Wednesday, 25 April 2012

‘We Sympathise with your Cause, but...’ - Non Violent Civil Disobedience in the 21st Century

In recent years, the activities of UKUncut, the Occupy Movement, the student movement and the forthcoming Olympics protests can be counted as a resurgence of non-violent civil disobedience, as a means of highlighting social issues in the UK. Today’s article examines the key criticisms levelled at proponents of non violent civil disobedience and puts forward the case that their asking is the path to success rather than the obstacle.

Fence Sitters and their Justifications

Let’s be honest, some days it gets a bit tiresome hearing the same old arguments hurled at you as a protestor. Sometime I get frustrated at the lazy thinking behind them, the fact that I’ve answered them a hundred times before and I know just how this conversation is going to go. I know exactly what they are going to ask, when and in what tone of voice because they are simply transmitting a meme. But that state of mind is pointless, self righteous clap trap...understandable, but still. So let’s look at these questions, the answer to them and the secret success in them being asked in the first place.

Critics across the political social spectrum often cite three main arguments toward individuals or groups who utilise non-violent resistance methods.

1. I don’t understand what you’re protesting about

2. People agree with what you’re saying but you’ll alienate them with these actions

3. It won’t change anything

The points are generally even placed in that order. There’s a natural logic to it. First I say you don’t have a cause. Then when it’s clear you do, I undermine your actions instead (with no onus on me to provide a viable alternative). If all else fails, I kill your case with apathy.

The first thing to remember is that these questions will occur as genuine to the people asking them. They often feel like they thought them up themselves. But they are part of a wider social narrative which most people simply inherit, imbibe or absorb by a sort of social osmosis.

A brief look at the history of non violent disobedience will attest to the fact that these arguments are as old as the hills and have been pointed at everyone from Ghandi to Martin Luther-King and beyond. Both men were at pains to respond to these critics. But 21st century movements need to deliver a 21st century answer to 21st century critics. In short, we need to find our voice and make the case again.

What are you even on about anyway?

The above cartoon encapsulates this point perfectly.

While participating in Occupy London and Bristol more than a handful of people outside the movement berated it (and me personally) for ‘messing up the area’. Some would sigh, palm to forehead ‘have you seen what they’ve done to the grass?’ These rants were always followed up with ‘and what are they even on about anyway?’ or ‘They have no demands’.

It is all too easy, caught up in the passion of one’s cause, to cast out an acerbic ‘perhaps if you cared as much about human beings as you cared about these azaleas, we wouldn’t have to be here in the first place?!’

I’ve been guilty of making that same case myself on more stressful days. It’s not that this statement isn’t fairly apposite either. It’s just not particularly effective as a means of moving that conversation on. It’s a rhetorical block, a barb fired back to make the critic wrong, and us righteous; tempting, but ultimately self-defeating.

A good friend of mine took on having a conversation with each person he overheard making these criticisms. He would simply ask ‘do you know why they are there?’ Most would say they didn’t. But many suddenly revealed they did. Some would go as far as to roll their eyes at their own inconsistency. In most cases, in this one on one scenario, speaking openly and with the person feeling safe, the critic would more often than not come around. Others wouldn’t. But both went away with their question answered, whether they agreed or not.

The only thing to do when someone asks this question is to answer it in a straight way. I generally start by taking a breath and reminding myself that however I am interpreting the question, here is an opportunity to have a conversation with someone about something I care deeply about. It is an opportunity to open someone else’s mind to an issue or issues they may have been unaware of. It is an opportunity to reflect on my own views, challenge and refine them. It is an opportunity.

Nice Cause, Shame about the Tactics

Whether it is a strike, a march, an occupation or a direct action – there is always a media focus on the ‘victims’ of the protestors. For a strike it is generally the service users, for a march it’s the road users, for occupations it’s the local community and businesses. The argument is often phrased along the lines of ‘what have THEY done to deserve this?’

So, the conversation will naturally lead from a resolution of the why, to a rejection of the how. If you take a moment now and think about any protest movement of the last century...can you think of one that everyone agreed with? Unlikely. In which case, why would the protests of our time be any different?

This illness of ease with disruption exists for overlapping reasons.

One is that in most cases, people’s first reaction is defensive. They are going about their day, watching a sports event etc and so someone intervening in that, whatever the reason, provokes a defensive response. You’ve messed with their plans. No point even denying that, it’s what you do as a proponent of civil disobedience. You mess with other people’s plans, you get in the way, and you disrupt the planned order of things.
However, that interruption is the very purpose of your action. It is not an unintended consequence that you’d do better to avoid. It is the entire point. You are there to make the world stop and look at the otherwise ignorable plight of others.

This brings me neatly to the second reason for the natural repugnance of this interruption to critics. They don’t want to see it, the issue you are holding up before them by your action. They don’t want to deal with the mess. They’ve been ignoring it successfully for all this time and now you’ve come along with your bells and whistles and made them look at it.

So they’re angry you’ve messed up their day and they’re even more angry that now you’ve made them look at something ugly.

