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To Adopt or Not To Adopt: Current Public Attitudes and Knowledge on GMOs 

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There are legitimate concerns, and misinformation, regarding genetically modified organisms. Adoption of GMOs will continue to be hampered as long as the fears are not allayed and the misinformation dispelled.

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Climate change, coupled with the slackening of food production systems due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has had a significant impact on Africa’s and, by extension, Kenya’s food security situation. The ravaging drought in Kenya’s northern and eastern regions, as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine—both countries had been supplementing Kenya’s grain supplies—have exacerbated Kenya’s food insecurity as has the global food inflation. The price of maize flour, a staple in Kenya, has been steadily rising, and the World Food Programme estimates that nearly 4.4 million people were going hungry by the last quarter of 2022 (Kenya received a score of 23.5 on the 2022 Global Hunger Index, putting it in the category of countries facing serious hunger). On the other hand, unemployment remains high and household incomes continue to fall or remain stagnant. 

It is not surprising, then, that when President William Ruto took the helm, he proposed genetically modified (GM) maize as the go-to solution for the country’s starving populations, a proposal that sparked a heated debate that sharply divided Kenyans.

Indeed, one could say that Kenya was technically prepared for the decision with the passing of the Biosafety Act in 2009, which aimed to ensure accountability in the conduct of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) research in order to minimize potential hazards associated with GMOs and protect Kenyans from any health risks that may result from their development, transfer, and handling. However, this was not to be, as the importation of GMOs into the country was prohibited just three years later, following the publication of a study by Gilles-Eric Séralini that linked the consumption of GM foods to the development of cancer in rats.

Looking at Kenya’s current food situation, there is an argument to be made for allowing the importation of GMOs. With an ever growing population, climate stress in an agricultural sector that has a 95 per cent reliance on rainfall, as well as high input costs, and low productivity, among other factors, GMOs appear to be the much needed solution. However, given the differing perspectives on the subject, it is critical that all voices be heard, concerns addressed, and all stakeholders be involved in determining the root causes of underperformance in the sector before GMOs are introduced.

While some of the arguments for and against GMOs are premised on misinformation, most are well-informed by existing research or are legitimately skeptical, especially given the gaps in the information available to the public. Take, for instance, the understanding of what GMOs are. Some sources claim that genetically engineering organisms is a completely natural process, while others claim that it involves unnatural alterations such as the blending of genes from unrelated species, including transferring genes between plants and animals.  In their online resource library, “Encyclopedic Entry”, National Geographic defines a genetically modified organism as “an animal, plant, or microbe whose DNA has been altered using genetic engineering techniques”. EU legislation on GMOs officially defines genetically modified organisms as “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination”. This implies that the development of GMOs includes the artificial modification of an organism’s genetic makeup. They claim that the biotechnology technique used allows for the transfer of specific individual genes from one organism to another, even between unrelated species. As a result, animal DNA can now be found in plant DNA. Most GMO foods on the market have had their DNA altered to boost traits such as insect or virus resistance, herbicide tolerance, and nutritional quality.

GMO proponents argue that the genetic modification of crops and animals is an age-old practice. However, National Geographic clearly distinguishes between what it terms conventional methods, such as crossbreeding, selective breeding, and grafting, which are free of genetic modification, and present-day techniques that allow for direct clinical alteration of a microorganism’s DNA. While the latter is what should be at the heart of the GMO debate, the inclusion of both traditional and modern approaches in this debate has obscured the issues.

Equally important to those who argue for GMOs is the notion that not a single study has been published that has proven that GMOs carry health risks for consumers. Undeniably, many studies have been published that only highlight the health and environmental benefits of GMOs. There is almost universal consensus that there is no link between GMOs and such human health concerns as gene mutations, interference with organ health and function, transference of genes from GMOs to consumers, and negative effects on fertility, pregnancy, or human offspring.

Equally important to those who argue for GMOs is the notion that not a single study has been published that has proven that GMOs carry health risks for consumers.

