Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Real Level of Welsh Unemployment

In the week the BBC reported on the newly released figures for unemployment in Wales. In the space of 3 months it's jumped from 106000 to 130,000, the highest jump in the UK. As the BBC usefully informs us "the last time unemployment was this high was in 1993".

Which puts us squarely back into the good 'ol days of Tory government.

Of course, back in those days Labour were routinely jumping up and down and screaming "fraud" whenever the unemployment figures came out, as it was generally accepted that the Tories had been fiddling the figures to disguise the huge structural unemployment they had created in the 1980s, when they shut down huge chunks of our manufacturing base. A 1997 report by Sheffield Hallam University that looked in detail at this practice was requested for circulation amongst Labour MPs by the then Shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Unfortunately for Labour, Sheffield just kept on producing these wonderfully insightful reports. And what they essentially documented was that Labour had retained the Tory practice of fiddling the figures. The most recent report, in 2007, documented a real unemployment rate of 2.6 million, when the claiment account was barely a million people. This figure included a "hidden" unemployment rate amongst the UK's incapacity claimants of around 1 million people.

So let's do a little math, as they say in America.

Sheffield Hallam estimated that this hidden figure was concentrated across the older Industrial areas of the UK, including, of course, South Wales. Areas like Merthyr were notable examples.

However, if we generously assume that as we have approximately 1/20th of the UK's population, we will take 1/20th of the "hidden" incapacity figure, that makes for 50,000 people. It's not likely this figure will have changed in the last 2 years as it's basically structural, and not linked to the "boom and bust" cycle that Broon claimed to have abolished.

We add that 50,000 to the 130,000 "official" rate, and we have 180,000 people out of work, still in all probability a gross underestimate. It works out at a real unemployment rate in Wales of at least 12.6%.

So after 10 years of Labour rule, we are pretty much back where we were in the mid 1980s, under the Tories. The Tories threw huge numbers of people out of work, and Labour have done so too. And like the Tories, Labour have decided to disguise the real figures to suit their own cynical political ends.

You can guarantee that Brown, who's Thatcherite deregulation of the financial system has led us to the current mess, won't be requesting the newest version of Sheffield Hallam's report, which shows a real unemployment rate of 3.4 million people for the UK as a whole. Ideally, it should be stuffed down the greedy gullet of every grasping MP in the whole sorry edifice that passes for the "Mother of all parliaments".

The least we can do next year is add 600 to this sorry, growing tally of human misery.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Home Rule: The Mount Estate Way.

The Mount estate is a deprived community on the outskirts of Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. It hit the news three years ago when the National Grid ran their giant high-pressure pipeline through a woodland run by the community - without any consultation.

Today the Mount Estate hit the news again, with a more positive story. Tenants on the estate are being ballotted to draw down the power to run aspects of the estate themselves, through a TMO or Tenant Managament Organisation. This initiative, the first of it's kind in Wales, is being pioneered by the Mount Community Association, who are confident of a positive outcome to the ballot.

I'm all for these kind of initiatives. There are those on the Left-wing of Welsh politics who have a very ambiguous attitude towards this kind of development. As commentators like the Independent Working Class Association have pointed out, the Left has unfortunately become conflated with statism, so that community-driven solutions are automatically labelled as "backdoor privatisation". This is certainly my experience in Wales, which seems unfortunate to me, as what should be important is what benefits tenants, and not Left-wing activists.

Some years ago, I ran a small campaign in Bridgend in support of a "third option" in the local Housing Transfer ballot. The two existing options were, stay with the Local Authority as council tenants, or transfer to a Housing Association. I argued that there was another option, which was to transfer to a Housing co-operative, or Community Mutual. This option has been specifically designed and pioneered by the Welsh Assembly, and is designed to be tenant led and controlled. In my idealistic young mind, the principle was simple: council tenants live on the estates, why should they not decide how they are run?

In running this campaign, however, I was brought up short by the pointed insights of an experienced local housing activist, an independent character who gave me a lot to think about. He pointed out that the Mutual option had actually been looked at, at an early stage in the housing transfer process, but enthusiasm for the option was very limited. The ballot campaign itself was beset with apathy and indifference. His conclusion was simple, but rather depressing. Tenants in the area just didn't have the confidence to run their own estates, and for that reason, a tenant-run housing co-op just was not feasible.

In light of this, it's revealing to realise that while this is the first TMO of it's kind to be developed in Wales, there are some 270 in existence in England. Why should it be that council tenants in England are that much more ready to take the management of their estates into their own hands? I suspect that somewhere between the dogma of many activists on the left in Wales, and the lack of confidence that seems to afflict many welsh council tenants, you will find the answer.

