Thursday 28 February 2008

Prescription for the disease of capitalism

After all I've said about charities, one of them - the Citizens Advice Bureau - has made a recommendation I wholeheartedly agree with. Namely, the scrapping of prescription charges (BBC News: Prescription charge review call).

Let's face it, people don't generally fall ill for a laugh, and it's bad enough being ill without having to pay for the privilege. What's more, there's some rather unfair anomolies in the prescriptions system; A BBC News article from February 2006 ('Scrap cancer prescription charges') details how people with some conditions (eg diabetes and epilepsy) get free prescriptions, while those with other conditions (eg cancer and multiple sclerosis) do not. Surely charging people for the drugs necessary to treat their conditions, or bring them under control, is rather discriminatory.

Also in the news today, nicotine patches are now approved for people under the age of 18 (BBC News: Child nicotine patches approved). This is very welcome, albeit rather late; the timing is especially bad, being several months after the smoking age was raised to 18. Surely, if the government had to raise the age for buying tobacco (a move which I personally opposed), it would have been better Nicotine Replacement Therapy to have been available beforehand, so young people could have had a chance to quit smoking before the new law came into effect!

Still, while the government are encouraging us to get healthy - by cracking down on smoking, drinking, and what we eat - maybe now they will heed the CAB's advice and scrap prescription charges. That would be good news. However, if this government acted with anything resembling consistency, it would be rare news. So rare, in fact, it would probably be followed by a weather report forecasting blizzards in Hell :-(

So, predictably, government ministers in England are still refusing to drop the charge (although in Scotland and Wales, where Labour has to share power with other parties, free prescriptions have already been or are being introduced). Despite the fact that the charge puts people off collecting their prescriptions - hardly a recipe for a healthy nation!

Instead, they talk about 'cost neutral' ways of tweaking the system. Charming ... there was no talk of cost-neutrality when it came to the dangerous Trident nuclear weapons replacement, the murderous Iraq war, the bailing out of failed banks and financial institutions, etc. But when it comes to making people healthy, even saving lives, this government - allegedly a Labour government - is too mean to supply the necessary funding.

They also bleat that abolishing prescription charges 'would significantly reduce the money available to deliver other health priorities'. Well, I can suggest a few measures to enable not only universal free prescriptions, but also an end to the prescriptions 'postcode lottery' and an increase in the range of treatments available.

First, there's the obvious; tax the rich, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and scrap Trident.

Then, scrap the wasteful PFI projects - in which private companies build hospitals and clinic, and the taxpayer ends up paying not only for the running of the hospitals, but also for the profits raked in by the privateers involved.

Finally, nationalise the drug companies - and stop them from milking not only the NHS, but anyone who buys their over-priced medecines. Drug prices are kept high by the patenting system which ensures they have a monopoly on their drugs for many years, despite the social implications of their legalised profiteering. The effects of this are even more stark in the Third World, where producers of generic drugs to treat diseases such as AIDS, have been shut down for breach of 'intellectual property' laws.

All this will mean taking on the capitalist system - that is the only cure for the epidemic of greed and corruption which is sweeping through not only the health system, but through all of society.

Friday 22 February 2008

H2O bosses Go2L !

As if the energy price hikes weren't bad enough, water companies are set to fleece us with price rises (Daily Mirror: Homeowners to face more financial misery with soaring water bills). What's more, the water regulator Ofwat has given the water companies the go ahead for this inflation-busting price hike. Bloody typical; capitalist business gets whatever it asks for, while workers have to fight hard for anything remotely resembling a living wage rise, and then we get denounced by the media and government :-(

I've already mentioned the energy companies mugging us in a previous entry, and at least they had half a point when they said the price of importing energy has gone up; it has (although, as I also mentioned, western capitalism is largely the author of its own misfortune there). The same is not true of water, in a wet country like Britain. If anything, last summer, many parts of the UK (even my own village) had rather too much water, thanks to climate change (due mostly to irresponsible energy use by the capitalist system, which raising the prices for domestic consumers will do little to address).

