Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Damsels in Distress?

The west should stop using the liberalisation of Muslim women to justify its strategy of dominance writes Soumaya Ghannoushi in the Guardian

It seems that Muslim women - particularly those living in western capitals- are destined to remain besieged by two debilitating discourses, which though different in appearance, are one in essence.
The first of these is conservative and exclusionist, sentencing Muslim women to a life of childbearing and rearing, lived out in the narrow confines of their homes at the mercy of fathers, brothers, and husbands. Revolving around notions of sexual purity and family honour, it appeals to religion for justification and legitimisation.
The other is a "liberation" discourse that vows to break Muslim woman's bondage and free her of the oppressive yoke of an aggressive, patriarchical, and backward society. She is a mass of powerlessness and enslavement; the embodiment of seclusion, silence, and invisibility. Her only hope of deliverance from the cave of veiling and isolation lies in the benevolent intervention of this force of emancipation. It will save her from her hellishly miserable and bleak existence, to the promised heaven of enlightenment and progress.
It is a game of binaries that pits one stereotype against another: the wretched caged female Muslim victim and her ruthless jailer society against an idealised "west" that is the epitome of enlightenment, rationalism, and freedom. Those escapees who leave the herd are held up as living testimonies to the arduousness of transition from the twilights of tribe, religion and tradition, to the dawn of reason, individualism, and liberation. There is no denying the manifold injustices that cripple the lives of many Muslim women and stunt their potential. But these appear in this condescending liberation narrative as representative of the condition of the millions of Muslim women around the world and exclusive to them. There are no colours, tones, or shades here. There are no living real women, urban or rural, educated or illiterate, affluent or poor, Turkish, Malaysian, or Egyptian - differences so crucial in defining women's life chances and shaping their situations. All we know about this ghostly creature is her Muslim identity, as though she was entirely shaped and affected by religion and theology irrespective of social background, economic circumstances, political reality, or regional and local cultural traditions. Important as it is, legal and theological reform will on its own do little to improve the lot of impoverished, uneducated, or insecure women in Somalia, Iraq, or rural Bangladesh. The narrative revolves around a dehistoricised, universal "Muslim woman"; a crushing model that oppresses flesh and blood Muslim women, denies them subjectivity and singularity, and claims to sum up their lives with all their vicissitudes and details from cradle to coffin. It reserves for itself the right to speak for them exclusively, whether they like it or not.Representations of the Muslim woman serve a dual legitimising function, at once confirming and justifying the west's narrative of itself, and of the Muslim other. The victimised Muslim woman is the lens through which Islam and Muslim society are seen. In medieval times she was cast as an intimidating powerful queen or termagant (like Bramimonde in the Chanson de Roland, or Belacane in Parzival) reflecting an intimidating powerful Muslim civilisation. And when the power balance began to shift in Europe's favour in the 17th and 18th centuries, she was made to mirror her society's fallen fortunes. She turned into a harem slave, leading little more than a dumb animal existence, subjugated, inert, abject, powerless, and invisible. She is the quintessential embodiment of a despotic, deformed, and backward Islam.
It is Europe, later the west, that must penetrate her iron cage and break her shackles. It must save the victim and civilise her oppressors. The more victimised "the Muslim woman", the greater the need for the liberated west to liberate her. The noble intervention is for her and in her interest, not for the west, or its interests. It was indeed no coincidence that a great many colonial officers and archivists devotedly recorded instances of barbarity among the colonised, practices like sati, the ban on widow marriage, or the practice of child marriage in India, or slavery and genital mutilation in Africa. Although these atrocities were not inventions, their chronicling had and still has a purpose: It provides the moral framework for intervention.As a couplet by Torquato Tasso puts it,And when her city and her state was lost,Then her person lov'd and honor'd most.But "love" and "honour" haven't exactly been the experience of Iraqi women when their cities fell under American occupation. Rights which took decades to secure have crumbled away in the space of months. From doctors, scientists, engineers or businesswomen, today they find themselves incarcerated in their homes unable to move around for fear of being kidnapped, raped, or assassinated. Those who escape the bombs and bullets of the occupying army, die at the hands of the Iraqi security forces and out of control extremist and sectarian militias which flourished since 2003, as Maggie O'Kane demonstrated in her moving piece on Cif yesterday. In the past three months 45 innocent women were murdered in cold blood in Basra. The truth is that just as there is a military machine of hegemony, there is a discursive machine of hegemony. When armies move on the ground to conquer and subjugate, they need moral and ideological cover. It is this that gives the dominant narrative of the "Muslim woman" its raison d'etre. No wonder then that the "Muslim woman" liberation warriors, the likes of Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens, and Pascal Bruckner, were the same people who cheered American/ British troops as they blasted their way through Kabul and Baghdad, and who will no doubt cheer and dance once more should Iran or Syria be bombed next. Soldiers shoot with their guns; they with their pens. They are hegemony's apologists. Without them the emperor stands naked.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Unite Challenges M&S on Migrant Workers

This organisation and defence of migrant workers is a great example of progressive leadership, taclking racism and pushing forward labour organisation. - Ed.

· Retailer investigating conditions at meat plant
· Unite says Poles given 'zero hours' contracts
News Story by Matthew Taylor, Thursday December 13, The Guardian

Migrant workers at a factory which supplies meat to Marks & Spencer are suffering exploitation in a drive to maximise profits, a union report claims today.
M&S, which yesterday announced that sales of its organic turkeys are likely to top the £1m mark this Christmas, is considered to be one of the most ethical of leading high street retailers. However, a study published by the union Unite says that Polish staff at a factory in south Wales which supplies M&S with red meat are employed on a "zero hours" contract with no guaranteed number of hours, and suffer "harsh and divisive" conditions.Last night, an M&S spokeswoman said it had launched an investigation and was taking the allegations seriously.

The report, which focuses on the Dawn Pac meat factory near Llanelli, says staff employed by a local agency claimed that shifts were regularly abandoned at short notice, leaving workers stranded at the factory, sometimes in the middle of the night, because transport was only provided at the normal end of a shift. Some workers had to walk up to 15 miles to get home after being told by supervisors they were no longer needed halfway through a shift. In addition, those who opted out of agency accommodation and transport had their hours cut, it was claimed.
"We are creating a situation in local communities where work has become so insecure and casualised it evokes images of the casualisation of the docks before they were unionised," said Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite. "M&S prides itself on its image as an ethical retailer. We want them to practise what they preach."

When the Guardian visited the south Wales site, five Polish workers said they had turned up that day and had been told they were not needed after an hour's work. "I came to work at 8am this morning and I was sent home at 9am," said Maria. "There was no car, no transport back, so I was stuck there and I have now been told that I have three days off this week."

Staff, who receive £5.52 an hour, said their hours were cut when they stopped using agency accommodation or the minibus to and from the factory, which costs £7 a day. Jeff Hopkins, chair of the Welsh-Polish Association in Llanelli, said that when workers stopped using the full range of services laid on by local employment agency CSA Recruitment they became "less productive economic units...so they knock their hours down". According to Unite, CSA Recruitment charges around £250 to bring Poles to the UK. They sign a zero-hours deal when they arrive in the UK after a 36-hour coach journey.

Woodley said: "This is not just about one site or one agency. Our campaign is about the prevalence of agency working, and the consequences for workers and communities." Yesterday both Dawn Pac and CSA Recruitment declined to comment on the report's allegations.

This crisis spells the end of the free market consensus - S.Milne

The credit squeeze is set to trigger the end of the boom that has shaped our times. Politics is going to change with it, writes Seumas Milne (Thursday December 13, The Guardian.)

