Issue 192 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review

Tony Blair
Editorial

Desperate measures

'The greed, the lemming-like rush to political disaster; the cover-up; the brazen attempt to transfer money to the comfortable from the uncomfortable; the inability to heed public opinion; the disregard for due legal process. For any normal government, just one of these events might be regarded as a disaster. But this is not a normal government. No other administration this century has been so consistently and so hugely unpopular with the voters.'

This was the savage assessment of an Independent on Sunday editorial.

Yet 'the Tory Party behave as if they were in office by divine right', said Hugh Colver, the head of the party's press office, as he handed in his resignation. Such resounding votes of no confidence from within the Tories' own ranks are becoming commonplace. Now even their natural supporters in industry and business are playing coy with their traditional allies.

Elsewhere the reaction to the queen's speech last month ranged from ridicule to real fears about the government's desperate plans to win votes by attacking asylum seekers and immigrants. Most commentators and many Tory MPs feel that nothing less than a miracle will bring a Tory victory at the next election.

Amazingly, however, they are still there, and could prolong this agony for well over a year. Kenneth Clarke is gambling on the old formula of tax cuts in the budget in an attempt to sweeten up the electorate. But it is highly unlikely that voters will be persuaded to vote for the Tories on the basis of such pre-election largesse.

Recent figures showing a sharp fall in retail sales reflect a lack of confidence and spending power of shoppers. Nor does the housing market look any nearer recovery with the demand for mortgages at its lowest since the Tories came to power in 1979.

The treasury has had to admit that last month's figures from the Central Statistical Office show that 'the economy has clearly slowed' but maintain the refrain that 'the fundamentals for sustained, healthy growth remained in place'. This is obviously a claim that they will cling to over the next few months, hoping that traditional suspicion of Labour's ability to handle the economy will prevail. But Tony Blair's reception at the CBI conference is a sign that old allegiances are not set in stone.

Blair promised that he would not be overrun by 'hordes of extreme left wingers' and that he would not 'reintroduce penal rates of tax'. In one phrase he thus disowned the tax policies on the super-rich that were supported by Labour governments of the past. These promises along with his plea for a society where 'there is not gross inequality nor the absence of opportunity for a significant number of citizens', meant--in the words of the Financial Times--that, 'The captains of industry slept soundly in their hotel rooms' that night. Those who will still suffer in Blair's ideal society, where the numbers who have no opportunity are 'not significant', may not have enjoyed such sweet dreams.

Blair and his shadow chancellor, Gordon Brown, are now pursuing the 'Labour means lower taxes' tack in their plans for the economy. With taxes having been raised 21 times by successive Tory governments, it is becoming harder for the Tories to convince people that they would pay even more under Labour.

Yet the real question should be not how high will taxes be but what will public money be spent on? This is the question the Labour leadership continually avoids. Now even unemployed school leavers are being portrayed as 'scroungers' who should be forced into low or unpaid work. If this proposal was not disgraceful enough, the sight of even former left wingers defending it is a sign of just how far the rot has gone inside Labour.

Blair's attempt to call for a 10p rate of tax shows the extent to which Labour is prepared to compete on the same grounds as the Tories, and how prepared it is to abandon the arguments for higher spending in areas like welfare. It is this more than anything else which allows the Tories to continue in office against the wishes of the vast majority of people.


Industry

Hidden anger

New face of militancy

The walkouts at Ford in Dagenham and Southampton--in anger at a pay offer which would barely keep up living standards and in which management refused to cut the basic working week from 39 to 37 hours--served as an alarm call to the journalists and politicians who have repeatedly told us that industrial militancy is a thing of the past.

They know that a relatively high wage settlement at Ford will act as a benchmark.

Success for Ford workers would also be widely popular, given that estimates show workers need around 5 percent increases to even maintain their standards of living. Fellow car workers at Vauxhall have overwhelmingly rejected their pay offer in a ballot with a 92 percent turnout, raising at least the possibility of a strike in the car industry.

Even so, there has been little action over pay in the past year--surprisingly little, given that at the beginning of 1995 it seemed that there would be a fight over pay levels inside the NHS, and there were disputes on the railways and the London tube.

That these did not mature into all out action is due in large part to the determination of the trade union leaders to use rank and file anger in order to smooth negotiations, rather than organise a proper fight. Their preparedness to reballot and to sanction only token actions on the part of the workers concerned in turn led to lack of confidence that anything more could be done to win the disputes.

