The sacredness of working to end white supremacy: a conversation with Rev. Anne Dunlap

Open Democracy News Analysis - 4 hours 21 min ago

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, white people are coming to consciousness about white supremacy and looking for ways to take action for racial justice.

This article was originally published at Waging Nonviolence.

Singing at the launch of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, September 2014. Credit: Waging Nonviolence/Anne Dunlap.

From the massacre in Charleston to the police murder of Sandra Bland in Texas, racist violence is being met with outrage, and a growing black-led multiracial resistance movement that is on the move. With a sustained focus on institutional racist violence in the media due to the Black Lives Matter movement, white people across the country are both coming to consciousness about the enduring reality of white supremacy and looking for ways to take action for racial justice.

To help equip and inspire white people to step up and take action, I reached out to long-time faith-based white anti-racist leader and United Church of Christ minister Reverand Anne Dunlap, who serves as a “street pastor” for racial justice and solidarity in the Denver, Colorado area. For over 25 years she has been working in freedom movements with folks across race, gender and class lines, with a focus on solidarity with black, immigrant, worker and indigenous communities. As a faculty member of Iliff School of Theology, she helps train religious leaders to not only work for social justice themselves, but to move their congregations and larger faith communities into action.

In this interview, Rev. Dunlap reflects on her anti-racist work in white communities, her multiracial alliance-building efforts, liberation theology and the guidance she received from her departed mentor, black liberation theologian, historian and visionary, Vincent Harding.

How are you working to move white people into the racial justice movement in this time? What’s working? And what are you learning from what works?

I have been a faith-rooted justice movement activist and leader for a long time — nearly 30 years if you go back to my “call” into the work at age 16 that launched this trajectory of my life. I’ve done this work in many capacities, and most often as a “bridge” between white folk/communities and marginalized folk/communities. Whether it’s racial and economic justice, police brutality, detention abolition, deportation resistance or indigenous rights, I do pastoral solidarity work, as well as constantly try to get more white folk involved. In addition, in our local United Church of Christ conference we are working toward creating a position for racial justice and solidarity in which part of my work would include resourcing our predominantly white churches so that they can be bolder for racial justice. More informally are lots of conversations with white friends and colleagues about how we can show up — and how we show up — in the work for racial justice. Resource sharing is incredibly important here, whether by social media or sending a friend my favorite Andrea Smith resource.

One thing I have noticed is that as a white clergyperson who shows up often in pretty public ways, I am finding white people seek me out for conversation to talk through how they might do that too, or that they find themselves emboldened to take action where they are because they have seen me do it. I take that to mean that white folk are longing for some white models for racial justice and solidarity, and so we need those of us more practiced at it and/or are willing to “be public” to continue to do that, and encourage more folks to try it. And here I don’t mean posting your selfie at the latest action, but more importantly being public about our questions and wrestlings, being public about our mistakes, being public about the resources we find helpful, being public about our horror at what is continuing to be done in our name. If I might channel my mentor, Vincent Harding, let people see you be fully human in this messy, magnificent work that is the freedom movement.

To that I would add a couple of things: 1) recognizing that I am not an expert or the model and being clear that although I have been at this a long time I am also always just beginning; and 2) being public does not mean centering myself as a white person and thus de-centering the voices, experiences and lives of black, Latina/o, indigenous and immigrant folk. That can be a tricky dance, to both not hide and also not center my white self, and I am sure I don’t always get it right.

How do you think about effectiveness and how do you measure it? Can you share an experience that helps you think about effective work in white communities for racial justice?

As a spiritual leader rooted in radical Christian tradition and informed by liberationist, feminist/womanist, and post-colonial praxis, I have to ask: How do we understand “effectiveness” in ways that are non-capitalist? Capitalism is its own theological system which I find runs completely counter to what my tradition teaches. Capitalist “effectiveness” is driven by numbers, by production as if humans were cogs in a machine, by increasing profit and consumption and by continuous extraction of resources regardless of impact, by dividing up winners (most worthy) and losers. Capitalist “effectiveness” requires, as Andrea Smith writes, perpetual enslavement of black bodies, perpetual disappearance of indigenous bodies, perpetual war against the “foreign threat” of brown bodies. I’m not interested in those definitions of effectiveness.

What is “effectiveness” that is prophetic and revolutionary, that honors the wholeness of human dignity and the tender fragility of human lives and bodies, that honors not only human life but all creatures, flora, fauna, mineral, liquid, vapor? One experience that helps me think about this is a 2007 action I participated in, a nonviolent act of resistance against the Columbus Day parade in Denver that resulted in nearly a hundred of us being arrested and being pretty brutalized by the Denver police, both in the street and in the jail. I helped organize students, faculty, staff at the Iliff School of Theology where I was a student leader at the time. We had a group of 11 students and alums who were among those arrested — and nearly 40 more were present.

From the capitalist view one might argue this action was not “effective.” We were arrested, the parade continued, and almost all of us who went to trial were found guilty of violating the city’s “parade ordinance” (put in place to prevent protests of the Columbus Day parade), resisting arrest and other charges. The Denver police were never held accountable for their brutality against us. Some of us continue to live with the trauma to our bodies and psyches from that day. The whole event and its aftermath of trials and healing took immense resources and energy.

From what I might call the prophetic view, however, this is what I see: white students at Iliff emboldened to take action on this and other justice issues, including white parents who went to their children’s schools to get curriculum about Columbus changed; healers who stepped up and identified themselves and have continued to provide for the community’s healing; relationships of solidarity, trust and fierce love that were born that day and continue; and for many white folk, including myself, the breaking apart of the veil of “legitimacy” of the “justice system” and policing, and how both of those systems actually serve to perpetuate white supremacy. I am still seeing the impact of that action to this day in our community; the city thought they had won but the result was a stronger multiracial community of resistance in Denver, and with white folks pretty radicalized by our experience (whether as arrestees, witnesses or seeing the aftermath).

This is the kind of effectiveness our tradition teaches us is possible. It turns the wisdom of the world on its head. What the Roman Empire determined as “effective” — executing the radical Jesus by crucifixion — was rendered as foolishness when the Spirit-filled community rose up in resistance with their ringing proclamation that the Empire had no power over life or death: “Christ is risen!”

What are the goals and strategies (as emergent, planned, messy, and sophisticated, basic as it is) you’re operating from?

My big goal — and I believe this is the “big goal” the Divine attests to and longs for us in our tradition — is the total undoing of white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy for a world in which all life, not only human, but creatures and the land, as well, can flourish. To get there my part is to be in deep human relationship with marginalized communities, and to work with white folk and faith communities in particular.

We need as many nimble tools as possible for collective liberation. Besides the organizing work and just plain showing up for actions and such, some other tools for white folk who claim to be Christian include: 1) recovering and immersing ourselves in the liberative and revolutionary sources, biblical and theological, of Christian tradition, and sharing and embodying those. This includes perpetually reminding ourselves that the Bible is not the victory handbook of the Empire, but the outcry and deeply human wrestlings of the oppressed; 2) educating ourselves all the time especially through listening to oppressed voices. And letting those voices interrogate us deeply, letting them make us confront the ways white supremacy lives inside our heads. This is the un-sexy (because it is often invisible) work of disrupting whiteness as a white person and it’s just as important as showing up publicly, because it helps us know how to show up in better, more liberative ways; 3) learning the “people’s history” of struggle and liberation, including the local history of where we live, and sharing it; and 4) knowing our limits and doing our own healing work. This is so important and must not be overlooked. Therapy, herbal practice, Sabbath, physical labor at my friend’s goat farm, and spiritual direction all help keep me going and help me bring my best, most grounded self to the work, and I publicly encourage and affirm other folks’ efforts towards self-care.

A word about spiritual direction: I find this helps me cultivate discernment, holds space for my vocational wrestlings in the face of challenge, and fosters my ability to sit in the unknown and trust there is more going on here than I am aware of; this in particular allows me to let go of control which is one way whiteness perpetuates itself.

What challenges are you facing? How are you trying to overcome them? What are you learning from these experiences?

There are a couple of main ones for me. The first is institutions. Entrenched oppressions in institutions — including and especially the church and the academy — and the institutional capacity for self-preservation rather than liberation challenge me at the deepest level and cause me the most despair. Community — both close friends and a community of solidarity — is so much help in navigating this challenge. I have also learned that if there is no space for movement, no space for Spirit to crack open something, it might be best to walk away. I have done that on occasion — not walk away from the freedom movement, but from that particular institution that will take my life in ways I am not willing to give it. Everyone must do their own discernment around this; I may leave where another person may stay, and that’s cool.

The second challenge is being overwhelmed. Constantly confronting injustice and the death-dealing powers of empire is wearying enough, and I think our saturation with 24-hour news cycles and constant social media updates can sometimes make this worse (though social media is great for connecting and expressing solidarity). I have to be sure to take Sabbath time to rest, integrate, tend to my spirit and body and home. As a white person I have struggled with this because the temptation to be the “perfect ally” who shows up to everything is very strong (and capitalist-driven). I’ve learned to remind myself that I am not the center of the movement, and a healthy me, even if I’m not at everything, is so much better for the movement than a burned-out me.

How are you developing your own leadership and the leadership of people around you to step up in these profound, painful and powerful Black Lives Matter movement times?

As I mentioned, I have been in this work a long time, though focused more on immigration and economic justice. Last year two things happened that prompted some deep vocational discernment for me: Vincent Harding died, a loss I grieved deeply, and a few months later Michael Brown was killed. These are connected for me because Michael Brown was killed not long after Harding’s memorial service here in Denver, and I began to talk to Harding every day, asking him what I should do. It soon became clear that I was being called to deepen my justice work through the Black Lives Matter movement, and to do so by leaving my prior congregational position and embracing my role as “street pastor” — as well as responding to the outcry for white folks to educate white folks — by offering myself to our United Church of Christ conference as a resource.

In these intervening months I have utilized this “in-between” time of unknown in terms of a particular job by reading everything I can, taking advantage of trainings, finding resources for working on collective liberation with white folks and white church folks, trying on some new ways of reclaiming my voice as a leader, and most importantly building relationships and showing up in solidarity with our Black Lives Matter leaders in Denver. I feel like these last eight months in many ways have been a preparation for some amazing and difficult work that is about to unfold.

Sideboxes Related stories:  I’m out of prison but I’m still not free: the continuing struggles of the Y-12 Three To remain in prison for the rest of my life is the greatest honor you could give me: the story of Sister Megan Rice Freedom Side’s emerging radical democratic imagination The overwhelming whiteness of Portland's World Naked Bike Ride How I will prepare my white son for the interactions he won't have with police Why I want to burn everything down right now—and why I’m not going to 40 acres and a mule would be at least $6.4 trillion today: what the US really owes Black America Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

What would a Corbyn win mean for the Greens?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 23:11

Some see his election as a danger for the Greens - competition. On the contrary, his election may prove a major boost for the party.

Flickr/lewishamdreamer. Some rights reserved.

The ascension of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Leadership is now unstoppable. The proof? The bookies are already paying out to the lucky few who bet on him in the early days of the campaign. Bookies are not known for parting with money willingly. Corbyn is now a dead cert.

So it’s time already to think 'what next'? What does Corbyn as Labour leader mean for the future of British politics? A big question. This article concerns one particular part of the answer. What difference does Corbyn’s leading of the Labour Party make to the Green Party, and to green politics?

My answer may surprise you. My view is that Corbyn’s becoming Labour leader is good news for green politics, and for the Green Party; because Corbyn is going to make the Labour Party the Labour Party again. And that welcome development in turn makes it easier for us to be the Green Party.

What do I mean by this?

Start with labour. Work. You can bet your bottom pound that Corbyn is going to up the ante in relation to rewarding labour, now that Osborne has had the chutzpah to introduce a so-called ‘Living Wage’. Greens have a different view on this key question. Unlike the old parties, we favour breaking the supposedly umbilical link between work on the one hand and livelihood, security, and self-respect on the other. This is why we favour the Citizens Income policy: an unconditional basic income for all, that we would set at a rate high enough to ensure that the poorest are better off than at present.

As Guy Standing has argued here on OurKingdom, in an age of precarity there is a strong case for ditching the hopeless dream of providing security for all through a Living Wage; far better to be genuinely radical, and institute a Citizens Income. And the extraordinary advantage then of the Citizens Income (CI) over the Living Wage is that it ends wage-slavery, as well as the benefits- and unemployment- traps. Labour, including under Corbyn, dreams of permanently increasing wages. Greens want to end wage-slavery. I know which I believe to be more radical (as well as more realistic).

Secondly, we put a serious emphasis on land, which Labour fails to. There are three core elements to economic production – Land, Labour and Capital - not just the two usually cited by the left (and the right). Thus once more Greens have a fundamentally different starting point for politics, which is all too often seen as two-dimensional (‘left-right’). Greens favour land-reform and the introduction of a Land Value Tax.

A sophisticated Land Value Tax such as the Greens — but not Corbyn’s Labour — have as policy would, moreover, be applied in such a way that it tackled land-use and not just land-value. Picture a system where nature-reserves and other diverse habitats are protected but intensive use of land taxed appropriately. Such a developed version of LVT, which takes account of ‘eco-system services’, could incidentally obviate the need for any separate ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ (PES): this would be a welcome result, given serious green/Green reservations about the whole PES approach: see here and here. LVT, like Citizens Income, is a landmark Green policy.

Next, consider that third factor of production: capital. Consider in particular money, without which a complex economy in a contemporary country is impossible. There is one party in this country that favours treating money as the truly public and social phenomenon that it is. You won’t be surprised to hear the name of that party: it’s the Green Party. Only the Green Party believes in monetary reform, to end the current crazy system that even the Bank of England has now acknowledged: the creation of nearly all our money by private banks.

Citizen's Income, Land Value Tax, monetary reform: these are the names of some of the fundamental pillars of Green thinking, the policies which set us quite apart from Labour, Corbyn or no Corbyn.

And of course these are all brought together for us under the imperative of transitioning to a post-economic-growth society. If we are to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis, this imperative is non-negotiable. Anyone who argues (for instance) for the resumption of coal-mining is simply not serious about facing up the climate challenge, no matter how shiny their environmental promises sound. As Jeb Bartlett famously put it: “Clean coal isn’t a new technology, it’s an ad-man’s con”. It remains as true now as when he first said it on ‘The West Wing’. There is no such thing as clean coal. It’s ludicrous to posture about wanting to return to coal-mining, if one is serious about delivering a living civilisation to our grandchildren.

What Corbyn’s unfortunate ongoing dalliance with coal suggests is that, while he has tremendous political courage when it comes to being anti-austerity and anti-nuke, he lacks sufficient political courage and vision when it comes to core ecological issues. This is very telling. What this makes clear is the enduring need for the Green Party.

Labour is basically an unreconstructed pro-growth party, and growth is killing our living planet. This is an absolutely crucial reason why the need for the Green Party, post-Corbyn’s-election, will be as strong as ever.

It will be responded that Corbyn is only looking at bringing back coal-mining in south Wales because of the devastation to employment there that has lasted a generation. This good old ‘jobs’ argument is the standard claim made by anyone who wants to back an industry which actually we should be ashamed of, whether it be arms-trading, chemical waste, or whatever. It is rendered thoroughly irrelevant both by the introduction of CI (see above) and by the scale of employment that will certainly be required by the putting in place of a true Green New Deal. But the plain facts of this case don’t even support the claim on its own terms: south Wales ex-mining-communities don’t want coal back! They have just been fighting hard against it. The last thing the communities in south Wales fighting against Big Coal need is Corbyn and Labour jumping in on their opponent's side.

Now, lest my purpose in writing this article be misunderstood, let me once again be very, very clear: I think Corbyn’s election as Labour leader is a good thing for Labour and for this country. It will be much easier for us Greens to do business with him than it would have been had any of his rivals won. Corbyn is in political terms a breath of fresh air. His election breeds hope.

Still, some will undoubtedly criticise my article for being ‘negative’ about Corbyn. Perhaps the problem is precisely that there is such extreme hope invested in Corbyn at the moment that any kind of caviling at all comes over to some readers as simply 'negative'. Then another way of helpfully putting my point might be this: I think that it is dangerous to over-invest hope in Corbyn. He's a cause for real hope; but to think that his agenda would be enough to solve the problems that the Green Party was founded to address, for example, is foolish.

A final thought as to why Corbyn winning the leadership is a very long way from the Labour Party adopting his policies and even further from Labour winning an election and even then yet further from implementing the Corbyn policies as a government. Why does this matter?

If Corbyn as leader behaves in a collegial way (A ‘Team of Rivals’ has been hinted at), as the decent and fundamentally cooperative man he seems to be would suggest, he will be ground down in policy terms by the weight of his parliamentary colleagues, only a very small minority of whom are as left-wing as him. We’ll see an election manifesto in 2020 with a few Corbyn flourishes (renationalising the railways, for instance) but mainly marked by caution. He’s hamstrung by his (correct) long-held insistence that the leader alone should not determine policy: his more right-wing and more governmentally-experienced colleagues (i.e. almost all of them) will now, ironically, use this point ruthlessly to contain him. The alternative would be that he sticks firm in policy terms, in which case surely the parliamentary party will remove him. Or Labour will descend again into an internal chaos that makes them unelectable. So, while he may enjoy some heady days in September, it is the actual policies of the Labour Party and a prospective Labour Government that should be compared with what the Green Party has to offer, not what Corbyn has said in a leadership campaign.  

With the Green Party you will continue to get what it says on the tin, with Corbyn’s Labour you almost certainly won’t.  He’s a decent, authentic bloke; but in the end he’s unlikely to actually succeed in doing very much more than pasting a new temporary label over the ‘New Labour’ tin. But there is a way in which he could potentially gain strength: by appealing beyond his party, to like-minded people in the Greens, Plaid and the SNP, to work together for some kind of cross-party rainbow progressive alliance.

In conclusion: If the Green Party were to fail to rise to the challenge presented by Corbyn — the challenge to be ourselves, to shout from the rooftops the kind of Green message that I’ve outlined above — then we would risk withering in the face of ‘the Corbyn surge’. But what I’ve outlined above is a powerful set of reasons for believing that Corbyn and the Green Party are complementary. For the rise of Corbyn, I’ve shown, doesn’t for one minute obviate the profound ongoing need for the Green Party. My hope is that Corbyn and us Greens will find ways of working together - to give this country the red-green future it so badly needs.

The ascension of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Leadership is now unstoppable. The proof? The bookies are already paying out to the lucky few who bet on him in the early days of the campaign. Bookies are not known for parting with money willingly. Corbyn is now a dead cert.

So it’s time already to think 'what next'? What does Corbyn as Labour leader mean for the future of British politics? A big question. This article concerns one particular part of the answer. What difference does Corbyn’s leading of the Labour Party make to the Green Party, and to green politics?

My answer may surprise you. My view is that Corbyn’s becoming Labour leader is good news for green politics, and for the Green Party; because Corbyn is going to make the Labour Party the Labour Party again. And that welcome development in turn makes it easier for us to be the Green Party.

What do I mean by this?

Start with labour. Work. You can bet your bottom pound that Corbyn is going to up the ante in relation to rewarding labour, now that Osborne has had the chutzpah to introduce a so-called ‘Living Wage’. Greens have a different view on this key question. Unlike the old parties, we favour breaking the supposedly umbilical link between work on the one hand and livelihood, security, and self-respect on the other. This is why we favour the Citizens Income policy: an unconditional basic income for all, that we would set at a rate high enough to ensure that the poorest are better off than at present.

As Guy Standing has argued here on OurKingdom, in an age of precarity there is a strong case for ditching the hopeless dream of providing security for all through a Living Wage; far better to be genuinely radical, and institute a Citizens Income. And the extraordinary advantage then of the Citizens Income (CI) over the Living Wage is that it ends wage-slavery, as well as the benefits- and unemployment- traps. Labour, including under Corbyn, dreams of permanently increasing wages. Greens want to end wage-slavery. I know which I believe to be more radical (as well as more realistic).

Secondly, we put a serious emphasis on land, which Labour fails to. There are three core elements to economic production – Land, Labour and Capital - not just the two usually cited by the left (and the right). Thus once more Greens have a fundamentally different starting point for politics, which is all too often seen as two-dimensional (‘left-right’). Greens favour land-reform and the introduction of a Land Value Tax.

A sophisticated Land Value Tax such as the Greens — but not Corbyn’s Labour — have as policy would, moreover, be applied in such a way that it tackled land-use and not just land-value. Picture a system where nature-reserves and other diverse habitats are protected but intensive use of land taxed appropriately. Such a developed version of LVT, which takes account of ‘eco-system services’, could incidentally obviate the need for any separate ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ (PES): this would be a welcome result, given serious green/Green reservations about the whole PES approach: see here and here. LVT, like Citizens Income, is a landmark Green policy.

Next, consider that third factor of production: capital. Consider in particular money, without which a complex economy in a contemporary country is impossible. There is one party in this country that favours treating money as the truly public and social phenomenon that it is. You won’t be surprised to hear the name of that party: it’s the Green Party. Only the Green Party believes in monetary reform, to end the current crazy system that even the Bank of England has now acknowledged: the creation of nearly all our money by private banks.

Citizen's Income, Land Value Tax, monetary reform: these are the names of some of the fundamental pillars of Green thinking, the policies which set us quite apart from Labour, Corbyn or no Corbyn.

And of course these are all brought together for us under the imperative of transitioning to a post-economic-growth society. If we are to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis, this imperative is non-negotiable. Anyone who argues (for instance) for the resumption of coal-mining is simply not serious about facing up the climate challenge, no matter how shiny their environmental promises sound. As Jeb Bartlett famously put it: “Clean coal isn’t a new technology, it’s an ad-man’s con”. It remains as true now as when he first said it on ‘The West Wing’. There is no such thing as clean coal. It’s ludicrous to posture about wanting to return to coal-mining, if one is serious about delivering a living civilisation to our grandchildren.

What Corbyn’s unfortunate ongoing dalliance with coal suggests is that, while he has tremendous political courage when it comes to being anti-austerity and anti-nuke, he lacks sufficient political courage and vision when it comes to core ecological issues. This is very telling. What this makes clear is the enduring need for the Green Party.

Labour is basically an unreconstructed pro-growth party, and growth is killing our living planet. This is an absolutely crucial reason why the need for the Green Party, post-Corbyn’s-election, will be as strong as ever.

