An issue of the anarcho-syndicalist magazine Direct Action from 1999 themed around discrimination: sexism, racism, ageism etc.
If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.
An issue of the anarcho-syndicalist magazine Direct Action from 1999 themed around discrimination: sexism, racism, ageism etc.
If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.
Discrimination conveniently divides us so the real source of exploitation, bosses over us, can continue. Equality initiatives haven’t worked; it’s time for more serious measures.
The traditional Left viewpoint on issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia is that they divide the working class, and therefore we must oppose them so that we can all unite and get on with the real business of fighting the bosses. It assumes that prejudices are simply encouraged among the working class by the ruling class in order to divide us, and that by emphasising our common (economic) interests as workers we can unite and consign them to history.
Reality is more difficult. For a start, oppression is wrong not because it is divisive, but because it is oppressive. For example, many black people resent the dismissal of racism as "divisive" by the traditional Left. If I were to tell my fellow workers that unity on economic issues will make discrimination go away, they will rightly dismiss me as clueless. Oppression is not simply economic; it is at the heart of the problem, but other forms of discrimination are also directly oppressive.
The most visible means of discrimination - ostracism, verbal abuse, harassment, violence - are those that working class bigots use. They are easy to identify, and can be readily condemned and organised against. Unless, that is, you are the police, in which case feigned ignorance is more likely than either identifying or doing anything about it.
However, most people are not discriminated against by relatively powerless bigots, but by institutions, and by powerful, respectable individuals and groups within them. This is not some conspiracy theory or other; look no further than the police as just one example among many of institutionalised discrimination.
The response to discrimination must operate at different levels - just as the threat does. As well as working for unity on economic issues, we all need to combat prejudice within the working class directly. In addition, we need to expose and oppose the root of discrimination at an institutional level - again, not just in economic boss-worker terms, but in its own right.
Where discrimination is unintentional, lack of conscious intent does not make it any less oppressive. Institutional discrimination creates an environment where those who seek to discriminate can flourish. We should be wary of the "no fault" approach. Institutional, legal and economic discrimination is rooted in the dominant culture - the culture of the capitalist class. Of course, this does not mean discrimination was invented by capitalism. Many aspects predate capitalism, but they have proved useful to capitalism, and so have become integrated into its ideology.
In multi-racial Britain, a person is assumed to be English, white, male, middle class, Christian, able-bodied and overtly heterosexual. Anyone different has to argue or fight to get their perspectives or needs recognised. To do so is to be accused of demanding "special rights", and of being divisive by raising issues ignored by those not directly affected. Some discrimination is active, e.g. discriminatory gay sex offences; other discrimination is passive, e.g. not allowing same-sex couples access to the privileges of marriage.
As the whole world now knows, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report forced Metropolitan Police (Met) Commissioner Paul Condon to recognise/admit that institutionalised racism exists in the Met. But there was an obvious omission from the media coverage. What was established was the link between the role of the police in dealing with black people as suspects and criminals and their inability to see them as anything else. However, what was ignored was the Met’s role in policing group-specific immigration, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the masses of other legislation aimed at specific communities on the basis of their colour, orientation, religion, etc.
The police (and come to that, benefits, housing and social services departments) are about social control. Their operations select targets on the assumption that particular groups are the primary (or sole) perpetrators of some offence - black youths for mugging, West Africans for fraud, etc. This is "legitimate policing", and the assumption that Stephen Lawrence’s murder was the result of criminal activity on his part is an example of its effects.
Reform of the police is supposed to separate the causes of discrimination from their effects, without actually removing those causes. For example, Condon has not apologised for Operation Eagle Eye, the recent anti-mugging drive explicitly targeted at black youth, yet he is talking about coppers seeing black youths as people, not just criminals. No wonder representatives of the Met’s rank-and-file are confused and angry!
Failure to take hate crime seriously is inextricably linked to the policing of discriminatory laws. This is true of policing "public morals" as well as immigration, street crime and "terrorism". The regulation of prostitution and gay sex is linked to hate crimes against women and gay men. The policing of rape and violence against women, and of homophobic crime, goes hand-in-hand with the policing of sex offences.
Discrimination is not restricted to policing and regulation, of course, but these are crucial areas where the state either intervenes directly, or it fails to prevent, tolerates or supports hate crimes against the same groups. Active legal and institutional discrimination is probably the most devastating means of oppression where a state does not overtly use physical violence.
Passive legal and institutional discrimination is also rife. Much of the latter is to do with funding priorities for public services, and the "decision-maker’s" idea of what matters. Since there is no direct democratic control over service providers, what counts in deciding who gets them are media campaigns, rich lobby groups, "income generation", prejudices and internal politics - in fact, anything except the actual people and their service needs.
Reformists seek "equality" through the introduction, or strengthening, of anti-discrimination legislation. The Equal Pay Act (EPA) was passed in 1970 (with Equal Value Amendment Regulations in 1983), Race Discrimination Acts (RDA) in 1975 and 1986, the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) in 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1995. More recently, gay rights campaigners introduced the Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SOD!) Bill, which was defeated last year.
Social mobility allows capitalism to use those not born into privilege. Lack of discrimination allows it to use those who aren’t white, male or able-bodied. The DDA, as an example of anti-discrimination legislation, states that employers must make "reasonable adjustments" to the working environment for disabled workers. The aim of this is to prevent the bosses from discarding workers they need through discrimination. The workers’ rights are secondary to the needs of capitalism.
Discrimination is regulated so it supports capitalism without harming it. If you have any doubts about the need for/ability of the state to modify the dominant ideology when it needs to, look no further than World War II for an example. Women were drafted into jobs and industries that had hitherto been supposedly against their nature. This ‘miraculous’ change of course was needed to help the war effort. However, immediately after the war, they were also driven out of those jobs, with the connivance of the trade union movement. Suddenly, the discriminatory toolkit was again called for, in the interests of supporting the capitalist state.
The ‘breadwinner’ pay structure which was established to drive women back into the home still exists. It means that jobs that are seen to be female, or which are predominantly done by women, are undervalued, because it is assumed that such jobs are ‘second’ incomes, supplementary to the (male) breadwinner’s. The fact that traditionally male jobs have been exported and replaced by new jobs often dominated by women has not changed the ideological underpinning of the pay structure.
So, capitalism exploits women’s labour more cheaply because they are not supposed to earn a ‘family’ income, while simultaneously scrapping breadwinner jobs. Any idea that capitalism does not need sexism, and that the exploitation of female labour (the ‘right to work’) will lead to equality for women is laughable. "Equality" might work for middle class women in professions dominated by men (and therefore with "male" incomes) but, for the vast majority, it’s a myth.
Our goal must be liberation, not the partial, false equality for the middle classes. This does not mean the law cannot be useful to us now. (Incidentally, the definitive guides here are the Codes of Practice issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) on Equal Pay and Employment, the Commission of Racial Equality (CRE) on Employment, and the Department for Education and Employment (DEE) on the Employment of Disabled People).