In reaction to this, again it is easy to start throwing around arguments about perspective and comparison of suffering. It is important to make these points and one should. However, don’t expect this to calm the argument down. It’s a match on a powder-keg, because now not only have you ruined their day, but you’ve told them they deserve it too, which makes you arrogant.

There is a good reason why the media tend to want to focus around this criticism. It’s harder to discuss the issues, and easier to get drawn into a tit for tat of whom is suffering the most. It is also easy to mobilise the moderates against an action or protest, because moderates are naturally conservative and therefore easily put off by something perceived to invoke acrimony.

No, the step for the movements here is to once again be honest. We are here to disrupt and here is why. There is no need to defend yourself or make you right and them wrong. Clearly you believe in what you are doing otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it, and clearly they don’t.

The reason all you need do is state your case is simple: once you have, the debate you generate forms the social question about the issue you have highlighted. You have done your job. No protestor, including great figures of the past, wins these battles on their own. In fact, they often haven’t won them in their lifetime. But their role was absolutely critical in forwarding the debate. They put the case out there, as many times as they could, to whoever they could and they didn’t stop until they were physically stopped or the social conversation changed in their favour.

This is what we have yet to experience. We have a history which appears to be of single acts by great people which changed the course of society. In reality, they were just a bunch of committed individuals who chose to speak their truth and take the personal risk of disobeying the law in favour of honouring principles they believed to be of a higher order. Those principles were equality, social and economic justice, peace and so on. In this sense, we are no different. You don’t need to win the individual conversation, you need to start it and keep it going until your combined efforts form a human tsunami of social progress. Keep doing, keep talking, keep listening.

You Won’t Change a Damn Thing

Finally, with all other avenues exhausted, the effectiveness of non violent civil disobedience and protest is challenged. How will you chaining yourself to the doors parliament change government policy? How does some ‘idiot’ throwing himself in the Thames tackle elitism? How do a few tents change the world? How does you closing Topshop for an hour change tax law?

In this moment, you need to hug the words of Margaret Mead close to your chest, read them every day if you have to:

“Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”

Movements which embrace ideas of social progress, equality and the better angels of our nature inspire people. The rights and privileges gained from movements past were not won by kind thoughts and some idea of ‘natural and inevitable’ social progress. They were won by people who stood up to be counted and made themselves unignorable, when it was unfashionable to do so. They were not speaking with the grain of their time, they were speaking against it.

There was a time when the idea that a black person was not property, was a radical idea.

Today it’s the standard.

There was a time when the idea of a person without property having a vote was a radical idea.

Today it’s the standard.

There was a time when the idea that a woman could vote was a radical idea.

Today it’s the standard.

There was a time when there was no weekend, no idea of work-life balance.

Today it’s the standard.

All these are examples where protest movements, with non violent civil disobedience at their core, took on the established way of thinking about things, of conducting ourselves, and started a conversation for another way. And they achieved their aims.

Today, neo-liberalism is the paradigm; the seemingly unshakeable context of our lives. Most things, if argued to be in the interests of increased GDP, are considered synonymous with being in the public interest.

An ever increasing pool of people has grown locally and connected across the globe, under the realisation that this way of running things is not sustainable and profits (figuratively and literally) an ever decreasing percentage of the population of the earth. Consider it the evolution of our society. Empires went, Kingdoms went, and Neo-Liberalism too will pass.

Reasons to be Cheerful

The unacknowledged truth in all of this is that the fact the critics are even engaging with you means you are fulfilling your aim as a proponent of non violent civil disobedience. You are taking your role in the narrative. You are putting your case into the melting pot of worldviews for discussion and debate. All there is to do is keep on keeping on. There is a reason that phrases like ‘you can’t evict an idea whose time has come’ resonate with people. You can silence one person, you can jail however many you like, but so long as the conversation for them and their Movements exists, they threaten the status quo......exactly, as they had intended in the first place.

In reality, the act itself is the easy bit. It is the conversation afterwards which we are truly aiming for, and once that starts, we are well and truly on our way to achieving the change we want to see in the world.

So next time someone asks what occurs to you as a truly stupid question about your Movement or cause, you might want to smile at the thought that they are unwittingly becoming the vehicle carrying your case out there into the mind of others.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Corporate Sport – High Class Hooker, Low Life Pimp

During the weekend, Formula One decided to go ahead with the Grand Prix in Bahrain, despite the Bahraini government simultaneously abusing and killing its civilian population for daring to ask for some rights. Formula One officials were quick to state: ‘This is a sporting event, it’s not political’.

Meanwhile, calls to protest the London 2012 Olympic Games due to cost, unethical corporate sponsorship and the context of ‘austerity’ for all but the 1% are also met with the rebuke ‘But it’s just a sporting event’.

This is nothing new. Today’s article, takes a look at the murky world of the corporate sports machine, willing to lay in bed with the most heinous regimes in recent history, for the sake of a fast buck.

Nazi Olympics Anyone?

