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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Global instability, poverty and the refugee crisis:
Britain, the Other Big Powers and the Imperialist System of States Are Responsible
NHS "Five Year Forward View" & "Sustainability and Transformation Plans":
Recognising that A Stand Has to Be Taken Against the Whole Anti-Social Direction for the NHS
Education is a Right Not a Privilege:
Academies: The Creation of a Capital-Centred School System
Youth & Students:
Majority of Student Unions Stay Affiliated to NUS
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The people of England, Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland voted on June 23 to leave the European Union rather than remain in the EU. The voting was Leave: 17,410,742 (51.9% of valid votes cast); Remain: 16,141,241(48.1% of valid votes cast), a majority of 1,269,501, with a turnout of 72.2% of the total electorate of 46,500,001. The number of rejected ballots was 25,359.i
The result was a blow to the existing arrangements, and to those forces who had been siding with the status quo. It is primarily a victory for the working class, who gave voice to their opposition to the anti-social offensive, to the imposition of monopoly right represented by the EU and to being denied a say in the direction of society.
The establishment, through the leadership of both the Remain and Leave campaigns, had attempted to disinform working people and to make sure they could not find their bearings. A chauvinist, racist and xenophobic context was created in which the opposition to the neo-liberal, pro-austerity institutions of the EU was not supposed to be on the agenda.
The vote to leave the EU has created a profound political crisis for the ruling elite. If anything, the campaign to disorientate and disinform the people has been intensified. The most backward sections of society have been highlighted as though they represent the majority. The financiers, speculators and credit rating institutions, who should be deprived of any say in the economy, have themselves plunged the economy further into crisis. Attempts continue to prevent the government being held to account and the will of the electorate implemented.
What the referendum result has highlighted is the aspiration of the people to exercise sovereignty, to have a decisive say in the direction of society, a decisive say in setting its aim. This aspiration is based on the bitter experience of working people that the austerity agenda has targeted them and benefited the rich. It has demonstrated the opposition of the people overall to the supra-national institutions of the European Union which cannot be held to account by the people and which declare nation-building to be at an end. It has demonstrated the rejection of Euro-federalism in which nations are supposed to deny their own identity and not determine their own future, but be subservient to the representatives of the neo-liberal agenda of the EU as an institution.
The referendum was set in motion by David Cameron to attempt to sort out the contradictions in the ruling elite once and for all. Quite how impossible this was has now come home to roost, and far from settling the issue it is he who has had to tender his resignation. Despite some attempts to say that it should be business as usual, the political situation has changed.
The vote to leave the EU opens up the space for discussion on the new kind of politics which society needs, for the discussion on how to take things forward and turn around the economy to favour working people, how to combat the chauvinism and retrogression which is the only answer of the ruling elite to the crisis of a neo-liberal economy and to the crisis of working class representation. In promoting racism and racist attacks, the state itself attempts to separate national minority communities from the working class of which they are part, and incites and promotes racist activities. The British states policy towards citizenship and immigration has always been racist. The free movement of labour which the neo-liberal free market encourages, particularly from Eastern Europe, aims to keep these workers as vulnerable as possible, while driving down living standards and working conditions for all workers. The working class opposes these schemes while demanding that the rights of all workers be recognised in opposition to the demand of the multinational concerns that everything and everyone should be subservient to the interests of the EU and other monopolies, and that only along this path can working people find salvation.
A concerted attempt is being made to turn the Brexit vote for control of a sovereign economy into a racist backlash for which the ruling elite has for long been preparing the ground. Rather the working class and all its allies must take the Brexit vote forward on the basis of fighting for democratic renewal and empowerment. This attempt at promoting racism is going hand in hand with a coup aimed at blocking the movement to end austerity and instead to reinstate the politics of neo-liberalism and contempt for sovereignty. In both cases, what is evident is the attempt of the ruling elite to block the movement of the people for empowerment, demonstrating the crucial need for the working class and people to discuss the necessity for new arrangements and for a political movement effective in bringing these about.
