NUS CALLING FOR A WINDFALL TAX


Dear Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP

PEOPLE FIRST – A NEW DIRECTION FOR EUROPE: LAUNCH OF THE EUROPEAN SOCIALIST PARTY MANIFESTO



Watching Socialist and Social Democratic Party leaders from across all EU member states, at the Party of European Socialists Council in Madrid, stand up to condemn the way neo liberal policies had lead to the unleashing of the worst economic crisis in decades and demand a new social Europe be forged - with the first ever joint manifesto for the European Elections being launched as a basis for doing that, a palpable sense of history being made rippled through the applauding crowd of hundreds of PES Activists and international leaders.

Socialists have long believed that socialism cannot ever be built in one country, that international solidarity is a cornerstone of progressive politics, and that in a time of global uncertainty where the transition of capital and labour forces sees no borders that the social democratic solutions to those problems must be transnational. The launch of a joint platform, born out of a grassroots, international consultation process, involving socialist party members from all 27 EU Member States that gives European-wide policies to build a new social Europe, is the first time in history that this level of cooperation between social democratic and socialist party's has ever taken place.

The process that lead to the production of this manifesto is possibly the biggest, most transnational consultation process that has ever taken place. Each party that is a sister party of the PES and PES Group in the European Parliament was invited to hold debates, seminars, discussions for activists, and to submit proposals for the manifesto under six key themes. A special internet portal was set up, called Your space where proposals could be uploaded in formats such as video, and the debate was continued by PES Activists logging in to joining the blog debate. The consultation was a big success: 300,000 visitors, 500 posts, 100 videos, 1,350 members on the Facebook group, more than 60 written contributions from PES member parties, NGOs, Foundations and activists. During that process over 3,000 activists became PES Activists during the process meaning that the PES now has over 13,000 international activists drawn from sister parties across the EU. A draft manifesto was drawn up on the basis of that consultation, and discussions within the PES between member parties took place to modify the manifesto before it was adopted by the PES Council - a mini-Congress with voting representatives from all member parties at the start of December. The PES manifesto was adopted in Madrid by over 232 delegates from 33 PES member parties, and over 300 grassroots activists from all over Europe.

The manifesto was put to a symbolic vote at the PES Council as each sister party's representative gave a short speech of support, many hailing the possibility of rebuilding social Europe and implementing the radical new manifesto, including Zapatero, leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) twice elected to govern on a progressive manifesto in Spain and George Papandreou leader of the Socialist International, who both talked of the need for more Europe, but more social Europe, and how the strength of the manifesto showed the strength of social democratic thinking as the only answer for a socially just and ‘people first' answer to the global economic crisis. Socialist Party leaders from former Eastern bloc countries were visibly moved as they gave their speeches; for whom membership of a truly European wide party fighting for social democracy within the European Union and based on genuine international solidarity, but also on consensus and partnership working in which they are full democratic partners means so much given that next year will be the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.





The PES manifesto features over 60 concrete proposals including: A European strategy for smart green growth to create 10 million new jobs by 2020, new financial market regulation including hedge funds and private equity, Climate-changing emission reductions for industries such as transport and construction, a European Pact on Wages for decent minimum wages in all EU member states and initiatives to step up the fight against the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, the creation of a European Women's Rights Charter, extended childcare entitlement rights, a European Common Energy Policy based on sustainability, energy security and independence, diversity of energy sources and solidarity between member states in the event of energy crises, a strengthening of anti-discrimination legislation to ensure equal treatment on grounds of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and proposal to strengthen Trades Union rights by developing "a European framework for cross-border collective bargaining and collective agreements. In addition, we will work to promote decent working time, meeting health and safety standards, and a fair work-life balance", are all just some of the radical examples from the manifesto.

