Friday, 30 May 2008

The Socialist Crime Fiesta

This weeks socialist features a wealth of article of interest to the budding left/socialist criminologist. We have articles on youth crime, the exeter attempted terrorist attack, civil liberties, a review of a crime tv programme and a report of barbaric violence in South Africa. To read these go to

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Some Blogs To Try Out

This is just a short post to plug some blogs people may be interested in.

Firstly, is the The Activist - - the blog of Socialist Party members in USDAW - with some posts on the upcoming General Secretary elections.

Next we have a few blogs, that I've linked to recently as well, such as The Tired Man of Teaching, Citizen Steve, Complex System of Pipes, CWI Lebanon, Cactus Mouth Informer and I've also added the People Against Wylfa B website to the links.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Plaid and Crime

This is a review of Leanne Wood's recent Plaid Cymru policy statement 'Making Our Communities Safer' - which can be found at This has already been discussed on the Socialist Unity blog see This review can also be found on the Socialist Party Wales website.

A document by Plaid AM Leanne Wood

Reviewed by Iain Dalton (Bangor SP)

Crime has been ever more increasingly in the press over the last few years as one of the biggest issues affecting people. However, we have been fed a programme of populist, punitive schemes to combat crime by this New Labour government that have only made the problem worse. Thus it is welcome that Leanne Wood, a ‘left’ Assembly member for Plaid Cymru and former probation officer has written a document challenging these policies and attempting to outline an alternative policy for Plaid Cymru.

After the summary and recommendations, the report begins by stating “Community life in Wales is at risk. UK Government attacks on public services and the historic lack of a Welsh economic policy has meant that community viability has had to depend upon the whims of the market. Whilst there have been some winners, most communities and the people living within them have been losers.” Undoubtedly cuts to public services have had a dramatic impact across the UK and especially in Wales which to a great extent has not in some areas recovered from. But it is not just the UK government that is affecting these cuts, the Welsh Assembly and local councils have happily passed on budget cuts to cuts to services, despite moaning about it rather than taking practical steps to do something about it. For Wood, safe communities are the key to fighting crime, a safe community is one in which someone (and those they care about) can move around in free from fear.

Wood correctly points out the abject failure of current government policies to tackle crime. She points out that the imprisonment rate for the UK (I assume she means England and Wales as Scotland is a separate jurisdiction) 50% higher than France, Germany and Italy and that (much more shockingly in my opinion) 72% of the male prison population (the vast bulk of the prison population) have two or more mental health disorders. Wood also points of the re-offending rate and how this is linked to drug and alcohol dependency which is very prevalent among offenders.

Wood also comments on how sentences are increasing, pointing out the 34% increase in prison sentences for women for driving offences, and makes several other comments regarding female prisoners including the large proportion sentenced for drug offences and the ‘recycling’ of women through prison on short sentences that means no rehabilitation could possibly occur.

Wood also comments on how some aspects of crime policy, such as preventative elements related to housing, education, domestic abuse, youth justice etc. have been devolved to the Welsh Assembly, but control of policing, criminal law, the courts, probation and prisons remains with the new Ministry of Justice.

In criticizing the recent policy from the Home Office, she notes the admixture of free-market liberalism with punitivism and prohibition. We have seen in recent years the largest ever prison population, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) criminalizing young people, clamping down on civil liberties and the proposed ID cards. Alongside this we’ve seen drinking laws relaxed, the promotion of super casinos and the opening up of the probation service to privatization.

In trying to answer the question of why crime has become such a political issue she points out the contradiction between the declining crime rates and the ever increasing fear and perception of crime. She reviews the usual links between media portrayals of crime out of control, and points out that ‘anti-social behaviour’ was invented by New Labour, indeed much of their effort against crime has been directed at low level crime which only seems to have made the problem worse.

To do something about crime, Wood correctly argues that we have to understand why people commit crime. She briefly surveys things like poverty, substance abuse, lack of youth facilities and mental health problems, pointing out the shocking statistics relating to this including over half a million people in Wales living in poverty and the much greater prevalence of mental health problems in former coal mining areas.

Crime policy towards young people comes under severe criticism from Wood. She points out that because there is only one secure children’s home in Wales about 84% of young offenders from Wales are imprisoned in England. But it is ASBOs which come in for the most criticism (quite rightly!). As she explains ASBOs are not criminal offences, but their breaching can result in imprisonment, meaning that people are being sent to prison for offences that wouldn’t even warrant a fine or community service order! She cites figures from the Youth Justice Board showed that 700 children and young people had been imprisoned for ASBO breaches, and she also points out that figures show that about half of all ASBOs are breached.

So far so good. These criticisms of government policies are something socialists would agree with. But what does she propose? The main proposal is to make criminal justice issues fully devolved to the Welsh Assembly government, so that they can prioritise tackling the causes of crime. The bulk of the proposals lay in substituting the punitive approach of new labour for a rehabilitative approach, alongside a pro-active preventative approach with young people generally, and specific interventions for those who have committed criminal offences or anti-social behaviour. Of course, such an approach would be a big improvement on current government policies, but unfortunately it doesn’t tackle many of the real problems.

