Friday, 28 June 2013

Feminism and ecosocialism: a necessary alliance

Eco-socialist and feminist struggles overlap and stand as the great reference for our defence of common goods in our country and our continent.

by Tárzia Medeiros
International Viewpoint

Tárzia Medeiros is active in the World March of Women and member of National Directorate of the Party of Socialist and Liberty (PSOL) in Brazil. 

For as long as capitalism and patriarchy have existed as systems linked to each other, they have made an alliance to establish a relationship of domination over nature and of appropriation and exploitation of everything that, on this basis, they stereotyped as beings of an “inferior nature”, which includes women and their bodies.

At the same time, the condition of blacks, mestizos and the indigenous, and their ethnic and cultural subordination, became something natural. Everything that comes from nature and does not match the standard of masculine and bourgeois social evolution and that does not fit the paradigm of white and Western, exists only as something of an “inferior nature”

The naturalization of motherhood as women’s function and destiny, as well as the naturalization of their bodies as territory to be conquered and controlled, should be rejected by all socialists who demand an ecosocialist, feminist world, free from the scars of capitalism.

We cannot permit that a “biological” explanation of the inequality between men and women be used to keep the latter in a an inferior social, political and economic position to that of men.

The effects of the environmental crisis ravaging whole regions of the planet, fall most harshly on the peripheral countries, on the poorest people, and especially on women and children. Desertification, the loss of water resources, environmental disasters caused by climate change (tsunamis, earthquakes, prolonged periods of drought, floods and landslides) have a huge impact on their everyday lives.

When people are forced to leave the places where they live, most refugees and homeless are again women and children. Climate change is exacerbating poverty and accentuating inequalities, making women often resort to prostitution just to get food. The increase in diseases, with the reappearance of some that were already extinct or controlled (such as cholera and tuberculosis, etc.), also puts a burden on women, because the care of the sick still falls to them.

The neo-Malthusian response to the climate crisis points to overpopulation in the world as the central cause of the climate crisis, and seeks therefore to restrict women’s right to control their bodies. This is a racist approach, because population growth is higher in the South. But it also diverts attention from the huge gulf that separates the wasteful consumption of the super-rich from the absolute poverty of the poorest sectors, and the vastly different impacts each have on Nature.

Those of us who have fought for the expansion of women’s rights to control their bodies and their fertility, reject and denounce this pseudo-solution, because it puts in question women’s right to decide and makes the mistake of ignoring the structural causes of the crisis, where capitalism is the central factor.

In the South, women are also responsible for producing 80% of food, including the gathering and preservation of native fruits and seeds. This central role in ensuring food sovereignty and the preservation of biodiversity as the heritage of humanity gives women a key role in agriculture and the supply of food.

The growing impact of large, capitalist development projects in Brazil, which are supported by the state through the CAP and the BNDES, has led to a loss of territory and autonomy for small producers, most of whom are women, indigenous communities or Afro-Brazilian maroon communities.

The main expression of such projects are agribusiness, the re-routing of the São Francisco River and the irrigated areas that adjoin it, large dams to supply new hydroelectric plants (Belo Monte, Jirau, etc.), the IIRSA, mining, the intensive use of pesticides and the production of biofuels. Women play a central role in protecting ecosystems and biomass against governments (Federal, State and Municipal) who want to sell them off to multinationals.

The actions of the women of Via Campesina, who destroyed the eucalyptus plantations of Aracruz Cellulose, like the role of indigenous and maroon communities in defending their ancestral lands, are examples of the victorious defence of the environment, based on their particular realities.

It is vital to strengthen the alliance between women in the countryside and women in the city. A feminism that incorporates the ecosocialist struggle will be closer to those struggles that are today at the forefront of the defence of common goods in our country and our continent. Ecosocialist and feminist struggles overlap and stand as the great reference for our work, because they fall, more than ever, within the framework of the struggle against capitalism and form part of our strategic vision.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The Corporate Welfare State


The BBC reports that Starbucks has voluntarily agreed to pay £10 million in tax this year, and again next, in a change of heart on recent behaviour from the multi-national, multi-million pounds making business in the UK. Clearly, media exposure leading to a fear of putting off customers has played the major part in the company’s decision here, but there is a much wider perspective to this story.
The tax authorities make ‘sweet heart’ deals with the large corporations, grateful for any crumbs of tax revenue that they can get from these companies, whilst allowing others to pay nothing at all, through clever accountancy schemes which offshore the profits made in the UK market place. But who can blame the civil servants when the politicians from the establishment parties uniformly react to this type of behaviour in these two ways?