The German Olympics in 1936 took place under the watchful eye of one Adolf Hitler. Although the International Olympic Committee awarded Germany the Games two years prior to Hitler’s accession, they had ample time in the following years to find another host country. However, not only did the Olympics go ahead, but the IOC president of the day Henri de Baillet-Latour bent over backwards to accommodate the particular tastes of his anti-Semitic hosts. In 1934, Baillet-Latour and a future IOC president Avery Brundage flew into Nazi Germany apparently to assess the state of the country and it’s suitability to continue as hosts. Surprisingly, given what we know to be the case on the ground, Nazi Germany got a clean bill of health from both men, who went so far as to state that any anti-semitism was not the domain of the IOC, once again the Olympics was touted as an apolitical event.

So, the Nazi Olympics continued, despite Germany openly refusing to allow Jewish athletes (or any other group deemed non-Aryan) to represent their nation on the track or field. Furthermore, the US government accepted the IOC request to remove two Jewish athletes from the 4x100m relay team to avoid embarrassing Hitler and his Aryan accomplices, in the event of defeat.

But all this is fine of course, because it was just a sporting event, and nothing to do with politics at all.

Dark Night in Mexico City

In 1968 the Olympics was to be held in Mexico City. On the 2nd October, 10 days before the Games, the vibrant student movement of Mexico held a peaceful march into Tlatelolco Plaza in the city. The students were protesting the repression and police violence meted out by the authoritarian state in recent months.

With the students neatly assembled in the Plaza with their banners and placards, the Mexican army opened fire and continued to massacre the students for two hours.

There was disbelief in Mexico and around the world, at the paltry government estimate of 4 deaths, and their stories of militant communist agitators whipping up internal strife. The world knew that thousands of young people were massacred that night in Tlatelolco Plaza.

However, the now fully grown IOC president of the day, Avery Brundage, announced (to the surprise of a waiting world) "None of the demonstrations or violence has at any time been directed against the Olympic Games," and in fact, the Olympics was "a veritable oasis in a troubled world". He dismissed the massacre as “an internal affair”.

Sound familiar?

The Thrilla in Manila

In 1975, Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos invited Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier to hold their fight in his country, to gain international credibility and internal distraction from his policies. Marcos had by this time, increased the size of the military from 65k to 250k, had used $54bn from the country’s own treasury to fund his re-election, and indulged in widespread arrests, torture and killings of political opponents and protesters. Those look at Greece and Italy’s recent suspension of democracy may smile wryly at Marcos, speaking of his decision to override democracy by ending the two-term rule limit: “the stakes too high for us to permit the customary concessions to traditional democratic processes.”– Ferdinand Marcos, January 1973. By 1975, the people of the Philippines were suffering their third year of martial rule under Marcos.

However, boxing promoter Don King worked with Marcos and others to host the biggest boxing event of the decade (and historically, the century) in Manila. Marcos paid the boxers well above the standard fees of the day, to seal the deal. Ali was promised $4.5 million, including $3 million from the government of a country where the annual salary of 70 percent of the work force was less than the price of an upper box seat — then $133 — at the Araneta Coliseum in suburban Quezon City.

Once again, those objecting to this blatant collusion of corporate sport and corrupt government were met with utter hostility, as people politicising a sporting event.

Apartheid Rugby

In 1981, South Africa was in the full flow of racial apartheid. The state was segregated into racial groups and a person’s access to services, space, housing, employment, education, transport – their whole world in act was defined by race laws. In reality, this meant if you were born black or ‘coloured’, you lead a life restricted by permits, oppression and often death. This insidious regime was being opposed all over the world, but not of course, the world of sport. The apartheid regime were still allowed to participate in the Olympics and (their national sport) International Rugby competitions, as if they were of equal world standing to other states – and not infect, as they should have been, a pariah state, internationally isolated until it abandoned its ideology of racial supremacy.

In 1981, the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team – who did not permit black players to the team) set off on its tour of New Zealand amid huge opposition from anti-apartheid campaigners across the globe.

The New Zealand Rugby Union refused to cancel the tour, despite widespread opposition internally and internationally. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon refused to block the tour despite having signed the 1977 Gleneagles statement condemning Apartheid and calling for the end of the apartheid regime.  He once again stated the case that this was a sporting event and not a place for political intervention.

In the event, the tour became a farce, successfully blighted by mass protests. Two games were ditched altogether, one by a group of 200 people who liberally sprinkled the pitch with tacks before staging a sit in. Despite a stadium full of sports fans yelling ‘go get a job’, ‘get a wash’ and branding them ‘dirty f***ing hippies’, the protest succeeded. In retrospect, where would you rather have been that day? Making a stand for racial equality, or frothing at the hot dog filled mouth that your beloved sports day had been ruined?

The Sports Industry as Chief Bauble

Writing for Verso Books in 1999, Marqusee wrote that the corporate sports industry was in fact, a friendly agent of neo-liberalism. Its star athletes and sport events used to divert people’s attention from social problems, or to shape personal identities according to political interests. In each of the cases above, the sporting events served the joint interests of their corporate backers, and the host governments. Be it to divert from crisis, to legitimise the unconscionable, or merely make vast sums of money – corporate sports has played its part, dutifully spreading it’s legs for Mussolini’s fascist Italy, Hitler’s Germany, Marcos’ Manila, Apartheid South Africa and, this weekend, Bahrain. If in fact, Corporate Sports were a high class hooker; her underwear would indeed be soiled by the secretions of the lowest of the low.

