Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Amazing, Inspiring and Dedicated Workers, by Archie MacKay

“We don’t believe that County Hall has made any attempt to properly explain the value of Teaching Assistants to parents and the public, and we just want a fair opportunity to tell people why we feel the need to take this action.” 

In their own words, that was the brief reason why two of County Durham’s Teaching Assistants (TAs) wanted to talk to me as ballot papers on strike action were being posted to the majority of the county’s TAs.

“Durham County Council (DCC) have even taken to calling us ‘classroom helpers’ in their press statements now, instead of ‘teaching assistants’ – even though that’s what we’ve been called since our jobs were re-evaluated by the same council in 2012 – because they want to distance us from the word ‘teaching’,” said Mary, who asked that her real name not be used, as did her colleague Ann.

“But the reality,” added Ann, “is that we aren’t just Teaching Assistants, we are assistant teachers.” 

“A lot of people think that we are in school to make sure classrooms are tidy before and after lessons and that’s the extent of our role.

“They don’t realise that not only are most of us educated to degree level, but we are also highly experienced and trained in specialised areas.

“For example, I have expertise in autism and looking after other children with special needs. That’s not training that teachers have received, so they are absolutely reliant on us to help children with complex requirements.”

The list of specialisms is wide ranging, from speech and language therapy to emotional counselling, allowing TAs to work one to one with children who may need additional support and freeing teachers to work with the remaining pupils.

“We also regularly plan and even take classes when teachers are absent,” said Mary.

“I know of many TAs who have taken classes for several days when a teacher is off sick. We’re effectively used as teachers to save the school the cost of hiring in expensive supply teachers. 

“The reality is that our role has changed significantly over the decades, as has the role of teachers, and we are now a profession in our own right and should be seen as such.

“But they [Durham County Council] just don’t value us for the work we do, which is ridiculous given some County Councillors are school governors and even ex-teachers.

“They know better than most how important TAs are to the proper functioning of a school.” 

Durham County Council, after a consultation in which TAs claim they have not been listened to, has decided to sack the majority of the county’s teaching assistants after they overwhelmingly voted to reject a compensation offer which would delay for two years life-changing pay cuts of up to 23%.

The ‘compensation’ is in fact an offer to retain their current salary - already up to £4,000 a year less than other local authorities in the North East - for two more years before the swingeing cuts are introduced.

The authority claims that this exercise is not about money, but about equality

That is to say, it is not a cost-cutting exercise by a council which says it must find £30m of savings this year, and £64m between now and 2020. 

They say that TAs are paid as if they work all year when in fact they only work term time. As a result, the council is open to equality claims from staff who are already on term-time only contracts such as school cleaners and cooks.

They deny that teaching assistants are already employed on term-time only contracts that, historically, were divided by 12 and paid in monthly instalments so that TAs did not have to sign on during the school holidays. 

The authority has already admitted that, in the years since the last review of teaching assistant pay, in 2012, when TAs lost their SEN allowance, there has not been one solitary equal pay claim.

It says instead that, even though no one sought to launch an action in the past four years, there are several claims awaiting the outcome of this exercise.

One might be tempted to ask whether the phrase ‘equal pay claims’ was first mooted by a disgruntled employee, or whether it was identified within the local authority legal department as a convenient Trojan horse for future cost cutting.

Certainly, the authority does not talk about the £3m that will be saved from the schools budget. It doesn’t say whether next year that saving will be identified as a surplus and clawed back in a future budget.

Neither does it report the projected long term savings this measure will recoup – both in wages and pensions.

Somewhat ironically, the projected £3m savings from firing and re-hiring 2,700 teaching assistants is almost exactly equivalent to the combined salary shared by Durham County Council’s 28 Chief Officers and Heads of Service.

County Durham Teaching Assistant Activists Committee (CDTAAC), the group formed within the TA workforce to challenge the council’s attack on their pay, used the authority’s own pay calculator to publish details of the financial impact on a Level 3 TA earning £18,560 a year with over 5 years experience. 

Under the new terms, if such an employee was to work an additional 4.5 hours per week, they would still lose £154.66 per month or £1,856 per annum – 10% of their salary.