On the other hand, those who oppose GMOs do so based on these health concerns, even though no studies have explicitly linked health complications to GMOs. They point to the fact that the safety of GMOs is an ongoing area of research, and it is not necessarily possible to prove beyond doubt that these products are safe for consumption, as new findings and insights may emerge over time. In general, the safety assessment of GMOs involves a range of studies and data collection activities, including toxicological studies, allergenicity studies, and environmental risk assessments. These studies can take a significant amount of time to complete, as they often involve long-term monitoring and data collection. Furthermore, no human participants were studied in any of the published studies due to ethical concerns, and one wonders whether these studies will stand the test of time given that some health complications, such as cancer, can take decades to manifest in humans. The question of who funds the studies also comes up during these debates, and some have wondered if it isn’t a case of “he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

The prohibition of independently-funded research on current GMO technology has also been raised in the debates. In his article Companies Put Restrictions On Research into GM Crops, Bruce Stutz highlights the frustrations that independent public researchers encountered in their quest to study GM seeds. Although they were later granted more freedom, they wondered if the move would change the course of research at all, or at least bring change to a GMO research  environment that is fraught with obstacles and suspicions.

The prohibition of independently-funded research on current GMO technology has also been raised in the debates.

There is a general belief that the person who feeds you has power over you. And since food security is considered a matter of national security, whoever controls your food production systems has your national security in their hands. For most opponents of the introduction of GM foods, the need to preserve local food production systems is perhaps the most pressing concern. In 2003 already, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicted that intellectual property rights and patenting would cause problems. Although these protect technology owners by enabling them to benefit from their innovations, they create food dependencies—or what some have termed “food colonialism”—because farmers are required by contract to not save seeds for future planting and to instead purchase them from the GM firms. This creates a kind of global monopoly over agricultural food production and distribution that contrasts with conventional seed propagation methods where plants and seeds belong to everyone as a human right.

According to the FAO, smallholder farmers provide roughly 80 per cent of the food in Africa and in Asia. In Kenya, they account for 75 per cent of the total agricultural output. Furthermore, agriculture in general provides a source of income for smallholder farmer households. The feared uncertainties and lack of control for the farmers therefore portend a possible destabilization of household incomes, and by extension, a great challenge to the adoption of GMO technology.

Concerns have also been raised regarding GMO seeds developed through “genetic reuse restricted technology”, which also aims to limit the use of GMOs by activating or deactivating specific genes in such a way that second-generation seeds are rendered infertile. It was feared that GMO crops would transmit the non-regenerative trait to other organic crops through cross-pollination, putting non-GMO farmers at risk of losing control over their own crops. In addition, the use of a diverse crop mix is said to aid sustainability and biodiversity, both in terms of crop protection and the societal values placed on food. It is feared that GM seeds could potentially harm the many different indigenous varieties that smallholder farmers in particular cultivate.

The negative effects of GMOs do not end with farmers losing control over their crops. GMOs also have the potential to impact on exports of agricultural products to other markets and thus a country’s foreign earnings. Horticulture exports are one of Kenya’s main sources of foreign income. Indeed, by the end of 2021, the sector had become the country’s largest foreign exchange earner, generating KSh157 billion, up from KSh150.6 billion the previous year. Europe is Kenya’s main importer of horticultural products, accounting for 45 per cent of the country’s horticultural exports. The EU, on the other hand, strictly controls the entry of GMO products into its market and employs the precautionary principle via a three-pillar regulatory framework that includes pre-market authorization based on a prior risk assessment, traceability, and labelling. It is not surprising, then, that the lifting of the GMO importation ban in Kenya has alarmed EU buyers of horticultural products, and Kenyan exporters are now required to undergo additional certification to ensure that products shipped by them contain no traces of GMOs.

