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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Cold War Rhetoric Increases
Major Review of Electoral Law Announced:
Necessity to Overcome Anachronism of Political Process and Institutions
From June 7 to 16, Britain alongside the US and other NATO countries took part in the annual Baltic Operations manoeuvres (BALTOPS), with around 3,000 participating troops from NATO countries. This year BALTOPS took place according to the claim that it was "exclusively at sea" with a naval exercise that started in the Baltic Sea which borders Russia. According to reports in this exercise, NATO deployed 29 warships and 29 strike support and electronic warfare aircraft. When no threat exists, the reports also made the fraudulent claim that these exercises were to "demonstrate international resolve to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region".
Whilst the world pandemic crisis continues, Britain alongside other NATO powers has continued these spring and summer military air and sea exercises, which started with US Defender Europe 2020 . Also in May, in a significantly hostile and provocative move against Russia, for the first time since the end of the Cold War a US-British naval task force conducted "maritime security operations" for five days in the Barents Sea on the border of Russia. The force consisted of the British frigate HMS Kent, and four other US warships. They were supported by two electronic warfare aircraft, a Navy P-8A Poseidon and an Air Force RC-135. US Naval Forces Europe announced that these warships held the manoeuvres with the fraudulent claim "to assert freedom of navigation". On June 3, four US Air Force B-52 nuclear bombers conducted a mission in which they "flew over the Arctic Ocean and the Laptev Sea, off the northern coast of Siberia". US 6th Fleet commander Vice-Admiral Lisa Franchetti confirmed that these were not peacetime friendly exercises but spoke using wartime references claiming that they were countering "Russian claims" and that "it is more important than ever that we maintain our steady drumbeat of operations across the European theatre" . All the NATO military reports on this repeat that "Russia has the world's longest Arctic coastline (7,000 miles) and gets roughly one-quarter of its GDP from activity in the region". This emphasises why the the US, Britain and other NATO powers are menacing Russian territorial waters, not happy that peaceful trade should continue in this region, and confronting the Russian Northern fleet outside in own base in northern Russia at Murmansk on the Barents Sea.
On June 1, the US Air Force Times reported that two B-1B Lancer nuclear bombers based in South Dakota had just completed a "long-range training flight" to the Black Sea during which they carried out manoeuvres to practise using "a long-range missile designed to target and destroy enemy ships". This deployment was described as "especially important to prepare B-1 crews to counter new and emerging threats and to be ready for a conflict against a major power, as outlined in the Pentagon's National Defence Strategy".
At the same time, as the US and its allies continue their menacing deployment around Russia, the US, with Britain's support is also confronting China with the US deploying warships and combat aircraft in the South China sea. According to reports, on May 28 the guided missile destroyer USS Mustin was sent to the South China Sea, following an overflight of the area two days previously by another two B-1B Lancer bombers in a mission that Pacific Air Forces Command arrogantly announced was intended "to demonstrate the Air Force's ability to operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of our choosing". The US reference to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)  is a fraud and absurd. The United States refuses to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea, yet uses it to attempt to justify the extension of its interference in the South China Sea carrying out provocative overflights and naval confrontations. There is not the slightest justification, as there is no interference by China in the passage of any foreign merchant vessel through the South China Sea. On the contrary, the US and its allies are interfering, and not just in the South China Sea. The US imperialists in April sent their warships to try and stop Iranian tankers from entering ports in Venezuela, further showing its own criminal disregard for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
What is alarming is indeed the warmongering "drumbeat" and pace and scale of these deployments around Russia's borders north, south, west and east, as well as confronting China on its borders in the South China Sea when equally no threat exists. Whilst humanity faces the threat to their lives from the coronavirus and are trying to keep people safe and produce for their needs, such exercises are not only provocations against the people of Russia and China, but provocations against the peace of all countries and peoples of the world.
People all over the world demand an end to this participation in global warmongering. In Britain, the necessity is to end Britain's participation in NATO and bring about an anti-war government that develops friendly and peaceful relations with all the countries and peoples of the world.
 No Let Up in Exercises and Operations in Europe and the World During Coronavirus Pandemic
 Provocative Ongoing NATO Military Exercises in Europe
 Lloyds List - Barents Sea naval drill designed to counter Russian claims
 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
A Case for the United States' Ratification of UNCLOS
The US is considering new weapons on land and/or sea to counter what the US is promoting as "Russia's nuclear threat", according to a recent report in the EUObserver.
The website reports the US Ambassador to NATO, Key Bailey Hutchison, as briefing the press on June 16: "The reports that we [NATO] are getting are very troubling and we know we need to prepare for ... a much more capable [nuclear] arsenal than we have seen in the past from Russia".
