Thursday, July 28, 2011

Twenty years ago...


ROVER plans to axe 1,260 non-manual jobs, 12 per cent of the group’s workforce. It brings the total number of Rover jobs lost in the last 18 months to 3,500.
Around 500 will go at Longbridge, 400 at Solihull, 180 at Cowley, 110 at Swindon and 70 at Gaydon.
The recession has hit motor companies world-wide. In Europe only German new car sales are up significantly fuelled by re-unification.
Rover claims that this latest round of job cuts are part of a long-term restructuring, “emulating Japanese manufacturing efficiencies” as a company statement put it.
Even so, Rover has said it will put 12,000 production workers on a four-day week because of falling demand for key models.
Rover has been increasing its share of the market, but the market itself is shrinking fast.
Last month Ford announced it was halting production at Harewood. But it will retain the plant’s 6,500 assembly workers, already working short-time on full pay.


A SENIOR European Community official has met the Albanian government which has been desperately seeking imperialist aid to stave off famine.
The Ramiz Alia government, a coalition of anti-communist nationalists and Alia’s revisionist wing of the former Party of Labour, faces an economic crisis provoked by the so-called reforms of this year.
This has seen the abandonment of the socialist constitution, the break-up of the co-operative farms and the beginning of the restoration of capitalism in the small Balkan republic.
The talks between the EC Foreign Affairs Commissioner Frans Andriessen, and Albanian Prime Minister Ylli Bufi centred around Albanian appeals for urgent supplies of food and medicine.
The Albanian premier warned the EC official that government wasn’t bailed out soon the people would lose confidence in what he called the “democratic reforms” and the subsequent backlash could jeopardise its very existence.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Unions remember Tolpuddle

by Alex Kempshall

Thousands of trade union and labour movement activists marched through the small Dorset village of Tolpuddle last weekend. They marched behind the banners of the Tolpuddle agricultural branch. Southampton Unite and Unison workers were at the head of the march with their banners shouting the slogan “Cut my pay – no way” a protest against Southampton Council's attempt to cut the pay of it's workers.

The keynote speeches were delivered by TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, and Tony Benn. Nigel Costley, South West TUC Secretary set the scene by reminding the rally that “We come here to remember and honour the Tolpuddle Martyrs. We come here to refresh out commitment to what they believed in – Unity, Solidarity, Trade Unionism and we also come to celebrate the fact that protest and campaigns that were waged by the unions then resulted in victory when the government backed down and performed a u-turn. It was possible then and it is possible now.”

Sharan Burrow spoke of the importance to renew our commitment to a decent world, social justice and to the rights of union members. She reminded us that “The crisis that was born of greed, the greed of profits from the bankers and shareholders of those incredible products which had nothing to do with the real economy... It is a crisis that is undermining every community throughout the world. The bankers are forcing governments from Spain, to Portugal, to Greece, the US right through to the poorest countries of the world demanding that people pay with their services, public sector jobs, their very way of life.”

She went on to point out that “The people of Spain are standing up against it, people in Portugal, Romania, in Africa, the US, Asia are standing up to the demands of Conservative governments. It's the time for solidarity, it's the time for a shared commitment to collectivism. Solidarity is about sharing the wealth, building the common good.”

Brendan Barber in speaking about the big challenges that the trade union movement is facing and that the rally was about celebrating what the Tolpuddle stands for said “All these values of solidarity we're going to need that in the months ahead” and asked the rally to send a message of solidarity “to the trade unionists of Southampton, the teachers and trade unionists in the Civil Service who took industrial action on June 30th, to the half million people who marched on the 26th March to tell the government that there is an alternative.

Brendan warned the rally “That we are facing a government that is absolutely committed to cut public spending whatever the consequences but that we know the price is going to be paid by the poorest and weakest for a crisis that was caused by the richest and powerful. The price we risk paying is the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, the services we rely on from Sure Start centres to the vital caring services for the elderly and the living standards of just about everyone, with wages held down and inflation let rip and the threat to our pension system.”

He went on to say “We mustn't allow this government to try and divide public and private sector workers” citing the case of pensions where both government and major companies like British Airways were attempting to move pension indexing from RPI to CPI resulting is a 15% reduction in pensions.”

He called upon the movement to win that battle of ideas he pointed out that “Over the last thirty years we've seen the growth of inequality, living standards squeezed, we've seen our economy double in size yet for most ordinary people their earning levels have hardly increased at all.”

