Saturday, 16 December 2017

We Need Not Be Spectators in the Climate Catastrophe

Written by Anouska Carter and first published at Global Justice Now

There are many reasons to feel cynical about the law and how it impedes the movement for climate justice. Just recently, the multinational firm Ineos secured a long-term injunction against all anti-fracking activists in the UK, making acts of resistance against its operations illegal.

Today, the richest 10 percent of the world, mostly in the Global North, are responsible for 50% percent of global emissions and countries, including the corporations founded within them, must be held accountable. A global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees which we are rapidly hurtling towards is not mundane stats., but refers to the tipping point over which human and non-human lives are under sever threat.

Norway’s recent collusion with oil giants to reopen the Arctic for oil exploitation highlights how governments cannot be trusted to hold either themselves or corporations accountable. Both would like citizens to believe that we are all equally complicit in the climate crisis by perpetuating the ‘everyone is responsible so no one is responsible’ rhetoric. Climate justice is about refusing to let the 1 percent carry on with business as usual and also about refusing to allow the law to silence the majority. The increasing use of litigation in the climate justice movement is shifting the focus on to the real carbon criminals.

There is no PLANet B

Since the current conservative government took office in May 2015, there has been a series of dire major policy reversals taking us backwards on climate action. Despite presenting its recent co-establishment of the ‘Powering Past Coal Alliance’ and ‘Green Growth’ strategy as commendable, celebrations for the climate movement are not yet on the cards. When its historic emissions are factored in, the UK is among the top seven countries most responsible for climate change.

Nationwide, nitrogen dioxide levels have remained above legal limits in almost 90% of the UK’s urban areas since 2010, causing 40,000 premature deaths to occur per year. Additionally, a report has outlined that the UK power sector needs to be almost completely decarbonised by 2030, making the Tories’ undemocratic push for fracking totally nonsensical. They aren’t going to take themselves to court anytime soon but Plan B - a UK based charity collaborating with a number of individual co-claimants – might well do.

The aim of Plan B’s case is to compel the secretary of state to treat climate change as an emergency, intensify the ambition of the UK’s 2050 carbon target, and to incentivise long-term investment in clean technology (and deter investment and subsidies for fossil fuels).

Tim Crosland who runs Plan B declares: “We need to face up to our proximity to the cliff edge, and to start thinking in terms of ‘whatever it takes’. People didn’t set foot on the moon by ‘trying their best’…There can be no half measures, because there is no partial success. Nearly getting to the moon. Only just falling over the cliff edge. That’s missing the point.” Plan B launched a crowdfunder last week to support their lawsuit.

America’s youth take on Trump

In the US, judicial activism may be the best, last and only means left for people to force the state and corporations to listen to science. The law suit brought forward by Our Children's Trust has 21 young plaintiffs who, rather than seeking to sue the Trump administration against a single action or inaction, wish to hold the US government accountable for their abuse of the ‘public trust’ doctrine. And their contribution to climate change, including their consistent blocking of progress in historic UN climate negotiations.

According to Jacob Lebel, a 20-year-old plaintiff in the case “Our case is a direct constitutional challenge to a Trump administration at war with the reality of climate change.” The Federal appeals court announced that it will hear oral arguments starting today.

Challenging the corporate capture of the climate

Also this week, in the Philippines, there is a court hearing involving ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and 43 other heavily polluting multinationals. This is a case brought to the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights by survivors of Typhoon Haiyan and Greenpeace Philippines.

Just one hundred corporations can be traced as responsible for 71 percent of industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Survivors currently living on the frontlines of human-induced climate change are challenging the corporate capture of the climate to bring justice for the 6,300 people who died and the millions who remain displaced from the storm today.

David and Goliath: Peruvian farmer against carbon major RWE

The climate justice movement seeks to ensure that no level of harm is accepted by the global community- whether that is an entire country, or a small town. In Peru, where Andean glacial melting has been linked to global climate change (see this report by the IPCC), a Peruvian farmer has filed a lawsuit against the German registered utility company RWE (owners of the Hambach coal mine) for its contribution to the localised effects of global temperature rise.

Saúl Luciano Lliuya is demanding that RWE holds itself accountable and contribute financially to safety measures against glacial melting which is threatening his home. The courts have deemed Lliuya’s demand for damages from RWE as “admissible”, paving the way for the case to proceed.

In protest, RWE has claimed that a single company cannot be held liable for specific consequences of climate change. However, for a single company, RWE is responsible for a substantial 0.5 percent of global emissions since the beginning of industrialisation. Lliuya will be the first individual to have ever gone up against a fossil-fuel corporation in this way.

The planet is on fire and the courts must help to put it out

As Naomi Klein declared: we need not be spectators in this catastrophe. Activists in the US who shut off pipelines in 2013 linked to tar sand projects likened the necessity to shut down fossil fuels in situ to the reaction of any decent human on hearing a baby crying in a burning building; they would rush in to save her. Civil society movements are not spectator sports and active citizens like those in the cases above, as well as many others, are a testament this.

Today, our earth is literally on fire and those keeping this global issue burning must be brought to justice. Sometimes the law can be an ally of the struggle for climate justice, not an enemy.