But while all this means that the headline level of strikes is at a historic low, there is a lot more industrial action going on than most people get to hear about--and that action bears the hallmarks of a new militancy inside at least a minority of the working class.

Take the strikes going on at present. The Liverpool dockers have been on strike for over two months after they were sacked by the employers who tried to replace them with a scab workforce. Since then, despite the strike's weaknesses--its not being made official by the TGWU, the refusal to implement blacking which could rapidly win the dispute--it has so far managed to confound the predictions of management that scab labour would be able to break the strike.

Despite boasts that the big container ship Atlantic Conveyor would be able to unload in Liverpool last month, in fact it was forced to continue on to Thamesport. Levels of solidarity from outside the docks have been amazing, with several demonstrations running into thousands in Liverpool itself, and collections for dockers at workplaces around the country.

Asian women strikers at Hillingdon Hospital, west London, are similarly engaged in a struggle against a vicious private employer who wants to cut their wages as cleaners. A ballot among other employees showed a majority in favour of joining the strike action. Again, levels of solidarity in the form of delegations and collections have been extremely high among workers.

These strikes--and those such as the firefighters on Merseyside or the strikes over pay and conditions at Tate & Lyle in east London--may be isolated and do not come to the attention of many workers. But they demonstrate a level of resilience in the face of employers' attacks which is extremely impressive.

Also evident is a slow but real learning process among some of the militants in the strikes, who may be outmanoeuvred or defeated but who are beginning to draw some lessons about the need for independent action or for escalating the level of the strikes or sending out delegations.

The current disputes have all the hallmarks of the current period: the contradiction between the anger, bitterness and ruling class attacks which lead people to fight and the lack of a political lead from Labour or the union leaders. They demonstrate that the most acute and consistent fightback against Blairism and what it represents lies in the workplaces, where people can organise collectively to sense their own strength.


Briefing

Advertising

Not playing by the rules: the codes prohibit the use of speed in car adverts

  • In 1994 Unilever and Procter & Gamble spent £28.4 million on advertisements for their top two washing powders--Persil Power and Ariel Ultra.
  • Advertisements for new car models cost £159 million last year. Ford led the way, spending £44 million.
  • Advertising by five supermarket chains--Tesco, Safeway, Sainsbury, Asda and Iceland--cost £106 million. And the four big DIY chains spent more than £70 million to tell us where to shop.
  • Many advertising campaigns advertise the image of a company, rather than its products. Current examples include Kodak's 'new image'--cost £33 million--and a 'relaunch' for the private medical company PPP cost £20 million.
  • The total cost of advertising in the UK last year was more than £10,000 million. Half of this money went to 30 companies, led by advertising giant WPP, owners of companies such as J Walter Thompson and Ogilvy and Mather.
  • WPP boss Martin Sorrell received a modest £1.2 million salary last year, but his new 'services contract' is estimated to be worth as much as £30 million.
  • Mr Sorrell gets his money through scientifically conducted advertising and marketing campaigns. The repackaging of Lurpak butter, for example, was based on the perception that the brand personified 'a successful, intelligent, healthy man in his 40s to 50s, who commands respect'. Anchor, by contrast, was 'an old fashioned housewife or quiet widower'.
  • Schools have become a major target for advertising. The value of branded packs and vouchers now accounts for up to £320 million. Tesco's voucher deal has resulted in 15,000 Acorn computers in schools, at a cost to the company of £8 million. The money spent by Tesco customers to earn the vouchers for this scheme was £980 million.
  • The National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations estimates that the number of commercial education schemes has risen by more than 400 percent since 1991. 'Nine out of ten are irrelevant or simply cynical attempts to sell more products,' says PTA spokesperson Margaret Morissey. 'But schools are short of resources and these schemes have, for some, become a lifeline.'
  • Such deals are part of the colossal budget devoted to sales promotions: in 1994 promotions were worth more than £11,000 million in the UK.
  • Last year the total spent on 'marketing services', that is on persuading us to buy things, through advertising, public relations and direct marketing, was more than £21 million in the UK (excluding promotions).
  • These figures are all dwarfed by expenditure in the US. Spending on advertising there in 1994 totalled £95,000 million. Spending on 'marketing services' was almost £153,000 million. US advertising agencies' profits for the year were just over £6,000 million.
  • Global advertising is controlled by global companies. There are only 16 agencies which operate in more than 40 countries, and these are owned by nine holding companies.
  • The Advertising Standards Authority is the 'independent' watchdog which was set up to 'promote and enforce the highest standards in all non-broadcast advertisements in the UK'.
  • ASA boss is former Tory minister, Sir Timothy Raison. Its 12 member council includes three company directors, three members of the advertising industry, two professors and a lecturer in theology.
  • In January 1994 the ASA tested the 'particularly strict' code for slimming products; two thirds of the 124 advertisements broke the rules. When the ASA objected, the ads were withdrawn--and replaced with similar advertisements making similar claims.
  • The advertising codes were reviewed during 1994. The Code Review Working Group's 12 members included three from employers' associations and nine from the advertising industry.
  • The codes 'prohibit the use of speed as the dominant message in a motoring advertisement'. The new chairman of the Committee of Advertising Practice is Martin Runnacles. He is head of marketing for BMW.


