Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Act of God or of Profit?

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So often a natural disaster proves to be actually a man-made one. The Herald reports that much of the floods in Pakistan was less of an "act of god" but more an act of capitalism in the pursuit of profits. When Pakistan became independent from Britain in 1947, thick riverine forests lined the Indus on its thousand mile journey across the plains. These forests used to absorb the ferocity of the floodwaters. By 2005 Pakistan had lost 25% of the forest cover that existed in 1990. Experts predict at current rates of exploitation – more than 100 square miles of trees clear-felled annually – the remaining forests will all be gone by 2010. It means this year’s catastrophic floods will be repeated again and again
Trees felled by so-called illegal loggers – an infamous “timber mafia” that has representatives in the Pakistan Parliament and connections right to the top of government and the military bring this mafia billions of dollars yearly. Warnings given by all manner of experts had been ignored for decades that if the country’s timber mafia continued to strip the country’s forests at a faster rate than anywhere else in Asia then floods of Biblical proportions would be inevitable. They would not be acts of God. They would be man-made catastrophes. And so it came to pass.

This year’s monsoon lashing northern Pakistan with unusual intensity would historically have been absorbed by extensive forests, much like layers of blotting paper, allowing the rains to run off more sedately than in modern times. But this month the mud and water deluge cascaded off the tree-bare mountains and hills with exceptional force. Trees felled and stacked in the innumerable steep narrow valleys, gorges and ravines turned into instruments of destruction, smashing all in their wake. Rivers and dams turned black with timber. Relief workers said bridges, homes and people were destroyed and swept away by the hurtling and swirling logs before the waters spread on to the plains below, engulfing an area of more than 60,000 square miles, more than twice the land area of Scotland. 8000 schools were either destroyed or partially destroyed by the torrents.
The riverine forests were the first line of defence against the raging floods which have inundated the plains annually for thousands of years. They have been cut everywhere from Murree, a hill station on the Jhelum River before it fans out onto the plains, to lower Punjab, in the heart of the plains to upper Sindh, the province where the Indus flows into the Arabian Sea via a massive delta. Dawn, daily newspaper, said 80 million trees had been chopped down in the “protected” Khebrani and Rais Mureed Forest in the three years before the floods inundated the plains this month. In just 36 months the forest had shrunk from nearly 20 square miles to barely three square miles, causing serious damage to the environment. 900 miles to the north, in the Ayubia National Park – legally a government-protected forest – the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported, before the current flooding happened: “The forest is disappearing fast, threatening the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people.” 400,000 cubic feet of forest wood was illegally cut in that year, and one million cubic feet was extracted illegally in the next three years.

As a consequence of political interventions, the corruption of forest officials and the nexus between land grabbers and the timber mafia over the last 25 years, the forests of Sindh are on the verge of extinction. They have been ruthlessly exploited by the law enforcement agencies, politicians and bureaucrats for their own vested interests. Policemen took bribes from the timber mafia in return for allowing them to fell trees. The Pakistan government’s much trumpeted reforestation strategy exists only on paper, while on the ground you will find ruthless deforestation. Forestry officers are involved in unauthorised wood-cutting and issuing of unauthorised passes for the transportation of forest wood and disposal of government machinery. The government allowed the illegal timber to be exported to other provinces without a fine, which encouraged the timber mafia to cut down ever more trees knowing it had political clout. The government did begin to fine fellings, but the fine was so small that it encouraged the timber mafia instead of discouraging them.
Ghulam Hussain Khoso, a cattle herder within the Khebrani and Rais Mureed Forest, said: “I do not trust that the forest department will ever improve forest conditions. The dacoits [bandits] were better custodians of the forest than the forest department itself. The thick forests served as a hideout for the dacoits: therefore they protected them and did not allow anyone to destroy them.”

“The claims and slogans of officialdom are completely divorced from reality,” said the Dawn newspaper editorial. “The government is promoting ‘Green Pakistan’ even as trees continue to be slaughtered across the country in the name of development. The timber mafia is denuding the country’s woodlands. The situation is desperate and is deteriorating by the day.”

John Muir, the great Scottish naturalist, once said: “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
SOYMB would also add , "Nor from rapacious capitalists"

Misplaced admiration

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Thirteen years ago today, a car crash in Paris resulted in the deaths of three people. Only Trevor Rees Jones wore a seat belt and survived. Remember, clunk click every trip; don't drink and drive; and that the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production...

Do I care that Diana Spencer was killed in a car crash in Paris? I do, but not to order and never in the way I am expected to care. In almost all cases we humans are saddened by death. We know that without any doubt we must all come to an end and to not know how this will take place or where or when is probably at the back of most of our minds. But I find it incomprehensible that I should be expected to grieve to distraction over a woman I have never met, was never likely to meet and had no desire to meet. Not only that but I now find that an assumption is made that I will automatically become involved in some of the sickening hypocrisy that we have all witnessed in the wake of her death, and I must say I find this deeply insulting to my intelligence.

If Diana preached that we should not discriminate against people with AIDS, so what? If she told us that land mines should not be used to kili civilians, so what? Is there something intrinsically clever or wise about this? So many of us have said the same. But Diana was listened to and admired because like everything else under capitalism she had been "packaged", her money and her position entitling her to be "right" in the eyes of those people who are impressed by such things. She was a princess and princesses, unlike other people, apparently, KNOW these things. Wealth had made her attractive and interesting, ensuring therefore, that when she spoke about AIDS victims, the homeless, children, then she would be taken much more seriously than when we lesser mortals give voice on similar subjects. So only the successful and the wealthy have that priority of wisdom, while the rest of us are seldom consulted except for one day every five years when we have the dubious honour of being invited to put a cross against the name of some remote person who knows and understands less than we do.

So what is it about human beings that they often cannot differentiate between what is real and matters and what is cosmetic, contrived and overly-sentimental? Centuries of conditioning must be one of the reasons why the human race resorts to adulation of the rich and the powerful, the sages, the clever ones, those who know what is best for us, whom we allow to enslave us, resulting in an almost innate inferiority. The media and the system under which we all live encourages this; it is to their advantage.

Many of us will have worked all our lives to change this system of society, while others believe that belonging to a trade union or joining the Labour Party will increase the chances of a better life for the working class, believing that reform will bring about change and benefit us all. Socialists know that only by eradicating capitalism can we begin to redress injustice and poverty and look towards a sensible and rational life for us and our children and their children.

Meanwhile. my heart aches for those who do not dare to trust their own judgment, who fawn on the shallow figures in our society and make gods and goddesses of them because they have never considered that the power to change what is sick in this world lies in their own hands.

HEATHER BALL
(Socialist Standard, October 1997)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Prayers or revolution ?

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Pope Benedict XVI says he is praying constantly for the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground. The men have been trapped in a mine below the Atacama Desert since August 5. Chilean officials say it could take months to drill an escape tunnel to free them.That must be a comfort to them. They have already described their conditions as living in Hell.

The Chilean mining accident was the result of a race for profits by mine owners – who may face criminal charges – at a boom time in the price of two metals, combined with a scandalous disregard for safety, according to trade unionists.Despite a spate of fatalities union efforts to permanently close San Jose and the neighbouring San Antonio mine had failed. The government ordered the closure of the San Jose mine after deaths in 2006 and 2007, but a year later a junior official, allegedly exceeding his powers, authorised its reopening without the owners having installed a stairway in the ventilation passages. This stairway would have saved the 33 men this month. Instead, employees were sacked and non-unionised labour taken on.

Despite a legal requirement, there were no alternative exits from the San Jose copper and gold mine, which has left the 33 miners imprisoned 700 metres underground.The neglect of such elementary safety precautions is the legacy of decades of anti-union activity by General Augusto Pinochet, whose Western-backed dictatorship between 1973 and 1990 did its best to crush the unions. Subsequent governments have failed to abolish his repressive legislation. Chile, where vast fortunes have been made from mining, has only 16 mine inspectors to look after 4,500 mines. There have been 31 fatal mining accidents this year alone , (eight other Chilean miners were killed at operations nearby last year . Their deaths were not exceptional enough to merit mention beyond the mining industry press and local media). These trapped men are more fortunate than other cave-in victims in the third world countries, where mining accidents occur often and deaths are common. Last year an estimated 67 occurred in India, 29 in Kazakhstan and 25 in South Africa.Even a list of disasters, however, says nothing about the many more whose lives have been crippled and shortened by diseases resulting from working in a mine.