Anouska Carter is a Global Justice Now activist and is an active member of the youth network group in Falmouth.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Catalunya: Together We Build the Republic

Written by Bayla Ostrach and first published at Solidarity US

The liberty of an oppressed nation can never depend on the form of government that dominates it; it depends solely and exclusively on the will of the people to achieve it. - Lluis Companys i Jover (1882-1940)

Lluis Companys was the last democratically elected Catalan president to face (illegal) arrest and extradition by Spain. Companys was taken back to Barcelona in 1940, with assistance from Hitler and Mussolini, and killed upon Franco's orders. Since the October 1st self-determination referendum in Catalunya, various Spanish politicians warned that the current democratically elected President of autonomous Catalunya, and now-leader of the Republic of Catalunya declared on October 27th, Carles Puigdemont, may meet the same fate when he comes back or is forced to come back from Brussels. Puigdemont traveled to the capital of Europe, with several Cabinet ministers to seek assistance defending the human rights of European citizens in Catalunya, when European and other world leaders did not come swiftly to Catalunya's aid in the first days of the Spanish coup.

From graffiti in the streets of Barcelona, to signs at independentist and anti-austerity protests, locals from across the political spectrum display and explain the widespread understanding that was one of my first lessons as an anthropologist living and working in the region: "THIS IS NOT SPAIN." For context, participants and research collaborators with whom I carry out fieldwork, including those who've become political comrades, taught me that there was a Catalunya before there was a Spain. At least as early as the 1100s, Catalunya existed as a nation on the Iberian Peninsula--an independent, autonomous, historically recognized Catalunya, later conquered by two European kingdoms that became Spain, more than three hundred years ago.

For decades, a growing politically and culturally diverse grassroots movement in Catalunya has been struggling to reassert that freedom, drawing on an older, deep-seated cultural sense of autonomy but also inspired by the history of Catalan resistance to fascism and a commitment to inclusion and protection of migrants, defense of workers, and struggles for gender equality.

This background – Catalan history, culture, and past and current commitments – has not been covered by the mainstream press, in Spain, Europe, or the U.S. In fact most Spaniards have been prevented from ever learning it; it’s not taught in Spanish schools. As a result, many, including Leftists here and there, ignore the situation, react with skepticism, or downplay further Spanish repression since the recent October 1st referendum (when Spanish military police beat bloody almost 900 peaceful self-determination voters, and prevented or stole the votes of 770,000). Many appear to have been captured by the false narrative, promoted even by NPR, that Catalunya is trying to 'leave Spain' for narrow, exclusionary, nationalist reasons, or to keep wealth generated in Catalunya, solely for Catalans. The reality is that Catalan independentists have long organized in reaction to a history of lived experience with historical and financial occupation by Spain, political repression, and growing, reactionary right-wing, and creeping fascism – all coming from Spain's government.

The starting point for this understanding of Catalan independentism, and of the current Spanish coup in Catalunya, have been my conversations over the past five years with Catalans, immigrants who've come to live in Catalunya and want to become part of the new Catalan Republic, and people who support Catalan independentism. They tell me they are asking for and demanding recognition of what Catalunya has already been –what was repressed for hundreds of years following the 1714 War of Succession, and especially under Franco, as well as the anti-fascist and communitarian organizing for which Catalunya has been known since its first Republic, under Companys' leadership. The 1978 Spanish constitution recognized Catalan’s autonomy, but the Spanish central government prevented full implementation of the ensuing articles of autonomy. When the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) gained a sweeping majority in the early 2000s, they did so in part by promising the sizeable number of Catalan voters who supported them they would rectify this -- but they did not fulfill that commitment in the seven years that followed. (Now, the Socialists have partnered with Spain's far-right Partido Popular to oppose Catalan self-determination, and have failed to speak out against the Spanish violence of October 1st, or the coup.)

Resistance to Austerity

Since 2012, and in the context of the economic crisis and resulting austerity accepted by Spain as a condition of Germany's bail-out, in turn shoved upon Catalunya by Spain in an attempt to make Catalunya disproportionately pay for Spain's financial rescue, the recent austerity measures, overlaid on the long history of autonomous identity and memory, fueled the groundswell of interest in full separation and increasing desire to demand recognition of the ways that Catalunya is different from Spain. A key driver of independentism, along with history, has been a recognition of the suffering caused under austerity, its effects on everyone in Catalunya, and a commitment to safeguard aspects of the Catalan nation that the Spanish government continually threatens to roll back: continuation of publicly funded healthcare including for unregistered migrants; guarantee of fully legal abortions; public multilingual education, and welcoming refugees including with subsidized housing.

An Inclusive Nationalism

All of these are characteristic of what makes Catalunya, and Catalan independentism, representative of what my colleague Nina Kammerer and I have termed an inclusive nationalism, as described by many Catalans, immigrants who've made Catalunya home, and by people who are recently arrived, but welcomed and included in the definition of what it is to be Catalan. They tell me, "This is what makes Catalunya different from Spain; this is what we are trying to protect, and build, by becoming fully independent." Independentism is a rejection of far-right nationalism, a rejection of Spanish fascism, falangism, and neo-nazism. These movements have increased in Spain in recent years, as elsewhere in Europe, especially so around the Catalan self-determination referendum, and now in the ugly brew of the Spanish coup.

