Thursday 30 July 2015

How will we challenge and resist the Trade Union Bill

Corbyn mania was well in evidence at yesterday's Rally on resisting the Trade Union Bill. Corbyn supporters were leafleting outside the NUT's Hamilton House and pressing JC stickers on anyone and anything in the vicinity.

The Corbyn factor was clear from the beginning when Dave Prentis announced Unison was backing him for Labour leader and ended the rally when John McDonnell pledged that Corbyn would mount real opposition in this Parliament to the Bill and when elected to  power in 2020 would repeal all anti-trade union legislation.

Clearly Corbyn's campaign is still to be won and if he does win the problem of what to do about a Parliamentary Labour Party that failed to make a comprehensive stand against the Welfare Bill will loom large.

If he does not win and an austerity-lite candidate becomes leader what happens to the relationship between Labour and the unions?

Another issue that emerged during the speeches was the extent to which unions would be prepared to break the law. There was a sober warning towards the close about what happened previously when unions found their funds sequestered by a hostile Tory government.

Would the Labour Party back breaking an unjust law?

The details of the Trade Union Bill are still to come and there are likely to be amendments from both sides. The Green Party opposed previous anti-union legislation and are almost certain to oppose these both from within parliament and outside when they meet at Conference in September.

Friday 17 July 2015

UK EU Referendum – A Radical Independence Campaign?

Like many people in the Green Party and on the broader British Left, events in the European Union these past few weeks has made me re-appraise my attitude to Britain’s continued membership of the institution. The way the Greek people have been treated by their EU creditors over the ‘bail out’ of the banking system has been shocking. To heap never ending austerity on a country whose people have had the temerity to elect a left wing government has left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Increasingly, the British Left are shifting towards a position of wanting to vote to exit the EU when the referendum arrives, probably in the autumn of next year. It is a surprise to me that I am even thinking about voting to leave, having been a firm supporter of continued membership for pretty much all of my life. Heavens knows the EU needs to be reformed to make it an entity for the peoples of Europe, rather than the big business stitch up that it largely is.

I have not yet decided which way I will vote, but one obvious problem with voting and campaigning to leave the EU is the prospect of sharing a platform, metaphorically or literally, with the likes of UKIP and Tory party little Englanders. The xenophobic (to put it mildly) rhetoric of the right wing outers is deeply repugnant to me and I dare say all on the left in this country. I don’t want to be associated with such people or their arguments for quitting the EU, but if I do decide to vote to leave, does that mean that I should just do the deed quietly?

A similar problem was faced by the Scottish Left in last year’s Scottish Independence referendum, who wanted to campaign for an independent Scotland, but didn’t want to be associated with Scottish National Party or a narrow nationalism. I’m not suggesting the SNP is anywhere near as bad as UKIP or the Tory right, but there was more than an element of distrust on the left with the SNP’s corporate welfare policies for an independent Scotland.

They found a solution by forming the Radical Independence Campaign. Mainly a coalition of Scottish Greens and socialists RIC managed to broaden the independence referendum campaign into a movement for not just national independence, but a force for a social democratic Scotland. In the process they pulled the SNP to the left, and it is arguable that Glasgow and Edinburgh in particular would not have supported the Yes campaign without this development.

Even though the vote was to stay in the UK in the end, the campaign to give the Scots a government of the left continued into this year’s general election where the SNP won 56 out of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. Furthermore, the SNP’s new leader Nicola Sturgeon attempted to spread this radicalism from Scotland to England and Wales with an anti-austerity pact with the English and Welsh Greens and Plaid Cymru.

Would this model translate into a radical campaign for the UK’s exit from the EU, from a position on the left?

I can foresee some problems. One of the main planks of the Scottish Yes campaign was to remain in the EU, so it rather flies in the face of the stance taken in Scotland. It is hard to imagine the Scots wanting to leave the EU and UK, because they would be vulnerable as a small country standing alone. I think it would effectively end the idea of Scottish independence from the UK, but if it led to a radical UK of the left, most Scots probably wouldn’t want to join a neo-liberal EU instead.

Not everyone on the UK Left wants to leave the EU either. Caroline Lucas the Green Party MP wants to stay in the EU and campaign to progressively reform it. This is probably the best option, but how likely is it that we can achieve the reforms we would like to see? Somewhere between miniscule and non existent I would suggest.

Of course the same might be said for building some kind of socialist utopia in the UK outside of the EU, but it would be surely easier to get control of the ‘commanding heights of the British economy’ than to try and force change on the undemocratic technocrats of the EU.

Britain is still a fairly big player in the world, so for the left to gain control of a truly sovereign nation such as the UK, we might become a beacon to the rest of the European left, and influence events there better, by being on the outside?

RIC UK anyone?          

Thursday 16 July 2015

38 Syriza MPs reject the agreement

Written by Stathis Kouvelakis Syriza Left Platform

38 Syriza MPs reject the agreement. Overall result: 229 yes, 64 no, 6 abstain/present, one absence. Today is a tragic day for Greece and for its Left.

More than two thirds of Syriza MPs voted jointly with the pro-austerity parties (New Democracy, Pasok, Potami) and the junior coalition partner Anel the prerequisite bill for the toughest by far austerity package ever accepted by any kind of left (including social-democracy) government in Europe, the only possible comparison being the 1st Memorandum passed by Pasok in 2010.

But it’s even more serious in a way than draconian austerity in a country already devastated by five years of ’shock therapy’: it’s the total destruction of democracy, of popular sovereignty, the perpetuation and aggravation of the sharpest form of subjection.

But 38 Syriza MPs (out of a total of 149) saved the honour: 32 voted no, six voted "present" (there was also one absence)

It appears that all Left Platform MPs, + KOE (maoists) + Zoe Kostantopoulou + former ministers Varoufakis and Nandia Valavani and a couple of others voted No while six MPs of the "53" current (left wing of the former majority bloc) voted present.

In any case, the government has lost control of its own majority: of the 162 MPs of the Syriza-ANel coalition, only 123 supported it, far less than the required by constitutional practice parliamentary majority of 151 MPs coming from the ranks of the government.

