Friday, 24 August 2007

After the Flood

Last week, thousands of flood victims joined a march called by Tewksbury Council. The government has now provided a £6.2 million recovery package for England.
In Wales, the New Labour/Plaid coalition has yet to provide any help for the forgotten Welsh flood victms.

Adam Johannes from Roath RESPECT argues that climate change activists and socialists in Wales need to fight for the Assembly government to intervene as part of the struggle for a very different kind of society.

Nye Bevan famously said that "socialism is the language of priorities". If this is the case, then the New Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition that mis-run the Welsh Assembly are very far from socialism.

In the Vale of Glamorgan, £16 billion is being spent - not on schools, hospitals, socially useful jobs, or to eliminate child poverty - but rather to oil the wheels of the British war machine.

The priorities of the two ruling parties in Wales are clear: Billions can be found to set up a Military Academy to train the latest recruits to the "war on terror", but not a penny for a flood hit community in the same area: At home and abroad, our rulers wage war on the poor.

We shouldn't be surprised. It's no secret that Rhodri Morgan and George W Bush are the only world leaders that still refuse to take climate change seriously.

Only a few months ago, the First Minister of Wales even suggested that climate change could boost tourism! He rabidly opposes the Assembly setting binding targets to cut carbon emissions and has failed to visit communities in Wales hit by flooding. Perhaps, Mr Morgan should go to Barry and tell the people who have had their homes destroyed by floods that climate change is good for tourism . . .

Climate, Class & Inequality

Climate change will result in increasingly volatile and extreme weather: Heatwaves, floods, droughts can be expected. This will effect everyone - but not equally. We have already seen that the first and worst victims will be poor and working class people.

In New Orleans, the rich whites were evacuated while the poor - black and white - were left to fend for themselves.

In August 2003, a heat wave engulfed Europe. It resulted in 15,000 deaths in France alone. Half of the people who died lived in old people's homes, few of which have air conditioning. The deaths were overwhelmingly poor and working class people.

In our own country, thousands die of hypothermia each winter: More pensioners die in the UK - the 4th richest economy in the world - than in Siberia. The reason they die is because they cannot afford to adequately heat their home. The reason they cannot afford to adequately heat their home is because Labour and the Tories have attacked pensions and dismantled the Welfare State.

No More Oil Wars!

Our pensioners suffer from fuel poverty while our government sends young working class men abroad to kill in a war for oil. In Iraq, the occupied country - a country with the second biggest oil reserves in the Middle East - ordinary people don't have enough fuel for their homes or cars. In Britain, the occupying country, pensioners die because they can't afford fuel to hear their homes. Who, then, is profiting from Iraqi oil?

The mystery is explained when we grasp that the war is about the richest 10% of our population extending their profits and power.

Is it not the same people who make British workers work the longest hours for the worst pay in the Western World who concocted this "war on terror"? Is it not the same corporations, oil companies, and vested interests that lobbied for the war on Iraq that now bribe the US government to block global action on climate change?

Floods - Who will Pay for the Damage?

It is clear that the floods were also the result of government policies of building housing on flood plains, of poor draining, of flood defences cut back because the government cares about profits not people. Yet, in many cases working people are expected to pay for the damage themselves. In Barry, some families whose houses are uninhabitable don't have house insurance.

Behind the TV images lie many untold stories of desperation, wrecked lives, and despair.

Cardiff RESPECT argues that the government must provide grants for all families effected by the floods in Wales and England to rebuild their lives, these grants should be funded by a special windfall tax on Britain's millionaires, but we also recognise that until we build a credible left wing alternative to New Labour and Plaid, we cannot force the government to do anything. So effective solidarity with the flood victims naturally leads to the necessity of creating a mass organisation in England and Wales to deliver it.

Re-nationalise the Water!

It was once assumed that public utilities like water and electricity should be publicly owned by not-for-profit bodies that were democratically accountable, but Thatcher sold our water and electricity to private corporations to make money, and Blair and Brown refused to re-nationalise them.

The pursuit of profits by the rich and powerful often means that they cut corners when it comes to health and safety. In Gloucestershire, the local water company built water treatment works on the edge of a flood plain and had inadequate flood defences.