The law can be used as a basis for collective action and solidarity. It can be used to illustrate and fight against discrimination at various levels. But, crucially, the law cannot and must not be relied upon to deliver solutions. At the end of the day, it is there to support and strengthen capitalism and the state. While successful anti-discrimination cases can be fought, the judicial process individualises the issues and separates their resolution from the fight against injustice. Our approach should be to use the law as a tool where this is possible, but to combine it with pressure through direct action.
Outrage!’s "zaps" have been very effective, combined with grassroots lobbying, in changing the way gay sex offences and hate crimes against gay men are policed. The very act of taking such direct action helps us gain a sense that we can have a say denied us by the "usual channels". Even this limited form of direct action can build a sense of power and achievement. As more people experience this, we can go on from here to build and take part in more direct action. Eventually, who knows, we could be organising for direct action to challenge the whole capitalist state machinery and replace it with something more agreeable to all of us.
It is only by getting involved in struggles, rather than standing aside because we don’t think they go far enough, that we can debate the aims of those struggles, and the methods used. This does not involve a great leap of imagination: if discrimination and inequality are wrong (and they surely are), why is anyone considered better than the rest of us? The contradictions between the aims of the law and the rhetoric of equality are also there to be exploited.
Similarly, reforming or repealing discriminatory laws gains nothing in itself, but it removes weapons which are used against sections of the working class, and which harm us all. We have to recognise our own diversity, and revive the idea that an injury to one is an injury to all. If we don’t all fight discrimination collectively, those of us affected by it will not be able to fight anything else.
Taking the piss out of fat, black or gay people is certainly not allowed by Tony Blair, and quite right too. But discrimination against the old, especially if they are female or not well-off, is the new fad in town. It is at the centre of Labour’s pension plans.
Last year an article appeared in DA, which predicted that, despite pre-election promises to the contrary, Labour would not restore the link between pensions and average earnings (DA6). This link was severed by Thatcher in 1979, and now the basic state pension is worth only 14% of average earnings - a figure which will likely further fall to 9% by 2030. The article also predicted that, instead of restoring the link, Labour would incorporate the basic pension into the means-tested benefit system.
It was suggested that Blair would find this a useful back door method of ending the ‘pay as you earn’ pension system, under which for 50 years, each new generation of workers has paid for the pensions of the generation who have gone before them. This ‘solution’ would ensure that the rising cost of pensions caused by the ageing of the population would be met by people not government, by forcing them to turn to private pensions, as the state pension withers away to worthlessness.
Just before last Christmas, with the cunning idea that it would receive limited coverage due to the festivities, Labour slipped out its proposals on pensions in a document entitled "Partnership in Pensions." In this, Labour committed itself to "a minimum income guarantee" for pensioners, of £75 a week (single) or £116 a week (married couples). This "minimum income" is to be delivered through the means-tested income support benefit.
Under these proposals, the basic state pension is to remain lower than the minimum entitlement pensioners can claim through income support (the basic state pension for single people is set at £66.75). In other words, if you only have your state pension, you will have to claim income support to ensure you get the extra £8.25 "minimum income" entitlement.
So Labour has incorporated into the benefit system the position that developed under Thatcher, whereby some 3 million pensioners were (and still are) forced to claim income support because of the pitifully low level of state pension. This figure is now set to increase as the real value of pensions continues to decline, forcing ever-increasing numbers of pensioners with a lifetime of work and ‘pay as you earn’ National Insurance taxes behind them to claim income support.
Under the post war settlement that led to the creation of the welfare state, workers were informed that, by paying into the new National Insurance scheme, they would receive in return a state pension which would provide them with security in old age. The scheme was introduced to replace the hated means-tested poor relief, under which retirement meant surviving through old age in abject poverty. The state pension was seen as providing a decent standard of living in old age, after a lifetime of work. Labour’s proposals ensure that the pension will effectively disappear, to be replaced with means-tested income support - an updated name for poor relief. In fact, the only difference is that, under poor relief, at least you didn’t have to pay National Insurance to cover a promised future pension.
Even if you have managed to save twice for old age by paying for both National Insurance and a second pension, you may well find yourself losing out under Labour’s "Partnership in Pensions." Again, it is the worst off who will suffer. If you have a small amount of savings or a small second pension, you will find it disqualifies you from claiming the means-tested income support. Your private/second pension will have to top up what is left of your basic pension just to get to the levels you would get anyway under Labour’s "minimum income guarantee".
For example, upon retiring with £10,000 saved in a personal scheme a man will receive just £800 a year pension - even less for a woman because it will be assumed she will live longer. After tax, this is just about the £8.25 they would have received from income support under Labour’s minimum income guarantee. In effect, they have been robbed of their extra savings. Experts are now stating that, unless people can manage to save a lump some above £40,000 in their personal pension scheme, under Labour’s proposals, they may as well not have bothered.
The obvious way around wrecking small savings would have been to lift the state pension scheme to the same levels as the "minimum income" received under income support. This would have avoided penalising those on low income who have managed to scrape together a small income from a second pension. It would also have spared those dependent on the state pension having to claim income support which, being means-tested, involves itemising their income and spending. This is so traumatic and degrading that people often prefer to avoid it, proven by the fact that a large number of pensioners are unwilling to claim the income support they are entitled to. Aside from this is the considerable saving on administration cost s, by avoiding means-testing.
However, even the modest guarantee that the basic pension would be kept at the same levels as income support would have breathed new life into the state pension system - something Labour is keen to avoid. For this would ensure that the state pension would keep some value as it rose in line with income support. By contrast, under their proposals, Labour can allow the state pension to whither away, while arguing that minimum income support is there to act as a safety net for pensioners. Labour couches their proposals in terms of ‘choice’; you can be in dire poverty in old age, receiving minimal income support, or invest in a personal pension scheme to have a reasonable retirement. In reality, few will get the second choice. Undoubtedly, we are witnessing the slow death of the state pension.
As indicated between the lines of the rest of Labour’s "Partnership in Pensions", there is a whole game plan to be introduced to ensure the decline of the state pension. One of the centrepieces of the proposals is the so-called "stakeholder" pension, targeted at low to middle income groups. The level at which Labour expect people to begin switching to private provision can be gauged by the fact that the stakeholder pension will even be targeted at those earning less than £9,000 p.a. By way of encouragement, various tax breaks and cuts in National Insurance payments will be offered to those switching to private pensions. It is estimated that this direct move away from state funding will cost the treasury some £5 billion. This compares to the £2.5 billion Labour intends to spend on minimum income support - a figure which will fall considerably if large numbers of those in receipt of state benefit fail to claim their £8.25 entitlement. Clearly, Labour is keener on priming the private sector than supporting pensioners.
The real gains for the state under Labour’s plan are in the long term. They expect the number of people with a private pension to increase from the current 40% to 60%. This will ensure that Britain alone in the industrialised world will avoid the financial time bomb built into the ‘pay as you earn’ system.
With Labour’s plan, future generations will finance their retirement through personal pensions. This will mean gross inequality in old age, with the very low paid, long term unemployed, long term sick and carers who have been unable to build up a private pension all dependent upon income support. This income support will itself be squeezed relentlessly. To ensure people are forced to go for and maintain private pensions, levels of income support will have to be kept ridiculously low, to maximise the incentive (similar ideas have already been found to work by Labour, forcing younger people to take desperately low paid jobs).