In principle Tsipras should resign, he blackmailed this afternoon the Syriza MPs saying that if he hadn’t the support of all them he would do so. But of course he won’t, he was just trying to manipulate his troops. However it seems clear that it is only a matter of time for this new de facto pro-austerity majority to translate in a proper political coalition of some sort.

The "38" [Syriza MP’s who voted NO or abstained ] saved the day . So there remains the possibility of a future. The left to be transformed through the struggles of workers and the people.

Stathis Kouvelakis teaches philosophy at King’s College in London. He is a member of the national leadership of Syriza, and a leader of the Left Platform. First published at International Viewpoint.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Videos & Photos - Greece Solidarity - German Embassy - London - 15 July

Around two hundred people assembled at the German Embassy in London this evening, to show solidarity with the Greek people in their fight against the vicious and vindictive bail out terms forced on them by their creditors in the EU and IMF.

Many of the speakers said they were not angry with the German people, but their government

Councillor Isidoros Diakides, Haringey London (Labour) Greece Solidarity

Stathis Kouvelakis of Syriza Left Platform

Romayne Phoenix of Green Left

Solidarity with the Greek people from London

Tuesday 14 July 2015

The European Dream is Dead: What are we going to vote about in the British Referendum?

The European dream is being destroyed by those who claim to act in defence of that dream. The dream was already beginning to fade but the front of screen and back of screen machinations that have accompanied the “Greek tragedy” played out over the last six months and the eventual   “treaty of reparations” –or otherwise known as the “deal” – has killed the dream for me.

It’s salutary to go back to the beginning. As hardly anyone knows, the current EC grew out what was called the European Coal and Steel Community. It’s here that one can locate the European Dream.

Again as hardly anyone knows, 9 May is known as Europe Day. 9 of May is Europe Day because it was on that date in 1950 that what is known as the Schuman Declaration was launched and which laid out the key features of the European dream. A revisit to this is illuminating in terms of “progress to date”.
  • It would mark the birth of a united Europe.
An element of the dream that no longer relates to reality. In treating Greece as an “outsider” we have seen the reemergence of an imperial and colonial mindset. It may yet come to German style “stormtroopers” being the response that explodes in Greece. It’s not just Greece, however, the EU may be united but it is unequal. It’s an EU dominated by Germany with several smaller states simply being vassals. The problem goes even deeper when you consider the impact of EU funds and how they have widened disparity between regions in the EU.
  • It would make war between member states impossible.
If you ignore the Balkans and Srebrenica, then this has held up well in terms of old style warfare. However, the Troika, the replacement of the elected government in Italy with an appointed technocratic boss, the bulldozing away of the Greek prime minister when he had the nerve to suggest that it might be appropriate to check out what the Greek people thought about the terms of the bailout being stuffed down the throats of the Greeks by France and Germany, the contempt with which the Cypriots were treated etc has just been warfare through financial markets and financial institutions like the ECB.   
  • It would encourage world peace.
It's salutatory to remember that “black lives are worth less”- more African, Asian, Latin American, and Arab, people have died through conflict  since the Second World War than those  who died in the second world war. Europe in fact has exported war and the EU has financed state terror. Follow the money as they say and voila you will find that the EU arms industry is doing very well.
  • It would transform Europe in a 'step by step' process leading to the unification of Europe democratically, unifying two political blocks separated by the “Iron Curtain”
There is a huge democratic deficit if the European Institutional framework that has been established. Everyone goes round pointing out what important work the EP undertakes and how it is directly elected by citizens. The EP for its first 30 years simply rubber stamped 83% of what the European Council decided. The EC is the place where our elected leaders wine and dine and talk and make decisions without any accountability. Sure there is “cloak of accountability” provided by the phase “some decisions of the EC have to be ratified by national parliaments”. However, this just conveniently ignores the fact that the EC sits on top of a largely broken and corporate dominated party political system.

There is no democratic accountability for the European Commission. Incredible given the fact that it has the power to initiate legislation. That it has the power to deal with trade and investment matters.

With Nato trashing the 1997 agreements with Russia regarding expansion of Nato and the “soviet bloc”, need I say more given the fact the phrase “cold war” has suddenly come back out of hibernation.
  • It would create the world's first supranational institution.
If you ignore the UN then this element of the dream may just hold up. The problem is that over 60% of European citizens have no trust in the supra national institutions that have been created.
  • It would create the world's first international anti-cartel agency.
This has turned out to be the exact opposite. The EU has institutionalised corporate democracy. Big business interest rule in Brussels, there is a revolving door mechanism from and to big business and the EU institutions. The expert groups that “advise” the EU institutions are dominated by corporate interests. Key texts produced by the Commission turn out to be just cut and paste versions of submissions made by vested interest groups.
  • It would create a common market across the Community.
In terms of capital and goods one could say that the dream has been largely realized but when it comes to labour then it’s a nightmare scenario with deportations now taking place regularly  between member states(e.g. Belgium is routinely deporting EU citizens without work). With the coming restrictions on access to welfare benefits for EU citizens, the free movement of labour will be reduced to one for those who can afford it.
  • It would, starting with the coal and steel sector, revitalise the whole European economy by similar community processes.
Steel production has declined. A renaissance in coal is underway with Germany and Poland (or coal land as it is referred to in environmental circles), but this will be very short lived as China moves off coal usage. Growth for the past 15 years has been anemic and globally the EU is in decline with its share of the shrinking global trade set to decline further in the coming decades.  We have rising poverty in Europe. A whole new category of “in work poverty” has been created. We have had youth unemployment levels running at over 14% since 2000. Long term unemployment is growing. Indeed, given the current stagnation the EU has created structural unemployment as feature of the economy.   
  • It would improve the world economy and the developing countries, such as those in Africa.
Far from improving the situation in Africa, it has initiated a new rape of continents like Africa through dumping of subsidized farm goods, through displacement of rural labour by the introduction of agri-business style agriculture which produces food for anyone but the Africans. It has fermented civil war through arms sales and bribes. It has participated in destroying countries like Libya and Syria through its so called “wars for democracy”. The saga of the migrants in the Med is just a visible sign of how much damage has been inflicted upon Africa.

