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Britain Steps Up Militarisation of the Ukraine Conflict

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis

Britain Steps Up Militarisation of the Ukraine Conflict

US desperation to dominate and control the world:
US Inability to Predict the Outcome of their Ukraine Strategy

Energy Price Cap Hike:
The Need is for Public Control over Energy Prices and for Modern Democratic Arrangements

Health and Care Bill:
Imposing the Path of Privatisation and Cronyism in the NHS

India:
Millions of Workers Join National Strike


Britain Steps Up Militarisation of the Ukraine Conflict


Boris Johnson has announced that Britain is to deliver stepped up military aid to Ukraine. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on April 8, the Prime Minister said that Britain is to send a further £100m of lethal support to Ukraine.


Serbian football club Red Star Belgrade's fans, March 17, 2022, hold banners showing the nations which the U.S. has invaded.
Boris Johnson said, "Today I can announce the UK will send a further £100m worth of high-grade military equipment to Ukraine's armed forces including more star streak anti-aircraft missiles which fly at three times the speed of sound, another 800 anti-tank missiles and precision munitions capable to lingering in the sky until directed to their target."

He continued: "We will also send more helmets, night vision and body armour on top of the 200,000 pieces of non-lethal military equipment the UK has already dispatched. But Olaf and I agree that our two countries, and our allies must go further and provide more help to Ukraine."

Boris Johnson added that Britain and Germany "will work together to ensure our armed forces are fit for the future".

A day before the announcement, a press release from Britain's Ministry of Defence explained how Britain hosted a Ukrainian government delegation to a demonstration of military equipment on Salisbury Plain in order that options of further military support could be considered. The Ukrainian delegation observed a
Starstreak air defence system, which Britain has already provided and trained Ukrainian Armed Forces to use. The press release boasted that since 2015 Britain has trained over 22,000 personnel as part of Operation Orbital and the UK-led Maritime Training Initiative, and that this support was stepped up in 2021 when Britain and the Ukraine signed a bilateral treaty, which released £1.7bn of financing in support of the Ukrainian Naval Capabilities Enhancement Programme.

Britain has also played a leading role in establishing an International Donor Coordination Centre in Stuttgart to provide "lethal aid". Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that following the first Donor Conference on February 25, the "international community" has provided 2.5 million items of military weapons and equipment to Ukraine, amounting to more than £1.5 billion.

These announcements come at a time when what is needed is to seek out a negotiated peace. It exposes the mindset of the pro-war British government which is only too happy to claim that it is seeking the lead in military matters. Britain is acting in lock-step with the US and NATO in not paying heed to Russia's political aims and its proposals, but instead backing Ukraine, which is not serious in pursuing negotiations. Britain, in its alliance with the US and NATO, is itself contributing to the false-flag war crimes alleged to be committed by Russia, and is sending lethal weapons, training troops, strengthening its de facto backing of the neo-Nazi forces, and overall prolonging the conflict to the detriment of the Ukraine people themselves.

It does not help the desire for peace to call on Russia to agree a ceasefire and withdraw its troops, as Johnson does, while stepping up the militarisation of the conflict. The British government does not even mention that Russia's declared aims are to de-militarise Ukraine and de-Nazify the country. It is simply consolidating a "no war, no peace" situation.

Britain's response is revealing its nature as a pro-war government, and that crimes being committed in Ukraine further the aims of US/NATO war oligopolies, including those of Britain, who make vast profits from military industries. As well as profiteering from weapons of mass destruction, it is these forces which hold the reins of power and are able to spread disinformation about what is right and what is wrong. But the future does not lie with them, but with the world's peoples who desire peace, justice and security, and are striving to bring into being modern arrangements which are anti-war, and truly match the high ideals which the warmongers claim they are following.

Article Index



US desperation to dominate and control the world

US Inability to Predict the Outcome of their Ukraine Strategy

The US has little ability to predict the outcome of its Ukraine strategy as its various means for doing so no longer function. This includes the inability of its intelligence agencies to accurately assess the situation; its dysfunctional institutions including Congress; whether it can force the NATO members to continue to submit to its dictate and for how long; its inability to assess the mood of the peoples at home and abroad and more. For instance, the US, all evidence to the contrary, calculates that it can succeed in using China against Russia or India against China and Russia and all the countries of the Asia-Pacific against China and Russia.