So in June 2009 each sister party, including the Labour Party, which, despite allegedly trying to water down many of the more radically progressive parts of the manifesto, will be standing on a common social democratic platform to fight the European elections. So often in the UK the European Union is denounced by both the left and the right - for either its bureaucracy and supposed encroachment on national decision making, or for the expansion of neo liberal policies and marketisation in even more of the public realm, most recently proposals on health and railnetworks have been identified as new areas for the failed dogma of marketisation - yet few socialists in the UK realise that the reason the EU has been so relentlessly right wing in many policy areas is because the European Parliament has had a right wing majority - there is no reason why socialists and social democrats cannot have a majority if successful in the European Elections and enact their manifesto. Having now a common radical platform including sixty concrete policy proposals gives an exciting new dimension to those elections and has the potential for PES member parties to start to fight those elections on European issues rather then warping the debate to national issues that have little bearing on the work and legislation that comes out of the EU.

In this vein PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said "The conservatives have had a majority in Europe for the last four years. What have they done to make a fairer society? They have ignored the interests of ordinary hard-working families. We want to take Europe in a new direction creating a fairer society and putting people first."

"Our manifesto gives voters a clear choice between the PES and our opponents. A clear choice between a progressive European Union in which member states work together to tackle the economic and climate crisis for the benefit of all the people of Europe, or a conservative European Union which places our future in the hands of the market."

As neo liberalism has gone global the fight for socialist solutions has gone global - or at least Europe wide, this manifesto is one in which every social democrat in every sister party can be proud - but also one that has seen the beginnings of a truly international party taking place, one that is and will unite social democrats and socialists from across Europe more closely then ever before and believes firmly in the process of grassroots participation to move towards common goals and to design common policies to ensure that Europe is a force for social progress in which people really are put first, not the market, and that can act as a bulwark against neo-liberal entrenchment and deepen workers rights and decent work for all right across the EU.

Samuel Tarry is the Chair of Compass Youth and on the NEC of Young Labour.

PES Manifesto can be downloaded here

URGE GOVERNMENT TO FORCE ENERGY FIRMS TO PASS ON COST CUTS


The energy companies are at it again! Refusing to pass on cost cuts, despite crude oil being $100 cheaper than the summer - down from $146 in July to just $46 a barrel. Given the economic situation it's right that cuts are passed on immediately to bill payers.

So yesterday we re-launched the windfall tax campaign with a letter to The Observer and Fabian Hamilton MP has tabled Early Day Motion 268 'Windfall Tax On Energy Companies'. We urge you to write to your MP today and urge them to support EDM 268 and write to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

As 6 million people face fuel poverty and as millions of us struggle to make ends meet in tough economic times, the energy companies continue to struggle with a very different dilemma: what to do with all their windfall profits. We continue to get record bills, whilst they continue to make record profits.

This is a call to action: please use our template letters to lobby your MP today and write to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Encourage your friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues to do the same.

Just as the government has been prepared to intervene to ensure people get a fair deal from the banks, so government should intervene to ensure people get a fair deal from energy providers, that's why the government should now be prepared to levy a sensible one-off windfall tax. Let's not force people to heat or eat this Christmas.

We're glad that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change recently refused to rule out a windfall tax. In the US President-Elect Barack Obama has promised a 5 year windfall tax on energy and oil firms to fund a $1000 rebate to every American, so why not do it here?

Lobby your MP now and let's keep up the pressure for a windfall tax and ensure people get a fair deal this winter.

Photo by Jason Skinner under the Creative Commons License.

IS IT TIME FOR A NEW CAPITALISM?

Robert Peston certainly thinks so in his excellent new article on the BBC website. This article reinforces many people's thinking on the economy; it gives people an understanding as to why, where and how the crisis has taken place. Peston remarks on the nature of the crisis, it is the first truly global economic downturn and he relates globalisation to our (the West's) unfettered consumption.

Peston perhaps inadvertently echoes Gordon Brown's call for a new Bretton Woods-style international agreement adding that we are entering a new age where now the negative effects of globalisation are being felt on a major scale and the benefits of the global open economy will be forgotten. The BBC have provided commentaries from people such as Norman Lamont and Irwin Stelzer, rigorously defending the free-market ideology but it is Peston's proclamations that I'm sure will begin to strike accord with many people. For too long now, the follies of global capitalism in different corners of the globe have not been considered important enough to stop people spending and consuming.

With 2009 upon us and a year-long (at least) recession these commentaries are more welcomed than ever. That the BBC's business editor is providing them is even more significant, not least because it will encourage people who may not normally choose to pay a great deal attention to matters relating to the (global) economy to think about alternatives. An edifying piece, we need more of these articles and less studio appearances from the defenders of free-market capitalism such as messrs Lamont and Stelzer.

