Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Sorry Torys, But Unions Must be Political Forces!

The issue of unions has always been a controversial one. Proponents on the left argue that Unions allow workers to fight for their rights against the interests of the capitalists, while detractors on the left argue that unions are an ineffective and poor way of organising. This controversy is further added to by the fact that historically, unions have always come attack from elite interests. This ranges from the struggle for the eight hour day, to the struggle for the minimum wage. Whatever your opinion on the subject, it is undeniable that Unions have had an important part to play in the history of social activism. These days, some unions are not exactly the most militant’s forces in the world. Groups such as Unite often have hierarchical structures, have a tendency to do deals with bosses that stab the rank and file in the back and to organise A to B marchers that fail to achieve anything. Despite these faults, it is important to remember to always support strikes when they happen, and to take it as a principle, never to cross a picket line!  An example of a union without these faults, is the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), a left wing union that organises direct action against unfair treatment of workers. It seems strange then, that in the face of rampant attacks from the government on the rights of workers and students, that some conservatives disregard the political function of unions, Instead arguing that unions political functions is in conflict with unions function to represent everyone. This controversy can be most recently seen in the case of Conservative Students in places such as Oxford and Cambridge urging, and incidentally losing, a referendum on disaffiliation from the National Union of Students (NUS). This blog post will look at the case concerning the NUS, arguing that both workers and students unions share a political project, and that unions cannot be de – politicised, as their function to represent workers and students is a necessarily political one.  
 

What are the problems facing Students and Workers?

At the heart of right wing policy is to make sure everything works in the interests of profit, and I am disappointed to say that universities and workplaces have not escaped the scourge of privatisation. The government’s university minister, Jo Johnson, has already said that planned higher education (HE) reforms are about turning universities into a ‘pipeline’ for directing students finishing their degrees, into the economy. This means that under these plans, courses will be judged based solely whether they meet that sole requirement that Tory’s like Jo Johnson love to laud over so much: Can the skills on offer make a profit? What this means is that, if the Higher education reforms are allowed to continue, degrees that are not considered as employable as others - such as the creative arts, will be scrapped. This is regardless of the fact that many students want to study these subjects anyway, and that there is clearly value to education beyond increasing your labour power. Plans to introduce price competition among universities, by raising tuition fees and selling publicly funded care services in universities to private providers, further show off the right wing desire to turn education into a commodity to be bought and sold. All the while this is going on, so called counter terrorism schemes such as prevent, excessively curb students liberty, while gender and racial discrimination still occurs on college campuses and student mental health problems constantly grow worse. If you care about students, you have a duty to view this as a political fight.
While it may look at first, as if there is not much of a link, the ideology of ‘scrap everything that can’t make a profit’ is exactly the same one that is driving the privatisation and cutting of the NHS and our other public services. Furthermore, problems such as counter terrorism, harassment and mental health are not limited to education alone by any means. All this is clearly driving discontent, not only among students, but among workers. With regard to the Higher Education reforms, the NUS recently passed a boycott motion, after surveying students. In light of these facts, how dare anyone argue that the fight to represent the interests of students and workers is not is not a political one, and that organisations such as unions ought not to take sides. If you care about this situation in the slightest you have an obligation to take sides against the profiteers, and in the interests of those whom these problems effect the most.

There are problems with unions, but disaffiliation is not the answer

You would have to be pretty naïve to suggest that there are no problems with Unions whatsoever. Most notably, their lack of democracy contradicts the basic principal that unions rest upon, that workers and students should have the right to organise independent of tyranny from bosses or profit interests. It is probably for this reason, that unions tend to operate along a set of safe ideas and principles that fail to challenge dominant power structures. Such principles include not proposing anything revolutionary, and not taking part in any actions which harm the image of the union. A notable example of this is the National Union of Student’s decision to pull support for the Free Education demonstration in 2014, on the grounds of ‘safety concerns’. Incidentally, there are also problems with antisemitism on the left, which despite being weaponised by the right for their own political agendas, need to be addressed.  In light of these problems, students and workers must organise for more democratic unions that reflect their interests, and do not act as capitalistic institutions in themselves.
Despite these problems, the conservative approach will clearly make these problems worse, not better. It promotes a view of unions as organisations used to facilitate the role of students and workers, as consumers to be exploited by the capitalist system. As such, any meaningful political action that is proposed under this view of unions, will be dismissed as lefty nonsense. The appeals to lack of Democracy and Censorship that we are seeing from conservatives today are simply attempts to hide the fact that we have got an education system and an economy subordinated to the interests of profit. One might even question how a union represents both conservatives and socialists, when historically it is conservatives who have gutted social movements, and whose principles firmly contradict the principles of the left.  Indeed, in my opinion, to view people as passive drones capable of nothing but consuming, working and leisure time, is a deeply misguided view that is corrosive to social movements that are trying to make the world a better place. It is for these reasons that conservatives contest the idea of representation and politics as being necessary components of each other.  

Conclusion

Conclusively, Unions have a proud history of fighting fascism and fighting for workers’ rights, all these were distinctly political actions which involved taking sides. Conservative groups pushing for disaffiliation from unions fail to understand that the problems students face today are distinctly political ones, caused by market interests. Whatever problems we identify with unions, it should be made clear that in the face of a government working on dismantling our rights, we need the solidarity that workplace and university organising offers us, more than ever. 

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Brazil have been the victim of Coup, But This Does not Mean They Are Anti Imperalist

Brazil’s government, led by the Workers Party was recently the victim of a coup. They have been replaced by an even worse interim government, led by the vindictive right wing Michel Temer. This has led to anti - imperialist sentiment among many alternative media outlets and even some government officials in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Before we go any further I do need to point out that America do of course have an innate interest in securing their position of global dominance. Indeed, I concluded in my last blog post that after the Second World War, the geopolitical system saw the US position themselves as the defenders of the free world, and that this has since been used in defence of much of US foreign policy in Latin America and the Middle East. Despite this, in order to offer a fair analysis, we must look at the role of governments that use anti-imperialist rhetoric, and whether this rhetoric is really genuine. I will attempt to argue in this blog post that despite such anti-empire rhetoric, the undemocratic nature of Temers coup government, and America’s position in the world, BRICS countries such as Brazil under the Workers Party are also guilty of supporting imperialism and suppressing their own people.

