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Truncheons, blood, strikes & elections in Barcelona

The explanation of the Police thugs was that they didn’t mean to crack open the head of a 13 year old, walking next to his mother during yesterday’s demonstrations.
Apparently, the truncheon bounced off the kid’s ruck-sack and hit his head, leaving him with blood pouring out.

It happens. Of course, it does. Welcome to Bahrain.

Yesterday’s general strike took place within the context of the Catalan election campaign, with voters going to the polls on November 25.
The two parties not present yesterday, the Right-wing nationalists CIU and Unionist Right-Wing Partido Popular (PP) are agreed on one thing: they both approve the austerity programme.
The difference between them is: who pays the bill?

CIU wants €5 billion back from Madrid but will want to enact the same disastrous programme of cuts to show the financial markets that Barcelona can take the axe to public sector budgets like the rest.

The CIU will win the election and do some populist grandstanding.
However, its leader, Artus Mas, is riding the tiger. The social unrest has been channeled into strikes and also a call for independence.
The CIU is only a stop on the journey to social transformation.
Breaking the chains of Madrid is not going to be enough.
The battle will then be between the likes of ICV (Greens), ERC and popular networks against the entrenched big business friendly Catalan nationalists of the CIU.
Or to put it another way: Left-wing and Green Nationalists vs. Right-Wing nationalists.
A similar dynamic is in place in the Basque Country, also set to leave the Spanish straitjacket.

The slow-motion crash of the State of Spain continues and the social conflict is shifting to a clash between Right and Left.

Is Mondragon a real alternative to Kapitalism?

There is no alternative (“Tina”) to capitalism?

Really? We are to believe, with Margaret Thatcher, that an economic system with endlessly repeated cycles, costly bailouts for financiers and now austerity for most people is the best human beings can do? Capitalism’s recurring tendencies toward extreme and deepening inequalities of income, wealth, and political and cultural power require resignation and acceptance – because there is no alternative?

I understand why such a system’s leaders would like us to believe in Tina. But why would others?

Of course, alternatives exist; they always do. Every society chooses – consciously or not, democratically or not – among alternative ways to organize the production and distribution of the goods and services that make individual and social life possible.

Modern societies have mostly chosen a capitalist organization of production. In capitalism, private owners establish enterprises and select their directors who decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues from selling the output. This small handful of people makes all those economic decisions for the majority of people – who do most of the actual productive work. The majority must accept and live with the results of all the directorial decisions made by the major shareholders and the boards of directors they select. This latter also select their own replacements.

Capitalism thus entails and reproduces a highly undemocratic organization of production inside enterprises. Tina believers insist that no alternatives to such capitalist organizations of production exist or could work nearly so well, in terms of outputs, efficiency, and labor processes. The falsity of that claim is easily shown. Indeed, I was shown it a few weeks ago and would like to sketch it for you here.

In May 2012, I had occasion to visit the city of Arrasate-Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain. It is the headquarters of the Mondragon Corporation (MC), a stunningly successful alternative to the capitalist organization of production.

MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge.
In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise.
Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).

As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs.
One of the co-operatively and democratically adopted rules governing the MC limits top-paid worker/members to earning 6.5 times the lowest-paid workers.
Nothing more dramatically demonstrates the differences distinguishing this from the capitalist alternative organization of enterprises. (In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker’s salary – a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965.)

Given that MC has 85,000 members (from its 2010 annual report), its pay equity rules can and do contribute to a larger society with far greater income and wealth equality than is typical in societies that have chosen capitalist organizations of enterprises. Over 43% of MC members are women, whose equal powers with male members likewise influence gender relations in society different from capitalist enterprises.

MC displays a commitment to job security I have rarely encountered in capitalist enterprises: it operates across, as well as within, particular cooperative enterprises. MC members created a system to move workers from enterprises needing fewer to those needing more workers – in a remarkably open, transparent, rule-governed way and with associated travel and other subsidies to minimize hardship. This security-focused system has transformed the lives of workers, their families, and communities, also in unique ways.

