!
What we say
THE EFFECTS of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi could be the US's worst natural disaster, with a projected 10,000 or more people dead and its biggest refugee crisis since the American Civil War. But it is no less a catastrophe for the Bush regime and the system which it defends, US capitalism, the major prop of world capitalism.
As the unspeakable horrors - reminiscent of the 'Mad Max' films - have unfolded in New Orleans, the brutal realities of class society in the US, together with the warped priorities and 'values' of the Bush gang in the White House, have been laid bare before the astonished eyes of the world. In one week following Katrina, perhaps more damage has been done to Bush's standing than even Iraq has over three calamitous years.
However, Iraq is at the eye of the storm of Katrina and its after-effects. Over $5 billion a month, the treasure of the American people, together with the lives of its young men and women, is being wasted in an unwinnable war in Iraq. Spending on the prevention of natural disasters has been cut back to a mere $187 million a year, while spending on 'homeland security' has spiralled to $1 billion a year.
The effects of the disaster were compounded by the criminal destruction by developers, often the rich friends of Bush and the Republican Party, of the wetlands which used to act as a barrier to the effects of floods and hurricanes.
The surprise is not that Hurricane Katrina took place but that it was so widely predicted beforehand. In fact, it is probably the most anticipated disaster in history. Yet the weak, corrupt, incompetent regime in Washington closed its eyes and ears to all the warnings of impending disaster.
Even the usually servile press in the US and Britain have spelt this out in the most graphic detail. Prior to 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had listed a major storm surge in New Orleans and the Gulf coast as one of the three most catastrophic events it might have to cope with, along with a major earthquake on the West Coast of the US and a terrorist attack on New York.
Yet following 9/11, the budget of FEMA was slashed. The head of FEMA, Michael Brown, a creature of Bush, said in the middle of the disaster that he had "no idea" that people were waiting to be rescued in New Orleans. He had come to his present job from the International Arabian Horse Association with no experience of disasters!
The disaster was bad enough for the people of New Orleans, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama - the poorest states in the US - but it was enormously compounded by the colossal mismanagement of Bush himself and his government. Like a modern Nero, he strummed his guitar at a 'fundraising' event in California on behalf of his rich Republican friends, while the unspeakable agonies of the poor were played out on TV screens in the US and internationally.
While the wealthy and the comfortable were able to escape the hell of New Orleans, the poor, one-fifth of the population - most of them black - were subjected to the horrors of the New Orleans Superdome sports stadium and the convention hall.
The world mobilised for the Asian tsunami within 48-hours to supply food - dropping it sometimes from the air in the case of Aceh in Indonesia, for instance - yet the world's richest and mightiest military power was seemingly impotent to help its own desperate citizens.
One-third of Mississippi's National Guard - and the most experienced and trained in facing natural disasters - is employed in Iraq. Those that remained were used more to "police" the utterly helpless, starving and dehydrated people imprisoned in New Orleans.
The scenes witnessed were reminiscent of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, rather than the wealthiest country on the globe. Undoubtedly, looting took place - some of it, although not all, by desperately hungry and thirsty people - but this itself is a commentary on the heartless, dog-eat-dog US capitalist society which not just Bush but others like his own father before him and Clinton have fashioned.
On the other hand, there were countless examples of solidarity with the hurricane's victims by ordinary Americans.
The hurricane has brought out in a stark fashion class and race, the 'unmentionables' amongst the summits of US society. Writing in The Observer, a black preacher baldly stated: "Race and class are huge issues since the conservative takeover of US politics... [There has been] the conservative backlash we have witnessed maybe since Nixon, or certainly Reagan. This president is just the stark epitome of it all."
This was clearly on display as the stranded of New Orleans were "treated like animals," in their own words. The sense of outrage, not just in New Orleans but throughout the US, has compelled even formerly loyal supporters of Bush - including the Bush lickspittles of Fox News - to criticise him and his officials.
Sometimes a cataclysmic event brings to a head all the latent diseases of the system and can provoke a profound, even a revolutionary crisis. The Watergate conspiracy was an example.
Lenin pointed out that the Dreyfus affair in France around the turn of the 20th century - when the officer caste blamed an innocent Jewish army officer for a spy scandal - led to a revolutionary crisis in France which could have led to the working class taking power. (French capitalism was only saved by the leader of the Socialist Party, Millerand, entering the capitalist government). There are some features of the Dreyfus affair in America today - although not yet on such a scale as in France then.
We saw a similar situation at the time of the Vietnam War. Then, US capitalism learned it could not pursue a policy of "guns and butter", fight a debilitating war and maintain and increase the living standards of its citizens. The result was a war on two fronts, in Vietnam and at home, with the uprising of the destitute and particularly the African-Americans.