The reaction to the Coup
The coup of Rousseff’s government in Brazil, has given rise to the notion among some left wing commentators like Hugo Turner, that the so called ‘anti-imperialist’ BRICS Empire is under attack by the CIA and US empire. Activist groups from around the world like Brazil’s Movement of Landless Workers, have come out to speak out against what they see as this gross violation of democracy and peoples rights. In fact, to be fair to BRICs sympathisers, the American government have acted in an imperialistic way towards this set of countries in the past. For example, it has recently come to light that in 1962, the CIA assisted in the arrest and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela by the Apartheid state, and that they kept him on their terrorist watch list until 2008. This resulted in an ANC spokesperson accusing the CIA of ‘collaborating with those who want regime change’. Admittedly, making a statement like this at a time when Standard and Poors and Fitch are investigating South Africa’s credit rating, and when there has just been a political coup in Brazil, is going to provoke a reaction from those with left wing, anti-imperialist attitudes. This leads us to consider the truth value of claims about imperialism being the cause of the coup in Brazil.
Firstly, pro Rousseff activists are right in saying that a coup has happened in Brazil, and I wish them all the best in fight against the right wing government of Temer.  However, was this a Coup led by the US government and orchestrated in the interests of imperialism? The casual observer may be tempted to answer a definitive yes, especially as WikiLeaks have recently found that Temer worked for the US state 10 years ago, being described by the American Government as a ‘political opportunist’. However, upon further inspection this fact serves as insufficient to proving that this was a US led coup. Indeed, even Roussef herself, in an interview with Russian News Outlet Russia Today, made clear that she did not believe that her downfall had anything to do with imperialism, instead attributing it to a plot amongst the old Brazilian oligarchy. For further evidence of this, we can turn to transcripts published by Brazil’s largest Newspaper, which reveal secret conversations between The Brazilian planning minister and former oil executive Sergio Machado. Both these people were targets of the ‘Carwash’ corruption investigation, and agreed that the only way to end the investigation would be the impeachment of the Roussef government. It should come as no surprise then that upon ascension to office Temer appointed multiple ministers directly involved in corruption scandals and crime! Overall, with regard to who carried out the coup, we can reasonably conclude that it was the result of plotting by the Brazilian elite and not a result of imperialism. This is not to say that the US government foreign policy is not imperialistic, but simply that this does not show that the BRICS being under attack by the US. This leads us to consider Rouseffs record in government and how Rouseffs government, despite their rhetoric, have been guilty of enforcing a form of sub – imperialism.  

Brazil’s neoliberal agenda
Most people who hold the view, that the coup witnessed in Brazil is an example of imperialism, are also likely to harbour under the impression that Brazil and other BRICS government represent a progressive position that seeks to decentralize power from the west. This is a view echoed by not only mainstream publications in BRICS countries, but also by many activists. I would like to use this section of this blog post to dispel the notion that Brazil was somehow an anti-imperialist regime under the Workers Party!
While introducing some mild reforms that are likely to be repealed under Temer, Brazil like all the other BRICs countries have worked in the interests of the powerful minority while laying waste to people’s rights and the environment in the process. This is reflected by Brazil’s actions with regard to institutions of global governments such as the IMF and WTO. In fighting for increased voting power in such institutions, by conspiring with the US and EU, they have limited the power of countries such as Africa and India and China to vote on issues which affect millions of people, such as vital food subsidies. An important point to make here, is that it is hardly representative of a group of countries working together against imperialism, when they each actively try and limit each other’s power. In addition to this, Brazil have an utterly catastrophic record on environmental issues. Not only have Brazil been signatories to treaties such as the Copenhagen Accord, which have set absolutely futile emissions targets and ridiculously allowed them to count other countries emissions reductions as part of their own targets, but they have also worked with the EU to prevent victims of environmental disaster in the global south, from suing the global north over their climate debt. Lastly, considering Brazil is supposed to have a ‘right to protect’, it has done absolutely nothing to oppose the crimes carried out by the UN military in Haiti, since the US led toppling of Haiti’s democratically elected government in 2004. How the hell can Rousseff claim to be anti-imperialist when she herself supported policies which themselves supported the imperialist agenda. The truth is that Brazil and other BRICS countries are happy to use anti-imperialist rhetoric when it suits them, but in reality they are nothing of the sort.
The right wing are awful but Workers Party are not the answer
As you should be able to guess, Temer’s interim government’s main priority seems to be the transference of all political power to the country’s elites. Indeed, Temer seems so open to this idea that one of his first moves upon ascending to office was to install an all-male, all - white government. Chief among some of its ministers are agricultural minister Blario Maggi who will be responsible for mass deforestation, and Alexandre de Moraes, a secretary of security who encouraged violence against children during protests about school closures.  Much of their justification for their policies come from the rancid free market ideology that the Brazilian government is just too big. However, far from meaning this in any meaningful sense, Temer’s government have used this as an excuse to cut funding for art and culture projects. 
What is ironic here, is that Temer’s government is empowered by Rousseff’s own anti-terrorism bill to suppress protests, currently being encouraged by Rousseff herself. Also, as previously mentioned, Rouseffs horrendous record on climate change should save the Temer administration a lot of hassle when it comes to trashing the environment. In addition to this, While the new regime in Brazil have made it a personal mission of theirs to dismantle the country’s public services such as the universal health care program currently in place in the country, neglect of dangerous environments and scarce Resources by the Workers Party administration, has led to the empowerment of  private profiteers throughout the country. This inefficient running of services that people need to survive, has fostered the ideology that government is unable to provide these services, and that they would be better managed in private hands. Overall, while the Temer government is awful it is largely empowered by many of Rousseff’s policies. Any successful attempt to save the Workers Party, will just push them to the right in an attempt to appeal to the country’s elite interests.  Therefore, the aim of the current protests in Brazil should not be to save Roussef but to establish a democratic system that guarantees everybody the right to wellbeing.
Conclusion
Conclusively, the US is a real and dangerous threat to peace, and an end to imperialism. Furthermore, Brazil will continue to get worse as long as Temer is allowed to rule. Despite this, arguing from this that Brazil and the BRICs government represent a progressive role in the world, is simply not grounded in evidence. Rather, they seem to have acted in the interests of imperialism and oppression, whenever it suits them. The same can be said for many social democrats all around the world. Therefore, in order to build a world that is truly democratic, we must realise that true anti-imperialism lies not in the governments of Brazil or South Africa, but in grassroots direct action against capitalism and statism.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