In contrast to GMOs as a solution to Kenya’s food problems, a careful look at issues affecting agriculture in Kenya suggests that technology may play a significant role in food production. Several studies conducted in Africa highlight under-mechanization and a lack of innovation as the main challenges confronting agricultural systems and thus food production. Farm work has become associated with toil, making it unappealing to the most productive segments of the population. Nevertheless, there has been progress in the mechanization of some processes along the value chain, as well as improvements in access to farm inputs, funding, markets, and digital agricultural services.

Farm work has become associated with toil, making it unappealing to the most productive segments of the population.

On the whole, Kenya’s food security situation is undeniably deficient. Many gaps exist in the food production systems, affecting sufficiency and exposing a significant portion of the population to hunger and malnutrition. Hence, in light of the above discussions and ongoing debates among Kenyans, Kenya’s food systems—no doubt like those of most African nations—require restructuring. They lack the resilience to withstand major shocks such as droughts caused by climate change, among other things, leaving Kenya extremely food insecure. The country lags behind in even the most basic agricultural innovations, such as irrigation, good input practices and technologies, market access information, aggregation and seamless logistics, innovative financing for smallholder farmers, post-harvest loss mitigation, and the adoption of local food varieties that are drought resistant, among others. As a result, while GMO is a modern technology, it is not what Kenya requires right now unless it is a quantum leap. The country has not yet applied all the technological solutions at its disposal. Is it any wonder then that most authoritative voices in Kenya’s agricultural sector have called for innovation, the empowerment of smallholder farmers, and their inclusion at the centre of food production as a way of alleviating the country’s food insecurity rather than advocating for the adoption of GMOs?

In this context, it appears that any significant agricultural innovations for Kenya—and by extension, Africa—will be those that take into account the role of smallholder farmers and the importance for them to have control over the innovations, as well as the conservation of existing food production systems, thereby enhancing food security as well as the protection of household incomes and livelihoods. In any case, the problems with Kenya’s food systems are primarily leadership-related, and unless this is addressed, GMO technology will be similarly mismanaged.

Finally, there are legitimate concerns as well as misinformation regarding GMOs, and their adoption will continue to be hampered as long as the fears are not allayed and the misinformation dispelled. Before pushing for GMO adoption, perhaps GMO-adopting countries should be allowed to conduct independent research and publicize the results. Furthermore, questions must be asked about whether GMOs are the solution to Kenya’s food problems and, if so, whether the right questions about the country’s food systems were raised before adopting GMOs as the solution.

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Evangeline Wanyama is an independent research and evaluation expert with years of experience around multiple international and social development issues in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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Education in Rwanda: A Long Walk to the Knowledge Economy

If Rwanda is to attain its stated ambition to become of a middle-income country by 2035 driven by the knowledge economy, then it must inject significant investments in the education and related sectors.

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Rwanda has shown commitment to bring improvements to its education sector. The development of Human capital that involves the enhancement of the education and health sectors was one of the main pillars of Rwanda’s development programme launched in 2000 to transform the country into a middle income state driven by the knowledge economy by 2020. Many developed countries joined in to financially support Rwanda to fulfil its development ambitions.

But while Rwanda did not meet its target to transform into a middle-income state by 2020, it has nevertheless made progress in the education sector that should be recognised. The country has now near-universal access to primary education with net enrolment rates of 98 per cent. There are also roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in Rwanda. Compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, Rwanda has made great improvements in the education sector based on the gains made in primary school gross enrolment, out-of-school and retention rates and considering that the country came out of a genocidal civil war in the 1990s. Those of us living and travelling across the country can also see that the government of Rwanda has built more schools across the country to address congestion in classrooms.

However, education in Rwanda is faced with serious challenges which, if not addressed, the country will not attain its ambition to become a middle-income by 2035 and a high-income by 2050. The World Bank’s comparison with middle- and high-income countries, to whose ranks Rwanda aspires to join, shows that Rwanda lags far behind in primary and lower secondary school completion levels.

