Thursday, 30 May 2013


Class, power, health and healthcare
Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson

The US, by spending 15.2% of its gross domestic product on it, has the most expensive health care system in the industrialised world. Yet life expectancy is four years lower than in other comparable countries, where the historical combination of strong trade union movements and popular pressure forced the ruling class to guarantee universal access to health care.

This easy to read book is therefore a powerful antidote to anyone who feels government plans for the private sector to take over the NHS would be good for the British people or nation as a whole.

The authors argue that class and power in the United States has determined its health outcomes and the healthcare system. As in many other parts of the world, poor working and living conditions have also impacted on people’s health. Radical change is needed.   

Health care facilities in the US are largely owned and operated by private sector businesses. Their employer insures most of those under 65, with low-income families and the elderly covered by government means-tested programmes such as Medicare and Medicaid. That has still left fifty million people – 16.3% of the population – uninsured. Most are badly paid workers unable to afford the insurance premiums.

Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) assumed that universal coverage would never be achieved by involving a more meaningful role for government as this would have been opposed by the medical industry. Max Baucus, the senator who drafted the legislation, met industry representatives 20 times whilst granting only 12 meetings to public interest groups. 

3,300 healthcare lobbyists were employed during the reform debate to oppose any meaningful reform that might damage the industry. The hundreds of millions of $’s spent was chicken feed for the drugs and medical companies who average a very healthy 19% profit on their turnover.

The highly complicated ACA did raise the numbers insured by Medicaid but has also mandated millions of struggling low-waged American’s to take out insurance.

ACA was also predicated on the assumption it would reduce the US government’s health care costs. Yet a similar system introduced in Massachusetts in 2006 – which has still left thousands uninsured – has seen costs there rise after the introduction of additional administrative apparatus of healthcare. This has added 5% to the cost of private insurance.

Private health insurance premiums have risen nationally by 700% between 1969 and 2009. This far exceeds the 400% increase in Medicare costs and is starting to affect the hiring criteria for firms who are seeking to reduce costs by eliminating anyone they suspect may fall ill in the future.

Although Chernomas and Hudson make a powerful case for radical change they admit this “would appear to be highly unlikely.” Affordability of healthcare for families and the US government is still well out of reach. As such the US health system acts as a powerful warning against government proposals here that will increase the role of private profit within the NHS. 

Published under the Future of World Capitalism series by Pluto Press. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Blacklist campaigner knocked down

Police have questioned a car driver who left a Manchester building worker seriously injured. George Tapp, a 64-year old electrician, seems unlikely to work again after both his kneecaps were broken during a protest to raise awareness that building workers have beenthe victims of blacklisting by construction company BAM Nuttall.
The incident occurred when around 50 protesters distributed leaflets outside the Manchester City Football Club (MCFC) Academy construction project being built by BAM Nuttall at a cost of £100 million.
Between 1996 and 2009, BAM Nuttall paid £38,371.85 for checks to be run on workers by the Consulting Association (CA), an organisation that held a blacklist of 3,213 workers variously described as “extreme troublemaker”, “politically motivated” and “active in dispute”. Listed workers, including many elected union safety representatives, were “not recommended for employment”. The list included 507 workers from the North West.
CA was closed four years ago and its owner, the late Ian Kerr, was convicted of breaching the Data Protection Act.
The union Unite, of which Tapp is a member, has accused BAM of being involved in the blacklisting and victimising of trade unionists working on Crossrail, the biggest construction project in Europe.
Blacklisted workers want firms involved in the practice banned from securing council contracts. Salford, where Tapp was formerly a Labour councillor, is one of a handful of local authorities that has adopted such restrictions.
Workers also want private sector businesses to refuse to award contracts to proven blacklisters. Amongst the blacklisted workers outside the MCFC project were a number of Manchester City season-ticket holders. They included Graham Bowker who, along with electricians Steve Acheson and Tony Jones, won an Industrial Tribunal case in 2006 when it was ruled they had been unfairly dismissed from jobs as subcontractors on the Carillion- organised Royal Manchester Infirmary site.
Speaking from his hospital bed there, Tapp claimed he was “driven directly at, resulting
in me being knocked on to the bonnet. The tyres were burning rubber and I travelled quite a distance and the driver appeared to be laughing at me.”
When Tapp fell from the front of the Ford Ka its driver left the scene. Unconscious, he was taken by ambulance to hospital. CCTV coverage of the incident on Ashton New Road was later recovered by Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
GMP has since interviewed the driver of the vehicle and released him without charge.
It disputes Tapp’s version of events, with a press officer stating: “CCTV confirms that people climbed on the bonnet of the car.
“Ongoing investigations mean we cannot say whether there will be charges brought against the driver or the demonstrators.”
Acheson was with Tapp when he was injured and describes as “disgusting and fantasy any claims that people climbed on the car bonnet”.
He added: “The police should release the CCTV so people can make up their own minds.”
Compensation call
GMP has said it would not be doing this “as this is potential evidence should there be any court proceedings”.
Doctors estimate Tapp will be in hospital for at least two months and will need reconstructive surgery with steel rods. He hopes eventually to be able to rejoin protests against the blacklist.
“It’s wrong that trade unionist representatives can be victimised for standing up for safety at work and the rights of workers,” he said.
The Scottish Affairs Select Committee is currently taking evidence on blacklisting in employment. Last month it criticised construction companies for being “in complete denial over blacklisting”.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


