Taken from the Socialist Unity blog
“Continuing the success of our 20-year relationship with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its predecessors, we are delighted to have the opportunity to work on such a strategically important initiative. With over 26 years of experience providing dynamic and innovative support to a variety of disadvantaged groups, the award of this contract reflects the significance of our work in delivering the DWP’s New Deal for Disabled Persons scheme, where we are one of the leading providers in the UK.” (Tony Garrett, Group Managing Director of Instant Muscle).
Instant Muscle was one of these much vaunted organisations contracted to deliver part of Pathways to Work scheme. They were awarded a £11m contract last November to run the scheme in Surrey and Sussex. But within the past couple of days the charity has gone into administration, making 250 people redundant. Around 60 staff across South Wales, 40 staff based in Nottingham. The charity has 30 offices based in the UK. The first the staff knew about this was when the administrators told them to leave the premises. And funny enough, not one of the directors turned up to explain the situation!
The irony of ironies is that staff will becoming the very people they were “helping” and this isn’t lost on them.
Henry Shinners, associate director of accounting firm Smith and Williamson and one of the appointed administrators said that staff weren’t paid for February. And there’s a possibility the business could be taken over. Yes, you can just see the corporate vultures hovering around in the distance waiting to swoop….
Now what happened to this flagship of “providing dynamic and innovative support to a variety of disadvantaged groups”? One former employee of Instant Muscle said that the company suffered from the Icarus complex, “it expanded too quckly and flown a bit too close to the sun”…
Whatever the reason this happened (incompetency, and/or greedy bosses…) there’s one less contracted company to carry out the Pathways to Work scheme but never fear some greedy company will take its place.
You do get the feeling that once the politicans are ideologically committed to partnerships with the private sector that the private companies involved realise that taking taxpayers money will be like taking candy from a baby. They also realise that they will not be held to account for how they spend the money .
Oh, and Tony Garrett, Group Managing Director isn’t available to comment….
Today's news headlines are, once again, dominated by news that a British soldier is returning from Afghanistan. The soldier is royal parasite Harry Wales, whose tour of duty was cut short after a news blackout of 10 weeks was breached.
How convenient. Rather than serve the six months of his comrades, Wales gets to return home in one piece after being followed throughout by a film crew, whose efforts have (again) dominated the news bulletins.
Good publicity for one of the royal "black sheep" and the idle scum at Buckingham Palace. So it's hats off to the royal spin doctors on this one and a big thumbs down to the sycophantic media, who managed to ignore the thousands of squaddies coming back in body bags or with horrific injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan.
News that Wales (and most of the Western world it seems) is heading for a slump has prompted the odd wag to ask "what, was that a boom"?
Wales for the past 10 years of Brown-inspired "boom" has seen a growth in minimum-wage jobs, soaring credit debt and a collapse in manufacturing industry. The only boom has been the artificial house prices, partly fuelled by localised booms in areas around Cardiff, the Swansea marina and the Chester overspill in Flintshire and Wrexham. Other factors are the college-related boom around Aberystwyth, which can be linked into the buy-to-let mania that has further fuelled house price inflation. Rural Wales has generally been hit by incomers moving from wealthier parts of England, pricing local people out of the housing market entirely.
All this has left Wales further behind in terms of wealth within the UK. There are 47,000 people in the UK earning £350,000 or more - only 500 or so live in Wales. If you earn £35,000 or more in Wales, you are among the wealthiest 10% of the population.
Persistent levels of low pay are at the root of many of our problems - poverty is linked to ill-health, poor housing and low levels of academic achievement. Low incomes limit people's abilities in so many ways it means the wealthier minority have a persistent advantage and that advantage is increasing.
Tackling low pay levels - the average full-time wage in Wales is just £19,100 - would tackle debt, welfare dependency and be far more productive than trying to address the symptoms rather than the causes of many of society's problems. There's a lack of affordable childcare - not because child minders or nurseries pay their staff a good rate but because people aren't paid a decent wage in the first place. It's affordable if you're middle class and able to earn £30,000 or more.