During the flooding disaster, they announced £300 million profits with shareholders given a special payment of £575 million, yet now they are saying that water bills must be increased to pay for the damage cause by the floods!

So working class people already faced with huge costs due to their communities being destroyed face the burden of increased water charges levied by corporations making record profits!

For the Planet - Against the State

Climate change - itself the bitter fruit of an economic system based on greed not need - is taking place in a world brutally divided between the rich and poor: Capitalism seemlessly transmutes natural distaster into human catastrophe.

Climate change is not just about weather, it is about inequality, how society is organised, housing, pensions and a host of other issues.

And solving climate change is not about "green taxes" and the fake solutions offered by the mainstream parties. It is about re-nationalising the railways and cheap bus-fares to make travelling by car unnessecary. It is about increasing public health by promoting walking and cycling. It is about a massive programme of house insulation that will mean that working class people will save money from lower fuel bills. It is about healthy locally grown food rather than processed food flown from abroad. It is about jobs that are close to where you work so you don't have to commute. It is about city gardens and sustainability. It is about supporting protests like the Climate Camp and the demonstrations called by Campaign against Climate Change, it is about raising the issue of climate chaos in your work-place, community and trade union branch.

RESPECT fights for a rapid transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy as a move from war towards peace, but more fundamentally we argue for a break with the neoliberal model of George Bush, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Menzies Campbell, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Rhodri Morgan. We want to build a world based on the principle of People before Profit!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Feedback from Student RESPECT

To read RESPECT's vision of what the NUS should be, see here


Monday was an unusually tame meeting but one that still marked an important moment for NUS with a near unanimous vote to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition.

Affiliation to Stop the War and support for the Communications Workers Union (CWU) was voted through less then an hour after the NEC accepted a priority campaign without any campaigning, and the most significant points need to be discussed more widely.


Over the last few years NUS has done more and more work with the coalition. Both Gemma and Veronica King have spoken at recent demonstrations and Gemma is speaking at the relaunch of Stop the War’s student work on the 8th.

Stop the War has mobilised thousands of students repeatedly in numbers that no other campaign has reached and maintained a level of visibility and influence on far less money then the NUS spends in a month. Joint work around broad slogans between the NUS and StWc can and will be of huge benefit to both organisations.

NUS will be helping with a “Troops Out” tour featuring comedian Mark Steel and ex-SAS veteran Ben Griffen that will be among the biggest meetings to take place at any university this year. This year’s campaign will be discussed at the Stop the War activist meeting on the 8th with Tony Benn.


The only attempt to derail affiliation came from Sophie Buckland of Education not for Sale (ENS), the one organisation of the “left” not to call for an end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

ENS attempted to exploit Wes’ cheap demagogy about the right of Israel to “defend” itself to derail the discussion and succeeded in passing an amendment marking out NUS as on the rightwing of the coalition.

The vote on the amendment was close with many abstaining and others pressured into voting for by the emotive (and dishonest) posturing of Labour Students and ENS, and the main thrust of the motion remains an overwhelmingly positive desire to put NUS at the heart of the anti-war movement.


Wes attempted to sell the education priority campaign with the twisted logic that “it’s very easy to campaign but it’s far harder to have breakfasts and lunches with important people.”

The campaign will be formally launched on the 4th of September and loath though I am to spoil the surprise there are some things that need discussing now.

The concept of the campaign is based around two basic points:

1) We need to “keep our powder dry.” It is argued that it is unwise to run any public campaigns until 2009 because campaigning “puts students off” and furthermore that organisations like the NUS should model themselves on Amnesty International and call on our members for set piece actions every now and again (like turning on and off a tap.)

2) We can’t “pre-empt the review” by proposing what we believe in at this stage as that would stop the government listening to us. Instead we must brown nose officials and gather data to put forwards a pragmatic alternative later which will be considered as a serious option.

The fact that this is deeply flawed on many levels was raised only by the left on the NEC. The comparison between NUS and a lobby group like Amnesty is one of the most worrying aspects of the campaign. It is a marked difference from the idea of a union of students.