However, if the same TA is unable to work the additional time and instead has to remain on their current 32.5 hours per week contract, that person will lose a whopping £323.96 a month, £3,887 a year and see their salary slashed by 21%, reducing their earnings to just £14,672.

By contrast, the equivalent person, working just a dozen miles away in Darlington, under another local authority, will be earning up to £23,061.

The equally devastating effect on pensions – and the substantial savings to be made by DCC – are easy to see, even if the council don’t want to mention them. 

“If it’s not about money, why are they enforcing a pay cut of up to 23%?” asks Ann. 

 The county are yet to provide an adequate reply, saying only that they have “tried really hard to mitigate the impact of changes linked to paying staff for the hours they actually work.” 

“They haven’t ‘tried really hard’,” suggests Ann. 

“The fact is they haven’t tried at all. If they had the will, they could very easily re-grade TAs so they keep their current salaries, but they haven’t.” 

“We’re not asking for more money,” says Mary, “We’re just asking to be paid what we currently earn. All councillors have to do is re-grade us so that we keep our salaries.

“It’s a simple solution that will completely resolve this dispute, but for a county that says they’ve tried ‘really hard’ and who claim they want to ‘mitigate the impact of changes’ to our contracts, they haven’t even entertained that option.” 

There are very few people in any profession who could cushion the financial impact of a 23% pay cut, let alone some of the lowest paid workers in the country, already earning well below the national average and expected to budget for a pay cut which in many cases is more than their monthly rent.

There is already an example of a recently bought home being sold in fear of mortgage payments becoming unaffordable. 

“There aren’t many of us who can live on between £300 and £500 a month being taken out of our wages, but on top of that, we have to listen to Durham County Council constantly trying to devalue the work that we do,” said Ann. 

 “In fact, many of us would be better off quitting and going on the dole, where we would be financially better off,” is her alarming conclusion. 

“All that we ask,” they both reiterate, “is that Durham County Council values us for the work that we do, and doesn’t drive us out of a profession that we love.” 

Indeed, ‘value’ is a word that has become rooted in this dispute, with the hashtag ValueUs used by the TAs in their highly effective social media campaigns, which have brought them to the notice of national media, including one of the country’s leading film directors, Ken Loach, who mentioned their campaign during a recent interview published in the Guardian

The TAs’ campaigning has also finally persuaded Unison, the union that represents the majority of teaching assistants, to throw its full weight behind the dispute. 

TAs had been critical of a perceived lack of support from Unison, but last week its General Secretary, Dave Prentis arrived in Durham to address a packed Miners Hall, saying: 

“I hope and expect Durham TAs will vote for strike action next week. When schools are closed or short-staffed by industrial action, perhaps then Durham Council will appreciate their immense value. 

“I know that communities across Durham understand what a difference teaching assistants make to the lives of the children they work with. 

“Whether they’re learning to talk or learning to read, TAs are there from before the first bell and still there long after the last child has gone home. 

“Together we can end the injustice of massive pay cuts for those who care for our kids. 

“Together, we can and will show Durham Council they have messed with the wrong group of amazing, inspiring and dedicated workers.” 

It remains to be seen whether Durham County Councillors are sobered enough to return to the negotiating table by the image of such highly skilled workers languishing on benefits while schools, parents and, most critically, children are robbed of their valuable experience.

If not, it will be more than the county’s Teaching Assistants who are the poorer for it.

You can contribute to the County Durham Teaching Assistants strike fund here.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Small c Defence of Corbyn, by Adam Young

British politics is built on being a two-party system, with little room for a third party except in specific seats.

Out of necessity, then, to be active in politics and hope to get some change done, one has to pick one party or the other.

At this time, it is Conservative or Labour. Those are the options. Of course, that does not mean that I believe that people should stick to those parties dogmatically.

What I am suggesting is simply that a voter should be realistic about prospects of winning elections and should actually study the policies of both parties before making a choice, although this is not a criticism of non-voting.

As such, in my view when it comes to British politics at the moment, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is the much saner choice from a small “c” conservative perspective.

Not once have I felt that Theresa May believed in what she said. The Conservative Party Conference of last year was filled to the brim with speeches that led many commentators to identify a leftward move by the party. “Reclaiming the centre,” or something to that effect.