Clearly, Blair feels gross inequality is a price worth paying to avoid the problem faced by countries like France, where private pension is rare and over 80% of the population are dependent upon state pensions funded by the ‘pay as you earn’ model financed through taxation. As the French live longer and the number in work falls compared to the number of pensioners, the burden of tax on those in work can but increase in order to maintain adequate state pensions.
The reality is that greater equality through taxation flies in the face of Labour’s free market orthodoxy. This is why they have gone for private provision. While unsurprising, this contradicts their claim to be the party of equality - and specifically, their claim to be the party which favours greater women’s equality.
Women, who still carry the burden of raising children, while increasingly caring for the elderly and infirm, have long been discriminated against through the pension system, because they face long periods out of the labour market or in part-time employment.
In the past, many women have been unable to pay enough National Insurance contributions to qualify for the basic state pension, let alone save in the form of a second pension. Rightly, this was one of the criticisms of the state pension. The new proposals make matters even worse, since built-in inequality will particularly victimise the many women who are carers and mothers, and so cannot save for old age with a private pension. The vast majority of people facing an old age of poverty will be women.
If, as a way of squeezing welfare, the retirement age were to be lifted at some future point (not out of the question - you saw it here first!), the situation for women would get even worse. For those with private pensions, the option would be there to take early retirement. The better off you are, the greater your options to retire earlier with better pension income. However, those without a private pension would simply be eligible for work for much longer. If Labour are still using the same rhetoric as they are today, no doubt these unfortunate people will be constantly being empowered back into work by enabling them to keep a percentage of their benefit whilst working.
Under Labour’s pre-election talk, the massive shift to greater inequality was not supposed to happen. Though unequivocal commitment to restoring the full link between pensions and earnings was avoided, a full pension review was promised, headed by Frank Field. Blair duly gave Field the job, telling him to "think the unthinkable" when approaching welfare reform. Well, Field did just that, and came up with a scheme which proved completely "unthinkable" to the Labour leadership.
Field’s pension proposals did away with the state pension, but the replacement was based on universal pension provision and did seek to ensure equality for the long term unemployed, carers, part-time workers, etc. He also proposed setting up a new national pension scheme, into which both employers and workers would be legally obliged to contribute. His scheme would require those on higher earnings to contribute more, and the state to make up the contributions of those not in full-time work, thus ensuring adequate pension provision for them.
Field is a Catholic and a staunch supporter of the family. He hoped this would encourage women to stay at home to look after the family, the threat of being penalised in later life through having no pension having been removed. His approach was radical in that, although the fund was dependant on being invested on the stock market to ensure it maintained value, he proposed that it be placed under the trusteeship of building societies and trade unions. He also hinted that ways could be found of ensuring that the national pension funds could be invested for the national good.
The City was immediately hostile to Field’s proposal on two counts. Firstly, it threatened the growing private financial sector, not least, the money gained by the private sector from the massive £12.2 billion handed out by the state in the form of tax breaks, without which the lucrative private pensions sector would not have such well-lined pockets. Secondly, it threatened to take control of the massive pension fund out of the City, from which they gain both vast profits and not inconsiderable financial power.
There was no need to worry. The City has such a grip on Blair, that there was no question of Field’s proposals getting anywhere with Labour. He is now an ex-minister.
In what amounts to a massive climb-down, Labour’s "Partnership in Pensions" announces that Labour has decided to entrust the management of its new flagship ‘stakeholder’ pension to the very people who brought us the pension miss-selling scandal. They will also be allowed to ‘charge’ handsomely for the work of managing the fund (perhaps ‘defraud’ would be a better word). The fact that investments will remain in the hands of the City is also a blow to those who had argued that the fund generated by the new stakeholder scheme could be used to promote national investment, or even brought under state regulation to ensure ethical and sustainable investment.
To make matters worse, there is little sign of Labour reforming the trust laws governing the management of the so-called ‘final salary’ schemes which still make up the majority of company pension schemes. These date back to the 17th Century, when they were developed to govern the management of funds of those deemed incapable of managing their own affairs, such as ‘minors’, ‘lunatics’ and (wait for it)…’women’!
The trust laws have been used to muddy the waters, ensuring that individuals have little say in how pension surpluses built up due to rising stock markets should be utilised. It is these which have allowed large-scale fraud such as the Maxwell scandal, plus other legal fraud such as pension holidays, the utilisation of pension funds to pay for redundancies (such as recently in British Telecom), the seizing of surplus funds after privatisation (such as the government is now doing with the National Bus Company funds), and so on. It is estimated that, at present, some £60 billion of surplus funds are sitting there waiting to be snatched.
In refusing to change the law, Labour has argued that these schemes are in decline and are gradually being replaced with the so-called "money purchase" schemes. Though it is true that most new schemes are of this type, there remains the no small matter of £60 billion held in surplus pension funds. The way the law stands (and will now remain), this can be effectively stolen or misused by the holding companies at any time.
Nor has Labour so far said much about the obvious failings that are already coming to light concerning the still-new money purchase schemes. The most obvious problem is the enormous amount of money charged by private pension companies to manage them. Typically, these ‘administration’ charges can eat up a third of the total money saved by the individual policy holder over a lifetime. This outrageous situation is being worsened by wider changes in the economy - most notably the onset of lower interest rates.
Money purchase schemes are based on the idea that people put money into a scheme, which is invested on their behalf. On retirement, the policy is "cashed in" to provide a lump sum which is exchanged for guaranteed annuity or dividend payable on a monthly basis. This annuity is calculated on current interest rates, which are now so low that pensioners are finding their annuity consisting of next-to-nothing. For example, at current levels, a money purchase pension saved over the years which totals £100,000, would currently generate an annuity of just £5,500.
Nor can pensioners simply take their lump sum and run. Under the money purchase scheme, the lump sum remains under the control of the company. Many people are astonished to find that they are forced to accept an even lower annuity to ensure the lump sum is not confiscated by the company, should the policy holder die prematurely.
The problems with individual private pension schemes pale into insignificance compared to the fact that it is the stock market that underpins all pension schemes, whether personal or company. Pension funds are based on the idea that, over the long term, the stock market will only go in one direction - up. This is one massive assumption. Should the stock market collapse, a whole generation of pensioners may find themselves queuing for income support.
The effect of pension funds on international finance is rarely mentioned. At present, there is some $10,000 billion of pension fund sloshing around the world’s financial markets in search of higher returns. The management of this colossal piggy bank is in the hands of a small number of financial consultants. A recent study found that 65% of pension fund transfers in Britain were made on the advice of just four such consultants. Not only do they all operate on the same investment criteria (leading to the so-called herd instinct), they are also notoriously short-termist, forever moving money around in search of higher returns.
Short-term transfer of huge funds was one of the major factors in the currency turmoil that engulfed East Asia last year. In return for massive return, pension fund managers lent money on weak security, much of which went into property development, which promptly collapsed, creating panic and hasty withdrawal of funds. The massive investment followed by even more massive withdrawal created financial turmoil that threatened "meltdown" of financial markets world-wide.
