Tuesday 15 January 2008

Take That, capitalist Establishment!

I am really glad to hear that the EMI workers, 2000 of whom are facing redundancy (BBC News: EMI set to cut up to 2,000 jobs), have an unusual yet potentially powerful ally.

Robbie Williams, who started his career with boy band Take That, is "on strike" - with-holding his next album in protest at the dispicable way in which EMI are treating their workers (BBC News: Robbie Williams 'goes on strike')

I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by this development. I didn't have a lot of time for Robbie Williams, following the controversy a couple of years ago concerning his "Rudebox" record; the line about "special olympics" pi$$ed off a number of disability rights supporters, myself included.

But now, he seems to have found his conscience, and is siding with the workers - without whom there would be no CDs, from Robbie or any other EMI artist!

It is easy to pooh-pooh successful recording artists, who (like Robbie) do have high incomes. Yet it must also be remembered that pop stars' careers (like those of sports stars and actors) are often short, and - due to their high level of specialisation - work following their artistic careers is often hard to come by. So their income during their period of success has to last them for the rest of their lives. This makes pop stars more a part of the working class, than many (either pop stars or traditional workers) would think! On that note, I'd also like to give my backing to the Hollywood Script-writers' strike in the USA.

Indeed, a number of pop stars have had left-wing political leanings. There's the obvious, music rebels such as Rage Against The Machine. But there's also others who started within the pop music mainstream; eg George Michael, known for his anti-war stance, started with the 1980's boy band Wham!

It's been suggested that, as part of his strike, Robbie could put his next album online for free download. Nice idea! If you're reading this, Robbie, how about your next album featuring a cover version of The Internationale, or The Red Flag :-)

Saturday 12 January 2008

Power and money

A new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK has just been given the go-ahead by the government (BBC News: New nuclear plants get go-ahead). Nice timing for the government, coming so soon after hikes in the price of energy - notably electricity and gas for home use, and the continuing increases in the price of oil (and petrol).

The Establishment do have a point when they say the hike in energy prices is partly due to price rises and crises to do with imported fuel, notably gas and oil. (It's also partly due to a hike in the fat profits of the energy companies, but that's another story!) However, the UK's energy prices being at the mercy of foreign suppliers, is the Establishment's own fault, for two main reasons.

Firstly, very little has been done to encourage self-sufficiency, in fact the reverse. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the UK's coal industry was decimated, and thousands of miners were made unemployed and mining communities devastated - as electricity generation first started to use cheap imported coal, and then moved to oil and gas-powered electricity generators.

More recently, too little effort has been made to move towards renewable energy such as wind power - despite the UK having one of the most abundant sources of wind energy in Europe. Too little is done to encourage and, more importantly, enable, energy conservation (eg making insulation etc affordable to working class people).

Secondly, some of the blame for the hyper-inflation in fuel prices must lie with Western international policy. The Iraq war and occupation, and threats of military action against Iran, are causing uncertainty (to put it mildly) for oil supplies. The occupation of Afghanistan, and resistance thereto, will have implications for the security of gas pipelines in the region and, more importantly, relations with former Soviet republics in the region - Russia included (who supply a fair percentage of the natural gas consumed by the West).

In both cases, the rush to go nuclear is not a step in the right direction. Ecological concerns (of which there are many) aside, nuclear power will not enhance the UK's energy self-sufficiency. Uranium, like gas and oil, is imported - making its supply and price, potentially, just as much at the mercy of foreign suppliers. Nor is nuclear power cheap; it is actually more expensive than wind-produced electricity, let alone coal-produced. It just seems cheap because it is heavily subsidised by the government. Why?

The real reason for the Establishments love for nuclear power is that it supplies weapons-grade material, as used in nuclear weapons. Which is why the go-ahead for the new nuclear power stations comes "hot on the heels" of the government's decision to replace/upgrade the Trident nuclear weapons system. And Trident is a symptom of the Establishment's imperialist foreign policy, which has aggravated the international tensions responsible for the unstable energy supply and price!

