17th March 2006 |
WAKE UP!! WAKE UP!! ITS YER BONE DRY...
Torture | Crap Arrest of the Week | Animal
Rights, Human Wrongs | All Guns Blazing |
Shepton Malice | SchNEWS in Brief
| ...and finally...
Privatisation leaves us high and dry
Corporations have to splash out billions every year to persuade
us to buy unneeded crap. But no such problems exist when they have
a grip on more essential, life-sustaining, natural resources, like
water. You dont need to fork out millions for flashy PR men
and mount big dollar advertising splashes to flog H2O. Who has to
persuade us to use water? Theyve got us over a barrel on that
Privatisation was supposed to bring competition, but if a water
company decides to rip you off for the water you use and cant
be bothered to repair cracked pipes, alternatives are in short supply.
Worse still, the water corporations focus on profits at all
cost makes them unable and unwilling to do anything to meet the
current water shortages, as money that could have gone into maintenance
leaks away into shareholders pockets.
Here in the UK the government spent most of the last 150 years
(and loads of taxpayer cash) buying up the water companies, convinced
that private corporations are not the best organisations to deliver
such an essential service. All that changed in 1989 when the Thatcher
government flogged off the lot under the 1988 Water Act. And in
case no one was interested in picking up a monopoly or two, the
firesale came with some additional incentives; £5 billion
worth of debts owed by the water authorities would be written off
and a £1.6 billion subsidy would be given up front. Monopoly,
debt write-off and a cash incentive still not enough for you? Well,
how about having the companies at a bargain basement 22% discount
Unsurprisingly pre-tax profits of the 10 water companies then rose
by almost 150% in the first 9 years of privatisation. OFWAT, the
sectors regulatory body, identified three main components
of customers bills: operating costs, capital charges (for
investment and renewals), and operating profits. Over the period
since privatisation, operating expenditure as a proportion of bills
has shrunk; the capital charges have risen; but operating profits,
which have more than doubled, account for virtually the entire increase
in customers bills. And the tide shows no signs of turning.
In the week when Thames Water announced that there would be a hosepipe
ban in London, the companys shareholders also enjoyed a 10%
profit. No cash drought on the horizon then? Although
its raining cash for investors its more like a golden-shower
for the less fortunate customers. Not only has OFWAT agreed to further
massive price hikes, but Thames Water also manages to lose over
a third of the water through the antiquated Victorian pipe system
that they just cant seem to afford to fix (pissing away 1
billion litres a year, enough to fully supply Birmingham). The company
had agreed an investment plan with the regulator, but then curiously
spent £350 million less on it than planned, the equivalent
of 10% off every customers bill. So where did that 10% end
up? Drained away down the profit plug hole perhaps?
Thames Water, whose 8 million customers will be affected by the
ban, says two unusually dry winters have caused serious
water shortages. Had the water companies invested in infrastructure
maybe they wouldnt be losing a third of our water. In the
current climate of eco-awareness, the UK fails miserably
in terms of utilising our rainwater. Only a desultory 5% finds its
way into our water supply. Our suppliers whinge and moan about shortcomings
in the weather, but cant be bothered to dip into their piggy
banks to bale us out maybe saving it all for a rainy day.
Thames Water did, however, last year feel flush enough to throw
a £2.2 million pay-packet at their top four directors. All
in, the German owned companys liquid profits came in at a
cool £385.5 million. Londoners must have experienced that
sinking feeling, as they suffered a 21% increase in their water
And how likely is it that things will improve now that things are
hotting up for all of us climate-wise? Being able to plant your
vegetables out a month earlier than usual is not the only symptom
of global warming and climate change; the countrys water supply
is evaporating at such a rate that hosepipe bans, showering instead
of jumping in the bath and putting a brick in your cistern may not
be enough to prevent us from getting a lot thirstier yet. With more
cars on the road and planes in the sky carbon dioxide emissions
will only keep on rising. But dont worry - the free market
will save us
The idiocy of water privatisation has become a global pandemic
(would that be Evian Flu perhaps?) Africans have long been without
a proper water supply, but private companies (who picked up local
water companies at bargain basement prices during a spate of privatisation
in the 1990s) have still been flooding customers with higher bills.
