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Grodon Brown meltdown. Cartoon on cover of Socialism Today, June 2008 , photo Cartoon by Suz
LABOUR ARE hated - it's official! A YouGov poll last week put them at their most unpopular since opinion polling began in 1943. Then, Labour was soon to introduce the NHS and the welfare state. That Labour Party is gone forever. Now they are hell-bent on cutting and privatising our services.
This poll only heaps further misery on Gordon Brown, already reeling from Labour's crushing defeats in the local elections and the Crewe by-election. On top of this he finds himself, along with other members of the Party's NEC, personally liable for £17.8 million of debt! Smiling has always been a challenge for Brown but never has he had so little to smile about. Even if they avoid financial bankruptcy, New Labour has been politically bankrupt for years. Ironically, their money worries have increased their reliance on donations from trade unions. But why are union leaders paying Labour to carry out Tory policies?
Campaign for a new workers' party: conference 2008
There have now been rumblings from within Labour about the need to change course. With no guarantee they'll keep their seats (and their beloved salaries and expenses) after the next general election, it's no wonder MPs are concerned. But none of them has a strategy to turn Labour's fortunes around. The Labour left is too weak to capitalise on Brown's woes. John McDonnell, who tried to stand against Brown for leader last year, has ruled out another attempt in the short-term. With no voice for ordinary members, Labour is an irredeemable organ of big business and the super-rich.
Expecting Brown to change direction is like expecting King Canute to turn back the waves. Brown was one of the brains behind the New Labour project and is a vicious advocate of neo-liberal capitalism, through and through. He invited Maggie Thatcher to Downing Street and the former head of the CBI bosses' club, Digby Jones, into his cabinet. He asks us to judge him on his policies, not his 'personality' but it is his anti-working class policies which are the cause of Labour's deep unpopularity.
The removal of the 10p tax rate was seen as typical of this government. Yet another kick in the teeth for workers from a party that tries to get ordinary people to foot the bill for the decadence of big business. Saddled with debt and facing price rises and pay cuts, it's no wonder workers feel betrayed. Campaigning on working class estates, time and again you hear the same phrase: "I'll never vote Labour again." Some voters have even turned to the Tories out of frustration but they only offer more of the same.
If you're fed up with New Labour attacks then don't just get angry, get active. Never has the need for a political alternative been more pronounced. The fat cats have got three parties to choose from, we need one that will stand up for us. If you agree, then your place is at the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) conference on 29 June.
Across Europe, farmers, fishermen, lorry drivers and others have been protesting against increased fuel costs. In Britain, hauliers and their supporters slowly drove down motorways. Motorcyclists in Manchester are planning a similar protest.
In Portugal, Spain and France, fishermen have blockaded ports and refused to take their boats out in a wave of strikes that have hit the industry. In France and Spain oil depots as well were blockaded by farmers protesting at the increased cost of fuel. In Bulgaria bus drivers and lorry drivers took strike action for the same reason.
These protests have caused some panic in capitalist governments across Europe, and are applying pressure on them. Behind the anger is the rapid rise in the price of oil. Crude oil prices have shot up, now standing at over $135 a barrel. The effect on prices at the pump has been dramatic. The International Herald Tribune pointed out that the cost of diesel has gone up in Britain by 40%, before tax, in the last 12 months.
The protests are also against the level of government taxes on petrol and diesel. When the government's 58% tax is added, British diesel is the most expensive in Europe. A 2p a litre increase in fuel tax has been postponed but the government still intends to implement it in October.
Added to this, there is outrage about the government's decision to increase vehicle road tax further than at present, for the most polluting cars. 42 MPs have called on the government to halt this, although some of them do not oppose increased charges, but rather the retrospective element, ie that people who have already bought more polluting cars (that were registered after 2001) did not know when they bought them that they would face a higher road tax.
These road tax increases will not just hit the luxury end of the car market; many ordinary families will be hit too. The government's taxes on vehicles and vehicle fuel are not progressive in the sense of being based on ability to pay. Every vehicle owner, irrespective of circumstances, is forced to pay. Many working-class car, van and lorry owners depend on their vehicles and yet pay a much higher proportion of their income on road tax and fuel than the rich do. So when the government now declares that high fuel and road taxes are needed to combat global warming, they are trying to force working and middle class people to bear the greatest burden of it.
The environment is of great concern to working-class people. But fossil fuels cannot simply be taxed out of existence without alternative energy sources being developed. And it is the super wealthy and the major corporations that are by far the greatest polluters of the planet and contributors to global warming. Rather than forcing working-class people to pay more taxes in the name of the environment, any 'ecological' taxes should be targeted at the biggest polluters, or based on ability to pay, or at least aimed at genuine luxury items rather than necessities.
Trade union leader Derek Simpson and others are right to call for a windfall tax on the energy companies. New Labour raised £5 billion from such a measure in 1997, but are even more in thrall to big business now than they were then, making similar action less likely.
It is urgent for the environment that people are given a real choice between using private vehicles and using public transport, as public transport is much less polluting per traveller. A real choice for many people would only be presented through massive government investment into a fully integrated and publicly owned transport system, making it highly accessible for all, at all times and with low fares. This must be accompanied by an extensive programme of research and development into alternative energy sources to the use of fossil fuels.
Unfortunately too many in the ecological movement accept the argument that we only need to change our personal lifestyles to make things better. In other words they blame the individual and do not look at the underlying cause of global warming and damage to the environment, which is that we live under a system that is based on the accumulation of profits by a small minority of people.
When 'ecological' taxes such as higher fuel and road tax are introduced, the rich can still easily afford to travel as they like and to continue to buy and consume all manner of luxurious products. It is only the poor who are forced to cut their travel or consumption of products which add to their 'carbon footprint', including some basic necessities. This is at a time when the pay of working-class people is under attack.
So The Socialist opposes penalising ordinary people with higher taxes in the name of saving the environment. The other large issue raised by the fuel protests, and which was the trigger for them, is the present worldwide price of oil. There are a number of reasons behind this price escalation, which will be analysed in next week's issue of The Socialist. But the solution can only lie in the promotion of a socialist alternative to the greed and unplanned nature of the capitalist market. The top energy companies globally - that are making record profits - must be taken into public ownership, and all energy production, whether presently state owned or private, be placed under democratic workers' control and management.
Heathrow runway expansion protests, photo Marc Vallée
Over 3,000 people marched from Hatton Cross to Sipson to demonstrate their opposition to a third runway at Heathrow airport. Sipson itself is due to be destroyed if the plans go ahead. At Sipson the protesters positioned themselves to spell out a giant NO that could be seen from the air.
Considering the amount of publicty the campaign had generated in the run up to the event, the turnout may have been a disappointment to the organisers. It was certainly well down on the number that attended the climate change camp outside Heathrow in August last year.
This could be a result of the tactics of the organisers, which seems to focus on mobilising the strong opposition of the local community in Sipson and putting pressure on Labour and Conservative politicians to oppose the construction of a third runway.
Many of the people I spoke to on the protest seemed quite pessimistic about mobilising mass opposition in London, on the basis that they considered most Londoners to be more interested in cheap flights than the environmental effects of an expanded airport.
The Conservative Party was a visible presence on the demonstration. Deputy mayor Richard Barnes as well as Tory council leaders addressed the rally, voicing their opposition.
However Tory activists were evasive when I inquired if they would ask their MPs to put down motions in parliament opposing the third runway.
This all poses the question of where the campaign will be taken next. Wait for a Tory victory in a general election?
Not many non-Tory activists seemed keen on this idea. In any case, construction will have begun by 2009 which makes present Tory opposition to this expansion scheme a lot easier.
Some activists favoured a 'direct action' approach to disrupt the construction of the runway. However the record of direct action in putting a permanent stop to big construction projects is not encouraging.
