Thursday, July 18, 2019

Wage Theft by TV Star

George Calombaris, the Australian television MasterChef judge has underpaid staff at his restaurants by nearly $8m.
That figure dwarfed the amount of $2.6m paid to more than 160 people employed by his restaurant empire after it was revealed they had been underpaid overtime for up to six years.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has fined his Made Establishment company $200,000 after a four-year investigation that uncovered a failure to pay award rates, penalty rates, casual loadings, overtime and other allowances.
United Voice union said the punishment was manifestly inadequate.
Its national secretary, Jo-anne Schofield, said: “We are truly shocked at the full extent of wage theft at Made Establishment.
“For the seriousness of this crime, a $200,000 fine is not sufficient. If someone deliberately took $1,000 out of someone else’s bank account, there would be a high likelihood of a criminal conviction for theft. But when you’re a multimillionaire restaurateur / celebrity chef you can take $7.83m in wages from your workers and get away with a ‘contrition payment’. And you get to keep your TV show, your huge profile and mansion and keep raking in cash off the back of hardworking chefs, waitstaff and bartenders. All the while you’ve also been campaigning to slash the penalty rates for all hospitality workers."
Former Hellenic Republic worker and Hospo Voice leader Orlaith Belfrage said Calombaris should pay a “serious price” for wage theft.
“He should be taken off MasterChef. How many more excuses does George get?"
ACTU, Michele O’Neil, said the case was not an isolated incident, but showed underpayment was a business model.
“Wage theft is systemic across entire industries. We need harsher penalties, directors to be held responsible for their actions and rights for unions to access workplaces and ensure that workers are being paid correctly. We also need a simple, accessible process for workers to claim back wages that they have had stolen."

Driven to Extinction

The red list, produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is the most authoritative assessment of the status of species. The list published on Thursday adds almost 9,000 new species, bringing the total to 105,732, though this is a fraction of the millions of species thought to live on Earth. Not a single species was recorded as having improved in status.
A landmark planetary health check published in May concluded that human civilisation was in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems. Wildlife populations have plunged by 60% since 1970 and plant extinctions are running at a “frightening” rate, according to scientists.
“Nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history,” said Jane Smart, director of the IUCN biodiversity conservation group.
From the tops of trees to the depths of the oceans, humanity’s destruction of wildlife is continuing to drive many species towards extinction. The razing of habitats and hunting for bushmeat has now driven seven primates into decline, while overfishing has pushed two families of extraordinary rays to the brink. Pollution, dams and over-abstraction of freshwater are responsible for serious declines in river wildlife from Mexico to Japan.
“Loss of species and climate change are the two great challenges facing humanity this century,” said Lee Hannah at Conservation International. The red list addresses both, he said, by including the threat of global heating in the assessment of extinction risk.

Forgotten Workers

“Historians have always known and written about the Chinese workers, but it’s forgotten by society,” said Peter Liebhold, who co-curated the exhibit with Sam Vong. “We’ve forgotten the contribution of these workers, and in fact, we forget the contribution of all workers. We tend to focus on the achievement of the few and not the stories of the average everyday person.” Liebhold goes on to explain,“All workers on the railroad were ‘other’. On the west, there were Chinese workers, out east were Irish and Mormon workers were in the center. All these groups are outside the classical American mainstream.”

Until spring 2020, Forgotten Workers: Chinese Migrants and the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad exhibition tells the story of the Chinese workers. From 1863 and 1869, roughly 15,000 Chinese workers helped build the transcontinental railroad. They were paid less than American workers and lived in tents, while white workers were given accommodation in train carsChinese workers made up most of the workforce between roughly 700 miles of train tracks between Sacramento, California, and Promontory, Utah. During the 19th century, more than 2.5 million Chinese citizens left their country and were hired in 1864 after a labor shortage threatened the railroad’s completion.  The railroad was built entirely by manual laborers who used to shovel 20 pounds of rock over 400 times a day. They had to face dangerous work conditions – accidental explosions, snow and rock avalanches, which killed hundreds of workers, not to mention frigid weather.

The Chinese workers were educated and organized; 3,000 laborers went on strike in 1867 to demand equal wages, as the white workers were paid double.
“They were unsuccessful because they were out in the middle of nowhere,” said Liebhold. “The railroad stopped them from getting food. That’s one way it failed.”
By paying laborers a low wage,  Union Pacific board members were able to skim millions from the construction and get rich.