New Labour has led a charmed economic life for the past decade. Britain's ejection from the European exchange rate mechanism in the early 1990s and a unique set of international conditions helped deliver a record that earlier generations of British politicians could only have fantasised about. Whatever other disasters and scandals they could be held responsible for, the economy was always Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's secret weapon: the "longest period of sustained economic growth since records began", low inflation, rapid job creation and a strong boost to public spending, all at the same time. The fact that it has also been a story of rising inequality, stubborn unemployment and ballooning levels of debt - and has depended on the international financial system's toleration of a huge trade deficit to sustain it - has until now barely shifted the perception of economic success. That has been the crucial backdrop to the me-too politics of recent years and the free market consensus that underpins it. It is also, of course, the record that finally propelled Brown into 10 Downing Street.
But there can now be no doubt that such halcyon days are coming to an end. What kicked off in the US earlier this year, in the shape of the sub-prime mortgage lending crisis, has now spread like gangrene across a deregulated global financial system, imposing a vice-like squeeze on the very credit cushion that has hitherto kept the US and British economies afloat. In Britain, it has already led to the collapse of Northern Rock and the first run on a British bank since the Victorian era. But the impact will certainly go much further, particularly in an economy so lop-sidedly dominated by the financial sector. Already, the house price collapse and prospect of mass repossessions is tipping the US economy towards full-blown recession. In Britain, which now has the highest level of personal debt of any industrial country - at £1.4 trillion, larger than national income - the expectation must be that the economy is heading in the same direction. As the full impact of the credit crunch makes itself felt, the house price bubble is bound to deflate further. That in turn will cut demand, bringing with it a painful economic slowdown at the very least.
The central banks have, of course, been busy cutting interest rates and pumping cash into the system to try to achieve the kind of soft landing that saw them through earlier international financial crises, in 1998 and 2001. Yesterday's coordinated announcement of billions in new loans to banks shows both how ineffective those earlier interventions have been and how serious the situation has become. But there are good reasons to believe that even this latest move is likely to prove too little, too late, to turn back the incoming tide. And for the first time since the 1970s, there is a growing risk of stagflation - the combination of recession and rising inflation - which makes sharp interest rate cuts particularly risky from the point of view of neoliberal orthodoxy. International oil, commodity and food prices are all currently on the rise, just at the point when the credit squeeze and emerging first-world debt crisis show all the signs of bringing the boom of the past 15 years to a juddering halt.
That long boom was made possible by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of China (and to a lesser extent India) in the 1990s. The effect was to bring hundreds of millions of educated and low-waged workers into the framework of the international capitalist market - who, as the former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan put it, have "restrained the rise of unit labour costs in much of the world". Along with the wider weakening of organised labour, the deregulated expansion of international finance and a flood of cheap imports into the rest of the world, the result has been a corporate profits bonanza and power grab which has shaped the economic and political temper of our times.
The signs are, however, that some of these conditions are reaching their limits. Global growth is starting to press on natural resources, forcing up prices, most obviously in the case of oil. The evidence is growing that China's downward pressure on global prices may be coming to an end, as its economy overheats and inflation builds. Add to that the dizzying overreach of the credit-fuelled casino that is the global financial system and the "corrections of imbalances" - as sharp falls in living standards and unemployment spikes are classified in the financial institutions and ministries - are likely to be very damaging indeed.
What is certain is that the end of the long boom will have a profound ideological impact. So long as market fundamentalists appeared to be delivering the goods - however unequally and insecurely - their political dominance was assured. That is now clearly no longer the case. As Martin Wolf, conservative doyen of British economic commentators, wrote in yesterday's Financial Times: "What is happening in credit markets today is a huge blow to the credibility of the Anglo-Saxon model of transactions-orientated financial capitalism." If the credit squeeze does indeed trigger a wider economic meltdown, that will certainly mean the end of the neoliberal consensus that has dominated politics for almost a generation.
But politicians have yet to wake up to the sea-change that is already under way. It's a measure of how tight the ideological straitjacket on British politics remains that it has been left to the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, to press the commonsense case for the nationalisation of Northern Rock, while Labour ministers take any amount of punishment over the scandal to avoid so much as a hint that they might believe a private solution to be anything other than preferable in all circumstances, even in such a classic case of market failure. If, as now seems increasingly likely, the government is in fact forced to nationalise the bank to secure its own loans, that will at least help break the ludicrous ideological spell against public ownership.
For Brown, the man who promised the end of boom and bust, the growing economic dangers pose an unavoidable challenge. For someone so closely associated with the neoliberal agenda, it may be too late to change direction. But unless he and his already damaged government are prepared to adopt a more interventionist and radical approach to deal with the crisis head-on, the political backwash is likely to sink them all.

Ecuador Assembly Enters New Stage

Montecristi, Ecuador, Dec 12 (Prensa Latina)

The Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly enters a new phase Wednesday with the creation of ten Assembly tables, now that its internal regulations have been approved, Assembly Vice President Fernando Cordero highlighted.
He indicated the statutes endorsed Tuesday confirm the entity's full powers, which, he clarified, will not be used as an open check.
Regarding that, Cordero defended the Assembly's faculty to discuss governmental laws and reforms, which would enter into force once approved by the majority of the 130 members.
This Constituent Assembly is not a replica of the previous one in 1998, and the set of rules is highly democratic, because it includes the possibility of appealing to the Assembly presidency, and was debated article by article in six extensive sessions.
The document, whose official version has not been published, does not limit conduct, expressions, or attitudes, and it is unifying mechanism, Cordero asserted.

Fate of Bolivia Uncertain

La Paz, Dec 12 (Prensa Latina)

Bolivia"s governing party and opposition are once again measuring their strength Wednesday, leading the nation to a dangerous path with an uncertain ending.
On the one hand, the government defends its democratic process of social change, and on the other, traditional parties cling to their inherited privileges, and act with violence and despair.
A popular celebration for the recently approved constitutional proposal, and the implementation of de facto autonomies in several departments have been scheduled for the weekend..
In views of imminent confrontations and the spiral of violence pounding the country for weeks, President Evo Morales has repeatedly called for dialogue to solve national problems.
ó I call for authorities and legally elected departmental leaders to work together in regards with the new Constitution, the autonomy law, and autonomic statute, ó Morales said in a message to the nation.
The constitutional text is rejected by mayors Ruben Costas (Santa Cruz), Mario Cossio (Tarija), Leopoldo Fernandez (Pando), Ernesto Suarez (Beni), and Manfred Reyes (Cochabamba), who announced the implementation of de facto autonomies.
The president announced such actions attempt against national unity, are unlawful, unconstitutional, and separatist, and rejected them, but recognized the right of some sectors to protest.
But opposition groups refuse to solve the differences and continue with force and other measures including an eight-day hunger strike widely covered by the media but hardly recognized by the people.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Green Left Weekly - Stalemate to be resolved in Bolivia?

