Ukraine in flames

February 20, 2014 at 6:38 pm (Europe, posted by JD, protest, riots, Russia, stalinism, thuggery)

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police.

Above: protesters behind metal shields in Kiev’s Independence Square, Tuesday

From Richard Greeman

Dear Friends,

As the uprising in the Ukraine seems to be coming to a crisis after weeks of mass demonstrations and occupations, I would like to translate for you the following letter received last week from Julia Gusseva, the Russian translator of Victor Serge and co-organizer of the International Conference of Independant Labor Unions in Kiev last November. Julia, an activist since the ‘80s, is one of the founders of the Praxis Center in Moscow, and writes from an anarcho-syndicalist viewpoint.

Dear Richard,

You ask what we think of the situation in the Ukraine. In fact, the Ukrainian movement is a part of the wave of civil protests that has been unfurling for the last few years in every corner of the world (“Arab Spring,” Occupy Wall Street, Indignados, the movements in Greece, Turkey, Russia …). In the Ukraine, the pretext was the refusal of the President to sign the agreement on association with the countries of the European Union. In this semi-authoritarian country, a large part of the population considered that association as a step toward democracy, rights, higher social standards, etc. The positive demands of the movement are democratic (return to the 2004 Constitution, new, free, honest elections, etc): the people are fighting for their full rights. The main thing is that the movement is self-organized (autonomous) everywhere around the country, with activists occupying the town halls, etc. The same labor unions who participated in our conference in Kiev last year have recently formed the all-Ukraine strike committee.

As far as the “leading personalities” of the movement are concerned, we see the same thing as in Russia, Turkey, etc: politicians who are trying to put themselves at the head of the movement, but whom the great mass of protesters does not at all recognize as their leaders. Yes, there are various political currents in the movement, including Ukrainian nationalists (and also the Left, which is part of the “citizen sector” of the protesters), but the vast majority – as in Russia and elsewhere – are regular citizens, non-party political activists.

Kiev has already seen police violence (before the current clashes – RG ) causing hundreds of injuries and (at least 70 at present -JD) deaths; this means the movement will not stop half way and fade out. Besides, the President is inclined to give in to popular pressure (there is no doubt that Putin would have acted differently in his place!) So there is a good chance that the popular movement will triumph and, on the condition that the politicians don’t turn it to their own ends, will make the Ukraine a freer and more democratic country than it is today.

Je t’embrasse, Julia

P.S.

Asked about the publicity given to the presence among the demonstrators of right-wing and nationalist elements (both in the mainstream media and on the Left), Julia referred me to this article, refuting what she called “Putinist/Stalinist insinuations about democratic revolutionary movement in Ukraine.”

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Eight reasons to still be against the Collins report

February 19, 2014 at 12:31 am (labour party, posted by JD, socialism, unions, workers)

Ed Miliband

By Jon Lansman, re-blogged from Left Futures:

At the special conference on 1 March, Ed Miliband may well have the “Clause IV moment” his advisors sought, though Labour’s enemies are saying unions will have too much power as they probably always will. His proposals, made in the wake of a Falkirk “scandal” that never was, have lost their rationale. If he wins the day, as now looks almost certain, it is not because trade unions and constituency parties are enthusiastic about them, or even agree with them. Nor is it because the consultation responses – which have been totally ignored in the report – favoured them… they didn’t. It is because the trade unions and constituency parties are instinctively loyal to him and want him to win in 2015. But this is not the way to make the most radical changes ever in the relationship between the trade unions and the party they founded over a century ago, so here are eight reasons still to vote against the Collins report.

