Archive for November, 2014

Community and voting

November 28, 2014

vote for nobody

This picture put a smile on my face and prompted me to blog

Growing up in a communist country I remember thinking that living in such a society was so unfair, not able to vote your local or regional MP who would represent and put across your interests and views.

We envied nations and societies in the western countries were they had a wright to elect best people to represent them at local and high level, ability to give direction and influence development and improvement of local community and the society.

Now, that is democracy, we thought.

Way back having lived a few years in a democratic western country I realised that to some extends the democracy finishes the moment you cast your vote. That goes for local decision making as well as government level decisions.

Not long ago a few of us in the community tried hard to stop local authorities issuing permit to build flats where a local pub used to be. The consultation took place, it was a farce; the community was not listened to. Somebody got rich overnight being allowed to build in every inch of the plot.

How can you not agree with Elinor Ostrom when she says that some over-harvest the commons and some feel like suckers.

You vote for a political party and at a later date they decide that they want to form a coalition with another party, it does so no matter what electorate think, they go back on most promises made pre election.

Local government and the central government decide to spend our council and income taxes however they think is best.

The question is, to vote or not to vote. No wonder that voter’s numbers are dropping.

People should be able to manage using inclusive, open, transparent, participatory, forms of decision making so that the interests of all in the community is ensured. Also not to the cost of future generations.

Local government should ensure increased citizen participation in local council activities, especially in planning for the local development of the community.

Parliament

Has a Neoliberal Agenda Blocked Progress in Global Nutrition for the last 22 years?

November 27, 2014

Having covered Food commons, Sustainability and Food Sovereignty over the last two weeks in class, it is interesting to read in the media that the Second International conference on Nutrition (ICN2) just ended last week. ICN2 was an inclusive inter-governmental meeting on nutrition jointly organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), in cooperation with the High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis (HLTF), IFAD, IFPRI, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, WFP and the WTO. It was held at FAO Headquarters in Rome, 19-21 November 2014.

FAO Blog3

As a high-level ministerial conference, it brought together senior national policymakers from agriculture, health and other relevant ministries and agencies, with leaders of United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental organizations and civil society, including non-governmental organizations, researchers, the private sector and consumers.

The conference:

  • Reviewed progress that had been made towards improving nutrition since 1992;
  • Reflected on the nutrition problems that remained;
  • Reflected on the new challenges and opportunities for improving nutrition being presented by changes in the global economy and in food systems, by advances in science and technology;
  • Identified policy options for improving nutrition.

Several pre-conference events provided a forum for participants to delve deeper into specific nutrition issues. The two main outcome documents–the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action—were therefore endorsed by participating governments at the conference, committing world leaders, on a voluntary basis, to establishing national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and transforming food systems to make nutritious diets available to all.

Girl in ZambiaNonetheless, a Statement prepared by approximately 150 Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and addressed to the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) of the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) had expressed disappointment at the outcomes of negotiations on Nutrition in the lead up to the conference. They felt that, after 22 years, significant progress should have been made in addressing the urgent problem of the more than 200 million children who suffer from acute and chronic malnutrition, the 800 million suffering from undernourishment and the 500 million adults with obesity. They stated that their voices had gone unheard even after being engaged in the preparatory process for INC2. Therefore, they considered the outcomes of this negotiation to be totally inadequate in confronting the root causes of malnutrition and called into question the lack of commitment of the States to make a real step forward in the fight against malnutrition in all its forms.

It is interesting to read that, during the pre-conference meetings, they had repeatedly urged Member States to re-affirm that all food and nutrition related policies must be coherent with the realization of the right to adequate food and nutrition as well as the full realization of women’s rights. They also requested governments to implement policies that were consistent with food being the expression of values, cultures, social relations and people´s self-determination and sovereignty over their land and natural resources. CSOs had also repeatedly stressed that the primary response to the challenge of malnutrition in all its forms must be embedded in local food and agricultural systems based on food sovereignty, small-scale food producers, agro-biodiversity, deep ecological foundations and sustainable use of natural resources, native seeds and traditional knowledge as well as local markets.

I agree with the points raised in their statement. I also love how their final paragraph ends with an anti-neoliberal jibe, ‘At the same time, we urge Member States to develop clear safeguards and rules on conflict of interest to prevent undue influence of private corporations in all global policy-making processes related to food and nutrition, including the CFS.’ The CFS here being the Committee on World Food Security.

gdpn

Alas, do not despair, my fellow upcoming international development practitioners! We too have a chance to add our voices to the discourse by joining the Live chat: how can we maintain food security in an uncertain world? on the Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network! As our world faces rising social and environmental challenges, how can leaders improve food security and nutrition? Join theguardian debate on 27 November 2014, 1-3pm GMT!