Catalan politicians and elected officials, including political prisoners imprisoned without bail for over a month for simply having listened to the people, have not been the ones leading the movement. They responded to calls by the people. The independentist movement has also become a more Left, more grassroots, and more open movement over time. The main body that has been guiding the independentist movement, the Assemblea Nacional de Catalunya, the national assembly, is a grassroots movement, with neighborhood-level representatives. Because of this, they have relationships with labor coalitions, with neighborhood associations, with civic organizations and cultural groups, women's groups, immigrant organizations, and so on-- which range widely in terms of how progressive and radical they are. It includes some of the more anarchist unions and even the farthest-left Catalan party often described as an anarchist party, the CUP, but also includes some labor coalitions and parties that, by U.S. leftist standards might seem progressive, but which are, in the Catalan, multi-party, pluralist, parliamentary context, far from the most progressive.

What I have seen in Catalunya, doing extended fieldwork there beginning in 2012, but first visiting and observing the independentist movement going back to 2009, is a collectivist understanding of historical lived experience that nevertheless makes space for the needs and experiences of newcomers. This understanding is reflected in the independentist movement which represents a wide diversity of people who are talking about what they want Catalunya to be, and for whom, and deciding together in this very communitarian way how they want to get there. The limits on the possibilities of what it can be, how radical and revolutionary it can be, are largely based on how violently Spain is responding, and will respond going forward -- and how negligently and willfully the rest of the world is going to allow Spain to do as it likes.

Creativity and Collectivity

The limit is not on the creativity or the power of what Catalunya can do. In the few days before the referendum, parents, teachers, neighbors, and neighborhood self-defense committees organized to occupy and defend schools, civic centers, and other spaces to ensure not only that those who wanted to vote on self-determination could, but also that there would be neutral respite sites where people could seek medical care, food, rest, meet up with loved ones, and take their children if (when) things got ugly. People worked together to communicate securely, in real time, about where the Spanish military police tanks and trucks were advancing through towns across Catalunya, to redistribute protection guards to different polling places, and to get volunteer units of medics to care for those who'd been beaten. All the while, volunteers did art projects with the kids, Castellers (human tower builders) and dancers and musicians kept things lively, creative, festive, and inspired people's bravery and fortitude, so that the movement would have the energy to keep going.

For me as a scholar, and for the comrades I hear from on a near-constant basis, the looming threat to Catalunya’s creative spirit of resistance and organizing brings back memories of the Catalan revolution of the 1930s that preceded the Spanish Civil War, the war itself, and Franco's long occupation of Catalunya after the war ostensibly ended. The First Catalan Republic had agrarian collectives, worker-owned cooperatives, legal abortion, legal divorce (long before the U.S.), and many other measures of greater equality, in comparison to other parts of Europe at that time. It was Franco that destroyed it, and the world let him. What will powerful nations now do about Spain's coup in Catalunya? Watching NATO and EU members, the answer appears to be, very little. As Pau Casals, a world-famous Catalan cellist and composer said before the United Nations in the 1970s, upon receiving a Medal of Peace:

"Our only weapon is our solidarity and our people. . . . We need your help now more than ever…The struggle of the Catalans should also be the struggle of all. Help Catalunya."

In the context of the current Spanish coup in Catalunya, young Catalans, including some who arrived in the region as refugee children from Srebrenica and other areas from which Catalunya welcomed thousands of displaced persons, re-enacted Casals' full speech and asked that their video be sent around the world to call attention to the current repression.

Even in recent weeks, there are new developments in the post-referendum process: several of the Catalan government ministers-turned political prisoners arrested by Spain and held without bail were released in the first week of December; the arrest warrant for President Puigdemont has been dropped (at least for now – how long Brussels will host him remains to be seen); voters in Catalunya await news of the status of potential Parliamentary candidates whose parties should appear on the December 21st ballots but who, if they are still in jail without bail, may not be allowed to serve if elected; more than 60,000 people marched in Brussels on December 7th to demand the release of all political prisoners, to show support for President Puigdemont and his ministers, and to draw attention to the upcoming election.

Last but not least, supporters of Catalan self-determination in the United States attended a snowy solidarity protest on December 9th in New York City.

Bayla Ostrach is an applied medical anthropologist and member of American Ecosocialist party Solidarity US

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Just How Green is Labour These Days?

Labour’s shadow Business and Energy Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, wrote a piece in Monday’s Guardian titled ‘No more green rhetoric. A sustainable future is vital and possible.’ The headline is a reference to the Tory government’s, talk green, act anything other than green, the so called ‘green crap’ that the Tories dropped after getting elected to power. I must admit that I had a small chuckle when first reading the headline, thinking that Labour had finally seen the light.

The piece talks about international climate agreements, particularly the 2015 Paris agreement on carbon reduction, but most sober assessments are that this is too little and too reliant on non existent technology like carbon sequestration. Renewable energy projects are flagged up as being part of Labour’s industrial strategy, which is pretty similar in many ways to the Green Party’s ‘green new deal.’