Jorge Pavletic, a board member with the national mining society and leading industrialist in the mineral-rich Antofagasta region, accused authorities are "overreacting" over safety.Said Pavletic, "We are not sending people to the slaughterhouse." When mine-owners neglect to keep their mines ventilated, and blow them into eternity in underground explosions , or brick them up in the pit to be entombed alive, it's a lamentable occurrence but quite an accident, and there's an end to it. Focussing and concentrating attention and resources to health and safety of the miners would lead to a loss of competitiveness that would mean a significant loss of profits, and since profits are capitalism's priority, the fact is ensuring maximum safety in the mining industry would turn into a commercial disaster. It is capitalism's profits-before-people unavoidability. Business profit-making and cost savings has pre-eminence, thereby keeping going the conditions that will give rise to further money-related disasters.

But it is the miners who are paying the price. As always, it is the miners and their families who suffer while the owners, whether private capitalists or those who control the government, are those who benefit.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

stock-market farm wars

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There has been a $40billion, $130-a-share, hostile takeover bid for the for the Potash Corp of Saskatchewan by the Australian mining conglomerate BHP Billiton (profits for the full year ended 30 June 2010 $12.7 billion, a growth of 116.5 per cent) .

In 1989, the government of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan started the privatisation of PotashCorp through an initial public offering – and raised a mere $231m. It sold the shares at $18 but, by the end of the first trading day with investors showing little interest, the price had fallen to $17.75. Investors were little interested in an obscure commodity such as potash. Now the sector has become the darling of Wall Street. In the first eight months of the year, deals valued at $61bn have been announced by companies in the industry. The cost of potash has rose from less than $150 in 2006 to almost $1,000 a tonne in 2008. For years, fertiliser consumption increased only slowly, in parallel with the growth in global population. But in the late 1990s and 2000s new factors accelerated demand.

Modern agriculture relies heavily on fertiliser to boost crop yields. “Potash, for all intents and purposes, is food,” says Vincent Andrews of Morgan Stanley in New York.

Economic growth in emerging countries has been accompanied by greater demand for proteins such as meat and milk, and a rapid increase in demand for grain to fatten livestock (7kg for every 1kg of beef). The development of the global biofuels industry further increased demand for agricultural commodities and hence fertilisers. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation forecasts that global food demand will jump by 70 per cent between now and 2050 as the population rises by 3bn to more than 9bn, further boosting demand for fertiliser. As a result, countries are starting to see potash much as they see crude oil - as a hunted, strategic commodity.

Potash deposits are not evenly spread. A handful of nations – Canada, Russia, Belarus and Israel – command the bulk of the reserves. Eight companies control more than 80 per cent of global supply. Two marketing groups – Canpotex for North American producers and BPC for the Russian and Belarusian groups – dominate the global trade. Potash is the only fertiliser in which China is seriously deficient. The country, which feeds 20 per cent of the world’s population using just 7 per cent of global arable land, has huge fertiliser needs. China has to import about half of its potash needs, a dependency that “may become a major threat to China’s fast-developing national economy and long-term strategic needs”, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a think-tank that advises the government.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London, explained
“The potash story is very significant. This is an attempt at a commodity grab. The price of potash will rise and, with it, the price of food. Right now agriculture is like a junkie, hooked on things like potash and oil. If the challenge is about future soil fertility and human health, we can develop a system based on nutrient recycling. Humans need to become part of the cycle, literally, using recycled sewage to restore fertility to the land. At the moment we drain it out to sea – it could be used to increase yield and health of crops.”

Lang fears that the activities of BHP signify an attempt to control the food supply.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Great Money Trick

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A passage from Robert Tressell's 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists'

‘Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.’
‘Prove it,’ said Crass.
Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it into his pocket.
‘All right,’ he replied. ‘I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.’
Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left would give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives they used to cut and eat their dinners with from Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them as follows:
‘These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created by the Great Spirit for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.’
... ‘Now,’ continued Owen, ‘I am a capitalist; or, rather, I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, or whether I have any real right to them; the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the Landlord and Capitalist class. I am that class: all these raw materials belong to me.’
... ‘Now you three represent the Working Class: you have nothing – and for my part, although I have all these raw materials, they are of no use to me – what I need is – the things that can be made out of these raw materials by Work: but as I am too lazy to work myself, I have invented the Money Trick to make you work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent – all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins’ – taking three halfpennies from his pocket – ‘represent my Money Capital.’
‘But before we go any further,’ said Owen, interrupting himself, ‘it is most important that you remember that I am not supposed to be merely “a” capitalist. I represent the whole Capitalist Class. You are not supposed to be just three workers – you represent the whole Working Class.’
... Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.
These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent – a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth – one pound: and we will suppose that each of these ha’pennies is a sovereign. ...
‘Now this is the way the trick works -’
... Owen now addressed himself to the working classes as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.
You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you Plenty of Work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is – you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine, to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.’
The Working Classes accordingly set to work, and the Capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.
‘These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is – one pound each.’
As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the kind Capitalist’s terms. They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of the things produced by the labour of the others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they started work – they had nothing.
This process was repeated several times: for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pile of wealth continually increased. In a little while – reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each – he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended upon it.
After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools – the Machinery of Production – the knives away from them, and informed them that as owing to Over Production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.
‘Well, and what the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?’ demanded Philpot.
‘That’s not my business,’ replied the kind-hearted capitalist. ‘I’ve paid you your wages, and provided you with Plenty of Work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at present. Come round again in a few months’ time and I’ll see what I can do for you.’
‘But what about the necessaries of life?’
demanded Harlow. ‘We must have something to eat.’
‘Of course you must,’
replied the capitalist, affably; ‘and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.’
‘But we ain’t got no bloody money!’
‘Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for me for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!’
The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed; and then the three unemployed began to abuse the kind-hearted Capitalist, demanding that he should give them some of the necessaries of life that he had piled up in his warehouses, or to be allowed to work and produce some more for their own needs; and even threatened to take some of the things by force if he did not comply with their demands. But the kind-hearted Capitalist told them not to be insolent, and spoke to them about honesty, and said if they were not careful he would have their faces battered in for them by the police, or if necessary he would call out the military and have them shot down like dogs, the same as he had done before at Featherstone and Belfast.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

cancer in the 3rd world

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Cancer kills more than seven and a half million people a year worldwide. The experts say almost two-thirds are in low-income and middle-income countries. cancer kills more people in developing countries than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. But they say the world spends only five percent of its cancer resources in those countries.

“By 2020, cancer is expected to kill more than twice as many people worldwide as it did at the turn of the millennium. In low- and middle-income countries, however, the death rate will be more than five times greater than in the industrialized world,” says a report, published by Cantreat, a British nonprofit that advocates improved cancer treatment.

While 50% of cancers are controlled or cured in rich countries perhaps less than 15% are in the developing world. The report says globally one in eight deaths is caused by cancer.

Yet with everything, health of workers are calculated with $ signs. The American Cancer Society says cancer has the highest economic cost of any cause of death. It caused an estimated nine hundred billion dollars in economic losses worldwide in two thousand eight. That was one and a half percent of the world economy, and just losses from early death and disability. The study did not estimate direct medical costs. But it says the productivity losses are almost twenty percent higher than for the second leading cause of economic loss, heart disease.

The experts say cancer care does not have to be costly. For example, patients can be treated with lower-cost drugs that are off-patent. This means the drugs are no longer legally protected against being copied.
“Ensuring access to cancer treatments in developing countries is entirely feasible,” the report concludes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Happy Holidays? Fighting for time off.

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From here :-

Italy 42 days
France 37 days
Germany 35 days
Brazil 34 days
U.K. 28 days
Canada 26 days
Korea 25 days
Japan 25 days
U.S. 13 days

In America unlike in most other countries, there is no federal law mandating that companies pay employees for time off or that they grant them a minimum amount of vacation days unpaid. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that almost one in four U.S. workers don't get any paid days off at all. Plus, Americans only earn their vacations after an average of three years on the job, while workers in many European countries earn vacation immediately upon being hired. In fact, it is said , just 57 % of people are taking all of their vacation time. "People are fearful for their jobs. They want to stay there and work but they also need the money," said John Wright, a senior vice president at the research firm Ipsos. "They don't want to miss out on anything at work because they don't want to fall behind or lose their job or something like that."

The difference in work hours between the United States and most industrial countries “is exactly a manifestation of the same forces driving broader inequality,” says CEPR economist John Schmitt, pointing to deterioration of the minimum wage, pensions, public services, health insurance, and wages under pressure from globalization, deregulation, privatization, and attacks on unions. “Workers haven’t been able to translate higher productivity gains into higher pay or benefits, and they’ve been unable to address the time crunch. People in the United States don’t even understand what could be possible on this issue [of paid time off],” Schmitt says. “This is one of the most important ideological victories of the right in the last 30 years: to persuade us we aren’t rich enough to treat workers well. We’re incredibly rich, getting richer every year, and we have plenty of resources to pay adequate wages, pensions, health insurance, and vacations, but we’ve chosen to give that money to the top 5 percent.”