It will be responded that Corbyn is only looking at bringing back coal-mining in south Wales because of the devastation to employment there that has lasted a generation. This good old ‘jobs’ argument is the standard claim made by anyone who wants to back an industry which actually we should be ashamed of, whether it be arms-trading, chemical waste, or whatever. It is rendered thoroughly irrelevant both by the introduction of CI (see above) and by the scale of employment that will certainly be required by the putting in place of a true Green New Deal. But the plain facts of this case don’t even support the claim on its own terms: south Wales ex-mining-communities don’t want coal back! They have just been fighting hard against it. The last thing the communities in south Wales fighting against Big Coal need is Corbyn and Labour jumping in on their opponent's side.

Now, lest my purpose in writing this article be misunderstood, let me once again be very, very clear: I think Corbyn’s election as Labour leader is a good thing for Labour and for this country. It will be much easier for us Greens to do business with him than it would have been had any of his rivals won. Corbyn is in political terms a breath of fresh air. His election breeds hope.

Still, some will undoubtedly criticise my article for being ‘negative’ about Corbyn. Perhaps the problem is precisely that there is such extreme hope invested in Corbyn at the moment that any kind of caviling at all comes over to some readers as simply 'negative'. Then another way of helpfully putting my point might be this: I think that it is dangerous to over-invest hope in Corbyn. He's a cause for real hope; but to think that his agenda would be enough to solve the problems that the Green Party was founded to address, for example, is foolish.

A final thought as to why Corbyn winning the leadership is a very long way from the Labour Party adopting his policies and even further from Labour winning an election and even then yet further from implementing the Corbyn policies as a government. Why does this matter?

If Corbyn as leader behaves in a collegial way (A ‘Team of Rivals’ has been hinted at), as the decent and fundamentally cooperative man he seems to be would suggest, he will be ground down in policy terms by the weight of his parliamentary colleagues, only a very small minority of whom are as left-wing as him. We’ll see an election manifesto in 2020 with a few Corbyn flourishes (renationalising the railways, for instance) but mainly marked by caution. He’s hamstrung by his (correct) long-held insistence that the leader alone should not determine policy: his more right-wing and more governmentally-experienced colleagues (i.e. almost all of them) will now, ironically, use this point ruthlessly to contain him. The alternative would be that he sticks firm in policy terms, in which case surely the parliamentary party will remove him. Or Labour will descend again into an internal chaos that makes them unelectable. So, while he may enjoy some heady days in September, it is the actual policies of the Labour Party and a prospective Labour Government that should be compared with what the Green Party has to offer, not what Corbyn has said in a leadership campaign.  

With the Green Party you will continue to get what it says on the tin, with Corbyn’s Labour you almost certainly won’t.  He’s a decent, authentic bloke; but in the end he’s unlikely to actually succeed in doing very much more than pasting a new temporary label over the ‘New Labour’ tin. But there is a way in which he could potentially gain strength: by appealing beyond his party, to like-minded people in the Greens, Plaid and the SNP, to work together for some kind of cross-party rainbow progressive alliance.

In conclusion: If the Green Party were to fail to rise to the challenge presented by Corbyn — the challenge to be ourselves, to shout from the rooftops the kind of Green message that I’ve outlined above — then we would risk withering in the face of ‘the Corbyn surge’. But what I’ve outlined above is a powerful set of reasons for believing that Corbyn and the Green Party are complementary. For the rise of Corbyn, I’ve shown, doesn’t for one minute obviate the profound ongoing need for the Green Party. My hope is that Corbyn and us Greens will find ways of working together - to give this country the red-green future it so badly needs.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

The Scottish government's land reform proposals aren't enough

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 23:11

New proposals on land reform in Scotland are good, but fail to tackle some of the core problems.

Scotland, a country where 432 people posses half of the land, with the single most concentrated pattern of private ownership in the Western world, is finally demanding meaningful land reform. This has been a long time coming. Legally, Scotland only ended feudalism on the 28th of November 2004. There is now a lot of catching up to do, and a new generation of people inspired and educated during the independence referendum (from both sides of the Yes/No divide), are demanding change and taking no compromises.

To see that this isn’t simply an outgrowth of the Yes movement you only have to turn to Johann Lamont, who, as the leader of Scottish Labour, gave the following speech to parliament days after the referendum:

“I think that one area on which people can agree is land reform, which is part of a radical agenda for Labour. If we are to see social change in our communities, land reform can deliver it. There is a will in this Parliament to change the concentrated pattern of land ownership across Scotland.”

So, has this political will translated into action?

The Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) was set up by the Scottish Government in 2012 to look at the current state of land ownership in Scotland, and come up with some “innovative and radical” solutions. This is exactly what was needed and exactly what they produced. The group recently published their wonderfully titled final report: “The Land of Scotland and The Common Good”, where they set out a full 62 “reforms in the public interest which promote the common good”.

Some personal favourites among these include:

  • - Completely banning offshore, tax-haven ownership of Land - all landowners would need to be registered in the EU with “public availability of identified persons (Directors) with legal responsibility, through the enhanced availability of information available via annual returns, and through the liability of EU registered companies to disclose beneficial ownership under EU law”

  • - Setting an absolute limit on the amount of land anyone can own

  • - Removing business rate exemptions for sporting estates

  • - Allowing councils to force the sale of land-banked urban sites

and, notably,

  • - To consider replacing council tax with Land Value Tax.

These were some pretty serious proposals. The SNP had asked for radical and bold thinking, it was now up to them to produce some radical and bold legislation. But the Land Reform (Scotland) Act that was finally produced, although containing a lot to be happy about, didn’t live up to expectations.

It’s true that it ends tax relief for shooting estates, using this new money to boost the Community Land Fund. This is great. It’s true that it establishes a Scottish Land Commission, making sure land governance and land rights stay at the centre of government policy. This is brilliant. But it has completely failed to ban tax-haven ownership of land, leaving three-quarters of a million acres in Scotland hidden away offshore. This is unforgivable.  

Thankfully, people have fought on.

A full-on festival of events, lectures, flash mobs, bike rides and various protests have taken place all across Scotland over the last few weeks. The ‘Our Land’ campaign has been fighting to highlight “the inequalities and secrecy of land ownership, while calling for efforts to redevelop derelict or misused land and improve the tax system”. All of this work culminated in supporters tweeting photographs of themselves in land-banked or tax-haven owned sites, holding signs saying #OurLand.

This morning, Wednesday 2nd of September, the RACCE Committee who have oversight of the bill met MSPs interested in what amendments can be made – an oft-repeated topic was tax-haven ownership.

The committee were asked why this section had been dropped from the bill, but the quite astonishing response from RACCE was that they didn’t think this would help with transparency on who owned land. The argument runs: well, people could still own land via trusts or use complex corporate structures within the EU, so it doesn’t seem worth our while implementing this change, and anyway, people can just use the land register to see who owns land. The frustrated response was that, yes, we know about trusts and complex business structures, but it’s EU law to disclose the beneficial owners and leaving this obligation out of the bill frankly just looks suspicious – and what use is the Scottish land register when a farmer needs to fix a boundary fence, and all they can find is an address for a fictional shell-company registered in the Cayman Islands?

The RACCE were also asked, several times, if they recognised that 750,000 acres of Scotland, an area larger than the entirety of Ayrshire, is in offshore tax-haven ownership. RACCE don’t recognise this figure, conceding that they have no idea how much of Scotland is owned in tax-havens, but said they would ‘look into it’.

This is where we now stand. What should be done next?

This bill is crucial to the future of Scotland’s relationship with land, and there is still time for amendments to be made before it reaches parliament. But it is also crucial to getting the ball rolling on much needed UK-wide land reform. In the coming weeks and months there is still a lot of work to do. To stay informed on the progress of this bill, and to find out what you can do to help, I recommend following Andy Wightman’s blog at www.AndyWightman.com, as well as following events at www.commonspace.scot who have been covering events in detail. You can always contact your MP/MSP, and it’s definitely worth following and contributing to #OurLand on twitter.

If we are to become a more equal nation that uses its resources to the benefit of everyone, we need a much more equitable distribution of land. We need real and serious land reform to change the undemocratic and unjust system of land ownership we currently have. It seems Scotland’s time for land reform is nearly here, but we all must put our shoulder to the wheel.

Sideboxes Related stories:  On my holiday: the heroes of the Highlands (including the other David Cameron) Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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One year on from the indyref: making the Scotland of the future

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 23:11

Six observations about Scottish society, a year on from the referendum.

Scottish public life has dramatically changed in recent times – the SNP 2011 first landslide, the independence referendum, and the 2015 tartan tsunami. 

Yet Scotland, like everywhere, is about more than politics. In this and other areas there have been huge changes, but also continuity and conservatism, the balance of which we are still trying to make sense of, and with huge consequences for the future of Scotland and the UK. 

Take the indyref. It didn’t come from nowhere. It came in the context of wider change in Scotland – of the decline of the traditional establishment and the old unionist order, and of the potent culture of deference, authority and of people knowing their place which for so long hung over large aspects of society. 

The indyref changed many things. But it has become a well-worn cliché to say it has changed everything. What it has done is act simultaneously as a spike, watershed and a catalyst to further change in public life. It will take years to establish the balance between these different forces and, nearly a year after the vote, the pattern of these different dynamics and their impact is still evolving.

Post-indyref – after the dramatic explosion that amounted to a ‘Big Bang’ – there is now an element of stasis, retrenchment, and across much of public life, a mixture of an impasse and passing time waiting for something to turn up: usually meaning the next Scottish Parliament elections, and for some the second indyref. There is a passivity, and even blockage, in this for all the noise.

1. Scotland 2015

How can we accurately describe Scotland today? One year after the indyref what are the contours and characteristics of public life? First, the SNP is obviously ascendant. There is a powerful Nationalist hegemony which has replaced Labour as the party of power in most walks of life beyond a few enclaves of local government in the West of Scotland.

Significant elements of civil society have gone from being props of the Labour extended state, to without any real change of heart, moving seamlessly over to the Nationalists. The purpose of the new found SNP dominance is two-fold. First, to maintain and strength this state of affairs, and second, to prepare the conditions for making it more likely to win a second indyref in the near-future.

This brings us to one of the central paradoxes of the present. Despite everything - the rhetoric, the appeal of the SNP and the weakness of pro-union forces - there is no substantive work going on to improve and put detail on a future independence offer. Instead, what there is at present is an element of wish-fulfillment, positioning and even in some places, bluster.

For once, Alex Salmond and Jim Sillars seem to be united on the fundamentals: Salmond calling another referendum ‘inevitable’, while Sillars wants one as soon as is humanly possible.

What inhabits parts of Scottish public life in this summer of 2015 is a very different set of impulses: a desire to continue punishing the Labour Party for its sins, how to express anger against the bias of the BBC in the indyref and make them pay for this, and numerous other low-level conflicts such as the long running saga between Alex Salmond and Nick Robinson, previously BBC Political Editor. Whatever your view on any of these – for or against – they look suspiciously like displacement activities.

They are easy and obvious targets for those so minded, and more simple than assessing why the indyref was won for the forces of the union, or getting down to more serious, long term political activities. Much easier and attractive to continue to seek revenge against the Labour Party and BBC.

This isn’t exactly the embodiment of the best of the democratic spirit of the indyref, and masks the exact opposite: an age of conformity and anger which hides a strange noisy passivity: of waiting for the next wave of change to come along after the SNP win in 2016, which begs the question: then what?

2. The state of the public sphere 

A major ingredient in this is the current state of the public sphere – namely – the arena of public life where social interaction and discourse takes place. To Jürgen Habermas this is where the very notion of what it is to be ‘public’ is made, in opposition to ‘the private’ (interests, goods) and where ‘the common’ is created.

The public sphere of Scotland is distinctive, partially autonomous, and saturated with cross-border and transnational media operations, as well as cross-fertilised by the British public sphere (which on many occasions means London public sphere), UK politics and media and communications.

The Scottish newspaper industry is in dramatic long-term decline – and has now been since the turn of the century. In the past week Newsquest, owners of the Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times made yet another round of redundancies reducing their papers’ appeal and future prospects; The Scotsman long ago become a pale imitation of the once confident Edinburgh paper it was.

The main broadcasters, BBC and STV, face huge pressures and constraints, from the political, to commercial, technological and demographic factors. The BBC (which I will return to in a forthcoming piece), for example, in Scotland (along with Wales and Northern Ireland) is seen as a disposable negotiating point by BBC London top brass.

BBC Director General Tony Hall, it was recently revealed, stated to the Tory Government that they would have no alternative than to shut BBC Radio Scotland along with BBC Wales and Northern Ireland, all local radio stations, and BBC2 and BBC4, as a result of paying entirely for the costs of the over-75s licence fee (1). Such a revelation shows the running scared nature of those at the top of the Corporation, and how little they understand or care about Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and ultimately, the very fabric of the UK. This is a leadership of cultural bankruptcy and political defeatism which beggars belief and doesn’t augur well for the BBC’s future.

This decline has not yet led to a transition to a new culture. The emergence of social media has not adequately replaced the role of traditional media. An example of this was when the Daily Telegraph ran their ‘story’ on the Nicola Sturgeon-French Counsel memo – which was alleged to have recorded that Sturgeon had said, in opposition to her public pronouncements, how she preferred post-2015 election, a Tory Government. It took Severin Carrell, the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent to do the journalistic thing of checking with the relevant parties. As a result, he quickly refuted and undermined the entire Daily Telegraph story. This while twitter and social media was alive with claim and counter-claim (2). Traditional media can have its uses.

There is the place of ‘the third Scotland’ – the self-organising, pro-independence groups which emerged in the indyref. Some have adapted subsequently: Women for Independence and the Radical Independence Campaign being two examples. But others haven’t, either closing or not living up to their potential at least for now – National Collective and Commonweal being good examples here.

A year ago at this time, the air was filled with radical rhetoric and left (and left-nationalist, as well as straightforward nationalist) boosterism – about how this or that group were going to make the new zeitgeist and become the new insiders. Now a number of the same people have either gone away and given up, joined some of the elites such as the SNP, or bemoan the direction and agenda of the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon. Last year the SNP and the wider self-government movement were two distinct, if over-lapping entities. Now they have become much more synonymous with a future threat to the independence cause: namely, what happens when the SNP’s appeal begins to fade as all parties do (3)? Where will the ‘third Scotland’ be then?

Perhaps this overstates the change. There was over-optimism last year, and over-pessimism in places now. This veering from one set of hyped up hopes to resignation over-plays the scale of change last year on the eve of the indyref, and similarly, shifts too far in the opposite direction this year. The spirit of 2014 pre-indyref always had an element of wish-fulfillment and sort of Pot Noodle radicalism: just add water, and hey presto, you can have your own Nordic designed Scottish social democracy. The over-statement and inflated hopes of then, don’t mean we have to deflate hopes of change now, but instead recalibrate how we think and do such things.

3. The Old/New Scotland divide

One of the biggest issues is that of over-simplifying change – into an old/new Scotland dichotomy. This states as all old/new paradigms do that once we lived in an age of darkness, simplicity and ignorance, and now we live in light, liberation and complexity. This has been done so many times people should be aware of what it is about: whether it be the Old/New Labour distinction or Old/New Glasgow it is always about the new caricaturing the past to discredit it and over-state the change, all in the name of rebranding and reinvention. The same is true of the Old/New Scotland.

Scotland has, anyone would concede, changed in all sorts of ways. But this clearly isn’t a Year Zero moment. There are lots of continuity between past and present. For example, Scotland once had a Labour hegemony, now it has SNP dominance. The two have some striking similarities. They are both ‘Big Tents’ in political appeal, which have had a distinct centre-left agenda, combined with being quite conservative on a range of issues, and advocating social justice. Neither has on the evidence advanced either redistribution of power within Scotland, or to those most in need, for all the rhetoric saying otherwise.

Neither have been in action and deeds radical beyond the illusion to the distant promised land: ‘socialism’ for Labour in its early days, ‘independence’ for the SNP, with both conspicuously undefined. Large parts of Scotland have played along with this dance. It took until the New Labour era for sections of Scotland to realise that for all the talk the party was the epitome of the political establishment and a cartel party. Now the same is happening with the SNP. Iain Macwhirter has called the SNP ‘left-wing’, compared the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn agendas, calling them ‘similar’, and in discussion on this, commented that: ‘We’re talking about what the[y] stand for not what they do. Look at SNP 2015 manifesto’, with Alex Massie retorting, ‘Perhaps it would be more useful to talk about what a party of government actually does?’ (4).

4. The hold of ‘unspace’ and ‘undemocracy’ in public life

Scotland’s public life and public sphere haven’t changed as much as some claim. In my academic study of the public sphere in Scotland, ‘Independence of the Scottish Mind’ (5), I examined the evolution, location and pressures on the public sphere. It has been situated in a culture of what I called ‘unspace’ and ‘undemocracy’ – with deep historical roots, a partial and negotiated autonomy and distinctiveness, and significant influence from outwith it – in particular from the rest of the UK (and London especially). 

The world of ‘unspace’ and ‘undemocracy’ is familiar to anyone who has lived in Scotland. It represents the priority, authority and entitlement of ‘official’ voices and perspectives, a built-in bias to a narrow bandwidth and groupthink, and a lack of alternative, dissenting voices (this does not of course preclude individual exceptions to this rule; there are always counter-tendencies to any set of orthodoxies). The only sectors in society who are unfamiliar with this state are those deeply embedded and orientated towards elite and insider groups: whether in politics, business or civic life.

This culture’s grip has been weakened by how Scotland has evolved, including over the indyref, but it is still there. Institutional power still exists. There is the legacy and expectation of prominent, privileged interests, a propensity to groupthink, the tradition of one party dominance which pre-devolution was about how a ‘Scottish lobby’ gathered its forces vis-à-vis Westminster and Whitehall, and a lack of pluralism and diversity in public life.

There has been movement in all this, which should be welcomed, but the walls of orthodoxy haven’t crumbled yet, and are still standing. The scale of change shouldn’t be caricatured in the old/new divide. It takes years to change a culture, and part of ‘unspace’ and ‘undemocracy’ is about elite and class power, part about a sort of internal colonialism (not in the Michael Hechter sense (6)), by which people have internalised the constraints and compromises of public life (BBC Scotland being a good example here with many skilled, committed journalists and staff who feel restrained and restricted).

5. Where are we after the indyref?

This is the Scotland post-indyref. There is for all the energy, hope and engagement of last year, an absence of substantive debate, a tangible feeling of conformity, and a lack of independent perspectives and dissent. There is a stasis in much of politics and public life, an absence of in-depth research and thinking, and critically, a lack of resources for developing these kind of resources – whether in NGOs, trade unions, churches and think tanks. This could even be described as where civil society has got to after ‘civic Scotland’ – that 1980s term for polite society respectable rebellion. 

What do we do individually and collectively in such a situation? To some it is enough to support one political party, usually the SNP, and in other cases, one of the other pro-independence parties. Others take succor that all of this can be put up with this side of independence, and real change happens post-union.

First of all, we have to understand where we are. This entails recognising the limits of radical and left Scotland rather than buying the myth and mythology that we have always been this romantic, restless nation. Scotland has never been, despite it often being said, a socialist country or ever had a majority socialist vote. The only way to arrive at such an outlandish claim is by counting the entire Labour vote as ‘socialist’ – and as if by magic 1945 and 1966 can then metamorphosis into majority left votes (by adding it to the Communist and ILP votes in 1945 and former in 1966 (7)). But that is pushing at it considering the nature of the Labour vote and coalition. 

Radical democrats and dissenters have always historically been at the margins of society and politics in Scotland. This has been aided by the sequential dominance of one party over significant periods of time: the Liberals in the 19th century, the Labour Party in the second half of the 20th century, and now, the SNP in the early part of the 21st century. This pattern is about more than one single party’s characteristics and the rise of the constitutional question.

The establishment this week of the new left party – RISE – which stands for Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism (and with no connection to George Galloway’s ill-fated Respect) is a positive development (8). The party, coming from the impetus of the Radical Independence Campaign, will have an uphill struggle initially making an impact in the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. It is a serious, strategic enterprise, and one which post-2016 could differentiate itself from the narrow menu of the established parties (Scottish Greens exempted).

They could aid a debate which tackles real progressive concerns. This would include not just an economically viable version of independence, but one which is an alternative economic vision to the market orthodoxies of our age, tackle education and health inequalities, how working class children are being hurt by a range of actions including college cuts and more, and how not all of this is the fault of Tory austerity. Or the union. Some of it is about home grown choices.

There is the absence of policy informed debates. Moreover, while ‘evidence based policy’ as a panacea is a chimera, evidence free policy seems to occur too often in too many Scottish debates. The lack of any serious redistribution to those in need and poverty over sixteen years of devolution has to be addressed. The council tax freeze, no student tuition fees, free care for the elderly, no prescription charges are frequently cited as proof of Scotland’s social democracy, and redistributive intent, but they redistribute to those on above average incomes. The recent decision by IPPR to establish an IPPR Scotland is, considering its profile and impact as one of the UK’s most influential centre-left think tanks, in this context, significant.

6. From first to second wave self-determination: an open tribe Scotland

Neither of these developments on their own alter things. What is required is nourishing a culture and ecology of self-determination, whereby numerous initiatives, bodies and organisations emerge that are focused on a different Scotland, politics and public sphere.

Many of us thought this was beginning to emerge in the indyref campaign, but this can now in retrospect be seen as a first wave of self-determination – one of experimentation, grass roots and citizens’ initiatives, and of a fluidity, hybridity and adaptability which went with the spirit of the moment: with people doing things at sometimes great cost to themselves financially or time wise for the greater good.

This is a different environment. What is required now is to learn and adapt from all of this and develop a second wave of self-determination. This would entail understanding the lack of permanence of many of the initiatives of the indyref, the limits as well as the upside of activist based politics, the unsustainability in the long run of crowdsourcing as a model for setting up un the long term bodies, and the perennial problem of left-nationalist boosterism and believing the hype of your own rhetoric. Rule one for any campaigners as Public Enemy once warned is: Don’t Believe the Hype! This is in short about a culture, ecology and infrastructure for self-determination.