This demonstration illustrates the crying need for a political alternative that can cut across the opportunism of the Conservatives and involve working people in discussion (and mass mobilisations when necessary) on how environmental destruction can be prevented, while keeping and maybe expanding opportunities for cheap travel, and preserving transport workers' jobs in west London.
THE GOVERNMENT'S plan, announced last week, to tackle fuel poverty doesn't amount to a hill of beans.
Some 2.5 million households are in fuel poverty - defined as those paying 10% or more of their income on fuel bills. Under the plan, the government will hand over personal details of low-income families to energy supply companies to provide tariff advice.
Apart from the worrying issue of data protection, these plans will not address the unfairness of those on low incomes typically having to pay around £140 a year more using pre-paid meters, compared to those paying quarterly bills or by direct debit.
Also, how can people without a bank account switch to a cheaper tariff? And even if low-income customers do have a bank account, will they have sufficient funds in them to cover a quarterly or direct debit payment?
Help the Aged charity described the proposals as a "sticking plaster to hold back a catastrophe".
The government's announcement comes at a time when gas and electricity supply companies have been hiking up fuel prices and making billions in super-profits. These companies have also made a whacking £9 billion from the Emissions Trading Scheme, designed to curb greenhouse gases.
So will Gordon Brown impose a windfall tax? Unlikely. Better still, will Labour renationalise the utilities giants to provide low cost energy? Not a chance!
Belfast airport workers protest, photo The Socialist
The Socialist has carried regular articles about the battle being waged by three shop stewards, sacked from their security jobs at Belfast Airport. The three TGWU/Unite members have been struggling for their union to fulfill promises to provide legal fees incurred in their battle against their former employer ICTS. They have also been fighting for compensation from the union because of the collusion of a union official in their sacking. Peter Hadden, a leading member of the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Northern Ireland explains the situation.
Sacked airport shop steward, Gordon McNeill, has ended his hunger strike at Transport House in Belfast. The protest ended in dramatic fashion. On day thirteen of his fast Gordon was served with an injunction obtained by the union, barring him and his two colleagues, Chris Bowyer and Madan Gupta, from protesting "in or at" Transport House.
Gordon's response was to stay put in defiance of the injunction, but one day later union officials called the police to have him forcibly removed from the building.
Having gone two weeks without food, including six days without either food or water, Gordon was in poor shape, very weak and constantly dizzy. The police had to call fire crews to hoist him from the Transport House balcony and then ordered an ambulance to take him to hospital.
In hospital Gordon continued his protest, refusing food but also refusing fluids in protest at the union's use of the police and courts to deny his right to protest. However when doctors gave an ultimatum that they would go immediately to the High Court to get an order to feed him, Gordon ended his fast rather than be force fed.
Meanwhile, with Gordon removed from the scene, we saw another example of the kind of petty vindictiveness that some top leaders of the union have displayed throughout this dispute. Union officials removed the tent, sleeping bags and other personal belongings of the shop stewards, trashed them and dumped them at the side of the building.
The reason for the hunger strike was the refusal of the Unite leadership to implement the promises and assurances they gave the shop stewards following protests at Transport House in Belfast and then in London at the end of last summer.
Unite general secretary, Tony Woodley along with Irish regional secretary, Jimmy Kelly, had committed that the union would pay the legal fees for the successful Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunal cases against their employer, ICTS.
They had also agreed to fund the stewards' costs of an appeal by ICTS against the Tribunal finding that the company had politically discriminated against the shop stewards, sacking them because of their socialist views.
Unite also agreed to compensate the shop stewards for the fact that their union official colluded with ICTS to have them sacked - and that an offer would be made within seven days.
With the threat of protest lifted, the Unite leadership then reneged on all the promises they had made. This became the pattern of events over the past eight months. Further protests or threats of protests would be followed by further discussions, renewed commitments and new deadlines. And, with the regularity of clockwork, these deadlines would pass with no movement from the union to fulfil their promises.
By April the only concrete step the Unite leaders had taken to live up to their word was to make a part payment of the outstanding legal bill. In frustration, the shop stewards embarked on a hunger strike at Transport House to try to force the union's hand. This ended five days later with an assurance that the legal bills would be paid and an offer on compensation would be made. There was a new deadline of 30 April.
30 April came and went with no movement whatsoever from Unite. Instead the union set a new deadline of 6 May. This too passed with nothing but the, by now, customary silence from Unite's upper echelons.
A few days later the shop stewards did receive a letter from the union solicitors which just moved the goalposts by putting conditions on any future offer. It made clear the union could commit to no deadline for a settlement.
Faced with the prospect that the Unite leadership could endlessly drag out this issue, the shop stewards began the hunger strike that has just ended. They made clear this time that mere promises would not do and that the protest would continue until all the outstanding issues in dispute were resolved.
The Socialist Party initiated a campaign of protest action. Posters were produced, a website/blog set up, an online petition launched and there were pickets and protests at Unite offices in London and Dublin as well as in Belfast. There was fairly extensive media coverage in Northern Ireland.
Hundreds of trade union activists, as well as prominent individuals like Ricky Tomlinson, Jimmy McGovern and Ken Loach, added their voices in support. Locally the Fire Brigades Union, the Irish National Teachers Organisation and the public-sector union NIPSA conference added their support.
This pressure finally told. A week and a half into the protest the union gave way on the legal fees, paying the outstanding bill and employing barristers for the appeal. That left the issue of compensation.
An offer of sorts did arrive. However to describe this as a compensation offer would be to bend the truth. The offer was bound tightly with suffocating strings. In particular the union were demanding a gagging clause to silence the shop stewards on every aspect of the union's role in the dispute.
This is not compensation, it is a bribe; a disgraceful attempt to buy silence in order to suppress the truth. It was when Gordon McNeill rejected this, making clear that his right to speak the truth is not for sale, that Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly decided to up the ante - on the one hand, using smears and propaganda to try to discredit Gordon and on the other using the courts and police to physically break the protest.
The union issued statements accusing Gordon of being on a "money grab" and claiming the shop stewards were looking for a million pounds each from the union. Tony Woodley and Jimmy Kelly, who made this accusation, know that this is completely untrue. We can't reveal - at this point - the "without prejudice" correspondence between solicitors, but the Unite leaders have this material and know that no one is talking about a million pounds or anything like it.
Let's just say that the union's idea of compensation/bribe would be about a quarter of Tony Woodley's annual salary.
The Unite statements also single out the Socialist Party for attack, making equally unfounded accusations about our role. We are in the process of producing a detailed reply to all of the points raised.
Suffice for now to say that the Socialist Party has nothing to apologise for in the role we have played. Two of the shop stewards are Socialist Party members. If the Unite leadership, six years ago or at any time since, had done as we have done and stood by their members, none of this would have happened.
We did not advocate a hunger strike. Rather we advised against it, in part because we believed that the top Unite leaders would have let Gordon McNeill die before they would give him justice. But once the battle had begun we were never going to do anything else but put our full weight behind our members.
The hunger strike and the protest campaign were not "anti-union" as has been claimed. Rather they were in defence of genuine trade unionism.
The Socialist Party and the shop stewards have made clear throughout that there is no dispute with the membership of Unite or any other trade union.
The only dispute is with a trade union leadership that firstly colluded with an employer to have its activists sacked and then tried to bury the truth about what happened. These, plus the use of a court injunction to repress a peaceful protest and the attempt to silence members with bribes, are the actions which are "anti-union" and which discredit the trade union movement.
With the hunger strike now over, the shop stewards have launched a new phase of their struggle. There will be a campaign to defend the right to protest, which will include action to defy the injunction barring them from Transport House.