Marcus Shukla

Photo by barabeke under Creative Commons License

VOTE FOR TIF

NO ONE WRITTEN OFF? DON'T PENALISE CARE, REWARD IT

While the progressive flames have been rekindled, we cannot ignore that for those who are being made redundant or repossessed, it's going to be a bitterly cold winter. After binging on the roulette of consumerism to “keep up with the Jones”, people are now struggling to stay even just above water, teetering on the brink of financial and emotional crisis.


The welfare reforms proposed by the government not only proposes to make people work under the minimum wage for income benefits, but the consequences of the reforms will push over the brink many of the people it penalises - parents with young children, carers, disabled people and other vulnerable people.


Credit crunch, social stigma and emotional distress – mixing up a toxic trinity


We make the assumption that focusing on getting people into work helps take people out of poverty – whether it's using the incentive of tax credits and the minimum wage or the threat of cutting welfare payments. But when we look at what's going on the ground, many people find it difficult to find the money or the time to look for jobs. Even when they have found work, many families still face poverty, having to get high cost sub-prime loans because they are refused better value loans. Let's get this straight – the more disadvantaged people are, the harder they're going to be it by the credit crunch.


Many people aspire to be “good families”, but face the constant threat of the windfall companies charging them ever more for their basic needs, with benefits agencies telling them to cut corners when they are no more corners to cut and society labelling them “bad parents”. This all creates a social crisis of of deteriorating mental health and self exclusion.


Income inequality doesn't only affect spending power, it exacerbates everything else – indeed there is a direct correlation between the rates of emotional distress and income inequality. We may be able to reboot the banks at the touch of a Treasury button, but rebooting people's livelihoods requires a far more radical approach.


Start with the soul not with the handbag


It's not because Ken Livingstone isn't Mayor of London any more that we should stop fighting for free public transport, more social housing or the living wage. But we also need to shift mindsets, we need to look at what people themselves can bring to the table, not just as consumers but as citizens. We need to start with people not with savings, providing the stimulus that revitalises their wellbeing, not just their spending power.


We also need to start changing the arguments. It's not about who is deserving of help or not. It's neither only about defining who is poor or not. It's also about understanding how that poverty is experienced, how people's social and cultural relationships define what they see as their material needs and what they see as socially acceptable - “hard working families” - or not - “benefit scroungers”.


Why do you think so many people want to define themselves as anything other than “working class”? Whatever people think Blair meant by “we are all middle class now”, many people took this to heart because they felt it could take away the social stigma that had lived with them for so long.


People don't want to feel either deserving of fear or pity. Which is why many try and hide away from the helping hand of the state. Which is they become labelled as “hard to reach” or “seldom heard”. Which is why even some of the best services like Sure Start don't reach them as well as they could.


Respect, dignity and hope – nurturing a sense of collective belonging


Recognition and respect are just as important as redistribution. A school which nurtures relationship building is just as valuable as one which nurtures exam success, depending on whether we want to create good little consumers or good citizens.


Recognition that services can be improved by the mutual interests of staff and users working together, not by cutting services. Public services that treat people with dignity, values their contributions and develops a sense of collective belonging.


Although many people find it hard to imagine the possibility of escaping from poverty and social exclusion, that doesn't mean they don't hope. When Obama talks about “being the change we can believe in”, it internalises this paradox very well. Their hopes nevertheless constantly battle against the unpredictability of their lives and the fear it generates.


This is why involving users in co-producing public services doesn't only offer greater hope, it allows people to use this hope and energy to work with staff to develop the services that matter to them.


From consumerist havens to safe spaces – from the customer to the carer


People often look back to a golden age where there was a sense of neighbourliness and people took pride in where they lived. But for some people, when they look at where they live, it's little wonder that they escape to the consumerist haven of the Westfield shopping mall or the virtual meritocracy of the X Factor.


We escape the reality of our neighbourhoods and we escape who we know. We feel we've lost our sense of belonging and our sense of trust. We may feel less trustworthy of our neighbours, less attached to our extended or even immediate families, and yet friendship and trust are even more critical in our increasingly atomised society.


