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Voice From the Back

Deep sea diving
has always been a hazardous job, but now industrial pollution of the sea bed is making it silently deadly. The Western Australian published a two-page feature last October about three experienced divers working for the Texan company Oceaneering under contract to Hyundai Heavy Industry 40 metres down in the South China Sea. As soon as they left the diving bell foul smells invaded their air supply. They were told to ignore it. They felt dizzy, the fillings fell out of their teeth. Then their teeth began to fall out. After repeated complaints, their diving bell, itself letting in the lethal volatile chemicals, was moved, still pressurised, to another site for two weeks while the toxic area was dredged, when they were taken back again, but it was little better. One man was close to death when they were finally brought up after a month. Even the laboratory technicians who tested samples of the mud became ill. HHI then hired Chinese divers who were poisoned one after another. The Australians are still fighting for adequate compensation. The Chinese will probably get nothing. The only thing that finally matters in capitalism is money.

Das Kapital Vol.III summarised
Only a fool thinks price and value are the same. Silk Road, Chinese Fortune Cookie.

Forcing homeless people
off the streets may prove harder than the government thinks. Chris Holmes, director of Shelter, says present hostel places are 99.8 percent full the year round and Shelterline, the housing advice phone service gets 100 calls a day from single people desperate for somewhere to stay that night. There are over 600 a night sleeping on the streets of London, 2,400 people a year.

The Scottish Socialist Party
is campaigning for a new bus shelter in Fort William, protesting about water rates in Inverness and complaining about the condition of a school in Easter Ross. This "socialism" has brought them "phenomenal growth" according to their Highland regional organiser, Steve Arnott. He doesn't explain what bus shelters have got to do with socialism.

The American family farm
is almost extinct. In the 12 years of the Reagan-Bush administration 85,064 were taken over for $3.5 trillion. In the seven Clinton years, 166,310 corporate mergers, worth $9.8 trillion, have almost completed the job. Farms are no longer viable alone. They are only a small part of a vertical agricultural monolith in which the money is mostly made in processing and sales—not growing crops. Food retailers over the last ten years have returned 18 percent on investments, food manufacturers, 17.2 percent, agricultural banks 10.8 percent and farmers only 2.38 percent.

Half the population of Britain
have less than £750 in savings and investments, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. About one in ten have no savings at all.

Another Tony Blair promise
has fizzled out. The reform of company law to make "stakeholders" replace shareholders as the controllers of companies, taking into account the interests of customers, workers and environmental interests, has been thrown out by the officials responsible for reviewing the Victorian statutes. In a report which will surprise nobody who has any understanding of the capitalist system, they have reiterated the supremacy of shareholders. They do suggest, however, that directors should be aware of wider social responsibilities. So that's all right then.

Clare Short is foolish
enough to believe that getting a ministerial job in a Labour government enables a concerned person to achieve improvements for the poor, the homeless, the starving. She told the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle last year facts like:

  • A fifth of the world's population own 86 percent of its wealth.
  • If the world's richest 200 people gave up one percent of their wealth per year, it would pay for free primary education for every child on earth.
  • As it is, 1.3 billion people have to live on 60p a day.
  • The tiles in Bill Gates's kitchen cost £450 each—twice the average annual income in Africa's poor countries.

Clare Short hasn't realised, what the delegates to the WTO meeting know only too well—that capitalism can work in no other way. The poor are poor because the rich are rich.