Bush believed that US capitalism could, in defiance of what happened in Vietnam, carry out a "guns and tax cuts for the rich" policy. The hurricane, which has revealed the calamitous collapse of the infrastructure, particularly in the inner-city areas, has shattered this delusion.
If a serious mass workers' organisation representing the views of the working class and the poor existed in the US, the sense of outrage at these events could have led not only to the downfall of Bush but also question the very system he represents. The Democrats do not provide that alternative. They have been largely mute while this drama has played out. However, these events will lead to an enormous questioning, not just in the US but internationally as well, particularly by the new generation looking for an explanation as to why this catastrophe took place and the pathetic capitalist response to it.
Not least will be the issue of global warming which some scientists say has increased the risk of hurricanes in length and strength by 50% since the mid-1970s. Representing the oil lobby, Bush is in denial.
He promises to regenerate New Orleans. It is true that, following the Vietnam War, a massive urban regeneration programme was carried out in cities such as Chicago, which had superficial success. But now the US is a crippled economic giant, with a massive budget deficit, which could be added to by anything from an estimated $9 billion to $50 billion in order to meet the cost of repairing the damage.
At the same time its oil installations, particularly its refining capacity, has been weakened by the disaster. This enfeebled colossus has been forced to request aid from Europe. Such is the state of the US that Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have mischievously suggested that they (alongside Sri Lanka and Afghanistan!) send aid - including oil - to help out the poor victims of this catastrophe.
One thing is clear; it will not just be an economic price that US capitalism will be called on to pay but a social and political one as well.
Millions will now question an unplanned, anarchic system that pursues foreign wars of conquest yet which is incapable of adequately foreseeing the damage that can be inflicted by natural disasters and preparing for them. They will look towards a system, socialism and human solidarity, which prioritises the interests of the majority over the handful of the rich who are the real beneficiaries of Bush and his system.
THE DEVASTATION of Hurricane Katrina has exposed the impact of Bush's imperialist adventures domestically. While $5 billion a month is spent on destroying Iraq, spending on protection against natural disasters has been cut back to $187 million! While Bush has made statements from the comfort of his rose garden, thousands have faced unspeakable horrors.
Iraq continues to be a living nightmare for the majority with no security, growing violence and no suggestion that Bush can solve the problems that US and UK imperialism have created.
Despite Blair's protestations, 85% of people linked the terrorist attacks in London with the war in Iraq. We need working class unity to oppose terrorism and the attacks on our democratic rights that he is planning in the name of anti-terror legislation.
September 24 will be an opportunity to demonstrate our opposition to war and terrorism and their terrible effects on ordinary working people in Iraq, in Britain and internationally.
But how can we consign to history this situation where war and occupation, poverty and exploitation inflict horrific misery on the lives of millions? How can we end this cycle of suffering and inequality?
Capitalism means that all the decisions about where and how our money is spent are made on the basis of profit. 600 people in the world, whose wealth is greater than the poorest 3 billion, control and own the 500 multinational corporations that dominate the world economy.
On 24 September we will be marching for, chanting for and building support for a socialist society that is democratically planned and run for need not profit.
This is the only alternative to an otherwise bleak future of war and instability.
Assemble 11.30 at College Green (opposite House of Lords, Millbank) and march to Hyde Park.
Stockwell feeder march assembles at 11am, Clapham Road, down from Stockwell Tube.
East London feeder march assembles at Altab Ali park, Whitechapel High Street, London E1.
Demonstration called by STWC, CND and MAB
THE TRAGEDY of Baghdad - with almost 1,000 Shia pilgrims killed in Iraq's bloodiest day on 31 August - competes with the catastrophe of New Orleans in a kind of "league of horrors". Both events are organically linked through the original decision of Bush to invade and occupy Iraq, using National Guards from Mississippi and Louisiana who could have been used to rescue the desperate, beleaguered people of New Orleans.
The Socialist Party warned Blair and Bush that Iraq would prove to be their Vietnam, a quagmire from which there would be no easy escape. It has proved, however, to have been immeasurably worse. Even the right-wing journal The Economist points out: "The Americans are increasingly anxious to leave, even if they know they can't."
It is not very difficult to get into a quagmire but well nigh impossible to get out without help. This was supposed to come from the constitutional exercise in the Iraqi parliament - farcically compared by Bush to the US's Philadelphia convention of 1787 which drew up the US constitution.
Once the constitution was 'fixed', "declare victory and get out", are the tactics of the US. However, the document that has emerged has the support of the Shia bloc - dominated by the pro-Iranian parties of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Dawa, who hold 35 of the 41 provincial seats - and the Kurdish representatives but not the Sunnis. As a US-based Middle East expert commented to the Financial Times: "It is a recipe for separation based on Shia and Kurdish privilege."