So, we are left with the paradox of individuals contributing to pension funds which are managed in such a way as to bring markets to their knees, wrecking the long-term security of the individual pensioner. The decision by Labour to plunge further down the road of privatising pensions has already led to a backlash. The state pensions lobby has mobilised support for the link between pensions and wages to be restored, bringing the prospect of forcing at least a partial climb-down by Labour prior to the next election.
Through direct action, there remains the possibility of forcing a more permanent change of direction. In this, all possible support is needed for the state pensions lobby, for not only does the issue of pensions effect us all, in many ways, the issue gets to the heart of what kind of society we want. The state pension scheme is based on the idea of social solidarity. Until a society based on true equality and solidarity is secured, this is a principle that must be defiantly defended.
There's more to racism than nailbombs, knifings and the odd fruitcake.
What does racism mean to you? Here’s 3 possibilities; individual prejudice; institutionalised discrimination, or; the erasure of the point of view of people who are not white.
Actually, it is used to describe all of these, but the first gets a disproportionate amount of attention. As a result, the reality of racism is often painted as merely a product of ignorance and prejudice (and therefore predominantly working class). Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is no coincidence that it was the Daily Mail, hate sheet of the middle classes, who first named the suspected murderers of Stephen Lawrence. As the media circus arrived in town, racism was once again firmly framed as being about evil people. Furthermore, the style and attitude of the suspects was identifiably working class, which also helped distance "racism" from the Mail readership.
Now, the antics of the racist working class and their effects on those who are subject to their hatred are not in doubt. The occasional (and it is occasional, fortunately) overt violence they use causes horrendous damage to people’s lives. But even this pales into insignificance when compared to the sheer scale of institutionalised discrimination, which permeates all capitalist countries, not least ‘multi-racial’ Britain.
Bear with me for a moment, while I slip into cultural studies jargon to describe how racism operates - I do this simply because culture is a critical part of social control:
‘An ideological mechanism serves to distort reality in order to displace racism from the institutions of power onto the white working class. In a culture dominated by the assumption of individual responsibility and will, there is a tendency to regard the motive as more important than the consequences of any action. The unspoken assumption is that the subject of the action is all-important, and that the object is of significance only in relation to its subject’.
To put it another way, here is an example of what is meant by ‘subject’ and ‘object’, and how ‘everyday’ racism works.
The story starts back in 1990, when workers and union activists in the Housing Department of Hackney Council in East London began to complain about a witch-hunt against black, and particularly African workers by management. This witch-hunt turned out to be called an ‘anti-corruption campaign’ initiated by the Director, Bernard Crofton. Crofton was adopted by liberals as the hero of the piece, an ‘anti-corruption campaigner’. He was the ‘subject’.
The black and African workers targeted by the ‘anti-corruption campaign’ were the ‘objects’ of the exercise. Predictably, the media adopted the subject’s point of view - that it was indeed an anti-corruption drive. They ignored the alternative point of view - that black workers were subject to obsessive scrutiny of their professional (and private) conduct with the intention of finding enough dirt to sack as many as possible of them on trumped up charges (for example, alleged mortgage irregularities).
Because it was an ‘anti-corruption’ drive, it must have been uncovering corruption, and therefore its opponents must have had something to hide. Thus, from the start, attention was firmly placed on the so-called ‘corruption’, involving such issues as black housing workers allegedly colluding in the mounting council rent arrears. The wider question of why these workers (plus squatters and tenants) should be blamed for Hackney’s housing crisis instead of the government, the council and the (white) management for underfunding and the mismanagement of resources never really surfaced, even in the anti-Crofton camp.
For those who accused Crofton (and his campaign) of racism, the media attention was on his motivation, not the way the ‘investigation’ of black staff was carried out. The technique of using a unit of ‘untouchable’ ex-police, and its focus solely on (black) workers rather than management was ignored. For the defence, Ken Livingstone, among others, was wheeled out to testify to Crofton’s record of anti-racism and commitment to equality. Having absolved Crofton of ‘racism’, as they defined it, the council was conveniently blind to the institutionalised racism going on through the very practice and conduct of the ‘anti-corruption campaign’.
Class makes a difference in how non-white people experience racism. The lower down the social hierarchy you are, the more restricted the definition of what ‘appropriate behaviour’ is for you, and therefore the wider the scope for disciplinary action. In other words, you cannot get away with as much deviation from the norm as a middle class person can. Another practical problem is that, if you are the bottom of the pile, there are far more people above you. This means there are far more people with the power to discriminate against you.
On the other hand, the further up the hierarchy you are, the more likely you are to be useful to your superiors, and therefore get their support. Crofton came unstuck when he made the mistake of targeting someone who was part of, or useful to, the ruling clique in the local Labour Party, when he accused Personnel Director Sam Yeboah of obstructing an investigation into failures to check references of West African job applicants. Racial discrimination is OK, but not if it affects the allies of power.
As an aside, Yeboah himself strengthened structural inequality and discrimination, by presiding over restructuring and overlooking procedures designed to prevent promotion through such ‘re-organisation’, which is an easy way for managers to promote themselves or their friends - corruption! Restructuring of Library services, for example, almost eliminated professional and supervisory grades, destroying opportunities for low-paid workers to advance through the system. This disproportionately affected the prospects of low paid, black workers, serving to keep them in a position where they can be most easily subjected to the more extreme measures taken by Crofton’s ilk.
It might seem contradictory that an individual who later became a victim of racial discrimination was also part of the structure of discrimination, but reality is like that. Just as thirty years ago sociologists started trying to convince us that class no longer existed because it was possible to attain high socio-economic status from the humblest of origins, so the existence of a black middle class is cited as evidence of the erosion of racism. In reality, social mobility can co-exist with an oppressive class structure. Equally, individual black self-advancement can co-exist with institutionalised racism.
So, Crofton’s comeuppance came when he seized on failures to check references of West African job applicants, and he took on Yeboah. The give-away of his racism was in the fact that he focused only on the West African job applicants, and the fact that Yeboah is a West African name. His triumphant exclamations followed - here was evidence of the corruption he had been looking for. As the media gullibly joined in, we were treated to the story of the "West African mafia" helping itself to jobs in a lucrative racket. If only Crofton had looked at a few non-West African cases, he would have found that what he had ‘uncovered’ was not corruption, but simple incompetence. Hackney Council’s recruitment procedures are crap. Nothing new.
In typically incompetent fashion, the ruling clique sacked Crofton. He promptly went to the media, who swallowed his ‘anti-corruption campaign’ pitch whole. A couple of allegedly corrupt West Africans was all that was needed to sanction racism. The ‘object’-centred view prevailed. Eventually, Crofton was reinstated by the Council, amidst much posturing over the supposed latent ‘loony left’. Crofton emerged as the media’s moderate liberal, and hero of the story.