Looking back now at this seemingly negative experience, the Mount estate gives me a little hope. It sounds to me like people in the area have enough confidence to take that first tentative step towards self-determination. If people on the Left want to brand that as "privatisation" that's up to them. If tenants find that it frees up money to invest in real changes on the estate, and gives them the confidence and self-respect that comes with the realisation that they can manage their own affairs, they are bound to be for it.

At the end of the day, they should be the judge, and no-one else.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Only in America...?

This is a post from an American forum. There are a lot of angry people in the US right now, and not JUST in the US either. Enjoy - it's pure poetry...

DEAR Wall Street,

What a bunch of whiny f**king babies. John Galt would be puking blood for 200-pages over this load of sh**, you bunch of sobbing welfare queens. You f**ked up. You ruined everything. You broke it, and we f**king bought it, because big baby was too big baby to fail.

We get it all ways from you motherf**kers. You're robbing us of our present and future now, but first you stepped on our throats on your way to the top. You raked in the money with a bunch of made up fantasyland bullsh** that wouldn't fool a counting horse on America's Funniest Home Videos, but somehow suckered in every major bank in the world.

Credit default swaps.

Those things are so f**king dumb that when you explain them to somebody and they laugh about how dumb they are you've got to act like ooooh they're so magical and complicated. Far too complex for the plebes to get. No! Wrong! Go into OTB and put fifty dollars on Rambo's Beautiful Blood. You just bought a credit default swap. Whoaaa you're blowing my simple pea brain with your fancy Wall Street talkin'. You sadsack ****ers.

So everybody bought into your big scheme, even when they didn't know they were playing, and now the whole thing has come crashing down because too many people won the f**king unbelievably obvious bet that a million illegal immigrants were going to default on million dollar home loans. Suddenly all your stupid fake money is gone, but if it's gone the whole system of bullsh** lies collapses and you look like d**kheads. So whoopty-doo, now we gotta make the fake money turn real or else the house of sh**ty c**t cards comes crashing down, only there isn't enough real money to cover all the fake money, so we're making more real money.

Then there's A.I.G., the bad seed, the carbuncle on our anus, the weeping wound in our tit, the sorry source of all our misery and woe. This is the monster garage full of miscreants that dreamed up the fire-breathing nitro-gulping predicament we're in right f**king now. Their financial products division created the derivatives market from lies and their executives raked in billions in bonuses and easy money. While they were peddling bad bets, median wages in the US stagnated and poor working schmucks leaned increasingly on credit to get by. Prices on everything were going up, but credit was easy to come by what with all that bullsh** money to throw around. And then the good days ended, for the poor sh**head in the middle class anyway.

While you a**holes on Wall Street were lining up for your first round at the government trough, the poor f**kers that had been using credit cards to maintain their standard of living from the 1990s were beginning to lose everything. Their houses, cars, health care, and even their jobs were disappearing. F**kers at Merrill-Lynch, A.I.G., Citi Group, Bank of America, and on, and on, and f**king on were taking huge bonuses or executive compensation packages. They were "retiring" to third world countries where their fortunes would set them up like kings.

And listen up motherf**kers, because we f**king paid for it. Us. The f**king taxpaying public. The dudes you have been grinding beneath your heels since you first read Ayn Rand and sociopathed your way through econ 101. We're your paymasters now, f**kers. And yeah, your tools in the government and in the press are between you and us for now, but we've got one trick up our sleeve. One and only recourse while you're raping us for our last f**king dollars.We can get ****ed. We can let the hate take over and form a f**king mob. When you take home bonuses from our money, when you get our bailouts and have your lobster luncheons or your strippers and coke parties at the Mirage, we'll be there with our torches and our f**king pitchforks.

And just because you got your little crybaby letter in the New York Times, just because "the media narrative" is turning back in your favor, doesn't mean we have forgotten. We're ****ed and we know what you did.Jake DeSantis, you f**king narcissist, don't give me that bullsh** self-pitying resignation letter. Don't tell me you weren't the dick that has been f**king this country, just the hand on its throat. Don't make me laugh with your charity donation lesson in life.

Let me give you a life lesson.