  1. The opt-in scheme proposed for trade union levy-payers will result, when union affiliations become tied in five years time to the numbers opting-in, in a drastic cut in party funding. Few trade union leaders seriously expect more than 10% to become “affiliated supporters”, which would mean the loss of £7million a year in affiliation fees, roughly a quarter of total party expenditure.
  2. This “opt-in” scheme is presented as more democratic, but it isn’t. Members will pay the levy either way. What would we think if trade union members had to tick a box to say they wanted to vote in union elections, and only got a ballot if they’d done so? Or if they had to say they, individually, supported the union’s political campaigns on the NHS or the Living Wage, and money could be spent on those campaigns only if it could be attributed to those who’d ticked a box? Or if members had to say that they, individually, wanted to take part in strike ballots? “Opt-in” will reduce union affiliation numbers even if their members’ support for Labour rises. Many leading Labour MPs admit that they plan to use that reduction to cut union votes within the Party, which would be to the advantage of the Party machine, not of individual trade union or CLP members.
  3. “Registered supporters” of the party have up to now paid nothing. So few have been recruited (their numbers are secret) that they are to be ignored and recruitment is to start again. ‘Progress’ has always called for their involvement but they were supposed not to be involved in leadership elections until 50,000 were recruited. Nevertheless, they are to be given votes in both leadership elections and a London primary with immediate effect, equivalent to the votes of individual members of the party who pay £45 a year.
  4. Some constituency members may be alarmed about a possible reduction in the value of their votes in leadership elections, as large numbers of trade union levy payers could in theory be recruited as “affiliated supporters” with a vote equal to party members. However, most trade union levy payers, including many who have voted in the past, will lose their right to vote entirely because they won’t have previously ‘opted in’. And unlike registered supporters, they will continue to pay roughly a levy of £7 a year on average, often for most of their working lives. Almost all that money funds the Labour Party.
  5. We may be relieved that the higher threshold proposed in the leadership elections – 15% rather than the current 12.5% – isn’t higher still, as was originally proposed. However, it still would have meant that two out of the last five Labour Party leaders would have been elected unopposed (John Smith as well as Gordon Brown), and perhaps Tony Blair too. The elections that did take place would have had fewer candidates (two not four when Neil Kinnock was elected and probably just two in the most recent election, both called Miliband).
  6. The primary proposed to select a Mayoral candidate for London in 2015 (against the wishes of the London Labour Party) will virtually exclude trade unionists (who currently have 50% of an electoral college) because there will not be time to recruit many affiliated supporters with a general election in between. “Registered supporters” will be included, however, which is a recipe for electoral fraud and manipulation by the party’s opponents.
  7. The administrative problems of this package of proposals cannot be over-estimated. Is there any sense in having, effectively, four tiers of party membership or pseudo-membership: (1) Individual members. (2) Trade unionists who are “affiliated supporters”. (3) Trade unionists who are box-tickers but not “affiliated supporters”, which could happen for many reasons (administrative error or failure to pass on details; inaccurate details on the union database; people with more than one address; people eligible but not on electoral roll like 6m others). (4) “Registered supporters” who pay a minimal one-off “administration fee”. Ensuring that the Labour Party’s database is consistent with each of 14 union membership systems when people change address or jobs will be a permanent problem. This will be a constant source of ammunition for a hostile media when people get a ballot paper and shouldn’t or vice versa. It is hard enough for unions to keep track of home addresses for their internal purposes, as they normally relate to members in their workplace.
  8. If you were prepared to take financial risks and wanted a mass party with a working class base, the right approach would have been to slash membership fees from £45 – well above the reach of many of our voters – and make sure that our policies are much more attractive to trade unions and working class people. As it is, the offer to trade unionists is not very attractive – to get a vote they already have and be allowed to attend meetings (never Labour’s greatest attraction) without a vote. No real influence. No real democracy – unlike in their own unions where conferences and executives still do make policy.

The Collins report proposes two rules changes as well as its recommendations. They are on two separate subjects (Leadership elections and Primaries) and deal with different chapters. Normal practice in the Labour Party is to have separate votes on separate rule changes. This would allow you to decide your views and vote separately on each proposal. This may not happen because the NEC were told by the General Secretary that the procedure was up to the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) whilst the CAC were told that the NEC had decided to have only one vote! Is this contradiction an unfortunate coincidence or deliberate misinformation? Readers will have to make up their own minds – delegates may wish to enquire when the Special conference opens. In the meantime, you might want to consider proposing that your constituency party to send this emergency motion to the NEC & CAC:

This CLP urges the NEC/CAC to ensure that there are separate votes at the Special Conference on 1 March on the report and on each rule change in line with normal procedure.”

You can download a leaflet comprising these reasons for opposing the Collins report here – ideal for distribution at Regional “briefing” meetings for delegates or at constituency meetings to decide how to mandate delegates.

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Amnesty: North Korea in “a cateogory of its own” for human rights abuses

February 18, 2014 at 12:24 am (hell, Human rights, murder, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, terror, thuggery, truth)

From Amnesty International:

North Korea is in a cateogory of its own for scale and breadth of human rights abuses. Now is the time for action

Kim Jong-Un (AP Photo/KRT via AP Video)

Dear Supporter,

When Kim Young-soon was sent to political prison camp Yodok for ‘gossiping’ about former leader Kim Jong-il, her parents, daughter and sons were also imprisoned for ‘guilt by association’.