Why isn't low pay on the political agenda? Perhaps because too many of the politicians, senior civil servants, policy advisors, poverty professionals, council leaders, senior council officers, lobbyists and trade union leaders are part of that elite 10% earning more than £35,000.
Who said the following in the Assembly today?
"Supermarkets have a social responsibility to support local communities and producers"
"The relationship between supermarkets and farmers is purely a commercial one and the Assembly Government has no role to play in that."
The first quote comes from the "new look" Tory leader Nick Bourne while the second quote comes from Rhodri "no more clear red water" Morgan.
We've often joked that the Tories are now to the left of Labour in London. Now it seems the same is true in Wales.
Unrepentant Communist has an interesting post about Che Guevara's killer.
Cuban doctors working in Bolivia have saved the sight of the man who executed revolutionary leader Che Guevara in 1967, Cuban official media report. Mario Teran, a Bolivian army sergeant, shot dead Che Guevara after he was captured in Bolivia's eastern lowlands. Cuban media reported news of the surgery ahead of the 40th anniversary of Che's death on 9 October.
Mr Teran had cataracts removed under a Cuban programme to offer free eye treatment across Latin America. The operation on Mr Teran took place last year and was first revealed when his son wrote to a Bolivian newspaper to thank the Cuban doctors for restoring his father's sight.
But Cuban media took up the story at the weekend as the island prepares for commemorations to mark Che Guevara's death 40 years ago. "Four decades after Mario Teran attempted to destroy a dream and an idea, Che returns to win yet another battle," the Communist Party's official newspaper Granma proclaimed. "Now an old man, he [Teran] can once again appreciate the colours of the sky and the forest, enjoy the smiles of his grandchildren and watch football games." Wounded Che Guevara, who played a key role in the Cuban revolution of 1959, travelled to Bolivia in 1966 to start a socialist revolution. But in October 1967, the Bolivian army, with assistance from the CIA, captured Guevara and his remaining fighters.
Che Guevara, wounded in the fighting, was taken to a schoolhouse in the village of La Higuera on 8 October where the soldiers debated what to do with him. Mario Teran is reported to have drawn the short straw and been ordered to execute the captured guerrilla. Che Guevara was killed on 9 October and his body taken to a hospital in nearby Vallegrande, where his corpse was paraded before the world's media.
In 1997 his remains were discovered, exhumed and returned to Cuba, where he was reburied. Surely the fact that doctors from socialist Cuba helped improve the sight of Che's executioner, demonstrates most eloquently, that you may persecute socialism and reverse it in places, but you can not kill the ideas of socialism, which represent the most exalted aspirations of humanity, an exalted humanity which Che Guevara exemplified.
It's often said of Che that he survives as an icon because he died young and because he was photogenic, but I think it's more complex than that. Firstly Che achieved power through the Cuban revolution. He could have chewed on a cigar in the Ministry of Industry and grown fat and corrupt but he chose not to - he chose to spread the revolution. He stayed true to his socialist beliefs to the bitter end.
Secondly, he was as motivated by his emotions as much as by abstract theory. His most famous quote is "at the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love."
That love for others, rather than envy or hatred, should be our motivating force. And that's probably why the Cuban doctors restored that man's eyesight.
"I was a high-class muscleman for big business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism"
That's how decorated US Marine Corps General Smedley Butler once defined his military role in his 1935 book War Is A Racket.
State armies have been used to further multinationals' goals in the past - whether the United Fruit Company-sponsored coup in Guatemala in 1954 or the various oil companies reaping the rewards of US invasion in Iraq today.
But now even this role is being privatised with PMCs (Private Military Companies) carrying out a dubious legal role in Iraq.
Last month's shootings of 11 Iraqi civilians by employees of Blackwater USA has cast a rare official spotlight on the activities of PMCs in Iraq.
The proliferation of PMCs since the Cold War is part of a new trend, in which private military contractors provide an attractive alternative to international corporations for a range of quasi-military services, from bodyguard and facilities protection, to the provision of military training and weapons to foreign armies.
Such services have often been required by multinationals such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, and De Beers in conflict zones that overlap with the extraction of oil, gas, diamonds and other raw materials.