Poverty, substance abuse, mental health problems are by products of living in an alienating society based on greed rather than need. Wood’s proposals are attempting to deal with these damaging by products, rather than their root causes. No mention is made of trying to deal with the devastation caused to communities by multinationals that decide to leave for lower wage economies, nor the current financial squeeze which is being reinforced by below inflation public sector pay deals and an appallingly low minimum wage.

Further more, these solutions would not empower ordinary people to be able to do anything, rather create a whole layer of professionals who will control the lives of thousands. It is a recipe for a top-down system which would still fail to respond to the needs of ordinary people in Wales.

Instead, Socialists would start from the need for the democratic control of the whole criminal justice system so that priorities can be decided by local communities. We would also advocate the democratic control of the economy to provide well-paid jobs and employment for all. Of course, some of the suggestions that Wood makes would be incorporated into a socialist strategy to tackle crime, such as increased availability of facilities to help those with drug problems, but to be successful it would need to be linked to the key socialist policies stated above to have any real chance.

Sunday, 25 May 2008


For the second time in my life I've rejoined USDAW. And certainly this time I joined the blurb from union officials about why you should joinwas much better. We were told tales about how the union defended people at disciplinaries and how that was why we should join the union - 6 out of 7 of us new recruits joined. This was much better than when I joined last time - when the rep was talking to a load of 17/18 year olds that they should join USDAW for the free will writing service! I only joined after I managed to get it out of the rep that the union negotiated wage increases.

But that is the key thing really, the person who came to speak to us the other day was boasting of the unions partnership with the bosses and boasted of getting a 4% wage increase - to £5.52 an hour - the minimum wage! With fuel, food and the prices of just about everything else going up - a decent minimum wage of at £6.50 an hour if not more which some of the main unions demand will become more and more necessary.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Dominant Capitalist Superpower in the World

I was recently reading Where is Britain Going? By Leon Trotsky, written in 1925 when I was struck by this paragraph.

“A fairly well-known populariser of British history, Gibbins, writes in his outline of modern British history: ‘In general – though, of course, there are exceptions to this – the guiding principle of British foreign policy has been the support for political freedom and constitutional government.’ This sentence is truly remarkable; at the same time as being, deeply official, ‘national’ and traditional-sounding, it leaves no room for the hypocritical doctrine of non-interference in the affairs of other nations; at the same time it testifies to the fact that Britain has supported constitutional movements in other countries only in so far as they were advantageous to her commercial and other interests. But on the other hand, as the inimitable Gibbins says, ‘there are exceptions to this rule’. The entire history of Britain is depicted for the edification of her people (the doctrine of non-intervention notwithstanding) as a glorious struggle of the British government for freedom throughout the world. Every single new act of perfidy and violence – the Opium War with China, the enslavement of Egypt, the Boer War, the intervention in support of Tsarist generals – is interpreted as an exception to the rule.”

Can’t this depiction, with substitution in of Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam to name a few, also refer to today’s dominant superpower – the United States?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Transitional and Failed Societies: What Are They?

This piece comments on some segments of Community Policing: National and International Models and Approaches by Mike Brogden & Preeti Nijar (2005).

States undergoing some kind of transformation are usually the sites of international criminal justice, which are supposed to settle scores with the past and provide a stable basis for the development of a (capitalist) democratic society. Although this is my starting point for this essay, it is worth pointing out that Brogden and Nijar are looking at similar states but more from the perspective of developing a critique of community policing models which are being ‘exported’ there by the advanced capitalist countries (particularly the USA and Britain).
Of the countries that Brogden and Nijar study, they seek to divide them into three groups those which developed community policing themselves (Mostly western advanced capitalist countries but some Asian countries are included in this category – namely Singapore, Japan and China), transitional states and failed states. I wish to examine these categories to determine their usefulness beyond this particular instance.

Transitional states are those which have usually gone through some international criminal justice ‘cleansing’ of the past (either a Truth Commission or International Criminal Court/Tribunal). They usually (but not always) have had some kind of dictatorial government and are in the process of attempting to build institutions of bourgeois democracy. Examples of these countries include such places as South Africa and Chile in the early 1990’s for example. For me a key ingredient of being a ‘transitional’ state rather than a ‘failed’ one is that the state remains intact – it is merely modified or purged of a few elements.

Brogden and Nijar state that “‘Failed’ societies… are essentially states in which the primary reason for transformation is due to the collapse of structures of political governance… (which) have been disappearing into a void.” (pg.189-190) However, they later go on to state “In this text, the term ‘failed society’ is intended to encompass those societies of the previous Soviet system which straddle a chasm between the disappearance of their command economies and the chaotic onrush of a free market system.”(pg.190)
There are two points I wish to make in relation to this, both related to each other. Firstly, that the term failed society is a poor one really – much better would be collapsed or even better disintegrated society. Secondly, surely societies where there has been a collapse of the ruling bodies into a void range further than just post-Stalinist countries. For example, what about Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few years – surely they are prime examples of power vacuums? I’m sure there are further examples that could be utilised here too.