Secondly, rather than be silenced, they are preparing an initiative to ensure that, in Gordon McNeill's words, "every dot and comma" of what happened over the past six years is brought to light.
They will tell the incredible tale of how a straightforward strike for a 50 pence an hour increase wove its way through a complex maze of intimidation, paramilitary threats, attempted bribes, protests and hunger strikes to the situation we are now in.
Millions of public-sector workers have had their pay frozen when real inflation is rocketing. Workers in the private sector are having to cope with wage cuts and low pay. But while we struggle to pay for our groceries down the supermarket, MPs like John Prescott and former LibDem leader Menzies Campbell were given £60 a week on average to pay for theirs! No wonder politicians are out of touch!
For millions of workers there's no subsidy. Whether you're in the private or public sector, our 'right' to a job on decent terms and conditions and pensions depends on our ability to fight. The question many rank and file trade unionists are asking is: "How do we fight back effectively?"
National Shop Stewards Network second conference
Saturday 28 June, 11.30am-4.30pm
South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London NW1.
The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) is holding its second national conference on 28 June in London. The NSSN was set up by the rail union RMT as a first step to help to revive the shop stewards' movement.
The hundreds of thousands of workers involved in strike action in the last year from the postal workers to the civil servants have already seen how rank and file solidarity is vital in maintaining morale and finances to sustain action.
But the Network is also crucial in allowing stewards to swap experiences on how they take on management but also unfortunately, often the union full-time officials. On too many occasions, they can act as a barrier to workers struggling.
By being organised, we can ensure that our members' anger isn't blocked. Like many stewards, I've had enough of being told 'don't rock the boat'. If our members are prepared to fight, we should be prepared to lead them.
The general secretaries of some of the most militant unions will be speaking at the conference - Bob Crow (RMT), Mark Serwotka (PCS) and Brian Caton (POA). But just as importantly, hundreds of shop stewards and workplace reps will be attending to discuss topics ranging from fighting to defend our pensions to the crisis of political representation for workers.
Hopefully, if you can make the conference, in six months time when you're up against the boss, you'll be using some information you picked up at this event.
If you're a shop steward or thinking of becoming one - your place is at this conference. Get your workmates to come and help re-energise the trade unions for the battles now and to come.
National Shop Stewards Network second conference
Saturday 28 June, 11.30am-4.30pm
South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London NW1.
THOUSANDS OF NHS workers have rejected the government's below-inflation three-year pay offer. The GMB union, representing 25,000 NHS staff such as ambulance crews, catering staff and ancillary workers, voted against the three-year offer by 95%.
Building workers in Ucatt voted by 83.8% against the offer to their 4,000 NHS members. Members of the Royal College of Midwives, seen more as a professional body than a trade union, opposed the deal by a resounding 99.5%.
12,000 members of the Unite union in the health service also rejected the deal.
The right-wing leadership in Unison, which covers the vast bulk of trade unionised workers in the NHS, says that if "Unison and the Royal College of Nursing support [the deal], there will be an agreement."
That may be so, but most of Unison's NHS members would not support the deal. The bulk of delegates at April's Unison health conference, who are far more in touch with the anger of workers, voted for a membership ballot against the proposals, that would mean a real cut in pay.
Protesting at the threat to deport AmDani in Nottingham, photo Gary Freeman
THE CAMPAIGN to stop the deportation of AmDani Juna has won at least a temporary success. AmDani was facing deportation to strife-torn Burundi on 4 June, despite the Foreign Office listing Burundi as an 'unsafe' country. Now his deportation has been delayed.
Campaigners in Nottingham had got over 850 hard copy signatures and hundreds of on-line petition signatures since 31 May against this brutal act. Over 100 people joined a protest on 31 May and 200 protested on 2 June.
Of mixed Tutsi and Hutu parentage, AmDani was evacuated to Kenya by UN troops during the Rwandan genocide. On his return to Burundi, he was detained, beaten and placed under surveillance. He fled again in 2003 after government militia killed his friends and political allies. Most of his close relatives are dead or missing.
Protesting at the threat to deport AmDani in Nottingham, photo Gary Freeman
AmDani's asylum claim to Britain was refused but he was granted three years' Humanitarian Protection - until 2006. His application for indefinite leave to remain was refused after 15 months' delay. AmDani told ITV News recently: "Because I have been tortured before, I cannot risk returning".
During five years in Britain, AmDani had an amazing record of service to the community - especially, but not only to refugees and asylum seekers - in Nottingham and nationally. AmDani set up the first support group for women with HIV/Aids in the city.
His tireless work at the Refugee Forum and the Terence Higgins Trust, earned the admiration of colleagues, volunteers, and refugees from many ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Tremendous pressure has got this morale-boosting reprieve from deportation but the threat to AmDani still remains. If he is deported to Burundi, where he fears his life would be in danger, the public and private life that he has built so successfully, would be destroyed and our community would be the poorer.
ABOUT 80 delegates and visitors at the Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) conference on 31 May discussed the consequences of this Labour government's "disguised and devious" privatisation policies in the NHS and the inadequacies of the trade union leaders' response.
One delegate from the floor said he would raise these concerns on a Labour Party committee. A platform speaker wished him success but didn't hold much hope that this government would change anything!
Delegates pointed out that many NHS workers are not aware of the privatisations and the consequences for them. One health worker said that their involvement would need to be linked to a pay campaign, but no-one mentioned that health service members of several unions have rejected the three-year pay 'deal'.
The trade union leaders set up the "NHS Together" campaign to divert support away from campaigns like KONP. Against this background, KONP's voluntary organisers have done well to pull so many local campaigns together.
Even if no mass national demonstration takes place, delegates said many local protests were being organised for the NHS's 60th anniversary on the first weekend in July and after. Watch this space.
OVER 500 students and staff demonstrated last week at Nottingham University over the arrest and threatened deportation of a member of staff, Hicham Yezza. After a lively march with home-made placards and banners, protesters held a ten-minute vigil facing the University administration offices, with their mouths taped over, protesting at the university's collusion with the police.
The incident which led to the deportation threat, reported in many newspapers, was a document downloaded from an open source on the internet for a student's dissertation on contemporary terrorism. The document, an al-Qa'ida training manual, was downloaded from the US state department website, but is available from Amazon for £8.99.
Rather than checking to discover the circumstances, the university informed the police, and the student and staff member who printed out the document were arrested and held for six days before being released without charge. The staff member was then immediately re-arrested for immediate deportation, leaving no time for representation.
However by this time, the university students, who had already been protesting about the needless calling of the police and subsequent arrest of a student last year (as reported in The Socialist, 'Nottingham defends democracy', http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/3818) had organised a defence campaign. This resulted in the demonstration, addressed by local MP Alan Simpson and covered on local TV.
Alan Simpson put pressure on the Home Office over the threatened deportation of Hicham, which has been postponed, although he is at a detention centre at the time of writing.
His lawyer has applied for a judicial review, and the lecturers' union has also put pressure on the Home Office.
The ideas of the Socialist Party, based on scientific socialism, are identified with Karl Marx and 'Marxism', but Friedrich Engels deserves to be bracketed alongside the great 'philosopher of the millennium'. He not only sustained Marx by sacrificing his own energies to finance Marx's work, but also made a great contribution to their joint ideas on historical materialism, philosophy, economics and many other fields, which laid the foundations for the modern struggle for socialism.
John Green, the author of this impressive book, is to be commended for bringing Engels, one of the greatest figures in human history, to life for modern readers. Green admits to drawing on Gustav Mayer's book from the 1930s, which is excellent on the life and works of Engels.
However, the great merit of Green's book is that it 'fills in the gaps', particularly on the personality of Engels, his evolution and his relationship with Marx.
