Thursday, June 22, 2017

Brexit Racism

Prejudice against immigrants from the European Union was a “major” deciding factor in the Brexit referendum, according to a new study.
But people who actually met foreigners living in Britain tended to have a positive experience and this appears to have helped persuade many people to vote Remain, the researchers found.
The lead researcher of the new study, Dr Rose Meleady, said their findings helped explain an apparently counter-intuitive voting pattern – that areas with low numbers of immigrants were more likely to back Brexit.
“It is the contact that predicts prejudice towards immigrants, and prejudice was a predictor of how people intended to vote,” she said. “Everyday interactions with immigrants are really important. If you have more opportunities for contact, for example on public transport, at the shops, or with neighbours and colleagues, your attitude is likely to be more positive. Fear of immigration can sometimes drive prejudice rather than its reality.” She added, "Of course, interactions can sometimes be unpleasant or unfriendly and this can increase negative feelings, but we find that people report more positive encounters with immigrants than negative.” 

In The Train: Bermondsey Bunkum Baulked (Short Story, 1909)

A Short Story from the November 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard

Characters: PETER PIP—a Bermondsey voter.
                     VIATOR—a traveller.

Scene. Third-class “smoker ” on the S.E.C. Railway. Peter Pip is seated in corner smoking his pipe. Enter Viator, who takes opposite seat.

VIATOR : Good evening. I suppose things are pretty lively just now down Bermondsey way?
PIP : Yes, the election’s in full swing—all three candidates are hard at it.
VIATOR : Who do yon think will win ?
PIP: Oh! The Socialist, Dr. Salter. He’s bound to get in. I and my mates are for him, anyhow.
VIATOR : I thought the doctor called himself “Labour” candidate.
PIP : Well, it’s all the same. Labour is Socialism, isn’t it ?
VIATOR : May I ask you some questions by way of trying to answer yours ?
PIP : Certainly.
VIATOR : Well then, the doctor was chosen by your local branch of the I.LP., wasn’t he ?
PIP: Yes.
VIATOR : The local branch had to get sanction from the National Council of the I.L.P. ?
PIP : Why, yes, of course.
VIATOR : Of course you know that before the doctor could be run as a candidate for Parliament, the I.LP. had to get sanction from the Labour Party executive, being affiliated to that body?
PIP : That’s so.
VIATOR : The candidate must sign the Labour Party ticket and agree to obey the Party whip?
PIP : Yes.
VIATOR : One of the conditions to be agreed to is, I think, that the candidate must stand as “Labour,” and not as “Socialist.”
PIP : Quite true.
VIATOR : Doesn’t it strike you as odd that a Socialist should not be allowed to run as such, and that if returned he must obey the Labour Party whip, nine times out of ten voting with the Liberals?
PIP : It never struck me like that. But all the same Salter’s a real good Socialist. Why just look at his programme!
VIATOR : Ah, let me see it. (Pip hands him a copy of the election address.) Yes! I thought so. Same old story.
PIP : What’s wrong now ?
VIATOR : The first article in his confession of faith is the dear old “Right to Work Bill.” Hum!
PIP : But you surely don’t condemn the “Right to Work Bill?”
VIATOR : No need to: it condemns itself! What about the clause empowering a municipality to find work for the unemployed? If the unemployed are not satisfied with the kind of work allotted them, or the rate of pay, and refuse to do the work, the municipal authorities, who are representatives of the master class, have power given them to haul the offending workers before a magistrate. That means six months gaol! Fancy a Socialist voting for such a measure.
PIP : But I say—
VIATOR : Next item. General Eight-Hours Day. Well suppose you get it—and mind you, you have got to get it from the masters; many of them are in favour of it and would vote for it. That fact alone ought to make you suspicious of it. “Timeo Danaos et dona ferantes.” That’s French or Figian—you know, for “When the masters send you a gift horse, look in the beggar’s mouth.”
PIP : (Rather uneasily, feeling he is being “got at ”) Well but—
VIATOR : But me no buts! Can the master class—or employers as you call them— can they or can they not speed you up in the factory to the highest possible pitch, 8 hours day or no 8 hours day ? Aren’t they doing it now? If you are going to cross the road to vote, vote for something that’s to do you good!
PIP : I think you will have a job to get round the next item.
VIATOR: Then I’ll go under it. Minimum wage! Minimum fiddlesticks! Do you suppose the labour market is a thing to be played with so? There was a "maximum wage” law as the result of the dearth of labour after the plague in the middle ages, a law strengthened by far more severe penalties than any a capitalist government is likely to attach to a mere "minimum wage” enactment in these days of “freedom of contract”—the futility of the attempt to enforce this law should be a lesson for all time. When labour was scarce the labourer was master of the situation, in spite of the Statute of Labourers which the employers of labour themselves caused to be enacted, in their anxiety to obtain labour power cheaply, but which they were compelled to evade. Now that labour power is so terribly redundant the masters will remain masters of the situation, minimum wage laws notwithstanding, for starvation will compel evasion on the one hand, and profit-hunger on the other. But if such a law can have any effect at all in preventing sweating, there is one counterbalancing factor that will rob it of all benefit to the working class. When any one talks to you about minimum wages, shorter hours, and so on, don’t forget that grim spectre at the worker’s elbow—his constant competitor— machinery. Every restriction placed upon the exploitation of labour power, makes for the advantage of machinery; every lifting of the price of labour-power handicaps it against machinery. So far then as a minimum wage law can affect the situation it can only result in the extended use of machinery and the factory system, and the further displacement of workers.
PIP : That seems to make the struggle hopeless. (Removes his hat, wipes his brow, and looks out of the carriage window.)
VIATOR : It makes Socialism the only hope, at all events. (Pointing) That’s a very nice piece of land over there, isn’t it? Look well nationalized, wouldn’t it? “For sale. Apply Law, Jaw, Wynstun & Co.” I see your worthy doctor has “nationalization of land” on his card. In Japan they have nationalization of land; in Russia the mines are national; in Germany the railways are national property. Yet the proletariat (that’s you and me, you know) who work all those services are not a whit better off—worse off in some cases. German and Belgian State railway workers for example.
PIP : That’s true.
VIATOR : Then : “Municipalisation of means of transit, lighting, water, milk, electricity and power.” Let’s see. In Bermondsey you have all these things run either by the County Council or the Borough Council. Milk, you say,—better milk. Yes, quite so, but a doubtful advantage if you’re a milkman out of a job. Can’t you see, my dear fellow, that you can nationalise and municipalise ’til you’re black in the face, but so long as you leave the masters in full possession of the political power, they will take good care to keep top-dog?
PIP : Surely you will support the next item : “Votes for all men and women of adult age”?
Viator : The principle’s all right, but as a vote catcher it’s all wrong. Besides, aren’t there enough votes now to get Socialism if they were used properly? What we want to do is to educate the present working-class vote— which greatly preponderates—as to the meaning of Socialism, not to bother about extensions of the franchise, and above all, not to use such issues, however much we may agree with them in principle, as bait to catch the voles of those who are opposed to us on the question of Socialism.
PIP : (With an air of conscious superiority) Well, you must agree that raising the amount of old age pensions and lowering the age limit, as our candidate suggests, would be a good thing ?
VIATOR : Yes! for the master class! Shifting the burden of the aged poor off the rates on to the taxes, neither of which affect the worker tuppence. No' if that's the best your doctor can do for you you might as well vote : for Dr. Cook.
PIP : What shall I do then?
Viator : Stop at home this time and don't vote. I tell you the disease Bermondsey is suffering from can’t be cured by medicine. What is wanted is a surgical operation. Here you are, this will tell you all about it. Read this (hands him a Manifesto). Full details - how to cure poverty and when you're tired of messing about with quacks and their nostrums, take your courage in both hands and try “the knife.” Here’s my station. Good night! (He gets out. Pip is left thinking.)