By Rachel Evans, December 8, 2007 - reproduced here for information.
Bolivia’s indigenous, left-wing President Evo Morales has announced plans to hold a referendum on whether or not he will continue in office, according to a December 5 New York Times article. The aim is to overcome the stalemate the country has faced between the right-wing elite — opposed to the process of change pushed by Morales — and the poor and indigenous majority that put Morales in power. The vice president and nine state governors will also a vote on continuing in office.
The reasons for this move are easy to understand. Bolivia is in upheaval. Events that began on November 19, with violent right-wing protests in Sucre, could mark a decisive step in the countries battle for justice for the indigenous majority and for social-justice orientated industrialisation to overcome poverty and the crippling effects of underdevelopment. It was to achieve these aims that Morales was elected in December 2005. He has since implemented the demand of Bolivia’s powerful social movements for a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution according to these principles.On November 24 it was decided to move the assembly, meeting in Sucre, to military barracks on the outskirts of the city in an attempt to escape the wave of violence already washing over the city — which saw the brutal eviction of 300 campesinos (peasants), who had arrived in Sucre to help physically defend the assembly, from their sleeping quarters. The move sparked further violent protests.In an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the assembly, right-wing opposition delegates had already walked out, declaring the process had become “illegal”. On November 23 — free of the stalling tactics of the opposition that has seen the assembly miss its one-year deadline for a new constitution in August — 139 of the 255 assembly delegates approved the broad outlines for a new draft constitution. The assembly is yet to adopt the specific clauses and content of the constitution. Once completed, the proposed constitution will be put to voters in a referendum.The fight to pass constitutional changes has been an important step in Bolivia’s indigenous-led struggle against the devastating affects of neoliberalism on the country.Bolivia’s struggle to rise up against decades of subservience to a rich local oligarchy and foreign (largely US and Spanish) interests led to Morales’s presidential victory in December 2005. From the late 1990s onwards, Morales helped lead the cocaleros (coca growers) in a campaign against the US-pushed eradication of the coca leaf — which can be processed into cocaine, but in its natural form is nothing more than a mild stimulant used by indigenous people for centuries and a key source of livelihood to thousands of cocaleros.In 2000, Morales helped lead the successful fight against the privitisation of water, the Bolivian poor taking on US corporation Bechtel and winning. Morales also helped lead the uprisings against the privatisation of gas, with nationalisation of Bolivia’s gas reserves a key plank of his election program .In 2003, 67% of Bolivians lived in poverty, with only 64% of households equipped with electricity, and only 31% having sewerage access. Just days after his election, Morales explained to an “In Defence of Humanity” conference the aims of the mass movement he headed: “This uprising of the Bolivian people has been not only about gas and hydrocarbons, but an intersection of many issues: discrimination, marginalisation, and most importantly, the failure of neoliberalism.”On May 1, 2006, Bolivia nationalised natural gas reserves, with the state to receive 82% of the revenue, which corporations previously took for themselves. Morales has increased Bolivia’s annual natural gas revenues from US$300 million to $2 billion a year. The Morales government has nationalised a tin smelter, most of Bolivia’s largest tin mine and the country’s railroads. Government officials have suggested they intend to move to nationalise electricity utilities.In 2006 the government completed the re-nationalisation of water companies, and is negotiating the re-nationalisation of the country’s main telecommunications company. Morales has instituted a retirement pension to all eligible Bolivians equal to the minimum wage. He increased teachers’ salaries by 10% and reduced parliamentary salaries by 50%.With proceeds from gas nationalisation (and with significant help from Cuba and Venezuela) Bolivia now has 20 new hospitals, 2000 Cuban doctors providing free health care, and the beginnings of a land reform program that is redistributing land to landless campesinos as well as tractors to assist in working it. Bolivia has embarked on a literacy campaign which has seen 73,000 out of 300,000 participants already graduated.However, the Morales government has faced its biggest challenge in the constituent assembly. The right-wing elite, backed by a savage and racist propaganda campaign in the private media, succeeded in stalling one of the key components of the process of change promoted by Morales and demanded by the poor. There have been often violent mobilisations for and against the assembly process, raising fears the country was slipping towards a civil war.The decision to push ahead with the assembly in the face of the violent campaign on the streets, fuelled by racist propaganda in the media, is a sign that the Morales government is looking to break the stalemate that Bolivia has been in for much of the year, with neither the forces tied to the oligarchy nor the popular movement headed by Morales able to enforce its will on the nation. By turning to the people with the planned referendums, Morales is attempting to re-legitimise his government and its radical project. In a country where the private media remains powerful, and the forces opposed to change have a significant social base in the largely white middle class, it is a risky move, but perhaps unavoidable. The future of Bolivia hangs in the balance.

For information - Solidarity Appeal with People, Government, Communist & Progressive Forces of Bolivia

Thanks to SolidNet for sending this to us - Ed

The political process in Bolivia faces a critical moment.

The reactionary forces, the oligarchy, the US government and some European forces promote a large scale campaign aiming to reverse the progressive processes in this Latin American country.

The goal of all these forces is to block the changes promoted by the Constitutional Assembly for a democratic Constitution for the benefit of the popular demands.

The retrograde forces, defeated on October 2003 and during the elections in 2005 try again to reorganize their ranks, to stop any change and to undermine President Evo Morales.
In order to achieve their goals they use any means, including armed groups.

The consequent progressive forces of the country, the social movements and organizations, after great and heroical battles, alongside with the Moviemento al Socialismo [MAS] under the presidency of Evo Morales, were the winners with big majority in the elections.
Now these forces try to valorize this victory in order important demands of the working people to be adopted and further promoted.

We, the signatories of this appeal, sharply denounce the support provided by the US government as well as its direct involvement in the subversive actions in Bolivia.
We also denounce the scandalous tolerance showed by other imperialist states and international organizations towards such inadmissible actions.

There is an urgent task the reactionary forces to be unequivocally condemned, isolated and defeated both on national and international level.

We stand on the side of the people of Bolivia and fully support the great mobilizations against the plans for a coup d'etat.

We support the alliance between the people and the government of Bolivia against the machinations of the oligarchy.

We express our full solidarity to the Bolivian people, to the government of the President Evo Morales, to the Communist Party of Bolivia, to MAS-IRSP and to all other progressive and anti-imperialist forces and movements in their great battle in defense of the progressive gains, in the struggle for deeper changes.

We call on for the development by all means of a large solidarity movement with the anti-imperialist forces and the people of Bolivia.

The parties

PADS, Algeria
Communist Party of Argentina
Democratic Progressive Tribune - Bahrain
Communist Party of Bangladesh
Communist Party of Belarus
Workers’ Party of Belgium
Communist Party of Bolivia
Communist Party of Brazil
Communist Party of Britain
New Communist Party of Britain
Party of the Bulgarian Communists
Communist Party of Chile
AKEL, Cyprus
Communist Party of Bohemia & Moravia
Communist Party in Denmark
Communist Party of Egypt
Communist Party of Estonia
Communist Party of Finland
Communist Party of Greece
Communist Party of India
Tudeh Party of Iran
Communist Party of Ireland
The Workers Party of Ireland
Communist Party of Israel
Party of the Italian Communists
Jordanian Communist Party
Socialist Party of Latvia
Lebanese Communist Party
Communist Party of Luxembourg
Communist Party of Macedonia
Party of Communists, Mexico
Popular Socialist Party of Mexico
New Communist Party of Netherlands
Communist Party of Norway
Peruvian Communist Party
Philippine Communist Party (PKP-1930)
Communist Party of Poland
Portuguese Communist Party
Socialist Alliance Party, Romania
Communist Party of the Russian Federation
Communist Party of Peoples of Spain
Communist Party of Sri Lanka
Sudanese Communist Party
Communist Party of Sweden
Communist Party of Turkey (TKP)
Communist Party of Uruguay
Communist Party, USA
Communist Party of Venezuela
New Communist Party of Yugoslavia

Thursday, 6 December 2007

How New Labour Turned Toxic - Cruddas and Trickett

Published 06 December 2007 in the New Statesman
For fear of letting in the Tories, party loyalists and trade unionists have stayed silent. But the need to speak up for core Labour values has never been so urgent, argue Jon Cruddas and Jon Trickett.