The piece concludes by supporting Green MP Caroline Lucas and other MPs calling for the MPs pension fund to divest from fossil fuel investments, very Guardian like. Long-Bailey also mentions the part nationalisation of the UK energy market, but with John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor’s thinking in mind, not of the old variety. She writes:

‘Labour plans to achieve this mission by transforming our energy system by taking parts back into public control and exploring how we can ensure greater local control of energy generation and supply.’

This is a good aspiration, but no further detail is given here as to what was in Labour’s ten point plan released in the summer of 2016. They must be still ‘exploring’ I guess. The easiest way to do this, although community based initiatives are preferable, would be to encourage local government to set up energy companies which had community renewable energy input as a part. This is very different from localised, community owned, autonomous networks, that an ecosocialist perspective promotes, but is a step in the right direction.

This aside, I do get the impression that it is a kind of big state solution, despite some of the warm words about improving democracy locally and regionally in the ten point plan, there is no specific mention of decentralisation, with off shore wind power being promoted. There is no mention of nuclear power either, anywhere in Long-Bailey’s piece. Since she doesn’t rule it out, I can only assume nuclear power is part of the energy supply policy. How you could make that ‘locally controlled’ is a mystery, and is of course not going to happen.

There are some green thinkers who have come around to the idea of nuclear power as a solution to man-made carbon induced climate change, George Monbiot and James Lovelock for example. But most greens do not support the idea, it is dangerous, costly and still needs the raw uranium, which is finite, and burns fossil fuels in the extraction and transportation process. 

The wider Labour industrial plan is productivist in nature and intended to increase economic growth, it is a throwback to the 1960s and 1970s kind of approach. Ecosocialism, and any serious thinking about green issues, takes into account the idea that never ending economic growth is incompatible with sustainable ecology. Most Green Party members, I think, from whatever wing of the party they are from, understand this. Greens don't measure well-being by GDP figures, for example. I’m not sure Labour understands this in the same way.

I’m not saying I would expect ecosocialism on day one from a Corbyn government, or indeed a Green government, and the state is needed to push us in the right direction, and this plan does a little bit. But I worry whether this is just a bolt on policy, to appeal to green minded voters, as is often the case when left parties think about environmental matters? I do get a ‘statist’ feel about this plan overall too, which is not the green approach.

I’m not necessarily knocking Labour’s intentions entirely here, but we need a lot more detail on the specifics, before I’ll be satisfied that this is not just the usual ‘rhetoric’ of a political party trying to win an election by broadening its appeal in a green direction.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

The First Ecosocialist International Is Announced in Venezuela

Written by Quincy Saul and first published at Telesur

The “Combined Strategy and Plan of Action,” a document of twenty pages, was collectively constructed in groups, then read and approved by consensus in assembly. This remarkable accord represents an unprecedented alliance of revolutionary subjects – indigenous, afro-descendant, ecologist, anti-colonial, Marxist, Bolivarian and beyond. 

The plan of action is not uniform, but unified: It ranges from the most immediate and intimate to the most far-reaching and universal. From saving seeds to the transformation of labor unions; from natural birth to solar communism; and from confronting coal mines in South America to decolonizing Palestine and Puerto Rico, it is a 500 year plan for peace on earth.

This plan makes few demands or denunciations. Based on the premise that “only the people can save the people,” it is a plan for the peoples of the world to take their destiny into our own hands.

How is it organized? The First Ecosocialist International has no central committee. It reads in the preamble to the plan of action: “Neither is the First Ecosocialist International a single organization with a seal, or with the omnipresent danger of becoming a bureaucracy. It is simply a common program of struggle, with moments of encounter and exchange, which anyone may join by committing themselves to fulfilling one or more of the various actions agreed upon in order to relieve our Mother Earth.”

How can we join the First Ecosocialist International? At the end of the plan of action, it reads: “we believe along with Jose Marti that “the best way to say is to do.” The best way to be part of the First Ecosocialist International is to commit yourself to fulfilling one or more of the actions in this collective strategy and plan of action. In this way, your collectives, organizations, and movements will be “part of the First Ecosocialist International.” No individual or group is the First Ecosocialist International alone; it is only when we are.”

The International was organized from below by its own participants. But it was neither unnoticed nor unsupported by the Venezuelan government. Indeed this was the Bolivarian process at its finest; with local communities and grassroots movements in the lead, backed up with support from a revolutionary state – from local militias to government ministries.

The plan of action was approved and the Ecosocialist International constituted on the evening of November third in Agua Negra, and early the next morning the international delegates traveled back to Caracas for a press conference. There, at the La Casa de las Primeras Letras (the first public school in South America) they were greeted by representatives from the Ministry of Women, the Ministry of Ecosocialism, and the National Constituent Assembly. It was no accident that the two ministries which supported this grassroots initiative were those of women and ecosocialism.

Julio Escalona, a member of the National Constituent Assembly, connected the dots between patriarchy and capitalism: “Aggression against nature is aggression against women. We must establish fraternity between human beings and nature.”