Class Struggle Reverses

Andy Haldane, the chief economist of the Bank of England, said the lack of wage growth in Britain’s economy is the result of turning the clock back to the days before the Industrial Revolution when there were no trade unions and self-employment was rife.

Andy Haldane said the current relationship between pay and employment had more in common with the period between 1500 and 1750 than in the subsequent period, because in the post-1750 era, collective bargaining and the expansion of full-time paid employment meant workers were able to secure generous pay awards when labour was scarce.
“The move towards greater self-employment and less unionisation is, in some respects, a shift back to the future in the nature of work,” Haldane said, harking back to the days before James Watt, a key figure in the emergence of the steam engine, and other pioneers began the transformation of Britain’s largely agrarian economy. “Prior to the Industrial Revolution, and indeed for some years after it, most workers were self-employed or worked in small businesses. There were no unions. Hours were flexible, depending on what work was needed to collect the crops, milk the cows or put bread on the table. Work was artisanal, task-based, divisible.”
Haldane said the read-across from pre-industrial Britain to the 21st century was not exact but that there were parallels with today’s gig economy. He added that there was evidence that changes in the nature of work had been a factor in explaining why wage growth was running at just 2% at a time when unemployment was the lowest since the mid-1970s.
The chief economist said a period of “divide and conquer” had left workers less able to bargain for higher wages. “There is power in numbers. A workforce that is more easily divided than in the past may find itself more easily conquered. In other words, a world of divisible work may reduce workers’ wage-bargaining power.”
Trade union membership has declined from 38% of employees in 1990 to 23% in 2016, and Haldane noted that the downward trend was likely to continue.
“The fact that unionisation rates have been falling within each age cohort over time, and are lowest among the young, suggests the downward trend in rates of unionisation may still have some distance to travel. For example, if unionisation rates were to continue to decline at the same average rate as over the past decade, then they are likely to fall to around 10% of employees, or 3 million people, within a generation.”
Self-employment had increased from 8% of the workforce in 1980 to almost 15%, or about 4.25 million people. Only one in six of the self-employed hired other workers compared with 30% in 1990. The number of people on zero-hours contracts had increased from 170,000 (0.6% of those in employment) in 2010 to almost 1 million workers (3% of employees) by 2016. At the current rate of expansion, employees on zero-hour contracts would reach about 7% within a decade.

