Monday, April 30, 2012

The Internationale - The swing version

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Tony Babino's  unique interpretation of the workers anthem. 

For a New American Labor Day

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Tomorrow is May Day. Projections by the International Labour Organization (ILO) will be a sobering thought on that day. May Day serves as a  reminder of the challenge facing workers. The ILO warned that austerity measures are hurting job markets worldwide, and predicted global unemployment of 202 million people in 2012, up six million (6.1%) from last year.  The ILO report also forecast that a further five million people would join the world's unemployed in 2013. The ILO's World of Work Report 2012 said fiscal austerity and labor market reforms had had "devastating consequences" for employment.  Unemployment is on the rise in most of the world and will continue rising in the short-term.

According to ILO, the world is facing a worsening youth employment crisis, wherein, “young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and over 75 million youth worldwide are looking for work.” This had led to a higher chance of social unrest in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, advanced economies and Central and South Eastern Europe. "This is not surprising given that good jobs remain scarce and income inequality is rising," lead author of the report Raymond Torres said. Unemployment in Spain reached record highs of almost one-in-four last month, with over half of 18-25 year-olds out of work.

Unlike most of the rest of the world the United States doesn't celebrate May Day as an official national holiday. Outside the U.S., May 1st is International Workers' Day, observed with speeches, rallies, and demonstrations. Yet, ironically, this celebration of working-class solidarity originated from the American labor movement. The original May Day was born of the movement for an eight-hour workday.

After the Civil War, unregulated capitalism ran rampant in America. As the gap between the rich and other Americans widened dramatically, workers began to resist. To make their voices heard, workers had to resort to massive strikes, typically put down with brutal violence by government troops. The first major wave of labor unions pushed employers to limit the workday to ten, then eight, hours. The 1877 strike by tens of thousands of railroad, factory and mine workers -- which shut down the nation's major industries and was brutally suppressed by the corporations and their friends in government -- was the first of many mass actions to demand living wages and humane working conditions. By 1884, the campaign had gained enough momentum that the predecessor to the American Federation of Labor adopted a resolution at its annual meeting, "that eight hours shall constitute legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886."

On the appointed date, unions and radical groups orchestrated strikes and large-scale demonstrations in cities across the country. More than 500,000 workers went on strike or marched in solidarity and many more people protested in the streets. In Chicago, a labor stronghold, at least 30,000 workers struck. Rallies and parades across the city more than doubled that number, and the May 1 demonstrations continued for several days. The protests were mostly nonviolent, but they included skirmishes with strikebreakers, company-hired thugs and police. On May 3, at a rally outside the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company factory, police fired on the crowd, killing at least two workers. The next day, at a rally at Haymarket Square to protest the shootings, police moved in to clear the crowd. Someone threw a bomb at the police, killing at least one officer. Another seven policemen were killed during the ensuing riot, and police gunfire killed at least four protesters and injured many others. After a controversial investigation, seven anarchists were sentenced to death for murder, while another was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. The anarchists won global notoriety, being seen as martyrs by many radicals and reformers, who viewed the trial and executions as politically motivated. Within a few years, unions and radical groups around the world had established May Day as an international holiday to commemorate the Haymarket martyrs and continue the struggle for the eight-hour day, workers' rights and social justice.

 In 1894, the American Railway Union, led by Eugene Debs, went on strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company to demand lower rents (Pullman was a company town that owned its employees' homes) and higher pay following huge layoffs and wage cuts. In solidarity with the Pullman workers, railroad workers across the country boycotted the trains with Pullman cars, paralyzing the nation's economy. President Grover Cleveland declared the strike a federal crime and called out 12,000 soldiers to break the strike. They crushed the walk-out and killed at least two protesters. Six days later, Cleveland -- facing worker protests for his repression of the Pullman strikers -- signed a bill creating Labor Day as an official national holiday in September. He hoped that giving the working class a day off to celebrate one Monday a year might pacify them. For most of the twentieth century, Labor Day was reserved for festive parades, picnics and speeches sponsored by unions. In 1958, in the midst of the cold war, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 as Loyalty Day.