Nationalism, the Failure of the Left and the Return of God
Zed Books £14.99 

With neoliberal ideas resurgent in the ‘age of austerity’ this thought provoking book (*) examines the radical and reactionary alternatives posed to globalisation. 

Owen Worth 

Why write this book?

In the aftermath of the current financial crisis, no concrete alternative had really been seriously given to reforming the way that the global economy was managed. Antonio Gramsci’s understanding of hegemony provides a way of explaining how concepts such as ‘austerity’ are bought into. I wanted to show that whilst there are competing alternatives that seek to build different worlds to the neoliberal one that we live in, these are too weak and fragmented to gain momentum.
How has neoliberal ‘common sense’  affirmed that the market must be worked with and not opposed as something to be controlled?

Neoliberalism has long been a contested concept and is one that encompasses different guises. For example, intervening in the economy to bail out banks was something that ideological free marketeers such as von Mises would have deplored. 
What unites them however is the belief that it is the private sector that forms that basis of economic growth and that the state must provide the necessary conditions for these conditions to be met. This unwavering conviction has upheld the basic principles of neoliberal common-sense
The Zapatista’s started the campaigns against neoliberalism, so why are you are sceptical of their achievements? 

I am not sceptical to the achievements of the Zapatista’s per se, indeed in terms of their own achievements quite the opposite. Both the Zapatistas and the Occupy movement have established international links and have made strong criticisms of the neoliberal system, yet these have not been backed up by a firm alternative strategy within wider political society. The lack of political opposition cannot be blamed on one specific movement.

Good on analysis, poor on solutions, is that the response of socially progressive, internationalist organisations to neoliberalism? 

Yes, I agree. There has been no end of strong criticisms of neoliberalism, which have certainly challenged its overall legitimacy, but these have not been backed up by alternative solutions.
How important have conspiracy theories been in nationalist opposition to neo-liberalism?

Nationalism takes different forms, some of which can be argued as being progressive. Yet, the form of nationalism described here is the populist, exceptionalist form that is synonymous with the far-right. Here, outside groups are often used as ‘scapegoats’ for the erosion of national myths. Conspiracy is a central part of this as they believe that these outsider groups have secret agendas that restrict and in some cases destroy national forms of culture and identity.  The whole process of globalisation is one where national cultures appear under threat from ‘global liberals’, intent on destroying nationhood.

How is the practice of austerity being utilised so that the neoliberal system can be maintained?