An outline of second wave self-determination would entail:

  • - A culture of independent voices and thinking; recognising the need in the Scottish public sphere for greater diversity, pluralism and open exchange than it currently and historically has exemplified;
  • - Refusing to accept orthodoxies even when they are your own, or from people and perspectives you agree with; and being suspicious of the tendency for groupthink and emphasising consensus in society – which narrows debate and the variety of voices;
  • - Living in a Scotland which isn’t defined by Yes/No closed tribes; or by ‘othering’ viewpoints which are different to your own;
  • - Accepting that not all of the limitations of Scotland are the responsibility of external factors: UK Tories/Labour, British elites and the union. Such a perspective makes people think change is easy (get rid of Tories, Labour, union) and stops an honest reflection on the shortcomings in Scottish society and our historic collective responsibilities: the role of home grown elites, the conservatism of Scottish Labour, SNP and others;
  • - From this, encouraging debates which focus on reducing and eliminating poverty and hardship in our society, abuses of power and discrimination, rather than as some of the blame external forces do using every issue merely as a battering ram against Westminster rule;
  • - Nurturing spaces and places which challenge the ‘official’ voices of ‘unspace’ and ‘undemocracy’; and recognising that diluting a long tradition and practice of a closed, conformist society and its transition to a more open one, doesn’t happen overnight, and at the present Scottish society sits in a fragile interregnum between the old and potential new;
  • - Developing resources and funding which support the above and which give sustenance to a wider culture which includes detailed public policy research – one which includes depth and reflection – as well as the big picture. 

An important element of this is giving shape to what a culture of self-determination actually is, and in what way it is different from focusing narrowly on self-government or independence. Self-determination is about individuals, communities and societies and shifting power and permission; self-government is a narrow political project, and too often the SNP have described independence as being about ‘the full powers of a Parliament’: i.e.: not about 99.9% of Scotland, but a political class change.

Some of this undoubtedly began in the first wave, but we have to dig deeper, be bolder, braver, and more radical; listen more to those we disagree with, empathise and not just label those with differing positions; and be less tribal, partisan and hectoring. There isn’t a route from the politics of 45% for independence by invoking ‘the 45%’, telling the 55% they were hoodwinked, conned or even worse, victims of false consciousness. An independence majority that is overwhelming and emphatic only comes from understanding the 55%: their hopes and fears, their attachment to Britain, and the risks they didn’t want to take with an independent Scotland. There is no future in a closed tribe Scotland of the 45% thinking it can browbeat its way to a narrow majority. What kind of society would that be? Not a very attractive one, and not one placed for the challenges of the 21st century.

Central to this is embracing detail, critique and scrutiny. It is now, for example, seldom commented upon that the Scottish Parliament has become a bit of an empty shell – with political power sitting elsewhere – namely, the Scottish Government. This has accentuated under the SNP with a parliamentary majority since 2011, but goes beyond this. For all the hope of ‘new politics’ under devolution, political power post-devolution never sat in the Parliament, instead being situated in the dense array of networks and elites which have administered society for years. These have been barely more than ruffled by the experience of devolution, and the Scottish Government coming from the nexus of the Scottish Office situated in this set of relationships has been well placed to continue things as they were before. The Scottish Parliament has been the new kid on the block and upstart, and has sadly yet to find its proper place.

The tasks of the next five to ten years are to nurture the second wave of self-determination, hold power to account, create different centres of ideas and change, and make real the process which has barely begun – namely, to democratise Scotland. Even more fundamentally, it would be about doing change differently and embracing an open tribe kind of politics and society.

Too much of current Scottish politics resembles the old Labour conceits with a fresh coat of paint on them. Many in the SNP seem content with the notion of capturing political power and using the undemocratic institutions of public life to affect change. This has an uncanny resemblance to how Labour has historically done its politics across Britain: wanting to capture the British state and all its assorted non-democratic bodies for the greater public good irrespective of the public’s views. It did not work for Labour in the past, and it certainly will not work for the SNP today. 

An independence of the Scottish mind is about a different Scotland – a society which isn’t just formally self-governing – but which does things differently, talks and thinks about itself different, doesn’t treat some of its citizens as other, which looks after those who are in most need and most vulnerable – and also understands the need to shift power, voice and the boundaries which differentiate us. And that in so doing we have to be wary of the allure of abstracts not connected to practice: whether it is anti-austerity politics or allusions to ‘the sovereignty of the people’ and ‘popular sovereignty’ without ever scrutinising the domestic democratic deficit built over decades by Scottish elites and institutions.

Lots of this will not be easy, much of it will not be predictable, but instead, messy, contradictory and challenging. But that is the world of the 21st century, the state of the global economy from the eurozone to the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Scotland of the future. We are already in a transition from the highly ordered and controlled Scotland of the past to a society more disputatious, fragmented and interesting. There can be no going back to a safe, closed Scotland, even if some our elites and even progressive opinion, pine for it, compared to these unsettled times.

The Scotland of the future is up to us collectively: a public becoming active agents in the making of their own history and nation. It is daunting in many respects, but one filled with promise and potential no previous Scottish generation has ever had. That requires more than ever that we embrace a very different radical politics to what we have seen before – one that embodies the spirit of our times: adaptive, open, constantly evolving and connecting actions and words, big picture and detail.

Notes

1. Jasper Jackson, ‘BBC warned George Osborne it would have to axe BBC2 and BBC4 due to cuts, The Guardian, August 18th 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/aug/18/bbc-george-osborne-bbc2-bbc4-cuts

2. G.A. Ponsonby, ‘Scotland’s ‘alternative media’ has a long way to go if it is to succeed’, Newsnet Scotland, June 13th 2015, http://newsnet.scot/?p=115087

3. Adam Tomkins, ‘One Year On (… Nearly)’, Notes from North Britain, August 19th 2015, https://notesfromnorthbritain.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/one-year-on-nearly/

4. Iain Macwhirter and Alex Massie, twitter, August 18th 2015, https://twitter.com/search?q=We%27re%20talking%20about%20what%20the%20stand&src=typd 

5. Gerry Hassan, Independence of the Scottish Mind: Elite Narratives, Public Space and the Making of a Modern Nation, Palgrave Macmillan 2014.

6. Michael Hechter, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development 1536-1966, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1975.

7. Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, British Electoral Facts 1832-2012, Biteback 2012.

8. RISE at: http://www.leftlaunch2016.scot

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  The tartan tsunami and how It will change Scotland and the UK for good The disunited Kingdom and the confusion in Britain’s political elites Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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Watching Labour: a European perspective

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 16:58

How is the Labour leadership contest being viewed from Europe?

Jeremy Corbyn has electrified the Labour leadership campaign. Demotix/Haydn Wheeler. All rights reserved.I spent my best years on an island. I remember the lovely breeze, the drizzle, the occasional scorching day. The 2009 big snow. The underground strikes I agreed with despite being a right pain. I recall waiting for buses that would never come in the middle of a great countryside. This was Britain for me.

It’s a shame I can’t claim now to be one of the eight million foreign-born souls who live there. I wish I could, if anything to be able at least to follow the Labour leadership contest more closely. I’ll tell you why.

As seen from Europe the race sounds cracking. It started off with young candidates (Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna). Traditional parties on the Continent have a ghastly tendency to go for older men instead.

Right sticks in the mud they are. Look for instance at François Hollande, Mariano Rajoy and Sigmar Gabriel; while Matteo Renzi, Alexis Tsipras, Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias are all welcome yet desperate attempts to buck the trend. But I don’t want to seem ageist. Besides, age is not the main point.

Labour lost miserably on 7 May. Yet today I believe this party is hungry, ambitious and brave enough, like only the young can be. It stood up, dusted itself down and marshalled on. The British press thinks the opposite; but I take a different view.

They say the party won’t win in 2020. Spectator journalist Matthew Parris recently wrote that “the barbarians [Labour] are fighting among themselves and no longer threaten us! Hurrah! And it is true that a Labour civil war or even disintegration would guarantee the Conservatives’ return to office in 2020.” Even candidate Liz Kendall fears that if SNP is not reined in.

They may be right; or not. The fact remains that nobody can really tell now. Anything can happen. British politics is influenced by external factors too, which are mostly unpredictable: conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, the euro, market reactions to the Brexit referendum, immigration waves (I won’t be coming back, don’t worry) – you name it.

Hunt and Umunna eventually dropped out. Jeremy Corbyn replaced them. An ageing man, yes. A career politician even – a representative of the infamous ‘caste’, argh!, they’d say in Italy and Spain. Yet he’s not your average conformist old geezer. Corbyn has the attitude of feisty young people – he disobeyed his whip hundreds of times for a reason. An independent mind; or are his politics actually fantasy, like Alice in Wonderland, as Tony Blair would have it?

But it’s not just Corbyn. Yvette Cooper could win. A woman, finally. It’s been only centre-right parties so far that could boast female leaderships, albeit imbued with patriarchy (Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel). What did the European left do? It produced great minds: Enrico Berlinguer, Neil Kinnock, François Mitterrand, Felipe González, Helmut Schmidt. No women.

I heard and read what Cooper is saying; she’s certainly got what it takes to lead Labour. If elected, one of Cooper’s policies would be better protection of civil liberties. She told the Guardian she’d look into the issue of private sector companies holding way too much personal data – about time.

I’d be tempted to vote for her if I could, though  I wouldn’t easily dismiss Andy Burnham either: his opportunistic skills may well irritate some party members, but in government they’d do the trick. Liz Kendall? Her attempts to make Labour sound greener are strategically right, but her anti-Toryism sounds too much like a fixed posture; a given. And a rather inconsistent one too: she’s regarded a lot further to the right than Corbyn. (And fracking is easy to criticise.)

It’s been a truly electric race. Foreign newspapers are following it step by step. Writing for the Milanese Corriere della Sera, London correspondent Fabio Cavalera said “the more Labour centrists attack Corbyn with irrational arguments, the more ‘red’ Corbyn gathers consensus” (24 August).

Die Zeit reported that, if elected as the Labour leader, Corbyn would apologise for his party bringing the UK into the Iraq war as the motivations behind this were utter lies. The Hamburg-based hugely authoritative weekly also highlighted that Corbyn would not hesitate to apologise to the Iraqis as well (21 August).

Corbyn has also put forward the idea of introducing women-only train carriages to protect women from harassment. The French Les Echos reported that this suggestion was quickly criticised by the two women running in the contest – Cooper is against what she sees as segregation; Kendall claimed the proposal is a defeat against sexism (27 August). All three have a point – that’s all I can say.

It’s a difficult one. Cooper and Kendall’s reactions seem to go a notch deeper. What kind of society would emerge from that? And how practical would that be to implement? Can you imagine Clapham Junction at rush hour with longer trains because some carriages are half empty while others bursting at the seams? But you can see what Corbyn means.

Madrid’s El País has arguably followed the contest more closely than any other foreign-language publication. Burnham and Cooper, said the outstanding Spanish daily (23 August) focussing on the complex voting system, are both hoping that this will give them a leg-up: the election mechanism of the new leader offers much weight to the voter’s “second option”, if no candidate achieves an absolute majority. Hence the war Burnham and Cooper have begun to fight three weeks before the final verdict on 12 September.

Analyses in the European press have abounded, offering varying degrees of depth. Left-leaning publications have clearly been keener followers. Britain always manages to arouse interest.

A few weeks ago the Economist wrote that in a recent index of “soft power” — the ability to coax and persuade — Britain topped the chart as the mightiest country on Earth (14 July). The document was put together by the London-based PR firm Portland, Facebook (data on governments’ online impact), and ComRes (opinion polls on international attitudes to different countries).

In certain fields  like culture and education the UK still enjoys massive global clout. You can see why British politics gets scrutinised so much – and even Labour’s.

But of course the much talked-about Brexit referendum has also catalysed everyone’s attention – nobody on the Continent wants the UK out of the EU. The broader question is always the same: what kind of debate are the British having? What do they expect from themselves and their European partners?

A new breeze is blowing the red flag on the island I used to call home. I won’t be able to breathe it in; but I can hear it. Still, looming on the horizon, heavy clouds are forming: the findings of the much-maligned Chilcot inquiry.

Will they cast a dark shadow on Labour’s future? And justly so, perhaps? Will political opponents get anything out of the inquiry? And Britain as a whole? The wider public still hasn’t reflected much on its colonialist past, being too busy priding itself for having defeated the Germans – now heading Europe. Questions I wouldn’t know how to answer. Perhaps new leaders will.

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

Sideboxes Related stories:  The left returns to an old love – saying No to Europe Country or region:  UK Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Gaza Needs Action by the UN, Not Another Report

alternatives international - 3. September 2015 - 15:27

A study was released Wednesday by the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) arguing that Gaza may be uninhabitable in five years if current economic conditions persist. The report described Israel's devastating blockade and regular military assaults on Gaza, combined with the area's high growth rate, as the major factors causing Gaza's impending inviability.

Haidar Eid, professor at Al Aqsa University in Gaza and prominent BDS activist, was puzzled by the report's preoccupation with the year 2020. Eid explained that the report's information proves that “Gaza is already uninhabitable.”

A general response to the report in Gaza may be summed up with the phrase “this is nothing new”.

One conclusion that the UNCT report and Gazan activists do have in common, however, is the ineffectiveness of humanitarian aid. The UNCT report stated: “no amount of aid would have been sufficient to put any economy on a path of sustainable development under conditions of frequent military strikes and destruction of infrastructure, isolation from global markets, fragmentation of domestic markets and confiscation and denial of access to national natural resources.”

Amjad Shawa, director of Gaza's Palestinian Non-governmental Organization (PNGO) network, agreed with this point, saying that while it is important to ease suffering, donors have given billions of dollars of aid to Gaza over the last 80 years and the situation has only deteriorated. Indeed, unemployment in Gaza is now at an all time high of 60 percent.

Aside from the report's disillusionment with humanitarian aid, however, many feel the report is indicative of the international communities' tendency to share information, to a fault.

Referencing a report on Gaza's economy in 2020 written by the UNCT in 2012, Shawa explained, “the information is there, the warning is there, but [there is no] real action on the ground.” While many may be appreciative of UNCT efforts to disseminate this information, Gazans distinguish between providing descriptive information and committing to real action.

Nevertheless, Shawa expressed hope that the UNCT report will help convince the international community to hold Israel accountable for Gaza's horrific living conditions.

On the other hand, Eid does not see hope in this most recent report. Instead, he sees it reflecting the international communities' widespread hesitation to hold Israel accountable for crimes against Palestinians. This is because while the report details shocking facts about life in Gaza, it does not say what actions the UN will take to stop these injustices. Nor, he argues, does it even fully acknowledge that the disaster in Gaza is not a natural disaster, but “man-made, by apartheid Israel.”

Consequently, for Eid, the only productive sphere to invest energy in for political change is civil society. Specifically, he sees “our only window of hope... [as] the BDS campaign.”

The report described Gazans suffering from regular electricity blackouts and unsafe drinking water. It also focused on the effects of Israel's 2014 military attack – namely, how it caused Gaza's GDP to plunge by 15 percent, food insecurity to soar to 72 percent and 500,000 Palestinians to be displaced without hope for home reconstruction.

The report concluded that if Gaza's current economic conditions continue, we should expect “more conflict, mass poverty, high unemployment, shortages of electricity and drinking water, inadequate healthcare and a collapsing infrastructure."

Source: http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/news/14-gaza/1001-gaza-needs-action-by-the-un-not-another-report

Categories: les flux rss

Friendship and violence: the genius of Elena Ferrante

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 14:25

Elena Ferrante’s novels have become a word of mouth success, despite the Italian literary world’s snobbery, because they capture the complex inner world of female friendships and women’s experiences.

The Neapolitan Novels by Italian writer Elena Ferrante, translated by Anne Goldstein, have been the sleeper hit of the summer. Passed around from girlfriend to girlfriend, sister to sister, mother to daughter, they arrive in your hands along with the call: ‘Read it. You will recognise it.’

Ferrante has written the defining novels of female friendship. Through the lives of the two protagonists Lenu and Lila, readers recognize something of their own experience of being a girl who is friends with another girl, a woman who is friends with another woman.

With such a dearth elsewhere, a series of books that understand the complexities of female friendship would have been exciting enough. But the scope of Ferrante’s novels is much bigger and broader than that – exploring themes of male violence, female sexuality, family discord, class, poverty, education, and the ideological battles between communism and fascism that exploded into bloody scenes in late 1960s/early 1970s Italy.

The novels follow the lives of Lila and Lenu, two girls growing up in an impoverished and violent neighbourhood in Naples. Lenu is pretty, clever, and lives in poor circumstances with her crippled mother, siblings and father who works as a porter. Lila is beautiful, fiercely intelligent, and lives in poor circumstances with her shoemaker father, her mother and her brother. When the girls finish primary school, Lenu continues her education. Lila’s parents however, can’t pay for their daughter’s schooling and so she must go to work.

The poverty that prevents Lila’s education goes on to define the girls’ futures. Lenu has an opportunity to escape her home life through learning. Meanwhile, Lila is stuck in a cycle of poverty, stuck in the family, stuck in the neighbourhood. Her only chance of escape is to get married, but – as she soon discovers – marriage is just another trap for women.

Violence runs through the novels like an ugly vein. From the very beginning, the silent spectre of the recent fascist regime hangs over the neighbourhood. The novels are packed with fights, street battles and murders that provide a chilling backdrop to the male violence against women and girls that returns throughout Lila’s and Lenu’s lives.

Ferrante expertly deals with the male violence experienced by both her protagonists. Horrifying without being graphic, she writes enough for us to be disturbed without falling into the trap of so many writers (and film directors) of gratuitously detailing every terrifying and bloody moment.

Naples, the city at the heart of Ferrante's novels. Photo: Alexandra Svatikova via Flickr.Throughout the novels, she explores how the class inequality in the neighbourhood fosters a culture of aggression, and how male violence is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. In almost every relationship between men and women in the novels there is a violent tension that simmers and threatens to boil over – and frequently does.

One of the more fascinating aspects is how the women find coping strategies to deal with the abuse they endure. In one stunning episode, Lenu reframes herself as the subject rather than the object of a sexually abusive ‘relationship’. In defiance of reality, she creates a narrative that gives her all the power and control in the situation – something she only later comes to recognise as an older woman.

This subtle and incisive understanding of the female psyche makes Ferrante’s writing so refreshingly unique in its depiction of women’s relationships with men, and their relationships with each other. Ferrante understands the complexities; she’s not afraid of exploring and pushing them. It’s in her exploration of the complexities of female friendship, however, where Ferrante really shines.

As Lenu and Lila grow up, the love and rivalry between them grows too. They are one another’s shadow – sharing a loving but jealous relationship, and in their jealousy develops a desire to always be doing something that will impress the other. They know they can lean on their friend but also resent that dependency. There are moments Lenu wishes Lila would die, but she’ll fight tooth and nail for her friend’s survival. When you read Lenu and Lila, you see echoes of your own adolescent friendships; you recognise the confused mix of hatred and love; anger and joy; envy and pride.

No other writer, as far as I can see, has ever truly exploited this rich and difficult subject to such a degree as Ferrante. And no other writer has come as deliciously close to fully understanding and bringing to life what for young girls is the formative relationship of our lives. 

That’s why, I believe, the novels’ success has evolved in the way it has – as books that are passed between women with a nod and a smile that says ‘you’ll understand what is written here’. Ferrante has pulled off an incredible trick in writing a series of novels that are specific to a time and place, and yet which explore a universal experience and emotion every woman can relate to. The relationships Ferrante writes are eternal – they are me and my friends; they will be my niece too. 

There’s so much more to say about the Neapolitan Novels; about Ferrante’s understanding of female sexuality, about class politics, about the skill of writing a novel that has such a huge scope and backdrop yet reads as an intimate exploration of two women’s lives.

Her subtle and sensuous depiction of Lenu’s and Lila’s world leads to a totally immersive reading experience – you feel the street dust on your face, the sand between your toes, you can smell the stench of sausage meat. You’re living in the neighbourhood as you read. It’s with a mixture of relief and regret then, that like Lenu, you’re able to leave it when you close the book. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Haveit: Kosovo’s conscience disguised in performance art Manic Pixies and Cool Girls: on female solidarity and the male gaze Martha Nussbaum, empathy, and the moral imagination Your Mother’s First Kiss The Green of Her Soul She Left Me the Gun: on story-telling and re-telling Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Friendship and violence: the genius of Elena Ferrante

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 14:25

Elena Ferrante’s novels have become a word of mouth success, despite the Italian literary world’s snobbery, because they capture the complex inner world of female friendships and women’s experiences.

The Neapolitan Novels by Italian writer Elena Ferrante, translated by Anne Goldstein, have been the sleeper hit of the summer. Passed around from girlfriend to girlfriend, sister to sister, mother to daughter, they arrive in your hands along with the call: ‘Read it. You will recognise it.’

Ferrante has written the defining novels of female friendship. Through the lives of the two protagonists Lenu and Lila, readers recognize something of their own experience of being a girl who is friends with another girl, a woman who is friends with another woman.

With such a dearth elsewhere, a series of books that understand the complexities of female friendship would have been exciting enough. But the scope of Ferrante’s novels is much bigger and broader than that – exploring themes of male violence, female sexuality, family discord, class, poverty, education, and the ideological battles between communism and fascism that exploded into bloody scenes in late 1960s/early 1970s Italy.

The novels follow the lives of Lila and Lenu, two girls growing up in an impoverished and violent neighbourhood in Naples. Lenu is pretty, clever, and lives in poor circumstances with her crippled mother, siblings and father who works as a porter. Lila is beautiful, fiercely intelligent, and lives in poor circumstances with her shoemaker father, her mother and her brother. When the girls finish primary school, Lenu continues her education. Lila’s parents however, can’t pay for their daughter’s schooling and so she must go to work.

The poverty that prevents Lila’s education goes on to define the girls’ futures. Lenu has an opportunity to escape her home life through learning. Meanwhile, Lila is stuck in a cycle of poverty, stuck in the family, stuck in the neighbourhood. Her only chance of escape is to get married, but – as she soon discovers – marriage is just another trap for women.

Violence runs through the novels like an ugly vein. From the very beginning, the silent spectre of the recent fascist regime hangs over the neighbourhood. The novels are packed with fights, street battles and murders that provide a chilling backdrop to the male violence against women and girls that returns throughout Lila’s and Lenu’s lives.

Ferrante expertly deals with the male violence experienced by both her protagonists. Horrifying without being graphic, she writes enough for us to be disturbed without falling into the trap of so many writers (and film directors) of gratuitously detailing every terrifying and bloody moment.

Naples, the city at the heart of Ferrante's novels. Photo: Alexandra Svatikova via Flickr.Throughout the novels, she explores how the class inequality in the neighbourhood fosters a culture of aggression, and how male violence is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. In almost every relationship between men and women in the novels there is a violent tension that simmers and threatens to boil over – and frequently does.