To claim these events as ‘just’ sporting events, and ‘apolitical’ is an outright lie, so stunning in its affront to common sense and facts, that it makes one wonder why it isn’t exactly readily challenged by the media. In all these cases, on the whole, the media supported the event, and branded protesters as attention seeking troublemakers, at best with a good cause but the wrong tactics.

These phrases ‘It's just a sporting event’ and ‘It's not political’ and ‘I agree with some of the things the protestors are complaining about but...’ are all derived directly from the narrative scripted by the pimps of corporate sports and their punters, the despots of the world. From the press office of the Bahraini dictatorship, via BBC News at Six, to Bob Smith in Dudley and on to Bob’s children who overhear him as he opens a beer on Sunday, happy that his race is going ahead and he doesn’t have to change his plans thanks to some bunch of troublemakers.

But what about the athletes who’ve worked so hard to get there?

This is perhaps the toughest question put to those who oppose the corporate jamborees, like those above, on principle.

On the one hand, it is difficult not to sympathise with the unenviable position of the athletes in this. People who have committed themselves to the mastery of their sport of choice, unsurprisingly must look upon the threat of disturbance, interruption or abortion of these events, the culmination of their training efforts, with a combination of fear, frustration and great disappointment.

At the same time, there are other factors to consider. Firstly, corporate sponsorship. It is understandable that aspiring and successful athletes alike are wooed by this tempting revenue source. However, when an athlete accepts vast sums of money to advocate for a corporation – they become necessarily linked. Be it BP, Cadburys, McDonalds or Walkers Crisps – that athlete has ceased to serve simply as an athlete, but as a paid representative of that corporation.

Secondly, there has been a history of stoic athletes making a stand in spite of all this, for important causes of their time. Tommie Smith and John Carlos would be one such example, at the aforementioned Mexico Olympics of 1968. How powerful it would have been this weekend, if the already multi-millionaire drivers of Formula One had take to the podium to undertake a display of support for the people of Bahrain, or withdrawn from the event altogether.

It is no different with the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Where are the athlete’s refusing to wear an Olympic medal mined by Rio Tinto for their appalling ecological and ethical record?

Where are the athletes refusing to wear a kit sewn for 34p an hour in an Adidas sweatshop in the Far East?

Where are the Paralympians refusing to participate in an event sponsored by ATOS, the company right now persecuting disabled people across the country by withdrawing their social security payments after bogus ‘fitness to work’ tests?

There are sadly, none to be found.

Finally, a blunt question. Are we saying that on the scale of human suffering, the blighted lives of those impacted by the egregious behaviour of these Corporate Sponsors, and the behaviour of the host government are mere trifles in comparison to some interruption of walking, talking billboards for both – which, it is sad to say, is what sports people have become. Is corruption, a lack of ethics, torture, less important than driving cars around in a circle or running quickly or someone jumping further than someone else?

Clearly, to anyone with a working brain and

We Need to Get a Grip

It is time for us to get a grip, avert our eyes from the seductive dancing of the Corporate Sports machine, and think about our knee jerk support for sporting events in the face of ethical issues. In less than 100 days, another corporate bonanza takes place in the UK. The London 2012 Games has cost the UK taxpayer at least £11bn. It is sponsored by the worst offending corporations in our world, basking themselves in the beneficent glow of the Olympic torch. All the while, the UK government is launching the greatest assault on the nation’s public services in its history. The response given to those planning to protest up to, during and around the games? ‘But it’s just a sporting event’, ‘It's not political’...and ‘think of the athletes’.
  The great thing is though, in spite of all this spin and mythology; The Nazi’s fell, and the protestors against Apartheid, and Marcos and others succeeded amidst all this of shining light onto the issues. Those regimes are now consigned to the dustbin of history. And now, we have our moment in history. We get to choose to take our seats for the floorshow, or make a stand for a world worthy of the best of humanity. That really would make London 2012, the Greatest Show on Earth.

For more information on Olympic civil disobedience, follow @ourolympics on twitter or go to The Counter Olympics Network (CON) also has the best collection of articles and information on the Olympic issues, currently on the web. Support these campaigns and make a difference.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The ‘F’ Word: How to know when you’re living in a Fascist State

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.”

— Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 29, 1938. Message to congress

Today’s article takes a look at the growing mutually assured domination of government and big business which raises the question: at what point to we hear the words of Roosevelt, and acknowledge we are witnessing a resurgent Fascism?

The Ideology That Dare Not Speak Its Name

 To be clear, Fascism is not about soldiers in jackboots goose-stepping along Whitehall. This is a post WWII idea of Fascism which, it could be argued, provides a smokescreen for identifying original Fascism. Umberto Eco coined the term ‘Eternal Fascism’ for this brand I write of, the antecedent of the nationalist, racist Nazi-style Fascism considered as default today.