According to a report by the University of Witwatersrand, 22,000
people in Johannesburg are disconnected from water supplies each
month because they cant afford to pay steeply rising water
bills. The problem affects the whole country - in a population of
44 million, 10 million South Africans have had their supplies cut.
The result? 43,000 deaths from diarrhea last year, and an outbreak
of cholera affecting 135,000.
I would say they are criminals says Pascal Kerneis
from the influential lobby organisation European Services Forum.
No, not the water companies, obviously! He reckons campaigners against
water privatisation are just plain stupid not to think that water
is best delivered by corporations. Pascal and his cronies lead the
drive to include water in the 5th chapter of the General Agreement
on Trade and Services (GATS). The European Union has also been pushing
hard to include water at recent WTO talks, which are host to the
negotiations for a range of GATS agreements aiming to carve up the
planet for the general consumption of profit-hungry multinationals.
Sustained pressure from a range of activist and citizens groups
has recently succeeded in getting the WTO to drop the water proposal
from the current GATS discussions, but its surely only a matter
of time before the constant drip, drip of corporate lobbying erodes
The GATS agreement would have been another way in for the corporations
- who can currently only hope to persuade unwilling governments
to flog off their public infrastructures through the conditions
which are attached to any International Monetary Fund or World Bank
loans. Whilst this recent victory has made it harder for the corporations,
many people in the hottest parts of the planet still cant
afford to pay their bill. This week, The Fourth World Water Forum
takes place in Mexico City, and will look at how anti-privatisation
activities are breaking the corporate grip on our water supplies.
Find out more at www.comda.org.mx
or get to grips with GATS by visiting www.corporateeurope.org/water/gatswater2006.pdf
- and pay a visit to the Public Services International Research
Units briefing papers on water privatisation across the globe,
including the UK at www.psiru.org
ARREST OF THE WEEK
For looking hard...
Last Saturday an anti-fur protester standing outside the London
fashion boutique Joseph was arrested under section 5
of the Public Order Act for staring into the shop. Well
be looking out for more developments on this one.
RIGHTS, HUMANS WRONGED
With six men in hospital fighting for life following a drugs trial,
the lid has just been blown on how animal testing amounts to scientific
fraud. The six men collapsed in agony following the administration
of an experimental drug known as TGN1412, manufactured by TeGenero.
Prior to being given to the human guinea pigs, it was extensively
tested on animals. Within minutes of being injected the participants
started displaying signs of severe organ failure and extensive inflammation
caused by a breakdown of the immune system.
The debate over vivisection is often caricatured as being one of
science vs sentimentality. Three weeks ago,
three hundred people took to the streets of Oxford demanding that
a primate laboratory be built to create new medicines (see SchNEWS
534). Anti-vivisectionists are often denounced as being anti-people
but the human cost of animal testing rarely makes the headlines.
In fact vivisection is simply the shield behind which pharmaceutical
corporations hide behind when things go wrong, something which hardly
ever finds its way into the mainstream media. Already TeGenero are
attempting to shrug off responsibility for the potential fatalities
because they conducted the required animal trials.
The drug trial volunteers were given 1/500th of the dose which
had previously been administered to animals (including primates)
and yet it produced a toxic shock which nearly killed them. The
results of the animal trials have not yet been made public- but
either the drug failed to have any significant effects in animals
and was passed for humans or it caused toxic effects and was passed
for use anyway. Either way it demonstrates that the vivisectors
themselves know that animal testing is an utterly useless method
of determining the reaction a drug will have on human physiology.