In August 1998, Yeboah won record damages for constructive dismissal and racial discrimination against Crofton and the Council. Post-Steven Lawrence, the media’s attention is now finally drawn to the "new" (sic) concept of institutional racism. But I will eat my hat if the BBC does a special investigation into institutionalised racism in Hackney Council. And as for special investigations into all the other tiers of government and control, or even in the liberal media itself...?!
Language is such a major part of everyday life, it gets taken for granted. But from the day we’re born, our identity is defined by language. The genders, races and classes we belong to are also thus defined. Our status and level of living is fundamentally influenced by the language of power.
But language can also be turned into an important weapon in the fight against discrimination. This article details two primary concerns; how language is used to maintain power over us, and how we can use it to challenge and overcome existing power structures.
Language is vital in developing, maintaining and reproducing all sorts of power relations. It perpetuates a vast range of myths and stereotypes based on class, gender, racial, sexual and other feelings of superiority. From ‘simple’ name-calling and insults to the subtler-end chauvinistic journalism, verbal attack, in one form or another, is ever present. After a time, this negative language becomes ingrained, and so the power structures which language reflects determine our social and language practices. In turn, these practices contribute to maintaining the power structures. This cyclical process has helped establish and reinforce a hierarchy of language styles, used in different social and institutional situations, which are parallel to the hierarchy of social and class relations.
The form of language we use with our mates, our families, or in the school playground differs from that we use with the boss, the police, in an interview or in the classroom. The ‘telephone voice’ phenomenon indicates how we change our language to fit with the expectations and norms of society. In institutional situations, like the police station, the manager’s office, the classroom, or all sorts of interview situations, the context is one in which rigid, pre-determined language roles exist. Power, in these situations, is reflected by the respective roles of the participants, and is either maintained or challenged through the ability or willingness of one or other of the participants to play their expected role. Where the authority figure can assume and retain control, power relations are reinforced, and regular repetition of these events throughout society reproduces these power relations.
Before going on to look at the part played by the education system in this process, let’s deal with a few myths about language.
The form of the English language that is associated with power in Britain today, is variously known as BBC English, received pronunciation, southern British standard, or even simply ‘proper’ English. It is no accident that this dialect descends from the merchant class of London at the end of the medieval period. As this class evolved into the new capitalist class, so their linguistic influence spread. Capitalism required improved communication, and therefore a working class that at least understood the dominant dialect, both written and spoken, even if they didn’t use it in their own speech. Establishing the dominance of this dialect was part and parcel of the capitalist class establishing its dominance over the working class.
It could be said that a language is just a dialect with an army and a navy. Two points arise. First, it ties prestige forms of language to capitalism’s favourite form of political organisation - the nation state. Second, it reflects the reality that ‘standard’ English is no less a dialect than any other form of English. The difference is that it is a class dialect, not a regional one. It is held up as something to aspire to, not denigrated like regional dialects. It is a class dialect because the capitalist class uses it most, and because it is working class people who are said not to speak ‘proper’ English.
Not content merely with dominance, there are even those who wish to go further and develop standard English into a uniform national language that everyone must use. The latest example to hit the headlines was Beryl Bainbridge’s bigoted demand for working class accents to be weeded out at school. To hold such views is a demonstration of crass class arrogance. It certainly shows no understanding of how we learn language or what language should be about.
In fact, the majority of language learning is done before we reach school. Most of us therefore, don’t learn ‘proper’ English, but the dialect of our families and communities. At school, we learn to read and write the standard dialect, but we largely ignore the attempts to make us talk proper(ly). Although people can, and do, change their accents or dialects, it has rarely anything to do with school. Even so, childhood dialects remain, as witnessed by their ability to show up, or get stronger, due to stress, emotion or inebriation. To try to wipe out regional dialect, therefore, can only be doomed to failure, for children by and large continue to use the same speech habits as their family and friends, not those that school attempts to force-feed them.
The elitist, prescriptivist ideology is that standard English is the one and only truly correct form, that all other forms are lazy, inelegant and lacking logic. But the truth is that no dialect is any more correct, elegant or logical than any other. It takes the same level of mental sophistication to develop the knowledge to speak ‘proper’ as it does to speak Scouse, Cockney, Geordie, Brummie or anything else. Prescriptivists like the bigot Bainbridge fear that English is being infected, debased and mongrelised by regional dialects and ‘sloppy usage’. But no language remains static. Standard English, like other English dialects, and like other languages, changes all the time. Such changes are irresistible, and beyond the control of the self-appointed grammar police.
As already mentioned, capitalism needed improved communication, which led to the spread of literacy through the state education system and among the working class, who had hitherto been denied access to education. Of course, the teaching of skills like reading and writing, even if based on a standard, capitalist dialect, is no bad thing in and of itself. However, in going about the teaching process, the education system establishes the social patterns, including patterns of language use, that we go on to use in our dealings with wider society. School establishes a distinctive structure with a set of situations (class, assembly, playtime, staff meeting, etc), a set of roles (head, teacher, pupil, prefect, boy/girl, bully) and a set of purposes (learning, teaching, examining, maintaining [social] control), all of which demand their own distinctive language pattern - controlled roles, controlling roles, when to take turns, respecting the authority of the head, the teacher, and so on.
Having downplayed the education system’s ability to affect our dialects, a more accurate assessment would be that, instead of our childhood dialects being affected, we are given access to another (standard) dialect for use in dealings with institutions, etc., which demands a language style higher up the hierarchy. Thus, to some degree we do absorb the standard dialect, for use in specific situations. How successfully we can do this is reflected in how successful we are in educational and career terms or, put another way, how successful we are in reproducing society’s values and power structures. Of course, people from capitalist, ‘middle class’ or professional backgrounds, that is backgrounds where they learn the standard dialect from birth, have a head start in this process.
Another institution which reinforces both language patterns and capitalist power structures is the media industry, including its offensive off-shoot, the advertising industry. The media are skilled at disguising power relations to direct attention away from the powerful people and the profit-motivated causes that lie behind discrimination, pollution, and a long list of other social evils.
A sort of simulated egalitarianism, which depends heavily on hiding surface markers of authority and power, is projected through advertising and the media, as well as education, government and state bureaucracies. The language used presents capitalist practices as universal and ‘common sense’. The power to do this is a significant complement to economic and political power.
For instance, industrial disputes are reported through the use of distorting language such as "trouble", "disruption" or the disease metaphor. All of the time, it is existing power structures which are reinforced. The whole point is to achieve consent in the maintenance of power, which is certainly a lot less risky than ruling through coercion.
An aspect of language which is just as important as its role in maintaining power, is the role it can play in challenging and breaking down power structures. Indeed, over the last four decades, various social and political movements have adopted various strategies to ‘expropriate’ language in this way. Capitalist society lays great store in being ‘free’ and ‘democratic’. However, when those at the sharp end of social power structures claim such ideas in the fight against discrimination, and re-work their meanings, this is a challenge to existing power structures.
Another way of fighting back through language is to reclaim ‘insulting’ words. This has been done to a certain extent elsewhere, but has been most successful within the gay movement. The word ‘gay’ itself is one which was reclaimed back in the 1970s, while ‘queer’ has recently undergone the same process. Again, language is being expropriated and given unexpected and empowering meaning.