If one say’s of Britain ‘We live in a fascist regime’, the immediate response is most often an irritated, dismissive shake of the head followed by ‘Well why don’t you go live in Iran/North Korea/Russia?’ depending on the chosen pariah state of the moment. To be clear, I wouldn’t want to live in those states either. Equally, we have a responsibility as, purportedly, the sovereign power of this country (our sovereignty delegated to parliament through democratic universal suffrage) to ‘put our own house in order first’.

People presented with this premise will find themselves unable to take the ideological side step required to acknowledge our corporatist system as fascist, rather than free market run amok. It is the truth we dare not admit. I argue this is mainly because no one wants to think they live in a fascist state, no one wants the burden of being called into action to defend against a fascist state and most people sincerely want to (and in many cases do) believe that matters of ideology and politics are irrelevant in the context of their daily lives. All of this is human and understandable. But that is different from it being correct or responsible.

What’s Fascist about Blighty?

Using Roosevelt’s definition, no doubt examples are already coming to your mind. I am choosing deliberately to reference contemporary examples to underscore the proximity and urgency of our situation, and to avoid the debate becoming lost in the fog of chronological distance.

Taking a look at the various examples from the Bank Bailout, the Health & Social Care Bill, the Welfare Reform Bill, Workfare, the privatisation of the police force and Education System, it is easy to spot a common thread; the transfer of public services, to powerful private interests, funded by public money.

Now, in free market economics there are a couple of principles which purport to make the market free.

1) The Best ‘Man’ Wins: A business (a person or organisation providing a product or service to other persons/organisations in return for remuneration) prospers when its product or services beat those of its competitors at attracting customers. These customers have free choice over the suppliers in the market, and choose based solely on their idea of best value.

2) Moral Hazard: In the event that a business fails to achieve the above, to such a degree that it is no longer financially viable, it fails. The company is dissolved, made bankrupt or diversifies.

It is clear to see that collusion between big business and UK parliament in recent years has rendered these two rules obsolete. This is how.

Best ‘Man’ Wins? A Customer Compelled.

Libertarians would argue that all compulsory tax is theft. The idea that a government can compel an individual, through fear of sanction, to hand over money they have earned themselves has those of a Libertarian viewpoint ill at ease from the get go.

However, even if one agrees with a compulsory taxation system it is easy to see that in a fascist context, this principle one might look upon as beneficent, can become fraud in practise.

For example, let’s say I want to buy a vacuum (leaving out all the factors which complicate the analogy like comparative advantage, fair trade, etc. Let’s say we live in Adam Smith Land where the market is free). I want a vacuum cleaner. I can scour the market for the vacuum cleaner that most meets my requirements in terms of functionality, appearance, cost, quality and so on. Even after all that, I can buy any one I like, or none. All this is done entirely on my own free will.

Now, the Health and Social Care Bill, the academisation of schools and the privatisation of police stations are Bills which put private, profit making providers in charge of public services.

The services, although free at the point of use, are paid for through a tax I have no choice over paying, unless I accept legal or other sanction. In the past, this tax was agreed on the basis that it was a communal pool of funding for the service, delivered by public employees accountable to a parliamentary representative.

What these Bills do, is take that money given in good faith and divert it from that agreed course, to create new markets and revenues for private interests, with private employees who are not accountable to the state, and therefore, by extension, me.

This makes me, you, all of us, legally obliged customers of Virgin, G4S, Serco, Circle, and any other corporation the government flogs our services off to.

Worse than that, these companies have failed to attract most of us out of the state model. Most of us use the NHS rather than private healthcare, most of us use the state education system rather than private education, most of us wouldn’t consider using private security over calling the police. Unhappy with their market share, these corporations have succeeded, through the collaboration with a parliamentary system inseparable from the corporate world, in cheating the rule of the market. They don’t need us to choose them, the choice has been made for us and we are compelled to hand over our cash.

There is no party present which does not espouse these ‘neo-liberal’ policies, therefore utilising the vote to arrest this process is not possible. This egregious domination of our democracy by self serving corporatism is Fascist.

Moral Hazard? Not a Chance

To recap on the cause of our current economic woes, there was collusion again between government and the financial services industry, to avoid proper regulation of financial services in general, and the derivatives market in particular. There was intense lobbying in the US and the UK to maintain this position, with senior government figures on both sides of the Atlantic stepping in directly to prevent the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (in the US) and the Financial Services Authority in the UK, from ever coming close to putting the appropriate safeguards in place around these products.

This left banks, brokers and insurance companies free to mount the biggest assault on fiscal logic known to man. They started to rapidly expand their theoretical balance sheets by leveraging debt to almost infinite ratios. High Street Banks and Mortgage Providers, credit card companies and other debt merchants chased the custom of individuals with little or no regard for their ability to pay back the loans. Why? Because they were not going to keep ownership of the debt.

The banks and other groups could then sell on this hastily won debt to a big Bank/Broker such as Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup et al who collected batches of these debts together, turned them into a financial INVESTMENT product called a Collateral Debt Obligation. So, a bunch of risky debts becomes an investment product overnight. This product was then, with the support of the Cartel’s gatekeeper, the Credit Ratings Agencies, declared Triple A for its credit worthiness. That’s right, in effect saying that the likelihood of return on some unemployed, indebted guy in Minnesota’s credit card bill is as likely as return on a government bond from the UK/US government.

