Saturday, March 31, 2012

Unions 3

Unions - non-revolutionary defence organisations

The existing unions are far from perfect (they are bureaucratic, they collaborate with an anti-working class political party and also with the State too), but they were not put in place by the bourgeoisie in order to subvert any fightback and defend the capitalist state and the national interest. They were originally formed by workers to defend their wages and working conditions within capitalism and, despite their faults, still retain enough of their origin to be able to be used by workers to defend themselves against the downward pressures of capital, as the only shield we're going to have with any chance of slowing down the worsening of conditions. Arguing against defensive organisation such as unions, is disarming the working class.

The most succesful strike is the one that never takes place, i.e. one where the employers concede under the threat of a strike. This requires a permanent organisation capable of exerting permanent pressure (or rather counter-pressure). Ephemeral ad hoc strike committees are no substitute for this, especially as strikes are comparatively rare but bargaining with employers over wages and working conditions has to go on all the time. "Trade union consciousness", i.e. the understanding that workers must band together to bargain with employers over the price and conditions of sale of labour power, remains a higher degree of consciousness than non-unionism and anti-unionism. Workers here have learned through long experience that "unity is strength" and "divided we fall". We shouldn't try to undermine this consciousness, but to build on it. Of course we are not making a fetish about working within the existing union (not for revolution of course, but to get the best terms possible in any circumstance for wages and working conditions). It's a documented fact that the existing unions can and have won pay increases, etc for their members, even if they don't win every time. Of course, the existing unions are not, and are not supposed to be, revolutionary organisations, so if some are criticising them for not trying to turn every strike into a revolution they are missing the point. We do not look for a permanent "revolutionary" union. We won't, and can't, have that till many, many more workers have adopted revolutionary ideas.

There exists an "ultra-leftist" position that assumes that an organisation is either revolutionary or a reactionary part of the state. It ignores a third possible type: a non-revolutionary defensive organisation. In other words, there is a level of consciousness in between acceptance of what capitalism imposes on workers ("you can't do anything", "it's not worth trying", etc) and revolutionary socialist consciousness. There are some workers, even in a non-revolutionary period, who are not prepared to be pushed around by employers and are prepared to stand up to them and to organise on a permanent basis (the most effective way in the end) to do this. Why is the concept (and reality) of a "fighting union" or a rank-and-file "ginger group" within a union to be written off. Why are the workers who try to do this (myself included) to be denounced as "the leftwing of capital" or "agents of the State". Why, worse, should revolutionaries place themselves in the same camp as anti-unionists? It's just madness. We can understand socialists taking an anti-union position in a revolutionmary situation (if the unions don't side with the revolution). But not in a non-revolutionary situation ( the case at present).

Simply to blame the unions for hoodwinking the workers as an analysis stops where it should begin. The lesson is to understand why this happens, what it is in the union/worker relationship that gives it this enduring ability, where the strong and weak points are in that relationship, how/why a breach in this relationship may occur, why workers don't step decisively out of the union form etc. Because the nasty union leaders always trick them is a shallow non-explanation. This being said union leaders are in control of organisations that are selling labour power in bulk to employers. This involves negotiations ending in a contract. The deal is that in return for the union leaders controlling their members, eg by stopping any wildcat action to change the terms of the contract, the employers will guarantee to pay higher wages. Which is what they do from time to time. However, firstly, by and large these bureaucratised unions are effective in securing a good price for the sale of their members' labour power. The figures show this. Some of the leaders are skilled negotiators and know how to exploit labour market conditions to get the best deal. And secondly these organisations don't have to be democratic to be effective, an example being the once Mafia-controlled Teamsters Union. Most union members take a pragmatic attitude to them, supporting them as long as they deliver the goods, ie raising wages in good times and protecting them better than otherwise when labour market conditions turn in favour of employers. Which they generally do or at least are capable of doing.

We do not think the revolutionary approach to the union question is simply unions are bourgeois, and to be involved in the unions is to be part of a bourgeois institution. Karl Marx in 1860 also said that unions are bourgeois institutions. And nevertheless he strongly advocated socialists, Marxists, leftists of all kinds to be active in unions. Our desired strategy for the is to be active in unions where they exist, but not to do it with a unionist perspective but with a class wide perspective that points to all of the workers and other elements, other oppressed groups in society that have no opportunity to participate in unions and to involve them as much as possible in struggles.

Wildcats and flying pickets can be organised day to day at a rank and file/shop floor level, sometimes against the wishes of the union hierarchy - but this isn't necessarily a break with the union, but, if anything, an assertion by workers of seeing the union as being rooted in the rank and file; ie, expressing the view that even if the union bosses don't want a strike, "it's our union and we'll strike anyway". Branch, Area and and National levels of union organisation are progressive degrees of mediation; but to see the union only as an official bureaucracy over, above and separate from the workers and ignore its deep cultural roots precludes any understanding of the enduring power of unions as mediators of class struggle. Any break would have had to be made by miners challenging the union form, rather than just resisting occasional decisions of union bosses. Ultra-leftists regularly talk of workers as passive objects that suffer Machiavellian manipulation by unions - whereas in fact workers at a rank and file level animate unions and give them their influence by their participation. So the union is not merely an external force; trade unionism is not just some external power that has to be combatted - it is also something within the working class that has to be confronted and overcome. And that confrontation will presumably occur, initially, within the union form.

Yes, the unions often limit and/or sabotage some workers struggles - they always have, and yes, union bosses have separate interests, yes radicalisation would mean confronting/transcending the union form - but the UK class struggle, at its 60-70s highpoint, jumped in and out of the union form - with shop stewards as the tipping point/balancing act - but never made any decisive break with it. To claim repeatedly that the workers are only held back by 'Machiavellian unions' is plain wrong - unions are an expression, not just of the limits of consciousness - but of the partial realisation of needs in the labour market; as mediators and functionaries of social control they do deliver some benefits. Of course all improvements obtained by workers under capitalism are under constant threat as economic circumstances and the balance of forces between employers and workers change, but this does mean that the improvements are not worth struggling for in the most effective way (ie through maintaining a permanent organisation to exert a permanent counter-pressure to the permanent pressure from employers) while they can be had

The class struggle is permanent. It's goes on all the time, strikes just represent it becoming more intense. In periods of non-strike (ie 99 per cent of the time) workers still need to confront the employer who will try and get away with what they can, over the amount and pace of work, over favoritism, etc. It's a question of the balance of forces. Organising permanently shifts this slightly in our favour. That's why it's needed. It's no good dealing with each problem as it arises by calling an ad hoc general assembly. There's nothing revolutionary about this day-to-day, non-strike union activity. It's only about defending ourselves within the system. But then there's nothing revolutionary about strikes either. They are just a means of putting pressure on employers to come to agree to something they are not initially prepared to. And most strikes end in a compromise anyway. The actual fight of the working class , expressed in strikes, demonstrations, etc., can't go on on a daily basis. Sometimes the class goes quiet, appears to dip out of sight. A union's "gains" are never secure and are undermined by further downward pressures. All they can do in the long-run is ensure that workers get paid more or less the full value of their labour power, and to do this they have to run fast just to standstill. If they stopped running (ie dissolved themselves as you would like) then workers' conditions would get even worse.

The existing unions have many faults, largely reflecting the level of consciousness of their members -- who get the union they deserve, but they are not entirely useless or impotent. It's not the existing unions as such that we defend, but the principle of workers organising permanently, not particular unions which do suffer from defects We do not "supporting the unions per se". but argue that workers should organise on a permanent basis to defend themselves from capital's attacks, the usefulness and desirability of which some have challenged. The existing unions have the merit of existing, so we may as well use them, though we do not oppose forming a new union, as a permanent defensive organisation, if necessary.

However we must remind ourselves, once one begins to try and capture factional power and/or a career within the union bureaucracy one is, however well meaning, sucked into a game that opposes the union's and the "national economy" institutional interests to workers interests on a day to day functional level. The gains of the working class are often insitutionalised at the level of law, unions became subject to this process early on in their history, this helped ensure and codify their inherent contradictions and limitations. This does not mean that they can't be instruments in the class struggle. Workers have had to fight for the enforcement of already-existent labour laws, which had only been made into law through the working class' own force, since the Factory Acts of the 19th century. A still-valid point made by Marx: "By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement."

