Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Sequal - A Federal Solution" by Ken Curran

This is a follow-up to my earlier articles "Leap in the Dark" and "Seeking a Way Forward" in which I stated that radical and dynamic solutions are required to address the problem of the North-South divide. My friend Ken Turton (who is a former railwayman) responded to tell me that contrary to my proposal to build a new east-west tunnel to stimulate freight traffic beneath the Pennines, a less costly alternative was already available. He pointed out that the existing Woodhead Tunnel is capable of carrying high speed freight trains and there was already a large freight line depot available to the west of the Pennines which could be utilized to provided effective deliveries to a new Humber Port Terminal in around 90 minutes. I believe that Ken's Woodhead option should be considered. Nevertheless, bold decisions of one variety or the other will need to be made if we are to make the needed leap in the dark. For today we live in a world in which if you stand still for a moment, we find we have actually gone backwards.

What is needed is a high priority is the upgrading or renewal of east-west rail links. For the export of British made products, our northern ports are under-utilised since the decisions of Thatcher that Britain's future lay in Finance, based in London. British ports have been rundown and neglected. British manufacturing has been left to languish as a Cinderella.

We have to confront Westminster with serious demands. There is no doubt in my mind that Governments in Westminster have failed to produce plans that can and will allow our people to face with confidence the very serious issues facing mankind. Our Governments have over time become so corrupted by their association with the vested interests of business and high finance that they are unable to distinguish national, private and public interests apart. As a member of the Labour Party I hate admitting that in recent times I have been driven by learning of the private behaviour of many of our MPs, that self-interest is a major drive of their behaviour. Nye Bevan believed that Westminster had very corrupting influence upon those who entered our parliament. The present method of our Government and its environment actually inhibits local councils, often surrounding and smothering them with bureacracy. This creates a situation in which the local electorate judge councils as being just similar to Westminister. I believe that there is a genuine case for changing the nature and method of governing the United Kingdom.

The present system of Government is failing on a number of fronts. It fails the nation on the economy, having created the North-South divide which is now a perminent feature of the economic landscape which no political party has really tried to address. There is a failure in housing. Transport is in a mess. Youth employment is a serious social problem, with overall unemployment forecast to reach 3.5 million. Care for the elderly is in a state of collapse. There is an abject failure to tackle climate change.

We have seen how the Welsh and Scottish Parliament have been able to engage their people by taking key decisions closer to those who are the recipients of their programmes. Neither the Scots nor the Welsh people can be judged as overtly nationalistic, unlike the English Defence League which is clearly linked to racism. A move to introduce Regional Government is, I believe, long overdue in order to enable people to to be energised over the key policies of transport, housing, elderly care, economic development, planning, health and the environment. I would advocate that Westminister should be a Federal Government where each of the Federal Regions are represented by members of the Regional Government of their areas. I have yet to hear any MP advance any convincing argument why millions of potential electors fail to vote at elections. There may be a number of reasons. Personally I believe many do not vote because they believe it makes little difference because the system is corrupt and no longer fit for purpose.

Ken Curran, Chair of Sheffield Co-operative Party and Sheffield District Labour Party.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"There Is An Alternative To Capitalism" by Steve Thompson


United Nations

International Year of Co-operatives

There is an alternative to Capitalism

2012 will be a year of opportunity to demonstrate that alternative. Privatisation of resources, businesses and services, benefit the privileged few and reduce everything to the building of private empires of wealth and political power. Everyone else being pawns in the games of the private profiteers. Life is too precious for that.

The Co-operative Commonwealth

I do not claim to reveal a panacea in this subject of how we can all live together to create a social and physical environment which is conducive to health and wellbeing. It would be foolish to do so. But I can reflect upon the great work (with both its successes and failures) of the Co-operative Movement.

It had its origins in the time when people were being forced by poverty to move from the countryside to the towns to seek work in manufacturing and mining. These people were taken advantage of by the privateers of their day, the owners of the factories and the mines.

It was at this time that people were forced to seek an alternative for their very survival. The collectivist approach stirred in the minds of men. People clubbed together and formed co-operatives, and were sometimes inspired by benign and learned men like Dr. William King of Brighton. This was the beginning of a precarious and often unsuccessful Co-operative Movement. The organisation was patchy and insecure, but this nascent movement organised a number of Congresses.

The co-operative movement at this time was not cohesive, it was not until the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Co-operative Society was formed that the Co-operative Movement began to make some headway. An experienced co-operator who chaired the Rochdale Board, Charles Howarth, had evangelical zeal and was practical. Experience had taught him what worked and what did not work, he had been involved in a previous co-operative in Rochdale which had failed.

With the success of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society, Charles Howarth and other members were being asked to help other communities to set up co-operatives. And these new co-operatives were teaching others still, so that co-operative societies were springing up everywhere and had the benefit of guidance which meant that they were less likely to make the mistakes that earlier co-op’s had made.

It is this sense of solidarity, mutual support and co-operation between all these disparate enterprises which make the Movement what it is.

But values and principles which the whole Movement could agree to were needed to unify the Movement. Co-operation cannot work in isolation.

The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society formed in 1844 established principles for the Movement.