It calculates that whatever incentives it sees fit to offer will keep countries like India and others in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean from pursuing relations with Russia and China. The refusal of many of these countries to submit to the sanctions is evidence of the miscalculation, but the US assumes it will nonetheless prevail. As well, it thinks it can patch up its contradictions with the European Union and contradictions within it and reconcile the peoples of the world to more and more wasteful war spending. It believes its own disinformation about what Russia is doing in Ukraine, which is a serious problem.

War funding and war economies provide enormous wealth to the war oligopolies and financial profiteers, all while the poor get poorer, social spending continues to decline and social programs continue to be gutted and privatised. The most recent war budget of the US provided billions more for the annual Pentagon budget of $782 billion, a 42 per cent increase over last year. The bill also included an additional $13.6 billion for Ukraine, mainly for the deployment of more troops to NATO countries, more weaponry and to enforce sanctions.

The US imperialists think they can overcome all the crises in which the US is mired - financial, economic, commercial, constitutional as well as social, political and existential - by fomenting wars abroad, but this has not quelled the threat of violent civil war at home. By strengthening Russian sanctions, the US thinks it can save its financial system from diving into a new crisis even more profound than the last in 2008, which was more profound than the one before. It thinks that by seizing and concentrating Russian real estate and financial assets in the hands of the narrow private interests it serves, against others which will fight this tooth and nail, its crises will be resolved. Foolish indeed, and dangerous. Real problems require solutions which befit the problems, not a desperation to dominate and control the world which merely threatens yet greater war and destruction, exacerbating all the problems.

By deploying more US troops in European countries and forcing those countries to increase spending on weapons and war-related materiel for the benefit of the war profiteers, the US thinks it can unite NATO and its military and civilian bureaucracy at home. It thinks this will quell the conflicts between contending private interests within the United States itself.

What is the quid pro quo for those deals, the masses of people in the US and other countries are asking themselves. The people in the US continue to fight for equality and accountability, for voting rights, against funding of police violence and the cover-up of police killings, against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Biden's deportation of millions and massive detention of families and other refugees, for the right to health care for all and safe working conditions. These are among the many just claims that the people are entitled to make on the society they depend on for their living.

So too, the people of the NATO countries are not submitting to US demands. The US is forcing them to agree to increase spending on arms and indebt themselves further within the US financial architecture. Whether France and Germany submit to US dictate willingly or unwillingly, the US is using NATO to keep both in check. But the US is already having trouble achieving this, as concerns about the lack of oil and gas supplies increase and millions of Ukrainian refugees flood Europe.

The peoples of Europe and the world are becoming ever more aware that the navies and bombers of the US, Britain and other countries, including Canada, are prowling the oceans, engaging in war exercises and brinkmanship in the Asia-Pacific. They are positioning themselves to threaten Russia in the Mediterranean and the Arctic.

All told, the US measures to bring the entire world under its control show a country which is not interested in peace, freedom and democracy and which cannot predict outcomes because it is self-serving to the extreme and the world does not conform to its narrative.

(TML Monthly)

Article Index



Energy Price Cap Hike

The Need is for Public Control over Energy Prices and for Modern Democratic Arrangements

Typical energy bills rose by an unprecedented 54% on April 1 as the new price caps set by regulator Ofgem came into effect, pushing millions into fuel poverty and what is being termed "fuel stress".

Ofgem had announced on February 3 that the caps - supposedly designed to stop suppliers excessively profiteering - were to increase, a rise that would affect an estimated 22 million people. The increases predate the war in Ukraine - as Ofgem said at the time, they were "driven by a record rise in global gas prices over the last six months".

Ofgem calculated that, on average, default tariffs paid by direct debit would increase by £693 to £1,971 per year for gas and electricity, adding nearly £60 per month to typical bills. Those on prepayment meters (4.5 million people, mostly made up by those on the lowest incomes and students) would see an even bigger increase of £708 to £2,017 a year. These rises came on top of increases last October that took the caps to their then highest levels ever (£1,277 for a standard tariff).

