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French “Far Left” (Guardian) Union Protest Today.

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“Austerity anger returns to eurozone streets as France’s far-left unions call a day of action, but not clear how many workers will take part.”

The Guardian newspaper, which so clearly marked out the unions involved,  is running something close to a “live” feed on today’s protests in France.

In fact the demonstrations are backed by four union federations, CGT (left, formerly aligned closely to the Communists but now an independent ‘class struggle’ union), FO, (centrists, formerly aligned to traditional social democrats with a Trotskyist minority and Right-wing, Gaullist  supporters) Solidaires (Close to the Noveau Parti anticapitaliste) , FSU (the main teaching union, with public sector workers, left-of-centre to left). - Le Monde.

The Front de gauche has called for support, as well a section of the (governing) Parti Socialiste.

The dispute is focused on the gradual lengthening of the contribution period to obtain a pension (increased to 43 years minimum , which will finally come into full effect in 2035.

The mobilisation has wider targets, the defence of ““Salaire, emploi, conditions de travail” – wages, jobs and working conditions. 

The CGT has also brought in the wider issue of austerity,

La CGT, avec d’autres organisations syndicales en France et en Europe, considère qu’une rupture est nécessaire pour réorienter les politiques sociales et économiques, et renouer avec la croissance, la création de richesses pour une autre répartition.

The CGT, with other unions in France and Europe, considers that a clean break is needed to shift the present social and economic policies, and resume growth, and the creation of prosperity  on the basis of a different distribution of wealth.

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Map of French ‘far left’ demonstrations today.

The Appel Unitaire lists a broad range of representative left-wing individuals and groups backing the demonstrations. (1)

Nous ne pouvons accepter la paupérisation programmée des futurs retraité-es, la destruction des solidarités sociales, l’idéologie absurde du « travailler toujours plus » dans une société productiviste et inégalitaire. Cet engrenage favorise l’extrême droite et menace à terme la démocratie. Comme en Europe du Sud et dans bien d’autres pays du monde, la société doit se mettre en mouvement. Pour y contribuer nous organiserons partout des réunions, des initiatives de rue, des ateliers d’éducation populaire et nous soutiendrons les initiatives prises par le mouvement syndical. Nous voulons un système de retraites solidaire.

We cannot accept the programmed impoverishment of future pensioners, the destruction of social solidarity, and the absurd ideology of “working harder” in a consumerist and inegalitarian society. This backwards turn favours the far right and ultimately threatens democracy. As in Southern Europe and in many other countries worldwide, the social movements have to act.  Our own contribution will come from organising  meetings, initiatives streets, popular education workshops as widely as possible  in support the initiatives of the trade union movement. We want a pension system based on social solidarity.

La mobilisation approuvée  par 56% des Français says the CGT.

(1)Premiers signataires

Gérard Aschieri (président de l’institut de la FSU) – Clémentine Autain (FASE) – Ana Azaria (Femmes Egalité) – Marinette Bache (Résistance sociale) – Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

September 10, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Blue Labour Comes Back and Wants (more) Welfare ‘Reform’.

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Not for Blue Labour.

Radio Four last night examined Blue Labour’s plans for welfare reform (You can hear it here. Transcript here).

Mukul Devichand opened with this,

These voices are the gurus of a new circle at the top of the Labour Party. They’re highly influential: in charge of writing the policies for Labour’s next manifesto and crafting Ed Miliband’s key speeches. And if you thought Labour would simply tinker around the edges of welfare, and reverse some of the cuts, you’d be rrong if this group had its way. Labour long ago jettisoned the idea that the central government could run industry. In this week’s Analysis, we’ll explore how this group also wants the central state to walk away from a top down model of welfare.

Following this Maurice Glasman opined, “The state is necessary, but as a external administrative neutral force it undermines relationships. It can undermine humanity.”

If that is an indication of the quality of New Labour thought we socialists on the dole can rest easy in our beds, till late afternoon if we wish.

The state is a relationship that can undermine humanity, might have been a more coherent idea.

But we let this pass.

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham then took another step backwards.

Here are his thoughts on the Welfare state,

I think the problem has been we forgot what it was originally set up for. It cuts people’s legs off. It rewards people the more need they can demonstrate. It does things for people and that’s a mistake. So for example on housing, if you come in and say, “I’m homeless, I’m in need,” we’ve rewarded in the past, we’ve rewarded people. The more need they have, the more likely it is we’ll support them. So you’ve got to show, you’ve got to prove that you can’t do things. That’s the wrong way to do it.

Perhaps Sir Robin has found a way of abolishing need.

Apparently so,

He began by stating,

The Soviets learned in 89 that it didn’t work. We still think we should run things centrally and we’re one of the most centralised states and a democratic state in Europe. It’s nuts. We need to do more in terms of pushing power and responsibility and opportunities down locally, and I’d argue that if we’re going to make the welfare state work there needs to be a much stronger local element where the community and the values of the community can be put to work. You cannot put something that meets an individual’s needs, you cannot structure that from the centre.