Today!

Irish Water Tax – yet another barrier to water

November 24, 2014

Irish water tax - tap

Hello fellow commoners.

This blog sort of relates to what we were discussing in class today and has been in the news recently. So I thought I’d post it here.

The Irish people are facing another barrier to their water access – a resource that should be free and a human right, wouldn’t you agree? The country is experiencing a problem with its water infrastructure. Irish water is being contaminated with bacteria because its out-of-date treatment systems struggle to purify it and people are forced to boil their tap water in order to be able to drink it. You’d think this is the problem the Irish are demonstrating about but in fact it gets worse.

It will cost Ireland €2billion to solve this problem and the government is planning to raise this money through a new water tax. Surprise, surprise…it has already employed a private (!) firm to install water metres in people’s homes in order to measure water usage. In the end the water tax will cost a family of four almost €500 a year, something that many will struggle to afford.

The truth is, however, that people are already paying for the water through general taxes. So essentially they are being charged twice, correct? Already, it costs the Irish government €1.2billion per year to maintain the current water supply, which has always been funded by the Exchequer. So why not continue to fund this new cost through general tax as well?

As the BBC points out “Raising money from water charges was a condition imposed on Ireland by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika as part of the country’s bailout in 2010”. (As an aside, it does make me wonder why they call it the ‘country’s bail out’, as though it was a crisis caused by the general public when it fact it was caused by banks and big companies taking on loans they were not able to meet…but I won’t go into this in detail here.) Nonetheless, these mistakes now have to be paid for by the Irish general public through charging them for the same water again. Something that should be a basic right and not something that can be sold as a commodity…twice. It is yet another example of an enclosure of a resource that should be treated and managed as a common resource, don’t you think?

One point that is more shocking however, is that Ireland continues to help big multinational companies, such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Co., avoid billions of Euros in tax by providing laws that favour them, nicknamed the ‘Double Irish’. Google alone has avoided over €2.5billion worth of tax from 2007-2009 partly through the ‘Double Irish’, which helped reduce Google’s tax to 2.4% compared to the normal 12.5%. Let’s not forget, it ‘only’ takes €2billion to solve the Irish water crisis…

Plus, as if only to frustrate the public more, the government decided to spend €86million on private consultants who advised on the setting up of a state-sponsored company in charge of water….and just so you know, this does not form part of the €2billion calculation.

So yet again, we have a situation where big companies and the financial sector’s gain is prioritised over the common people’s needs and indeed their rights. So what’s to be done about this? Of course, the likes of Google need to be taxed properly first of all but this lies in the hands of the government. With countless demonstrations already having taken place it is clear that the general public do not want this tax to be enforced, so what else could they do?

Irish water tax - demonstrations

Let’s take a look at Greece, who had similar bail-out conditions put on them, and see what they’ve got planned. The Greek have come up with a counter strategy, called ‘Initiative 136’ which calls on the public of Thessaloniki to buy the government’s 40% stake in the water utility (EYATH) of Greece’s second largest city, which it is looking to privatise. ‘136’ symbolises the value of the water company for each citizen. Marioglou, a representative of the movement, explains:

“The Initiative seeks to establish a network of 16 cooperatives in Thessaloniki to manage a truly public company. Because it would be unmanageable to have one large citizen body oversee the city’s entire water works, they will decentralize. Initiative 136’s organisers propose that the neighbourhood cooperatives decide on such issues as water tariffs and an investment budget.”

So here we have a water management institution that seeks to operate on the principles of ‘cooperativism’ and conceives water as a commons not a commodity. This initiative is part of the European Water Movement who endorse the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) for the Right to Water.

Find out more about Initiative 136 here and please let me know your thoughts on this in the comments section below. Do you think it could work in favour of the people?

Irish water tax - cooperative

Y we must defend the social media commons: because social media + u = social justice

November 21, 2014

Last month I attended a public meeting on the issue of Housing and Social Justice. One of the speakers was a young guy from London Black Revolutionaries, the group claiming responsibility for concreting over the ‘anti-homeless spikes’ that appeared outside of business and residential premises across the capital (and indeed across cities all over the U.S. and Europe) earlier this year, forming new enclosures of public space in order to prevent rough sleeping.