So the dream is dead. What will we be voting for next year in our referendum? The issue is no longer just about whether or not any more power can be ceded to the EU institutions. Nor is the issue about what powers need to be repatriated.  It’s not about being pro- or anti-Europe. We need to dismantle what we currently have and re-establish the European project with a new dream. For that we need new dreamers of which there is simply a dearth at this moment in time.

Written by Haroon Saad who is a member of the London Green Party and a supporter of Green Left

Greece’s Treatment is yet another Nail in the Coffin of Democracy

Only a week after the Greek people voted decisively against further austerity measures as the price for a financial bail out package from its European and international creditors, yesterday morning saw the total capitulation of Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, to even harsher measures.

Backed into a corner, largely of his own tactical making, with Greece on the edge of bankruptcy and with the economy about to go into free fall, Tsipras bowed to the inevitable and conceded to what amounts to the financial colonisation of his country. What an unedifying sight this has made, ironically in the land where the idea of democracy was born. Over the last week or so watching events, I’ve been unable to get the image above out of my head. George Orwell’s description of the future in his classic book Nineteen Eighty Four, seems more vivid than ever before.

This vindictive deal calls for more public sector job cuts (including that of the cleaners that the new government reinstated in January), further cuts to pensions, a fire sale of Greek public assets such as ports and airports, sharp rises in sales taxes and reform of employment legislation to curb the influence of trade unions and reduce worker protections, including a law to allow ‘collective sackings’ of unruly workers. All of this will be overseen and supervised by unelected technocrats from Brussels.

The deal is still to be approved by the Greek parliament at the time of writing, and there looks to be a likelihood of opposition from within the Syriza party itself but it will pass with support from the old corrupt and dishonest parties of the opposition. Perhaps Tsipras will need to form a ‘national unity government’ if enough rebels and coalition partners ANEL vote against the plans. Ramsay McTsipras? A general election looks to be not far away, probably in the autumn.

Shocking though this episode has been in its sheer brutality, it is just an extension of a trend that began many years ago. When countries signed up the European Common Market, as it then was called, they necessarily signed away some of their national sovereignty. Subsequent treaties have reinforced and deepened this state of affairs, and on the horizon we have the huge TTIP trade deal with the US which looks as though it will make national law illegal if it gets in the way of corporations making money out of public services, for example.

The formation of the Euro with the straightjacket of requiring low levels of national government debt, whatever the prevailing state of the economy, is a further assault on what governments are able to do, regardless of the wishes of voters in any single country.

Britain of course did not join the Euro, and we have Gordon Brown to thank for that as Tony Blair was very keen indeed to take us into the currency. But this is the same Gordon Brown who was responsible for handing over the control of the nation's interest rates to an unelected body, the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee when he took over as Chancellor in 1997.

These democracy limiting measures are always taken to provide ‘stability’ which is a catch all word for we must do what big business and the money markets want us to do, or else we are punished by these forces with a lack of investment and slow or no growth in the economy and the resultant high levels of unemployment.

Anyone who suggests anything different is immediately labelled as being reckless with our economic welfare. Governments are increasingly disinclined to rock the boat and social democratic governments have all but given up doing anything other than the most piecemeal of tinkering with welfare policies.
So, the future looks bleak from a democracy point of view, but at least in theory we still do have the fragments of a democratic system and the people can, if they wish, take matters into their own hands. Even in Greece, the foolish obsession with the concept of staying in the Eurozone at all cost, could change. They will need to revert to a national currency first though, as the EU as we have seen, will have none of it in the Eurozone, although possibly that can change too, if the peoples of Europe want it to change.
For Britain too we have an opportunity to leave the EU in a referendum next year, but that would just be the start of enforcing the public will and some may judge that we can change the EU from within, with the support of other nations.

The choice is ours, do we want the crumbs from the rich man’s table or do we want freedom and true democracy? Tony Benn said that Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that democracy inevitably leads to socialism. Of course Hitler wasn’t right about a lot of things, but he could see the power of the collective will to create conditions favourable to the majority of people, rather than remain in bondage to a minority social and political class elite.

It won’t be easy, but we the people have the power, are we courageous enough to use it?                       

Sunday 12 July 2015

Video - Green London Mayoral Candidates Hustings - Birkbeck College 11 July

Question: How can the Green Party improve its credibility and communications?

Question: With council and social housing tenants fighting back against developer led regeneration schemes that will deprive them of their homes, families being shipped out of London and private landlords ripping off tenants, housing is likely to be a big issue in the forthcoming London Mayor and GLA elections.

The candidates were asked for their views, and what should be done to improve the situation.

Hat tip to Martin Francis of Wembley Matters for this footage of the event. 

Saturday 11 July 2015

Six Questions for Ecosocialists

These 6 questions are posed by ecosocialist party Solidarity US. I'm meeting one of their comrades in early August in London.

Here Salvatore Engel-DeMauro, author and chief editor for the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism and co-founder, with Joel Kovel, of Ecosocialist Horizons gives his answers.

1. How does ecosocialist politics differ from traditional socialist and labor politics? To what extent does the kind of ecosocialist orientation we need today reflect a continuity with, and to what extent does it represent a break from, previous ideological and programmatic perspectives of the revolutionary workers' movement?

Ecosocialism presents a variety of perspectives that are not necessarily harmonious with each other, just like socialism has never been unified. My own understanding of ecosocialism is that of the egalitarianistic (therefore anti-statist) variant infused with a conception of society as part of a larger, biospheric reality. Through this viewpoint, ecosystems are not regarded as reducible to social struggles and environmental degradation takes on as central a role as issues of social oppression.

With respect to fighting social oppression, ecosocialism is continuous with other forms of socialism and labor politics, but much more attuned to the totality that is a mode of production. For example, homophobia, racism, and patriarchy are therefore just as serious as class differentiation because they are part of the establishment and reproduction of class differentiation within the capitalist mode of production. I see the struggle therefore as having two fronts, one grappling with biophysical environments and the effects of human impact (constructive or destructive), the other with social struggles for an egalitarian world.

2. What role do science, technology, labor productivity and production play in the transition from capitalism to ecosocialism, also in an ecosocialist society after the transition?

