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The way to win By SAM FAIRBAIRN

Osborne says we should brace ourselves for a ‘year of hard truths’, and Cameron declares that Britain needs permanent austerity, regardless of the deficit. But the government is weak and lacks confidence in its ability to win the austerity consensus it so badly needs, so it is willing to clamp down on resistance at any cost. In response to the recent London Underground strikes, which gained majority public support, Cameron attempted to limit the right to strike. Student protests have been smashed up by the police, attempts have been made to ban protests on campuses, and students have been suspended for taking part in demonstrations. There’s talk of water cannons on the streets of Britain to control continued protests “from ongoing and potential future austerity measures”. They know the one thing that can stop austerity in its tracks is if we unite and organise mass mobilisations of millions of people.

And that’s where the People’s Assembly comes in. It’s is our best shot at creating the kind of movement the government is clearly so afraid of. It’s based on creating alliances with the broadest possible forces around a few simple but radical demands.

We need more strikes and more militant action. A mass movement can create the conditions that lead to escalation. We need more strikes and more militant action. A mass movement can create the conditions that lead to escalation. We need to expose the Labour Party leadership for its commitment to austerity. But a mass movement won’t exist without Labour members and the millions of people that vote Labour.

The real challenge for anyone who’s serious about changing society is seeking to involve as many people as possible on issues we can agree on and act together. This is the way to build confidence for more co-ordinated strikes. Unity is something we all need to fight for. And that means uniting in action the Labour party members and voters, Green party members, the revolutionary left, the students, the pensioners, those in a union and those who are not. The next few months give us a real chance to prove this in practice. Two national mobilisations are being planned. On 21 June the People’s Assembly is organising a national demonstration and free festival in Central London, followed by the TUC march and rally on 18 October. As well as this the teachers are taking strike action on 26 March. Let’s ensure that these mobilisations are massive. Let’s do everything to support and spread strike action. Let’s turn 2014 into the year that we give this weak government the knock-out blow it deserves.


Ukraine: the wes 2

BY ALASTAIR STEPHENS

What started as a protest about an agreement between Ukraine and the EU has turned into the most serious threat to peace in Europe since the break-up of Yugoslavia, and possibly since the Second World War. Western expansionism has been the main factor creating this crisis. Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the western powers, led by the US, have been pushing towards the borders of Russia by expanding the EU and NATO. Twelve Eastern European countries have joined NATO since 1991. Russia, inevitably, is trying to maintain its influence in the region. The motives of all sides are imperialistic, but the balance of power must be remembered: the US is creating an ally in the Ukraine; it’s not as if Russia is meddling in Mexico. This is not a power struggle between two global blocs, as witnessed during the Cold War era. The global hegemon is challenging a regional power, albeit a large one.

EU deal with strings attached Interference by outside powers in the Ukraine

is threatening to tear the country apart, as linguistic and cultural differences are turned into issues for which people are willing to die, and kill.

The spark was Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to suspend negotiations with the EU. This caused demonstrations in the capital against the government. Though considered pro-Russian in reality Yanukovich tried to balance between Russia and the west. However, the country’s economic problems made this impossible in the long run: Ukraine is broke and needs cash to avoid default. The European deal came with little cash and many strings, and threatened ruin for the country’s heavily industrialised east. Russia, on the other hand, offered $15 billion with no visible strings attached. Yanukovich plumped for Moscow. This infuriated the opposition and opened up a divide between the mainly Ukrainian-speaking west and centre and the mostly Russian-speaking east and south. The nature of the demonstrations began to polarise the country as they took on an increasingly nationalistic and anti-Russian

flavour. Attempted clamp downs led to radicalisation, mainly to the right, as the influence of the fascist Svoboda party grew and a violent street-fighting “Right Sector” emerged.

Escalation Whilst the demonstrations had a high level of popular support in some parts of the country, they were politically dominated by the rightwing opposition, who were co-operating closely with the US State Department. At the end of January, violence on the streets rapidly escalated. An EU brokered deal between Yanukovich and opposition leaders foundered as dozens were killed in the space of two days. The president fled the capital and a new government emerged, facilitated by the US, led by the right-wing opposition parties with negligible support in the east and south of the country. The new interim government includes seven fascists and neo-Nazis. This is ignored by the western powers whilst Putin is dubbed a ‘new Hitler’. Putin’s strategy for the reassertion of Russia in what it considers its own backyard lies in

Floods reveal a system in deep water BY ELAINE GRAHAM-LEIGH Climate change will make extreme weather like this winter’s rain more common. Even if we were able to slash greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we would have to find ways of living with what has already been emitted. We therefore have two tasks. To stop further climate change, and to fight for ways of dealing with the effects of the changed climate we already have in a way which doesn’t simply condemn those who can’t buy their way out. The flooding along the Thames provided an opportunity for some ‘we’re all in this together’ imagery, as a number of news outlets ran pictures of floods near Windsor Castle. This might lead to the conclusion

that now that some wealthy people have learnt first-hand that climate change is real, government action will result. But that isn’t how capitalism works.

inconvenience the employees of the City companies, but the companies themselves would implement their disaster recovery plans and keep going.

A key attribute of capitalism is the mobility of capital itself. Unlike under any other mode of production, the power and wealth of the global elite under capitalism isn’t linked to possession of any particular piece of good-quality land. Capitalist elites don’t have to care about the environmental destruction they cause; they can extract all the profit they can and invest in another sector, somewhere else.