But before I conclude, I wish to return to the notion of transitional states. In them there is a key question which I have asked in relation to them which is what are these states a transition from and to what. In there case they are transitions from a dictatorial/fascist regime to a capitalist democracy. But there are other types of transitions – in particular for us the question of dual power where the transition to a workers state is posed. The problem with the examples used in the book is they look at transformation from one form of capitalism to another or from non-capitalism to capitalism, but never with any state that is going into a non-capitalist form (whether from capitalism or not). How can such a schema be of use to us when it has such flaws?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Cardiff school saved from the wreckers.

This piece comes from the Socialist party wales website. On another note i've finished most of my coursework now so I'll be able to do a couple of things I've been putting off for a while, inlcuding making some updates to the blog.
Campaigners from Lansdowne Primary School in Canton in Cardiff are celebrating this week after winning their fight to save their school.
Report by Ross Saunders
( Cardiff West Socialist Party, Unison Steward Fitzalan High School)

Eight months of hard, well-organised campaigning by parents, staff and community members has proved that fighting back can win results. The victory has given a huge boost to schools like Llanedeyrn, Cefn Onn and Llanrumney, which still lie under the axe.The campaign forced school closures to the top of the agenda in the recent Council elections. Socialist Alternative candidates standing under the banner of Save Our Schools gained respectable votes and Plaid Cymru were pressured into opposing the school closures. Plaid has now joined forces with the Lib Dems on the Council Executive. Cantonian High School will also remain open and anew school for over-crowded Welsh-language Primary Ysgol Treganna. will be built. But the school closures programme has not been withdrawn.
These developments have exposed the lies peddled by local Labour councillors, who claimed building a new Welsh-language school was impossible without closing an English-speaking school.
Plaid, which has been able to fake left while in opposition, now faces having to administer closures in the city, or come up against its own party members in the WAG coalition with Labour. Canton has won its battle for now, but campaigners have expressed their sympathy with the other schools still on the closures list. People in other parts of the city will ask how Plaid can close schools in their area while saving those in their own back yard.
Socialist Party members, who have supported Lansdowne and the other schools campaigns from the beginning, are calling for so-called "surplus places" to be redistributed amongst all the schools in Cardiff in order to lower class sizes and raise standards, and demands the funding arrangements be changed in order to allow this. Colossal pressure has been able to divert the main parties from attacks in some parts of the city, but until a new party that acts in the interests of ordinary people is created, campaigners will have to continue their fight against school closures and job cuts in education

Sunday, 18 May 2008

More Student Protests

This is taken from the Socialist Students website. After the recent occupations in protest, this is a sign that there is increasing militancy from students. However, it is only at a small stage at the moment, and significantly these are places where left student groups were already existant (the same goes for Sussex which has been quite active over the last few years).

Southampton students blockade university
Protest at student's union's exclusion from university court
4.30 pm 15/05/08

100 Southampton University students have marched through campus and are blockading a university court meeting.

The university has taken the decision to remove the Union President vote from the Vice Chancellor appointment panel.

Today the university court is meeting - the highest decision making body in the university with VC chancellors from other universities, local politicians and councillors and representatives from the University's investors including BAE systems and HSBC, in attendance.

The action started with a march across campus towards the meeting. Students have obstructed the meeting by holding a silent sit in which is blocking building entrances they are wearing gags saying "student's voice silenced".

Clare Blackwell from Southampton Socialist Students says "the occupation a few weeks ago at Manchester has boosted morale about what is possible if decisive action is taken. We are taking similar action today. We are asking why is it that fat cat multinationals like BAE systems, and HSBC, the bank that makes record profits from ripping off students, are allowed a voice in how the university is run but student representatives are not?

It is clear that the right wing management and their big business friends want to get away with cuts and privatisation in the university and are trying to remove the students union as a potential obstacle."

Southampton Socialist Students has a record of fighting fees, cuts and privatisation and standing up for students in Southampton. We organised a protest in February at the constituency office of John Denham the Universities and Skills minister on that drew students from across the south coast. Socialist Students is raising the need to mobilise students to defend the student's union voice but also to raise the need for the students union to build a fight back linking up with campus trade unions and students unions across the country in a mass campaign against fees, cuts and privatisation.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

What Can Be Done About Corporate Crime?

This piece looks at some of the conclusions drawn by Steven Box on how corporate crime can be tackled in his book Crime, Power and Mystificaion.

