Year 2000 No. 125-6, August 2-3, 2000

"Civil Society" Denies to the Working Class its Leading Role

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

"Civil Society" Denies to the Working Class its Leading Role

The Government’s "New Agenda" for the Commonwealth

Essex Pensioners Organise March and Rally in Southend

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"Civil Society" Denies to the Working Class its Leading Role

It has been one of Tony Blair’s constant themes in recent times that people must "manage change" by strengthening their sense of "community".

This "community" is equated with the "civil society". As such it is made to stand in opposition to what is supposed to be the prerogatives of government. There are spheres of government, according to this argument, such as regulating the economy, and passing legislation on law and order questions. Then there is "civil society" and its agencies which must enter into "partnership" with government, in order to foster a renewal of the "community" and "community values". According to Tony Blair’s "Third Way" politics, this is a path which is neither a command economy dominated by the "public sector" and nationalised industries, nor a Thatcherite denial of society where everyone must fend for themselves. Rather, everyone becomes a "stakeholder" in society, works nationally to promote "social inclusion" and internationally to promote globalisation and transnational systems of government.

Tony Blair, and the ideologues of the "Third Way", have gone overboard to deny that the breakdown in the social fabric and the prevailing incoherence in society has anything to do with the social system. They promote that the way out of the crisis is not by the people ending their marginalisation from the decision-making in society, and themselves becoming the decision-makers, but by strengthening the sense of local community, strengthening civic values in order to fight crime, strengthening family values, and working for "equality of opportunity".

More than anything else, the conception of a "civil society" fighting for "social inclusion" and a stronger role for the "community" vis-à-vis the state – this conception is designed to prevent the working class taking up its leading role. The way out of the crisis is not to go further down the role of globalisation and neo-liberalism and cover this over with 19th century conceptions appropriate to the property rights of the industrial capitalists. The way out of the crisis is through the working class taking up its role to rally all sections of society around its independent programme and striking out on the line of march to transform society to socialism.

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The Government’s "New Agenda" for the Commonwealth

In recent weeks the government has once again attempted to redefine the role of the Commonwealth, the anachronistic and reactionary institution that is a means for Britain to interfere in the political, economic and military affairs of the member states that are mainly former British colonies. This follows a call last year from the Prime Minister for a review of the Commonwealth "so that all its members - both governments and peoples – could be convinced about why they should be stakeholders in a modernised Commonwealth".

According to the government’s view, the Commonwealth, no longer the "British Commonwealth", has evolved and is now a "partnership", a "modern association of independent equals". Or, as Baroness Scotland, the under-secretary of state at the Foreign Office, expressed it at the recent Royal Commonwealth Society symposium, an "international organisation well suited to the new demands of the 21st century". The basis of the "modern" commonwealth is the Harare Declaration of 1991, which enshrines the values of the Paris Charter signed by the countries of Europe, Canada and the US in 1990. This document was a declaration by the bourgeoisie of the big powers, under the sway of the monopolies, to impose on the whole world their conception of "free market economy", pluralism and human rights and to enslave the world with these Eurocentric values.

Britain claims to be just one of the members of the Commonwealth, "an equal voice". But it is on the basis of the Harare "Principles" that it justifies its current attempts to "strengthen the Commonwealth", provide "a stronger voice for the private sector and for civil society" in the Commonwealth and on this basis strengthen the influence of the monopolies and interfere in the affairs of the other member countries just as it did in the days of empire.

It is noteworthy that Baroness Scotland claimed that the Commonwealth had most effectively demonstrated "its commitment to promote its fundamental values" by its recent interventions in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Fiji. But these examples most graphically show that the Commonwealth is a vehicle for intervention throughout the world in which Britain takes the leading and most reactionary role. The Government’s attempts to "review" the Commonwealth must be seen in this context. The attempts in the next year to open up a "nation-wide debate" on the role of the Commonwealth cannot mask its reactionary character. Neither can it mask the fact that, as the government has already stated, it wants to see the Commonwealth "playing a stronger role in defence of those values which it has already agreed, in the Harare Declaration, to be fundamental". These values it refers to as "democracy, human rights, good governance and sustainable development". Indeed it has stated that it wishes to strengthen the role of the Commonwealth Ministers Action Group to intervene in situations that "although they fall short of unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government, nevertheless give cause for concern that the Commonwealth’s values may not be being upheld".