. “There’s no question this is a story about migrant labor,” he said. “Chinese workers were not citizens, weren’t allowed to become citizens. From the 1850s to 1882, they were tolerated in the US, but not accepted as peers. Then, there was the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred immigrants from coming into US, unless you were a diplomat or a businessperson,” said Liebhold. “You’re always welcome if you’re affluent, then you’re allowed to come in.”

Ignoring Climate Change and Fuel Poverty

Efforts to end fuel poverty and energy waste by making the UK’s draughty homes more efficient have collapsed by almost 85%, according to new government data.
The report, published on Thursday, shows that the number of energy efficiency upgrades undertaken each month has fallen to 10,000 on average for the six months to the end of May. This compares with an average of 65,000 a month in 2014.
The latest figures show that in May about 10,000 properties benefited from energy efficiency measures, such as loft insulation or boiler upgrades, down sharply from about 30,000 in the same month in 2015 and 2016. At this rate it would take 96 years for the government to reach its own targets to reduce fuel poverty, according to the charity National Energy Action.
A select committee report found that public investment in energy efficiency has shrunk in recent years, even though it is the cheapest way to cut carbon emissions. It said the government risks undermining its own climate targets unless it treats energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority. The report blamed a lack of public spending for the falling number of home insulation installations, which have plummeted by 95% from 2012.
Energy efficiency is “not only crucial for tackling climate change but are vital for lowering customers’ energy bills and lifting people out of fuel poverty”, Rachel Reeves, the chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said.
Households in England have been hardest hit since the former prime minister David Cameron reportedly told aides in 2013 to “get rid of all the green crap” levied on energy bills.
Ed Matthew, from climate-crisis thinktank E3G, said, “The UK has no hope of reaching net-zero emissions unless the government, including the Treasury, makes energy efficiency an infrastructure investment priority.”

Ending Slavery Target "Impossible"

More than 40 million people have been estimated to be captive in modern slavery, which includes forced labor and forced marriage, according to Walk Free, an anti-slavery group, and the International Labour Organization. Ending modern slavery by 2030 was one of the global goals adopted unanimously by members of the United Nations four years ago. But at today's rate, achieving that goal is "impossible".
Ten thousand people would need to be freed every day to eliminate modern slavery over the next decade, according to research on Wednesday showing countries making little or no progress in efforts to end forced labor.
"At current progress, we will not be able to eradicate modern slavery by 2030," Katharine Bryant, research manager at Walk Free, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Less than half of countries rank forced labor as a crime and most do not regard forced marriage as a crime, said the report by the Walk Free Foundation. The worst countries for modern slavery were North Korea and Eritrea, where governments are complicit in forced labor, the report said. It singled out Libya, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo, Russia and Somalia for lack of action on ending slavery. Wealthy countries that have taken little action were Qatar, Singapore, Kuwait, Brunei, Hong Kong and Russia, it said. Some countries have slowed or slipped backward in their efforts by reducing the number of victims identified, decreasing anti-slavery funding or cutting back on support systems, the report said. While an estimated 16 million people are trapped in forced labor, only 40 countries have investigated public or business supply chains to look at such exploitation, the report said.

India's Nationalists Threaten "Illegals"

While all eyes have been on the xenophobia of America's Trump and his intentions of deporting “illegal” immigrants, we should remember he is giving legitimacy to other countries sharing similar proposals.

India will identify and deport illegal immigrants from across the country, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament on Wednesday, stepping up a campaign that critics say could stoke religious tension and further alienate minority Muslims. He said the government would not limit its efforts to Assam, but would come down hard on illegal immigrants anywhere.

"Illegal immigrants living on every inch of this country will be deported according to the law," Shah declared. Shah, is a Hindu nationalist hardliner and seen as a possible future replacement for Modi in the top job He called illegal migrants "termites" eating into Assam's resources during the election campaign.

While reinforcing measures against migrants slipping into the country, the government is trying to bring in a law that would simplify the process of getting Indian citizenship for immigrants from religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, including Pakistan. People in Assam are scrambling to prove their citizenship as part of an exercise to prepare a Supreme Court-ordered registry of citizens in the state. The list is due to be released on July 31. A draft of the list released in July last year identified four million of the state's roughly 31 million people as illegal residents, including many Hindus. Human rights groups have warned that many residents, largely poor Muslims, are at risk of becoming stateless under the process.

Other states in the northeast have launched similar exercises to identify people without Indian citizenship. Mizoram state passed legislation in March to create separate registers for "residents" and "non-residents", and the neighbouring state of Nagaland is working on a similar register.