These price hikes are causing so-called "fuel stress", where people are forced to spend at least 10% of their budget after housing costs on energy bills. The Resolution Foundation estimates that the present price rise will double the number of households in this condition from 2.5 to some 5 million in England, and they project this will rise yet further to as many as 7.5 million after the price caps rise by another £500 on October 1. The consequences will be devastating.

While the government harps on about "levelling up", which one is led to believe means lifting people out of poverty and building a sustainable economy to serve the people of Britain, we see only more austerity and price rises that only favour the rich.

Pointing out that April 1 "was also the day that National Insurance charges went up and the day when water charges rose", economist Richard Murphy said, "Food prices are already increasing. On top of that, interest rates are going up so that some people with mortgages will see that cost increase as well. If that is not enough, general inflation has now reached around 8% per annum, with the chance that it might go even higher later this year because it is thought that household energy costs might rise by up to another £1,000 a year in October when the next price review takes place." [1]


British gas workers on strike in 2021

Pointing his finger at the government, he said, "On top of that, even when it knew that the current price increases were on the way it still planned the National Insurance increases and cut Universal Credit whilst encouraging the Bank of England to increase interest rates. It adopted all these measures because it claims that it is facing a debt crisis, with the national debt now needing to be repaid as a consequence of the costs of Covid."

Brexit, he said, "has made it harder for the UK to trade, as international statistics show, and that has a consequent cost which is reflected in UK inflation". The way Covid restrictions ended is another factor. Murphy argues: "The warning that reopening the economy would be harder than closing it was ignored and no apparent attempt to manage the problems that have arisen, especially as a result of shortages of gas supply, was made. It is those shortages due to the end of Covid restrictions that have given rise to the current price rise, which have nothing to do with war in Ukraine."

Regarding the war, he said, "The government's mismanagement of its relationships with Russia, which has been widely reported, did however mean that it failed to anticipate that crisis as well. It is shortages created by war that will give rise to the energy price increases in October."

"On top of that, even when it [the government] knew that the current price increases were on the way it still planned the National Insurance increases and cut Universal Credit whilst encouraging the Bank of England to increase interest rates. It adopted all these measures because it claims that it is facing a debt crisis, with the national debt now needing to be repaid as a consequence of the costs of Covid," he said.

A decent standard of living is a right that must be guaranteed by changing the direction of the economy so that it serves the needs of society. As the economy is currently organised and directed, prices are controlled by the global monopolies and oligopolies through "market forces", which amounts to cartel price fixing. The power to set prices must be taken out of the hands of these narrow but powerful private interests, and instead the people must be empowered to control prices of essential services, utilities and goods.

A key raw commodity determining energy and fuel prices is of course oil. A relatively small number of countries produce oil in large quantities. Huge multinational conglomerates (Shell, BP, Exxon and others) are among the biggest and most powerful companies that carry out the production and distribution of oil. It is extracted in countries such as the US (Texas); Saudi Arabia and the gulf states, Iran, Russia, Britain, Norway, Libya, Venezuela and Nigeria, and the oil monopolies and states control supply through cartels like OPEC (the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries). Gas production is similar. In Britain, oil is imported and is produced in the North Sea along with gas, where BP and Shell in particular operate. Refineries and fuel distribution networks in Scotland, England and Wales are again controlled by the same big businesses and private utility firms.

Internationally, controls over pipelines, trade embargoes, trade wars, and so-called free trade agreements all contribute to the problem, as does the present egging-on of war in Ukraine. Energy and trade corridors are dominated by big powers and multinational conglomerates, and have become weaponised to the point that now rationing energy consumption is being considered in Europe, particularly Germany. Tensions are rising and chaos is ensuing. The attempt by the US at establishing what it calls a rules-based international order to preserve its privileged status is faltering before it has even got off the ground. The existence of anti-war governments would stand as a block to these manoeuvres by big powers, power blocs and oligopolies.