About us


Who We Are
The Socialist Party is like no other political party in Britain. It is made up of people who have joined together because we want to get rid of the profit system and establish real socialism.
Our aim is to persuade others to become socialist and act for themselves, organizing democratically and without leaders, to bring about the kind of society that we advocate.
We are solely concerned with building a movement of socialists for socialism. We are not a reformist party with a programme of policies to patch up capitalism.
What We Do
Our aim is to build a movement working towards a socialist society. We publish literature, we hold meetings and debates throughout the country, we write to the press and state our case wherever possible on the media. We run weekend educational conferences, we sell tapes and pamphlets, we hand out leaflets, we contest elections, and we discuss our ideas with people wherever we can.
We are unique
The Socialist Party has been unique in Britain throughout the twentieth century for:
  • Consistently advocating world socialism - a fully democratic society based upon co-operation and production for use.
  • Opposing every single war
  • Opposing every single government
  • Being a democratic and leaderless organization
The Next Step
The more of you who join the Socialist Party the more we will be able to get our ideas across, the more experiences we will be able to draw on and greater will be the new ideas for building the movement which you will be able to bring to us.
The Socialist Party is an organization of equals. There is no leader and there are no followers. So, if you are going to join we want you to be sure that you agree fully with what we stand for and that we are satisfied that you understand the case for socialism.
If you want to know more about the Socialist Party, its ideas and activities, please contact us.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

World Refugee Day 20th June

One again a special day to remember the victims of capitalism came around.

One new refugee every three seconds is the latest harsh truth about the world today.

Nearly 66 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes last year, the United Nation refugee agency has reported. 

The world’s refugees, internally displaced and asylum-seekers currently number 22.5 million, 40.3 million, and 2.8 million, respectively.

Syria remains “the world’s biggest producer of refugees” with 12 million people living in neighbouring countries and away from the region. There are 7.7 million displaced Colombians, 4.7 million Afghans and 4.2 million Iraqis.
However, in 2016, South Sudan became “the biggest new factor” when peace efforts broke down in July resulting in some 737,400 people fleeing by the end of the year. In total, about 3.3 million South Sudanese had fled their homes by the end of the year, in what is known as the fastest-growing displacement of people in the world. 
About half of the refugee population last year were children younger than 18 years of age, according to the report. This is in contrast to the fact that children make up only about 31 per cent of the total world population.

Director of UNHCR’s New York Office Ninette Kelley, explained, “I really ask you to pause and think about your own children or your nieces or your nephews and then think about the journeys that refugees take across conflict areas, across deserts, climbing mountains, giving their lives to unscrupulous traffickers and smugglers. And imagine those journeys of children without their parents or without adult accompaniment—then they arrive, and they are alone,” 

Uganda, where 37 percent live on less than 1.25 dollars per day, is now the largest refugee-hosting nation in Africa with over 1 million refugees from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi. Already unable to provide adequate health services and other public goods to its citizens, Uganda’s resources have become increasingly stretched.

The Barclay Banksters

Former Barclay Bank chief executive John Varley, former senior investment banker Roger Jenkins, Thomas Kalaris, a former chief executive of Barclays' wealth division, and Richard Boath, the ex-European head of financial institutions, have all been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. It relates to a £2bn loan advanced to Qatar after the fundraisings were negotiated, the implication being that there was a money-go-round at work - Barclays was handing Qatar some of the money it was using to support the British bankso it could avoid a govenment bail-out and the consequences of that on th financial market which led to their rivals, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland suffering collapse of share values.

The SOYMB blog makes a tentative prediction, that the banksters are found not guilty and if they aren't, they will not receive jail-time but will be have a token fine imposed. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017



Lib Dem Leader, Tim Farron, resigned on the 14/06/2017
as he felt it impossible to lead “a progressive, liberal party”
(sic!) whilst holding “faithfully to the Bible's teaching”.

Page fourteen of The Guardian's,
Revealed the headline news,
Tim Farron's quit because of his,
Illiberal Christian views! (1)
(Unlike Charles Kennedy who quit,
Whilst legless from the booze!)

Who'll be the Lib Dem leader now,
And step into his shoes?
As Tim's prevarication led,
To media reviews,
That questioned his support of old,
Intolerant taboos.

Exasperation on both sides,
Lit a potential fuse,
The Lib Dem hierarchy had,
A man they couldn't use;
A Bible-bashing puritan,
They simply had to lose!

So it was time for Tiny Tim,
To say his last adieus,
Though some say Paddick's exit was, (2)
An inner circle ruse,
To force Tim’s hand for saying things,
That they could not excuse.

And though he had his Christian faith,
Which guru would Tim choose?
Lord Jesus or Lord Palmerston? (3)
The hustings or the pews?
It seems he won't be rapping now,
To dem ole Lib Dem blues!

(1) This doesn't say much for the Lib Dems or Christianity!

(2) 14/6/2017. Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem Home Affairs
spokesman resigned citing Tim Farron's views on 'certain
issues' which then led to the Lib Dem leader's resignation.

(3) Lord Palmerston, first Liberal Party leader,1859--1865.