Each day, they were woken at 3.30am and forced to work until dark. When her parents starved to death, she wrapped their bodies in straw and buried them herself. Her children all died in the camp too.

Stand with the people of North Korea and demand action

In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (widely known as North Korea), there is no political opposition, no independent media, and no free trade unions or other civil society organisations.

The country has been in the grip of a devastating food crisis since the early 1990s, and nearly a million people have starved to death

At the heart of this vast network of repression and cruelty, are the political prison camps. Watch our video: the inside story of the prison camps

At least 100,000 people live in the prison camps. Satellite images we commissioned last year show the largest covering an area of approximately 215 square miles. Some people are sent there without charge, let alone a trial, and forced to work with little food or sleep.

Many die of overwork or malnutrition. Torture is rampant, and executions are commonplace.

A former guard at the country’s largest prison camp, Kwanliso 16, told us of women being raped by visiting officials then disappearing:

‘After a night of “servicing” the officials, the women had to die because the secret could not get out. This happens at most of the political prison camps.’ Former prison guard

Stand with the people of North Korea and demand action

Armed with evidence of the scale and depth of abuse within the country, we have been lobbying the United Nations to hold a Commission of Inquiry into North Korea for many years.

The inquiry began in March 2013, and published its final report today, laying bare the gruesome reality of life in North Korea. Among testimony given was an account of a woman forced to drown her own baby. 

The world can no longer say it does not know what is happening in North Korea. And the North Korean regime can no longer deny this is happening. The UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council must now use their power and influence to ensure action.

This must be the year the world acts on North Korea – pledge your support now

Thank you,

Karen Middleton
Karen Middleton Campaign Manager

Take Action: pledge your support

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12 “reasons” to support Scottish independence

February 17, 2014 at 8:25 pm (fantasy, Green Party, posted by JD, scotland)

bag piper in kilt with rippled Scottish flag Illustration Stock Photo - 3474908

Exciting, isn’t it?

While Alex Salmond demands the right of an independent Scotland to retain the pound, stay in the EU, remain in Nato and keep the monarchy, the Greens (or, at least, their member Adam Ramsay) have entered the fray with a persuasive statement of why the rest of us should support independence. A comrade, perhaps rather cruelly, provides a précis:

12 Reasons Why England Can’t Ignore Scotland’s #Indyref
1) It’s exciting
2) It’s really exciting isn’t it?
3) It’s got people talking
4) It’s big, a biggie, a big deal
5) It’s practically revolutionary – Smash the State!
6) Scotland will be rich without England, honest
7) Scotland will be an anti-racist country
8) You’re no the boss o’ me, Cameron!
9) We will dump all those right wing Labour MPs etc (somehow) – and replace them with nicer people
10) We’ll tak’ the high road …
11) er
12) um

However, another comrade (a Scot, as it happens) added a further comment: “I think you’re all being very unkind to the Green chap. His Twelve Reasons are the most succinct and intellectually rigorous statement of the case for an independent Scotland that I have ever come across.”

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Eff off, Morrissey

February 16, 2014 at 7:37 pm (Asshole, Beyond parody, celebrity, comedy, crap, cults, gloating, jerk, music, posted by JD, twat, wankers)

We don’t particularly like A.A Gill here. But his award-winning hatchet-job on that pretentious pillock Morrissey, is much to our liking…

… here ’tis:

Morrissey Autobiography

A A Gill on Autobiography by Morrissey

THE SUNDAY TIMES

AS NOËL Coward might have said, nothing incites intemperate cultural hyperbole like cheap music. Who can forget that the Beatles were once authoritatively lauded as the equal of Mozart, or that Bob Dylan was dubbed a contemporary Keats? The Beatles continued to ignore Covent Garden, and Mozart is rarely heard at Glastonbury; Dylan has been silently culled from the latest edition of the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English.

The publication of Autobiography was the second item on Channel 4’s news on the day it was released. Krishnan Guru-Murthy excitably told the nation that Morrissey really could write — presumably he was reading from an Autocue — and a pop journalist thrilled that he was one of the nation’s greatest cultural icons. He isn’t even one of Manchester’s greatest cultural icons.