One of the more fascinating aspects is how the women find coping strategies to deal with the abuse they endure. In one stunning episode, Lenu reframes herself as the subject rather than the object of a sexually abusive ‘relationship’. In defiance of reality, she creates a narrative that gives her all the power and control in the situation – something she only later comes to recognise as an older woman.

This subtle and incisive understanding of the female psyche makes Ferrante’s writing so refreshingly unique in its depiction of women’s relationships with men, and their relationships with each other. Ferrante understands the complexities; she’s not afraid of exploring and pushing them. It’s in her exploration of the complexities of female friendship, however, where Ferrante really shines.

As Lenu and Lila grow up, the love and rivalry between them grows too. They are one another’s shadow – sharing a loving but jealous relationship, and in their jealousy develops a desire to always be doing something that will impress the other. They know they can lean on their friend but also resent that dependency. There are moments Lenu wishes Lila would die, but she’ll fight tooth and nail for her friend’s survival. When you read Lenu and Lila, you see echoes of your own adolescent friendships; you recognise the confused mix of hatred and love; anger and joy; envy and pride.

No other writer, as far as I can see, has ever truly exploited this rich and difficult subject to such a degree as Ferrante. And no other writer has come as deliciously close to fully understanding and bringing to life what for young girls is the formative relationship of our lives. 

That’s why, I believe, the novels’ success has evolved in the way it has – as books that are passed between women with a nod and a smile that says ‘you’ll understand what is written here’. Ferrante has pulled off an incredible trick in writing a series of novels that are specific to a time and place, and yet which explore a universal experience and emotion every woman can relate to. The relationships Ferrante writes are eternal – they are me and my friends; they will be my niece too. 

There’s so much more to say about the Neapolitan Novels; about Ferrante’s understanding of female sexuality, about class politics, about the skill of writing a novel that has such a huge scope and backdrop yet reads as an intimate exploration of two women’s lives.

Her subtle and sensuous depiction of Lenu’s and Lila’s world leads to a totally immersive reading experience – you feel the street dust on your face, the sand between your toes, you can smell the stench of sausage meat. You’re living in the neighbourhood as you read. It’s with a mixture of relief and regret then, that like Lenu, you’re able to leave it when you close the book. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Haveit: Kosovo’s conscience disguised in performance art Manic Pixies and Cool Girls: on female solidarity and the male gaze Martha Nussbaum, empathy, and the moral imagination Your Mother’s First Kiss The Green of Her Soul She Left Me the Gun: on story-telling and re-telling Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Why does the Algerian regime fear Rachad?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 12:15

In light of propaganda against the movement, media censorship, book banning and bogus Interpol arrest warrants against its founders, the regime clearly sees it as a threat. But why?

Boumedienne Merouane/Demotix. All rights reserved.

In a recent piece on the detention of Algerian human rights lawyer and opposition figure Rachid Mesli, Robert Fisk asked why Interpol is doing the work of Arab despots. Mesli is the subject of an arrest warrant by the Algerian regime that dates back to 2002. In addition to founding Alkarama (dignity), an organisation that defends human rights in the Arab region, Mesli is co-founder of Rachad, an opposition movement to the Algerian regime.

Considering that just three years ago the Algerian regime unsuccessfully tried to have France extradite Dr. Mourad Dhina, also a co-founder of Rachad, through another Interpol arrest warrant, the question (in addition to Interpol’s role) is whether the Algerian regime fears Rachad’s strategy of change through non-violent means.

Founded in 2007 by a group of activists of different ideological backgrounds, the movement from the outset posed a challenge for the Algerian regime’s intelligence apparatus. After exhausting the counterinsurgency strategy throughout the 1990s decade-long tragedy, the Algerian security services resurrected the divide and rule tactic by playing on ideology and identifying fault lines in society.

On the international front, the regime embraced the Bush administration’s global war on terror and offered its limitless services to western governments in the form of security cooperation and intelligence exchange. The thinking in Algiers then was that while opposition forces in society were systematically silenced by co-optation or repression, the time was ripe to silence opposition voices abroad. This explains the filing of Interpol arrest warrants against Dhina and Mesli, as soon as the Algerian army’s top brass reached a consensus to designate Abdelaziz Bouteflika president 16 years ago. The global fight on terror, together with lucrative economic deals in the hydrocarbons sector for western energy companies was the recipe, the regime thought, to end its troubles with Algerian human rights activists and political opposition figures abroad.

Things did not go as the intelligence apparatus thought they would, however. Rachad presented an unprecedented challenge on a number of levels. The task of the regime’s propaganda apparatus would have been easier if Rachad were affiliated with a single ideological current, but the movement’s founders include Islamists, leftists, and liberals.

Another reason for concern for the regime was Rachad’s commitment to non-violence as a strategy and as the cornerstone of its manifesto since it was founded in London in April 2007, four years before the 2011 Arab uprisings. The Algerian regime’s immediate reaction was to censor the movement’s website in Algeria and launch a vigorous campaign against the movement’s leadership whenever one of them made an appearance in the media.

The propaganda campaigns were carefully designed to effect a total blackout on the movement’s name, while its leaders we routinely charged with treason and conspiracy in the Algerian newspapers. Rachad strived to break the blackout on its activities by launching a modest web channel in 2009, which offered Algerians an alternative public space for debate and pluralism. The channel did not pose a serious challenge to the regime, given its control over internet access. The channel was censored but earned the movement valuable experience that proved useful in the transformed post-2011 media landscape in Algeria.    

The Algerian regime did not win on all fronts, however. Its repression steamroller proved helpless in the academic realm. Thanks to its extensive network of academics and researchers, Rachad’s founders and sympathisers had already put in place an academic project aimed at documenting the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Algerian regime in the 1990s. They published a score of academic books and studies on the 1990s conflict. These books have become scholarly references in North African and conflict resolution studies departments at many universities. An Inquiry into the Algerian Massacres is required reading for political science students at Exeter, SOAS, and LSE, to name just a few universities in the UK.

Algiers tried to block the distribution of the books but only succeeded in France under the Edouard Balladur government. Hardly surprising with Charles Pasqua’s policy continued by Jean-Louis Debré, then minister of interior. Unsurprisingly however, this clumsy move by the French at the time brought more publicity to the publications, which were highly praised by major human rights and civil liberties NGOs.

By 2011, when Arab youth took to the streets and deposed despots in a non-violent manner, Rachad felt vindicated in their strategic choice more than a decade earlier of non-violence for political change. Nevertheless, Rachad had still the task of mobilising Algerian society peacefully.

The announcement of the launch of the movement’s satellite TV channel rocked Algiers to the core. Its response was decisive. The Algerian regime weighed in heavily and compelled the satellite uplink company to take Rachad TV off air just half an hour before its planned launch on 11 June 2011. The opposition movement managed to bring its channel back on air four months later, after a legal battle. Thus, Algeria’s first opposition satellite TV channel paved the way for the launch of scores of private TV stations. By 2013, the regime had to abandon its monopoly and allow the creation of private channels in Algeria. Over thirty Algerian TV channels broadcast now thanks to Rachad’s challenge, which started as a very modest web channel in 2009.

The derailment of the political transitions in some Arab Spring countries revived events the Algerian regime strived to conceal. The 2013 coup in Egypt embarrassed the Algerian regime because after twenty years the Algerian military coup of 1992 is all of a sudden on the international stage, with analysts drawing parallels. The Algerian 1992 coup and the bloody conflict that followed prove rich in lessons for Egypt, Libya, and Syria now; hence the relevance of Rachad. Members of Rachad were amongst the main architects of the Sat’Egidio political dialogue in Rome in 1995, to end the Algerian conflict. The regime boycotted it and the conflict rolled on for another five years.

Does the Algerian regime fear Rachad? In light of an objective assessment of the record of relations between the regime and the movement (bogus Interpol arrest warrants, online censorship, taken off air, banned books, propaganda, etc.) it would be difficult to answer in the negative.

The movement’s non-violence pedagogy raised the awareness of sizeable segments of the Algerian youth and enabled them to launch peaceful protests that caught the regime off guard. The jobless youth grassroots movement and the anti-shale gas protests in the south are two notable examples that made international headlines for months, and forced the government to introduce some pain-killing measures.

What adds to the regime’s troubles as it sails through a dangerous power struggle for succession, is that Rachad’s message, that any change in Algeria must start with a reform of civil-military relations, is gaining increasing attraction among the youth, professional, and intellectuals, and even the military. In a recent piece on dealing with conflicts and national traumas, Norwegian professor Johan Galtung, an authority in conflict transformation studies, concluded by saying: “the future belongs to whoever has the most compelling vision”. Rachad seems to offer that to disillusioned young Algerians, who are witnessing a country rich in potential held hostage to a regime in its terminal phase.

There are also indications that Rachad's strategy has caused a split in the ruling elite: many former government members are now openly adopting many of Rachad's views. Basically, the current regime has three conflicting facets: first, there is Bouteflika’s family and their protégées, who are seeking only to perpetuate their own interests without any vision or ideology. Second, there is a segment of the military that clearly fear for their privileges and more importantly to have to answer for their crimes during the decade-long conflict. Finally, there is a significant reservoir of civil servants, military officers, and businessmen who have had enough with the current corrupt regime and are increasingly attracted to Rachad’s vision. This is a deep concern for the regime.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The wretched of the sea: an Algerian perspective Shale gas in Algeria: anger mounts as the government lies by omission A question of sovereignty, justice and dignity: the people vs. the government on fracking in Algeria Algeria’s presidential elections: a litany of failures by the political class has wasted a golden opportunity for change Country or region:  Algeria Topics:  Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Persistente violación de los derechos humanos en el sector bananero en Ecuador

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 12:03

El abuso de los empleadores y la falta de control por parte del Estado ecuatoriano hacen de la contínua violación de los derechos humanos y constitucionales en las plantaciones de banano en Ecuador una pesadilla diaria. English.

Algunos derechos reservados.

“La perpetua violación de los Derechos Humanos en el trabajo que realizan miles de ciudadanos ecuatorianos en las plantaciones de banano en por lo menos seis provincias del Ecuador, no es nuevo”, se denunciaba en una queja presentada ante la Defensoría del Pueblo en el año 2010. Además, advertía que la violación de los Derechos Humanos y constitucionales se daba por un lado, en el abuso de los empleadores o empresarios bananeros; y por otro lado, en la ausencia del Estado ecuatoriano en su capacidad de control. Concluía solicitando la realización de una profunda investigación de los hechos denunciados.

Dos años se demoró la Defensoría del Pueblo en emitir una resolución en la que aceptaba la petición presentada, y determinaba que los Derechos Humanos vulnerados por acción de algunas empresas bananeras eran el derecho a vivir en un ambiente sano, el derecho a la salud, el derecho al trabajo y el derecho a la seguridad social. Por último, aseguraba que las fumigaciones aéreas ponían en riesgo los Derechos de la Naturaleza.

También un informe de la Relatoría Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre las formas contemporáneas de la esclavitud, realizado por Gulnara Shahinian durante su visita a Ecuador en el año 2010, concluía que “las formas contemporáneas de la esclavitud subsisten en el Ecuador” y que de manera específica “también están presentes de modo importante en los sectores primario y terciario de la economía, en ramas de producción como las plantaciones de bananas,…”

La vulneración de derechos continúa

En la actualidad los trabajadores bananeros, que en su gran mayoría no quieren dar su nombre ni ser fotografiados por miedo a represalias, siguen denunciando muchas de las problemáticas que la queja de 2010 contemplaba. Salvo algunas leves mejorías, como el hecho de que ya no se observan menores de edad en las haciendas, muchos testimonios continúan hablando de excesivas horas de trabajo, listas negras, trabajadores sin seguro social y con un salario menor al básico, persecución a dirigentes sindicales o problemas ambientales y de salud por fumigaciones aéreas. Además, prosiguen las acusaciones contra el Estado ecuatoriano por su incapacidad de control, y contra la Inspectoría de Trabajo por estar controlada por los empresarios dejando a los trabajadores desprotegidos.

Para Leonardo Jiménez, abogado de la Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos (ASTAC), “no existe una preocupación del Estado para averiguar esta realidad. Tú puedes ir al IEES y ver los trabajadores que están afiliados. Es fácil. Si en una hacienda hay 100 trabajadores y ves que solo hay 50 afiliados, ya sabes. Y la cuestión de los contratistas es ilegal por el tema de la intermediación laboral que prohíbe el Estado ecuatoriano, y sin embargo sigue pasando”. Afirma que para las autoridades todo está correcto, pero que existe otra realidad que es fácil de conocer si de verdad hubiera voluntad de hablar con los trabajadores que son quienes sufren los problemas. “No hay una verdadera protección del Estado hacia el trabajador para que pueda reclamar y que se le respeten sus derechos laborales”, asevera.

Algunos derechos reservados.

“Hay unas reglas pero no se cumplen”

Carlos –nombre ficticio-, lleva desde los 13 años trabajando en el sector bananero. Son ya 20 desde que tuvo que comenzar para ayudar económicamente a sus padres. “Estaba en el colegio en aquel entonces, pero en vista de que tenía que ayudar a mi familia, decidí trabajar y dejé los estudios”. Afirma que trabajó durante diez años sin estar afiliado al seguro social porque desconocía su existencia, hasta que un amigo se lo explicó.

Refiriéndose a las condiciones laborales actuales, asegura que al menos en la provincia de Los Ríos la situación de los trabajadores ha empeorado, ya que la mayoría no están afiliados al seguro social. “Se supone que se habían acabado las famosas tercerizadoras, pero ahora hay otra figura, los famosos contratistas. Lo contrata alguien para que lleve un personal y supuestamente ya no trabajamos para la empresa, trabajamos para el contratista. Y la empresa nos dice que le reclamemos al contratista, y la ley no dice así”, sentencia.

Otra de las preocupaciones de Carlos tiene que ver con el transporte del personal laboral. Aunque hay varias empresas que ya emplean buses para su traslado, todavía la mayoría continúa utilizando camiones, muchos de ellos de ganado. También considera que se debería mejorar la comida. “No es idónea, y no es que queremos comer cosas finas pero algo que sea agradable. Le reclamamos a las cocineras, pero ellas nos dicen que cómo le podemos dar algo mejor si a ellas les pagan entre café y almuerzo entre 1 dólar y 1,25”.

Carlos también denuncia que cuando las autoridades de trabajo acuden a las haciendas a realizar inspecciones, muchas veces estas visitas están arregladas de antemano con los empresarios. “Hablan con varios trabajadores y le dan todos los implementos y cuando llegan las autoridades, ven que todos tienen los materiales: guantes, mascarillas, botas, etc,… materiales que yo nunca he tenido”, sentencia.

Pero lo que más le preocupa son las fumigaciones aéreas. “A los empresarios les da lo mismo, estamos en plena cosecha y pasa la avioneta. Es un líquido y el viento lo esparce y nos llega a nosotros, incluso a veces cuando estamos almorzando. Conozco que alguna empresa retira al personal durante una hora pero no sé si eso es suficiente”, lamenta.

También conoce y describe numerosos casos de compañeros a los que las empresas le cobran una “provisión de vacaciones”, o el 1% de su salario por una asociación de trabajadores de la que nadie ha escuchado hablar. O de otras empresas que realizan exámenes de sangre una vez al año cobrándoles 36 dólares y que nunca han comunicado los resultados de las pruebas. “Y hay unas reglas pero no se cumplen”, concluye.

Explotación laboral

“Sí, yo estoy en la lista negra”, asegura con rotundidad Abel Sedeño, que en estos momentos sí puede trabajar porque lo hace por medio de un contratista que se lleva el 10% de su salario. “La Inspectoría de Trabajo sí está enterada de todo, y lo que nos gustaría es que se haga un seguimiento honesto dentro de las empresas, una investigación donde vengan de verdad personas honestas a preguntar a los trabajadores cómo les tratan, cuántas horas trabajan. Porque son ocho horas laborales pero se está laborando más, de 5 de la mañana hasta las 8 de la noche. Y por supuesto nadie cobra horas extras”, continúa. Además, denuncia que cuando las empresas saben que hay trabajadores que realizan reclamos, buscan la forma para despedirlos. “También obligan a los trabajadores a firmar muchos papeles como que les dan muchas cosas, lo que no es verdad, para después presentarlos en Quito y así parecer que está todo bien”, concluye.

“Yo llevo trabajando en este sector solo dos años. El trato es regular, pero el salario es bajísimo”. Fernanda –nombre ficticio-, trabaja desde la siete de la mañana hasta las cinco de la tarde dos días a la semana, y gana cinco dólares por camión. Cada día son dos camiones por lo que su salario es de diez dólares al día, es decir, un dólar la hora. “Ahora mismo trabajo para un productor pequeño que no cumple con la ley porque no asegura a los trabajadores”. Fernanda relata que en la anterior empresa trasladaban al personal en un carro ganadero que los fines de semana iba a la costa a vender plátano. “Y así sucio nos hacían subir para viajar más de una hora al trabajo”. Desde su experiencia, cuenta que a los trabajadores no les entregan uniforme ni materiales de trabajo, y que las avionetas continúan fumigando mientras trabajan. “Algunas personas se han intoxicado pero las botan, les dicen que ya no hay trabajo por algún motivo inventado. Aunque ahora sí nos dan una mascarilla”.

Algunos derechos reservados.

Amenazado por organizar a los trabajadores

Luis Ochoa llevaba trabajando en el sector bananero toda su vida. Comenzó a los cinco años cuando sus padres le llevaban a la hacienda, y así fue como poco a poco aprendió el oficio. Pero todo cambió a partir de junio del año pasado cuando, junto a otros compañeros, comenzaron a organizar una asociación con la intención de reclamar sus derechos. “Alquilamos un local donde nos reuníamos y un abogado nos asesoraba. Recogimos las firmas para formarla y le pusimos el nombre de “7 de junio”. El 14 de agosto de 2014 se presentó al Ministerio Laboral y el 24 de octubre me despidió la empresa porque yo era el secretario general. También echaron a toda la directiva. La empresa es Compañía Frutsesa Frutas Selectas”, relata Ochoa algo apenado.

En abril de este año Ochoa participó en el Tribunal Ético Andino que se celebró en Lima, Perú. Este Tribunal condenó a las empresas bananeras Compañía Frutsesa Frutas Selectas S.A. y REYBANPAC Rey del Banano del Pacífico S.A. por ser responsables directas de hechos sistemáticos de violación a los Derechos Humanos. “Allí denuncié que habían violado nuestros derechos y cuando regresé comenzaron las amenazas”. Llamadas intimidatorias en las que le decían, “Luis Isidro, te tengo cerca” o mensajes de texto como “Te tenemos cerca. Ya verás recontrachucha de tu madre por estar jodiendo a la gente que está trabajando bien. Espera y verás”. Hechos que denunció el pasado mes de mayo ante la Fiscalía Provincial del Guayas. Todavía no ha recibido respuesta. “El Presidente dijo que cualquier trabajador se podía asociar, formar una asociación libremente, que ningún empresario lo podía botar y yo estoy hasta perseguido ahorita por eso, por seguir los pasos que decía el Presidente”, asegura.

Después de todas estas amenazas, Ochoa también ha recibido alguna llamada de sus excompañeros de trabajo advirtiéndole que tenga cuidado porque podrían contratar a un sicario. Lo que ha significado que tenga que salir de su residencia habitual y esconderse en otro lugar para resguardar su vida. Ochoa nunca imaginó que después de 45 años en el sector bananero le sucedería algo así. Pero lejos de bajar los brazos, está seguro de que al final otros compañeros formarán la Asociación. “No nos vamos a dejar vencer. Nos han ganado la batalla, pero no la guerra”, sentencia con rotundidad.

Acoso laboral y sexual

Jennifer –nombre ficticio-, comenzó a trabajar en el sector bananero a los 18 años y tras de una década y media asegura que uno de los problemas que existe en la actualidad en la empresa es que “hay mujeres que trabajan menos y ganan más, y mujeres que trabajamos más y ganamos menos”. La razón: la existencia de una estructura de opresión que empuja a muchas mujeres a mantener relaciones sexuales con sus superiores. “Ya que las que tienen esas relaciones con el jefe hacen casi lo que quieren y una está ahí trabajando todo el tiempo. Y ponen más cerca de ellos a las mujeres que pueden conseguir. Todo esto no es justo”, sentencia.

Otro caso es el de Ana, que no quiere dar sus apellidos. “Sí, hay acoso hacia las mujeres. Aunque yo no he tenido ningún problema, todas conocemos algún caso. Tengo una amiga que como no quiere vacilar con el jefe, este le hace la vida imposible. Y a las jovencitas que entran a trabajar, siempre se quieren aprovechar de ellas. Lo que el administrador le pide es acostarse con él para mantenerla en el trabajo. Y ellas acceden y consiguen privilegios como salir de vacaciones cuando ellas quieran. Y si no acepta, la presionan por medio del trabajo, o las despiden o le mandan a realizar otros trabajos más desagradables”. Además, asegura que al mismo trabajo las mujeres cobran menos que los hombres. “Pero nadie pregunta, porque si lo haces puedes tener problemas. A ellos no les gusta que preguntemos”, relata en un susurro.

“El Gobierno no deja que nos organicemos”

La Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos (ASTAC), que agrupa aproximadamente a 500 integrantes entre hombres y mujeres de las provincias de Los Ríos, Guayas y El Oro, tiene su origen en la Coordinadora Provincial que se formó en el 2010 y a la que se le negó su acreditación. Posteriormente, en el 2012 nace ASTAC con el objetivo de defender los derechos de los trabajadores bananeros, agricultores y campesinos. “Tenemos problemas a nivel de Gobierno. El Ministerio de Relaciones Laborales no deja que nos organicemos. Creo que hay presiones de los grandes empresarios al Gobierno para que no nos den la personería jurídica”, asegura su presidente, Roberto Amanta. Hasta ahora las autoridades gubernamentales le han negado su constitución, alegando que es una asociación autónoma sin relación de dependencia, lo que vulnera el Código de Trabajo.

“Hemos hecho todas las diligencias y recurrido a las instancias legales del país, y aún así no hemos sido atendidos. Somos negados los trabajadores bananeros a no poder reclamar nuestros derechos dejando a miles de trabajadores a nivel nacional totalmente desamparados. Nosotros seguimos insistiendo e incluso hicimos un llamado a instancias internacionales como la Organización Internacional del Trabajo el pasado mayo para que haga incidencia ante el Gobierno nacional”, asegura.

