Animals first

During the 2016 Democratic primary, I was very much a Bernie Sanders partisan. The candidate was so much on my mind that, when I was writing my biography of Ronnie Lee, founder of the Animal Liberation Front, my subject emailed me on more than one occasion to say I’d accidentally substituted his name with that of the Vermont senator’s in the manuscript draft!

Now, there was a period during the primary in which it seemed that the animal activist group, Direct Action Everywhere, was only protesting at Sanders’ rallies. This made me very angry. It made me even more angry when the group was challenged on this and essentially said a pox on both Clinton and Sanders; vote for Cory Booker in 2020. While the New Jersey senator is vegan, he’s very much aligned with the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party. As Frederik deBoer pointed out, Booker has “criticised unions, pushed for lower corporate taxes and undermined public schools”.

I seethed over what I saw as Direct Action Everywhere’s naive bourgeois liberalism. But, as time passed, I wondered if my feeling reflected an insufficient commitment to animal liberation. I found myself empathising with something the pseudonymous socialist, Carl Beijer, wrote: “Given the scale and proximity of the danger, it seems to me to follow trivially that stopping global warming warrants literally any sacrifice we could possibly make.” He said: “If stopping climate change means accepting a totalitarian global autocracy that exercises absolute control over the world economy and carbon outputs with zero tolerance for democratic resistance, that is what we should endorse.”

That’s how I feel about ending the exploitation of animals. I believe their suffering dwarfs that of any human tragedy or injustice. After all, we slaughter more than 65 billion land animals every year, according to the Farm Animal Rights Movement. To put that in perspective, the Population Reference Bureau estimates that only 107 billion humans have ever lived. If mitigating this violence, only to a slightly greater degree than we would otherwise, means accepting an economic conservative like Booker, then that’s what I believed we should endorse.

The New Jersey senator’s record on animal issues seems to be fairly strong, when compared to that of his colleagues. Booker’s personal veganism, while perhaps symbolic, suggests a certain degree of ideological commitment. He received the Humane Society of the United States 2011 ‘Humane Public Servant’ award. “Booker has been a strong champion of animal protection and an effective leader in cracking down on cruelty and abuse,” said Sara Amundson, executive director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “He has consistently stood up for the values of kindness and compassion.”

While both Sanders and Clinton managed a 100% rating from HSLF in some years, Booker seems to have done this every year. If someone wants to make the argument that HSLF ratings don’t accurately reflect politicians’ record on animal issues, I’d be open to hearing it. Perhaps the ratings don’t fully account for the impact of unrestrained capitalism on non-human lives. Such a conclusion would certainly simplify things for me, a progressive animal activist, looking toward the next presidential primary.

This seems to miss the point though. Why is the relative commitment of centrists and progressives to improving the lives of animals even up for debate? Why isn’t animal liberation - hell, even animal welfare - a core progressive value? There’s a long history, from Élisée Reclus to Angela Davis, of the left extending its emancipatory vision to include non-humans. Let’s just hope that when 2020 rolls around, progressive animal activists aren’t forced to make a terrible choice.

Jon Hochschartner

In a nutshell

Eddie Ford asks, “What the hell is coal, anyway?” (‘Keep the guards on board’, December 22).

Coal is an organic natural solar battery, which supplies more than half of all power in the world. It is capable of being used ‘full strength’, if you like; it can be used as smokeless coke after extracting the gas, which can be used separately; it can be used as source of oil fuel and its components are used in everything from soap to nylon, to plastic and much else.

More particularly, unless Eddie’s driverless cars and planes and trains are made of cocoa, they will not be built without the utility of coal, since you can’t make steel without it. You will struggle to make cement without coal or make aluminium or a hundred other essential materials.

Coal reserves in the world will outlast oil and gas by thousands of years. Clean coal technologies will be developed despite the political hostility toward coal and, more importantly, the men who mine it.

That, in an anthracite nutshell, is coal, bonny lad!

David John Douglass
South Shields


Rugby has been piloting the introduction of universal credit, the government’s flagship welfare reform, since 2013. Having talked to claimants outside Rugby job centre throughout that three-year period, and with examples below in the lead-up to Christmas, it is clear to us that it’s putting people into severe poverty, and is simply not working.

As more and more local people are being pushed onto universal credit, cases of hardship caused by it have multiplied. Part of the problem is the harsh sanctions, when benefits are stopped for several weeks, or even months, without discussion. This leads to rent arrears and other debts in order to stay alive.

A further problem is the insistence of applying for everything, including work, online. Around 20% of people do not have internet access at home, and many of them are not computer-literate, through no fault of their own. If there’s a problem and you have to use the universal credit phone line, it can cost the claimant 45p per minute on a mobile and 12p on a landline. A care worker phoning on behalf of clients told us she spent nearly two hours on the phone to help one resident, and that the average call lasts 45 minutes.

Claimants don’t want to be named in fear of further punitive action by the department for work and pensions (DWP). We met a 50-year-old woman, whose sanction included her rent no longer being paid because she failed to provide enough evidence of her 17-year-old daughter’s apprenticeship, even though she receives no benefits at all for her daughter. As a result, she was being harassed by her landlord. Poverty was forcing her to use the local food bank for the first time.

A 57-year-old male amputee had just had his employment support allowance stopped overnight by a phone call informing him he had to apply for universal credit instead. He was told he would have no further benefits until he had been interviewed. This included stopping his housing benefit, which resulted in serious rent arrears. He has now been told he will be interviewed in the middle of January, nearly two months after his benefits were stopped. He was told he could apply for a loan if he does so online, attends the job centre with proof of identity, and gets an appointment with a ‘work coach’. What does he live on in the meantime? And how does he repay the loan without falling into even deeper poverty?