The MC rule that all enterprises are to source their inputs from the best and least-costly producers – whether or not those are also MC enterprises – has kept MC at the cutting edge of new technologies. Likewise, the decision to use of a portion of each member enterprise’s net revenue as a fund for research and development has funded impressive new product development. R&D within MC now employs 800 people with a budget over $75m. In 2010, 21.4% of sales of MC industries were new products and services that did not exist five years earlier. In addition, MC established and has expanded Mondragon University; it enrolled over 3,400 students in its 2009-2010 academic year, and its degree programs conform to the requirements of the European framework of higher education. Total student enrollment in all its educational centers in 2010 was 9,282.

The largest corporation in the Basque region, MC is also one of Spain’s top ten biggest corporations (in terms of sales or employment). Far better than merely surviving since its founding in 1956, MC has grown dramatically. Along the way, it added a co-operative bank, Caja Laboral (holding almost $25bn in deposits in 2010). And MC has expanded internationally, now operating over 77 businesses outside Spain. MC has proven itself able to grow and prosper as an alternative to – and competitor of – capitalist organizations of enterprise.

During my visit, in random encounters with workers who answered my questions about their jobs, powers, and benefits as cooperative members, I found a familiarity with and sense of responsibility for the enterprise as a whole that I associate only with top managers and directors in capitalist enterprises. The easy conversation (including disagreement), for instance, between assembly-line workers and top managers inside the Fagor washing-machine factory we inspected was similarly remarkable.

Our MC host on the visit reminded us twice that theirs is a co-operative business with all sorts of problems:

“We are not some paradise, but rather a family of co-operative enterprises struggling to build a different kind of life around a different way of working.”

Nonetheless, given the performance of Spanish capitalism these days – 25% unemployment, a broken banking system, and government-imposed austerity (as if there were no alternative to that either) – MC seems a welcome oasis in a capitalist desert.

This article was written by Richard Wolff in the Guardian earlier in 2012.

Why Vitoria-Gazteiz is the European Green Capital of 2012

Vitoria-Gasteiz, founded in 1181, is second in size (only to Bilbao) in the Basque Country, and has some 240,000 people currently inhabiting this gem in northern Spain

Vitoria-Gasteiz is the capital of the Álava province and of the Basque Country. The city holds the title of European Green Capital in 2012.

Vitoria-Gasteiz is comprised of concentric circles, with the city itself at centre.
The “Green Belt”, a semi-natural green area partially reclaimed from degraded areas, surrounds the centre and brings nature into the city. The third circle is dominated by forestry and mountains.

The city has a high proportion of green public areas, ensuring that the entire population lives within 300m of an open green space. Numerous tangible measures are in place to assist and increase biodiversity and ecosystems services.

Flora and fauna are monitored, habitat fragmentation is reduced wherever possible, and measures have been introduced to decrease light pollution. Besides being recreational areas and natural habitats for plant and animal life, the green areas also have an educational purpose: the community gardens, for example, enable the population to study horticulture at close range.

Managing Water Scarcity

Vitoria-Gasteiz has an ambitious objective of reducing domestic water consumption to below 100 litres per capita per day. Already today, water consumption has decreased steadily from 1999 to 2009.
Water-related investments have been made within the context of the Agenda 21 environmental action plan for improved water supply, to reduce losses, work towards sustainable consumption and improve water quality. A citizen’s information office on water consumption and efficiency has also been set up.

Nationalism threatens the European status quo

I am not saying that it’s a bad thing.
What I am concerned about is the position or non-position among the more progressive and green parts of the spectrum in England.
Many activists might be unaware that the European Greens work together with the European Free Alliance, a group of Nationalist parties, including Plaid & SNP to EA in the Basque country and beyond.

Yesterday, Belgium via its Antwerp election took a giant step to a split.
On Sunday, 21st October, the Basques go to polls where it looks like the nationalists will win two thirds of the vote.
Catalonia has a referendum on independence on November 25th.

But I have yet to witness any debate within the Green movement on what happens if Europe splinters into new states. Wallonia anyone? Catalunya?
The EU can forget about basking in the halo of a Nobel Prize (!). The position of Brussels would need to be resolved if Belgium split.