© Richard Layton

Monday, June 19, 2017

Women, Work and Wages

 In an interview with the magazine section of the Mail of Sunday (26 March), the author and playwright Fay Weldon provocatively claimed that, through women going out to work,  'the feminist revolution' had led to 'halving the male wage, so it no longer supported a family.'

 It is of course absurd to attribute women going out to work to feminism. That resulted from capitalism's need to overcome a labour shortage. In fact, if anything, it will have been women going out to work that led to the rise of feminism. In any event, there is nothing wrong with women going out to work, apart, that is, from under capitalism this being as wage slaves (Weldon's objection is the old-fashioned one that this means that children are brought up by nursery staff rather than their mothers).

 This said, is there any substance in her claim that women going out to work has reduced the male wage? This is not as implausible as it might at first seem. In Marx's day and for many years after, when few married women went out to work, men's wages had to cover the cost of maintaining a wife and children. So, Marxian socialists defined the value of labour power as what it cost for a male worker to reproduce his working skills and also to maintain a family.

 In time those administering capitalism came to realise that this meant that unmarried men were being paid too much, and a campaign was launched for 'family allowances' as a payment from the state to workers with children. The trade union movement was wary about this as they realised that this would exert a downward pressure on wages, by relieving employers of the need to include an element in wages to cover the cost of maintaining a family and raising a new generation of workers.

 We in the Socialist Party had something to say on the subject in a pamphlet we brought out in 1943 Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis. This endorsed the trade unions' reasoning, pointing out 'that once it is established that the children (or some of the children) of the workers have been 'provided for' by other means, the tendency will be for wage levels to sink to new standards which will not include the cost of maintaining such children.'

 Once married women went out to work, drawn into it by capitalism's need to make a fuller use of those capable of working, the next logical economy for employers in the payment of wages would be to no longer pay married male workers enough to maintain a non-working wife. In this sense,  married women going out to work would exert a downward pressure on male wages.

 Nowadays, the wage paid by employers has come to be enough to maintain only a single worker, whether man or woman, married or not. The norm now, for raising a family, is for both partners to go out to work and pay for this out of both their incomes. To this extent Weldon has a point but it is an exaggeration to say that male wages have been halved, if only because equal wages for men and women has yet to be achieved. It will, however, have had the long-run effect that wages will not have gone up as much as they would otherwise have done.

 This is not an argument either against women going out to work or against equal pay, but rather one against the whole wages system under which workers, male and female, have to sell their working abilities for a wage or salary reflecting costs determined by market forces.

From Cooking the Books:  Women, Work and Wages
 Socialist Standard June 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Farron's Faith

Tim Farron no longer wants to be The Liberal Democrats leader because- 'to be a political
leader and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to The Bible's teachings, has felt
impossible (Metro, 16-6-17) .
         He wasn't making much sense in politics and he will continue spouting religious nonsense.
Capitalism and religion work hand in hand: religion asking us to not rock the boat and wait until
we get to heaven for everything to be just right.  

'ANOTHER TORY GOVERNMENT: WHAT NEXT?' (public meeting, London)



Tuesday, 20 June - 8:00pm

Committee Room, 
Chiswick Town Hall, 
Heathfield Terrace
London W4 4JN

iPhone slavery

 “This factory area is legally established with state approval. Unauthorised trespassing is prohibited. Offenders will be sent to police for prosecution!”

 Foxconn’s enormous Longhua plant is a major manufacturer of Apple products. It might be the best-known factory in the world; it might also might be among the most secretive and sealed-off. Security guards man each of the entry points. Employees can’t get in without swiping an ID card; drivers entering with delivery trucks are subject to fingerprint scans. A Reuters journalist was once dragged out of a car and beaten for taking photos from outside the factory walls. 

The vast majority of plants that produce the iPhone’s component parts and carry out the device’s final assembly are based  in the Chinese People’s Republic, where low labour costs and a massive, highly skilled workforce have made the nation the ideal place to manufacture iPhones (and just about every other gadget).

 The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that as of 2009 there were 99 million factory workers in China – have helped the nation become the world’s second largest economy. And since the first iPhone shipped, the company doing the lion’s share of the manufacturing is the Taiwanese Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, Ltd, better known by its trade name, Foxconn, which is the single largest employer in mainland China; there are 1.3 million people on its payroll. Worldwide, among corporations, only Walmart and McDonald’s employ more. As many people work for Foxconn as live in Estonia. Foxconn City is a nation-state governed entirely by a corporation and one that happened to be producing one of the most profitable products on the planet.  Steve Jobs said after news of the suicides broke. “Foxconn is not a sweatshop. It’s a factory – but my gosh, they have restaurants and movie theatres… but it’s a factory.