Under the cloak of 'federalism', it seeks to give the oil-rich provinces of the north and the south to the Kurdish and Shia elite respectively, with the five million Sunni Arabs abandoned to their fate in the oil-less centre of Iraq.
Sharing their fate will be the Shia poor, left outside such a 'federation', in Baghdad and elsewhere.
This is one of the reasons why the Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Shi'ite leader of the Mahdi army, and his representatives in the government and parliament voted with the Sunnis to reject the constitution.
Al-Sadr himself also represents an Iraqi-Arab nationalist opposition from the Shias to the Iranian influenced SCIRI and Dawa: "Their ideas [SCIRI and Dawa] are Iran first, then Iraq," al-Sadr's representatives commented to the Wall Street Journal (31 August).
Both of these parties fought on the side of Iran against Iraq in the war of the 1980s and, as a consequence, excite ferocious opposition amongst the Sunni. Al-Sadr has been forced into an uneasy coalition with the Sunni protesters against the constitution. How long this will last, given the extreme polarisation which has resulted from the adoption of this constitution, is open to question.
The constitution is in violation of Bush's original aim to "democratise" Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. If implemented it will install an undemocratic Islamicist state, with Islam and religion designated as a "fundamental source of legislation".
Rather than representing 'progress', if accepted and implemented it would mean a repudiation of Iraq's largely secular recent history. Reactionary clerics who dominate the courts and lawmaking would bring the Shia-controlled south in particular nearer to the theocratic Iranian model. Women, many of whom are already compelled to wear the hijab and the veil to protect themselves from assault, rape and kidnap, would suffer greater repression.
Ultimately, all capitalist constitutions are merely "scraps of paper", which the ruling elites easily dispense with whenever their class interests demand.
This 'constitution' is seen as monumentally irrelevant by the Iraqi people. They are besieged by the daily horrors of queuing for days for petrol in an oil-rich state, unemployment, and facing kidnap and sectarian violence. It is therefore unlikely to see the light of day.
It will only take three provinces to achieve a two-thirds majority against in the planned 'referendum' in October to torpedo it. And while the largely Sunni insurgency will continue, there could be enough Sunni and Shias who would unite to ensure such an outcome.
Therefore, this 'turning point' will take its place amongst other 'turning points': the capture of Saddam, the transfer of power to the 'Interim Iraqi Government' by the US and British, the Iraqi 'elections' of January this year and the formation of a 'genuine government'.
These are similar to US imperialism's 'Vietnamisation' attempts. These are designed to allow the formal withdrawal of the US-led coalition ensuring, of course, a 'residual force' is maintained alongside its military bases.
But now, in the words of one British commentator, Timothy Garton Ash, the "weary titan" will be compelled to "stagger on". He pointed out that in the Boer War at the beginning of the 20th century, 450,000 British and colonial troops (compared to only 150,000 US troops in Iraq) were used to hold the Boer population in check. Even then, the British herded one-quarter of the Boer population into concentration camps.
US imperialism, and particularly Bush, possesses neither the moral, political or material means of carrying out a similar policy in Iraq. Domestic pressures in the US have forced Bush to promise the hasty withdrawal of the National Guards, which will be accelerated in the light of the mayhem in New Orleans. The recruitment campaign in the colleges and schools for "volunteers" is failing as the body count rises alongside the thousands horribly injured.
Gone like the snows of yesteryear is the idea peddled by Rumsfeld that the US is capable of fighting "two wars" at the same time. It does not even possess sufficient troops to defeat the insurgency in Iraq.
Moreover, its efforts to construct through 'Iraqification' an army, police and security forces that could take over its role are stillborn. In many areas, in the south for instance, the Iraqi army and police are, in reality, sectarian-based militias "made up of criminals and bad people. Some of the police are involved in assassinations." [Basra's chief of police speaking to The Guardian in May]. Many have been involved in tit-for-tat sectarian retaliation against Sunni-inspired attacks on Shias.
The American people, therefore, have turned decisively against Bush and at least one-third are calling for an immediate withdrawal of the troops, with a majority opposed to Bush. The same mood exists in Britain, symbolised by the Tory leadership contender Ken Clarke who parades his 'stop the war' credentials in an effort to be elected as party leader.
WHILE OPPOSITION to the Iraqi occupation and particularly the continued presence of British troops has grown, this does not mean that a simple call for the withdrawal of the troops will result in mass support in Britain and elsewhere for this. Nor will an insurgency based on a minority, the Sunni, alone succeed in evicting imperialism.
The spectre of a terrible sectarian conflagration engulfing Iraq, which the Socialist Party has consistently warned of unless a class approach is adopted, now looms. This threat will be exploited by the pro-war lobby to justify continued occupation.