Dan Hodges, when he was still at the Telegraph, dubbed Cameron at that time, “the New Leader of the British Left.”

May’s speech, on the other hand, was considered the token right-wing speech. It discussed the negatives of mass immigration. She averred that even if Britain could handle mass immigration, it “shouldn’t”. 

This is all well and good, if you ask me. However, anyone who has basic knowledge of immigration will understand that to prevent mass immigration, one must leave the European Union.

So when the time came for MP’s to come out in support for leaving the EU, one would expect May to jump all on board onto the Leave campaign. Yet she supported Remain. 

Now if May truly cared about reducing immigration, as she so fervently made out in her speech, then would she not back leaving the EU? 

May is a political chameleon, much like Tony Blair or David Cameron. She couldn’t name the philosophy she subscribes to, much like other members of the “Third Way” movement. 

I find this more dangerous than someone who has their own dangerous ideology. You know where you where stand with them.

But those of the supposed “Third Way”, which is not an original idea as Blair made out, are impossible to define and almost always appeal to the hedonistic and knee-jerk aspects of society.

Her purported support for grammar schools, seems to me to be nothing more than bold talk to appease the actual conservatives in her party. Much like Cameron’s laughable promise about “a bonfire of the quangos” in 2010.

I am doubtful that grammar schools are anything more than talk from May, who is trying to incorporate some conservative aspects into her perfectly coordinated look.

Her talk of “compassionate conservatism” and of “an economy that works for all” is the same as the “moderniser” terms used by Cameron and Osborne, and the New Labour spin of Blair. 

May is the continuation of this political farce that has ruined our humbled institutions and much of our civil society and liberty.

She is much the heir to Blair as Cameron said that he was.

This leads me to Corbyn. 

Corbyn is not that continuation. Corbyn is a break from what is considered the political narrative. That can only lead to good.

Corbyn’s greatest achievement so far has been the systematic destruction of the Blairites in his party, preventing them from ever again gaining a foothold in Labour.

One Blairite party was dangerous enough, but having two, with those as the two major parties, would have made it practically impossible to prevent national decline.

Furthermore, Corbyn is the only mainstream leader of any political party who openly disagrees with what is our current mainstream foreign policy consensus.

That is, of blindly following Washington neoconservatives who happily bomb Middle Eastern countries in a perpetual war for American exceptionalism and the mighty crusade for universal democracy.

Additionally, though we disagree on the solutions to such problems, we agree that neoliberalism is a broken ideology that will eventually lead to an economic hardship in the near future.

Certain elements of Corbyn I find rather disagreeable, of course. I am a Colonel Blimp, after all. But I can find comprises with most of them.

He is an egalitarian, I am not. But that is purely an argument of ideas rather than policies themselves.

He has happily talked to Gerry Adams, a man I personally dislike, in the past. But in the end, so have Prince Charles and David Cameron, and, when given the chance, so will Theresa May.

He did not sing the National Anthem, but I can think of few people whom I know for sure would know all the lyrics to God Save the Queen

The EU referendum was possibly the only real issue I could take with Corbyn. Critiquing May for backing Remain whilst not critiquing Corbyn for also backing Remain would be hypocritical of me.

But they were in two different situations. May could easily have supported leaving the EU, as did Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and other Cabinet Ministers.

But she did not. Not out of care for the issue, but out of a desire to protect her position in power.

Corbyn, on the other hand, was leading a party in which the vast majority of his MPs were hoping to see him make a mistake, in order to justify a Leadership contest.

If Corbyn had supported Leave, then Labour MPs against him would have argued he was going against the party’s “values” (New Labour values), and would have claimed that he had weakened the case for staying in the EU.

So Corbyn, out of necessity, was required to support the EU, whether he wanted to or not.

Nevertheless, although both are of course flawed, when I weigh what I think about May and Corbyn, I think that in the current climate I could only safely put myself on the side of Corbyn.

Corbyn is option closer to my views, and the only one that I could expect to deliver what he had promised. May is a purveyor of political chitchat, with bold talk, but without much action or delivery.

Corbyn is what he says that he is. That is a rarity in politics, and he is all the better for it.