This belief in high-low cultural relativity leads to a certain sort of chippy pop star feeling undervalued and then hoitily producing a rock opera or duet with concert harpsichord. Morrissey, though, didn’t have to attain the chip of being needily undervalued; he was born with it. He tells us he ditched “Steve”, his given name, to be known by his portentous unimoniker because — deep reverential breath here — great classical composers only have one name. Mussorgsky, Mozart, Morrissey.

His most pooterishly embarrassing piece of intellectual social climbing is having this autobiography published by Penguin Classics. Not Modern Classics, you understand, where the authors can still do book signings, but the classic Classics, where they’re dead and some of them only have one name. Molière, Machiavelli, Morrissey.

He has made up for being alive by having a photograph of himself pretending to be dead on the cover. The book’s publication was late and trade gossip has it that Steve insisted on each and every bookshop taking a minimum order of two dozen, misunderstanding how modern publishing works. But this is not unsurprising when you read the book. He is constantly moaning about record producers not pressing enough discs to get him to No 1. What is surprising is that any publisher would want to publish the book, not because it is any worse than a lot of other pop memoirs, but because Morrissey is plainly the most ornery, cantankerous, entitled, whingeing, self-martyred human being who ever drew breath. And those are just his good qualities.

The book falls into two distinct passages. The first quarter is devoted to growing up in Manchester (where he was born in 1959) and his schooling. This is laughably overwrought and overwritten, a litany of retrospective hurt and score-settling that reads like a cross between Madonna and Catherine Cookson. No teacher is too insignificant not to be humiliated from the heights of success, no slight is too small not to be rehashed with a final, killing esprit d’escalier. There are pages of lists of television programmes he watched (with plot analysis and character criticism). He could go on Mastermind with the specialist subject of Coronation Street or the works of Peter Wyngarde. There is the food he ate, the groups that appeared on Top of the Pops (with critical comments) and the poetry he liked (with quotes).

All of this takes quite a lot of time due to the amount of curlicues, falderals and bibelots he insists on dragging along as authorial decoration. Instead of adding colour or depth, they simply result in a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words. After 100 pages, he’s still at the school gate kicking dead teachers.

But then he sets off on the grown-up musical bit and the writing calms down and becomes more diary-like, bloggish, though with an incontinent use of italics that are a sort of stage direction or aside to the audience. He changes tenses in ways that are supposed to be elegant but just sound camp. There is one passage that stands out — this is the first time he sings. “Against the command of everyone I had ever known, I sing. My mouth meets the microphone and the tremolo quaver eats the room with acceptable pitch and I am removed from the lifelong definition of others and their opinions matter no more. I am singing the truth by myself which will also be the truth of others and give me a whole life. Let the voice speak up for once and for all.” That has the sense of being both revelatory and touching, but it stands out like the reflection of the moon in a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose.

The hurt recrimination is sometimes risible but mostly dull, like listening to neighbours bicker through a partition wall, and occasionally startlingly unpleasant, such as the reference to the Moors murderers and the unfound grave of their victim Keith Bennett. “Of course, had Keith been a child of privilege or moneyed background, the search would never have been called off. But he was a poor, gawky boy from Manchester’s forgotten side streets and minus the blond fantasy fetish of a cutesy Madeleine McCann.”

It’s what’s left out of this book rather than what’s put in that is strangest. There is an absence of music, not just in its tone, but the content. There are emetic pools of limpid prose about the music business, the ingratitude of fellow musicians and band members and the lack of talent in other performers, but there is nothing about the making of music itself, the composing of lyrics, the process of singing or the emotion of creation. He seems to assume we will already know his back catalogue and can hum along to his recorded life. This is 450 pages of what makes Morrissey, but nothing of what Morrissey makes.

There is the peevishness at managers, record labels and bouncers, a list of opaque court cases, all of which he manages to lose unfairly, due to the inherited stupidity of judges. Even his relation with the audience is equivocal. Morrissey likes them when they’re worshipping from a distance, but he is not so keen when they’re up close. As an adolescent he approaches Marc Bolan for an autograph. Bolan refuses and Morrissey, still awkwardly humiliated after all these years, has the last word. But then later in the book and life, he does exactly the same thing to his own fans without apparent irony.

There is little about his private life. A boyfriend slips in and out with barely a namecheck. This is him on his early sexual awakening: “Unfathomably I had several cupcake grapples in this year of 1973… Plunge or no plunge, girls remain mysteriously attracted to me.” There is precious little plunging after that.