The gains made in education are not equally distributed across Rwanda. There are, for instance, wide disparities in lower secondary education by income and urban–rural residence. Whereas lower secondary school gross enrolment ratio level is 82 per cent in urban areas, it is only 44 per cent in rural areas. Moreover, transition rates between primary and lower secondary education are 53 per cent in urban areas, and 33 per cent in rural areas. School completion is 52 per cent among the richest quintile while it is 26 per cent among the poorest. Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.

The standard of education in Rwanda is another major challenge. At the end of Grade 3, 85 per cent of Rwandan students were rated “below comprehension” in a recent reading test, and one in six could not answer any reading comprehension question. In my view, the quality of education has been partly affected by the abrupt changes in the language of instruction that have taken place without much planning since 2008.

Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.

Learning levels in basic education remain low in Rwanda.  Children in the country can expect to complete 6.5 years of pre-primary and basic education by the age of 18 years. However, when this is adjusted for learning it translates to only about 3.8 years, implying that children in Rwanda have a learning gap of 2.7 years. This is a concern.

Education in Rwanda is also impended by high levels of malnutrition for children under 5 years. Although there have been improvements over time, malnutrition levels remain significantly high at 33 per cent. Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings. It also deprives the economy of quality human capital that is critical to Rwanda attaining its economic goals and sustaining its economic gains. In 2012, Rwanda lost 11.5 per cent of GDP as a result of child undernutrition.

Because of low learning levels and high levels of malnutrition in children under 5 years, Rwanda has consistently ranked below average on the World Bank’s Human Capital index since 2018, the year the index was first published. HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens.

If Rwanda is to develop the competent workforce needed to transform the country into a knowledge-based economy and bring it into the ranks of middle-income states, the government must put significant public spending in basic education. This has not been the case over the past decades. According to the World Bank, Rwanda’s public spending on primary education has been significantly lower than the average for sub-Saharan African countries with similar coverage of primary school level as Rwanda. This low spending on primary education has translated into relatively modest pay for teachers and low investment in their professional development which in turn affects the provision of quality education in Rwanda. The government recently increased teachers’ salary but the increment is being eroded by, among other things, food price inflation in Rwanda.

Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings.

Going forward, Rwanda’s spending on education needs to be increased and allocated to improving standards. Considering that the underlying cause of the high rate of malnourishment in children is food insecurity, the government needs to spend more on the agriculture sector. This sector employs 70 per cent of the labour force but has received only 10 per cent of total public investment. Public investment in Rwanda has in the past gone to the development of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions sector rather than towards addressing pressing scarcities. This approach must be reviewed.

Increasing public expenditure in education and connected sectors should also be combined with strengthening accountability in the government institutions responsible for promoting the quality of education in basic schools and in promoting food security and livelihoods in Rwanda. This is because not a year goes by without the office of the Rwanda auditor general reporting dire inefficiencies in these institutions.

Strengthening institutional accountability can be achieved if the country adapts its consensual democracy by opening up the political space to dissenting voices. Doing so would surely enhance the effectiveness of checks and balances across institutions in Rwanda, including in the education sector, and would enable the country to efficiently reach its development targets.

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No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States

Adam Mayer praises a new collection, Liberated Texts, which includes rediscovered books on Africa’s socialist intellectual history and political economy, looking at the startling, and frequently long ignored work of Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu and Makhan Singh.

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No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States
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Liberated Texts is a magnificent, essential, exciting tome that feels like a bombshell. This incredibly rich collection is a selection that is deep, wide, as well as entertaining. The book focuses on twenty-one volumes from the previous one hundred years, with a geographical range from the UK, the US, Vietnam, Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, the Middle East, Ireland, Malaysia, Africa (especially East Africa), Europe, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, focusing on books that are without exception, foundational.

The collection is nothing less than a truth pill: in composite form, the volume corrects world history that Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States offered for the sterile, historical curriculum on domestic (US) history. The volume consists of relatively short reviews (written by a wide collection of young and old academics and activists from every corner of the globe) but together they reflect such a unified vision that I would recommend Liberated Texts as compulsory reading for undergraduate students (as well as graduates!) Although the text is a broad canvas it speaks to our age (despite some of the reviewed book having been written in the 1920s).