    Scargill

    AYES TO THE LEFT

    Scargill: a voice of dissent

    For the first time, the disaffection evident among Labour activists at the party's official policies has been given expression in Arthur Scargill's call for a new party.

    Scargill has issued a discussion paper entitled Future Strategy for the Left which argues for socialists to leave Labour and form a new 'Socialist Labour Party'. For Scargill, the recent party conference and the conference which decided to remove Clause Four from the party's constitution have marked a point beyond which socialists should not go.

    Instead a party based on class politics and socialism should be formed, which hopefully meets at an inaugural conference next May Day and which will commit itself to 'fight in every parliamentary seat'.

    It is hardly surprising that Scargill's call has been welcomed by many people on the left. There is a particular audience for him among a layer of union activists and some local officials who feel that Blair's Labour is totally out of touch with their aspirations and the needs of ordinary union members.

    However, it is also true that there has been some opposition, even among those on the left of Labour who should be most sympathetic to Scargill's arguments. So Hilary Wainwright of the Socialist Movement was quoted in the New Statesman as saying that she agreed neither with his timing nor his proposal but that 'the left should engage in a debate'. The editors of the Labour paper Tribune and the Communist Morning Star have both disagreed with the notion of a new party.

    No Labour left MPs have come out in support of the initiative.

    Some of this reluctance to back Scargill comes from those who have illusions that Labour can be turned into a vehicle for socialist change. Others are against splitting Labour, regardless of how right wing its leaders push it.

    But much of the worry from those on the left who don't support Scargill's proposal comes from the sense of timing. With at most 16 months before an election, which is more likely to see the return of a Labour government than any for the past 20 years, there is for some a belief that to break from Labour now would be to rock the boat.

    Although there is much disillusion with Blair on the left, it is more than matched by the enthusiasm among many workers for a Labour government--and this enthusiasm has its pull on many of the activists as well. The pressure will be much more to unite round Blair as the election approaches rather than form an alternative to Labour on the electoral front.

    This is the key problem facing Scargill's project. The British electoral system discriminates in favour of larger parties, meaning that his aim of having the money or resources to stand in every constituency will be near impossible to achieve.

    More importantly, the impact of the far left is at its weakest on the electoral field at present. It is here that Blairism is strongest, and here that the dominance of 'New Labour' is most likely to be felt. Conversely, the left's strength is in extra-parliamentary activity: the strikes, campaigns and demonstrations are where socialists find they can build most easily. When people are involved in activity and struggle, the arguments of Blairism are less likely to have an influence.

    The problem of the left in Britain has all too often been to blur the distinction between organisation based on those sorts of struggles, which talks about the power ordinary working people have to change the world, and electoral organisation which subjugates everything else to winning votes.

    Scargill's initiative is entirely understandable as a reaction to Labour's recent moves--but it too blurs this distinction. This means that in the short term it is bound to remain weak in the face of a much bigger and more viable electoral alternative--the Labour Party. In the longer term, such a project might become much more of a runner electorally as people become disillusioned with a Labour government. But if it looks to parliament as a source for change then it too will be unable to deliver.


    Drugs

    Overdose of hyprocisy

    Black market? or supermarket?

    The death of 18 year old Leah Betts after taking an ecstasy pill was the second time drugs made the headlines last month. The first was when newly promoted shadow cabinet member Clare Short let drop that the legalisation of cannabis should be considered.

    The outcry over this statement forced her to retreat--once again allowing the debate over drugs to become the preserve of the media and the right wing politicians. Ignorance and sensationalism have therefore tended to dominate the discussion.

