Wednesday, 29 April 2009

STOP PRESS: Key union activist sacked

Socialist Party member Rob Williams, the Unite convenor of the Linamar car parts factory in Swansea, was called into the directors’ office of the plant on Tuesday 28 April and told that he was being sacked for “irretrievable breakdown of trust”. This blatant victimisation of one of the leading left-wing shop steward activists in the car industry was met by an immediate production line walk-off by the day shift. They surrounded Rob’s union office after management called in police to forcibly remove Rob from the building.
Rob has been very active in the campaign of the sacked Visteon car parts workers and has recently visited all three of their plants. His sacking is likely to be linked to his role in this struggle. The Visteon Unite convenors are demanding that Rob be reinstated and they, alongside many others, are calling on Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley to also back the immediate reinstatement of Rob.

Linamar is feeling the economic pinch and has recently announced 140 redundancies.

Messages of support should be rushed to
Rob Williams:
and Socialist Party Wales:
For ongoing information see

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Euro elections: Challenging big business and the far-right

This article comes from next month's issue of Socialism Today. I re-post it here because it deals well with the reasons that the Socialist Party are supporting this initiative and summarises the strengths and weaknesses of the coalition too.

In this year's European elections working-class people have a positive alternative to vote for. A new electoral alliance, No2EU-Yes to Democracy, has been launched to oppose the EU's big-business agenda. It will also mount a challenge to the divisive, anti-working class, far-right BNP which has, in the past, benefitted from the protest votes in Euro-elections. HANNAH SELL reports on this important initiative.

THE NATIONAL UNION of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has initiated an electoral alliance for the European elections that will be contesting all of the seats in England, Wales and Scotland in the elections on 4 June. This is a temporary platform for the European elections, entitled No2EU-Yes to Democracy, with initial support from the RMT, Socialist Party, Solidarity-Scotland's Socialist Movement, the Indian Workers' Association, the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), the Morning Star newspaper, and others.
It is the first time since the formation of the Labour Party that a trade union has taken an electoral initiative on an all-Britain scale. The transformation of the Labour Party from a workers' party at base - albeit with a capitalist leadership - into an unalloyed party of big business has left the working class without a mass party for well over a decade. The absence of such a party has been a central factor in holding back the confidence of workers to struggle in defence of their pay and conditions. The fact that the RMT has taken this step, however tentative, is therefore enormously positive.
The programme of No2EU-Yes to Democracy is very limited. Nevertheless, it seeks to oppose the European Union (EU) from a working-class, non-nationalist standpoint. The programme is more limited, for example, than the People's Charter, which is itself very far from being a rounded-out socialist programme. The charter sets out a broad programme for dealing with the current economic crisis and putting 'people first'. Signed by a number of union leaders, MPs and prominent lefts, it aims to collect a million signatures, a faint echo of the People's Charter of the 19th century Chartists. Nonetheless, the fact that No2EU is taking a step towards solving the crisis of working class representation, whereas the People's Charter deliberately avoids the issue, makes the former far more significant.
The candidates for No2EU-Yes to Democracy include leaders of the Lindsey oil refinery construction workers who went on strike in January and of the Visteon car components workers currently blockading their factories. Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, will be heading the list in London, and a number of RMT regional officers will be standing around the country. Coventry Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist heads the list in the West Midlands. In the North West, the regional UNISON NEC representative and Socialist Party member, Roger Bannister, is heading the list. In Scotland, Tommy Sheridan is second on the list. Other candidates include car workers fighting job losses, postal workers resisting privatisation, health workers, teachers, fire-fighters and other public-sector workers. This list offers an alternative to the pro-capitalist parties, and its candidate lists are dominated by some of the most combative sections of the working class in Britain today.
There are one or two exceptions, notably Steve Radford, a councillor for the small Liberal Party, which split away from the Liberal Party when it merged with the SDP in 1988. He is on the list in the North West, having been proposed by the CPB. Clearly, the Liberal Party is not a workers' party and, in the past, Radford attacked the Liverpool 47, the Labour councillors, led by Militant supporters, who defied Margaret Thatcher's Tory government from 1983-87. However, all electoral blocs require some compromises. Some, of course, would be unacceptable and would lead to a break of the bloc. This, however, is an acceptable compromise. In the recent, period Steve Radford has taken a radical stand, has come out against the war in Iraq, and has been involved in anti-BNP campaigning. He has also agreed to the programme of the No2EU initiative.
No2EU-Yes to Democracy is partially motivated by an understanding of the urgent need to provide an alternative to the far-right racist British National Party (BNP). There is a real danger that the BNP could capitalise on the anger with New Labour and succeed in winning one or more MEPs in this election. The BNP will never be cut across by bland campaigns pleading with people not to vote for racists. The implication of such campaigns is that workers should vote for the pro-capitalist parties in order to stop the BNP. Only the development of a genuine working-class alternative, combined with a serious campaign against the BNP, will be able to effectively undermine them. This electoral initiative is taking an important step in that direction by offering a left, anti-EU alternative.
Some suggest that the Greens can play that role, particularly in the European elections, as they have two MEPs. However, the Greens are not a workers' party and are not capable of appealing to the section of disillusioned and angry workers who could consider voting for the BNP.