As we have commented before, Box points out during this book that corporate crime (that is crimes committed in the interests of corporations) is a much bigger problem than ‘street’ crime. Now fundamentally, corporate crime revolves around securing profit and advantage for businesses within a capitalist system - Box, however, won’t go as far as saying that socialising the means of production and distribution would solve this. And that is true – mere nationalisation within a capitalist framework may derive some advantages, but it’s only when the whole capitalist framework is removed and production revolves around needs that preventing harms will become a real priority.

Box does not concur with this last paragraph, however. In common with other left realists (which is where I believe his analysis fits), he does not see a socialist revolution, or even a capitalist major nationalisations occurring soon, saying “there is no reason to believe that we will see the lights going down on capitalism in our lifetime.”(pg.63) Despite criticising piecemeal reforms, it becomes the only way to do anything about crime, he says “Maybe liberal reformism is something to be contemplated today, even by those waiting patiently for the revolution tomorrow.”(pg.64)

Box points out two things that he thinks will do something about corporate crime. Firstly there is informing more people about corporate crime – Box points to investigative journalism and TV documentaries that have helped promote this, but he sees this as a way of putting more pressure onto the state to prosecute such crimes. The second way is by convincing the state to prosecute more crimes by demonstration of how damaging corporate crimes may be. One can feed into the latter with successful prosecutions being publicised and raising awareness. However, I think there is a big flaw with this – the fact that to publicise these things effectively you need some kind of platform – and I doubt that the capitalist media will severely criticise its own system (I have written previously of how corporate crime is presented as ‘a few bad eggs’. Plus, corporations already have massive leverage over government bodies that exist (and that Box criticises as being ineffective) so if any new body was created, or even if the police were used, are they any likely to be any more effective?

One thing I also dislike within Box’s suggestions is that ‘the right to trial by jury’ could be abandoned in corporate crime cases and replaced by judges versed in the legal complexities of the area. This effectively gives the public no say in the matter, and the whole issue is left to be decided by people who come from a similar background to the offenders. Under the current system this would be just another way for these corporate criminals to get away with their crimes in the vast majority of cases.

One thing that Box does note is that even where corporate officials are sentenced to prison, which I believe is a sentence that corporate manslaughter campaigners want to see for that crime, is that on release they are promoted by that corporation to a much higher salaried post, but in a less responsible/public post. So even an effective punishment being handed out to some corporate officials probably won’t deter others.

Box discusses how deterrent punishment could work on the organisational form of the corporation itself. Commenting on the paltry level of fines handed out to corporations, he suggests raising them drastically may be a solution, however, he also notes that it would be problematic if the fine bankrupted a corporation innocent employees, consumers and their dependents would suffer. But even more likely, whatever the size of the fine, any cutbacks would be foistered onto these people rather than the boardroom and the big shareholders.
Another deterrent he suggests is to nationalise companies for a specific period, with the length depending on severity of crimes and the time need to rehabilitate the company. This he suggests would incapacitate such organisations. However, generally nationalisations occur when an industry is in trouble, rather than benefiting from such problems. However, I would suggest that the only government prepared to nationalise a company on this basis, would be a socialist one that would nationalise companies permanently anyway.
Another suggestion he makes is having a sort of corporate probation, where a company spends time being monitored by a group of accountants, lawyers, engineers, mechanics etc. selected with regard to the work inside those companies. Such ‘probation officers’ could monitor the company and if it fails to make progress, or ignores them, could send them back to court for re-sentencing. But then surely this exists to a sense at the moment in factory and workplace inspectors, and any similar scheme would be similarly underfunded.
He also suggests that they could do a form of community service (by building new public facilities), or pay compensation. Both these suggestions would again suffer the problems related to fines.

I actually find it rather surprising that Box attempts to take elements from the criminal justice system and apply them to corporate crime, given he knows that these methods don’t work in general with regard to ‘normal’ crime, why does he think they will work with regard to corporate crime?

One other point that Box makes is the transnational status of the biggest corporations, which are the worst corporate criminals, means that corporate crime cannot be tackled within just one country. And because nation-states are in essence competing against each other to offer conditions that are useful to such corporations, again this problem cannot be fully tackled under capitalism, as Box notes, any methods that do challenge corporate crime, will likely lead to the export of corporate crime.

What is the solution? Ultimately, I think a socialist world where production is democratically controlled by those who produce and use products is necessary and would guard against corporate crimes (as they would be the victims of such acts anyway). In the meantime, I think a strong, combative trade-union and socialist movement worldwide which can fight against the harms caused by corporate crime and inform its own members and others about such problems will help limit such problems whilst building a movement which will hopefully rid the world of corporate crimes forever.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

France '68, Remembering the 40th Anniversary of the revolutionary uprising.

Okay I promise I'll post something on crime tomorrow, but for today I thought I'd post up some meeitng reports from Wales, taken from the Socialist Party Wales website

France came to Wales last week as successful meetings were held in Swansea, Cardiff and Bangor to discuss the events in France in 1968.