Monday, 19 September 2016

AFL-CIO to Planet Earth: Drop Dead, by Norman Solomon

At a meeting with the deputy political director of the AFL-CIO during my campaign for Congress, she looked across her desk and told me that I could get major union support by coming out in favor of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

That was five years ago.

Since then, the nation’s biggest labor federation has continued to serve the fossil fuel industry. Call it union leadership for a dead planet.

Last week, the AFL-CIO put out a statement from its president, Richard Trumka, under the headline “Dakota Access Pipeline Provides High-Quality Jobs.”

The rhetoric was standard flackery for energy conglomerates, declaring “it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is steadfast against the Dakota Access pipeline: “We will not rest until our lands, people, waters, and sacred sites are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”

In sharp contrast to the AFL-CIO’s top echelon, some unions really want to restrain climate change and are now vocally opposing the Dakota pipeline.

Communications Workers of America has expressed solidarity with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe “as they fight to protect their community, their land and their water supply.”

At National Nurses United, Co-President Jean Ross cites “an obligation to step up climate action to protect public health and the future for the generations to follow us.”

Ross said: “We commend the leaders and members of the Standing Rock Sioux, the many First Nation allies who have joined them, and the environmentalists and other supporters who have participated in the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline.”

NNU points out that “the proposed 1,172-mile pipeline would carry nearly a half million barrels of dirty crude oil every day across four states.”

Ross says that such projects “pose a continual threat to public health from the extraction process through the transport to the refinery.”

As for the AFL-CIO’s support for the pipeline, NNU’s director of environmental health and social justice was blunt.

“We’re deeply disappointed in our labor federation siding with those that would endanger and harm the land, the water, the lives of the people along the pipeline path and the health of the planet itself in the name of profits,” Fernando Losada said.

He added that the Dakota pipeline is part of “a drive to extract fossil fuel that is untenable for the future of the planet.”

The nurses union is part of the AFL-CIO, but dominant forces within the federation are committed to corporate energy priorities.

Losada said that “some elements in the AFL-CIO” have caused a stance that “is a narrow position in the alleged interests of their members for some short-term jobs.”

Compare that narrow position to a recent statement from Communications Workers of America:

“The labor movement is rooted in the simple and powerful idea of solidarity with all struggles for dignity, justice and respect.

“CWA will continue to fight against the interests of the 1% and corporate greed and firmly stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the environmental and cultural degradation of their community.”

A venerable labor song has a question for the leaders of the AFL-CIO: Which side are you on?

When it comes to planetary survival, the answer from the top of the AFL-CIO hierarchy remains: We’re on the wrong side.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Debut of Our Revolution: Great Potential. But., by Norman Solomon

While Bernie Sanders was doing a brilliant job of ripping into the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the livestreamed launch of the Our Revolution organization on Wednesday night, CNN was airing a phone interview with Hillary Clinton and MSNBC was interviewing Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

That sums up the contrast between the enduring value of the Bernie campaign and the corporate media’s fixation on the political establishment.

Fortunately, Our Revolution won’t depend on mainline media. That said, the group’s debut foreshadowed not only great potential but also real pitfalls.

Even the best election campaigns aren’t really “movements.” Ideally, campaigns strengthen movements and vice versa.

As Bernie has often pointed out, essential changes don’t come from Congress simply because of who has been elected; those changes depend on strong grassroots pressure for the long haul.

It’s all to the good that Our Revolution is encouraging progressives around the country to plan far ahead for effective electoral races, whether for school board, city council, state legislature or Congress.

Too many progressives have treated election campaigns as impulse items, like candy bars in a checkout line.

Opportunities await for campaigns that might be well-funded much as Bernie’s presidential race was funded, from many small online donations.

But except for presidential races, the politics of elections are overwhelmingly local -- and therein lies a hazard for Our Revolution.

A unified set of positions nationwide can be helpful; likewise publicity and fundraising for candidates across state borders.

But sometimes hidden in plain sight is a basic fact: National support does not win local elections. Local grassroots support does.

Backing from Our Revolution will be close to worthless unless people are deeply engaged with long-term activism in local communities -- building relationships, actively supporting a wide range of sustained progressive efforts, developing the basis for an election campaign that (win or lose on Election Day) will strengthen movements.