The scientific director of Huntingdon Life Sciences, one of the
biggest drug and product testing labs in the world has estimated
that the accuracy of using animals to predict the human effect is
Adverse drug reactions now account for between a fifth and a quarter
of hospital admissions in the UK. An estimated 70,000 people in
England each year are killed or seriously disabled by medical drugs,
yet all of these pass animal tests. The scale is undeniably massive.
Those who do suffer extreme adverse effects have been bought off
with compensation with the proviso that they dont talk to
the press. SchNEWS has learned of one man who has been offered £100,000
after suffering an extreme reaction to a drugs manufactured by major
British pharmaceutical company - The catch? He doesnt get
the cash unless it stays out of the papers for five years. (Dont
worry Bob, we wont tell em).
With all the facts stacked up against them is it any wonder the
vivisection industry is trying to smother the debate? In a further
attempt to stifle dissent Oxford University is using underhand tactics
in its High Court attempt to shut down protest with an injunction
under the Protection from Harassment Act. In a behind closed doors
hearing of dubious legality at the High Court, they have obtained
an order banning the use of megaphone anywhere near the lab and
changed the basis of their case without the defendants having a
chance to counter it, and made it a crime to help protect people
from being served with the injunction by process servers - who are
known to chase after people down the street with cameras and on
occasion use force to serve them. It seems however, that the inner
hippy in the activists is being brought out as there have been sightings
of spontaneous outbreaks of mass group hugs whenever people in yellow
jackets come near waving pieces of paper.
The case comes back to the High Court on 3rd April when the University
will attempt to limit demos anywhere in Oxford to once a month and
reduce the weekly demos at the lab from 4 hours to 1 hours and from
50 max people to 12 max. The vagueness of the order sought means
that other protests in the city may also be caught by its terms.
All this from a university that stood up in court and declared
it was in favour of free speech and regularly hosts Amnesty events.
* 25th March - Demo for the Human Victims of Vivisection. Meeting
in Oxford city at noon. For more details contact SPEAK at www.speakcampaigns.org.uk
or 0845 330 7985. Contact number for the day is 07986 559012.
* 22nd April. World Day For Laboratory Animals. Mass demonstration
in Oxford city centre.
In December 2004, Gunns Ltd, the industrial forestry giant responsible
for destroying vast tracts of ancient forest in Tasmania, decided
to sue twenty activists for 6.3 million Australian dollars. This
is a company who are clearing ancient forest featuring the
tallest hardwood trees on the planet at the rate of 44 football
fields a day, flogged off as woodchips at £6 a metric ton
for the Asian paper market. Gunns have illegally torched and cleared
World Heritage-listed forests, and are in so deep with the government
that they dont have to file tiresome environmental impact
statements. Now they want compensation for the fact that nasty protesters
have disrupted their operations, with unlawful lobbying
of shareholders and customers, and unfavourable media statements
about their practices (ahh, its a tough life for todays
The twenty protesters immediately drew parallels with the McLibel
Trial (see SchNEWS 124 & www.mcspotlight.org).
While this ended with hefty fines for the two defendants (which
they had no means to pay and havent), the case aired a lot
of Ronalds dirty linen in public and was an expensive PR catastrophe
for the company.
The McGunns trial here we come... this week in the
Melbourne Supreme Court, Justice Bongiorno held a three-day hearing
regarding the trial, with a major concern about how long it would
go on for. With Gunns claims that the range of lawful campaigning
which the protesters have undertaken adds up to an unlawful conspiracy,
the door is open for an endless trawl through arguments for and
against Gunns activities. It is looking like the trial could
out-do McLibels record of over 300 days in court and go for
years. So now Gunns have got the choice of the humiliation of dropping
the case, or the PR nightmare of having their practices scrutinized
in open court.