This is why issues of climate change always come down in the end to questions of class. It is ultimately not in capitalism’s interest to defray any profits to deal with climate change, so we can’t rely on the capitalist class and their political representatives to take action. Every battle we fight about flooding – against cuts to flood defence funding, against public sector cuts, for a decent insurance cover for everyone at risk of flooding – is a battle against the logic of capitalism that says that caring about the planet gets in the way of profits.

There is no natural disaster which could stop the City from working. If the City were covered by a freak flood, it might


st’s cynical role 3

tatters. The revolts not only brought to power parties hostile to Moscow, they also wrecked plans for a single market for the former Soviet states. It was inevitable that Putin’s regime would try and kick back. Crimea is easily detachable: its population is overwhelmingly Russian-speaking, it is the base of the Russian Black Sea fleet and the peninsula is geographically distinct.

65 years of Nato expansion

The main enemy is at home

Though strong voices on both sides want to avoid violence, fearful of further escalation, potentially destructive forces are now in play. A new phase in big power rivalry has opened up, making the world a much more dangerous place.

Ukraine

The losers of any further descent into nationalism and jingoism will be ordinary people in both Ukraine and Russia. Socialists in this situation must oppose their own ruling classes’ role, their expansionism and sabre rattling. The west support dictatorships around the world. Putin is no friend of democracy, but the campaign of demonisation against Russia is cynical propaganda that could lead to war.

Calling time on UK plc BY CHRIS BAMBERY

Higher food prices, dearer pensions, expulsion from Europe, exclusion from the use of Sterling and a plague of locusts – that’s the message from the London elite and their Edinburgh outriders to all those feckless Scots who might be considering voting for independence in September. All three main Westminster parties are united in a pan-unionist alliance whose campaign centres on scaring people into voting No to independence. They’re backed up by corporate chiefs, Euro fat cats and media “stars” who are hardly a name in their own house. There is a danger in this for the British ruling class, created post-Union on an agenda of war and bloody colonialism. The Yes vote is heavily weighted among working people and the young. Threats from bankers, Tories and Labour’s Alistair Darling give an edge to a class dynamic that’s already there. It’s there because what drives support for independence is a demand for greater democracy, rejection of Tory rule from Westminster by a party that’s a toxic brand north of the border, the still felt

scars of the Thatcher years and an understanding that the political agenda in Scotland is different. The debate in Scotland is between two parties, the SNP and Labour, competing on a rhetorical level at least over who represents a social democratic, prowelfare agenda, an agenda alien to Westminster. UKIP is marginal in Scotland.

A Yes vote will also mean Trident and its successor has to go from Faslane, and there’s nowhere else for it to go down south. The scale of

the mounting scare stories over what will befall Scotland if it breaks away reflects a sense of panic in Whitehall. Cameron, it’s reported, believes it will be a Yes vote, but even if not an issue which was marginal a few years ago has moved centre stage and the tide is flowing in one direction. Conversely a No vote means austerity for decades, permanent war, the dominance of the City of London and permanently tagging along behind US military adventures. For the people of England and Wales, the truth is Scottish MPs have only made the difference in the outcome of four Westminster elections. If the Scots escape the UK it can help inspire the idea that there is an alternative here, plus it can open up a discussion about how lacking Westminster-style democracy is. There’s a lot at stake for UK plc this September. If it’s a Yes vote Cameron will have to explain that having lost an Empire, now he’s also lost Scotland. Margaret Thatcher will be turning in her grave and Tony Blair spitting mad. Reason enough to support a Scottish breakaway. Chris Bambery is the Author of A People’s History of Scotland (Verso, June 2014) and a member of the International Socialist Group (Scotland)


4

Stand up to a racist state BY SEASON BUTLER Recent events in Britain demonstrate shocking levels of racism and prejudice from our ruling elite. The arrest of former Guantanamo Bay detainee and anti-torture campaigner Moazzam Begg for the crime of providing aid in Syria shows Islamophobia is a real threat to civil liberties. The scandalous revelation that police infiltrated the grieving family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence and the disgusting ‘lawful killing’ verdict in the Mark Duggan case, where police shot an unarmed man, are more examples of the racism at the heart of British institutions like the Metropolitan police. Austerity also breeds division. Racist rhetoric about resource scarcity in tough times never holds up to scrutiny. Glib sound bites like “this country is full” are instantly exposed against actual figures about unused housing stock and hundreds of thousands of homes lying empty. Yet these divisive arguments lead to Muslims, Black people and Eastern Europeans suffering bullying, intimidation and attacks. Minority groups, particularly Black and Asian women, are disproportionately affected by the British government’s brutal cuts, as they are more likely to work in the public than the private

sector and have therefore faced four years of spending cuts, job losses and pay freezes. The government, which inherited a National Health Service with record levels of patient satisfaction, pursued a privatisation agenda that rapidly degraded outcomes and working conditions. As ever, the least advantaged are hit hardest, both in terms of jobs and access to vital public services. In Europe we have seen fascist groups like Greece’s Golden Dawn gain ground off the back of austerity. Amnesty International’s 2013 Annual Report explicitly linked ongoing austerity measures with a “dramatic” escalation of racially motivated attacks in Greece, noting that “more than half of the recorded incidents were connected with extremist right-wing groups that had acted in an organized and planned manner.” The only “us-versus-them” discourse we can afford to entertain is between those of us who believe in a dignified life in a fair society versus those who profit from destroying that society. That’s a message we should send loud and clear at the ‘stand up to racism and fascism’ demonstration on 22 March. For more information go to www.standuptoracism.org.uk

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Counterfire Freesheet March 2014