Friday, 15 February 2013

Horsemeat scandal

Here is a radical idea: imagine the towns of North Ayrshire were surrounded by fields, in which farmers reared cows. Imagine those farms produced beef and dairy produce.

Then imagine the towns of North Ayrshire had shops, in which local people could buy beef and lamb and pork and milk and cheese and fresh vegetables.

Imagine North Ayrshire farms employed local people. Imagine they were well paid and took a pride in their work. Imagine people were employed to inspect cattle on North Ayrshire farms, and products in local shops. Imagine the beef in pies, burgers, lasagnes and other products was actually beef – from cows reared locally. Imagine the state regulated farm-production, cattle transportation, meat processing and supply to the retail sector.

Sorry, I got carried away. I forgot we live in a capitalist country, within a global capitalist economy, where the pursuit of ever-greater profit is all that matters, even in relation to food, one of humanities basic needs.

Amongst the lurid headlines of the past week – including that some frozen ‘beef’ lasagnes sold in UK supermarkets contained up to 100 percent horsemeat – virtually no-one has dared to mention the actual cause of what has rapidly turned into a Europe-wide crisis. If you have read UK-based newspapers you will know that horsemeat has been substituted for beef: you will also have read that such heinous activity is down to ‘Johnny-foreigner’ types in Eastern European countries like Poland and Bulgaria.

However, staff at foreign abattoirs did not just take it upon themselves to slaughter horses and label the meat as beef. Such action was taken because the cost of beef has risen markedly in the past year, along with other staple food products, such as grain. I am reliably informed that horsemeat can be bought at 25 percent the cost of beef – resulting in a nice profit for corrupt food-processors: and in our capitalist world, profit is all that matters.

That is how horsemeat was labelled as beef and got into the human foodchain. But how did it get into burgers and lasagnes on the shelves of UK supermarkets?

The major supermarket-chains in Britain are very successful operations, making billions-of-pounds in profit every year. They do this, in part, by squeezing-down the amount they are prepared to pay suppliers for produce. In the pursuit of ever-greater profits, the supplier who charges the least will get the contract. That is why locally-produced beef is very unlikely to find its way into ‘beef’ products on the shelves of local Tescos or Asdas.

Instead, in the case of ‘beef’ lasagnes produced for frozen-food firm Findus (the ones found to contain up to 100 percent horsemeat) the supply-chain was as follows: the meat come from two Romanian abattoirs; it was sold to a trader in the Netherlands; then sold again to another trader in Cyprus; that company sold it to a French firm called Poujol ; they then supplied it to a meat-processing plant in Luxembourg run by a company named Comigel; and it was then delivered to Findus, which is headquartered in Sweden.

At no stage of its long journey was the meat inspected or tested. In fact, the whole crisis in which we now find ourselves was sparked by food inspectors in Ireland who first found traces of horse DNA in ‘beef’ burgers being sold by Tesco. Those Irish inspectors were acting on a tip-off, without which the chances are we would all still be munching our way through horses that should be enjoying a happy retirement in a pleasant field somewhere.

The cause of the ‘horsemeat crisis’ is the capitalist economic system and its core principle of making as much money as possible. Capitalism only works for a very small group of people, for ease of reference let’s call them the ‘bosses’. Those ‘bosses’ make an awful lot of money, and they can only do that by exploiting the rest of us – they pay us less than the value of our labour, they sell us products for more than their actual worth, and they sell us ‘beef’ that is actually horsemeat.

It is no coincidence that the products containing horsemeat are mainly supermarket-brand ‘value’ or ‘savers’ meals. The capitalist bosses have forced-down supplier costs to maximise their own profits, which means the cheapest, least nutritious contents go into the supposedly ‘good deal’ meals sold in such large quantities in areas of poverty and deprivation, like North Ayrshire.

So let’s imagine an alternative economic system, let’s imagine a socialist system, where local farms produce to meet the needs of local populations. Imagine good-quality food products, with production and cost regulated and monitored by staff employed by the state. Imagine local shops supplying nutritious food to local people, so that no-one goes hungry and children aren’t fed processed pap containing whatever the profit-driven capitalists can get away with.

John Lennon put it best: imagine “no need for greed or hunger...I wonder if you can”.

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Cuts to local services

The SNP administration of North Ayrshire Council passed its first budget last week.