Science, technology, labor productivity and production all play a secondary role to matters of social reproduction in the transition to ecosocialism and in an ecosocialist society. At bottom, the problem is how to reproduce society in ways that are egalitarian and yet do not destroy the ecological basis of our collective existence. Understood this way, science/technology must be reconfigured to assist towards such ends but not to be merely reduced to them either; the process of discovery can occur without any direct relationship to social ends. Concepts of productivity and production per se might not be particularly useful in this regard, since the issue should be reproduction, subsistence, egalitarian distribution according to needs [and so forth].

3. Since the self-emancipation of the working class and other oppressed layers is central in the transition from capitalism to socialism, and therefore to ecosocialism, what do we think will motivate these social forces to see the necessity of ecosocialism? How does the ecological crisis affect the orientation of unions and their place in the class struggle? Beyond traditional kinds of demands and programs, are there other demands and programs that might supplement or perhaps supplant the traditional approach of unions?

If there were an answer to this question, we could account for all, or the majority, of workers’ thoughts, life conditions, and much else. Rather than understand the problem as one of motivation, it might be best to grasp it in terms of favorable conjuncture and the always necessary efforts at discovering or making connections and raising consciousness about such connections and, [on the basis of] such connections, facilitating the coordination of workers worldwide. One can be the issues of breathable and drinkable water.

I expect it would be easier to persuade most workers about the ills of fossil fuel combustion by pointing out how many people die prematurely from air and water pollution where fossil fuel combustion reigns. In this sense, concentrating on global warming is not an effective way of reaching most workers and making them care about environmental degradation. But there is a parallel struggle that involves the problem of most unions themselves.

Most unions are pro-capitalist, so the struggle is two-fold, one to raise workers’ consciousness about how environmental degradation ruins their lives or those of their loved ones, while the other is to transform unions into egalitarian anticapitalist forces. Many workers I have met, in any case, make connections between their lives and environmental degradation spontaneously, especially when the link is self-evident (for example, their tap water stinks or a close relative dies of cancer related to asbestos). The task is to draw the connections between health and environmental degradation to capitalist causes. Where there are workers that already make such connections, the task is to provide support.

4. How, if scaling back production is necessary, will ecosocialist strategy remain committed to meeting human needs? Or can we envision continued expansion and economic growth under ecosocialism, as the working classes and others in the industrialized nations have come to expect? If so, how does this differ from expansion and growth under capitalism? What will enable it to take place without an even greater destruction of the environment? If not, how do we ensure the generalized satisfaction of needs for all, including the equalization of living standards between the industrialized nations and the rest of the world?

The matter must be viewed as one of focusing on subsistence and redistribution and of showing that there is plenty resulting from that, since there is an overwhelming overproduction problem. Expansion at this point is unnecessary and is likely counter-productive both ecologically and for many people’s health. Involving people with the technical skills to treat waste, to deal with nuclear power plants, and much else, will be key. Without devoted ecosocialists with technological sophistication, there will be no revolution or transition, and no ecosocialist future (see also response to question 2).

5. What ideas do ecosocialists raise in the climate change movement? Are James Hansen's proposals (for example, advocacy of a "carbon tax" rather than "cap and trade") in some form useful for ecosocialists as transitional demands, or are they simply an attempt to solve the ecological crisis within the context of capitalism? What is the relationship today between issues that can mobilize traditional kinds of mass struggles, such as hydrofracking or the Keystone XL pipeline, and proposals to promote what some might term "life-style" actions (what others refer to as "prefiguration") such as personally using fewer resources, boycotting GMO foods and buying organic, putting a priority on recycling, creating/promoting urban gardens, food coops, and similar institutions?

In my view ecosocialists have gone about the task incorrectly. We offer largely vague and possibly ineffective ideas, especially because the focus is overwhelmingly on climate change (or actually one version of it, global warming). Climate change involves global averages of decadal regional averages. This is much too abstract relative to the everyday reality of most people. We also need scientifically competent ecosocialists, who are too few!

The most urgent task is to find ways of conveying scientific that connects with everyday problems people face in different circumstances. One thing that will certainly hurt the chances of ecosocialist movement building is to speak in terms of absolutes. GMOs, for example, are largely problematic, but treating them as an evil loses sight of the potential usefulness genetic engineering could have, if research were done properly and societies were not treated as guinea pigs.
It is not that a machine or set of techniques are necessarily the problem. It is the set of social relations that are. In regard to GMOs, for instance, what sets of social relations makes for their production in the first place?

There is also the wider ecological front, where the task becomes even harder. The issue is both prevention (e.g., pre-empting GMOs at the point of production, not just when the GMOs are consumed) and addressing existing devastation (e.g., nuclear power plants, minefields, or the increasing number of droughts in some parts of the world). For such challenges to be met effectively, one must be precise, specific, and able to find connections across the diversity of environmental degradation resulting from the capitalist mode of production.

6. Related to #5: What kinds of cooperatives that can be built today might be able to teach us something about a post-capitalist world? What role, if any, should ecosocialists seek to play in these communities?

There already exist many cooperative communities across the world. Some are not cooperatives, but entire communities, as in the case of some Indigenous Peoples. Ecosocialists should learn from them and be of help by providing connections between them, to specialize in some biophysical science as well as be conversant in social theory and radical leftist perspectives. Ecosocialists should be sure to jettison once and for all the notion that European or European-descendent societies are superior. Our role is to learn about, and from, non-European cultural frameworks. The task is arduous and takes many years, but without transforming oneself according what one wishes to see in the future, it is difficult to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Salvatore Engel-DeMauro is associate Professor in the Geography Department of the State University of New York at New Paltz. He is author of Ecology, Soils, and the Left: An Eco-Social Approach. His recent teaching subjects include physical geography, gender and environment, people-environment relations, and soils. The principal subjects for current research work are soil degradation, urban soils, heavy metals contamination, and society-environment relations, but he has also published on critical geographies, the European Union, gender and ethnopedology, Indigenous Peoples’ struggles, and pedagogy. He is chief editor for the journal >Capitalism Nature Socialism and co-founder, with Joel Kovel, of Ecosocialist Horizons.

Friday 10 July 2015

As Greece Surrenders – What Now for the European Anti-Austerity Movement?