Looking at the government's nightmarish predicament, one thought occurs time and again: that new Labour's chickens are coming home to roost. The travails over donations link in turn to the cash-for-honours episode, but the origins of the current crisis go much further back - to the early to mid-1990s, when understandable optimism about Labour's skyrocketing prospects served to obscure a mess of factors that were probably always going to turn toxic.
More than a decade on, we're faced with crises of both substance and style, and these are coming together to create a perfect storm of political havoc. Ultimately the two are linked, because the political substance of new Labour has always demanded the centralised model of politics that long ago left the party floundering, and led in turn to the current funding crisis. The upshot is simple: in order to navigate through a Westminster soap opera that seems to lie somewhere between Our Friends in the North and House of Cards and draw hardened political conclusions, we have to examine what went wrong with the new Labour project.
After years in opposition and with the political and economic dominance of neoliberalism, new Labour essentially raised the white flag and inverted the principle of social democracy. Society was no longer to be master of the market, but its servant. Labour was to offer a more humane version of Thatcherism, in that the state would be actively used to help people survive as individuals in the global economy - but economic interests would always call all the shots. Once the Blair government took power, the essentials of its approach became clear: from the commercialisation of public services to flexible labour markets, on through soaring executive pay and on in turn to party funding, big business and the politics of the market had taken pole position.
Social insecurity
This primacy of the economic over the social has created some winners but many losers. The market is contaminating society as inequality grows and anxiety spreads. The credit crunch, falling house prices and the failure of Northern Rock are straws in the wind of an economy on the turn. Nothing exemplifies the UK's snowballing social insecurity more than the march that the Tories stole on inheritance tax. Polling has shown that the political sensitivity of inheritance tax is rooted in our homes being the only source of security we have. Jobs are lost or outsourced; company pensions collapse; long-term care bills loom, as do university tuition fees. Bricks and mortar are all we have to cling to.
So much for new Labour's substance. When it comes to its operating style, decision-making has always had to be controlled. The activists and the unions cannot be trusted: not only do they not understand the nature of the drive to reposition Labour as a party that continues the neoliberal revolution - albeit in a more humane form - but they must not ever be allowed to understand it. Thus, the life of the party has been purposefully sucked from it. The post of general secretary of the party - a once-mighty position - goes to administrators; the NEC is kept permanently in the dark; and the role of conference as a decision-making body has recently been brought to an end. Talk to the members Labour has remaining, and it becomes clear: the notion of an engaged, democratic party looks either dead or on life support. Where is the million-member party that was promised? Where is any notion of pluralism with independent centres of power that provide checks and balances on the parliamentary leadership? In their place, control has been handed to an elite few to force the party to change beyond recognition.
New Labour has left the party without the oxygen of modern social democracy to sustain it, while imposing a political culture that actually serves to leave the new leadership horribly exposed. To use a military analogy, it is the supply lines back to the roots that sustain and feed you. Without them, things always come unstuck. In short, Blairism has stretched the Labour Party to breaking point.
And so, to a note of qualified optimism. All this presents us with a pivotal moment. Will new Labour now be entrenched or replaced? The shape of Gordon Brown's response remains unclear, but it should be judged according to clear criteria. First, there has to be an end to triangulation and a lasting move towards more progressive politics. Just as Compass did a few weeks ago, we can only remind the Prime Minister that the kind of sentiments contained in his 2004 speech on the progressive consensus have the potential to push the party into territory where it can effectively mix power with principle.
The first aspects of this progressive approach must be symbolised by the way we fund and conduct politics within the Labour movement. The party and the country must witness a determination to identify and reject anyone who has behaved illegally or inappropriately in relation to the funding of the party. This, in turn, has to be accompanied by a drive to diminish the penetration of British politics by the power of wealth.
These steps will be necessary, but insufficient. In tandem, we need to begin the renewal of the party's federal structures and a renaissance of an engaged, meaningful conception of democracy. Both the Blairites and the Tories want the link with the unions broken for ever. If that happens, Labour will be finished as a party that can speak to working people's authentic concerns, and will stand revealed as a flimsy electoral machine built to chase the votes of a mythic Middle England - just as the same insecurities that affect Labour's core vote eat into the lives of those people concentrated in the more affluent marginals.
The point needs to be made at every available opportunity: the retention of the union link is a red line that cannot be crossed - not for reasons of factional interest, but to ensure that Labour remains in touch with the kinds of concerns that Westminster can all too easily forget.
Equality and democracy
Moreover, the senior officers of the Labour Party must become independent of the parliamentary leadership, starting with the appointment of a new general secretary with real operating autonomy. We should also demand the separation of the deputy leadership from a properly elected party chair.
To sound a slightly more ideological note, the aim of our politics is to put people in control of their lives and their world. We know we can't do this as individuals or consumers - only as citizens. For that to happen, we need a truly democratic politics, a thriving public realm and a more equal distribution of resources to ensure everyone fulfils their potential. All of this is anathema to the world of profit and the market. The means of creating the good society - greater equality and more democracy - have to become the ends. Means and ends are thus reconciled.
There is still no strong turn to the Tories. It remains true that it is governments that lose elections, and the next election is hardly a foregone conclusion. With more than two years until the end of this parliamentary term, there is still time to turn our fortunes around. But if that is to happen, the party leadership has to come down heavily on the side of change over continuity.
Both party and unions have stayed silent for too long, for fear of letting in the Tories. But as politics drifts further to the right and Labour's essential identity is in real danger, there is more risk in not speaking up. To encourage debate and renewal in Sweden's Social Democratic Party, its new leader coined a phrase for dissident voices - she calls them "loving critics". There is still time for Labour's leadership to listen to such voices and alter its course. But we don't have long.
* Jon Cruddas is MP for Dagenham and was a candidate in the recent deputy leadership contest
Jon Trickett is MP for Hemsworth

More from S.Milne in Venezuela

Chávez's revolution cannot stand still if it is to survive - The fate of Venezuela's experiment will be felt beyond its borders, but the dictatorship canard has now been put to rest Seumas Milne in Caracas Thursday December 6, from the Guardian

What happens in Venezuela now matters more than at any time in the country's history - not just for Latin America, but for the wider world. Since the leftwing nationalist Hugo Chávez was first elected in 1998, his oil-rich government has not only spearheaded a challenge to US domination and free-market dogma that has swept through the continent. It has also led the first serious attempt since the collapse of the Soviet Union to create a social alternative to the neoliberal uniformity imposed across the globe. That has become even clearer since the Venezuelan president committed his "Bolivarian revolution" to introducing a new form of "21st century socialism" two years ago.
So it's hardly surprising that Chávez's wafer-thin defeat in the constitutional referendum at the weekend has been seen as more than a little local difficulty. The proposals would have allowed him to stand again after his term as president expires in 2012; formalised Venezuela as a socialist state; entrenched direct democracy; and introduced a string of progressive reforms, from a 36-hour working week and social security for 5 million informal workers, to gay rights and gender parity in party election lists. Their defeat by 50.7% to 49.3% was hailed by George Bush and greeted with dismay by supporters at home and abroad, not least in countries such as Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua which rely on Venezuelan support. At the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas in the early hours of Monday morning, the shock among ministers and activists was palpable.
But although the referendum result was clearly a setback for the charismatic Venezuelan president, it is also very far from being any kind of crushing defeat. Chávez remains firmly in power, with a commanding level of public support - his poll ratings are still over 60% - and control of the national assembly. With the exception of his right to stand again, most of the referendum package can be legislated for without constitutional authorisation. Through a dignified response to the opposition's victory, acknowledgement of a failure of preparation and commitment to stick with the attempt to build socialism, Chávez has already regained the political initiative.
Perhaps most importantly for understanding what is actually going on in Venezuela, the referendum result has surely discredited the canard that the country is somehow slipping into authoritarian or even dictatorial rule. It is clearly doing nothing of the sort, though doubtless if Chávez had won by a similar margin the US-backed opposition would have cried foul and much of the western media would have accused Chávez of dictatorship. I visited over half-a-dozen polling stations on Sunday in the state of Vargas, north-east of Caracas, and in the city itself, and the process was if anything more impressively run than in Britain - and certainly the US - with opposition monitors everywhere declaring themselves satisfied with the integrity of the ballot.
Of course, the campaign was the focus of the most mendacious propaganda, both at home and abroad. There was not only the absurd claim, recycled endlessly through the international media, that the new constitution would make Chávez "president for life" (rather than subject to the same rules that operate in France or Britain). In Venezuela, anonymous advertisements indirectly paid for by US corporate interests ran for days in the best-selling paper insisting that, if the constitutional reforms were passed, children would be taken from their parents and private homes nationalised.
Anecdotal evidence suggests such nonsense had some impact. The Bush administration has been funding elements of the opposition, including student groups (as reported at the weekend in the Washington Post), which were at the forefront of the "no" campaign. But after winning 11 national votes in nine years, the Chavista movement was clearly also complacent: the process was rushed; and there was a lack of clarity among many Chávez supporters over what was really at stake. Milk shortages that suddenly materialised in the last couple of months certainly didn't help. There is also discontent over crime and corruption, including the role of the "boli-bourgeoisie" grown rich under his presidency. Crucially, it was the abstention of Chávez supporters, especially in poorer areas, rather than greater support for the opposition, that lost the vote.
That suggests those voices in the Chávez camp now calling for slower and less radical reforms may be missing the point. The revolutionary process underway in Venezuela has already delivered remarkable social achievements in a society grotesquely disfigured by inequality, by redistributing oil revenues and unleashing direct democracy to push through social programmes. As Teresa Rodriguez, a mother of three, told me at a meeting of one of the new grass roots communal councils in the Catia barrio in Caracas: "We didn't have a voice, now we have a voice."
Since Chávez came to power, the poverty level has been slashed from 49% to 30%, extreme poverty from 16% to below 10%; free health and education have been massively expanded; subsidised food made available in the poorer areas; pensions and the minimum wage boosted; illiteracy eliminated; land redistributed; tens of thousands of co-ops established, and privatised utilities and oil brought back under public ownership and control.
It might be imagined that such a record - for all its weaknesses - combined with the clear demonstration of Venezuela's democratic credentials this week would attract more sympathy among some of those in the west who claim to care about social progress. Presumably concerns about Chávez's fierce opposition to US imperial power bother them more than the reality of life for Latin America's poor.
But there's little doubt that the fate of the Venezuelan experiment will have an impact far beyond its borders. So far, the cushion of oil has allowed Chávez and his supporters to make rapid progress without challenging the interests of the Venezuelan elite. The dangers of the movement's over-dependency on one man - not least from the threat of assassination - were underlined by the referendum experience. What is certain, however, is that the process cannnot stand still if it is to survive - and to judge by Chávez's response to his first poll defeat, he is in no mood for turning back. We weren't successful, he told the country, "por ahora" - for now.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