In other words, taken together these attempts show how the agenda of austerity, racism and war must itself be blocked, and for the working class and people to unite around charting a new path for society. It is not a question of siding with any other force. It is essential that an independent path is taken by the working class and people.
United around the necessity for democratic renewal and empowerment, the working class and people can block the neo-liberal coup of vested interests against the electorate, not get swayed by the hysteria that is being fostered, and discuss the practical steps required to take things forward.
RCPB(ML) calls on the working class and people to chart a new path, discuss the question of empowerment and democratic renewal, and build a movement which will bring about change that favours the people and the nations which at present constitute Britain, and resolve the problems which the working class and people face, including the institutions of the EU. Let us discuss and chart the way forward!
According to reports from the UN Refugee Agency, over 200,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean already this year and over 2,500 have lost their lives. Nearly nine hundred people lost their lives making the hazardous crossing in the last week of May this year. The majority of migrants who lost their lives embark from Libya and attempt to reach Italy and this route is particularly dangerous. Most of the migrant/refugees in Libya originate in West Africa as well as from countries such as Somalia and Eritrea. It is estimated that there are currently around 800,000 migrants still waiting in Libya to cross the Mediterranean. In addition, there are thousands more from Syria, Afghanistan and other war zones and impoverished areas seeking a new life in Europe and often at the mercy of organised criminals. According to Interpol figures, human trafficking is now more lucrative than narcotics with a turnover of some $6 billion per year. In this regard there there is particular concern about the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children who make the Mediterranean crossing and then disappear. It is estimated that since the current refugee crisis started over 10,000 minors have disappeared in Europe.
The news media have been full of reports suggesting that the British government, the governments of other EU countries and the UN are concerned about the refugee crisis and the terrible loss of that is a consequence of it. Yet they can provide no effective solutions, as the numbers of refugees and deaths has continued to rise. When the G7 Summit closed in Japan on May 27, David Cameron had announced that the government's main strategy was to return those who made the dangerous Mediterranean crossing. At the same time, he claimed that Britain was doing more than any other country to "support jobs and livelihoods in unstable African countries" and that he was also engaged in measures to "boost the capacity of the Libyan coastguard". Cameron was of the opinion that such measures and the deployment of a British warship to Libyan waters would "help stabilise Libya, secure its coast and tackle the migration crisis".
However, Britain has been one of the main destabilisers of Libya, as well as other African countries. Instability in Libya and elsewhere in Africa is presented as though Britain and the other big powers had no responsibility for it. In Libya, Britain as well as its NATO allies were the main factor that created the anarchy which still remains, with two rival governments, as well as other warring militias, and the ever-expanding presence of the sinister Daesh/ISIL, which is now reported to be a significant presence in Libya where Britain's "Special Forces" are also operating secretly without the knowledge or sanction of parliament. Even the Libyan government recognised by Britain and the UN has limited jurisdiction and can only operate with the utmost difficulty. Only recently it was announced that there is not even one nationally recognised currency in the country, with rival banknotes being printed in Britain and Russia. This government imposed by NATO exists only in a naval base, is unelected and enjoys little popular support. Indeed, it is widely criticised for being so closely connected with the Anglo-Americans. The military intervention of the British government has created this dire situation in what was once the most developed African country. It has facilitated the refugee crisis, which also included thousands of Libyans, and can only suggest that more intervention and interference might provide a solution.