    An increasing number of people of all ages in Britain today are using illegal drugs on a regular basis. The press has almost daily scare stories of crazed drug users and pushers. Yet government policies have made drug use worse. The government has consistently resisted the idea that school kids should be educated about the effects, pleasures and dangers of drugs. This Tory administration has pushed through a number of disastrous policies, such as increasing fines for possession of cannabis, with the net effect of more people being thrown into prison.

    Dr John Marks, a psychiatrist who worked with drug addicts in Merseyside, prescribed heroin until last year. Then the local authority, with council funding cuts in mind and against the backdrop of government sponsored, Labour supported offensives against drugs, refused to renew his licence. Dr Marks argued that prescribing the drug had helped keep crime rates down, improved health and controlled the number of addicts. Now addicts are being offered the heroin substitute methadone. Many have returned to black market street suppliers of heroin with all the dangers of variable quality that implies. This source is more expensive, pressuring addicts to come up with the money by whatever means necessary. The net effect over the past year in the Merseyside area once served by Dr Marks is that a number of his former clients have found their problems worsened and the crime rate has increased.

    In October 1994 Michael Howard introduced 'tough' new measures for the testing of drug use in prison, with an extra month in prison and loss of privileges if tests prove positive. According to prison service doctors, these new measures in prisons have created a time bomb of increased violence and illness. By the end of 1994 an addict in Newhall women's prison told of one syringe being passed around a wing of 30 prisoners. A former inmate of Armley jail declared that 'over 300 inmates were using the same needle'. The risk of infection--and in particular the spread of AIDS--is enormous.

    Tony Blair has been at the head of the public offensive against drugs over the last two years. In June 1994 Blair made links between the rise in seizures of controlled drugs, which rose 182 percent between 1987 and 1992, and the number of crimes involving firearms, which rose 42 percent over the same period. There was no other link made, apart from the most anecdotal. In February of the same year he claimed that half of all the property crime in England and Wales was committed by drug addicts stealing to feed their habit. Blair's twisted calculations were based on a sample survey in Greater Manchester, which assumed a drug taking burglar who used a grain of heroin a day and who sold on his stolen furniture, stereos and the like for a uniform rate of a third of its original value. The ridiculously arbitrary assumptions central to these calculations render the conclusions utterly meaningless.

    More informed opinions, and more liberal ones, come from very unlikely sources. In August 1994 William Nelson, assistant chief constable of Hampshire, proposed that adults should be able to buy any currently illegal drugs from chemists under government monopoly at little or no profit. This came one month after a conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers had debated decriminalisation.

    The head of Interpol, Raymond Kendall, said last year that all penalties for drug use should be ended. 'Making drug abuse a crime is useless and even dangerous,' he said. Tory peer Lord Mancroft added his voice to the calls for legalisation of drugs, arguing that chemist/off-licence type stores could sell soft and hard drugs, undermining the black market through which drugs are distributed today.

    The concern from this quarter is clearly about the ever increasing cost of resources the state uses to police drug use. Far better from the police's point of view to take the drugs trade into government control, especially since the police are failing to make any impact whatsoever on the supply of drugs into Britain.

    The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 gives the state extensive powers to stop and question people, and far reaching powers to enter and search premises, or hold suspects on suspicion of offences for up to 96 hours without charge. The carefully nurtured image of the drug crazed traveller, or the raver running amok on ecstasy was a key aspect helping the passage of the Criminal Justice Act.

    Meanwhile racism is implicit in the war on drugs. Out of the 228,316 people stopped in the London area in 1993, a total 42 percent were black or Asian.

    Moves to legalise drugs would also face opposition from some powerful enemies. The tobacco industry would be against a cannabis based rival--unless of course it could monopolise the supply. The five companies who control the supply of beer in Britain would also be dead set against anything which threatened their drug supply oligarchy.

    Every year around 160 people die from heroin addiction. Each year 25,000 people the from the effects of drinking alcohol while over 110,000 people die from the effects of smoking tobacco.

    These two sectors of the economy are amongst the biggest donators to Tory Party funds while any government, Tory or Labour, will continue to collect hefty taxes from the massive profits the alcohol and cigarette giants make.