May the 1st had faded away as a day of protest but this year feeling a new wave of anger and activism among their rank-and-file, many American unions will be taking to the streets once again this May Day. The Occupy movement will relaunch its protest actions with May Day actions and have called for a May Day "general strike".

Taken from  here

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Britain less mobile

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A major study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development based on a series of reading tests sat by a sample of teenagers in countries across the developed world in 2009 shows that Britain was ranked 28th out of 34 nations based on the proportion of deprived children who exceed expectations in exams. Just a quarter of poor pupils succeed “against the odds” at school – below the international average and behind countries such as Poland, Greece, Mexico, Slovenia and Chile.

The OECD study said: "...in countries with higher income inequality – such as Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States – a child’s future economic standing is often closely related to the income level of his or her parents. This suggests that socio-economic background plays a strong role in the development of children’s skills and abilities in these countries.”

Source

Food insecurity amidst plenty

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Almost one in five children living in rural Nebraska and counties fit the food-insecure profile according to the Nebraska Center for Rural Affairs in an analysis that that examined socio-economic aspects the grouping of states that includes the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas and portions of four adjoining states, described as the Great Plains.

Jon Bailey, the center's director of rural research, said signs of poverty and hunger show up during one of the biggest surges in agricultural prosperity in history and in the same place where the food is produced.

"One of the constant ironies of this region is that we have a large food-insecure population in one of the greatest agricultural regions in the world,"
he said. "Right in the middle of the breadbasket of the United States, there's a tremendous food-insecurity problem."

Even in Nebraska -- first in red meat production nationally, third in corn production and highly ranked in several other grain and livestock categories -- 18.9 percent of rural children were food insecure.

Food-insecure status applies to households where there's a lack of nutritionally adequate food or where access to food interferes with an active, healthy life. Iowa topped the list for food-insecure children in rural areas at 34.6 percent.

The rural poverty rate in Nebraska was 12.2 percent, slightly lower than the regional average for all counties of 12.4 percent. But rural poverty ranged as high as 20.6 percent in South Dakota, where Native Americans living on reservations make up a much bigger slice of the rural population.


The rich getting richer - yet again

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The combined wealth of the 1,000 richest men and women in Britain has risen to record levels in the past year. Their total fortune has risen by just under five per cent since 2011, to £414 billion, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List. That exceeds the previous record of £412.8 billion set in 2008, which came just a few months before the financial crash. The wealth of individuals with between £330m and £750m has gone up 7.8 per cent this year with those worth £151 to £328m seeing their fortunes grow by 9 per cent.

 Efforts by hard-pressed families to make their wages go further during the economic downturn have boosted the fortunes of the owners of cut-price retail outlets. Tom Morris and family, who own the Home Bargains stores, have seen their fortune leap from £160m to £620m. The B&M Retail discount chain, also based in the north west, has contributed to a £144m increase in the wealth of its owners, Simon, Robin and Bobby Arora, taking them to £487m

Heading the list for the seventh year running is the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal,  his wealth at £12,700m, placing him just £385m ahead of Alisher Usmanov, whose Metalloinvest is Russia’s biggest iron ore producer. In third place Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea FC with £9,500m.

Source

Saturday, April 28, 2012

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The following may be of interest to our East Anglia Regional Branch for local propaganda purposes.

13 of the East Anglia's  20 wealthiest people have seen fortunes increase in the past year, with the total wealth of those listed rising 4pc from £8.45bn to £8.85bn, according to the Sunday Times Rich List.

Newmarket-based Kirsten Rausing has kept hold of the top spot, with a fortune worth £3.9bn. Rausing is the eldest child of Swedish industrialist Gad Rausing and the grand-daughter of Ruben Rausing who founded the liquid food packaging company Tetra Pak. Her father bought out the 50 per cent share in the company from his brother Hans Rausing in 1995, leaving her side of the family as sole remaining owners. Her wealth makes her the 15th richest person in the UK and the nation’s third wealthiest woman.

In second place is the Earl of Iveagh and member of the Guinness dynasty , who own the Elveden estate and are estimated to have a fortune totalling £850m.

