Notes from the front – of the week 2/7/2015

Action against austerity is stepping up

The Tory government elected eight weeks ago is facing greater opposition than the previous coalition encountered. Attitudes to austerity have hardened up over time, with support for public spending cuts having declined. For example Ashcroft’s 7 May poll found that 54 per cent of voters did not agree that spending cuts need to continue through this parliament.

It is important to restate that the former coalition’s parties suffered a huge loss of support at the May general election. Together they lost a 14.4 per cent share of the vote from the 2010 election. That is a greater fall than the large Tory loses in 1945 and 1997 when Churchill and Major lost 11.6 per cent and 11.2 per cent respectively. The coalition parties’ large losses this year were due to the austerity policies.

So Britain now has a Tory Prime Minister with a five per cent lower share of the popular vote than Margaret Thatcher ever had. Her 1980s attacks on the public sector were far milder than Cameron’s programme, she had electoral support of more than 42 per cent of voters, plus her government received one third of, what was then, vast North Sea Oil profits.

Cameron does not have access to comparable financial resources and he only secured 36.8 per cent of the vote. That is a small support base for such a radical programme. Opponents of austerity can take advantage of the government’s weakness.

The mobilisations since the general election reflect this relative strengthening of the opponents of austerity. Immediately post-election there were a series of anti-government demonstrations in a number of cities and towns. The 250,000 strong Peoples Assembly Against Austerity demonstration on 20 June was larger than protests against the previous coalition government, except for the TUC organised demonstrations.

The radicalisation, which at the general election saw 9.2 per cent voting for parties to the left of Labour, has also animated the left within Labour. Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has shifted the leadership debate to the left, with both Burnham and Cooper trying to present a more social democratic framework than they initially considered necessary.

Jeremy’s supporters have had a great response leafleting the 20 June anti-austerity protest and the Pride in London march on 27 June. Jeremy’s political support reaches from the centre of the Labour Party through to currents to the left of Labour. Both Jeremy’s Labour Party campaign and a ‘Peoples Campaign for Corbyn’ are actively encouraging people to register to vote for him this summer.

With the Tories’ emergency budget on 8 July and party conferences after the summer a number of anti-austerity activities are being prepared, which should be publicised and supported.

Key forthcoming actions of the Peoples Assembly Against Austerity

Wednesday 8 July People’s Assembly Against Austerity National Day of Action

As the Tory Chancellor sets out his emergency budget there will be protests in towns and cities across the country, including in London outside Parliament at 5.30pm.

Sunday 4 October TUC national demonstration in Manchester against the government’s austerity agenda outside the Conservative Party Conference.

Sunday 4 – Thursday 8 October The People’s Assembly is hosting a week of protests and action at the Conservative Party Conference

Voting No to austerity in Greece

The Greek referendum is a chance to send a strong anti-austerity message to the ECB/IMF/EU by voting No. It is also an opportunity to register the determination not to buckle under the weight of threats, strong arm tactics and bullying from the political and institutional representatives of big business in the major Western economies.

Those institutions and their leading representatives such as Chancellor Merkel claim the vote is really about membership of the Euro. If that is true, it is only because Merkel & Co are threatening to expel Greece. It is not what the Greek population or its government have chosen.

With the connivance of domestic and international media a bank run has been provoked and the ECB has cut the liquidity support (short-term cash) that could have offset the withdrawal of bank deposits. There is a real risk that pensions and public sector wages may not be paid before Sunday’s vote and there are reports of private sector layoffs. Whether these are genuinely in response to cash shortages or designed to contribute to the air of panic is unclear.

The purpose of all this is to cow the Greek population. The lie about the institutions’ claims is given by the fact that they will inevitably claim a Yes vote is an acceptance of their austerity terms, not simply a desire to stay in the Euro.

The fundamental position is clear. The crisis did not begin with the election of Syriza in January this year. The Troika have been in charge of policy since 2010, in which time the economy has suffered a collapse akin to wartime and the level of government debt has soared. Going back further, the structural crisis of the Greek economy is owing to the fact that the country has been looted by oligarchs who collaborated with the Nazi invaders in the Second World War and who were propped up by the British and Americans at the end of it. It is the interests of these oligarchs, and their counterparts in the major western powers that the institutions have sought to protect all along.

Syriza has not buckled, even under the enormous weight of this international pressure. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the maximum cohesion and unity of the anti-austerity forces in the period ahead will be an important political gain. The situation could still be improved even now by measures to direct banks to protect wages and pensions and to extract money owed from the oligarchs. But they have done the right thing by refusing to implement austerity and that leaves the whole struggle on a better footing as a result.

