TALAÐ TIL VINSTRI Í BRESKA VERKAMANNAFLOKKNUM


Ræða flutt á ráðstefnu Labour Representation Committe London 15. november.
Við stofnun Verkamannaflokksins breska var nafngiftin Labour Representation Committe. Nú skipuleggur vinstri armur flokksins sig undir þessu heiti og leggur þar með áherslu á ræturnar gagnstætt "Nýja Verkamannaflokki" þeirra Tonys Blair og Gordons Brown sem þykir kominn langt yfir til hægri í viðleitni sinni til að "nútímavæða" flokkinn.
Opnunarræðu ráðstefnunnar flutti hin aldna kempa og foringi vinstri aflanna til langs  tíma,Tony Benn. Næstur kom ég en aðrir ræðumenn á boðaðri dagskrá voru Katy Clark þingkona, Jeremy Corbyn þingmaður, Jeremy Dear (frá Landssambandi blaðamanna, NUJ), John McDonnell þingmaður (og leðitogi LRC), Matt Wrack ( frá Landssamtökum slökkviliðsmanna, FBU) og Audun Lysbakken (varaformaður Norska Vinstriflokksins,SV).

Eftirfarandi er ræða mín á ensku:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address your conference. My name is Ögmundur Jónasson. I am a trade unionist, the chairman of the Federation of State and Municipal Employees in Iceland since 1988 and a member of the Icelandic Parliament since 1995, and the chairman of the parliamentary group of the Icelandic Left Green Movement.  

Iceland is truly a tiny society (although we never think of ourselves in such terms) - just over 300 thousand people - but in the space of a hundred years we managed to build up a strong welfare society with emphasis on full employment and social cohesion. Since World War II we have on average had around 1% unemployment.

Although the world may be controlled by interests, ideas play no small part. And Iceland got its share of the wave of the neo-liberalist ideology of the 80´s and 90´s.  I worked as a TV journalist for ten years from the late 70´s and well into the 80´s, experiencing at first hand the assault being made on ideas and values in our society by the neoliberals. Also in Iceland we had Hayek, Freedman, Buchanan and the whole lot, visiting regularly, helping to prepare the  ground for the political harvest we have had to suffer, first on our menu and later on our tables from the nineties onwards. The harvest of the neo-liberal garden consists of extensive privatisation,  appearing in all kinds of wrappings, outsourcing, PFI´s, public private partnership etc., etc.; the content of course always the same.

Make the lie big,
make it simple,
keep saying it,
and eventually they will believe it.
Not all the people,
-but all too many.

I lived in Great Britain for a period in the seventies, and I remember a time here when shoes with very thick heels were extremely fashionable. It was an awful fashion and nobody liked it, but for a while there was nothing else to be had in the shops.  Even if you were seven feet tall and desperately wanted to look smaller, you got nothing but the thick sole shoes.
So it has been with political ideas for all too long. The big providers in the political arena have had nothing to offer but products nobody really wants. In fact, old and rotten products which have been out of date for a long time, are still being offered, only with ever newer brand names.

As a visitor, one should probably be careful talking about one's host. But as far as the New Labour Party is concerned, I sometimes wondered why it did not go all the way in its own re-branding, and call itself the New Party. Because for those of us who have followed British politics closely there came the time one asked if there was any labour left - at all.

This question did indeed arise again in connection with the present crisis.
We are now experiencing a frantic race to save the capitalist system; the system that was supposed to be the victor of the battle of ideas. Here it was obviously of critical importance where New Labour would place itself: On the side of narrow interest or on the side of public interest? On the side of capital or on the side of working people?

It has been said that victors need not care about the truth. But in the long run this is not so. In the end truth will prevail. As the smoke settles and the sky clears, the world will not be the same.  The governments in Europe and America are playing with high stakes on lousy cards. The British New Labour Government used anti terror law to take down the Icelandic banking system, on the grounds that the Icelandic banks where a threat to the stability of the British economy. In spite of this the British government had advised local authorities to deposit their savings in these same Icelandic banks, which in turn led to a call for parliamentary investigation. Promised returns where high. Who is to blame for investing in the hope of making a quick kill?

Of course the collapse of the banks has had serious consequences for people who lost part of their savings and investors who lost their deposits. But for the British economy at large this is not of the enormity we are made to believe by Mr. Brown and friends. Whatever is right, it is an undisputed fact that the British government felt it would be a good idea to place the biggest financial institutions of a small and friendly nation on a list with Al Qaida and North Korea. Why is such a desperate and incredible measure taken? To save the British economy? To save jobs in Britain? No, it is, among other measures, taken to make sure that nobody learns the truth about capitalism, it is an attempt to divide and govern. Furthermore, it is an attempt to divert attention. 