The iPhone is made at a number of different factories around China, but for years, as it became the bestselling product in the world, it was largely assembled at Foxconn’s 1.4 square-mile flagship plant, just outside Shenzhen. The sprawling factory was once home to an estimated 450,000 workers. Today, that number is believed to be smaller, but it remains one of the biggest such operations in the world. If you know of Foxconn, there’s a good chance it’s because you’ve heard of the suicides. In 2010, Longhua assembly-line workers began killing themselves. Worker after worker threw themselves off the towering dorm buildings, sometimes in broad daylight, in tragic displays of desperation – and in protest at the work conditions inside. There were 18 reported suicide attempts that year alone and 14 confirmed deaths. Twenty more workers were talked down by Foxconn officials. The epidemic caused a media sensation – suicides and sweatshop conditions in the House of iPhone. Suicide notes and survivors told of immense stress, long workdays and harsh managers who were prone to humiliate workers for mistakes, of unfair fines and unkept promises of benefits. Foxconn  had large nets installed outside many of the buildings to catch falling bodies. The company hired counsellors and workers were made to sign pledges stating they would not attempt to kill themselves.

“It’s not a good place for human beings,” says one of the young men, who goes by the name Xu. He’d worked in Longhua for about a year, until a couple of months ago, and he says the conditions inside are as bad as ever. “There is no improvement since the media coverage,” Xu says. The work is very high pressure and he and his colleagues regularly logged 12-hour shifts. Management is both aggressive and duplicitous, publicly scolding workers for being too slow and making them promises they don’t keep, he says. 
His friend, who worked at the factory for two years and chooses to stay anonymous, says he was promised double pay for overtime hours but got only regular pay. They paint a bleak picture of a high-pressure working environment where exploitation is routine and where depression and suicide have become normalised. The work is gruelling. “You have to have mental management,” says Xu, otherwise you can get scolded by bosses in front of your peers. Instead of discussing performance privately or face to face on the line, managers would stockpile complaints until later. “When the boss comes down to inspect the work,” Xu’s friend says, “if they find any problems, they won’t scold you then. They will scold you in front of everyone in a meeting later. It’s insulting and humiliating to people all the time,” his friend says. “Punish someone to make an example for everyone else. It’s systematic,” he adds. In certain cases, if a manager decides that a worker has made an especially costly mistake, the worker has to prepare a formal apology. “They must read a promise letter aloud – ‘I won’t make this mistake again’– to everyone.”
“It wouldn’t be Foxconn without people dying,” Xu says. “Every year people kill themselves. They take it as a normal thing. They call Foxconn a fox trap,” he says. “Because it tricks a lot of people.” He says Foxconn promised them free housing but then forced them to pay exorbitantly high bills for electricity and water. The current dorms sleep eight to a room and he says they used to be 12 to a room. But Foxconn would shirk social insurance and be late or fail to pay bonuses. And many workers sign contracts that subtract a hefty penalty from their pay if they quit before a three-month introductory period.
The vision of life inside an iPhone factory that emerged was varied. Some found the work tolerable; others were scathing in their criticisms; some had experienced the despair Foxconn was known for; still others had taken a job just to try to find a girlfriend. Most knew of the reports of poor conditions before joining, but they either needed the work or it didn’t bother them. Almost everywhere, people said the workforce was young and turnover was high. “Most employees last only a year,” was a common refrain. Perhaps that’s because the pace of work is widely agreed to be relentless, and the management culture is often described as cruel.
One worker said 1,700 iPhones passed through her hands every day; she was in charge of wiping a special polish on the display. That works out at about three screens a minute for 12 hours a day.
More meticulous work, like fastening chip boards and assembling back covers, was slower; these workers have a minute apiece for each iPhone. That’s still 600 to 700 iPhones a day. Failing to meet a quota or making a mistake can draw public condemnation from superiors. Workers are often expected to stay silent and may draw rebukes from their bosses for asking to use the restroom.
This culture of high-stress work, anxiety and humiliation contributes to widespread depression. Xu says there was another suicide a few months ago. He saw it himself. The man was a student who worked on the iPhone assembly line. “Somebody I knew, somebody I saw around the cafeteria,” he says. After being publicly scolded by a manager, he got into a quarrel. Company officials called the police, though the worker hadn’t been violent, just angry.
“He took it very personally,” Xu says, “and he couldn’t get through it.” Three days later, he jumped out of a ninth-storey window.
So why didn’t the incident get any media coverage? I ask. Xu and his friend look at each other and shrug. “Here someone dies, one day later the whole thing doesn’t exist,” his friend says. “You forget about it.”
In 2012, 150 workers gathered on a rooftop and threatened to jump. They were promised improvements and talked down by management; they had, essentially, wielded the threat of killing themselves as a bargaining tool. In 2016, a smaller group did it again. Just a month before we spoke, Xu says, seven or eight workers gathered on a rooftop and threatened to jump unless they were paid the wages they were due, which had apparently been withheld. Eventually, Xu says, Foxconn agreed to pay the wages and the workers were talked down.
When I ask the men if they would consider working at Foxconn again if the conditions improved, the response is equally blunt. “You can’t change anything,” Xu says. “It will never change.”

In Debt


Debt advisers are urging the government to make good on fulfil a promise in the Conservative manifesto to introduce a scheme where those in serious debt are protected by law from further interest, charges and enforcement action for up to six weeks. Many campaigners would like to see this extended further, to up to a year.