First is to say it’s all perfectly legal (although these tax schemes are so complicated I don’t think they really know whether some are legal or are not). Second, is to pronounce pompously that it’s just globalisation, you can’t do anything about it, we have got to attract private investment at all costs, be competitive, jobs and so on, blah, blah, blah.  

This reasoning rarely gets challenged in the mainstream media even though the unfairness of corporations getting all the benefits to run their businesses that tax payers provide; the courts, police, educated employees etc etc, without contributing to the costs of providing them is the real issue here. And is it so impossible to do anything about it?

Let’s take the legal excuse first. As Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt said recently, his company obeys the tax laws, if the government wants to change these laws they should get on with it. Which is a fair point generally, but it doesn’t stop Google finding ways around these laws, and given its global presence, it is a particularly hard company to tie down to any one particular country, which they of course exploit like hell.

But it does also beg the question, why doesn’t the government change the law? This is when we get into the second excuse, of it being a pointless and undesirable course of action, so powerless that national governments have become that they must ‘attract’ business by allowing them a free tax ride. Admittedly, companies like Google and Amazon (to a lesser extent), can be hard to pin down, but surely it is not beyond the wit of any government to design a system which captures at least some of the tax due on UK transactions? After all, we know the government has been monitoring everyone’s internet habits, don’t we?

Starbucks is an altogether easier proposition when they have a physical presence on almost every high street in the country. All profits on selling coffee and cakes etc in the UK should be taxed and they should be forced by law to declare them this way. If they don’t like it, then they can close down, and it won’t bring the UK economy to standstill. Indeed, independent cafes will fill the void if there is a market for this type of business, and let’s not forget that Starbucks have an unfair competitive advantage over these cafes at the moment, who do pay UK tax.

It seems as though paying tax is only for the little people, and this extends to personal taxation too, where if you are rich you pay next to nothing, but if you are just an ordinary person, you get clobbered.
What mugs we all are!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Industrial Dispute in Brighton and Hove and the Green Party

With industrial action starting last Friday, Green Party members across the country face an immense dilemma – the choice between supporting our own minority Green council or hundreds of workers going on strike for a week against proposed pay reductions.

Some of the workers could lose up to £4000 a year. That’s a choice most Greens would a few years ago have never thought they’d face. In the midst of massive local authority cuts, the Greens are in office but seemingly not in power.

Many local parties and individuals – including the local Brighton & Hove Green Party, Caroline Lucas (who has pledged to join the picket lines), and university branches such as my own – have spoken out against the bin worker pay cuts.

It has thus-far been a shambolic dispute where a noble attempt to equalise pay between male and female staff has turned into idiotic comparisons to the winter of discontent, accusations of potential strike breaking, and outsourcing the pay proposal decision altogether in order for Greens to claim ‘it wasn’t our decision’. Yet the council leader, Jason Kitcat, seems determined not to budge.

Serious internal discussion about this sorry state of affairs has sadly been minimal at best, stifled at worst. The party is coming under attack over this from all other sections of the left, and Labour will exploit this to its fullest unless the Green group in Brighton change tack and handle the situation properly. If Greens don’t tackle the issue head on, other parties will do so.

Neither is it good enough to say, as some have, that since the Greens are a federal party ‘it’s up to Brighton’. Brighton Greens – both the local branch and our only MP – have spoken clearly on this issue. It’s now up to the rest of the party nationally to back them up in this. Brighton is, bar a sizeable number of honourable exceptions in the likes of Alex Phillips and others, a rogue council, refusing to cede to the wishes of its local party, its constituents, and (from what I gather) the rest of the party nationally.

Disappointingly, the Green Party Executive (GPEX) and leader Natalie Bennett have appeared quiet on the issue.

Worthy though bringing in a Living Wage, leading the ‘no evictions’ fight over the bedroom tax, and attempting to equalise pay between male and female workers is, a Green council should never cut the pay of some of the least well off. That should be a given, particularly after enshrining social justice into the party’s Core Values last conference. As a party which has the strongest record on workers’ rights in terms of policy, strike busting should never have even been rumoured, let alone a potential possibility.