Each review is by default, a buried tresure. The writer of this very review is a middle-aged Hungarian, which means that some of the works and authors discussed were more familiar to me than they would be to others. For example, Anton Makarenko’s name was, when the author grew up in the People’s Republic of Hungary, a household word. Makarenko’s continued relevance for South America and the oppressed everywhere, as well as his rootedness in the revolutionary transformations of the Soviet experiment, are dealt with here marvellosly by Alex Turrall (p. 289). In loving detail Turrall also  discusses his hero the pedagogue Sukhomlinsky’s love for Stalinist reforms of Soviet education (p. 334).

There is one locus, and one locus only, where death is given reign, perhaps even celebrated: in a Palestinian case (p. 133) the revolutionary horizons are firmly focused on the past, not on any kind of future. The entire problematic of Israeli society’s recent ultra right-wing turn (a terrible outcome from the left’s point of view) is altogther missing here. Yet it is difficult to fault the authors or editors with this (after all, they painstakingly included an exemplary anti-Nazi Palestinian fighter in the text, p. 152) but it might be in order to challenge a fascination with martyrdom as a revolutionary option on the radical left.

In every other aspect, Liberated Texts enlightens without embarrassment, and affirms life itself. Imperialism is taken on in the form of unresolved murders of Chinese researchers in the United States as a focus (p. 307), and in uncovering the diabolical machinations of the peer-review system – racist, classist, prestige-driven as it is (p. 305).

The bravery of this collection is such that we find few authors within academia’s tenure track: authors are either emeriti, tenured, very young academics, or those dedicated to political work: actual grassroots organizers, comrades at high schools, or as language teachers. This has a very beneficial effect on the edited volume as an enterprise at the forefront of knowledge, indeed of creating new knowledge. Career considerations are absent entirely from this volume, in which thankfully even the whiff of mainstream liberalism is anathema.

I can say with certainty regarding the collection’s Africanist chapters that certain specialists globally, on African radical intellectual history, have been included: Leo Zeilig, Zeyad el-Nabolsy, Paul O’Connell, Noosim Naimasiah and Corinna Mullin all shed light on East African (as well as Caribbean) socialist intellectual history in ways that clear new paths in a sub-discipline that is underfunded, purposely confined to obscurity, and which lacks standard go-to syntheses especially in the English language (Hakim Adi’s celebrated history on pan-Africanism and communism stops with the 1950s, and other works are in the making).

Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu, Makhan Singh are the central authors dealt with here. Rodney is enjoying a magnificent and much deserved renaissance (but this collection deals with a lost collection of Rodney’s 1978 Hamburg lectures by Zeilig!) Nabolsy shows us how Nyerere’s Marxist opposition experienced Ujamaa, and Tanzanian ’socialism’. Nabudere – a quintessential organic intellectual as much as Rodney –  is encountered in praxis as well as through his thought and academic achievements in a chapter by Corinna Mullin. Nabudere emerges as a towering figure whose renaissance might be in the making right at this juncture. Singh makes us face the real essence of British imperialism. Nabudere, Babu and even Hirji’s achievements in analysing imperialism and its political economy are all celebrated in the collection.

Where Shivji focuses on empire in its less violent aspect (notably NGOs and human rights discourse) powerfully described by Paul O’Connell, Naimasiah reminds us that violence had been as constitutive to Britain’s empire, as it has been to the Unites States (in Vietnam or in Korea). An fascinating chapter in the collection is provided by Marion Ettinger’s review of Richard Boyle’s Mutiny in Vietnam, an account based entirely on journalism, indeed impromptu testimony, of mutinous US soldiers tired of fighting for Vietnam’s landlord class.