Power generation and the grid is also controlled by oligopolies. The new nuclear plant being built at Hinkley was first to be built and operated by the French state-run EDF, before being switched to China. Contradictions mainly between the US and China have subsequently left the British ruling elite in a quandary. All decision-making is out of the hands of the public on such matters.

Many of the private sector companies set up to distribute energy have recently collapsed, leaving control in fewer hands. Instead of shareholders and owners of energy production and distribution taking a hit, the regulators have raised caps and altered the goalposts so that price hikes, previously prevented, now take place. It could be said that a cap that keeps being raised is no longer a cap. This crude form of price regulation has essentially been usurped on behalf of the interests of the rich.

Control of prices must switch from those that cause price increases to those these increases affect, which is the majority in society, via a new public authority. To ensure that this authority operates in a manner consistent with the conditions and does not get usurped by powerful private interests, that authority itself requires direction by a modern system of democratic arrangements that directly embody the popular will.

The nub of the problem is how the socialised economy operates and to what aims it is directed, and the neo-liberal market system that is holding it back. To change the direction of the economy, key aspects such as the distribution of goods, supply chains and the means of increasing supply of essential products need to be under public decision-making control, as are the quantity and quality of investment in social programmes and the manufacturing base. If more is put into the economy than is taken out by private interests, then supply meeting demand is made possible. Cheap energy is a necessity for many small businesses to survive and for domestic users to live. Prices should be taken out of any control by monopoly and oligopoly cartels.

A modern public authority would restrict the assumed rights of the monopolies to maximise profits through price manipulation and enforce a scientific price of production that allows a sustainable rate of return, diminishing as it should in proportion to advances in productivity. People must constitute themselves as the authority via new democratic mechanisms that enable them to effectively direct the economy, including incomes, social programmes and prices, so that solutions to the standard of living crisis can be found.

Whose economy? Our economy! Who decides? We decide!

Notes
1. Richard Murphy, "Cost of living crisis will bring hunger, cold, debt and the potential loss of homes to people in Sheffield", The Sheffield Star, April 1, 2022
https://www.thestar.co.uk/news/people/cost-of-living-crisis-will-bring-hunger-cold-debt-and-the-potential-loss-of-homes-to-people-in-sheffield-3637432

Article Index



Health and Care Bill

Imposing the Path of Privatisation and Cronyism in the NHS

The Health and Care Bill returned to the House of Commons on Wednesday March 30, 2022, for a debate on 14 amendments made by the House of Lords to the Bill [1]. The Bill had been debated in the Lords since December 7 last year. In the Commons debate, most of the Lords amendments were either rejected or amended by the government [2]. In the ping-pong debate, the Bill was sent back to the Lords for consideration of the government's amendments. However, whilst the Lords started its debate on April 5 - agreeing with some of the government's amendments and disagreeing with others - the Lords is now in recess from April 7, and will not return until April 25. The Commons is already in recess, returning on April 19. Thus the parliamentary process on the Bill is likely to continue after the end of the recess in April.

The Lords' amendments have to be seen in the context of the resistance to the Health and Care Bill which has been continuing with NHS workers, trade unions and health campaign organisations across England over the previous year and to date. There have been several rallies outside Parliament. One, on November 22, 2021, was joined by MPs in presenting petitions signed by over 300,000 people against the Bill on the day that it was being presented to Parliament for the Report stage. Whilst the Lords' amendments confronted some of the open cronyism that the government is introducing into health legislation, the Bill is continuing along the wrong direction for a system of health and social care in England.

One of the more important amendments was the Lords Clause Amendment 11 on "the process by which any appointment of a member to the Integrated Care Board (ICB) or any appointment to any committee or sub-committee of the integrated care board that has a commissioning function" [3]. Whilst the government's amendment 11A was challenged in the Commons debate by Margaret Greenwood, Wirral West Labour [4], this amendment was passed by the Commons. On return to the Lords on April 5, this amendment 11A went through without a vote, after the proposer, Lord Hunt, accepted the government's amendment.