Our strength is based on the fact that we collectively organise students at the point where they engage with their education and the world around them.
To successfully develop that strength we need to be involving them in understanding our education system and attempting to change it. This has to be through a consistent series of activities and events to engage our members with our activists and the NUS.

It simply won’t work to expect people to suddenly engage en masse with NUS in 2009 unless we have done the hard work of building up a base.

The second point is the changing nature of universities themselves. It simply isn’t true that the “debate on HE” is actually very narrow and directed. Since New Labour’s theory of “the knowledge economy” the government has systematically accelerated the drive to subvert Universities to the interests of the neo-liberal economy.

It isn’t possible for NUS to tinker around the edges and expect a better deal for students - we need to fundamentally challenge the direction the government is moving in.

We need to be open about our principles to our members and potential supporters and politically win them to the need for a free and fair education.


Almost unanimously the executive voted to show our solidarity with the post workers strike.

Scott Cuthbertson spoke well in favour of encouraging a sense of Trade Union solidarity amongst our members. The strike may currently be suspended but the prospects of wider public sector strikes to defend public services are very much on the horizon.

Other motions included unanimous support for the BMA’s organ donation campaign and work to lower the age of consent to 16 across the board.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Why Are Disabled People Oppressed?

Capitalist ideology views disabled people as “surplus to requirements”. We need to fight for a society that meets people’s needs rather than excluding them, writes Pat Stack from RESPECT

It’s important for socialists to understand the nature of the oppression that disabled people face. There is no question that disabled people are oppressed – but our oppression has somewhat different roots to that of women or ethnic minorities.

Disabled people face discrimination every day in terms of negative attitudes and exclusion from wider society. But in the past we have faced much more extreme forms of repression.

In Germany during the 1930s, the first victims of the Nazis were 100,000 disabled people – or “inferiors”, as they were called. People with physical and learning disabilities were butchered as a consequence of Hitler’s ideology of “racial purity”.

Their bodies didn’t fit, so he got rid of them – before moving on to the Jews, Gypsies, trade unionists and so on.

So the oppression of disabled people, either historically or today, is no less than that of other oppressed groups in society such as women or black people. But it doesn’t quite serve the same purpose – discrimination against disabled people arises from a slightly different economic motive.

Under capitalism, women are seen as a source of cheap labour (especially with regards to childcare) and a source for the reproduction of labour.

That is why capitalism has an interest in the continued oppression of women. It also has an interest in promoting racism as a means of weakening and dividing the working class, thereby driving down the costs of labour.


For disabled people, the root of our oppression is the fact that capitalism sees everything in terms of profit and profitability – and this colours how capitalists view disabled workers.

Most employers see disabled employees as a “problem” – something difficult, something different, something that will cost them more to employ. That isn’t to say that capitalists are incapable of realising that disabled people can be a source of cheap labour.

But the oppression starts from a different trajectory – the initial assumption is that disabled people are worthless under capitalism, rather than of great use within capitalism.

So the oppression of disabled people is a reflection of the way in which capitalism reduces everything to profit – effectively, capitalism says disabled people are surplus to requirements. This is especially true in periods of economic crisis – provision for disabled people is always one of the first things to be hit.

It’s important that we understand the roots of disabled people’s oppression, since that understanding also gives us clarity with regards to what we’re fighting against – and why we’re fighting against it.

The starting point for the disability movement is that you don’t deny that impairments exist, that people have impairments. But the impairment, in and of itself, does not deny people access to employment, social integration, general wellbeing and so on. Those things are denied because society denies them.

They are denied when society fails to provide the means to overcome that exclusion, when it fails to provide access and employment to disabled people, when it chooses to segregate disabled people unnecessarily.

That is the starting point – what we call the social model of disability. And despite the huge steps forward in terms of awareness of these issues, much exclusion still exists.

Moreover, much disability exists because of the kind of society we live in. Large numbers of people across the world are disabled because of the poverty they live in – because of undernourishment, environmental pollution, a lack health and safety provision at their place of work, or because of the carelessness of capitalism.


Discrimination in the job market is a fact of life for people with disabilities. If you’re disabled, you’re three times more likely to be unemployed and six times more likely to be turned down after submitting a job application than if you’re not disabled.