Many readers of this anthology will identify with those veterans (since the collection appears in the English language) perhaps more than with East Asia’s magnificent, conscious fighters also written about in the book. Even in armies of the imperialist core, humanity shines through. Simply put, there are no imperialist peoples, only imperialist states.

Zeilig’s nuanced take on this important matter is revealed in Rodney’s rediscovered lectures. Also, the subtlety of class analysis in relation to workers versus peasants, and the bureacratic bourgeoisie profiting from this constellation (p. 219) brings to mind the contradiction that had arguably brought down Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist president who nevertheless found himself opposing working class demands. Rodney’s politics in Guyana invited the same fate as Sankara, as we know.

Nabolsy’s review on Hirji’s The Travails of a Tanzanian Teacher touches on very interesting issues of Rodney’s role especially in the context of Ujamaa and Nyerere’s idiosyncratic version of African socialism. Nabolsy appreciates Nyerere efforts but analyses his politics with great candour: Ujamaa provided national unification, but failed to undermine Tanzania’s dependency in any real sense. The sad realization of the failure of Tanzania’s experience startles the reader with its implications for the history of African socialism.

On an emotional and personal level, I remain most endeared by the Soviet authors celebrated in this text. So Makarenko and Sukhomlinsky are both Soviet success stories and they demonstrate that this combination of words in no oxymoron, and neither is it necessarily, revisionist mumbo-jumbo. Their artificial removal from their historical context (which had happened many times over in Makarenko’s case, and in one particular account when it comes to Sukhomlinsky) are fought against by the author with Leninist gusto.

Sukhomlinsky had not fought against a supposedly Stalinist education reform: he built it, and it became one of the most important achievements of the country by the 1960s due partly to his efforts. The former educational pioneer did not harm children: he gave them purpose, responsibility, self-respect, and self-esteem. The implication of Sukhomlinsky and Makarenko is that true freedom constructs its own order, and that freedom ultimately thrives on responsibility, and revolutionary freedom.

As this collection is subtitled Volume One, it is my hope and expectation that this shall be the beginning of a series of books, dealing with other foundational texts, and even become a revolutionary alternative to The London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, both of which still demonstrate how much readers crave review collections. Volumes like Liberated Texts might be the very future of book review magazines in changed form. A luta continua!

This article was first published by ROAPE.

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We Must Democratize the Economy

In the UK, prices for basic goods are soaring while corporations rake in ever-bigger profits. The solution, Jeremy Corbyn argues, is to bring basic resources like energy, water, railways, and the postal service into democratic public ownership.

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Jeremy Corbyn: We Must Democratize the Economy
Photo: Chatham House, London
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On Thursday, December 15, the Royal College of Nursing went on strike for the first time in their 106-year history. Understaffed, underpaid, and overworked, tens of thousands of National Health Service (NHS) nurses walked out after being denied decent, livable pay rises. Hailed as heroes one year, forced to use food banks the next, nurses’ wages have fallen more than £3,000 in real terms since 2010; three in four now say they work overtime to meet rising energy bills.

People will remember 2022 as the year that the Conservative Party plunged this country into political turmoil. However, behind the melodrama is a cost-of-living crisis that has pushed desperate people into destitution and the so-called middle classes to the brink. We should remember 2022 as the year in which relative child poverty reached its highest levels since 2007 and real wage growth reached its lowest levels in half a century. (Average earnings have shrunk by £80 a month and a staggering £180 a month for public sector workers.) These are the real scandals.

For some MPs, this was the year they kick-started their reality TV careers. For others, this was the year they told their children they couldn’t afford any Christmas presents. For energy companies, it was the year they laughed all the way to the bank; in the same amount of time it took for Rishi Sunak to both lose and then win a leadership contest, Shell returned £8.2 billion in profit. SSE, a multinational energy company headquartered in Scotland, saw their profits triple in just one year. Profits across the world’s seven biggest oil firms rose to almost £150 billion.