There are many pop autobiographies that shouldn’t be written. Some to protect the unwary reader, and some to protect the author. In Morrissey’s case, he has managed both. This is a book that cries out like one of his maudlin ditties to be edited. But were an editor to start, there would be no stopping. It is a heavy tome, utterly devoid of insight, warmth, wisdom or likeability. It is a potential firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrhoeic dullness. Putting it in Penguin Classics doesn’t diminish Aristotle or Homer or Tolstoy; it just roundly mocks Morrissey, and this is a humiliation constructed by the self-regard of its victim.

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times on 27/10/13

Read all reviews for Morrissey’s Autobiography

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South Africa’s biggest union breaks with ANC and CP

February 15, 2014 at 6:29 pm (africa, posted by JD, reblogged, socialism, stalinism, unions, workers)

Strictly speaking, the Metalworkers’ union NUMSA hasn’t yet completely broken with the “Triple Alliance” of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the COSATU trade union federation – but it’s been obvious for some time that the union is firmly set on that course. This a tremendously important development in South African politics, in which the ANC and the CP have, traditionally, more or less taken for granted the right to lead the working class and the trade union movement. At its special congress in December, NUMSA announced that it will not campaign for, or finance the ANC, though individual members remain free to do so “in their own time and using their own resources.” It also called upon COSATU to take a more independent, pro-worker approach. Interestingly and encouragingly, NUMSA’s leadership seems to be quite resistant to the blandishments coming from expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema, noting his role as a “tenderpreneur” capitalist.

This speech, by NUMSA’s general secretary Irvin Jim was first published in The Bullet. Readers should not assume that Shiraz agrees with everything in the speech:

NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim. [Photo: NUMSA]

“Manifestos and Reality”

A Presentation to the Cape Town Press Club by NUMSA General Secretary

Irvin Jim

I speak to you today with a powerful and united mandate from 341,150 metalworkers. They made their views extremely clear in our workers’ parliament in December last year – the parliament we called the NUMSA Special National Congress. In that parliament there was vigorous debate. Every delegate knew that they would have to account to their constituency. We are justifiably proud of our democratic heritage. We know that what we decide has the backing of our members. We don’t have to change decisions after the Congress has spoken, as some do, even though there are those who would urge us to “come to our senses” and take NUMSA in another direction from the decisions of that Congress.

And we are also justifiably proud of our militant heritage. Our union, right back from its beginning, has taken the side of the working-class and the poor. We have always been a union that champions shop-floor struggles as well as the struggles of working-class communities. We have always understood that workers come from communities and live in communities. Community struggles are workers’ struggles. So, as metalworkers we fight for policies and strategies that will create jobs. We want more working people from our communities to have jobs. We fight for water. We fight for houses. We fight for the safety of our communities. We fight against a police force which kills our people when they protest because they don’t have water. Because they don’t have houses.

We are also a union that has been in the trenches with revolutionary forces within the liberation alliance led by the ANC (African National Congress) and SACP (South African Communist Party). Yet when we speak out clearly in defence of the working-class and the poor, our allies attack us. They call us oppositionists because we reject the policies of the ANC and SACP which attack the interests of our members. They call us ultra-leftists suffering from infantile disorders because we refuse to betray the interests of the working-class and support an ANC and SACP whose leadership has consistently attacked the working-class.

Taking Sides, Splitting with Old Allies

We are not just talking about labour brokers. We are not just talking about e-tolls. We are talking about an ANC and SACP leadership which has clearly and unequivocally taken sides with international capital against us. There is no other way to look at it. The examples stare us in the face. At Marikana, the armed forces of the state mowed down workers who were demanding a living wage from an international mining company, Lonmin. The same happened during the farmworkers strike in the Western Cape. The same is happening now in Mothuthlung and Sebokeng and other communities across the country too numerous to count.

Our people are protesting because they have no water – that most basic of necessities. And the State… that very same state which failed to supply them with water… kills them for their protest.

Underneath all of this is a harsh material fact. The South African economy has not fundamentally changed. The structure remains the same as it was under apartheid… the same dependence on exporting raw minerals, the same enslavement to the Minerals Energy Finance complex. Far from an increase in the manufacturing sector – the sector which can really produce jobs – we have a rapid process of deindustrialization. We are not gaining jobs, we are losing them. In 2004 there were 3.7 million unemployed people in our country. Last year that had risen to 4.1 million. More unemployed, not less.