A middle-aged woman was sanctioned, and had no income for several weeks, forcing her to pawn personal jewellery. The DWP claimed not to have received a reply to a letter the local postman saw her post. Another woman who had had a nervous breakdown was told she had to attend the job centre weekly and go on courses, even though her doctor had written asking the DWP to give her ‘space and time’ to recover.

One man, recently separated and living with a friend, was told that one of his “universal credit commitments” was to find a place of his own or face sanctions. He was also asked to provide a sick note from his doctor, for which the DWP is now insisting that he, the claimant, must pay the £20 charged by the doctor.

These cases will be just the tip of the iceberg, as more claimants are forced onto universal credit. The government intends that the transition will be completed within the next 12 months. If that happens - and evidence from Rugby’s pilot suggests that is highly unlikely - poverty will become epidemic. Instead, the government should admit its flagship reform has failed, withdraw it and not allow any benefit claimant to fall below the poverty line.

On another subject, it is disgraceful that the government is going ahead with its plans to cut a further £30 billion from national health service budgets through ‘sustainability and transformation plans’ (STPs), and it is unbelievable that local NHS bodies refuse consultation on what is being cut.

The NHS is in severe crisis according to doctors, nurses and the International Red Cross amongst others. Patients are increasingly being kept on trolleys, with lengthening waits for hospital beds, ambulances queuing outside accident and emergency departments and record numbers of patients facing long delays once they do get inside. Doctors warn lives are being put at risk. This situation will worsen if we get a spell of serious bad weather.

The Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has been trying since August to obtain information about health plans for Coventry and Warwickshire, but none of our queries have been answered, despite continual promises that there will be “local engagement and, where required, consultation”. Now we hear a local newspaper has also been refused information about the local STP.

This is our NHS, and we must leave no stone unturned until we establish the truth about proposed health cuts, whilst we continue to campaign for improved funding to maintain and develop all NHS services.

Pete McLaren
Rugby Tusc

STP baloney

Last night I went along to a public meeting, which was supposed to be a discussion about the NHS England five-year Sustainability and Transformation Plan for my home region of Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. Regrettably, my very worst pre-existing doubts and fears were largely confirmed. But let me explain.

In theory or as a concept, STP represents very sensible, very good, highly desirable - in fact absolutely essential and urgently needed - change for the NHS and other directly associated care providers all along the pipeline. That pipeline is made up of multiple entities, which currently operate somewhat separately or certainly are funded/budgeted that way. Moreover, that funding being provided by and thus ‘channelled’ from two distinct sources - either from central government or from local authorities.

The main entities involved are as follows: ‘acute and urgent’ care in hospitals; ‘primary’ care in GP surgeries plus local/community hospitals; social services care and other support; state-run nursing and care homes; community/home-based nursing; health visitors and healthcare educators/lifestyle and dietary advisors; physio/occupational and other therapists. All with sub-divisions based upon adult/child and mental health needs rather than ‘physical’, amongst others.

I’m no ruddy expert, as they say, but it’s blazingly clear to me this unavoidably long and complex list of healthcare ‘entities’ needs to be fundamentally restructured, reorganised, rationally and logically coordinated, fully and effectively integrated - yes, the whole caboodle properly and genuinely socialised plus 100% correctly and intelligently funded.

But here’s the thing, comrades. In all of their happy-smiling-faces, pastel-coloured and corporate ‘marketing-speak’ glory, the STP ‘Draft outline business case’ documents and brochures and ‘Have your say’ feedback questionnaires, as handed out at the public meeting, were both visibly and categorically prefaced on each and every relevant page with the following clear and purposeful statement: “All health and care services must be delivered within the budget available and within the resources available.”

As things stand, there is a £265 million “overspend” forecast for the upcoming five-year period in our Cornwall and Scilly Isles region concerned. Do I need to say any more? Self- evidently, this entire STP process is both premised upon and thus wholly dependent upon making “savings” - ie, making more cutbacks beyond those already implemented.

To state the obvious, all of those austerity measures have in essence been made necessary by the collapse/implosion of the global banking system, and the subsequent bail-out from the ‘public purse’ - aka we working citizens and taxpaying suckers.

In summary then, comrades. There are no real solutions available or even possible within capitalism. The only thing to be achieved will be merry-go-rounds of rejigging, underwritten by surreptitious agendas for either partial or full privatisation - and certainly all of it following a smokescreen-cum-massaging process of ‘public consultation, engagement and feedback’ and ‘Your opinion matters’ baloney.

Bruno Kretzschmar


Len McCluskey of Unite is preparing to back-stab Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. No fighter for the oppressed working class, he is simply an opportunist, bureaucratic manoeuvrer, who is ready to sell everything for short-term benefits - mainly to himself and his fellow bureaucrats, whom he represents. No significant difference in principles separates him from the GMB, Unison or Usdaw union bureaucrats.

And he is again promoting his initial preference, Andy Burnham, to replace Corbyn. It’s no accident that he has no faith in his own membership. The April 2011 ‘Cuts too far, too fast’ high-visibility vests are his real plan to save capitalism’s profit margins and his disgraceful promotion of immigration controls is again on show in a recent Mirror article, when he argued that the movement must “get its narrative right on free movement”, because worker must be pitted against worker to defend the corrupt system from which he benefits so hugely personally.

The last substantial argument against Ian Allinson to replace him as Unite general secretary falls with this article. The principled rank-and-file candidate - who supported Corbyn while McCluskey was supporting Burnham, until overturned by his own executive - is now the only choice for all rank-and-file socialists and militants. What an appalling political stance to take!

Gerald Downing
Socialist Fight