Civil war, however, is not inevitable. Huge sections of Iraq still have a mixed population. Moreover, in the horrific events of 31 August, (although the stampede on the bridge was probably provoked by al-Qa'ida leader Zaqarwi's mortars), in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad Sunnis rushed to help the Shias: "They rescued people, they gave us water, food, they donated their blood." [The Guardian.] The possibility of cementing class unity is still there.
Therefore, a programme to unite Shia, Sunni and Kurdish workers and poor - tied in unity through the organisation of common class-based militias - offers the only real hope of preventing Iraq from plunging into an even darker period than it experienced under Saddam and under US-British occupation.
On one road lies the prospect of a Balkans-type disintegration or the spectre of the Lebanon and even the partitioning of the country as with India and Pakistan in 1947.
On the other lies unification of the country on a federal socialist basis through the actions of the working class - Shia, Kurds and Sunni as well as Turkomen and others - establishing a workers' and peasants' Iraq. This road is the only one that can end the nightmare of the Iraqi people.
Book online here
IN THE richest country on earth, thousands have died in the wake of hurricane Katrina due to the Bush regime's incompetent rescue operation. Thousands more have been left sick, starving and destitute.
The world is an unstable, chaotic place wracked by war, poverty and terrorism. But a new generation looking for answers to the world's problems are joining struggles and movements fighting for change worldwide.
Socialism 2005, the Socialist Party's annual weekend of debate and discussion, will go some way to provide the answers and point a way forward for those wanting to struggle against inequality, low pay, injustice, capitalism, terror and war.
The rally on the Saturday evening will have speakers from the Gate Gourmet dispute, Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP) in the Irish republic and international guests.
If you want to be part of the discussions to map the way forward for the working class and young people in Britain and across the world, make sure you come to this event.
Seminars will include debates on the trade unions, the environment, topical and historical subjects. Tickets are available from Socialist Party local organisers or you can call our national office on 020 8988 8777. Fuller details of the programme and speakers will be available soon in the socialist and at www.socialism2005.net
Socialist Party members should commit themselves now to coming and buy their ticket in the next few days. Your branch should draw up a list of who you are going to ask to come along. Town centre campaigning stalls should have leaflets and posters advertising Socialism 2005.
Every Socialist Party member works alongside people in the trade unions, in the workplace, college, school or community. We are involved in fighting low pay, conditions at work, education cuts, privatisation of public services and campaigning against the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.
All of these people should be asked to come to Socialism 2005. Everybody should be involved in selling tickets for this event, to make this the biggest and best event that the Socialist Party has organised.
THE FINAL agenda for the TUC Congress reveals a number of cracks which could lead to sharper divisions on key issues, like the anti-union laws, than experienced in previous years.
An emergency resolution from the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) raises the issue of how the anti-union laws have been used by slave-driving companies like Gate Gourmet to carry through mass sackings and intimidation of its workforce.
It is likely the TGWU, along with others, will call for the repeal of the anti-union laws. But if their approach, as shown in other resolutions, carries over into this debate, they will not call for the programme of mass defiance that is necessary to make these laws ineffective.
The TGWU has, regrettably, already missed one golden opportunity on this when over a thousand baggage handlers and other British Airways staff defied the laws in August to defend their brothers and sisters in Gate Gourmet. Had the union officials not ordered a return to work then, continuing defiance of the anti-union laws through secondary, solidarity action would have shown in practise how the anti-union laws could be made irrelevant.
In words, the major unions have more decisively rejected the TUC's 'partnership' approach of the 1990s. However, under a third-term Labour government the so-called awkward squad of trade union leaders are going to be more frequently tested on their deeds rather than their words at a TUC congress.
Resolutions on trade union rights, pensions and the battle against privatisation have a more combatitive feel than previous years. But, the main deficiency in most of them is that, whilst having a sharper, more critical tone against the bosses and Labour government, there is no clear guide to action.
On trade union rights, the TGWU calls for the TUC to campaign for change in the balance of the law in the workplace to make it easier for unions to conduct action, "including solidarity action without the threat of legal proceedings by employers".
At the TGWU conference, general secretary Tony Woodley argued his union would look for "inventive" ways around the laws on taking secondary solidarity action.
Unfortunately, the union's TUC resolution does not go as far as this and stops short of calling for action. As the experience of the Gate Gourmet struggle till now appears to show, 'inventiveness' only stretches so far in the minds of some trade union officials.
Likewise, the RMT railworkers' union calls for a 'trade union freedom' bill with repeal of the anti-union laws being its main focus. The RMT also calls for the TUC to commit itself to a major march and rally in 2006 around this theme, calling for a campaign to improve the employment rights of temporary and contract workers.
This undoubtedly reflects a growing frustration amongst some unions' leaderships at being hampered by the anti-union laws.