Plus, recent increases in the U.S. gross domestic product haven’t significantly helped most Americans: The super-rich have captured most of the income gains. An accurate calculation of the gross domestic product — subtracting such costs as crime, environmental depredations, militarism, and declining social trust — would actually show that growth in economic output has brought few, if any, real gains in welfare for American society.

Most Americans would be better off with more paid vacation and leave, but inequality, insecurity, and the competitive rat race drives people to work even harder, often just to keep their heads above water.

California Blues

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Despite California now being the 8th largest economy in the world, it’s poor and working people are suffering more than ever according to this article.

One in five San Bernardino County children live in poverty, compared to one in six or 16%before the recession began. In Riverside County where 17 percent of children live in poverty, a growing number of children don’t eat at all when they go home. With the recession children’s health, psychological and social service needs have increased dramatically. Homelessness among Inland children is growing. In the Inland Empire 34% of African American children live in poor families. One-third of Inland Empire public school principals reported increased eligibility for free or reduced lunches/ breakfasts and homelessness among their students, with several of them indicating they had never before seen homelessness in their schools.

Recent findings by other groups that monitor children’s health and wellbeing also reflect a dire state of affairs. A report by the California non-profit, Western Center on Law and Poverty (WCLP), which compiled data from school districts throughout the state, shows that homelessness among California’s school children has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. In 2008-09, more than 288,000 children were homeless and attending school. This represents a 27 percent increase over the 2007-08 year.

Out of 606,325 San Bernardino County children 20 percent live below the federal poverty line. About 8 percent of children lives in extreme poverty, which means their families have an income of less than one-half of the federal poverty threshold. In San Bernardino County researchers predict that 35% of children will live in impoverished households by 2012.

Nearly 1.5 million California children participate in the federally funded WIC food stamp program.

Who are the Scroungers and Tax Dodgers?

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Apart from the more helpless asylum seekers, nobody is as constantly pilloried as the benefit claimants. The government perpetuated the stereotype by calling in the credit agencies as bounty hunters to crack down on “welfare cheats”. Entirely dependent on the largesse of the taxpayer, subjected to every manner of means test, experimental course and vacuous reforms.

In addition to the millions of unemployed people (reserved army), many graduates are added to the numbers of benefit claimants. Despite being well educated they have had the pleasure of claiming income support and the instructively named jobseekers’ allowance. After university they were intermittently unemployed between such casual jobs as being on minimum wage to working on coffee (bars) or shop assistance.

To claim jobseekers’ allowance, you must be available for work at all times. The point was to get unemployed people into work by remedying their confidence and social graces, the alleged obstacles that led to being unemployed for a long period of time. The government repeatedly stressed that “anything you want to do, you can do it” was the philosophy, a bizarre mismatch with the data-entry painting all benefit claimants that awaited most of the unemployed.

The managerial evangelists are taking their stick from above. When they want to get tough, politicians of all hues go for the claimants. Harriet Harman did the same for labour in 1997, Cameron’s railings against cheats, scroungers at least the virtue of being unsurprising.

So far, everything is geared to make the ordinary people suffer the cuts and hardships. David Cameron’s war on welfare cheats is drop in the ocean compared with the billions stolen by the bankers and other capitalists who have off-shore accounts. Let’s hope Cameron will be equally vociferous when it comes to encouraging eligible applicants to apply for the billion of benefits that go unclaimed each year.

It is not unusual that the government to attack the unemployed and the sick people on benefits. The routine pieties of the modern political age are to talk about “helping people” out of the “benefit trap”, and back into work, the reason why these problems never go away is because they are caused by the very system that puts the politicians in power, and which they cannot resolve without destroying themselves and their own elevated status.

Being the tough rhetoric, as even with the Tory government, is the same old fashioned like the last new Labour government style reforms; plans to make the benefit system “a ladder to self reliance” and to give assistance with training and finding to people who are on incapacity benefits. The government’s new deal like previous other schemes is supposed to “help” the unemployed back to work by badgering them and managing them into beingfull time professional jobseekers, of course, this destroys counter toany notion that they can quickly cut costs. To assist more people through such structures will actually increase the cost of encouraging the benefits, not decrease it, as massive expansion would be required.

Doctors warn that, attempts to force the long term unemployed and sick benefit claimants into work are doomed to failure (David Rose and Sam Coates Times 18 August 2010) that the government could face a financial black hole of billions of pounds.

An estimated one million people in Britain are off work or unemployed owing to mental health problems. Those who have been absent for more than six months are likely to remain unemployed for many months, years or even for the rest of their working life because of depression or anxiety, which might have been treated at an earlier stage, research suggests. The researchers found no evidence that GPs were signing people off sick inappropriately or without good reason.

All governments, past and present, have been caught with a real problem beyond their control, trapped by their eternal propaganda of cost-cutting. Ministers from all political parties try to be seen doing something usually by trying to portray the people who are dependent on benefits as somehow capable and at fault for the whole of the costs of the benefit system.

Politicians are struggling to define the typical benefit recipients, to legitimate the idea of welfare so they can attack it and reduce costs and also increase downwards pressures on wages and the labour market.

By Michael Ghebre

Monday, August 23, 2010

the poor giveth and the rich taketh

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New York Times have an article on charity.

Studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. In 2001, Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization focused on charitable giving, found that households earning less than $25,000 a year gave away an average of 4.2 percent of their incomes; those with earnings of more than $75,000 gave away 2.7 percent.

A study published online last month by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.

“Upper class” people, on the other hand, clung to values that “prioritized their own need.” Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum. A 2007 report from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that only a small percentage of charitable giving by the wealthy was actually going to the needs of the poor; instead it was mostly directed to other causes — cultural institutions, for example, or their alma maters — which often came with the not-inconsequential payoff of enhancing the donor’s status among his or her peers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

America - Them and Us

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A factoid on income inequality in usa.
In 1928, the top 10 percent of earners received 49.29 percent of total income. In 2007, the top 10 percent earned a strikingly similar percentage: 49.74 percent. In 1928, the top 1 percent received 23.94 percent of income. In 2007, those earners received 23.5 percent.

SOYMB reads that despite the vast sums expended on these social programs, the gap between the super-rich, the wealthy and "the rest of us" has widened, creating what is in essence two Americas -- the top 5% and the bottom 95%.
As total household income declines, the wealthiest Americans take home a larger piece of the national income pie. In 2008, Americans reported $8.4 trillion in total income, down 4.6% from 2007. Adjusted for inflation, that is down 8.4%, the sharpest decline in total income since the brief recession that began in 1990.

David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, recently noted in an editorial that the top 1% of Americans received two-thirds of the gain in national income from 2002 to 2006.
Economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty have reported that the top 10% of earners took home about half of all income as of 2007.
The number of people in the highest reaches of income also fell--tax returns reporting income of $1 million or more fell by 22% to 321,294, and the number of returns that reported income of more than $10 million fell 36% to 13,480.

Put the data together and this reveals an increasing concentration of income and wealth at the top. The U.S. economy is increasingly dominated by the wealthy. According to research from Moody’s Analytics, the top 5% of Americans by income are responsible for 37% of all consumer spending—about the same as the entire bottom 80% by income (39.5%).
Out of 130 million households, 1/100 of 1% rake in $10 million or more annually. As consumers, the top 5% carry the same weight as the bottom 80%. The top 10% take in 50% of the income.

The very rich are pulling away from the merely wealthy. Those earning $10 million or more per year are increasingly wealthier than the 321,000 earning $1 million or more, and those top earners are pulling away from the 6 million others who make up the top 5% of households by income.
In the housing and stock market boom years of 2002 and 2007, the bottom 99 percent of households by incomes grew by a meager 1.3 percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms, while the incomes of the top 1 percent grew 10 percent a year.

Over the past 25 years since 1985, the top 1 percent's share of national income has doubled; in 2007, it netted 23 percent of the nation’s total income. The income of the wealthiest Americans -- the top 0.1 percent—has tripled in that 25 year period. This wafer-thin slice of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million people.

