Saturday, 28 November 2015

This Little Piggy Longs for the Abattoir

This little recently born and clearly exhausted piglet had slipped through the cage bars and was left stuck under the cage its mother was locked into.
Last year, two of Britain's most annoying TV "personalities", Ant and Dec, made a series of adverts for the supermarket chain Morrisons. In one, they were seen visiting a farm to meet some cows and talk to a beaming manager who told them that all their meat was British and the supermarket was so committed to it all that "we even have our own farm", etc, etc. The animals were seen in an outdoors byre before cutting back to an all-smiling in-store counter complete with banter about pork crackling.

Red Tractor logo
I've blogged before about the fakery of supermarket chains on the origins of their food, but here is some evidence to make you stop taking any bacon or pork from them ever again, were you so minded to do so to begin with. Below is a video taken at Poplar Pig Farm near Hull, which supplies Morrisons. It is part of the Red Tractor Scheme which supposedly guarantees some sort of minimum (or perhaps more accurately minimal) standard of animal welfare. The kite-mark is used by over 2,000 UK pig farmers (and thousands of others) as well as by Morrisons and other retailers to flog their meats to the public. The footage was taken by Viva, a charity campaigning for animals.

Watch it if you can - see piglets born and living in near darkness, in tiny cages, standing in their own excrement. See mother pigs locked in metal cage-harnesses that prevent them from moving for five weeks, unable to reach their dying piglets a few feet away. See a stunned piglet lost underneath the cages, while another one chews manically on the only moving object near it - a metal chain. In the corner, a dead piglet disappears under a mass of flies, consuming its briefly living little corpse.

The farmer has refuted the charity's charge of cruelty, though notably does not deny the footage or claim it is fake - rather he has simply questioned how it was obtained and the legality of that. Viva insist they have not broken the law.

Of course it is a disgrace. No animal should ever be treated in this way - and pigs of all creatures are the species closest of all to humans in terms of DNA. They are observed as intelligent, empathetic and above all else CLEAN creatures, the reputation of pigsty dirt being wholly caused by human animal husbandry methods. Never good, never free of cruelty at some level, these have reached a further depth with the factory farming for supermarkets relentlessly seeking maximum profits on cheapest possible production costs.

Consume at your own risk: just as we are what we eat, so are these poor creatures, literally born, living and dying in pools of shit. More reasons to shop at Morrisons, indeed.

And the biggest scandal of all?
This is the norm, not the exception.  For example, while the natural weaning period for a piglet is 12 to 15 weeks, the supposedly high care Red Tractor kite mark allows for just 3 to 4 weeks, with the sow locked immobile in a body cage throughout. Even after the expose by Viva in October, Morrisons and the Red Tractor scheme have simply asked for some changes at the farm rather than stopped using it.

The bottom line? This is how supermarket meat - and indeed most meat in our mass produced system - is created. Out of sight, out of mind and out of control.

"More reasons to shop at Morrisons" the jingle went.
No. Not really. In fact, every reason not to.

Caution: distressing footage

And now recall the marketing myth.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Guest Blog: Stuart Jeffrey - Urgent Action on the NHS Consultation. What YOU Can Do!

Tell Jeremy Hunt what to do with the NHS!

You need to do this tonight! Jeremy Hunt has sneaked out a consultation on the NHS without really letting people know - a great way of ensuring that you don't get an answer that you don't want. The consultation ends on 23rd November, so follow the link below to tell him what to do with the NHS.

38 Degrees have picked up on this and have set up an easy response system. Visit them here.

Feel free to use my responses in the text, or better still write your own if you have time:
  • £10bn still leaves 4% cuts required each year to 2020. This will not be possible without severe restrictions to services or a significant decline in the quality and safety of care.
  • The mandate should contain a commitment to increase funding in line with the £30bn that the NHS will need to provide safe, effective care by 2020.
  • It should contain a commitment to ending privatisation of the NHS.
  • There should be a requirement that all health ministers and their families have no interests in any private health care company.
  • There should be a buying back of PFI and a commitment to no new PFI contracts
  • There should be a commitment to end the health care market which costs billions to run.

Stuart Jeffrey is a Green Party activist and campaigner from Kent. You can read more of his blog here:

Thursday, 19 November 2015

We Can't Wait: Day of the Toilet

Today is (just) World Toilet Day. It's coincidence with International Men's Day has of course led to some satire about a combined symbol being an upright toilet seat, but Toilet Day has some very serious issues to raise.