As to "reforming" the existing unions this is possible, given a rising class consciousness amongst workers. They could be made more democratic, cut their ties with the state and political parties, adopt an explicit class struggle stance but this will depend on their members, and workers generally, wanting these things. In the meantime we are in favour of arguing for these things within the existing unions.

As class consciousness rises and spreads, we can see three possible ways in which the permanent defensive organisations of the working class can change:
1. Reform of the existing unions.
2. Breakaway unions from the existing unions.
3. Formation of new unions.

What will happen will be all three depending on the circumstances.

We should try to work within as well as, if necessary, outside the existing unions to make them more democratic and more class conscious. It's workers who win things, either through or organised in the unions. It's collective action which gets the result. When there's a strike, those who are actually going out on strike should be having the final say, both on whether and when to strike and on when to go back to work and controlling the conduct and tactics via revocable delegates. Sometimes this can be done through the existing unions and sometimes outside them. This is a matter to be decided pragmatically. There are definite limits to what can be achieved within the trade union form. We don't 'condemn' those who work within the form at a grassroots level, they are often some of the most militant - but, if one recognises those definite limits, the question is, where are they reached, how can they be overcome, what are the obstacles and where is the potential?

Class Struggle? Is it "outside and against the unions" or "outside, inside and alongside the unions"? We are for the latter. We have no wish to straight-jacket the working class into a fixed set of strategies under all conditions and situations then so be it. The SPGB have only preferred means and methods. In a depression, workers cannot somehow prevent a worsening of wages and working conditions. The increase in unemployment tips the balance of forces further in favour of the employers so that take-home pay will inevitably fall and that not even the most militant action can stop this, in fact could lead to the employer closing down the business with an even greater loss of income to the workers concerned. This being so, the problem workers face is how to react - to try to negotiate the fall (whether through the existing unions or outside them) so as to limit the damage or to let employers have a free hand to do it? It's not a very nice choice, but that's capitalism. Wages are a price (the price of labour-power) and go up and down in accordance with labour market conditions. So, since entering into the depression with millions more unemployed, we can expect the price of labour-power to fall. No wildcat action, however militant, will be able to stop this happening any more than the existing unions can with official action. You just can't buck the labour market. So, workers are going to have to negotiate this with employers. Some people are blaming the unions when they should be blaming capitalism.

Obviously, we'd like them to be more democratic. Unions in Britain, although much more bureaucratised than they originally were, still do allow a wider degree of democratic participation than in most other organisations of the same size. We join them on pragmatic grounds and try to make them more responsive to the members interests. Without supporting the organisations as such (in fact criticising them for not being democratic and for being sectional, associating with the State and political parties, etc).

But of course they are not revolutionary organisations and are not meant to be, though at some point, when class-consciousness grows amongst their members, they will become less business unions and more class-oriented ones

Unions 2

Just a little bit of SPGB history to bore you all

Trade Union Questions (1946)

The meeting was called by the EC to discuss the trade union dispute concerning the closed shop, breakaway unions and allied questions.

Some points raised in the discussion.

Compulsory trade union membership was opposed on the grounds that it was bad for the trade union movement; it did not strengthen it or help the working class. Various views on the meaning of the "closed shop" were relatively unimportant, it was the principle involved that mattered. While it was impossible to give guidance for all members in their unions, the working-class must fight to obtain and retain the freedom to organise as they wished. There was something radically wrong when workers asked the capitalists to act against fellow workers by dismissing or not employing non-union workers. We must be opposed to any form of coercion. The interests of some workers on the industrial field were often in conflict with the interests of other workers. This was due to capitalist conditions, and if all workers in an industry were organised in one union this opposition would manifest itself inside the union. In American industries the trade union subscription was often taken from the pay packet, and workers could not oppose trade union leaders without losing their jobs.

The party's original manifesto had advocated the support of "trade unions on sound lines". There should be no question of compulsion, but in the trade union movement as with the party workers should be convinced by argument of the necessity of taking part. The more a union was controlled by a sound membership, the stronger resistance could be made against the capitalists. The closed shop did not necessarily organise trade unionists against strike breakers. A closed shop would disguise the opponents of trade union action, who would be apathetic and unlikely to come out on strike. A worker's ideas
were not changed because he had been compelled to take out a trade union ticket. It had been argued that a closed shop enabled the trade union executive to control the membership, but from our view point the membership should control the executive. One great danger of the closed shop was that the trade union could become an employing agency as in America. A trade union membership even with not more than 75 percent of the industry in it could be effective in coming out on strike. Compulsory trade union membership encouraged wrong ideas and stopped the active work of understanding the advantages of trade union action, and that it was the expression of the class struggle with the strike as its only weapon. The idea was circulating among members of unions that their problems could be solved by the closed shop. The party should help to clear away this misconception, as events themselves would in the long run. It should not be assumed that a non-unionist is necessarily a blackleg.

Other views expressed were that there was difficulty in understanding the meaning of the expression "the closed shop". One meaning was that everyone in a particular industry must belong to some union. Another meaning was that everyone must be a member of one particular union. If we are to advise workers on the industrial field, we must also do so on the political field, but on the latter issue an example was given of a party speaker saying that the party did not give advice on how workers should vote. The party was wrong in advising workers to join trade unions. Some workers were expelled from trade unions for non-democratic reasons. The party should not intervene in the struggle between employee and employer. One participant in discussion said that he would be prepared to ask an employer to choose between union and non-union members. The ETU and printing trades unions were quoted as examples of 100 percent membership bringing favourable conditions of employment. The party was primarily concerned with politics and should refrain from saying more than that the real conflict was between two classes and could only be ended by the acquisition of socialist knowledge.

The immediate problem on the trade union field was bound up with the Labour Government and the TUC, and the closed shop arose as a symptom of the present political conditions. Later a member said that we should not oppose the coercion of workers acting in an undemocratic manner. Non-unionists were breaking down workers' conditions. Our object should be to avoid embarrassing the party by having speakers and writers expressing different points of views. Another member said that the closed shop was usually a spontaneous movement of workers to defend their standard of living. The TGWU was, however, a move by the officials who were prompted by political motives and were endeavouring to destroy competing unions. However carefully the party went into this question we should eventually arrive at the position that we supported trade unions providing they acted on sound lines, that is in a manner to increase the standard of living or to resist encroachments.

Resolution - McLauglin (Snr) and Gaskin: "That this party meeting is of the opinion that the party should not intervene in Trade Union issues except to explain and pronounce the class issue".

For the resolution it was urged that we should use incidents of this kind (without taking sides) to explain the class struggle. If we express any opinion we should be labelled an organisation that upheld blacklegs and anti-trade unionists. We must look at trade union matters as an historical development. Trade unions must decide on the advisability of strikes etc. There was a conflict between socialists on the question of the closed shop and the party would be best served by the resolution. It had been said at the meeting that the class struggle found expression in the trade union movement, but the class struggle was for political supremacy and not about working conditions. Individual socialists in trade unions would be able to decide the best action to be taken, but the party were not competent to do this. As only about 25 percent of the party membership were at the meeting only a decision on general lines should be made.

Against the resolution it was claimed that as the party was in favour of trade union action we have to state a position. Trade union issues were class issues, and a resolution of this nature would make the meeting a waste of time. The principle of the rights of minorities was involved. We should examine the issue and try to take up one position or another. This evasive resolution would hold the party up to ridicule. It was much more our responsibility even than the trade unionists to explain.

The resolution was lost 7-49.

Resolution - Hardy and McClatchie: "That this party meeting is of the opinion that on balance compulsory trade union membership is not in the best interest of the trade union movement and the working-class in the struggle against the employing class".