Neither military nor economic intervention by Britain and the other big powers has produced stability in Libya or other African countries which despite considerable economic growth rates in some places are still impoverished and producing thousands of refugees. It is significant that Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, is also one of the largest producers of refugees, not least because of the activities of Boko Haram, which have also been facilitated by military intervention in Libya, but also because of the imposition of neo-liberalism in the various forms dictated by Britain, the US and the institutions of the imperialist system of states. Remarks about corruption in Nigeria by David Cameron masked the fact that, as over a hundred Nigerian "civil society" organisations pointed out, significant amounts of Nigeria's plundered wealth is laundered in Britain. They might also have pointed out that large-scale corruption in Nigeria was largely developed by Shell and other oil monopolies and also that Nigeria has been consistently ranked in the top ten countries in the world suffering from illicit financial flows, losing around $129 billion in the first ten years of this century alone. According to a report by the Africa Development Bank, in the thirty years before 2010 the African continent as a whole lost more from illicit financial flows and other wealth transfer than it received in so-called "aid" and investment from Britain and other developed countries. Africa provided to the world plundered resources of $1.4 trillion, that is about four times the value of the entire continent's foreign debt and almost the value of its total GDP. It goes almost without saying that many of these illicit transfers involve British monopolies and financial institutions. Moreover, Britain and its financial institutions lead the world in providing tax havens and the global transfer of illicit funds that are the cause of such poverty and instability in Africa as well as elsewhere in the world.
Neither crocodile tears nor the actions proposed by the Conservative government and its allies will bring stability to Libya nor other African countries. Neither will they be successful in halting the global refugee crisis which is a consequence of worldwide instability and poverty caused by the intervention of Britain and the other big powers and the existence of the imperialist system of states. However, another world is possible. For this world to be brought into being all democratic people led by the wealth producers must find ways to empower themselves, usher in an anti-war government and build a new people-centred society.
As the end of June approaches, the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England will have to submit interim updates on their Sustainability and Transformation Plans to NHS England which will have to be finalised by the autumn of 2016. It was in March that NHS England issued the NHS Shared Planning Guidance and "asked every local health and care system in England" to come together in "collective discussion forums" to "create their own ambitious local plan for accelerating the implementation of the Five Year Forward View". It named these Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) as "blueprints" that the government and NHS England is trying to create over five years. To deliver these plans it charged NHS providers, CCGs, local authorities, and other health and care services to come together to form 44 STP "footprints". However, what became immediately apparent is that this "guidance" on the STPs is not about "sustainability" and the funding of NHS services and their development as they exist now but is a deliberate five-year plan coming from government to accelerate the cut backs to acute, emergency, GP and community services.
In announcing this STPs "footprints" plan, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, admitted that he and NHS England had put local health leaders "on a burning platform"i to "create change quickly" and he revealed that NHS England "have held back the funding growth for the NHS over the next five years to the NHS" claiming that this is "strong incentives as to why people should take this process seriously". Of course, there will be no surprise that this confirms that the only direction and only message being delivered in "Five Year Forward View" is one of massive reduction in the availability of all types of health care for the people of England and Wales if these plans are allowed to go ahead, which will also impact on Scotland and Northern Ireland.
For example, in the Northumberland Tyne & Wear (NTW) STP footprint area a fully funded pilot has already closed Berwick-upon-Tweed, Ashington and North Tyneside A&Es to be replaced by Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital at Cramlington some 60 miles from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Since Berwick-upon-Tweed now has no A&E, patients have to be transported by ambulance long distances even in a life and death situation. Now plans are being drawn up to close further acute services and A&Es in the rest of the area.
These closures are being driven by what the five CCGs in NTW are calling a "funding gap". This has already been estimated at £648 million by 2019 for the NTW area if the health service "remains as it is now". Far from this being "shared planning", the government and their commissioners are holding a gun to the head of the providers of health care. In South Tyneside, for example, South Tyneside Health Care Trust (STFT) and City Hospitals Sunderland (CHS) have formed an "alliance" in which to "deal with" around a staggering £50 million shortfall in funding at both Trusts this year. This "alliance" instead of fighting to maintain services has declared that they intend to close all acute services in South Tyneside Hospital over the time of the plan which, with the loss of acute services, will also make the A&E at the hospital unviable. This at a time when both hospitals are full to capacity and suffering severe shortages of nurses and medical staff. At the same time, whilst the South Tyne & Wear health platform "burns", it beggars belief that the local commissioners of STFT announced this year a plan to close more hospital beds. They claimed that there is an "over-dependence on hospitals" and a need for "care in the community" based on pharmacies and "self care". This at a time when there is the lowest number of GP and community services in the area for many years!