In recent decades, there has also been a trend away from the overt marking of power relations in language, resulting in the hiding or blurring of language power relationships. Examples include in higher education, the use of ‘Japanese management techniques’, and the increased use of indirect requests in everyday conversation, rather than direct orders. In languages like French, German, and Spanish it is also seen, in the trend away from using informal and polite equivalents of "you" to mark power relations, towards their use to express family, friendship or solidarity relations. Then again, it is seen in the shift away from "he" and other male pronouns to refer to all sexes collectively.
Such changes show a response to social struggle. The powerful have felt the need to exercise power in less open and direct ways. Of course, there is no question of them giving up any of that power. Power inequalities in terms of wealth distribution, access to health and education facilities, and so on, continue to widen, deepen and generally become more stark. But they are disguised by the ever thicker wallpaper of subtle language change. This is simply one face of the simulated egalitarianism referred to earlier.
While such trends may show that the language of power relations can be challenged and changed, they also demonstrate that capitalist society can adopt and adapt to such language change without significant change to the whole hierarchy of power. The ultimate challenge, then, is to bring down the capitalist system, which is built on that hierarchy. And language must be a part of this process.
The expropriation of the terminology of the dominant ideology is one way in which we can immediately intensify our battle against it. For example, we can set about expropriating that old capitalist favourite ‘free speech’. Since this must be based upon the ability to participate freely and equally within society, a society that expects the majority of us to meekly fit into subservient roles and follow orders cannot be one that encourages free speech.
To be in favour of free speech, therefore, is to reject both the social and class hierarchy, and the hierarchy of language roles that goes with it. Now, to take on managers, coppers and other authority figures, to refuse to accept being controlled, is no easy task. But it is one that is central to the whole idea of overthrowing the current society to bring about a better one. It is a task that we must prepare for, through self-education, backed by solidarity.
Women are major contributors to society through work. They are also major losers in this process, because in the main, they get pitiful pay for what they do. The causes of this situation are numerous, but the solutions are a long time coming. There are good reasons for this - and why New Labour’s plans will, at best, further enslave women to capitalism and, at worst, leave them still largely enslaved to male power and money.
For clarity, and because I find it easy, let us start with a definition. This article is about employment and work in the strict sense of ‘formal paid economic activity’; what is commonly called a job. It is important to make this distinction as a lot of people who do not have a job are nevertheless employed in a variety of activities which are work. I should also point out that a lot of the specific statements here apply mainly to Britain, and may only have varying degrees of application to other western capitalist countries.
There are distinct differences in employment patterns between men and women in Britain. These patterns are a creation both of the laissez faire capitalist system in Britain and a couple of hundred years of political and cultural attempts to influence its subsequent development.
In Britain, on average, women earn a lot less than men. We have recently reached the point where roughly half the workforce is female, so why the difference in pay? It is only by looking more closely at the detail of the differences in employment patterns between men and women, and between women, that a clear picture will emerge. There are differences in the way people work (part-time, full-time, continuous, short-term, casual, etc.), the sector they work in, and their seniority within the sector, all of which affect their income.
Women’s employment histories tend to fall into three categories. There is a smallish, slowly shrinking group of around ten percent who either never work, or who only work up to marriage/birth of their first child. Whilst this is often seen as the traditional ‘family’ mode, it is not particularly traditional. In modern terms, it is more or less a product of eighteenth and nineteenth century bourgeois ideology that has somehow hung on until the end of the twentieth century. It never applied to all classes, but was predominant amongst the middle class. The employment of working class women was more or less ignored. The fact that a marriage bar was placed on many ‘professional’ or white-collar jobs can be seen as the political manifestation of this ideological attempt to force women from the workplace and into the home. The marriage bar regulations, which forced women to leave work on marriage, existed well into the 1950s and 1960s (and even until the early 1980s for the civil service in Northern Ireland).
The role of the unions in this is worth noting. Much of the debate and demands around the ‘family wage’ took for granted an ideological perception of the man supporting the women and any children. Even comparatively recently, trade union leaders generally concentrated on seeking permanent secure employment for men so they could support their wives. The male-dominated trade union movement sought to organise in the male-dominated industries and jobs, and shunned what were seen as women’s occupations (service industries, etc.) This patriarchal attitude indicates one reason why women’s wages have remained lower than men’s and why now, with the increase in employment in traditionally female work areas, union organisation is patchy to say the least.
The second group, which is a bit larger and slowly growing, is of women who remain working full-time throughout their working lives, with the possible exception of the odd short maternity break, after which they quickly return to work.
This pattern is closest to the typical male pattern of employment (the vast majority of men work full-time throughout their lives - or at least would do if they could get permanent jobs). It is this full time permanent pattern of employment that is normally seen as the desirable objective - a sort of gold standard.
The third and largest group does not fit the (mostly failed) bourgeois model of women as homemakers, nor does it tie in with the full-time alternative. The majority of women in Britain initially work full-time, but then, usually on the birth of their first child, they stop work for a variable length of time, before returning only to part-time work. Most then continue to work part-time until they reach official retirement age. It should be noted that a lot of this part-time work is not half-time work; often it may even be less than ten hours per week. Also, much of it is casualised and has been for decades. There are few permanent contracts, few benefits and the chances of a decent pension are even lower than those of full-time employees.
Even with recent legislation extending basic employment rights to part-time workers, they are still severely disadvantaged in comparison with most full-time employees. Whilst there has always been casualised, part-time work in Britain, it is in the post war years that it has expanded most - and this growth has been almost entirely amongst women. This phenomenon accounts for a large amount (some argue nearly all) the growth in employment since the 1950s. The percentage of women working full-time has risen only very slowly - and that only recently. Thus, the expansion of the proportion of women in the workforce has been made up almost entirely of part-time workers, and it does not appear to have resulted in loss of full-time employment either by men or women.
Part-time wages are generally set at below the level needed to survive. Those who work on part-time wages are usually reliant on another source of income, be it a partner working, parents, a pension, or state benefits. It is noticeable that male part-time workers are either the young, who either live with their parents or are full-time students, or they are older men who have taken early retirement from full-time work with a pension. Part-time work is marginalised, undervalued and rife with poor conditions.
Obviously, as most women workers are part-time, and as part-time work is underpaid, it is not surprising that much of the reason women workers get less is that they are in crappy part-time jobs. But to attribute all of the difference to this is to underplay the importance of the wider undervaluing of women’s employment through other factors.
Firstly, there are noticeable differences between the sorts of work men and women normally do. Again, it may seem obvious that many occupations are considered ‘male’ or ‘female’, and there has often been a historic difference in the ‘value’ placed on them as a result. This dual system of the value of work depending on how it is perceived to be gendered has been and continues to be challenged. Female-dominated workforces, such as nurses, are demanding to be taken and valued seriously.
Nor is the gender balance in occupations static. In teaching, for example, there has been a swing from male domination to now where, at primary level at least, the government now reckons there is a shortage of male teachers. It is important to note that the perceived status of teaching has fallen as this change has taken place. While cause and effect is hard to interpret, as is often the case, women have been left with justifications for poor pay and conditions that emphasise the caring nature of the work.
