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Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Hitler: Nazi or Alt-Right?

Heather Heyer, murdered in Charlottesville
I recently looked up the term 'Alt-Right' as I wasn't certain what it meant. Obviously I realised it had something to do with Far Right politics, but what did it mean specifically? It turns out it is short for Alternative Right, which, according to Wikipedia, is 'a loosely defined group of people with far-right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism in favor [sic] of white nationalism, principally in the United States, but also to a lesser degree in Canada and Europe'. The term is attributed to Richard Spencer, an American white supremacist who is president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank.

The recent events in Charlottesville in Virginia, where Heather Heyer was killed and nineteen others injured by a murderous 20-year old bigot deliberately driving a car into a crowd of people, show us that the street thugs are not so mealy-mouthed about describing themselves. Swastikas, Hitler T-shirts and placards, KKK outfits, Confederate flags, flaming torches, Nazi salutes and chanted Nazi slogans could leave no one in any doubt about their political role models.

In the face of such overt demonstrations of their allegiances, why does the media use the term Alt-Right? This is a euphemism coined by those who seek to intellectualise Far Right hatred with the aim of bestowing upon it some utterly fraudulent respectability. The pseudo-science of racial biology has long been abandoned, not for politically correct reasons, but because there was simply no scientific evidence to support it.

Similarly, Far Right injunctions against homosexuality have no rational basis and are justified with reference to the Old Testament. This is despite the instruction in the New Testament to "Love your enemy", but bigots who base their prejudice upon religion tend to ignore inconvenient Biblical directives. Whatever other qualities the Old Testament may have for believers, it cannot be viewed as a scientific treatise.

It is clear that attempts to justify Far Right politics will fail any genuine rational examination, but that is irrelevant to those who are determined to believe what they want to believe, especially when it reinforces their pre-existing prejudices.

By using the term Alt-Right, the media is inadvertently granting the Far Right precisely the element of respectability that the promoters of the phrase wanted to achieve. It is a euphemism that obscures the reality of a world view based on hatred. Except that their actions and attitudes are so vile, one could almost feel pity for anyone who has become enveloped by such a loathsome mindset, but we must never forget they have a choice: there was no predestination that made being a bigot inevitable. As Charlottesville has shown us, some people, faced with the same environment, have come to different conclusions.

Let's call them what they are: Nazis, fascists, racists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, homophobes, white supremacists, misogynists and thugs. It's not as though we're short of accurate terms.

Neville Grundy
ARMS Mersey

Monday, 7 August 2017

AI: servant or master?

What technological future awaits us?
Silicon Valley - the road to Armageddon or Utopia? The future is violent revolt or harmonious use of AI [artificial intelligence] depending on who you speak to as revealed by the BBC’s 'Silicon Valley'. AI can be used to diagnose disease from a CT scan in a fraction of a second. Uber can drive impoverished taxi drivers to suicide. Airbnb claim to help people earn money while they travel abroad, with catastrophic effects on working class rents in Barcelona. The Industrial Revolution was nothing compared to what is coming, says one tech genius whose software could replace doctors. 

One idealistic nerd predicts a life of leisure for the masses who will be paid a decent income for not working while new technology will create the necessary wealth to fund it. The key question is the ownership of these wonders. It is certain that Dystopia await us if they remain in private hands. Ultimately on the basis of capitalism the rule of the market will apply to AI: deliver the highest rewards to shareholders, and if that means dispensing with millions of workers’ labour then so be it. This programme provided further evidence that Socialism cannot be postponed much longer.

Tony Mulhearn
ARMS

Friday, 4 August 2017

News updates - from the web

Our regular round up of relevant news items, selected by ARMS' Steve Ion.

UK downsizing boom - here.

Social care being sidelined - here.

Help to keep your brain active: throw the crosswords away and learn French instead - here.

Age UK free service help with older people claiming missing benefits - here.

Only 10% of councils have elderly housing policy in place - here.

The govt has got it wrong on pensions - here.

Yoga could help stave off dementia - here.

Nurse shortages causing hospital discharge delays for the elderly - here.

Rise in life expectancy has stalled - here.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Women's pensions stolen to fund spivs' tax cuts

PM Theresa May and Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson,
facing the rigours of austerity with brave smiles.
Two significant stories are linked. 