The extremely wealthy are pulling away because their earnings come from capital, not labor. While wages have stagnated, returns on capital investments and speculations have soared. None other than former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently described this yawning divide between those in the top slice of the economy who are doing very well and the 95% below them who are struggling.
"Our problem is that we have a very distorted economy in the sense that there has been a significant recovery in a limited area of the economy amongst high-income individuals who have just had $800 billion added to their 401(k)s and are spending it. Large banks and large corporations, as everyone’s pointing out, are in excellent shape. The rest of the economy, small business, small banks, and a very significant amount of the labor force, which is in tragic long-term unemployment, that is pulling the economy apart. The average of those two is what we are looking at, but they are fundamentally two separate types of economy.”

If the wealthiest Americans are buying luxury cars and apparel again, that may pump up the nation's GDP, but it doesn't mean 95% of the populace are doing better financially.

Human Rights or Profitable Trade ?

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Surprise , surprise. Civil servants have been told to stop working on the next edition of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report on Human Rights, which highlights incidents of torture and oppression, monitors use of the death penalty and aims to expose the illegal arms trade. The report also acts as a guide to MPs and businesses over which countries it is ethical to trade with.
Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, said "The government has already stressed that it will concentrate on trade when it comes to foreign policy...Amnesty International's fear is that this is the latest step in putting economics before human rights."
Tom Porteous, the director of Human Rights Watch in London, warned in an article
that by "blindly pursuing commercial interests" the UK risked undermining efforts to protect human rights.

Sex in a free society

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This month's issue of the Socialist Standard carries a short article by Wilhelm Reich.
The essay below, taken from the World Socialist #4 Winter 1985-6, is written by a Reichian psychotherapist and socialist appears online for the first time.

It is a myth to believe that only the wealthy suffer from sexual and neurotic problems. My work as a Reichian psychotherapist allows me a glimpse of people's private lives, their joys and their misery. There is an enormous amount of shame, self-loathing and guilt. Some feel like automatons, unreal, as if there were a glass wall between them and life. They are full of fear. There is something radically wrong with a society which produces so much unhappiness and tension. I can only help a limited number of people. That is one reason why I am a socialist.

The need for sexual satisfaction is one of the most powerful needs of mankind. Sexual love is probably the most intense form of happiness there is. The advice columns in the magazines, the very existence of many journals, the text of most songs that are written show that people are concerned with the topic. So do the increasing number of books about how to reach orgasm, about positions, and about love.

Puritanism is disappearing. People are encouraged to have sex, even at puberty. These changes have been going on all through the twentieth century, but have been greatly accelerated during the past 15 years. The increasing number of women working full-time, the growth of the women's movement, the mass-availability of effective birth control, play an important part in this change. There is less tyranny over the young and a greater tolerance of sexual needs. There is some freedom and conditions have undoubtedly changed greatly, and even improved. But to call this breakdown of traditional morality a sexual revolution is only part of the truth,

The changes are not as satisfying as they appear. This relaxation of the moral code has not appreciably lessened our tensions and anxieties. There is some freedom but for performance-oriented, stressful sex. The same conditions of life which limit our political horizon also hamper our sex lives. Millions of us are under the constant influence of stimulants and tranquillisers, of alcohol, cigarettes and other pills - which make life tolerable and at the same time stunt us. Leisure time is directed by the media; people are bored, anxious 'and dissatisfied. There is more schooling, more nervousness, the speed and stress of life is increasing.

In some countries such as Sweden and Denmark these changes happened earlier and are by now more integrated. No doubt people do lead somewhat better sex lives. But people do not seem to be happier because of it. Because, despite decades of reforms, life in these countries is just as much based on capitalism as it is in Britain or the USA.

THE PRESSURES OF CAPITALlSM

Distance and aloneness are typical of life today. The chase after money ruins the lives of everyone. Personal ambition, the frustration, the specialisation at work make many into emotional cripples. Intense competition starts in school, carries on into adult living and we accept it as natural. Prestige and success are more important than feelings. Men and women today are manipulated, superficial and poker-faced. To survive, you have to be come hardskinned and a go-getter. Apart from their economic problems, people are filled with inner conflicts, strangers to one another, and lonely. It's man against woman and man against man and each of them resentful of everyone else. We may not all suffer direct poverty, like our grandparents did, but life has become tougher. The buying, selling and advertising that dominate the streets have seeped into our emotions, and hardened us.

Capitalism is not merely external, around us: laws, markets, shops, police, the Financial Times, the welfare office. Capitalism isn't only what's happening in a far away country; it isn't only the most unfortunate, the ones who live in a slum who suffer from it. Even if you have holidays abroad and a car and some savings, it affects you. Your unhappiness, while less tangible, is just as much a part of the set-up. The mental hardship, the unfulfilled longing, the neurotic traits hurt you, just like unemployment hampers others.

There is class conflict all round us. And other conflicts: between the individual and the community, between town and countryside, between parents and children, between rational thought and sensitiveness. There is little rest and little relaxation. People are driven to achieve and spare no effort. That is why so many are passive in their spare time and sit in front of the television set. More and more pills are taken. Antidepressants, mood changers, sleeping pills. It is claimed that they can cheer you up, free you from anxiety and stimulate you.

People are preoccupied by economic need. Security-minded, used to taking orders and eager to fit in. Ashamed of inferior status, fearful that they may lose their job. They are nervous, despondent and their everyday lives are grey. Destructive forces flourish. Antagonisms cover the economic and political arena, but also the relationship between men and women. There are intolerable pressures upon us, and an ever increasing demand for self-discipline. People see the world as dangerous, they are suspicious, apathetic, isolated. Our whole set-up is one where each is trying to do their own thing. We are brought up to be capitalist-minded in the details of our everyday lives.

One cannot have a monotonous and meaningless job, live in full conformity - and then one day start living a marvellous love life. According to the sex books, one can. But the ability to experience passion and the talent for rousing excitement in others is never separate from the rest of one's activities.

For the young, things may at first be brighter. But after the initial period, the number of happy relationships is small. Many develop into areas of mutual resignation. The family, once a haven, is dissolving. Divorce is frequent. The partners have had an inadequate sex education, or none at all. At their routine job they feel insignificant and power less. At the end of a long day they come home in a bad mood - and pass it on to partner and children.

THE EXTENT OF SEXUAL MISERY

Capitalism, its competition and the mutual suspicion it engenders is becoming rapidly too complex and stressful. It is a loveless culture and a lonely one. Though outwardly many people live a quiet and orderly life, they are crushed and distressed. Men and women want to overcome their separateness. They want to be warm and gentle, but the system conditions them otherwise.

How do they find a partner? The choice is often made more for protection, security and dependance than for attraction. They use each other. People use each other in marriage, too. Either for security, for a "meal ticket", to get a husband, to have a father, not to miss the bus that is, in getting a husband before it's too late - or as a cook, a house keeper, and "a hole". The result is bleak.

There is a constant preoccupation with love and sex. But the lot of many human beings is either loneliness and abstinence, or a relationship which lacks enchantment; or the solace of masturbation and the one night-stand now and then.

Capitalism severely limits our being. Our love lives are blocked by the sadness and fear and anger we carry inside us - if we have any love life at all. Many people are sexual and emotional cripples. Sex is not a thing apart from the rest of life. The conditions which shackle us in other spheres also come into bed with us. It is not surprising that the capacity to be open, and the ability to enjoy sex are impared. For sex is not something divorced from the rest of our lives, something apart from the quality of our living.

Capitalism produces sick needs, like the desire for large quantities of certain narcotics. In the same way, exploitative attitudes have poisoned sex. People may engage in sexual activities to escape from anxiety, just like others take to drink. Sex becomes a performance, like gymnastics, without emotions. It gives a feeling of relief, a little pleasure, but rarely more than that.

There is much pathological sex. Rape, for example. Nor is the spreading of pornography a sign of sexual freedom, any more than brothels were. Too often sex is something to brag about, a conquest. A way of proving that you are a real man, of demonstrating how potent you are - or affirming that you are irresistible as a woman. Then there are the dirty jokes men tell. Boasting, lying, sexual envy. Burning jealousy, hatred, destructiveness. Masochism, and sadism.

The puritans are not entirely wrong. The sexual activitites and fantasies of many individuals are cold and nasty. And dirty. One can understand why the moralists are against sex. But their ideology creates the very attitudes which they disapprove of. Hermits, woman-haters and lechers are part and parcel of the same situation. What I have been describing is the result of age-long suppression of our instincts. Our personality today is the product of mankind living for thousands of years in a brutal, male-dominated society conditioned to privilege, poverty and authority.