The problem is capitalism. The solution is socialism

We make no apology for returning to the question of the revolutionary change. The world is in the midst of revolutionary change. The smokestacks and assembly lines no longer dominate our landscapes. The jobs we once knew are slowly disappearing. We are being replaced by robots, computers and other new technologies in our workplaces. And still the system can no longer feed and house us or provide us with jobs. 

The Socialist Party must help develop the fighting capacity of the exploited through education and organisation. At every opportunity we must expose the capitalist system and uncloak our class enemy. We, the dispossessed, must fight back if we are to survive. We have no choice but to create a world free of exploitation and want. In order to do so, we need an organisation that can educate. Hardly anyone but Marxists nowadays retain trust in the anti-capitalist striving and sentiments of the working people or believe that they can in time participate in a mighty movement oriented toward socialist objectives. For adhering to these convictions and being guided by them, the Socialist Party is looked upon as political fossils, relics of a bygone era, who dogmatically cling to outdated views. 

Unfashionable as it may be, the Socialist Party holds substantial reasons for their persistence to their principles. Our convictions are not an affirmation of religious-like faith but a reasoned analysis of the decisive trends of our time, and an understanding of capitalist development. No sooner has the ideas of Marx been dismissed for the hundredth time by academics and intellectuals than it returns with increased confirmations. Those who deny any latent radicalism in the workers must ask if the working class cannot dislodge the capitalists, who else can do that job? Once the workers have been cancelled out as the bearers of social progress, the question is insistently posed, who will take their place? If the professors and commentators deem the struggle against capitalist domination to be a lost cause and socialism becomes a Utopia.

 People who seriously envisage such a perspective despite the capitalist rulers' arrogant faith in the longevity of their system and their perpetual dominion, must logically reconcile themselves to the eventual destruction of civilisation by the climate crises or some other consequence of the capitalist system.

The Socialist Party does not succumb to such sentiments of hopelessness. The world has hardly been a model of social peace. The gap between rich and poor keeps widening on a global scale. There is no longer an unlimited confidence in the longevity of capitalism. The prophets of gloom may easily mistake the recharging of the energies of the working class after austerity for their complete exhaustion. The self-reliance of the workers was so weakened that they do not realise they can say “no” to capitalist domination or escape from the status quo. A defeat in a battle is not losing the war.

 Capitalist production cannot do without an ample labouring force, no matter how many are unemployed, because profit-making and the accumulation of capital depend upon the consumption of large quantities of labour power which creates value in the form of commodities. Although this or that segment or individual may be squeezed out of jobs temporarily or permanently, the work force as such is not expendable, no matter how fast or how far automation proceeds under capitalist auspices. The working class is far from obsolescence and cannot be conjured away. During the lulls of militant activity, people come to believe that they can never generate rebellious moods and radical movements in their time. Sudden shocks can cause the oppressed to spring to life which confounds the skeptics and surprises the participants themselves. Workers seldom suspect what they are capable of achieving under the extraordinary motives.

The Socialist Party answer is that exploited wage slaves will make their struggles increasingly incendiary and will fight to the finish against capitalist domination. Who else can become the motor-engine for the new society? To understand this and act upon it distinguishes the Socialist Party from become the Bolshevik vanguards. The working class is not an extinct volcano but possesses potential eruptive and explosive energies still simmering in its depths. 

Workers are not fated to remain servile wage-slaves nor to kowtow to their employers. The working class has colossal tasks ahead of it. It confronts the most formidable of adversaries yet it possesses the potential strength of a giant. This class will be roused from its slumber by events beyond anyone’s control. 

The Socialist Party does not believe that our fellow-workers can be summoned into battle on anyone’s command. Working people can launch mighty offensives on their own initiative once capitalism goads them into action. The will to win is an indispensable factor in the way to win. The working class can go forward to victory only as they become convinced that the profiteers are not born to command, that they are leading the world to climate catastrophe, that they are not omnipotent and unbeatable, that their system of exploitation is not ever-lasting but has to go and can be abolished. 

This is the message of the Socialist Party. It teaches that the workers are qualified to supplant the plutocrats and become the pioneers of the first truly human society.

Marxism and Feminism (West London meeting)

Saturday, July 20,  
Quaker Meeting House, 
20 Nigel Playfair Avenue, 
London W6 9JY

James Connolly described working class women as “the slaves of the slaves.”  Rosa Luxemburg described the wives of the capitalist class as “the parasites of the parasites.”  John Lennon said that "women were the nig**rs of the world."