2014 looks to be a pivotal year..

a) Scottish referendum on Independence
b) 200th anniversary of Catalan subjugation into a Spanish state & elections
c) Belgian general elections
d) European elections

Europe is changing before our very eyes. We had better recognise this and adapt or state our position.
The fight against austerity is very much linked to rising nationalism. The English question may not be being asked right now, but it will. Much sooner than we think.
What I am very afraid of is that we leave those questions to be asked by the right wing who then go on to frame a debate which focuses on exclusivity, a barely-veiled racism and an immoral economic system which unites all three mainstream Unionist parties.

Farid Erkizia Bakht

AFP reports the Belgian bombshell election this way:
Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever scored a breakthrough election win Sunday and immediately urged Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo to radically re-shape the federal state.

Hailing a “historic” victory for himself in Antwerp with big gains right across Dutch-speaking Flanders in local polls, De Wever said Di Rupo and his coalition partners should “assume your responsibility.”

With results from Antwerp almost all in, De Wever’s New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) bagged 37.7 percent and Socialist incumbent mayor Patrick Janssens 28.6 percent, and the win was underpinned by scores of 20-30 percent across the territory of six million people.

With backers readying for a party in City Hall, De Wever demanded negotiations “to enable both Flanders and Wallonia to look after their own affairs.”

In the run-up to tense 2014 general elections, he wants to turn Belgium into a “confederation,” effectively seeking fiscal independence for the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south although sharing areas like defence.

Only this, De Wever said, would allow Belgium as a whole to “find a path of solidarity,” which could also affect the future of Brussels, the largely Francophone EU, Belgian and Flemish capital.

why do Greens have a Party of England AND Wales?

Unlike the main political parties, the Green Party is not a UK wide party. There is a separate Scottish Green Party.

So why is Wales and England linked?

Is Wales an afterthought? Is it thought that there is very little Green Party support so let’s tag it on to the much larger English Green Party?

I cannot see the logic of keeping the two together if we have separated from the Irish and Scottish Greens.

It may also not be very strategic.

After all, what message does it send to Welsh voters, who may feel proud of being Welsh but not sure of going over to Plaid Cymru?

Does it also not place the Welsh Greens onto a position of “they’re just like the 3 main parties but a lot smaller”?

What if the Welsh Green Party were separate completely? It would have its independent way of operating, specific to the conditions of Wales.

It would be on much firmer territory in negotiating with Plaid Cymru. The latter’s policies have a lot in common with the Green Party. Their trump card is however that they can say that only Plaid Cymru is really pushing for Wales, in its vision of national liberation.

A independent Welsh Green Party (spelt in its own language) would offer an overtly Green vision of Wales, and I would assume inevitably move towards seeking greater powers and finance from London. When Scotland becomes independent, the politicians in Wales would have to make a choice between Unionism or Independence.

A Welsh Green Party would have a few years head start over the mainstream (discredited) parties that it’s primary concern is Wales .

The flip side is that an English Green Party would outflank the racist parties such as UKIP with a vision for England which can espouse a new economic and social system, equal, left-wing and REGIONAL, challenging the London dominated financial sector obsessed view of the World.

English politics will become more regional as the economic crisis bites deeply over the rest of this decade as regions clamour for clean energy industrialisation, better balance across England, more equality and even a move from the Permanent War based fossil fuel system fed by unending debt.

Unless the Greens move into English territory (accepting the importance of identity and culture) offering a global philosophy of rebuilding a society within the context of climate change, spiralling debts, Peak Oil, War, to move to fulfil the need for full employment and equality, then the mainstream parties will lurch further towards the right.

The Miliband dipping the toe into racist waters shows where English politics is heading. The Greens need to build an alternative case for an England where being proud of one’s country does not mean racism, exclusion, harassment of minorities and chauvinism.

After all, ‘Third World’ national liberation movements were and still are something Greens find easy to support because it is against colonialism (old or new), and because they wanted freedom to create a society which worked the entire population, not just the pampered few.