During the past two hundred years capitalism has changed our way of looking at the world. It has also changed some of our feelings - and much of our behaviour. Most of us dwell in towns, isolated from the earth on which we live, divorced from the sounds and smells of wood and fields. All we know are urban sprawls, the High Street, and motorways. We rarely walk barefoot, we never pick fruit from a tree and the only animals we meet are a dog and a cat. We have not only lost touch with nature - we have lost touch with each other. We tell our children they must never talk to a stranger. Compassion is rare. Men and women have to armour themselves, and repress their compassion for their fellows.

DENIAL AND REPRESSION

A repressive milieu affects you from the moment you are born. The child is subjected to many forms of denial and repression. In fact, childhood is the prototype of all later oppression and coercion. The child's spirit is deformed by constant restrictions. Already children deaden themselves. "The father represents and teaches authority ... The family in capitalist society ... protects the woman and the children, but its cardinal function is ... to produce a bourgeois outlook and a conservative personality" (Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution). Small children are active and noisy. Their liveliness is soon quenched. They are made - it is hoped - into obedient workers. In some families the children suffer more than in others. In the course of its upbringing the child is "broken in" to what parents and school demand. Which means to what capitalist society requires, broken in to fit the system.

The manifold frustrations of mother and father, their quarrels (the hidden fights just as much as the open ones) inevitably damage the children. There are individual variations, of course. Perhaps the mother sees in her children the only meaning of her life. The only hope. Possibly the father drinks, or maybe he is hypnotised by his ambitions. As a rule the child tries to please its parents, attempts to make itself into whatever they want of it. After all, it wants to be loved by them. As Arthur Janov puts it, every child "is engaged in a struggle to be different from what he is, since who he is has proved unacceptable to society, i.e. to his parents".

What is this armour? It is the sum total of repressions, the sum total of mental attitudes, adverse behaviour, avoidances, and muscle tensions which protect the person against suffering. Protect them at the cost of reducing their spontaneity and aliveness. It is a chronic holding back. The price paid is a narrow personality, a rigid body, a static way of looking at the world. Look at the people on a bus, how glum they look. They tend to hold back most emotions; they hold back their anger, their anxiety, their sadness. The hardened person cannot give of themself, and their ability to enjoy is very limited.

The suppression of feeling occurs in the body. We create a fortress prison for ourselves, a poker-faced shell. This blocking first arose when the child tried to protect itself from real (or imagined) threats. Since we constantly limit our self-expression and our ability to feel, we be come cold and neurotic, afraid to take risks. As adults we build an even harder shell in order to survive in a hostile and complicated world. What matters is doing as you are told (that's what schooling is mostly about), getting a job, keeping your job (however burdensome it might be) and holding your tongue: inhibiting, that is to say, most of the things you might want to do or say.

HOPES AND FALLACIES

In the 1930s Reich put forward the hypothesis that sexual repression kept the working class conservative or unpolitical; puritanism prevented the workers from becoming class-conscious, undermined their ability to think rationally, made them passive plodders, made them submit to authority. He tried to connect the demand for social revolution with demands for sexual reforms; sexual changes would make the workers into revolutionaries. Reich's reasoning seems very convincing, but unfortunately it has turned out to be wrong. Fifty years have passed and most of his demands (free availability of birth control, sex education, abortion, etc.) have be come a reality, without people becoming more political or more rational in their thinking, or less submissive. The sexual changes that have happened fit in very well with today's capitalism. They are no threat to property at all. It could be argued that better sex (and becoming a parent) keeps people toiling even harder. The demands Reich fought for have become a reality in Denmark and Sweden. He thought capitalism could never grant these things without collapsing. But in Denmark and Sweden, modern capitalism is doing very well, indeed.

Some people have, after reading a great deal of Freud, Reich, Janov and others, come to the conclusion that what we need is people brought up in an entirely different way - according to the principles put forward by some of these authors, according to the lessons one might draw from the treatment of the neuroses. They go in for painless childbirth, self-demand feeding, and the maximum freedom for the child in every respect. And when the child is of school age, they send them (if, indeed, they can afford to, for "free" schools are fairly expensive to run) to a school like A. S. Neill's Summerhill. It is heartening to see the great efforts they make. And yet even their children have been unable to escape neurotic shackles.

We should adopt more natural and freer ways with our children. But even with the best conditions, the child will be conditioned by the world around him. You may escape some traumas, but you'll acquire others. No child is an island ... the other children will affect them, the neighbours, the headlines of the newspapers, the gangs of the neighbourhood, the drugs around, the television programrnes, the unemployment of the father - no one can escape the debilitating atmosphere of this society.

The sexual problems cannot really be solved under the present system. You cannot solve these problems one at a time. How can people be emotionally warm when they are economically dependent and strongly inhibited?

SEX IN A LlFE-AFFIRMING ENVIRONMENT

The culture of capitalism is indeed anaemic as regards loving. Hating and fearing are more distinctive for it. We must terminate class society in order that sensuousness can come into its own again.

Socialism aims to do away with artificial scarcity, put an end to all poverty and establish material equality; wiping all frontiers off the map, overthrowing the money economy and abolishing war. But far from being a mere economic and political revolution, socialism is the framework for the unfolding of the human personality. Socialism is a life-affirming environment where we will live much more openly than today. People will re-discover some of their spontaneity and live according to the principle of self-regulation. There will, in fact, be no laws - and no state either.

The aim of socialism is to increase the richness of living and to extend the range of our happiness. Life will be more intense, and yet more leisurely, with the human being as the centre of things, solidarity the rule rather than the exception. And the fruits of the earth belong to all. Work should become a pleasure wherever possible. An active, productive and co-operative life prornotes the ability to love. Where work is not gratifying the individual will have no objection to doing it (during a limited time) because it is needed for the common good. Or a new invention will overcome its irksomeness. In a classless community no one will be "employed". Work therefore becomes meaningful and men and women develop their potentialities fully.

The co-operation which the abolition of money brings about will ultimately entail a new sense of self, a new personality. Of course, this may take a generation to happen. It may take a decade or two for people to get rid of the blockings and patterns of behaviour they have acquired under the old society. Everyone will get satisfaction from giving their best. The dominant mode, as Erich Fromm put it, will not be' to have', but 'to be'. Such a situation engenders new abilities and new strengths, and new virtues which today are unusual. A new kind of human being, able to live without rules imposed by others, many-sided and generous, who is very different from the stunted mass-person of today.

Only in a situation where there is no need to protect oneself, in a milieu where one can live with the minimum of armour, with the minimum of fear and with rich contact, can our personality expand. Socialism is a society where people are concerned with one another. Men and women are more spontaneous, they are direct, they can and do touch each other and there is an animal warmth to them. Our deepest nature is crushed by the harassing demands of capitalist society. And distorted. It will take time to liberate ourselves totally from the inheritance of thousands of years of inequality, from the shadow of oppression and violence. And therewith begins a sexual road which is rich and satisfying.

Will the family survive? We can't say what will happen, except to point out that socialists are on the side of the lovers. There will be communal raising of children, and much group living, as well as monogamous relationships. Anyone who wants to live in a different way will be free to do so. They will be able to follow their own desires as long as they do not interfere with the lives of others. Supposing some want to prudish and continent, live like Christian or Buddhist monks and nuns? As far as I can see, that is very unlikely. But they will be at perfect liberty to do so. Socialists have a great respect for the freedom of every individual. In socialism the state will be abolished and a socialist society will include all sorts of views and attitudes to life.

Sex will once again become a pulsating, alive experience. We will have more hope and tenderness. The antithesis between "animal" and "spiritual", between loving and debauched and brutalised fucking will no longer exist. That antithesis is the result of repression. Body and mind will again be a unity. We will approach each other through the sparkle in the eyes of the beloved, through a richer and healthier imagination, through music, poetry and art rather than in the neurotic ways oftoday. Socialism is concerned with the enjoyment of life. We demand conditions for the real happiness of human beings not the fantasies and intoxications of TV and alcohol of ambition, over-eating and hash.

Socialism is more than the common ownership of the means of wealth production. It is a state of things where there is trust and co-operation, security and the minimum of fear. An atmosphere for the wholesome and maximum enjoyment of one's life. Under such conditions most of the troubles I have described will disappear. Some won't. It would be naive to expect that nobody will have any problerns. It is not a paradise we are sketching, but something nearer the longings we all sense. And something far more rational than what exists today. Of course, there will be difficulties. Some women will still have to have Caesarians. Someone who is born a hermaphrodite is likely to have problems. The pain of unrequited love will remain. We do not believe that socialist living can solve every human problem. But the troubles of the majority of humans are not inborn. They are a result of their environment. Of the men I have known who wanted to change their sex, for example, there were several who hated being a male because of experiences in their childhood.

