Wednesday, 30 December 2015

End the insanity

We live in a capitalist society.  Capitalism is an economic system that allows a small elite-group to become extremely wealthy through the exploitation of the majority (that’s you and me).

Capitalist exploitation takes many forms – poverty-level wages; zero-hours contracts; slashing Social Security support to levels that leave families penniless for long periods; transferring the greater tax burden from the wealthy to the poor; forcing taxpayers to meet the multi-billion-pound cost of bailing-out bankrupt private banks; imposing taxation on people earning so little they can barely afford to feed themselves and their family; the most draconian anti-trade-union laws in the so-called developed world; legislation that makes it extremely easy for workers to be sacked.  All of which has the purpose of creating a cowed and desperate workforce for bosses to exploit.

Infamously, North Ayrshire Council, while controlled by the Labour Party, used its Economic Development website to ‘promote’ the local area’s “flexible workforce”, which the council pointed-out was paid, on average, at 12% below the UK figure.  North Ayrshire’s Labour councillors and senior council officials saw the low-pay of local people as a selling-point to attract businesses.  The message was, ‘Our workers are exploited, why don’t you come and join in?’

We already know that many companies - such as Vodafone, Starbucks and Amazon - have paid no tax to the UK Treasury in recent years, despite posting multi-million-pound profits.  It has now been revealed that five multi-national banks operating in the UK - JP Morgan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Nomura, Morgan Stanley – paid no corporation tax last year.  The accounts of these banks show they, collectively, posted multi-billion-pound profits while paying no tax.

How long are we going to sit back and accept this situation?

The media – so-called ‘mainstream’ newspapers and broadcasters – are owned by capitalists: they tell us there is no alternative to capitalism.  Anyone pointing-out a genuine and workable alternative, such as socialism, is branded as being insane (how many times have you seen headlines referring disparagingly to the ‘loony’ left).

What is actually insane is allowing a situation to continue that impoverishes the majority of people while a small already-wealthy group gets even richer.

What is insane is a society where a handful of wealthy individuals controls the media, resulting in attempts to indoctrinate the general population with incessant stories depicting as spongers and workshy skivers those unfortunate enough to be without work.  If we believed UK newspapers, the collapse of the capitalist system was caused by lazy workers, the unemployed and foreign migrants, rather than the corrupt and criminal action of spivs and speculators in the City of London’s banks and financial institutions.

To change this insane situation, we must start putting the needs and interests of people before the profits of multi-national corporations.

We need to start electing politicians who will challenge the capitalist elite, who will introduce a fair taxation system – forcing the wealthy to pay their fair share – and who will use the revenue raised to create a society that delivers hope and opportunity for everyone.

Poverty, austerity, inadequate wages, zero-hours contracts, benefit sanctions, slashed spending on public services do not happen by chance, they are not the result of an evil spell cast by bad pixies.  All of these things happen because people elect politicians who choose to introduce such measures as policies.  Those politicians are capitalists: they work in the interests of the wealthy elite – that is why companies and banks are not breaking UK law when they pay no tax.  However, should you decline to pay your income tax, HM Revenue & Customs will immediately pursue you, through the courts if necessary, to force payment.

How long are we going to accept this unfair situation?

In Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is not a socialist party, but it, at least, sits on the centre-left of the political spectrum, a moderate social-democratic party that rejects the worst excesses of the capitalist system.

What was striking about political positioning during the 2014 Independence Referendum was that progressive parties tended to support independence for Scotland, while those who argued that we must remain controlled by and from London were overwhelmingly right-wing and profoundly pro-capitalist.

The Conservative & Unionist Party has just one MP in Scotland, but because of a 10-percent majority in the referendum, we remain a member of the British Union and this party – rejected at the ballot-box by the people of Scotland - forms ‘our’ government and is imposing on us poverty-creating austerity, while facilitating a system that allows multi-national corporations to exploit our workers and to pay no tax while racking-up multi-billion-pound profits.

It is entirely undemocratic for a party with just one MP to be forming the government, particularly when the people of Scotland elected 56 SNP MPs from a total of 59.  Of course, that only happens because Scotland within the British Union accepts that the people of England will choose which party governs our country.

How long are we going to accept this unfair and undemocratic situation?

Things won’t change, they won’t get better or fairer if we simply shrug our shoulders and moan.  Change requires action.

