Photos: “Britain Needs A Pay Rise,” The TUC-Led Protest in London, October 18, 2014 (2/2)

See my second set of photos of “Britain Needs A Pay Rise” on Flickr.

On Saturday October 18, 2014, after I took part in “Britain Needs A Pay Rise,” a march and rally in London organised by the TUC (Trades Union Congress), I posted a photo set on Flickr, and an accompanying article. I have now posted a second set of photos, and, to accompany that set, this article follows up on some of the themes of the march and rally, which, I was glad to note, was attended by around 90,000 people.

The event was called by the TUC to highlight the growing inequality in the UK, and to call for an increase in pay for those who are not in the top 10% of earners, who, it was recently revealed, now control 54.1% of the country’s wealth.

In the Observer on Sunday, Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang addressed some of the issues addressed by the TUC event — and, more generally, by those of us who are dismayed by the failure of the Labour Party to challenge the myths peddled by the Tories and their Lib Dem facilitators regarding the need for savage austerity programmes, which, it seems, will be as endless as the “war on terror.”

Chang begins his article, “Why did Britain’s political class buy into the Tories’ economic fairytale?” by pointing out that a large proportion of the British voting public has bought into the Tories’ narrative about the economy — that only an ongoing programme of savage cuts has put the economy on the road to recovery after the previous Labour government’s irresponsibility. As a recent IBM poll showed, people “trust the Conservatives more than Labour by a big margin when it comes to economic management,” as Chang put it — and the situation has become so ridiculous that the Labour Party “has come to subscribe to this narrative and tried to match, if not outdo, the Conservatives in pledging continued austerity.”

And yet, the root of the problem is, of course, not the need for cuts in government spending, but the repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis, brought about not by welfare claimants and immigrants, as the current narrative insists, but by criminally irresponsible investment banks, aided, it should be noted, by politicians (of all the major parties), who had been doing all they could to deregulate financial dealings since the 1980s.

As Chang points out in his article, the Labour Party has lost control of the narrative, even though all of Britain’s financial woes can be traced not to their spending policies, but to the recession that followed the 2008 crash. As he explains:

First, the recession reduced government revenue by the equivalent of 2.4% of GDP — from 42.1% to 39.7% — between 2008 and 2009-10. Second, it raised social spending (social benefit plus health spending). Economic downturn automatically increases spending on many social benefits, such as unemployment benefit and income support, but it also increases spending on things like disability benefit and healthcare, as increased unemployment and poverty lead to more physical and mental health problems. In 2009-10, at the height of the recession, UK public social spending rose by the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP compared with its 2008 level (from 21.8% to 24%).

When you add together the recession-triggered fall in tax revenue and rise in social spending, they amount to 5.6% of GDP – almost the same as the rise in the deficit between 2008 and 2009-10 (5.7% of GDP). Even though some of the rise in social spending was due to factors other than the recession, such as an ageing population, it would be safe to say that much of the rise in deficit can be explained by the recession itself, rather than Labour’s economic mismanagement.

Chang proceeds to explain that the Tories — and their supporters — would counter this by claiming “we had to control the deficit because we can’t live beyond our means and accumulate debt.” However, he describes this as “a pre-modern, quasi-religious view of debt,” adding:

Whether debt is a bad thing or not depends on what the money is used for. After all, the coalition has made students run up huge debts for their university education on the grounds that their heightened earning power will make them better off even after they pay back their loans.

The same reasoning should be applied to government debt. For example, when private sector demand collapses, as in the 2008 crisis, the government “living beyond its means” in the short run may actually reduce public debt faster in the long run, by speeding up economic recovery and thereby more quickly raising tax revenues and lowering social spending. If the increased government debt is accounted for by spending on projects that raise productivity — infrastructure, R&D, training and early learning programmes for disadvantaged children — the reduction in public debt in the long run will be even larger.

Chang then addresses the Tories’ next retort — that the current, much-trumpeted recovery “is the best proof that the government’s economic strategy has worked.” But as he asks, “has the UK economy really fully recovered? We keep hearing that national income is higher than at the pre-crisis peak of the first quarter of 2008. However, in the meantime the population has grown by 3.5 million (from 60.5 million to 64 million), and in per capita terms UK income is still 3.4% less than it was six years ago. And this is even before we talk about the highly uneven nature of the recovery, in which real wages have fallen by 10% while people at the top have increased their shares of wealth.”