The Greek government has submitted a last ditch proposal to its creditors in the EU and the IMF, reportedly conceding to an even harsher austerity regime than they have had for the last five years. Reports say that the proposals offer 13 billion Euros in cuts to public sector pay, jobs and pensions with sharp increases in VAT, together with a swathe of privatisation of public assets. The hope is that this can be traded for a ‘modest’ reduction in the amount of debt they are expected to pay. This amounts to accelerating austerity measures (previously 8 billion Euros) which have caused a deep depression in the Greek economy.

Coming less than a week after the Greek people voted in an historic plebiscite against the less bad offer, it is an effective cave in by the Syriza/ANEL government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Even if the deal is accepted by the creditors, it will need the support of the Greek parliament, where some opposition is expected not least from within Syriza, but it should pass with the support of the right wing opposition parties, ND, Potami and Pasok.

That this will be a disaster for the Greek people is in no doubt, although from what I have read in the press even no voters from Sunday’s referendum on the issue, seem resigned to its acceptance, and in the process perhaps buying some more time.

Personally, I think this is a mistake, but that is easy for me to say sitting my house in London. This decision though doesn’t only affect the Greeks but the whole of the anti-austerity movement across Europe, and most particularly in Spain where the Podemos party has made electoral gains with a similar message to that of Syriza.

There has clearly been a determination on the part of the EU creditors to crush any thoughts of this rebellion spreading to other indebted European nations, but this was always predictable. To be fair, Syriza was put into an near impossible position by the intransigence of the creditors and by the Greek people’s insistence on staying inside the Eurozone, at all costs.

But I have to say mistakes were made by Syriza in the negotiations of the last five months, and others can certainly learn from this. After Syriza was humiliated in February’s previous negotiations, the writing should have been on the wall for Tsipras et al. It was clear to me then, and it should have been to Syriza that they would get nowhere arguing from an economic point of view, and should have switched straight away to a political strategy.

The switch to a referendum as a tactic should have come months ago, rather than two days before the money ran out, which is what they did. I was surprised under such circumstances (capital controls, shortages of food and medicines) that they actually won the referendum at all, however meaninglessly this has been regarded by EU creditors.

In my view, a process of educating the people in that staying in the Euro would mean further austerity measures and that a managed move back to the drachma would be necessary, should have started in February. This was never attempted and the last minute referendum ploy was a desperate and ultimately doomed attempt to shore up their position. All the creditors had to do was bide their time, and wait until Greece fell apart economically which it is very close to now without a further bail out.

Should the deal be done, as is looking likely, then it does at least buy some more time. This humiliation of Greece and Syriza will certainly not help the likes of Podemos in other European countries, but a devastating crash out of the Euro would probably have been even worse. A general election has to be held in Spain by the end of the year and if Podemos can gain power in Spain then at least Syriza is not so isolated in Europe and perhaps the issue can be reopened again.

Although the Greeks have been put back into their box again for now, the problems that led to the rise of Syriza will not go away with these austerity policies. The future may yet hold further windows of opportunity. The fight goes on.

Thursday 9 July 2015

A Red & Green Alliance in Scotland for 2016 Election?

Written by Donnie Fraser and first published at Bella Caledonia 

It’s almost clich├ęd to say that we’re living in exciting times, a political landscape rapidly shifting beneath our feet and unpredictable in its destination. No sooner is one historic election out of the way but another beckons and next year’s Holyrood election could certainly be that. But while we live in exciting times we also live in dark times for ordinary working people bearing the brunt of the Tories form of class war they call ‘Austerity’. However next year’s Holyrood election gives us the opportunity to wipe out Unionism, and by extension the pro-austerity parties, as a political force in Scotland at this time, and also build an effective opposition to the SNP from the radical Green Left.

Before I get started I realise that much of what I say may sit uncomfortably with some in the various left groups, greens and others who understandably have their own particular interests to look out for. 

Believe me it is way out of my own comfort zone. As a Republican I don’t have any rose-tinted view of the Holyrood Assembly, given it can be abolished by Westminster at any time and has no legal right to launch another Indy referendum without Westminster approval it is little more than a Unionist institution set up to preserve the Union rather than further democracy, power devolved is power retained and all that. Furthermore as a socialist with syndicalist sympathies when it comes to fighting elections for “bourgeois parliaments” getting too het up over elections to a wee pretendy parliament, or parish council as Tony Blair described it, seems a distraction from the real job of establishing an independent workers’ republic.

But… now, here, Scotland 2015-16 is not ‘normal’ political times. We’re still riding the wave of activity and enthusiasm unleashed by the referendum and given momentum by the myriad of groups that sprung up as self-organising collectives, organisations such as Women for Indy, National Collective and Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), where grass-roots campaigners could come together and get their voices heard independent of the party machines.

RIC in particular brought together all manner of radical forces from the socialist left, from the environmental movement as well as the left of the SNP and it seems to me self-evident that we were able to achieve far more working together (and working together consensually and harmoniously for a greater good) than would have been the case otherwise.

And that offers an interesting vision for the situation some nine months later. While those involved with the nascent Scottish Left Project (SLP) have done admirable work, building on the positivity of RIC, by actually getting elements of the Left talking to each other getting past the divisions which have scarred us and set back the cause of Socialism by a political generation or more, it is clear that the distrust that still exists means this won’t be achieved overnight and indeed with their own eyes set on the 2020 Holyrood elections rather than 2016 I fear they are in danger of not just selling themselves short but the needs and aspirations of the working-class in Scotland in the face of an unrestricted Tory government pursuing an increasingly aggressive domestic policy. So while the left still struggles to negotiate the legacy of the well bronzed buffer in its tracks the Greens have capitalised more on their role in the wider Yes campaign, yet their target of “at least 8 seats”, while easily achievable, still falls well short of the potential for a unified radical force.

As things currently stand even if the most ambitious projections of the left and greens were achieved it would still leave them around the same total achieved in 2003 when 13 were returned from this bloc. But… a unified Red/ Green or Green/ Red or Anti-Austerity or Radical Indy (call it what you want) Alliance that was able to tap into the positivity and momentum of the Yes campaign, which we played a large role in creating, could realistically aim to take 20-30 MSPs.