With no money, with free access to everything we can produce there will be no prostitutes. Nor will there be lawyers, haggling about what a woman is worth in terms of money or about who gets what. When a relationship stops there will be no property to leave, no mortgages to disentangle, no separation and no divorce. People's minds will not be twisted by producers making money from sick video shows.

Once people decide to free themselves from worrying about where the next penny is coming from and from the terror of warfare you won't need to preach decent behaviour. It will arise as a matter of course.

Ernst Fleischman

Friday, August 20, 2010

The devouring begins a-new

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We have reported previously on what is tantamount to ethnic cleansing of the Roma. The French government recently ordered the closure of 300 Roma gypsy settlements and now the policy of "encouraging" Roma families to return home has begun in earnest.
"They are trying to get rid of us all," said one woman, heavily pregnant, and fearful for the future.
A 27-year-old Romanian man has lived in Marseille since he was child, still has no papers, and cannot get a job. "This discrimination will not go away. France has become the opposite of liberty, equality and fraternity," he said. "No one wants us. There is no place for us. Not in Romania, and not in France."

With increasing poverty amongst the Roma in Eastern Europe, it is hardly surprising that families travel to countries like France in order to find work. The French government has stated it is acting legally, because the European freedom of movement law allows for “restrictions on the right to move freely for reasons of public order, public security and public health”. However, these exemptions to the law usually apply on a case by case basis for removing individuals from a country, rather than for mass deportations.
The European Roma Policy Coalition warned that ‘Too many Roma are still victims of racism, discrimination and social exclusion. Too many Roma children are still on the streets instead of going to school.’

Throughout Europe reports of violence against the Roma have increased significantly, particularly in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, where extremist and openly racist groups and political parties are gaining in popularity. In Hungary, right-wing groups are particularly active in organising demonstrations against the Roma and over the last two years, 48 serious attacks against Roma families and their children have been reported by the Hungarian media. There are an estimated million Roma in Hungary, making up one tenth of the population. During the Communist Party rule, social policies encouraged large families and those with three children or more were virtually guaranteed an unconditional mortgage loan. Such financial incentives allowed many Roma to build their own homes. But since the collapse of the state capitalist system, Hungarians receive less than 50 dollars per child and with the slow Hungarian economy, many Roma are struggling to find work and feed their large families. Almost 90% of Roma adults are unemployed and most are living below the poverty line. And with worsening racial attitudes, it is becoming even harder to find employment, especially since many Roma lack a decent level of education. Fewer than 10% of Roma students complete secondary school in Hungary.

NGO workers in Marseille, the latest crackdown comes as no surprise. They believe the government's very public stance on the Roma is fuelled largely by a desire to appeal to the populist vote. "It is a perfectly demagogic tactic … No one is taken in. These are measures aimed at seducing the far right. said Philippe Rodier of Médecins du Monde .

Indeed, our rulers have a long history of camoflaging the failures of capitalism, particularly in times of economic slump, by seeking out scapegoats. Nor should we forget that Hitler and the Nazis also sought to cleanse Europe of the Roma. Once more the Socialist Party of Great Britain calls for the workers of the world to unite.

The Asian Class War

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SOYMB posted earlier upon the working class struggles in Bangladesh and now has come across a relevant article from the Financial Times about the resurgent class struggle throughout Asia.

As we said Bangldeshi in the sweat-shops are the world’s lowest- paid garment workers and the increase in the minimum wage, effective from November, takes their pay from $23 to $43 (£27.50) a month. It was their first pay rise for four years, a period of soaring food and fuel prices. However, the workers were enraged that Dhaka had not agreed to the $75 a month they had demanded.
“This is not enough for the survival of workers and their families,” said Amirul Haque Amin, president of Bangladesh’s National Garment Workers’ Federation.

Demands for better pay across Asia reflect improving job opportunities in economies that are growing faster than their western markets.
“I don’t see very many low-cost countries in the region where there is not pressure for higher wages,” says Ifty Islam, managing partner of Bangladesh-based Asian Tiger Capital Partners. “The ability of employers to pay very low wages is diminishing...A lot of growth and dynamism is happening in Asia and that is putting upward pressure on wages.”

In Cambodia, Phnom Penh recently raised the minimum wage by 21 per cent – from $50 a month to $61. That was below what the more activist of Cambodia’s 273 unions demanded. Vietnam recorded 200 strikes last year by workers hit by inflation of 9 per cent. In April, for example, nearly 10,000 workers walked out of a Taiwan-owned shoe factory, demanding better pay.In Indonesia minimum wages, set by regional authorities, have been increasing. In 2008, Jakarta raised the local minimum wage by 10 per cent to nearly $100 a month, although wages in the country’s remoter regions are half that. Indonesia has also recorded a spate of strikes at textile factories, including a one-day stoppage last month in Bandung, where 40,000 workers from various companies walked out in protest against rising electricity prices. In India, too, Nokia, the Finnish mobile phone maker, Bosch, the German car parts manufacturer, South Korea’s Hyundai, Volvo and countless local companies have all faced rising industrial unrest. In China with the numbers of new young workers entering the labour market now in decline, companies will have to pay more for a less pliant workforce.

SOYMB can sympathise with Korshed Alam, a Dhaka-based labour rights activist, when he says “There are no industrial relations. The whole attitude is arrogant and feudal. Owners and government think they are helping the workers. The workers are not treated like workers – they are treated like beggars.”

Murder in Mexico. The Assasination of Leon Trotsky

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On August 20th, 1940, in the suburb of Coyoacan on the outskirts of Mexico City, in a house he had transformed into a veritable armed fortress in the vain attempt to escape the long arm of Stalin, Leon Trotsky was assassinated - by a man he had trusted as a friend, and who played the part patiently for three months awaiting an opportunity to be alone with his victim just long enough to drive an ice-pick into his head.

So perished Trotsky, the man who believed that all and every means - lying, treachery, intimidation, violence, and murder - were justified to attain the end. He died, treacherously and horribly, the victim finally of his own violent creed.

So also, after many unsuccessful attempts, did Stalin finally settle accounts with his last and most dangerous enemy - and henceforth could sleep in peace.

"Murder in Mexico" (published by Secker and Warburg, 236p., 9s. 6d.) is the straight and unassuming account of the events that led up to Trotsky's assassination and of the investigations that followed. The names of two authors appear on the jacket, but the main part of the book, and the most interesting and informative, is that contributed by General Sanchez Salazar, ex-Chief of the Mexican Secret Police and the one responsible for Trotsky's safety whilst he was in Mexico, as well as being the official called upon to investigate the first and unsuccessful attempt on his life in May, 1940, and the second and successful attempt three months later.

The remainder, consisting of an introduction and three or four other chapters, is the work of Julian Gorkin, Spanish ex-Communist turned anti-Stalinist. Apart from some observations on the machinations of the O.G.P.U., later N.K.V.D., now M.V.D., and a few speculations on some of the things mentioned elsewhere by Salazar, his contributions add little to the book. Except, perhaps, one thing. This is when he calmly tells us in his introduction that the reason why many of the important documents that should have been used at the murderer's trial are missing is because he, Gorkin, has taken personal charge of them, has hidden them in a seeret place where Soviet agents will not be able to lay hands on them, and is holding on to them as guarantees for the statements contained in the book! Nor is this the only strange sidelight on the ways of Mexican law and politics revealed by tbis somewhat unusual book.

SALAZAR'S STORY.

It is Salazar's story, however, interesting, and the one with which we are most concerned.

Trotsky came to Mexico from Norway, after the authorities there had become so nervous of his presence in their territory and the trouble it might cause that they finally compelled him to leave. This was in 1937.

By May, 1940, he had established himself in a house on the outskirts of the capital, Mexico City, and turned it into an armed camp. The former iron railings had been replaced by high concrete walls with towers, from which machine-guns covered the streets outside and the open spaces inside. The only door was of thick steel through the grille of which callers were first of all identified under a strong electric light. For it to be opened, the agreement of two guards was necessary. The whole house and walls were interlaced with electric wires which automatically set off alarms, warning the guards and occupants inside, and a special armed police guard outside. Trotsky himself always worked with a loaded revolver by his side.

Yet in spite of all these elaborate precautions, Trotsky only escaped by a hairsbreadth when an attempt was made on his life in May, 1940. Early in the morning of the 24th, about twenty men succeeded in getting into the building and riddled his bedroom with machine-gun bullets, from which he only managed to escape by biding under the bed and relying on the bad and hasty marksmanship of his attackers. It was discovered afterwards by Salazar that Trotsky had in fact been betrayed by one of bis own secretaries, an American called Sheldon, who had opened the door to his assailants and later gone off with them. Salazar then conducted an intensive hunt for Sheldon and actually found him a month later - buried in quick-lime in the garden of a lonely house some miles away from the city. Sheldon had been killed to ensure that he remained quiet.