    Earlier this month BAT industries, the British tobacco based conglomerate, announced increased profits of £1.8 billion. This has been achieved largely by increased sales in developing countries like China, Brazil and Cambodia. In many cases developing countries have been forced to grow cash crops like tobacco, instead of food, in order to meet loan repayments to Western banks. Now millions of people in these countries are buying back their own produce, at a higher price.

    Meanwhile, the death rate per year in Britain for cannabis is zero. There have been no deaths that can be put down solely to use of the drug. The potential for the therapeutic benefits of cannabis continues to grow with evidence supporting the drug's usefulness in the areas of multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, appetite stimulation, asthma, pain relief and as a remedy for the nausea and vomiting caused by standard anti-cancer chemotherapy drugs.

    Obviously addiction to anything can have bad effects. Addiction to cigarettes can cause cancer and many other illnesses. Alcohol addiction destroys the liver. Sugar addiction causes obesity and high blood pressure. There is nothing intrinsically lethal about any of the illegal drugs. Addiction and the vagaries of the quality of supply due to its black market unregulated sources cause death from illegal drugs. Other substances, like talcum powder or even Vim, can be added to drugs such as ecstasy tablets in order to produce more tablets and more profit.

    The recorded 100 deaths from ecstasy in the last six years have occurred either because of this adulteration or, mostly, from users suffering massive dehydration. In the majority of cases this has been because of unscrupulous club owners turning off the taps in the toilets in clubs where ecstasy is most often used in order to force their customers to pay inflated prices for bottled water. If there were facilities at clubs for testing the quality of drugs, as there have been at many clubs in Holland for some years (although there is now a right wing backlash growing against this), then drug taking would be much safer.

    Illegal drugs should be legalised. If they were, if the strengths, quality and dangers of different drugs were known and clearly shown--information that is available for beer or cigarettes--then drugs would be safer and hundreds of people every year would not die from taking them.

    Almost totally missing from the current round of debate on drugs is why people take them in the first place. We get drunk and get stoned because on a day to day basis capitalism robs us of our time, and the produce of the work that we perform, and in the process this system of profit and exploitation takes away our lives.

    With life, our free time, squashed into 48 hours at the weekend, is it any wonder that many seek to intensify that experience to the utmost, that many try and escape as far as possible from the reality of the week of work before, or to come?
    Lee Humber


    Judges

    Judges' ruling

    Bastion of liberty?

    Every humiliation for the government is welcome, and it is hard not to rejoice at the stream of judicial decisions from the high court denouncing ministers, especially home secretary Michael Howard. Howard incurred the wrath of the Lord Chief Justice when, without consulting the judges, he arbitrarily increased prison sentences and cut back on remission. The judges insist that Howard's decisions interfere with what they call the independence of the judiciary. Since the spat, the judges seem to have gone out of their way to come down hard against the home secretary.

    No one disputes that it is right and often necessary for the victims of arbitrary behaviour by the government or injustice in the courts to challenge the authorities through the legal system. Such challenges sometimes, though rarely, bring relief to people who have been badly treated or wrongly imprisoned. But it would be wrong to conclude from such individual victories that the judges are preferable to elected politicians. The fact that the elected politician nowadays is usually the odious Michael Howard should not confuse anyone into imagining that the high court of the judicature is a source of common sense, or (as it often styles itself) a bastion of liberty against the authoritarian behaviour of governments.

    The record of the last two periods of Labour government proves the opposite. In 1967, for instance, the judges upheld a decision over schools in Enfield which effectively knocked back the Labour government's programme to turn grammar schools into comprehensive schools. In 1976, the judges did very much the same over schools in Tameside, Greater Manchester. Much more serious were a series of judicial decisions in the 1970s which laid the foundation for the anti union laws in the 1980s. A decision by the post office workers' union to stage a one day strike in support of those oppressed by apartheid in South Africa was set aside as illegal by the judges; as were several other actions relating to the strike against the notorious management at Grunwick in north London.

    Under the Tories, the judges have been viciously opposed to trade unions and Labour councils. Many of the decisions to sequester the miners' union funds during the great strike of 1984-85 were extremely suspect, even in Tory law. When, partly in protest against Murdoch's union busting at Wapping, Labour controlled Derbyshire County Council decided by democratic vote to move its advertising for teachers away from the Murdoch owned Times Education Supplement to The Guardian, the Tories took the case to the High Court where the judges denounced it as contrary to natural justice and ordered the people's money to be poured back into Murdoch's coffers. This outrageous decision, wholly unsustainable by any rational legal process, could not be explained in any other terms but sheer class prejudice.