Unsecured consumer credit – including credit cards, car loans and payday loans – is this year expected to hit levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash. 2.9 million people in the UK are experiencing severe financial debt in the aftermath of the recession. One reason is that many who lost their jobs found new jobs that were less well paid.

“It would be excellent if the government in the Queen’s speech committed to helping households who are struggling with debt. It really is one of the great problems of the time that politicians have to grapple with,” said Peter Tutton, head of policy at debt charity StepChange. “We are seeing more and more households struggling just to make basic ends meet – to pay their rent, to pay their council tax, to pay their gas bill." Tutton said that while there was generally more credit available to consumers, the interest rates were not necessarily cheaper. “There is a picture here of a large group of households struggling with their fingers on the edge,” he said. “Credit is becoming more available. Our worry is that if households are already vulnerable, you put those two things together and it creates a different problem.”

Sara Williams, the author of Debt Camel, a blog advising on money problems, said: “The recent large increases in consumer credit ... look alarming to debt advisers – very much like a bubble building up.”

Martyn James, from online complaints service Resolver, said the website had seen a sharp rise in the number of grievances about financial difficulties over the past few months. “There is a large amount of credit out there and a large number of people who are trying different types of credit as a way to keep afloat,” he said. Store cards in particular appeared to be re-emerging as a problem, James added. These cards are often offered with incentives by retailers, such as an introductory discount at point of sale, although interest rates tend to be far higher than on normal credit cards. “Undoubtedly, there are huge numbers of people relying on credit and we are hearing that many of them are concerned that they will not be able to pay if interest rates go up slightly, or if there is a rise in their mortgage rate. So people are very much up to the line,” he said.
The Financial Ombudsman Servicecorrect reported last week that complaints about payday loans had risen sharply and were nine times higher than two years ago. It received 10,529 new complaints about these short-term credit products in the 2016-17 financial year. This was a rise from 3,216 complaints during the previous year.

1% own £11 trillion.

The UK's wealth gap has been widening since the mid-2000s, a report says.
Think tank the Resolution Foundation estimates that 1% of the population owns 14% of the nation's assets - worth about £11 trillion.
At the other end of the financial scale, 15% either own no assets at all, or are in debt.
"Given the hugely unequal distribution of wealth across Britain, it's time we looked into how the nation's wealth is divided up and what the consequences are for those who never build up assets of any significance," said Conor D'Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dropped bricks (1966 short story)


A Short Story from the January 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Ladies and gentlemen", said the Chairman, putting down the glass from which he had just taken a fastidious sip, to match his well-groomed suit, his smooth hair and his immaculate cuffs. “May I have your attention, please?"

The other members of the Board adopted poses which suggested, for the benefit of the shareholders who were present, a concentrated fascination with the Chairman’s words which none of them felt.

“You have," said the Chairman, “All been supplied with a copy of the Statement of Accounts, the Auditor’s report and the Board’s comments on last year’s operations. I should now like to add a few words of my own which will, I hope, help to clear up any misunderstanding and confusion which may have arisen from certain irresponsible press reports and politically-inspired propaganda.

“As you know, your company—Planall Ltd.—was formed some time ago with one object—to promote the idea that the problems of contemporary society can be substantially solved by planning them out of existence. The founders of the Company felt that there was a need for it when they saw which followed the collapse of other firms whose business was to promote other ideas—Lassayfayre Ltd. was one and the Freeforall Company another.

“Both these companies had their uses, in their time—indeed some of their shareholders are now investors in Planall Ltd. —but a series of unfortunate events persuaded the electorate —I beg your pardon, I mean the public—that there was some doubt as to the efficacy of the remedies they were promoting. Their collapse left something of a vacuum and this dangerous situation was remedied only by the courageous and far-sighted action of the people who founded our Company, to put about another delusion—I mean solution."

The Chairman was visibly uneasy at his slips of the tongue. He sipped again at his glass, smoothed his hair and fingered his cuffs.

“Planning,” he resumed, “Is the greatest idea ever. There is no problem it cannot solve, no social ailment it cannot cure, no confusion it cannot bring to order. Why did the Industrial Revolution impose such dreadful conditions upon the people of this country? Why did the South Sea Bubble burst? What is the real explanation of the General Strike, the Crash in 1929, the rise of Hitler?

“The—answer — is — there—was—no—Planning! ” he shouted, emphasising each word with a blow of his fist on the table. These blows rattled the Chairman’s glass and, as if reminded by this of its existence, he raised it once more to his lips.

“Things are different now. There are fertile fields for an organisation which works to convince people that Planning is the answer to our problems. And in this work your company, I say with due modesty, is in the forefront. I shall now review one or two of the situations which have faced us recently and consider their effect on the principles which Planall Ltd. is devoted to spreading.

“The election of a Labour government was, of course, a great help to us. It is perfectly true—I don't want to upset any of our shareholders, ha, ha,—that the Conservative Party is also strongly committed to Planning, although they may pretend otherwise and although they find Mr. Enoch Powell useful in persuading some people that on this issue they are different from the Labour Party.