In support of the resolution it was said that we should be unconditionally opposed to the closed shop. However spontaneous closed shops had been in the past, the present moves were sponsored by the Labour Party and the trade union executives. The closed shop issue coincided with the repeal of the 1927 Act. The party had always supported trade union membership but did not force its members to join. We had also opposed trade unions collaborating with the government.

Against the resolution it was urged that should the resolution be passed the party would be known throughout trade unions as an organisation which supported non-unionists and blacklegs.

The resolution was carried 57-7.

Breakaway Unions

On this item it was pointed out that the TGWU demanded that all uniformed grades should be members of their union. Trade Unions have a form of democracy and the officials were a manifestation of the views of the membership. The cause of the present dispute was that a certain group refused to submit to a democratically arrived at decision arrived at by the rank and file. We cannot support this anti-democratic and anarchistic sort of action. The minority should have accepted the decision and then put their point of view in the union.

The N[ational] U[nion of] P[assenger] W[orkers] was not merely trying to breakaway on its own, but also to form a federation against the TUC. This demonstrated the uselessness of breakaway unions in general. Most unions affiliated to the TUC were also affiliated to the Labour Party, but unions outside the TUC (which were few in number) included those who would not be tied to the Labour Party because they favoured the Tories. There were both big and little unions which were reactionary, some even regarded the TUC as a revolutionary body. Although most workers' ideas on the class struggle were elementary they did affiliate with the TUC in an effort to achieve working-class unity. NUPW was exceptional as far as little unions were concerned outside the TUC.

If minority action was to be supported it could only be on the grounds that the minority would become a majority. This majority would reflect the outlook of the bulk of the membership with its limited appreciation of the class struggle and what could be obtained by trade union action. The strike weapon was out of the question for a minority union, leading to the NUPW's appeal to the High Court for an injunction against the employers, thereby disclosing their ineffectiveness.

Other views were that we could not help but sympathise with the NUPW. The TGWU was an octopus union, claiming to represent even agricultural workers. As trade unions became larger so they became weaker, and eventually come under the control of the Labour Government. We should view breakaway unions as a part of the development of capitalism with the state becoming more and more powerful.

NB - The general secretary of the breakaway union in question, the NPWU, was an SPGB member

Unions 1

Trade unions arise out of the wage-relation that is at the basis of capitalism. When we say that labour-power has the commodity nature, it must express its value through a struggle in the labour market. Combining together in trade unions to exert collective pressure on employers is a way workers can prevent their wages falling below the value of their Iabour-power. It is a way of ensuring that they are paid the full value of what they have to sell. This is the usefulness of trade unions to the working class but they can do no more than this. The competition of individual workers for jobs enabled employers to take full advantage of their strengthened position. If, however, the workers unite and agree not to sell their labour-power below a certain price, the effect of individual competition for jobs can be, at least in part, overcome. Organised workers can ensure that the wage they get is the current value of their labour-power and, at times when the demand for labour-power exceeds the supply, they can temporarily push wages above the current value of labour power or even, in the longer term, raise its value. This was, and still is, the economic logic for the working class of trade union organisation.They cannot substantially increase the living standards of their members under capitalism but they can ensure that wages are not reduced below the subsistence level. The trade unions are essentially defensive organisations with the limited role of protecting wages and working conditions and it is by this criterion that their effectiveness or otherwise ought to be judged.

Trade Unions can - and do - enable workers to get the full value of their labour-power, but they cannot stop the exploitation of the working class.

Workers may influence their wages and working conditions only by collective effort and only by being in the position to stop working if their demands are not met. The ability to withhold their service in a strike is one weapon in their possession ( work-to-rules and overtime bans are others). It is the only final logic known to employers. Without it, wages tend to sink below subsistence level. With it, a substantial check can often be placed on the encroachments of the employers and improvements both in wages and working conditions can be made.

The strike is not a sure means of victory for workers in dispute with employers. There are many cases of workers being compelled to return to work without gains, even sometimes with losses. Strikes should not be employed recklessly but should be entered into with caution, particularly during times when production falls off and there are growing numbers of unemployed. Nor should not be thought that victory can be gained only by means of the strike. Sometimes more can be gained simply by the threat of a strike. An early contribution described the most effective strike as the one that did not take place .Workers must bear all these things in mind if they are to make the most effective use of the trade union and the power which it gives them.

The non-revolutionary phase of the struggle between the classes is as inevitable as the revolutionary one. Therefore we should not reduce the trade unions to impotence by by getting them to avow principles and policies which are not necessary to their object and reason for being - and also to which their members do not hold. We, therefore, accept trade unions as they are, and, realising that all their grave and undeniable faults are but the reflection of the mental shortcomings of their members.The Socialist Party is not antagonistic to the trade unions under present conditions, even though they have not a revolutionary basis but we are hostile to the misleading by the trade union leaders and the ignorance of the rank and file which make such misleading possible. Workers must come to see through the illusion that all that is needed in the class war are good generals. Sloganising leaders making militant noises are impotent in the face of a system which still has majority support – or at least the acquiescence – of the working class.

It would be wrong to write off the unions as anti-working-class organisations. The union has indeed tended to become an institution apart from its members; but the policy of a union is still influenced by the views of its members. It may be a truism but a union is only as strong as its members.Most unions have formal democratic constitutions which provide for a wide degree of membership participation and democratic control. In practice however, these provisions are sometimes ineffective and actual control of many unions is in the hands of a well-entrenched full-time leadership. It is these leaders who frequently collaborate with the State and employers in the administration of capitalism; who get involved in supporting political parties and governments which act against the interest of the working class.

Under present conditions, trade unions are non-revolutionary but as far as the socialist thinks them necessary to his personal economic welfare and as far as economic pressure forces him to, he is right and justified in using them. The class struggle has to be carried on by socialists and non-socialists alike and because of the very nature of the workers' economic struggle under capitalism it compels socialists to associate in a common cause with the non-socialists during strikes, lock-outs and all the other activities on the economic side of the class struggle.

The Socialist Party urges that the existing unions provide the medium through which the workers should continue their efforts to obtain the best conditions they can get from the master class in the sale of their labour-power. We do not criticise the unions for not being revolutionary, but we do severely criticise them when they depart from the principle of an antagonism of interests between workers and employers; when they collaborate with employers, the state or political parties; when they put the corporate interests of a particular section of workers above that of the general interest of the working class as a whole.

Trade unions, in general, have languished in a role which provides little scope for action beyond preparing for the next self-repeating battle with employers. They tended to be bogged down in bureaucracy and run by careerists and timeserving officials for whom the future means little more than their pensions and peerage. It has to be admitted that this does present itself as a sterile accommodation with the capitalist system.

However, and this should be emphasised, trade unions can bring a great deal of experience to bear on the question of how a new society could be organised democratically in the interests of the whole community. Certainly in the developed countries they have organisation in the most important parts of production. They have rulebooks that allow them to be run locally and nationally in a generally democratic manner and they also enjoy fraternal links across the globe. All this is already in place , ready to be applied. If only trade unions set their sights beyond the next wage claim and by becoming part of the socialist movement, they could so easily become part of the democratic administration of industry that would replace the corporate bosses and their managers who now organise production for profit.

Phosphorus Peak

Mankind has used manure, seaweed, guano and other organic fertilizers for centuries to increase food production. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that farmers began widespread use of inorganic fertilizer, which combines mined and synthetic chemicals. The chief components are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium

Many have heard the expression "peak oil", the point here oil reserves begin to decline. Less well known is "peak phosphorus". Our dwindling supply of phosphorus, a primary component underlying the growth of global agricultural production, threatens to disrupt food security across the planet during the coming century. This is the gravest natural resource shortage you've never heard of.

Farmers treat their fields with phosphorus-rich fertilizer to increase the yield of their crops. However, arge amounts of this resource are lost from farm fields, through soil erosion and runoff. The world's reliance on phosphorus is an unappreciated aspect of the "Green Revolution," a series of agricultural innovations that made it possible to feed the approximately 4.2 billion-person increase in the global population since 1950. This massive expansion of global agricultural production required a simultaneous increase in the supply of key resources, including water and nitrogen. Without an increase in phosphorus, however, crops would still have lacked the resources necessary to fuel a substantial increase in production, and the Green Revolution would not have gotten off the ground.