Austerity rests upon the belief that the market will somehow pick up if the conditions were right for it to do so. Therefore governments need to cut back on spending, resist any move to intervene in the economy – unless to bail out financial actors needed for market revival – and rely on private actors to create growth and competition. These practices reinforce the logistical workings of neoliberalism.
With no radical alternative’s to neoliberalism then will it survive? 

It’s difficult to say whether neoliberalism will survive in the long term. Whilst none of the alternatives discussed in the book seen to be in a position to challenge it, the emergence of China as a serious economic player - and of Latin America - might see a change in the manner in which neoliberalism is applied. This, alongside the potential re-emergence of a social Europe, may push for a more sustained attempt at constructing a postneoliberal world. This in turn might re-stimulate progressive, nationalist and religious forces and allow them to form stronger alternative strategies. 

* I believe this is a much better book than Owen Jones Chavs and Paul Mason's Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere 

Tribune letter in defence of Arthur Scargill

Tribune letters page. 

Attacks on Scargill in Thatcher obituaries are not justified.

Mark Metcalf

So amidst the many Tribune articles that rightly attack Margaret Thatcher for her divisive politics there were the ‘inevitable’ attacks on Arthur Scargill.

Paul Anderson believes the government’s destruction was ‘aided by the inept leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers.’ For Ian Hernon the revenge of Thatcher on the miners was ‘helped enormously by the bone-headness of Arthur Scargill’ and for Edward Pearce, Thatcher ‘toward the not staunch was Arthur Scargill in reverse.’

I must say I expected a lot better than such rubbish. I helped established support kitchens in 1984 in my home area of Easington/Peterlee. I went picketing in many parts of the north.

I was also then a steward at Tudor Crisp Factory in Peterlee and I saw there the real reason why the miners went down to defeat. I approached my regional officer in the GMB to request organising strike action in support of the miners and was abusively told there was no chance. At my local Labour Party, discussions on organising solidarity action were ruled out of order.

I think it needs restating that Scargill was no lone wolf somehow leading people towards the fight. The NUM national conference in Sheffield of April 19 1984 had seven motions to it that gave the go-ahead for strike action without a ballot, Scargill did not even vote as he chaired this. I was outside that meeting with around 4,000 strikers who chanted ‘you can stick your ballot up your arse.’ They did so because they feared a sell-out. The miners had already voted with their feet and if Scargill hadn’t gone with the strikers he would have been quickly removed. Miners felt they had already had votes and it was time for action. They were in my mind correct to do so. Scargill then did the job he was paid to do, which was to try and win the dispute. He made some mistakes but he did a pretty decent job of standing alongside those who had put him into power. For this I find it to be pretty poor taste to see him attacked in obituary pieces about Thatcher.

Mark Metcalf

Monday, 13 May 2013



A University Professor’s gig is keeping alive the memory of Woody Guthrie, an American singer-songwriter and folk musician whose radical legacy includes hundreds of traditional, political songs. Top of which is ‘This Land is Your Land.’

In 2006, seeing George Bush in the White House embarrassed Will Kaufman, who is originally from New York but now works at the University of Central Lancashire. Determined to demonstrate “there is another America”, Kaufman decided to combine his passions for history, teaching and music by showcasing Woody Guthrie’s works, many of which remain relevant today.

Guthrie was born in Oklahoma on July 14 1912. At aged 19 he joined thousands of ‘Okies’ as they migrated in search of work to California after the land they farmed was destroyed by severe Dust Bowl storms. Many of his ballad songs are concerned about what he witnessed, including how the Californian police and landowners ruthlessly exploited for profit the desperate and needy, many of who were starving. Guthrie later played benefit gigs to raise money for these migrant workers. At one of these he met folksinger Peter Seeger, and the pair became good friends and starred together in the Almanac Singers folk music group.

From 1937 to 1939, Woody Guthrie broadcasted regular shows from the Californian KFVD radio station before moving to New York to make his first music recordings.