Capitalism is a society of inequalities, in how both wealth and power are distributed. These inequalities have often affected women more adversely than men, and campaigns for women’s rights have been ongoing for over a century. The Socialist Party argues that sexism and misogyny are expressions of how capitalism is inherently divisive and unequal. So, the solution is to address these problems at their source, by uniting to replace capitalism with a society based on equality and freedom.  The real solution to women’s oppression lies within a framework of a completely different economic system, one not based on property and the pursuit of profit.

Feminist theories of womens’ oppression and inequality have been developed largely within the liberal tradition of political philosophy. Demands have usually been formulated on the basis of moral arguments relating to legal rights and justice, and ignoring the economic conditions that render such claims meaningless within the context of capitalism. ‘Socialist’ feminists, while recognising the importance of class, have become bogged down in reformism; in effect their demand is to be wage slaves equally with men. ‘Radical’ feminists attack patriarchy, not class, as the source of women’s oppression.

While it is undeniable that most women experience certain forms of oppression and discrimination as a result of their gender, to suffer from sexism at all it is usually necessary to be a member of the working class; it is not normally a problem for female members of the capitalist class. The socialist movement, being based on a class analysis of capitalism, provides a motivation for women’s liberation since socialism can only be achieved with the majority support of women and of men

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Why people leave Honduras

Since 2015, the number of Mexicans entering the US has been equalled by the number leaving. But there been a leap in people from the so-called northern triangle – Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In 2018, citizens of those countries accounted for 87 per cent of Central American immigrants. At the same time, the number of apprehensions at the southern border – while increasing in the last two years – stood at 467,000 in 2018, down from 1 million a year in the mid-1980s. Experts say the biggest source of illegal immigration to the US is people who overstay their visas.

In 2017, 22,381 Hondurans were deported by US authorities, according to information released by US customs and immigration officials. In 2018, that figure increased by around 30 per cent to 28,894, the equivalent of 80 people a day. Twice a week, two or three flights containing up to 300 deportees land at San Pedro Sula airport where the human cargo is quickly off-loaded. Many say they intend to rest for a few months, then try again.

People here don’t have jobs to sustain themselves – for rent, for food – and people did this for the future of their children,” says Bartolo Fuentes, a former politician and activist who urged people considering joining various caravans to “go together” for safety, but who denies organising them. “Insecurity is another reason. If you try to open a business, someone extorts you. Climate change is another factor, as is the politics.”

The former Honduran president, Zeyala, blamed the government’s neo-liberal agenda, which he said was enforced by the military.
The people in our country have a lot of needs and are hungry so they take this decision to go,” he says. “They don’t have jobs, there is corruption. This is the reality for our people, and this is the economic model supported by the US.” Asked what to do to stop the migration, he says the government has to “start a process where human beings are the reason, the centre and the objective of the government”.
The epidemic of violence has its origins a quarter of a century ago, when the US began deporting Central Americans who had formed gangs in jails in places such as California. They had originally headed north to flee civil wars in which the US often supported murderous military-backed regimes. Honduras has the second highest murder rate for a country that is not an official war zone. El Salvador, which has a rate of 82 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to Honduras’s 56, has the highest.

Of Honduras’s 10 million people, up to two-thirds live in poverty. Perhaps 20 per cent live in extreme poverty, the World Bank said in 2016, surviving off less than $1.90 per day. More than half the population is under the age of 25, and youth unemployment stands at around 8 per cent.

The impact of climate change in the dry corridor in the southwest has made life even tougher for those dependent on agriculture, the largest source of income. Honduran farmers were already struggling with a coffee blight and the globally low price of coffee beans.

Another factor is corruption. In 2009, the country’s left-leaning president, Manuel Zelaya, an ally of Hugo Chavez, was ousted in a military coup. The US declined to recognise it as such, partly in order not to trigger the automatic cessation of aid. The current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, a conservative ally of the United States, was elected in 2013, and re-elected in 2017 amid widespread allegations of electoral fraud. Accusations of corruption have dogged his presidency. In 2016, his sister was forced to stand down amid protests after Hernandez made her a cabinet minister. In recent months, cities such as San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa have been rocked by public unrest over government plans to privatise healthcare and education. Even more damaging to the president are allegations his brother has been a major narco-trafficker, overseeing shipments of cocaine from Colombia to the United States. Antonio Hernandez Alvarado was arrested last November by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in Miami. In May, the former member of Honduras’s congress appeared in court in New York where he was charged with scheming over several years to bring tonnes of cocaine into the US using planes, boats, and, on one occasion, a submarine. The president has admitted that he too has previously been investigated by the DEA. The newly elected president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, declined to invite Hernadez to his swearing in.