Ever since privatisation, the water companies have been p1$$ing on us. Back in the summer of 1995, we had the spectacle of droughts and water rationing, and the demands for more water metering - which hits poor people and families with kids hardest. Yes, the summer of 1995 was hot, but it was preceeded not only by a wet winter and spring, but by three wet and miserable years (summers included). It was reported in Socialist Worker at the time that Yorkshire Water, one of the worst affected, had sold off reservoir land for houses during this period! Not to mention skimping on pipe repairs while paying their fat cat directors huge salaries and bonuses.

Water should be re-nationalised, water meters scrapped, and the privateer water rats drowned!

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Doctorin' the job description

Like most workers, doctors are certainly being hammered by this government. Plans to force them to work longer hours and open at weekends and evenings, while at the same wanting local doctors' surgeries to merge into 'super clinics', will have a negative impact on the welfare of both doctors and, in many cases, the quality of care they can give their patients.

Then there's plans to force doctors to ride roughshod over the doctor-patient confidentiality rule, by making them report any suspected knife crime. I don't like knife crime (nor do I know anybody who does!), but I feel the abandoning of doctor-patient confidentiality is the start of a dangerous slippery slope. For starters, it would make it easier for right-wingers to reverse the "Gillick ruling" which allows people under 18 to get contraception without parental consent; removing this would put many young people off getting contraception, leading to a rise in teenage pregnancies and STD infections among young people. And where would it stop; would doctors have to inform employers and insurance companies when a person is diagnosed with a condition (eg asthma or diabetes), potentially leading to unfair discrimination? Or report injuries sustained during consensual BDSM activity? Or cannabis use? Or injuries sustained while walking on the grass?

But now it's really getting stupid. Not content with press-ganging doctors to help them in their crusade to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefit, health secretary Alan Johnson now want doctors to clamp down in people in work who get ill and need a doctors' sick note while they recover at home (BBC News: Bid to tackle 'sick-note culture'). According to the report, 'He has urged GPs to issue "well notes" setting out what tasks a worker can perform instead of certificates automatically signing them off.' Oh, so as well as acting as policemen, doctors are now expected to act as career advisers as well ?!?

If the government really wants workers to perform what tasks we can, they can take some serious action against employers who still refuse to employ people with disabilities which do not affect their core job, and remove all exemptions from the Disability Discrimination Act (a number of employers are still exempt, eg the military). And they can sort out the problem of insurers refusing to insure people with some disabilities to work in certain industries, such as construction. But this would mean taking on the capitalist Establishment. Instead, they seem hell-bent on hammering working class people, whether in work or on benefits.

Well, if you ask me, the government are onviously unfit to do their job. But I dunno what jobs the doctors would find Brown, Johnson, etc fit to do. Personally, I don't even think they'd be fit to shovel $#!t !!!!

Monday 18 February 2008

Northern Rock 'n' role of nationalisation

I welcome, as far as it goes, the government's plan to nationalise the Northern Rock bank (BBC News: Northern Rock to be nationalised). Although I think the nationalisation should be permanent, not temporary as is planned.

I also doubt the government's motives; they have done little or nothing to save manufacturing industry or stop factory closures, even in the case of the Northern Rock nationalisation there are likely to be job losses. I suspect the nationalisation of Northern Rock may have rather more to do with protecting the financial sector and the security of (especially rival banks and financial institutions') investors' profits, than with safeguarding jobs or the savings of small investors.

Having said that, most nationalisations have been to benefit the capitalist system, rather than society. Some, like Northern Rock now and various car companies in the past (some of which were merged into British Leyland), have been ailing companies bought by the government to keep them going. In some cases, the nationalisation provided less direct but still tangible benefits to the capitalist system; nationalised energy (coal, electricity and gas) provided cheap energy for British manufacturing companies, while British Rail provided cheap transport for goods. Others provided less tangible benefits; the NHS provided a healthier and more productive workforce, while the education system provided a skilled workforce.

Also, nationalisation is not akin to socialism. Nationalised companies have always had a class-based structure, with managers overseeing workers, on far better pay and conditions than those of the workers which they are exploiting, on behalf of the state. Indeed, state capitalist regimes - such as the former USSR and its satellites - had an entire nationalised economy.

