Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials, 12 February 2013

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
12 February 2013

Last week, the media hailed Cameron's triumphant return from the European Union summit in Brussels. Not that there was much to write home about. The 3% cuts in the EU budget which were achieved by axing infrastructure projects, owed more to the German government pushing its own austerity policy than to Britain's (or Cameron's) real influence. Moreover, these cuts still had to win the approval of the European Parliament, which was not at all a foregone conclusion.

Predictably, therefore, the media's patriotic fervour at Cameron's "British victory" soon ran out of steam. But in the meantime, the newspapers had found a far more important issue to splash out across their front pages - the discovery of horsemeat in processed food sold by supermarket chains, which was immediately turned into a scandal of extraordinary proportion.

Beefing up the "horsemeat scandal"

The hysterical tone of some of the newspapers' headlines over the past few days sounds a bit crazy - especially since there is no health risk involved (from a medical point of view, horsemeat is, in many respects, healthier than beef). Nevertheless, there is some logic to their madness.

First of all, the finger of blame is pointed - rightly or wrongly - at "non-British" European suppliers, from France, Romania and Poland, among others! And who among the growing mob of eurosceptic politicians, or among their mouthpieces in the media, would miss such a golden opportunity to drum up xenophobic prejudices by, once again, accusing Europe of being a danger for Britain?

There is also a powerful lobby which has a vested interest in beefing up this issue - the cattle farmers' lobby. It is dominated by very big farms, mostly controlled by banks and investment funds whose shareholders would love to increase their sales of expensive "homegrown beef" in British supermarkets. And they can be trusted to use their influence in the City and on the media companies to make the best of the horsemeat issue.

Ironically, though, all these people seem to be struck by some sort of amnesia. Have they already forgotten that, back in 1986, a major food crisis caused by BSE ("mad cow disease") originated in Britain and spread to neighbouring countries? Have they forgotten that the British Tory governments of the time denied the reality of the threat for a whole decade, refusing to stop exports of British beef, until they were forced to do so by the European Union? Or that this BSE crisis has caused over 200 known deaths, of which three quarters were in Britain - not to mention nearly half-a-million infected animals which had to be slaughtered and burnt to prevent the disease from spreading even further?

At the time, it was "Britain" which was the danger to Europe and the rest of the world!

Regulations? no, workers' control!

The BSE crisis revealed the complacency of politicians who allowed cattle-feed manufacturers to cut costs by using in their product, ingredients made from animal bones and offal - resulting in large-scale infection of cattle by all sorts of diseases. "Self-regulation" was the politicians' motto. And the profit sharks made the best of it - for their profits.

What has changed? The horsemeat issue raises two problems. First, that one wants to be able to choose what one eats. And second, that if horsemeat can be substituted for beef, what else can be smuggled into processed food - including all kinds of potentially dangerous chemicals?

What is the politicians answer to that? The ConDems give the supermarkets a slap on the wrist, telling them they should control what they sell. But aren't the banks and shareholders behind these chains the very same ones who, for instance, are behind industries in which generation after generation of workers has been sentenced to a slow death through the lung disease, silicosis, just because their employers found it too costly to provide the necessary protection? Can these sharks be trusted to protect our health?

As to Labour, they say that more regulations and inspectors are required. But in 2001, when they were in office, this didn't prevent the outbreak of the foot-and-mouth disease among pigs and sheep, due, once again, to cost-cutting and the closure of abattoirs, thus exposing more animals transported over long distances to this highly infectious virus - and resulting in10 million animals being slaughtered!

The problem is that regulations are only as good as those who enforce them. Mainstream politicians, whose priority is to keep big business happy, will not take any measure that might dent capitalist profits. So they will regulate... by looking the other way when it might be too costly.

This is why the only protection we can rely on is our own, through the direct control of the workers involved in production and distribution - because they have no interest in propping up dividends!