* The battle to save Tasmanias forests is not all about hushed
courtrooms. For decades direct action protest camps have stood in
the way of the destruction, developing tactics which have been used
around the world since. To get updates from current direct action
protests visit http://huon.green.net.au/weldvalley
|The Blix Block return
Tuesday 21st March, Meet 4 pm EDO MBMs factory
The Shepton Mallet anti-Tesco protest camp (see SchNEWS
533) was evicted on Wednesday after a six hour tree-top battle
(no, not a scene from Crouching Crusty, Hidden Bailiff). Around
fifty bailiffs backed by forty police arrived at the site at 6am.
Unlike the last eviction, this time protesters were determined to
make a stand. Given that the site was only taken two weeks ago,
an impressive amount of defensive work had been done. Fifteen activists
locked on in the trees, up a scaffold tower and in a suspended net.
Tesco employed climbers and bailiffs from wannabe protestor
specialists Sherforce, and in a bizarre twist one of the bailiffs
- the shaven headed and toothbrush-moustache sporting Mark Lynch
(also head of security at EDO MBM, see SchNEWS
508) - had tipped activists off as to exactly when the eviction
was going to take place. Was this just an attempt to stoke up the
conflict in order to showcase his companys talents and drum
up business around the country? Question marks also hang over the
eviction, as no possession order was ever served. On the day the
order was granted Tescos didnt actually legally own the land!
Climbers eventually managed to manhandle all the tree-sitters on
the lower levels down using hydraulic cutting equipment. However
four managed to climb to the very top of the Scots Pines being defended.
A cherry-picker access platform manned by bailiffs was brought in.
Thirty people acting in a ground-support role quickly formed a road
blockade which obstructed work for over an hour. Eventually this
was cleared with six arrests.
However by midday the struggle was over. The trees were felled
in the afternoon, despite Tesco denying to the BBC that theyd
be destroyed. Every little hurts.
* For more on Tesco see www.tescopoly.org
- Benefit gig for a Brighton postie fined £1500 in the High
Court for file sharing, as well as a Kings Lynn man facing
a £13,500 fine for downloading. Sat 25th March, Cowley Club,
12 London Rd, 8-12, free entry, members & guests only.
- Judgment on Milan Rais case for organizing an unauthorised
demo (see SchNEWS 535) has been suspended until April 12th
support at Bow St. Magistrates welcome.
- International day of action against the Iraqi occupation
this Saturday (18th), Parliament Square, London.
- Naming The Dead - mass civil disobedience against Iraq
occupation - and in defiance of SOCPA. Sunday April 2nd, 12pm
also at Parliament Square, London
- Zapatista Benefit for an autonomous clinic in Chiapas.
Saturday 18th, 9pm venue:13th Note, Kings St Glasgow. £3
Lib Dem Baroness Tonge wins this weeks SchNEWS award for
throwing stones in a glass house - by condemning Kalahari Bushmen
as primitive in the House of Lords. In a way shes
right cos unlike the ultramodern British, the Bushmen are
forced to struggle by without up to date innovations like a landed
gentry. Backward Bushmen are in fact so mired in the prehistoric
era that they have no bosses let alone Baronesses.
To drag them kicking and screaming into the joys of the twenty-first
century, the Botswanan government is nicking their land and putting
them into resettlement camps. Tonge, along with Lord Jones and other
British parliamentarians, spent half a day visiting one of the Botswana
governments Bushman resettlement camps in 2002. The whole
trip (including first class air travel) was paid for by De Beers,
the worlds biggest diamond miners who are looking to make
a killing on the Bushmens land.
Lord Jones, known as Junket Jones, regularly defends
the Botswana governments expulsion of the Bushmen. He recently
bought a luxury villa in Botswana, built on land belonging to the
son of a former Botswanan cabinet minister.
Of course the Bushmen with their unevolved stone-age sensibilities
simply cant understand why their land has to be transformed
into a lunar hellhole so that Europeans can conduct their traditional
mating ceremonies with ritual gift exchanges of shiny rocks.
SchNEWS warns all readers... whats good for the goose isnt
necessarily good for the gander. Honest.
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