The banks then took these investment products and sold them to unknowing pension companies who bought them on the basis that they were now deemed perfectly safe.

The same banks then insured for the very product they sold the pension firm going toxic. That’s right, the equivalent of an estate agent selling you a house having set a fire under the floorboards, then going and putting an insurance policy in place for a payout on your death or the destruction of your house. These are called Credit Default Swaps (CDS). There was no limit on who could set up these CDS’s either. So, not only could your estate agent insure that house, but every estate agent in your city....or country.

Now, bear in mind that at every point of these exchanges, significant fees are being handed over, generating paper profits, making balance sheets look amazingly positive, with no actual product or service underpinning them.

Finally, in 2007 all those little over leveraged consumers around the world started to find it impossible to repay their loans. The CDO investments turned toxic and all those who had invested in them, those pension companies we discussed, lost their money. Whilst employees were informed the pension they’d been funding all their working lives had vanished overnight, leaving them with no safety net in old age, the Goldman Sachs’s of this world started filing their insurance claims with the likes of AIG and Lehman Brothers and others.

The insurers couldn’t cope with the financial hit and started to fold, the brokers balance sheets couldn’t handle the hit and started to fold, and the high street banks, unable to claim from broker, bank or insurer started to fold. The whole system was about to come crashing down. Capitalism itself, as expressed today, had failed the Moral Hazard test, as had each of the businesses involved in this ponzi scheme of a financial derivatives market.
However, instead of these corporations collapsing, this extraordinary mountain of toxic private debt was transferred into public debt by the Bank Bailout. The taxpayer was not asked, but told, that they had to bailout the banks with their tax revenues.

Not one banker went to court or jail. Not one new regulation has been placed on the financial derivatives market. These same products are being packaged and sold across the financial services industry right now. The Banks were left free to carry on business as usual, on our dime.

Instead of this prompting criticism of big business, despite the ‘banker bashing’ which we often hear condemned in the media, it’s our state system which has been lambasted and ripped apart. The economic crisis went from being a Fascist failure, to a statist failure. A failure of a tax and spend government who ‘failed to fix the roof while the sun was shining’. The solution?

Greater deregulation of markets, especially the financial services industry which has been recast as our greatest wealth creator not our greatest debtor. A violent contraction of the welfare state, and a blanket condemnation of those unfortunate enough to find themselves without work due to ill physical or mental health, disability or sheer lack of jobs. Finally, private enterprise must take a leading role in the provision of public services....because they are more efficient than the current public providers of, apparently, any service. Our schools, hospitals, police forces, welfare system, all of it opened to private providers paid for by the public purse.

To add insult to injury, we are saddled with a media so overwhelmingly inadequate in providing critical analysis of this demonstrably illogical and fraudulent approach that the BBC may very well have been rebranded as Bought By Cameron.

End Game

So, to return to Umberto Eco for a moment, he defines a list of societal attributes which provide the framework for a Fascist state (Eternal Fascist).

• “The Cult of Tradition" - the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of

1776, of course). The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of

modern depravity.

• "The Cult of Action for Action's Sake", which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.

• "Disagreement Is Treason" - fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.

• "Fear of Difference", which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.

• "Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class", fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.

• "Obsession with a Plot" and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often involves an appeal to xenophobia or the identification of an internal security threat. He cites Pat Robertson's book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.

• "Pacifism Is Trafficking with the Enemy" because "Life is Permanent Warfare" - there must always be an enemy to fight.

• "Contempt for the Weak" - although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero.

• "Selective Populism" - the People have a common will, which is not delegated but interpreted by a leader. This may involve doubt being cast upon a democratic institution, because "it no longer represents the Voice of the People".

• "Newspeak" - fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.

Now, take a look through this list, and reflect upon the attacks on the so called ‘liberal intellectual elite’ or ‘job snobs’ who rallied against workfare, arguing for a day’s pay for a day’s work. The knee jerk attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – and the ‘something must be done’ culture. The fact that ideas on economics, social structure, environmental management which challenge the existing paradigm are absent from mainstream media, sidelined under the heading ‘alternative theories’ in academia and ignored or mocked by the political establishment – making disagreement treasonous and unpopular. The accusatory language aimed at blaming the woes of Britain on immigration or ‘failed multiculturalism’ and the constant characterisation of terrorists as brown men with beards holding Korans. The parliamentary narrative, to the ‘squeezed middle’ or ‘hard working families’, that parliament is working for you guys, it is on your side but it’s efforts are being hampered by those welfare cheats, immigrants, idle youth and old people who just won’t die and are therefore a drain on our resources. The branding of the most vulnerable members of our society in fact, the old, the disabled, the sick, the mentally ill, the jobless, all these groups are now treated with suspicion and contempt. A news media so narrow in its focus and its use of language, parroting the distinctions and terms of debate set out by the government, that full debate becomes impossible.