Sooner or later, some kind of culture clash is likely to emerge when social-change activists get involved in a serious election campaign.

Running for office involves priorities that diverge from some tendencies of movement activism (as I learned when running for Congress four years ago).

The urgencies and practicalities of election campaigns aren’t always compatible with how grassroots progressive groups tend to function.

As a 501c4 organization, Our Revolution won’t be running campaigns.

Instead, it’ll raise funds and provide support for campaigns while being legally prohibited from “coordinating” with them.

And -- most imminently with the urgent need to stop the TPP in Congress during the lame-duck session -- Our Revolution could make a big difference in pressuring lawmakers on key issues.

Overall, the livestreaming debut of Our Revolution continued a terrific legacy from the Bernie campaign of educating and agitating with vital progressive positions on such crucial matters as economic justice, institutional racism, climate change, Wall Street, corporate trade deals and health care.

But throughout Our Revolution’s livestream, war went unmentioned. So did Pentagon spending. So did corporate profiteering from the massive U.S. military budget.

In that sense, the evening was a step backward for Bernie.

After virtually ignoring foreign policy and military-related issues during his campaign’s early months last summer, he gradually criticized Hillary Clinton’s record of supporting regime change.

In early spring, during the New York primary campaign, he laudably called for evenhanded policies toward Israel and Palestinians.

Although he never delivered more than occasional and brief glancing blows at the military-industrial complex during the campaign, Bernie did offer some valuable critiques of foreign policy.

But from the debut of Our Revolution, including Bernie’s 49-minute speech, you wouldn’t have a clue that the United States is completing its fifteenth year of continuous warfare, with no end in sight.

Now, sadly, there may be a need to reactivate the petition headlined “Bernie Sanders, Speak Up: Militarism and Corporate Power Are Fueling Each Other,” which 25,000 people signed on a RootsAction webpage 12 months ago:

Senator Sanders, we are enthusiastic about your presidential campaign’s strong challenge to corporate power and oligarchy.

We urge you to speak out about how they are intertwined with militarism and ongoing war.

Martin Luther King Jr. denounced what he called ‘the madness of militarism,’ and you should do the same. 

As you said in your speech to the SCLC, ‘Now is not the time for thinking small.’ 

Unwillingness to challenge the madness of militarism is thinking small.”

As the petition page noted, Dr. King “explicitly and emphatically linked the issues of economic injustice at home with war abroad.”

In a society desperately needing “adequate funds for programs of economic equity and social justice,” the challenge remains clear:

“Overcoming militarism is just as vital as overcoming oligarchy. We won’t be able to do one without the other.”

If Bernie and Our Revolution continue to evade the present-day realities of “the madness of militarism,” their political agenda will be significantly more limited than what our revolution requires for a truly progressive future.

Norman Solomon, national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Clinton’s Transition Team: A Corporate Presidency Foretold, by Norman Solomon

Like other Bernie Sanders delegates in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, I kept hearing about the crucial need to close ranks behind Hillary Clinton. 

“Unity” was the watchword. But Clinton has reaffirmed her unity with corporate America.

Rhetoric aside, Clinton is showing her solidarity with the nemesis of the Sanders campaign -- Wall Street. 

The trend continued last week with the announcement that Clinton has tapped former senator and Interior secretary Ken Salazar to chair her transition team.

After many months of asserting that her support for the “gold standard” Trans-Pacific Partnership was a thing of the past -- and after declaring that she wants restrictions on fracking so stringent that it could scarcely continue -- Clinton has now selected a vehement advocate for the TPP and for fracking, to coordinate the process of staffing the top of her administration.

But wait, there’s more -- much more than Salazar’s record -- to tell us where the planning for the Hillary Clinton presidency is headed.

On the surface, it might seem like mere inside baseball to read about the transition team’s four co-chairs, described by Politico as “veteran Clinton aides Maggie Williams and Neera Tanden” along with “former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.” 

But the leaders of the transition team -- including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, who is also president of the Clinton-Kaine Transition Project -- will wield enormous power.

“The transition team is one of the absolute most important things in the world for a new administration,” says William K. Black, who has held key positions at several major regulatory agencies such as the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

Along with “deciding what are we actually going to make our policy priorities,” the transition team will handle key questions: 

“Who will the top people be? Who are we going to vet, to hold all of the cabinet positions, and many non-cabinet positions, as well? The whole staffing of the senior leadership of the White House.”