More on Venezuela

Venezuela Solidarity Network (US) Statement on the Dec. 2, 2007 Referendum
With a registered voter turn-out of about 55%, Venezuelan voters rejected two referendum questions asking for approval of a total of 69 amendments to their constitution. Each question was defeated by a margin of 1.5 percentage points.
As a result, Venezuelans will not have a constitution that gives them a 36 hour work week, that gives informal sector workers social security, that recognizes the contributions of African and indigenous peoples to the building of Venezuelan identity, that eliminates discrimination in all forms. They also won’t have a seven year presidential term without term limits, definitions for the four classes of property, and other changes that – on paper – would move the country more rapidly toward what is being called “21st century socialism.”
Venezuelans get to vote on constitutional amendments unlike citizens in the United States. In the US, two-thirds of both houses of Congress must approve an amendment and then it must be approved by three quarters of the state legislatures. Voters never get a direct say. Which country has the greater democracy? With 11 national votes in the past nine years since Hugo Chavez was first elected president in 1998, is it any wonder that Venezuelans follow only Uruguay among Latin Americans in their satisfaction with their democracy?
It is time for the US government and the US corporate media to acknowledge that Venezuela is a vibrant democracy and that Hugo Chavez is its elected president. He is not a dictator and he obviously does not have autocratic control of the system or the amendments he supported would not have been voted down.
It is time for the US government and the US corporate media to acknowledge that freedom of speech and assembly are alive and well in Venezuela. The wealthy opposition to the “Bolivarian process” owns the great majority of print and electronic media and was completely free to attack the proposed amendments and Chavez himself, which it did daily and in language that we would never see outside of blogs in the United States.
It is time for the US government and US corporate media to acknowledge that Venezuela’s electoral process is free and fair. Its electronic voting machines issue paper receipts which make fraud almost impossible. We only can wish that electronic voting in the US were as reliable. A defeat by only 1-1/2 percent would have been converted to a victory by those in power in many countries. Mexico’s long tradition of dirty elections easily comes to mind.
It is time for the US government to stop interfering in Venezuela’s democracy and time for the US corporate media to stop aiding and abetting it. Reports are that the US government, through the US Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy, spent $8 million of US taxpayer’s money to influence the vote on the referendum. That would be the equivalent of a foreign country spending $92.6 million on a national referendum – if we had such a democratic tool – in the US. Would we tolerate that? The Venezuela Solidarity Network organized a delegation to Venezuela in October of 2006 to investigate US government interference in that year’s presidential election. The US embassy official who met with us freely admitted that the US was spending $26 million on Venezuela’s presidential election. What would be the reaction in the US if Venezuela spent the equivalent $301 million on our upcoming presidential election?
It is time for the US government to close the Office of Transition Initiatives housed in the US embassy in Caracas. Venezuela’s transition to a real democracy that began with the rejection of the old political parties of the elites in 1998 is alive and well and doesn’t need any so-called “democracy building” from the United States. Indeed, there’s a lot we could learn about democracy from the Venezuelans.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Seumas Milne in Venezuela

"Down but not out in Caracas" - Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution suffered a setback in the form of the referendum defeat. But it's far from finished writes Seumas Milne on the Guardian website, one of the first decent analyses to come out.

There's no doubt that Hugo Chávez's first poll defeat in Venezuela in nine years came as a shock. All yesterday afternoon, private government exit polls predicted a 6-8 point lead for the 'yes' camp in the country's second constitutional referendum in eight years.
At the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas last night, the mood of confidence and celebration gradually evaporated as the evening wore on and the expected results failed to materialise. When the leader of the nine-year-old "Bolivarian revolution" appeared at 1.30am to concede the narrowest of victories to the opposition in a dignified performance, the sense of confounded expectation in the room - packed with ministers, activists and journalists - was palpable.
But although last night's rejection was clearly a setback for Chávez and his increasingly innovative attempt to create a new kind of social alternative in the oil-rich Latin American state, it is very far from being any kind of crushing defeat.
The constitutional reform - which would have allowed Chávez to stand again as president after his second term expires in 2012, formalised Venezuela as a socialist state, entrenched direct democracy and introduced a 36-hour working week along with a string of other changes - was knocked back by a slender margin: 50.7 per cent to 49.3 per cent. 'Por ahora,' as Chávez said in his early hours address: 'for now.'
A combination of fear about what the reforms might mean in practice, over-confidence by the Chavista movement, a powerful and mendacious propaganda campaign (including claims that children would be taken from their parents and private homes nationalised), discontent over continuing high levels of corruption and crime and a lack of clear identification by many Chávez supporters with the reform all evidently played their part.Crucially, it was the abstention of three million voters who backed Chávez in last year's presidential election that lost the vote, rather than any significant advance by the opposition, which stayed stuck at roughly the same level of support.
But the charismatic Venezuelan president remains firmly in power, with a commanding level of public support and control of the national assembly. With the significant exception of his right to stand in future presidential elections, most of the other progressive social reforms contained in yesterday's referendum package can be legislated for without constitutional authorisation.
Perhaps most significantly for a better international understanding of what is actually going on in Venezuela, yesterday's result must surely discredit the canard that the country is somehow slipping into authoritarian or even dictatorial rule. It is clearly doing nothing of the sort. The referendum was a convincing display of democracy in action - though doubtless if the margin of victory had been the other way round, the US-backed opposition would have cried foul and swathes of the western media would have accused Chávez of imposing a dictatorship.
I visited over half a dozen polling stations yesterday in the state of Vargas north-east of Caracas and in the city itself and the process seemed if anything more impressively run than in Britain - with opposition monitors everywhere declaring themselves satisfied with the transparency and integrity of the process.
Nevertheless, the risk must now be that voices within the Chavista coalition calling for slower and less radical reforms will now be strengthened as a result of the result.
The revolutionary process underway in Venezuela has delivered remarkable social achievements, on the back of rising oil prices, in health, education, poverty reduction, democratic participation, socialisation of land and property and national independence. If those advances were to be halted or reversed, it would be a loss whose significance would go far beyond Venezuela's borders. But judging by Chávez's comments and commitments made in the early hours of this morning, there is no mood for turning back.

Britain's Shame - Excellent Article by Jon Cruddas on Asylum

Editor's note: Another excellent piece from Jon Cruddas, who continues to campaign on the priorities which broad together so many left, progressive forces, from the unions, labour party and beyond, to support his deputy leadership campaign - a campaign which helped put issues such as affordable housing and the rights of migrant workers firmly on the political map.