The best outcome in the referendum will be a No vote – a rejection of bitter austerity. Continued intransigence then from the institutions would show that Euro membership is incompatible with opposing austerity, as well as democracy and national sovereignty.

People power defeats fracking in Lancashire

Fracking company Cuadrilla has had its application to frack in Lancashire turned down in the face of mass local opposition and years of campaigning that has mobilized thousands of people through protests, petitions and lobbying.

Despite enormous pressure from Cuadrilla, the Tory government and the Murdoch press, Lancashire councillors voted by nine to three against fracking on 29 June.

This is a huge victory for local democracy and a defeat for the Tory leadership, who for the past four years have been determined to establish fracking as a major industry in Britain, despite the risks to health and climate change. Yet Britain still remains a frack free zone.

The fight is not over yet though. Cuadrilla are considering whether to appeal this Lancashire decision, an appeal that would then be overseen by the Tory Secretary of State in charge of planning – who has the power to overturn the council’s decision if he wishes.

Tunisia – imperialism will not stop the terrorism it is responsible for

On Friday 26 June a Tunisian gunman killed 38 people, of whom up to 30 were British, at the holiday resort of Sousse. The killer had received military training at a camp sympathetic to Islamic State in Libya, a country that, since Western bombing, has become a haven for armed sectarian Islamist militants.

Although the incident was horrible and tragic, the fact is that in the Middle East and North Africa armed groups aligned with Islamic State or Al Qaeda are killing hundreds of people every week. Only a small minority of these are Europeans; most are people from the region.

Cameron is seeking to exploit the tragedy in Tunisia to persuade MPs to support air strikes on Syria. Such strikes will not defeat Islamic State and will just stir up another wave of hatred of the West.

It is Western intervention in the region that has whipped up this whirlwind of sectarian violence. Imperialism’s intervention has destabilised regimes across the region and this is still spreading with these armed groups proliferating across an area that reaches from central Asia through to the north and west of Africa.

Not only has Western intervention created the dislocation, destruction and despair that is the breeding ground for these lethal political forces, but it has provided the sea of arms that has equipped them. Moreover imperialism has a long record of collaboration with these armed currents, even before the current crisis. In the last decade the US resourced them in Iraq as part of its strategy to try to maintain a military presence in the country, allied with them in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi and in Syria in the attempt to overthrow the Assad government. In recent months there has been a US rapprochement with Al Qaeda in Syria, with the local affiliate, the al-Nusra front described as a ‘moderate’ ally.

Western wars against Muslim countries have also alienated Muslim communities at home, most of whom do not agree with their governments’ policies in the Middle East, especially the injustice to the Palestinians. This disaffection amongst Muslim populations has been deepened by attacks on their engagement in domestic politics. For example, the invention of a ‘Trojan Horse’ plot to take over Birmingham schools and the ousting of Lutfur Rahman, the directly elected Muslim Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Meanwhile Islamophobic attacks carry on increasing.

In this context it is not surprising that a small number of British Muslims take their opposition to all this to the point of endorsing the armed Islamist groups and even joining them.

Cameron’s response is to propose new anti-extremism laws that will outlaw something described as ‘non-violent extremism’, essentially a form of ‘thought crime’. The new law is planned to create banning orders against people and organisations that do not actually advocate violence but whose politics the state deems unacceptable. ‘Extremists’ will be barred from the airwaves and universities.

The government’s Prevent programme already has seen Muslim pupils reported for speaking in favour of Palestinian rights or against British military action in Afghanistan. From next month, the education and health sectors will be legally obliged to monitor students and patients for signs of ‘extremism’ or ‘radicalisation’. The new bill will intensify this repression.

Cameron’s rhetoric implying that British Muslims that oppose Western policies in the Middle East are complicit with terrorism indicated the extent of repression that can be expected.

But none of this will stop terrorism or violence, because it is the actions of imperialism that are breeding this violence. So further atrocities targeting populations in the West as well as in the Middle East will go on.

Iran needs an agreement that removes sanctions

The negotiations between the Iranian government and the P5+1 group (US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) have been extended until 7 July. A framework deal was agreed in April that would reduce the scope of Iran’s nuclear programme and introduce a process of lifting sanctions against Iran.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK, Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud, told the Daily Telegraph that if the Saudis were unhappy with the final agreement they would take steps to obtain nuclear weapons. Unnamed US officials were quoted in May as saying that Saudi Arabia had already made plans to obtain weapons from Pakistan. Western intelligence is that the Saudis originally funded a large part of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme. So far, of course, the UK and US governments have remained silent on the ambassador’s remarks.