Salazar, Podesta and the transition team’s four co-chairs is withering.

“These aren't just DNC regulars, Democratic National Committee regulars,” he said in an interview with The Real News Network.

“What you're seeing is complete domination by what used to be the Democratic Leadership Council. So this was a group we talked about in the past.

“Very, very, very right-wing on foreign policy, what they called a muscular foreign policy, which was a euphemism for invading places.

“And very, very tough on crime -- this was that era of mass incarceration that Bill Clinton pushed, and it's when Hillary was talking about black ‘superpredators,’ this myth, this so dangerous myth.”

Black added:

“And on the economic side, they were all in favor of austerity. All in favor of privatization. Tried to do a deal with Newt Gingrich to privatize Social Security. And of course, were all in favor of things like NAFTA.”

As for Hillary Clinton’s widely heralded “move to the left” in recent months, Black said that it “was purely calculated for political purposes. 

“And all of the team that's going to hire all the key people and vet the key people for the most senior positions for at least the first several years of what increasingly looks likely to be a Clinton administration are going to be picked by these people, who are the opposite of progressive.”

In that light, Salazar is a grotesquely perfect choice to chair the transition team. 

fter all of Clinton’s efforts to present herself as a foe of the big-money doors that revolve between influence peddlers and government officials in Washington, her choice of Salazar -- a partner at the lobbying powerhouse WilmerHale since 2013 -- belies her smooth words. 

That choice means the oil and gas industry just hit a political gusher.

On both sides of the revolving doors, the industry has been ably served by Salazar, whose work included arguing for the Keystone XL pipeline. His support for fracking has been so ardent that it led him two years ago to make a notably fanciful claim: “We know that, from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone.”

Salazar is part of a clear pattern. Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine for vice president underscored why so many progressives distrust her. 

Kaine was among just one-quarter of Democrats in the Senate who voted last year to fast track the TPP. 

When he was Virginia’s governor, Kaine said that “I strongly support” a so-called right-to-work law that is anathema to organized labor.

A few years ago he faulted fellow Democrats who sought to increase taxes for millionaires.

Clinton announced the Kaine pick while surely knowing that many progressives would find it abhorrent.

A week beforehand, the Bernie Delegates Network released the results of a survey of Sanders delegates showing that 88 percent said they would find selection of Kaine “unacceptable.” 

Only 3 percent of the several hundred respondents said it would be “acceptable.”

The first big post-election showdown will be over the TPP in the lame-duck session of Congress.

Clinton’s spokesman Brian Fallon reiterated a week ago that “she is against the TPP before the election and after the election.” 

But her choices for running mate and transition team have sent a very different message. 

And it’s likely that she is laying groundwork to convey anemic “opposition” that will be understood on Capitol Hill as a wink-and-nod from a president-elect who wouldn’t mind “aye” votes for the TPP.

Blessed with an unhinged and widely deplored Republican opponent, Hillary Clinton may be able to defeat him without doing much to mend fences with alienated Sanders voters.

But Clinton’s smooth rhetoric should not change the fact that -- on a vast array of issues -- basic principles will require progressives to fight against her actual policy goals, every step of the way.

Norman Solomon, national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit As Repoliticised Politics, by Matthew Cooper

What a morning to wake up to in Saint Paul!

Not only do we have the news that fifty-two per cent of Britons have voted to leave the European Union, but also that David Cameron is tendering his resignation.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by the first result. I was – pleasantly so.

And I’d also be lying if I said Cameron’s resignation as PM didn’t make that surprise all the sweeter.

This is indeed a watershed moment, but not for the reasons the politicians most concerned are wont to claim.

For example: pace Nigel Farage, Brexit was not – and never was – a referendum on immigration policy. 

Regardless of the strong presence of an anti-immigration element among the Leave campaign organisers, whether Britain stays in or withdraws from the European Union will have absolutely no immediate impact on the levels of immigration from non-EU members such as Syria. 

It will not do to say that the current vote heralds a hostile, racist or xenophobic stance toward – as the more hysterical of the Remain camp have begun to claim – either Britain’s non-white populace or foreign nationals who are already living and working there. 