In Colombia, British Petroleum hired the British private contractor Defence Systems Limited (DSL) to protect its oil rigs from left-wing guerrillas - a task that DSL fulfilled with the help of Colombian military officers linked to right-wing death squads.
In Equatorial Guinea, the US company MPRI has helped the thuggish dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema establish a coastguard to protect the oil exploration undertaken by ExxonMobil off its coast. MPRI has also provided military training to the Nigerian army, whose forces have been engaged in suppressing local tribal protests against the exploitation of their resources by international oil companies.
Not surprisingly, the need for PMCs has increased as a result of the 'war on terror', whose frontlines invariably intersect with areas containing raw materials and the routes of oil and gas pipelines.
From Georgia, Chechnya and Iraq and Azerbaijan to Afghanistan, PMCs from various countries are engaged in an array of activities that impact directly on the emerging 'great game' in the Middle East and Central Asia, whether it is protecting oil pipelines, training the Saudi national guard or providing security protection to the Afghan president.
Some PMCs, like Blackwater and MPRI, have amassed formidable military forces in their own right, whose members include top-ranking former military officers.
At the same time PMCs have themselves become like corporations. Where mercenaries and their recruiters were once regarded with contempt, PMCs have attempted to reverse the 'dogs of war' image with slick corporate packaging.
PMC execs such as the millionaire owner of Blackwater Erik Prince and Aegis director Tim Spicer like to use the rhetoric of the war on terror and talk about bringing stability and democracy to a troubled world.
But this agenda has also brought record profits to their own companies, not to mention other corporations that could not have gained access to Iraq without the support of private military companies.
In an age when the Western public is generally reluctant to fight wars of choice, PMCs constitute a new international force patrolling the frontiers of the 'war on terror' for whoever pays. Just as the East India Company once did, corporations will pay for their own armies to fight their own wars and bypass national governments altogether.
Adapted from The First Posthttp://
It's been labelled the School for Slaughter by its opponents. Its proponents call it the biggest ever investment in Wales.
Now a campaign to fight the establishment of a new military training centre in St Athan is gathering pace.
In January 2007, the London government announced the success of the St Athan and Metrix bid to establish a new military training academy.
In Wales, the first Minister Rhodri Morgan and the economic minister Andrew Davies sprayed champagne outside the Senedd in celebration. The local media gave the impression was that this was just about the best thing that had ever happened to Wales: £14 billion worth of contract and around 5,000 jobs.
But how will this military academy contribute to the Assembly's proud goal of achieving sustainable development? What exactly is Wales committing itself to when it signs up for the St Athan deal?
• A future based on militarism
• A commitment to military privatisation
• A welcome mat for the world’s largest missile manufacturer
What will be the impact of the academy on local quality of life – on traffic congestion, for example, and housing affordability? What will be the impact on Welsh education, and the social and political values that are taught to Welsh children and youth?
For those who are committed to a nuclear-free Wales, they should be aware that the Royal Navy’s Maritime Engineering School, which contains the Nuclear Systems Group, is projected to move from HMS Sultan to St Athan by 2017. The Nuclear Systems Group trains the Naval Officers responsible for operating the nuclear submarines that are the heart and soul of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system.
A fuller analysis of the issues is now available on the Cynefin y Werin website, , from where much of this article was shamelessly filched.
2,000 bilingual pamphlets have also just been printed to highlight the case against the military academy - to get a copy contact here.
Promoters of the St Athan Defence Training Academy claim the Academy is good for Wales because of the jobs it will create. When the Academy was announced in January 2007, the South Wales Echo described it as a “massive jobs bonanza.” Welsh politicians and media have claimed that the Academy will create as many as 5,550 on and off-site jobs, and that these will be “highly skilled jobs” in fields such as “mobile communications, IT, engineering, logistics, even photography.” Such claims, however, do not stand up to close scrutiny.
In reality, most of the jobs will come from re-locating trainers from other military bases that are being closed in England. There will be jobs for local people - minimum wage work in catering and security.
The PCS union, which represents the trainers, is fiercely opposed to this centralisation of services because it will be a massive Private Finance Initiative scheme that effectively privatised military training and threatens many jobs.