Salazar was still working on this case three months later when he heard that what the G.P.D. had failed to do the first time they had succeeded in doing the nextby means of one man, and not twenty. Tbis time, Jacques Mornard, a man of many aliases, and with high recommendations from some Trotskyists in the United States, had wormed bis way into Trotsky's confidence, using the additional bait that he was engaged in writing an article dealing with the splits between the various Trotskyist factions in America. Trotsky promised to look at it and give him his advice. On two occasions they went into his study to consider it. The first time was a rehearsal - the second time, Jacques..Mornard, alias Jacson, alias Mercader, alias Torkof, etc., killed him.

Altough Mornard was plainly determined to kill Trotsky whatever the consequences, (when arrested be was found with a knife and loaded revolver as well as the ice-axe), he was not such a fanatic as to disregard his own life completely. That is why he left a car outside the house with the engine running, and why he used the ice-axe instead of the noisy revolver. When, however, he hit Trotsky, the latter uttered such a terrible scream that his secretaries were on the scene in a few moments, and would have battered Mornard to death had not Trotsky, though gravely injured, still possessed sufficient acuteness to tell them to keep him alive.

After this, the rest of the book inevitably becomes something of an anti-climax, but is nevertheless extremely interesting for the light it throws on Mornard himself, his confederates, and the methods they used to achieve their aim. Mornard, for example, wben arrested, had a prepared "confession" in bis pocket in which, of all things, he posed as a disillusioned Trotskyist!

Tbe two other main conspirators succeeded in getting away. One was never found. The other, a well-known Mexican artist called Siqueiros, was arrested by Salazar, but eventually escaped as a result of some strange, and not wbolly explained jiggery-pokery in Mexican high circles. As for Mornard, he is still serving his twenty-year sentence (the maximum penalty under Mexican law). Until 1947, his was a life of luxury. He wanted for nothing, and everything possible was done to make him comfortable. No expense was spared - good food, wines,the best cigarettes, radio, an excellent library - all were his. So scandalous did the abuses become that tbe Mexican Government was eventually compelled to take action. When tbey did so, they found that tbe Prison Secretary was a Communist, and the Chief of tbe Prison Delegation, to wbom be was responsible, was anotber. These were botb disrnissed, and some of Mornard's privileges taken away from him, but from all accounts he is still enjoying a fairly easy time.

Wben be comes out of prison - wbat then? Perbaps, as be bas kept his mouth sbut so far, nothing will happen to him. Perhaps, on the otber band, just to be on the safe side, somebody will put a bullet through his head as happened to Sheldon. We wonder. No doubt Mornard, locked away in bis cell in Mexico City, sometimes wonders too.

The above, briefly, is the bare bones of Salazar's story. For the flesb and blood you will bave to read the book. It is well wortb reading, not, be it remembered, because it is a work of monumental importance to the Socialist movement, but simply because it is a light, readable, well-autbenticated account of an event which, although of little importance in itself to tbe struggle for Socialism, is nevertbeless something upon which Socialists may find it useful to be informed. And if, in addition, it reads as easily and as interestingly as any good detective novel, well who would complain about that?

S. H.

(The Socialist Standard May 1950)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Canada in Afghanistan

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Often the press act simply as the cheer-leaders of governments , repeating the sound-bites of official spokes-persons and unquestioningly accepting ministerial spin press releases . But not always. The Canadian local newpaper Cornwall Free News published an article on Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan that has cost the lives of 150 Canadian servicemen and makes interesting observations.

"Two things are keeping NATO and the Americans there: firstly, the strategic position that Afghanistan holds in connecting oil pipelines and routes throughout the country into Pakistan; and secondly, to keep hundreds of other infrastructure and military contractors, and security contractors such as Blackwater...There are atrocities being committed in a quite a few African countries and genocides taking place every year, but we never hear much about them. But if oil, gas, gold, silver or any other “wealth” would be discovered there, the U.S. and NATO would be all over these countries. Bottom line, it’s not about women’s rights or building schools, it’s about the money and it’s about profits.
The bloodshed and the loss of life on both sides must stop. Corruption and crime will always be the way of life in Afghanistan as long as drugs and oil continue to produce wealth in the way they are doing. The entire war in Afghanistan should be viewed as an act of terrorism by all of the countries that are participating in it.
As Noam Chomsky stated: “If we want to stop terrorism we have to stop participating in it.” And that means saying “no” to the oil companies, other multinational companies, and the drug cartels that pressure our governments to participate."


Sentiments that SOYMB can readily sympathise with.

Market-Leninism

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SOYMB reads that Huang Rixin, former engineer turned Beijing landlord, has made a name for himself in recent months producing cage-like, 21.5-square-foot living spaces dubbed “capsule apartments” for the capital’s burgeoning class of jobless and underemployed college graduates. Taking Japan’s famous capsule hotels for inspiration, Huang has improved on previous iterations of his pod houses by doubling the size of the rooms and including more shelf space. Huang views his pods, with rent of about $51 a month, as a cost-effective way to house the estimated 3 million recent university graduates seeking employment or earning less than the average starting salary of approximately $400 a month. His capsule apartments highlight the social and economic problems that belie China.

China is now the world’s second biggest economy. The Chinese manufacture more than half the computers in the world. A single factory in Guangdong churns out more than 40 per cent of the world’s microwave ovens, so yours was probably made there too. Your children are playing with toys made in China, as 70 per cent of them are.

Yet per-capita income has simply not kept pace, and millions of people have been left out of the nation’s economic miracle. China’s per-capita income, at around $6,600, is closer to that of Turkmenistan or El Salvador, rather than to the U.S.’s $46,000 or even Japan’s $33,000. In short: Too little of what China produces ends up consumed by the Chinese themselves. In essence, China is still the largest potential market in the world for virtually everything, however, Chinese wages are currently so low that consumers simply are unable to contribute to domestic consumption unless serious wealth redistribution or salary adjustment occurs.

The Communist Party of China has retained a grip on every significant lever of power in China. Richard McGregor, the author of the recently published The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers wrote “Most people in China have little day-to-day contact with the Communist Party [of China]. It’s like a radio in the background. As one young woman said: ‘We don’t care about the party, we only care about parties.’"
But McGregor reporter for the Financial Times and a former correspondent in Beijing, also says “The state still controls all the most important sectors of the economy including telecommunications, transport, energy and banking. The genius of the Chinese communists has been to encourage state-owned commercial entities to compete with one another...The Communist Party in China has changed in nature. It wants to make a profit. It is no longer a party of workers and farmers. In the past five years or so, private entrepreneurs have been encouraged to join. The Communist Party welcomes capitalists now... the Communist Party has hitched its continuing survival to capitalism.”

Trotsky and a pick in the head

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On 20 August 1940, Trotsky was attacked in his home in Mexico with an ice-pick by undercover NKVD agent Ramón Mercader. Trotsky was taken to a hospital, operated on, and survived for more than a day, dying at the age of 60 on 21 August 1940.

Trotsky developed the theory of the “degenerate workers' state”. He argued that the Soviet economy was basically socialist but that a party bureaucracy had smashed workers' control. Trotsky thought that the existence in Soviet Russia of nationalisation and planning meant that its economy had a socialist basis and that to establish socialism, only a political revolution displacing the bureaucracy was required, rather than a full social revolution as in the West. Trotsky’s mistake in equating state ownership with socialism prevented him realising the state capitalist nature of Russia. Trotsky entirely identified capitalism with private capitalism and so concluded that society would cease to be capitalist once the private capitalist class had been expropriated. However, the reality was that the apparatchik and nomenklatura in Russia constituted the capitalist class eating up surplus value.

Trotsky may have proclaimed that “socialism in one country” is impossible. But, it didn’t mean that he thought nothing could be done in one country if a vanguard was ruthless and determined enough it could, he argued, establish a “Workers State”, based on nationalisation and planning, i.e. that “state capitalism in one country” was possible.Trotsky can scarcely criticise Stalin for brutality, when he was as nearly as ruthless. In fact there is a good case that Stalin rose to power as part of a Stop-Trotsky faction, the fear that Trotsky as commander of the Red Army (with a predilection for being seen in public in military uniforms) could assume the role of a military dictator. Such fears would have been stoked by his support, in 1921, for the militarisation of labour.

Trotsky having been comprehensively out-manoeuvred by Stalin and driven out of Russia positioned himself as head of the loyal opposition to the Bolshevik regime, that he and his followers "maintained its fidelity to the official party to the very end” .

