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Voice From the Back

All Things To All Men

It is the nature of capitalist politics that you must pander to your audience. Thus in one week the late President Kennedy could declare to a German audience "I am a Berlinner", to an Irish audience boast of his Irish descent and finish off in the USA extolling his American patriotism. Mitt Romney who is contesting the Republican primaries is using a similar ploy. "Whereas he once took on the powerful gun lobby, he more recently joined the National Rifle Association as a life member. Elected in Massachusetts as a strong supporter of gay rights, he now proclaims himself as a fierce opponent of same sex marriage." (Times, 20 September) Obviously a man of principles. The main principle being "do anything to get elected".

       

A Living Wage?

"The adult rate for the statutory minimum wage will go up from £5.35 to £5.52 and from £4.44 to £4.60 for 18-21-year-olds. The rate for 16 and 17-year-olds will increase from £3.30 to £3.40 an hour. Meanwhile, annual leave entitlement will increase from 20 to 24 days a year for full-time workers and will increase again to 28 days from April 2009. Employment Relations Minister, Pat McFadden, said: "These changes will improve the lives of millions of British workers, giving them more time with their families and ensuring our lowest paid workers continue to be able to earn a living wage." (Guardian, 1 October) McFaddens "living wage" must seem laughable to politicians and big earners in the City. 17p an hour increase? Let the good times roll!
 

Now That’s Living

"The bonanza in boardroom pay has become even more spectacular, according to the latest figures from the accountancy firm KPMG. The typical chief executive of a FTSE 100 company has seen their total remuneration rise by 12 per cent in the past year, to reach over £2.6m. That's four times the rate of increase in average earnings, leaving the business elite on pay over100 times what most of their employees earn. In the case of those chief executives still in post, their income went up by 16 per cent, accelerating last year's 9 per cent rise. The chief executive of one of the smaller FTSE 250 companies would expect to see a total package of just over £1m, up from £878,000 in 2006. Britain's top corporate earner is probably still Bob Diamond of Barclays Capital, who took home £22.9m last year, including a performance-related bonus of £10.4m." (Independent, 1 October)
 

We Hope It Is True

It is sad but true that it is almost impossible to lift up a newspaper without being informed about bad news. War, poverty and world hunger - it is the media's daily ration of social problems. How welcome to read of this ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy press. "Outrage in cyberspace as the US Navy describes the MySpace generation as "alien life forces". They spend their lives in front of screens meeting foreigners and are therefore less willing to sign up and kill them, a Navy study reports." (Times, 2 October)
 

Not So Patriotic

At the Labour and Conservative Party conferences the drum was banged for patriotism. "British jobs for British people", "this great country of ours", "our proud British heritage", and so on ad nauseam. In fact the British capitalists don't care where they make their profits, if they can exploit workers abroad more profitably then that is what they will do, despite the cant spoken at political conferences. "Unite, the manufacturing trade union, yesterday accused Cadbury Schweppes of behaving like an "asset-stripping private equity firm" following the company's announcement that it would shed 700 jobs by outsourcing chocolate production to Poland. Cadbury said it planned to shut its factory in Keynsham, near Bristol, by 2010, with the loss of 500 jobs, while 200 further posts would go in Bournville, in the Midlands, at the plant where it has been producing chocolate for almost 130 years. Much of the work done at the Keynsham and Bournville plants will be switched to the Polish company Wedel, which it acquired in 1998, Cadbury said, because labour and manufacturing costs would be much lower". (Independent, 4 October)
 

The New Imperialists

It used to be that supporters of Chinese and Russian state capitalism decried the imperialism of the British Empire,. Today though it is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. "Today, emerging-market giants are fighting for oil, gas and metal ore in Africa as energetically as 19th-century European colonialists grabbed land on the continent. Recently, the Chinese have been the most aggressive, with more than 700 companies active in 50 countries, according to Standard Bank of South Africa. China is now Africa's second largest aid donor and trading partner, behind the United States, with trade up fourfold to $40 billion since 2000. But Russia, the second most active emerging-market power in the area, is gaining. While trade with Africa is only $3 billion a year (up threefold since 2000), Russian companies flush with cash have sunk over $5 billion into buying up African assets since 2000— and that's not counting $3.5 billion of oil exploration deals that will come online before the end of the decade." (Newsweek, 15 October)