OF COURSE, WHILE No2EU's motivations and candidate lists are, overall, very impressive, when deciding whether to support an electoral initiative it is essential that socialists look not only at who is behind it, but also what programme it is standing on. The programme of No2EU consists of a few demands, centring on issues relating directly to the European Union. These are:
  • Reject the Lisbon treaty.
  • No to EU directives that privatise our public services.
  • Defend and develop manufacturing, agriculture and fishing industries in Britain.
  • Repeal anti-trade union European Court of Justice rulings and EU rules exploiting workers.
  • No to racism and fascism, yes to international solidarity of working people.
  • No to EU militarisation and an EU army.
  • Repatriate democratic powers to EU member states.
  • Replace unequal EU trade deals with fair trade that benefits developing nations.
  • Scrap EU rules designed to stop member states from implementing independent economic policies.
  • Keep Britain out of the eurozone.

The EU has not been central in most workers' minds up to the present time. However, recent developments have made it more of an issue, at least amongst those workers who have been directly affected, and perhaps increasingly amongst a wider layer. It was central to the Lindsey construction workers' strike. It was under the EU Posted Workers Directive and subsequent European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings that the Italian-registered company, IREM, was able to employ workers not covered by the union-enforced national construction industry agreements.
No2EU's programme takes up the different aspects of the EU's neo-liberal laws. These laws arise from the support of this government, and all European governments, for neo-liberal anti-working class policies. EU laws provide them with an additional lever with which to drive through their pro-big business programmes. For example, the EU's public spending criteria gave New Labour an excuse to privatise capital projects like new schools and hospitals, by means of private finance initiatives and the disastrous public-private partnership on London Underground, which increase the costs of public services and subsidise corporate profits. The government's plan for the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, the first step to its complete sell-off, is linked to the EU's 2007 Postal Services Directive to introduce a deregulated postal services market.

A neo-liberal charter

THE LISBON TREATY is just the latest in a long line of EU treaties that demand privatisation and other neo-liberal measures. However, it goes further than its predecessors. It is, in reality, the European constitution, repackaged after it was rejected by referendums in France and Netherlands. New Labour promised a referendum on the treaty, but then reneged on that promise after the 2005 general election. The Lisbon treaty has only been put to the vote in one country, Ireland. When a majority of the population rejected it, the response of the leaders of Europe was to demand a new vote, to take place by October 2009, in the hope that the Irish voters would 'get it right this time'. Despite the colossal pressure the Irish ruling class is applying to make sure it gets the result it wants second time around, it is not certain of success.
In all the referendums - France, the Netherlands and Ireland - the establishment argued for a 'yes' vote. In all three countries, the 'no' vote was strongest in working-class areas, reflecting deep-seated anger with Europe's ruling elites, and an understanding that the treaty is a neo-liberal charter.
The treaty lays the basis for further privatisation. It calls for a system in the 'internal market' to ensure 'that competition is not distorted' and calls for uniformity in measures of liberalisation. This is a thinly disguised code for hiving public services off to the private sector, starting with the most profitable.
Lisbon would also further undermine democracy as it gives to the European Commission, an unelected, appointed body, the task of negotiating trade agreements on a global basis. The Commission has a consistent record of proposing privatising public services. The European parliament, the only elected body, has always been little more than a rubber stamp. Under Lisbon it will have a few more rights but will still be able to do no more than act as a check on the Commission.
Individual member states would no longer have the right of veto. If there is a dispute between individual member states and the European Commission it will be the unelected European Court of Justice (ECJ) that will have to make a decision. The ECJ has repeatedly shown in whose interests it judges. For example, in the Laval judgement it concluded that trade union action in Sweden against Laval for employing Latvian workers on €9 an hour, rather than the nationally agreed rate of €16 an hour, had interfered with a company's 'freedom to provide services'. This was a legal precedent for the idea that trade union action is only legal if it does not interfere with the freedoms of big business - in other words the rights of the big corporations trumps the rights of workers every time. It was this, and other similar judgements, that were used against the Lindsey workers. The EU is making it easier for big business to conduct a race to the bottom, where employing workers from countries where labour is cheaper is used as a means to force down wages in countries with higher wages.
No2EU is an electoral bloc, bringing together different organisations and individuals, around a minimum programme for a specific campaign. As in the nature of any genuine electoral bloc, every supporting organisation works together to build No2EU-Yes to Democracy, but is free to put forward its own programme. Our material in support of No2EU-Yes to Democracy goes much further than the list of demands of the campaign, giving a clear socialist approach.
While No2EU is not yet a mass alternative, it involves sizeable forces, including RMT, a significant and combative national trade union. It is motivated by a working-class reaction against the capitalist EU project. Far from being nationalist, it has 'yes to international solidarity of working people' as one of its demands. What is more, in his public statements, Bob Crow has had a clearly internationalist approach, for example saying that "we want a workers' Europe, not the bosses' EU", on the BBC's Daily Politics show.
This initiative is a huge step forward. It offers an alternative to the majority of trade union leaders who continue to cling to the trouser legs of New Labour. In the Socialist Party we also hope it will be a step towards the development of a new mass left alternative. It offers a challenge to those trade union leaders, some even on the left, who have called for Britain to join the euro currency. They have done so partly because they were under the illusion that, because neo-liberalism had gone much further in Britain than in most other European countries, joining the eurozone would improve the rights of workers in Britain. This was completely incorrect. In reality the EU and the eurozone have been used as a tool by the capitalist classes to accelerate the drive to implement neo-liberal policies, aiming to catch Britain up, or even to overtake it. Where there were individual EU laws that were more progressive than British law, such as the maximum 48-hour working week, the British government simply opted out.