2.5 billion people - over a third of the humans on our planet - do not have access to adequate sanitation and 1 billion have no access at all to toilets, instead having to relieve themselves in the open with all the abundance of bad consequences for their own and others' health. This is compounded by the fact that many people facing such circumstances live in cramped conditions alongside tens or even hundreds of thousands of others in shanty towns and refugee camps. With water shortages increasing across the world owing to a combination of overuse and global warming, the situation is likely to get much worse without rapid action - this on the same day as it was revealed that superbugs resistant to the most powerful "last ditch" antibiotics have been identified in China.

Growing stress on water supplies
In the West, we take being able to use Thomas Crapper's invention for granted, complaining when it gets blocked or if the water runs out on a crowded over-filled outdated commuter train. Yet for so many of our fellow humans, it is a constant problem hour after hour, day after day.

Learn more about the purpose of World Toilet Day on the website here and in the videos below.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Polymath of Revolution: Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson is more often than not remembered by mainstream white culture as the deep, melancholic voice of American musicals, though sometimes in roles that ultimately pandered to white stereotypes of black people. But there was much, much more to this remarkable radical whose life straddled so many of the defining struggles of the 20th century.

He was born in 1898 in New Jersey to a mixed race mother and a black father who had been born a slave before escaping and eventually becoming a pastor. In spite of facing a barrage of racism in his early years, Robeson won a scholarship to Rutgers College where he excelled at sport and played in the National Football League. At the same time, he studied and qualified in law from Columbia Law School, but on graduation, he was faced with patronising racial barriers to progressing in the profession. Encouraged by his new wife Essie, who supported him financially, he switched instead to theatre in Harlem where he soon worked with a range of radical bohemian artists. His performances were widely praised, but the subjects of many of the productions he appeared in challenged prevailing norms about race and society, and led to death threats.

This didn't stop him and he was soon singing as well, presenting concerts of slave spirituals, arguing against the prevalent trend among middle class blacks to eschew their history and culture. Later, while working in theatre in London, he enrolled in courses at the School of Oriental and African Studies to understand African languages and dialects more deeply. Yet as he appeared in more films, he soon encountered racial stereotyping - and appalling treatment where what directors like Alexander Korba assured him were roles taking a more progressive slant on race were twisted round on the editor's floor. This soon sharpened and heightened his political awareness and thirst for social change.

While keen to foster African Americans' pride in their culture and identity, he also deeply believed in the universality of all humanity and through this was drawn to communism. In 1929 in London he encountered striking miners who had marched from Wales and learned of their poverty. He raised funds and travelled to the Valleys with food for their families and supported trade union activists. Later, he met socialist thinkers like H G Wells and this inspired him on his return to the USA to hold concerts to fund raise for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. A couple of years later he became Chair of the Council on African Affairs, a left-wing body advocating for black rights in the USA and against imperialism and colonialism globally. Although tolerated during the war because of the alliance with the USSR, it was listed by the FBI as a subversive organisation in 1946.

He visted the Soviet Union in 1948 (although as with many on the Left at the time he was largely uncritical of Stalinism), worked for Progressive Party US Presidential candidate Henry A Wallace in the same year and supported the American Communist Party, all of which led to him being blacklisted during the McCarthy repression. Along with other CAA leaders, he was charged with subversion in 1953 and denied a passport for five years, seriously damaging his international career as well as cutting his domestic earnings. Surviving this, however, he staged a moderate come back in concerts in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

After the lynching of four black men by a white mob in 1946, Robeson had secured a meeting with President Truman to petition for action to protect black people. However, when he warned the President that failure to stop lynchings would lead to a violent backlash from African Americans, Truman had angrily terminated the meeting. This did not stop Robeson from continuing to campaign, but it was to be another 15 years before the rise of the civil rights movement was to see any real progress. Robeson was for a while active in the movement but ill health compelled him to retire from public view. He died in 1976.

Paul Robeson was a deeply intellectual, multi-faceted man, a true polymath but one even now frequently relegated to a stereotype by white dominated culture.  It is an insipid, patronising and even self-defeating racism in so many ways similar to the "genteel" racial barriers that he had encountered during his brief foray into the legal profession. That he nevertheless held to a politics which, while celebrating cultural difference, fostered the underpinning unity of humankind is consequently all the more impressive.