Dave Reid , Alec Thraves and Ian Dalton report:
In Swansea, South Wales Evening Post advertised our meeting but mistakenly gave out the wrong day of the meeting. The following night we had to go back and explain to some disappointed members of the public why they had missed an excellent meeting. Despite their frustration we sold a couple of papers and one is coming to the Swansea Socialist Party branch meeting next week. The previous night there was a lively debate amongst an enthusiastic audience who agreed we could expect more revolutionary movements of a similar kind in the future. The biggest lessons that came out of the meeting were the central role of the working class in changing society and the need for a determined socialist leadership.

In Cardiff six non members of the Socialist Party attended the meeting including three people who had seen publicity on the streets.
Clare Doyle, author of Month of Revolution: France 1968, outlined the events in 1968. She pointed out that while the media has mentioned the battles of the students with the police which opened the events in Paris there is little or no mention of the general strike by the working class, the biggest general strike in history.
A “strike chart” on the wall visually brought home the scale of the movement in 1968. Clare gave an inspiring account of the thousands of factory occupations which seized the factories from the bosses and led to similar action by the middle layers in society like journalists, doctors and actors. All four conditions for revolution outlined by Lenin were present in France with the exception of the existence of a party of revolution that understood the events and was able to lead the working class.
A wide-ranging discussion ranged from France to Britain to Saudi Arabia to Sweden to Czechoslovakia. Some questions were raised about whether the modern working class has the power to carry through the strike movement that the French workers fought in 1968 and whether British workers are as militant as French workers.
A PCS member pointed out that we can take a step forward towards that of France 1968 by building towards united action in the public sector against the government’s pay freeze. Civil servants are one section of the workforce today who would have regarded themselves as middle class in the 1960s who are now clearly part of the working class.
Andrew Price, a member of the UCU national executive, joined Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party, in May 1968. He explained that in the same week that he joined Militant the Labour Party had received an even worse result in the local elections than New Labour got in 2008, but what was different was that the working class base of the Labour Party in 1968 moved to the left and the ideas of Marxism received an increasing ear with 3 million votes for nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy at Labour Party conference that year. Today there is no party for the working class and we will have to build it. 10 copies of Clare’s book were sold and £166 fighting fund raised at the two meetings.

In Bangor Rob Williams(Swansea SP) spoke on the 10 million strong general strike that shook the capitalist system. He described how the movement developed with workers occupying factories causing French president de Gaulle to flee the country and how the so-called Communist Party betrayed the movement and saved the day for capitalism.
The discussion covered other mass strikes such as the 1984-5 Miner's Strike, the 1926 British General Strike and movements that the Militant (the fore-runner of the Socialist Party) played a leading role in such as the heroic 1984-7 Liverpool City Council battle. The difference in the world economy and situation between now and 1968 was also discussed. Books, pamphlets, and the 1968 special issue Socialism Today were sold.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Something's Missing?

I had to comment on this commentary by Rob Sewell of Socialist Appeal on the Uk local election results. It's not something I normally do, but it's quite misleading. The original article is here.

I wouldn't expect anything else of Socialist Appeal than to use the not too fantastic results of the left (particularly SWP/Left List) in the local elections to say there is no possibility of building anything outside of Labour. But you would thought they would tell the whole story.

The paragraph that offends me most is as follows

Another sect, the so-called Socialist Party, fielded about 15 candidates nationally in the local elections. They all sank without trace - except one. And this was the exception to the rule. This was Dave Nellist, the ex-Labour MP of Coventry SE, who retained his seat in St Michael’s ward with 1,643 votes. This was clearly a personal vote as the other two SP candidates managed to scrape a measly 142 votes (to come bottom of the poll of seven candidates) and 135 votes (to come bottom of the poll out of six). Other results included Alec Thraves in Castle ward, Swansea, who scored 172 votes, Pete Bradley in Nuneaton who polled 88, while in Stoke on Trent the SP candidate got 130 votes. In London, they fared no better, where they stood Chris Flood for the London Authority. He managed to come bottom of the poll (10th out of 10 candidates), with 1,587 votes (out of 146,841 votes caste) in Greenwich and Lewisham. This was even less than the votes cast for the fossilised sect of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which polled 1,588 votes in Lambeth and Southwark!

The results picked are selective - (this is also the case with some of the SWP/Left List candidates who polled fairly well in a few areas outside London where they have been campaigning for several years) But it misses out the four best results after Dave Nellist - which are

18% (377) Pete Glover in Sefton
936 Ian Slattery in Huddersfield (standing for Save Huddersfield NHS)
12% (295) Lyne Worthington in Bagueley, Manchester
12.3% (352) Mick Griffiths in Wakefield

now, these aren't victories but they are better than the results reported by Socialist Appeal, and show that we are building bases of support in several areas around the country.

but also there is the question of why we stand in elections. according to Socialist Appeal we should be standing to win hundreds of seats by the sounds of it (okay maybe I am exaggerating a bit). we know we are only small and the task of building a much bigger organisation remains.

for us however, standing in elections is part of the process of building our support - most of the time we don't expect to win (although it's nice if we do), it's more about increasing our share of the vote, building support for socialist ideas and building the party.