Amid reams of figures, the bottom-line shows identified ‘efficiency savings’ of £19,673,000 over the next three years, with a further £3,778,000 of ‘efficiency savings’ required but not yet identified. For ‘efficiency savings’ read cuts to services and job losses.

Understandably, the SNP administration would rather focus on its overall budget of £422m for the forthcoming financial year, which it will use to deliver services and resources for the people of North Ayrshire. Rightly, too, SNP councillors point out the reduced funding received from the Scottish Government – passing-on cuts imposed by the UK Government in London – and the effects of UK-imposed changes to welfare alongside increased demand for services. All of this, and the legal requirement to deliver a balanced budget, meant the SNP administration, elected last May, had little scope to deliver a programme that fully meets the needs of local people.

Instead, what was announced at last Wednesday’s Council meeting was the SNP’s attempt to mitigate the impact of Westminster’s devastating cuts. According to one SNP councillor, the budget proposals passed last week were as good as they could possibly have been in the circumstances.

However, despite the efforts of local councillors, the reality of budget cuts means people across North Ayrshire will suffer yet again, and all to provide ‘efficiency savings’ required to reduce public sector spending, which is at record highs because successive UK Governments (Labour then Tory-Lib Dem) used our money to bail-out corrupt and failing privately-owned banks and financial institutions.

It is important to expose the often repeated lie that the current economic crisis is the result of a profligate public sector spending more money than the country made. It was private sector banks that collapsed. Their private debt was then ‘socialised’ or taken-on by the public sector through the decision of UK Governments to use public resources – and borrow more in our name – to bail-out the private banks. The public sector is not responsible for the catastrophic state of the UK economy: that is entirely down to the corrupt capitalist system, and the decision to use public money to save private companies.

UK Government Ministers (Labour, Tory and Lib Dem) argue there was no alternative, but that is not true. They tell us High Street cash machines were within one-hour of closing down, meaning we would have had no access to our cash in personal bank accounts, a situation that required Government to act immediately. That part is true, but the action required was simply to guarantee the savings of personal and business accounts. There was no requirement on Government to completely bail-out the privately-owned banks and to then provide the finance that allowed the spivs and speculators to begin again their corrupt capitalist practices.

In the same week as North Ayrshire Council announced another £23,451,000 of cuts, it was revealed bonuses paid to senior staff at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) this year are likely to top £250m. Because of the UK Government bail-out – using our money – the public owns 82% of RBS. That means while the poorest people in North Ayrshire are being hammered yet again, we are funding multi-million pound bonuses for the very people who created the economic crisis in the first place.

Royal Bank of Scotland is also likely to be fined in the region of £500m for corruptly manipulating the Libor Rate – the rate at which banks loan to each other and ultimately to us – which means we, as taxpayers and majority shareholders in RBS, will be forking-out again.

Clearly, we are not ‘all in this together’. Already wealthy bankers are getting even richer, while ordinary men, women and children in places like North Ayrshire are getting poorer and, in many cases, are facing a future of unremitting struggle.

The budget passed last week by North Ayrshire councillors won’t help. However, the councillors were right when they said their financial programme was the best possible in the circumstances. Those circumstances, though, are dictated by the very same pro-capitalist politicians at Westminster whose decisions have created the ever-widening wealth gap.

If cuts of over £23m is the best North Ayrshire Council could do ‘in the circumstances’, then maybe it’s time we took action to change the circumstances.

Contrary to the line spun by so-called mainstream politicians and the millionaire owners of the British media, capitalism is not the only economic system available to us. Socialism is alive and well and can deliver a society where the needs of the people come before the profits of multi-national corporations and corrupt bankers.

The same capitalist politicians and newspaper owners will, of course, attempt to portray socialism as the failed system operated in the former Soviet Union. In fact, that system could not have been further from socialism. The Soviet Union was a totalitarian dictatorship, very reminiscent of capitalism with the elite enjoying a privileged status and lifestyle, while the majority of the people struggled to survive.

Socialism simply means running and operating society to the benefit of the people. In a democracy, socialism is an option open to us and it is one desperately needed by the people of North Ayrshire facing further multi-million pound cuts while, at the same time, contributing towards multi-million pound bonuses for already fabulously wealthy bankers.