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Liberty Steel in Crisis:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Liberty Steel in Crisis:
Need for an Outcome that Favours Communities and the Socialised Economy
Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report:
People Must Rely on their Own Experience in the Struggle against State Racism and All Forms of Oppression
Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report:
Joint Statement in Response to the Sewell Report
US blockade of Cuba:
The Fight of Revolutionary Cuba for Its Right to Be
The long tradition of Cuba in biotechnology:
Cuba's Race to Vaccine Sovereignty
Liberty Steel in Crisis:
Liberty Steel, the third largest steel manufacturer in Britain, is faced with potential collapse after Greensill Capital, its main financial backer, went into administration. At estimated 5,000 jobs are directly under threat.
Sanjeev Gupta, head of the Gupta Family Group (GFG) Alliance that owns Liberty Steel, has admitted that GFG was in debt to Greensill to an amount coming to "many billions", which has been a precipitating factor in the demise of that company. Greensill entered insolvency on March 8 after its insurance was withdrawn by Tokio Marine and its funds were stopped by Credit Suisse and GAM, triggering the crisis at GFG and Liberty.
Greensill was in the business of "supply-chain finance". Greensill would purchase goods from suppliers, paying them immediately on delivery, on behalf of companies such as GFG Alliance, which would go into debt to Greensill to receive those goods. Similar to the now-infamous sub-prime mortgage schemes, Greensill further packaged up this debt and sold it to larger investors, making big scores for Greensill's owners. This supply-chain finance scheme proved just as fragile as its sub-prime counterpart. In another twist, former Prime Minister David Cameron has been under investigation over lobbying on behalf of Greensill, including allegedly sending personal messages to Chancellor Rishi Sunak. It is reported that some 50,000 jobs may be impacted by the collapse of Greensill.
GFG Alliance itself is an international business empire employing over 35,000 people, holding various companies involved in the metals industry. As well as Liberty Steel, it owns the SIMEC Group, Wyelands financial services, and Jahama Estates. Liberty Steel began buying up and restarting production at various British steel mills in 2015, beginning with Newport. Liberty Steel bought Tata's specialty steel division for £100 million in 2017, which included the plants at Rotherham, Stocksbridge, Brinsworth and Wednesbury. Liberty currently owns 12 plants across Britain.
Steel has been produced in towns such as Rotherham since the middle of the 19th century. Now the work has ground to a halt and many workers have been placed onto furlough. The future of steel production in these towns has long been precarious, particularly since the privatisation of British Steel. The Liberty Steel empire-building buyout of Tata's facilities was the latest lifeline, and now that is in crisis. Closure would be devastating for such steel towns, which could be destroyed as communities. The public authority, the government, has a responsibility to ensure that steel production continues.
A subsequent request made by GFG for a £170 million government loan to bail out Liberty Steel was rejected due to the "opaque" nature of the business. It is reported that a solution similar to that used to rescue British Steel Ltd in 2019 is one option being kept open, where the company declared insolvency and was taken over by the Government Official Receiver until a new private owner was found.
In other circumstances, the government does provide massive bailout money, and provides subsidies, to private business in what are essentially pay-the-rich schemes. In the case of Liberty, the government turned down the plea, and the future of this significant section of steel production owned by the company hangs in the balance. This in itself underscores the issue of who decides what is or is not deemed worthy.
The threat of closure comes on top of huge cutbacks in steel production at places like Redcar, Port Talbot and Llanwern in recent years. Yet steel production is a key part of the socialised economy. As Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner said, "Steel is a foundation industry and is essential for the recovery of the UK economy as we rebuild from Covid-19." Such a foundation industry should not be wrecked, and if a solution is not found, the government will stand accused of neglect. The government must change its approach and respond to the need to secure the capacity for steel production, guarantee livelihoods and secure the manufacturing base, as part of changing the direction of the economy.