Amanta también denuncia que están recibiendo presiones por medio de llamadas que tratan de indagar quiénes están detrás de la asociación. “Es el Gobierno pero de manera indirecta por medio de terceras personas. Son allegados al Gobierno y a los grandes empresarios que están preocupados. Pero estamos dispuestos a enfrentar la situación”.

Última queja y diálogo nacional

“En enero de este año presentamos otra queja ante la Defensoría del Pueblo y a partir de ahí se han celebrado dos reuniones, donde asisten algunos ministerios y entidades públicas, pero no el de Relaciones Laborales ni los de riesgos de trabajo que son dos puntos importantes que necesitábamos”, explica Amanta.

Lamenta que al diálogo nacional nunca han sido invitados y que previamente, en el mes de abril, solicitaron acudir a la Asamblea Nacional para hablar en la Comisión de los Derechos de los Trabajadores y la Seguridad Social, pero nunca tuvieron respuesta. Lo mismo les ocurrió con la solicitud, en el mismo mes, de una audiencia con el ministro de Relaciones Laborales, Marx Carrasco. “Entonces ¿cómo se le puede llamar ahora diálogo cuando ellos nunca nos dieron el diálogo? Es absurdo, este no ha sido un Gobierno de diálogo”.

Este artículo ha sido publicado anteriormente por La línea de fuego, Ecuador.

Country or region:  Ecuador Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Persistente violación de los derechos humanos en el sector bananero en Ecuador

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 12:03

El abuso de los empleadores y la falta de control por parte del Estado ecuatoriano hacen de la contínua violación de los derechos humanos y constitucionales en las plantaciones de banano en Ecuador una pesadilla diaria. English.

Algunos derechos reservados.

“La perpetua violación de los Derechos Humanos en el trabajo que realizan miles de ciudadanos ecuatorianos en las plantaciones de banano en por lo menos seis provincias del Ecuador, no es nuevo”, se denunciaba en una queja presentada ante la Defensoría del Pueblo en el año 2010. Además, advertía que la violación de los Derechos Humanos y constitucionales se daba por un lado, en el abuso de los empleadores o empresarios bananeros; y por otro lado, en la ausencia del Estado ecuatoriano en su capacidad de control. Concluía solicitando la realización de una profunda investigación de los hechos denunciados.

Dos años se demoró la Defensoría del Pueblo en emitir una resolución en la que aceptaba la petición presentada, y determinaba que los Derechos Humanos vulnerados por acción de algunas empresas bananeras eran el derecho a vivir en un ambiente sano, el derecho a la salud, el derecho al trabajo y el derecho a la seguridad social. Por último, aseguraba que las fumigaciones aéreas ponían en riesgo los Derechos de la Naturaleza.

También un informe de la Relatoría Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre las formas contemporáneas de la esclavitud, realizado por Gulnara Shahinian durante su visita a Ecuador en el año 2010, concluía que “las formas contemporáneas de la esclavitud subsisten en el Ecuador” y que de manera específica “también están presentes de modo importante en los sectores primario y terciario de la economía, en ramas de producción como las plantaciones de bananas,…”

La vulneración de derechos continúa

En la actualidad los trabajadores bananeros, que en su gran mayoría no quieren dar su nombre ni ser fotografiados por miedo a represalias, siguen denunciando muchas de las problemáticas que la queja de 2010 contemplaba. Salvo algunas leves mejorías, como el hecho de que ya no se observan menores de edad en las haciendas, muchos testimonios continúan hablando de excesivas horas de trabajo, listas negras, trabajadores sin seguro social y con un salario menor al básico, persecución a dirigentes sindicales o problemas ambientales y de salud por fumigaciones aéreas. Además, prosiguen las acusaciones contra el Estado ecuatoriano por su incapacidad de control, y contra la Inspectoría de Trabajo por estar controlada por los empresarios dejando a los trabajadores desprotegidos.

Para Leonardo Jiménez, abogado de la Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos (ASTAC), “no existe una preocupación del Estado para averiguar esta realidad. Tú puedes ir al IEES y ver los trabajadores que están afiliados. Es fácil. Si en una hacienda hay 100 trabajadores y ves que solo hay 50 afiliados, ya sabes. Y la cuestión de los contratistas es ilegal por el tema de la intermediación laboral que prohíbe el Estado ecuatoriano, y sin embargo sigue pasando”. Afirma que para las autoridades todo está correcto, pero que existe otra realidad que es fácil de conocer si de verdad hubiera voluntad de hablar con los trabajadores que son quienes sufren los problemas. “No hay una verdadera protección del Estado hacia el trabajador para que pueda reclamar y que se le respeten sus derechos laborales”, asevera.

Algunos derechos reservados.

“Hay unas reglas pero no se cumplen”

Carlos –nombre ficticio-, lleva desde los 13 años trabajando en el sector bananero. Son ya 20 desde que tuvo que comenzar para ayudar económicamente a sus padres. “Estaba en el colegio en aquel entonces, pero en vista de que tenía que ayudar a mi familia, decidí trabajar y dejé los estudios”. Afirma que trabajó durante diez años sin estar afiliado al seguro social porque desconocía su existencia, hasta que un amigo se lo explicó.

Refiriéndose a las condiciones laborales actuales, asegura que al menos en la provincia de Los Ríos la situación de los trabajadores ha empeorado, ya que la mayoría no están afiliados al seguro social. “Se supone que se habían acabado las famosas tercerizadoras, pero ahora hay otra figura, los famosos contratistas. Lo contrata alguien para que lleve un personal y supuestamente ya no trabajamos para la empresa, trabajamos para el contratista. Y la empresa nos dice que le reclamemos al contratista, y la ley no dice así”, sentencia.

Otra de las preocupaciones de Carlos tiene que ver con el transporte del personal laboral. Aunque hay varias empresas que ya emplean buses para su traslado, todavía la mayoría continúa utilizando camiones, muchos de ellos de ganado. También considera que se debería mejorar la comida. “No es idónea, y no es que queremos comer cosas finas pero algo que sea agradable. Le reclamamos a las cocineras, pero ellas nos dicen que cómo le podemos dar algo mejor si a ellas les pagan entre café y almuerzo entre 1 dólar y 1,25”.

Carlos también denuncia que cuando las autoridades de trabajo acuden a las haciendas a realizar inspecciones, muchas veces estas visitas están arregladas de antemano con los empresarios. “Hablan con varios trabajadores y le dan todos los implementos y cuando llegan las autoridades, ven que todos tienen los materiales: guantes, mascarillas, botas, etc,… materiales que yo nunca he tenido”, sentencia.

Pero lo que más le preocupa son las fumigaciones aéreas. “A los empresarios les da lo mismo, estamos en plena cosecha y pasa la avioneta. Es un líquido y el viento lo esparce y nos llega a nosotros, incluso a veces cuando estamos almorzando. Conozco que alguna empresa retira al personal durante una hora pero no sé si eso es suficiente”, lamenta.

También conoce y describe numerosos casos de compañeros a los que las empresas le cobran una “provisión de vacaciones”, o el 1% de su salario por una asociación de trabajadores de la que nadie ha escuchado hablar. O de otras empresas que realizan exámenes de sangre una vez al año cobrándoles 36 dólares y que nunca han comunicado los resultados de las pruebas. “Y hay unas reglas pero no se cumplen”, concluye.

Explotación laboral

“Sí, yo estoy en la lista negra”, asegura con rotundidad Abel Sedeño, que en estos momentos sí puede trabajar porque lo hace por medio de un contratista que se lleva el 10% de su salario. “La Inspectoría de Trabajo sí está enterada de todo, y lo que nos gustaría es que se haga un seguimiento honesto dentro de las empresas, una investigación donde vengan de verdad personas honestas a preguntar a los trabajadores cómo les tratan, cuántas horas trabajan. Porque son ocho horas laborales pero se está laborando más, de 5 de la mañana hasta las 8 de la noche. Y por supuesto nadie cobra horas extras”, continúa. Además, denuncia que cuando las empresas saben que hay trabajadores que realizan reclamos, buscan la forma para despedirlos. “También obligan a los trabajadores a firmar muchos papeles como que les dan muchas cosas, lo que no es verdad, para después presentarlos en Quito y así parecer que está todo bien”, concluye.

“Yo llevo trabajando en este sector solo dos años. El trato es regular, pero el salario es bajísimo”. Fernanda –nombre ficticio-, trabaja desde la siete de la mañana hasta las cinco de la tarde dos días a la semana, y gana cinco dólares por camión. Cada día son dos camiones por lo que su salario es de diez dólares al día, es decir, un dólar la hora. “Ahora mismo trabajo para un productor pequeño que no cumple con la ley porque no asegura a los trabajadores”. Fernanda relata que en la anterior empresa trasladaban al personal en un carro ganadero que los fines de semana iba a la costa a vender plátano. “Y así sucio nos hacían subir para viajar más de una hora al trabajo”. Desde su experiencia, cuenta que a los trabajadores no les entregan uniforme ni materiales de trabajo, y que las avionetas continúan fumigando mientras trabajan. “Algunas personas se han intoxicado pero las botan, les dicen que ya no hay trabajo por algún motivo inventado. Aunque ahora sí nos dan una mascarilla”.

Algunos derechos reservados.

Amenazado por organizar a los trabajadores

Luis Ochoa llevaba trabajando en el sector bananero toda su vida. Comenzó a los cinco años cuando sus padres le llevaban a la hacienda, y así fue como poco a poco aprendió el oficio. Pero todo cambió a partir de junio del año pasado cuando, junto a otros compañeros, comenzaron a organizar una asociación con la intención de reclamar sus derechos. “Alquilamos un local donde nos reuníamos y un abogado nos asesoraba. Recogimos las firmas para formarla y le pusimos el nombre de “7 de junio”. El 14 de agosto de 2014 se presentó al Ministerio Laboral y el 24 de octubre me despidió la empresa porque yo era el secretario general. También echaron a toda la directiva. La empresa es Compañía Frutsesa Frutas Selectas”, relata Ochoa algo apenado.

En abril de este año Ochoa participó en el Tribunal Ético Andino que se celebró en Lima, Perú. Este Tribunal condenó a las empresas bananeras Compañía Frutsesa Frutas Selectas S.A. y REYBANPAC Rey del Banano del Pacífico S.A. por ser responsables directas de hechos sistemáticos de violación a los Derechos Humanos. “Allí denuncié que habían violado nuestros derechos y cuando regresé comenzaron las amenazas”. Llamadas intimidatorias en las que le decían, “Luis Isidro, te tengo cerca” o mensajes de texto como “Te tenemos cerca. Ya verás recontrachucha de tu madre por estar jodiendo a la gente que está trabajando bien. Espera y verás”. Hechos que denunció el pasado mes de mayo ante la Fiscalía Provincial del Guayas. Todavía no ha recibido respuesta. “El Presidente dijo que cualquier trabajador se podía asociar, formar una asociación libremente, que ningún empresario lo podía botar y yo estoy hasta perseguido ahorita por eso, por seguir los pasos que decía el Presidente”, asegura.

Después de todas estas amenazas, Ochoa también ha recibido alguna llamada de sus excompañeros de trabajo advirtiéndole que tenga cuidado porque podrían contratar a un sicario. Lo que ha significado que tenga que salir de su residencia habitual y esconderse en otro lugar para resguardar su vida. Ochoa nunca imaginó que después de 45 años en el sector bananero le sucedería algo así. Pero lejos de bajar los brazos, está seguro de que al final otros compañeros formarán la Asociación. “No nos vamos a dejar vencer. Nos han ganado la batalla, pero no la guerra”, sentencia con rotundidad.

Acoso laboral y sexual

Jennifer –nombre ficticio-, comenzó a trabajar en el sector bananero a los 18 años y tras de una década y media asegura que uno de los problemas que existe en la actualidad en la empresa es que “hay mujeres que trabajan menos y ganan más, y mujeres que trabajamos más y ganamos menos”. La razón: la existencia de una estructura de opresión que empuja a muchas mujeres a mantener relaciones sexuales con sus superiores. “Ya que las que tienen esas relaciones con el jefe hacen casi lo que quieren y una está ahí trabajando todo el tiempo. Y ponen más cerca de ellos a las mujeres que pueden conseguir. Todo esto no es justo”, sentencia.

Otro caso es el de Ana, que no quiere dar sus apellidos. “Sí, hay acoso hacia las mujeres. Aunque yo no he tenido ningún problema, todas conocemos algún caso. Tengo una amiga que como no quiere vacilar con el jefe, este le hace la vida imposible. Y a las jovencitas que entran a trabajar, siempre se quieren aprovechar de ellas. Lo que el administrador le pide es acostarse con él para mantenerla en el trabajo. Y ellas acceden y consiguen privilegios como salir de vacaciones cuando ellas quieran. Y si no acepta, la presionan por medio del trabajo, o las despiden o le mandan a realizar otros trabajos más desagradables”. Además, asegura que al mismo trabajo las mujeres cobran menos que los hombres. “Pero nadie pregunta, porque si lo haces puedes tener problemas. A ellos no les gusta que preguntemos”, relata en un susurro.

“El Gobierno no deja que nos organicemos”

La Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos (ASTAC), que agrupa aproximadamente a 500 integrantes entre hombres y mujeres de las provincias de Los Ríos, Guayas y El Oro, tiene su origen en la Coordinadora Provincial que se formó en el 2010 y a la que se le negó su acreditación. Posteriormente, en el 2012 nace ASTAC con el objetivo de defender los derechos de los trabajadores bananeros, agricultores y campesinos. “Tenemos problemas a nivel de Gobierno. El Ministerio de Relaciones Laborales no deja que nos organicemos. Creo que hay presiones de los grandes empresarios al Gobierno para que no nos den la personería jurídica”, asegura su presidente, Roberto Amanta. Hasta ahora las autoridades gubernamentales le han negado su constitución, alegando que es una asociación autónoma sin relación de dependencia, lo que vulnera el Código de Trabajo.

“Hemos hecho todas las diligencias y recurrido a las instancias legales del país, y aún así no hemos sido atendidos. Somos negados los trabajadores bananeros a no poder reclamar nuestros derechos dejando a miles de trabajadores a nivel nacional totalmente desamparados. Nosotros seguimos insistiendo e incluso hicimos un llamado a instancias internacionales como la Organización Internacional del Trabajo el pasado mayo para que haga incidencia ante el Gobierno nacional”, asegura.

Amanta también denuncia que están recibiendo presiones por medio de llamadas que tratan de indagar quiénes están detrás de la asociación. “Es el Gobierno pero de manera indirecta por medio de terceras personas. Son allegados al Gobierno y a los grandes empresarios que están preocupados. Pero estamos dispuestos a enfrentar la situación”.

Última queja y diálogo nacional

“En enero de este año presentamos otra queja ante la Defensoría del Pueblo y a partir de ahí se han celebrado dos reuniones, donde asisten algunos ministerios y entidades públicas, pero no el de Relaciones Laborales ni los de riesgos de trabajo que son dos puntos importantes que necesitábamos”, explica Amanta.

Lamenta que al diálogo nacional nunca han sido invitados y que previamente, en el mes de abril, solicitaron acudir a la Asamblea Nacional para hablar en la Comisión de los Derechos de los Trabajadores y la Seguridad Social, pero nunca tuvieron respuesta. Lo mismo les ocurrió con la solicitud, en el mismo mes, de una audiencia con el ministro de Relaciones Laborales, Marx Carrasco. “Entonces ¿cómo se le puede llamar ahora diálogo cuando ellos nunca nos dieron el diálogo? Es absurdo, este no ha sido un Gobierno de diálogo”.

Este artículo ha sido publicado anteriormente por La línea de fuego, Ecuador.

Country or region:  Ecuador Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Bananas and the continuing violation of human rights in Ecuador

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 11:56

A persistent employers’ abuse of power and a lack of control by the Ecuadorian State make human and constitutional rights violations in many banana plantations a daily nightmare. Español

All rights reserved.

"The continuing violation of thousands of Ecuadorian citizens’ human rights in the banana plantations in at least six provinces in Ecuador is not news," stated an objection to the Defensoría del Pueblo (Ecuador’s Ombudsman) in 2010. It added that the violation of human and constitutional rights is twofold. On the one hand, it is due to the employers and the banana companies’ abuse of power. On the other hand, there is a lack of control by the Ecuadorian State. A thorough investigation of the allegations was requested.

It took the Ombudsman two years to come up with a resolution accepting the demand. It listed the human rights infringed by some banana companies: the right to live in a safe environment, the right to health, the right to work and the right to social security. And it declared, besides, that the aerial spraying of plantations jeopardized the Rights of Nature.

A 2010 report by Gulnara Shahinian, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery concluded, moreover, that "contemporary forms of slavery still exist in Ecuador" and that, specifically, "they are widely present in the primary and tertiary sectors of the economy, in production branches such as the banana plantations."

The continuing violation of rights

Today, banana workers, the vast majority of whom refuse to give their names or have their picture taken for fear of reprisals, continue to denounce many of the problems included in the 2010 complaint. Except for some minor improvements, such as the current absence of underage workers in the haciendas, many witnesses are reporting excessive working hours, blacklists, no social insurance, paychecks below the minimum wage, harassment of union leaders, and environmental and health hazards caused by aerial spraying. The accusations against the Ecuadorian State for its lack of control persist, as do those against the Labor Inspectorate for being dominated by the employers and for leaving the workers unprotected.

According to Leonardo Jiménez, a lawyer for the Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos (Trade Union Association of Agricultural Workers and Peasants - ASTAC), "The state is not willing to find out what is happening. Although it’s quite easy: you can go to the Instituto Ecuatoriano de Seguridad Social (Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security – IEES) and check the workers who are affiliated to it. Then, if there are 100 workers in a farm and you see that merely 50 of them are affiliated, you know what is going on. The contractors’ role is illegal in Ecuador, because job placement is forbidden – and, yet, it is happening.” Jiménez says that, as far as the authorities are concerned, everything is fine. But another reality exists that it is easy to identify, if the authorities really wanted to, by just talking to the workers who are suffering from it. He concludes that “the State does not offer real protection to workers, so that they can freely and safely come up with their claims and require respect for their labor rights”.

All rights reserved.

“There are rules, but they are not abided”

Carlos (not his real name) has been working in the banana sector since he was 13. He had to start working twenty years ago to be able to assist his parents economically. “I was attending school then, but I had to help my family out, so I decided to work and put down my studies”. He says he worked for ten years without social insurance, unaware of its existence until a friend told him.

Current work conditions in Los Ríos province, he asserts, have deteriorated since most workers lack social security coverage. “We were supposed to have finished with the famous tercerizadoras (outsoucers), but now another body has cropped out, the equally famous contractors. They get hired to bring in personnel and then, allegedly, we no longer work for the company: we work for the contractor. The company says that any claims should be put to the contractor. But this is not what the law says.”

Another concern has to do with transportation. Although several companies are using buses now, most of them keep on using trucks, quite often cattle trucks. Food needs to be improved too, Carlos argues: "It's not adequate. Not that we are demanding finer stuff, just something palatable. We face up to the cooks, but they tell us they cannot give anything better for what they get paid: between $1 and $1.25 for each coffee and lunch".

Carlos also contends that when officials come in to inspect the workplaces, their visits are very often arranged beforehand by the employers. “They talk to several workers and give them all the implements, so that when the officials arrive, they see that they all have the required materials: gloves, masks, boots, and so on – things that I have never had”, he swears.

But what worries him most is the aerial sprayings. "The bosses couldn’t care less, we are in full harvest and they fly the plane. They spray a liquid substance that is scattered by the wind and comes down to us, sometimes when we're having lunch. Some companies I know take the precaution to remove the personnel for an hour, but I don’t know if this is really enough."

He also describes many cases of workmates whom the companies charge a "holiday allowance", or 1% of their salary, for a workers' association that no one has ever heard of. Other companies carry out blood tests once a year, for which they charge $36 and never grant you the results. “Rules exist”, he says, “but they are not observed”.

Labour exploitation

“Yes, I’m in the black list”, bluntly declares Abel Sedeño, who now has a job, but only because he is being hired through a contractor who takes 10% of his salary. "The Labour Inspection is fully aware of this. All we are asking for is a genuine monitoring of the companies, an investigation conducted by honest people into how workers are treated, into how many hours they are really working. Even though there are eight working hours in a day, we are working here from five o’clock in the morning to eight in the evening. And, of course, we don’t get paid for overtime." Sedeño argues, moreover, that when companies get to know that workers are making complaints, they look for ways to fire them. "They also require workers to sign documents stating that they are given many things, which is not true, so that when they see them in Quito, everything looks just fine.”

“I have been working in this sector for only two years. Treatment is fair, but the salary is very low indeed”. Fernanda (not her real name) works from seven in the morning till five in the afternoon, two days a week. She earns five dollars per truck, and there are two trucks every day, so that her salary is ten dollars a day - that is, one dollar per hour. “I am currently working for a small producer who does not comply with the law because he does not ensure workers”. Fernanda recalls that in her previous job, workers were carried in a cattle truck that was used to sell bananas down the coast over the weekends. “And we were asked to climb into this filthy thing and travel to work for over an hour.” Her experience is that workers are not provided uniforms or working materials, and that planes keep on spraying while they work. "Some people have been poisoned. But they get fired. They are told there is no more work for them for some obscure reason. Now they give us a mask, though."

All rights reserved.

Threatened for organizing workers

Luis Ochoa had been working in the banana sector all his life. He started at five. His parents took him to the farm and he gradually learned the trade. But it all changed last June when, together with some other workmates, they began organizing a union to reclaim their rights. “We rented a place where we held our meetings and a lawyer was helping us with advice. We collected signatures for its constitution and we called it “June 7”. On August 14, 2014 we presented it to the Ministry of Labour, and on October 24 I was fired from the company. I was the secretary general. They fired all of us in the leadership. The company is Compañía Frutsesa Frutas Selectas.”

In April this year Ochoa participated in the Tribunal Ético Andino (Andean Ethical Tribunal) that was held in Lima, Perú. This Tribunal sentenced the banana companies Compañía Frutsesa Frutas Selectas S.A. and REYBANPAC Rey del Banano del Pacífico S.A. for their responsibility in the systematic violation of human rights. “I denounced that they had been violating our rights, and when I came back, the threats began. I received intimidating calls saying “Luis Isidro, I’m very close to where you are” and text messages like “We are following you closely. Watch out you son of a bitch, you have been screwing people up who are working well. Just you wait and see”. In May he denounced the facts to the Guayas provincial prosecutor’s office. He has not heard back from them. “Our President has said that any employee can join a union, form an association freely, that no company owner can fire him for this, and here I am now, persecuted for following what the President has said.”