This will not stop until we fundamentally change direction. We, as a union, have understood that the ANC and SACP will not lead that change. It is the ANC and SACP which gave us GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution). It is the ANC and SACP which has given us the NDP (National Development Plan). It is the ANC and SACP which is investing in improving the rail lines to Richards Bay so that more of our minerals can be exported.

We know that the current leadership, the very same leadership that calls itself anti-imperialist, is in a lucrative alliance with international capital. It has accepted its shares in the mining industry, but those shares were not given for nothing. They had a price, and the price is being paid by the working-class and the poor of our country. The price is a macro-economic strategy which focuses on maintaining profit, not jobs. This fact cannot be changed by a fig leaf called the Employment Tax Incentive Act. A fig leaf which claims to be about creating jobs whilst actually it is yet another attack on the working-class.

I want to say this very clearly and very straightforwardly. There is only one way to create the number of jobs that are needed in South Africa – the number the NDP dreams about. That is to harness the profits of the mining and financial sectors and use them to build manufacturing industry. That is why we call for the nationalization of the mines and the financial sector. It is not some dogma from the past. It is an immediate and urgent requirement to save our nation.

The Star newspaper last week said “A Nation burns.” That headline said more than it knew. It is the nation that is burning. It is burning because it is being ruthlessly looted by international capital.

For the investors in London and New York and Berlin, South Africa is just another possible investment destination. They don’t care about the working-class and the poor of South Africa and we don’t expect them to. But now our political leadership has aligned itself with the global looters. Our political leadership is no longer able to represent the nation because it has a conflict of interest. Its real, material interest in the profitability of the mining and financial sectors prevents it from looking after the interests of the nation. The interest of building our manufacturing industry. The leadership’s interest in the profits of global capital prevents them from being the leadership that the nation needs – the leadership that Hugo Chavez represented in Venezuela, for example, or that Evo Morales has represented in Bolivia. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pushing back the tide

February 15, 2014 at 9:18 am (environment, Rosie B)

European and UK policies towards land management increase the likelihood of flooding, according to George Monbiot:-

The story begins with a group of visionary farmers at Pontbren, in the headwaters of Britain’s longest river, the Severn. In the 1990s they realised that the usual hill-farming strategy – loading the land with more and bigger sheep, grubbing up the trees and hedges, digging more drains – wasn’t working. It made no economic sense, the animals had nowhere to shelter, and the farmers were breaking their backs to wreck their own land.

So they devised something beautiful. They began planting shelter belts of trees along the contours. They stopped draining the wettest ground and built ponds to catch the water instead. They cut and chipped some of the wood they grew to make bedding for their animals, which meant that they no longer spent a fortune buying straw. Then they used the composted bedding, in a perfect closed loop, to cultivate more trees.

One day a government consultant was walking over their fields during a rainstorm. He noticed something that fascinated him. The water flashing off the land suddenly disappeared when it reached the belts of trees the farmers had planted. This prompted a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water and then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable, a hard pan off which the rain gushes.

One of the research papers estimates that – even though only 5% of the Pontbren land has been reforested – if all the farmers in the catchment did the same thing, flooding peaks downstream would be reduced by about 29%. Full reforestation would reduce the peaks by about 50%. For the residents of Shrewsbury, Gloucester and the other towns ravaged by endless Severn floods, that means – more or less – problem solved.

Somerset

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My One and Only Love

February 14, 2014 at 12:03 am (jazz, Jim D, love, music, song)

My One and Only Love’s favourite song (this version by the wonderful Ella):

… there’s also a nice instrumental version of this lovely ballad (written by Guy Wood and Robert Mellin in 1952), by the unlikely jazz violin team of Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli …

… and an instrumental/vocal rendition by tenorist John Coltrane  and vocalist  Johnny Hartman

… and, of course, there’s Frank

… but My One and Only’s favourite version is this:

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Unite Executive backs Collins

February 13, 2014 at 6:15 pm (capitulation, Johnny Lewis, labour party, reformism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

logo-unite

By Johnny Lewis (with help from Colin Foster)

The Executive Council (EC) of Unite today voted to back the Collins proposals on the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Apparently, just 13 members voted against and the union’s United Left was split three ways, with some voting in favour, some against and some abstaining.

Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey had already made his attitude clear by ensuring that the two Unite full-time officials on Labour’s Executive voted for the proposals on 4 February. The Unite lay rep on the Labour Executive, Martin Mayer, abstained (and is reported to have done the same at the EC), while stating that he does not like the proposals.