The issue here is not whether or not the government bails out Liberty Steel. The government should not be using public money to rescue a private empire-building project that has failed, particularly in such murky circumstances. Public money does not come from nowhere, it comes ultimately (currently indirectly and inefficiently via mainly personal taxation) from the new value workers produce, and workers will not have it used for what would amount to another pay-the-rich scheme.
At the same time, there is a need for investment in key foundation stones of the socialised economy such as steel production. The economy must be directed with the aim of meeting the material and cultural needs of the population. It is clear that an economy cannot be built to ensure the claims of society on it without a manufacturing base, which requires basic materials such as steel. There is still a huge requirement for steel and this will continue into the foreseeable future. Steel is still ubiquitous, not least in machinery and infrastructure. Steel remains a basic necessity for the functioning of the economy.
For such investment, the government should certainly not be borrowing from private investors, which would amount to a further pay-the-rich scheme. Rather, it could borrow from itself via a not-for profit public investment bank, and pay that borrowing back over a period of time by claiming from the new value produced by workers in the socialised economy. Further, because it is paid out of that new value, it is the workers who must have the decisive say.
Whether the funds raised are used to prevent production from collapsing, or to take over the steel mills as a public enterprise, it is workers' own new value that is being put to that use. Workers demand their rights and demand to have a say. Government support, for example, should bring with it terms and conditions under the workers' control and in their favour, aimed at opposing the destruction of the steel industry. It has to be aimed consistently at building the socialised economy, and building the steel industry within it. Rather than private empire-building, it is about building a steel industry as part of building a modern socialised economy.
If public well-being is not put at the centre of considerations of the economy, then what is the aim of an economy? The government should realise that for an economy to thrive, or at least to find a way to resolve its crisis, then it cannot be that more is taken out of the economy than is invested in it. A new direction would be to plan for an economy that produces for people's needs, which entails increasing the manufacturing base. Steel manufacturing is a vital part of the economy and should be maintained. The working class with its independent programme has the project of becoming the decision-making power and building such an economy.
This week saw the release of the much-heralded report from the government's Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was established in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. These actions involved hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Although provoked by the police murder of George Floyd in the US, protesters made it clear that Britain is not innocent! They demanded an end to state and all other forms of racism. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, well-known for his racist remarks, said at the time that the protest could not be ignored, that he recognised there was a need to stamp out racism. But, he said, what he wished to do was to "change the narrative" and "stop the sense of victimization and discrimination", in order to present "the story of success".
The government view was that there was too much emphasis on the findings of countless reports that had pointed out the existence of various forms of state racism following the MacPherson report in 1999 but which successive governments had done nothing to address. MacPherson acknowledged that what he termed "institutional racism" existed within the Metropolitan Police, especially in relation to how it had dealt with the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. Since 2010 there have been no less than eight high level reviews and commissions, not including the review into the Windrush Scandal, which have all acknowledged various forms of "institutional racism", or that racism exists within state institutions including the police, criminal justice system and Home Office. Although such reports cannot openly acknowledge the existence of state racism as a preferred policy of the powers-that-be, the evidence is already overwhelming, as is the lived experience of millions of people, many of whom took part in last year's protests. The government now demands that this evidence and experience is meaningless and should be ignored. To that end it established a commission tasked to "change the narrative" using data from, and supported by, the government's own Race Disparity Unit.
If the aim of the Commission's report was to change the narrative, its initial reception appears to suggest that it has done the opposite, since there have been an overwhelmingly critical response, the resignation of the government's senior advisor on ethnic minorities and almost a stampede by those referenced in the report to distance themselves from it. Amongst the critics is Baroness Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence, who commented that it was "giving racists the green light", and attempting to push "the fight against racism back twenty years or more".
The report attempts to comment on four main areas: education and training, employment, fairness at work, and enterprise, crime and policing and health. Its main aim is to show that where inequality exists it cannot be explained by racism alone but by other factors. According to the Commission, "The evidence shows that geography, family influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion have more significant impact on life chances than the existence of racism." However, already health experts have severely criticised its findings on health, pointing out that it has attempted to refute several decades of research into health inequalities and was based on "cherry-picked data to support a particular narrative".