The decision by London Black Revolutionaries, to use social media to voice their opposition to the spikes and publicise their direct action, resulted in thousands of comments on Facebook and Twitter condemning the actions of the businesses involved. The next day many of these businesses announced hasty arrangements to have the spikes removed altogether – inspiring activists across Europe to follow the example of the London Black Revolutionaries.

Listening to this guy got me thinking about other examples where personal and social media has been instrumental in achieving social justice and effecting social change. For example, the mobile phone videos made by members of the public and later submitted as evidence at the trials of the L.A.P.D. officers responsible for the racially motivated beating of Rodney King in 1991, and unlawful killing of Ian Tomlinson by British police during the G20 demonstrations in London in 2009, were key to achieving at least some semblance of justice for those concerned, and holding to account those in positions of power who profess to work in our interests; and the strategic use of social media during the Arab Spring in 2011,  which played such an important role in the mobilisation and coordination of people in the overthrow of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan governments.

None of this would have been possible a decade ago.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a flurry of interest in social media from within academic circles, and there is now a growing body of research into this  phenomena – no doubt much of it carried out on behalf of national governments, who ever since the advent of the European print press in 1452, have tried to control the flow of information from monarchs, governments and the church, to the people, by means of legal and financial enclosure. (Not convinced our mainstream media is an enclosure? Then you really should watch this film documentary – a first hand witness account of media manipulation in the attempted ousting of President Hugo Chavez during the military coup in Venezuela in 2002).

Just as we ask whether it is art that reflects life or life that reflects art, much of this research is concerned with the direction of the causal relationship between social media and social action. The conclusion seems to be, that events like the Arab Spring became possible only after social media, which over a period of time, enables like-minded people wherever they are in the world, to develop collective perceptions based on the sharing of pre- existing ideas and beliefs, so revolutionising how people form political opinion.

Could defence of the social media commons be the final frontier?

Let me know your views:  

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Results to be published on Outlook 0n 9 January 2015.

The Global Ecovillage Network

November 19, 2014

I have been  interested in the idea of intentional living for some years now, and via the internet and my involvement with various community groups in my local area(s), have spent a considerable amount of time exploring the possibilities. Not least, because I see great potential in this idea for the amelioration of social divisions. I became a regular visitor at the Diggers and Dreamers website, where I discovered that there existed whole communities of people, all over the world, similarly unhappy about increasing levels of inequality, the alienation of people from each other, the land, and the means of their production.

Discovering this whole new world led me in all sorts of directions – one being the ‘Permi’ (Permaculture) film night held at Passing Clouds  (Hackney), on the first Tuesday of every month, and it was on one of these nights that I was first introduced to the Global Ecovillage Network  (GEN); ‘…a growing network of sustainable communities and initiatives that bridge different cultures, countries, and continents…an umbrella organization for ecovillages, transition town initiatives, intentional communities, and ecologically-minded individuals worldwide. People and communities meet and share their ideas, exchange technologies, develop cultural and educational exchanges, directories and newsletters, and are dedicated to restoring the land and living a cooperative sustainable lifestyle.’

GEN has had UN consultative status since 2000, and every year holds its own international conference which this year will be held in Senegal – a developing country, which in sharing the GEN vision, has created a government portfolio and Minister for Eco-Villages; a position  currently held by Babacar Ndao.

A journey through the British Coal commons. Part 1.

November 19, 2014

Last weeks discussion about unsustainable forms of fossil fuels, more specifically coal, aroused deep feelings in me taking me back to my beginnings in a small coal mining community in North Wales. It left me feeling that in honour of my ancestors, the hardships they endured, the battles they fought and sometimes won, I should use this opportunity to share my perspective on the political economy of coal – the development and demise of working class solidarity, and the British coal industry.

In the year 1911, my Taid (Welsh for grandfather), like so many generations of his family before him, started work in the Welsh coal mines. He was 11 years old. He worked 6 days a week, and everyday he walked 3 or 4 miles to the pithead before being transported a further 3 miles underground, where, sometimes crawling on his belly, unable to stand up straight, and at other times up to his knees in toxic liquids, he worked twelve hours a day, digging coal from the bowels of the earth. When his twelve hours were done, he walked the 3 or 4 miles home again.

According to the 1911 census , 5% of British children aged between 10 and 14 were in employment that year. Yet when we think about child labour, we imagine it to be something that happens somewhere else – in that place we call the ‘developing world’, or, as we in the world of development call it, the Global South . Indeed, we would seem to have suffered a collective amnesia with regard to the normativeness of child labour in Britain during the first half of the last century, and probably well beyond. 