But, there is no recognition that rights at work are not just a matter of legal reforms. Indeed, such reform can only be a by-product of the unions' struggle in defence of their members against the bosses and government. Instead, the resolutions are a statement of intent of union leaders hoping to extract more concessions from Labour in a Warwick Two style agreement.
THE DIFFERENCE between a fighting approach on an issue and others was shown in the initial resolutions from UNISON and PCS on public-sector pensions. The initial resolution from UNISON, unfortunately, revealed a passivity and naiveté that could have seen their members shafted by the Labour government - who are coming back with a vengeance in trying to cut pension rights after the temporary climb down forced upon them by the threat of united union action in March this year.
UNISON had failed to strike any warning about the likelihood of the government coming back with further attacks and talked solely of "further industrial action if necessary".
By contrast, PCS warns: "the government will continue to argue for the pension age to increase" and proposes that unions "fully consult with each other before reaching agreement in order to counter any 'divide and rule' tactics from the government". The union also argues for "maximum pressure should further united industrial action prove necessary".
To achieve all this it calls for more specific co-ordination and for the TUC to organise a "national pensions demonstration before the end of the year".
Fortunately, the composite on public-sector pensions, being moved by UNISON and seconded by PCS, retains the harder elements of the PCS resolution and commits the TUC to assist in maintaining unity of action against detrimental pension proposals and to organise a national pensions demo.
This national demonstration is a vital necessity, given the ongoing attacks and crisis in private-sector pensions, as highlighted in the composite on this issue from GMB and BACM unions.
Another motion from PCS on the proposed civil service job cuts calls for the TUC and affiliated unions to give full support for "further national action against the cuts" should it become necessary.
Most other public-service unions, facing similar threats to their sector like UNISON with privatisation in health and local government, the CWU postal workers on postal privatisation and the NUT on education, put forward very limited proposals which are weaker than their own union conference's position. Again they avoid any talk of action to defend vital public services.
If the proposed merger of TGWU, Amicus and GMB into one mega-union goes ahead, it will constitute about half of the membership of the TUC. In that context, the future effectiveness of the TUC will be judged on whether or not it can become a body that translates words of defiance against the bosses and their system into deeds that win advances for the working class it is supposed to represent.
"TEXAS PACIFIC hear us say - unfair dismissals - no way!" This ISR chant was heard around Piccadilly Circus on 24 August. The bosses' vicious attack on workers' rights was done to save millions of pounds to pad out the top bosses' back pockets.
ISR made a right racket, getting many passers-by interested in what we had to say.
We talked to people about the importance of British Airways workers coming out on strike in solidarity with the Gate Gourmet workers, showing that without the workers the companies can't run let alone make profit!
Solidarity and action means companies can't get away with job cuts, unfair dismissals and forcing bad pay and working conditions on people.
ISR collected names of interested people. They were happy to hear the truth behind the dispute, and we intend to carry on our struggle and let people know that they don't have to take it lying down.
BY THE late 1970s, Poland's economy was in decline. In 1979, national income fell by 2% according to official figures, an unprecedented admission in a Stalinist state. The ruling 'Communist' Party bureaucrats had sought big price rises in 1970 and 1976. These provoked near uprisings, forcing withdrawal of the price rises and an increase in subsidies, which only exacerbated the economic crisis. On 1 July 1980 the government increased meat prices again, leading to scattered protest strikes for higher pay.
But in the Baltic coast port of Gdansk (where hundreds of workers were shot dead in the 1970 uprising) management moved to nip protests in the bud by attempting to remove potential 'troublemakers' including long-time workers' activist Anna Walentynowicz who was sacked.
This had the opposite of the intended effect. 15,000 workers in the Lenin shipyards went on strike. All the workers' demands were conceded, but a mass meeting rejected the strike committee's recommendation to go back to work and voted to stay out with other workers until their demands were met as well.
Within a few days, a general strike paralysed all the Baltic Coast towns. An inter-factory strike committee was established with delegates from over 500 workplaces.
One incident shows that the workers were now the real power in society: a woman from the fish-canning plant approached the strike committee appealing that 'the people must have food'. So workers at another plant temporarily returned to work to produce the 120,000 cans needed so fish in the canning plants could be distributed to strikers, rather than being allowed to go bad.
The regime wanted to crush the movement. They moved troops outside Gdansk. But workers sent delegations to fraternise - the troops became unreliable. Army leader, General Jaruzelski, at that time advised the government not to try a military solution.
So the government was forced to concede even more to the strike's wider demands, including the release of all political prisoners, reduction of press censorship, publication of the workers' demands, the right to strike and form free independent trade unions, as well as better health services, maternity leave and pensions.
From this victory in Gdansk and the Baltic Coast, strikes spread throughout Poland - all industrial centres including the capital Warsaw were affected. Silesian coalminers forced the government to agree that the 'Baltic Agreement' won in Gdansk should apply to workers throughout Poland.
