Saturday, 19th May, 2001

International Demonstration Against M&S Closures

Over 2000 marched through London on Thursday to condemn UK retail chain Marks and Spencer’s sudden decision to close 38 shops in continental Europe with a total loss of 3,330 jobs. The protest was joined by French Euro-MPs including Arlette Laguiller of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle) and Alain Krivine of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, as well as Robert Hue, leader of the French Communist Party. Four stores in Belgium and two in France were forced to close as so many of their employees travelled to London. The protest was as much against M&S’s high-handed methods and against the failure of French and EU authorities to enforce laws obliging companies to consult workers before announcing redundancies as it was against the closures themselves. In Paris, workers supporting the demo but unable to travel held a picnic outside the chain’s shop on Boulevard Haussman, its first overseas branch. M&S has always been a scab company, with a reputation for paternalism. Now, it seems, paternalism is no longer fashionable. Union-busting remains, of course, all the rage, as does ignoring already inadequate labour protection laws.

Banks Forced to Steal Less

According to the propaganda campaign which softened up the population of the euro-zone countries so that they would accept the madcap corporate scheme, a single currency would carry all sorts of benefits - such as eliminating cross-border transaction costs, and, urm, eliminating cross-border transaction costs – apart from  putting an end to war for the Whole of Galactic Time, that is. This was, of course, a pack of lies. Up to now we’ve seen no movement at all, at least not downwards, but under an agreement worked out between the banks and the European Commission, transaction costs are projected to fall from an average of  Euros 17 to an average of Euros 12. As there is no reason, within a single currency zone, to make any transaction costs greater than what would be incurred within a single currency, Spectre – an international concern, of course – is less than impressed. As Woody Guthrie said, ‘some rob you with a shotgun, and some with a fountain pen.’

Using the usual lame excuses of an ageing population and people’s reluctance to work until they collapse in harness, the Greek government is responding to pressure from the European Union to dismantle its comprehensive public pension system.  People showed how unimpressed they were by the ‘Socialist’ PASOK government’s dancing to the EU/IMF/OECD tune by turning out in unexpectedly large numbers to support a 24-hour public sector strike on Thursday.

PASOK’s predictions as to what will happen if the system is not ‘reformed’ read like something from the first act of a Sophocles tragedy, but they have been somewhat undermined by a contrapunctal Chorus from the Finance Ministry. According to the boys and girls who hold the purse strings, the current system requires a boost of around Euros 59 billion over the next twenty years. Sounds like big potatoes, but the same officials have stated that this could be found through better management, additional funds from already completed privatisations (which would at least mean that the Greek people got some of their stolen goods back), and a projected budget surplus over the next few years.

Greek governments have tried for years to reduce the cost of retired workers to the state. Spectre editor Steve McGiffen remembers (though only patchily) bumming around the islands in the mid-seventies. ‘If shopkeepers felt sorry for you or simply couldn’t be bothered explaining to foreigners with knee length hair and almost no Greek, they would allow you to buy a special brand of cigarettes at about 60% of the normal price. I only found out later these were supposed to be reserved for pensioners!’

Unfortunately for the pension authorities, this policy did not succeed in killing off enough of the elderly Hellenic population to prevent a growing gap between revenue and outgoings. 

'President' Bush and his fellow conspirators have now announced their energy policy. Backed up by a barrage of propaganda to convince people that there is an 'energy crisis', this policy can be summed up as 'Screw the environment, we're here to party.' The genuine energy crisis in California was caused by deregulation and liberalisation, forces which will indeed, unless checked, bring energy chaos to much of the planet. As Mindy Spatt, media director of The Utility Reform Network (TURN - explains, "Many outside California don't understand why deregulation has failed. The generators (like Reliant, Dynegy, Mirant) and traders (like Enron and Williams), which control our electric supply, are manipulating and gaming the market in order to extract obscene profits. Last week, a megawatt, which costs less than $150 to produce, was being sold for $1,900. Several state agencies are investigating market abuse, including allegations that plants have been taken off line unnecessarily in order to drive prices up.

What really lies behind Bush's policies is the fact that the man has grown rich guzzling his daddy's oil, whilst 75% of campaign donations from energy corporations go to Republicans, with oil and gas giant Enron leading the way. Bush's big idea is to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. His only apparent sop to conservation is a package of $10 billion in tax breaks over the next ten years. However, 40% of this will go direct to car companies. Dressed up as aid to develop energy-efficient cars, this amounts to just one more gift from the nation to the auto industry. a further 20% will go to the coal companies – again, the excuse is to develop clean coal technology, the reality is that this is a payback for campaign donations.

If you want to know why the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve is so important, get hold of Arctic Refuge: A Circle of Testimony. Compiled by Hank Lentfer and Carolyn Servid in response to Bush’s projected corporate-sponsored vandalism. Lentfer and Servid, two people who actually live in Alaska, asked a number of artists, writers, scientists, and at least one former US President to provide ‘testimonies’ to the Reserve’s importance and meaning.

For more information or to order, go to and click on the "Arctic Refuge: A Circle of Testimony" box in the upper right hand corner. Hard copy within the US is  $15.00, but an electronic version is also available – even if you’re working in an Antarctic research station that’ll cost you just ten.