In other words, if you take a pride in doing work of real direct value to other human beings, you should expect low pay!! The imposed willingness to work for heavenly peanuts and the joy of service continues to be used against nurses, whereas doctors, traditionally a male occupation, are not expected to care as much and therefore require much bigger pay packets.
In general, women’s work has a weak collective basis. Casualisation and the patriarchal trade union focus on the family wage, and full-time permanent employment led to whole sectors of the economy being more or less ignored for years. Without collective action, the pay and conditions in these sectors have remained poor. Now that these sectors are making up a larger and larger part of the economy, so many of the gains made through unionisation of the traditional male industries have been lost. So, this attitude, coupled with Thatcher’s ferocious attacks and the consequent impotence of reformist unions, has led to a sharp decline in pay and conditions across the British working class as a whole.
After discrimination by work type, comes the second issue of discrimination within work type. After taking into account differences created by women who work part-time, there remain major differences between men and women in terms of pay within the same work type. Much of this remainder is down to seniority. Men still occupy the most senior posts and get the most pay. Though this is not universally true, research has found that, in a number of occupations, especially those where there are fairly discretionary grades of pay, women receive lower pay than do their male colleagues. This is particularly noticeable in white collar ‘professions’, such as law and academia (though it could be that these are singled out simply because this is where most of the studies have been done).
The most common approach to confronting this particular inequality has been to seek to get women into the ‘male’ occupations, particularly the high prestige ‘professions’, and then get promoted into positions of seniority – to break through the glass ceiling. This is what the equal opportunities legislation is all about - giving women the right to participate in the hierarchical structures of capitalism on the same basis as men. The problem is that, at best, this may give a few middle class women the same power as a few middle class men. If you place your faith in this line of thought, you are suggesting that women need to get involved in the ‘only game in town’, whereas in fact, a new game altogether is called for. Without a far more radical approach, the vast majority of working women will always remain in crappy jobs - irrespective of ‘equal opportunities’ rules (as they are not designed to lead to anything like equality).
To get back to the central point, though, equality between genders is at least partially addressed with equal opportunities initiatives. At least women have the possibility of fulfilling any role within the current society. Indeed, there has and continues to be growth in childcare facilities and the like (albeit interminably slowly).
There is an argument, which is now gaining some ground, that women in effect have more choice than men. Women can choose to work full-time, leave the formal economic sector altogether and be supported by ‘their’ husband, or be economically dependant on a primary source of income (whether partner, benefit or whatever) which they supplement by their own earnings. Men, on the other hand, only have one socially acceptable choice, which is full-time employment. Whilst this is fundamentally true, it misses the point. Women are still denied access to the more prestigious occupations and the most prestigious positions within occupations.
Women who wish to ‘compete’ with men for these positions have to make stark choices. To work full-time and have a family means that some arrangement for the care of children must be arranged. For men, this has never really been a problem, they just didn’t take care of the children. For women who, despite the rhetoric, still have the bulk of childcare responsibilities, there is a serious problem. Childcare is not cheap.
Unless a woman can afford to pay or has family and social contacts to take care of her children for ‘free’, she cannot work and have children. Hence, the most common solution - women work part-time earning some income, but are still dependent on another primary source of income. Any external childcare that is needed is usually sorted out through informal arrangements. This brings us back to square one; part-time work has very poor pay and conditions, thus women have been marginalised by the inflexibility of the only form of employment which offers enough pay to survive on.
So far, the government rhetoric has revolved around removing the barriers that prevent women from entering full-time employment. In other words, primarily, provision of affordable and available childcare. The dual problem here is the availability of the full-time decently paid jobs, and the fact that these are likely to be jealously guarded by men wherever possible. Furthermore, full time work does not appeal to all women.
A more robust solution - and we are still talking within the current system here, not a fundamentally altered society – is a change in the way work is organised. As a starting point, this means fewer hours, more flexibility, more chance to fit work with other duties such as child care, opportunities to take breaks to fit circumstances, etc.
On the face of it, this might sound like calling for casualisation - and basically, it is. The casualisation of work is only bad because it is being used by employers to undermine pay and conditions. People are forced to fight to work full-time from when they leave school to when they retire because otherwise, they will have no pension to speak of, and before they get their pension they will live in poverty, unable to have a decent standard of living. Real casualisation is decent pay for all, with flexible working hours - the ‘flexibility’ being decided more by the workers than the employers, as it is now. This would make casualisation something which working people could demand, rather than fight against.
Of course, the only way to turn casualisation to our advantage is to come together and plan collective action - and the current trade unions have proved time and again they do not particularly care for women, the part-timers, or the marginalised. It will be down to independent direct democratic organisations like Solidarity Federation to act as a focal point for people to achieve this.
The bottom line is that, in theory, the basic raw capitalist doesn’t care about gender; what is important is that the worker can produce in a certain time an amount of product that can be sold for more than the worker gets paid for that length of time. Capitalism is about exploitation for profit. But beyond the theory, even the most rational of capitalists carry with them cultural baggage, which affects their decision-making. Supplementing this is 200 years of political manoeuvring; the current British version of capitalism has had a tremendous amount of interference from governments of all colours, all designed to retain the dominant power system for the inevitably short period in office. Hence, capitalist theory and the economists’ model of a rational economic individual remains just that, a model. Women’s experience of employment stems from the long-term process of patriarchy (and to some extent the reactions against it). Patriarchy has operated through the laissez faire capitalist system and permeates it. Any attempt to bring real change to the employment situation of women cannot ignore the wider problem of patriarchy; indeed, it must target and destroy it. This means disabling the mechanisms of patriarchy - concentration of wealth, centralisation of power, and the entire hierarchy of oppression in society.
It is not a fine choice to be either dependent on a husband or dependent on the state’s pitiful and heavily begrudged handouts. Until we start to address the problems created by a social norm which sees full-time employment as the gold standard, ‘and the rest can go whistle for scraps’, everyone - and women in particular - will be trapped trying to balance having a life with being able to afford to live.
New Labour is considering electronically tagging children as young as ten, in its drive to deal with the expected rise in young people held in custody, caused by implementing the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.
Already, children aged ten to fifteen are being tagged in two pilot projects run by the Youth Justice Board, in Manchester and Norfolk. The pilots will continue until March 2000. After this, the Government will decide on extending its plans nationwide.
Jack Straw is a real charmer - even more reactionary than Michael Howard. Speaking recently at a Family Policy Studies Centre Conference, he expressed surprise that, at any given time, 3,500 children under two years old are in local authority care. At the same time, childless couples are waiting many years on adoption registers.
Straw said: "It is in no-one’s interest, not the mother’s, nor the child’s, nor the prospective parents’, to allow a situation to develop where a crisis point is reached in the baby’s first year, because the ability of the mother, often a teenager, to cope has been misjudged by well-meaning but misguided people". Here we have, in New Labour guise, the Tory hatred of the single/teenage mother. And it goes far beyond negative stereo-typing of grubby and stupid beer-drinking plebs. Straw’s blatant discriminatory middle-class fear and loathing of working class people is remarkable - was he bullied at school, or did he just have a rough time potty-training?
