Thursday 28 August 2008

All that Glitters

Before I go any further, I'd like to point out that I have absolutely no sympathy for Gary Glitter, or any paedophile. His actions were grossly exploitative of children, and as such are indefensible. Yet, as the media feeding-frenzy on his less-than-welcome return to the UK subsides, there are issues raised which need addressing (and, despite the endless coverage of the Glitter story, weren't addressed by the mainstream media).

Most notable was Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's riding the wave of revulsion of Glitter's crimes, by announcing the populist measure of extending the ban on convicted sex offenders travelling abroad. Yet, as Ecpat UK have stated, "British law enforcement has the tools to protect children abroad, they just don't use them" (Ecpat UK: New Report Shows Government Failure in Combating Child Sex Tourism). Besides, concentrating exclusively on child sex tourism overlooks the fact that all sex tourism is undesirable, as adult prostitutes in the Third World (and sometimes in the West) are vulnerable and often heavily exploited and abused. Surely the best way to reduce the problem of child prostitution is to enact measures to protect the welfare of all sex workers. (My views on prostitution in general have been covered in an earlier blog article, Pimping an alternative).

Since the increased restrictions on foreign travel appear un-necessary, this begs another question: Is the Sex Offenders Register primarily designed to protect children from abuse (as it was originally touted), or as a punitive measure? And if it is designed to be punitive rather than protective, should it perhaps be used more sparingly?

True, some necessary restrictions are punitive by nature; such as the travel bans already available in British law, and the restrictions on what employment people on the Sex Offenders Register can have. But occasionally, this goes well beyond the scope of protecting children; last year, a contestant was removed from ITV's Britain's Got Talent show because he was on the Sex Offenders Register, for a crime so heinous he was given a Conditional Discharge in court. (The irony is not lost on me that ITV has also shown I Smack And I'm Proud, despite protest from the NSPCC)

Indeed, not everyone on the Sex Offenders Register is a paedophile, or even a molester. People have ended up on the Register for acts of consenting BDSM activity among adults, for example.

There is also the situation of people being placed on the Sex Offenders Register after receiving a formal caution, for offences not considered serious enough to go to court. Yet many people will agree to a formal caution rather than end up in court, with the publicity and stigma that often entails - especially when it comes to an offence as taboo as sex crime.

The Sex Offenders Register seems to have much in common with ASBOs, also originally touted as a means of "protecting the community" rather than as a punitive measure. Likewise, people often end up with ASBOs, which often carry heavy restrictions, for behaviour which would not necessarily result in a court conviction. Finally, both ASBO's and orders to sign the Sex Offenders Register seem to be handed out like flyers :-P

What is also scary is the way "child abuse" has been hijacked by the Establishment, almost to the point of it becoming a weasel-word. In previous blog articles I've talked about how photographing even your own kids in a public place is now about as socially acceptable as telling sick jokes at a funeral :( More recently, there was talk by local authorities of getting social services to investigate the families of overweight kids. Around the same time, there were local news reports of kids being sent warning letters for playing games on the street. Well, maybe I'm missing something, but preventing kids from getting exercise outdoors sounds to me like a very funny way of tackling childhood obesity!

But perhaps most importantly of all, epitomised by the Glitter coverage is the way the media portrays child abuse as solely the act of sick individuals. Yet, in reality, most child abuse occurs within the family. And, far from an aberration, it is often institutionalised within the capitalist system.

Physical abuse traces its roots back to the Industrial Revolution and child labour; children were forced to work for long hours doing unpleasant work, and had to be forced into doing so by beatings. Even as child labour was largely abolished, "reasonable chastisement" continued to be promoted as a way of keeping kids subservient to the rules of the system. Even to this day, the government still refuses to outlaw smacking completely :(

Child sex abuse is more complicated, and has never been directly encouraged by the Establishment. But that does not let the capitalist system off the hook. The perversion of sexual relationships into a patriarchal situation where the man dominates the woman (as mentioned in my Iris can't see the truth blog article), mixed with the situation where children are similarly dominated by adults, is a fertile breeding ground for sick individuals to take sexual pleasure by exercising their domination on the most vulnerable people in society, ie children. People like Glitter are sick and obnoxious monkeys, but let's not take our eye off the organ grinder...

Capitalism is the main sex offender. As such, it should not be allowed anywhere near our schools and youth services. Nor should it be allowed, via war and imperialism, to travel abroad.

If I had my way, it would be permanently taken out of circulation!

Sunday 24 August 2008

Salmond the brave? Or just stupid?

To say that Scottish people "didn't mind the economic side so much" of Mrs Thatcher's policies is either a very brave comment to make, or a very stupid one (BBC News: Salmond defends Thatcher comments). Working class people across most of the UK, but especially Scotland, suffered at the hands of Thatcher's mine and steelwork closures, Poll Tax, union bashing, and other neoliberal economic policies (as continued by Major, Blair and Brown).

True, Thatcher's social policies weren't good either. Yet, for all Thatcher is remembered for attacking civil liberties, she actually passed fewer laws curtailing social freedom than Bliar has done. Much of the social repression under Thatcher was tied in with her economic actions, such as the Thatcherite anti-union laws (still not repealed by Bliar or Brown) and the police victimisation of striking miners.

One notable stand-alone curtailment of social freedom by Thatcher, was Section 28 - a homophobic law banning the "promotion of homosexuality", which tended to have a chilling effect on any rational discussion of homosexuality. At the same time, Establishment-propagated brainwashing at the time was most definitely anti gay - small wonder, then, that at the time homosexuality was often considered as socially unacceptable as paedophilia is now!