And finally, in Greece and Italy, the democratically elected governments that wouldn’t do the bidding of the banks, were replaced by unelected bankers. The reason given? That they were unable to serve the interests of the people, which was apparently redefined by our leaders as the actions which are most conducive to their profit making ventures.

Did the so called free press of the western world condemn this toppling of democratic government by unelected technocrats?

Of course not, they reliably provided us with pundits from all over the world assuring us that this was all for the best and completely in our interests, they were saving us.

What do you do when you Realise you Live in a Fascist State?

The good news is your head doesn’t explode and the floor doesn’t slide out from under your feet. But you can stop banging your head against a brick wall. Why vote for your Fascist representative? Why expect them to act in your interests? Why be confused by the inconsistent and irrational policy selection?

You are able to abandon false hope, and instead think with a clear head about what action you can take, personally and with others, to start the clamber out of Fascism. You can stop supporting the worst offending corporations. You can stop supporting events such as the Olympics which take your money and hand it to those corporations. You can join campaigns of particular interest to you, meet other people who share your ideas and take direct action to make a change. Over time, by joining the dots and our collective effort and will, we can topple fascism.

The dawning realisation is but the first critical step in this process...

Monday, 16 April 2012

The ConDemNation of a Generation: The UK Government’s Assault on our Youth

The UK Government announced its plan today to ‘dock’ the child benefits of students who truant from school. There has been a vociferous response to this plan, seen as yet another means of withdrawing a public service under the guise of austerity. Today’s article examines the myriad ways in which Britain’s young have been (among many others) targeted by a government obsessed with cuts for the many and benefits for the few. It is a call to student unions, students and their friends and families to support the mass action of 28th July 2012.

The Academisation of Schools

Firstly, starting in primary and secondary education. To be clear, this process did not start under the Coalition. This was a New Labour pet project which progressed apace through the last parliament and accelerated under this one. The Academy programme is for and education system what the Health & Social Care Bill is to the National Health Service. It is privatisation by stealth. Like the NHS Bill, its proponents argue that the fact that schools are still state funded and free at the point of use means they are not privatised. However, in reality, schools (like health services under the bill) become private enterprises, run by private interests, which the tax payer is obliged to pay for without them being accountable to local government. In effect, our schools become business, to which we are made compulsory customers through the tax system.

When a school become an Academy it becomes a limited company. It no longer answers to its local authority and it is opened up to other private providers to make a killing. Funded by us. The scheme sports an umbilical cord to the Private Finance Initiative. This is how it works.

Schools are tempted into becoming academies with the promise of greater freedom over their curriculum and teaching style, PFI funding to build new buildings or repair decaying ones and the support and innovation ‘naturally’ present by welcoming in commercial interests. In reality, the PFI schemes, with their infamous interest rates, place a mortgage on the school twice that of government borrowing to make the same investment. The school is then tied in for 25-20 years, making payments to a private investment company for investment which should be coming from government. Most of the PFI deals include tie in contracts with providers of repair and maintenance services, HR, IT, catering and cleaning contracts which cost the school much more than the previous arrangements with the Local Education Authority. They often include leasing agreements making school facilities such as sports fields, classrooms and theatres open to leasing at high rates to generate income. This has priced out the former local beneficiaries of free or discount facilities such as community groups, amateur dramatic societies, local music groups and the schools themselves.

In short, schools have moved from being the centre of local communities, to investment hubs for big business. All funded by Johnny Tax Payer.

Bye, Bye EMA

One of the first acts of the Coalition government was to axe the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). This scheme was designed to provide students of further education, with £30 a week paid every two weeks to buy books, pay for travel and subsistence. It was designed to support children of low income families with a lifeline that for many, made staying on in education after 16 viable. The trust fund entitled elite of Britain’s political system may not understand the pressures on a young person from a family struggling to keep afloat, to ditch the ‘airy fairy’ world of academia to earn a wage and support themselves and their family financially. But many in this country do. Although the scheme was ditched under the guise of austerity, it is at a time of so-called austerity that schemes like this matter most. They are the lifeline which makes social equality and equal access to education possible. Without it, you create yet another barrier to the majority of children in our state system progressing their education and achieving their potential as our next doctors, scientists, academics, artists and thinkers.

Writing in the Guardian, Vice President of the National Students Union (NUS) Shaun Cowen wrote “Let's be very clear who we are talking about. Some 91% of young people who are entitled to free school meals at year 11 receive EMA, 83% of young people from single-parent households receive it, as do 76% of the lowest-achieving 16-year-olds who continue in education. What future can the government offer these young people now?”


Instead the government offered a paltry bursary which was less than half of the funding provided through EMA and left the possible students of tomorrow dangling in the wind, wondering at the mixed messages of a government telling them ‘we are all in this together’ whilst cutting the rungs of their socio-economic ladder out from under them.