A recent mobilisation of campaigners saw 30 peaceniks gather outside the base and further action is being planned.
It appears Wales is leading the way in terms of job creation.
As part of the launch of a further £1.8 billion in EU grant aid for the West and Valleys, Danuta Hübner, the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, has congratulated the Welsh Assembly Government.
She said, “The Welsh Convergence ERDF programme 2007-2013 is even more ambitious than the 2000-2006 ERDF programme with 70 per cent of investment being earmarked for jobs and sustainable growth. This strategy is already working in Wales – parts of North Wales now have the highest employment rates in the entire EU."
Which begs the question - if we're creating all these jobs, why are we still one of the poorest parts of the EU?
That much is clear from the fact that much of Wales qualifies for the EU grant aid because it is below 75% of the average EU GDP.
Two answers spring to mind - one is that much of the job creation is low-paid and unskilled. The real boom in jobs in North Wales is among minimum wage workers, many of them migrant workers. The only boom has been for gangmasters, low-wage bosses and landlords who pack Poles into houses like sardines in a tin.
Second is that much of the EU aid is hoovered up by large institutions, consultants and government bodies with the resources to apply for these grants and the means to match fund them. Few community groups have such resources and most communities have little to show for the massive Objective One funding that was allegedly pumped into the area from 2000-6.
We're frequently reminded of the "West Lothian Question", the situation whereby Welsh and Scottish MPs are allowed to vote on issues relevant to West Bromwich but not West Lothian (as Tam Dalyell so succinctly put it back in 1979).
It's a question that's never been properly answered during the devolution debate and growing powers for the Assembly make it even more absurd that Welsh MPs can vote on health and education matters, for example, that affect English constituencies but don't impact on their own voters.
This is often cited by English nationalists, usually in opposition to devolution. But there is less publicity given to what could be termed "the Tryweryn question".
Back in pre-devolution days, Liverpool Corporation's desire for water (mainly to supply industries that are now long gone) led it to Tryweryn, near Bala. An Act of Parliament was needed to permit the damming of the valley and the drowning of a Welsh community, Capel Celyn.
35 of the 36 Welsh MPs voted against the move but it was passed with the help of English MPs who knew nothing about the community they were voting to destroy.
Not surprisingly, the symbolic nature of the drowning of Capel Celyn in the 1960s still resonates among nationally minded people in Wales.
The manifest injustice then should not be perpetuated now. Welsh MPs should not vote on issues solely for England. There is therefore a clear case for a reduction of Welsh MPs in Westminster because the bulk of decision making on day-to-day matters in Wales takes place in Cardiff.
The savings made by reducing the numbers of MPs should be put towards increasing the numbers of AMs who can therefore scrutinise and hold the Assembly government to account more fully.
We have half-and-half a democracy at the moment, with neither half functioning properly.
Thought the Tories were for you? Thought they'd changed and become cuddly and centrist now tie-less (not to say clue-less) Dave was in charge.
The Tories unveiled their big new thinking at today's conference - cuts in stamp duty that will effectively cut a couple of thousand quid off the cost of buying a house for anyone - whether hard-up first-time buyer or wealthy young City slickers. There will be less of a tax take that will be made up, the Nasty Party says, by clawing back Incapacity Benefit. So that's alright then.
The second big tax giveaway is one dear to the hearts of all wealthy Tories (and Labourites these days). It concerns Inheritance Tax - a tax that only applies to estates of more than £300,000 and then only at 40% tax.
As it stands, only 6% of people who die pay Inheritance Tax - the vast majority of those in the wealthier south-east of England. It's hardly going to be a vote winner in Wales.
That hasn't stopped our Tories getting in on the act. In the running for a double gold in the Order of the Brown Nose and Long-Service Stupidity Medal was Clwyd West MP David Jones:
“Inheritance Tax will, under a Conservative government, be paid only by millionaires. The one million pound threshold will mean that people of moderate means will now be able to pass their hard earned savings and their homes on to their families, who will not have to pay a punitive 40% tax.”