Scotland did not vote for the Tories: Scotland did not vote for increased austerity and public spending-cuts: Scotland did not vote for a capitalist taxation system that allows multi-national corporations and banks to pay no tax on multi-billion-pound profits.  Scotland did not vote for the continued exploitation of our people by a remote, uncaring, wealthy elite.

So, on the brink of a new year…what are we going to do about it?

If we want change, we can have it, we can make it happen.  No government or wealthy elite is stronger than the collective power of the people…but we, the people, need to be prepared to fight back, literally if that is what is required, to end the injustice of the British capitalist system.

We need to end the insanity of a political and economic system that works against our interests.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Turning life's corners

We’re currently hearing Wham’s Last Christmas on digital TV’s numerous music channels.  Why not, it’s one of the better Christmas songs.

Another George Michael track has become a genuine pop classic – Careless Whisper.  Apparently, he wrote it when he was just 16-years-old.  How could someone so young be so aware of the impact of infidelity, including on the person who has been unfaithful:

I feel so unsure
As I take your hand
And lead you to the dancefloor
As the music dies
Something in your eyes
Calls to mind a silver screen
And all its sad goodbyes.

I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend
I know you’re not a fool
I should have known better than to cheat a friend
And waste a chance that I’ve been given
So I’m never gonna dance again
The way I danced with you.

I believe, though, that the most profound words George Michael has written are found in another song – A Different Corner.

The track was a UK Number 1 in 1986 but has never received the recognition of Careless Whisper, which achieved the same position two-years earlier.

A Different Corner appears to be a simple love song, but to apply that description would be like saying the film It’s A Wonderful Life is ‘simply a Christmas movie’.

Under a snowy, Christmas surface, It’s A Wonderful Life actually tells the story of the inter-dependency of individuals in society.  When the main character, George Bailey, says he wishes he’d never been born, his guardian angel, Clarence, lets him see how things would have turned-out if that had been the case, if George had never existed.

What we see is a nightmare scene, with everyone George knows and loves suffering different levels of pain and hardship because he hadn’t been there to help and support them.

It’s a simple storyline that brilliantly illustrates a core element of our lives.  In our journey from cradle to grave we interact with so many people.  Some contacts are fleeting, others lifelong.  Some almost instantly forgotten, others deep and profound.  We touch so many lives, and the seemingly-small decisions and actions we take in those moments can impact massively on the direction of our life.

In A Different Corner, George Michael describes it like this:

Take me back in time maybe I can forget
Turn a different corner and we never would have met.

Deciding to get a later train one day; choosing to speak to the person at the bus stop; walking home and taking a different route, turning a different corner and bumping into someone you wouldn’t otherwise have met.

How many different corners were turned before you met the love of your life?  Have you ever distractedly walked along a street and, almost without thinking, turned a corner, changing your journey?  Did that seemingly-small decision mean, perhaps, that you didn’t meet the person who was perfect for you and who was walking down the street you left by turning the corner?

What if your grandparents had turned different corners and had never met?  On a personal level, I wonder how many corners were turned – in the correct direction – before the daughter of an Irish farm-labourer arrived in Ardrossan, where she met the son of a coal-miner from the east-coast of Scotland.

Every seemingly-small decision we take has the potential to produce a deeply-significant and profound outcome in our life and in the lives of others.

Some people call it fate, and there certainly is an element of chance or luck in many aspects of our life-journey - external factors beyond our control will always impinge on our plans – but the seemingly trivial things we do, like deciding to turn a different corner, can lead us to people and opportunities we hadn’t factored into our plan.

Life doesn’t have a script.  We can’t control everything, but we can contribute to how the story develops and ends.  Seemingly-small decisions - turning different corners - result in challenges and opportunities.  Overcoming the challenges and grasping the opportunities determine whether or not our life-story has a happy ending.

Of course, we don’t exist in isolation: our decisions and actions impact on others, sometimes to a massive extent, as we see with George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.  Every corner we turn in our life is a decision, a choice, and every action we take has a consequence for ourselves and others.

To the extent we can, let’s try to turn the corners and choose the paths that lead to us helping, not hurting others.  As we go forward, external factors – whatever form they take – may try to pull us towards dark side-roads where we struggle to see where we are heading.

The least we can do is look for the corner to the brightly-lit road that leads to a better life for everyone. 

Have a good Christmas and a great 2016…and look for those corners.