The Tuition Fee Hike

Prior to the 2010 general election, coalition partners the Liberal Democrats not only promised no hike in tuition fees, but to abolish them altogether. This made them the party of choice for many students, who voted yellow in the election on the promise of Nick Clegg and others in the party to stand up for students. In fact after signing a pledge against further rises in tuition fees, branding them a ‘disaster’, his party as part of the Coalition, proceeded not only to keep them in place but to treble them. Universities will now charge students up to £9,000 per year of their studies through a loan, which they will have to repay. This means, many students now face a decision to take on up to and over £30k of personal debt to go on to higher education.

The government and market fanatics argue this is fair. The students are getting something, for which they should pay, especially in these times of austerity. They argue that by raising the minimum threshold an ex student has to earn before paying back the loan to £21k per annum, makes it fairer. In reality, once again, this is a means of plugging holes. Holes made in our economy by the siphoning of public money to private interests. As the services buckle, the debt is transferred directly to the recipient of the service. It is a means of cutting public funding for services, whilst upping public funding of ventures with corporate benefits. Privatised schools, privatised health services, privatised transport, privatised energy; all with an enormous tax payer subsidy attached.

Worse even than that though, is the conversation around this issue and what education is being turned into.  The loan is seen as an investment in one's future, and therefore choices about what to study are now becoming fiscal calculations of Return On Investment.  The fact is, if each person in the UK simply did the thing that earned them the most money, we might have a serious deficit in the jobs which most contribute to our social progress.  Teachers, nurses, therapists, social workers, scientists, and so on are not particularly highly paid professions.  Beyond that, is an argument that education is a benefit to society in and of itself.  It is not an 'in order to'.  A society composed of individuals who are highly educated, practised in critical thinking, skilled and passionate in a broad array of areas from art, to history, to philosophy, to engineering, to science, is a three dimensonal society.  Do we really want a nation composed of business focussed, money hungry disciples to the free market, with no concept of history, art, philosophy, or the ability to critically think their way through social, political and economic problems?  A glance at the policy direction of this government tells you that is exactly what they want.

So, they continue cutting at the ladders which have helped previous generations of youngsters make something of themselves, pursue their passions and develop into well rounded adults.

And now Child Benefit

So, after an onslaught of government policy sending a clear message to children of middle and low income families to forget about education altogether and ‘go get a job’, today the government announces its plan to withdraw child benefit from children who are found to truant from their corporatized schools.

Genius, that’ll do it guys. Sure children all over the land now see the error of their ways and the importance of their school days.

This generation is growing up in a country which is almost unrecognisable from the one even my generation grew up in; who were raised through the 80’s and spat out into the world of work of academia in the late nineties. They have wars, they have parents struggling to balance the demands of working for a wage which no longer covers the cost of living.  Children of unemployed or disabled parents are seeing the benefits which fed and clothed them torn away.  Children whose parents have a terminal illness with a prognosis of over 6 months are watching their parents forced back into the jobs pool rather than spending time with them in their last year of life.  On top of this, their schools have been sold off, they have lost the EMA lifeline to further education, and they face a £30k debt to continue to higher education.

The results? The number of young people on Job Seekers Allowance for more than a year in 2008 was 6,000. Today it stands at 50,000.
Children are going into a workforce where 2.7m of their peers can’t find a job, and where thousands of others are being forced to work full time hours for meagre benefits simply to survive via workfare.

Is it not understandable, under these conditions, that the kids at the bottom of the social heap are giving up? They are faced with a mountain sized obstacle between them and social progress. They are young, their overworked parents may not have the time or the life experience themselves to push those children on, these children are being let down. Not just by the government, but every last one of us which continues to let this appalling attack continue through our silence, our apathy, or our ignorance.

It’s Time to make a Stand

It is, really, time to make a stand. Someone has to show the children of today, branded lazy, violent, anti-social monsters by this government, that they are not alone. That we understand. While this government slams the door on a lost generation, someone needs to kick it open and lead them through. This someone is you. No, not the guy behind you or the woman to your left, you. Being upset is not enough. Being concerned is not enough. Being outraged or angry is not enough. People, we need to get organised.

On July 28th this year, there will be a mass action aimed at the London 2012 Olympics. This action is coordinated by several campaign groups including the Counter the Olympics Network, Our Olympics, No UK Tar Sands and others. They have identified the Olympics as the nexus of everything wrong with this government and this country today. It is an £11bn tax payer funded corporate advertising campaign for the worst offending corporate criminals of our time.

That £11bn could have funded EMA for 20 years.

The sponsor list includes many of those benefitting from the attacks on our services, such as Lloyds Banking Group, ATOS, G4S and others.

The students and would-be students of this country can and should join this day, to make it one the government never forgets. They should be supported in body and spirit by their friends and families.

The 1st principle of the Olympic Charter reads as follows:

"Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of
body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a
way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for
universal fundamental ethical principles."
The purpose and intent of this day of action could not be more consistent with this principle.  The Olympics has been hijacked, as have the hopes and aspirations of our students.
Each and every person who joins to mass action on 28th July, be they a student, a nurse, a teacher, a doctor, a lollipop lady, a cleaner, a banker, disabled or able bodied, young or old, jobless or employed, makes a stand not only for themselves but for this olympic principle and the better angels of our nature.
Spread the word, clear your diary, and await further news via @ourolympics.

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