Firstly, millionaires employ accountants to ensure they don't pay any tax at all. Labour and Tory governments over the past 30 years have ensured that the UK is a very welcoming place for non-domiciled residents to live tax free.
Secondly, "people of moderate means" in Clwyd West or anywhere else in Wales rarely amass more than £300,000. As the system stands, someone leaving an estate of £500,000 would only pay £80,000 in taxes. Given that the bulk of most people's estates are houses, that have risen in value untaxed, that seems like a fair deal in our glaringly unequal society.
David Cornock's insight into the Labour Party's soul searching after its May election setback is interesting:
Eluned Morgan said Labour had to face up to the fact that in some areas "people simply don't like what we are doing".
She added: "We should not be tiptoeing around the nationalists despite being in coalition with them."
Former Secretary of State Paul Murphy told the meeting Labour should resist the possibility of "an obsession with identity in Wales".
(Assembly) Leader of the House Carwyn Jones said Labour should proclaim its unionist beliefs more - a move welcomed by one devosceptic MP.
Former first secretary Alun Michael said the Assembly should be increased to include 80 members, two per constituency, with no regional list AMs. He also suggested a Northern Ireland-style power-sharing deal in which all parties would share responsibility for making devolution work.
Eluned Morgan's point about tiptoeing is something Plaid Cymru should bear in mind, as it tiptoes round the new coalition partner for fear of causing it to collapse. Let's get one thing straight - One Wales is an agreed set of objectives with 2/3rds of the AMs backing it. Criticising Labour on anything outside that is fine and, indeed, should be a priority as Gordon Brown sets about making his bizarre Britishness a key aspect of any forthcoming election.
Labour, as Carwyn "the devolutionist" Jones, reveals is Unionist to its core and is therefore the enemy of anyone seeking self-determination for Wales (as are the other big two London parties).
Having said that, Alun Michael's point about increasing the number of AMs is interesting and would be a vast improvement on the unworkable list AM set-up, which has created second-class AMs with few of the constituency ties or workloads of the First Past The Post AMs.
So many blogs, so little time... so here's a few good 'uns:
Smiling Under Buses
Green Welsh Anarchist
probably the best Plaid blogger at the moment
interesting Welsh Labourite blogger
English leftist blog that *shock horror* understands Wales is a nation
UK anti-fascist info
Dave's Part, top leftie journalist
from which the following has been shamelessly nicked...
Friday, 21 September, 2007
The class politics of government bail-outs
In October last year, 150,000 low-income families lost a total of £45m when dodgy Christmas hamper racket Farepak collapsed. As a result, some of Britain’s poorest yet most thrifty people – the very people who don't whack a few hundred quid on the plastic to pay for their Christmas, because they can't afford to - saw their festivities ruined. No government bail out for them.
About 125,000 workers and pensioners have lost some or all of their pension entitlement after their employers went under or shut down insolvent occupational pension schemes. No government bail out for them, either.
Of course Alistair Darling was right to guarantee the deposits of Northern Rock customers this week. But why the selective treatment? Building society savers have no more intrinsic merit than Farepak punters or pension contributors.
In round numbers, seeing the Farepak clientele alright would have cost exactly 1% of the £4.55bn value that the taper relief tax break extends to venture capitalists every single year.
As Nick Ferguson, head of SVG Capital, pointed out recently, venture caps pay a lower rate of tax then their cleaning ladies. And cleaning ladies are the kind of people that save with Farepak and who at best have a couple of grand in savings. A Labour government should consider their interests too.
The UK media's news blackout about the historic Labour-Plaid agreement prompts this posting.
Firstly, some background:
On May 3, Labour achieved its worst percentage result in Wales since 1918 (33%) but managed to hang on to 26 seats out of the 60 Assembly seats.
Plaid gained three AMs to go to 15, Tories 12 (+1), Lib Dems were static on 6 and Trish Law retained her seat as an independent People's Voice representative. Forward Wales AM John Marek lost his seat in Wrexham to Labour.
Prior to the election Labour had made much of the threat of "vote Plaid, get Tory" - i.e. that Plaid would do a deal with the Tories and Lib Dems in the event of a hung Senedd.
