Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tom Paine on Radio 4

'These Are The Times reads like the greatest of novels and is the most thrilling read I’ve had in years!' Kurt Vonnegut

Trevor Griffiths's screenplay to be broadcast on Radio 4 beginning this Saturday.

Tom Paine arrives in America penniless just as the struggle for Independence is beginning. His ideas and his writings take him right to the heart of events and his words are read out to Washington's army. Jonathan Pryce plays Thomas Paine in the radio production to be broadcast in two ninety-minute parts on Radio 4's Saturday Play, beginning this Saturday and concluding Saturday 2nd August (2.30 - 4pm on each day).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Fight In Britain Against Privatization: Lessons for Us All

A view from the United States
by Mike Tolochko

New Labour’s Attack on Public Services
Dexter Whitfield
ISBN 13 9 780851 247151

“Marketisation and privatisation is more advanced in Britain than any other European country. The precise application of these policies will vary between countries for political, legal and cultural reasons. Nonetheless, there are key lessons from the experience in Britain which should be drawn upon.”

Dexter Whitfield has given activists around the world a true primer on the ravenous, greedy attack on human services in general, but for health care in particular. His point-by-point description of the neo-liberal policies demanded by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization as they apply on-the-ground is nowhere else to be found. He is describing the situation in Britain, a country which has had the longest Labour Party run in the party’s history.

The Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher/John Major did major damage to the public sector’s infrastructure. And, their financing schemes have lasted long after they were voted out of office by very large percentages. The problem is that the Tony Blair Labour Party continued many of the privatisation schemes started by Thatcher/Major. Their supporters voted for a far different direction.

The US experience with Bill Clinton and his reactionary free trade agreement, NAFTA, and his equally reactionary anti-welfare revision, are our case in point. The lesson: beware of your friends.

What is Marketisation?

Whitfield defines the enemy:

1] Commodifying [commercializing] services are changed so that they can be specified and packaged in a contract, thus extending outsourcing and offshoring;

2] Commodifying [commercializing] labour – the reorganization of work and jobs to maximize productivity and assist transfer to another employer;

3] Restructuring the state for competition and market mechanisms – schools, hospitals and other facilities are compelled to compete against each other, funding is changed to follow pupils and patients, public bodies are reduced to commissioning functions creating opportunities for private finance and so-called partnerships;

4] Restructuring democratic accountability and user involvement – service users are treated as consumers; services and functions are transferred to quangos {see note}; arms length companies and trusts and privately controlled companies are established within public bodies;

5] Embedding business interests and promoting liberalization internationally – business is more involved in the public policy making process and promotes national, European and global liberalization of public services.

While Whitfield’s definition is Britain and European specific, it is quite easy to extrapolate to the U.S. situation. He makes the extremely important point that marketisation is not just the immediate impact on services, “It has a fundamental impact on local government, democratic accountability and the welfare state.” He goes into this aspect deeper in a later chapter of his book.

The brilliance of Whitfield is that he forces readers to understand the context of local, state and national privatization. “Neoliberalism is a conservative economic philosophy which revived in the late 1970s following the crisis in Keynesian economics, escalating inflation at the end of the post-war reconstruction boom, the soaring cost of the US war in Vietnam and the 1973 oil shock.” If this sounds familiar to the Iraq War and the present 2008 Oil Greed Crisis, it should.

He cites eight components to Neoliberalism:

“Liberalisation and competition---free trade and competition to determine who delivers services. Acceptance of globalization as a benign force and facilitating the internationalization of free inward and outward flows of money, goods, services and labour; Markets – a belief in the superiority of markets in allocating resources and organizing the economy; Deregulation of Financial Markets – permitting the free flow of capital globally and new opportunities for accumulation; Reconfiguring the role of the state – abandoning demand management, reduced intervention, restructuring and reorganizing service delivery by limiting the role of government to commissioning, coupled with withdrawal of public provision….;Privatization – of public assets and services, governance and democracy and the public domain; Consumerism – restructuring public services and the welfare state towards consumerism, individualism and personalization, shopping for services and the pursuit of self-interest, and the erosion of public, collective and community services; Labour market flexibility and deregulation – abandoning interventionist strategies to maintain full employment, expansion of casual and migrant labour, limiting trade union organization and activity, and reinforcing management’s ‘right to manage’; Increasing the power of business coupled with erosion of democratic accountability and transparency – partnerships, decentralization of functions but centralization of policy, depoliticalisation of civil society and voluntary organizations drawn into service delivery, citizens treated merely as consumers despite neoliberal rhetoric of participation and empowerment.”