    The judges are not elected and they will act in just as a undemocratic and draconian way under a future Labour government. They are drawn from a narrow and secluded band of barristers, the enormous majority of whom come from ruling class backgrounds and who have never at any stage been even marginally independent from the class from which they come.
    Paul Foot


    France

    A whiff of 1968

    Workers protest as political crisis engulfs French society Students protest as political crisis engulfs French society

    'If 2 million people take to the streets, my government will not survive,' stated French prime minister Alain Juppé as he announced huge welfare cuts in parliament on 16 November. It was a recognition of the high stakes the government is playing for in the face of the strikes, student protests and urban riots that have gripped France in the last three months.

    In office for only six months, the government's popularity has slumped. Revelations of sleaze (Juppé and the new right wing president, Jaques Chirac, fiddled luxurious apartments in Paris at low rents) have exposed the populist rhetoric which won Chirac the presidency.

    Chirac's decision to resume nuclear testing proved as unpalatable at home as it was abroad--a fact which caught the administration off balance. In September the second in command, industry minister Alain Madelin, was forced to resign by Juppé. It was not over any fundamental disagreement with government policy. Rather, Madelin wanted to go faster in the direction of Thatcher-style attacks on the working class at a time when the government still felt cautious.

    Now, having radically reshuffled his cabinet (and got rid of most of the women ministers who had been brought in as a sign of the earlier 'softer' approach), Juppé--with Chirac's blessing--has gone for the jugular.

    France's social security system, 50 years old this year, is increasingly in debt. The accumulated deficit over the past two years runs at about 120 billion francs (£15.6 billion). The prediction for the current year is of a deficit in health care, pensions and family allowances of around 61 billion francs (£8 billion). Juppé proposes to cut that by two thirds in 1996.

    But instead of getting the bosses to cough up what they owe (in 1993 they owed 75.4 billion francs--more than the deficit that year) or increasing their contributions, Juppé aims to get workers to bear the brunt.

    There will be a new 0.5 percent levy on incomes to clear the backlog of debt. Future funding will shift from payroll levies on the grounds that this chokes off growth and creates unemployment, which has now risen to 11.5 percent. In a move which will cut their contributions, ernployers will no longer pay according to the numbers of workers they hire but according to the 'value' of their companies.

    Pensions and health will cost more. Workers will have to contribute for an extra two and a half years (up from 37.5 to 40 years) to qualify for a full pension and make bigger health contributions of 1.2 percent in 1996 and 1997. Pensioners and those on the top unemployment rate will have to pay more towards health. Already health is becoming a luxury for many people, with one in five people no longer seeking treatment for financial reasons. Family allowances will be frozen for a year and then from 1997 taxed and means tested.

    On top of all this the government plans a major shake up in the administration of the social security system. No longer will it be the joint responsibility of workers and bosses; it will be directly subject to parliamentary control. So whatever influence trade unions have had up till now will be entirely eliminated.

    Far from being a sign of strength, it is a high risk strategy born of the contradictions facing the French ruling class.

    On the one hand there is the strength of working class resistance, particularly in the public sector, to any attempt to make further inroads into standards of living. Massive one day strikes have involved millions, with workers in sectors such as transport, hospitals, telecommunications_ the post office, the civil service, schools and Renault car factories taking action.

    On top of trade union discontent, university students have begun to take militant action against chronic underfunding. Strikes in Rouen, Toulouse, Orleans, Montpellier, Aix-en-Provence and Metz threaten to spread to all the 2.2 million students in the university sector--and also reignite the militancy which characterised school students last year.

    Equally worrying, from the government's point of view, is the wave of riots in some of the poorest and most deprived urban areas, notably round Paris, Strasbourg and Lyons, where unemployment can be as high as 50 percent. The spark igniting these riots has often been police racism.

    Police powers and numbers have increased with the launch of Operation Vigipirate under pretext of fighting 'terrorist fundamentalism'. Despite numerous arrests and the highly publicised gunning down of a so called 'terrorist leader', bomb attacks on such targets as the Paris underground have not come to an end. Given France's continued support for the dictatorial Algerian regime and its persecution of North Africans, this is hardly surprising. Vigipirate has been a green light for police to racially harass. There have been 2 million checks of people's papers (sometimes of the same person many times over) since the operation started. The state is shelling out 1 million francs (roughly £130,000) a day on Vigipirate, while overtime for the riot police has come to 214 million francs (roughly £28 million).