If you say you are disabled on your job application form, you are six times more likely not to be interviewed.

If you get an interview, you are six times more likely to be rejected for the job. And if we look at the question of wages, most disabled people are forced into poorly paid, low skilled jobs. That’s the reality of life for disabled people in the job market.

One approach to dealing with this discrimination is that of organisations such as Remploy – government aided factories that employ people with disabilities. These government workshops are by and large something that’s been fading out in recent years. Remploy in particular has been in the news because its factories are facing closure.

Traditionally what Remploy represented was the segregation of disabled workers – which is why large numbers of disability activists have long objected to the way Remploy is run.

Now Remploy workers are fighting to defend their jobs – but many disability charities have lined up with the government to say the factories should be closed.
While Remploy is something that socialists would want to see consigned to the past, the way to go about that is not by picking people off and forcibly throwing them into a job market that is hostile to them. We should fight for a job market where there is no longer any need for specialised workplaces to employ disabled workers.

The majority of disabled people earn lower wages, while living costs are frequently higher for disabled people. So it’s not surprising that something like two thirds of disabled people live below the poverty line.

Historically the notion was that if a person was disabled, and if nobody could look after them, then they should be put into an institution of some sort. Nowadays the emphasis is on making sure that appropriate care can be provided at home – which is a real advance in terms of society’s attitudes to disabled people.

More recently there have been further advances that question who controls that home care – the disabled person or the care agency.

If you’re a disabled person there is no reason why you shouldn’t prefer going to bed at 11pm rather than at 8pm because that suits somebody else. Your life shouldn’t be lived as if you are in a hospital the whole time.

These changes are real, but there are problems. There is much fine talk from the government about liberating the care environment, giving disabled people real freedom and choice and so on. But in reality you often find the exact opposite is happening. The problem is that the funding is not there, especially at local authority level.

I work for a disability charity. We have people who ask us for more care and more support.

They’ll say, “I’m on my own – I need somebody to come in at night because I need to go to the toilet at night. So I need somebody to come in for a couple of hours.”

The response to these requests is increasingly becoming either (a) “Don’t drink water before you go to sleep,” or (b) “We’ll provide you with incontinence pants.”
So either you’re totally humiliated or you’re lying there thirsty. The government talks about providing “liberation” but won’t provide the funds so that disabled people can make real choices.

In Camden, north London, where I live, there had been no charge for disabled home care – but this has changed recently. Anyone who has more than £30,000 in savings gets charged, as does anybody who receives disability living allowance.

So take a person whose sole income is income support and disability living allowance. Now local authorities are saying we want a big chunk of that disability living allowance back off you in order for us to provide you with care. You are effectively paying a disability tax.

I met the Tory councillor who introduced this change and he said, “This is New Labour policy – we’re just doing what the government says we should do.” Not many people realise you now basically have to pay for the “privilege” of being disabled.

We have to understand what is happening – and we have to understand that fighting for the rights of disabled people means fighting for a different kind of society, one where people’s needs are the priority rather than profits.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Welsh Soldier's death: Rhodri Morgan's silence

With another Welsh soldier dying in Iraq, anti-war campaigners have angrily accused Rhodri Morgan of failing to represent the people of Wales and are launching a mass campaign to demand that the Assembly Government and the new Labour/Plaid administration take a clear anti-war position and call on the UK government to pull the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Adam Johannes from Cardiff RESPECT said:

"Another Welsh soldier is coming home from Iraq in a pine-box, yet the Assembly remains silent on the war.

The Mayor of London and the First Minister of Scotland unequivocally oppose the war, yet the First Minister of Wales shamefully refuses to take a position on it.

With more Welsh soldiers fighting and - in some cases - tragically dying in Iraq and Afghanistan it is time for Rhodri Morgan to show some principles and represent the overwhelming majority of Welsh people who want an end to our involvement in foreign wars.

Wales has some of the poorest communities in the UK, yet billions that could have been spent on pensioners, hospitals and eliminating child poverty is being spent on the illegal wars that Rhodri Morgan refuses to oppose.