Here is a full length film biography of Paul Robeson and, below that, his rendition (in a rare English version) of the Soviet National Anthem.

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Ancient Art of Industrial Action: the World's First Strike

Our society, with its arrogant belief in our modernity, often looks back at our ancestors with a mixture of disdain towards their supposedly primitive, superstitious nature yet, paradoxically if sometimes patronisingly, stares in awe at some of their (literally) monumental achievements, from the Great Wall to the Colosseum, or from the polished marble statues of the Hellenes to the giant pyramids of Egypt.

And yet, while we may look back at seemingly distant, lost landscapes of elusive societies and long dead beliefs, in truth, far more commonality stretches across the centuries than we often realise. So many of the norms and values and challenges we face now are the very same that those who were here aeons ago also encountered.

The very earliest human societies, back in Palaeolithic times, had all the hallmarks of equality and co-operation: archaeology almost universally has excavated village after village of similarly sized houses, commonly used tools and shared fields and livestock. Contrary to the Hollywood version of savage tribes led by psychopathic cavemen, the earliest humans, who dominated our world for as much as ten times as long as the so-called civilised world we now inhabit, were an egalitarian lot, with men and women working together and sharing their resources communally, leading Marx and Engels to name them "primitive communists".

However, a combination of climate change and the innovation it spurred in agriculture and technology led increasingly to specialisation: the development of the plough, the domestication of the horse, irrigating and fertilising fields and the advances in metal work all led to the need for workers with specialist skills. Trade developed too as materials were sought from further afield. Finally, and most powerfully, village life became transformed into urban as the first cities grew - not, as traditional history would have it, from one place (Ur) gradually spreading out, but quite spontaneously in different places across the planet where humans encountered similar situations.

Subsistence economies began to produce surpluses - by 2,500BC, crops in the Fertile Crescent (modern Iraq) had yields of 86 times the sowing and with these surpluses came the rise of the first ruling classes. These initially consisted of men selected by their communities as protectors from outside threats or as priests directed to foster the surplus for the common good.

While at first both depended on the consent of their communities, in time, through what Neil Faulkener (A Marxist History of the World) has described as "force and fraud", they gradually "usurped the power of society to become power over society". Archaeology from around 4,000BC on shows increasing gaps in wealth with some houses four or five times the size of the norm, while early records show temple property gradually passing into the hands of priests and other officials appointed to administer public services such as irrigation and building. Sometimes, as in ancient Sumeria, the priesthood held sway and appointed the military; in others, such as Pharaonic Egypt, it was the opposite way round, although the militaristic Pharaoh was always proclaimed a living god as well as commander of the army.

Yet, even as once free, equal people were pressed into hierarchical and patriarchal societies where the overwhelming majority lived as slaves or peasants, ancient notions of equity and the public good persisted, ingrained deep in the human psyche, our mental DNA. And in 1152BC, during the construction of the pyramid of Pharaoh Rameses III, a combination of failure to pay rations and corruption by priests and public officials led, remarkably, to the first verifiable recorded strike*, which is preserved in the so called "Strike Papyrus" in the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy.

After their due rations of beer and grain had been delivered intermittently for some weeks, skilled stonemasons downed tools on 14 November and over the next week staged a series of protests first at the local town hall and then, it seems, in various places within the pyramid itself. This astonishingly included a sit-in in what was to be the sacred chamber where the Pharaoh himself would be laid to rest for his voyage to the after-life. In a show of sisterly solidarity, their wives joined them after the first couple of days.

The police attended, including the Chief of Police, who tried to reason with them, while the Mayor of Thebes did a Blairite "I'm an honest guy" turn with the disbelieving workers. Completely at a loss, on the seventh day, management caved in and provided the strikers with:

Year 29, second month of winter, day 17
Giving the ration of the second month:
1 foreman: 7½ sacks
the scribe: 3¾ sacks
8 men, each one: 52/4 sacks, making 44 sacks.
Left side:
1 foreman: 7½ sacks
the scribe: 3¾ sacks
8 men, each one: 52/4 sacks, making 44 sacks.
The two gatekeepers, the four washermen ...