The Tories have filched £4.2bn from state pensions and other benefits. The household incomes for women aged 60 to 62 has fallen by at least £32 per week on average. This thieves' kitchen masquerading as the government use this loot to fund the tax cuts to the hedge fund managers and assorted financial spivs who bankroll the Tory Party. They make the mafia look like a boy scout troop.

Len McCluskey’s call for Labour councils to set legal no cuts budgets and end austerity should be acted on immediately. Let’s hear no more excuses from TU leaders who have argued that councillors have 'no choice' but to slash millions from social provision. Action is called for now.

Tony Mulhearn
ARMS Mersey

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Unite Against Fascism - oppose the EDL in Rochdale

This Saturday - 29 July

Meet at 12.30 pm on Saturday at Yorkshire Street near Poundworld, Rochdale OL16 1JW.

A week after the fascists of Britain First demonstrated in Rochdale, another group of Nazis - the EDL - will be making an incursion into the town this Saturday, 29th July.

Unite Against Fascism, trades unionists and others will be protesting for the second week running, to send a clear message to the EDL that they are not welcome in Rochdale.

The EDL is a fascist organisation. Their founder, who goes under the alias 'Tommy Robinson', was a member of the British National Party. Other leading EDL figures have also been members of the BNP.

Join us on Saturday 29 July at 12.30 pm in Rochdale town centre to show for the second time in a week that fascists are not welcome in Rochdale.

For more details, please contact northwest@uaf.org.uk.

Unaffordable justice is no justice at all

No one should underestimate the significance of this week's Employment Tribunal (ET) fees victory in the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land has taken a nasty piece of anti-worker legislation and completely ripped it to shreds. The Government has no way of wriggling off this particular hook, so they are trying to sound magnanimous in defeat, when in reality they have no choice. The scheme has been stopped with immediate effect and fees paid to date are to be refunded at an estimated cost of £27 million.

After the introduction of the fees, ET cases dropped by nearly 70% and, regrettably, many working people couldn't afford to uphold their rights at work. It is extremely unlikely that there will be any remedy for such people whose grievances remain unresolved.

The ostensible aim of the fees regime was to deter frivolous or vexatious claims. While I'm sure there have always been such claims, the experiences of reps who have dealt with ETs is that most were genuine. Any trade union rep who has dealt with personal cases will on occasions have been in the position of having to tell a disgruntled union member that, whether we like it or not, the employer is entitled to take the action in question. Everyone knows that employers have the right to discipline or dismiss staff for inefficiency or misconduct, and sometimes the role of a rep can be little more than ensuring that the employer follows correct procedures. When they do, then there is usually no point in going to an ET, which is intended to deal with discrimination and unfair dismissal.

And this is the key point: if an employer goes by the book, there is little a rep can do other than argue for mitigation as part of a damage limitation exercise. It does no one any good to take a hopeless case to an ET: it merely raises false hopes in the member, and wastes both the rep's and the tribunal's time. Charlie Mullins, an employer with 300 staff, complained on Radio 4 that the Supreme Court decision will open the floodgates. However, he has been in business for 31 years and has in all that time had one ET taken out against him: with tribunal fees only payable for 4 years, one claim in the other 27 is more of a trickle than a flood. Mullins is a Tory donor, so perhaps he feels he's not getting his money's worth.

The Government must have known how uncommon vexatious claims are - they are one of the biggest employers in the land, after all - so why did they introduce these fees? I can see no other reason than to remove a 'burden on business' by putting a price on employees' rights, but without any corresponding measures to deal with unreasonable or malicious actions by employers. While employment rights hadn't in themselves been abolished, ET fees discouraged workers from exercising them. It is a measure of how out of touch successive governments are that they do not understand that sums like £1200 are simply not available to many people - for many MPs that's considerably less than they may spend on a night out. Or, alternatively, they simply didn't care.

There will always be people who will abuse whatever system is in place, whether it be tax, social security benefits or MPs' expenses. Imposing penalties on the innocent majority ostensibly to deter the minority is unjust and - when applied to ETs - now unlawful. No one should ever have to pay crippling fees just to access basic justice.

Justice is not the prerogative solely of the rich and the powerful: it belongs to everyone.

Neville Grundy
ARMS Merseyside

Afterthought: ET fees were introduced by the Coalition. What now of the LibDems' claim that their presence in Government moderated the worst Tory excesses?