But nationalised industries are still preferable to private companies, for a number of reasons. Mainly, because private companies must pay a dividend to their owners or shareholders, less of the money earned by the company ends up spent on the workers and/or services.

Also, nationalisation is by far the best way to run natural monopolies, ie companies with a national infrastructure (eg railways, electricity, telephones, water). In the case of private competition, duplication of this infrastructure would be wasteful both of money and of natural resources. In the case of a private monopoly, the company would be able to make grotesque excess profits due to the lack of competition.

In my opinion, the government should nationalise not only Northern Rock, but all banks and financial institutions (the 'commanding heights' of the capitalist economy). And why stop there? Industries privatised, under prime ministers from Thatcher to Brown, should be re-nationalised.

Especially the energy companies; British Gas, the Electricity companies and BP were sold off and/or deregulated in the 1980's; leading to the current wave of private profiteering from the ridiculously high energy prices. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela had the right idea, when he recently nationalised Venezuela's oil industry.

But nationalisation not the full solution to capitalist exploitation. The real answer is for companies and industries to be run by the workers, for the benefit of society.

This will take a revolution to achieve.

Saturday 16 February 2008

That's not Respect

It's certainly been a stormy week for the left.

First, Respect - still recovering from the split last year, when George Galloway and numerous others left to form Respect Renewal - recently suffered a defection to the Tories (Respect website: Statement from Respect on Cllr Ahmed Hussain's resignation). The first surprising thing about this is that Mr Hussein - who originally broke from the Labour Party to join Respect - has now gone to the Tories, arguably an even more severe move rightwards than if he had re-joined Labour. (Or maybe he just wants to try out all the various parties, in which case maybe, next election, he'll stand for the Monster Raving Loony Party ...) The second is that he is one of those who stayed with original Respect (sometimes known online as Respect SWP), so why did he leave now? Especially when, last but not least, Respect seems to be recovering; enough to get reasonable votes in both of the recent council by-elections in Leyton and in Preston Tulketh (Respect website: Respect beats Tories to take third place in Leyton).

Then, Lothian and Borders Police decide to charge three members of Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity party in Scotland with perjury (Solidarity Scotland website: Solidarity members charged with perjury). I'm still not convinced of assertations that this prosecution is apolitical, nor is Iain Macwhirter of The Guardian (Guardian Unlimited: King of the swingers?); and, even though Scottish police may have some degree of independence from the UK, they still swear their allegiance to 'the Crown' - a proxy for the anglo-centric British Establishment.

All the while, in the background, there is wrangling over the use of the name Respect which has still not been resolved. Which is why, technically, we stood in the two recent by-elections as Independent candidates, and look very likely to do so in the May council elections.

Hopefully the crises within Respect and Solidarity will be sorted out, and I wish both Respect and Solidarity the very best of luck. However, if luck fails us totally, what are we going to do?

Personally, I think we should not rule out the option of registering the Socialist Workers Party with the Electoral Commission, and standing SWP candidates in elections. OK, so we tried that in the late 1970s and didn't do very well. But a lot has changed since then.

Firstly, the SWP has grown much bigger since then, and has become much better known, especially since the early 1990's. The SWP was probably the left-wing party that benefited the most from the fall of the Stalinist (so-called "communist") regimes in the former USSR and Eastern Europe, because of our long-stated view that such regimes were, in reality. state capitalist.

Secondly, the Labour Party now is very different from how it was in the late 70's. Then, it was still just about recognisable as a workers' party, albeit a crap one. Over the Blair and Brown years, any pretence at socialism has been slowly dropped by Labour - notably the scrapping of clause 4, and the replacement of its commitment to the most equitable distribution of wealth, with something about the madness, sorry, rigours of the market.

In any case, standing in elections as the SWP would not stop us from joining any left-wing coalition in the future. But it would give us the necessary independence to be able to 'go it alone' if necessary.