A contemporay article on the death of Trotsky can be read here

Trotsky - The Prophet De-bunked can be read here

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

US wages costs less than India

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Call centre workers are becoming as cheap to hire in the US as they are in India, according to the head of the country’s largest business process outsourcing company.

High unemployment levels have driven down wages for some low-skilled outsourcing services in some parts of the US. At the same time, wages in India’s outsourcing sector have risen by 10 per cent this year and senior outsourcing managers based in the country command salaries above global averages.

“We need to be very aware [of what’s available] as people [in the US] are open to working at home and working at lower salaries than they were used to,” said Mr Bhasin, the chief executive of Genpact . “We can hire some seasoned executives with experience in the US for less money.”

The narrowing of the traditional cost advantage is also spurring other Indian outsourcers to hire more staff outside India. Wipro, the Bangalore-based IT outsourcing company, started to recruit workers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa during the global economic downturn. Suresh Vaswani, joint chief executive of Wipro Technologies, forecasts that half of his company’s overseas workforce will be non-Indians in two years, from the current 39 per cent.

power companies profits

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From The Independent

Before the general election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats repeatedly criticised Labour for failing to tackle prices charged by the Big Six suppliers. Both the opposition parties demanded an inquiry by the Competition Commission. The Coalition Government has shelved plans for an independent inquiry into the £25bn-a-year energy industry amid accusations of profiteering on electricity and gas. The Department of Energy and Climate Change confirmed last night that it has no plans to refer the industry to the Competition Commission. Meanwhile, profits have surged at the Big Six – British Gas, EDF, Eon, Npower, Scottish & Southern and Scottish Power – and the firms are accused of failing to pass on significant falls in wholesale prices. Scottish & Southern revealed in July that full-year operating profits at its supply and generation arm, of which its UK residential business is a small part, rose by £64m to £896m, up 8 per cent. In July, British Gas, whose residential supply forms the main part of its business, reported operating profits in the first half of 2010 of £585m, up 98 per cent.

Figures released in December showed that during the cold winter of 2008/09, “excess winter mortality” jumped by 49 per cent to 36,700, sending an extra 10,000 pensioners to early graves.

Homes in fuel poverty – defined as spending 10 per cent or more of their income on fuel – have trebled in five years to around 6.6 million.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tramps Beware

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Sit or sleep too long and steel spikes will pop up.
From The Metro

Less UK social mobility

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A study by the TUC found that half of a child's future earning potential in the UK was determined at birth. The UK had the worst record on this front of any of the countries for which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has data, also lagging behind the US, Italy, France and Germany.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pakistan floods

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On top of the cost of 1,600 lives two million people have been driven from their homes. Six million still need food, shelter and water.

Nature is humanity's best friend and worst enemy. Many natural disasters cannot be prevented in advance.The floods in Pakistan cannot be blamed on capitalism. Nature can sometimes do worse things than capitalism. Capitalism is no more to blame for the floods throughout Pakistan, however, it can be criticised for its way of dealing with the disaster and its consequent threats. In capitalism, whatever the urgency, nothing can happen until agreement has been reached over money.

Of course socialism will still see natural disasters, since it will not involve any kind of ‘mastery’ over nature. But their effect will be minimised by sensible precautions unencumbered by the profit motive. Action to relieve distress will be unhampered by nationalistic and military considerations, and will make use of well-established regional and global frameworks for cooperation and responding to emergencies. It is clear that such disasters call for working together rather than against each other and provision according to need rather than ability to pay. But how would socialism cope with such a sudden catastrophes as those floods.

Cholera and typhoid are big dangers in flood-affected areas. In socialism, medical science could be re-oriented almost overnight to solve these ongoing disasters. A food crisis is set to emerge as farming collapses from the consequences of the floods. However, in socialism the populations of Pakistan would not have to rely on their own agricultural production nor would they be forced to stay put. A massive mobilisation of people to other regions would be inconceivable today but not necessarily in socialism.

Nature can indeed sometimes do worse things than capitalism. But to protect ourselves, we need something better than capitalism.

Class war in Bangladesh

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According to the International Trade Union Confederation, Bangladesh’s 3.5 million garment workers, most of them women, are the “world’s most poorly paid workers”. Many work 12 to 14 hour shifts, six days a week, often in hazardous conditions. The American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations stated “Bangladesh’s garment workers are among the hardest working women in the world, and the most exploited.”
Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh’s prime minister, recently told the parliament: “It is not possible for the workers to live on the wages they get now.” Compensation in the garment industry was “not only insufficient but also inhuman”.
Living wages in Bangladesh have not been raised since 2006, even though annual inflation rates have soared to between 6.5 and 10 per cent.

Garment exports from Bangladesh accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s total exports. In recent years, Bangladesh has emerged as an attractive manufacturing centre for top multinational clothing retailers such as Tesco, Gap, H&M, Walmart and Marks & Spencer because of its low-cost labour, believed to be the world’s cheapest, against more expensive manufacturing centres such as China and India.
“The problem Bangladesh faces is that giant multinational retailers will not pay for a wage increase,” said Khondker Mosharraf Hossain, the country’s minister of labour. “Every year the multinationals slash the prices they are willing to pay per unit, which drives down wages.”

The UK charity ActionAid accuses Asda, a British supermarket chain, of paying Bangladeshi workers only a quarter of the amount they need to afford a decent living. According to ActionAid’s calculations, if Asda pays workers only an additional 2 pence on every £4 (Dh22.90)T-shirt it buys from developing countries such as Bangladesh, it will in effect double workers’ wages and pull them out of poverty. Campaigners against sweat shops have called on Britain’s biggest High Street retailers to support higher wages for factory workers in Bangladesh, after violent clashes there. Charities say Bangladesh has become more attractive as labour costs in China have risen. Bangladeshi workers are seeking a ‘living wage’ of about £45 a month, about half the Chinese minimum imposed earlier this year.

Many observers contend that the extra wages can be borne by international buyers without significantly harming profitability.
“The extent of the impact [of a wage hike] on the owners would depend on how much more companies like Walmart and H&M are willing to pay to offset the rise in cost of production,” Zahid Hussain, a senior economist at the World Bank’s south Asia finance and poverty group, wrote in a World Bank blog. Labour costs typically make up between only 1 and 3 per cent of the total cost of producing garments in the developing world, Mr Hussain wrote. A large increase in wages, therefore, should not require correspondingly large increases in retail prices. “For example, for a typical sportswear garment, doubling wages would increase retail price by roughly 1 to 3 per cent; tripling wages would result in price increases of 2 to 6 per cent,” he wrote.

In the past two months, factories have been ransacked and clashes have erupted sporadically on the streets of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, as tens of thousands of restive garment workers expressed anger over wages. Mosherafa Mishu, the head of the Garment Workers Unity Forum said if their demands were not met, “we will create a militant movement, we will be on the streets again”, he warned. Bangladeshi authorities have brought charges of breaking law and order against more than 4,000 workers. Authorities have paid special attention to 40 labor leaders they’ve named as “provocateurs,” who are now in hiding. One such organizer, Aminul Islam, was detained by security forces. Under torture and death threats against him and his wife, Islam signed a confession to “inciting worker unrest.” Police are harassing labor leaders’ families and colleagues, says the International Labor Rights Forum. The government recently stripped the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity of its legal status while threatening to tighten security around international labor activists who have gone to Bangladesh to investigate or “get involved with trade unions.”
Garment workers took to the streets to complain that a government proposal to increase the minimum wage from £15.50 a month to £28 was insufficient. Bangladesh’s factory owners staunchly oppose the demand to raise the wage to 5,000 taka per month. Art Carden, an assistant professor of economics and business at Tennessee’s Rhodes College wrote "Firms that sacrifice profits in order to pay higher wages will reduce their ability to earn profits, attract capital, and expand in the future. In the short run, we can improve standards of living for some people. In the long run, this illusory prosperity comes at the cost of increasing future poverty.”

If nothing else, capitalism is resiliant. Wages in China increased by 17 per cent in the first half of this year, according to a survey released last month by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Credit Suisse says these higher wages will cost companies about $15 trillion by 2015. Some companies are expected to offset higher labour costs by using fewer workers. “We are trying to increase automation and ensure our processes will rely on fewer workers,” Shereen Tong, the chief financial officer of Hong Kong’s VTech Holdings, a maker of cordless phones, told Bloomberg.“For products that need to be manufactured in high volumes, automation will help improve efficiency.”

SOYMB wish our Bangladeshi brothers and sisters well in their struggle for improved wages and conditions but as always it is necessary to remind them that the class war will be won only when socialism is established.