It is, sadly, a traditional approach of trade union leaders: to accept bad proposals without a fight because they are pleased with the adroit negotiation which made the proposals not as bad as they might have been, and they think that further “boxing clever” can curtail the remaining evils.

It looks as if most union leaders will follow McCluskey’s lead when the proposals go to a two-hour Labour Party special conference at the Excel Centre in London on 1 March.

Local Labour Party delegates, and as many unions as possible, should still vote against the proposals on 1 March, if only to lay down a marker for the battles between now and 2019 and to register a principle.

The principle is that no-one should vote for a far-reaching package like Collins’s unless they are positively convinced that it is good, and that they have had adequate space to consider, debate, and amend the package.

In fact the Labour leaders have planned 1 March as a “coronation” for the package. Moves are afoot to seek a vote in parts on the package, but that will take a struggle. Scope for amendments? None.

The evil in Collins is not so much in what it proposes immediately (though that includes bad things) as in its projection for 2019:

“After a transitional period of five years, affiliation fees shall only be accepted on behalf of levy payers who have consented to the payment of such fees. At that point, the scale of a trade union’s collective affiliation shall be governed by the number of levy payers who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees”.

That reads bland and technical, but it is not. The gist is the very opposite of the blather about building Labour as a mass working-class party.

Individual not-very-politically-active trade unionists currently have a political say through their unions’ collective representation in the Labour Party and through the right to vote on Labour leader and deputy leader.

Under the Collins plan, from 2019 all those individuals who fail or forget to tick a box on a form will be compulsorily “opted out” from their unions’ democratically-decided, collective, political action in the Labour Party, and form their individual voting rights in the Labour Party.

It is not spelled out in Collins’s text, but the aim here is to engineer smaller affiliation numbers so as to gain leverage for reducing the unions’ representation at Labour conference and in Labour committees.

Such reduction will increase the overweighting in the Labour Party of professional politicians, advisers, researchers, think-tankers, and their business-people friends.

It will firm up the characteristics of the Labour Party that shape the leaders’ current policies for continued pay freezes and cuts after 2015, and a feeble fight against the Tories.

Rumour has it that Unite will reduce its formal Labour-affiliation numbers soon, and the GMB will reduce its numbers too, though not as much as it said it would a few months ago.

The “clever” idea here seems to be that if unions’ formal affiliation numbers have already been reduced before 2019, at a time when unions still have their 50% vote at Labour Party conference, then the reduction to box-ticking numbers in 2019 will not be steep and will give less fuel to the Labour right-wingers who want to reduce union representation.

But the 2019 plan should be contested head-on.

The Defend The Link campaign is preparing material to tease out the detail of the Collins report, and will be active at the conference on 1 March.

And after that the battle must continue. Only two rule changes are to be voted on 1 March. Properly, the proposed shift in 2019 should require a further rule change.

Some Labour Party insiders warn that the leadership may try to make the shift without a rule change, but that can and should be contested.

Defend the Link

Collins report

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A flood of xenophobia

February 12, 2014 at 10:02 pm (Daily Mail, Europe, fantasy, internationalism, Jim D, populism, Racism, reaction, Socialist Party, stalinism, TUSC)

Nigel Farage, in full wader mode, has proposed spending foreign aid money on flood damage.

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Working on the assumption (which I hope is true) that most readers of this blog are not regular readers of the Daily Mail, I thought it might be a good idea to let you know that the  Mail’s petition calling for foreign aid money to be diverted to the UK flood crisis has achieved over 100,000 names in support, and a Comres poll for ITV showed that 73 per cent of Britons agree. The above information comes from today’s Daily Mail, so of course should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. But the rising tide of anti-foreigner, anti-EU and anti-foreign aid xenophobia at the moment cannot be denied. The words of sanity that have been expressed on the subject of migration, by EU commissioner Laszlo Andor and his splendidly combative colleague Viviane Reding, have been of little avail: the UK public seems to be in the grip of isolationism, whether that be anti-EU sentiment, anti-immigration hysteria, or even the slightly more rational reluctance to endorse foreign wars. The current floods have given the fanatically anti-EU Daily Mail the opportunity to bring all these currents together into a vicious, nationalistic and semi-racist campaign against foreign aid: the anti-EU idiot- “left” should take notice … but, sadly, they seem too stupid to do so:
The Guardian‘s development network (which is linked to ‘EurActiv‘) reports:

A campaign by the UK Independence party (Ukip) and the Daily Mail newspaper to divert Britain’s overseas aid budget into domestic flood relief has been condemned as “disgraceful” by Lord Deben, the former Conservative environment minister.