    There is talk of a political crisis of the sort that engulfed France in 1968, when revolt by students and workers threatened to destroy the state. The sacked minister Alain Madelin, talking to businessmen, has even gone so far as to suggest that 'we are witnessing the rejection of an elite comparable to the events leading to the 1789 revolution'. And even if he is exaggerating, the signs of crisis are to be found everywhere.

    If the threat of discontent is one pressure on the government, another comes from the fear that France's competitive position is slipping because of high public expenditure--of which social security is a major part. France's total public sector deficit is at more than 5 percent of gross domestic product. If the Maastricht convergence criteria are to be met this must be brought down to 3 percent. Unless reduced swiftly and decisively debt could drag down France's economic position in Europe.

    Bitterness and protest can only increase. The trade unions and the reformist politics which dominate can both channel and frustrate that bitterness. On the extreme right stands Le Pen, out to divert frustration into scapegoating immigrants. On the left, the voice of revolutionary politics, though small, is getting more of a hearing.
    Gareth Jenkins


    Bosnia

    Peace by partition

    'Bosnia is now ethnically cleansed to a very high degree. The peace will reinforce this cleansing, not undermine it'

    'A bad peace is better than a war,' said the Bosnian foreign minister, Muhamed Sacirbey, as he resigned from the post during the Dayton peace talks. This seems to be the level of endorsement for the US brokered peace which was concluded in November and which is due to be formally agreed in Paris this month.

    Virtually nobody is happy with the plan. It has received a less than enthusiastic endorsement from the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, has been opposed by the Bosnian Serbs and was stalled by the Bosnian government's dismay at how much territory it was having to give up. Only the Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman--the Americans' favoured Balkan leader--can feel any satisfaction.

    The parties were forced into the settlement by the US government which, in Eric Hobsbawm's words, 'virtually single handed took over the task of peacemaking, and in the end virtually imprisoned the Balkan negotiators... for weeks in the depths of middle America, until they signed! (Independent, 22 November, 1995)

    What is the outcome of this much hailed peace? The map of Bosnia now reveals a country completely splintered by its new divisions. The deal gives 49 percent of land to the Serbs and 51 percent to the Muslim Croat federation. Within this, however, there are still disputed areas which will not be resolved under the settlement but will go to international arbitration next year. So the size of the Posavina corridor and the status of the town of Brcko will only be decided then, and the area will remain a major source of instability.

    The peace also provides for refugees to return to their homes--but in many cases this will remain completely unrealistic. Bosnia is now ethnically cleansed to a very high degree. The peace will reinforce this cleansing, not undermine it. It will make it more likely that people stick with their 'own' rather than return to a home area now controlled by warlords from another ethnic group.

    Jonathan Steele recently reported the pressure on newspaper editors in the Bosnian town of Tuzla. When one reported that 114 local Serbs and Croats had been driven from their homes by Muslim refugees from Srebrenica, he was threatened in his office by an armed man that his body would be found in the lake if he wrote similar stories. (The Guardian, 21 November, 1995)

    The fear there is that recent events will strengthen the hands of the nationalists rather than those who want a multi-ethnic society and that this will lead to more such instances of intimidation.

    The big question of course is will the peace deal stick? We went to press shortly after it was announced and even then there were many doubts. Success will depend on US determination to follow the deal through, having taken it thus far. Bill Clinton wants to seal the peace by sending in 25,000 US troops as part of the Nato Bosnia force, but faces a great deal of domestic opposition to doing so. Even if he succeeds, all sides in the US fear that the troops might get bogged down in renewed fighting--one reason Clinton has put a one year limit on the US troops' stay.

    Already the formal signing of the peace has been put off till mid-December and US troops will only go in sometime after then. By the new year the weather will be too bad for continued warfare--next spring will be the time to watch.

    Where does this leave the people of the region after four years of war? They hope for peace, but appear to expect little, with many of those interviewed believing that this is only a lull in the war, not its end. They have suffered the economic effects of the war, and it is likely that the various leaders will not be greeted with enthusiasm when they return with this peace plan.

    It is worth remembering that the war began as the social discontent in the former Yugoslav republics meant the rulers turned towards nationalism as a solution to their problems. Faced with such social problems again, the pull towards nationalism may not be so strong--and ordinary people may begin to look on their leaders as part of the problem.


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