The report presents the view that "we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism. Too often 'racism' is the catch-all explanation, and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined." But if this is the view, then one might expect some analysis of how "the system" has been transformed and by whom. But to this question the report offers no answers. Indeed, it is at pains to point out that there still appears to be widespread discrimination and disadvantage for many in modern Britain including for those it refers to as the "White working class".
However, the report offers no explanation for such inequality and disadvantage and does not
draw the conclusion that all forms of inequality have their origin in the capital-centred system and that the principal form of discrimination is the disempowerment of the people from decision-making by the rich, the powers-that-be and their state. Rather it attempts to use one form of oppression to suggest that another form of oppression is less important, and that what it calls reasons for success or failure include "those embedded in the cultures and attitudes of those minority communities themselves".
Such a view, which blames the people themselves for their oppression, allows the Commission to conclude: "The country has come a long way in 50 years and the success of much of the ethnic minority population in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy, should be regarded as a model for other White-majority countries." Presenting a "story of success" is an approach and world view that allows the Commission to reject demands for ending Eurocentrism in the teaching of history and instead to suggest that what is required is presenting "a new story about the Caribbean experience which speaks to the slave period not only being about profit and suffering but how culturally African people transformed themselves into a re-modelled African/Britain".
The Commission claims that its recommendation are designed to "build trust, promote fairness, create agency, achieve inclusivity". But in fact many are about strengthening existing state bodies and police powers. Nowhere does the report even mention the numerous examples of openly racist legislation, for example those that define citizenship in an openly racist basis and that facilitated the so-called Windrush scandal. These have been enacted during the last fifty years, the period during which the Commission claims that the country "has come a long way". Nowhere does it examine the nature of the state itself, the powers-that-be, which were the perpetrators of such crimes as slavery and colonialism and which for many decades refused to even recognise the existence of racism. Today, while paying lip-service to the existence of racism, the state opposes people taking action against it and does everything to divert their struggles into harmless channels. It attempts to disinform, and make people deny their own experience and the facts of life. This Commission's report promotes the world view and values of the colonialists and their apologists. That it is transparent in this regard is of no concern to the powers-that-be. At the same time, it promotes the increased use of the powers of the police. Together they are meant to convince people to accept the anachronistic world view or suffer the consequences.
The publication of the report and the Commission itself show once again that people can have no faith in the various governments and their commissions to address the issue of racism, or existing inequalities more generally. History shows that it is the struggles of the people themselves, waged on the basis of defending the rights of all and in opposition to state and all forms of racism, that move things forward. The principle must be that all are equal members of the polity. Such a polity must define rights anew and provide them with a guarantee. It will be a polity in which the majority of the people empower themselves as the decision-makers and put an end to all forms of racism.
In response to the Report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, a joint statement has been released by the Educational Institute of Scotland, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, NUS and UCU. It reads:
The findings of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, are an insult to all those in Britain who experience racism every day of their lives.
The report's attempts to diminish the impact of structural and institutional racism on the lives of Black* people in the UK are all the more galling in the midst of a pandemic where minority ethnic communities have borne a hugely disproportionate cost. It demonstrates an astonishing complacency and ignores the fact that any progress made in improving the lives of Black people across the UK has been won by decades of determined campaigning against the odds.
The report's suggestion that the UK should be a "model" for other countries in their response to racism also ignores the wealth of evidence which points to deeply unequal experiences faced by Black communities in the UK today. This includes the fact that:
We are in no doubt about the purpose of this report. By attacking the well-evidenced existence of structural and institutional racism, the government hopes to dismantle any accountability for its own discriminatory actions.
Instead, the report blames black and brown communities themselves for inequalities because they are "haunted" by historic, systemic racism. We reject this assertion wholeheartedly, and reaffirm our determination to work together in the fight to dismantle systemic racism in all its manifestations.