In some respects, Engels anticipated Marx on the role of the working class and socialism. This was gained through his experience in England in particular, in the early 1840s, of the Chartist movement - the first independent movement of the working class historically.
He was also at one with Marx in analysing the conditions in the factories and in the ideas of economics and philosophy, which are the cornerstones of Marxism. The Conditions of the Working Class in 1844 can help to illuminate even the problems of today's labour movement. It complements Marx's chapters on the working day in the first volume of Capital.
Green brings to life how Marx and Engels, almost at the same time, evolved from acceptance of the idealist philosophy of their great teacher Hegel to the ideas of dialectical materialism.
Indeed, Marx and Engels rescued 'dialectics' - the method of thought which seeks to understand the all-sided character of phenomena, first enunciated by the ancient Greeks - by refuting Hegel's idealism. They "turned Hegel upside down" and put him "from standing on his head firmly back on his feet".
Hegel viewed the evolution of nature, humankind and social relations as based on the development of ideas. But Marx and Engels argued that ideas, consciousness, are expressions of material forces, which are the driving impulse of history. Their ideas, either consciously or unconsciously, are accepted by most conscientious analysts today.
"It's the economy, stupid", was how Bill Clinton crudely put it in 1992. But it was Marx and Engels who first argued that the economy is the ultimate determinant of the 'political superstructure', the state, politics, etc. Today it is almost taken for granted. This does not mean that Marx and Engels had a crude determinist position.
On the contrary, they analysed how the state - part of the political superstructure - both had an effect on and is, in turn, affected by the development of economic processes.
Friedrich Engels also emerges from this book as one of the most human figures in the socialist and the genuine communist movement. He broke from his bourgeois background to place himself on the standpoint of the working class in his ideas.
The author compares him to Che Guevara and there are some undoubted and striking similarities. Both were men of action who broke from their privileged backgrounds. They were true, both to themselves and also to economic and political processes they accepted, and were courageous.
But there were big differences in their personalities and particularly the history of these two great figures. Che Guevara, at the time of his murder, had not freed himself completely from the caricature of Marxism purveyed by the world 'communist', in reality Stalinist, movement. He was, however, evolving through his own experiences towards a critique of the ideas of Stalinism and quasi-Stalinism. Engels, throughout his political life, could be considered a great theoretician as well as a fighter for working-class liberation.
However, he and Che had one other thing in common: Engels participated in big battles in the 1848 revolution, commanding troops, and subsequently earning the nickname of 'the general' from Marx, his family and his comrades.
On a personal level also, Friedrich Engels was an admirable character. Not for him a forced marriage or relationships with women from his own privileged background. He defied the capitalist conventions of the time and his family to live with Mary Burns, who had a profound effect on him in relation to the national struggle in Ireland at the time. Engels showed concern and acted for people in difficulties in the émigré circles.
Some of the most interesting parts of this book are of Marx and Engels' collaboration in the division of labour in the establishment of the International Workingmen's Association (IWA, 1864-1876) and subsequently the great Paris Commune of 1871.
Because of his involvement in 'business', Engels did not take an official position in the IWA's work. Having a 'capitalist' involved in a body directed against capitalism itself would have provided ammunition for its enemies.
But his influence and work was far-reaching and earned him the bitter opposition of the state. The German state led by Bismarck even deployed a small army of spies to check on and, if possible, to spoil the work of both Marx and Engels for the international workers' movement.
Engels and Marx, as this book demonstrates, argued for decades for the political independence of the working class from the capitalists. This was the case even when they advocated tactical and 'critical' support for specific actions of the rising capitalists, for instance in the 1848 revolution. They fought for an independent party of the working class - in the case of Britain for almost 50 years.
This is the same task which the Socialist Party, socialists, trade unionists and militant workers face today with the collapse of New Labour into an openly capitalist party. The difference is that now the timescale for the emergence of such a formation will be much shorter, as the examples of other countries' first steps show; the development of the Left Party in Germany, the coalition around SYRIZA in Greece, etc.
Insisting upon the working class as the main agent of socialist change brought Marx and Engels into collision in the IWA with the anarchists led by Bakunin. Green is mistaken when he argues that Marx and Engels "seriously underestimated the role of the socially less-developed countries". Green accredits the support for Bakunin and the anarchists in countries like Spain and Italy at the time to the "too critical" attitude of Marx and Engels and an "over-concentration on economics".
But the real reason why the anarchists found an echo in these countries was the character of the economy then, which was relatively undeveloped, with the prevalence of small-scale industry and, therefore, the lack of a large working class united by big industry.
Engels' work and the careful nurturing of independent working-class parties in Europe saw results, particularly in Germany, where the Social-Democratic Party, emerged as the "strongest mass socialist party in the world". Green points out, "In the Reichstag in 1871 there were only two representatives of the party ... but by 1912, only 17 years after Engels' death, the party won 110 seats (out of a total of around 400) with 34.8% of the vote."
After Engels' death, the absence of his influence was keenly felt. The leadership was incapable of consistently following his and Marx's method, and the mighty Social-Democratic Party was unprepared for the huge social convulsions of war and its aftermath. Consequently, the working class paid a huge price, including ultimately the destruction of the workers' organisations after Hitler came to power in 1933.
Engels, as his history showed, was prepared for all kinds of changes in the situation confronting the workers' movement. Green is wrong when he repeats some of the legends about Engels' introduction to Class Struggles in France. He has been misread as arguing against 'barricades' - that is the organised resistance of the working class to the onslaught of armed capitalism ready to destroy democratic rights - because of the new situation confronting the workers' movement.
This was interpreted by later renegades from Marxism, such as Kautsky, in a centrist and reformist fashion, of partial and piecemeal reforms alone as the method to achieve the goals of the workers' movement. On the contrary, as Trotsky and Lenin pointed out, Engels was dealing with one specific historical phase. Even his words are qualified, as Engels emphasised that the 'barricades' would be required at certain stages.
Green criticises the Bolsheviks, who led the Russian Revolution, for seeming to conflict with Marx's ideas as to where a revolution would first occur. He writes: "We can't let them [Marx and Engels] off the hook entirely. It was, after all their ideas that laid the basis and made possible the building of communism as a force and led to the subsequent revolutions."
On the contrary, the one-party totalitarian regime, Stalinism, that subsequently developed after the isolation of the Russian Revolution had nothing in common with Marx and Engels' ideas. The Bolsheviks were correct to begin the revolution in Russia - which was the weakest link in the chain of world capitalism, as Lenin put it - but they envisaged this as the overture to a world revolution. Only a successful revolution in an advanced industrial country could have been the salvation of the Russian Revolution.
In isolation, Russia was doomed either to return to capitalism or see a deformed workers' state emerge, although the Bolsheviks never imagined that the monstrosity of Stalinism would arise. Marx and Engels could not foresee - nor could anybody - at the time they were formulating their ideas in the nineteenth century, how subsequent events could work out in all countries.
What is valuable in this book, is not the latter chapters, but those which show the evolution of the ideas which provide the bedrock of Marxism, the tools with which to carve out a new socialist future for humankind. Friedrich Engels, a towering historical figure, should be saluted in his own right for great works such as Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Anti-Dühring, The Peasant War in Germany, The Housing Question and many, many other contributions to socialist and Marxist thought.
Engels fully recognised Marx as the more important in laying the foundations for ideas that will lead to a new socialist society in the future. But in his labours Marx was joined by Friedrich Engels, a great figure to inspire and educate the new layers of socialist fighters who are emerging.
Biography of Friedrich Engels by John Green Price £10
By Friedrich Engels Price £9.99
By Friedrich Engels Price £3.95
By Friedrich Engels Price £12
Below is an extract from a letter sent recently by YRE to LMHR to make proposals to this end.