Nuclear Cover-Ups Continue

This is a letter I've written which has been published in today's issue of the North Wales Daily post

Just over 50 years ago the biggest cover up in British nuclear power history occured at Windscale (now Sellafield), where overheating of graphiote rods in the core (due to a rush to develop plutonium and tritium) caused a fire which was afterwards scandalously blamed on the staff who had fought bravely to contain the fire.
These days we are told that the industry has learnt and is now much safer but recent reports from the continent have shown this is not true. In France, the nuclear safety industry inspectors have uncovered a number of faults. Over a quarter of the welds in its stell liner were not in accordance with welding norms and their were cracks found in its concrete base - both of these are potential threats as these things are supposed to contain radioactivity. The design is the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) which is also facing problems in Finland (the only other country where this reactor is being built) and is the propsed design for new nuclear power plants in the UK, including the proposed Wylfa B.
Also, Greenpeace have recently reported that a Spanish nuclear power station, Asco-I, had caused significant radioactive contamination of public areas outside the plant. The plants operator had kept this secret for four months! The state regulatory agency also underestimated the problem for several days and eventually announced that the leak was one hundred times larger than they had originally announced!
Given the dangers involved, should we really trust such companies as involved in these projects with our safety given they are clearly much more interested in making a 'quick buck'? Furthermore do we want to build a new Wylfa B when the proposed reactor is known to be faulty, not to mention the many other problems with nuclear power?

Saturday, 10 May 2008

1968, Year of Rebellion – 40 Years On

This piece featured in my column in the latest issue of Seren, the newspaper of Bangor Students Union.

Usually these political columns tend to talk about purely current events. But if you look at history you’ll find that there are patterns and precedents for various things. To give an example close to the minds of students let’s look at tuition fees, Now fees were introduced by the government in 1997, just over ten years ago and were increased with top-up fees a few years ago and today the National Union of Students (NUS) in the face of this onslaught says fees are inevitable and we need to find a ‘fair funding system’ that will include fees. However, what you may not know is that about 40 years or so ago saw the birth of a somewhat more radical NUS emerged (although NUS had existed since the 1920’s), which amongst it’s achievements was the scrapping of tuition fees and the introduction of grants. This was against a backdrop of a deep radicalisation within society, which saw a mass movement against the war in Vietnam and largest membership of trade unions.
The year 1968 in particular, however, was a year of rebellion across the world. Many momentous things happened that year, the assignation of Martin Luther King Jnr. whilst he was speaking at a rally supporting striking workers, the ‘Prague Spring’ revolt against Stalinism in the former Czechoslovakia, gunned down protests in Mexico, the year of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam that marked a turning point in that war, the beginnings of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. But by far the most impressive event, saw the 10 million strong general strike that swept France from May until June, and led to General Charles de Gaulle, the repressive president of France at the time, fleeing the country and
The workers had initially gone on strike in support of the right of students to protest. Students from Nanterre and Sorbonne in Paris had been protesting against the trial in the university court of some students for ‘disruptive behaviour’ on a previous protest. The heavy-handed response of the authorities was to send in the riot police (the CRS) and hundreds of students were arrested, a response which saw lectures cancelled at these universities and lecturers striking in response. The following day those arrested were summarily imprisoned and fined and all hell let loose. Demonstrations were banned but this just led to strikes spreading from the university to secondary schools, and a demonstration on May 6th was attacked by the riot police eliciting mass sympathy from the rest of the population.
But it wasn’t just the students that were colliding with the government over issues such as wages, hours of work, unemployment (particularly for young people) and social security. 100,000 demonstrated on May Day (also known as International Worker’s Day) in Paris, and over the next week or so aircraft factory workers, printers, agricultural workers, meteorologists, miners. Air traffic controllers, taxi drivers and even the police were considering taking action. The movement came to a head with a 24-hour general strike on May 13th. Although most went back to work the following day, by May 21st 10 million were on strike, forming factory committees and beginning to take control over society, students had done similarly in the universities in the aftermath of May 13th.
So what happened next, De Gaulle had fled, power lay in the balance. The workers, students and all others trodden on by De Gaulle could have taken power. But they were betrayed by their own leaders, particularly in the trade unions and the leaders of the Communist Party. Why? Well the reason is different for each, but for both it relies on their positions within society. For the leaders of the trade unions, their position at the top of their bodies in periods of social lull gives them a certain amount of comfort in their bureaucratic positions. Thus they can act as a brake on action taken by those they are supposed to represent. In 1968 the French workers put their trust in them, but instead of leading them they were keen to negotiate with a government that had in reality ceased to rule France. The Communist Party on the other hand was one of the most bureaucratic in Europe, its aim and point of existence was to help keep the deformed Stalinist regime in the Soviet USSR in power – which meant rather than encouraging a revolutionary change of society (which would have threatened the bureaucratic privileges of the regime in the USSR) they needed to help keep the capitalist system in power (which at least tolerated the existence of the USSR). The Times had declared that capitalism was dead in France, but these so-called leaders let it back in, with a leadership that would struggle for the needs of workers and students the situation could have been different. Nevertheless, huge concessions were won which saw wages increase drastically as a result of the threat that action committees consisting of workers, peasants and students would link up across the country imperilling the capitalist system that had driven them into such intolerable conditions. Even today the current right-wing president Sarkozy speaks of ridding France of the legacy of 1968.
Forty years ago the post-war economic upswing was still in full flow, unlike today when the debt-fuelled boom is coming to an end. But many of the issues of then are similar today, the gap between the rich and the poor in the UK is the largest ever and disputes are occurring with half a million workers recently taking strike action against this on April 23rd. Likewise the right to protest is under threat with increasing attacks on civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism, and on April 22nd the riot police were deployed to try to disperse protests of students against cuts at Manchester University. Today any alternative to the current capitalist system is seen impossible, but the demand of the students from 1968 to “Be realistic, demand the impossible!” is as true today as it was then.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Album review: The Bright Lights of America by Anti-Flag