By 2008, industrial farmers were applying an annual 17 million metric tons of mined phosphorus on their fields. Demand is expanding at around 3 percent a year -- a rate that is likely to accelerate due to rising prosperity in the developing world (richer people consume more meat) and the burgeoning bioenergy sector, which also requires phosphorus to support crop-based biofuels. Worldwide production of phosphate rock — the primary source of phosphorus in fertilizer — jumped from 40 million tons in 1960 to an estimated 191 million tons last year, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Because phosphate rock is roughly 11 percent phosphorus, that means companies produced about 21 million tons of the element in 2011. Of that, 95 percent is turned into fertilizer, according to Kathy Mathers, a spokeswoman for The Fertilizer Institute. In 2009, Australian scientists estimated that nearly 80 percent of phosphorus in fertilizer is wasted.

Our supply of mined phosphorus is running out. Many mines used to meet this growing demand are degrading, as they are increasingly forced to access deeper layers and extract a lower quality of phosphate-bearing rock (phosphate is the chemical form in which nearly all phosphorus is found). Some initial analyses from scientists with the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative estimate that there will not be sufficient phosphorus supplies from mining to meet agricultural demand within 30 to 40 years. The United States has only 12 phosphorus mines. The supplies from the most productive mine, in Florida, are declining rapidly -- it will be commercially depleted within 20 years.

The geographic concentration of phosphate mines also threatens to usher in an era of intense resource competition. Nearly 90 percent of the world's estimated phosphorus reserves are found in five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan, and the United States. (In comparison, the 12 countries that make up the OPEC cartel control only 75 percent of the world's oil reserves.) This fact could spark international tension and even influence how countries attempt to draw their internal boundaries. Many of Morocco's phosphate mines are in Western Sahara, a disputed independent territory that is occupied by Morocco and the site of growing international human rights concerns. The United States exported phosphorus for decades but now imports about 10 percent of its supply, all from Morocco

Increased demand for fertilizer and the decreased supply of phosphorus exports will result in higher prices, significantly affecting millions of farmers in the developing world who live on the brink of bankruptcy and starvation. Rising fertilizer prices could tip this balance. Between 2003 and 2008, phosphate fertilizer prices rose approximately 350 percent.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Capitalists rule - ok

In a 1901 article James Connolly writes "Socialists are always accused of trying to create ill feeling, to bring about a class struggle, to “set class against class”. Of course, the real fact is, we only point out what already exists,....His masters who are interested in keeping him in that plentiful lack of knowledge are always careful to raise the cry “Capital and labour are brothers” and don’t “set class against class”....while the worker is not class-conscious – that is, knowing and understanding his class subjection and its cause, and therefore knowing and understanding his class interest in overthrowing the institutions which keep him so – it is not so with the landlord and capitalist. They, as a rule, are thoroughly class-conscious and in all their measures never lose sight of the cardinal principle of the class struggle. While the average worker makes a great show of having nothing much to do with politics, the other class have calculated to a nicety its exact value not merely to their whole class, but even to each of their sections. All government is therefore class government."

Members of the US Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010. The 50 richest Members of Congress who hold 80 percent of the net worth of the institution. The wealth overall is scattered fairly evenly between the two parties. Of the 435 members of the House, 244 current members of Congress are millionaires - that's about 46 percent and that includes 138 Republicans and 106 Democrats. By comparison, around 1% of Americans are millionaires. Therefore, no other minority group is as over-represented in Congress as the rich.

The richest 70 members of China’s legislature added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of all 535 members of the U.S. Congress, the president and his Cabinet, and the nine Supreme Court justices. The wealthiest member of the U.S. Congress is Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who had a maximum wealth of $700.9 million in 2010, according to the center. If he were in China's National Peoples Congress, he would be ranked 40th.

In the Kremlin Russian oligarchs, the class of ultra-rich that emerged during the 1990s, have notoriously close ties to the country's political class and have even created their own political parties. Critics of the governing United Russia party say it serves the wealthy at the expense of the rest of the country. Multi-billionaire tycoon and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team Mikhail Prokhorov ran as an independent candidate in the 2012 presidential election. According to Sergey Alexashenko, the former vice president of the Russian Central Bank and now a lecturer at Moscow State University of Economics "These days, the oligarchs work with the government and do their lobbying quietly in the background"

In the UK millionaires, as we have recently seen, regularly donate to the financial coffers of the main political parties to gain influence and access to decision meakers.

It was Warren Buffet the third wealthiest man in the world who famously said, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

While the workers accept the poisonous nonsense that capital should have a fair profit, while they swallow the lies and humbug of the capitalist apologists that the interests of the master class are the interests of the community or society they will be easily led to vote their masters into possession of the power to rule society. When the working class rids itself of this stupidity they will find that the way to their emancipation lies through organisation for control of the political power, wresting control of the state from the capitalist class.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Capitalism - the final frontier

The communist elements of the Star Trek universe is often obscured because the films and TV shows are centered on the military hierarchy of Star Fleet. To the extent that we see glimpses of civilian life, it seems mostly untroubled by hierarchy or compulsion.

In Star Trek the United Federation of Planets is often described as a type of post-capitalist society where there is no money and nobody wants for material things. In the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Captain Kirk says that they don't use money in the future. "Don't tell me: they don't have money in the 23rd Century?" "Well, we don't." - Conversation between Dr. Gillian Taylor and Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek IV

A first season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "The Neutral Zone," has Picard getting up on his high horse with a three hundred year old businessman who is revived from suspended animation: The businessman, naturally, wants to get in touch with his agents to find out what has happened to his investments. Picard loftily informs him that such things don't exist anymore. Indeed, poverty and want have been abolished "A lot has changed in the last 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the acquisition of 'things'. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy."

In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard says that in the future no one is motivated by the desire for material wealth. "The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century... The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity."

Jake Sisko in the Deep Space 9 episode "In the Cards", in an exchange with the Ferengi, Nog: Jake: "I'm Human, I don't have any money." Nog: "It's not my fault that your species decided to abandon currency-based economics in favor of some philosophy of self-enhancement." Jake: "Hey, watch it. There's nothing wrong with our philosophy. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity." Nog: "What does that mean?" Jake: "It means we don't need money!"

According to Tom Paris in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Dark Frontier", a "New World Economy" began to take hold on Earth and throughout the Federation in the late 22nd century, and eventually made money obsolete. He even mentions that in the 24th century, Fort Knox is a museum, apparently to money and capitalism.

Humans have forged a classless, moneyless society free of serious social ills.

The Ferengi were practitioners of a form of capitalism, basing their entire style of trade on the concept of "caveat emptor", or "buyer beware". Ferengi make their money by following rules such as Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 1: "Once you have their money...never give it back." Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 10: Greed is Eternal. Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 27: There is nothing more dangerous than an honest businessman. Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 35: War is good for business. Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 45: Expand or die. Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 202: The justification for profit is profit.

There are two major technological advancements featured in the show that explain how such a society could exist: 1) A replicator that creates any object upon demand, which is capable of materialising any object out of thin air, with only the press of a button.without requiring any human labor, and 2) An infinite energy supply that requires scant human attention to maintain. The primary energy sources in Star Trek are warp cores, and the deuterium, antideuterium and dilithium crystals which power them, offering an abundance of energy. Teleporters, powered by warp cores, offer reliable transportation anywhere around the world (and from the world to the moon and other planets). Not only does it allow for the movement of people, it allows from the bulk transportation of goods to their destination.

Given the technical premises of complete automation and free energy, the Star Trek utopia of pure communism becomes a possibility. The replicator technology appears to have made capitalism obsolete. When Jean-Luc Picard wants his tea, he doesn't have to hand over any cash—he just tells the replicator, and the machine makes it so. Riker, Data, Dr. Crusher—they don't have salaries (although they do get vacation time). Nobody ever needs to worry about a bank account, or paying back loans for Star Fleet tuition. Within the Federation, life follows Marx's, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
If all you want is a drink, you can get free synthahol any time you want it.

