Monday, March 30, 2009

After Jacqui - comes the Jacquerie?

WHAT with class warriors smashing the windows of a disgraced but over-rewarded banker's home and Merc in Morningside, and growing anger among Home Counties mortgage-payers who previously thought the system was fine, something has to be done.

One trick is to pretend that anti-capitalism is the preserve of weirdos and nutters, if not terrorists, determined to halt daily life and the fun of commuting, and rob us of all we hold dear, or expensively. Tens of thousands of people marched through London on Saturday, behind the slogan "Put people first!" There were trades unionists and Fair Trade campaigners, Salvationists and student militants, people concerned about child poverty, and the environment, and war. Communist Party red flags were outnumbered by Green Party placards, and I think I even spotted the odd Labour Party banner.

The turn-out was all the more remarkable because this demo had not had huge publicity. For the previous week the television news and London Evening Standard were full of a south London anthropology professor with some curious ideas on menstruation, and supposed plans to storm the City, appropriately on April Fools Day.
I met Chris Knight a couple of times some years back, when his Reclaim the Streets crowd joined demonstrations supporting the Liverpool dockers, and he had discussions with some of my Marxist friends. I could have done without the drums banging inside Conway hall when I was trying to talk to people, but by and large they seemed a decent lot, and Chris himself a nice chap, even if some of his idea seemed a bit far out. I can't imagine him really claiming to command the assault troops, though his house was shown in the news as the "headquarters" for Wednesday's operations. Chris said they would be checking which offices were lit up, and wasting electricity, to the planet's detriment. I wondered if "PUT THAT LIGHT OUT!" would be the slogan, and whether instead of WRP paper sellers we would be seeing Chris and co. in ARP uniform.

Somehow the reporters managed to extract talk of hanging City gents not just in effigy but for real, and a warning that "if the police want violence, they will get it". Unfortunately, I think that is true, and not due to Chris Knight or any other "extremists" but the way the police operate. We have had the build-up, Mayor Boris has garnished his praise of the City bankers with a remark about ringed-nose protesters, and on Saturday for some obscure reason known to themselves the Met had a double line of police across the entrance of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, as though expecting us to storm it. We're not against electricity, it's the bills. Poor old Chris Knight has been suspended by his University, and I think we'll have to defend the chump. After all you don't hear of them sacking right-wing professors whose anti-working class economic advice helped get us into this mess.

There was an international dimension to Saturday's demonstration, in slogans about Gaza and Iraq,and Afghanistan, and in contingents of trade unionists from Germany, Italy and France. I was there with the Jewish Socialists' Group's banner, in front of us were some young people with a Greek banner, and behind us at the start were a group exuberantly chanting in Spanish, though later they were overtaken by a lively crowd of students from Scotland, chanting slogans about Palestine, as well as getting rid of the rich, and that fine chant it's good to hear revived: "Unemployment and inflation, are not caused by immigration, Bullshit! Come off it! The enemy is PROFIT! "

Divide and conquer is an old imperialist game, and the press and right-wing politicians have long been scapegoating immigrant workers and asylum seekers for the problems caused by capitalism. The far-Right British National Party is hoping to make the most of this, and of the current crisis occurring under Labour government which union leaders support, with European elections coming up. The Left is as confused as ever, many taking the recent strikes and demonstrations over construction jobs at oil refineries and power plants as "reactionary", even "racialist", because of the improvised slogan "British Jobs for British Workers", in other words taking at face value what the media told them about it, and not seeing the underlying class issues and frustrations with restrictions on union action.

Now to further complicate matters the leadership of the RMT union, influenced by the Communist Party of Britain, has honoured its turn towards independence from New Labour, by pledging to stand trade unionist candidates in the Euro elections, but under the label "No 2 EU -Yes to Democracy'. The Socialist Party has decided to join this alliance, though some other left-wing groups are being kept out, some say because of their stand against the Lindsey workers. On Saturday's demo a No 2 EU supporter was inviting us to join, saying we should stop European capitalist interests making us privatise our services and industries.

