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TUC Congress 2016:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
TUC Motion on Human Rights:
No to the Fraudulent "British Bill of Rights"
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TUC Congress 2016:
The TUC Congress 2016 is taking place at the Brighton Centre from Sunday, September 11, to Wednesday, September 14. As Congress 2016 convenes the times are crying out even more for the organised workers' movement not only to be in step with the fight that is going on led by working people and youth to chart a new path and alternative for the economy, politics and society but to be at its head.
The mass movements against the Conservative government's austerity agenda, the destruction of steel and manufacturing as well as the wrecking and privatisation of the NHS and public sector is reflected in the political movements of the people to build the anti-austerity, and anti-war pro-social movements as well as to build the opposition around this in Parliament. Then the EU referendum itself reflected the resistance of the people to wrest back control from the EU of the monopolies and to fight for a society where the working class and people are in control of the economy and society. This reflects the mood that exists in the country that the workers' movement must not only reflect but must take the lead on.
The Calli to the TUC Congress 2016 draws attention to the fact that, "This is a critical time for Britain's trade unions" and that "It is against this backdrop that the trade union movement will come together in Brighton in September this year, to debate, discuss and decide how we can take action and organise to defend the people we represent and set out a vision for a better way." But it is not just about "jobs, rights, investment" in the context of "resisting the government's worst proposals". The thinking and outlook of the organised workers' movement has to go beyond the problems that the government and the big corporations impose in terms of limiting productivity, jobs, wage rises, and so forth. It is not just a question of resistance against the Trade Union Bill, now an Act, or for the trade unions to correct some aberrations in the way the economy and society is run. What is crucial is this "vision for a better way". In fact, if this vision for a better way is not elaborated, then neither will the resistance struggles of the working class and people make headway, because the ruling elite and the monopoly right that this elite upholds attempts to impose on the struggles the outlook and thinking of the monopolies, their so-called "free trade agreements", "making Britain competitive in the global market", and so on. Under this outlook and thinking, the workers have no role but to serve the aims and interests of the most powerful monopolies. When the rights of all are under attack, it is vital that the organised movement of the working class itself upholds the need to fight for the rights of all, and to break through these imposed limits, implicit or explicit, on what the place of the workers is and what they may or may not do.
This system, in which the workers are relegated to an adjunct of the aims of the monopolies, in which they have no vision of their own for a better way, is not acceptable. It is not the highest level of society that humankind can give rise to. What is characteristic this year is that workers are already engaged in the struggle for the future of society especially around the anti-austerity movement and defending the rights of all in society. It is a reflection that this movement is, in fact, on the move that Jeremy Corbyn has received so much support as Leader of the Opposition. It is also around the fight for Brexit from the EU of the monopolies as a first step to end the monopoly and the neo-liberal control of the economy. This step forward means a new perspective is needed for the workers' movement. It is this new perspective that can only be thrashed out in this fight for the alternative, removing the blocks placed in the way of the people for progress so that the working class and people can increasingly wrest control away from the grip that the monopolies have over the economy, society and politics and chart a new path.
In charting this new path standing on the sidelines is not an option for the the organised workers' movement. The organised workers movement must enter into the movement that opens up a path to a higher level of civilisation against all the backwardness peddled by the ruling elite of racism and war and the criminalisation of the most vulnerable. The workers must increasingly challenge the dominance of the monopolies over society and government with the new perspective that the workers should be in control. This goes beyond the aspiration of simply being on the boards of directors, or influencing share holders, to one of actually being the decision makers in society. The workers must take up the issue of working class representation and democratic renewal, so that political forms and institutions serve working people and not the rich and powerful.
i The Call, Congress Report, Final Agenda (motions) and
other documents of the TUC Congress 2016
The fight for a modern conception of rights must be taken to its conclusion
The Human Rights Act, which came into force on October 2, 2000, incorporates articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into the law of Wales and England (having already been incorporated into Scottish law after devolution).