In the months ahead he said that there were going to be some major industrial battles to defend decent pensions, pay, living standards and protect jobs and concluded by saying that he was “confident that we will see the return of a Labour government committed to decent values and justice for the British people”

The weekend was more than just the Sunday march and rally there were may stalls from the trade union and solidarity movements. A radical history school dealt with topics such as the poor law, risings against enclosures, transportation including crime and punishment. The Prison Officers Association organised the Tolpuddle Freedom Hike from Dorchester Prison to Tolpuddle to raise monies for the POA Freedom charities. On each of the days from Friday through to Sunday a whole host of musicians and comedians entertained at the event organised by the South West TUC.

The Fall of the House of Murdoch

NONE of us were sorry to see the News of the World go under last week. The arrest of Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive, for questioning in connection with corruption issues after a number of Rupert Murdoch’s chief henchmen jumped ship, will have brought wry smiles to veteran Fleet Street printers who fought the Murdoch empire to preserve free trade unions during the Sun dispute in the 1980s.
With a bit of luck the resignation of two high-ranking chiefs in the Metropolitan Police and the mysterious death of a former News of the World journalist who had spilt the beans on the phone-hacking scandal will end the sinister domination of the British media by this oligarch once and for all.
For over three decades politicians across the mainstream bourgeois consensus grovelled at the feet of Rupert Murdoch and his minions. Tory and Labour governments alike sanctioned the monopolisation of information by News International, which targeted working people with its relentless stream of racist and imperialist propaganda laced with vicious celebrity gossip that we now learn was obtained through phone hacking and pay-offs to the police on an industrial scale.
News International may have thought that it could fight off the legal challenges from high-profile victims like Hugh Grant and Max Mosley but it was on a certain loser once the depth of its corrupt involvement with the forces of law and order was exposed to wider public scrutiny.
The Establishment has now closed ranks to condemn the excesses of the Murdoch-owned media and Cameron, Miliband and Clegg are leading the pack in condemnation and demands for more regulation.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, was right to lead the attack and question the link between the Prime Minister and his former aide, who had been a senior member of Murdoch’s entourage. It is also clear that by any standards, even those of the bourgeoisie themselves, that News International is neither fit nor proper to own any newspapers or TV stations in Britain.
But there’s a hidden agenda behind the furore that has forced Parliament to summon Murdoch and his cronies to the Select Committee this week and that is to re-impose the media censorship we had to put up with until the 1970s under the Lord Chamberlain’s Office and the odious D-notice regime.
While there’s clearly a need to reform the toothless Press Complaints Commission, which does nothing to protect those who cannot afford to go to court, demands for more “regulation” can only stifle the freedom of the media. There is, in fact, no need for it. The issue is not whether what is reported was true but how the information was obtained in the first place.
Phone-hacking, mail interception and bribing the police are against the law and some journalists have already been convicted. More will undoubtedly follow.
There’s certainly a case for repealing Britain’s draconian libel laws that impose self-censorship on much of the media and can only be used by those rich enough to pay the immense legal fees court actions incur. The media must be free to comment on what it likes and report what it believes to be true. But that can’t continue to be monopolised exclusively by the representatives of the big bourgeoisie.
If nothing else the News International scandal shows the need for the unions to pool their resources to provide a voice for the labour movement to counter the barrage of propaganda rammed down our throats every day in the bourgeois media.
Our unions spend millions on bland house magazines that are rarely read even by their own members. The Labour Party, which dumped its own weekly in 1988, will spend millions at election time and rely on the half-hearted support of the Mirror Group rather than help fund an independent trade union and co-operative journal like the old Daily Herald, which they sustained for over 50 years.
But with new technology it can be done and it needs to be done because there’s plenty more like Murdoch ready to take his place.

New Worker editorial

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Who's afraid of Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