In the debate in the Commons, Margaret Greenwood MP was almost alone in speaking in support of the Lords Amendment 11 when she said that it "is a step in the right direction, although it does not go far enough. It would ensure that conflict of interest rules that apply to integrated care boards would apply to commissioning sub-committees of integrated care boards." But in speaking about the government's amendment 11A to the Lords' Amendment she said: "I am concerned that the phrasing is clearly open to interpretation, and it by no means rules out people with interests in private healthcare from sitting on these sub-committees. It is wrong, too, that the power should rest with one person, namely the chair of the ICB. If we are serious about providing governance that rules out the possibility of the private sector influencing the expenditure of public money, an organisation carrying out the functions of an ICB on its behalf should be a statutory NHS body. It is a great pity that the Government have not legislated for that."

She continued: "We cannot forget that NHS guidance last year stated that the Health and Care Bill, if enacted, would enable ICBs to devolve budgets to provider collaboratives, which are one of a complex array of sub-committees that could take on commissioning functions. Representatives of private companies, which are accountable to shareholders, should not be able to influence these commissioning sub-committees in any way. Lords' amendment 11 at least improves the original Bill, and I therefore welcome it."

She also went on to welcome Lords' Amendment 105 which the government opposed, which, she said, "would mean that the membership of an ICB must include at least one member with expertise and knowledge of mental health in the integrated care board's area. The fact that the Government did not provide for that originally shows that they are still not treating mental health with the level of seriousness it deserves. It is disappointing that the Government have indicated that they disagree with the amendment." The government's amendment 105A watered down the Lords' amendment. It would be sufficient "that at least one of the ordinary members has knowledge and experience in connection with services relating to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness". Amendment 105A was also passed in the Commons and accepted by the proposer Lord Bradley in the Lords on April 5 without any vote.

The Health and Care Bill is designed as a new corporate-led model for handing out health contracts with new ICBs and Integrated Care Partnerships (ICPs) and other sub-committees. These have already been put in place in many parts of England. For example, in the north of England the ICB will cover some 2 million people with almost no accountability to those communities, cities and towns of the north that it covers. ICBs will have no statutory duty even to make their decisions in public, and the Bill tasks them with "overcoming the bureaucracy" of the regulatory systems of "procurement and market bureaucracy". In other words, the present corporate direction that requires locally based Clinical Commissioning bodies (which will be abolished by the Bill) to only commission private or public services after an extensive procurement procedure is to be short-circuited by the Bill. It enabled ICBs and their sub-committees to enact the type of cronyism that we have seen used by the government in the pandemic. Nothing in the Bill addresses real problems in the NHS and social care. For example, the largest crisis in the NHS is that of staffing. The NHS can no longer be patched up by recruiting health care workers from poorer countries abroad. Nothing in the Bill addresses the investment needed, or a plan to train doctors and nursing staff, care workers and other hospital staff to meet the needs of a national health and social care service for this year let alone for the 21st century. On the contrary, the increasing staff shortages become the excuse to close down more and more hospital and community services.

Nothing in the Bill or indeed the amendments to it address the necessity for a new direction for the NHS that meets the needs of all for health and social care. The public and private sector care system of the NHS is in crisis and less and less able to meet people's needs. These facts emerge every day even though billions are spent particularly on the inefficient and wastefulness of private hospital and other health contracts. Of course, this starts with paying the rich corporations first, whilst increasingly cutting investments in the public health and care services. The Health and Care Bill and the remote "Integrated Care Boards" will not solve this, but will push the health care system down the same corporate road and into further crisis.

What is revealed by the Health and Care Bill is that people require new public health authorities which are human-centred. These must be new democratic authorities that involve health staff and the people in the communities that they serve in speaking directly about their requirements for health and social care services and participate in making the decisions. Such a direction for society must be to fully fund a public health and social care system that is free to all humans as of right regardless of any other consideration. The inhuman treatment of charging immigrants and visitors to England must stop. Health and social care is a human right in a modern society and must be upheld by all.