This isn’t based on the overly optimistic predictions of some party loyalist but simply through an understanding of the way the regional list system works in the Scottish parliament. It has an inbuilt mechanism designed to prevent any one party gaining outright control, a Unionist mechanism to prevent an SNP victory and the prospects of Independence, that worked well eh! If a party does well in the first past the post constituency section this will be balanced out by distributing seats on the list to other parties based on their support in the regional list vote. Put simply it means that if the SNP maintains its current level of constituency support they will need to poll well in excess of 50% to be in with a chance of winning any seats on the list.

Take as an example the recent TNS poll (1) which puts the SNP on course to win 70 out of 73 constituency seats. It also has the SNP at 50% on the list which they predict would give it only 3 out of 56 list seats across all Scotland, presumably in the 3 regions where they did not win every constituency seat.

Whilst obviously a lot of caveats apply and it takes no account of regional variations which always exist, if the results from this poll were applied across all 8 regions the returns would break down as follows for the 7 seats on each regional list, Labour 3 seats, Tories 2, Greens 1 and the last place going to a 3-way tie between the Lib-Dems, Greens and SNP. TNS predicts this being allocated as 3 SNP, 3 Lib Dem and 2 Green from the eight regions. So despite pro-Indy parties taking 60% of the regional vote the Unionist parties would take a 5-2 majority of seats in 4 lists, and 6-1 in the other 4.

But, in the hypothetical situation where a unified list of the pro-Indy Green/ Left was able to garner support primarily, though not exclusively, from that broad base of the Yes support who want radical change, this situation could be near reversed.

Let me explain. It’s been well documented that since devolution the Scottish electorate has developed relatively sophisticated voting patterns, voting in different way in different elections to achieve different, progressive, outcomes. This situation has certainly not been diminished by the IndyRef and many Yes supporters, and others, will be only too aware that voting SNP on the list may well be a wasted vote that will paradoxically only increase the chances of a Unionist candidate being elected.

If however a unified candidate of the Green Left radical forces was standing as a realistic, credible alternative then they would be well placed to capitalise on this situation.

So using some basic maths if one-third of the SNP support on the list could be persuaded to vote Red/Green (based on the TNS poll with all the caveats etc.) and coupled with the already existing Green support this could lead to regional voting figures of SNP 33%, Red/ Green 27%, Labour 19%, Tory 14%, LD 5% leading to the election of 3 Red/ Greens, 2 Labour and 2 Tories on each list. This would mean 24 Red/Greens in total making them the 2nd largest grouping at Holyrood behind the SNP, who would have already won the election based on their support at constituency level (it’s probably worth noting that it would be in the interests of such a grouping for the SNP to win every constituency seat in Scotland.)

Again if one half of SNP voters supported this new grouping the corresponding figures would be Red Green 35%, SNP 25%, Labour 19%, Tory 14%, LD 5%. This could result in 4 Red/Greens being elected in each region giving 32 seats across Scotland outnumbering the combined total of all the Unionist parties at Holyrood.

Obviously there is no data to support the claim that SNP voters would support a Red/Green alliance but given the positive and committed role that socialists and Greens played in RIC and the wider Yes campaign and, as has been stated, the ‘sophisticated’ nature of voting in Scotland and increased levels of political activity since the referendum, I believe that this could be achievable, but only though a unified force that wasn’t going to be fighting each other for the same votes.

Now basing politics on opinion polls is not generally the sort of politics that I would touch with the proverbial bargepole, it reeks of new Labour focus groups and the selling of your soul for the sake of a handful of votes in a few marginal constituencies, but this is a different situation altogether, and while compromise is inevitable it need not be at the expense of political principle.

We wouldn’t need a huge unified political programme, just agreement around a set of core demands where unity already exists, opposing austerity, stopping fracking, more green energy projects, real radical land reform, ending zero hour contracts, fighting for better workers’ rights, No to NATO, a £10 minimum wage, more social housing built to higher environmental standards as well as support for an independent Republic. There is plenty we have in common as we showed throughout the referendum campaign.

Realistically the left would have to accept its weakened position at this time and probably offer the Greens at least the top spot on every list, even in its Glasgow heartlands, though Patrick Harvie top of the list, a problem? I don’t think so. Given the potential to elect 2/3/4 MSPs from each list perhaps the rest could be decided by some form of regional aggregates, but I digress.

Here in the Highlands the thought of standing in opposition to someone like John Finnie who played such an active role in the RIC campaign and is top of the regional list for the Greens next year is not something which appeals to me and I’m sure that similar situations would be replicated elsewhere.

Is it too late for this to happen? Certainly not. But whether narrow party political advantage will win out over the NEEDS of the marginalised and disadvantaged bearing the brunt of Tory ‘Austerity’ is another matter altogether.

Socialists and Greens managed to put our differences aside, in RIC and elsewhere, to work collectively for a greater good last year, surely the radical forces of Scotland can do the same for the next? Talks did take place between the Greens and the SSP before the 2014 European elections which indicate that there must be willingness, in some quarters at least, to contemplate this scenario.

But this time round the opportunity for such a bloc wouldn’t just mean the election of one MEP, not even replacing the Lib-Dems as the 4th largest party, but on becoming the main opposition to the SNP at Holyrood, pushing them in a more radical direction and making sure they live up to their anti-austerity promises, the prize is potentially that big. Surely that’s something worth aiming for?

1) TNS Poll, 9 June 2015 – Regional list voting intentions for Holyrood: SNP 50%, Labour (19%), the Conservatives (14%), the Greens (10%), Liberal Democrats (5%), UKIP (2%) and others (2%)

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Caroline Lucas - There’s a climate-shaped hole in the budget

Osborne’s failure to put action on climate change at the heart of the budget is bad economics

Amid swathes of bad news in today’s budget – the cruel cuts to tax credits, the lowering of the benefits cap and the handouts to the richest in the form of a raised inheritance tax threshold – there’s a cavernous, climate-shaped hole that should concern us all.

George Osborne isn’t just wedded to shrinking the state, he’s failing recklessly to ensure the Treasury plays a positive role in this country’s efforts to tackle climate change. In Today’s Budget, the chancellor trumpeted plans to cut taxes for fossil fuels, increase taxes for renewable energy and spend public money on building new roads.