"Britain's Shame" - Our asylum policy is forcing many people into destitution but politicians are afraid to take up the issue writes Jon Cruddas on the Guardian website.

A new film is being shown to MPs tomorrow by Amnesty International that aims to shame us into action. It's about a group of people forced into abject poverty: sleeping rough, eating food out of bins, depending on churches and charities for clothes. Not only that, many live in fear of being forced to leave this situation for somewhere that may be much worse. This is all happening in the UK, under our very noses. And few politicians will go near the issue because these people are refused asylum seekers.
When someone reaches the end of the asylum process - often after poor legal representation from start to finish - their support is cut off and they are denied the right to work, access to benefits and the right to NHS hospital treatment except in an emergency. They are forced into destitution. Some get "hard case support" but many believe this is a ploy to make them sign up to return to their home country - and many asylum-seekers are simply too scared to go home, or are unable to return.
And many people can't be removed. For people from much of Somalia and Iraq or Zimbabwe, their home country may simply be too unsafe to go back to; in some countries there is no safe airport to fly to. And many people don't have valid travel documents as they were confiscated in their home country or they have been told to destroy them by the agent that brought them here.
I'm not saying that no one should be returned. If someone's asylum claim has been dealt with fairly, with a proper interpreter and legal representation, then if their claim fails they should return, provided it's safe to do so. But that just isn't always the case. And in these cases a humane solution must be found that allows refused asylum seekers to live with some sense of dignity and purpose.
As a member of the Still Human Still Here campaign, Amnesty is one of a number of organisations highlighting the plight of tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers who are being forced into abject poverty in an attempt to drive them out of the country.
One of those people featured in the film is Afshin, a 38-year-old man who arrived in the UK from Iran 12 years ago, after fleeing to escape the threat of persecution. He had a long history of opposition to the Iranian regime and had been imprisoned and beaten before leaving the country. After waiting for five years for a decision on his asylum claim, it was refused and his appeal was rejected.
Since then his life has been in tatters. He is terrified of returning to Iran but once his asylum claim was refused and his appeal dismissed, he was denied the right to work or receive government support. With no money for food, clothes or shelter, Afshin lived on the streets, sleeping rough or occasionally in a launderette, sometimes eating from rubbish bins. He has had many health problems, but destitute refused asylum-seekers are only able to access hospital medical care for emergency treatment or any treatment they were receiving during their asylum claim. Afshin has twice attempted suicide.
I met Afshin at a screening of the film at the Labour party conference. He's got somewhere to stay now: after converting to Christianity, he lives with a religious order in London. And he's got a better lawyer now that UK NGOs have heard about his case. But should someone really be relying on churches and charities to keep them alive in modern Britain? This sounds like a story from the days of Gladstone and Disraeli, not Brown and Cameron.
This is a policy that doesn't work: it drives people underground, away from the authorities towards illegal labour, crime and prostitution. And once the authorities have lost contact with someone, there's little chance of returning them should the situation improve in their home country.
But more importantly, it's a policy that fills me with shame. Cutting off people's support, denying them the right to support themselves and driving them into destitution is little more than an attempt to starve them out of the country. It's not something that we should tolerate in our modern and affluent society. And if British people were found to be in this situation, I have little doubt that there would be a righteous outcry. It's allowed to go on because it only affects a group of people that have been so thoroughly stigmatised that they are beyond sympathy for many people.
So I hope that plenty of my colleagues get to see the film, Still Human Still Here: The destitution of refused asylum seekers this evening and I hope it has a powerful effect on them. I hope that in a couple of years' time, the film will be outdated as it will depict a situation that no longer happens. But until then Amnesty is asking anyone who cares about the issue to contact them to request a copy of the DVD and show it to their MP, to confront them with the stark fact that Afshin and many others are living in a Victorian Britain that the rest of us have left long behind.

Towards a Shared Future - Muslim Council of Britain article

"Towards a shared, multi-faith future" - The Muslim Council of Britain's decision to end its boycott of Holocaust memorial day will have its detractors, but it sends a positive message writes Inayat Bunglawala on the Guardian website, which we post for the purpose of information, especially for those anti-racists tackling Islamophobic myths in Britain today.

This weekend the Muslim Council of Britain voted to end its non-participation in the annual Holocaust memorial day.
I have to admit that I have never been overly convinced as to the usefulness of such memorial events. The very first HMD event in the UK in 2001 was inaugurated by the then prime minister, Tony Blair. He looked typically sombre and determined during the televised occasion. "Never again," the world had said after the Nazi holocaust. But our Tony went on just two years later to give his active support to the criminal invasion of Iraq in which the dead now number in their hundreds of thousands. Never again, eh?
The British Muslim community was divided right from the outset over the issue of attending HMD. Some argued that the HMD would be misused by Zionists to try and garner support for the policies of the Israeli state. Others said that if there was to be a memorial day then it should be a more inclusive genocide memorial day. After all, had we not recently witnessed genocide in Rwanda and also of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica? During the Satanic Verses affair, the UK Muslim philosopher Shabbir Akhtar had warned that the next time we saw gas chambers again in Europe, it would be European Muslims that would be inside them. Some others said that the reasons for non-attendance would not be properly understood and that it would cause unnecessary hurt to many in the UK Jewish community. The MCB, with its several hundred affiliates, reflected those divisions. The only national poll that was carried out on this issue - it was commissioned last year by the Jewish Chronicle - found that 52% of British Muslims supported the MCB's hitherto position of non-attendance.
So, this weekend's decision to attend will certainly have its detractors among British Muslims. Vikram Dodd in today's edition of the Guardian notes that some of the MCB's affiliates may even leave over this issue. On the whole, however, I believe the MCB made the right decision and it sends a welcome and positive signal about its commitment to a shared future in a multi-faith Europe.

Hundreds Line up Beside Latin America

From the Morning Star, Monday 03 December - a report on the inspiring conference organised by Venezuela Information Centre, Cuba Solidarity Campaign & SERTUC, which brought together many of the progressive left forces in Britain today.

HUNDREDS of people gathered in London on Saturday to show their solidarity for democracy, liberation and social progress in Latin America.Representatives from Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba spoke at the third annual Latin America solidarity conference.
Cuba Solidarity Campaign secretary Bernard Regan said that the conference was a “testament to the strength of the struggles” in Latin America.Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn told delegates that Latin America is breaking out of the straightjacket of almost 200 years of the Monroe doctrine.He urged the government to change its “ill thought-out” policy towards Latin America.
Labour Friends of Venezuela chairman Colin Burgon MP added: “Our job is not to lecture the people of Latin America on how to do things.“It is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in solidarity.” Bolivian MP Cesar Navarro said: “It is very difficult to be on the left, but it is also the most beautiful thing in the world, because it means breaking with neoliberal ideas.” Declaring the solidarity of the Bolivian people towards Cuba and Venezuela, he added: “We must bring about a transformation of Latin America. This means building our own revolution.”
Venezuelan ambassador Samuel Moncada pointed out that it was very difficult to see through the curtain of the information blockade that hangs over Venezuela. “We are all guinea pigs in a global experiment in disinformation,” he said. Cuban ambassador Rene Mujica Cantelar added: “This is a battle for the minds of people everywhere, which, if we can win this struggle, will inevitably produce liberated minds. “National liberation can be understood as a permanent liberation of the mind. This is what the Cuban revolution did for the Cuban people.”
PICTURE: Cuban doctor in Pakistan following the Earthquake.
Birmingham Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob pointed out that Hugo Chavez became a hero in the Middle East when he withdrew Venezuela’s ambassador to Israel over last year’s invasion of Lebanon. She also praised the Cuban medical brigades that brought aid to the people of Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake. “They asked the Cuban doctors: ‘Why are you doing this?’,” Ms Yaqoob said. “They answered: ‘Because you are our brothers and sisters.’ “This is the humanity that we are all fighting and struggling for.”
Respect MP George Galloway said that the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions encompass the hopes of Latin America. “The Cubans thank us for our solidarity, but it is we who should thank them for keeping the flag flying for all these years,” he said.