Ramon Velasquez, minister of ecosocialism, said that “today begins a breakthrough with the old model of conservation of the land,” and indicated that the Venezuelan government would interpret the program of action of the First Ecosocialist International as orders. (A week later, at COP23 in Bonn, he announced the formation of the International, indicating that solutions to climate change would be found not in elite conference room but in “an ecosocialist movement which is rising up on a global scale.”)

In a time when a media war has much of the world convinced that the elected Bolivarian government in Venezuela is a dictatorship, the contact of international delegates from around the world with grassroots communities in Venezuela paints a different picture. Renowned activist and former Black Panther leader Dhoruba bin Wahad said in an interview with the ministry of women: “I'm impressed by the welcome of the people of Veroes in the state of Yaracuy, for their attention, their humility and their beauty, with whom we stayed for several days discussing the problems which affect our Mother Earth. 

I'm very proud to belong to the First Ecosocialist International, and I hope we can continue with this social movement... We concluded that we must build an international movement, made up of progressive governments, activists and ordinary people, to save the planet from the devastation of the imperialist capitalist system which destroys the environment.”

Bin Wahad was joined by another former Black Panther leader, Charlotte O'Neal, who has lived and worked in Tanzania for the past forty years with the United African Alliance Community Center. In the weeks previous to the convocation of the International, O'Neal and her community made a music video “inspired by the convocation of Ecosocialist activists who met last year up in the hills of Monte Carmelo.” In an interview with the ministry of women, O'Neal reported: “This was a historic gathering. We all had an objective; to do everything possible to preserve life on this planet. We must teach our children to protect Mother Earth.”

Another delegate, Wahu Kaara, expressed her gratitude to the Venezuelan revolutionary process for being a beacon of hope for the world: “We send greetings and great recognition to the people of Venezuela, for having invited us to such an important organization... The spirit of protecting Mother Earth is very strong here in Venezuela. Commander and comrade Chavez had the vision and the commitment of unity, of a world for everyone. Even though I am from Kenya, from Africa, I am Chavista! Viva Venezuela!”

As the saying goes, bad news travels fast and good news travels slow. This may be especially the case for Venezuela, where an ongoing media embargo works around the clock to ensure that only bad news gets out of the country.

But the good news of the foundation of the First Ecosocialist International – on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution no less – promises to reach the rest of the world. A “route of struggle,” outlined in the plan of action, maps out a commitment to organize regional convergences in 2018, and to convoke pan-African and pan-Asian congresses in years ahead.

The “salvation of the human species,” as outlined in the Plan of the Homeland, may be an audacious goal. But the plan of the planet, which goes even further, still departs from humble beginnings: The preamble reads, “we recognize that we are only a small part of a spiral of spirals, which has the profound intention to expand and include others, until all of us are rewoven with Mother Earth; to restore harmony within ourselves, between us, and between all the other sister beings of nature.”

The land of Guaicaipuro and Andresote, of Maria Lionza and Manuela Saenz, of Simon Bolivar and Hugo Chavez, has done it again. “If life is important to you,” as Wahu Kaara concluded, “unite yourselves with this movement.”

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Report from the Marseille European Forum 10-11 November 2017

This is an edited extract from a report written by Jane Susanna Ennis. 

Friday 10 November, afternoon Plenary

Pierre Laurent and Olivier Dartigolles of the PCF, spoke of solidarity with migrants and refugees, and said that there could be a whole new era for progressive forces (the Left, socialists and ecologists). Laurent referred to the need to construct a radically new Left in Europe, as there are many threats to democracy, for instance the rise of populism and also said that the Social Forum should be a yearly event, a space for uniting progressive forces in Europe.

Marco Revelli, an Italian comrade from L’Altra Europa con Tsipras, spoke about the Sicilian regional elections, which resulted in a win for the Right, and about the general rise of Neo-Fascism in Italy. The Five Star Movement (M5S) was never a left-wing movement!! There is even a risk that the left might end up as a minority in the European Parliament. The rights of people in the lower echelons of society are those which are most threatened. This comrade too referred to the danger posed by populists. 

Another French comrade said that to some extent we are still fighting Fascism…..we are certainly fighting the rise of neo-Fascism, while  a Danish comrade (Mads B. Petersen) referred to the constant efforts by employers in his country to undermine trade unions.

Brexit and Free Movement

The speakers referred to the increase in hate crimes, the first hate crimes were perpetrated literally 24 hours after the referendum result was announced. There are serious implications for the Northern Ireland Peace Process, and all our Freedom of Movement as EU citizens is at risk. The LEAVE campaign was based on racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Andrew Burgin (Another Europe is Possible, the Alliance for Free Movement) spoke of the necessity for the European Forum in view of the crisis in European politics, and where Brexit fits into this. The problems include Trump and the rise of the Far Right. The social base of the Brexit vote had an element of opposition to globalisation – it was basically a Tory, white, nationalist vote, although there was an element of working-class resentment. It has hardly been a success for the Left! Since the referendum, there has been a 90% drop in nurses and agricultural workers coming from the EU, and we need to discuss the rights of EU nationals in the UK. We need to campaign for a United Socialist States of Europe.

The next speaker was Felicity Dowling. She pointed out that the British working class has suffered a big drop in wages and an increase in precariousness and Zero Hours Contracts. The housing crisis has worsened due to the fact that young people can no longer claim Housing Benefit; young women still don’t get equal pay and local authority services have been cut to the bone.