Contact YRE on email@example.com / 020 8558 7947 / PO Box 858, London, E11 1YG for leaflets, posters and more info.
We welcome the call for a national demonstration on Saturday 21 June. It is absolutely vital that the mass opposition that exists to the British National Party and their racist and xenophobic ideas is mobilised. The BNP winning their most prominent position in terms of a seat on the Greater London Authority (GLA) will have angered a lot of trade unionists, young people and others across the country. On the day of the results and outside the first GLA meeting with BNP AM Barnbrook, Youth against Racism in Europe co-organised action which mobilised over 100 people. We contacted Love Music Hate Racism, Unite Against Fascism and others to try and involve them in these protests, in order to build a campaign against the BNP based on united action. [...]
We are therefore writing to formally request that the demonstration on 21 June is a joint event between LMHR and YRE. This demonstration should be organised through democratic coordination, bringing together the trade unions, NUS and campaigning students' unions, and all other anti-BNP and anti-far right campaigns [...]
We propose that one of the main slogans of the demonstration is 'jobs, homes and services, not racism'. We think that this slogan will play a key role in the campaign against the BNP and in halting and reversing their growth in political support.
We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible,
The London Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) and International Socialist Resistance (ISR) protests against the election of a member of the British National Party to the London Assembly drew together politicised young people who want to fight against the BNP's racist policies and ideas.
YRE and ISR are initiating a campaign that exposes their racist lies but also fights for decent jobs, homes and services and a new political party that stands up for workers and young people.
At the first organising meeting on 20 May activists decided to build the campaign across London in the coming weeks.
The campaign kicked off with London activists petitioning and campaigning on Hackney's Mare Street, covering bus stops and shopping areas. We petitioned and talked to young people and workers. Many were interested in coming to the national demonstration against the BNP on 21 June, taking our leaflets and buying copies of The Socialist.
We also leafleted for the London YRE gig on Saturday 14 June in Whitechapel. More action is planned in the forthcoming weeks in Lewisham, Camden, Romford and other areas. ISR/YRE public meetings on how to combat the BNP are taking place across London. Get in touch for details.
firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.anticapitalism.org.uk
School students are angry. Over the last six weeks, thousands have walked out in protest against the running down of the education system.
800 protested in St Aelreds Catholic Technology College in St Helens, Merseyside over concerns for the future of their education, connected to plans to close the school and replace it with an academy.
250 walked out in Neale-Wade Community College in Cambridgeshire over overcrowded dinner facilities and short lunch times. The school management's answer proves what good pupils of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown they are; the school head said they will factor the pupils' concerns into plans for a new PFI build in 2010!
In Derbyshire, 60 students walked out on 23 April in support of two members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) who planned to strike the following day, calling for no victimisation of the striking teachers.
Students involved in organising a protest in Kent took direct inspiration from the teachers' strike action on 24 April. A school student quoted in the local press said: "they decided to go on strike for what they want and we thought that if it is all right for them, then it is all right for us to do the same for what we want". Increased action by workers, especially those involved in education like teachers or support staff, can lead to more students taking action for their rights.
Over 150 students in Pontllanfraith School in Blackwood, Wales walked out over the possibility of several teachers losing their jobs. This action resulted in management distancing themselves from this proposal. It looks likely that the teachers' jobs have been saved, which would mean a victory as a result of the students' action.
School student strikes have won big victories in the past. In 1985 the Youth Training Scheme (YTS), which fundamentally meant slave labour for young people, resulted in huge strikes.
Inspired by the miners' strike and in revolt against Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government, hundreds of thousands of school students walked out in coordinated action. This led to the YTS being shelved.
Llais Gwynedd, a party formed as part of a campaign against school closures, won 12 seats in Gwynedd in North Wales in the 1 May local elections. This followed 600-strong demonstrations in December. As a result, it looks likely that the schools in this area will be saved. There is an urgent need for a new mass party for workers and youth on a national scale that can stand up for education and young people's rights.
During school student walkouts, the home secretary's tyrannical 'harass a hoodie' policing policy has resulted in a number of those involved being arrested. This makes proper organisation and wide-scale participation for these protests all the more important.
International Socialist Resistance (ISR), the socialist youth organisation that initiated and led many of the school student strikes against the war in Iraq in 2003, supports these protests. We would welcome more reports from those involved in these or other protests.
There is a need to link up on a national scale. If there are issues in your school or college which need to be addressed, organise a meeting to get a campaign together. Get in touch with ISR if you would like any help or advice.
Strikes in the public sector are currently shaking Berlin's political landscape. Thousands of striking school students have also been marching through the Berlin inner city.
Fewer teachers, less years to complete school, larger classes and also the introduction of an annual charge of €100 per school student for teaching materials make the school situation in Berlin a catastrophe.
The school students demanded 3,000 more teachers, the withdrawal of the charge for teaching materials and called for a different school system so that secondary schools are not chosen on the basis of parents' wealth.
"No to super-stress" and "Rich parents for everyone" were demands that many students put on their home-made posters and banners. Members of Socialist Alternative (SAV, the CWI in Germany), who were active in the pre-strike mobilisation, produced a special edition of their paper Solidarität and spoke at the protest. The SAV rapper Holger Burner accompanied the protest with radical music.
Before the strike, activists from the "Tear down the education blockade" school students strike alliance went to many different schools in the city to build strike committees and hold political workshops to mobilise support.
Jenny Trost, one of the active members of the school students' initiative and a member of SAV, spoke at the demonstration: "Let us build a movement against education and social cuts. Let us fight together and let us give the ruling politicians and the companies behind them hell."
Now a school student conference will draw a balance of the strike and plan the next steps for new protests in the autumn. If the 'red-red' government have not fulfilled their demands by then, the school students will take strike action again.
A LONDON newspaper recently announced in bold headlines: "Brown is brown bread" (for the benefit of non-Londoners, that means 'dead!'). Well, if Brown is brown bread his house building targets are toast!
There are rising numbers of house repossessions for homeowners struggling to keep up mortgage payments. Council housing tenants already suffer overcrowding, and councils have warned of a potential explosion of demand because of the economic squeeze and a receding hope of a home of their own for young people.
New Labour's home-building targets are to build 240,000 new homes a year by 2016 with a total of three million new homes by 2020. There are plenty of reasons for thinking these targets are far too low and that they will not even be met. In fact, following the credit crunch, work started on 25% fewer houses in January-March than in the corresponding period the year before.
Also, Brown's targets are based on the false hope that private developers would keep riding the crest of the wave of the credit boom, and that social landlords, using private finance, would do the same.
Now even ideological supporters of the "New Labour project" like journalist Polly Toynbee have turned on him: "Fewer houses have been built under Labour than at any time since the war, and he (Brown) was going to put it right. But he can't keep repeating that he's building three million homes when he never was: he just hoped the developers would." (The Guardian 16 May).
She dismisses Brown's policy of taking £200 million already allocated for social housing to buy unsold new flats. That will only buy 1,000 homes. And, Polly Toynbee asks, should he re-inflate the housing market bubble anyway?
The crisis in housing is typical of the problems facing New Labour. It isn't due to Brown's personal characteristics; the 'let the market run everything policy' created inequality and insecurity for working-class people, but this was softened in the boom years. Now, with end of the financial boom, it's traditional Labour supporters who are paying much of the price.
Building magazine reported that 1,000 jobs in house-building had gone in one week. This underplays the situation as builders tend to get rid of sub-contractors before they sack directly employed workers.
The Council of Mortgage lenders bluntly told the chancellor in May that the £50 billion facility from the Bank of England would not reverse the rising costs of mortgages. No wonder that the boss of Barratts (the house builders) has said publicly that the government's house-building targets cannot be achieved.