Within a few months, ten million workers (out of 13 million employees) had left the 'official' state-run unions to set up their own independent unions under the umbrella of 'Solidarnosc'. Peasants and students set up their own committees. Even 40,000 police set up an independent union!
In an opinion poll at the time, 83% of the population said they supported the strikers. In effect, there existed a situation which marxists call 'dual power' - real power lay in the hands of the workers who were challenging the right of the old, official state power to rule.
The regime was forced, by its weakness, to make huge concessions. It hoped that in time it could buy off some of the workers' leaders and exhaust the movement, in order to strike back later.
CLEARLY AT this stage, the movement was not anti-socialist as the Stalinist regime and the Western politicians tried to make out. The workers' economic demands quickly passed over into political demands against the regime's repressive nature: for free trade unions, against press censorship and for freeing of political prisoners.
The demands were also against the privileges of the 'Communist' Party elite, a few of whom were scapegoated by the regime. The former head of Polish state TV was tried for embezzlement.
He had amassed a country villa with a sauna and swimming pool, a lavishly adorned bed costing £50,000, seven cars, two planes, a helicopter, two yachts, a 42-bedroomed country estate, 32 full-time domestic staff, and use of a private island in the Mediterranean and a safari lodge in Kenya!
Workers didn't want the restoration of capitalism but to democratise the 'socialist' system. As one worker-delegate said: "We speak on behalf of the 40,000 workers of Lenin steelworks... Today our union has 7 million members. We are the majority of the working people of Poland who believe that socialism is a system of social justice and that it is possible to restore the highest values: truth, justice, recognition for honest work and respect for man.
"Our activity does not impair the foundations of socialism in our country. We have only condemned those who have distorted its basic tenets."
In effect, workers were striving for a political revolution, that is the overthrow of the corrupt one-party totalitarian ruling elite, the Stalinist bureaucracy, whilst maintaining and democratising the nationalised, planned economy through workers' control and management.
But at this time, there did not exist in Poland, a conscious organised Trotskyist force, that could give expression to these instinctive ideas. (Trotsky, the co-leader with Lenin of the 1917 October socialist revolution in Russia, subsequently fought against Stalin's dictatorship and called for a political revolution to overthrow the ruling bureaucracy.)
Instead, some of the Solidarnosc leaders fell under the influence of other ideas and social forces, in particular of the Catholic Church and dissident intellectuals. The Catholic Church in Poland was seen as a symbol against centuries of national oppression and was the only legal semi-opposition tolerated in Stalinist dictatorships. Portraits of the Pope hung outside the shipyards alongside those of Karl Marx!
The dissidents held sway because of their past opposition to the regime and the repression they'd suffered for it. Each urged restraint and compromise on the Solidarnosc leaders.
They advised workers "not to go too far" and "keep within necessary bounds". In particular, they feared provoking a Russian invasion, such as occurred against workers' uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Lech Walesa, the leader who came to personify Solidarnosc, was especially susceptible, claiming to be "non-political". Consequently Solidarnosc's leaders accepted a 'compromise' solution. They had won huge concessions but accepted "the leading role of the Communist Party".
In other words, Solidarnosc would not interfere in politics or challenge the bureaucracy's right to rule. And they signed a 90-day truce (no strikes) in spring 1981.
This gave the regime (General Jaruzelski was now head of the Party and government as well as the army), the breathing space it wanted, which it used to sabotage the economy through redundancies, cut the meat ration and raise bread prices, which began to demoralise the workers' movement.
Even the Solidarnosc leadership, in their report to their September 1981 congress, recognised: "To our moderation, they respond with still greater aggressiveness."
DESPITE THEIR own leaders, Solidarnosc could not help but be political. Poland's Stalinist dictatorship could not tolerate free trade unions let alone elements of workers' power. To pursue economic and democratic demands they were forced to challenge the bureaucracy's privileges and repression.
For 18 months the workers could have taken power, peacefully without violence or civil war, such was Solidarnosc's strength and the regime's weakness. The international effect would have made it almost impossible for Russia to intervene, especially as the Polish army would most probably have fought with the workers against foreign invasion.
Instead, the continual appeals to moderation undermined workers' confidence that all their efforts could achieve real lasting change.
On 13 December 1981 Jaruzelski struck. Using the military and secret police to do the dirty work, a military coup was carried out. Solidarnosc was banned, leaders arrested, strikes declared illegal, all concessions withdrawn and martial law declared.
Workers did resist - shipyards, mines, the Ursus tractor factory, car plants all went on strike - but their isolated actions fizzled out. The movement became disorientated and demoralised, the defeat greater for having been so near to taking power.
