Colonialism isn't the best answer to tax dodging

Party like it's 1799.

An interesting point from Ed Conway's write-up of the G8's tax debates. It seems Germany and co aren't particularly happy with British Overseas Territories:

Moreover, it transpires that neither Germany or Russia wanted to sign up to some of the G8 pledges on tax evasion. Other countries remain less enthusiastic about the avoidance/evasion clampdown. Others remain sceptical about the UK’s motives – earlier this year Austria’s finance minister Maria Fekter said she laughed when she first heard George Osborne was focusing on tax.

“Great Britain has many money laundering centres and tax havens in its immediate legal remit – the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, Virgin Islands.

“These are all hot spots for tax evasion and money laundering.”

It's similar to a line pushed domestically: the British overseas territories are British, so we should do something about them. It sounds less appealing when you phrase it as what it actually is: colonialism for the left.

The various islands left in the British Empire are, largely, independent. Britain takes responsibility for defence and foreign affairs, and the Home Office recommends the Queen on who to appoint as governor, but beyond that, they are self-determining. They have elected legislatures and heads of government, as well as their own courts systems (although appeals go to the Privy Council) Most of them would probably be fully independent by now – once decolonialisation began, it went along at a fair clip – except they're too small to realistically survive on their own.

You can be fairly sure, however, that if they did survive, and were made fully independent, their first act would probably not be to shrink their financial sectors. That's one of the few areas in which a small economy actually has a competitive advantage over bigger ones.

So what Austria wants is for the Britain to over-rule independent, elected governments and force them to follow policies which aren't in their best interest. I know the sun never set on the British Empire, but that's ridiculous.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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The Future of the Left: trade unions are more important than ever

Trade unions are under threat - and without them, the left has no future. 

Not accepting what you're given, when what you're given isn't enough, is the heart of trade unionism.

Workers having the means to change their lot - by standing together and organising is bread and butter for the labour movement - and the most important part? That 'lightbulb moment' when a group of workers realise they don't have to accept the injustice of their situation and that they have the means to change it.

That's what happened when a group of low-paid hospital workers organised a demonstration outside their hospital last week. As more of their colleagues clocked out and joined them on their picket, thart lightbulb went on.

When they stood together, proudly waving their union flags, singing a rhythmic chant and raising their homemade placards demanding a living wage they knew they had organised the collective strength needed to win.

The GMB union members, predominantly BAME women, work for Aramark, an American multinational outsourcing provider. They are hostesses and domestics in the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, a mental health trust with sites across south London.

Like the nurses and doctors, they work around vulnerable patients and are subject to verbal and in some cases physical abuse. Unlike the nurses and doctors their pay is determined by the private contractor that employs them - for many of these staff that means statutory sick pay, statutory annual leave entitlement and as little as £7.38 per hour.

This is little more than George Osborne's new 'Living Wage' of £7.20 per hour as of April.

But these workers aren't fighting for a living wage set by government or even the Living Wage Foundation - they are fighting for a genuine living wage. The GMB union and Class think tank have calculated that a genuine living wage of £10ph an hour as part of a full time contract removes the need for in work benefits.

As the TUC launches its 'Heart Unions' week of action against the trade union bill today, the Aramark workers will be receiving ballot papers to vote on whether or not they want to strike to win their demands.

These workers are showing exactly why we need to 'Heart Unions' more than ever, because it is the labour movement and workers like these that need to start setting the terms of the real living wage debate. It is campaigns like this, low-paid, in some cases precariously employed and often women workers using their collective strength to make demands on their employer with a strategy for winning those demands that will begin to deliver a genuine living wage.

It is also workers like these that the Trade Union Bill seeks to silence. In many ways it may succeed, but in many other ways workers can still win.

Osborne wants workers to accept what they're given - a living wage on his terms. He wants to stop the women working for Aramark from setting an example to other workers about what can be achieved.

There is no doubting that achieving higher ballot turn outs, restrictions on picket lines and most worryingly the use of agency workers to cover strikers work will make campaigns like these harder. But I refuse to accept they are insurmountable, or that good, solid organisation of working people doesn't have the ability to prevail over even the most authoritarian of legislation.

As the TUC launch their Heart Unions week of action against the bill these women are showing us how the labour movement can reclaim the demands for a genuine living wage. They also send a message to all working people, the message that the Tories fear the most, that collective action can still win and that attempts to silence workers can still be defeated.