The Queen's Speech in May this year announced that proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights, intended as a replacement for the Human Rights Act, reiterating a similar announcement made the previous year. This remains at the proposal stage due to broad opposition in society and divisions within the Conservative Party. Nevertheless, the abolition of the Act is on the agenda.
In this context, the financial service workers' union Accord has tabled a motion on human rights to this year's TUC Congress, which "notes with regret and alarm proposals by the UK government to introduce a British Bill of Rights which is intended to replace the HRA [Human Rights Act] and which appears likely to water down the protections of the ECHR rights at home," and calls on Congress to defend the ECHR and the Human Rights Act.
The ECHR is a post-war arrangement that, though tainted by the context of the Cold War, came out of the defeat of fascism and the subsequent developments of the time such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The aim is to replace this arrangement with one that favours the private interests of the monopolies, which assume the right to act at will for their own ends. The aim is to redefine "rights and responsibilities" to fit with the logic of the Trade Union Act, Immigration Act, Investigatory Powers Bill, and so on, which severely restrict and suppress the rights of the people. The issue is framed in a chauvinist manner as "British sovereignty" being impinged upon by the European Court of Human Rights (which, it should be noted, is not an institution of the European Union).
The defence of rights is at the centre of the struggles of the people, and the future and dignity of the working class and people depends on the defence of the rights of all. It is key to the vision for the alternative, for the future of society, and as such the working class has to take the lead. In particular, the very notion of rights is constantly obscured by being replaced by one of privilege. The right to university education is a case in point, which was attacked some twenty years ago on this very basis. It is to the credit of the student movement that it has become organised around the principled stand that education is a right, not a privilege.
It is therefore necessary to take things further. The government's proposal for a Bill of Rights is a fraud, but Britain's lack of a modern written constitution is a real issue. The Human Rights Act is merely an Act of parliament. As such, in Britain's constitutional arrangements, it carries constitutional force, no more and no less than any other Act. It does not constitute a fundamental law. The lack of a supreme constitutional law against which legislation may be judged, a fundamental law that embodies the rights and duties of citizens and spells out where political power lies, is a crucial issue for workers to discuss. There is an issue of sovereignty here, but not that promoted by the government. Sovereign power currently lies in the archaic so-called Monarch-in-Parliament, and it is through this arrangement that all Acts of parliament carry full constitutional force. The issue for the working class is to become an independent organised force in its own right and vest sovereignty in the people.
Furthermore, the very conception of rights implicit in the Human Rights Act and ECHR is itself out of step with the times. It does not start from the principle that people have inviolable rights by virtue of being human, as well as particular rights, also inviolable, by virtue of being part of various collectives, such as being women, workers or national minorities. These are rights that exist objectively; a modern definition of rights stresses that society must recognise their existence and guarantee them.
These questions are increasingly coming to the fore in the working class and progressive movements. As the movement for the alternative develops, the movement for a change in the direction of the economy in opposition to austerity, it is crucial that the working class recognises its own rights, particularly its right to have a say on direction of the economy. The need for public services, for investment in social programmes, stems from the duty on society to provide for all its citizens; it stems from the right to eduction, health care, and so on. The battle between monopoly right on the one hand versus public right on the other is getting ever more fierce at present. For the working class and people to prevail means that the fight for a modern conception of rights must be taken to its conclusion.
Part 2: Stop Imperialist Intervention in Africa
The recently published War on Want report "The New Colonialism" highlights the extent of British monopoly control of Africa's major resources and the fact that the monopolies operate with total impunity. They are, of course, not answerable to the people and governments of Africa but are able to openly flout international law to exploit the human and material resources of the African continent with full support of the British government and the major international institutions.
There are numerous examples. Western Sahara has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975 and its people denied the right to self-determination. Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara is not recognised by the International Court of Justice, nor by the African Union, which supports the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. As several oil and gas monopolies sought to take advantage of Morocco's illegal occupation, the UN Security Council also provided a legal opinion which declared that exploration and exploitation activities which proceeded contrary to the will and interests of the Saharawi people "would be in violation of the principles of international law". The people of Western Sahara have voiced their opposition to such activities, and one leading member of the Polisario Front described drilling operations in an occupied country as tantamount to a "war crime".