No U.S President Has Ever Expressed Regret For The Hiroshima Bombing - And Neither Will Obama

Tomorrow, President Obama will make a speech at Hiroshima - One of the two targets of the 1945 atomic bombings at the end of the Second World War, which brought so much destruction to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now, many people the world over, consider the events at the two Japanese cities to be a chilling incitement of how humans are capable of treating each other, when presented with war and technology capable of wiping out large populations of people. Since 1945, not one American president, Democrat or Republican, has expressed regret or apology about the awful crimes committed by the US government at the end of the Second World War.  However much of a politician’s apology it would be, Obama could use his speech to change perceptions of Hiroshima. However, as someone held up by leading democrats and the mainstream media as a legendary orator, at this speech president Obama will make a careful attempt to revise the existing narrative about Hiroshima that it was a necessary evil or even a positive good. Furthermore, the US president may offer a vague memorial of the dead at Hiroshima before asserting that we still live in a troubled world and that any attempts to keep nuclear weapons involves their ‘modernization’, as America have been trying to do to their nuclear arsenal. Overall, this blog post looks at the motivations behind the brutal attacks in 1945 and what can be learnt from them.
 

Mainstream discourse on American treatment of the Japanese

When Germany and Japan first began bombing cities in the 1930s, The American government expressed horror at the loss of civilian life inflicted on these cities. As President Roosevelt, addressing the governments of France, Italy, Germany and Britain, stated ‘This profoundly shocks the conscience of humanity’. Of course, this horror was expressed until America perfected its own bombing techniques, culminating in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Bombings which would kill a quarter of a million civilians. While bombing committed by neither side of the conflict can be justified, it shows severe hypocrisy when bombings are condemned by the US government, only to be later used to wipe out millions of people.
In light of President Obamas so called ‘historic’ visit to Hiroshima, the mainstream media are not holding back on hypocrisy. Some outlets, such as the Boston Globe, have even stated, that while the bombing of Hiroshima was bad, the US occupation that followed bought prosperity and civilisation to a Japanese culture that had been savage and brutal, therefore starting a long lasting ‘friendship’ between the two countries. One would be totally justified in wondering how on earth, the suppression of any discussion of the bombings by the US military, and the prohibition of Japanese Medical research into the effects of atomic radiation, constitutes making a culture more civilised. Indeed, it seems strange that this is the attitude of the mainstream media, considering the attitude of many American generals in 1945, like admiral Arthur Radford,  was that it would be entirely justified to bomb Japan until it was ‘a nation without cities’. This is nothing new however, the mainstream press in America have been clamouring to establish such viewpoints on the bombings, since they took place. A survey in 1945 found that 23 per cent of American respondents at the time, wished that America had the opportunity to use many more atomic bombs before Japan could surrender, while another poll in 1944 had an eighth of Americans responding to the question of ‘how we should treat the Japanese after the war’, with the condemnation of ‘kill them all’. All this occurred remember, while the Japanese were locked in internment camps throughout America, and the US were busy destroying Japanese infrastructure to make space for direct investment. While this was going on, the US media were busy whipping up fanaticism and racism so the bombing could be supported. It is for this reason that, on the eve of a visit to Hiroshima by the US President, that the mainstream press constantly look for new excuses to justify the attacks.   

Were the Bombings Really Necessary?

The common defence offered for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that, despite being horrific, the bombings were necessary to bring an end to the Second World War and to prevent more fighting. Despite this, looking at the evidence, this argument simply falls apart. For proof of this we can turn to military expertise at the time. Dwight D Eisenhower, who before becoming president was supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe, told Newsweek in 1963 that ‘the Japanese were ready to surrender’ and that bombing them ‘was not necessary’. Furthermore, even some prominent American military commanders admitted that the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a mistake, with Major General Curtis Le May going as far to argue that the bombing ‘had nothing to do with the war ending’ and that the war would have been over shortly without the Russians entering and without the Japanese cities being bombed. In light of this, it seems odd that some still argue that the bombing somehow saved hundreds of Japanese and American lives by preventing a bloody invasion.
The honest truth about the situation is that by the time that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place, The Surrender of Nazi Germany and the worsening health of Japanese armed forces, made the country extremely isolated and weak. This weakness was also reflected among the Japanese population who despite being subjected to food rationing since 1941, were facing scarce resources and were scared of Japan dropping over into famine. All this poses the question, if the United States Government knew of the state Japan was in at the end of the Second World War, why did they act in such an inhumane way by dropping the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities? To answer this, we have to consider the political system that emerged after the Second World War, where America were viewed as the defenders of the free world and there emerged a pervasive fear of communism throughout the entire western world. This was used to not only send out a message to Russia about America’s dominance, but also to justify attacks on Latin American countries with somewhat progressive regimes, such as Guatemala. It was at the point when President Truman dropped the bombs, when America and the Capitalist world purposefully held up a threat to the rest of the world. Despite political gestures such as the one we will see from Obama in Hiroshima that threat still remains in place.

