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Fixing up the world – GATT and the World Trade Organisation

1st March 1998 Socialist Action 0

First published: March 1998

By Alan Freeman

Think of the world economy, and two household words come to mind: the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the two supranational bodies created by the Bretton Woods Treaty of 1947 when the allied powers constructed the post-war economic world order. It is less well-known that these two have been joined by another. The World Trade Organisation (WTO), formed in 1994 as a result of the 1986 ‘Uruguay Round’ of negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), has emerged as the third pillar of the post-war economic order. Although generally presented as a simple continuation of GATT, it has in fact inaugurated a fundamental change in the organisation of world trade.

The GATT has been transformed from an ineffectual chamber of commerce into a powerful device for restructuring the world market in the commercial and financial interests of the leading powers, the core requirement being to maintain the supremacy of the US economy in the face of the largest trade deficit in world history.

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PR heralds purge of MPs and end of selection rights

1st March 1998 Socialist Action 0

First published: March 1998

Indications that proportional representation and centralised ranking of candidates for the European Parliament elections are going to be used to purge Euro-MPs and abolish the right of party members to choose candidates give a flavour of what is posed by the Electoral Reform Commission’s remit to look at the introduction of PR for Westminster.

Labour has acknowledged that under PR it anticipates losing up to 30 of its 62 MEPs. In London, for example, where Labour currently has nine seats, it is braced to lose up to six. In Scotland, with currently six Labour-held seats, the party could lose three MEPs.

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Battle joined over Labour’s future

1st March 1998 Socialist Action 0

First published: March 1998

The first nine months of the Labour government have confirmed that Tony Blair is not simply ‘another’ right wing Labour leader. Blair’s project is to dismantle the Labour Party as a party based on the unions, to destroy the elements of democracy which exist within the party and to transform the British political party system, through electoral reform, to make possible a long-term governmental alliance with the Liberal Democrats and, if possible, the Heseltine-Clarke wing of the Tory Party. The obstacle to this project is the Labour left – linked to the growing opposition to Blair’s attacks on the welfare state in the labour movement.

Blair and Mandelson believe, like those who walked out of Labour to form the SDP in 1981, that the risk of political radicalisation by the trade unions linking up with the left in the constituencies and parliament, makes the traditional mechanisms for right wing control of the Labour Party unsafe. But, unlike the SDP, Blair is using the central apparatus of the party and of government, to try to break up the Labour Party’s structures from within.

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Lone parent benefit – The end of Blair’s honeymoon

1st February 1998 Socialist Action 0

First published: February 1998

Tony Blair’s honeymoon came to an abrupt public end with the vote of 47 Labour MPs and the abstention of many others against the government’s proposals to abolish single parent benefits. The government’s attacks on the living standards of the poorest women and children in the country not only provoked a parliamentary rebellion unprecedented so early in the parliament, but also a public outcry which signalled a clear turning point in the Labour government’s popularity. The impact of the campaign to save lone parent benefits and the unexpectedly big revolt of MPs means that, while Blair plans to proceed with attacks on disability benefits, pensions and other pillars of the welfare state, he will face still more determined opposition.

The unfolding of events in the weeks leading up to the vote on 10 December demonstrated two key points: firstly, the importance of the Labour left taking a clear campaigning stand against such anti-woman, anti-working class and deeply unpopular policies; secondly, the crucial role played by a campaign led by women – the Save Lone Parent Benefit campaign – and orientated to linking up with parliamentary and labour movement opposition. This was particularly important in the context of the failure of the majority of Labour’s new women MPs to represent women’s interests – and the divisive use to which this was put by the government.

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Lone parent benefit – Women MPs against women?

1st February 1998 Socialist Action 0

First published: February 1998

Only eight Labour women MPs voted against the attacks on lone parent benefits, with a handful of others conspicuously abstaining. Despite more than 90 MPs signing the parliamentary motion against the proposals tabled by Audrey Wise MP, outbursts of anger at meetings of the PLP addressed by Harriet Harman, protests and vocal opposition from women Labour Party members and lone parent organisations – even Glenys Kinnock MEP added her name to a petition and letter against the proposals – the new batch of Labour women MPs were largely noticeable by their absence. Of 97 MPs who, by 2 December, had signed Audrey Wise’s Early Day Motion, only 9 were Labour women, and of these only 2 were from the batch of women MPs elected for the first time in May 1997.

There is no clearer test that these women MPs could have failed than this one, involving the fate of the poorest women, and children, in society. Ninety per cent of lone parent families are headed by women. The proposals will have a racist impact, since black women are disproportionately represented as lone mothers. Removal of lone parent benefits will thus also deepen the disproportionate representation of black women and children among the poorest in society.

 

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Unionists try to wreck peace process

1st February 1998 Socialist Action 0

First published: February 1998

Unionist politicians and loyalist death squads are doing everything in their power to wreck the Irish peace process. While Ian Paisley boycotts the talks, David Trimble sabotages them from within by refusing to talk to Sinn Féin, and loyalist paramilitaries murder Catholics chosen at random. Their common goal is to block any fundamental change in Northern Ireland’s status quo.

The Unionist programme is very simple. Northern Ireland must be maintained as a sectarian state in which nationalists are treated as second class citizens. Unionism stands for discrimination in employment, housing, education, culture, religion and politics. Nationalist resistance is met with sectarian murders, pogroms and legalised repression. Unionism correctly sees the partition of Ireland and British rule in the north as the guarantees of the privileges and discrimination which cement the Orange bloc.