As Devichand wryly observed, the Soviets are not around to answer back.

He by contrast has set up Workplace, a local alternative to Job Centres,

The government’s Work Programme is a disaster, and it’s a disaster because it’s designed by civil servants to be run nationally and you don’t start with the employers. We go to the employers and say could we present people to you who are job ready, who are the right people you want? And the result is that not only do we get five thousand people into work; half of them are long-term unemployed, a large number are young people.

The Work Programme is in fact thoroughly decentralised.

It is delivered, in scores of different ways, by private providers, mostly companies, but including ‘social enterprises’ and charities.

This is the result of extensive lobbying by these providers (who’ve become the ‘unemployment business’) as first encouraged by David Blunkett, closely linked to one company (he served on its Board after setting the system up), A4E).

The system is unemployment business driven and nobody knows exactly what they’re going to get.

It is also news that Workplace is unique in going to employers, since that is exactly what all Work Programme providers do.

The root problem is deeper and simpler: there is not the work for the unemployed to be fitted into.

To test the success of Newham’s scheme we got people saying that they agreed that graft should be rewarded and skivers left out. This was not ,

a gathering of the local chambers of commerce; it was a crowd of the recently unemployed in East London, albeit hand-picked for us by Newham Council….

We are reaching the realm where the inhabitants of  Cloud Cuckoo Land go to get away from their mundane lives.

It is a sad indication of the ‘debate’ set up by Blue Labour that it was up to the Fabian Society General Secretary,   Andrew Harrop,  to talk some sense.

That the reasons why welfare is ‘centralised’ (that, is we all have the same rights and benefits are aligned to need) is that Beveridge,

wanted a uniform, consistent system, so that it was based on your citizenship rather than more arbitrary factors, and there’s still a lot of truth in that insight.

Polly Toynbee pointed out that if we decentralise welfare  in the way Blue Labour want

 In the end you might get some councils who say actually we care more about our municipal flowerbeds.

This is not a joke.

A percentage of  Council Tax benefit has been made payable by those on benefits and  decentralised under the Liberal-Tory Coalition.

Those in Liberal or Tory areas can pay twice or event three times what you pay in Labour ones. Poor areas have high charges, rich right-wing ones, despite their reserves, still shift the burden as far as they can onto those on the Dole.

Toynbee later observes,

I think Labour MPs know so well, they are so rooted in their own communities, many of which are very poor, what can’t be done. They know very well that you can’t take money away from the very weakest and very poorest and they won’t let it happen. So I’m pretty confident that this will end up being a creative policy with a lot of good ideas, that it will spark all sorts of things off, but don’t let’s imagine it’s a new 1945 settlement.

A creative policy?

The Analysis programme  did not go far into this.

But the rest of Blue Labour’s ideas, about contributive benefits, are equally askew. They would create a gap between sections of the unemployed. They would (and are) be hard and expensive to administer.

Countries that operate these schemes , like France, have had to introduce minimum levels of benefit to all, regardless of contribution, and still suffer from continual deficit crises in their systems.

The Living Wage is equally no panacea for low pay. With rents still rising, and the inflation rate on goods that the less well-off buy going up, it does not mean the good life for all.

Jeremy Cliffe, of the free-market Economist concludes,

The Attlee government, Labour’s perhaps most venerated and mythologised government, set in place a Welfare State which involved the benevolent state pulling levers, transferring wealth from those that had it to those that didn’t, and this involves moving on quite dramatically from that. And I think there are many in the labour movement, perhaps understandably those who have worked in the Welfare State, who see their constituents dependent on support in various forms from the Welfare State, those who are close to the trade Union Movement which is obviously rooted in the last fifty or so years of British political economy who are not comfortable with this.

Dropping the reference to the “benevolent state” (Cliffe just couldn’t resist saying that, could he? Still who can deny that  a 1st Class Degree from Oxford teaches you things) and what do we have at fault?

That there is a “transfer of wealth“.

Is this something Blue Labour is against?

Ipswich People’s Assembly.

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Last night Enrico Tortolano,  spoke on neo-liberal economics  and politics  to a public meeting at he UNITE offices held by the Ipswich People’s Assembly Against Austerity.

Up to 30 people turned up her brother  Tortolano,  who has worked on human rights with social movements in Latin America, and now is a research officer for the PCS union as well as writing for Tribune.

Enrico gave a talk of great clarity on how the wealthy have established free-market economics as the foundation of state policy in many countries. Everybody is told to be ‘self-reliant’ as taxes are lowered for the well-off and all forms of redistribution are undermined. We have, Tortolano said, crept back to pre-First World War levels of inequality.

In Britain  attacks on welfare and privatising the state were being pushed through as part of what Naomi Klein called the “shock doctrine”. That is,  taking advantage of a crisis to push through extreme free-market ideas.

He noted that the first to apply this method had been Augusto Pinochet , the Chilean dictator.