Now hang on! British capitalism, under Thatcher's Tories and Blair's New Labour, has pushed further and faster than any foreign bosses or bureaucrats in privatising (or letting industries go altogether), without needing any pressure from outside. Our bosses have also been among the worst in opposing any regulations on their right to exploit workers. When my union had a large banner on its headquarters at the last election, saying "Keep Britain Working with Labour", I had to ask if this referred to them raising the pension age or resisting the working hours directive. British workers have fewer rights and more restrictions than many in Europe, while Gordon Brown bails out the bankers without restricting their payouts. The New Labour government is persevering with City academies that let business run our schools, and is using taxpayers money to support the Private Finance Initiatives that were Brown's great idea for public services.

In short, though European Union business policies and developments in the European Court are a real issue to be resisted, it is quite unreal to pretend that all our troubles come from Europe. It is also very much against the internationalist spirit in which the RMT, to its credit, has made links in joint campaigns with French and German railworkers. But it might suit the patriotic inclinations of some old Stalinists, who used to love waving the Union Jack on demonstrations even before the fascists adopted it, and will do anything to play down class issues in the hope of wooing 'our' bosses against the foreign variety. Even though the far Right, far from suffering the competition, might be the beneficiaries of such confusion. Not that I'm going to write off this move to pose an alternative to Labour yet. Some of the people decrying it seem to be suffering sour grapes after trying to join and being rebuffed. Hopefully class may yet prevail.

The third way of deflecting anger from the very rich bankers is to fix sights on targets a bit lower down -the Labour ministers and MPs, and some trade union leaders too, whose needs are so much greater than us ordinary folk, so they can only stay at the finest and most expensive hotels, and besides their considerable salaries they must have us pay for their second houses and every appurtenance, be it new carpets, a shower, or sink plug. This is a tricky area for Tory papers to go into - people in glass houses, and so on- but these are desperate times, and risks have to be taken. Anyway, New Labour does so open itself up, both to contempt and ridicule. We have been learning about Tony McNulty(Harrow), and Dawn Butler(Brent South), who claim forsecond homes in their constituencies - not in the Orkneys or Shetlands but on the Metropolitan Line in North West London, places from which thousands of other people commute to work in central London every day..

But the latest embarrassment came with the report that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had submitted expenses for her constituency home that included hire of two "adult movies" - it seems these were watched by her husband in her absence, and included on a TV and internet invoice without her realising it.

Amid the ribaldry and derision this brought on her head, I also felt a tinge of anger with whoever had been privileged to see this bill and thought it worth passing to the newspapers - whether from political motive or for personal profit. Many years ago when I had a job which gave me access to information about telephone calls people made, and copies of telegrams, I had to sign the Official Secrets Act. But legality aside, isn't there something unclean about prying into what movies people watch, or selling private paperwork? The "public money" involved is small in the overall picture, and so what pretends to be "public interest" may just be prurience.

But then I remembered that it is Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary who would oversee government plans for a private company to run a "superdatabase" that will track all our emails, calls, texts, internet use and so on.
"No government of any colour is to be trusted with such a roadmap to our souls", warns Ken McDonald, former head of the Crown Prosecution Service. Besides the infringement of civil liberties, campaigners say this is a major risk to our private data - but won't make us any safer. "The sheer amount of information that the Government intends to collect will be impossible to analyse properly and will undoubtedly turn up false positives while missing potential security threats amongst the morass of spam emails and private chat".

We may also recall how good this government has been at safeguarding its own data - or easily some of the private firms brought in to handle confidential information have been losing it. We have also been reminded recently how big firms pay good money for spying and information about employees, to use in victimisation and blacklisting.

Maybe Jacqui Smith, if she manages to keep her job, will reconsider. Having seen how easily the personal becomes political, the Home Secretary has been, to use a couple of cliches, hoist with her own petard, and given a foretaste of her own medicine.

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At 7:23 PM, Anonymous A Very Public Sociologist said...

Dear Charlie

I didn't have an email address for you, so I hope you don't mind me leaving this here.

I'm writing to invite you to take part in the Carnival of Socialism. The Carnival has been bringing a fortnightly round up of everything that's going on in the global socialist blogosphere for the last three years, and draws from a wide and eclectic mix of blogs. It has had the added bonus of helping the blogging left become a more cohesive and welcoming place, as well as delivering more audiences to the blogs that have already taken part.

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Phil BC (A Very Public Sociologist)


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