Besides all these threats, Ochoa has also received a few calls from former workmates warning him to beware and be vigilant because the company, they said, could decide to hire a hitman. For him, this has meant moving from his house and going on hiding to protect his life. He never imagined that, after spending 45 years in the banana sector, something like this could happen to him. But he is not giving up, convinced that in the end his colleagues will manage to form the union. “We are not going to let them beat us. They have won a battle, but not the war”, he states categorically.

Labour and sexual harassment

Jennifer (not her real name), who started to work in the banana sector when she was 18, states that today one of the problems in the company is that “some women work less and get paid more, and women who work more get paid less”. The reason is the existing structure of oppression which pushes many women to have sexual relations with their superiors. “To have this kind of relationship with the boss means that they actually do almost as they please, while the rest of us are working all the time. The bosses give their potential preys job positions close to them in order to ease the access. Not fair", she says.

Another case is Ana’s, who does not want to have her family name published. “Yes, there is harassment. I myself have not had any problems, but we all know cases. The boss of a friend of mine is making her life miserable because she refuses to jive with him. They always want to take advantage of the young ones. They ask the girls to go to bed with them in exchange for keeping them on the job. If they don’t accept, they are pressured at work, or get fired, or get assigned unpleasant tasks”. She adds that women get paid less than men for doing the same jobs. “But nobody asks questions, because if you do, you’re into trouble. They don’t like to be asked questions”, she whispers.

"The government does not let us organize"

ASTAC, a farmers union born in 2012 gathers approximately 500 members, both men and women from the Los Ríos, Guayas and El Oro provinces, originates from a provincial coordinating committee which was constituted in 2010 and was denied official recognition. Its aim is defending the rights of banana workers, farmers and peasants. "We have problems with the government. The Ministry of Labour does not let us organize. I think they are pressured by big business not to grant us legal status," says ASTAC’s president, Roberto Amanta. So far, the government has denied their legal existence arguing that it is an “autonomous association with no dependency relationship”, thereby violating the labour laws of the country.

"We have gone through all the steps and resorted to all the legal authorities in the country”, he contends, “and yet our demands have not been heard. We banana workers have been barred from claiming our rights, which leaves thousands of workers helpless and stranded all over the country. We keep on pushing our demands, however, and we have even called on international bodies such as the International Labour Organization to advocate for our cause before our national government.”

Amanta also denounces the fact that ASTAC is getting calls trying to find out who is involved in the association. “The government is making the calls, although indirectly, through third persons, people close to the government and to big company managers. They are worried. But we are ready to face the music."

One last complaint and national dialogue

“In January this year we presented another complaint to the Defensoría del Pueblo”, says Amanta. We have had two meetings since then, which were atended by a few ministries and public bodies. Unfortunately, no representatives from the Ministry of Labour or the occupational hazards people, whose presence was obviously very important to us.”

He regrets that they have never been invited to the diálogo nacional (national dialogue). Back in April, they asked to address the Committee on Workers’ Rights and Social Security at the National Assembly, but they never got an answer. The same happened with their request, also in April, for a hearing with the Minister of Industrial Relations, Marx Carrasco. "So, how can you call it a dialogue if they never dialogued with us? It’s ridiculous; this is not a dialoguing government."

This article was previously published by La línea de fuego, Ecuador.

Country or region:  Ecuador Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Bananas and the continuing violation of human rights in Ecuador

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 11:56

A persistent employers’ abuse of power and a lack of control by the Ecuadorian State make human and constitutional rights violations in many banana plantations a daily nightmare. Español

All rights reserved.

"The continuing violation of thousands of Ecuadorian citizens’ human rights in the banana plantations in at least six provinces in Ecuador is not news," stated an objection to the Defensoría del Pueblo (Ecuador’s Ombudsman) in 2010. It added that the violation of human and constitutional rights is twofold. On the one hand, it is due to the employers and the banana companies’ abuse of power. On the other hand, there is a lack of control by the Ecuadorian State. A thorough investigation of the allegations was requested.

It took the Ombudsman two years to come up with a resolution accepting the demand. It listed the human rights infringed by some banana companies: the right to live in a safe environment, the right to health, the right to work and the right to social security. And it declared, besides, that the aerial spraying of plantations jeopardized the Rights of Nature.

A 2010 report by Gulnara Shahinian, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery concluded, moreover, that "contemporary forms of slavery still exist in Ecuador" and that, specifically, "they are widely present in the primary and tertiary sectors of the economy, in production branches such as the banana plantations."

The continuing violation of rights

Today, banana workers, the vast majority of whom refuse to give their names or have their picture taken for fear of reprisals, continue to denounce many of the problems included in the 2010 complaint. Except for some minor improvements, such as the current absence of underage workers in the haciendas, many witnesses are reporting excessive working hours, blacklists, no social insurance, paychecks below the minimum wage, harassment of union leaders, and environmental and health hazards caused by aerial spraying. The accusations against the Ecuadorian State for its lack of control persist, as do those against the Labor Inspectorate for being dominated by the employers and for leaving the workers unprotected.

According to Leonardo Jiménez, a lawyer for the Asociación Sindical de Trabajadores Agrícolas y Campesinos (Trade Union Association of Agricultural Workers and Peasants - ASTAC), "The state is not willing to find out what is happening. Although it’s quite easy: you can go to the Instituto Ecuatoriano de Seguridad Social (Ecuadorian Institute of Social Security – IEES) and check the workers who are affiliated to it. Then, if there are 100 workers in a farm and you see that merely 50 of them are affiliated, you know what is going on. The contractors’ role is illegal in Ecuador, because job placement is forbidden – and, yet, it is happening.” Jiménez says that, as far as the authorities are concerned, everything is fine. But another reality exists that it is easy to identify, if the authorities really wanted to, by just talking to the workers who are suffering from it. He concludes that “the State does not offer real protection to workers, so that they can freely and safely come up with their claims and require respect for their labor rights”.

All rights reserved.

“There are rules, but they are not abided”

Carlos (not his real name) has been working in the banana sector since he was 13. He had to start working twenty years ago to be able to assist his parents economically. “I was attending school then, but I had to help my family out, so I decided to work and put down my studies”. He says he worked for ten years without social insurance, unaware of its existence until a friend told him.

Current work conditions in Los Ríos province, he asserts, have deteriorated since most workers lack social security coverage. “We were supposed to have finished with the famous tercerizadoras (outsoucers), but now another body has cropped out, the equally famous contractors. They get hired to bring in personnel and then, allegedly, we no longer work for the company: we work for the contractor. The company says that any claims should be put to the contractor. But this is not what the law says.”

Another concern has to do with transportation. Although several companies are using buses now, most of them keep on using trucks, quite often cattle trucks. Food needs to be improved too, Carlos argues: "It's not adequate. Not that we are demanding finer stuff, just something palatable. We face up to the cooks, but they tell us they cannot give anything better for what they get paid: between $1 and $1.25 for each coffee and lunch".

Carlos also contends that when officials come in to inspect the workplaces, their visits are very often arranged beforehand by the employers. “They talk to several workers and give them all the implements, so that when the officials arrive, they see that they all have the required materials: gloves, masks, boots, and so on – things that I have never had”, he swears.

But what worries him most is the aerial sprayings. "The bosses couldn’t care less, we are in full harvest and they fly the plane. They spray a liquid substance that is scattered by the wind and comes down to us, sometimes when we're having lunch. Some companies I know take the precaution to remove the personnel for an hour, but I don’t know if this is really enough."

He also describes many cases of workmates whom the companies charge a "holiday allowance", or 1% of their salary, for a workers' association that no one has ever heard of. Other companies carry out blood tests once a year, for which they charge $36 and never grant you the results. “Rules exist”, he says, “but they are not observed”.

Labour exploitation

“Yes, I’m in the black list”, bluntly declares Abel Sedeño, who now has a job, but only because he is being hired through a contractor who takes 10% of his salary. "The Labour Inspection is fully aware of this. All we are asking for is a genuine monitoring of the companies, an investigation conducted by honest people into how workers are treated, into how many hours they are really working. Even though there are eight working hours in a day, we are working here from five o’clock in the morning to eight in the evening. And, of course, we don’t get paid for overtime." Sedeño argues, moreover, that when companies get to know that workers are making complaints, they look for ways to fire them. "They also require workers to sign documents stating that they are given many things, which is not true, so that when they see them in Quito, everything looks just fine.”

“I have been working in this sector for only two years. Treatment is fair, but the salary is very low indeed”. Fernanda (not her real name) works from seven in the morning till five in the afternoon, two days a week. She earns five dollars per truck, and there are two trucks every day, so that her salary is ten dollars a day - that is, one dollar per hour. “I am currently working for a small producer who does not comply with the law because he does not ensure workers”. Fernanda recalls that in her previous job, workers were carried in a cattle truck that was used to sell bananas down the coast over the weekends. “And we were asked to climb into this filthy thing and travel to work for over an hour.” Her experience is that workers are not provided uniforms or working materials, and that planes keep on spraying while they work. "Some people have been poisoned. But they get fired. They are told there is no more work for them for some obscure reason. Now they give us a mask, though."

All rights reserved.

Threatened for organizing workers

Luis Ochoa had been working in the banana sector all his life. He started at five. His parents took him to the farm and he gradually learned the trade. But it all changed last June when, together with some other workmates, they began organizing a union to reclaim their rights. “We rented a place where we held our meetings and a lawyer was helping us with advice. We collected signatures for its constitution and we called it “June 7”. On August 14, 2014 we presented it to the Ministry of Labour, and on October 24 I was fired from the company. I was the secretary general. They fired all of us in the leadership. The company is Compañía Frutsesa Frutas Selectas.”

In April this year Ochoa participated in the Tribunal Ético Andino (Andean Ethical Tribunal) that was held in Lima, Perú. This Tribunal sentenced the banana companies Compañía Frutsesa Frutas Selectas S.A. and REYBANPAC Rey del Banano del Pacífico S.A. for their responsibility in the systematic violation of human rights. “I denounced that they had been violating our rights, and when I came back, the threats began. I received intimidating calls saying “Luis Isidro, I’m very close to where you are” and text messages like “We are following you closely. Watch out you son of a bitch, you have been screwing people up who are working well. Just you wait and see”. In May he denounced the facts to the Guayas provincial prosecutor’s office. He has not heard back from them. “Our President has said that any employee can join a union, form an association freely, that no company owner can fire him for this, and here I am now, persecuted for following what the President has said.”

Besides all these threats, Ochoa has also received a few calls from former workmates warning him to beware and be vigilant because the company, they said, could decide to hire a hitman. For him, this has meant moving from his house and going on hiding to protect his life. He never imagined that, after spending 45 years in the banana sector, something like this could happen to him. But he is not giving up, convinced that in the end his colleagues will manage to form the union. “We are not going to let them beat us. They have won a battle, but not the war”, he states categorically.

Labour and sexual harassment

Jennifer (not her real name), who started to work in the banana sector when she was 18, states that today one of the problems in the company is that “some women work less and get paid more, and women who work more get paid less”. The reason is the existing structure of oppression which pushes many women to have sexual relations with their superiors. “To have this kind of relationship with the boss means that they actually do almost as they please, while the rest of us are working all the time. The bosses give their potential preys job positions close to them in order to ease the access. Not fair", she says.

Another case is Ana’s, who does not want to have her family name published. “Yes, there is harassment. I myself have not had any problems, but we all know cases. The boss of a friend of mine is making her life miserable because she refuses to jive with him. They always want to take advantage of the young ones. They ask the girls to go to bed with them in exchange for keeping them on the job. If they don’t accept, they are pressured at work, or get fired, or get assigned unpleasant tasks”. She adds that women get paid less than men for doing the same jobs. “But nobody asks questions, because if you do, you’re into trouble. They don’t like to be asked questions”, she whispers.

"The government does not let us organize"

ASTAC, a farmers union born in 2012 gathers approximately 500 members, both men and women from the Los Ríos, Guayas and El Oro provinces, originates from a provincial coordinating committee which was constituted in 2010 and was denied official recognition. Its aim is defending the rights of banana workers, farmers and peasants. "We have problems with the government. The Ministry of Labour does not let us organize. I think they are pressured by big business not to grant us legal status," says ASTAC’s president, Roberto Amanta. So far, the government has denied their legal existence arguing that it is an “autonomous association with no dependency relationship”, thereby violating the labour laws of the country.

"We have gone through all the steps and resorted to all the legal authorities in the country”, he contends, “and yet our demands have not been heard. We banana workers have been barred from claiming our rights, which leaves thousands of workers helpless and stranded all over the country. We keep on pushing our demands, however, and we have even called on international bodies such as the International Labour Organization to advocate for our cause before our national government.”

Amanta also denounces the fact that ASTAC is getting calls trying to find out who is involved in the association. “The government is making the calls, although indirectly, through third persons, people close to the government and to big company managers. They are worried. But we are ready to face the music."

One last complaint and national dialogue

“In January this year we presented another complaint to the Defensoría del Pueblo”, says Amanta. We have had two meetings since then, which were atended by a few ministries and public bodies. Unfortunately, no representatives from the Ministry of Labour or the occupational hazards people, whose presence was obviously very important to us.”

He regrets that they have never been invited to the diálogo nacional (national dialogue). Back in April, they asked to address the Committee on Workers’ Rights and Social Security at the National Assembly, but they never got an answer. The same happened with their request, also in April, for a hearing with the Minister of Industrial Relations, Marx Carrasco. "So, how can you call it a dialogue if they never dialogued with us? It’s ridiculous; this is not a dialoguing government."

This article was previously published by La línea de fuego, Ecuador.

Country or region:  Ecuador Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Arms sales to Egypt: when rhetoric overtakes reality

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 7:12

It is impossible to show solidarity with the people of Egypt while arming and supporting the tyranny oppressing them, but this is the hypocrisy at the heart of western foreign policy.

Gerard Silvere/Demotix. All rights reserved.

The crackdown in Egypt has intensified over recent weeks, with the arrests of human rights activists and the passing of repressive new 'anti-terror' laws. The new legislation has been condemned by Human Rights Watch, which described it as “a big step toward enshrining a permanent state of emergency,” and Amnesty International, which said it would effectively ban the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Unfortunately, the new laws, which give even greater powers to the military and police, haven't come out of nowhere. They are all too typical and consistent with the authoritarian rule of the Sisi regime and the Egyptian authorities.

In August 2013, following the overthrow of the Morsi government, the Egyptian military, led by Sisi in his capacity as then-defence minister, killed over 1000 activists. The killings, which three quarters of Egyptians blame on Sisi himself, established the oppressive rule of the military. This was followed by what Amnesty International has described as "a surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions and harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody" and a corrupt ‘election’ in which Sisi ‘won’ the presidency with over 96 percent of the vote.

The military coup and its aftermath was condemned by the international community, with the US calling for an end to the attacks and cancelling joint military operations. They were joined by the UN Secretary General who called for a restoration of democracy and an end to the violence. Countries like the UK followed suit, with David Cameron calling for a "genuine democratic transition" to take place.

The tough talk was followed by the announcement of an EU arms embargo, but it was a lot weaker than the lofty rhetoric suggested.

The embargo called for member states to suspend licences for arms that may be used for internal repression and to re-assess export licences for military equipment and review their security assistance to Egypt. However, the so-called embargo was not legally binding and was left open to the interpretation of individual states. There were no time limits on the restrictions, and nor did it have any clear definitions for what it meant by the terms "suspension" or "equipment, which might be used for internal repression".

Almost inevitably it was ignored, with arms sales resuming almost as soon as the attacks were out of the media (a case of what some activists call "arms control by embarrassment.") If we are to look at the UK as an example then it becomes clear how weak and ineffective the embargo was. In August 2013, the UK suspended 49 licences for arms to Egypt. However, only two months later 24 of these suspensions were lifted, with only seven being fully revoked and arms sales resuming almost straight away.

The US had announced its own embargo, which was a bit stronger, but was also very quickly diluted. Within nine months the government was back to exporting Apache helicopters to the regime, and nine months after that it announced that its embargo was being scrapped altogether, with $1.3 billion worth of arms being authorised on the same day.

The rhetoric about human rights has continued, but actions speak louder than words. In February 2015 France announced that it had confirmed the sale of €5 billion worth of fighter jets to Egypt. Similarly, the UK was back to licensing big ticket items; with over £40 million worth of components for military combat vehicles in March 2015. Since then Egyptian military representatives have attended the UK's Security and Policing arms fair at the invitation of the UK government, and David Cameron has invited Sisi for talks in London later this year. Egyptian representatives are also likely to be in attendance at DSEI, the world’s biggest arms fair, when it takes place in London next month.

It has been two years since the Egyptian crackdown began, and the chances of anybody being held responsible for the crimes and abuses that have taken place look very slim. Both the Egyptian government and the International Criminal Court have refused to investigate them and there is little international pressure for them to do so.

In theory Egypt is supposed to be hosting parliamentary elections later this year, although they have already been suspended from their original date in March and, if the 2014 ‘election’ that cemented Sisi’s rule is anything to go by, they are unlikely to be free or fair. Recent months have seen a rise in activity from ISIS and other extremist organisations, with one car bomb wounding 29. The likely response will be even greater repression and the further consolidation of Sisi’s rule.

Of course the issue goes wider than Egypt. This is only the most recent manifestation of the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of western foreign policy. Ultimately politics is about choices. It is impossible to show solidarity with the people of Egypt at the same time as arming and supporting the tyranny that is oppressing them.

The first step has to be an end to arms sales to the regime and an end to the political support bolstering it. The uprisings of 2011 were fuelled by a desire for human rights and democracy, a desire that has not gone away, but that is being suppressed by a cruel, authoritarian government and ignored by those propping them up.

Sideboxes Related stories:  European values and the Arab world If democracy in Egypt cannot be stimulated directly, it can be promoted by example The age of 'white men in suits' Egypt’s political prisoners EU and the Arab world: 'cooperation' to fight terror is an excuse Military trials in Egypt: 2011-2014 Country or region:  Egypt United States UK Topics:  International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Migration, climate and security: the choice

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 5:19

The forces driving people's movement into Europe were already apparent in a near forgotten incident of 1991.

In August 1991, with the world’s media dominated by the chronic instability in Russia and the aftermath of the violent eviction of the Iraqi army from Kuwait earlier that year, a sequence of events in the Adriatic Sea provides an uncanny foretaste of the current surge of desperate people across the Mediterranean from north Africa, as well as overland from Syria through Turkey, Greece and beyond.

One consequence of the collapse of the Soviet bloc was the disintegration of the already weakened Albanian economy in the winter of 1990-91. The long-time leader Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985, had bequeathed a stagnant and unstable economy which, by the end of the decade, was ensuring increasing poverty in an already poor country. In the early months of 1991, many young Albanians were attempting to get across the Adriatic to a better life in Italy. They had little success.

Then, in August, the situation had become so desperate that merchant ships were hijacked by thousands of young people, especially in the port of Durrës, and the crews forced to set sail for Italy. At least 10,000 of them were on the 8,000-tonne merchant ship Vlora  - some reports said twice that number -  when it made the 200-kilometre crossing to the southern Italian port of Bari. Caught by surprise, the police there tried and failed to stop the refugees coming ashore; some even jumped overboard to swim towards land. The incident made news across Europe, at least for a couple of days, but then the media moved on.

Faced with this huge number of sudden arrivals, the police rounded them up and detained them in the only place in the city that could handle such a number securely, namely the local football stadium. There, they started the process of enforced repatriation to Albania. A few were allowed to stay; most were forced home. But the Italians did at least provide substantial financial aid to the faltering government in Tirana, and even arranged for Italian army units to distribute food within the country.  

Within a few months, Albania began to make a slow and tortuous recovery. All that was left of the experience were images of desperate people jumping off a ship and trying to get ashore. Today, however, the resonance with people clambering ashore from flimsy dinghies onto Greek islands - or facing police in the centre of Budapest - is all too apparent.

The long-term view

Over the years since it began in 2001, this column has on occasion highlighted a prescient comment made in 1974 by the economic geographer Edwin Brooks. This warned of a dystopic world that had to be avoided: “a crowded glowering planet of massive inequalities of wealth buttressed by stark force yet endlessly threatened by desperate people in the global ghettoes” (see "The Implications of Ecological Limits to Growth in Terms of Expectations and Aspirations in Developed and Less Developed Countries", in Anthony Vann & Paul Rogers (eds), Human Ecology and World Development [Plenum Press, 1974]).

This is a forewarning of the experience of recent months: namely, desperate people fleeing the war-zones of Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan and the repression of Eritrea; but also of the millions more who face relative poverty and marginalisation, not least across sub-Saharan Africa.

There has been some humanitarian reaction in Europe to these forces. But the more general response has been the "securitisation" of the issue, whereby migrants are seen as threats. One head of government, the UK’s David Cameron, deliberately used the term “swarm” to describe the few thousand migrants who had got as far as Calais - though these actually form a tiny proportion of the hundreds of thousands of people desperate to get into Europe (see "Mediterranean dreams, climate realities", 23 April 2015).

It may be that over the coming months, humanitarian concern will prevail and European states will find ways to cooperate more effectively. But the prognosis is not good. And in the longer term, an extension of the securitising approach will be even more damaging as it is applied not just to the movement of people but to the closely related area of climate change.

A recent article by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes focuses on this issue (see "Ten years on: Katrina, militarisation and climate change", 28 August 2015). It points to the manner in which the future effects of climate change are being seen as threats to the wellbeing of comfortable peoples in the west, implying that what is needed is to put much more emphasis on maintaining security rather than preventing the excesses of climate disruption.

Where the two elements come together - current migration issues and future climate disruption - will actually be in Europe. Around the continent are large centres of population in the Middle East, south-west Asia, north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, where climate change, if not prevented, will lead to marked decreases in rainfall with declining food production and consequent social and economic hardship. The asymmetric nature of climate change as it is now being understood means that these large regions surrounding one of the richest parts of the world will have the greatest difficulties. As a result, they are likely to become drivers of migration to a far larger extent, with numbers measured not in the hundreds of thousands but in millions.