Educational Institute of Scotland, GMB union, NASUWT the Teachers' Union, NAHT (the head-teachers' union), National Education Union (NEU), NUS national union of students, UCU University and College Union
Note in the Joint Statement
*The term Black in this statement is used in a political sense to refer to all those who are descended, through one or both parents, from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia (the middle-East to China) and Latin America. Where third party sources are referenced in this statement we have used the terminology which was used in those reports.
The criminal US blockade of Cuba and campaign of disinformation and covert actions to achieve regime change are despicable and must be ended. Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution more than sixty years ago, the objective of Washington's strategy has centred on the negation and extinguishment of Cuba's right to self-determination, sovereignty and independence. This effort to asphyxiate Cuba is the principal obstacle to this proud island nation's social and economic development, costing the people of Cuba in excess of £94 billion over six decades, according to the UN. International relations must be based on equality and respect for sovereignty and the right of self-determination, abandoning and renouncing colonialist and imperialist mindsets and policies.
This is especially true during the pandemic, when, far from reversing the damages resulting from the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba, US imperialism has tightened the blockade.
Indeed, March 12 was a date of sadness and outrage for Cuba and the world. Twenty-five years ago, on March 12, 1996, US President Bill Clinton signed into law Public Law No. 104-114, with the grotesque title of the "Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996", popularly known as Helms-Burton, after its Republican sponsors, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and Indiana Representative Dan Burton. Of course, it has nothing to do with the liberty of Cuba. Neither has it anything to do with democracy. It is a fundamental violation of the right of the Cuban people to self-determination. It also violates the sovereignty of third countries that engage in trade with Cuba.
The Helms-Burton Act aims to internationalise the blockade by means of coercive measures against third countries, in order to interrupt their investment and trade relations with Cuba and subject these sovereign states to the will of the United States. The Helms-Burton Act codified the blockade against Cuba and strengthened its extraterritorial reach and it is a direct attack on Cuba's sovereignty and its political and economic system.
The US Helms-Burton Act was conceived to codify and tighten the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba in 1962 for the purpose of subverting and overthrowing the Cuban government and imposing a regime to the liking of the US government. The Helms-Burton Act specifically targeted Cuba and established a series of conditions with regard to the Cuban economy, aimed at the destruction of the socialist nature of the Cuban economy so as to be acceptable to the US Empire.
The recent activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act is particularly aimed at stopping companies from doing business with more than 220 Cuban entities, many of them hotels. The US blocked oil shipments to Cuba, leaving it with only 60 per cent of the fuel it needed for the economy. The Cuban government took measures to overcome this problem and minimise its impact on the population. It was overcome, in part, by reducing urban and inter-provincial transportation for a period of time.
Title III of the Act allows US companies and citizens to sue not only Cuban companies but also international companies engaging in what the US calls "trafficking in stolen property", i.e. that very grotesque way of referring to the fact that Cuba, when the Revolution triumphed, was within its right under international law to nationalise property owned by foreign companies in Cuba and that since then some of that property has been occupied or otherwise used by those Title III targets. Cuba offered compensation according to international law for the properties that were nationalised at the beginning of the Revolution. In the early years of the Revolution, every single country which faced the nationalisation of its properties - for instance, France and Britain - came to an agreement with Cuba on compensation. Cuba offered compensation to US companies too, but the United States blocked the attempts of any of these companies to accept and engage in negotiations with Cuba.
Because of the pressure from the international community, the Presidents before Trump decided that they had to waive Title III. This was because its extraterritorial nature represents a fundamental violation of the sovereignty of each individual country in the world, attempting to make US law the dominant law in their countries, trumping and overriding domestic law when it comes to companies doing business with Cuba.
Some 6,000 claims on property confiscated by the Cuban government are estimated at a value of $2 billion, or as high as $8 billion with interest.
The United States has waged an unabated, unceasing economic war against Cuba since the early 1960's. The Helms-Burton Act is an escalation of this war against Cuba and an overt attempt to economically asphyxiate Cuba through the violation of international law, by attempting to cut off Cuba's economic links with other parts of the world and sources of foreign investment. It is used to take punitive action against companies that are doing business in Cuba, with those that also carry on business with or have assets in the US being especially vulnerable.