Single parents need support. They are generally doing a good job with little practical help, in spite of the negative stereo-typing and right-wing ideology which masquerades as, on one hand, common sense, but also as ‘social science’.
There are over 300,000 child soldiers world-wide, some as young as seven. They are mainly concentrated in Africa. Because of developments in weaponry, such as lightweight materials, children can carry, handle and operate such arms. These new weapons are produced mainly by Britain, France, Russia and China.
Currently, there are some 15 million children who are refugees, of which 5% are orphaned or abandoned. In many cases, they have witnessed the murder of their parents or family members. They have been psychologically scarred. As a result, many want revenge.
Children are regularly kidnapped and forced to fight. Through this, they have again been forced to participate in and witness atrocities. In Uganda, a gun can be bought for the price of a chicken.
The NSPCC has recently launched a campaign to end cruelty to children called "Full Stop". It reports that one child under five dies each week in the UK as a result of parental abuse and neglect. Recent Government-sponsored research found that more than a third of all children in 400 ‘ordinary’ families were punished ‘severely’. ‘Severely’ was defined as the ‘intention or potential to cause injury or psychological damage’.
In Sweden, smacking and physical punishment was outlawed more than 20 years ago. In the 1980s, no Swedish children died and, between 1990 and 1996, 4 children died as a result of physical abuse. Prosecutions for abuse also showed a decline in trend during this period. This trend is most marked amongst parents in their 20s who grew up in this "no-smacking" culture.
The British Government now seems to have accepted that the law on physical punishment should be changed following the ruling that a British stepfather’s caning of a young boy breached the European Convention on Human Rights. The Children are Unbeatable Alliance have called for a complete ban on smacking and physical punishment. However, in spite of many parent education programmes, physical punishment is far from dying out in Britain. Still, over 90% of children are smacked by parents and carers, including babies under the age of one year.
Once it was thought it was acceptable for men to hit women, specially their wives. Now we believe that the concept of zero tolerance promoted by campaigners against domestic violence should be extended to all children, who are surely the most vulnerable members of society.
As soon as the bombing started back in April, the trickle of people fleeing Kosova became a flood. As usual, NATO got it really wrong, and Blair, Clinton and their hundreds of clever advisers failed to see the obvious coming. Now, there is a chance to start sorting out the thousands of split, broken and suffering families.
Fighting for a brighter future?
NATO hasn’t even dared contemplate the scale of the devastation, killing and economic and social damage it has wrought across Serbia and Kosova. And Milosovic, well, does he care? The main thing is, both he and Nato knew that he wasn’t going to be on the streets when the bombs rained down.
The real victims, as in every war, are ordinary working class people like you and me. Factory workers, public service workers, teachers and nurses, childcarers, mothers, fathers, shop assistants and the self-employed, all have been press-ganged, bombed, terrorised, deprived of basic dignity, services, rights, and even life. Where you live and what your language and culture is within Kosova and Serbia is only likely to have influenced the type of suffering and who exactly is inflicting it on you.
If hundreds of thousands of displaced Kosovars are to be repatriated before winter, there is much to be done - and Britain and the US will speedily throw resources into it. Not, you understand, because they have the best interests of the people at heart, but because the alternative is unpleasant TV reports and more pressure to accept more refugees onto home soil.
Indeed, Home Secretary Jack Straw has asked the Refugee Council to co-ordinate provision of temporary accommodation and interpreters. The Home Office is also conducting a trawl of disused army camps and other government accommodation that could be brought into use. But the British (and New Labour) record on refugees is less than generous.
Before the Nato bombing, local and national media were running sensationalist stories which branded asylum seekers - Kosovars included - as benefit scroungers and criminals. There is tacit support and even active encouragement from New Labour - the government has been feeding a steady stream of case material to the likes of the Daily Mail to satisfy its lust for racist reporting. The crux of the matter is that, like all racists, they have started to believe that Britain is both attractive and comfortable to asylum seekers, yet it will be overwhelmed if we let them in. Well, surely if it was about to be ‘overwhelmed’, it wouldn’t be so ‘attractive’? This is, of course, one area where the capitalist mindset suddenly backtracks on its notions of free market and freedom of movement. And I thought the free market assumed total freedom of labour markets and movement (and indeed, even zero transport costs, at its most efficient). And I thought Britain and the US were pro-free market? Oh, only on some things, not foreigners or poor people maybe.
Now, after Kosova, far from challenging the prejudice and race-hate whipped up by the press, government proposals in the current Immigration and Asylum Bill threaten to add to the misery.
The Bill contains provisions to strengthen pre-entry controls, making it harder for people fleeing terror and persecution to enter the UK. Airlines that carry refugees without visas are already subject to fines, which will be extended to drivers of lorries that are found to contain refugees. The Bill makes it a criminal offence for asylum seekers to use false documents - yet many genuine refugees are unable to obtain passports and visas before escaping. It also cuts further the support system for asylum seekers who do gain entry. Currently, only refugees who claim asylum at the port of entry are entitled to benefits, while those who claim once inside the country have to contend with a largely cashless system of support administered by local authorities under the Children Act 1989 and the National Assistance Act 1948. In the Bill, Local authorities will no longer have responsibility for asylum seekers (apart from for unaccompanied children). Instead, a new Home Office body will co-ordinate accommodation and cashless support, dispersing asylum seekers to "reception zones". Refugees will have no choice about where they are sent and they will get far less than Income Support.
So, New Labour’s latest plan amounts to this; refugees will find themselves split up and in a corner of the country where they stick out like a sore thumb, and there is no existing community they can relate to; they will have no money, only humiliating and complex vouchers; and local agencies and authorities will have inadequately skilled and resourced means of assisting them with basics like trauma councilling, English language skills, etc.
The Balkan crisis has exposed the sharp contrast between the New Labour Government’s commitment to war and bombing on one hand, and its hard line on refugees in general on the other. Given this, the Asylum and Immigration Bill is just what you might expect from New Labour. Now, the common challenge from Blair is what else can you do with a tyrant like Milosovic. Well, he is a product of the capitalist system of domination and hierarchy which Blair and his ilk are constantly reinforcing throughout, and constantly fine-tuning to screw the poor harder. In other words, let’s ditch capitalism for a fairer system and we won’t have any more Milosovics. But even under capitalism, we could have helped defend Kosovars by directly attacking the perpetrator of the crimes against them, instead of unleashing war on innocent Serbs. Why fly 3 miles high and spray towns and cities with depleted uranium warheads and cluster bombs which will kill and maim for generations to come? Why drop bombs around people, if you don’t want to hurt them?
If you want to overcome nationalism, racism and ethnic cleansing, you first have to practice what you preach and believe in what you want. Setting an example, educating against bigotry, empowering communities, depowering leaders; all these things can be done quickly and effectively, decisively and successfully - without the innocent bystanders being slaughtered. But would you expect Blair or Clinton to connect with that, given their particular hobbies?