Federation citizens don't have "stuff." They have simple, immediate, free access to all the necessities of life. They don't need bank accounts . The only things they actually own are objects of special personal value - Picard's volume of Shakespeare, Worf's battleh, and Riker's trombone. Picard's brother may still run a traditional French vineyard, while Cisco's dad operates a classic New Orleans restaurant. But these operations seem more like lifestyles than professions; there's no sense that either needs the income to get by. And in fact, both businesses are small, family run, almost self-consciously handcrafted products for discerning consumers.

Yet at other times, capitalism seems alive and well in the Star Trek universe. The Enterprise crew-members sometimes spend "credits". The Federation credit does not appear to serve the role of capital as money does in a capitalist economy: production is not based on the accumulation of capital for reinvestment of production; instead production is undertaken to satisfy human needs, and the Federation credit is likely more akin to a Labour voucher - a means for distributing / rationing goods for individual consumption. Alternatively, the credit may serve as a means of quantifying energy.

Every citizen of the Federation has plenty of food of virtually any type they want, clothes, shelter, recreational and luxury items, and has all their basic material needs easily met. A society based around self-improvement and collectively improving the human race instead of cut-throat competition, and combined with heavy automation, it means labour is essentially free, menial tasks are automated, and goods are made freely available to all citizens due to superabundance.

There is a passage in Capital Vol III, in which Marx distinguishes between a “realm of necessity” and a “realm of freedom.” In the realm of necessity we must “wrestle with Nature to satisfy [our] wants, to maintain and reproduce life”, by means of physical labor in production. This realm of necessity, Marx says, exists “in all social formations and under all possible modes of production”, presumably including socialism. What distinguishes socialism, then, is that production is rationally planned and democratically organized, rather than operating at the whim of the capitalist or the market. For Marx, however, this level of society was not the true objective of the revolution, but merely a precondition for “that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis.”

In the “Critique of the Gotha Program,” he writes that: "In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!"

Socialists are portrayed as hopelessly utopian impossiblists. What kind of society could be so productive that humans are entirely liberated from having to perform some kind of involuntary labour? It’s not that all work would cease, in the sense that we would all just sit around in dissipation and torpor. For as Marx puts it, “labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want.” Whatever activities and projects we undertook, we would participate in them because we found them inherently fulfilling, not because we needed a wage or owed our monthly hours to the cooperative.

Yet we have the promise of widespread automation is that it could enact just such a liberation. Recent technological developments have taken place not just in the production of commodities, but in the generation of the energy needed to operate the automatic factories and 3-D printers of the future. Hence one possible post-scarcity future combines labor-saving technology with an alternative to the current energy regime, which is ultimately limited by both the physical scarcity and ecological destructiveness of fossil fuels. If cheap energy and automation are combined with methods of efficiently fabricating or recycling raw materials, then we have truly left behind ‘the economy’ as a social mechanism for managing scarcity. What lies over that horizon?

The demise of wage labour may seem like a faraway dream today. But once upon a time – before the labour movement retreated from the demand from shorter hours, and before the stagnation and reversal of the long trend toward reduced work weeks – people actually worried about what we would do after being liberated from work. In an essay on “Economic possibilities for our grandchildren”, John Maynard Keynes predicted that within a few generations, “man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem – how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.” And in a recently published discussion from 1956, Max Horkheimer begins by casually remarking to Theodor Adorno that “nowadays we have enough by way of productive forces; it is obvious that we could supply the entire world with goods and could then attempt to abolish work as a necessity for human beings.”

Socialism, to boldly go where no-one has gone before.

adapted from

Friday, March 23, 2012

Power and politics

The truth of the class struggle has been driven home with more than ever during the last few years since the latest recession. The glaring growing income inequality, the wide-spread job-losses , the numerous strikes, the cruelty of the state toward their rebellious slaves all over the capitalist world, has induced even capitalist authorities to “lament” the growth of class strife.

Why do you think our ruling class spends so much time and money to bring their influence to bear upon Parliament or Congress? Because that is where the decision making resides in our governmental system. It is where the capitalist class get their tax breaks, subsidies, bailouts contracts, and the loopholes in the enforcement of the laws against them. It is where the masses get nothing other than roll-backs of the previous protections of our economic well-being, our health and safety, our unions and our jobs, pay and pensions.

The capitalist class rule because they have possession of the means of life, the land and the factories. It is true as Shakespear's Shylock says: “He owns my life who owns the means whereby I live.”. But it doesn’t complete the picture. Capitalist rule would be an empty phrase without them having some power to enforce their ownership and is by it is by controlling Parliament. Those who control the forces of "law and order", the police and the courts, and who control the military forces, actually and in reality control society itself, because having those powers at their command, they can and do use them for any desired purpose. he control and manipulation of these forces are carried on by the various political officers, and it is through these departments that instructions come with regard to their direction. Parliament and Congress make laws and alter them as in their wisdom they determine; they appoint the officers controlling the executive departments and they have at their disposal the means of ensuring that these laws are carried out. Those holding this power are in possession of the means whereby they can dominate society. The control, therefore, of political power means the control of society.

But the picture is still not complete. The workers to-day possess an overwhelming majority of the votes and it is these working-class votes that return the capitalists and their representatives into control of Parliament and thereby the continuance of the capitalists' domination. To-day the working class are largely unconscious of what constitutes their own interests and so they are misled by the paid agents of the capitalist class to use the political power they possess against their real interests. The working class class have already within their reach the first step toward their emancipation when they understand how to use the vote they possess. But to use this vote effectively they must understand that, not only do they already possess political power, but that they must use this power for the purpose of getting rid of the class which dominates them. They must use their power to obtain control the political machinery, so as to enter into possession of the wealth they, and they alone create, and so rid themselves of the problems of misery, poverty, degradation, insecurity, and hopeless toil which press so heavily upon them to-day.

The anarchist teaches that the workers should avoid and oppose political action. Why should the working class support any political party at all, argue anarchists? Why should they enter into politics in any shape or form? It means, so far as they are concerned, so much time wasted. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, draws attention to past history and present circumstances to show how the ruling classes maintained their position of dominance. The salvation of the working class lies through organisation for control of the political power. It is only after and by the political expropriation of the capitalist class that its economic expropriation can be achieved. But will it be the only means? Far from excluding each other, electoral action and revolutionary action complete each other. The vote is revolutionary when it is cast by a class-conscious electorate for class-conscious candidates. Workers, once they had come to want and understand socialism will more than likely organise in workplace committees or councils; but they will at the same time be organising politically. Not doing so would invite a violent head-on clash with a state machine still controlled by the supporters of capitalism. Why take this risk when the existence of universal suffrage and albeit limited political democracy make it unnecessary? Why not organise, democratically and without leaders, with a view to using the potential weapon that is the vote to win control of the state, so neutralising it? This is the Socialist Party position - based on an analysis of today's political circumstances and not on any dogma. And once the masses get moving they are hard to stop.

Engels' Preface to the 1890 German edition of the Communist Manifesto: “For the ultimate triumph of the ideas set forth in the Manifesto Marx relied solely and exclusively on the intellectual development of the working class, as it necessarily had to ensue from united action and discussion.”
Marx held that the working class should take political action to end politics and the state and that one of the forms this could take was democratic electoral action.

Capitalism cannot be abolished by a political revolution prepared, organised and led by an elite of professional revolutionaries claiming to act and think in the name of the exploited majority. The proletariat, formed into a class and a party under the conditions of bourgeois democracy, liberates itself in the struggle to conquer this democracy; it turns universal suffrage, which had previously been "an instrument of dupery", into a means of emancipation.