Reading Whitfield is like stealing the playbook of Corporate American think tanks like the Brookings Institute. And, given our two political parties, both of which are more than willing participants, the next period of time will probably not change things too much. It certainly could get a lot worse if the Bush years are continued, regardless of who is in the White House.

Whitfield doesn’t leave us at death’s door with no mobilizing game book of our own. He directly states why public provision of services is essential:

Here are his nine points:
1] Improving community well-being;

2] Democratic accountability;

3] Equalities and social justice;

4] Sustainable development;

5] Protecting the public interest;

6] Financial advantages;

7] Corporate policies;

8] Better quality employment;

9] Capacity.

And, then he describes “Strategies to oppose marketisation and support alternative policies.” He lists then describes 6 strategies:

1] political support;

2] Mobilise against;

3] Coalitions and alliances;

4] Intervene in modernization process;

5] Promote alternative policies;

6] Prevent the extension of marketisation through the European Union and World Trade Organization.

Whitfield includes a welcome quote from Harold Pinter, the great British playwright activist and leftist from his Nobel acceptance speech. Pinter said that politicians
“are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

Clearly, international solidarity will be needed to defeat the world forces of capital. The fight back has been underway for a while. In fact the international solidarity displayed at the demonstrations at the Big 8 Countries meetings has been a very good start. But, the institutions of imperialism won’t go away easily.

Books like Whitfield’s give us the ammunition to continue and increase the fight back.

[Note: quangos means; quasi, non-governmental organizations.]


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Friday, July 4, 2008

Democracy - Growing or Dying?

Democracy Growing or Dying?
The Spokesman 100

This is the hundredth number of The Spokesman, so we are expected to have a birthday party. Nostalgia is in order at such events, and we have accordingly devoted quite a large part of this number to reproducing articles and features which involved us, with many of our readers, in a variety of campaigns to change things for the better. Sometimes these have succeeded, if only, say the sceptics, in provoking our old antagonists to find new ways to make them worse again.

Sometimes they have failed, only to stiffen our resolve to try again, when times may be more propitious for their success.

There are, of course, a number of key concerns which have continuously preoccupied us. There has been no possibility of forgetting, even temporarily, the desperate urgency of the struggle for peace and disarmament. It has been quite possible, but very regrettable, to forget the struggle for the widening and deepening of democracy, and this possibility has been amply brought into evidence by the progress of sundry statesmen, not to say less elevated tribunes of the people, some of whom have opted for popular emancipation, one at a time, me first.

This kind of apostasy does discourage people, if only temporarily. If hope springs eternal, so too does the aspiration for effective power over the terms and conditions of our own lives.

Politicians commonly tell us that the major social struggles are about power. ‘We need’ they say, ‘power to prevent the next war, or to save the environment from destruction, or to protect people from exploitation and domination.’ That is one way of putting it, but there are dangers wrapped up in it. Power does not come sanitised, prepacked only for good causes. Time and again there is contrary evidence. What we really need is the annulment of power, so that none can make wars, burn the atmosphere, or lower the people into misery. Yet if we are to avoid the charge of piety, toothless anarchism, empty promises, then we have to concede that the first step to a higher freedom requires that we learn the necessary arts to stop the various evildoers who breed for us all these wars, depredations and oppressions. But if such steps are truly to lead upwards, then the higher freedom itself must always remain in mind.

Fittingly, we have chosen a number of contributions by our founder upon which to thread the thoughts of our contributors on these matters. Bertrand Russell reviewed one of our books, Max Beer’s History of British Socialism, when it first appeared shortly after the First World War. He highlighted Beer’s acute perception that the English establishment could vainly attempt to school their people in the rites of caution and conservatism, but ‘in periods of general upheavals … the English are apt to throw their mental ballast overboard and take the lead in revolutionary thought and action. In such a period we are living now’. After a long and depressing lull in their energies, it could be that we may be about to see their strong renewal very soon ...

Excerpted from Ken Coates' Editorial

You can order Democracy - Growing or Dying? online.


Russell as Industrial DemocratJohn Hughes & Charles Atkinson
The Infancy of SocialismBertrand Russell
Market against EnvironmentKarl W. Kapp
Meeting Social NeedsMike Cooley
European Nuclear DisarmamentKen Coates
The Zhukhov FileYuri Zhukhov & Ken Coates
Palestine TragedyBertrand Russell
Left Parties EverywhereOskar Lafontaine
After HiroshimaKevin Rudd
The Surge: A Balance SheetWilliam E. Odom

Russell Tribunal on Palestine
Obama on Cuba
Castro on Obama
War Crimes in Derry

Reviews – Bruce Kent, Christopher Gifford, Henry McCubbin, Michael Barratt Brown, Elizabeth Trapp, John Daniels & John Grieve Smith.

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