Tackling the cost-of-living crisis means offering an alternative to our existing economic model — a model that empowers unaccountable companies to profit off the misery of consumers and the destruction of our earth. And that means defending a value, a doctrine, and a tradition that unites us all: democracy.

Labour recently announced “the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people.” I welcomed the renewal of many of the policies from the manifesto in 2019: abolishing the House of Lords and handing powers to devolved governments, local authorities, and mayors. These plans should work hand in hand, to ensure any second chamber reflects the geographical diversity of the country. If implemented, this would decentralize a Whitehall-centric model of governance that wastes so much of this country’s regional talent, energy, and creativity.

However, devolution, decentralization, and democracy are not just matters for the constitution. They should characterize our economy too. Regional governments are demanding greater powers for the same reason an unelected second chamber is patently arcane: we want a say over the things that affect our everyday lives. This, surely, includes the way in which our basic resources are produced and distributed.

From energy to water and from rail to mail, a small number of companies monopolize the production of basic resources to the detriment of the workers they exploit and the customers they fleece. We rely on these services, and workers keep them running, but it is remote chief executive officers and unaccountable shareholders who decide how they are run and profit off their provision. Would it not make more sense for workers and consumers to decide how to run the services they provide and consume?

As prices and profits soar, it’s time to put basic resources like energy, water, rail, and mail back where they belong: in public hands. Crucially, this mold of public ownership would not be a return to 1940s-style patronage-appointed boards but a restoration of civic accountability. Water, for example, should be a regional entity controlled by consumers, workers, and local authorities, and work closely with environmental agencies on water conservation, sewage discharges, the preservation of coastlines, and the protection of our natural world. This democratic body would be answerable to the public, and the public alone, rather than to the dividends of distant hedge funds.

Bringing energy, water, rail, and mail into democratic public ownership is about giving local people agency over the resources they use. It’s about making sure these resources are sustainably produced and universally distributed in the interests of workers, communities, and the planet.

Beyond key utilities, a whole host of services and resources require investment, investment that local communities should control. That’s why, in 2019, we pledged to establish regional investment banks across the country, run by local stakeholders who can decide — collectively — how best to direct public investment. Those seeking this investment would not make their case with reference to how much profit they could make in private but how much they could benefit the public as a whole.

To democratize our economy, we need to democratize workplaces too. We can end workplace hierarchies and wage inequalities by giving workers the right to decide, together, how their team operates and how their pay structures are organized. If we want to kick-start a mass transfer of power, we need to redistribute wealth from those who hoard it to those who create it.

Local people know the issues facing them, and they know how to meet them better than anyone else. If we want to practice what we preach, then the same principles of democracy, devolution, and decentralization must apply to our own parties as well. Local party members, not party leaders, should choose their candidates, create policy, and decide what their movement stands for.

Only a democratic party can provide the necessary space for creative and transformative solutions to the crises facing us all. In a world where the division between rich and poor is greater than ever before, our aim should be to unite the country around a more hopeful alternative — an alternative that recognizes how we all rely on each other to survive and thrive.

This alternative is not some abstract ideal to be imagined. It is an alternative that workers are fighting for on the picket line. Even before the nurses went on strike, 2022 was a record-breaking year for industrial action. Striking workers are not just fighting for pay, essential as these demands are. They are fighting for a society without poverty, hunger, and inequality. They are fighting for a future that puts the interests of the community ahead of the greed of energy companies. They are fighting for us all.

Their collective struggle teaches us that democracy exists — it thrives — outside of Westminster. The government is trying its best to turn dedicated postal workers and railway workers into enemies of the general public — a general public that apparently also excludes university staff, bus drivers, barristers, baggage handlers, civil servants, ambulance drivers, firefighters, and charity workers. As the enormous scale of industrial action shows, striking workers are the general public. The year 2022 will go down in history, not as the year the Tories took the public for fools, but as the year the public fought back. United in their thousands, they are sending a clear message: this is what democracy looks like.

This article was first published by Progressive International

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