We observe that the parties in the political field are as numerous as their different labels, but the essential question for us as workers is: Whose interests do they stand for? Whom do they in reality represent? They stand no matter how they may describe themselves as, for the essentials of the present system, for the maintenance and perpetuation of capitalist domination. Universal suffrage has not failed. What has failed is the reformist use of it. To reject universal suffrage because reformist electoral action has failed is to throw out the baby with the bath water. We understand criticism of political parties calling themselves "socialist" having as their aim a mixed- economy or state-capitalism and those parties have essentially only sought to exploit working class discontent with a view to coming to power and installing themselves as a new ruling class in place of the private capitalists. They have always seen the working class as having a subordinate role as followers and as passive electors. But that cannot be held against our position of working class democratic self-organisation into a political party based on socialist understanding, with a view to taking political, including electoral, action to abolish capitalism. That the earth's resources should become a common storehouse for the benefit of all must emerge as a real political demand. The idea of political action and the visionary power of utopians must be combined to powerful effect.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fighting for us all

Apologists for capitalism would have us all believe it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of a market society. They turn lies into truths.

Market fundamentalists and their army of supporters, in a political system hijacked by big money and corporations, cloak their interests in an appeal to “common sense,” doing everything possible to deny climate change, massive inequalities, the militarization of everyday life and the corruption of civic culture by a consumerist and celebrity-driven advertising machine. The financial elite, the 1 percent and the hedge fund sharks have become the highest-paid magicians in America. They perform social magic by making the structures and power relations of racism, inequality, homelessness, poverty and environmental degradation disappear. They employ deception by seizing upon a stripped-down language of choice, freedom, enterprise and self-reliance - all of which works to personalize responsibility, collapse social problems into private troubles and reconfigure the claims for social and economic justice on the part of workers, poor minorities of color, women and young people as a species of individual complaint. It substitutes shared responsibilities. It creates isolated individuals who live in gated communities. A legion of consumer citizens to engage in a survival-of-the fittest ritual in order to climb heartlessly up the ladder of capitalism, worried only about their personal safety, on one hand, and their stock portfolios on the other. .

The class struggle now becomes a live-for-oneself mentality, of a narrow and selfish responsibility only for oneself. When injustice become obscured by a explanations of individual failure they are no longer the objects of compassion, but of scorn and derision. It renders invisible poor people along with others marginalized by class and race. The Occupy movement and other social movements are challenging many of these anti-democratic and anti-intellectual forces. Ideas are not empty gestures. Ideas provide a crucial foundation for assessing our collective strengths. Ideas offer us the opportunity to think and act , to cross over into new lines of inquiry and take new positions, without standing still. Capitalist apologists do not work with ideas, but sound bites. They don’t engage in debates; they simply present unsubstantiated opinion.

The Occupy movement showed it is time to initiate a campaign in which reason can be reclaimed, truth defended and education connected to social change. There has never been a more important time in history to proclaim the importance of communal responsibility and to shift from a democracy of ill-informed consumers to a democracy of informed citizens. When the apologists of capitalism defend the privileged, isolated, removed and individualized interests of those who decry the social and communal responsibility as a pathology, then socialists must ensure their work and actions ensure power is democratized and our collective class values trump the elites private interests.

Greatly adapted and plagiarised from here

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Dark Future?

A dystopia is a utopia in reverse. It is said people today find it easier to imagine a global disaster and world cataclysm than expect or hope for any real improvement in their social conditions. Future apocalyptic societies teetering on the brink of disaster, full of cowed populations, tyrannical governments and corrupt elites, pollution-devastated, war-torn landscapes, world-wide and often weaponised viruses plus all manner of assorted other horrors such as humans harvested for their organs. Dark visions of the future where totalitarian rulers govern the life of ordinary people, repressive social control systems, government coercion of citizens, influence of technology on human mind, conforming mechanisms upon individuality and freedom, censorship of free speech, sexual repression, class and caste distinctions, citizens living out their dehumanised lives . Today, a sense of doom hangs over the world. Many people have lost faith in a better future. In movies books and computer games scenarios stress dystopias built on lies, brutality, and callous inequality. The basic message is that we are headed for a breakdown. It's an essentially hopeless vision

Fear is the greatest ally of conservativism. When a majority of the population comes to the point of thinking that tomorrow may well be worse than today, the only possible strategy it can see becomes that of preserving what exists in order to preserve their own interests. It subtly promotes the glorification of greed and selfishness. Which leads to hampering and preventing possible, potential change. We need to move past fear.

To those who say things will get worse, one answer is that of course is that they might. But another response is to argue that for people right now they are already quite bad enough and now is time to put it right. Rather than sinking into cynicism or clinging to fantasy, we must promote a practical programme for change, to resist despair, provide a positive vision, and confront capitalism's power with sound sustainable alternatives

Distrust of progress makes utopian aspirations unconvincing to most people in modern capitalist societies. This was not always the case, however. Utopian visions have been powerful levers for action in the past. We must recover the meaning of progress, not as an automatic reflex or an empty word, but as an act of positive political will . We should be, without hesitation unashamedly utopians. We must act in production, providing for the real needs of communities. There is no progress if it does not benefit all and if it is not accepted by all. We should strive for a new world where no-one is pigeon-holed to remain in the same job for decades. It must be a society where all of us are perpetually learning or relearning. This implies a radical change in our relation to work and to our crafts and professions and build a society that allows each one to change his or her life. We will take up the challenge of democracy. The historic principle of representation, the idea according to which the people exercise real power through the intermediary of their elected representatives will be rejected. The ballot represents the opinion of the citizens, and the rich diversity of an opinion cannot be reduced to the choice of one person or one proposition at any particular given time.

Never grow resigned, never bow or submit, never beat a retreat.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The war for wealth

Afghanistan's immense mineral wealth is estimated to be worth around £2trn, according to the Kabul government. Afghanistan's mineral wealth extends over a huge range of valuable resources: iron, gold, copper, niobium (used in hardening steel), uranium, marble, cobalt, mercury, caesium, molybdenum (a metal which can withstand high temperatures and is used to make various alloys), and other rare earth minerals. The country has especially valuable deposits of lithium, the metal used in the world's batteries. Indeed, a Pentagon official is on record suggesting that Afghanistan could be "the Saudi Arabia of lithium".

As far back as 2008, China agreed a deal to develop the Aynak copper mine in Logar province. This is said to be the world's second largest deposit of high-grade copper. The Afghan National Police has deployed 1,500 officers to guard the mine. As part of its agreement to develop a massive copper mine in Aynak, the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) is being asked to build a 575-mile railway from the mine, south-east of Kabul. One branch would head to the Pakistani border, another in the opposite direction through the capital and connecting with the new Hairatan line in the north. The deals are not confined to minerals. In late December, China's state-owned National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) won a contract for three oil fields in Zamarudsay, Kashkari, and Bazarkhami in the northern provinces of Sari Pul and Faryab, which will make it the first foreign company to exploit Afghan-istan's oil and natural gas reserves. The intention is that CNPC will build a refinery within three years, and this will be guarded by dedicated units of Afghan police and army.

Chinese state firms have also been involved with seven infrastructure projects, including roads in Kondoz and Jalalabad. They have also won contracts for telecommunications systems in Kandahar and Kabul. And last year, the Asian Development Bank announced it had allocated more than $200m for the development of the gas wells of Sheberghan, and an attendant pipeline.

Italy, Turkey and Germany are also actively pursuing deals. PricewaterhouseCoopers is advising the Ministry of Mines in Kabul, and the US bank JP Morgan is active, having put together a consortium that won rights to the Qara Zaghan gold deposits. An Indian consortium has secured the rights to two blocks in the huge Hajigak iron ore field, the other block going to a Canadian firm. The Afghan government is also negotiating with the Indian-led consortium that won the contract for the equally huge iron deposits at Tajigak in central Afghanistan for the companies to fund a 560-mile railroad – likely through Iran – to bring out the heavy ore. India will also contribute to the establishment of an Institute of Mines in Kabul, and last October signed a strategic partnership with Afghanistan.

China, Iran, Pakistan and India all have government or corporate plans for separate rail projects across Afghanistan. Turkmenistan is completing its own plans for another line, and it was Uzbekistan that built the first major rail link, a 47-mile line from the border town of Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north of Afghanistan. "We would be able to import and export to Russia, Turkey, and even European countries," says Noor Gul Mangal, Afghanistan's deputy public works minister. Opening new transport gateways would also reduce Afghanistan's dependence on neighbouring Pakistan as its only link to sea ports.