The conditions in the mines were clearly dangerous, and certainly not a place you would want to send your child. But there was something very special created by this experience of hardship, poverty and struggle, and that was the sense of social and community cohesion. The communities that grew up around the mines were close knit – everyone knew everyone else and people were never shy of asking their neighbours for help. Maybe it was the interdependency of these communities that bred the sense of communitarianism, which in 1912 (5 years before the Russian Revolution) led to the publication of The Miners Next Step, a document demanding a minimum wage and a seven hour day; and, rejecting calls from some quarters of the industry for nationalisation, demanding that control of the mines to be given to the workers.

Influenced by the views of Marx and Engels, the miners were seeking to create a coal commons.

Poor? Be ashamed. Be very ashamed: Poverty. A point of departure…

November 18, 2014

The ability to go about without shame – the words of Adam Smith, father of free market economics, capitalist, and author of Inquiry into to the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). For Smith, the idea of being able to go about without shame was exemplified by the wearing of a linen shirt and leather shoes. Within the free market economic system of monetary exchange, the [cap]ability to wear a linen shirt and leather shoes is determined by access to money. By extrapolation, shame is engendered by the absence of money, as the [cap]ability to go about without shame in a capitalist system, that is the [cap]ability to exchange money for a linen shirt and leather shoes, is proportionate to the individuals [cap]ability to accumulate money. 

In a capitalist system, the [cap]ability to engage in waged labour, is the only legitimate means by which workers can guarantee access to money; thereby the absence of waged labour can be said to supersede the absence of money as the source of shame. The idea that poor people should feel shame in of the absence of waged labour and thereby a diminished capacity for the accumulation of money, is reproduced by capital – through its control and ownership of the means of (mass) communication – the media; possible only because of the transformational power of money, which, enclosed by capital, holds not only economic, but also social and relational value. Money becomes the marker of individual worth – enclosing within it: the power to transmogrify the blameless into the blameworthy – the victim into the offender. That the means of production (that is the ownership of the resources needed to produce a thing) and so too the power to (engage in waged) labour is itself enclosed by capital is conveniently ignored. In the global north, the worker who has been excluded from the means of his or her own [re]production becomes dependent on the state; capitals understanding of dependence on the state being an illegitimate claim on unearned shares of capital assets – represented in the media as a consequence of personal failings and superseding the absence of waged labour as the primary source of shame. Perhaps this is the real ‘Tragedy of the Commons¹ .

But in this state of advanced global capitalism, best served by the availability of cheap labour, the absence of money is no longer defined by the absence of waged labour. Like anything else labour is a commodity, and in todays globalised world, the [cap]ability of the worker to sell his or her labour is determined by the price of (comparably skilled) labour elsewhere in the world, regardless of any cost of living differentials. In the U.K. context, and indeed the rest of the global north, this has translated into a steady decline in the monetary exchange value of labour, that is also increasingly divorced from the monetary exchange value of basic commodities such as food and shelter. What this means in practical terms, is that the working poor now represent more than half of all those living in poverty in the U.K.   

How can this be socially sustainable? Well of course most would argue it is not. Others, like Professor of Political Economy Massimo De Angelis, would argue that we have already reached a point of no return: an ‘epochal moment…requiring a realignment of class relations and new systems of governance..’ 

 

commons

November 18, 2014

Dear Commoners, What is left for us? Land, Water, Forest, have become commodities of affordability, and we are obliged to pay for these commons for sheer survival. My concern is that: the only one left to be levied is the air we are  breathing presently, but these issues are taken a different turn. Given that we have been forced to pay £10 to drive in the city of London as a measure for clean air, we will soon be charged for each cubic air we breathe, if this is not already happening. At the rate at which we are going, shall we be able to sustain our current world with our methods of production to meet our aspiring level of consumption and comfort? please do not let this happen.

Sandford Housing Co-op

November 16, 2014

Through my work I recently came across the folk at Sandford Housing Co-op. Forty odd years ago this coop was set up by a bunch of students in Deptford. At a recent Open Day they invited John Hands, one of the instigators, to give a talk (here). This is available on their website. It is well worth listening to, particularly as regards the piece at the end which is to do with how collaboration rather than competition is necessary for ecological sustainability.

Sandford Housing Co-op was part of a BBC documentary in 1974. This is available on You Tube. Part 2 is particularly interesting as they decide whether a house or the membership panel of the whole co-op should have the final say on who is allowed to become a member.