Western democracies, the banks and politicians applauded the coup. They welcomed the restoration of stability and a chance to get their debts paid back!
Solidarnosc's inspiring and heroic struggle shows that the first movement of workers was towards political revolution, as happened later in East Germany and Czechoslovakia in 1989, but without a conscious leadership this was not carried through.
The coup, martial law and repression, demoralisation and disillusionment at defeat, the continued collapse of the Polish economy and the seeming capitalist boom in the west in the 1980s, all combined to undermine, even reverse, the Polish workers' socialist consciousness.
So much so that in 1988, on a visit to Poland, Margaret Thatcher was cheered by Gdansk workers as was US President George Bush senior the following year!
Solidarnosc leader Lech Walesa even declared, "We will build America here in Eastern Europe." It's a historical irony that the Solidarnosc leaders went over to support the restoration of capitalism at exactly the same time as the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy in Poland, Eastern Europe and Russia, for their own reasons, reached the same conclusion.
Jaruzelski, under cover of military dictatorship, began this process. And Lech Walesa, due to his authority as Solidarnosc leader, was elected President of Poland in the early 1990s, and used increasingly authoritarian powers to push through privatisations.
Instead of America being built in Poland, US firms were invited to buy Poland up! Walesa became so discredited through his association with capitalist free-market policies and authoritarian rule that he received only 3% of the vote when he stood again for Poland's presidency in 2000.
Solidarnosc's political party was wiped out in the 2001 parliamentary elections, and today the Solidarnosc trade union exists as a shadow of its former self trying to resist the effects of the neo-liberal policies it ended up promoting!
Nonetheless Polish workers can draw inspiration from the Solidarnosc movement of 25 years ago, as they struggle today to rebuild fighting trade unions and create a new workers' party in the future, capable of overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with a democratic socialist society.
BEFORE WORLD War Two, Poland was a semi-feudal dictatorship dominated by foreign capital.
Under Nazi occupation, Poland lost a fifth of its population and industry was destroyed. With the Red Army defeat of the Nazis, a Stalinist state came to power at the end of the war. With a nationalised and planned economy, industrial production increased 13-fold.
From 1951 to 1972 national income grew by 7% a year on average, with big improvements in living standards, health and education. But economic growth was already slowing by the 1970s because the bureaucracy could not meet people's needs through a system of 'diktats' and crude targets. This resulted in shortages, queues and price rises, which triggered uprisings in 1970 and 1976.
The regime's attempts to kick-start the stagnating economy through market mechanisms and western loans only made things worse. By the 1970s, price subsidies were consuming a third of the state budget. The attempt to cut these subsidies again in July 1980 led to the movement from which Solidarnosc developed.
MARXISTS USE the term "Stalinist" to describe the Soviet Union/Russian state after it degenerated under Joseph Stalin's leadership from a relatively democratic workers' state into a one-party totalitarian regime.
The regimes in Eastern Europe (including Poland) that developed after World War Two shared the same features from their inception.
These Stalinist states were characterised by nationalised and planned economies (replacing landlordism and capitalism) ruled over by a privileged elite of bureaucratic rulers who still called themselves 'communist' but ran military-police dictatorships where workers had no democratic rights. These regimes were caricatures of genuine socialism, which requires workers' democratic participation at every level of society.
Despite the economic advantages of a planned economy, the Stalinist bureaucracy's 'commandism' and mismanagement led to crises which eventually resulted in the overthrow of these repressive regimes in 1989, unfortunately opening up the way for the restoration of capitalism.
However, behind the impressive shop displays of Poland's capital, the reality is quite different. There is one small problem that admirers of Poland's market reforms conveniently forget - the vast majority of the population can't afford to buy the goods in the fancy shops.
The restoration of capitalism in Poland, ushered in by the Solidarity-sponsored Balcerowicz Plan at the beginning of the nineties, was catastrophic for Polish workers.
In the first year, 1990, GDP fell by over 10%, twice what Balcerowicz expected. Industrial output fell by over 25%. In 1991 GDP fell a further 7.5%. Only at the end of the 1990s did GDP reached the level of 1989, ie before the introduction of the market. Hardly a success story! Even today, GDP per head in Poland is only one-fifth of that in Britain.
For workers the economic collapse caused by capitalist restoration meant a driving down of real wages and the appearance of mass unemployment - a phenomenon previously unknown in Poland. Today unemployment is around 20%, whilst workers often earn as little as 150 euros a month.
Mass privatisations accompanied the restoration of capitalism, causing massive job losses. Most enterprises were sold off at a fraction of their value either to friends and family of the political elite or to businessmen in return for generous bribes.
In state-owned enterprises workers enjoyed cheap, subsidised holidays and children's camps, as well as cheap housing provided by the company. Privatisation meant the liquidation of such benefits and often the selling off of the flats to private landlords. This year the government introduced a bill 'liberalising' private-sector rents, which will make thousands more working-class families homeless.