By Ray Jones

JEAN-JACQUES Rousseau (1712-78) has long been considered to be one of the leading “philosophes” who provided the theory behind the great French bourgeois revolution of 1789 and who gave the revolutionary Jacobins their ideological basis for this world-changing event.
But these days he is largely ignored by our media and little known generally. It’s even been suggested lately by some bourgeois academics that perhaps he wasn’t so important after all.
It might be argued that Rousseau’s lack of limelight is at least partly the result of his success. Reading his main political works, Discourse on Inequality and On the Social Contract, much seems very familiar and common to the ideas we hear about us all the time – to the point of being almost boring.
They are written in relatively simple language (Rousseau was also a renowned novelist) but have been interpreted in many different ways and perhaps this hasn’t help his profile either.
But these factors surely don’t fully explain his relative neglect – after all he has been called the father of modern political philosophy.
That Rousseau was an influence on the French Revolution is undeniable. Maximilien Robespierre, a main leader of the revolution, wrote of him in his diary: “Divine man! It was you who taught me to know myself. When I was young you brought me to appreciate the true dignity of my nature and reflect on the great principles which govern the social order…”
Rousseau’s main ideas were accepted by the Jacobins: the basic equality of humans; that morality is innate within us; the importance of reason; that we originated in a “state of nature” prior to society; that society is a Social Contract that we enter into for our own good.
Perhaps Rousseau’s best known quote is, “Man was been born free and everywhere he is in chains”. This was a rallying call for the revolution and much of his writings were banned.
Rousseau believed that from a very simple society, little more than families, the development of the division of labour and private property had caused the growth of the unfair and oppressive societies he saw about him.
And although he did not think it possible, or desirable, to revert to a “state of nature” (and perhaps he didn’t think of it as an actual historical period) he believed it was possible to reorganise society and make a better world.
The object for Rousseau is to organise society so that the citizen and the magistrate complement each other, working together so that peoples’ innate morality can come through and the societies’ “General Will” could be implemented. The General Will being a collective construction not dependent on any individual but which all individuals follow for the good of all.
He believed the best form of this society would be a democratic republic – although he did not rule out other forms, even monarchy, being used in particular circumstances or a certain period of time. He also thought that it would only really work well with a small population in a small area where personal contact and communication were easy – similar to the ancient Greek states and early Rome which he, and the Jacobins thought well of.
It’s easy to see how revolutionary and incendiary these ideas were in a country still mired in the injustice and rigidity of late feudalism.
The growing petty bourgeois and intellectuals of France were groaning under the heavy taxation enforced by the King, whose failed wars had ruined the economy, while the aristocracy and the clergy paid almost nothing. The peasantry and the town poor, who were near starvation due to crop failures and oppressed by savage feudal laws and customs, were more than ready to follow them.
Rousseau’s personal example on religion was also radical. While believing in a creator God he was willing to switch from the extreme protestant Calvinism of his home city of Geneva to Roman Catholicism when he moved away and change back again when he wanted to regain his Genevan citizenship – just about as big a leap as you can make inside Christianity.
Robespierre and his supporters showed their religious rebellion by building the cult of the Supreme Being, a Deist movement, to replace the Catholicism which was a pillar of the old regime. But that did not stop him attacking those on his political left for atheism.
Clearly, for its time, Rousseau’s thinking was democratic and could legitimise the overthrow of tyrants. He supported the freedom of individuals but this freedom could only be within Social Contract and the General Will.
People who attack the General Will and the state (the “fabric of social right” as Rousseau puts it) cease to be citizens and become enemies of the state. They have declared war on it and if they are a real danger may be killed.
In May 1791, when the King was still on the throne, Robespierre made an impassioned plea against capital punishment and for the rights of the individual (to be fair most of his speeches seem to have been impassioned). In 1792 however he was arguing that then imprisoned King should not even be granted a trial but be summarily executed on the Rousseaunian grounds that the King had become an enemy of the state.
The King, he argued, had been dethroned for his crimes by the people and the General Will had been expressed. To give him a trial would be to open the matter to doubt; to do so and find him innocent would be in effect to find the people (the General Will) guilty which would be senseless. If it was not possible to find him innocent a trial would be a farce.
By 1794 Robespierre was calling in the Convention for the use of terror against the enemies of the state (the Republic) while using reason with the people. Nature, he said, echoing Rousseau, has imposed on every being the law of self-preservation. Just so with the state; the Republic must crush all internal and external enemies or be crushed. Terror is vital to insure that justice reigns: “The government of a revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny.” And this perhaps takes this Rousseauian theory to its limit on the subject.
Marx and Engels acknowledged the dialectical style of Rousseau and his importance for the French Revolution but were doubtful about the Terror which they thought was a tactic which came from weakness rather than strength.
Basically Rousseau was an idealist who did not have materialist roots to his philosophy, He realised that people were not naturally bad or sinful but erred in the other direction in thinking they are innately moral. He saw that problems arose from the division of labour and private property but didn’t realise they were the source of the main contradiction in society.
While Rousseau’s “state of nature” and Marx’s “primitive communism” can be compared, Marx saw the progressive historical stages of society (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, communism) based on the means of production which Rousseau was not, understandably, able to.
Some have equated the General Will with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat but the former is idealistic, semi-mystical, concept based on innate morality and a misguided idea of equality where as the latter is based on class realities and interests.
Nevertheless the ideas of Rousseau and his fellow “philosophes” served the need of the bourgeoisie in it hour of need. That they are ungratefully played down now is typical. In the same way they play down the role of Cromwell and the English Revolution, preferring to talk of the Glorious (and peaceful) Revolution of 1688.
They want to forget the revolutionary methods and theories which brought them to power and all their promises of liberty, equality and fraternity, which they have so obviously failed to deliver.