Article written by me in this week's issue of the Socialist

To me Anti-Flag have always been the quintessential anti-war band. In September 2001 they were half-way through recording an album when the 9/11 events occurred. Like most people the events stunned them.

However, when reactionary rumouring about retaliatory attacks began, they immediately wrote a song against any proposed invasion entitled 911 for Peace, and released the song for free on their website.

I remember them much more for the tour they did in this country against the Iraq war in the beginning of 2003, where they linked up with the anti-war movement and advertised their actions at the gigs on the tour.

Their most recent album, The Bright Lights of America, continues this theme drawing on analogies of the US 'empire' currently bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and the decaying Roman Empire in the song The Modern Rome Burning.

The Ink and the Quill is a damning criticism of US imperialism from Chile to Fallujah and counterpoises the money spent in Iraq in the interests of big business, to what would have been needed to repair the levees around New Orleans and reduce the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in that city. Shadow of the Dead points out the legacy of past movements against invasions and occupations.

Alienation and the lack of a future for young people is another theme running through the album. After one of the band's relations was murdered they released a benefit album for victim support charities.

However, rather than sink into the usual reactionary 'law and order' response, If You Wanna Steal shows how capitalism is a system that perpetuates crime and impoverishes many people.

The Bright Lights of America focuses on the limited futures available to people, while Spit in the Face condemns the greed and individualism the system breeds.

Musically, the album is somewhat different to previous albums, using orchestral compositions, child choirs (to great effect in Good and Ready), harmonicas and more, blended in among the band's usual punk/punk-rock style. It mostly works and there is a good variation of pace in the songs, from the incredibly fast Smartest Bomb to the fairly slow (for them) Go West.

If you've listened to their previous albums it comes as a bit of a shock, but it grows on you.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Devastating Election Blow for New Labour

Taken from Socialist Party Wales website

Report by Dave Reid

This year’s local election results in Wales have delivered a devastating blow to Labour. Together with the results in England they represent a comprehensive rejection by working class people of everything that new Labour and the Brown government stands for.
Labour has been thrashed in its old heartlands. It has lost Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr and Torfaen councils and suffered serious losses in Caerphilly, areas in which Labour used to regularly win crushing majorities in good times and bad. Labour also lost Newport so now controls only Rhondda Cynon Taff, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend.

Mortal blow to Brown and New Labour

But this is not the old Labour Party. A growing layer of working class people has realised that this is not their party anymore and have abandoned Labour as decisively as Blair and Brown abandoned their interests. Others cannot bring themselves to vote for the crew who has just put income tax up for the lowest paid workers in the country. They may return to vote Labour to keep the Tories out in the future but not with great conviction.
Labour’s projected share of the vote across Britain stands at just 24% the lowest for over 40 years and puts Labour 3rd behind the Liberal Democrats. Brown’s premiership has been dealt a mortal blow. He will attempt to cling onto power or face being dumped before the General Election, an even more ignominious fate than James Callaghan, who was one of the few Prime Ministers not to win a General Election.

Support for whoever could beat Labour - No enthusiasm for Tories

David Cameron has tried to ride the crest of the wave of his party’s gains. But there is no enthusiasm or illusions in any of the other parties in Wales and certainly not the Tories. This was a vote against Labour, not a vote for any of the other parties. In fact this election represented a further rejection of the Tory policies that New Labour has promoted. The Tories re-gained some seats in their old Welsh strongholds of Monmouth and Vale of Glamorgan, but have not broken through in most of Wales. They only gained control of Vale of Glamorgan council.
Voters supported whoever could beat Labour and in most areas that was not the Tories. Most old Labour voters stayed at home. In the valleys it was People’s Voice and Independent candidates as well as Plaid Cymru who broke Labour control. In Cardiff the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Tories gained as Labour was pushed back to the 3rd party in the capital.
The Liberal Democrats benefited from the anti-Labour mood and held onto to their control of Cardiff and Swansea but there is no enthusiasm for their councils and they made few gains.
Plaid Cymru suffered serious losses as well as gains, losing control of Gwynedd, their only council. Significantly Plaid lost seats to Llais Gwynedd (Gwynedd’s Voice) which was formed primarily to stop school closures in the countyOverwhelmingly working people are sick of all the parties. All the opposition parties talk of change but they all implement similar policies when in power.Working people are craving a real change and the situation is crying out for genuine alternative to the stale diet of all the parties. People’s Voice’s and Llais Gwynedd gains show the potential for a new mass workers party.