Europe in crisis

THE PRO-EURO trade union leaders also believed that a united Europe was going to take off. As has been argued in this magazine, a completely united Europe is utopian under capitalism. When the world economy was booming integration was able to go a long way. The capitalist classes of Europe are driven towards integration in order to create a counterweight to the economic power of the US, and now the growing strength of China and Asia. It is this need to establish an economic, political and even military counterweight to these rival economic blocs that is behind the EU.
Such is the modern scale of production, technique, investment and management that the multinationals and transnationals which dominate world trade plan their operations on a world, never mind a European, scale. This shows the potential for a democratic socialist plan, on a national, European and then a world basis, which would liberate the productive forces from the constraints of capitalism. However, as long as capitalism remains the big corporations cannot more than partially surmount the barrier of the nation state. They are, almost without exception, still based in, and tied to, particular countries.
They are reliant on the market and the political superstructure of their home nation. An intrinsic part of that political superstructure is a national consciousness which the capitalist class exploits in order, for example, to win support for its wars, but which is not, obviously, entirely under its control. At the same time, an international class consciousness also exists amongst the working class and labour movement. This is not static, either, but increases at times of heightened class struggle. In the past, this was shown by the huge international workers' support for the miners' strike in Britain in 1984-85, and has recently been shown by the support amongst Italian trade unionists for the Lindsey strike.
Although EU integration has gone some way, one indication of its limits is shown in the way it is still seen by voters. While this varies from country to country there is nowhere where the European parliament is considered to be anything more than an extremely poor second, in terms of its importance, to national parliaments. According to the EU parliament's own website, 54% of people across the EU say they are not interested in the European elections, while only 34% say they are likely to vote!
Europe, like the rest of the world, is now engulfed in the worst economic crisis since the great depression of the 1930s. Some countries outside the eurozone might hope that joining would ameliorate their economic crisis. The International Monetary Fund, for example, has been suggesting that Hungary, Latvia and other Central and Eastern European states should be allowed to join as 'quasi members'. The European Central Bank, of course, quickly ruled out taking any responsibility for these states.
However, while some governments might hope that the eurozone would provide them with a refuge, the countries inside are trapped in a prison. The Irish economy is in freefall, expected to contract by 7% this year. No readjustment through currency devaluation is possible so long as Ireland remains within the eurozone. Italy's exchange rate, to give another example, taking into account inflation, is estimated to be one third higher than required by the terrible economic position facing the country. This economic crisis could shatter the eurozone, if the poorest states have no choice but to escape from its prison. Another possibility is that the richest countries, particularly Germany, which is reluctant to bail out the poorest nations, could refuse to pay in to ensure the continuation of the euro.
Even if the eurozone survives this crisis intact, an escalation of the already increased national tensions between the different member states of the EU is inevitable. As we warned, there will be a recoil from the capitalists' attempts to create a united Europe with all the dangers of increased nationalism that this will bring.
No2EU-Yes to Democracy has a vital role to play in offering an alternative to nationalism. In one sense, it is more developed than many of the anti-EU or Common Market (formed in 1957, the precursor to the EU, set up in 1993) campaigns of the past because, far from blocking with the capitalist anti-EU parties, it is an attempt to provide a left alternative to them. It is not a coincidence that most of the same organisations that dismiss No2EU as nationalist also made the fundamental mistake of opposing the Lindsey oil construction workers' action, an all-out unofficial strike which won a tremendous victory, on the completely false grounds that it was nationalist.

Splits at the top

IT IS UTTERLY utopian to suggest, as Labour MP John Cruddas has recently done, that it is now possible, as a result of the economic crisis, to reforge the EU as a social democratic project. Cruddas argues that "the mandate of the European Central Bank must be broadened to include social objectives and the prevention of unemployment". He goes on to suggest that, if this takes place, the chances of Britain joining the euro would increase.
The ruling classes of Europe are divided on what path EU institutions should take in the next period. Just as New Labour's increased state intervention has been, as the Financial Times put it, "not to bury capitalism but to rescue it", so will any changed policy by the bodies of the EU be tailored to the needs of big business. At this stage, however, the EU is acting as the last defender of crude neo-liberalism. For example, EU finance ministers are demanding massive public spending cuts from a whole number of countries including Britain, which has been given six months to come up with plans to cut £35 billion to meet the Stability and Growth Pact finance rules.
They hope that by forcing through the Lisbon treaty they will be able to guarantee the continuation of untrammelled neo-liberalism. This is nonsense, of course, and they are already being forced to alter their approach in the face of reality. The European Commission treaty, article 87, for example, prohibits state aid. Yet European governments have pledged at least €1,873 billion to bail out their financial sectors, including €360 billion by the French government, €500 billion in Germany and €515 billion in Britain. Faced with a devastating economic crisis the various national ruling classes brushed aside the EU rules, treating them for what they are, words written on a piece of paper. The EU rules then had to be adapted to the actions of individual governments. Whereas the European Commission objected to the nationalisation of Northern Rock, it has since accepted a whole number of full and partial nationalisations, including Bradford and Bingley in Britain and the Anglo Irish Bank in Ireland. This is justified on the ground that these are emergency measures, but it gives an indication of how far the neo-liberal norms are breaking down in the face of crisis.
This in itself shows the limits of the power of the EU. Governments are happy to submit to its rulings as unbreakable when it suits them to do so but are also prepared to ignore them when they do not suit the interests of capitalism in their country. Some of the supporters of No2EU-Yes to Democracy do not always fully recognise this and suggest that it is EU diktats that are responsible for neo-liberal measures. This goes too far. In fact, of course, New Labour has been the most neo-liberal in a host of neo-liberal governments, and has introduced EU diktats with enthusiasm, because it has suited its purposes to do so. But it has been equally prepared to brush them aside in defence of the banking system.