Although they returned to work, the stonemasons were back on the picket line just four weeks later and this time called a scribe to set down their grievances to go to the Pharaoh himself (as with many later examples, such as the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 in England, ordinary people, saturated by the propaganda of the irreplaceable efficacy or even the fraudulent divinity of the ruling class, still saw the king ultimately as The Benefactor, unknowingly let down by corrupt or incompetent officials). However, it wasn't failure to pay rations that was on their minds, but corruption by temple administrators (priests). As well as accusing one Weserhat of unpriestly activities with a Lady Menat, they charged the holy-man and his colleague Pentaweret with stealing building materials and oxen which were meant to belong to the communal religious site.

The outcome of the second dispute is not clearly preserved but further strikes are documented and they apparently became a feature of pyramid building. It seems the skilled craftsmen grew aware of their value to the ruler as he needed them to construct what was intended to be a powerful totem of his alleged supremacy, a hallmark of his god-given dominance over his people and all the lands of Earth.

However, whatever the Pharaoh's delusions of grandeur, the first strike was a success for the workers and a powerful reminder that, whatever system of power is in place, our species is rooted in values of fairness, justice and solidarity.

*It is to be noted this is the first strike that is verifiable by contemporary documents. The "Father of History", Herodotus, refers to one that may have occurred as much as 400 years earlier, also in Egypt, by workers building the Great Pyramid of Cheops, who were angry when their garlic rations were late.

The Strike Papyrus

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Capitalism Kills The Truth - Fox Buys National Geographic

Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox Corporation has bought up the prestigious National Geographic magazine and its associated TV channel. Within 24 hours of the title exchanging hands, 180 staff (about 9% of the total) were "let go" and although Murdoch's spokespeople have insisted that the editorial board and writing staff are largely intact, the Digger's reach is likely to go beyond the frozen staff benefits pot.

National Geographic, first published in 1888, has long been prized as an impartial and highly reliable source of news about the world. Although with a heavy focus (literally) on wildlife and wilderness landscapes, it has also contributed massively to the mainstreaming of the debate on climate change with leading articles on global warming, resource depletion and environmental damage. Its photo-journalism has sometimes been the conclusive proof of corporations' damage of rainforest, pollution of the seas and assault on indigenous communities.

Click through to a few National Geographic pieces:

"Yes, We can take action to fix climate change!" 

The Climate Change Special Issue

Weather versus Climate change

Learning from Indigenous Peoples About Climate Change

It has a website devoted to explaining climate change: HERE

By contrast, take a look at Murdoch's Fox News Channel's output on this major issue of our times:

 Fossil Fuels are no catastrophe: they have made our lives better.

Weather Channel founder blasts climate change (as fake)  

 Climate change is "Superstition"

Many commentators have criticised Fox for its lax standards of verite, not only on global warming but on a wide range of issues. But it's obsessive traducing of the climate crisis is creating serious damage to the fight to save humanity from self-destruction. The widespread scientific consensus on global warming being caused by human activity is denounced as fraud perpetrated by a Protocols of Zion type world-wide conspiracy by universities in search of grants, while every flake of snow is pronounced another nail in the coffin of the "liberal" myth of a warming planet. Although happy to trouser millions from the biblical climate change epic Noah, Murdoch himself crassly pronounced modern, scientifically proven climate change false after he flew over 300 miles of ice - in the Arctic!

With one analysis declaring 93% of its output as "misleading" on climate change,   the enduring tragedy is that more Americans trust Fox News thant President Obama on the issue - not that, with his own addiction to fracking, Barak has not exaclty covered himself in glory on the environment.

But Fox is critical in slowing and blocking the crucial opt-in to global action on greenhouse gas emissions by the USA without which action by other countries will have limited impact (It is worth noting here that Chinese coal use is now falling and China, doubtlessly in thrall to liberals!, is investing more in clean energy than the rest of the world combined).

Murdoch has of course already insisted there will be no loss of editorial independence, but anyone following the British satirical magazine Private Eye's regular tracking of tie-ins and cross-selling between his UK Sky, Times and Sun media brands will know differently.

Like any good global capitalist, for Rupert Murdoch, global warming, even at its now accelerating pace, is of far less concern than his year on year profits. His poisonous legacy - and those of hundreds of similar global magnates - will exact a huge price from his grandchildren's generation. But of course, by then Rupert will have long since gone to the Corporate Boardroom in (the) Sky.

Below - Spoofs abound already: but is the future bleak for National Geographic?