London: Clear Blue Water on Housing

By Ken Livingstone from the 'Morning Star' - see socialistunity.com for some interesting analysis on the significance of the London Mayor Election and re-electing Ken for the Left.

OF all the issues on which I disagree strongly with the Tory candidate for mayor Boris Johnson, there is one where there is an absolutely clear line of division between progressive politics and the divisive agenda of the right - and that is housing.
The Tories have now emphatically come out against my policy that half of all new housing should be affordable.
In a speech to the National House Building Council (NHBC) on November 21, Boris Johnson said that I should stop bullying London councils to deliver on my target of 50 percent affordable housing and argued that I shouldn’t get “hung up” on percentages.
Well, from the perspective of Henley-on-Thames, there may not be much need to get “hung up” on affordable housing targets, but try telling that to those people who are living in overcrowded squalor.
Of course, Boris Johnson is not alone in the Tory ranks.
He was joined by his right-wing colleagues on the London Assembly who recently voted against a Labour and Lib Dem motion, also backed by the Greens, supporting the 50 per cent affordable housing policy.
So sharp is the division over housing that, in BBC London’s report of Johnson’s NHBC speech, they remarked on the “clear blue water” between myself and the Tories on this issue.
The reasons for a tough target of 50 per cent are self-evident - we are reaping the seeds of neglect and decay sown in the 1980s and ’90s by the Tories when they halted council-house building, leaving it, instead, to market forces to resolve the housing needs of Londoners.
Needless to say, market forces didn’t oblige and, today, we are feeling the consequences.
Seven years ago, when London got its own government back, the supply of new affordable homes had virtually dried up and the supply of new homes in general was still too low because of the planning regime that existed.
This was the disastrous Tory legacy imposed on London by Thatcher and Major.
We are beginning to turn that around. The number of new homes being built in London is up from just over 17,000 in 2000 to over 27,000 in 2006-7.
And, by using the planning powers devolved to me at the start of my first term, coupled with the higher targets that half of all new homes should be affordable, housing stock has begun to rise.
The government is now devolving further housing and planning powers to my office, including giving me direct responsibility for London’s affordable housing budget, which is worth over £1 billion a year.
Shelter has strongly backed the new housing strategy for London, which builds on the progress that we have made so far and utililises the affordable housing targets to keep up the pressure for new homes.
It would be a disaster at this point to adopt the policy of reducing the pressure for affordable new homes.
The new housing strategy has, as its centrepiece, a proposal to build 50,000 more affordable homes in London over the next three years.
This constitutes a 50 per cent increase in the delivery of affordable London homes and a doubling in the supply of homes for social rent.
We also need more affordable family-sized homes. Our new strategy will mean a four-fold increase in the number of new larger homes for low-cost home ownership.
There is a real opportunity opening up to the east of London in the Thames Gateway to build three and four-bedroom affordable homes, supported by the necessary infrastructure and transport links.
Nowhere else offers the brownfield land and the public transport capacity needed. And nowhere else has the same opportunities to create a better quality of life for residents around the river, new parks and renewed town centres.
The Tories say that they would do more to encourage home ownership - something their policy of drying up the supply of housing, including affordable housing, did nothing to help.
In fact, the latest figures show that, of the five councils with the most new shared ownership homes in 2006-7, all but one had adopted the 50 per cent affordable homes target.
Boris Johnson’s right-wing argument against affordable housing targets that “meeting these targets can get in the way of our goals” has been shown to be totally wrong by our record on housing in London.
So, I welcome the fact that providing desperately needed affordable housing, with a clear 50 per cent target, has become a key battle line and I for one relish the fight.

Bolivia - A Democratic Revolution Transforming Society

Adriana Paz is a Bolivian activist, journalist and a founder member of the Canada-Bolivia Solidarity Committee. For more information about Bolivian solidarity activity in Canada, email boliviasolidarity@gmail.org. This article was taken from Socialist Voice - http://socialistvoice.com/