The Values & Principles of the International Movement in the 21st century are adapted for the modern world and agreed by all bona fide co-operatives, but they have their origins in the Principles first established in Rochdale.

The Rochdale Principles

1). Open membership

2). Democratic control (one man one vote)

3). Distribution of surplus in proportion to trade

4). Payment of limited interest on capital

5). Political and religious neutrality

6). Cash trading

7). Promotion of education

Experience and practicality over the ensuing years necessitated some changes.

For example, political neutrality is impossible when the Conservative Party exists to support the very anathema of co-operation, i.e. the private sector driven by personal aggrandisement and competition – the individualist philosophy. The Movement needed a political party which would be an advocate of co-operation, in due course

The Co-operative Party was born, and found an ally in the Labour Party.

Cash trading is no longer numbered amongst the Co-operative Principles.

A constant and very central principle for the Co-operative movement is the promotion of education. The early co-operatives had reading rooms before the advent of the public library. Lectures and classes were organised for the members. Many working class people in areas of depravation owe much to the co-operative movement for their educational development. Moreover, an educated membership was necessary for the continuance and development of the co-operative, after all, co-operatives are member run and member owned for the benefit of the members and the wider co-operative commonwealth. The directors and activists of the co-operative society are elected from the membership by the members. An aware and educated membership has always been very important, it is indeed the very foundation of the co-operative movement.

The dream of The Co-operative Commonwealth is the common ownership and control of the engines of society for the collective wellbeing of all people and a sustainable environment. This vision is so different from the world as it is, although the Co-operative movement has been making steady progress for two centuries, steady progress with setbacks from time to time. But the world is still Capitalist, there is a long way to go.

The Co-operative Group

The Co-op or as its businesses are now branded ‘The Co-operative’ is, of course,a co-operative. This means that it is guided by the Values and Principles of the Movement.

In capitalism, profits go to speculators who buy and sell shares on the stock market. The profits, in other words, go into private individuals pockets. The businesses are answerable only to a moneyed elite, their only purpose, profit maximisation.

The Co-operative is completely different.

Any surplus which the Co-operative makes is directed into fulfilling the purposes of the Co-operative Movement, guided by its Values and Principles and steered through a representative democracy, every member can play a part.

A percentage of the surplus is returned to the members, staff and communities in dividend or share of the profits as it is known.

Questions to ask when you trade with a business:

What is the purpose of this business?

For who’s benefit is this business operating?

If it is not a co-operative the answer to these questions will be; for private wealth accumulation.

A co-operative is a business which has intrinsic value, trades fairly and employs trading surplus to further the objective of collective wellbeing.

See here.

Steve Thompson

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Labour 2012" by Jon Williams

New Labour is alive and well - according to Liam Byrne! One can only wonder why (New) Labour MPs continually copy Tory policies that attack the bottom of society without considering the majority of the UK.

Benefit fraud is according to the Government estimate worth just £1.2bn a year – or less than 1% of welfare spending. Compare that to the £70bn lost to the Treasury’s coffers through tax avoiding businesspeople. So why does the Labour Party think the solution is to remove benefits from the most unfortunate or even those who are in work but still have to claim benefits to make a living-wage? When there are so many people chasing every job it is surely better to invest in growth and more jobs, hence reducing the number of people claiming benefits.

Here Owen Jone's article highlights why the Labour Party is enthralled by ex consultants / business people and doesn’t seem to have a genuine voice outside the “Westminster Village”.

Polly Toynbee's article shows what Labour MPs should be trying to highlight - can it get worse when Tory policy removes benefit from children? Universal Credit and the Work Programme are two grandiose schemes that will cost more than they save. Reducing housing benefit will risk putting 800,000 homes out of reach of people on housing benefit.

Ed Miliband's interview with the Guardian suggests he will be being "playing safe" up to the next General Election, whether with the party or voters. We need more initiatives that grab the headlines that makes the electorate look towards better times e.g. investing in growth and jobs (in manufacturing). The Tory Party will gain a majority in 2015 unless Labour takes a risk by defining itself in the Centre of the current political spectrum - some would say that is now to the Left of Tony Blair.

By Jon Williams

P.S. Also hear this.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Parliamentary Pitmen Politicians

James Haslam (above) was the first of eleven pitmen to become an MP in North Derbyshire, when he was elected to represent Chesterfield in 1906. It started a tradition which lasts to this day under Dennis Skinner, the MP for Bolsover. How did these pitmen politicians emerge and did they achieve what they set out to do? This is the topic which I will be covering at the following meeting.


Topic...........Parliamentary Pitmen Politicians of North Derbyshire

Speaker.......Harry Barnes (former MP for North East Derbyshire)

Date............Saturday 21st January 2012

Time...........2 pm (doors open at 1.30)

Venue.........Chesterfield Labour Club, Saltergate, Chesterfield

(See here for a related item.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Needed Wealth, Inheritance and Tobin Taxes

The German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) has demanded that Germany’s richest citizens help with the countries debt crisis and tax burden, instead of it falling on working people. They have pressed for wealth, inheritance and tobin taxes. We need the same call from Labour Movements elsewhere - especially here. See this. In the photo, Micheal Summers, President of the DGB puts the case to Angela Merkel.

HAT TIP : Left Foot Forward.