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Voice from the Back

The benefits of globalisation
"With a "catastrophe" in the world's trade and many growers facing starvation, a leading coffee buyer appealed to the International Coffee Organisation in London yesterday for a tax of $1 on a 50kg bag to save farmers . . . "It is a huge and wealthy industry, yet the beans are grown almost entirely by very poor people who receive hardly anything for their labours." . . . Prices have halved to $75 a bag this year, mainly because of a World Bank-financed drive to plant coffee in Vietnam. Production has risen from 4m bags to 16m. Big firms, including Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Sara Lee, which owns Douwe Egberts, have kept prices up to benefit shareholders while the price to growers has halved." Guardian (27 September). The rich get richer and the impoverished producers get poorer. Sound familiar? The answer isn't a $1 tax but the complete transformation of society from one based on production for profit to one based on production solely for use.

Futile reforms
"The recovery of the ozone layer could be delayed significantly because the chemicals produced to replace those banned in the Montreal Protocol are proving equally damaging and are not controlled by international law, the UN Environment Programme reported." Times (17 October). Another example of how reforms often don't solve the problems of capitalism and another reason to get rid of it.

Save the children
During October the charity organisation Save The Children mounted a massive publicity drive to raise funds. According to their appeal "Around the world today, one in four children live in poverty – poverty serious enough to blight their lives just as they are beginning. Poverty can leave children without enough food to eat, rob them of the chance to go to school and force them into poorly paid work - vulnerable to adult abuse and exploitation." How abusive can be gauged by the experience of a nine year old who worked for two years as a sari embroiderer, fell sick, was sent home and was paid nothing for 2 years work. The charity's solution – send £3 a month! If only these well-meaning people would look beyond the effects of poverty to its cause we might really be able to save the children.

Same old Tories
Anyone who thought that two crushing electoral defeats would change the core policies of the Conservative Party can rest assured that the old Tory Party is sticking by its principles - support the rich against the poor. The columnist Matthew Parris writing in the Times (10 October) on their annual conference illustrated that very well when he observed: "The Shadow Chancellor, Michael Howard, railed yesterday against a Government he accused of leaving people to die in the queue for heart treatment – and was met with stony silence. Then he scolded the Government for cheating the shareholders of Railtrack – and was greeted by applause."

Land of the free?
It reads like an Orwell-inspired distopia, a nightmarish piece of fiction, but it is a recent letter to the editor of a mass circulation magazine. It reveals the frightening mind-set of some workers scared by the World Trade Towers disaster. Capitalism breeds paranoia and xenophobia, but even by capitalism's standards the following is pretty scary stuff. "Our people must take an active part in the vigilant protection of our country. Civilians must assume roles in our civil defense as block watchers, neighborhood police, campus observers and providers of information to authorities about those who act suspiciously or who voice anti-American opinions." Patrick Grant, New York City. Time Magazine (15 October).

More waste makers
Many years ago in his book The Waste Maker, Vance Packard wrote about "planned obsolescence"; the artful dodge of manufacturing products that needed to be replaced all the time. Some 40 years later we have the perfect example of this in the music business. Concerned about the misuse and selling on of the latest singles released to music executives for compiling play lists, the ingenious boffins of the music business have come up with a cunning ploy. "Tornado, the distributor of digital media products, has found a way of making Mission Impossible come to life. It has designed a voice recording that self-destructs after it has been played." Sunday Times (7 October). There is no limit to the ingenuity of capitalism when it comes to protecting profits. Inside socialism, human inventiveness will be used for something more important than Mission Impossible recordings.

Classless society?
In his recent book Almost Like A Whale the geneticist Steve Jones comes up with some figures on land ownership that would seem to contradict those who argue that we live in a classless society where the barriers of ownership have been broken down. "Half the private land in Scotland is owned by three hundred and fifty people (in a country where half the population has no landed property at all); and the greatest proprietor of all, at a quarter of a million acres, is the Duke of Buccleuch. The Duke's lesser titles include a couple of Earldoms, a Barony or two – and the Lordship of Eskdale"