We need to create safe spaces for people to talk and look out for one another through better access to mutual support networks and cheaper relationship counselling. Supporting caring, not penalising it.


Outsourced relationships and hidden assets – towards a “reassuring state”


If what we mean by an “active state” is a state that's reassuring, a state that makes us feel more valued and trusted - as citizens and as public servants - then we need to strengthen the intrinsic values that define the relationship between the state and the people it serves.


Yet through how the the state defines its “services”, public servants can only engage in specific moments in people's lives which ignore the complexities of the rest of their daily life. This creates assumptions by the “state” which are reinforced by people themselves.


Indeed, for many people there is an antagonistic relationship with the state. They feel assessed and judged from all corners – from their neighbours, the media and the state itself. This fuels a vicious circle of avoiding the state to avoid accusations made by others, about whom they make accusations themselves, that they are somehow “cheating the system”. It's not they feel ungrateful, but they feel that the institutions don't understand the realities they live in.


For public servants too, that antagonistic relationship exists, they feel they can't be trusted to serve the public efficiently. The unhealthy compulsion to performance manage, to privatise and to personalise drives them even further away from being able to understand the people they serve.


Rather than continuing to outsource our welfare services with our citizens to companies who we may have to bail out as the recession strikes deeper, we need to re-invest in the emotional and social resources for staff and service users to make the “tough choices” on issues like community cohesion, chronic conditions or climate change. They can work out the tensions between different people's needs and their capacity to participate. Only then can the state show its citizens it is not only “on their side” but working with them “on the same side”.


We need to unlock these “hidden assets” of reciprocity and trust and refashion social capital that values these assets as much as more recognised forms of engagement. Of course we need to get people into work. But that means nothing to the communities we serve if we don't help people help themselves by supporting each other, rewarding care rather than penalising it.

Noel Hatch

Print some flyers now and hand them out today. Put a poster up in the canteen. Spread the word online straightaway!

Support our "welfare for all" campaign

Click on this link now to add your name to the statement.

We urge you to write a letter to your MP asking them to support our campaign and write a letter to the Work & Pensions Secretary calling for an urgent rethink of the proposals. You can also write in support of the campaign to The Guardian letters page and The Observer letters page.

Images by unusualimage and marcus341 under the Creative Commons license.

WHERE OBAMA MIGHT GO WRONG


After telling us how it could even be better news that Obama has won, Alex Higgins reminds us where Obama might still go wrong.

30 years of gross misrule has left an aftermath of social inequality, decaying infrastructure, debt, corruption, dysfunctional political institutions and environmental damage that would be hard for enough for any reform-minded president to deal with. In addition, Obama gets the added bonuses of artificial global warming which must be slowed under his watch, two wars which cannot be won, dangerous stand-offs with foreign powers, and global economic collapse.

With the best will in the world, that would be a challenge beyond any single US administration to address satisfactorily. And for all his virtues as a candidate and a human being, it is a stretch to argue that Obama has the best will in the world. There is a lot that could go wrong, and we may see Obama making Blair-like compromises which seem politically savvy at the time but will fail to prevent certain realities from blowing up in his, and everybody else’s, faces.

Here are just a few cases where events might destroy an Obama honeymoon, or he might make serious misjudgements:

