Notes from the front – of the week 28/7/2015

Victory to Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott!

The mainstream press and the Labour right are in a frenzy, desperate to prevent Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership after an opinion poll has put him in the lead. The opposing candidates have been completely unable to mount a coherent or strong alternative to his clear anti-austerity message.

They also undermined their own support by abstaining on the vicious Tory welfare cuts following the Budget, which is a new departure even for the Labour right. Pursuing this reactionary line has propelled even more on Labour’s left and centre into Jeremy’s camp.

The media has responded predictably with ‘red scare’ campaigns and wholly false allegations of ‘infiltration’. These are ridiculous claims. Only a handful of new members (from among tens of thousands) have been referred to Labour’s head office for possibly supporting other parties.

In fact those crying foul were among the strongest supporters of the open primary system or votes by all registered supporters. This is because they believed that this electorate was most easily swayed by the Tory press. But instead Corbyn’s opposition to austerity policies is setting the agenda for the whole debate inside the Labour party. An intervention by Blair has been widely seen as counter-productive.

By contrast, in the contest for the Labour selection of the candidate for London Mayor, the Blairite candidate is promoting a fake ‘cost of living’ agenda, with pledges to build new homes and revive Sure Start without any plan or funds to support them. This has clouded the debate and made it more difficult for the genuinely anti-austerity candidacy of Diane Abbott.

Two of the other MP candidates, David Lammy and Sadiq Khan, were sensitive enough to the outlook of London Labour Party members to have voted against the Tories’ Welfare Bill. But it remains the case that Diane Abbott is the only consistent opponent of austerity in this field, and the only one too with a track record of opposing war and fighting racism.

Corbyn and Abbott have already scored notable successes. They have shifted the debate towards anti-austerity at a time when the Labour leadership is aping the most right wing Tory government of the post-World War II era that will undoubtedly rapidly become even more unpopular than it is already.

Given that the ruling class believes the Tories will suffer a big fall in popularity it is even more frantic that there should be an utterly tame Labour Party waiting to absorb the discontent.

The ballot papers are due to be sent out on 14 August and most votes will be cast more or less immediately. In the short period remaining all socialists, anti-war campaigners and anti-racists should do their utmost to support Jeremy Corbyn’s and Diane Abbott’s campaigns.

Campaign details here and here.

Women hit hardest by austerity

The latest Tory Budget will further load the burden of austerity onto women, and all attempts to prettify it in the ‘liberal’ press amount to a joke in very poor taste. There is a growing mountain of evidence that women have had to bear the overwhelming bulk of the austerity offensive, via cuts to jobs, pay and pensions, as well as carrying the burden of cuts to public services, increased childcare and other responsibilities.

The TUC has repeatedly produced strong material detailing these effects. The Women’s Budget Group characterises the latest Tory Budget as undermining women’s security (pdf). The government’s own Department for Business recently showed that 10 per cent of new mothers were forced out of their jobs, 54,000 women in total and that 20 per cent had suffered workplace discrimination or harassment as mothers.

The pay gap has also widened once more to over 19 per cent as women’s pay failed to rise during the weak recovery. The government claims that it is going to address this issue with a demand for publication of pay rates by the largest firms, its previous voluntary approach having failed completely. The handful of firms who did voluntarily supply information offer no model for real pay transparency as they have been allowed in effect to make up their own numbers without any evidence.

Some real enforcement is required, with prosecutions, hefty fines and enforced and timely back pay. Nor should smaller firms be exempt as these are among the worst offenders and provide the bulk of all employment, including for women.

This government’s policies represent an all-sided attack on women’s rights, status and standard of living. There is nothing progressive about them. Every fightback should be supported and the role of women and their struggles needs to move centre stage for the entire labour and social movements.

Tories allowing attacks on abortion

An abortion clinic has been forced to close and another is under threat, as a result of anti-choice protestors’ actions. Their tactic is to intimidate the staff and patients at clinics. Whilst the security of health service provisions is clearly a government responsibility, it has just been standing back and is allowing this harassment to proceed.

Abortion Rights (AR) has sent an open letter (which can be signed here) to the Health Secretary calling for support for those trying access this women’s health service. AR and others are campaigning for ‘buffer zones’, as used in Canada and France, to protect staff and women attending appointments from this bullying.

Turkey’s main target is the Kurds not IS

On 28 July NATO held an emergency meeting in Brussels with Turkey requesting and receiving public backing from the West for its airstrikes against IS but also against Kurdish positions over its borders with Syria and Iraq.

The Turkish government is trying to present the country as being under attack from Islamic terrorists and Kurdish militants and it claims to be fighting back against both.

The reality is somewhat different. The Turkish government has been a major supporter of the insurgency against the Syrian government. Since 2011 Turkey has been providing supplies to opposition fighters in Syria, with its intelligence service running arms to sectarian Islamist fighters. This has benefitted IS and the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda (al-Nusra front).

At the same time, following the setback for President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the 7 June elections, he has been ramping up a nationalist anti-Kurd agenda. At the election the AKP lost its parliamentary majority by 18 seats and it is now engaged in talks on forming a coalition. At the election the PKK-aligned Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) secured 12% of the vote. If it had won less than the 10% threshold it would not have entered parliament and the AKP would have held on to its parliamentary majority.

Last week the Turkish government launched a new offensive against the Kurds.

On 20 July a bomb in a Kurdish cultural centre in Suruc – Turkish town near the Syrian border – killed 32 PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) activists. The PKK claims the Turkish state facilitated the suicide attack.

Then on 24 July the Turkish air force started bombing PKK bases in northern Iraq. Since then its tanks have also been shelling YPG (Popular Protection Units) positions in northern Syria.

Within Turkey PKK activists have been rounded-up.

There have been a small number of Turkish raids on anti-government militants in Syria, but not where Islamic State (IS) is fighting the YPG.

Erdogan claims to be cracking down on IS, but of the 600 people arrested on terrorism charges last week about 30 were IS members and the rest Kurdish activists.

Erdogan is clearly trying to rally popular support behind a nationalist agenda demonising the Kurds and the HDP, while considering a rerun election this autumn.

Commodities prices crushing vulnerable economies

A further fall in key commodities’ prices is accelerating, with oil prices below $50bbl and sharp falls in other key commodities such as wheat and copper prices, which reflect global economic weakness. Copper has fallen by around 50 per cent in the last 4 years and wheat is down by over a third since the end of 2012.

The falls in these and other commodities’ prices are having a very large negative effect on the economies where basic commodity production and commodity exports dominate. This applies to Russia, the oil-producing states and most countries in Africa and Latin America.

This fall in prices hits economic growth, export revenues and in many cases the government revenues based on them. This can set up a vicious circle of falling currencies, capital flight and rising inflation. This has occurred in many countries, including Russia, South Africa and Venezuela.

The US Federal reserve will exacerbate these trends if, as promised, it is set on a course of higher short-term interest rates. This is likely to boost the US Dollar further, lower commodity prices denominated in Dollars still further and encourage more capital flight from so-called ‘emerging markets’, that is the semicolonial world.

The source of this growing instability is the ending of the commodities’ bubble and the weakness of the world economy. The US is deepening the crisis with its strong Dollar policy and will provide new instability among the commodity producers via its tighter monetary policy. This new economic chaos is likely to be reflected in global political developments in the period ahead.