"Will there be [new] capabilities in Europe? Anything that's done [by the US] in Europe will be done with the permission of the countries where there could be a deterrent. Or there could be moveable, mobile deterrents. Or it could be a water-bound deterrent," she said, leaving options open for new US nuclear weapons, as well as conventional armaments, on European soil.
For his part, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the same day the West would "not mirror Russia's destabilising behaviour" and had "no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe". He spoke of buying US-made anti-missile systems and next-generation fighter planes instead. Whether this represents contradictions between the Trump regime and NATO, or whether there is simply no agreed position, or whether talk of no new nuclear missiles in Europe is a smoke screen, is not yet clear.
This is also the case with US troops in Europe. Donald Trump has called for a reduction of US troop numbers in Germany, but the US ambassador also pointed out that the US was putting more American boots on the ground in Poland, as best serving "the ... defence of all of Europe".
The stepped up Cold War rhetoric comes amid NATO accusations that Russia broke a 1987 international ban on short and mid-range missiles in Europe.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin was deploying new systems that could strike EU capitals and building "hypersonic" missiles, Stoltenberg said. EUObserver quotes analysts as saying that nuclear war is "in the very far corner of the unthinkable" in modern times. But thinking the unthinkable has become the hallmark of statements by the warmongers of US imperialism on nuclear weapons and scenarios for their deployment.
It is clear that US imperialism would like to impose its will in Europe. But in this it also comes up against the ambitions of the EU. A conventional NATO-Russia clash, in which Putin got a bloody nose and fired a nuclear missile at an empty Arctic island, for instance, to frighten the West was a more realistic worst-case scenario, one expert, Pavel Podvig, from the Prio think-tank in Norway, said.
EU defence ministers also held a videoconference on June 16, discussing creating a European armed force on top of NATO, reports EUObserver.
"With a view to our [the EU's] single set of forces, we need to plan and develop our defence capabilities strategically to be able to act with real operational output," the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, and Spain said in a joint letter ahead of Tuesday's meeting.
"We [the EU] should keep reinforcing military [operations]", such as Irini, a naval mission dealing with Libya, the letter, seen by EUObserver, said.
"We need a greater common strategic understanding of what we want to be able to do as Europeans in security and defence," the ministers added.
The handling of the conflict in Libya, itself a product of big power "regime change" in the context of the so-called "Arab Spring" during which US imperialism unleashed chaos and violence across North Africa and the Middle East, is a flashpoint.
As the EUObserver relates, "France has set the scene for a clash on Libya with its NATO ally Turkey when the Western defence ministers hold their talks. France, in Libya, has backed an eastern warlord, Khalifa Haftar, who is now on the retreat among accusations of war crimes. Italy, the other main EU power in the crisis, has formally backed the EU and UN-recognised government in Tripoli. But, at the same time, Italy was selling two warships to another Haftar-axis ally, Egypt, making a mockery of its EU commitments."
The website continues: "And the US, NATO's superpower, was doing nothing on the ground to tame the conflict."
It makes the statement of the US Ambassador to NATO to the EU defence ministers, that it "should not be thought that there's any walking away from Europe," sound more of a threat than a promise.
This all underlines that contradictions are sharpening as the Cold War rhetoric is increasing. This itself places ever-greater responsibility on the anti-war movement to step up their opposition to warmongering and threats of war by the big powers, especially US imperialism, wherever in the world they are posing their threats and engaging in overt and covert operations, coupled with sabre-rattling. In this context, it is a democracy of the people's own making, in the form of an Anti-War Government, where the people are the masters of decision-making power, which is urgently called for. This is a cause which unites all of humanity and demonstrates the way forward to a world where peace, justice and democracy prevail.
Stop The War, June 5, 2020
Any conflict between the two would threaten a third and most destructive world war from which there would be no winners
The world crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has serious implications for economic and military tensions. In particular, there is a growing danger of conflict between the US and China. Not a week goes by without a new attack by Donald Trump on the Chinese and their government. The White House now talks of China as 'the enemy', of the 'China virus,' and threatens to break all relations with the country. Trump has threatened to withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation because his administration alleges that it neglected to share information about the virus in China. This is creating the backdrop to potential military conflict.
This year the US has pledged to spend approximately $1.5billion dollars on new military technology and to refocus the Marines from combatting insurgents in the Middle East to facing off the Chinese in the Western Pacific.