Last March Evo Morales, first indigenous president of Bolivia, instituted in his country a loan to be granted to all children under the age of 12 years living in poor rural communities. During the launching event, Morales approached an indigenous boy and asked him, "What are you going to do now with this money?" The little boy answered "I am going to use it to study because I want to become a president of us like you are."
Such an answer from an indigenous child would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago, since the aspirations of the vast majority of indigenous Bolivians were limited to day-to-day survival. This answer thus reflects one of the major transformations taking place in Bolivian society. The arrival of Evo Morales Ayma to the presidency of the poorest country in South America is unquestionably a victory of the people.
Since election of Morales in 2005, Bolivia has seen many important changes, some more visible than others. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the government’s assertion of control over the oil and gas industry has brought the country major economic gains. Agrarian reform has received a new impulse, as idle and illegally obtained land is returned to landless farmers.
Other less tangible changes can be seen in the strengthening of the indigenous population’s pride, self-esteem, and leadership in a country where for more than 182 years a racist colonial system consigned them to subhuman status, death, and historical oblivion.
These deep changes aim not only to reduce poverty and improve economic performance, but also to transform the nation and break with its colonial and racist past.
Today, the Bolivian state – not the government – is facing a critical crisis of hegemony. According to Bolivian vice-president Alvaro Garcia Linera, the crisis has a double structural dimension. On one hand, the neoliberal model imposed on Bolivia by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Washington in the mid-eighties has failed. On the other hand, he says, the elitist, racist, anti-national and anti-social colonial state has exhausted its resources and stands bankrupt.
Colonial state under attack
With the emergence of a new indigenous popular government, the old colonial system, where skin colour and an indigenous last name were grounds for discrimination and exclusion, is now rapidly collapsing. That in itself is a deep social transformation that some have called a democratic revolution. Moreover, the new government is strongly oriented to the defence of Bolivian national sovereignty, through recovering public control of natural resources and land, as well as self-determination for the various indigenous nations that coexist in Bolivia.
These changes go against the interests of the traditional ruling class. They also resist an imperialist agenda that aims to keep Latin American countries subservient to the U.S. and transnational corporations.
And thanks in large measure to Evo Morales and his party, MAS (Movement Toward Socialism), the neoliberal anti-social project has not been consummated. It is more likely that a new nation will soon be born, rather than the old resurrected. For in the 2005 presidential elections, the vast majority of Bolivians (the excluded ones) supported Morales and said "no more" to the old colonial and neoliberal regime.
Raul Prada Alcoreza, Bolivian sociologist, points out the factors at work:
More than 20 years of indigenous popular resistance against neoliberal policies. Since mid-eighties the indigenous movement and in particular the coca growers’ movement has provided the core of resistance to neoliberalism.
An historic opportunity for the indigenous population to bring to an end more than 500 years of racism and discrimination.
The old system’s decline, which became evident in severe social conflicts such as the Cochabamba Water Wars of 2000 and the so-called Gas War of 2003. Both of these dealt resounding defeats to neoliberalism.
The growing trend across Latin America for national liberation from U.S. and neoliberal domination. Notable examples of this trend are countries like Cuba and Venezuela, and social movements throughout the region, such as the landless movement in Brazil and the Zapatistas in Mexico.
The Constituent Assembly: A ship loaded with hopes
Rosario Ricaldi, one of the MAS Constituent Assembly delegates, explains that the assembly’s goal is to draft a new constitution that takes into account historically marginalized sectors such as the indigenous people, respects their territorial and cultural rights, and ends the colonial state. For Ricaldi and other MAS members, the new constitution must end all abuses that discriminate against the original people.
The convening of the Constituent Assembly has given rise to a destabilization campaign and an ethnic confrontation that threaten the process as a whole. After a full year of activity, with various interruptions, the assembly missed its original deadline of August 6, 2007, without any significant achievement.
Since its inception, the Constituent Assembly has been plagued by confrontations with a re-emergent right-wing opposition, organized out of the city of Santa Cruz in the east of Bolivia. In Santa Cruz, the wealthiest province in Bolivia, the indigenous population is a minority, while a strong corporate elite is aligned to the oil and gas multinationals and large agribusiness.
For the first eight months, the assembly was deadlocked over rules of procedure and debate, The opposition demanded a two-thirds majority for all votes as a way to prevent radical measures from being introduced into the new constitution.
Once this impasse was over, a combination of factors soon acted to again stall this process. Initially, when voting began within the assembly’s 21 commissions over what report to present to the assembly as a whole, the MAS party manoeuvred in a few of the key commissions so that, in alliance with some smaller parties, it could essentially present both the majority and minority reports and lock out the right wing.
Then, on July 2, threatening to walk out of the assembly, the Santa Cruz-based right wing launched its proposed statutes for provincial autonomy, warning that the eastern half of the country would reject any constitution that did not incorporate its proposals.
At the same time, and almost out of nowhere, the demand arose to change the country’s capital from La Paz to Sucre (where it had been located until 1898). The protests began in Sucre, supported by the opposition, aiming to create a diversion and heighten tensions. Ricaldi notes that right wing benefits from moving the capital to a city closer to its eastern base and away from the combative social movements predominantly based in the country’s west. In response, around 1.5 million people mobilized in La Paz on July 20 to defend its status as the capital.
Congress has set December 6 as the new deadline for the Constituent Assembly’s decisions; the measure limits and restricts its powers. The Assembly’s sessions are now proceeding in conditions of instability, since it is constantly threatened by rightist destabilization.
For a pluri-national state
Perhaps the most contentious issue before the Constituent Assembly is the MAS proposal to define Bolivia as a state that is not merely multicultural but pluri-national. This concept includes autonomy of indigenous communities, proposed as a counterweight to the right wing’s regional autonomy.
Regional or provincial autonomy is a proposal presented by the right-wing opposition. The opposition movements are basically composed by elites of associations of private entrepreneurs and Civic Commitees located in the eastern half of the country.
The elite’s regional-autonomy proposal, as Bolivian sociologist and political analyst Prada Alcoreza has noted, is just a pretext to maintain their privileges and control over the land and resources, while subordinating the indigenous, campesino and working-class population through institutional corruption and racism.
By contrast, the pluri-national state recognizes and acknowledges all the indigenous nations that co-exist in Bolivia, with equal status.
Juvenal Quispe, Bolivian journalist and writer, explains that a pluri-national state would create a legal and constitutional framework for a nation of nations, with a single state and territorial autonomy at various levels. The peoples of Bolivia now have an historic opportunity to build their future by going beyond the model of the Eurocentric political theories based on a past of colonialism, exploitation and discrimination, he says.
The elites are responding, as in Venezuela, with a mix of racism and fear, calling for "defense of democratic institutions" from attack by the "authoritarian government" of the "savage and ignorant Indians."
The right-wing de-stabilization campaign in Bolivia is coordinated in large part by the U.S. embassy. The Right’s tactic of fomenting ethnic and regional confrontation bears a worrisome resemblance to recent bloody ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, where the new U.S. ambassador, Philip Goldberg, was previously posted. The same tactic divide-and-rule tactic lies at the heart of U.S. strategy in Iraq.
Imperialism will not surrender its "back yard" without a fight. The U.S. continues its energetic support of right-wing opposition groups and allies in Bolivia and other dissenting Latin American countries, with the threat of direct military intervention never far away. These efforts are backed up by coordinated media campaigns in North America seeking to demonize Latin American liberation movements and prepare public opinion for intervention.
Agrarian reform
The pluri-national state and the autonomy reforms, whether proposed by the indigenous or the elite, hinge on ownership and control of land. According to Silvestre Saisari, leader of the Landless Movement, "Land is a centre of power. Whoever has the land has the power. We proposed the re-distribution of the land so the power of the elite will be affected."
The opposition, composed of diverse elite and corporate interests, and the so-called "civic committees" in the east, are working to destroy the Constituent Assembly and government to preserve their control over the land.
Nevertheless, outside of the arena of the Constituent Assembly, the government has achieved amazing progress in conducting a real agrarian reform. In November 2006 the MAS government passed a reform bill for the effective distribution of unused land to landless farmers.
In Bolivia the 70% of the land belongs to the 5% of the population, an injustice that has fuelled protest since Bolivia’s revolution of the 1950s.
An agrarian law originally passed in 1996, after many years of massive and historical marches demanding recognition of indigenous land, authorized the state to expropriate lands not being used productively. However, as journalist Pablo Stefanoni notes, in practice the titles given to indigenous communities allowed only one owner, causing internal disputes, breaking with the indigenous communal land practices, and disrupting traditional land-based cultural organization.
The old agrarian law also allowed landowners to keep their unused lands if they paid a 1% property tax on the land’s value – and landowners themselves determined this value.
The government has now legislated the necessary changes to the old law, and its Land and Territory commission has announced that in the next few weeks the principles of this law will be elevated to the constitutional level.
According to Miguel Urioste, president of Tierra Foundation in Bolivia and long-time advocate of agrarian reform, the new regulations grant government agencies power to identify large land estates and re-distribute them without compensation based on the soil’s productivity and the needs of the landless campesino and indigenous people.
This historical achievement was possible thanks not only to the political will of the Morales administration, but also to the pressure and mobilizations of the social movements that marched from different regions of the countryside to La Paz demanding Senate approval of the bill.
Unlike with past marches, this time participants were not met in La Paz by military and police bullets and tear gas, but by communal kitchens with food and water for the protesters.
The invisible effects of the revolution
Bolivia’s first presidency by an indigenous person is a revolutionary fact that is modifying public opinions on politics and state authority. "It’s a feeling of a political takeover by the people" says Beatriz Vaca, a campesina woman who now works at the micro-credit vice-ministry. "Being an indigenous person is ceasing to have a negative connotation. On the contrary, it is becoming a source of pride both in and out of the country," adds Vaca.
The trend is toward a revolutionary process that transforms society and its power relationships. The people have an opportunity to build a new and revolutionary form of power.
Of every 10 people in Bolivia, almost seven are extremely poor; of those seven people, four are indigenous. As President, Morales represents not only indigenous people but the poor that have taken over the government.
In an interview in Bolivia Rising, Mario Guzman Saldaña, Bolivian ambassador in the USA, points out that President Morales and Chancellor David Choquehuanca and other indigenous leaders in the government are teaching those of us who are not indigenous how to live and understand things, in different way.
First, Saldaña says, "There is a clear decision, through the people, their government, and the state, to change the direction of our history – for example, through the recovery of our natural resources." The other key factor, Saldaña says, is to understand that humans must establish a different relationship with nature.
The president and the chancellor, says Saldaña, often speak of ''living well,'' which from the indigenous point of view means an open relationship with nature, considering even trees and rocks as important beings. Rituals and ceremonies have been introduced that previously had been performed only in indigenous communities.
When the vice-president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, was preparing to visit the United States, an Aymara ceremony was held for him in the presidential palace – for the first time in history – blessing his journey and bestowing good wishes upon his mission. Also President Morales, as one of his first acts upon nationalizing an industry, made a special offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth).
Colonialism and neoliberalism tried to relegate the indigenous world to the trash can of history. Now through its growing influence, a new renaissance is around the corner.
This influence can also be seen in other political developments such the new water ministry and new water law which respects indigenous’ ancestral and traditional ways of water management. The judicial system now acknowledges the traditional communal justice system.
A ray of hope
Exciting economical and political developments are taking place in the Andes. Yet they are encountering strong opposition that threatens to overturn what has been achieved until now. However one thing is certain: despite threat, delays, and problems, the courageous Bolivian people won’t take a step backward after gaining all they’ve conquered up to now.
Bolivia’s unique democratic revolution is a ray of hope and a breath of fresh air for all the excluded ones in the world. Yet this dream for freedom and dignity is still a fragile process under constant attack – a process that deserves external support and global solidarity.