Even the argument that we are enjoying a “jobs-rich” recovery, creating 1.8m positions between 2011 and 2014, is punctured. As Chang notes, “The trouble is that, apart from the fact that the current unemployment rate of 6% is nothing to be proud of, many of the newly created jobs are of very poor quality.” He adds, “The ranks of workers in ‘time-related underemployment’, doing fewer hours than they wish due to a lack of availability of work — have swollen dramatically. Between 1999 and 2006, only about 1.9% of workers were in such a position; by 2012-13 the figure was 8%.”

He also highlights an increase in self-employment, “whose historical norm (1984-2007) was 12.6%,” but which “now stands at an unprecedented 15%,” and as he explains, “With no evidence of a sudden burst of entrepreneurial energy among Britons, we may conclude that many are in self-employment out of necessity or even desperation.”

Totting up all these figures, Chang concludes that, “in between the additional people in underemployment (6.1% of employment) and the precarious newly self-employed (2.4%), 8.5% of British people in work (or 2.6 million people) are in jobs that do not fully utilise their abilities — call that semi-unemployment, if you will.”

As he also explains, the success of the Tories’ narrative has allowed the coalition government to pursue what he describes accurately as “a destructive and unfair economic strategy, which has generated only a bogus recovery largely based on government-fuelled asset bubbles in real estate and finance, with stagnant productivity, falling wages, millions of people in precarious jobs, and savage welfare cuts.”

We are, he notes, “in desperate need of a counter narrative that shifts the terms of debate” — one in which  the government budget “should be understood not just in terms of bookkeeping but also of demand management, national cohesion and productivity growth,” and in which jobs and wages “should not be seen simply as a matter of people being ‘worth’ (or not) what they get, but of better utilising human potential and of providing decent and dignified livelihoods.”

However, that counter narrative is, sadly, one that is not readily apparent in the mainstream — and without it, as Chang notes, Britain can only continue on a path of “stagnation, financial instability and social conflict.” If the Labour Party refuses to wake up, we will need to pursue new approaches — via the Green Party, for example, or through organisations like UK Uncut and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which have articulated coherent narratives that also puncture the Tory-led coalition government’s lies.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Photos: “Britain Needs A Pay Rise,” The TUC-Led Protest in London, October 18, 2014 (1/2)

See my photos of “Britain Needs A Pay Rise” on Flickr.

On Saturday October 18, 2014, I was one of around 90,000 people who took part in “Britain Needs A Pay Rise,” a march and rally in London organised by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) to highlight the growing inequality in the UK, and to call for an increase in pay for those who are not in the top 10% of earners, who, it was recently revealed, now control 54.1% of the country’s wealth. The London march began on Victoria Embankment and proceeded to Hyde Park, where there was a rally. Other protests took place in Glasgow and Belfast.

I was pleased that 90,000 people turned up, from all over the country, and there was a great atmosphere on the march, which was reassuring, as it is often easy to be despondent, so successful are the efforts by the Tories and the right-wing media to discredit unions and the solidarity of the people. I had many pleasant exchanges with people from Yorkshire, Lancashire and across London, and I hope another event takes place in spring, before the general election.

As I explained in an article before the protest, I was “extremely glad to see the TUC putting together a major protest, as it is exactly two years since the last major TUC-organised protest, ‘A Future That Works’ (see here and here for my photo sets on Flickr) Prior to that, there was the ‘March for the Alternative’ in March 2011,” which I wrote about here. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Support “Britain Needs A Pay Rise,” the TUC March and Rally in London on Saturday, October 18

On Saturday, I’ll be joining — hopefully — tens of thousands of people (at least) for “Britain Needs a Payrise,” a march and rally in central London organised by the TUC (Trades Union Congress). Campaigners are meeting on the Embankment  at 11am and marching through the West End to Hyde Park, where there will be a rally (see the route map here). The Facebook page is here, where you can join the event, and you can also pledge your support on the website. There is also a Twitter page here.

As the TUC states, in its message about the protest, “Join us for a march and rally in London on 18 October 2014, to help call for an economic recovery that works for all Britons, not just those right at the top.”