Nevertheless, several British monopolies are illegally prospecting for oil in Western Sahara's territorial waters, including Glencore and Cairn Energy, the latter being part of a consortium led by Kosmos Energy, a US monopoly that includes Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, as one of its board members. Cairn Energy has been in the news recently since Norway's Norges Bank, which administers the country's Government Pension Fund Global, has now banned further investments in the monopoly because of concerns over "serious violations of fundamental ethical norms". It is to be noted that the British government has made no statement and taken no action over the illegal actions of Cairn Energy in Western Sahara.
For its part, Glencore has also been in the news recently, since it was forced to temporarily suspend mining activities in its Mopani mine in Zambia as they led to the deaths of four African miners. Glencore, which is described as Anglo-Swiss, is the world's tenth largest monopoly. It controls 60% of the global production of zinc and 50% of the world's copper. In 2013 it had revenue of $233 billion, around ten times the size of Zambia's GDP. The fact that Glencore is a monopoly registered in both Jersey and Switzerland allows it to avoid taxation on its revenue and profits.
The mining of copper and cobalt account for about 65% of all Zambia's export earnings. In 2010 the country produced $5.7 billion of copper but only received $633 million in revenue. Glencore paid no corporation tax at all on one of its mines and at its Mopani mine has been accused of tax evasion by "transfer pricing" - that is selling copper at artificially low prices to a tax-haven-based subsidiary in order to resell and avoid taxation. Officially Mopani Copper Mine is 90% owned by a company registered in the British Virgin Islands, which company is majority owned by Glencore Finance, registered in Bermuda. This is a common practice and allows a massive illicit transfer of wealth from the African continent. It is estimated that this practice deprived Zambia of some $127 million, in one year alone - more than it receives from Britain in so-called aid.
In most instances the British government's "aid" acts as a subsidy to the big monopolies and financial institutions. In Mozambique, for example, the government simply loaned $53m and underwrote a further $145m of loans through the Commonwealth Development Corporation and other institutions to build Mozal, a major aluminium smelting plant owned largely by BHP Billiton, an Anglo-Australian monopoly, reputed to be the world's largest mining company. The British government acted alongside the World Bank, the EU Investment Bank and a host of private investors to raise $2.2bn for this project. According to a report in 2013, the British government had received back its loan plus a further $83m in interest payments. It estimated that the government and other official lenders made $120m a year from the smelter, eight times more than the government of Mozambique, which receives no taxes on profit or VAT. BHP Billiton alone made profits of $112m per year from the smelter which uses 45% of all the electricity produced in Mozambique, a country which in 2013 was fourth from bottom of the UN's human development index.
British monopolies have also been responsible for, or implicated in, major human rights and environmental violations, the most infamous of which are the activities of Shell in Nigeria and Lonmin (the owner of the Marikana mine) in South Africa. They are responsible for pollution of land and waterways, displacement of local populations, the use of under-age workers and many other crimes in addition to the exploitation of Africa's human and material resources. In all this activity they have the support of successive British governments which have acted and continue to act on their behalf.
The War on Want report highlights the fact that in the context of the new scramble for Africa's resources, British monopolies and the British government remain major players and therefore major enemies of the African people. The facts show that there can be no illusions about enslaving "aid" nor about the various government "development" bodies which are rather the opposite, mechanisms for under-development, dependency and exploitation in Africa and elsewhere, in the service of the big monopolies and financial institutions.
The times cry out for an end to such intervention in Africa and for all out opposition to monopoly right. It is therefore the responsibility of all who recognise this necessity to find the means to bring this about. There must be an end to the domination and exploitation of the human and material resources of the African continent carried out in the interests of the most powerful global monopolies. The fight against Britain's imperialist and neo-liberal global exploitation in this regard must be consciously stepped up by the working class and people.
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