No model democracy

THERE IS ALSO a danger that, while correctly attacking the lack of democracy in the EU, some supporters of the campaign can fall into giving the impression that the UK parliament is the alternative. A constitutional monarchy with an unelected second chamber, Britain is no model of democracy. Neither the House of Lords nor the monarchy is just a harmless tradition - like morris dancing or playing conkers. Just witness the way that Peter Mandelson recently sent the bill to part-privatise Royal Mail to the House of Lords for its first reading, rather than the House of Commons as is customary, in the hope of giving it an easy passage. The monarchy still has formal power to dismiss a prime minister and the government. This was last used in 1975, not in Britain but in Australia, when Sir John Kerr, the Governor-General appointed by the Queen, dismissed the Labour government. Although the monarchy today has far less social weight than it did in 1975, in the future, a desperate ruling class would be prepared to use its reserve powers.
Appearing to present the British parliament as democratic is one of the possible potential pitfalls of the position of the campaign that victorious candidates would only nominally hold their seats and would not sit in the European parliament. A discussion on how to proceed on this would be made by a national convention of the forces involved in the campaign, if candidates are elected. However, the Socialist Party argued against the current position, putting the case that, while no capitalist parliament is genuinely democratic, it is better for workers' representatives to sit in them both in order to use them as a platform from which they can gain publicity for their programme, and also to take whatever measures are possible to defend the interests of the working class. The possibilities for the latter are extremely limited in the European parliament, which can largely do no more than act as a check on the European Commission, and has no right to propose legislation. Nonetheless, even there, left MEPs have occasionally been able to have some effect. For example, an MEP from the Socialist Party in the Netherlands - a broad left reformist party - in 2007 was able to successfully move an amendment which blocked the requirement that all local and regional public transport be put out to tender to the private sector.
One of the main reasons for the campaign's position is the fact that the European parliament is accurately seen as a gravy train - MEPs will be earning nearly £80,000 a year after the June elections. Therefore, No2EU has rightly made it clear that no successful candidate will make any financial gain as a result. This points to the most effective means to deal with the issue, that is, to make it clear that anyone elected would only take a worker's wage, as Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall did when they were Labour MPs and supporters of the Militant Tendency (now the Socialist Party), in the 1980s. Instead of the bloated parliamentary salaries, they accepted the wage of a skilled worker in their constituencies, donating the rest to the workers' movement. Their expenses and accounts were circulated to local Labour Party and trade union bodies for scrutiny.
However, while we argued against the campaign's position to only nominally take any seats, nonetheless, as long as it is explained well, it will be understood by many workers. Bob Crow has responded to questions on the issue by asking 'can anyone name five MEPs?' This hits the spot because, in as far as most workers think about the European parliament at all, they consider it an irrelevant gravy train. Dave Nellist has responded by explaining about the convention the campaign would hold to discuss the way forward, but adding that, when he was an MP, while assiduously attending to his constituents' interests, he spent most of his time campaigning outside of Westminster, speaking at 1,500 public meetings, and that he would do the same if elected as an MEP, concentrating on building a movement in Britain and in Europe against the EU's neo-liberal agenda. He has added that at least when he went to Westminster there was the possibility of moving bills, but that this does not exist in the European parliament.

A first step

ELECTORAL PROSPECTS FOR the European elections are very difficult to predict. No2EU has been launched late in the day, and has limited financial resources. However, regardless of the number of votes it receives, it is a very important break in the situation. A certain comparison can be drawn with the launch in 2004 of the WASG (Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Justice) in Germany, which came initially from a layer of middle-ranking trade union officials and protests against attacks on living standards and workers' rights.
It was not initially clear how far the WASG would develop, however it was absolutely correct for Sozialistische Alternative (SAV - CWI Germany) to enthusiastically work to maximise the its potential. The WASG led to the setting up of Die Linke (The Left party) which received four million votes in the 2005 general election. The development of Die Linke has not been straightforward, with the leadership moving to the right and leading members of SAV excluded from membership. Nonetheless, it is a step towards independent representation for the working class in Germany.
In Britain we do not yet have a new mass left party - or a significant step towards one such as exists in Germany, France and Greece. However, we are faced with an important beginning. We have the leadership of a militant trade union that is prepared to take the responsibility for initiating the development of a political voice for working people - at least in the European elections - that will oppose all the capitalist parties and provide an alternative to the far-right, racist BNP . They will undoubtedly face attack from the capitalist media for daring to stand up. Marxists and socialists have a duty to offer every assistance in ensuring the campaign is a success.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Questions on Crime to a Venezuelan Consul

As I mentioned in my blog post about NUS Conference, during that conference I managed to quiz a Venezuelan consul about crime in Venezuela, below is a brief summary of what we discussed.

The discussion started with me asking a general question as to the effect of crime in Venezuela.
In response, the consul noted the problem of crime, in particular violent crime has beset Venezuela for a long time, yet he believed that the Chavez regime has managed to make inroads into it. For example, he cited life expectancy (increased from around 50 years to 70 years), which he admitted was mostly down to improvements in medical care, but he also believe this was due to lower levels of violence in the country. But he also pointed out that violents crime was historic - for example, earlier in Venezuelan history when European immigrants were invited to settle in the country, many refused becuase they believed it was too dangerous.