The following are three very good reasons given by the TUC for joining the march and rally: Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, TTIP and the Corporate Takeover of our Lives with Richie Allen on Volcania Radio

Yesterday, I spent a delightful half-hour speaking to Richie Allen, a colleague of David Icke, for his show on Volcania Radio, which is streamed live via various sites, including David Icke’s, and is available below via YouTube. It’s also on David Icke’s site here.

Richie asked me first about Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, and I ran through his story, his health problems, and the disgraceful fact that he is still held, even though, for the last seven years, the US government has been saying that it no longer wants to hold him, and the UK government has been calling for his return.

Richie and I also spoke about the specific torture program that was official policy at Guantánamo in the early years, which involved, amongst other things, prolonged isolation, forced nudity, the use of extreme heat and cold, the use of loud music and noise, the use of phobias, and the euphemistically named “frequent flier program,” whereby prisoners were subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, being moved from cell to cell every few hours over a period of days, weeks or even months, to prevent them from sleeping adequately. The use of this particular package of torture techniques only came to an end when the prisoners secured access to lawyers after a Supreme Court victory in June 2004 — although I was at pains to stress to Richie that Guantánamo remains a place that is beyond the law, and that should not exist in a society that claims to be civilized. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: I Speak to RT about the Dangers of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) + My Photos of the London Protest

See the video below and see my photos on Flickr here.

On Saturday October 11, 2014, I attended a protest in Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a dangerous new EU-US trade deal, which, if passed, as the organisers of the London event explained, “would grant corporations the power to sue governments, threatening to lock-in the privatisation of our schools and NHS. Rules that protect workers, the environment, food safety, digital rights and privacy would be undermined, with harmful industries like fracking encouraged.” My article published just before the protest is here.

The London event was part of a day of action across Europe and the UK, and the events across all the countries were attended by a significant number of people, although only a few hundred people attended the London event, sharing Parliament Square with Kurdish campaigners.

I was delighted to speak to RT’s Harry Fear in Parliament Square for a televised broadcast, which is available below, and if you like it I hope you share it. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Join the European Protests Against the Dangerous Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on October 11, 2014

Please sign the European petition against TTIP here, which has received over 400,000 signatures in just four days.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a dangerous new EU-US trade deal, has been on my radar for some time, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for months, particularly in relation to the NHS.

As the #noTTIP website explains:

Our democracy, public services and environment are under threat. Behind closed doors, the EU and US are drawing up a new trade deal called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). If agreed, TTIP would extend the power of big business over our society to unprecedented levels. Shamefully, the UK government are currently a major supporter. But together, we can defeat this agreement.

Tomorrow, Saturday October 11, 2014, across Europe, there will be protests against TTIP (as well as a handful of protests in the US), and I’ll be at the London protest, which takes place in Parliament Square, beginning at 2pm. There is also a Stop TTIP Facebook page here.

As the organisers explain further on the Facebook page for the London event: Read the rest of this entry »

Photos and Essay: The Inspiring Council House Occupation in Stratford That Is Resonating Across London

See my photos of my visit to the Focus E15 Open House Occupation in Stratford here.

On Friday, I paid a visit to the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, in east London, to show solidarity with the Focus E15 Mothers, a group of single mums, from Stratford, who were recently kicked out of a hostel where they had been staying, because of budget cuts, and were threatened with being scattered across the UK.

On Open House Weekend (September 20-21), making a great political point while the rich and powerful opened up prestigious properties for a day or two, the mums occupied a small block of flats, in perfectly habitable condition, which had been boarded up for years as part of the Labour-controlled council’s ongoing attempts to empty the Carpenters Estate so that it can be sold to housing developers.

In an article for the Guardian last week, Aditya Chakrabortty succinctly analysed the current situation regarding the Carpenters Estate,” which, he wrote, “was long ago cleared of most of its residents as Newham council tried to flog the land. Except the last deal fell through, leaving around 600 council homes empty. This is in a borough where more than 24,000 households are waiting for somewhere to live, and where, last winter, the shopping precinct was full of rough sleepers.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The People’s Climate March, London, September 21, 2014

See my photos of the People’s Climate March on Flickr here.

On September 21, 2014, all around the world, hundreds of thousands of people in 166 countries took part in over 2,800 events calling for urgent, coordinated action on climate change. The website for the New York City event — attended by an estimated 300,000 people — described it accurately as the “largest climate march in history.”