It is important to understand what is the nature of NHS England. It is no longer the Department of Health with a Secretary of State for Health who has responsibility for the funding and provision of the NHS. Under the Health and Social Care Act, 2012, that responsibility and accountability of the Minister for the provision of health services was removed. Instead, NHS England was set up as head "Commissioner" of a purchasing mechanism comprised of nation-wide local commissioners (CCGs) in England. In this new arrangement which has been deliberately created over many years by Labour and Conservative governments the health providers, such as acute and community Trusts are treated as independent "not for profit" bodies and have to compete for contracts, with the commissioners and the private sector and sink, or swim jeopardising whole areas of health care provision.
It is a system that is extremely inefficient and wasteful of resources, fragmenting organisations instead of bringing them together. Most of all it is impossible to plan a future health care system for one year let alone five years with such a "market" system in health. It is this commissioning mechanism that the government is using to systematically implement massive cuts to the health budget which have now reached a crisis point for the NHS providers. This is leading to severe stress in every way on the health care system over recent months and the scandal of so many hospitals and health providers being declared to be in "deficit" by NHS England and the government. The plan of successive governments has been to deliberately cut funding of hospitals and services year by year with so-called "efficiency savings". Now, the present government hopes to accelerate this using the "Five Year Forward View" and STPs. This is not in the interests of a modern health care system but in the interests of paying the rich by starving this public sector of funding. This is the criminal scenario of NHS privatisation that the government and health monopolies they serve has in mind. They hope that by wrecking the NHS in this way they can divert these huge cuts in the NHS budget to lubricate the private health monopolies to take over the most profitable parts of a failing NHS. They will also hope to use the crisis they have caused in the NHS to justify disqualifying more and more patients from free access to health care and justify more and more charges to all patients.
The "Five Year Forward View" and STPs are the most blatant attempt yet to wreck the health service within the timescale of the present government. Already people are protesting these plans and are coming together to safeguard the future of acute, emergency services and GP and community services in Save Hospital campaigns in many parts of the country. These actions of the people have won a number of victories in recent years such as with the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign.
Based on their experience the people involved are increasingly recognising that a stand has to be taken against this whole anti-social direction for the NHS and that the people must fight on the basis of a new direction that starts from the modern conception of the people that access to health care is a right of all in a modern society and that it must be guaranteed. As the lessons of the movement to safeguard the future of the NHS have so far demonstrated, what is important are self-reliance, strength in mobilising the people themselves to defend health service, unity in action irrespective of people's political opinion and most importantly the adoption of a political outlook that fights to deprive those in power of the power to deprive us of our health service and deprive us of the right to health care!
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced at the time of the recent local elections, later confirmed in the Queen's Speech, that the planned enforced conversion of all schools to academies by 2022 had been dropped. This was reported as a major U-turn in the media, and certainly it was a response to the growing opposition to academies, with campaigns to prevent conversions taking place across the country and the major teaching unions taking an opposing position.
However, the government remains committed to its aim. Indeed, the majority of secondary schools have already become academies and the kinds of tactics employed by the government to pressure schools to convert have been widely publicised. The academy system has already become big business and is growing fast.
Since their inception, academies have become the favoured form of primary and secondary education in England by the neo-liberal establishment. Furthermore, a new arrangement is being brought about whereby these academies are run by Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs).
Academies under the control of such trusts is the organisational form being found for a capital-centric school system. The arrangement is a kind of "public-private partnership" aimed at tailoring education to the needs of business, where private competing interests become the main determining factor over the system.
The Education White Paper released in March elaborates the government's concept of what they call "supported autonomy". On this view, the role of the government in education should no longer be one of directing or standardising teaching methods, but one of measuring outcomes. Through this stepping-back by the government over methods, private interests are given increased space to take control.