We then moved on to talking about prisons, as Venezuela does have notoriously overcrowded prisons.
Again, the consul noted that this is a big problem - but did inform me of a process of 'humanisation of prisons' which has been taking place over the last year which he believed to have been quite succesful - given I hadn't heard of it he recommended I look it up on the internet which I have done (See this article One thing that he did mention was some of the projects that have taken place to help Venezuelan prisoners to learn useful skills - mentioning one prison creating a classical music orchestra for example.
Yet conditions in Venezuela still rank below those in the UK's overcrowded prisons. To illustrate this he mentioned a scheme for transfer of prisoners between Britain and Venezuela which British prisoners incarcerated in Venezuela can opt to transfer to serve out their sentence in a British prison and vica-versa. Of those who have taken the offer up, the traffic has been entirely one way - from Venezuela to Britain.

Although we weren't able to talk for too long, I think there are some interesting points which need to be examined - particularly with regards to the prison reforms.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Review - Damming The Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment by Peter Hallward

Is is the first of three posts about Haiti - the 5th anniversary of the second coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide would have been on February 29th this year (had there been one) and this article comes from the March 2009 issue of Socialism Today.

DAMMING THE FLOOD tells the tale of Haiti over the past two decades. This Caribbean nation had been the scene of the successful slave revolt which threw off French rule way back in 1804, but it had suffered economic isolation and ‘underdevelopment’ from the vengeful imperialist powers ever since. It was only in 1987 that it began to emerge from the dictatorships of Papa Doc and Jean Claude Duvalier.
The book begins with the period leading up to Haiti’s first democratic election in 1990 when a Catholic priest from a liberation theology background, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, won a large majority in the presidential elections at the head of the Lavalas (the flood) movement. He was elected on a pro-poor platform with his regime lowering food prices and increasing the minimum wage. He also attempted to reign in the army which had acted with impunity during the dictatorship and the few years after, and it was this that precipitated his overthrow in 1991, which unleashed a torrent of repression on the Lavalas movement.
In exile in the US, Aristide tried to negotiate for his return to the country and the removal of the coup dictatorship. He was eventually restored to power by the US in 1994, for which he made many concessions towards neo-liberal imperialism. He introduced World Bank and IMF sponsored ‘structural adjustment plans’ and the privatisation of some state enterprises, although he also dismantled the armed forces.
His successor as president, Rene Preval, Aristide’s first prime minister, continued these policies. Yet support for Aristide remained very high, and he again won an overwhelming majority in the 2000 presidential elections (now as the candidate of his own party Fanmi Lavalas). But yet again, despite many pro-poor policies (such as again increasing the minimum wage), he made concessions to imperialism in order to restore international aid they were withholding to strangle his regime.
Former soldiers, backed by the ‘democratic opposition’ (local capitalists and politicians that had fallen out with Aristide) launched a wave of guerrilla operations from the Dominican Republic that overwhelmed Northern Haiti and eventually led to Aristide being forced into exile in the Central African Republic by the US. Yet this overthrow, in February 2004, was not without opposition from the people who took to the streets to demand Aristide’s return, in a manner reminiscent of the mobilisation of the Venezuelan masses to demand Chavez’s return after the 2003 coup attempt in Venezuela.
The despicable role of the imperialist powers is nowhere more clearly shown than in its ‘humanitarian intervention’ forces which, rather than trying to prevent abuses of human rights, actively perpetrated them, in particular repressing the remnants of Fanmi Lavalas with many deaths and its leading activists thrown into prison. This clearly shows how the imperialist powers will intervene in a country, not to protect ordinary people, but to defend their own economic and strategic interests.
Peter Hallward’s book has several strengths. Firstly it is clearly very well researched and he is able to quote from a variety of sources to refute several myths that have been promoted by various groups (including some well-known human rights organisation) about the period. These include a dispute over a technicality in the 2000 elections, how Aristide left the country in 2004, and the links between the armed forces and various oppositional groups. He also explains how such myths originated from the biased opposition press which, after being repeated without verification in the US, became unchallengeable ‘facts’ for much of the rest of the worldwide media.
Hallward also interviewed many of the participants in the Lavalas movement and the Fanmi Lavalas party and thus provides a clear view of the amount of support that Aristide still holds to this day, despite his exile. Hallward actually compares him to Chavez (however, Chavez is clear on the need for socialism and Aristide is not in the slightest) as both movements in Venezuela and Haiti clearly depend on their leading figures to a large extent. Yet there are similarities with the social organisation basis of Evo Morales in Bolivia too, as Fanmi Lavalas still continues to operate with well-established leaders and is not wholly dependent on the figurehead leader. This is clearly evidenced by the actions of the Latortue regime (the dictatorship that replaced Aristide) in imprisoning these leaders so they could not contest elections.
However, there are a few obvious weaknesses in the book too. One is the continual insistence by Hallward that there was no other route that Aristide could have taken apart from compromise with the major imperialist powers (in this case the US and France). He gives two reasons for this. The first is that Haiti was dependent on foreign aid and that as Haiti ground to a halt without these funds Aristide could not carry out his pro-poor initiatives. Yet a resolute programme to nationalise the major parts of the Haitian economy (especially the assets of those funding the armed opposition) would have countered this. It is true that, as Hallward notes, large sections of the economy are geared towards export. But an appeal for further assistance from Cuba and, during his second term, Venezuela – who both before and since Aristide’s presidency have had significant trading agreements with Haiti – could have overcome economic dependence on foreign aid. Of course, due to the nature of those regimes it would not be guaranteed that they would have come to Aristide’s aid, but such an appeal would certainly have been supported by the workers and poor of those countries, and would also have pointed towards the need for a socialist confederation of those countries with Haiti.
The second reason Hallward gives is related to the first. He argues that because Aristide had no armed forces he could rely upon he was therefore at the mercy of foreign armies if they chose to invade, and also the armed opposition. Yet at the same time Hallward praises Aristide’s pacifist stance, which meant that Aristide ended up demobilising the spontaneous attempts of Haitian workers and poor to defend themselves against the opposition forces.
This is linked to another issue that Hallward is weak on, the existence of pro-Aristide gangs (referred to by the opposition as chimeres). As he states the gangs, led by some Lavalas supporters, formed in the wake of the first coup to defend themselves and the communities they were based in from paramilitary violence. However, the gangs also relied on criminal and thuggish activities to support themselves. But such gangs would not have existed if Aristide and other Lavalas supporters had mobilised a movement aimed at stopping either of the coups in their tracks. Such examples can be found from history, such as the mobilisations that stopped the attempted coups of Kornilov in Russia in 1917, of General Spinola in Portugal in 1975, or even the ‘tancazo’ plot to overthrow Allende in Chile in June 1973. Such mobilisations could also have formed the basis for opposition to foreign military intervention. Although around 200 years ago, the slave revolts in Haiti show that technically superior foreign armies intervening into a social revolution can be successfully defeated, especially as at this time the US was already tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One certainly can see another resemblance between the events in Haiti in recent years and the Haitian slave revolution. Like the brave, but continually compromising Toussaint L’Overture, Aristide made concessions where he should have been decisive. The main ingredient that has been missing from Haiti over this period is a revolutionary party that will take decisive measures – more in the manner of another slave leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines – which could bring about the necessary conditions for the real freedom and liberation of the Haitian masses, a socialist Haiti and socialist world. This conclusion is not presented in the book, but it is the task that Marxists will have to take up in the country. Despite these criticisms, however, this is an excellent book and deserves attention.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Rugby League: In League with big business?