That's just my personal opinion (as is the rest of this blog!). Comments and opinions are, as always, welcome.

Friday 15 February 2008

Bad faith, hopeless, and charity

In what appears at first glance to be a rare proposal for re-distribution of wealth, Labour MP Frank Field has stated that he wants people earning over £15,000 per year to pay 10% more tax, or give it to charity (BBC News: MP Field's 'tax or charity' call). Although it seems welcome on the surface, it is also rather flawed, and his comments contradictory.

Most contradictory is his dewy-eyed admiration of Margaret Thatcher, and his assertion that 'his proposals would fulfil Margaret Thatcher's dream of a "giving culture".' (Frank and Maggie sitting in a tree ...) If I were him, I would ask any former miner or steelworker for a second opinion on Thatcher's 'generosity' :-(

I totally disagree with big business using charity as a 'get out of jail free card' for failure to fulfill its social obligations, and am rather dubious about charity in general.

For starters, some charities are horribly right wing and have overt right-wing intentions. Anti-abortion charities such as Life, fundamentalist Christian 'family' charities, 'public' (really private!) schools, even the (now thankfully defunkt) hated employment black-lister the Economic League, all have or have had had charity status.

Even charities with laudable aims have acted in a right-wing manner. In recent years, we have seen the road safety charity Brake supporting measures which unfairly target young drivers, and Alcohol Concern putting an undue emphasis on under-age (rather than general problem) drinking. I can't help but think, if charities were tempted to rely even more on wealthy (and generally right wing) donors than they are now, their policies and practices would veer further to the right.

Further back, in the early 20th century, groups like the Christian Brothers and even Barnardo's were involved in 'child migration', the transportation of orphan kids to places like Australia - where many suffered neglect, abuse, and were often used as virtual slave labour, with the connivance of both the Australian and British Establishments.

Even today, charities sometimes do more harm than good. Notably with their fundraising campaigns; disabled people, and people in Third World countries, are often portrayed as helpless inferiors who need our charity to live. (My views on disability charities can be found at Red Disability: What's wrong with charities?)

However, Frank Field is also partly right. The rich should pay more tax. And should not be able to donate their way out of it.

But why only 10% more? The vast majority of high earners get their money by exploiting workers, paying us far less than the value of the goods and services we produce. Profit, ie money received by a company over and above what they pay in wages etc, is nothing more than 'excess labour' over and above what we are paid fairly for. In other words, profit is exploitation, and those who manage companies are profiting from exploitation.

We should bleed the bastards dry!

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Mosquitos and other vermin

Glad to hear there is now a campaign against the Mosquito, a device which makes a high-pitched unpleasant noise, audible only to young people (under the age of 25) due to its high frequency. The campaign not only has youth groups and civil liberties groups like Liberty involved, it even has the backing of the Childrens' Commissioner. (Liberty website: Help us stamp out the mosquito)

The whole idea of creating a virtual exclusion zone for young people using what is tantamount to sonic warfare, is abhorrent enough. Innocent kids, babies included (whose parents may be unaware of the presence of the Mosquito), are affected just as much as the small minority of criminals. (This is also my argument against dispersal orders and curfews on young people). Not only is use of the Mosquito a form of child abuse, it may even be economically counter-productive; it risks actually losing shops money, by deterring young people from shopping there!

There have also been cases of kids living near to shops using the Mosquito suffering from the noise. Yesterday morning on the radio, a report mentioned a kid living in a flat opposite a shop being kept awake at 1am by a Mosquito. If a young person was playing music at 1am loud enough to keep people awake, he/she would soon get as ASBO!

Then there's another issue ... if kids can hear it, what about animals? It's hardly fair on dogs (and their owners) going for a walk, cats living nearby, and birds flying nearby.

Despite all this, the government have said they're not going to ban the Mosquito. Surprise, surprise, considering this government always did care more about capitalist businesses than about ordinary people. Then again, it sometimes seems like the only thing the government don't want to ban. For example, in the last blog entry, I described how the government want to ban P2P file sharing.