In 1940, sick of listening to Irving Berlin’s ‘God Bless America’, Guthrie wrote his most famous work, ‘This Land is Your Land.’ Kaufman completes his ‘live documentary’ show with the song but his own personal favourite is Vigilante Man, originally recorded in 1940. “It is about the courage of working people combining together on union picket lines to stand up to the hired thugs of the American bosses,” says Will.

Guthrie was no idle observer of the class struggle and he took his songs out onto the picket lines and joined with the workers in their struggles for better pay and conditions. The employers hated him for his actions, but his songs subsequently influenced songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Joe Strummer. To commemorate the centenary of his birth, Billy Bragg last year released to universal acclaim Mermaid Avenue, a box set album featuring some of the 3,000 plus lyrics written by Guthrie, who after a long illness died of Huntington’s disease on 3 October 1967.

Although Guthrie’s birthplace of Oklahoma was the only US state that failed to return a single district in favour of Barack Obama at the 2012 Presidential election that does not, says Kaufman make “Guthrie’s legacy a lost one. We are in the middle of the second depression in which the bankers are fleecing working people and the growing gap between rich and poor is being fuelled by repression of workers’ organisations. Woody sang about all this and also showed that American people are like workers the world over.

He was also dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism and his songs were an anthem call to reject apathy in favour of action. That’s what I try and capture in my show.”

Hard times and hard travellin’ combines songs and political commentary with contemporary photographs, cartoons and drawings. It is highly recommended by singer-songwriter Ralph McTell who says: “Will performs Woody’s songs with great skill and understanding, playing the guitar with enviable panache and brio. I was deeply moved by the whole show.”

Will Kaufman is happy to perform his show right across the UK. He can be contacted on 07412176995 or via email at
More details at

The Mighty Quinn

Due out in June 2013, a 25,000 word biography on Niall Quinn. Published by jMD media. 


Niall John Quinn, MBE, was a professional footballer from November 1983 until his retirement in October 2002. 

A regular goalscorer, he starred for three different clubs – Arsenal, Manchester City and Sunderland. In his nineteen-year career, Quinn appeared in a total of 587 competitive club games and scored 170 goals. In addition he scored 21 international goals in 91 games for the Republic of Ireland, winning his first cap in 1986 and his last in 2002. 
A League Cup winner with Arsenal in 1986-87, Quinn also won a First Division championship medal in 1998-99 with Sunderland; he also enjoyed a brief spell as player-coach with the latter.

After his playing career came to an end, Quinn worked as a TV pundit and wrote a regular column for the Guardian newspaper. In 2002, he collaborated with sports journalist and columnist for the Irish Times Tom Humphries to produce a much-acclaimed autobiography mainly focused on the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. 

In 2006, Quinn headed the Drumaville Consortium which bought Sunderland AFC and installed him as chairman. A brief, but unsuccessful, spell in charge as caretaker manager came to an end when he persuaded fellow countryman Roy Keane to take charge of the club; this proved an inspired choice as the new man helped the Wearsiders return to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

Quinn stepped down at Sunderland in early 2012 and has worked regularly for Sky TV since this time.

Gary Lineker

Tony Matthews and myself have completed a biography for digital publication by jMD media. It will be published shortly.
Leicester born Gary Lineker is one of the most popular England players of all time and the only one to receive the Golden Boot award for finishing as top scorer at a World Cup. As his country’s second highest scorer, Gary’s goals-per-games ratio remains one of the best at international level. 

From December 1978 until November 1994 Lineker was also a prolific goal scorer with five different clubs - Leicester City, Everton, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and Nagoya Grampus Eight . In an excellent career, he appeared in a total of 568 competitive club games and scored 284 goals. 

His goal scoring achievements saw him become the only player to win the English 'Golden Boot' equivalent with three different clubs. He topped the First Division scoring charts with Leicester in 1984-85, Everton in 1985-86 and Spurs in 1989-90.