Private Road

For a few it will be the road to riches but for the many it is will result in a highay to hell

Miles of road in the UK:246,000
Miles of motorway: 2,200
Average annual car mileage in the UK: 8,430

Worldwide, somewhere from $50 billion to $150 billion worth of equity is waiting to be invested in infrastructure of all stripes (including assets like airports and water systems)

Thatcher presided over 42 privatisations, and in one of the final one decided to award the building of what was known as the North Birmingham Relief Road (now the M6 Toll) to a private company. To drive its 27-mile length costs a toll of £5.30 and it carries less than half the number of vehicles it was designed for. We no face a return to the era of turn-pike roads. In the early 19th century many toll-gates on the roads in Wales were operated by trusts which were supposed to maintain and even improve the roads, funding this from tolls. However, many trusts charged extortionate tolls and diverted the money raised to other uses. Even where this was not the case, the toll-gate laws imposed an additional financial burden on poor farming communities. The Rebecca Riots took place between 1839 and 1843 in South and Mid Wales.They were a series of protests undertaken by local farmers and agricultural workers in response to perceived unfair taxation. The rioters, often men dressed as women, took their actions against toll-gates,

A 2007 piece in Time magazine about American road privatisation: "Tolls often skyrocket under private owners, though with the blessing of elected officials, who avoid the political costs of raising tolls or taxes themselves. That's how privatised roads deliver double-digit returns for investors."

Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, who worked on the water sell-off as a junior Treasury official in the 1980s, said that while road privatisation could offer economic and environmental benefits, water was "exactly the wrong model" to pursue. "at the same time, the industry was privatised under an excessively lenient regulatory framework that clearly led to shareholders making very large excess profits at the expense of consumers." - the profits accrued to the 22 private water companies which last year passed £1bn

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign For Better Transport, said neither bus nor rail privatisation offered attractive blueprints either. The Government currently pays £5bn in an annual subsidy to the railways – compared with £1bn before the sell-off under John Major. Fragmentation of the different parts of the network has left fares in the UK 30 per cent higher than elsewhere in Europe while costs were 40 per cent more.
Bus deregulation and subsequent privatisation initially led to a sharp drop in use, particularly outside London, only recently rising with introduction of pensioner and disabled concessionary fares. "I don't think anybody, including the people who ran the buses, feel the way privatisation was done was a brilliant idea," he said. "What is needed is more integration. The danger is you will get bits of the infrastructure that the private sector will think it is able to make money out of," Mr Joseph added.,9171,1673288-2,00.html

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Doomsters

The current economic and social crisis is certainly a deep one and is driving capitalist states and capitalist companies towards some desperate measures to try and stabilise the system and restore (and where possible) increase real profit levels. But this is not to assume that particular capitalist governments or companies are stuck with only one set of inflexible policies. The problem is that isolated struggles by workers in the context of intense capitalist competition will give the capitalists more abillity to offload any gains made by one sector onto other workers The generalisation of struggle will make that harder for them to achieve this and can potentially push back the austerity measures accross a wider front at least on a temporary basis.

Alexander Berkman, the author of the anarchist ABC, put it, "capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just". Until people see through it capitalism will continue to stagger on from economic crisis to war to ecological crisis. To simply denounce finance capitalism as the main enemy is to side with industrial capital in the struggle between the two over how much each is to get of the wealth produced by the worker class. When we challenge capitalism, we challenge it all or we do not challenge it at all.

Can crisis, in certain circumstances provide an accelerant to the class struggle? And what will motivate the working class to overthrow capitalism if not the crisis of the latter? For decades self-proclaimed "Marxists" (especially Trotskyists) fetishise the word "crisis", and describe every economic downturn and political turn of events as the "crisis of capitalism" or even prophesising the "inevitable" (Manifesto) end of capitalism. Its proposed that in a crisis, the closer we are to revolution. The worse conditions become - the more politicised and inclined to take direct action the populace become. Some communists welcome the economic crisis of capitalism and claim there is no perspective of revolution without it. Some of those "Marxists" say "bring on the crisis" because for the working class things will not be able to continue as before. It is argued that without some form of crisis there's no reason at all for the proletariat to revolt. As long as capitalism can offer us palliatives (or at least the illusions of them) to soothe our exploitation, the system will survive It is argued that crises opens up the possibility of revolution, even if it doesn't guarantee it. But without crisis there is no possibility whatsoever. There unfortunately won't be a perspective of revolution with it, either. Genuine socialists prefer that working class living standards aren't severely cut. How do we agitate workers around this issue? "Cheers for the crisis"!! Most of the vanguard Left seems to be basing all of its activity around either recruiting workers into their particular party, or upon the vague hope that the working class will engage in some kind of spontaneous communist revolution. Wishing the massive impacts of a massive economic crisis/recession upon people's lives just in the hope that their fringe ideas will get picked up and perhaps adhered to by a handful of additional people, the contempt that it shows for humanity is disdainful. It also lays bare the complete and utter impotence of said movements in the first place. This overly optimistic wish fulfilment mixed with its crude utopian determinism does no justice to Marx.

Historically, it hasn't shown crises capable of producing anything that is favourable to the process of implementing a sustainable social and economic system that could both eclipse and be more progressive than the current form of organising society. The track records of crises are such that they have not produced a lasting positive effect on any attempts to eclipse the current method of organising society. We've seen countless crises since the birth of capitalism, all of which the effects of have been disproportionaly visited upon those who can least afford to bear those consequences, and none of which have ended up leaving the position of class struggle or even progressive social democratic politics in an enhanced position after the event, maybe for blips of time, but in the long run, crisis have been kinder to capitalism than they have to us - and those going into a crisis with power will invariably come out of the other end of it in a far better position than those who went into it with less power. Anyone who had a realistic view of the implications of the coming crisis relating to the environment, resources, food and population pressures would not be so gleeful in their wishing those effects upon an already downtrodden working class. Crisis in the main are useful to capitalism. Capitalism needs crisis to continually move onto the next stage and it is odd that those who are supposedly against capitalism wish for things that will help capitalism to reassert itself even wider and deeper than it currently is.

Communists will not bring consciousness to the working class from the outside but it will be developed in its struggles to defend itself against the inevitable intensification of the attacks against it. There's nothing inevitable about this and if the working class cannot rise to the occasion overall it gets defeated. The economic crisis (like war, etc.) can provide a stimulus for class struggle, but this is not always the case. In some circumstances it can demoralise the class or, even if the class struggles it can be dragged onto bourgeois terrain like the strikers in France in the 30s who supported leftist governments and marched under the national flag. Despite the considerable militancy, the class struggle was contained. What can happen is that the working class could be beat down more than it already has been in the previous decades. The working class is mostly under the sway of bourgeois ideology, is not organised even into class fighting organisations, and therefore is presently unable to threaten the bourgeoisie's power. The Great Depression produced no revolutionary upsurge and the appalling conditions of workers in the 3rd world haven't automatically led to social revolution in those countries either.We can perhaps even expect to see reactionary ideology make a resurgence amongst the working class, in the midst of any coming crisis. If the working class is not already prepared it will be divided and defeated. That is not appealing prospect.