“But what is so warming, to me, about the Labour Party is that they stand for Planning openly and unashamed. Why, their last election programme was full of promises about it. Hardly a week-end goes by without some Cabinet Minister making a speech somewhere about Planning something. There has never been a time like it; we've had Plans for regional development, for housing, for transport, and a host of other things. And, last but not least,"—the Chairman switched on what he liked to think of as his winning smile—“We have had the National Plan.

“Whatever other effect these Plans may have their very existence is bound to convince a lot of people that Planning is desirable and that is not only good for tile Labour Party but good for the whole sacred idea of Planning, and good for Planall Ltd."

The Chairman, in full oratorical flood, felt his confidence rising. With a sound like a distant wind on the horizon, the Board let out a collective sigh of relief. The Chairman, recklessly, drank again.

“Perhaps I could now mention something about Planning and Housing,” he continued. “The Labour government have promised to build half a million houses a year, all by the simple trick of Planning. Most people, I am happy to say, accepted that this is feasible but others allowed themselves to be unduly disturbed by an unfortunate situation which has recently developed.

“I refer,” he said loudly, “to the matter of the Bricks.

“About a year ago, one of the problems confronting the British building industry was a shortage of bricks. In July 1964, in fact, the stocks of bricks in this country had fallen to the lowest level for four years. Building Plans were being frustrated by the lack of bricks. Of course every Right Thinking Person”—he beamed around the room, casting upon all of them the benediction of being a person who thought. right—“knows that only remedy for this sort of situation is to get another Plan going and this, I am happy to say, is what the government and the brick companies did.

“The government appealed for higher brick production and the brick makers were quick to respond. Almost the entire industry launched into a Plan to step up production. Members of the National Federation of Clay Industries planned to invest more than £25 million in new plant over the next four years; the London Brick Company, which already has advanced techniques like mechanical handling, promised more big increases in production. Everything was being nicely Planned.

“But today we find that, before these Plans have had time to take effect, before the brick industry has even been able to invest all the money it planned, the brick market is shrinking rapidly. Bricks are being stockpiled all over the country—some works are putting by nearly half their production. The London Brick Company is finding that lovely mechanical handling equipment a bit redundant, because stockpiled bricks have to be manhandled.

“Month by month, brick production is falling. The firms who thought such a short time ago that the future was so rosy are now on the point of laying off workers".

The Chairman was plainly upset at the prospect of a lot of unemployed brick workers lying uselessly all over the country. He consoled himself with a large gulp from his glass.

“Why is this happening?” he demanded, and one or two of his audience observed that his eye was unsteady. He leaned forward, as if to take his listeners into his confidence.

“Because while the government has been stimulating the brick industry it has also been pepping up the prefabricated building firms. And these firms have been pinching a lot of the market.

“The Prime Minister has publicly given his support to industrialised building methods; Mr. Crossman is aiming at a hundred thousand factory-built houses a year; the G.L.C. is going to put up blocks ol flats made of steel and plastic; one firm recently built an eleven storey block of pre-fab flats in ten weeks.

“Now nobody is going to accuse me of getting worked up about people living in a lot of mass-produced, hurriedly built, plastic Flats”—the Chairman’s voice was noticeably thicker, and he swigged once more at the glass—“But what has happened recently in the brick industry is liable to undermine peoples' confidence in Planning and then where will we be?

“And we’ve not got just bricks to worry about, They’re busily closing coal mines and sacking miners now, although a few years back they were crying out for higher coal production and for men to go into the pits. Not men like me, of course, who are too valuable to the country in the jobs we’re already doing to waste our time down a coal mine. They wanted other types for that sort of work.

“But the whole thing looks bad for Planning. And if the government, with its resources, its information, and the control it’s supposed to have over the economy, can't plan, who can?

“Private Industry? Ha!” The Chairman snorted, and emptied his glass. “What about the ships built to carry cargo which never materialised? The office blocks which can't find anybody to rent them? The refrigerators which are unsold in a bad summer? The car firms who lay down expensive factories in the hope—the hope, I say—that they can sell the cars which come out of them?”

The other members of the Planall Board were becoming uneasy. The Chairman was wandering a long way off the notes which had been so carefully prepared for him, and he had filled his glass from a dark green bottle which he had taken from his despatch case. They remembered how candid he became with the typists when he drank too much at office parties, and wondered what he would reveal next.

The Chairman ignored them.

“The truth is,” he shouted, “That whatever we try to plan, we can’t control the market. Nobody knows how long a market is going to last, or whether it’s going to appear at all. Who knows what, next year's weather will be like? Or what new sources of energy may be found? Of what new productive process developed?

“Industry today produces to satisfy the market and as it can’t plan or control the market then it can’t plan or control its production. That’s the explanation for the bricks fiasco, for the crisis in the coal industry and for all the other examples I could think of if only I could get rid of this confounded drumming which has suddenly started in the back of my head.

“Production for the market is at the very heart of modern society. And this means we can’t plan this society at all. Basically it is unplannable, anarchic. It mocks at all efforts to control it. It is true that politicians, and some other people like the Board of Planall Ltd.”—he stared belligerently around the table, his eyes flaring—“Say that Planning is not only possible but desirable and necessary. But the facts say that they might as well rely on a crystal ball.