There are some hopeful signs however. Leading figures in Brighton & Hove Greens have at last made public statements about the strike action, though still seemingly refusing to back down over the pay proposals. The GMB has agreed to re-enter negotiations. And the candidate for the Hanover & Elm Grove by-election, David Gibson, is a solid trade unionist who opposes the measures to equalise pay down instead of up.

There needs to be a serious discussion about the possibility of setting ‘needs budgets’, and if not, discussing whether we should be in office at all if we are forced to act as a mere smoke-screen for Tory-Lib Dem cuts.

At what point does the party start to consider that to stay in office and continue to implement cuts would be to breach fundamental principles? As the Green Party conference in Brighton approaches, it’s time to get backtracking on the proposed pay cuts, and time to start talking.

Josiah Mortimer is a Green Party activist and student based in York.

And here nine of the Brighton and Hove Green Party councillors plus Green Party activists argue in an open letter against Green group's leadership on the issue:

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Labour’s embrace of welfare reform is a victory for the right

The Labour Party leadership’s embrace of welfare reform – set out in Ed Miliband’s keynote speech on welfare to a select audience in Newham, East London – marks a victory for the right and describes another benchmark in the political degeneration of the party that created the welfare state.

From the moment the current global economic crisis hit these shores with the collapse of Northern Rock in September 2007, the singular objective of the right has been to turn what was and is a crisis of private greed into a crisis of public spending. It was a campaign given political credence with the election of the Tory-led coalition government in 2010, unleashing a political and economic assault on the poorest and most vulnerable section of society under the rubric of austerity.

In economic terms austerity is doomed to failure. The empirical and historical evidence leaves no doubt that in periods of economic downturn a government must spend more not less in order to re-inject the demand sucked out by the refusal of the private sector to invest as profits tumble

Investment strike

A story that appeared in the Express in April revealed that the government’s own Office for National Statistics had calculated that UK corporations, other than banks, were sitting on a combined surplus of £318 billion in the final quarter of last year – up from £304 billion in the previous quarter.

This is an investment strike by any other name, which the government has responded to with tax cuts for the wealthy and other inducements to invest in the shape of subsidies, grants, tax breaks, and so on. Picking up the tab for all this has been the poor and those reliant on the welfare state and public services in the form of swingeing cuts to public spending.

If we factor in the £375 billion pounds the government has thus far fed to the banks in the form of Quantitative Easing since 2009, what we have seen over the past five years of the economic crisis is the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich on a grand scale.

The fact that the government has been able to get away with this without meeting significant or effective resistance is a consequence of two processes that are interlinked. The first is the traction and persuasiveness of the simplistic analogy that the Tories and their bag carriers in the right wing press have drawn between a national economy and a household budget.
Contraction of demand
Yet as the US economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman reminds us – unlike a household budget, when it comes to a national economy one person’s spending is another person’s income. Under the aegis of austerity, if no-one is spending then no one has any income, resulting in the contraction of demand leading to the stagnation we are currently witnessing.

The second of these two interlinked processes is a government initiated campaign of demonisation against the unemployed and those claiming benefits, resulting in the creeping criminalisation of poverty. Shifting the responsibility for poverty onto its victims – away from the vicissitudes of a free market economic system that could not function without creating poverty – has been one of the most vicious and callous policies of any British government in modern history. Sadly, as stated, it has met with inordinate success, reflected most recently in Ed Miliband’s speech on welfare reform, which amounted to the Labour Party leadership’s abandonment of the principle of social solidarity that underpins the welfare state.

The specific contents of Ed Miliband’s speech set out a pledge to in building homes in order to bring down a housing benefit bill that currently sits at £95 billion annually. Set against the paltry £4.5 billion the government devoted to building affordable housing last year, it is inarguable that the current expenditure in housing benefit is unsustainable. However its size indicates an out of control private rental market on the back of a three decades long housing crisis.
Bedroom tax
While any pledge to address this housing crisis is welcome, the lack of any policy on rent control to deal with exorbitant rents charged by private landlords – the real beneficiaries of housing benefit – is instructive. Also instructive, not to mention disappointing, is the lack of a firm pledge by Labour to repeal the present government’s iniquitous Bedroom Tax if and when elected, with its disproportionate impact on the disabled.
Listening to Ed Miliband’s capitulation to the right on welfare reform, the words of US billionaire investor Warren Buffet immediately sprang to mind:
“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Written by John Wright and published at Socialist Unity Blog