Notes
1. Lords Amendments to the Health And Care Bill will push the health care system into further crisis.
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-02/0293/210293.pdf
2. Marshalled list of motions to be considered on consideration of Commons reasons and amendment
https://bills.parliament.uk/publications/46130/documents/1731
3. Lords Clause 14 Amendment 11 with Government's amendment 11A
https://bills.parliament.uk/publications/46130/documents/1731
4. Margaret Greenwood MP, Wirral West Labour, speaking in the debate - March 30 2022
https://hansard.parliament.uk//commons/2022-03-30/debates/159B83EA-68DF-4A72-AFB7-189970DE9114/HealthAndCareBill#contribution-3D5B3FE8-EBD3-4F52-82DB-CE2461B6B921

Article Index



India

Millions of Workers Join National Strike

by J Singh


National strike, March 28-29, 2022, Patna, Bihar

Millions of workers joined in a national strike on March 28 and 29 for the fulfilment of their economic and social demands. The strike was called by a forum of national trade unions and was supported by farmers across India. Their demands include scrapping the labour codes, ending privatisation in any form, stopping the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP), increasing the allocation of wages under The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), and regularising contract workers.

Last year 250 million people joined in a national shutdown. Today, many workers and farmers are asking the hundreds of millions of people who run everything and produce everything, why don't we take over the administration at the local and national level? Why do we remain in begging mode? What is it that we are lacking? Farmers' Morchas showed that the toilers can run everything, so why beg from the ruling elite? How long will we keep just protesting?

These are signs of coming times.

As expected, after consulting fake farmers who reported that 80 per cent of farmers in India support the central government on farm laws and policies, the Supreme Court appointed a committee on the demands of the farmers. It is a cruel joke by the ruling elite to give its anti-farmer laws legitimacy. The Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) opposed this committee when it was constituted and now has opposed its report.

A rally was held in Chandigarh along with tractor marches in Punjab on March 25 by the SKM to highlight the demands of farmers and Punjab. They called on the new government of Punjab to address the problems of a Minimum Produce Price (MSP), electricity, water, health, education and other issues as it promised to do during the election.

A meeting of the SKM is being called to set its plans for the coming months. Committees of farmers across India are going to meet all the chief ministers as part of their protest movement. Farmers also warned the people of Punjab and Haryana that the ruling elite is trying to split the unity of the people of Punjab and Haryana and called on them to remain vigilant.

According to news reports, a parliamentary committee found that the Union government had vowed to double farmers' incomes between 2015 and 2022 but, at the halfway point, farms in at least four states had less income than when the pledge was made. In Jharkhand, a farming family's average income fell from Rs 7,068 to Rs 4,895; in Madhya Pradesh, it fell from Rs 9,740 to Rs 8,339; in Nagaland, from Rs 11,428 to Rs 9,877 and for Odisha, it dipped from Rs 5,274 to Rs 5,112.

The new chief minister of Punjab met with Prime Minister Modi and asked him for a package of 1 lakh crore rupees for Punjab to fulfil his election promises for "development". His party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), is setting a course of blaming the central government for its failures to deliver and cover up the fact that they have no interest in fighting for Punjab and its rights that have been usurped by the central government and the colonial constitution. The colonial constitution concentrates all the power in Delhi.

This is the stand taken by several state governments to cover up that they are not addressing the problems faced by the people which includes how to handle the central government and renew the constitution. The new first minister of Punjab promised that his government will not be run from Delhi, but he is begging Delhi for funds. It is a replay of the old adage that "he who pays the piper calls the tune". The battle continues over where the seat of power of Punjab lies.

Another serious problem which persists is seen in attempts to raise the diversion that the problems of Punjab stem from Pakistan. The people of Punjab need friendly relations with Pakistan. They need to open trade and border crossings between west Punjab and Pakistan.

The new first minister announced that pre-paid electricity meters will be installed ending subsidies for electricity to farmers and handing it over to private companies owned by the oligarchic families Adani and Ambani. Farmers have announced that they will not permit these meters to be installed.

It is also reported that the new government has doubled the amount of water going to Delhi from Punjab without informing anyone in Punjab. Amit Shah, the home minister of India, announced measures which further concentrate control of Chandigarh in the hands of Delhi. The AAP, with its eyes on elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, is silent on the rights and claims of Punjab against Delhi. It serves the same longstanding plans to concentrate power in Delhi and serve the ruling elite.

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