America are not interested in disarmament

Going back briefly to the issue of mainstream discourse, many of the mainstream newspapers in America have labelled Obamas trip to Hiroshima as proof as his desire to bring an end to the world’s stockpiling of nuclear weapons and make sure a nuclear attack does not take place. Despite his, these can just be viewed as empty words for a number of reasons.  Firstly, even if Obama is interested in non-proliferation, his moves to do this as American President are, considering Americas signing of the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty forty five years ago, futile at best. In fact, rather than abiding by the treaty which demands that nuclear states disarm, America now seem to have quite the stockpile of the killing machines.  This has been rightly condemned by the Non Aligned movement, who represent over 50 non-nuclear states, as being ‘a lack of progress by the nuclear weapons states’. Furthermore, to those arguing that the Obama administration wants disarmament, it is important to remember that they initiated a thirty trillion dollar nuclear upgrades programme, ensuring the US will continue to fail to look after its own population and flout its superiority for decades to come.

Conclusion

Overall, President Obamas visit to the site of the Hiroshima bombings is nothing more than an empty political action. While if it were an apology it would still come across as pretty empty, the people that work for Obama have already made it clear enough that it is not. Despite this, sad stories emerging of Obama stood at the site of the Hiroshima bombing will do nicely to support the anti-nuclear proliferation narrative that democrats love to show themselves of as supporting, while reasserting their status as great leaders. If you need evidence of this, you need look no further than Truman’s denouncement of nuclear weapons, and yet refusal to show regret for the bombings. At the speech tomorrow, Obama will present the attacks as a necessary evil and not an unforgivable dark moment for humanity, and as long as this mind-set of nuclear weapons exist among ordinary Americans or politicians, the further we will be from a peaceful world.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The EU - Turkey Migrant Deal - Immoral and Impractical

Since the current refugee situation started, the European Union has gone from ignoring the situation, to trying to let many refugees into Europe. Despite this, a recent deal between the EU and Turkey, despite being labelled historic by the EU and mainstream media, could serve as a conduit for further oppression of migrants and Turkish citizens. It has already been agreed, between the European commission and the Dutch EU presidency, that the migrant situation constitutes a humanitarian crisis: Since the death of Alan Kurdi, an estimate of two children trying to cross into Europe have died every day. Also, the Greek state has declared itself on the cusp of being overwhelmed with an average of 2,500 migrants a day. In addition to this, the route through the Balkans – the travel of choice for most refugees - remains unsafe. The Visegard states have been trying to form their own independent immigration policies, while rampant migrant hunting vigilantes and corrupt police officers mugging refugees also pose a threat. Now, with borders being closed and fences springing up along Greek borders, as well as in places such as Serbia and Croatia, the EU and turkey have agreed on a migrant deal. However, as I will explain in this article, this deal is anything but historic and anything but a humanitarian way of dealing with the crisis.

The Deal is Inhumane towards refugees

Under the EU turkey deal, all migrants crossing through turkey to the Greek islands by boat, will be returned to Turkey. For every refugee returned to turkey, another refugee will be resettled from turkey to the EU, however this is capped on the European side at 72,000. Since this deal has been passed, camps on Greek islands such as Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Kos are being drained of refugees. All arrivals to these camps, Moria being the main one, are identified, registered and fingerprinted before being processed into the asylum system. Despite this, there are a number of moral implications here, which need to be paid attention to.
Moria, despite previously being a site for identifying migrants in the manner previously mentioned, has now become one of many detention centres scattered around the Greek islands.  Such centres have been mainly built in the place of camps. Unsurprisingly, they are often reported as being ‘disastrously dysfunctional’ with little to no access to services that people need in order to have a comfortable way of life. To prove this, a report by the Global Detention Project, on the centres, found that migrants in the camps at the time were often sleeping on concrete floors, lacking in heating and often having to resort to drinking water out of toilets. With the extra 800,000 refugees to provide for it is very hard to foresee these conditions improving.  As if this inhumane treatment of people was not enough, the fact that many refugees have had a background of torture and abuse before being put in these centres, makes them even more disgusting, as they will only serve to further traumatize these refugees. Also, upon visiting Moria, Amnesty International found that many of the refugee’s detained included disabled children, pregnant women and people suffering injuries from the fighting in Syria. The only people reaping the benefits from this outright torture of people, are defence contractors; Border agencies such as frontex are already making arrangements for more border guards and increased funding, while they repeatedly turn a blind eye to the ongoing abuse of refugee’s. How a governmental organisation can treat people like this, while pretending that their actions are historic and worthy of praise, is absurd and immoral.

The Deal is a violation of the principles of free Movement

It is important to remember that what is at stake with this deal is not only the wellbeing of millions of refuges, but the sheer principle of freedom of movement and right to fair asylum, when fleeing war and conflict. So far, Greece have rushed to push through a poorly thought out deportation system. Even Greek officials have admitted that the pressure to quickly process asylum applications has led to a lowering of legal and ethical standards within the EU. Also, there has been no explanation, considering the mass expulsion of refugee’s, how individual rights will be assessed. In addition to this, numerous human rights organisations, such as the Euro – Mediterranean human rights network, have condemned the expulsion on legal Grounds, arguing rightly that mass expulsions contradict the principles of the Dublin Protocol. In order to defend the Turkey – EU deal, its signatories cite the Procedures Directive, whereby asylum seekers can be returned to the ‘first country of asylum’ or a ‘safe third country’. Despite this, an asylum reform Bill submitted by the government of Greece, does not designate turkey as a safe third country. Also, assuring the safety of a ‘third country’ would require the fulfilment of ‘non – refoulement’, a process that prohibits that third country from deporting asylum seekers to a place where they are not safe. Not only can turkey with its limited freedoms be considered an unsafe country, but all of these problems make the deal extremely vulnerable to legal challenge.