Thought for today: maybe someone should release the sound from a Mosquito as a record, then hammer everyone using the device for illegally playing copyrighted audio :-P

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Don't Take Away The Music

Maybe in my entry last month about the proposed Australian internet censorship, when I asked why they don't go the whole hog and ban file sharing, I should have taken heed of the cliche: "Careful what you wish for, you might just get it" ... I see the UK government are planning to throw P2P file sharers off our internet connections (BBC News: Illegal downloaders 'face UK ban').

This is scary for a number of reasons (I'll exercise my right to silence on the main one, LOL). For one, will they end up cutting off the internet connections of people whose podcasts or streamed internet broadcasts use copyrighted records? This would be censorship on a par with the Marine Offences Act of 1967, and a diabolical erosion of free speech :-(

For another, how will the ISP know if we are sharing copyrighted material unless they start monitoring our internet usage? Seems like an invasion of privacy which may affect all internet users, not just file sharers.

As for file sharing itself, it seems to me the capitalist record companies are looking for a scapegoat for their falling profits. There's nothing new about the Peer 2 Peer moral panic; back in the 1980's and early 1990's it was home taping that was "killing music", even as the record companies were exploiting their artists. Perhaps the epitome of this exploitation was the Bluebells; it was reported at the time when their "Young At Heart" record re-entered the charts in the early 90s, they never saw a penny for their Top 10 re-entry because of a clause in their contract. (Even though I personally can't stand the record, I like even less the way the Bluebells were treated!)

In fact, some amount of file sharing can actually help the artists in that it helps promote the bands and their music. A bit like the playing of their records on the radio; some bands actually used to pay to have their records playlisted by radio stations (pirate as well as legal) because of the increased sales of the records and interest in the bands' live performances etc. Fast forward to the late 1990's, some bands (notably Rage Against The Machine) supported Napster when it was under fire from the record companies and the capitalist Establishment, and said they were happy to have their songs shared online.

And it says it all when the government are siding with the record companies, against working people who - unlike government ministers - can't really afford the cost of CDs these days. (Although, considering the government's track record with CD's, they probably keep losing them LOL).

Ah well, I remember in 1997 when New Labour's anthem was D-Ream "Things Can Only Get Better". Considering their track record since, can I suggest a new anthem for them? How about Edwin Starr "It Ain't Fair" :-P

Tuesday 5 February 2008

House of Common Criminals

The $#!t has now hit the fan about the abuse of parliamentary expenses.

This comes hot on the heels of the scandal of illegal donations to MPs - although, if you ask me, all donations from rich individuals should be illegal, as they can lead to MPs taking more notice of unelected rich capitalists than of the (predominantly working class) electorate (as if they didn't already).

Also, why did they need to resort to taking bribes from the rich, when they've got such a lucrative Bisto Express, leeching "expenses" from the taxpayer.

Then again, what is interesting is that it has been Labour MPs who have been implicated in taking private donations, while Tory MPs have been implicated in taking publically-funded parliamentary expenses. Funny, I always thought the Tories were more in favour of private funding than public funding. And I still remember the good old days when Labour were more in favour of public funding than private profiteering.

It's not even as if MPs are poorly paid. If anything, it's the cushy pay and conditions of being an MP which makes even working class people, once elected, drift away from those who elected them and end up licking the @$$es of the capitalist Establishment.

I think MPs should earn the average workers' wage (approx £22,000/year), travelling expenses should be limited to second class rail fare, and MPs' accommodation in London should be a cheap-and-cheerful B&B or small flat. Just like what is afforded to most workers, when we are on work attachment away from home.

After all, while MPs get to give sinecurs to their family and the mortgages paid on their second homes, no such luxuries are afforded to those who have been failed by the capitalist system which all major parties love. We now have the grotesque spectacle of an allegedly Labour housing minister, Caroline Flint, threatening jobless people that they may risk losing their council or social housing if they don't find work (BBC News: 'Work or lose home' says minister)

If you ask me, MPs should be made to do the job they are paid to do, and listen to the working class people (who voted them in and whose taxes are paying their wages!). Or face getting kicked out of the House Of Commons :-P