A warning and an opportunity for socialists

The increased vote for the BNP is also a warning to the labour movement if it fails to provide an alternative to the pro-capitalist parties. However, despite a big press campaign against immigrants before the election, the BNP failed to make a major breakthrough in Wales. Only in Swansea did this racist party succeed in making gains in the number of votes.

The Socialist Party standing as Socialist Alternative achieved the best results of the left with creditable results in Cardiff and Swansea. However at this stage the support for our ideas is not reflected in votes. Working people realise that we need a bigger vehicle to deliver real change.
A serious discussion must begin in the Welsh trade union movement to look at the unions forming a new party through which the working class can fight to offer a real change form the policies of all the pro-capitalist parties.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Women Prisoners in Nothern Ireland

This piece takes a look at Phil Scraton and Linda Moore’s article in the Spring 2008 issue of Criminal Justice Matters on this issue.

One of the big problems with imprisoning women is that not that many get sentenced to imprisonment. By that statement I don’t mean that we should imprison more women, but that female prisoners are only a small proportion of the prison population and this has meant problems in terms of facilities for women prisoners.
The piece details the effects on women prisoners of being held in wings of male prisons. The truth about such imprisonment are shocking – there are limited facilities for recreational activities, education and workshops, prisoners in the two cases they discuss are locked up for a minimum of 17 and 18 hours a day. However, the most horrifying cass they cite refer to prisoners held in solitary and punishment cells, and I shall quote some of the examples they give:

“We found deeply disturbed young prisoners held with adult women and a child, flesh torn and cut from her ankles to her hips, hands to her shoulder, dressed in a canvas gown, no underwear, lying on a concrete plinth, no blanket, no pillow, in a punishment block strip cell… Also down the block was a grandmother, epileptic, diabetic, colostomy bag, weeping varicose veins, held in solitary for abusing officers. Prisoners stated that she was taunted by officers who openly refused to give her tea unless she complied. This was how self-harming and ill women were ‘managed’. During the research, a second woman, Roseanne Irvine, took her own life, having been held in the punishment block, deeply distressed and tearing her own hair out…”

Due to them being held within another prison facility, the women were escorted everywhere and were even forbidden to acknowledge other prisoners – which led to ridiculous instances where women were punished for speaking to their sons. Furthermore women were being humiliated by being strip searched when they were menstruating, for example. Prisons, and especially those for women, are, to paraphrase a former Home Secretary ‘not fit for purpose’. They don’t actually deal with the problems that offenders have and actually serve to aggravate prisoners problems. I agree with the line they take at the end of the article – arguing before for reform of the existing system to meet these needs, but also arguing against prison expansionism and for alternatives to sentencing altogether (although I suppose that would depend on the ‘content’ of these alternatives).

Friday, 2 May 2008

Who Cares About Local Campaigns?

Well I do! As you may have noticed I like having people making useful comments on pieces appearing on this blog. But I do get concerned about lack of commenting too. Particularly as I notice that people often don’t comment on local reports I put up of activities in Bangor. I think this is a really big shame.

Why? You may ask. Well I think a lot can be learnt from local campaigns when campaigning on similar issues elsewhere. Local reports of events can also be a good indicator of the support for various ideas in different places.

Now I suppose the question is whether the lack of comments represents people not just reading a report (and often the ones I post are versions of articles published in The Socialist) or whether they read it but don’t think it is worth commenting?

Now as you may have realised, I am particularly interested in student politics (as in involving actual students in political campaigning – rather than engaging purely in shouting matches with the NUS bureaucracy). As such I am usually quite delighted when I can find reports of the activities of student political societies on the internet, it helps me to generalise from the situation here in Bangor to the rest of the country.

For example, I would say the willingness of students to get involved with campaigning is definitely greater than it was last year when I was a student in Huddersfield. Now this could be down to me just being in a different place, but from reading reports from elsewhere it seems to be the case everywhere on a general level. Of course the events of last week show that students at Manchester Uni and Bangor Uni have a big gap between them in terms of level of political awareness, preparedness to campaign and level of organisation.

So here’s a plea to other bloggers – more reports of your own local political activity – and if I haven’t been commenting on stuff in the past – then I’ll try and do it more often from now on.