The Iraq War has now created twice as many refugees as the Darfur crisis. Up to a million people have died joining the million who perished due to the UN administered genocide of sanctions in the 1990s. Half the population live in absolute poverty, while even more are unemployed: You can almost imagine some well-meaning liberal calling for Western intervention - only this is Western intervention"


The following debate took place between RESPECT and New Labour AM Jeff Cuthbert, during the Assembly elections, in the Western Mail; after First Minister Rhodri Morgan appealed to voters not to punish him because of New Labour’s role in Iraq -

Anti-War vote has a home on May 3rd

Rhodri Morgan was dead wrong when he suggested that voters who wanted to give Labour a bloody nose for the war in Iraq should wait until the next general election, rather than on May 3.

Perhaps he is still guilt ridden after his shambolic performance on Question Time last year, when he refused to make a commitment either way on the basis that the war "wasn't a Welsh issue".

He should try telling that to Reg Keys in North Wales, who lost a son in Iraq, or the numerous other Welsh families that have lost sons, daughters and loved ones in a needless war.

May 3 would be the ideal date for punishing Rhodri for impersonating a jellyfish on such a crucial issue. The only problem is that the mainstream parties are more interested in bartering for a place in a coalition government and will therefore sidestep any discussion of the war during the Assembly elections.

That is why it is so important that RESPECT is standing in the South Wales West and South Wales Central electoral lists.

RESPECT emerged from the anti- war movement, and stands against the neo-liberal policies of Blair and Brown.

We have played a key role in campaigns against racism and war and in defence of public services and council housing.Those who have voted with their feet and demonstrated against the war in South Wales can now vote at the ballot box for a party that believes the billions of pounds wasted on war should be invested in our hospitals, our schools and our communities.


This shabby tactic will not fool Wales - New Labour responds

I refer to the letter of April 11 from Des Mannay, of RESPECT. He criticises Rhodri Morgan for not stating a view on Iraq.

But it is Mr Mannay and not Rhodri that is at fault.When Rhodri speaks he does so as First Minister (that was certainly the case on Question Time).

It is unfair and unreasonable to hound him to state "personal" opinions.

Someone in Rhodri's position will always be judged as a public figure and not as an individual.

What Mr Mannay and his friends are trying to do is to shift the focus of this election campaign away from the true issues. By that I mean the areas of devolved government that the Assembly is responsible for.

Mr Mannay, and others that use the same tactic, are simply being opportunist.They do this because they know that the record of Welsh Labour is a good one. Our investment in education, healthcare and our communities is huge and has increased markedly over the past few years.

There is no evidence to support Mr Mannay's claim that spending in Wales has suffered because of UK Government actions.

But they do not want to debate the real issues so they switch to issues that they know are outside the scope of the Assembly. This is a shabby tactic and will not fool the people of Wales.

JEFF CUTHBERT, New Labour Assembly Member for Caerphilly

RESPECT stands with all those fighting for a better world

Labour AM Jeff Cuthbert states in his letter of April 13 that RESPECT are wrong to try to suggest that Rhodri Morgan should take a position on the Iraq War in public since it doesn't fall under his remit as First Minister.

The same could be said of Labour's elected Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, yet he is able to make the war a point of principle - why should things be different for Rhodri?

The fact is that this illegal war has diverted money that could be spent on public services to maintain an occupation that has seen the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of coalition troops.

Mr Cuthbert lauds the Assembly's investment in health and education, seemingly not realising that Labour's slavish devotion to market solutions to social issues has led to much of this investment being frittered away on overpaid management and consultancy. The result? Hospital cuts and massive waiting lists. An excess of school places becomes an excuse to close schools rather than use that excess to drastically cut class sizes.

Rhodri Morgan's slavish devotion to New Labour as opposed to working people has left him sitting idly by while the party is transformed into a party of sleaze, war and big business.

By contrast, RESPECT stands with all those fighting for a better world. This means supporting those who campaign against war and racism; and public service workers fighting to defend our essential services.

It also means supporting the council residents of Swansea who magnificently defeated the privatisation that the Assembly government and city council tried to force on it, or the kids who came out of Cantonian High School to protest against the cuts and closures that have become the hallmark of Labour in Cardiff and Westminster.