A Safe Third Country?

There is very little evidence you can use to defend the notion of Turkey as a safe third country. The Turkish Syrian Border has been closed to those fleeing the assault on Aleppo. Also there is evidence of Turkey Carrying out the illegal forced returns of refugees to War torn Syria, including children.  Indeed, despite being part of the 1967 protocol on the status of refugees, Turkey refuses to recognise non Europeans as in need of help and to make necessary legal changes in order to guarantee refugees the right to safe housing, education and healthcare. Much of this stems from their political concerns over not wanting to recognize Armenians and Kurds as victims of statist persecution. As a result of this, it is not uncommon to see asylum seekers in Turkey resorting to having to sell all of their possessions simply to survive or to pay rent. Furthermore, long term refugees have to carry out illegal forms of labour, with no influence over pay or conditions. Only 25 per cent of Syrian children in Turkey are in school, with many children being reported as having to work in child labour sweatshops. It seems the only type of reform the Turkish government have been generous enough to grant for refugees is one that allows each businesses to employ a small amount of Syrian Refugees.  Despite this, less hope exists for non-Syrian refugees who do not get sympathy from the so called international community.
Turkish racism is also on the rise. The Turkish middle class, which provide the Ruling AKP with its majority, view Syrians as a drain on the Turkish economy, and blame them for things such as rent increases and falling wages, viewing Syrians as tempory Guests rather than citizens. Perhaps more worryingly, ‘Suriyeli’, the Turkish word for Syrian has taken on negative connotations, associating them with crime and fostering a pervasive us vs them mentality.  This has led to right wing groups flaring up and taking part in violent protests. In addition to this, terrorist attacks in Ankara have fostered anti migrant sentiment throughout turkey. Overall, this deal only works further to cement the AKP’s Fascist consolidation of power and lend further legitimacy to their racist and aggressive policy against Kurds and Syrians. 

Conclusion and What can be done

Everywhere we look we see hypocrisies and contradictions showing the impracticalities and immoralities of the EU Turkey deal. Countries such as Poland have been praised for accepting refugees, while the ‘burden’ EU nations are facing pales in comparison with the Global South which shoulders the situation with 86 per cent of the world’s refugees. Tales of US citizens in Greece staying longer than their Visas allow are being constantly ignored, while Pakistani refugees awaiting deportation attempt suicide. The deal fails to address the underlying causes of the refugee situation, doing nothing to address climate change, war or sexual violence. This would still be disgusting if it was just an example of EU states neglecting their duty to help those most in need. Instead however, they are actively outsourcing the problem to a dictatorship in turkey that has shown time and time again that they do not care about human rights, and one that will be granted further money and concessions from the EU in return.  If anything, Far from being historic or a success for diplomacy, this deal is telling of the tendency in capitalist nations to always want a smooth circulation of labour and to view refugees as bargaining chips. As such, resistance to the deal is necessary.
The UNCHR, an organisation funded by the EU, has rightly refused to assist in the transfer of migrants to detention centres, in line with its principles. Similarly, organisations including Save the Children and International Refugee Council have all suspended their activities in Moria, refusing to be part of what they label an ‘unfair and inhumane, mass expulsion system’. Also, Solidarity organisations such as No Border Kitchen and the Healthpoint Foundation, despite being cracked down on by Hellenic Police, are currently on the ground in Greece trying to help migrants. If you know of or are a part of any organisations affiliated to the EU, urge them not to support this deal, and instead to pour their efforts in to helping asylum seekers, and others in need of help.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Leaked TTIP Corporate Power Documents

In addition to the Mossack Fonseka papers, blowing the lid off some of the world’s most secret tax leaks, 2016 has seen another very important leak of secretive documents. This time it is the negotiation documents, between the UK and US, on the TTIP trade deal. The documents were published by Greenpeace, who in their analysis of the leaked documents, make clear how the Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership, could weaken laws and regulations on things such as economics, environment and even our own democracy. As such, it is entirely right that there has already been mass opposition to TTIP. Almost 3.5 million European citizens have already signed a position against the deal, and some European governments are threatening to veto the deal, if it is presented in its current format. Despite this, this is a movement that needs to grow beyond parliamentary politics if TTIP is to be crushed. On a side note, for some, this could end up being a playing factor in the EU referendum. Some commentators on the left, such as Aaron bastani, have already cited TTIP as a good reason to leave the EU, while others, such as Thomas G Clarke have said that left to the mercy of a vindictive conservative government, we will be signed up to a lot worse trade deals if we leave. Overall, whatever your opinions on the EU, you have to agree that this is a vile bit of legislation, designed to undermine our very rights. As such, it is important that we realise why this deal is a threat.
 

Investor State Dispute Settlements and the economic effect of TTIP

Perhaps one of the most worrying aspects of the TTIP corporate power grab, is the fact that it includes investor stat dispute settlements (ISDS). What this means is that, under these rules, corporations would be allowed to completely side-step the UK legal system, and sue the UK government in secret tribunals. What is more worrying is that conservative and nationalist parties in the UK and elsewhere, despite the fact that they are constantantly blabbering on about sovergnty, seem perfectly content to keep their lips sealed on a deal that is probably one of the worst violations of sovereignty and self-determination that Europe has ever seen.
Firstly, these Investor state dispute settlements would put at risk our most basic public services. If the NHS is left to the mercy of ISDS tribunals, it would become impossible for any government to reverse the Tory dismantling and privatisation of the NHS, without compensating private companies. This is in direct contradiction to what 84% of the public want. In addition to this, many members of the public want to see the rail services and the energy companies run as not for profit services too. Despite this, these TTIP negotiations would make it practically impossible to trigger renationalisation without triggering transnational tribunals or vast fines. Perhaps the most famous example of this happening in practice is the 50 million dollar fine brought by Betchel against Bolivia, after its water system was renationalised. Another potential economic effect of the ISDS legislation is that it could allow corporations, not just to ignore but to overturn tax legislation, on things such as wealth and financial transaction. For me, it does not seem like a radical idea for multinational companies to comply with what a countries population wants if it is to be based in that country.  However, the ISDS regulation far from being ‘free’ seem determined to hand more control of the services that we depend on to survive, over to private profiteers, while allowing them to march off to secret courts whenever anybody tries to introduce legislation that they don’t like. 