The UK is a financial capital, not a manufacturing society anymore; the City of London is based on financial dealing, the rest of the economy has been globalised.  The American model of low wages and fewer workers’ rights has been introduced, rather than the EU social model, and we need a campaign to make people realise that the EU isn’t their enemy. She finally made the point that those who voted REMAIN didn’t advocate staying on economic grounds, but OPPOSED LEAVING ON POLITICAL GROUNDS.

The next speaker was Francis Molloy (Sinn Fein). He pointed out that Europe (the EU that is) is a friend of Northern Ireland, and that Sinn Fein is a party of the Left, standing for a United Ireland and an equal, but reserves the right to be critical of Europe. Brexit, in the view of Sinn Fein, is a disaster, but could represent an opportunity for Irish Unity, as people in UIster would vote for a United Ireland in order to stay in the EU.

If Brexit goes ahead, and Northern Ireland doesn’t get special status, they will lose all the current protections and civil rights guaranteed by membership of the EU. The re-introduction of borders would be most unwelcome.

One Europe peace and freedom

Some of the discussion was about ‘social dumping;’ and it was suggested that the Poles and the Ukrainians are the most hostile to the idea of accepting refugees.

A Greek comrade said that Greek society in in principle sensitive to the protection of immigrants, in spite of attempts to blockade the Balkan corridor – Greece would continue to protect migrants and refugees, and also the LGBT community. Greek citizenship is now being offered to the grandchildren of Holocaust victims.

A French comrade suggested that there is almost a war against migrants, and that solidarity with them is being criminalised. There is massive police violence against migrants in France, especially in working-class districts, and criminal proceedings have only ever been taken against one officer who killed a young refugee (he received a suspended sentence). The comrade delivered a stirring polemic against racism.

There was also a talk by a Belgian comrade from the Movement for International Solidarity.

Saturday 11 November

Morning session:  Labour and social rights in Europe

A French comrade started the session with a critique of Zero Hours Contracts and precariousness (casualization), which is a particular problem in the UK …….. outlined the dangers of ZHCs for workers. Reference was also made to the Jobs Act in Italy .

A Belgian comrade indicated that there are three layers of negotiation between management and unions. In Belgium young people who leave school and don’t immediately find employment are entitled to unemployment benefit.

Then there was a talk by Gabrielle Zimmer of DIE LINKE in Germany. She said that the EU needs a social dimension; we need to consider not only people’s working lives (including job security) but also their personal and cultural needs – we need to introduce social rights for EU citizens. She stressed the need for health insurance, and noted the rise of homeless people in major cities, such as Cologne, where there have even been fights between German and Romanian homeless.

She stressed the need for the Left to unite, it is vital for us not to quarrel among ourselves.

A Polish comrade spoke on the subject of inequality, which he said was one of the main causes of the current crisis in Europe. He also referred to the fact that many jobs are vanishing because of automation and to wage inequalities between countries in Europe – some of this fuels the rise of the Far Right. The length of the working week (and working day) was also discussed.

The next speaker was Johann Peter Andersen of the Norwegian RED PARTY. Norway is not a member of the EU, but is a member of the EEA. In Norway, the forces against membership were on the Left.

He referred to the problem of ‘social dumping’. The Red Party believed that workers from Eastern Europe (Poland, etc.), should be employed for Norwegian wages, not be used to undercut wages.

They believe that we can all co-operate in the struggle to reduce working hours. The Norwegian public sector unions are campaigning for a 6-hour working day, as are those in Sweden.

A Young Communist from France spoke of a huge movement in France, particularly among young people, against the neo-liberal project – he said that Macron was a 19th century liberal rooted in the past. There should be a joint programme with Youth Organisations and the Trade Union movement to combat neo-liberalism……we are now feeling the adverse effects of neo-liberal policies throughout Europe, and we need to find points of convergence.

The next speaker was from Finland, and was the first to mention the question of Animal Rights. The call to activate civil society was repeated.

The contribution by Julie Ward, MEP, was in my opinion one of the best contributions to the debate. One of the things she is most passionate about is the role of the arts in society, and the fact that everyone should have access to the arts, including being able to participate.

She talked about the fact that so many jobs are unfulfilling, demeaning and pointless….we should campaign to make work safe and fulfilling for people. She also referred to the damaging cuts to libraries and social services, these roles should not be filled by volunteers but by trained professionals, and paid accordingly.

There should be a balance between work, family and leisure, and Lifelong Learning should be available to everyone. The fact that public services, the NHS and the welfare state meant that people are looked after ‘From Cradle to Grave’ is a GOOD THING – it is not good to demonised the disabled, She referred to the UN damning report about the treatment of the disabled and disadvantaged in the UK.

Afternoon Session

Towards a sustainable development model

The first speaker was from TRANSFORM! Europe, a European Left Think-Tank. She outlined some proposals for the ecological transformation of Europe, including developing the use of renewables, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and the investigation of agri-business practices. The current industrial model should be completely transformed; we need to reduce our dependence on cars, and we need to protect Nature and the Earth. It is acknowledged that the ecological transformation would be very costly, especially for countries which rely very heavily on fossil fuel.