Aid agencies, MEPs and officials from the EU and UN also told EurActiv that such a move would breach Britain’s international obligations.

The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, riding high in polls for European elections in May, first raised the issue on a visit to flood-hit parts of Somerset last weekend, saying it would take “a tiddly per cent of the overseas aid budget” to help flood victims.

The Daily Mail picked up the issue, running a front-page editorial on Tuesday calling on its readers to “put UK flood victims first” and “tell the PM where our foreign aid is needed” in a petition it initiated.

The tabloid, which has often championed climate-sceptic views, railed against “waste” in the UK’s €13bn (£10.6bn) aid budget and called for the money to be spent at home.

“Britain has given hundreds of millions towards flood relief overseas,” the editorial said. “Today, it is our own people who are enduring the misery, and the Mail believes there could no better use for the aid budget than alleviating Third World conditions at home.”

But the hint of a gathering bandwagon around an issue that had previously been the domain of the far right sparked condemnation across the political board.

“It is a disgraceful proposal to take from the poorest people on earth in order to avoid paying the cost of flooding from Britain’s own resources, resources which the prime minister has already promised,” Lord Deben told EurActiv.  

Since 2000, overseas aid spending has notched up some significant successes. It has funded the vaccination of 440 million children against preventable diseases and the immunisation of 2.5 billion children against polio.

Aid spending has also provided antiretroviral drugs for 6.1 million people and helped detect and treat 11.2m cases of TB worldwide. Much of this work has taken place under the aegis of the UN’s eight millennium development goals for 2015.

European aid, in particular, has helped almost 14 million new pupils enrol in primary education and connected more than 70 million people to improved drinking water, since 2004, according to the European commission.

“You simply cannot compare the resources of the UK with those of the poorest countries in the world, where they go to bed hungry, lack any access to water, sanitation, electricity,” Alexandre Polack, an EU development policy spokesperson told EurActiv. Claims of waste were simply not true, he added.

One UN official said that channelling overseas aid into domestic flood relief would risk isolating the UK in talks about a post-2015 successor to the millennium development goals, which David Cameron previously chaired.

“Overseas aid is part of the UK’s foreign policy and how they position themselves in the world and contribute to development discussions on the post-2015 dialogue,” the source said. “How can they contribute to that if they have no money to offer the causes that may arise out of that by 2015?”

“Overseas aid is meant for overseas,” the official continued. “If we spent it on national issues, it would be a perversion of its original intent and a breach of regulations governing that part of the budget.”

Headlines in the UK have been captured by the floods, which have submerged large parts of the country’s south-west, and thousands of homes have been evacuated from towns around the river Thames.

But Cameron clarified on Tuesday that the question facing his government was “not either protecting our overseas aid budget or spending the money here at home. What we need at home will be spent here at home,” he said.

Graham Watson, the Liberal Democrat MEP for the UK’s storm-battered south-west, said that there was little support in his constituency for the Daily Mail’s campaign. “Most people recognise that it is an attempt to mix chalk and cheese,” he told EurActiv. “We have a duty to help people in difficulty everywhere, and our aid budget is being extremely well spent.” Watson queried why Farage’s “blind opposition to everything European” prevented Ukip from supporting a relief application to the EU’s solidarity fund. “I have been pressing the government to make an application, and they have three weeks left to do so,” he said. “I have had talks with the commissioner and with government ministers and I am [still] hoping they will. At present, the Treasury is resisting as we will lose some money from our rebate, but there would still be a net gain for the UK, and as taxpayers have paid into the fund I think we should be taking advantage of it.”

Oxfam said that money should be redistributed from the UK’s wealthiest population sectors to help alleviate suffering in the sodden flood plains.

British bankers had received more than €70bn in bonuses since the onset of the financial crisis – far more than the UK’s aid budget, according to a statement by the aid agency. “At the same time, billions of pounds of tax are dodged by companies and individuals who are not paying their fair share,” Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy and advocacy said. “The choice should never be between helping those overseas or people in the UK when there’s enough money to do both.”

A comrade of mine once described the anti-EU “left” as like a little boy who sees a march passing by, led by a big brass band, and – keen to join in – he rushes out with his tin whistle, putting himself at the head of the march: he’s playing The Red Flag on his little tin whistle, but the band is playing Rule Britannia. When will these  idiots ever learn?

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