Lindsey German on the G7, the old normal and anti-racism today
It was common practice for 18th and 19th century landowners to clear unsightly cottages and even whole villages off their land when building their stately homes and landscaping their parks. Today the masters of the universe – meeting as the G7 plus friends in Cornwall this week – decree that whole parts of the county are closed to the public, the homeless are evicted from hotels to house the massive police protective presence, trees are chopped down to allow helicopters to land at the ‘boutique hotel’ in Carbis Bay where the world leaders are gathered.
There is something quite hideous about the event itself – held in one of the most beautiful but also one of the poorest parts of Britain, where locals are priced out of housing by rich second homeowners and luxury holiday lets and where even many of those in work are homeless. When a Financial Times reporter visited a housing estate in nearby Camborne, locals expressed bitterness about why this gathering with its huge entourage was allowed to meet there, while they were unable to visit their families for months on end. ‘They are famous people. There seems to be one rule for them and another for us’, said one woman carer.
The G7 meeting will be big on talk but will deliver little to change any of the major problems facing working people not just in Cornwall but across the world. Look at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 held against the call to ‘make poverty history’. The exact opposite has happened in the intervening years. Inequality has grown and in St Ives, near Carbis Bay, one in three children lives in poverty.
The world system is faced with huge challenges – the pandemic, climate change, inequality and poverty – and the G7 leaders are incapable of dealing with any of them. That is because they accept the parameters of a system which has helped to create and exacerbate these issues and therefore they cannot countenance serious measures which would curb the power of capital. So we should be highly sceptical about the grandiose claims which will issue from Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and the rest over the next few days. Their pledges to deal with climate change, promote international justice, curb the power of the multinationals, will amount to little.
The meeting of G7 finance ministers at the weekend was hailed as a great success in taking steps towards forcing the big multinationals to pay their taxes in the countries where they make their profits. This will now go to a G20 meeting later in the summer for agreement and will commit companies like Apple and Facebook to pay 15% corporation tax. The move is a recognition that the low or no tax paying regimes of these companies is highly unpopular and unfair. It is also a recognition of the need for more money for investment in infrastructure and areas such as health, especially during a pandemic, and of the shift away from the high neoliberalism marked by privatisation and tax evasion by companies.
However the 15% rate is low – much lower than personal taxation or VAT – and it remains to be seen how it ends up. The tax havens – including those sanctioned by the EU such as Cyprus, Malta and Luxembourg – will not disappear, and companies will continue to pay the minimum tax they can get away with.
The talk from G7 leaders may be big but it will come from leaders such as Johnson who is trying to force through cuts to international aid which will have devastating consequences for the world’s poorest. His policies have led to some of the worst outcomes of any developed country over Covid-19, and his ministers’ responses to the disease have always seen protecting profit as key. We see this now with the cavalier attitude to tourism and foreign travel – claiming not to encourage it but in practice letting it go ahead as much as possible.
Protests against the G7 are also severely curtailed. Policing the event is costing a staggering £70 million. Police have allocated specific ‘protest zones’ miles away from the gathering, which are quite rightly being ignored by many protesters. In London a major protest about Palestine will focus on Downing Street while the G7 is on – given the role of Biden and Johnson in supporting Israel, this is the key question of international justice. Do your best to join one of them.
The summit only highlights that war, militarism, environmental destruction, poverty and global inequality are hardwired into the system. That is why everyone who wants real change should oppose it and all it stands for.
Time to make them pay
Isn’t it great to hear all these owners of pubs and restaurants bemoaning the staff shortages they are facing? Especially Tim Martin who suddenly finds that he needs migrants to staff his Wetherspoon’s pubs. Everywhere you see signs about job vacancies. The reasons for the shortages of labour are several: EU migrants in particular who once staffed much of the hospitality industry have returned home in some numbers; students may be deciding to stay in education rather than risk the vagaries of the labour market; workers previously employed in hospitality are preferring to work in sectors such as retail or as care workers.
It’s a long time since workers in these industries had the sort of bargaining power they have today. Already employers are having to offer higher wages and – in many ways more interestingly – permanent posts as opposed to the temporary and insecure contracts previously on offer. That is as it should be. This is also a time when unions should go all out to recruit and win recognition in these companies – many of which are part of large and profitable chains.
Time too for other sectors to think about strengthening permanent employment and improving conditions. I’m thinking here of my own sector in Higher Education, where still many of the new jobs are temporary or fixed term. Unions need to demand that these are turned into permanent jobs.
We have said repeatedly that we don’t want to return to the old normal. That starts with a major overhaul of how we work after the pandemic – more flexibility, more working from home, a limit to unsocial hours and overtime working, a four-day week, and proper wages, sick pay, and contracts. Now is the time to do it.
I see one Tory MP is boycotting the England football games because the team ‘took the knee’ against racism. According to Mansfield MP Lee Anderson, ‘All forms of racism are vile and should be stamped out – but this is not the way’. What is the way exactly? He doesn’t say. Maybe he would have said the same about the civil rights movement, the various race relations legislation, desegregation, ending the colour bar at work, physical opposition to the National Front and BNP?
He certainly doesn’t explain how racism can be stamped out – or acknowledge that every attempt to end racism has been resisted by some. It has always taken protest, boycott, demonstrations, strikes, to win anything. Racism remains a huge problem in Britain. It is often framed as being about culture wars and ‘traditional values’. But part of human progress is precisely to challenge and debate culture and tradition. People’s attitudes change – over racism, sexism, class, nationalism and ideas that we now accept as normal were once regarded as anything but.
Taking the knee by people like Marcus Rashford helps to open up that debate and challenge racism. That’s why some people find it threatening - and why we should support it.
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As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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