This features in this weeks issue of the Socialist - despite Rugby League having a traditionally working class background, I haven't ever come across any writings by Socialists on it. The photo is of the George Hotel in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire - the birth place of Rugby League.

AS TOP-flight football becomes more and more under the control of ridiculously wealthy individuals and businesses, we can learn from the creation of another of England's most played and supported sports.
Rugby League was born out of the northern working class' desire to play sport without fear of reducing their meagre incomes or putting their jobs at risk. By the late 19th century the three major British sports had already begun to form league structures, with football even forming a professional body in 1885.
But sports, whose rules were largely formed and made official by the upper class, were mostly amateur. This prevented the working class from taking a full role. Workers faced long working days, poor nutrition and often did hard physical jobs. Organised sport at a high level was often left to those with the money and lifestyle to support training sessions and regular matches.
In rugby, increasingly popular in the north, especially around West Yorkshire and Lancashire, a generation of talented working-class players had become frustrated at being forced to miss games because of work or to miss work through injury.
The owners of northern rugby clubs were forced to reflect this anger. So when the southern-dominated Rugby Football Union refused to allow working players to be compensated for missing work due to rugby the northern clubs broke away, forming what became the Rugby Football League.
Its creation reflected the working class' growing power. RL became, for the northern masses, a rallying point and an example of the pride felt in watching fellow workers allowed to perform at their best - a sensation far from that felt watching football's Premier League today.

The revenue game

Bearing its history in mind, the formation of the top-flight British Super League, is a betrayal of the values that the sport held on to for most of the 20th century. Super League was formed in 1996, bringing with it higher TV revenues but imposing some serious changes in the game.
One was the shift to a summer season which, due to matches being played on firmer ground, made the game much faster. This necessitated ever fitter, more superhuman players, generally limiting the playing of the sport at a high level to those with a naturally large frame and powerful physique.
Also negatively, it led to cheap US-style commercialisation of the sport, with cheerleaders and silly name changes. Historic teams such as Bradford Northern and Wakefield Trinity became Bradford Bulls and Wakefield Wildcats.
The new Super League, trying to draw in a new rugby league market, included 'expansion' teams in areas with no RL traditions, such as northern France and London. Neither fared well financially nor drew in supporters.
The economic calamities didn't stop there. In 1999 the RFL reduced the number of top-level teams, offering clubs a £1 million bribe to merge. This was taken up by teams struggling financially. Hull Sharks and Gateshead Thunder merged, as did Huddersfield Giants and Sheffield Eagles, robbing communities of local teams.
The latest development is Super League's franchise system, imported from the US sports world. It removes the threat of relegation, thereby guaranteeing TV revenues and encouraging greater investment in clubs. Yet the criteria for entry to the franchise are mostly financial - how well the team plays or their fan base are secondary considerations.
The spectre is there of RL becoming like the football Premier League. Already a few big teams tend to dominate the league, while more fans are priced out of watching their local teams play (adult ticket prices increased dramatically under the Super League).
Top RL players are still closer to their communities than in football; the sport has retained its working class fan base. Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield visited the Yorkshire Post strikers' picket line last month.
But rugby league has degenerated, aided by the profit-hungry league owners and media backers. This reinforces the need for democratic planning of the sport by representatives from the local areas, supporters' groups, players and coaches.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Record Amount of Visits on Tuesday (and other things)