NEW LABOUR sees housing associations as an alternative to councils as a supplier of social housing. In fact New Labour ministers see HAs as an ally in their battle to introduce far more 'commercialisation' and 'marketisation' into the social housing sector.
But The Socialist has warned that Associations are not immune from the harsh economic climate ("Housing Association collapses" The Socialist 4 March). The government expects them to build the social rented housing needed to meet the target. But, as well as using government grants, the associations get funding by borrowing money from the banks, selling some of the houses they build outright, and selling others on a shared ownership basis.
The associations are being squeezed as all these sources of money become scarcer or more expensive. Just as the banks are making it harder and more expensive for homebuyers to get mortgages, they are getting cold feet at the thought of lending to associations. The Council of Mortgage Lenders has said that there is "no certainty" about the banks' capacity to make new loans in the short to medium term.
Associations will need to borrow £15 billion to meet the government's development targets of 155,000 new affordable homes between 2008 and 2011. The associations' "business plans" also assume they will receive income from outright sales of houses and "tranche sales" as shared owners buy more of their homes. But these areas of their businesses will be hit at least as hard as the rest of the property market, reducing another source of income.
Not only will housing associations have trouble building new homes but their ability to carry out repairs and service existing tenants is threatened. A government agency - the Housing Corporation - admits it has a list of ten associations facing "heightened risk" because they either have less than 20 months' credit in place, or are "heavily exposed" to the housing market. However, they won't tell tenants which associations they think are at risk!
Spending on housing is a major component of consumer expenditure. As the threat of recession grows, pressures will grow for an alternative policy to New Labour's nostrum of 'leave it to private enterprise.'
What is needed is much more than a new face in Number Ten. A new party with a programme based on taking over the banks and bringing the speculative builders into public ownership, would gain a big response from workers who feel betrayed by New Labour.
The government has effectively nationalised the banks' risk already - why not take them over fully and mobilise their resources to really tackle the housing crisis? No homeowner should face repossession from the banks when these financial giants have been expensively bailed out from the consequences of their own greed and stupidity!
NEW LABOUR has let council house building practically grind to a halt. A grand total of 277 council houses were built nationally in 2006. Council house waiting lists nationally add up to just over 1.6 million. But Shelter workers calculated last year that this figure could reach more than two million by 2010 - almost one million more than when Labour took power in 1997.
A BID by Coventry Socialist Party councillors Dave Nellist and Rob Windsor to commit Coventry council to build more affordable homes was defeated at a council meeting on 27 May.
Dave and Rob tried to amend the Local Area Agreement, a report going to the government on Coventry council's plans and priorities for the next three years.
The Socialist Party amendment, calling for a review of policies limiting 'affordable' homes to only 25% of any new housing developments, fell by 26 votes to 24.
Dave Nellist told the local press afterwards: "Coventry is facing a housing time bomb as more and more people, especially young families on average earnings, can't afford to buy or rent.
"When I first became a councillor ten years ago the ratio for the bottom 25% of house prices to the lowest 25% of earnings was 3.7 to 1. Today it 7.3 to 1. It's doubled.
"When the Coventry Homefinder website started last year there were 11,000 people registered as wanting a housing association property to rent; last Friday there were 22,489. So that's doubled too!
"But the number of homes and flats on offer on Coventry Homefinder today is 45. And the council's three-year plan is only to encourage the building of 304 new houses and flats a year. That's not enough to give people, especially young people, a decent start in life.
"There needs to be an urgent review of housing in Coventry and a radical shake-up in policy. The percentage of any new homes built which are affordable to people on average earnings needs to be doubled to 50%.
"What's more, the government needs to institute a national house-building programme giving local councils again the funds and the powers to build the homes we need."
LAMBETH COUNCIL recently transferred management of its council housing to an arms length management organisation, (ALMO), a form of indirect privatisation, despite residents voting against it. It also proposes to give private companies ten-year contracts worth over £1.2 billion to run housing services.
Lambeth Unison commented: "They call this 'partnering' - really it is a licence for contractors to line their pockets and decimate the services tenants and leaseholders receive. Hundreds of Lambeth staff could be transferred to private sector firms and services provided away from local, democratic control.
"Lambeth Unison members are holding a consultative ballot on industrial action in a bid to stop this privatisation going through."
The branch has also organised a public meeting with speakers including PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka and local trade unionists on 11 June from 6.30pm at Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton.
HOUSE PRICES are falling further and faster than at any time since the early 1990s. New mortgage approvals for UK home buyers were at a lower level in March this year than at any time since Bank of England records on the subject started in 1993.
WHEN LEWISHAM council organised a 'ward assembly' in New Cross ward recently, local people came with their concerns and problems inevitable in any inner-city area savaged by decades of service cuts.
The meeting organisers put us all on tables, "of about five people, please". They gave us big sheets of paper to write down problems that bothered us. They gave us small purple post-it notes to say what we liked about the area and yellow ones to say what we didn't like.
No questions were allowed, either to the Labour councillor who chaired this 'consultation' meeting or to council officials. There was no plenary session, where everyone could express views, just 'workshops' and report backs.
Most people found this management consultancy exercise pathetic and patronising - but the council had particularly good reason to limit discussion. Lewisham Homes, the arms-length body that runs council housing in Lewisham, wants to close Kender Housing Office, just a short walk from the assembly meeting.
They ignored the views of 86% of local residents who responded to the official 'consultation' letters and opposed the plan! Instead of a local housing office, the council say services will be provided from the Pepys office in Deptford which is miles away from Kender.
Many local people have to rely on public transport and there is no direct bus route from Kender to the new office. But the council report still recommends that the closure goes ahead.
Lewisham Homes claims it's too expensive to provide services at the Kender office. But the council report admits the cost of "maintaining and operating the New Cross office facilities" is just £75,600. That's about the same as the Mayor of Lewisham's annual salary! Further 'savings' will be made by not relocating all the staff to Pepys - ie redundancies. So tenants will travel further for understaffed services.
The final decision is with Lewisham's mayor and councillors. Lewisham Hands Off Our Homes campaign, together with Lewisham's Socialist Party councillors Ian Page and Chris Flood (whose constituents in Telegraph Hill ward are also affected by Kender's closure), have been collecting signatures on a petition calling on the mayor and Lewisham Homes to find the resources to save the Kender office.
The response has been angry. Local people are determined to keep this local facility open, despite Lewisham council's management consultancy tricks.
LIKE OTHER councils, Lewisham has to bring its council housing up to national 'Decent Homes Standards' by 2012. A motion from Ian Page and Chris Flood in March's council meeting outlined how the council could use its legal powers to borrow money to pay for Decent Homes improvements without additional rent increases.
The motion proposed that Lewisham borrow £13 million to begin Decent Homes works in New Cross Gate area this year. The £13 million figure was based on the council's own calculations, sent out in a letter to every tenant during last November's transfer ballot when the council tried to sell off properties to Hyde Housing Association.
Unfortunately the ruling New Labour councillors argued it would be 'irresponsible' for Lewisham council to borrow the money needed to improve homes. This was even though £13 million would have added just 3% to the council's overall borrowing plans - and taken Lewisham's 'prudential borrowing', by comparison, to much the same level as Labour-controlled Tower Hamlets council in East London.
As Chris Flood pointed out, £13 million was less than half the £29.426 million the ruling councillors borrowed in 2006-7 to pay off Hyde's debts from a Lewisham-Hyde 'partnership project' to refurbish homes on a local estate!
Councils borrow money all the time. As public bodies, they can borrow at cheaper rates and more securely than commercial organisations like housing associations. There was no excuse to vote the plan down.
Chris and Ian's funding plan would have meant that Decent Homes works could have begun now in the New Cross Gate area. That it was defeated is disappointing. But the majority No vote last autumn against the plan to hand over homes to Hyde has had an impact.