This is dangerous territory. One suspects there may be middle class Greens happy to live in Midsomer Murder ‘all white’ villages in tripled glazed homes and organic food, far away from ethnic minorities in London.

However, that is not Green in its real sense. Just cherry picking by latent right wingers using environmental cover to preach an end to immigration, to over-population (as in in the Global South!) and exclusion.

An English Green Party would keep its current beliefs, its refreshing ideals on immigration and its global worldview. It would instead be able to enter any political arena and not run away from St. George flags and leave people in the clutches of three shrivelled mainstream parties, espousing UKIP led diatribes.

As things get ugly with the economy, the social climate will deteriorate. Have a look at mainland Europe. With New Labour abandoning the high moral ground, only a Green movement can offer an alternative.

To do that, it has to remove doubts in people’s minds about how it approaches the vexed question of English Identity.

A major step would be to carry out the logic of having separate Irish and Scottish Green Parties into amicably splitting to form an English Green Party and a Welsh Green Party.

Nuclear nightmare for some

Big nuclear is reeling. Dozens of new behemoths in China & India may have to be scrapped eventually.
Three Mile Island was only a partial meltdown but still killed the industry for a generation.
Watching explosions on TV is far more powerful than the China Syndrome.
The nuclear lobby and it’s coopted politicos such as Miliband, Clegg, Huyne & Cameron will have nightmares.
German Greens will sweep through elections over 2011 and 2012 to challenge SPD as nuclear is a far greater issue there.
In UK. We can attack the falsehoods of Lynas and Monbiot etc and have an honest clear up in the Green movement. Deep Green must be exposed.
We can occupy the anti-cuts ground with a far more radical message than New Labour apologists.
We can also bring to the front a high technology German message of renewable energy & clean manufacturing to appeal to Union members on the lines of 1964 White Heat of Technology.
We also have to be vocal on housing with a radical vision to roll back 30 years of extreme privatization.
Not only must we be seen as Left with the cuts and bankers, we have to show we are modern too which is also a Left view.
We have a cuddly image over soft green issues on the periphery.
It’s time we moved into the thick of things over wealth distribution, nuclear energy and manufacturing jobs.

Banglatown & Spitalfields by-election (1)

Did some canvassing in Brune House yesterday. There is a by-election in the ward (Banglatown & Spitalfields) on December 16th. That happens to be a momentous day and is known as Victory Day (or Bijoy) when the Pakistani Army surrendered after a brutal 9 month war in Bangladesh.
That all seemed very far away as we trugdged up and down the stairs in the council block. Talked to lots of people at the door step – most had someone in.
For Greens, the good news was that everyone had heard about us (except for one elderly Indian lady). Three older Bengali gentlemen, even while panting coming up the flight of stairs, all agreed that the Greens had received ‘loads of votes’ at the recent Local Mayoral election.
Actually it was just over 5% and we recovered the deposit. But perceptions count. If they thing we did well, then we did well.
Last March, hardly any Bengali had either known about the Greens or if they had, thought of them as nothing more than a curiosity.
So at least they are now willing to have a dialogue.
The mood was a feeling of disdain for the existing politicians. We got a good reception when we talked about the need for new types of councillors who didn’t jump ship to another party and were just straightforward believing in something.
Housing (as in waiting lists) is still the key. One man told me he was on the waiting list for 24 years and didn’t believe the local Labour promises, adding that land had been sold off for developers. Brune House is dwarfed by a monstrous & really ugly glass fronted office building. This is City Fringe, being gobbled up by the financial sector.
The issue of social cleansing (with the cut in housing benefit) didn’t come up.
With a historic building next door where they used it once as a soup kitchen, this area has seen a lot more in its time.
Language was an issue in about half the flats. Even when communication was possible in English, the conversation became much more animated and friendlier when they heard Bangla.
My Norwegian wasn’t very good though (non-existent). Thankfully that student spoke impeccable English. A few flats were let out to students. Unfortunately, an eclectic mix ranging including Mexican students bemoaned their inability to vote.
Pity. We got on well, talking about the student protests occuring the same time … in a different world in Central London…
We will be back for Carter House in the next couple of days as we gradually get around the ward…