These latest provocations are part of a gathering trend which has included confrontation with China over North Korea, the US pull out from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty and two rounds of tough economic US sanctions against China. At the same time, the US is continuing to sanction and provoke regime change in Iran and Venezuela
As well as leading to potential confrontations in the South China Sea, these multi-level escalations will create increased tensions in many parts of the world. Existing local or regional wars will be exacerbated and new flare-ups are likely.
The US is the world's biggest military power. China too is a major military power with growing weapons capability. Both have nuclear arsenals. Any conflict between the two would be deadly for many people around the world. It would threaten a third and most destructive world war from which there would be no winners.
The moves by the British government, and some in the Labour leadership, to endorse Trump's anti-China policy is to be condemned. Not least because this is increasing the racism faced by the Chinese community in the US and Britain.
The anti-war movement has had a significant impact since the Iraq War, helping to generate widespread opposition to foreign wars particularly in the Middle East. Now we are entering a new phase in which China has become the western powers' main enemy and the Asia Pacific the main theatre for US forces. The anti-war movement has to oppose the growing militarism and competition and calls for peace and cooperation rather than this escalation.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) is to review electoral law. Rather than look at the electoral process itself, the review will examine the regulation of the process, with particular reference to campaign expenditure and the laws regarding financing parties and candidates. It will also assess the powers held by the Electoral Commission, the police, and the prosecution services to enforce the rules. The review will last for a year, including a public consultation stage ending on July 31. The report, to be released next June, is expected to propose strengthened powers with tougher sanctions and to close loopholes in the regulations. Before it has even begun, it is already being speculated that it might propose to replace the Electoral Commission altogether.
"Our review will look at what the regulation of election finance should achieve and how it is regulated," announced chair of the CSPL, Lord Evans. "That will involve examining the Electoral Commission's role as a regulator of election finance, along with the work of the police and CPS in this area. We intend to look at electoral regulation from first principles - what really matters in this area? What values and principles should guide regulation of finance during elections?"
It is widely claimed that the current regulations are out of date in the age of digital targeting, lacking, for example, a requirement for enough transparency of spending by political parties or referendum campaigns on social media. Digital campaigning, says the CSPL, "has transformed the way in which parties and campaigners engage with voters, creating challenges for the regulation of election and referendum campaigns".
The context of the review is a cartel party system that dominates all aspects of parliament and the electoral process. Even when it comes to referenda, elections operate via the organisation of massively-funded official sides, around which the political factions align themselves, and that operate as stand-in parties.
The Electoral Commission was created in this context in 2001, following the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, to regulate the running of elections and the financing of both the parties and the electoral process. Later, the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 gave the Commission new powers and introduced new sanctions. Since that Act, four electoral commissioners are nominated by political parties. It is therefore not an "independent" body, but is part of the cartel party system of and actually partly run by the cartel parties themselves.
In this context, accusations of bias have been made of the Commission on various occasions, most sharply over its investigation into the Vote Leave campaign. On May 13, Conservative MP Peter Bone labelled the body a "politically corrupt, totally biased and morally bankrupt quango" and called for its abolition. This, however, was over the fact that the Electoral Commission had the temerity to investigate Vote Leave in the first place, not that it had very little power to act on the results of investigations. It emphasises the incoherence over what the brief and powers of the Electoral Commission should be, and that "standards in public life" are perceived, at best, in a very narrow way. What is left to predominate is an anarchy of factional infighting.
This factional infighting has also characterised the issue of whether or not to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, and how the redrawing of constituency boundaries should be carried out. The Parliamentary Boundaries Bill received its second reading in the Commons at the beginning of this month. The Bill, proposed by the government, proposes that recommendations by the boundary commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should not be voted on by the House of Commons and House of Lords, but that these changes would automatically become law. Not surprisingly, the Labour Party has accused the Conservative Party of making a "power grab", and using the constituency changes to its own advantage, while the government asserts that it strengthens the independence of the boundary review process.
Cat Smith, the shadow Cabinet Office minister whose brief covers voter engagement, said: "The government's decision to end parliamentary oversight by denying MPs the chance to vote on the boundary review process is yet another attempt to diminish scrutiny and concentrate power in the hands of the executive. The new boundaries will be dangerously unrepresentative of the current electorate. Choosing the electoral register of 1 December 2020 as the basis for drawing new boundaries is politically motivated. The December 2020 register will be heavily affected by Covid-19 as local councils will struggle to update electoral registers whilst dealing with this crisis."
Above all, these contradictions show that the political process and institutions have had their day and must be replaced by something different and fresh, with a view to putting power in the hands of an informed electorate, not mediated through "representatives" who arrogate to themselves the name of the people in an institution where their duty is to represent the person of state. Even the symbol of Parliament is a portcullis topped by a crown, and flanked by chains. In short, the people are disempowered.