Lewisham's ruling councillors have now agreed to approach the government "for additional funding for Lewisham Homes to deliver Decent Homes" for 1,181 properties in the former transfer area, although unfortunately not all of them.
Getting this funding still depends on Lewisham Homes getting a 'two-star performance rating' in 2009 - which won't be helped by cutting back local housing office services. But Lewisham's U-turn to approach the government for more funds, proves what we have been saying. We don't need to transfer to a housing association, pay higher housing association rents (nearly one-fifth more on average), lose our secure tenancies, and lose the right to vote for our landlord, to get Decent Homes improvements done!
THE CHIEF executive of Bradford and Bingley (B&B) bank has stepped down amidst reports of massively reduced profits, due to an increasing number of accounts in arrears. The credit crunch, since it first started last summer, has seen more than £2.7 billion of B&B's market value (that's nearly 80%!) evaporate.
At the monied end of society, this is an opportunity for some of the wealthy to become even wealthier. A global private investment firm, TGP Capital, has agreed to buy up 23% of the company for £179 million. That angered B&B shareholders who call this deal a "disgrace".
At the sharp end of society, the credit crunch brings workers job losses and financial insecurity. We are paying for the banks' excesses such as 'sub-prime' lending - where they offered customers mortgages at five or six times their salary and used pressure sales techniques to sell mortgages to people who could not afford them.
At least £50 billion has been offered out to Britain's banks to protect them from the credit crunch. But the banks have not significantly cut mortgage rates and workers still suffer housing repossessions.
We say: nationalise B&B and the other banks under democratic control and run them to meet people's needs not to maximise profit.
An energy policy partly based on nuclear power, as the government is proposing, obviously raises deep concerns about safety. Some of the most memorable serious accidents were at Windscale (now Sellafield) in 1957, the SL-1 incident in Idaho in 1961, which killed three people and the nuclear submarine fire at Liverpool docks in 1976. Then of course there were the disasters at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. But, it is also the sheer uneconomic nature of nuclear power that makes it an abject failure as a major energy source worldwide.
In the years after World War Two the nuclear industry alleged that their "sunshine units" would be an endless source of cheap, clean electricity. The Wilson Labour government in the 1960s claimed that this electricity would be "too cheap to meter"!
For years the UK's state-owned electricity generating board CEGB, wrongly declared in its annual reports that nuclear was the cheapest generator of electricity. Successive governments did not question this. But, in reality it was coal-fired power stations that subsidised the costs of nuclear electricity production.
In 1981 the Committee for the Study of the Economics of Nuclear Electricity (CSENE) unravelled the distortions and assumptions used by the CEGB. The CSENE exposed the accounting methods used to promote the fiction of nuclear power's 'cheapness'.
All nuclear power stations had experienced massive cost over-runs, but the CEGB's accounting methods gave prejudiced results against non-nuclear electricity generation.
The nuclear industry proved how unprofitable it really was after privatisation. In 1996 the newly created British Energy acquired seven Advanced Gas Reactor (AGR) stations and the country's only commercial pressurised water reactor (PWR) for £1.5 billion.
Actual construction costs had amounted to more than £50 billion, with more than £3 billion spent on the Sizewell PWR.
This government sell-off was denounced as an obscene giveaway at the time.
But, by 2002, having competed for electricity sales against non-nuclear electricity generators, British Energy's losses inevitably accumulated.
In less than a year, in the biggest write-off of capital in the UK till then, the company's market value plummeted to about £100 million. British Energy had to go cap in hand to New Labour for a massive hand-out so it could continue to trade.
Despite protests of favouritism from non-nuclear companies the government agreed to 'loan' £410 million to British Energy - raising it to £650 million shortly after.
Energy minister Brian Wilson had earlier told Parliament in 2002 that New Labour would provide the £200 million for the plant decommissioning.
Dale Vince, managing director of Ecotricity, a renewable energy company, said in 2002: "If we were given £410 million instead of British Energy, we could have built enough onshore wind energy to power 10 percent of the country's electricity needs".
Although bailed out of bankruptcy, Blair's government soon gave another handout to British Energy of £184 million in March 2005 for "spent fuel liabilities".
However, the compelling and logical arguments used by anti-nuclear and green campaigners are not enough to change government policy.
Under capitalism, vested interests - not least the nuclear industry's ties with the military - will ensure that the dangerous, and uneconomic pursuit of nuclear energy continues. Only under a socialist society, with a democratically organised plan of production, can we implement an alternative, effective and safe energy policy.
I wrote the book Reclaim the Game in 1992 at the outset of the Premier League. It predicted that the gap between the top clubs and the rest would further widen.
Now 16 years later the Premier League is a three-horse race between Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, with Liverpool just behind. You can safely say that there are no other challengers for the English championship.
The billionaire and millionaire owners of the Premier League would argue that the League has been a resounding success. It generates billions, games are played in new all-seater stadiums before the biggest crowds since the 1950s and 'hooliganism' is virtually a thing of the past.
Premier League football is beamed into 600 million homes in 202 countries across the world. The three-year television deal which runs until 2010 is worth £1.7 billion for domestic television, £625 million for overseas television rights and £400 million for internet and mobile phone rights.
Premier League football is a high-priced spectacle played by millionaires and owned by billionaires.
Russian gangster capitalists, such as Roman Abramovitch, who looted the ex-Soviet Union's economy, have taken over clubs such as Chelsea. Big businessmen from the USA have taken over both Manchester United and Liverpool.
Stadiums have been rebuilt, they are comfortable and safe. Standing areas have been destroyed and replaced by very expensive all seating areas. In the 1990/91 season, 20,000 people stood at Old Trafford and paid £4 per game. At Arsenal in the same season, thousands stood on the North Bank and paid £6. These prices were around the same price as attending the cinema.
Now it costs between £30 and £40 plus to watch a Premier League game, a cinema ticket in London costs £8.
The television deal means that many clubs could allow supporters into games for free and still make a huge profit.
Working-class fans are being priced out of the game; especially young fans. Only 7% of season ticket holders in the Premier League are aged 16 to 24. The average age of fans attending Premier League football is 44 for season ticket holders and 39 for those buying tickets on the day.
To quote one of the greats from English football, Stanley Matthews, in an autobiography written shortly before his death: "The money that has arrived from television has definitely helped the game, but more at the top than the lower leagues... although those that market football tell us football is once more a 'family game' I think it is one of the biggest fibs currently being told. Football has rid itself of the hooligans, but how many ordinary working people can afford to take their family to a football match these days? Too many clubs having worked hard to rid their stadiums of racism and bigotry are now simply practising economic bigotry".
In the 16 years of the Premier League, over a third of all professional clubs have gone into administration. Since 1992 there have been 42 cases of insolvency proceedings, involving 37 clubs.
This has led to movements of fans through independent supporters clubs. The independent fans' organisations, fanzines, supporters' trusts, the Football Supporters' Federation (which represents over 100,000 fans at League and non-League clubs) and the Professional Footballers Association have all intervened to save clubs.
In the Premier League, players 'earn' an average of £700,000 a year and some in excess of £5 million. But if wages were reduced the fans would not benefit, directors and corporate owners would just pocket more money.
John Hall of Newcastle United sold just 9.8% of his shares and made £16 million. Martin Edwards received £100 million on selling his shares to the Glazer family (his father bought them for £1 million). Ken Bates of Chelsea bought Chelsea and its debts for £1. He sold Chelsea and its debts for £17 million. Even Peter Ridsdale, while he was bankrupting Leeds United, still managed to pay himself £645,000 in 2001.