On Tuesday, Leftwing Criminologist received a large spike in visitors as you can see from the rather dodgy graph in this post. In fact at 245 unique visitors this is the highest number I've ever had in a day by a long shot. Now, much as I like people to come visit and read this blog, I don't really go out of my way to get people to visit, I usually get around 50 unique visitors a day when I've posted that day or somewhat less when I haven't. Obviously I think the spike had a little something to do with the Red Dwarf review posted the day before, but if the odd one or two got interested in criminological ideas from a left-wing perspective then so much the better.
Anyways, onto other things - speaking of criminology from a left-wing perspective, I wanted to flag up another post by Phil at A Very Public Sociologist on what should socialists do about the police? In case people haven't guessed this leads on from the stuff at the G20 and also the arrest of direct action protestors recently - also for a decent summary of blogging on the police and the G20 read the most recent Carnival of Socialism over at HarpyMarx.
Given my lack of posting all that much over the last month or so, you may think that the next month could be similar. But rest assured, I've actually got quite a few posts in the bank ready to appear including a short series of posts on Haiti, some posts on Police Chief Constables, some comments on crime and criminal justice in Venezuela and more. Stay tuned!
Anyways, as ever I've been adding new links to the blogroll, but I haven't plugged any of the formally in the blog yet (in fact I've just checked and I haven't plugged any new blogs since January!), so please welcome An American Nightmare and Vengeance and Fashion, both of which are well worth checking out.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Review: Red Dwarf: Back To Earth

Where to be begin? I think I can safely say that they weren't the best Red Dwarf episodes ever.

For me the first episode wasn't that good at all. It just wasn't funny. The most amusing part was the Cat's diving costume. Instead we had what appeared to be quite high end special effects which just looked completely out of place. At times the odd thing looked good, like the rememberance garden, but for the most part it just made everything look too shiny and clean and just not Red Dwarf. I think I'm amongst a number of people who hate the overuse of CGI in programmes - usually cos it attempts to cover up a poor plot.

And thats before we get into them re-using gags from old series too. And I also wonder whether the lack of a studio audience (all but series 7 had one) had any impact on it, I feel that the actors timing might have been better with it and they might have come up with some funny bits too. I felt that the episode wasn't horrible, but I can't think of anything good to say about it.

Fortunately the next two episodes were better. I guess the whole TV characters realising that they are TV characters has been done before, but I thought it wasn't done too badly. More to the point I actually laughed during those episodes. They still weren't as good as classic Red Dwarf shows though, one of the main problems was that everything just seemed a little overdone, amusing things went on so long that they weren't as funny as they would have been if they had ended sooner, either that or they appeared to obviously have been borrowed from earlier series (the main exception I can think of is where Sophia Winklemans character explains how it is ethical to kill holograms like she plans to do to Rimmer and he promptly pushes her in front of a moving vehicle). The episodes weren't like you could hate them, but someone could and should have done something better with them.

But what I do want to address is some of the comments made by Phil at A Very Public Sociologist made in his review (see

Firstly I want to take up the division between the series that he creates, which are

1) Series 1 and 2 (early Red Dwarf)

2) Series 3 to 6 (mid-aged Red Dwarf)

3) Series 7 and 8 (Red Dwarf post Rob Grant)

I think this division is wrong, we need to be more exact about the changes in location for the series, change in writers and change in cast. Instead I think it should be split up as follows,

1) Series 1 and 2 (On Red Dwarf, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Holly)

2) Series 3 to 5 (On Red Dwarf, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten, female Holly)

3) Series 6 (On Starbug, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten, Female-Holly)

4) Series 7 (On an enlraged Starbug, Naylor by himself, crew-Lister, Rimmer(for part of the series), Kochanski(for part of the series), Kryten, Cat)

5) Series 8 (On Red Dwarf (in the tank), Naylor by himself, crew-Lister, Rimmer (alive), Kochanski, Kryten, Cat, Holly, Hollister and others)

The shift from series two to three with two different charcters (one new) changed the shape of the show, but not as much as happened in later series with the set changing each time as well as the cast and also shifting from having a studio audience to a film-like version then back to a studio audience again. Every time you change things it means the programme is going to turn out differently.

Basically, my problem with Phil's version of the development of Red Dwarf is that for him series 1-6 are great and 7-8 (as well as Back to Earth) are bad and it's all Doug Naylor's fault. This is way too simple for my liking and I don't think its completely accurate either.

I think there are good things about series 7 and 8 for a start, for example I really like Tikka To Ride, the first episode of series 7 (the recap at the beginning of that episode from series 6 is excellent, as is the recap at the beginning of series 6 - miles better than Back to Earth). And the bunk scenes in series 8 are rather good (perhaps if Doug Naylor had had at least one of these in Back to Earth the first episode might have been better, I think he writes those really well). But most importantly they are a different kind of Red Dwarf to the earlier series. (and by the way there are some crap bits in some of the earlier series too - using Rhyl as a location for an exotic resort, for example!)

But there is a point to Phil's comments about Doug Naylor writing stuff by himself. When writing comedy its generally advisable to have a partner writing with you. It's almost a necessity as you need to bounce your ideas of someone else to make sure other people find them funny and tease out any humour to it's full potential. If they plan on making further Red Dwarf episodes then the issues I've raised simply have to be addressed.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A Rant: Totally-Unoriginal-Gate

Why, why, why?

Why the hell do almost all scandals need to have the word gate shoved after them?

I mean Watergate, fair enough, that was the name of a place at the centre of that political scandal. And perhaps you can get away with using it a few mote times with something that was quite similar as a reference to it.

But adding gate to the end of any short word to do with a scandal is just plain sloppiness. It makes you wonder what journalists did before Watergate - or did no major scandals occur til then and Richard Nixon just let the permissive scandal society in?

I even found a list of gate scandals thats far from complete, but even that is a big list
Over the last few years we've had Jowell-GATE, Bertie-GATE, Sachs-GATE, Ferrari-GATE, Goodwin-GATE, Bonus-GATE, Lie-GATE and the latest (and what sparked off this rant) is Sleaze-GATE.