This comes just weeks after the government announced plans to end support to onshore wind – the cheapest form of renewable energy. This flies in the face of the Conservatives’ supposed desire to decarbonise power at lowest cost, and ignores the views of two thirds of the public who support onshore wind.

Osborne’s failure to put action on climate change at the heart of the budget is also bad economics.

Only yesterday, a coalition of leading UK businesses called on George Osborne to prioritise green investment and climate action, warning that the UK green economy is ‘at a crossroads’ without clear policy direction. In this context, the chancellor’s claim to have put in place a long term framework for investment in renewable energy bears no resemblance to reality.

A further call to action from the Global Commission on the Economy and the Climate, a heavyweight panel of experts, found that by building green cities, mobilising clean energy investment and other measures, governments can secure up to 96 per cent of extra carbon cuts needed to avoid dangerous global warming while reaping economic benefits.

It’s astonishing that this year, when the UK should be playing a leadership role at the crucial global climate summit in Paris, Osborne is risking both the UK’s reputation and the chances of meeting our own emissions targets.

We heard the usual rhetoric about the cost of energy to consumers; yet again not matched by action.

If the chancellor was truly worried about fuel poverty and the cold homes crisis – which results in 65 people on average dying each day in winter – he’d be making energy efficiency the number one infrastructure investment priority.

If the Treasury can decide to allocate all revenue from Vehicle Excise Duty to spending on roads, it should instead be ring-fencing the taxes everyone pays on energy bills to invest in making all homes super energy efficient, starting with households on low incomes. This would be a job-creating, revenue raising, carbon-saving, economic and environmental no brainer, yet is nowhere to be seen in today’s Budget.

Even more urgently, the chancellor should be reviewing the billions of pounds of indirect subsidies to the dirty fossil fuel industry, tax breaks for fracking, and the vast sums of public money allocated to polluting, environmentally destructive, high carbon projects such as new roads and runways. The chancellor announced plans to prevent taxpayers’ money benefitting renewable electricity generated overseas, yet remained silent on the shocking revelation earlier this year that the government spends three hundred times more backing fossil fuel projects abroad compared with clean energy, via the export credit agency.

Fossil fuel subsides are the scandalous public spending that should be cut – not support for clean, green, home-grown renewable energy.

The consequences of inadequate action on climate change are grim and will hit the poorest worst. But, as businesses and economists are increasingly explaining, ambitious action to tackle the climate crisis would utterly transform our economy, create decent jobs and lift people out of fuel poverty.

It’s a tragedy that this government looks set to let its obsession with spending cuts trump a commitment to investing in the long term health of our economy and the stability of our environment.

Six years ago, the chancellor told the nation he understood this. In a speech to Imperial Colleage, he said “I want a Conservative Treasury to be in the lead of developing the low carbon economy and financing a green recovery. For I see in this green recovery not just the fight against climate change, but the fight for jobs, the fight for new industry, the fight for lower family energy bills and the fight for less wasteful government.”

Now, the need for the government to drag itself out of the dark ages and blaze a trail of low carbon leadership is more urgent than ever – for the sake of our economy as well as our climate.

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion. Follow her on Twitter 

First published at Left Foot Forward

Tuesday 7 July 2015

7/7 London Bombing - Memories of the Day

This is a re-post of something I wrote five years ago. 52 Londoners were killed and many were injured on 7 July 2005 when four suicide bombers exploded their bombs, three on the tube network and one on a bus. 

At the time I was working close to Edgware Road tube station, where one of the four bombs was detonated, and it was at the usual time I arrived at the station. That I wasn’t there at that fateful time is down to a matter of luck really.

I arrived at my local Piccadilly line tube station at about 8.15am, only to find the station closed. An underground worker informed me that there was a ‘power outage failure’. I took an overland train to Finsbury Park station, intending to get onto the Victoria line to Kings Cross, but found the Piccadilly line was now working, so took that  instead to Kings Cross.

As I was ascending the escalator at Kings Cross, to make my connection onto the Circle line to Edgware Road, the emergency sirens sounded, with instructions for everyone to evacuate Kings Cross station. This must have been around 9am. On exiting, I milled around with hundreds of other passengers at the front of the station, waiting for the all clear to continue my journey. At about 9.10am, a police officer rushed towards us, waving his arms, shouting ‘get away from the station’.

I decided to complete my journey to work on a bus, and managed to get onto one going to Marble Arch, where I could walk the rest of the way. I arrived at work at about 10.15am, and my colleagues there were still talking of power failures, but I had noticed a thick cloud of black smoke hanging over Edgware Road station.

Then news started to come through of the bombings.

I feel extremely lucky that I wasn’t caught up in any of this, but have also reflected that the events I witnessed just didn't make sense.

Why was the Piccadilly line closed at 8.15am, but open again around 8.45am? Why did the emergency alarm sound at Kings Cross some ten minutes before any of the explosions? And why was the story of a power failure put about by the authorities? Also, why have we seen so few photo images of the bombers on the day, when the London Underground has hundreds of CCTV cameras?

This is not intended to be a 'conspiracy theory' piece but these questions remain unanswered today.

There was a very strange feeling for a few weeks after the bombing around London, especially when travelling on the underground. People voluntarily kept bags and ruck sacks open to show there was nothing untoward in them, and Londoners pulled through in the end.

Monday 6 July 2015

The Greece Euro Debacle has Reminded the British Left Why it Used to Oppose the EU

I think it is fair to say that the British far left has, by and large, remained anti the European Union (or its various predecessor organisations) over the years. Of course, Tony Benn was always against our membership, but the broader left in Britain (the Labour left and the trade unions) changed from its opposition to the EU to a position of being in favour of continued membership in the late 1980s.

What caused this change was the Thatcher Conservative government in Britain at the time and the introduction of Jacque Delors European Social Chapter. In the autumn of 1988 Delors addressed the British Trade Union Congress, promising that the European Commission would be a force to require governments to introduce pro-labour legislation.