The struggle against the blockade of Cuba unites many throughout the world. On this dishonourable anniversary, many have spoken out against the blockade and the extraterritorial measures enacted by the Helms-Burton Act.
Cuba has always been its own model and has learned to deal with the most difficult situations, such as the Special Period in the 1990s when 75 per cent of Cuba's trade collapsed with the demise of the Soviet Union. The resilience of the Cuban people is such that the attempts of the US will not succeed and the Cuban people will prevail.
Workers' Weekly calls on the the working class and people to oppose the Helms-Burton Act and continue the fight against the blockade. It is crucial that the sovereignty of nations and the right of nations to self-determination without outside interference be upheld.
Justice and democracy demands that Cuba's rights, independence and self-determination be respected. What the Cuban people have accomplished despite facing the unceasing aggression of the United States excites the admiration of progressive people the world over.
Workers' Weekly pledges to go all out to further strengthen the ties of friendship and solidarity between the working class and peoples of Cuba and Britain.
Cuban frontline health care workers in Havana received on March 31 their first shot of the island's Soberana-02 Covid-19 vaccine candidate as part of Phase III trials that began on March 3.
Cuba, which has a population of just over 11 million, is currently developing five vaccine candidates, of which two are in late-stage trials, with the goal of a broader rollout by May. The vaccines will comply with international standards and will eventually be sold or donated to other countries.
The Cuban government is aiming to administer experimental Covid-19 shots to nearly the entire population of the capital Havana, more than two million people, by May, as health authorities carry out massive interventional studies and late-stage trials. The two vaccines already in late-stage trials - Soberana 2 and Abdala - each require two or three doses. But the president of the state company behind the vaccine research, BioCubaFarma chief Eduardo Martinez Diaz, said that the "levels of immunity that both vaccines are generating are high".
Today, Cuba is home to at least 31 research companies and 62 factories with more than 20,000 workers. These medical plants produce eight of the 11 dengue fever vaccines used domestically, which are also exported to more than 30 other nations.
We reprint here an article which appeared in Spanish in Pagina 12 on February 24, 2021. It is taken from the files of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.
Final steps for Soberana 02, the first Latin American vaccine against coronavirus
"In the second half of the year, we will be able to immunise the entire population, and also provide doses to the countries that require it," says director of Science and Innovation at Cuban state company BioCubaFarma, Rolando Pérez Rodríguez, interviewed here by Pagina 12.
A few days after starting the last phase of the clinical trial of Soberana 02, which has all the cards to be the first fully developed vaccine in Latin America, the Cuban scientific community confirmed that it expects a production of 100 million doses for this year.
"It is about sharing with the world what we are, the answer that Cuba can give to the problem of the pandemic," reflected Rolando Pérez Rodríguez.
"We will be able to vaccinate the entire population before the end of the year but we will also have production capacity to offer it to other countries that demand it," said the specialist. At the end of March, another of the Cuban vaccines, Abdala, developed by the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), joins the third phase of clinical trials.
BioCubaFarma, founded in 2012, is a state company that brings together 32 companies from the biotechnology sector and the Cuban pharmaceutical industry. With 20 thousand workers, it exports more than 300 products to 50 countries, and has to its credit about 700 medical records. Since the coronavirus began to spread around the world, its resources have been focused on managing the pandemic.
On the one hand, the development of vaccines - four of them in an advanced stage - and on the other, the production of drugs to address infections and efforts to increase diagnostic capacity, which resulted in the achievement of one of the the lowest fatality rates in the world - with only 300 deaths in total until this Monday - despite the increase in infections in recent weeks, which have seen cases in Cuba rise from 12 to 45 thousand.
Why develop your own vaccine?