The trigger for the coordinated events around the world was the Climate Summit taking place at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, where over 120 world leaders “will try to rally the political will for a new world-wide climate treaty by the end of 2015,” as the Wall Street Journal described it.

I attended the event in London, which involved around 40,000 people, a largely sunny day and a very friendly atmosphere, and took the photos available on Flickr. It was a powerful demonstration of widespread concern about the climate that is an important antidote to the cynical and well-funded climate change denial lobby, and the general indifference of politicians, who sometimes make positive noises about the environment, but are more generally in bed with the polluters — and, in addition, find themselves unable to tell the truth to their electorates: that we urgently need to make the environment a priority, and that doing so has to involve curbing our own destructive appetites.

The People’s Climate March was organised by the campaigning groups Avaaz and 350.org, and the London march also involved The Campaign against Climate ChangeAirport Watch, BP or Not BP, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Climate Coalition, Compass, Fire Brigades Union, Fuel Poverty Action, Grandparents for a Safe Earth, Greenpeace UK, One Million Climate Jobs, Operation Noah, Oxfam, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Tearfund, Transport Salaried Staffs Association and WWF-UK.

Note: See the Guardian‘s report on events around the world here, and see here for an interview in the New Yorker with the journalist and environmental activist Bill McKibben, one of the main organisers of the march. Also see the Guardian review of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, and an interview with Klein here.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Save the NHS: Photos of the People’s March for the NHS in London, September 6, 2014

See my photos of the People’s March for the NHS and the rally in Trafalgar Square on Flickr here!

Some people think that protest is futile, but in Lewisham, in south east London, we know that’s not true. In 2012 and 2013, a grass-roots people’s movement in Lewisham defeated plans by the government — and senior officials in the NHS — to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts accumulated by a neighbouring NHS trust. If the plans had gone ahead, the 270,000 people of Lewisham would have had no A&E (Accident & Emergency) Department, and would have had to join 500,000 other people, from two other boroughs, served by one A&E many miles away on a remote heath in Woolwich. In addition, all frontline acute services would have been cut at Lewisham, and, as a result, 90 percent of the Lewisham’s mothers would not have been able to give birth in their home borough.

Although we won a significant victory in Lewisham, the zeal of the government — and of senior NHS managers — for increased privatisation, and for cuts that can only damage the provision of services to those in need continues, and, as with so many facets of the opportunistic “age of austerity” declared by the Tory-led coalition government, mass opposition is in short supply. What we need, at the very least, is regular opportunities to show the government, the banks and the corporations that we are implacably opposed to their corruption and cruelty, and yet we have had only two major protests in the last four years — one in March 2011 (the TUC-led “March for the Alternative“), and another (“A Future That Works“) in October 2012.

In January last year, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign got 25,000 people out on the streets of Lewisham, providing hope and encouragement to campaigners across the country, and on Saturday, thousands of NHS supporters gathered in Red Lion Square in Holborn and marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally that was a culmination of a three-week, 300-mile march by around 30 mums (the “Darlo Mums”) and others from Darlington, who recreated the 1936 Jarrow March, as the People’s March for the NHS. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS: Please Join the Jarrow Marchers in London on Saturday September 6, 2014

On August 16, a group of mums in Darlington, in County Durham, set out on a march to the Houses of Parliament, ending this Saturday, September 6, “to build support for the NHS and to join up with amazing NHS campaigners across the country,” as they note on their website.

Their march, the People’s March for the NHS, was inspired by the Jarrow March in 1936, when, in the Depression, 200 people marched from Jarrow, 30 miles north of Darlington, to London to demand action from the government.

The campaign to save the NHS from the lying, Tory-led coalition government, whose leader, David Cameron, promised before the 2010 election that there would be no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS, is one that I have been involved in since 2011, when the privatising Health and Social Care Bill was first unveiled. I fought against the passage of the bill in the early months of 2012, and in October 2012 joined the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, which, over the following year, secured unprecedented grass-roots support (see here and here) against government and NHS management plans to disembowel Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust. That campaign was ultimately successful, but privatisation continues to invade the NHS, as intended by the government, numerous hospitals face uncertain futures, and further legislation — like the hospital closure clause (Clause 119) of the 2013 Care Bill — have had to be resisted (again, with success). Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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