Why did Britain pick on us? Did it want to nail the little guy to set an example? In the United States, Lehman Brothers was allowed to go under but not Bear Stearns. Why? The context is that 90% of Lehman's creditiors were outside the US, in the case of Bear Stearns the creditors were US creditors. When Lehman's collapsed they moved billions of pounds from London on the last day, they sacked most of their London staff but kept their New York offices almost intact. So London lost out, but in Whitehall no one uttered a word of criticism. Britain did not use anti-terror law against the US although many British creditors were harmed. The power of Friendship? Or just the power of bullying?

In Iceland, the banking crisis is having disastrous consequences. From the outset of the crisis it was clear that Iceland as a nation could be particularly hard hit. When the collapse of an Icelandic bank, Landsbankinn, operating in Britain was imminent, the Icelandic government made it clear that foreign obligations would be guaranteed according to law. The question of disagreement, in the aftermath of these events, has been how to interpret these legal obligations by the state, meaning the Icelandic tax-payer - not only this present generation of tax payers but also our children and grand children. In other words, future generations.


However, the following day, the day after he collapse of Landsbankinn, the British government ordered that another Icelandic bank operating in Britain, Kaupthing, be invaded and taken into administration. This act of economic vandalism was done with reference to anti-terror law. The consequence was that this bank, the biggest bank in Iceland, which the evidence shows was fully able to meet all obligations of its UK deposits, was forced into default. This caused irrepairable damage not only to the Icelandic banking system and Icelandic-owned firms operating in Britain but to Icelandic society at large. It also caused harm in Great Britain.


Why a Labour government would act in such a way is incomprehensible. Despite the propaganda, the spin, the headlines, the British government was not at all protecting public interests by its actions. On the contrary, it was causing great public harm both in Iceland and in the UK.

Most people realize that the people of Britain and the people of  Iceland are not to blame. It is the unjust, mindless, corrupt and obsolete capitalist system that is to blame.  This is not about shopkeepers, manufacturing, farming or trade. We are talking about social injustice of proportions not seen for a hundred years, which suddenly took over the hearts and minds of the world. It prompted even the guarding angel of social justice of Europe, the British Labour party, to become the New Party of old neo-liberal products, using the language twists of Big Brother. It even happened just about the year 1984.  Not very far off. And as a logical consequence of the quest for more concentration of capital comes the longing for concentracion of power as well. I suggest it is the longing for power that guided the New Party, not a longing to serve a just cause - to serve the people.  

In the end, this is all about whose side you are on.  In recent years we have seen laws changed to the advantage of capital; we have seen regulations abolished - also in the interest of capital, not the people.

The struggle ahead concerns whether or not the obvious lessons will be learned. It is absoloutely necessary that the ownership of the means of production be in the hands of the many and not the few. How we achieve this is what we should be debating and what we will be debating. What has been privatised can be nationalised again. And furthermore, we know that an infrastructure in public ownership and under public control together with a hoard of small businesses makes a nation strong. On the contrary, a nation with capital and power concentrated in the hands of the few is weak and will fail  - and eventually fall.

So the truth that can come out of this is that we were right all along, those of us who said that we should focus on the welfare and strength of the people as a whole and not believe in the charity of the wealthy few. It is a bad idea even in the language of business to place all your eggs in one basket.

Many of us know that there are times in politics where you have to side with the truth and lose. We took that course and all too long we have been on the losing side. Now we are observing the arrogant proponents of neo liberalism being assailed by the truth.

The old order is now fighting its Ardenna battle. The capitalists are sending their elite forces called the IMF, the police of international capitalism, to Iceland, with tried and tested advice of the past, to privatise the sea, the water, the mountains, the health care system, preferably the air we breathe. To privatise everything. This is the result of rampant capitalism, the idiocy of the belief in trickle down economics. In my country it was made possible by the blue-eyed naivety of a right-wing government; a government always ready to serve capitalist interests. Sadly, this is done with the backing of the British Labour Government, which should know that the capitalists who engineered the crisis are not synonomous with the Icelandic people.

Just as it has been said that pessimism is the true mark of a superiour intellect, it is equally true that the world will not be brought forward by pessimism. So the answer lies not in the recruiting of great minds, but in the recruiting of common hope, of common ethics, of common courage under the governance of common sense.

I have always been inspired by the history of the British left. It is an honour to be invited to speak here at the conference of those whom I regard as the most solid part of the left in this country, now organised in the Labour Representation Committee. I do feel I am among friends in spirit and among brothers and sisters in arms. Of course I do know that there is strong labour left - the question is to what extent this is the case in the New Labour Party. I allow myself to hope that there is some left left in that party and that it will become stronger in the coming future.

Thank you.

Fréttabréf