The introduction of capitalism also meant the destruction of the welfare state. The health service has been decimated due to chronic underfunding of state hospitals and the chaos caused by the introduction of the internal market. Benefits and pensions have been slashed. However, only a minority of the unemployed are entitled to benefits anyway.
Employment in mining has been reduced from 450,000 to 142,000. In Walbrzych, a mining town in the south of Poland, unemployment runs at over 50%. In conditions reminiscent of the 19th rather than the 21st century, poverty forces unemployed miners and youth to risk their lives working illegal mining shafts, tens of metres underground using makeshift props to secure the tunnels. Every few months a tunnel collapses, killing or seriously injuring workers.
"At least in the Polish People's Republic we didn't starve. We had work and a roof over our heads" is an opinion that you often hear when talking to workers.
Last year, Edward Gierek, leader of the Polish United Workers Party (the communist party) in the 1970s, topped a poll to find the greatest Polish statesman, beating Solidarity's legendary leader, Lech Walesa. In another poll, most Poles felt life was better in the seventies.
However, the solution for Polish workers is not a return to the bureaucratic mismanagement of the economy that existed in the Polish People's Republic.
Instead, what is needed is a planned, nationalised economy under democratic workers' control and management. Then the economy can be organised to meet working people's needs instead of making profits for the small business elite and the international corporations.
THE MEDIA has been resounding to waves of denunciation and counter-denunciation over the banning of imports of clothes from China to the European Union (EU) - the so-called 'bra wars'.
European textile manufactures complained that a flood of cheap imports is ruining their businesses. But clothes retailers were crying that there could be a shortage of bras and trousers in the shops at Christmas. 80 million items of embargoed clothing sat in EU warehouses.
Poised uncomfortably in the middle was Peter Mandelson, Blair's former spin-guru, now EU commissioner for trade. He brokered a 'compromise deal' on 5 September of a temporary stopping of China's clothing exports with around half the blocked items counted against the 2006 quotas.
Mandelson hopes this will be accepted by the EU - he would like to lift the restrictions in line with his neo-liberal Thatcherite economic ideas, but his boss in the EU, Jose Manuel Barroso made him back down.
Barroso came under intense pressure from some EU countries that see their own industries decimated and demand protectionist policies. Manufacturers from countries demanding a ban, mainly from southern Europe and Poland, point to the ballooning of clothing imports from China after 1 January 2005 when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) lifted restrictions. Imports of many clothing items shot up by several hundred percent in a couple of months.
Typical of the anti-embargo camp is Peter Simon, boss of Monsoon fashion chain. He claims boosting profits had nothing to do with his firm's decision to outsource to China rather than use EU-based manufacturers, but a typical blouse made in Britain has a cost price to the retailer of £10, compared to £6.50 for one from China.
Simon hypocritically expresses concern for super-exploited Chinese workers used by his company who will be hit by these protectionist trade measures, and says that the 'ethical' trading initiatives Western firms are supposed to have set up with Chinese firms will also be jeopardised.
However, a recent TV documentary investigating a Nokia supplier in China exposed how managers at the firm blatantly tried to pull the wool over the eyes of the Nokia team sent to check out the Chinese company. Notice was given of the inspection visit, so local bosses had plenty of time to fix things up by coaching workers in what to say and by fabricating documents on hours, pay and conditions.
THE BASIS of the Chinese cost advantage is the slave labour wages and conditions suffered by workers there. The workforce is mainly very young women who recently moved from rural areas to the fast-growing industrial regions in southern and eastern China where wages are typically about £2 a day.
The Chinese textile manufacturers are also undermining the clothing industry in ex-colonial countries like Bangladesh. Although manufacturers in both countries pay starvation wages, China has more modern and efficient production methods.
Workers in regions affected by the surge of imports could be sympathetic to demands for protectionist measures to save their jobs, but these would not solve their problems.
EU firms will use any advantage gained from protectionism to boost their profits while keeping relentless pressure on their own workers' pay and conditions. In the longer term, wide-scale protectionism would cut the market and possibly precipitate a 1930s-type economic slump.
On the other hand, free market, neo-liberal policies will be just as bad for EU workers, because whole industries could be wiped out by outsourcing to countries like China, leading to further mass unemployment.
Chinese textile workers should also not believe their bosses' claims that a neo-liberal, free trade approach is in their interests. There are already signs that rising wages are encouraging China's manufacturers to move production to new, poorer areas where they can pay even less and increase their profits.
This is the crazy logic of the capitalist profit-driven system. This system is the real culprit that workers in the EU and China should blame for their plight. That's why we fight for a socialist planned economy internationally.