  • Obama should be a major improvement on environmental issues, but if action is not taken quickly enough and does not go far enough, it may be impossible to prevent global average temperatures rising by 2 degrees centigrade on 1990 levels. Global warming may then become an irreversible process, no longer within our capacity to prevent. Then we are in a world of trouble.
  • Obama should withdraw from Iraq – but if he delays this he may find that the present lull in violence from the apocalyptic levels of 2005-7 to the merely horrendous present level may end. Shi’ite rebels currently on ceasefire and Sunni insurgents currently being paid not to fight might feel compelled to finally drive US forces out.
  • Obama is committed to the war in Afghanistan. He has – to his credit – complained about a reliance on air strikes which is taking a very heavy toll on Afghan civilians (killing more than the Taliban) and would be prepared to negotiate with rebel Afghan tribes as General Petraeus recommends, but his proposal to increase US forces there and allow them to cross the border into Pakistan may be the beginning of an extremely dangerous, escalating conflict that runs out of anyone’s control.
  • During the election campaign, Obama set aside his previous stated concern for Palestinian suffering in favour of indifference and support for the politics of Israeli hardliners. This stance would make it hard to resolve the Middle East conflict even partially and prevent this long-running sore exploding into a wider Israeli-Arab war.
  • His Vice President, Joe Biden, is committed to expanding NATO along Russia’s border which would almost certainly mean a renewed Cold War and the increased long-term risk of a US-Russia war – the ultimate disaster. During the Russia-Georgia war in the summer, Obama’s suitably measured response gave way to Biden’s bellicose rhetoric.
  • With a colossal, world-historical national debt and a disintegrating economy, Obama will struggle to provide the jobs and economic security he has pledged to working and middle-class people facing hard times that could undercut support for his administration. Economic policy could fall under sway of those like Robert Rubin who previously advised Clinton to – among other things – deregulate the banking sector.
  • The election of a black, liberal president could spark an American anti-government insurgency - ultra-right paramilitarism of the kind that bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people with a truck bomb placed outside its nursery school. There will certainly be attempts to kill Obama (people have already been arrested for planning these), and possibly worse.
  • Obama is committed to producing bio-fuels on the bogus grounds that they are environmentally friendly, which they are not. It also means burning up corn to keep cars moving at a time when this is driving up food prices and hunger around the world.

Just some of the problems Obama could be about to face or make worse for himself. It is up to those who supported his campaign to remain active in politics, keep building their movement – an independent movement, not an Obama movement - to make sure their voices are heard in the White House.

The next few years will not be easy for anyone, but they have so much potential.

Pictures by tjscenes and SqueakyMarmot under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

IRAN: A NATION OF BLOGGERS

What a fanstastic video. Blogs have really gone a long way in furthering the cause of human freedom over their few short years in existence.

Iran: A Nation of Bloggers - Vancouver Film School (VFS)

WHY OBAMA'S VICTORY COULD BE EVEN BETTER NEWS

After arguing why Obama's victory was so desperately needed, Alex Higgins now tells us why it could be even better news now.

For starters:
  • Obama will probably end the Iraq War. Committed to a withdrawal in 16 months, he rejected a private entreaty from the leading military figure in US-Iraq strategy, General Petraeus, for the US to remain Iraq’s occupier. A major source of international tension, terrible blood-letter and drain on the US economy is about to end. Iraq will not recover for generations from the carnage wrought, the conflict there will not end anytime soon, and the US must now pay hundreds of billions of dollars for decades to come to care for tens of thousands of horrifically injured veterans. But here it starts.
  • Obama promises a massive investment in alternative energy and an 80% cut on 1990 levels in CO2 emissions by 2050. If that remains his intention, the US will be transformed from the leading obstacle to international action to prevent catastrophic global warming to the most environmentally conscious nation on Earth. It’s hard to overstate what fantastic news that is.
  • An Obama administration won’t be ideologically opposed to the kind of regulatory regime that can shift power from unelected banks and corporations, back to elected governments. Not only can that mean amelioration of the global recession we now face, but it also provides scope for governments to take action to reduce poverty and protect workers, consumers and the environment without the effective veto of business.
  • He supports the Employee Free Choice Act – a piece of legislation that will allow American workers to unionise without management being able to squash them. Many employees will finally have the opportunity and the right to say something about their stagnating wages, poverty incomes and harsh conditions.
  • For US citizens only – an Obama administration is likely to do what Harry Truman and Hillary Clinton could not and finally reform a health care system that treats sick people who can’t afford tens of thousands of dollars to pay for their treatment, where insurance companies refuse to provide cover for people with chronic illnesses and seek excuses not to pay up at every opportunity.
  • Supreme Court Justices sit for life, until they choose to retire or die. The Justices they appoint are any presidency’s most enduring legacies. George Bush I and II have furnished the court with the kinds of men who defend torture and suspended vote counts in Florida in 2000 to put their preferred candidate in the White House. The next appointments will be made by Obama.
Pictures by LolliPop and ProgressOhio under the Creative Commons Attribution License