The Education Secretary's forward to White Paper explains: "We believe in supported autonomy: aligning funding, control, responsibility and accountability in one place, as close to the front line as possible, and ensuring that institutions can collaborate and access the support they need to set them up for success. And we will work to build a system which is responsive to need and performance, ensuring that institutions respond to changing needs. Autonomy will be both earned and lost, with our most successful leaders extending their influence, and weaker ones doing the opposite."
Dressed up as a "school-led" system with teachers and heads finding their own best methods, touted as a move away from the bad old days of stringent national curricula and micromanagement, the new arrangements are sold as providing "freedom". The question is freedom from what, for whom, to do what? The question is what forces are in control of schools and with what aim.
What the government is actually instituting is a kind of business model for the school system, and it is marked by the same pragmatism: all that matters is what works. Education becomes performance and outcome-based, just as business. Who cares how a business operates as long as it makes a profit?
Implicit in the "supported autonomy" notion is the operation of competition and market forces in the school system. A school market in terms of league tables has existed for some time. The new concept introduces a role for the state through what it calls "accountability".
The idea is that tighter measures will be created on which schools must be focused on scoring highly. The role of the state is then to set targets for these metrics. Such a target-based approach borrows heavily from project and performance management practices common in the corporate world.
This outcome-based market-style approach will filter out good and bad practices, goes the argument, which are supposed to be consolidated via Multi-Academy Trusts. Rather than a government directive, the idea is that the market will find the best practises.
The notion of a planned and scientifically organised system does not figure. The state simply does not care about the theory and practise of education. It is not interested what practises come to be, only the targets and international competition.
While the foreword bemoans that "our education standards have remained static, at best, whilst other countries have moved ahead", chapter 1 claims: "The better educated our society, the fairer, more cohesive, productive and innovative it can be. This is vital to Britain's position in the 21st century. Our education system must compete with those around the world - because while we improve, so do they."
This brings us to the notion of education underlies the government's vision. It is clear from the above that it is directed at British business "success in the global market", to borrow the well-worn phrase.
Nicky Morgan tells us her mission: "Education has the power to transform lives and, for me, is a matter of social justice - extending opportunity to every child, wherever they live and whatever their background."
The student movement, particularly since the 2010 upsurge, has been very vocal in its demand that education be recognised as a right, not a privilege, to the extent that it has changed the conditions of the debate. Morgan goes as far as to reflect this: "Access to a great education is not a luxury but a right for everyone."
However, the notion expressed in the White Paper is strictly individual and on analysis is not the modern conception of a right at all. At is, rather, the usual neo-liberal notion of an "opportunity society", a collection of individuals essentially in competition, each with a fair chance of "success" (and also failure), in the context of an economic environment under the total direction of the most powerful monopolies.
Thus education simply has the potential to "transform lives". This is antithetical to the notion that all people are born to society and should be fully involved in participating in developing society, engaged in productive activity to that end and playing a role in decision-making and thinking. Without a well-organised education system that serves the whole public this is not possible. Such an education is therefore a right. Rather than one-sidedly giving the individual the opportunity to transform their life, it is enabling the individual to fully participate in transforming society, the conditions of all life, and flourishing as an individual in that context.
Ultimately, the vision is a mass education system that churns out young people like a product on a production line. Each factory might have its own techniques, while the government has the role of quality control. In this manner, the state gives up responsibility to provide for the needs of citizens, this being replaced by a consumer-service relation between pupils and parents on the one hand and schools and trusts on the other.
Academies: a brief summary
Academies are schools run under a form of public-private partnership arrangement whereby they are independent of local authority control, receiving funding from central government together with private sponsorship. They are not bound by the national curriculum, are able to set their own school hours, can choose to award bonuses to staff and pay heads more than ordinary state schools.
They were originally introduced in 2000 by Blair's New Labour government. Secondary schools deemed "failing" were converted to academies, initially in the cities and particularly in deprived areas, the programme later being extended to rural areas. The scale of the project began small, with just 202 out of 24,000 schools having been converted by the 2010 general election.