The question of economic sustainability must also be addressed.

We next heard from Heinz Bierbaum from DIE LINKE.  He spoke of the need to develop a Europe 2020 strategy to unite industrial policy and the social and ecological transformation of society – this requires investment in public infrastructure.
The European Trade Union Confederation proposes a programme of investment in public infrastructure, social housing and education. We should be producing goods that fulfil social and ecological needs – some trade unions have been working on transferring military goods into social goods.  We need industrial democracy, the participation of workers in corporate policy.

The speaker from the Parti Communiste Francais was the first to elaborate upon the threat of insecticides to wildlife, especially bees, and threats to food supply – the example of contaminated eggs. There should be stricter international food quality regulation. The general topic of Climate Change was raised, with reference to the increase in Climate Refugees, and the future of the Arctic. The riches of the earth should be confiscated from the multi-nationals.

Fiona Edwards from the British Labour Party also made the link between Climate Change and poverty, and pointed out that Western Europe is still not doing enough to cut carbon emissions – perhaps not surprisingly, right-wing governments are especially remiss in this area. She said that Jeremy Corbyn has plans to end austerity and create ‘green jobs’. The era of fossil fuels must come to an end.

A comrade from the French organisation ENSEMBLE also took up the question of a social Europe, and the need for the integration of economic, social and cultural policy. The subject of the Mafia was also raised!! Water and waste treatment are very lucrative for the Mafia , and the Camorra makes more money through  trafficking waste than through drugs.

Mike Davies of the Alliance for Green Socialism introduced the subject of Zero Growth or de-growth (décroissance). Economic growth is not actually a good thing, but a disaster, there can be no such such thing as Green Growth, and the idea of de-growth or Zero Growth should be more actively.

Unfortunately, the pressures of time didn’t allow him to develop this point in detail, so he came under criticism from other speakers for advocating a sort of ‘deep ecology’ in an unscientific manner…….a pity, because it could have been a valid point if there had been more time to develop it. Someone pointed out that Ecology is a SCIENCE.  I have found a partial definition here – as it says, ‘degrowth’ is not the same as ‘downsizing’.

A speaker from the PCF referred to the inadequacy of ‘greenwashing’. Environmental issues should be included on all political programmes.  She introduced the idea of ‘negative VAT’, taxing anything that could be detrimental to society. The root of the problem is CAPITAL….not just accumulated wealth, which could be used to improve people’s lives instead of using it AGAINST people and the environment. We need to develop public services, and the common good must come first. Environmental and social issues need to be reworked and fully integrated.

Final Session

Where do we go from here, should there be a standing forum, and in which case, what form should it take? A young Austrian comrade said that Europe (the EU) should be a force for peace).

Panel Discussion

All speakers were in agreement as to what the next forum should discuss – social questions, ecological questions, economic questions; campaigning against economic power and exploitation.

Gregor Gysi, from the European Left, spoke of the need for the Left to be united, and for us to campaign in solidarity for a democratic, ecologically responsible EU. Environmental reform must go hand in hand with social justice. We need to be wary of the ghost of Fascism.

It was concluded that

We therefore undertake to organise a second European Forum of leftist, green and progressive forces, to be held in 2018. To achieve this we will establish a technical working group, comprising representatives of the diverse forces participating in these two days, which, in consultation with the organisations present here, will propose the format of the second edition. The goal is for the next Forum to continue the work that we have initiated this year, going into more depth and achieving broader participation.

Jane Susanna Ennis is a member of Camden Green Party and a Green Left supporter

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Next Year is the Bookies Favourite for a UK General Election

With the UK Tory government mired in chaos over its approach to Brexit, it comes as hardly a surprise that the odds offered by the bookmakers for which year the next general election will take place in 2018, is the uniform favourite. This despite the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which in law, says the election should be in 2022. I think this reflects the widespread opinion that this law is not worth the paper it is written on. It was completely ignored by the prime minister, Theresa May, earlier this year when she successfully called an early general election.

Odds for a 2018 election are: Sky Bet 9/4, Ladbrokes 15/8, Coral 15/8, Betfair 19/10, William Hill 7/4, Boyle Sports 5/4, and Paddy Power even money. All short odds, but if are looking to have a flutter, Sky Bet is the most generous, or the least convinced that the election will be next year, to put it another way. Interestingly, the bookies are not offering any odds on which particular month next year will see a general election being held.

Minority UK governments have managed to cling on for years, Callaghan’s Labour government from 1976 to 1979, with the aid of the Lib/Lab pact and Cameron’s Tory government from 2010 to 2015 in coalition with the Lib Dems. The current Tory government only has a majority in Parliament cutesy of their ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whereby they guarantee to support the government on their budget and any votes of confidence. DUP support has now been thrown into doubt though, over the government’s post-Brexit proposals for keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and Eire.

The government finds itself in this parlous state, because Theresa May decided that calling the early general election this year, would increase her small majority inherited from her predecessor, David Cameron. With her hard Brexit approach and with the main opposition party in disarray, it looked a sure bet. It didn’t work out that way though, with the worse Tory election campaign I can remember and a surprisingly good one from the Labour Party.