JONNY JONES, RESPECT Wales Steering Committee

Friday, 3 August 2007

RESPECT member becomes Children's Laureate!

Cardiff RESPECT congratulates Michael Rosen on becoming Children's Laureate. He received the award at a ceremony in London in June. Rosen is also well known as an author and broadcaster, presenting programmes such as "Word of Mouth" on Radio 4.

The position is awarded every two years to a writer or illustrator of children's books. Judges consider nominations from a range of organisations representing librarians, critics, writers, booksellers and children.

"I utterly resent and reject the notion that you can teach reading without books," he told journalists after his appointment.

"There is a huge push on to create an environment - in nurseries, and reception, and year ones and year twos - where books are secondary to the process of reading. This seems oxymoronic to me. We must, must have at the heart of learning to read the pleasure that is reading. Otherwise why bother? You could learn phonics, learn how to read and then put it behind you and watch telly - you're given no reason to read. There are many ways in which people learn how to read; the idea that there is one way is an outrageous fib.

It's taken a long time for my daughter to bring a picture book home from school because she's been bringing home the Oxford Reading Tree day after day, week after week. The idea that that's what the school provides to children in her class who might not encounter other books horrifies me. We don't care about lists of words. We care about the Gruffalo. So why aren't kids bringing home The Gruffalo?"

Rosen has stated that he will be working with Booktrust, the charity that administers the laureateship, to promote the use of picture books in schools.

The author of more than 140 books, Rosen is best known for his collections of humorous verse for children, and his other commitments during his two-year stint will emphasise verse.

Presenting his ideas under the provisional title Diverse Verse for All, Rosen said that he would like to develop some kind of website, similar to YouTube, where schools could share videos of children performing their poetry. Alongside it would be an online space for poetry discussion; and widening participation in poetry through libraries.

He also intends to create a touring show of performance poetry for kids, Poetry A-Z - "from Agard to Zephaniah," Rosen joked.

He stresses that poetry offers children "another way to deal with reality" and a "portable philosophy" to be carried around, even in just a couple of lines. "It's a great assistance in life," he added.

However, despite being fifth children's laureate, and the first poet to take the honour, Rosen had one confession to make. "I can't find a word to rhyme with laureate," he said, ruefully.

The children's laureateship was the brainchild of Michael Morpurgo and his friend - and then poet laureate - Ted Hughes, although it was not first endowed until 1999, after Hughes's death. The role, which lasts for two years, is awarded to a children's writer or illustrator, to celebrate immense achievement in their field.


* A fully comprehensive school system providing a common core curriculum for all until 18. End selection. Scrap SATs and other unnecessary tests.
* Education free at the point of use, from pre-school to FE, to
university and adult learning.
* A radical reduction in class size.
* A qualified teacher for every class.
* Better pay for teachers and other education workers.
* An end to specialist school status, to Academies and to Trust schools.
* Restoration of local decision-making powers over admissions and new schools to elected local authorities, not government-appointed bureaucrats.
* Free after-school clubs and play centres for all that need them.
* Full and part-time nursery and day-care places as a right, for all who want them.
* An end to charitable status and tax breaks for private schools.
* The abolition of tuition fees and student loans. Free education and a living grant for all further and higher education students.
* Free and life-long access for all to high quality vocational education and adult education.* A fully comprehensive school system providing a common core curriculum for all until 18. End selection. Scrap SATs and other unnecessary tests.
* Education free at the point of use, from pre-school to FE, to
university and adult learning.
* A radical reduction in class size.
* A qualified teacher for every class.
* Better pay for teachers and other education workers.
* An end to specialist school status, to Academies and to Trust schools.
* Restoration of local decision-making powers over admissions and new schools to elected local authorities, not government-appointed bureaucrats.
* Free after-school clubs and play centres for all that need them.
* Full and part-time nursery and day-care places as a right, for all who want them.
* An end to charitable status and tax breaks for private schools.
* The abolition of tuition fees and student loans. Free education and a living grant for all further and higher education students.
* Free and life-long access for all to high quality vocational education and adult education.