Fated to Homelessness

More than 600,000 members of so-called ‘Generation Rent’ are facing an “inevitable catastrophe” of homelessness when they retire, according to the first government inquiry into what will happen to millennials in the UK who have been unable to get on the housing ladder as they age.

People’s incomes typically halve after retirement. Those in the private rented sector who pay 40% of their earnings in rent could be forced to spend up to 80% of their income on rent in retirement.

If rents rise at the same rate as earnings, the inquiry found that 52% of pensioners in the private rental sector will be paying more than 40% of their income on rent by 2038. This will mean that at least 630,000 millennials are unable to afford their rent.
They will find themselves homeless or with no choice but to move into temporary accommodation, at the state’s expense, according to the report by the all-party parliamentary group on housing and care for older people.

“The number of households in the private rented sector headed by someone aged over 64 will more than treble over the next 25 to 30 years,” said Richard Best, the chair of the group. “But unless at least 21,000 suitable homes are built a year, there will be nowhere affordable for them to live. The consequence is bound to be homelessness for some.”

The report also forecasts that, in terms of quality of accommodation, the number of older households living in unfit and unsuitable private rented accommodation could leap from about 56,000 to 188,000 in 20 years’ time and to 236,500 in 30 years’ time. And it warns that the UK is headed towards an ‘inevitable catastrophe for the pensioners of tomorrow”.

Substandard housing is already known to be a direct cause of death for many older people: at least 53,000 winter deaths of old people over the last five years have been attributed to conditions related to living in a cold home.
Brendan Sarsfield, the chief executive of Peabody, who was a member of the inquiry, said: “The problem with the private rented sector is that people think it is the solution. It isn’t. Insecure tenancies and expensive rents mean that very often it is not a suitable tenure for older people. Many older people today were lucky enough to be able to buy their own home and watch the value of it grow. But for the pensioners of tomorrow there is little chance of being able to do that,” he added. “The broken housing market and failure of past governments to adequately fund social housing means that we are going to see many more older people struggling to pay the rent.”
George McNamara, the director of policy and influencing at Independent Age, said: “Our research has shown that the lives of too many older renters are blighted by insecure tenancies, woeful living conditions, dealing with unscrupulous landlords and constant financial stress.”
Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said: “This country is failing to build social homes at the rate we need them, leaving older generations who missed the homeownership boat with little choice but to rent privately. On top of being notoriously expensive and unstable, too many privately rented homes simply aren’t up to scratch either – condemning older people to live out their retirement in places which are cold, damp or infested with mice.”

Living standards stagnate

Adam Corlett, a senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Over the past two years, UK households have experienced a near stagnation in living standards, even worse than the income hit experienced during the early 1990s recession.
Britain’s weak wage growth and rising prices have delivered a hit to living standards of a severity normally only seen during a deep recession, a leading thinktank has said.

While official data has shown a pick-up in real earnings growth in recent months, the Resolution Foundation said household incomes had declined by 0.5% in the period from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

In the past 40 years, the thinktank said, only the recession of the early 1980s and the slump during and after the financial crisis had brought a weaker performance. This, it added, had been caused by “a severe curtailing” of the traditional driver of income growth – rising productivity. UK productivity growth averaged 2% in the decades leading up to the 2008 banking crisis, but has barely risen at all in the 10 years since. The thinktank said rising output per hour – one measure of productivity – had accounted for two-thirds of overall economic growth before the great financial crash, but just 22% of growth since then
Household income growth had been worse than during the recession of the early 1990s – a period when real household incomes rose by 0.3% even though house prices were in the middle of a six-year decline and the pound crashed out of the European exchange rate mechanism on Black Wednesday in September 1992.

In its 2019 living standards audit, the Resolution Foundation said the slowdown in the years since the 2016 EU referendum was part of a wider stagnation in living standards since the financial crisis.
In the light of poor productivity, households had boosted incomes by working more. Employment is 3 percentage points higher than in 2007, while the average number of hours worked has remained unchanged at 32 hours a week since 2007, having fallen by an average of one hour every four years over the past century.

“The living standards history of the past 25 years tells us that there are two broad ways that families have traditionally got richer over time – higher pay off the back of rising productivity, and supporting more women into work. After an unprecedented income squeeze over the past decade, and a living standards outlook that includes child poverty rising to record levels, an economic approach that supports higher incomes for all households must be the top domestic priority for the incoming PM.”
The official data picked up some signs that the UK’s jobs boom is fading, with employment rising by just 28,000 in the latest quarter. There was a fall of 58,000 in full-time employment, offset by an 86,000 increase in part-time work. A rising working-age population meant the employment rate fell slightly.