In these circumstances, the consequences of securitising these issues will be huge, far greater than anything yet experienced. For this reason alone, it is essential that the current crisis is handled primarily with humanitarian concern, rather than by trying to “close the castle gates” - which in any case is impossible in a globalised system. What happened to the Vlora nearly twenty-five years ago sharpens the choice over these possible futures.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Department of peace studies, Bradford University

Migrants at Sea

The Global Climate 2001-2010: A Decade of Climate Extremes (WMO, July 2013)

Oxford Research Group

Paul Rogers, Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto, 3rd edition, 2010)

Paul Rogers, Global Security and the War on Terror: Elite Power and the Illusion of Control (Routledge, 2007)

 

Related stories:  Mediterranean dreams, climate realities A different climate A flooded future: Essex to the world Climate change: the south gets real Climate change: a failure of leadership Pope Francis and climate politics Climate politics: a melting glacier... A global threat multiplier Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Migration, climate and security: the choice

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3. September 2015 - 5:19

The forces driving people's movement into Europe were already apparent in a near forgotten incident of 1991.

In August 1991, with the world’s media dominated by the chronic instability in Russia and the aftermath of the violent eviction of the Iraqi army from Kuwait earlier that year, a sequence of events in the Mediterranean provided an uncanny foretaste of the current surge of desperate people across the sea from north Africa and overland from Syria through Turkey and the Balkans and into Hungary.

One consequence of the collapse of the Soviet bloc was the disintegration of the already weakened Albanian economy in the winter of 1990-91. The long-time leader Enver Hoxha, who died in 1985, had bequeathed a stagnant and unstable economy which, by the end of the decade, was ensuring increasing poverty in an already poor country. In the early months of 1991, many young Albanians were atempting to get across the Adriatic to a better life in Italy. They had little success.

Then, in August, the situation had become so desperate that merchant ships were hijacked by thousands of young people, especially in the port of Durrës, and the crews forced to set sail for Italy. At least 10,000 of them were on the 8,000-tonne merchant ship Vlora  - some reports said twice that number -  when it made the 200-kilometre crossing to the southern Italian port of Bari. Caught by surprise, the police there tried and failed to stop the refugees coming ashore; some even jumped overboard to swim towards land. The incident made news across Europe, at least for a couple of days, but then the media moved on.

Faced with this huge number of sudden arrivals, the police rounded them up and detained them in the only place in the city that could handle such a number securely, namely the local football stadium. There, they started the process of enforced repatriation to Albania. A few were allowed to stay; most were forced home. But the Italians did at least provide substantial financial aid to the faltering government in Tirana, and even arranged for Italian army units to distribute food within the country.  

Within a few months, Albania began to make a slow and tortuous recovery. All that was left of the incident were images of desperate people jumping off a ship and trying to get ashore. Today, however, the resonance with people clambering ashore from flimsy dinghies onto Greek islands - or facing police in the centre of Budapest - is all too apparent.

The long-term view

Over the years since it began in 2001, this column has on occasion highlighted a prescient comment made in 1974 by the economic geographer Edwin Brooks. This warned of a dystopic world that had to be avoided: “a crowded glowering planet of massive inequalities of wealth buttressed by stark force yet endlessly threatened by desperate people in the global ghettoes” (see "The Implications of Ecological Limits to Growth in Terms of Expectations and Aspirations in Developed and Less Developed Countries", in Anthony Vann & Paul Rogers (eds), Human Ecology and World Development [Plenum Press, 1974]).

This is a forewarning of the experience of recent months: namely, desperate people fleeing the war-zones of Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan and the repression of Eritrea; but also of the many millions more who face relative poverty and marginalisation, not least across sub-Saharan Africa.

There has been some humanitarian reaction in Europe to these forces. But the more general response has been the "securitisation" of the issue, whereby migrants are seen as threats. One head of government, the UK’s David Cameron, deliberately used the term “swarm” to describe the few thousand migrants who had got as far as Calais - though these actually form a tiny proportion of the hundreds of thousands of people desperate to get into Europe (see "Mediterranean dreams, climate realities", 23 April 2015).

It may be that over the coming months, humanitarian concern will prevail and European states will find ways to cooperate more effectively. But the prognosis is not good. And in the longer term, an extension of the securitising approach will be even more damaging as it is applied not just to the movement of people but to the closely related area of climate change.

A recent article by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes focuses on this issue (see "Ten years on: Katrina, militarisation and climate change", 28 August 2015). It points to the manner in which the future effects of climate change are being seen as threats to the wellbeing of comfortable peoples in the west, implying that what is needed is to put much more emphasis on maintaining security rather than preventing the excesses of climate disruption.

Where the two elements come together - current migration issues and future climate disruption - will actually be in Europe. Around the continent are large centres of population in the Middle East, south-west Asia, north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, where climate change, if not prevented, will lead to marked decreases in rainfall with declining food production and consequent social and economic hardship. The asymmetric nature of climate change as it is now being understood means that these large regions surrounding one of the richest parts of the world will have the greatest difficulties. As a result, they are likely to become drivers of migration to a far greater extent, with numbers measured not in the hundreds of thousands but in millions.

In these circumstances, the consequences of securitising these issues will be huge, far greater than anything yet experienced. For this reason alone, it is essential that the current crisis is handled primarily with humanitarian concern, rather than by trying to “close the castle gates” - which in any case is impossible in a globalised system. What happened to the Vlora nearly twenty-five years ago sharpens the choice over these possible futures.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Department of peace studies, Bradford University

The Global Climate 2001-2010: A Decade of Climate Extremes (WMO, July 2013)

Oxford Research Group

Paul Rogers, Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto, 3rd edition, 2010)

Paul Rogers, Global Security and the War on Terror: Elite Power and the Illusion of Control (Routledge, 2007)

 

Related stories:  Mediterranean dreams, climate realities A different climate A flooded future: Essex to the world Climate change: the south gets real Climate change: a failure of leadership Pope Francis and climate politics Climate politics: a melting glacier... A global threat multiplier Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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Local councils are starting to tear strips off TTIP

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. September 2015 - 23:11

Local councils have joined the fight against the EU/US trade deal.

picture, Global Justice Now

Politicians in both Brussels and Westminster have taken great pains to try and brush off people’s many concerns about the toxic trade deal being pushed through by the EU and the USA. But an exciting new front is emerging in the battle against TTIP, harnessing the energy of grassroots groups to push opposition to the corporate power grab up the political food chain via the power of local councils. In the UK and across Europe, TTIP Free Zones are popping up like people power mushrooms.

On the one hand, it may be seen as a symbolic gesture to get your local council to declare itself a TTIP Free Zone, after all these councils don’t have a direct say in whether or not the deal would be passed. But there is a real political value in creating pressure in this manner – it’s a powerful expression of grassroots opposition that MPs and MEPs might otherwise not be exposed to.

But TTIP Free Zones are equally importantly a means of promoting an understanding of what impact TTIP would have on the powers of local councils.  TTIP could also affect existing powers granted to local authorities such as planning. The decision of Lancashire County Council to deny planning permission for fracking in the local area is the sort of decision that would be harder to make under TTIP – first because such a decision could be challenged under ISDS, and second because of the pressure to ‘harmonise’ energy regulations.    

The provision of local public services and procurement could also be affected. Current EU rules allow for environmental and social considerations in awarding contracts. For example, local governments can decide to buy only fairtrade or organic produce. Local authorities are also allowed to ensure that procurement benefits small and medium-sized businesses in the area – for instance a number of cities, including Manchester and Glasgow, have become Sustainable Food Cities, and are trying to use more locally sourced, sustainable food in the public sector. 

This could all be threatened under TTIP because the European Commission, keen to access US local markets by getting rid of “Buy America” schemes across the Atlantic, has said it wants TTIP to open local procurement to greater competition. This means that procurement could be constrained far more by price alone – giving US multinationals more access to markets at the expense of the local economy and the environment. Official EU estimates are that TTIP will induce a 25-50%  liberalisation of government procurement.

So it’s not surprising that in a short space of time, 19 local councils across the UK have, to some extent, declared themselves as being a TTIP Free Zone, including Sheffield, Glasgow and Bradford city councils.  Chas Booth, a Green Party councillor for Leith, Edinburgh which is one of those 19 councils, said:

“In Edinburgh, we are proud of initiatives such as the Edinburgh Guarantee which aims to ensure employment or training for school leavers. Likewise the Edible Edinburgh initiative aims to encourage local and seasonal food. These are just two of the possible targets from corporate lawyers if TTIP goes through unchallenged.”

And it’s not just the UK. In Austria, Germany, France and Belgium there are significant numbers of TTIP Free Zones being declared by local authorities. When negotiators in Brussels leave their meetings they immediately walk out into the Brussels municipality which is itself a TTIP Free Zone. There are 39 no TTIP councils in Spain and a good covering in Northern Italy. This is a Europe-wide movement of local resistance to the corporate power grab that TTIP represents.

There’s still a long way to go. There’s over 400 local councils of different kinds in the UK, so there are a lot of opportunities for local groups who are concerned about TTIP to raise the issue. Fortunately, Global Justice Now has worked with Unison, the public sector union, to produce a campaign pack, consisting of briefings, posters, leaflets, badges, stickers and a sample motion for you to use in getting your local council to come on board with the TTIP Free Zone campaign. They’re free and can be ordered from this website.

The biggest threat of TTIP has always been to democracy – the threat that corporations could have more say about what we eat, what we wear and how we structure our societies. So it’s fitting that one of the most exciting forms of pushback happening right now is happening at the level of local democracy that is less impeded by the corporate lobbying that’s so prevalent in Brussels and Westminster. Get in touch with your local councillors about becoming a TTIP Free Zone and let us know how you get on.

This piece first appeared on the Global Justice Now blog

Sideboxes Related stories:  TTIP - denial in face of defeat TTIP and the first rule of Fight Club Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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Devolution? Or just doing Osborne's bidding?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. September 2015 - 23:11

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is going through parliament. Who’s likely to benefit, who isn’t, and what’s been happening around the country?

Core Cities Devolution Declaration, Flickr/Birmingham News Room

For almost a year, LocalismWatch has been trying to make sense of the government’s stated desire to give local communities a greater say in local issues. Power centralised in Whitehall has historically been the default setting for British governance, so anything that promises change has to be taken seriously. But because the devolution project is being led by people with a proven interest in keeping strategic power close to Whitehall, its components and progress need closer examination. What’s on the table, and what isn’t? Who’s at the table, and who’s not? Who will make the final decisions? And what sort of landscape is likely to emerge when the bill gets Royal Assent?

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill completed its third reading in the House of Lords on 21 July and will be debated by MPs later this autumn. When we’ve cut a path through the legalese, the bill’s main objectives are:

  • - To allow certain powers to be handed over from central government to some of England’s cities, urban areas and counties;
  • - To permit the introduction of directly-elected ‘metro-mayors’ over combined authorities, and for mayors to replace Police and Crime Commissioners in those areas, should they wish;
  • - To remove any current limitations on the powers of those local authorities (currently, they’re limited to economic development, regeneration and transport); and
  • - To enable local governance to be streamlined in ways that are agreed by those councils.

The bill’s provisions are ‘generic’: in other words, they won’t be a one-size-fits-all. Instead, they’ll be tailor-made, imposed on specific areas by central government through Orders in Council. Most Whitehall watchers believe that the initial focus of devolution will be the Core Cities Group, a cartel dominated by England’s eight largest city economies outside London. The Core Cities secured ‘top-sliced’ central government funding in the first round of City Deals under the 2010-15 Coalition, to deliver locally-determined outcomes. England’s 20 ‘next tier’ urban areas had to wait for a second round of deals, allocated on less favourable terms. So it’s already clear that devolution, Conservative-style, has little to do with equal chances for all: the big boys still hold sway.

The bill, however, does allow for devolution to a single county or another large area that hasn’t got combined authority status, provided all the local councils are signed up. Crucially, though, the final decision rests with the Secretary of State, not local councils, on whether the deal should proceed.

During its passage in the Lords, peers made a few amendments to the bill. The package negotiated between George Osborne and Greater Manchester before the May election devolved health and social care responsibilities to the new combined authority, ending the idea of a truly National Health Service. Partly because of this, Lords secured additional safeguards, preventing the wholesale devolution of health functions away from the NHS. The successful extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year olds in last year’s Scottish IndyRef persuaded a majority of peers to support similar arrangements for metro-mayor elections.

There have also been worries that the bill concentrates too many powers in elected mayors, without appropriate checks and balances. Widespread local resistance to the mayoral model, not least in Manchester, helped the Lords to pass an amendment allowing combined authorities to choose alternative forms of governance. They did not, however, defeat the government in a vote for mayoral elections to be based on proportional representation, not first-past-the-post.

The government also held out against Labour and Lib Dem amendments permitting mayors and combined authorities to borrow and raise their own revenue. Clive Betts, who chairs the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, wants to table an amendment in the Commons, giving cities stronger fiscal powers. This is supported by the Local Government Association, as ‘fiscal devolution and proper consideration of fair funding is also required to ensure that public services are sustainable’.

That’s not to say that any of these amendments will still be included when the bill becomes law. George Osborne is a man on a mission, who wants to ‘fix the roof while the sun is shining’. His 2015 Spending Review, subtitled ‘a country that lives within its means’, talks of ‘putting Britain’s security first’, through ‘further savings to eliminate the deficit by 2019-20.’ The bulk of these, as we’ve previously highlighted, will be further cuts to public services, notably welfare.

But the Spending Review also claims that it needs ‘radical steps towards the devolution of power in the UK’, moving from ‘the imbalanced and overly-centralised system of government’ that the Tories inherited. If the basis of devolution is indeed to give local people a better say and a better deal, Osborne’s explicitly top-down approach is at best contradictory. It helps confirm LocalismWatch’s hypothesis that what’s really being devolved in Austerity Britain isn’t power, but blame.

To deliver the Spending Review, the Chancellor has asked Whitehall departments to ‘proactively consider what they can devolve and how they can facilitate public service integration’. Cities that are prepared to form City-regions with an elected mayor, and broker a Greater Manchester-style deal by the Spending Review on 25 November, were asked to ’submit formal, fiscally-neutral proposals and an agreed geography to the Treasury by 4 September’.

Ben Harrison of the Centre for Cities argues that because Osborne’s calling the shots, local leaders must directly challenge him on his terms to secure the best deals. This, Harrison considers, means embracing the mayoral model and asking the Chancellor to concede even more, for example, greater fiscal autonomy. From a top-down perspective, focused on transactional relationships between different layers of government, this seems entirely plausible. But the remit of elected members is – and needs to be – far more nuanced, organic, long term and broadly based. Even granted their basic right to independence of mind, the mandate of local leaders still has to reflect the distinctive social, economic and environmental make-up of the communities they represent.

The chancellor’s tight timescale for such a huge upheaval has prompted wide ranging responses across England. Although few details have emerged so far of the devolution submissions that cities and counties will be making, a trawl of local newspapers reveals a mixture of outward confidence, bravado, resistance and resignation.

Greater Manchester

Now that a comprehensive devolution package is all but assured, there’s been less media focus on its community-based benefits than private sector growth. Even Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of the charities’ umbrella group ACEVO, whose views are seen by many as closer to the government than the sector he represents, says that the arrangements don’t allow voluntary bodies a big enough role.

The £300m in the Manchester deal for improving existing stock and building up to 15,000 new homes each year is viewed by developers as a catalyst for boosting house prices and returns on corporate investment, rather than tackling homelessness and a lack of social and affordable homes. In tandem with this, the European Union has reached an agreement with the Treasury for the area’s Combined Authority to manage an extra £300m in European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) money to promote business growth.

Merseyside

Unanimity‘s a scare resource on Merseyside where devolution’s concerned. John Wharton, the minister charged with delivering the Northern Powerhouse, has warned councils there to get their bid in by 4 September if they wish to join the ‘devolution vanguard’. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has called on central government to issue formal guidance to Merseyside authorities on better corporate working. The RICS says that because so many stakeholders are involved, it’s vital that devolution enhances, not hinders, existing governance frameworks.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson recognises that other areas are further advanced with their bids. He’s told his councillors that Merseyside had to “get on the bus or be left at the bus stop”. He added: “We have to look seriously at bursting the Westminster bubble and taking powers from them. There are officials in Whitehall – and I’ve met some – who don’t know where Liverpool is on a map, taking decisions about this city.” Anderson’s views are not, however, universally shared, either in terms of who should hold Merseyside’s top job (Wirral leader Phil Davies heads the area’s combined authority), or whether it should have an elected mayor.

The North East

Although Osborne’s summer Budget didn’t set out a roadmap for devolution here, local leaders have been working on a devolution bid based around skills, transport and inward investment. But in an area that likes to do things its own way, there remains cynicism over Whitehall-imposed solutions. Jonathan Walker of the North East Chamber of Commerce says leaders should “swallow the pill” over elected mayors. Lee Perkins, Managing Director of Sage UK, the region’s only FTSE100 company, calls on them “to see the big devolution picture”. Their views, however, are not mirrored by the region’s Federation of Small Businesses, which says that its members haven’t been properly engaged in the discussions.

Nor are local councils fully signed up. South Tyneside’s Ian Malcolm says that regional leaders “could be left holding the axe” for government cuts. He admits that matters have moved on from 2004, when North East voters rejected a regional assembly, but adds: “This is a government that is giving British people a referendum on Europe to pacify its own backbenchers. Yet it seems we are being told the public cannot have a say on the region’s local government structures.”

Yorkshire

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, speaking on behalf of 22 local authorities, told the Yorkshire Post that her partnership has given the Chancellor a list of 27 ‘asks’ in its devolution bid. These include reviving the Leeds Supertram project, previously shelved on cost grounds, an economic hub around Leeds-Bradford airport, local control over housing, regeneration, highways, further education, skills and troubled families programmes, plus 100% retention of business rates.

Cllr Blake said that she’d be ‘very disappointed’ if Osborne rejected the asks. She refused, however, to be drawn on whether approval depended on agreeing to a metro-mayor, a matter on which she has reservations and which former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had assured her wouldn’t be compulsory. “We will consider an elected mayor if and only if powers given to us are substantial to justify that change,” she adds, “but the really important thing is that any mayor would receive powers coming down from Westminster and not coming up from the local authorities.”

What seems to be missing here is tangible ownership of a bid that politicians and technocrats have had to assemble behind closed doors and at breakneck speed. To many, the narrative of the Northern Powerhouse, an essentially top-down brand, seems narrowly focused around faster travel times between central Manchester and central Leeds. In Bradford, a city with a population greater than either Manchester or Liverpool, but with much less political clout, the focus on Leeds causes rankles. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Transport Secretary’s recent indefinite postponement of funding to electrify the Trans Pennine rail link is being has cast serious doubt on the government’s commitment to bridge the North-South divide.

Leaders in the Sheffield City Region, which is also preparing a bid, have still to decide if they’ll accept an elected mayor. They’re reluctant to tamper with the existing legal structure of their Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which administer around £300m in vital Growth Fund monies.

Elsewhere in OurKingdom, Ian Martin has written with passion and humanity about his vision for a devolved Yorkshire, based on identity and self-determination. It’s a grand read, and in our view, far more plausible and sustainable than anything likely to be exchanged in the current round of e-mails between Leeds Town Hall and the Treasury.

East Midlands

After initial fears that Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire would be preparing separate bids, it seems that they’ll be making a joint submission, supervised by the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership. This “would create thousands of new jobs and homes, improve skills training and deliver a fully integrated transport system”. Local government minister Marcus Jones believes that: “There are enormous opportunities across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire [for] driving forward the Midlands Engine. We’re determined that communities [can] have the powers they need.” Note his reference to Growth Engine, another non-quantifiable, top-down label, based on branding, not solid analysis: the nearest attempt LocalismWatch can find to a definition is in a Daily Mail article, here.

West Midlands 

It seems, however, that the engine in question isn’t delivering uniform growth. The Birmingham Post reports that West Midlands authorities are likely to lose out on the next round of devolution, as they’ll only be able to produce a set of outline proposals by the 4 September deadline. It won’t be until mid-October before Coventry and Solihull councils, whose involvement is crucial, formally consider whether to sign up. Detailed discussions on a metro-mayor will therefore be delayed.

A stumbling block is region-wide distrust of Birmingham City Council, whose poor performance in delivering its own services led to former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles setting up an Independent Improvement Panel back in January: he gave the council a year to sort itself out. Worryingly, the Birmingham Post quotes a recent letter from the Panel’s chair, John Crabtree, updating the current Communities Secretary Greg Clark on progress: “The senior political leadership of the council, in spite of assertions to the contrary, may still not understand the scale of the task facing the council, and the enormous culture change needed right across the organisation by politicians and staff at all levels if the residents of the city are to be well served.”

The South Coast

What’s being called a landmark devolution deal is being progressed by Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton. Their joint press release reads: “If plans go ahead, local authorities, and therefore local people, would have more influence over how the region’s share of national spending is spent, enabling local priorities to be targeted.” Although the statement acknowledges that a formal combined authority won’t be in place by the Spending Review deadline, it implies that sufficient co-operation exists to progress matters into the long term. However, local Tory activist David Banks sounds a note of caution. He draws attention to previous failed attempts to create a Solent combined authority around a smaller geographical entity, and says that the new arrangement would not give the area substantial additional money or powers.

The South West

In a separate development, the government granted Cornwall the first of its new county deals on 23 July, devolving powers over health and social care integration, bus services and economic development to the unitary council. However these fall short of the council’s ‘Case for Cornwall’ wish-list. It had also asked to use some locally-paid fuel duty to maintain roads; to retain a share of stamp duty to fund affordable housing; and take control of government land to provide social housing. Cornwall had also sought to re-invest income from Right to Buy sales to build new homes; greater influence in developing the power grid and geothermal energy; and more local control over coastal protection. Council leader John Pollard was nevertheless upbeat: “Cornwall’s devolution deal [can] provide a blueprint for other areas. This is no short term fix. We are serious about a different approach to economic growth and strong communities.”

Prompted by Cornwall’s success, representatives of 25 other South West councils attended a ‘devolution summit’ in Somerset on 3 August. The following week, the leader of Devon County Council announced that a joint ‘expression of interest’ would be progressed with Somerset County Council and its five district authorities, around economic development, skills and job creation. A separate devolution bid with similar themes is being pursued in Gloucestershire.

Is there any clear view from the left?

Because this is being written halfway through the Labour Party leadership contest, it’s useful – for the benefit of history, at least – to draw readers’ attention to another OurKingdom piece. This sets out the four candidates’ responses to a suggestion by a group of Labour MPs and council leaders that a constitutional convention should be held to debate a series of related issues, including federalism and devolution. Their replies range from terse two-liners by Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn to longer, more formal letters by Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. But apart from offering conciliatory platitudes to potential voters none of the four address the issues substantively, far less offer alternatives.