Of course there is the alternative that sometimes gets involved when large sums of money are given in return for something, Cash-for-?????, but I'll let that one slide as that doesn't get used so much.

Is it that much to ask for someone to come up with something new instead of recycling the same old 3o-odd year old label?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Review – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

After having this book recommended to me several times I finally got around to reading it over the last few months. And the reasons that it was recommended to me, for its exposition of the capitalist system and a vague explanation of how Socialism could work are very good. The chapters which feature the debates the workmen have about socialist ideas are excellent parts of the book.
Yet, for me there were several things I disliked about the book too. Firstly, at 700 or so pages, I felt that the book was overly long for the story it was telling. Secondly, I found the story quite depressing. Not that that is a reason necessarily to dislike it, but what was most depressing was the fact that the Socialists were just abstractly arguing for their ideas without trying to engage in struggles alongside other workers. There is one bit towards the end when the main character, Frank Owen, finally stands up to his employer to defend an apprentice at the company, and I found myself thinking ‘at last!’.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists depicts the brutality of capitalism for the working classes excellently, and despite the gap since when it was published those same conditions apply in similar form today. But whilst you’ll find an exposition of Socialist ideas in the book, what you won’t find is how to bring these ideas to the working class.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

3 Days of Purgatory: NUS Conference 2009

Whilst radicalism in Britain was seeing a revival around the G20 protests, some poor sods on the left drew the short straw and had to make the annual trek up to Blackpool for the NUS Annual Conference.

However, the conference started off with a pleasant surprise for me – it only took us 3 hours from Bangor to get there - it usually takes me that long to get to Manchester if I’m lucky!
The conference reflected the situation that NUS finds itself in at present – the vast majority of the motions were fairly pointless and without substance. Most of the motions with any substance had been proposed by groups and students unions on the left which tried to bring into conference the voice of the energetic movements that had developed. Unsuprisingly, amendments of free education, supporting the gaza occupations, recognising the success of those occupations etc. all got voted down. The only motion that did get passed was an amendment by Sussex against Ultra-vires that saw Wes Streeting speak for it (we believe he was deliberately baiting the Organised Independents).
Conference also featured some of the worst chairing I’ve ever seen with some NEC members blatantly deciding to ignore delegates wishes. We also saw a motion of censure being passed against Hind Hassan and Rob Owen.

The left was noticeably weaker than the last time I had gone to NUS conference. Another Education is Possible (SWP) were a lot smaller than the last time I’d seen them they maybe around 40 delegates. Education Not For Sale were also smaller – with around 10-12 delegates. Our delegation was very small – however, we’d have been around the same size as ENS if we hadn’t sent people down to the G20 protests instead of NUS Conference – our delegation of 5 was holding the ‘fort’.

Another presence at the conference was Communist Students – but it wasn’t Communist Students that’s associated with the CPGB – instead it was the CPB attempting to reclaim the name. Whilst they didn’t have any delegates they did run a stall and put on a fringe meeting which they asked us to speak at about the No2EU campaign. Indeed they were very friendly to us through the whole conference – allowing us to put copies of my election leaflet on their stall.

The CPB fringe meeting was small but very interesting – due to the smallness of it I was able to quiz the guest speaker, a consul from the Venezuelan Ambassy, about crime and criminal justice in Venezuela (post coming shortly!). We also had a brief discussion on how the No2EU election campaign was developing. I also went to two fringe meeting organised by the SWP – the first was a debate between Rob Owen and Wes Streeting which went over most of the same old ground. The second was the SWSS fringe on ‘How Can Palestine Be Free?’ There were two speakers – a SWSS student who talked about Zionism – unfortunately most of his contribution was stuff to do with the guy who came up with it rather than an actual analysis of its development and influence today. The second contribution was that of Michael Lavalatte who spoke about how we can solve the conflict there – a contribution which was good in some ways – stressing the need for socialism and opposing the Hamas tactic of firing rockets into Israel – but was still vague. Unlike the SWP fringe I went to three years ago, this time they allowed a handful of contributions from the floor (although they ignored Dan Randall of ENS who had his hand up first) and another Socialist Students member came into the discussion pointing out the inverse relation of the strength of Zionist ideas to the strength of the working class in relation to Russia and Germany before commenting further on the working class being the force for socialist change in the Middle East, including in Israel. The SWP seemed to have clearly prepared for us to come in on this point as they began attacking the very idea that the Israeli working class could be a force for change saying that the official labour movement is tied to Zionism and excludes Arabs (but that doesn’t stop Israeli workers organising outside that, like we are doing with NUS). The SWSS speaker then also started replying to stuff we’d never said – one memorable point he tried to make was that the Palestinian working class (which we hadn’t mentioned) is very small – he said around 20% of the population (but the working class were only 5% of the population when the Bolsheviks took power in Russia!)

For me, the struggles of students mostly lay outside that conference. But compared to the expected weakness of our intervention we made a good intervention into the conference, making several good speeches (including mine for the block of 15 – I didn’t get elected by the way). We also did a mildly successful stall in Blackpool on the Wednesday lunchtime. But I guess the best moment for the left in the conference was when Dan Randall (ENS) got elected onto the new trustee board with the highest number of first preference votes running on a anti-trustee board platform. (the appointees to the board include the Sheffield Uni vice-chancellor who threatened his own student with court action and a director of Lloyds TSB bank – which says it all about the board). James Haywood (AEP) was elected to the block of 15 and Dan Swain (AEP) was elected to the democratic procedures committee.