The recently deceased Margaret Thatcher had admired the leader of the Chilean coup, which had left thousands of left opponents dead and many more imprisoned and tortured.

From annual get-togethers in Davos (Switzerland), to thousands of ‘think-tanks’ and sympathetic media, their message has been relayed by all the main political parties in the West.

British politics seem to be restricted to the limits set by the ‘orthodox’ free-market economics.

The People’s Assembly, Tortalano said, offered a real opportunity for the left to unite and to put forward a different economic and political strategy. Ultimately the threat to the planet’s resources from the market would affect everybody.

The audience, which included trade unionists, local Labour councillors, library campaigners, and activists from the Green and socialist parties, joined in a fruitful discussion on this talk.

It was suggested that the People’s Assembly should take up the issue of low pay (very important in Ipswich), of the Bedroom Tax, and the fight against the wave of further cuts in public spending that will affect council (above all  County Council) services in the coming months.

The Secretary of the Trades Council, Teresa Mackay pointed out that 80% of the cuts were still to come.

It was argued that the People’s Assembly needs a constructive and a positive message. It was not enough to just fight neoliberal economics and the hatred of the poor and migrant workers stirred up by the Liberal-Tory Coalition.

The left has to offer a democratic  and egalitarian  way of creating institutions  for equality  and collective need.

A co-ordinator will organise E-Mail contacts for the Ipswich People’s Assembly.

Transport will be available from Ipswich to take people to the London Assembly.

In the coming weeks we will be organising a campaign locally to draw attention to the links between Primark and other retail outlets and the terrible deaths of garment  workers in Bangladesh.

As an activist said, “The numbers of the dead just keep rising.”

Work Programme a “failure” at 3,5% Job Rate.

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Mr 3,5%, Ian Duncan Smith.

The BBC has just reported on the dismal failure of the Work Programme,

 Official figures showed only 3.53% of people found a job for six months or more – missing the 5.5% target.

Ministers said it was “early days” and the programme was succeeding in getting people off benefits and into work.

The figures, which cover the 13 months from June 2011 to July 2012, showed 3.53% of people were still in employment six months after joining the Work Programme.

The Department for Work and Pensions had told providers they should get 5.5% of people on the programme into sustained employment.

Faced with this poor result Employment minister Mark Hoban took a stand of stout denial.

He said: “It’s still early days, but already thousands of lives are being transformed.”

Indeed they have.

Hundreds and hundreds of posts and comments on Ipswich Unemployed Action have described the incompetence, the bullying, the downright cheating, used by companies operating the Work Programme.

For those on the Programme their  lives are have  changed – for the worse.

The New Statesman comments,

But by any measure (including the government’s), this is a bad start for what David Cameron hailed as “the biggest back-to-work programme since the 1930s”.

Meanwhile  the rats are leaving the sinking ship.

We learn that as  as from 31 October this year David Blunkett is no longer an adviser for A4E.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 27, 2012 at 11:42 am

What Money Can’t Buy. Michael Sandel. A Socialist Review.

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What Money Can’t Buy. Michael Sandel. The Moral Limits of Markets.   Allen Lane. 2012.

Conservative MP, Ben Gummer (Ipswich), believes that owning a business should give you an extra vote in municipal elections. Local councillors too often “cannot read a balance sheet”. Towns and cities need to be run by those who can. Following the City of London there should be special electoral privileges given to companies and their owners. This would help councils face economic reality.

It’s hard not to be reminded of this when reading Michael Sandel’s new book. The philosopher notes that “Today, almost everything is up for sale”. In Santa Ana California you can by a “prison cell upgrade” to make your time in goal more comfortable. You can get into a top university by paying, passing ahead of those with better grades.

“Jumping the queue” with cash, for everything from airport immigration control, theatre tickets to medical care, is spreading like wildfire across the USA. These, and other aspects of “marketisation”, from corporations benefiting from ‘insuring’ their employees lives, to rampant advertising and ‘sponsorship’, are part of a world where “everything is up for sale”.

Sandel is less sure-footed about the UK. Here people have, despite the NHS, been able to pay to jump the queue for medical needs; public schools offer a way to buy an education that guarantees far superior access to Universities.

But there are signs that the process is not so different.

Conservative councils, like Barnet, propose offering better services and quicker access to those who can fork out cash. Companies and others have been able to purchase influence over Academy Schools. Now ‘free schools’ are a way for those with the money to get state support for their educational projects, including private firms and religious groups. Payment extends to lesser affairs. To urinate in a Council (though privately run) lavatory in Westminster costs 50 pence, leaving the really poor to piss in the streets.

Markets and Queues.

“Markets and queues – paying and waiting – are two different ways of allocating things…” Sandel writes. There is an “ethic of the queue” It is, ‘First come, first served’. It “ignores privilege, power and “deep pockets”. There is a deep resentment against anybody who refuses to wait her or his turn. It is, one might say, justice as fairness. Read the rest of this entry »