"Various reasons converge. In Cuba, one of the strengths of the biotechnology industry is precisely the development of vaccines. Furthermore, from the moment in which potential agreements began to be made in the rest of the world, at very high prices, to acquire vaccines that did not yet exist, we realised that they were not going to reach it.
For us, the economic blockade of the United States, especially in this last period - during the government of Donald Trump - complicates our access to certain products and we cannot always reach the most suitable supplier, this added to the fact that we are experiencing a global shortage of certain supplies, such as syringes. Despite this difficulty, we made progress. The idea of the vaccine is to be able to show that just as Cuba needs the rest of the world, it can also contribute a lot.
"So far, of the dozens of investigations to develop an antigen against the coronavirus, four Cuban vaccines are on track. Two are in charge of the Finlay Vaccine Institute (IFV), Sovereign 02, with 150 thousand doses ready for the start of the third phase of clinical trials, and Sovereign 01, still in the first stage of human trials. The other two are in charge of the CIGB: the Mambisa, a novelty due to its nasal administration characteristics, and the Abdala, which begins the last stage of large-scale trials in humans at the end of March.
"The four vaccine candidates use the RBD protein as antigen, which binds the viral body with the human cell. For both Abdala and Sovereign 02, the specialists foresee the application of three doses, with an immunization schedule of 0-28-56 days, although for the first they still evaluate a shorter schedule, of 0-14-28 days."
Tell us about Sovereign 02
"The most important thing is that it is a secure platform. It has not shown any adverse effects so far. It is a conjugated subunit vaccine, based on the RBD protein, which is a domain - subunit - of protein S, by the term "spike" (Spike), in English. RBD, binding to the receptor, allows the virus to penetrate the human cell. The vaccine inhibits this binding, generating neutralizing antibodies. We chose this type of vaccine based on recombinant proteins because we have experience with the same technology in previous research, against other viruses, and the capacities not only to investigate, but to take production to an industrial scale."
When will it begin to be mass produced?
"First we have to go through phase 3, which, as there is more incidence of the virus in the country, although this is bad news for society, facilitates the clinical study. For this stage we manufacture 150 thousand doses. In parallel, we are going to increase the evidence of effectiveness with trials in areas that we know have more epidemiological complexity due to population density. And in the meantime we are advancing in protection, immunising thousands of people. For the month of June, the results will be in, for the registration and massive use of the vaccine, and in the second part of the year we will be able to immunise the entire population, and also provide doses to the countries that require it. The productive capacity we have for this type of vaccine is really great, which uses only a fifth of an antibody.
"For this phase of the clinical trial, the IFV - under the orbit of BioCubaFarma - signed an agreement with the Pasteur Institute of Iran, to send a dose contingent of Sovereign 02 as part of the vaccine trials. Iran is one of the Middle Eastern countries most affected by the coronavirus. The vaccination campaign with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine began earlier this month."
Cuba has a long tradition in biotechnology: it was the first country to eradicate polio, developed the first vaccine against meningitis, in the late 1980s, and managed to produce its own vaccine against Hepatitis B in 1990. What was it? the key to vaccine development?
"Experience in other investigations allowed us to move forward with some speed, but it was also the product of coordination between the companies and the Scientific Pole, we always work in an integrated way, in a productive chain that strengthens and accelerates projects. In the case of the two vaccines that are on the horizon - Soberana 02 and Abdala - those in charge of large-scale production are the National Centre for Biopreparations (Biocen) and the Aica Laboratory, but always in coordination with the other institutions that were part of the investigation."
In addition to the four vaccines that are in an advanced stage, are there others in progress?
"Yes, we are in favour of not stopping the investigations. There are already new strains of the virus that may be resistant to vaccines, if we continue to investigate, we can prevent the problem. There are other developments that we continue to work on at the preclinical level, vaccines that could be recombined to combat the most resistant strains.
"We are also beginning the second phase of the trials of Sovereign 02 in the paediatric population, which in Cuba is considered from preschool to 19 years of age, but now we must concentrate on the most urgent thing, which is to advance rapidly with production in order to begin mass vaccination."
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