Still less does it mean a return to British imperium or pre-WWI economic power. 

It is actually rather comical that UKIP are now seeking ‘free trade’ with the European Union after going directly afoul of the banksters who run it, but that goes somewhat to show how out-of-touch they were with the ramifications of their own campaign.

Likewise, pace Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, Jo Rowling and the other doomsayers in Remain, Brexit is not, and should not be taken as, a referendum on Scotland’s standing within the United Kingdom. 

However, Brexit may end up making it the case that within Britain regional concerns will take on far greater importance. 

The reason for this, is that Brexit was in fact a moment at which the same phenomenon which lifted Jeremy Corbyn to power, was voted on by the British general public and influenced the course of the entire United Kingdom. 

Corbyn was elected to his current seat as the head of the Labour Party on two principles: that policy matters more than narrative, and that the same impersonal market forces and bureaucracies which have emptied politics of its content do not need to dictate those same politics. 

Dr Wang Hui – professor of literature at Tsinghua University and leading scholar of the Chinese New Left – coined a phrase which he used extensively in his book on Chinese modernity, The End of the Revolution: ‘depoliticised politics’. 

In his case, he used it to refer to the formal dominance of the Chinese Communist Party in Chinese political life, whilst at the same time the content of politics was emptied of all its former meaning and a naked neoliberal logic of markets was used to fill the void. 

The collective action of human beings – as in Tiananmen Square in 1989 – was barred from consideration as a force for change. 

Although no single party rules the European Parliament in the same way the CCP rules China, it is still the case that the European Union project represents this same kind of depoliticisation of politics. 

Collective action and organisation at the local or national level are ignored in favour of a faceless and democratically-unaccountable technocracy operating out of Brussels: the Commission, the Central Bank and the IMF.

This technocracy justifies itself in exactly the same way, it should be noted, as the Chinese Communist Party after Deng Xiaoping has justified itself: without us, there will be no growth, no good times, no economic stability. 

Britain has now delivered a stunning popular rebuke, both to the argument that they need the European Troika and the technocratic structure it represents, and to the underlying principle that the collective action of people at the grassroots is subservient and subject to neoliberal market logic – the latter of which would have dictated that British people stay in the Union out of pure consumeristic self-interest.

Without denying that some degree of this rebuke was issued for less-than-admirable reasons – to wit, the reasons of nativism, xenophobia, nostalgia for Empire – the end result is something which ought to be cheered by the Left at large.

Brexit is at its core a ‘repoliticised politics’, a statement that Thatcher was wrong – there is an alternative to neoliberalism, and a different kind of statecraft is indeed possible.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Father's Day, by David Lindsay

Only 35 years ago, a single manual wage provided the wage-earner, his wife and their several children with a quality of life unimaginable even on two professional salaries today.

This impoverishment has been so rapid and so extreme that most people, including almost all politicians and commentators, simply refuse to acknowledge that it has happened.

But it has indeed happened. And it is still going on.

If fathers matter, then they must face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance, including censure where necessary, from the wider society, including when it acts politically as the State.

A legal presumption of equal parenting. Restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit was being paid to mothers.

Restoration of the requirement that providers of fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father.

Repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed.

And paternity leave available at any time until the child was 18 or left school, thereby reasserting paternal authority, and thus requiring paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence.

Of course a new baby needs her mother. But a 15-year-old might very well need her father, and that bit of paternity leave that he had been owed these last 15 years.

That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver.

That basis is high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment. All aspects of public policy must take account of this urgent social and cultural need.

Not least, that includes energy policy: the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs that secure the economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community.

So, nuclear power. And coal, not dole.

Moreover, paternal authority cannot be affirmed while fathers are torn away from their children and harvested in wars. 

Especially, though not exclusively, since those sent to war tend to come from working-class backgrounds, where starting to have children often still happens earlier than has lately become the norm.

Think of those very young men whom we see going off or coming home, hugging and kissing their tiny children.

You can believe in fatherhood, or you can support wars under certainly most and possibly all circumstances, the latter especially in practice today even if not necessarily in the past or in principle.

You cannot do both.