But who has been one of the greatest defenders of Section 28 into the 1990's? Brian Souter, the arch-capitalist boss of Stagecoach buses, who has also been responsible for cutbacks in bus services and fare hikes in many areas. And was, in the late 90s, a supporter of the SNP (BBC News: Stagecoach tycoon donates to SNP).

On many issues, the SNP appears to the left of New Labour and the Tories (dead easy :-P ), such as their opposition to student tuition fees. Yet in other ways, they follow the Establishment parties close behind. SNP controlled councils have embraced privatisation and PFI with as much enthusiasm as their Tory and New Labour counterparts, while on the social front, they have championed such reactionary measures as the raising of the age for buying alcohol to 21 (BBC News: Drink age 'could be raised to 21').

So, whatever Salmond actually meant by his Thatcher comments, we cannot trust the SNP to defend the working class from the capitalist Establishment's attacks on us, either on the economic or social fronts. In elections, Scottish workers should vote for Solidarity. More importantly, we should support workers who are resisting the attacks of the Scottish political Establishment, such as the council workers there who recently went on strike (Solidarity website: Massive response to council workers' strike rocks employer)

Workers - not only in Scotland, not only in the UK, but all across the world - must unite in strikes, demonstrations and other extra-parliamentary actions, to defend ourselves from attacks on our wages and civil liberties. Not only by our immediate bosses, but by the capitalist Establishment in general, including those elected into government. Regardless of which party is attacking us!!!

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Don't talk wet!

Many views have been expressed both for and against Brown in recent weeks (bet you can't guess which side I'm on...). But, in the midst of all the speculation as to whether or not there's going to be a leadership challenge in the autumn (I hope there is!), I notice one piece of unintentional comic relief. Namely, John Prescott's comparison of New Labour to the Titanic (BBC News: Valid point but unfortunate metaphor).

Prescott was intending to say that the Titanic was sunk by the iceberg, not by its captain. Yet what Prescott seems to have overlooked, is that the Titanic was sailing rather too fast in an area known to be hazardous due to icebergs. What's more, there was pressure on the Titanic crew to recklessly increase the speed, in order to cut the journey time and maximise White Star Line's profits.

Likewise, the economic problems of the UK, and the government's seeming inability to deal effectively with them, have been - at best - greatly exacerbated by the New Labour government's commitment to neoliberal free-market policies. Fuel, food and water price hikes are all the product of the free market's pursuit of profit at all costs, and the credit crunch is the result of poverty wages leading people to borrow money which they become unable to pay back. Yet rather than consider renationalisation of the energy companies, price curbs and a decent minimum wage, this government is hell bent on further privatisation (often in the form of PFI) and shifting the tax burden onto the poor. Hardly a recipe for economic stability, let alone social justice!

Back to the Titanic - where the White Star Line rode roughshod over the safety and welfare of its passengers - this has been repeated time and time again. Most obviously, we saw it in the Herald of Free Enterprise sinking in the 1980's, but we have also seen it in Railtrack's many avoidable train disasters, and on countless building sites etc.

But staying with the nautical theme, the film The Perfect Storm has at least one parallel with Titanic. Although it was a hurricane which sunk the Andrea Gail, the crew of sword-fishermen were under pressure to get back to shore as quickly as possible, in order to 'set the market' for the swordfish which they caught. Which is why the Andrea Gail ended up sailing through, and sinking in, a vicious hurricane.

Speaking of perfect storms, the economic gloom and the government's disastrous poll ratings, seem to be combining with an increase in industrial action (such as the recent local government workers' strike) and grassroots protests (such as the recent protests against E-ON's new coal power station in Kent). Hopefully these will come together to create a political hurricane from the left which will not only sink Brown and his New Labour cronies, but also shipwreck the capitalist system which is so beloved by all Establishment politicians :-)

Saturday 9 August 2008

Police can shove curfews up their bottom

I never did like youth curfews, ever since Jack Straw first mooted the idea back in 1996 - for more details, see my No Curfews website. The arguments against the Redruth curfew (BBC News: Redruth curfew two weeks on) are no less valid; what is of questionable validity is the Police's claim that this curfew is "voluntary" and the result of "bottom up" policing.

It is true that the capitalist Establishment can sometimes exercise control over people without coercion being used; for example, people who pander to the Establishment's divide-and-rule tactics by being racist, sexist, homophobic, disablist and - last but not least - ageist, are rarely forced into such behaviour or rewarded for their actions. But, since such prejudice is the result of sustained brainwashing by the Establishment over a long period, it is highly debatable whether such behaviour can be called "voluntary".

Besides, the Redruth curfew is hardly non-coercive. As the BBC News report states, the Police "can issue social orders against parents or children who flout the curfew" - which makes it about as "voluntary" as a request by your boss :-(

As for "bottom up" policing - did the Police's "consensus" include the views of the local young people, whose liberties are being swept away by the curfew? Indeed, a number of adults, notably a local representative of the Childrens Rights Alliance, has blasted the curfew as unfair. And how much were the local population consulted on whether money could be spent on youth facilities rather than illegal wars, Trident missiles, tax breaks for the rich, etc?

Indeed, this "voluntary" curfew should not only be seen as an attack on the civil rights of young people. It should also be seen as a warning of the implications of other "voluntary" measures, such as "voluntary" opt-outs from maximum working hours (which, even if there is no enforcement of longer working hours by employers, can result in the erosion of real wages as employers can expect workers to make up the shortfall from a living wage by working overtime).

On the other hand, I am all for "bottom up" rather than "top down". Not only the legal system, but also government and the economy should be run from the bottom up, by workers committees. This will necessitate a revolution, followed by the government, bosses and the capitalist Establishment being forced into a "voluntary" surrender of their power to workers!