The environmental impact of TTIP

Much of environmental regulation by governments is futile legislation, designed to make it look as if governments actually care about the environment. However, European countries have enjoyed relatively good safeguards with regard to things like air pollution and Chemical Contamination. Despite this, TTIP would promote a race to the bottom, which will undermine existing environmental legislation and force governments to weaken or abandon its environmental legislation.
Corporations have been using free trade deals such as TTIP to sue elected governments on environmental legislation, from Canada to Australia. TTIP negotiators have already listed certain rules as ‘technical barriers’ to trade. These include fuel efficiency standards for cars, regulation of unconventional fossil fuel extraction and the banning of climate damaging gases in appliances such as refrigerators or freezers. In addition to this, an agreement would also make it easier to import and export fossil fuels, from practices such as fracking. Even if you take away the fact that cars give out emissions when they are produced and when they are on the road, the increase in transatlantic vehicle trade generated by the Trade deals, could add up to 900,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.  Perhaps more frightening, is strict pressure by the TTIP negations to lift regulations on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) which cause cancer and reproductive diseases, and can be particularly harmful to children. This legislation has already been repeatedly delayed, despite clear evidence of harm. What makes this all the more repulsive is that clean energy productions for communities would be considered unfair competition, and therefore got rid of. These are yet more reasons why anyone who care about their health should oppose not just TTIP but all free trade deals of the sort.

The Anti-democratic response to opposition

The EU seem so utterly determined to push the TTIP deal through that they are prepared to undermine some of their own rules to achieve it! European citizen’s initiatives are one of the only somewhat decent bits of participatory democracy in the whole of the EU political system. If a group of one million people from several EU states, support a legislative proposal, it can then be tabled in the European parliament. Despite this, the European parliament did not seem too willing to negotiate on a citizen’s initiative concerning TTIP. Taking place in the summer of 2015, a number of individuals and organisations opposed to this trade deal and other fair trade deals, began the process of starting a citizen’s initiative to overturn the deal. Despite this, after the organisers had gathered the support of over 230 organisations across Europe, the EU simply turned down the initiative before it even got started. This is absurd, how on earth can the EU claim to be an organisation that represents democracy, when they show such blatant contempt for citizen’s democracy and the people of Europe. We not only have a desire to oppose this deal if we care about ourselves, but a need to.

Conclusion and What can be done

As much as ‘the Europe question’ is a big talking point at every election, no amount of voting for politicians or signing petitions will be anywhere near enough to get the TTIP corporate power grab crushed. As such, it is necessary to take direct action to change things. The campaign group 38 degrees has been organising public protests against TTIP. Furthermore, those that cannot take part in direct action, for whatever reason, could spread awareness online. If you care about democracy, you have a duty to take part in the fight against this aggressive trade deal. Similarly, I would like to echo my idea that it does not matter what side of the referendum debate you are on, simply that you realise that free trade deals like TTIP are a problem that need to be stamped out before it is too late.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Nuit Debout: France's Growing Movement

Late march this year, saw the so called Socialist party in France attempt to enforce labour reforms, which would force French citizens to work for up to 60 hours per week. Since then, as part Nuit Debout (Standing Night) movement,  thousands of people have gathered every evening at the ‘place de la republique’ in Paris to protest, and to put in practice real forms of direct democracy, using popular assemblies and horizontal commissions, to form and discuss demands for a better society. They discuss issues ranging from migrants to building a new economy. Despite this, do not fall under the impression that this is In any way a casual movement, France has been building up to this for months on end. Following a protest and a square occupation by left wing groups in France such as Fakir, the French people successfully got rid of proposals for labour reforms. Since then, a crowd of over 5000 people has gathered every evening. In fact, The Nuit Debout has gained so much solidarity behind it that many have compared it to the global occupy movement and the Spanish indignados protests. They even have some very tactical ways of organising that any country that wants to change things could learn from. While many of the people taking part in the protest hold different views and ideas, they all share the vision of a better society that works in the interests of the many and not the few.