What has become evident is that under this cartel party system, it is not the people who determine the outcome of elections. For this very reason, the process is able to sort out neither the relations between the electors and the elected nor the contradictions within the ruling class and between the political factions. The regulation and bodies that exist are ostensibly there to make every vote count, and yet no vote counts.
Disinformation is not an issue of rogue electioneering, but of the systematic wrecking of public opinion by the state, media, and political parties, which operate to deprive the people of an outlook. People need an outlook that allows them to think for themselves and work out what is in their own interests and in the general interests of society; what is promoted in its place is the outlook of competing economic and political cartels with private, self-serving interests.
The nature of power at this time, particularly "at this difficult time", where it has even appeared in the person of the Queen, lies exposed. The plea to the people to entrust their fate to a government that takes care of things is increasingly being rejected with a growing clamour of "Not in Our Name". The problem of empowerment posed by modern conditions is the objective need for all citizens to be able to meaningfully participate in decision-making over the direction of the economy and politics and any other questions facing society. Moreover, the need is for new mechanisms through which people speak and act in their own name - in other words, exercise power directly - rather than authorise some other figure to exercise power on their behalf via the mediation of the cartel parties that block people from power.
Specifically, neither the fielding of candidates, the mobilisation of sides, nor the constituting of the government should be done on a party basis. It is the process, organised to guarantee that all citizens have an equal right to elect and be elected, which should be funded by the state, while any state funding of parties either directly or indirectly should be ended. In this sense, to be political is to fight for the empowerment of the working class and people.
Around 100,000 council workers will take part from July 3 in a consultative ballot over a £1.83 a day pay offer. The ballot closes on August 14. Workers in England, Wales and the north of Ireland are understandably angry over the derisory 2.75% pay offer made by the Local Government Employers (LGE). It has to be asked, how do they expect to get away with this clear and shameful injustice? Workers are saying, "Enough is enough! We are worth more!"
Public sector workers have been consistently fighting for their rights and interests. Ever since the 2011 public sector workers' strike, where two million took action over their conditions, including pensions and job cuts, the workers in local and regional authorities have continued their struggle against government-imposed pay restraint and austerity. Further strike action was taken again in 2014.
The Cameron-led government implemented a pay freeze from 2010-12 and then imposed a 1% cap, meaning some of the lowest paid workers saw their pay cut in real terms. The workers were told then that they would bear the brunt of austerity and that the pay cap would last until 2018. Austerity has in fact continued to this day. The current "offer" rewards essential workers with yet another pay cut!
The Local Government Employers (LGE) offer, made during the coronavirus crisis, has added insult to injury. The disastrous effects of the cuts made during this pandemic have been thoroughly exposed. Cuts in services and jobs and the logistical problems in allocation of Personal Protection Equipment to care homes and hospitals have shown that there is a lack of respect and regard shown to essential workers who have been supporting our communities throughout the crisis.
Many workers have made enormous sacrifices, endangering themselves, still making every effort to speak out and act in their own name and authority, so that proper decisions are made.
Even with the problems of testing, tracking and tracing, workers have soldiered on despite hardly being able to make ends meet and look after their own disregarded health and safety.
Workers know full well that there would have been adequate experienced staff, looking after the community and the capital expenditure to support the local authority, if such vast cuts in government funding had not previously taken place under austerity. Recruitment and retention would be in a far better position if the pay had been right all along.
Coming out of lockdown for the government is simply based on carrying on "business as usual". Are the workers, and society in general, simply to go back to the pre-Covid-19 situation with the "balancing of budgets" and public services handed over to private interests? How can things be the same when what is obvious to the public, who applauded health workers, care home workers and essential workers, is being denied? The public have stopped their applause on Thursday nights and are demanding, alongside the workers, that they should be paid!
Waste has needed to be collected and taken to the refuse dumps, even though there is a dangerous virus out there. Effluent must be treated, frontline local authority workers have protected our communities and vital services, caring for our young and our vulnerable elderly, cleaned our streets, and worked in our crematoria to ensure dignity for all as well as the community. Far from having their worth recognised by the LGE, these public service workers are being insulted with a pay offer which amounts to no more than a pay cut.
The onus for getting education up and running has been put on the shoulders of local authorities and schools. The government has left society to fend for itself and has abdicated its responsibility for the security of citizens.
Local authorities have been both centralised and rundown so much that many councils have merely become commissioning groups without any real or credible authority. It has made the whole situation political, even a pay claim. It is also a situation where the workers who work for local authorities have taken responsibility for tackling the conditions created by the pandemic, often working long hours and dangerously to keep the situation functioning. It includes workers in finance departments and office staff who have had to respond to the demands under difficult conditions.