Delors appeared to be an ally for the British left’s fight with the Thatcher government, and this is where the roots of the Conservative Party’s opposition to all things European began. ‘Socialism via the back door’ was a phrase much bandied about at the time by the right of the Tory party and their cheerleaders in the press.

I think something is changing though and the treatment handed out to Greece over the last five years, and most acutely since the election of the Syriza anti-austerity party to government, has been a catalyst for a mood change amongst many on the British left.

I conducted a poll on the Green Left Facebook Page last week on the question of ‘does the EU’s treatment of Greece make you more likely to vote for Brexit’. Although the sample was small, there was a marginal majority from yes voters. The Green Left Facebook page has a lot of Green Party people using the site, so normally I would have expected a fairly large majority for no voters to this question.

Veteran of the British left Tariq Ali has said, that Greece has made his mind up to vote for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU when our referendum comes around, probably next year.

I read an interesting piece today by Ian Dunt on the Politics.Co.Uk site, entitled ‘The British Left is Finally Turning Against the EU, in which he argues against the EU from a largely anarchist perspective. He writes:

Today's referendum reflects how Syriza has started to re-introduce the notion of participatory democracy to Europe…This week has finally seen this lesson start to be internalised by the left. It has done more to further the eurosceptic cause than anything Ukip has ever done. The debate has shifted from the right-wing critique of Europe – immigration, market interference – to the left-wing one, which is of German fiscal extremism applied to powerless local communities.

I must admit, I’ve been a Europhile for as long as I can remember as I have always liked the ‘internationalism’ associated with it, but I am having my own doubts now too. I was always happy with the Green Party line on the EU, that is, we want a different sort of Europe, for the people, not for the corporations and bureaucrats. But will we get a change to Europe to anything like we would want to see? I really doubt it in the foreseeable future.

The EU is a thoroughly undemocratic organisation and particularly with recent events in Greece which have thrown the spotlight on this. The EU appears to be going to completely ignore the decisive referendum result against the EU’s terms delivered by the Greek people on Sunday.

I am beginning to wonder whether this is a club I want to belong to after all. 

Sunday 5 July 2015

Greece Votes No to More Austerity

Albeit with less than 40% of the referendum counted it looks to be clear that the Greek people have rejected further austerity measures from their creditors the so called Troika of European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Indeed there is a split amongst the creditors with the IMF saying that Greece's debt should be largely written off.

Of course the ball is now back in European Union's court, but surely now a dignified arrangement can made for Greece?

I do hope so, because this affair has caused so much misery in Greece.

Well done to the Greek people for refusing to bow to blackmail.

In celebration of this likely victory I'm re-posting Romayne Phoenix's speech last week to a rally in Trafalgar Square, London in support of the Greek government and people.

As things stand, a positive alternative to austerity won’t be the main battleground in the London elections next year. But it should be.

Jonathan Bartley speaks at a demo outside Lambeth Town Hall

Written by Jonathan Bartley who is the Convener of Lambeth Green Party and a Green Left supporter. Jonathan is a candidate for the Green Party for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly List.

When I was part of Jenny Jones’ mayoral campaign team in 2012, the focus was the usual issues of safer cycling, air pollution and London’s ongoing housing crisis. These are all important. But the problems are a symptom of a much bigger issue; every aspect of London life is being turned into a commodity.  

London increasingly knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

Commercial haulage is prioritised over the lives of cyclists. Property speculation is encouraged at the expense of those who just want a decent home. Polluters are favoured over those who want clean air to breathe. Everything is assigned a price. The highest bidder wins. 

Tory Mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith will try to move into ‘Green’ territory. He must not get away with it. It is his economic policies that are responsible for the great London sell-off. Labour and Lib Dem candidates will happily join in the collusion. We must fight it.  

I want to be the Green Party’s mayoral candidate so I can stand up and say that the commodification of London life isn’t just economically deluded, it is socially and environmentally destructive.  

As the Green Party’s Work and Pensions spokesperson, over the last couple of weeks I have attended three demonstrations to highlight what Zac Goldsmith’s cuts have been doing to the disabled.  

I met with campaigners when they stormed the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions. I attended Streatham Job Centre, to support those marching against the placement of therapists in job centres ( ). And on Tuesday I supported Disabled People Against the Cuts as they presented their petition at Downing Street over the pernicious closure of the Independent Living Fund ( ).

The Government is getting away with their cuts because human life itself has become a commodity. And under this Tory system, those who are disabled are worth less.   

It doesn’t have to be this way. Take London’s public transport system for example. It is not really ‘public’ at all. Around 10% of London’s population are excluded from large parts of it because of their impairments. There is a 'Transport Apartheid' that would not be tolerated anywhere else.

But when the Paralympics arrived and we needed to impress the world, as it turned its gaze upon us, things changed. Magically ramps appeared in tube stations. Public sector staff were suddenly discovered to provide vital assistance.  

Then they magically disappeared again when the games were over. 

It confirms what we all know. There is enough money in the world’s fifth richest city. The problem is the political will to make things happen.

There is a chance in next year’s elections to show that there is an alternative.  During the general election campaign I challenged Iain Duncan Smith over his welfare reforms. 

As the Government’s new £12bn round of welfare and other cuts bite harder, they will impact many more people. They will impact families claiming tax credits and child benefit, and those who rely on vital public services.   And when they do, many more will wake up to the reality of what is going on.

We have already seen this begin to happen where I live in Lambeth. There we successfully saved sheltered housing from the Labour’s Council’s plans to bulldoze it. Labour shrugged its shoulders and blamed Tory cuts.  But we fought for the residents – and won. 

A few weeks before the general election I got a call from one of the residents, inviting me in for a cup of tea. Half way through my second biscuit, she pushed an envelope towards me. “We have got you here under false pretenses” she said. “We had a collection to support your election campaign” she said.
These are people who were not natural Green supporters. But they saw the threat that austerity presented. And they discovered that it was only the Greens who would fight it.

We have an aspirational vision to give to Londoners. London should lead the world. It should have world class public services. It should be the city of Good Jobs. And as austerity bites, more and more will want to hear our alternative. I want to be the mayoral candidate who delivers it. 

Twitter: @jon_bartley
Facebook: jonathan.c.bartley
Tel: 020 8769 8163
Mob: 07771 598097