This Is about More than Just reforms
The incredibly sparse coverage that has been given to the Nuit Debout by the media in the UK and elsewhere in the world, would have you believe that the Nuit Debout is specifically focussed on the now defunct labour reforms and nothing else. However, anyone who knows about or has experienced protest, knows that the labour reform controversy is just an example of the ‘just two pay checks away from revolution’ anecdote: While the labour reforms are what sparked the movement, the Nuit Debout as a ‘movement’ does not focus on a specific problem but challenges some of the core values of society. As such, it is probably best to view the labour reforms as a symbol of the neoliberal actions of Francois Hollande and his government. If you need evidence of how many French citizens are disillusioned with their society, you only need to look at many the protesters who express their frustration with ‘a government that pretends to be left wing, but is in fact the total opposite’ and denounce the collusion between big government and big business.
 One of the key concerns expressed by the protests is the lack of real alternatives within French politics. As previously stated, the ‘Socialist Party’, like most so called left wing parties that have been elected throughout Europe, have abandoned any principles it may have once had. Indeed, since the Paris attacks many moral standpoints by the French government have been abandoned in the name of ‘national security’. The situation playing out within other parties however seems even grimmer, as splits are destroying the French Green party and left wing Front de Gauche.  Indeed the only real alternative within party politics, are the fascist and racist front national. This party’s attempts to win over voters by denouncing the main parties in France and appropriating the French terrorist attacks, seem to be scarily winning over many voters on both the right and the left. With this pitiful state of affairs In France, to start a mass movement and attempt to change things from below seems like the only good option available to the French people. Ultimately, these actions empower citizens to change society themselves, at the same time as challenging the authority of all political parties, and breaking down identity barriers by accepting refugees into their circle. What right then has the French government or press, to label this movement as a single issue campaign, when it is so much larger?
Frances growing Youth Movement
One of the main groups taking part in the Nuit debout movement is France’s youth. Despite Francois Hollande announcing in 2012 that youth would be his top priority, the economic and unemployment situation is dire for many young people in France. A think tank, ‘France Strategie’ published a report, confirming that 23.3% of French 18-24 year olds are living in poverty in France. Understandably then, many young people feel abandoned and abused by their own government. In addition to their current living conditions being a major obstacle to their wellbeing, youth in France feel as if they have been robbed of a future. They express this at the Nuit Debout meetings as well as through social media campaigns, the message is clear ‘the government wants to make us feel as if we have no choice but a precarious future, and this is what we reject’. These words could not be truer if they were graphited down every French street: politicians in France and other countries, often appeal to their love for youth to win votes, however when young people are worst affected by the growing concentration of wealth, their concerns are ignored. It is for this reason that youth play a vital role in the Nuit Debout.
Mobilization and Organising
While a strong desire for a fairer society is at the heart of all social movements, their duration and effectiveness also depends on the ability of the people involved to organise and make themselves influential. This factor, combined with the fact that authorities will want to find some way to stop social movements, has the power to make or break revolutions. While the Nuit debout obviously faces challenges, they have been organising in a way which would put British forms of protest to shame.
Firstly, the timing of the movement to come about has worked perfectly. The French government diffused its plans for labour reforms at a time when the second term starts in universities and colleges, and student activist and personal networks are well established, and final exams are still remoted. This makes conditions perfect for a student led rebellion. Indeed, the various struggles that have occurred in France over the past few months have allowed activists to establish strong connections with likeminded people. For example, the Group of activists that prepared the gathering on the place de la republique after the protests against the labour reforms, provided a key role in creating a space for a movement to grow and flourish. The Civil society organisation ‘right to housing’ had already been granted permission to set up a protest camp in the area so they could protest evictions and provide advice to less experienced activists.  In addition to this, the fact that the movement only meet at night gives them a tactical advantage over the police. As they are not there permanently, the police cannot use the law to remove them. All these actions are important to use against a government that is continually trying to destroy such protests, using police to break crowds and by introducing ‘Carrot and stick legislation’ to appease the protesters. What is important is that all actions remain within our principles and that we use the right tactics in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Could this spread to the UK?
I and many friends of mine have become increasingly frustrated that other countries are ‘better at direct action’ then the UK. The Nuit Debout has already spread to parts of Spain, and I am hopeful that it will spread to the UK. Despite this, hope in these situations is not enough and, if we are to have a hope a getting rid of the vicious austerity and undemocratic structure currently hanging over the UK, we must take real action to improve our lives. 
The closest we have got to the Nuit debout spreading to London was a kind of copycat protest, by the name of Nuit London. However this group have already made some of the mistakes, which despite sounding good upon initial inspection, often work to protest movements disadvantage. One example of this is the protesters plan to meet outside Downing Street. True, the Nuit debout movement is against the actions of governments that benefit the wealthy and no one else, but they are also against the society that make such actions possible. Positioning the movement near Downing Street makes the protest seem solely focused on the actions of this government. Contrast this with the protests in France. Being positioned in a public park, they are open for anyone regardless of their political persuasion to look at or take part in. Therefore, it makes much more sense, if the London version of the movement is to survive, to pick a place such as Hyde Park to hold the protests. We must also bear in mind however, that the British government are no idiots when it comes to protest. In 2014 it passed the Crime and Policing Act, which allows police to order a ‘public spaces protection order’ against protests that occur near places of authority. Anyone who is not naïve, should be able to figure out that this is yet another attempt to clamp down and destroy social movements. This is why as well as having a moral movement in the UK and elsewhere, we must have an effective one.
Conclusion
This week, activists from all over the world have been meeting in Paris to plan next week’s global debout. What is perhaps most amazing about these protests is that we are finally seeing people propose the idea of revolution, without being mocked or laughed at. The Nuit debout movement benefits greatly from other protest movements, but also has brought to the table a new and effective way to organise. This is already a large success, in a world we are constantly faced with a state of emergency and crisis. Hopefully, The Nuit movement will be a small move towards a better system that works in the interests of everybody.

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Syrian Assult on Free Aleppo, and Western Complicity

Despite not bring reported in the mainstream media, at the time this is being written rockets from the Assad regime and Bombs from Russia are being fired into free Aleppo. While the attacks took place, up to 400,000 people were believed to remain in the rebel held parts of the city. This mindless show of state violence, has sadly resulted in the deaths of at least 250 innocent civilians over the past week, the bombs are ceaseless. What makes this more important, is that the bombing threatens to derail planned peace talks, aimed at ending the countries five year long civil war. The motivation for this horrific attack is that the mainly working class districts of eastern part of Aleppo, have been held by the Syrian rebels since mid-2012. Ignored constantly, Free Aleppo has largely been the stronghold of the Syrian revolution. In direct contrast to those areas held by the regime, Aleppo maintains a civil society that still exists, despite frequent attempts by the Assad regime to undermine and destroy it. It is for these reasons that we must stop ignoring the atrocities being carried out against the city, and see these atrocities for what they are: a massacre of a free and democratic society, being carried out by a vicious dictatorship and backed by the world’s imperialist powers
 

In What Ways is Aleppo a Free Society?