Economic crisis and increasing misery for the working class doesn't necessarily and inevitably lead to revolution. Relying upon the effects of the crisis seems to be the lazy way to try and approach social change, scrap all the groundwork and hope the crisis does it for you. While it is argued that downturns make people angry and more susceptible to revolutionary ideas, the opposite may be true. It may be downturns just lead to despair, fatalism, acceptance of misery and cynicism to things getting better. Upturns in the economy make revolution more likely because it is the human condition never to be satisfied and when you've got the job, house, wages, car and all the mod cons then you want more - security, control over your own life which can only be got by workers ownership and control of our own work, residents ownership of their own homes and individuals control over our lives, all of which can only be got by anarcho-communism by way of social revolution. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That is our basic function: to develop alternatives, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable. The best we can hope for is to use this as an opportunity to re-group, in order to get the working class in a stronger position to start from when the boom returns. All we can do is to try to negotiate the best terms possible and try to resist as effectively as we can the increased downward pressures on wages and working conditions (for which we need collective organisation and action, even within the existing trade unions). As to what revolutionaries can do, at the moment being so small a minority, we can't do much more than keep on arguing that the only way-out is to replace capitalism by a system based on common ownership (instead of class ownership) and production solely for use (instead of production for profit) and to keep on urging workers to self-organise themselves democratically to bring this social revolution about

The whole point of class struggle is about winning gains, making our lifes better, getting better conditions at work, at home and in society, things that the bulk of the population can easily measure in terms of the direct affect on their day to day lives. We are not going to get much support for our ideas if we come out with argument like "well your living standards may well have declined, your worse off now than when we started, and we havn't gained anything in terms of changing the incredibly unjust system of organising society, but just look at the enormous gains we've made in terms of the class struggle" - the whole point is to win real tangible gains that in turn can bolster people and show it can be done, thus allowing momentum to build, more people won over to a critical analysis of the society they live in, more ideas developed for such a time that when the crisis does come so that the right ideas are lying around, in sufficent depth and breadth, that they can be picked up and used, and some good made out of a crisis. But until that time comes it's just pissing against the wind. Struggles should be aimed towards achieving real gains for the sake of those gains or delivering 'an increased confidence, autonomy, initiative,participation, solidarity, egalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses', but all of these are a means to and end and that end should be measurable in terms of improvements in our lives. Workers benefit from their struggles in terms of learning how to organise, discovering their collective power, etc.

Like it or not but capitalism did deliver huge increases in the standards of living over various phases, take the post-war golden age for example, capitalism in the social democratic era brought about a flourishing of consumer capitalism ) The intention of this was not to increase conditions and the general living conditions of the working class, but it was a means to an end for capitalism to accumulate more, and as we know capital will do anything if it means being able to accumulate more, so from that point of view capitalism was happy to, and indeed was required to, deliver a vast increase in living standards and quality of life compared with previous periods of history. In order for it to do this it meant wreaking havoc in other areas and storing up problems for the future, but the bottom line was that the general conditions of the working class have improved under capitalism. You could argue however that conditions have just improved because time has moved on and those improvements would have been seen in any method of organising society, but that would be indulging in what-if's. A substantial amount of the demands of early reformists and the like have actually been delivered. It is it's galling to perhaps admit these things but it does help if you want change, to actually know where you are before embarking on any activity, practical or theoretical, aimed at bringing about that change.

Marx said in the Holy Family:
"Not in vain does it go through the stern but steeling school of labour. It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will historically be compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is visibly and irrevocably foreshadowed in its own life situation as well as in the whole organization of bourgeois society today."

Consciousness is something that workers has to acquire, even if it does not want to.

The liberation of our class will only come about when we, the class ourselves, for ourselves, do the hard work of organising, which needs that we class conscious workers doing the equally hard work of convincing our fellow workers. At the end of the day , as pro-revolutionaries, it is not in our interest to try and save capitalism but rather to destroy it and to encourage current struggles to develop on an independent, self-organised, class basis and extend accross national boundaries which may well give rise to an escalation of the social crisis and starts to challenge capitalism as a whole from a position of some class strength. Only the self-organisation of the proletariat contains the potential to defend its own interests both in the short-term economic and the longer term political. A working class that can't defend itself is also a working class that is incapable of making a revolution.

Marx wrote "Philosophers have only tried to understand the world. The point is to change it."
The IWW sang "Don't moan, Organise!"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Peak Phosphorus

Many have heard the expression "peak oil", the point here oil reserves begin to decline. Less well known is "peak phosphorus". Our dwindling supply of phosphorus, a primary component underlying the growth of global agricultural production, threatens to disrupt food security across the planet during the coming century. This is the gravest natural resource shortage you've never heard of.

Farmers treat their fields with phosphorus-rich fertilizer to increase the yield of their crops. However, arge amounts of this resource are lost from farm fields, through soil erosion and runoff. The world's reliance on phosphorus is an unappreciated aspect of the "Green Revolution," a series of agricultural innovations that made it possible to feed the approximately 4.2 billion-person increase in the global population since 1950. This massive expansion of global agricultural production required a simultaneous increase in the supply of key resources, including water and nitrogen. Without an increase in phosphorus, however, crops would still have lacked the resources necessary to fuel a substantial increase in production, and the Green Revolution would not have gotten off the ground.

By 2008, industrial farmers were applying an annual 17 million metric tons of mined phosphorus on their fields. Demand is expanding at around 3 percent a year -- a rate that is likely to accelerate due to rising prosperity in the developing world (richer people consume more meat) and the burgeoning bioenergy sector, which also requires phosphorus to support crop-based biofuels.

Our supply of mined phosphorus is running out. Many mines used to meet this growing demand are degrading, as they are increasingly forced to access deeper layers and extract a lower quality of phosphate-bearing rock (phosphate is the chemical form in which nearly all phosphorus is found). Some initial analyses from scientists with the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative estimate that there will not be sufficient phosphorus supplies from mining to meet agricultural demand within 30 to 40 years. The United States has only 12 phosphorus mines. The supplies from the most productive mine, in Florida, are declining rapidly -- it will be commercially depleted within 20 years.

The geographic concentration of phosphate mines also threatens to usher in an era of intense resource competition. Nearly 90 percent of the world's estimated phosphorus reserves are found in five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan, and the United States. (In comparison, the 12 countries that make up the OPEC cartel control only 75 percent of the world's oil reserves.) This fact could spark international tension and even influence how countries attempt to draw their internal boundaries. Many of Morocco's phosphate mines are in Western Sahara, a disputed independent territory that is occupied by Morocco and the site of growing international human rights concerns. The United States exported phosphorus for decades but now imports about 10 percent of its supply, all from Morocco

Increased demand for fertilizer and the decreased supply of phosphorus exports will result in higher prices, significantly affecting millions of farmers in the developing world who live on the brink of bankruptcy and starvation. Rising fertilizer prices could tip this balance. Between 2003 and 2008, phosphate fertilizer prices rose approximately 350 percent.

Violent Socialists?

It has become a commonplace to declare that "one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter." Many leaders of movements for "national liberation" (the so-called terrorists) have subsequently become part of the ruling class they once fought. Most who killed and were killed did so in the belief that they were creating a better and more just society than the one they lived in. But violence has failed to deliver a better life to those who indulged in it and suffered from it.

Socialists have always opposed both violent struggles for "national liberation" and the "legitimate" wars fought between nation states. We see that causing more of it cannot lead to an end to the suffering in the world. If you sincerely believe in the efficacy of violence to solve your own and the world’s problems then you simply deny the evidence of history. It is interesting how often politicians and journalists who steadfastly support violence when it comes from what they think is “their own” side, nevertheless quickly explode with anger when it comes from someone else. Every side, in any of the disputes raging round the world at the moment, claim that their own violence is only made necessary because of the violence coming from their opponents. The truth of the matter is that capitalism inevitably produces violence.

Violence will not make people into socialists. What many groups can’t stand about the Socialist Party is that we do not advocate violence and therefore cannot offer a practical programme of activity based on it. We are labelled ‘theoretical’ (as if this being a term of abuse!). No violence, no death or injury, will bring socialism any closer. Socialism will be brought about when the great majority of the world’s people want it to be brought about. We want to change people’s ideas. Violence will not make people into Socialists. Cudgeling someone’s head is not going to alter the ideas inside that head, at least in any worthwhile way. Rational discussion will finally make socialists. We believe that by considered argument we can show how co-operation and mutual assistance will achieve what we all want to achieve – a peaceful, harmonious, and contented existence. But Socialist Party members are not Quakers or pacifists, and do not rule out the need for violence under all circumstances. We simply argue that it is quite possible, and highly desirable, for a large majority to establish socialism without bloodshed. The more violence is involved, the more likely the revolution is to fail outright, or be blown sideways into a new minority dictatorship.

Violence we leave to others.