Colourful Balls-up and the bad dream academy

So the Schools secretary, Ed Balls, doesn't know the correct order of the colours in a rainbow (BBC News: Rainbow error makes Balls blush)

I guess that's hardly surprising, when you consider how hard it is to distinguish New Labour red from Tory true blue :-P

Sadly, this is not the only mistake the government have made over education. In many areas, including the north Derbyshire town of Shirebrook, the private sector is being introduced into schools in a big way. Rather than old, dilapidated school buildings being replaced using public funds, the existing schools are being replaced by private "academies". (For more details, check out the Anti-Academies Alliance)

When a school becomes an Academy, the private "sponsor" not only owns the school buildings and even the land, they also dictate the school curriculum and admissions policy. Sponsors of academies include Carphone Warehouse and the used car dealer Vardy, what do they know about running schools ?!? Another Academy is sponsored by an evangelistic Christian fundamentalist. And can we be sure that, in the not too distant future, Academies won't be run by horribly right-wing companies which discriminate against minority groups? I myself have in the past experiencd disability discrimination from a computer training company - heaven forbid they may end up running an Academy :-(

What we need are schools run by the community, by the teachers, parents and, last but not least, the students themselves. Paid for by taxing the rich - not inviting them to re-create the schools, as "educational production-lines" creating future workers for their own companies.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Establishment parties' race to the gutter

As the tories attack first Incapacity Benefit claimants and then job seekers (BBC News: Tories plan 'work for benefits'), I am reminded of the Tory government of the 1980s into the mid 1990s. Such right-wing attacks on working class people who have been failed by the capitalist system, were and are the true face of the Conservatives - despite Cameron's attempts to give the Tory party an image make-over.

Of course, New Labour have continued such attacks - including attacks on incapacity benefit - with gusto. Little wonder, then, New Labour's only option is to attack the Tories for 'plagiarising' their policies. (A 'plagiarism' on both their houses, if you ask me :-P )

So far, the Lib Dems have taken a line to the left of both the Tories and Labour (piss easy!), describing the Tory proposals as "hollow rhetoric designed to sound tough rather than helping people back to work". So far so good, although it will be very interesting to see how the Lib Dems' policies develop, now Nick Clegg (a moderniser) is in charge. I see Clegg has hired the man who ran Thatcher's advertising campaign in the 1987 election (Clegg hires Thatcher campaign man); OK, so it's not quite on a par with inviting Thatcher to Downing Street and discussing policy with her over dinner, but it still ain't a good omen!

To overcome the right-wing attacks on us by all the Establishment parties, we need a real alternative. Thankfully, we've still got one. Respect hasn't gone away, and is once again coming up fighting. We are standing a candidate in a Preston council by-election in February (Socialist Worker: Join the Respect campaign in key Preston council by-election). I urge all readers who can, to get involved in this campaign - a victory, or at least a good showing for Respect, in this by-election, will help us immensely when it comes to the main council elections in May, and the general election in a couple of years time.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Web of control

I was glad to see the Australian Tory government of Howard voted out, if only for their role in supporting the occupation of Iraq. Yet, so soon after their election victory, Australia's new Labor government is going the same way as its British namesake.

They want internet service providers in Australia to filter web content, the stated aim being to protect families from pornography and violent web content (BBC News: Australia plans tough web rules). This move has been condemned by civil libertarians, but the Australian telecommunications minister, Stephen Conroy, is dismissive - saying that "if people equated freedom of speech with watching child pornography" he would disagree with them.

Child pornography (indeed paedophilia in general) has many parallels with terrorism; universally disliked and virtually impossible to defend, it is often used as the "thin end of the wedge" to drive through measures which may potentially have draconian consequences.

In this case, as soon as the state starts encouraging internet censorship, it is unlikely to stop with child porn. Will they then block file sharing sites, unlicenced web broadcasters and podcasters, left-wing or other anti-Establishment political sites? When I see how anti-terrorism legislation has been abused, I am not so sure :-(

As for protecting families and children from porn and violent images, there are already several programs which can be used, many of them free, such as KidSurf, Kidsplorer, etc.

I find myself wondering, why is Australia one of the first countries to consider such a move? Could it have anything to do with Australia being home to the media baron Rupert Murdoch - who has more time for populism than he has for human rights (his News of the World newspaper in the UK fuelled the notorious paedophile witch hunts back in 2000, and his papers regularly vilify immigrants in the name of "protecting us from terrorism")? After all, Mr Murdoch seems to exert a lot of political influence, not least upon the UK Labour Party. He couldn't possibly be exerting such influence on their Australian namesake, could he?