Hull to Calais: Doing our bit for refugees

cal1It was a deep privilege to be the first from the Hull group to make it to Calais for the relief of refugees there. I went with the chair of the group, Maud, and a car packed to the gunwales with sleeping bags, tents, warm clothes, shoes, coats, and so on, all donated by people in Hull and area particularly in the light of the Syria crisis. The Syrian civil war has claimed over 220,000 lives and displaced some 11 million people, nearly half the population.

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The vast majority are in countries neighbouring Syria such as Lebanon and Jordan, Turkey too. One Jordan camp has 80,000 in it. For those with the means and the courage, the countries of Europe are the goal. The camps in Calais are for the most part made up of the men, maybe 90%, and the remaining 10% women and children. Many of the women and children are in camps in Greece we were to learn.

About a third of those who have made it to Calais apply for refugee status in France, Others are determined to make it to Britain but have met even further obstacles despite their perilous journey so far. Cameron’s contribution has been to build even higher fences at enormous expense topped with barbed wire. These people won’t be among the 4000 a year he has pledged to take.

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Here’s the Calais lighthouse. Over to the left is a church where 20 or so Syrian men had made camp and were sheltering in the porch. We asked them if they needed anything and they said no. Maybe the locals have been rallying around. However, the following Monday the police moved them all on, together with another 30 or so in a grassy area near the church, and another 30-ish by a warehouse loading bay – all into the giant “jongle” camp by the motorway.cal4

We delivered to a smaller camp that we found, and with the help of a French family also delivering that day, we handed out everything that we had brought – and went off to get some more with money that the group had raised and we had left to spend!

These men, women and children are as much victims of war as anyone in the conflict. And neither are Britain’s hands clean here either, where we are almost certainly involved in helping the civil war to kick off, and where we have major responsibility in setting the Middle East on fire with the most immoral war so far this century – Iraq.

Someone worked out that the number of Syrians destined for Hull, by ratio, would be about 9 or 16 or so per year. Hull has an ancient history of helping others fleeing war and persecution. We’ll be no different this time and already a good dozen people have offered rooms for refugees. Someone who gains refugee status, technically, is provided for through housing benefit etc. But there remain needy people who fall through the gaps and could end up destitute.

Now we have sent three vans to Calais. All the goods were well received, and the needs remain as great as ever as winter approaches. Meanwhile Syria, Assad, Isis, the refugees, all are political footballs, while major powers like America and Britain, as well as Russia, decide what to do. Not setting fire to countries would be a good start.

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Socialism is about workers – not charging for roads!

Socialism is coming to mean ‘anything that firms can’t make a profit from’.

The term ‘Socialised medicine’ is a common US term to stand for such as the NHS, where healthcare is provided free when needed, and paid for by all through background taxation. In arch-capitalist America, it is usually as a slander term as their political class is dominated by corporate money looking for the last few vestiges of human life left to exploit.

That usage is beginning to happen over here. However, it’s a problem because it defines the discourse in terms of what big business wants, or doesn’t want. And that’s not what the focus of socialism is (or isn’t).

More precisely socialism is the workers’ control of the means of production. We can understand how a cooperative fulfills that definition. A mutual society is another example of where that can happen, eg a credit union. some of these have been going a long time now so it’s no great surprise that any number have been floated at which time they’re not owned by workers anymore, generally, but the 1% who own the vast majority of stocks and shares.

Most of the items below, for example, don’t apply because they’re infrastructure. Infrastructure is not the type of thing you are supposed to make money out of! It is obvious that they are the benefit of all and they are also usually prohibitively expensive so it makes sense for the state – on behalf of all – to foot the bill. When you start to look around at infrastructure to see how it can be privatised for corporate gain, that’s a good sign of corporate capture – that your politicians are being bought and paid for by capital, centralised evonomic power, also known as the wealthy.

So it’s in their interests to demonise socialism and describe it as in the way and to be annihilated. So socialism is coming to mean ‘anything that firms can’t make a profit from’.

But who, and what countries, would want private corporations to make tons of money off infrastructure!? Obviously involving business is going to push up costs! There’s no economies of scale, there’s shareholders to pay off, more expensive loans to service. That is, unless you can show, or claim by owning the media, that publicly provided goods and services are inefficient or overly expensive through unionised wage claims, or whatever.

It’s obviously going to cost more and grossly unfair on those who might suddenly have to pay for medical prescriptions or for road tolls, etc.

But it’s not unknown in the UK. Our very own health system, under Blair in particular, but predating him, invited and used corporate money to fund a large number of projects, called PFI, now thought to be going to cost the NHS some £300bn by the time it’s (planned to be) paid back.

Now you don’t have to be a country with a NHS to regard hospitals as infrastructure, but inviting corporations to have a slice of the action is the essence of corporatising infrastructure, which we’ve also seen with schools and other public-private schemes.

Bosses, as a class generally, already have control of the means of production, but control of infrastructure enables not only control of production but control of the means of a civilised life.

If socialism is reduced to who runs a service, and then demonised by big business, then the debate becomes, You don’t want to control roads, bridges and traffic lights, do you? And the answer becomes, Yes! Because then they can charge for them, like toll roads, or like corporations charge for each medication.

This is as good adefinition of the economic centre ground as any. It’s also a mark of how far to the right the UK has been pushed, since Thatcher, to look at how many utilities and services have been privatised, train companies too, and the interminable slicing up of the NHS to get privatisation by stealth ,despite every claim to the contrary.

For socialism, the question is what do the workers want, not what do the bosses want! The disadvantage is that we have daily media telling the workers precisely what they should think! I suppose this is one price we pay in an arch-capitalist nation, but discovering what workers really do want, not a hard thing in a highly polled society, will be a step forward.

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