We'll go through the Red Cross and the March of Dimes to get to you. We'll leave Jerry's Kids mewling and thrashing in the gutters and overturn the Salvation Army Kettle to get our f**king money back.You're all scum. Villains. And before this is through blood will be shed. Human blood that doesn't come out of a gigantic f**king vagina like yours, DeSantis. It's not a threat, it's a promise you're making to us."Come get us," you're sneering."I hope you like to eat turds from a human butt," we're sneering right back.Your offices will be lit from within by the fires of a thousand burning evil motherf**kers and their evil personal assistants. There will be chaos. Triple chaos. Saigon all over again. They'll be pushing G5s off the deck of an aircraft carrier to make room for the next private jet escaping New York. We'll string the filth of the NYSE from lamp posts and Rick Santelli's empty sockets will look out on the streets, choked with useless paper and cars torched for insurance money.The orgy of our outrage will be legendary. We'll cut off hands and feet and gouge out tender parts. We'll feed chopped up guts to dogs and rotting carcasses can fertilize urban gardens.

Remember that tree they put Conan on? No, that's not for you, that's for your wives! You should be so lucky!The last of you, the scarred remnants of your horrible tribe, can read this to a congressional hearing, your voices quivering with indignation while pale fists hammer on the glass and cry to see your blood spill out in a red gush across the steps of the Capitol.You motherf**kers had better be afraid. You haven't learned your lesson yet, but we have. DEATH TO WALL STREET!

Sincerely and with warmest



Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Crystallizing Anger

I'm very proud of my Irish roots. My Gran is Irish, A Waterford woman. When I was kid I used to go to Waterford sometimes, but I never got a chance to visit the world-famous Waterford Crystal factory in the town. But boy would I like visit it now!

Workers at the plant took matters into their own hands over the weekend when they found out by text that they were going to lose their jobs. They promptly occupied the factory. Their demand is quite simple - they want guarantees there will be another buyer, and won't shift until that guarantee is given. The Starry Plough has been raised over the factory, the flag of Irish revolutionary James Connolly and his Citizens Army.

And why, at the end of the day, would anyone want to walk away from 200 years of history because of the greed of investors and the ups and downs of fickle finance? These people are proud of their heritage and just want the basic, simple right to take home a good weekly paypacket. They don't just make a quality product, they have good quality manufacturing jobs, something many people would give their eye teeth for nowadays.

Workplace occupation may look like a drastic option, but many people are justifiably angry with the way that governments have stepped in so readily to bail out the banks, while working people are left to take their chances. And it's known to be a tactic that works. It's entirely possible that the Irish were inspired by a similar action in December of last year by workers at Republic Windows in the USA, who occupied the plant for 5 days for decent severance pay. Bank of America had withdrawn financing for the business and it stook on the brink of insolvency.

In the face of the first occupation of it's kind in the US since the 1930s, an occupation that inspired international acclaim and support, Bank of America backed down. And Republic now has a new buyer.

What's really notable is that in both cases, these actions took place with the full and unambiguous support of their Unions. In Ireland Union officials texted other workers and urged them to get to the plant in support of their workmates. In the US the UE Rank and File Union rallied support from all over the country.

It's a pity the Unions on the British mainland couldn't take a leaf out of their comrades' book. In the UK it seems, our Unions would rather bash people like the Italians, who themselves have a proud tradition of workplace occupation. The Italians, like many other nationalities around the world, are people we could probably learn a lot from. Instead we have alienated them and sown seeds of division, which is a crying shame.

You can send a message of support and donations to Unite Hall, Keyzer Street, Waterford County, Waterford, Republic of Ireland, phone +353 5187 5438, or send an email to

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Workers of the World - Fuck Off!

Compare and contrast: 2.5 million people in France take to the streets in protest at their government's handling of the worsening economic situation. Unemployment is heading towards 10% and people want the Sarkozy government to protect jobs, wages and key services.

Meanwhile in Britain the unions issue limp proclamations in support of a measly 1000 workers on a demo - against the Italians. A key construction contract at the Lindsey Oil refinery in Lincolnshire was awarded to IREM, an Italian company.

To be honest, it doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Some years ago, I went on a demo in solidarity with Rover workers at longbridge in the English midlands. I stood and listened with some discomfort as T&GWU supremo Tony Woodley launched into a jingiostic tirade against the Germans and French. I came away less than impressed. For people like Woodley, it seems, solidarity stops at the English Channel.

You're just left with the sense that the French Unions have a rather broader and more nuanced grasp of the seriousness of our situation. A comment placed by one of the French on the BBC website sums it all up for me:

"I will join in the demonstrations today. I have taken a day's unpaid leave to express my anger. Promises made to the working people about the success of the Euro, globalisation and benign capitalism have been broken by those in power. If the Brits had guts they would join us in general strike rather than contribute to their own problems by grovelling before their unelected and discredited prime minister."

I couldn't agree more mate. Viva la France!