There needs to be an urgent investigation into the finances of football. Clubs should be taken out of the control of big business and should be owned, controlled and run in trust by supporters as non profit-making sporting institutions. The controlling bodies of clubs should be democratically elected through one vote per club member and fans would become members for a nominal fee.
The fight to reclaim the game is tied to the fight to transform society; the same big business people who own and control our beautiful game exploit us in our workplaces. The fight to democratise football is linked with the fight to get rid of big business domination within it. It is linked to the struggle for a socialist society.
AFTER THE last two weeks of street conflict between pro-government and opposition armed militias, workers in Lebanon are now facing two 'choices': either a sectarian civil war or 'civil peace' with a ruling 'coalition' made up of sectarian warlords that have only minor differences in their economic programmes.
The leaders of the government and opposition parties returned from a five star hotel in Qatar where they held negotiations. But they brought no real plan for change. They decided the outcome of presidential elections before they started. They divided up the parliamentary seats along confessional and sectarian lines. They agreed on the division of state services, with each party having a share. They also agreed on a new president, the current head of the Lebanon Army, who has no economic or social or even political programme with which to enter the quagmire of Lebanese politics.
The politicians and media constantly tell us the army is neutral in Lebanon's sectarian politics and above the fray. Yet, the army waged a war on the Palestinian Nahr El Bared camp, last year, fighting against a reactionary Islamist group, Fath El Islam.
The army completely destroyed the camp and the camp's residents fled. The army is also responsible for the death of five men during the Hay El Sellom strike, in 2004, and of seven others, in 2007, at Mar Mkhayel. Their only 'crime' was to protest for a real improvement in their living conditions.
Lebanon's politicians are opposed to a genuine independent workers' movement. Such a movement had the possibility of starting to develop over the last couple of years, following a series of mass workers' protests and strikes against the high cost of living. We saw the beginnings of workers organising themselves.
When workers were on the brink of continuous industrial action, just weeks ago, armed clashes broke out between sectarian and confessional based militias, taking us back 30 years and turning people's primary concerns to those of security.
Working people worried about how to stock food in preparation for a war - a new civil war that would be seen as the end of the country for many and which many people want to emigrate to avoid. At the same time as the armed clashes took place on the streets, the price of a barrel of fuel rose by 600 Lebanese Lira.
Most Lebanese were relieved when agreement was reached between the government and opposition parties over the presidency. New elections in parliament were agreed to elect the new president, despite the fact that the procedure is unconstitutional and that the people of Lebanon have no say in the elections.
On 25 May, on 'Resistance and Liberation' Day [marking the departure of Israeli forces in May 2000 after 22 years of occupation of southern Lebanon] - which was cancelled as a holiday by the Fouad Siniora [prime minister] government - the Lebanon army general, Michel Suleiman, was elected president.
But there is a total absence of any sort of democracy in the election procedures; not only in the presidential elections but also as planned for the parliamentary elections in 2009. The election system is based on the 1960 election law and means small 'constituencies' which sees Christians electing a Christian and Muslims electing a Muslim etc.
We demand an electoral system that is genuinely democratic and not based upon sectarian and confessional headcounts. This means genuine regional constituencies and national electoral constituencies based upon proportional representation. This would allow for real electoral representation in parliament and would also open the door for non-sectarian political forces, including socialists, that can have a class appeal across all religious and ethnic lines.
Today, just as in the past, workers are given the 'options' of accepting the confessional politicians' terms and conditions of either going hungry but having illusionary peace, or of a descent into civil conflict if they take to the streets. These conditions make putting an alternative for change even harder but all the more necessary. Working people need an alternative and no other force than the power of workers and youth can provide a way out.
There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of, but also great opportunities for, the left and communists, in particular, to mobilise the masses against the ruling elite. This is because there is declining trust in the governing parties. It is clear that they are all taking part in the impoverishment of workers and the attacks on rights that workers historically fought for with their blood.
What the working masses need is an effective resistance, which stands up to the continuous attacks of imperialism and to economic policies of the Lebanese government. It is in the interest of all workers in Lebanon and the region to reject sectarianism and sectarian armed conflict, which is bred by capitalism. It divides workers, weakening their ability to organise to fight for better conditions.
The CWI calls and struggles for mass workers' organisations that are independently organised and armed with a political and economic programme that contests the big bosses. The only way to resist the global capitalist system - that creates war and poverty - is through united fighting trade unions and mass parties for democratic socialism and a workers' international.
IF IT was just another citizen, a criminal investigation would be conducted under conditions of arrest. Not so in the case of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is now facing his fifth corruption scandal investigation.
These corruption accusations involve: promoting the interests of certain capitalist tycoons over others, benefiting political go-getters, and squeezing out some huge sums of money for personal luxury from such millionaires as his American friend, Morris Talansky. This is usual business in capitalist politics. Former prime ministers Sharon, Netanyahu, Barak, and all sorts of ministers and politicians, were exposed one after the other for such sleaze in recent years.
It's not that now the Israeli public has got sick to the bones of him and his government; that already happened immediately following the 2006 horrific war on Hezbollah in Lebanon, which ridiculed Israel's military power. Different polls gave him barely 3% of approval then. It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Arab citizens have come out in different struggles, confronting the government since (excluding the struggles in the Palestinian territories, where residents are deprived of any democratic say about the occupying government).
Back then, the defence minister and General Chief of Staff were compelled to resign. Olmert's foreign minister and ruling party colleague Tzipi Livni was quick to call on him to do the same, imagining she'd boost her career by this. The new defence minister, Ehud Barak, promised to take his party, 'Labour' (Avoda), out of government if an inquiry commission found Olmert "responsible" for the war!
When such a commission implicitly blamed Olmert and when the exposed corruption scandals spread in the political establishment, 'Labour' and Livni stayed put. Now they're under pressure to threaten Olmert again.
All parties in government denounce each other and Olmert's party Kadima is shaken with all the leading hyenas wrestling over the crown and criticising him publicly. The local and international press now extravagantly complain about him. Only yesterday he was portrayed as imperialism's hope for new peace deals. Even Bush, on a visit to Israel in January, asked the government ministers to keep Olmert in power. And he was kept in power, like his predecessor Sharon.
But it seems that the new pressures in the political establishment are too much for the already fragile coalition government. The reason Olmert has survived so far is because there is no way out for the ruling parties.
As a result of the brutal neo-liberal attacks on workers and poor throughout the past three decades, there has been a serious crumbling in the traditional parties' electoral base, particularly in that of the traditional ruling class party, Labour.
Kadima (Forward) was created by Ariel Sharon as an attempt to solve this situation, but has failed miserably. It is the biggest party but attained only 29 parliament seats out of 120.
So desperate are the attempts among the ruling class to reach some stabilisation pact, that there's increasing propaganda for introducing a "presidential system".
In the meantime, the collaborative team of the head of the Industrialists Association and the head of the unions' federation got involved directly in efforts to form a sort of merger between Kadima and Labour, headed by Livni and Barak. And so, early elections - a tradition since the 1980s - will probably be called once again.
Such political regroupings will not solve the deep political crisis of Israel, especially considering the developing economic crisis, with the last quarter being the worst one in years for the biggest banks and corporations. Inflation is on the rise. And after, in recent years, Israel's longest-ever period of economic growth (which has meant growth in poverty and worsened working conditions for workers), the social crisis deepened further.
Whether the next government is headed by right-wing Likud or by a sort of alignment on the side of Kadima and Labour, the recent militant social and workers' struggles in Israel will prove to be the tip of the iceberg, as workers, youth and different groups will have no choice but to get organised and wage a struggle to protect their interests.
Eventually, as a way out of crisis, Israeli workers will have to forge an independent workers' party, which could pose a socialist alternative to the Israeli ruling class and its imperialist backers.