The Conservative-Liberal coalition put the programme into high gear and switched focus onto all schools, particularly incentivising those considered to be successful. Former Education Secretary Michael Gove began the drive for academies to become the new norm, and for the first time, primary schools became able to convert. Reports began to circulate of bullying tactics by the government and forced conversions. By the time of the 2015 election, over four and a half thousand schools had converted.
The current Conservative government and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan have pressed ahead with academisation of the school system, declaring their intention for all schools to become academies by 2022. By May 7 this year, the majority of secondary schools, 2,075 out of 3,381, and 2,440 out of 16,766 primary schools have become academies.
Academies are run by nominally non-profit trusts with charity status, either individually or as part of an academy chain run by a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), of which there are currently nearly one thousand in existence. Such MATs typically claim a few percent from the budgets of their member schools.
The non-profit requirement in no way diminishes the character of academisation as the wholesale privatisation of school-age education. These trusts draw sponsorship from big investors, either individuals or corporate sponsors, which may be businesses with no relation to education. The trusts themselves are private in nature, e.g. Ark Schools, which runs 34 academies. This trust is part of the Ark charity founded in 2002 by a group of hedge fund financiers, which had an income of £13m in 2013-14.
A kind of market now exists in the school system as a result, which also plays off league tables and inspection scores. Within this context, these private trusts provide the strategic direction of the academies they oversee, and tailor methods and curricula accordingly, which have tended to become more pragmatic. Research in 2012 by Terry Wrigley, editor of the journal Improving Schools, showed that over 2/3 (68%) of academies rely more on vocational qualifications than traditional state schools, while even centre-right think tank Civitas called them, ironically, "inadequately academic".
The issue therefore goes beyond purely privatisation. Academies open up primary and secondary education to business interest and influence, particularly big business. It does not take much predictive power to guess that the resulting market will become dominated by large academy monopolies. School education is becoming, in particular, tailored to the narrow private aims of competing businesses, and in general, openly capital-centric in form and content.
In a series of politically significant votes, students at Oxford University and elsewhere voted to keep their student unions affiliated to the National Union of Students (NUS). A small number of unions at other universities voted to disaffiliate.
Referenda took place at a number of university student unions to decide whether to stay a part of or to disaffiliate from the NUS, following the election of Malia Bouattia as NUS president on April 20. Bouattia has been the subject of allegations attempting to discredit her and associate her with anti-Semitism and extremism. This followed similar accusations against members of the Oxford University Labour Club after its vote to support Israel Apartheid Week and came alongside alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. In fact, the Oxford referendum was proposed by David Klemperer, former co-chair of the Labour Club.
The vote at Oxford University was therefore of particular significance as its union and other student organisations at the university have been at the centre of these developments.
After a heated campaign, with both sides coming under criticism for breaches of conduct, the result announced on June 2 was decisively in favour of remaining affiliated to the NUS. On a turnout of 27.7%, relatively large for student union votes, 57.1% voted in favour of affiliation against 40.7%. 2.3% abstained.
A similar referendum at Cambridge University the previous week had also resulted in continued affiliation, with 51.5% against 46.6%. The turnout was slightly higher than Oxford at 28.8%. 1.8% abstained.
Essex, Exeter, Surrey, Warwick and York student unions also voted to stay part of the NUS. The vote at Worcester was not quorate so the status quo will remain.
Hull, Lincoln, Loughborough and Newcastle student unions on the other hand voted to disaffiliate, Lincoln 50.8% to 46.4% on a particularly low turnout of just 12.6%, and though the vote at Loughborough was not quorate it was approved by the board of trustees.
These results are a blow to the ongoing campaign to discredit and divide the student movement. Far from creating a crisis, it is now its detractors who are on the back foot. Where students have taken a principled, coherent stand, they will emerge stronger. As the Oxford "Yes to NUS" campaign said: "Now the real work starts. We've argued for a strong student movement and now our energies are going towards making that happen."
Sources: Cherwell, Oxford Student, Varsity, Oxford University Students Union, Cambridge University Students Union, Worcester University Students Union, The Independent.
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