“The talk in favour of Planning is a lie. It is all a big trick to convince people that we can control a society which is out of control, and which will stay like that until all you mugs wake-up and do something about it”.

The Chairman groped for his glass and, misjudging the distance, upset it over the tablecloth. In the confusion the Company Secretary saw his chance and jumped to his feet.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he cried, “I am sure we are all grateful to our Chairman for his—ah—stimulating remarks. Shall we now vote on the motion to approve the Company’s Report and Statement of Accounts?”

The shareholders sat unmoving for a bewildered moment. Could they support Planning now, after all they had heard and seen? The turmoil raged in them, but only briefly. First one, then another, and finally all of them, raised their hands.

The Company Secretary beamed. They were, he thought, people who had their principles and their loyalties—and a lot of money invested in the company.


The Summer School


The remaining Summer School session can now be revealed!
Socialism Saves The World! How Quickly Could Socialised Production Resolve Climate Change? - a talk by Brian Gardner
Revolution is long overdue of course - but the threats climate change presents to the habitability of the planet for humans in the long-term keep growing. Capitalism's apparent continued inability to face up to this existential challenge, makes this an issue of increasingly critical importance.

 As a future socialist revolution unfolds, what sort of planet would an international, politically-aware working class be likely to be taking over? Capitalist states and corporate sectors are currently outlining various future scenarios, and the market is busy laying bets on which technology might save the day. Shouldn’t socialists also look to this uncertain future? Would a global socialist society have to contend with a growing and hungry population? Would there be an urgent need for rapid industrial and agricultural development? And how would this impact on an already dangerously overheating planet?

 Brian opens this session by looking at why we shouldn’t shy away from asking these often tricky questions. The talk will discuss some of the ways in which economic decisions might be made in the absence of the market, and then asks whether a system based on production for use will really be able to meet the fundamental challenge of a warming planet, in time?

The Environment
Summer School 2017
21st – 23rd July
Fircroft College, Birmingham
All five sessions 
As citizens of the world contend with almost perpetual war there are various schools of thought about the real motives of those who promote, start or continue war somewhere on the planet. The military is just one arm of the global capitalist industrial complex, and vital to the hegemonic aims of powerful individuals and groups determined to funnel the profits into their own coffers.
It is also one of the most profitable arms of capitalism, one which reaps increasing profits on each successive annual assessment. Not taken into consideration, however, is the havoc wreaked on both people and environments worldwide.
The aim of this session is to investigate the increasing negative impacts of militarism on the global environment and identify the basic cause.

The currently accepted socialist view of vegetarianism is that it’s a ‘lifestyle choice’. What this means is that, while a future socialist society may choose to be vegetarian or vegan as it pleases, the question has no immediate relevance to the class struggle we need to win right now, and therefore it’s not for us to tell workers what to do.

Yet this view is arguably being overtaken by events in wider society, which is having to face the realities of climate change including the huge and unsustainable impact of meat production. The anti-meat propaganda movement is gaining muscle in the wake of the 2009 Stern report, the 2010 UN call for a global move towards veganism, and just recently Simon Amstell’s controversial BBC mockumentary Carnage (see May Socialist Standard TV review). Perhaps it’s no longer a question of socialists telling workers what to do, but of workers telling socialists what to do. How should we react to this? After all, if meat production is unsustainable in capitalism it is likely to be just as unsustainable in socialism. Does it make sense, in that case, for us to remain aloof from the debate?

This session explores the various arguments with a view to clarifying what our position as socialists ought to be

DESTROYING THE HAND THAT FEEDS US - Why Capitalism cannot solve our environmental problems
As scientists continue to warn us of species decline, climate change, pollution and environmental collapse, what is it that makes most people continue to believe that Capitalism has the answers?
Glenn Morris will look into these issues and present the case for a new society in which the threats to our environment can be addressed and how society can work alongside nature without being instrumental in its downfall.

SOCIALISM SAVES THE WORLD! - How Quickly Could Socialised Production Resolve Climate Change?

Revolution is long overdue of course - but the threats climate change presents to the habitability of the planet for humans in the long-term keep growing. Capitalism's apparent continued inability to face up to this existential challenge, makes this an issue of increasingly critical importance. As a future socialist revolution unfolds, what sort of planet would an international, politically-aware working class be likely to be taking over? Capitalist states and corporate sectors are currently outlining various future scenarios, and the market is busy laying bets on which technology might save the day. Shouldn’t socialists also look to this uncertain future? Would a global socialist society have to contend with a growing and hungry population? Would there be an urgent need for rapid industrial and agricultural development? And how would this impact on an already dangerously overheating planet?

Brian Gardner opens this session by looking at why we shouldn’t shy away from asking these often tricky questions. The talk will discuss some of the ways in which economic decisions might be made in the absence of the market, and then asks whether a system based on production for use will really be able to meet the fundamental challenge of a warming planet, in time?

Saturday evening at Summer School will feature a quiz, run by Carla Dee: ONE WORLD, OUR WORLD. A QUIZ. What do you know about climate change, the natural world and urban environments? Test your knowledge here.