Far from being a disorganised society, Aleppo maintains an elected city council, which helps keep basic services such as schools running. The services are not poorly maintained either, in fact, dozens of schools provide a mixed curriculum taught to classes containing both males and females. Some of these are run by revolutionary Syrian rebel organisations like Kesh Malik while others are supported by British – Syrian charities like Syria relief who, despite having to deal with the bombardment, make clear that they do not swear allegiance to any political party or group. In addition to this, journalists and community workers organise unions to protect themselves and provide other local services, while the Syrian civil defence helps save people from the rubble left by bombs and distribute food to the unemployed, widows and orphans.
 In addition to this, the political system in Syria as well as being democratic also maintains a somewhat open structure: publishing its meetings and accounts online, while at the same time the Free Syrian army prepare for a siege. Now the people of Aleppo and their elected city council are rightfully calling for the toppling of the Assad regime. It is important to remember that this democratic system comes after nearly 43 years of tyranny, suppression and exclusion from the political system. Indeed, due to the democratic political system and the heavy bombardment, the city has been called, by some bloggers, a 21st century Paris commune. Despite this, the regime is now severely threatening to crush this democratic system using yet more state violence. Towards the end of April, the long awaited ceasefire which the council of Aleppo had been open to was broken by hundreds of airstrikes and ground attacks on Aleppo.  This shows the difference between ideologies, one is for democracy and freedom the other is for fascism and extreme Islamism.

The temporary Ceasefire and the destruction of Aleppo

Before the bombing started again, a ceasefire brokered by both the US and Russia, was used as an attempt to create a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Despite this, the ceasefire was mostly one sided, with bombs continuing to fall destroying free Aleppo with every single one. In fact, while the rebels ceased their attacks and even their peaceful protest, absolutely none of the conditions vital for reaching an effective peace deal were met. One of the main conditions which Syria failed to meet was for the release of 215,000 prisoners held by the Assad regime in secret detention centres, and controlled by militias accountable to the Syrian government. Furthermore, respective governments delivered no aid to besieged areas, where millions of Syrians were trapped and fearing for their lives. Even the central point of the negotiation, the removal of Assad and his inner circle, had no commitment devoted to it. Indeed, the opposition only participated in the peace talks after being pressured by US secretary of State, John Kerry, who threatened to cut off US aid to the opposition if they did not comply with the talks. Two months later, after facing little to no improvement in their situation, with civilian areas continuing to be bombarded, armed rebel groups started reopening fronts with the regime. Despite this, what the slight lull in fighting did do was to allow a peaceful protest movement to re-emerge, and make clear once again its demand for a free Syria.   
With the end of the peace talks and the continued fighting, Assad’s regime now believes it can ‘retake’ the city of Aleppo. They already cut a key supply route to the city in February. Such actions have already devastated cities like Homs and towns like Zabandi. Here, thousands of people from the native populations have already fled or been expelled to nearby towns and suburbs that are no less safe. As previously stated, the city already has a blasted wasteland of buildings and an extreme lack of the basic necessities of life. Whole areas of the city have been emptied as a result of brutal violence on the part of the Syrian state. Also, with no popular support for their regime, the Assad forces can only ‘retake’ areas by expelling hundreds of rebellious citizens from Aleppo. At present, about 500 rebels still hold the centre of the ruined town. Despite this, they are now left without medical facilities as, in march, a regime sniper killed the last remaining doctor in the city. If Assad’s regime and its backers are allowed to ‘retake’ Aleppo, imprisoning civilians and empting Aleppo of rebels then it will be a massive obstacle for the rebellion, empowering not just Assad’s Islamic extremists but other Islamic extremist militants. Also, if we are not careful free societies in the Middle East like free Aleppo, will be destroyed altogether.  

Western complicity

When reading about these atrocities it is very easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of ‘why doesn’t our government intervene on their behalf’. However, there are numerous reasons why the US and Britain are partly responsible for the suffering of the people of Aleppo. Firstly, Despite the fact that some of the rebel groups within the free Syrian army and organised by the Fatah Hallab coalition (conquest Aleppo), receive support from the US, the American government clearly see people self-managing themselves as a greater threat than that of the Assad regime. In fact, even Col. Steve Warren, US military spokesmen for Baghdad, declared earlier this year ‘It’s primarily Al – Nusra who holds Aleppo, and of course, al Nusra is not part of the cessation of hostilities’. These words show an example of the US giving its consent to the rampant destruction of Syria. Another example is when John Kerry declared at the end of last year, at a press conference with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, that ‘we see Syria fundamentally, very similarly, we want the same outcomes, we see the same dangers’. It is clear through Russia’s support of the Assad regime that what is meant by this is that they both see the rebel force as a danger in Syria. However, if this was not clear enough, you just need to look at when John Kerry said to aid workers, some of which probably worked in Aleppo, that the opposition were responsible for continued fighting, and said to expect three months of bombing that would ‘decimate the opposition’. As our mainstream media gather most of their sources from points of authority this rarely gets reported on. However, it is clear here that Russia and the US, despite their promises to defeat Assad and ISIS, are perfectly happy to see free Aleppo crushed by any means necessary.

Conclusion

At the end of reading this, I hope many of you that were sat on the fence, declaring the situation ‘too complex’ or ‘too double sided’, have begun to realise that this is a political conflict, which pits democracy against outright totalitarianism and fascism. Also, as western governments are so clearly intent on crushing free Aleppo, no one can claim that the issue does not affect them. While the situation is admittedly complex, with no easy answers, the good news is that people are finally beginning to realise how desperate the situation is, protests have already occurred in London, and online campaigns have been set up to raise awareness. What this situation demands is real action, and unless we have that, we nor people in the Middle East, will have a chance of creating a free society.