The fact is that the "Commonwealth’s values" are those imposed by Britain and the other big powers in the interests of globalisation and the monopolies in their quest for maximum profits. The Commonwealth can never be a "partnership" between equals, containing as it does some of the world’s poorest countries and dominated by Britain, one of the leading world powers. Rather than the Commonwealth is a means to further the interests of the big monopolies throughout the world by imposing the values of Anglo-American imperialism and by utilising their links to make the maximum capitalist profits through the exploitation of their vast human and material resources. The Commonwealth is an integral part of the Labour government’s reactionary aim to "Make Britain Great Again". It is not just the term "the British Commonwealth" that should be consigned to history. All neo-colonial ties such as those maintained through the Commonwealth must be brought to an end.

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Essex Pensioners Organise March and Rally in Southend

On Friday, July 28, Essex pensioners held a march and rally in Southend. This action was called by the Essex region of British Pensioners Trade Union Action Association (BPTUA). Around 100 pensioners started the march, with banners from Southend, Basildon and Braintree branches, there were also pensioners from Waltham Abbey and Chelmsford and other areas of the Essex region. The pensioners were in fighting mood and very angry at their treatment by the government. They carried posters such as "security with dignity" and demanding justice for pensioners and for restoration of the link of pensions to average earnings.

The pensioners and supporters formed up and moved off very promptly at 10.00 am. Leaflets were given out on the way and slogans shouted. There was much support for the march as it made its way for one and a half miles to a community hall. There they were warmly greeted with claps and shouts by another 150 pensioners.

The rally was opened by the secretary of the Essex region and people stood for one minute in silence to commemorate the passing of Joe Simmons, who was the chair of the Essex region and President of BPTUA, as well as to commemorate other members who had died recently.

The first speaker was Alan Hurst, MP for Braintree. He said there were many in the Labour Party who were behind the pensioners and there were a number of MPs who want to see "proper, decent pensions" and who voted against the 75p rise and that there was a "battle within the Labour Party" over pensions. He then went on talk about the history of pensions. He concluded by praising the government for providing free TV licences for the over-75s and increase in fuel allowances for pensioners at which there were calls from the floor of "we want a decent pension, not handouts".

Christine Butler, MP for Castle Point, was the next speaker and she related stories from her family about the struggle for decent pensions in the past. She talked about the recently introduced Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) which when income support was added to the pension made the weekly rate for a single pensioner up to a paltry £78.50 – this was greeted by shouts of derision. She concluded with saying she would keep up pressure but it helps if the pensioners are strong and united and invited them to come and repeat their lobby of parliament.

The Chair of the rally then called for questions and contributions. Those gathered there were very angry. They talked about many issues including the need to unite with other people in struggle and about closures of local authority residential homes, where people were just being evicted without anywhere to go. On the MIG, one speaker said it cost £534m to administer income support and that a strong message needed to be taken back to Tony Blair to restore the link. A number of speakers pointed out that many at the rally had paid into the National Insurance fund for 51 years and that the fund could afford to pay them a decent pension NOW!

The Chair then called on Jack Sprung, General Secretary of BPTUA, to address the rally. He began by explaining how the vagaries of the market system could not guarantee a liveable pension. How, in a country as rich as England, could 50,000 pensioners die of cold related diseases? He asked, "How is it we are told that the economy cannot afford what we are asking for, when big business men are spending £1.5m on watches and a room at the Carlton Hotel in London costs £435 per night and thousands of people are sleeping homeless in nearby parks". He asked if this is what Tony Blair means by the "inclusive society"! He said that modernisation really means the increasing dismantling and privatisation of NHS, benefit system and social care. New legislation on housing benefit means many pensioners are to be forced to move to smaller accommodation. He ended with the words that the struggle of the pensioners must go on and that many think it is illegal to break laws but the Tolpuddle Martyrs broke unjust laws and their example should be followed. The link should be restored NOW, he concluded.

This speech was greeted fervently and there was some further discussion from the floor about taking the demands and issues to more people. The last speaker was from Help the Aged on their proposals for caring for older people in the NHS. The rally ended and many people stayed to talk over the issues raised and how to take things forward.

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