My hunch is the British public were not inclined to give May such a free hand in deciding our future, and despite some reservations about Labour, wanted a hung Parliament. That was the result we got. 

The government’s rank incompetence has been on full public display this week. First the prime minister thought she was going to get agreement with the European Union (EU) to move on from preliminary matters, to negotiating our future relationship with the organisation, once we leave.

In a farcical scene, May was dragged out of discussions with Jean Claude Juncker,  President of the European Commission, to take a phone call from DUP leader, Arlene Foster, threatening to bring down her government, if she went ahead with plans to resolve the Irish border problem, by moving the border into the Irish Sea. Plans for a deal had to be shelved. 

It is incredible that the proposals were not run by the DUP first, or not fully explained in private, to avoid such a public humiliation.

Then we had David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, being brought before a committee of MPs to answer why he had not complied with a Parliamentary vote requiring him to release the government’s impact assessments on what will happen when we leave the EU. His excuse was that, despite what he had said before, the government didn’t actually have any such assessments.

Next up came the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, appearing in front of a separate committee, where he disclosed that nearly a year and a half after the vote to leave the EU, the cabinet had yet to have a full discussion on what should be the government’s preferred “end state position” for the UK after Brexit. What on earth else can they have been talking about?

But it is not just the incompetence, the governing party is so split over the Brexit issue, together with not having a majority in Parliament, that they are completely paralysed. Nothing can be done by primary legislation (votes in Parliament) because the government is not confident of winning support from MPs.

They are trying to do some things by secondary legislation, which can be decided by ministers without approval by Parliament. The British constitution being as vague as it is, can be manipulated to allow ministers to do quite a lot and the government is trying abuse this as much as possible, but it is still limited. Can you name any new laws that have been passed since the general election? I don’t think there has been any, and I don’t expect anything substantial to be done in the near future.

We really can’t carry on like this, we need a government with a clear idea of what it wants to do, and a mandate from the people supportive of it. The only route to this is to call a general election early in the new year, and let the voters decide if any party deserves a mandate.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

A Flexible Brexit or No Brexit at all for the UK?

The UK seems to be getting closer to some agreement with the European Union (EU) that will convince our erstwhile partners in Europe, that enough progress has been made on the preliminary issues, so that we can move onto talking about a future trade deal. The three issues that the EU has said must be resolved first, arrangements for EU/UK nationals residing in the EU/UK and payment of Britain’s outstanding financial commitments appear to be agreed, but the Irish border problem remains.

This issue was also close to being the subject of agreement, before the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) objected to the suggested arrangement, whereby Northern Ireland would in effect stay in the European Single Market, albeit called something else, which allows for ‘no regularity divergence’ from single market rules.

As we discussed last week on this blog, the DUP fears that having separate arrangements for Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, will usher in the prospect of a united Ireland with Eire. But it could be that the arrangement will not be different to at least some parts of the UK. If in principle one part of the UK can in effect stay in the single market, then why not others? Political leaders in Scotland, Wales and London have all been quick to point this out, and it could lead to a deal which is acceptable to all parts of the country, those in, and those out of the single market.

The minority Tory government, of course is dependent on the DUP for a governing majority, and I expect the DUP threatened the prime minister, Theresa May, with blocking the deal on our exit from the EU. But May perhaps could do without the DUP, for just one Parliamentary vote on our withdrawal terms from the EU?

Say the Scottish National Party, were offered the same terms as Northern Ireland, staying in the single market and customers union, or ‘no regularity divergence’ from these rules? Might they support the government in the vote in these circumstances, and make the ten DUP MPs votes irrelevant to the Brexit Bill’s passage through Parliament?

The DUP though may have gone further and threatened to end the confidence and supply deal which sustains the Tory government in power. This would inevitably lead to a general election, and the possibility of the whole Brexit process being reversed. My bet is that the DUP back down, but get some concessions. We really can’t be having the tail wagging the dog like this.

An opinion poll from Survation, this week shows a 16 point lead (50% to 34%) in favour of a second referendum on EU membership, by far the largest margin recorded. Survation did get this year’s general election forecast pretty accurately, one of the few polls that did.

It also found that Labour has an 8 point lead (45% to 37%) over the Tories, and Labour seems to be warming to the idea of a second referendum on EU membership.

The Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner, appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics said:

“The only way in which in my view you could possibly contemplate a second referendum was if you had the threshold that I believe should have been there in the first place of a two thirds majority, but that I stress is not Labour Party policy.”

It looks like the government is now aiming for the softest, most flexible of Brexit’s, having finally realised that all of the bluster of the last year is a waste of time. The EU has us over a barrel, if you want talk about trade deals, the preliminary issues have to be agreed first. It is a massive cave in by the British government, but it was always likely to be the case. All the bravado of Boris Johnson’s ‘go whistle’ for the money etc, ends in this humiliating climb down.

The government seems to have settled on trying to replicate our membership of the EU, by ‘regulatory alignment’ but call it leaving the EU. It may also apply to the whole UK. Whether the hard leavers in the Tory Party, including many MPs and ministers, will wear this, is something only time will tell. They may fear a Corbyn led Labour government more than a watered down Brexit.