Commenting on the role of public service workers, Unite national officer for local government, Jim Kennedy, said, "The pandemic had brought into sharp relief the important, but severely undervalued, role of local authority workers."
He stressed: "A pay offer of £1.83 a day is a totally unrealistic and insulting offer, especially given the current crisis where it is our frontline local authority workers who have protected our communities and vital services, caring for our young and our vulnerable elderly, collecting our rubbish, cleaning our streets, and working in our crematoria to ensure dignity for those who have, sadly, fallen victim to Covid-19.
"We know the public are appreciative and supportive of our frontline workforce. Unfortunately, the local government employers are not mirroring public opinion. The employers and central government can no longer keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to fair pay for local authority workers - they need to recognise the new national mood that is in favour of enhanced pay for those in the public sector frontline. Paying a pittance is tantamount to withholding the pay of the frontline troops. Battles cannot be won like this."
Japanese multinational car manufacturer Nissan has assumed a dominant position over the economy in the North East of England. Some 7,000 workers work in the Washington plant, although the majority are currently furloughed as a result of production being halted by the coronavirus outbreak. Washington is a large town within the city of Sunderland, in the county of Tyne and Wear.
Nissan has angered workers by the closure of its defined benefits pension scheme after first proposing reducing the company's contributions. About 1,800 workers are set to lose out as Nissan has decided that the scheme is "unsustainable". The company are making the excuse of the virus to end paying into the scheme as so many workers' contributions have been lost.
Unite the union called the pension closure plan opportunistic. Unite's national officer for the car industry, Steve Bush, said that there was anger as the scheme's closure would hit workers who were the bedrock of the Washington plant's success.
"This is the best, most-efficient car plant in Europe and people with 20 or more years of service have got this extremely disappointing news. Unite warned last week that proposed efficiency savings at the plant must not be used as an excuse to attack staff terms and conditions," Steve Bush said.
He added, "The loss of the jobs of our Spanish colleagues is a regrettable reminder that automotive manufacturing is facing tremendous challenges."
Already Nissan has sacked temporary workers and will not be extending the contracts of almost 250 of them at its Washington plant. Nissan adjusted its production as there is a slump in demand. Production resumed earlier this month but with reduced volumes.
Nissan also revealed what it claimed was a £5bn net loss in the last financial year, which was the worst result for more than a decade. Nissan said that worldwide sales of its vehicles between January and April had dropped by 31.1% in comparison with the same period last year. The number of models produced by Nissan will be taken down from 69 to about 55 over the next few years, focusing instead on electric vehicles and sports cars.
Workers have been told to pull out all the stops to work flexibly to get costs down and increase productivity. They are advised that they should be grateful that they are not in the same position as their counterparts in Spain and Indonesia, where plants closed. They should be thankful for the small mercies of the decision-makers, is the message!
Nissan chief executive Makoto Uchida, to placate opposition to their plans, tried to assuage opposition by saying the company would maintain production at its Sunderland plant. Can this be the case while Nissan is closing plants in Spain and Indonesia?
The Japanese giant's global restructuring programme is driving its standpoint across the world. The carmaker also announced it will close its factory in Barcelona with the loss of about 2,800 jobs, prompting protests at the Spanish plant. The factory and its nearby facilities employ about 3,000 workers, but unions reckon closures could indirectly affect as many as 22,000 jobs. Barcelona workers started an indefinite strike in early May after initial plans outlined a 20% cut to the workforce.
Ashwani Gupta, the Japanese company's global chief operating and performance head, has said that Nissan's commitment to Sunderland could not be maintained if there were not tariff-free EU access; 70% of cars manufactured at Sunderland which are sold in the EU are said to face tariffs of 10% under World Trade Organisation rules.
Mr Gupta said, "You know we are the number one carmaker in the UK and we want to continue. We are committed. Having said that, if we are not getting the current tariffs, it's not our intention but the business will not be sustainable. That's what everybody has to understand."
Nissan has recently said it has decided to focus on several "key markets", including Japan, North America and China. They will keep a presence in Europe but leave more room for alliance partners there, such as Renault.
Nissan is part of a three-way cartel-alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi, which are restructuring global operations to enable them to work more closely and cut costs. Nissan's current strategic partner and 43%-shareholder, Renault, has been in negotiations to operate capacity thrown up at Sunderland. Renault denies what is taking place behind closed doors. The French government has a 15% stake in Renault, another company that is cutting jobs in major structuring too.
Destruction of the productive capacity in the region by closing the Sunderland plant would be devastating. It cannot be allowed to pass.
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