Writing in the Local Government Chronicle, former Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable takes a more robust approach. He warns that the Treasury “has little interest beyond creating a pretext for another top slicing of funding” and that Treasury-led devolution will almost certainly come with cuts as well as powers. Cable favours an agenda that avoids ‘central control’ and ‘infantilisation’ of local government

The Morning Star suggests that England’s devolution flurry is part of a ‘dangerous silly season’. It sees the process as a diversionary tactic by the government, commenting that devolution “has been transformed from a progressive measure putting health services to some degree under democratic control, into a bureaucratic monster, with imposed mayors and arrogant decision-making by small cabals of self-important councillors.” It continues: “Instead of a transfer of real powers to a more local level, budget pressures mean devolution is now an exercise in shifting blame for unpopular cutbacks and closures from central government — which since the 2012 [Health and Social Care] Act no longer has any duty to provide healthcare — to unwitting but ambitious local authorities.”

Peter Geoghegan, a perceptive observer of Scottish devolution, reflects on the confused picture south of the Border. To him, a barrier to greater devolution here lies in “the many regional identities that fracture Englishness”. Neither is there a clear political infrastructure within which new governing bodies for English regions could sit. Geoghegan concludes: “Whatever else it is, English Votes for English Laws is not a solution to the emerging ‘English Question’.”

And yet, it’s not just regional identity and political infrastructures that separate the social housing tenants in Downing Street, Liverpool from the privileged tenants of its far more famous London namesake. There’s a whole array of traditions and perceptions involved, some but not all based on class, wealth and - for want of a better term - tribalism. This helps explain why the Tories’ approach to devolution is multi-speed and Core City-focused, with scant concern for wider engagement.

At base, Osborne’s devolution project is but one part of his strategy to privatise and outsource England’s public realm, cynically using public representatives, many from opposition parties, as his delivery agents. It’s also a textbook case of divide-and-rule. Put bluntly, a devo-deal is a top-down, payment-by-results contract between central government and (ideally for central government) a single individual. How that single individual engages with other local public representatives, let alone the wider community, to deliver on the deal, is never defined.

What’s the future for cross-boundary relationships? The Localism Act 2011 includes a duty for neighbouring authorities to cooperate on planning matters, but provides no legal sanctions for non-cooperation, and the matter remains untested in the courts. The Devolution Bill’s far wider in scope, but is entirely silent on cooperation. So in theory, a project that began as a bid to stop the Balkanisation of Britain could unwittingly beget something more akin to the Holy Roman Empire, a misshapen and ultimately unsustainable mishmash of over 350 quarrelling states. By delicious irony, England is currently made up of 353 unitary, upper and lower tier council areas.

It may be marketed as devolution, and may soon be enshrined in legislation as devolution. But whatever gloss is imposed by Whitehall press offices, it’s certainly not democracy.

 

OurKingdom doesn’t have a billionaire proprietor telling us what to write - we rely on donations from readers like you. Please support us if you can.

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Local councils are starting to tear strips off TTIP

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. September 2015 - 23:11

Local councils have joined the fight against the EU/US trade deal.

picture, Global Justice Now

Politicians in both Brussels and Westminster have taken great pains to try and brush off people’s many concerns about the toxic trade deal being pushed through by the EU and the USA. But an exciting new front is emerging in the battle against TTIP, harnessing the energy of grassroots groups to push opposition to the corporate power grab up the political food chain via the power of local councils. In the UK and across Europe, TTIP Free Zones are popping up like people power mushrooms.

On the one hand, it may be seen as a symbolic gesture to get your local council to declare itself a TTIP Free Zone, after all these councils don’t have a direct say in whether or not the deal would be passed. But there is a real political value in creating pressure in this manner – it’s a powerful expression of grassroots opposition that MPs and MEPs might otherwise not be exposed to.

But TTIP Free Zones are equally importantly a means of promoting an understanding of what impact TTIP would have on the powers of local councils.  TTIP could also affect existing powers granted to local authorities such as planning. The decision of Lancashire County Council to deny planning permission for fracking in the local area is the sort of decision that would be harder to make under TTIP – first because such a decision could be challenged under ISDS, and second because of the pressure to ‘harmonise’ energy regulations.    

The provision of local public services and procurement could also be affected. Current EU rules allow for environmental and social considerations in awarding contracts. For example, local governments can decide to buy only fairtrade or organic produce. Local authorities are also allowed to ensure that procurement benefits small and medium-sized businesses in the area – for instance a number of cities, including Manchester and Glasgow, have become Sustainable Food Cities, and are trying to use more locally sourced, sustainable food in the public sector. 

This could all be threatened under TTIP because the European Commission, keen to access US local markets by getting rid of “Buy America” schemes across the Atlantic, has said it wants TTIP to open local procurement to greater competition. This means that procurement could be constrained far more by price alone – giving US multinationals more access to markets at the expense of the local economy and the environment. Official EU estimates are that TTIP will induce a 25-50%  liberalisation of government procurement.

So it’s not surprising that in a short space of time, 19 local councils across the UK have, to some extent, declared themselves as being a TTIP Free Zone, including Sheffield, Glasgow and Bradford city councils.  Chas Booth, a Green Party councillor for Leith, Edinburgh which is one of those 19 councils, said:

“In Edinburgh, we are proud of initiatives such as the Edinburgh Guarantee which aims to ensure employment or training for school leavers. Likewise the Edible Edinburgh initiative aims to encourage local and seasonal food. These are just two of the possible targets from corporate lawyers if TTIP goes through unchallenged.”

And it’s not just the UK. In Austria, Germany, France and Belgium there are significant numbers of TTIP Free Zones being declared by local authorities. When negotiators in Brussels leave their meetings they immediately walk out into the Brussels municipality which is itself a TTIP Free Zone. There are 39 no TTIP councils in Spain and a good covering in Northern Italy. This is a Europe-wide movement of local resistance to the corporate power grab that TTIP represents.

There’s still a long way to go. There’s over 400 local councils of different kinds in the UK, so there are a lot of opportunities for local groups who are concerned about TTIP to raise the issue. Fortunately, Global Justice Now has worked with Unison, the public sector union, to produce a campaign pack, consisting of briefings, posters, leaflets, badges, stickers and a sample motion for you to use in getting your local council to come on board with the TTIP Free Zone campaign. They’re free and can be ordered from this website.

The biggest threat of TTIP has always been to democracy – the threat that corporations could have more say about what we eat, what we wear and how we structure our societies. So it’s fitting that one of the most exciting forms of pushback happening right now is happening at the level of local democracy that is less impeded by the corporate lobbying that’s so prevalent in Brussels and Westminster. Get in touch with your local councillors about becoming a TTIP Free Zone and let us know how you get on.

This piece first appeared on the Global Justice Now blog

Sideboxes Related stories:  TTIP - denial in face of defeat TTIP and the first rule of Fight Club Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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Devolution? Or just doing Osborne's bidding?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. September 2015 - 23:11

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is going through parliament. Who’s likely to benefit, who isn’t, and what’s been happening around the country?

Core Cities Devolution Declaration, Flickr/Birmingham News Room

For almost a year, LocalismWatch has been trying to make sense of the government’s stated desire to give local communities a greater say in local issues. Power centralised in Whitehall has historically been the default setting for British governance, so anything that promises change has to be taken seriously. But because the devolution project is being led by people with a proven interest in keeping strategic power close to Whitehall, its components and progress need closer examination. What’s on the table, and what isn’t? Who’s at the table, and who’s not? Who will make the final decisions? And what sort of landscape is likely to emerge when the bill gets Royal Assent?

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill completed its third reading in the House of Lords on 21 July and will be debated by MPs later this autumn. When we’ve cut a path through the legalese, the bill’s main objectives are:

  • - To allow certain powers to be handed over from central government to some of England’s cities, urban areas and counties;
  • - To permit the introduction of directly-elected ‘metro-mayors’ over combined authorities, and for mayors to replace Police and Crime Commissioners in those areas, should they wish;
  • - To remove any current limitations on the powers of those local authorities (currently, they’re limited to economic development, regeneration and transport); and
  • - To enable local governance to be streamlined in ways that are agreed by those councils.

The bill’s provisions are ‘generic’: in other words, they won’t be a one-size-fits-all. Instead, they’ll be tailor-made, imposed on specific areas by central government through Orders in Council. Most Whitehall watchers believe that the initial focus of devolution will be the Core Cities Group, a cartel dominated by England’s eight largest city economies outside London. The Core Cities secured ‘top-sliced’ central government funding in the first round of City Deals under the 2010-15 Coalition, to deliver locally-determined outcomes. England’s 20 ‘next tier’ urban areas had to wait for a second round of deals, allocated on less favourable terms. So it’s already clear that devolution, Conservative-style, has little to do with equal chances for all: the big boys still hold sway.

The bill, however, does allow for devolution to a single county or another large area that hasn’t got combined authority status, provided all the local councils are signed up. Crucially, though, the final decision rests with the Secretary of State, not local councils, on whether the deal should proceed.

During its passage in the Lords, peers made a few amendments to the bill. The package negotiated between George Osborne and Greater Manchester before the May election devolved health and social care responsibilities to the new combined authority, ending the idea of a truly National Health Service. Partly because of this, Lords secured additional safeguards, preventing the wholesale devolution of health functions away from the NHS. The successful extension of the vote to 16 and 17 year olds in last year’s Scottish IndyRef persuaded a majority of peers to support similar arrangements for metro-mayor elections.

There have also been worries that the bill concentrates too many powers in elected mayors, without appropriate checks and balances. Widespread local resistance to the mayoral model, not least in Manchester, helped the Lords to pass an amendment allowing combined authorities to choose alternative forms of governance. They did not, however, defeat the government in a vote for mayoral elections to be based on proportional representation, not first-past-the-post.

The government also held out against Labour and Lib Dem amendments permitting mayors and combined authorities to borrow and raise their own revenue. Clive Betts, who chairs the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, wants to table an amendment in the Commons, giving cities stronger fiscal powers. This is supported by the Local Government Association, as ‘fiscal devolution and proper consideration of fair funding is also required to ensure that public services are sustainable’.

That’s not to say that any of these amendments will still be included when the bill becomes law. George Osborne is a man on a mission, who wants to ‘fix the roof while the sun is shining’. His 2015 Spending Review, subtitled ‘a country that lives within its means’, talks of ‘putting Britain’s security first’, through ‘further savings to eliminate the deficit by 2019-20.’ The bulk of these, as we’ve previously highlighted, will be further cuts to public services, notably welfare.

But the Spending Review also claims that it needs ‘radical steps towards the devolution of power in the UK’, moving from ‘the imbalanced and overly-centralised system of government’ that the Tories inherited. If the basis of devolution is indeed to give local people a better say and a better deal, Osborne’s explicitly top-down approach is at best contradictory. It helps confirm LocalismWatch’s hypothesis that what’s really being devolved in Austerity Britain isn’t power, but blame.

To deliver the Spending Review, the Chancellor has asked Whitehall departments to ‘proactively consider what they can devolve and how they can facilitate public service integration’. Cities that are prepared to form City-regions with an elected mayor, and broker a Greater Manchester-style deal by the Spending Review on 25 November, were asked to ’submit formal, fiscally-neutral proposals and an agreed geography to the Treasury by 4 September’.

Ben Harrison of the Centre for Cities argues that because Osborne’s calling the shots, local leaders must directly challenge him on his terms to secure the best deals. This, Harrison considers, means embracing the mayoral model and asking the Chancellor to concede even more, for example, greater fiscal autonomy. From a top-down perspective, focused on transactional relationships between different layers of government, this seems entirely plausible. But the remit of elected members is – and needs to be – far more nuanced, organic, long term and broadly based. Even granted their basic right to independence of mind, the mandate of local leaders still has to reflect the distinctive social, economic and environmental make-up of the communities they represent.

The chancellor’s tight timescale for such a huge upheaval has prompted wide ranging responses across England. Although few details have emerged so far of the devolution submissions that cities and counties will be making, a trawl of local newspapers reveals a mixture of outward confidence, bravado, resistance and resignation.

Greater Manchester

Now that a comprehensive devolution package is all but assured, there’s been less media focus on its community-based benefits than private sector growth. Even Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of the charities’ umbrella group ACEVO, whose views are seen by many as closer to the government than the sector he represents, says that the arrangements don’t allow voluntary bodies a big enough role.

The £300m in the Manchester deal for improving existing stock and building up to 15,000 new homes each year is viewed by developers as a catalyst for boosting house prices and returns on corporate investment, rather than tackling homelessness and a lack of social and affordable homes. In tandem with this, the European Union has reached an agreement with the Treasury for the area’s Combined Authority to manage an extra £300m in European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) money to promote business growth.

Merseyside

Unanimity‘s a scare resource on Merseyside where devolution’s concerned. John Wharton, the minister charged with delivering the Northern Powerhouse, has warned councils there to get their bid in by 4 September if they wish to join the ‘devolution vanguard’. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has called on central government to issue formal guidance to Merseyside authorities on better corporate working. The RICS says that because so many stakeholders are involved, it’s vital that devolution enhances, not hinders, existing governance frameworks.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson recognises that other areas are further advanced with their bids. He’s told his councillors that Merseyside had to “get on the bus or be left at the bus stop”. He added: “We have to look seriously at bursting the Westminster bubble and taking powers from them. There are officials in Whitehall – and I’ve met some – who don’t know where Liverpool is on a map, taking decisions about this city.” Anderson’s views are not, however, universally shared, either in terms of who should hold Merseyside’s top job (Wirral leader Phil Davies heads the area’s combined authority), or whether it should have an elected mayor.

The North East

Although Osborne’s summer Budget didn’t set out a roadmap for devolution here, local leaders have been working on a devolution bid based around skills, transport and inward investment. But in an area that likes to do things its own way, there remains cynicism over Whitehall-imposed solutions. Jonathan Walker of the North East Chamber of Commerce says leaders should “swallow the pill” over elected mayors. Lee Perkins, Managing Director of Sage UK, the region’s only FTSE100 company, calls on them “to see the big devolution picture”. Their views, however, are not mirrored by the region’s Federation of Small Businesses, which says that its members haven’t been properly engaged in the discussions.

Nor are local councils fully signed up. South Tyneside’s Ian Malcolm says that regional leaders “could be left holding the axe” for government cuts. He admits that matters have moved on from 2004, when North East voters rejected a regional assembly, but adds: “This is a government that is giving British people a referendum on Europe to pacify its own backbenchers. Yet it seems we are being told the public cannot have a say on the region’s local government structures.”

Yorkshire

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, speaking on behalf of 22 local authorities, told the Yorkshire Post that her partnership has given the Chancellor a list of 27 ‘asks’ in its devolution bid. These include reviving the Leeds Supertram project, previously shelved on cost grounds, an economic hub around Leeds-Bradford airport, local control over housing, regeneration, highways, further education, skills and troubled families programmes, plus 100% retention of business rates.

Cllr Blake said that she’d be ‘very disappointed’ if Osborne rejected the asks. She refused, however, to be drawn on whether approval depended on agreeing to a metro-mayor, a matter on which she has reservations and which former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had assured her wouldn’t be compulsory. “We will consider an elected mayor if and only if powers given to us are substantial to justify that change,” she adds, “but the really important thing is that any mayor would receive powers coming down from Westminster and not coming up from the local authorities.”

What seems to be missing here is tangible ownership of a bid that politicians and technocrats have had to assemble behind closed doors and at breakneck speed. To many, the narrative of the Northern Powerhouse, an essentially top-down brand, seems narrowly focused around faster travel times between central Manchester and central Leeds. In Bradford, a city with a population greater than either Manchester or Liverpool, but with much less political clout, the focus on Leeds causes rankles. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Transport Secretary’s recent indefinite postponement of funding to electrify the Trans Pennine rail link is being has cast serious doubt on the government’s commitment to bridge the North-South divide.

Leaders in the Sheffield City Region, which is also preparing a bid, have still to decide if they’ll accept an elected mayor. They’re reluctant to tamper with the existing legal structure of their Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which administer around £300m in vital Growth Fund monies.

Elsewhere in OurKingdom, Ian Martin has written with passion and humanity about his vision for a devolved Yorkshire, based on identity and self-determination. It’s a grand read, and in our view, far more plausible and sustainable than anything likely to be exchanged in the current round of e-mails between Leeds Town Hall and the Treasury.

East Midlands

After initial fears that Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire would be preparing separate bids, it seems that they’ll be making a joint submission, supervised by the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership. This “would create thousands of new jobs and homes, improve skills training and deliver a fully integrated transport system”. Local government minister Marcus Jones believes that: “There are enormous opportunities across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire [for] driving forward the Midlands Engine. We’re determined that communities [can] have the powers they need.” Note his reference to Growth Engine, another non-quantifiable, top-down label, based on branding, not solid analysis: the nearest attempt LocalismWatch can find to a definition is in a Daily Mail article, here.

West Midlands 

It seems, however, that the engine in question isn’t delivering uniform growth. The Birmingham Post reports that West Midlands authorities are likely to lose out on the next round of devolution, as they’ll only be able to produce a set of outline proposals by the 4 September deadline. It won’t be until mid-October before Coventry and Solihull councils, whose involvement is crucial, formally consider whether to sign up. Detailed discussions on a metro-mayor will therefore be delayed.

A stumbling block is region-wide distrust of Birmingham City Council, whose poor performance in delivering its own services led to former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles setting up an Independent Improvement Panel back in January: he gave the council a year to sort itself out. Worryingly, the Birmingham Post quotes a recent letter from the Panel’s chair, John Crabtree, updating the current Communities Secretary Greg Clark on progress: “The senior political leadership of the council, in spite of assertions to the contrary, may still not understand the scale of the task facing the council, and the enormous culture change needed right across the organisation by politicians and staff at all levels if the residents of the city are to be well served.”

The South Coast

What’s being called a landmark devolution deal is being progressed by Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton. Their joint press release reads: “If plans go ahead, local authorities, and therefore local people, would have more influence over how the region’s share of national spending is spent, enabling local priorities to be targeted.” Although the statement acknowledges that a formal combined authority won’t be in place by the Spending Review deadline, it implies that sufficient co-operation exists to progress matters into the long term. However, local Tory activist David Banks sounds a note of caution. He draws attention to previous failed attempts to create a Solent combined authority around a smaller geographical entity, and says that the new arrangement would not give the area substantial additional money or powers.

The South West

In a separate development, the government granted Cornwall the first of its new county deals on 23 July, devolving powers over health and social care integration, bus services and economic development to the unitary council. However these fall short of the council’s ‘Case for Cornwall’ wish-list. It had also asked to use some locally-paid fuel duty to maintain roads; to retain a share of stamp duty to fund affordable housing; and take control of government land to provide social housing. Cornwall had also sought to re-invest income from Right to Buy sales to build new homes; greater influence in developing the power grid and geothermal energy; and more local control over coastal protection. Council leader John Pollard was nevertheless upbeat: “Cornwall’s devolution deal [can] provide a blueprint for other areas. This is no short term fix. We are serious about a different approach to economic growth and strong communities.”

Prompted by Cornwall’s success, representatives of 25 other South West councils attended a ‘devolution summit’ in Somerset on 3 August. The following week, the leader of Devon County Council announced that a joint ‘expression of interest’ would be progressed with Somerset County Council and its five district authorities, around economic development, skills and job creation. A separate devolution bid with similar themes is being pursued in Gloucestershire.

Is there any clear view from the left?

Because this is being written halfway through the Labour Party leadership contest, it’s useful – for the benefit of history, at least – to draw readers’ attention to another OurKingdom piece. This sets out the four candidates’ responses to a suggestion by a group of Labour MPs and council leaders that a constitutional convention should be held to debate a series of related issues, including federalism and devolution. Their replies range from terse two-liners by Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn to longer, more formal letters by Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. But apart from offering conciliatory platitudes to potential voters none of the four address the issues substantively, far less offer alternatives.

Writing in the Local Government Chronicle, former Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable takes a more robust approach. He warns that the Treasury “has little interest beyond creating a pretext for another top slicing of funding” and that Treasury-led devolution will almost certainly come with cuts as well as powers. Cable favours an agenda that avoids ‘central control’ and ‘infantilisation’ of local government

The Morning Star suggests that England’s devolution flurry is part of a ‘dangerous silly season’. It sees the process as a diversionary tactic by the government, commenting that devolution “has been transformed from a progressive measure putting health services to some degree under democratic control, into a bureaucratic monster, with imposed mayors and arrogant decision-making by small cabals of self-important councillors.” It continues: “Instead of a transfer of real powers to a more local level, budget pressures mean devolution is now an exercise in shifting blame for unpopular cutbacks and closures from central government — which since the 2012 [Health and Social Care] Act no longer has any duty to provide healthcare — to unwitting but ambitious local authorities.”

Peter Geoghegan, a perceptive observer of Scottish devolution, reflects on the confused picture south of the Border. To him, a barrier to greater devolution here lies in “the many regional identities that fracture Englishness”. Neither is there a clear political infrastructure within which new governing bodies for English regions could sit. Geoghegan concludes: “Whatever else it is, English Votes for English Laws is not a solution to the emerging ‘English Question’.”

And yet, it’s not just regional identity and political infrastructures that separate the social housing tenants in Downing Street, Liverpool from the privileged tenants of its far more famous London namesake. There’s a whole array of traditions and perceptions involved, some but not all based on class, wealth and - for want of a better term - tribalism. This helps explain why the Tories’ approach to devolution is multi-speed and Core City-focused, with scant concern for wider engagement.

At base, Osborne’s devolution project is but one part of his strategy to privatise and outsource England’s public realm, cynically using public representatives, many from opposition parties, as his delivery agents. It’s also a textbook case of divide-and-rule. Put bluntly, a devo-deal is a top-down, payment-by-results contract between central government and (ideally for central government) a single individual. How that single individual engages with other local public representatives, let alone the wider community, to deliver on the deal, is never defined.

What’s the future for cross-boundary relationships? The Localism Act 2011 includes a duty for neighbouring authorities to cooperate on planning matters, but provides no legal sanctions for non-cooperation, and the matter remains untested in the courts. The Devolution Bill’s far wider in scope, but is entirely silent on cooperation. So in theory, a project that began as a bid to stop the Balkanisation of Britain could unwittingly beget something more akin to the Holy Roman Empire, a misshapen and ultimately unsustainable mishmash of over 350 quarrelling states. By delicious irony, England is currently made up of 353 unitary, upper and lower tier council areas.

It may be marketed as devolution, and may soon be enshrined in legislation as devolution. But whatever gloss is imposed by Whitehall press offices, it’s certainly not democracy.

 

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