Lineker won the Second Division championship with Leicester in 1980. In 1985 he was a member of the Everton side that won the annual FA Charity Shield. When he played for Spanish giants Barcelona, he won the Copa del Rey in 1988 and the European Cup-winner's Cup the following year. In 1991 he helped Spurs lift the FA Cup.

Certainly one of the game's nice guys on the football pitch, Gary was never cautioned by a referee and, as a result of this, was honored in 1990 with the FIFA Fair Play Award. In the 1992 New Year’s Honours List he was awarded an OBE. And in 2003 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.

After retiring as a player, Gary has successfully moved into broadcasting, working at the BBC, for Al Jazeera Sports and also for Eredivisie Live.

Call to reopen rail lines

Fifty years after the Beeching Report closed a third of the country’s railway network, campaigners are calling for 10 lines to be reopened, including four in the north.
Recruited by the government to make the railways profitable again, businessman Richard Beeching produced a plan that led to the closure of 2,128 stations, the loss of 67,700 jobs and passengers and freight abandoning rail for roads.
Although passenger numbers revived with the introduction of high-speed inter-city trains in the 1970s, and have further increased in the last decade, the number of railway stations is just over 2,500 - around a third of what it was in 1963.
Now, with the government committing £33 billion for a new high speed rail link – set to reach Leeds and Manchester in 2032 – the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) believes reopening lines would reconnect places currently not on the rail network, support regeneration, increase freight opportunities and improve journeys between major settlements.
Two of the 10 lines it has prioritised are Skipton to Colne and Fleetwood to Preston. Both were closed to passenger traffic in 1970. The former is 11 miles long and was first operational
in 1848. In 2003 a study on behalf of Lancashire and North Yorkshire county councils concluded much of the trackbed remained intact.
In 2008 the railway infrastructure operator Network Rail refused to provide £43 million for a single track or £81 million for a double- track line on the Skipton to Colne route. A local group, the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership, believes reopening the line would create an extra trans-Pennine rail route linking the West and East Coast Main Lines. CBT believes the line also has the potential to help with the regeneration of currently depressed parts of north east Lancashire such as Nelson, Burnley and Colne. 
The Fleetwood to Preston branch line that starts on the Fylde coast would serve around 60,000 people via two new stations. With much of the track still in place the cost of reopening was estimated by Rail magazine in 2010 at £5.5 million.
The Poulton and Wyre Railway Society (PWRS) has long campaigned for the line to be re-opened. The society has been given a licence to clear the existing track and bring parts of it back into operation.
PWRS chairman Eddie Fisher welcomed the CBT support.
“We have completed a business plan and delivered it to all stakeholders, including Network Rail,” he said. “We will be re-opening part of the line from Poulton-le-Fylde – with a cross-platform interchange for ongoing trains into Blackpool North and Preston – to a new station, Fleetwood South, around one mile from Fleetwood town centre.
New station
“We are also exploring the costs of extending the line into a new station in the centre of Fleetwood. We will operate a commuter service and act as a heritage line to boost tourism. Initially it will be a standalone private railway and not part of the national network.”
Fisher said that although it would be “desirable in the future” to see a direct link from Fleetwood to Preston he was unable to say if the PWRS would be involved in the project’s management.
Rail policy expert Paul Salveson believes a reopened line has the potential to benefit freight transport because of Fleetwood’s thriving port.
Salveson, visiting professor in transport and logistics at Huddersfield University, believes the example of the Nottingham to Worksop line, which reopened in the 1990s, should be followed.
Economic case
He said: “That helped people in the former mining town access the job market in Nottingham.”
He added that Skelmersdale is another location that would benefit from the reopening
of its former station, where all services ceased in 1963. Following a feasibility study, Merseytravel has recently asked Network Rail to examine the costs of providing a rail link into the West Lancashire town.
“I think we have cross-party consensus that rail reopenings are a good thing,” said Salveson. “There has to be a sound economic case for any proposal. As long as the research involves speaking face to face with people about their actual travel plans, rather than just basing predictions on population size, then I am confident that in most cases this can be fulfilled.”