This appeared to be happening when the leaders of the three parties agreed a so-called Rainbow alliance. The agreement was essentially Plaid's policies with some Lib Dem add ons with the Tories content just to be back in some kind of power at a national level for the first time in 10 years. Four left-wing Plaid AMs - all women - stood up against this deal, saying Plaid's left philosophy was at odds with Tory philosophy.
At the same time, the Lib Dems national executive managed to tie on a vote to approve the deal and, on that basis, they rejected the Rainbow deal.
Labour moved quickly and formed a minority government. The Rainbow momentum was lost.
Then a curious thing happened. Adam Price, Plaid's leading strategist and MP for Carmarthen East, posted a message on his blog advocating an alliance between the two left-wing parties in the Assembly. Plaid and Labour.
Before people start choking at the idea of Labour as a left-wing party, it's as well to recall that Welsh Labour has remained essentially Old Labour - rejecting private finance initiatives in health and education, maintaining comprehensive education and keeping business at bay and introducing modest reforms such as free prescriptions for all (something taken up by the SSP) and free bus passes for all Welsh pensioners.
Plaid had run the campaign on a social democratic platform of reforms (what it could deliver within the Assembly's limitations) coupled with demands for greater powers for the Assembly.
So the idea made sense but seemed to have missed the boat. Then Edwina Hart, a Labour minister, came out publicly and supported the idea of a red-green coalition.
Suddenly momentum grew and One Wales, an agreement that combined most of Plaid's policies with firm commitments to halt all privatisation and PFI in the NHS and keeping council housing in the control of local authorities, was born. The agreement also commits Labour to a referendum on a Scottish-style Parliament and to campaign for a 'yes' vote.
Only a red-green alliance can deliver on the constitutional issue because a 2/3rds majority is needed in the Assembly to trigger a referendum. Plaid and Labour between them have 41 members out of 60. The Rainbow couldn't meet that criteria.
Plaid was - and remains - split between those wanting red-green and those who see the chance to ditch Labour, which has ruled Wales ruthlessly for 80 years, and impose a Plaid-led coalition with Ieuan Wyn Jones (Plaid's leader) as First Minister.
But the four left-wing women AMs were joined by others and voted through the red-green deal.
Labour meanwhile has started to tear itself apart, with a clear split emerging between the AMs (generally in favour) and the MPs (generally against) - of course, a Parliament in Wales would mean reducing MPs in London.
On Friday, a special Labour conference will vote on the agreement. On Saturday, Plaid's National Council - a democratic body made up of party delegates - will vote on the same agreement. If it goes through both meetings, as expected, then a Labour-Plaid government will be in power.
Adam Price's blog makes it clear that this is not only a historic agreement but that it is intended to drive a wedge into Labour - to divide the pro-devolutionists from the unionists in the party. From the tone of various MPs and AMs today, it looks like it's working.
For comrades outside Wales, I'd urge you to take a look at the One Wales agreement - take a look on Ted Jones's blog for the full version. You may be surprised.
The Barnett Formula is one of the dullest subjects in Welsh politics - it's the formula by which Wales gets 6% of whatever London government spends due to its relative population. It's attracting the usual sporadic attention as a coalition of voluntary groups led by Sustrans's Lee Waters tries to put pressure on government in London for this formula to reflect social needs rather than a basic head count.
The argument, put here, is that Wales is poorer, less healthy and has worse housing and therefore needs to reform the Barnett Formula to reflect that.
It's an argument that Ron Davies put forward in the 2004 European elections - claiming that each person in Wales was losing out to the tune of a fiver a week. This rather more catchy slogan didn't resonate with the voters and I suspect Lee's valiant attempts to revive the argument of his former political boss [Waters worked for Davies as a political researcher when Ron was a Labour AM] will fall on similar stony ground.
The Formula was devised to buy off nationlism in the 1970s and the only way more funding will reach Wales is another threat to the Union. However, the Barnett Formula is too, well, formulaic. A far better suggestion is that all taxes raised in Wales should be collected by the Assembly. That body could then allot its share of UK spending (e.g. defence, international affairs) to Westminster.
What could possibly be wrong with such a fine example of bottom-up government?