Remember tamiflu - our one and only hope against swine flu? The British government spent upward of £500 million stockpiling a drug for which there is no conclusive evidence of its effectiveness. Why? Because the pharmaceutical company Roche that produced and marketed it is withholding trial data.
Incredibly Roche's withholding of data was legal and with the incredible work of activists, including Health Action International, there is momentum building to change the laws governing the restriction of trial data.
But are laws enough to force the big pharma outlined in Ben Goldacre's new book (Book reviews, Socialist Review, December 2012) to start producing drugs that address social needs? More pressingly, how can we get profitable enterprises to invest in the non-profitable ailments of less developed countries, what are now shamefully called "Neglected Tropical Diseases"?
As a medical student among a cohort of pretty unmilitant individuals I have experienced the magic of this issue at awakening an often politically dormant body. There is a rising movement of student activist groups such as Universities Allied in Essential Medicines, PharmAware and HealthySkepticism (for non-student health professionals) that are raising awareness about this abject failure of capitalism.
In highlighting the problems of a sector from a reformist standpoint I think Goldacre does revolutionaries a great service. It brings to the public eye the inabilities of profit to meet the needs of society in a way that is irrefutable, easily comprehendible and extremely emotive. I can see the cogs turning in the political minds of my peers: once you see the grubby hands of profit on one part of society it's a slippery slope from reformer to revolutionary.
Thistle not help
I have to disagree with Charlie Kimber's assessment that the issue of Scottish independence "can feed into a revival of workers' confidence to fight."
(Frontlines, December 2012). The reality is the opposite and the current debate on Scottish independence is another shackle holding back struggle.
This problem is very similar to "the hesitancy" of our trade union leaders' willingness to fight back that Charlie talks about. In England we only have the illusion of Labour winning to deal with. Here in Scotland we have this and the Independence referendum to contend with.
A vote for Labour in 2015 or "yes" in late 2014 is a false electoral solution to the cuts. By the time we get the chance to vote, the majority of the cuts will be implemented. If successful neither offers to overturn the cuts.
I really appreciated the interview with Boots Riley last month (Interview, Socialist Review, December 2012). I went to Goldsmiths LMHR gig in October with some friends. Logic was really good and so were the Coup. Their music has changed a bit since what they were recording in the 90s. It has more of a funk flavour to it, so it was interesting to see them perform live.
The best part by far though was smoking with Boots Riley after the gig! We talked about the class struggle in the US. And it was fascinating to hear how Boots has stayed true to his roots and is still very active in Oakland, his local area. Hope they come back again soon!
Ad hoc Left Bloc
I enjoyed Mark Bergfeld's assessment of the state of play in Portugal (Feature, Socialist Review, December 2012). It locates the right problems as well as the right questions. The problem with the precários is that they are a network of people who answer to the daily attacks on labour rights, but don't organise in the workplaces, and so have no actual power to organise a strike, so become dependent on the unions and the Communist Party.
With regard to the Left Bloc, the call for a left government is a very strange one at the moment for several reasons. The Portuguese situation is not the same as the Greek one. In Greece the call for a left government came from a strong popular mobilisation that we still don't have in Portugal. People can't really envisage what a "left government" would look like.
The Left Bloc had 5 percent in the last election, the CP is ultra-sectarian and the Socialist Party supported the austerity memorandum. So for me, the left government slogan is precisely that. People aren't discussing the limitations of this proposal and the problems that may come with it. The Left Bloc has been important in social movements and needs to continue to build campaigns, organisations and fighting in the trade unions, not just focus on parliamentary work.