3. Marcus Evans (business services) £625m
4. Mike Lynch (software) £480m
5. David and Richard Thompson (food, horseracing) £460m
6. Douw Steyn and family (insurance) £420m
7. Edward Atkin and family (babycare products) £255m
8. Gregory Darling (marine services) £205m
In 9th is Colin Hill, the wealthiest man in Peterborough who owns the Great Northern Hotel and ex-owner of  Peterborough United’s London Road stadium, the latter of which he sold to Peterborough City Council for £8 million., was listed in ninth place in the rankings with an estimated fortune of £200 million. He accumulated his wealth through business interests including car repossession, financing and leasing, aircraft salvage, property and timeshares.
10. David Allen (caravan parks) £165m
11. Paul Day and family (transport, warehousing) £163m
12. Sir Philip Naylor - Leyland (land, art) £152m who owns Milton Hall, one of the largest private homes in Cambridgeshire.

At 13, the highest-ranked Norfolk entry in the list is Robert Carter and family, whose construction business has helped them to amass a fortune of £134m – up £27m from last year’s figure.

Philip Beresford, who compiles the Sunday Times Rich List, said the reason East Anglia’s wealthiest people were recession-proof was largely based on the nature of their wealth. He said: “Their wealth is in the services and products like gas and energy or land and they have come through the fire of the recession fine. They have niche businesses in niche markets.” He added part of their success was often due to the global nature of their business interests – a geographical diversity of interests protecting them from the fluctuations of domestic markets.

Producing more for less

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Many workers are facing tough times. The typical American family incomes grew by less than one half of one percent between 2000 and 2007. Bourgeois economists assure us that when workers produce more per hour of work, our earnings should go up correspondingly. Since 1973, that just hasn’t been happening. Productivity has risen, but the pay of the average worker has stagnated. That simple fact explains why younger Americans today aren’t doing any better than their parents’ generation, and sometimes worse. Americans are not reaping the rewards of  hard work.

Income inequality has grown over the last 30 years or more driven by three dynamics: rising inequality of labor income (wages and compensation), rising inequality of capital income, and an increasing share of income going to capital income rather than labor income. As a consequence, examining market-based incomes one finds that the top 1 percent of households have secured a very large share of all of the gains in income—59.9 percent of the gains from 1979–2007, while the top 0.1 percent seized an even more disproportionate share: 36 percent. In comparison, only 8.6 percent of income gains have gone to the bottom 90 percent. Between 1979 and 2007 the annual earnings of the top 1 percent grew 156 percent, while the remainder of the top 10 percent had earnings grow by 45 percent.

Wage inequality at the bottom—called the “50/10 wage gap” because it reflects wage differences between the median and bottom 10 percent—has primarily been driven by periods of high unemployment and the erosion of the minimum wage. The continuing growth of the wage gap between high and middle earners is the result of various laissez-faire policies (acts of omission as well as commission) including globalization, deregulation, privatization, eroded unionization, and weakened labor standards. The gap between the very highest earners—the top 1 percent—and all other earners, including other high earners, reflects the escalation of CEO and other managers’ compensation and the growth of compensation in the financial sector.

The highest earners have captured a disproportionate share of pay gains. Average pay, which factors in the salaries of chief executive officers and NBA stars, has gone up faster than median pay, which is the pay for the mythical person in the middle. Half of all workers earn more than the median and half earn less. Median hourly compensation isn’t dragged upward by a few big earners at the top. Adjusted for inflation, it grew just 11 percent from 1973 through 2011, while productivity grew 80 percent. During the 1973 to 2011 period, real median hourly wage increased 4.0 percent, and the real median hourly compensation (including all wages and benefits) increased just 10.7 percent. If the real median hourly compensation had grown at the same rate as labor productivity over the period, it would have been $32.61 in 2011 (2011 dollars), considerably more than the actual $20.01 (2011 dollars).

Owners of capital are taking a bigger share of income. Ordinary American workers get most of their pay in the form of wages and salaries, while the wealthiest Americans get more of their pay in the form of income on capital, such as dividends and capital gains. The owners of capital have been claiming a bigger share of the national income. That trend shows up in labor’s share of overall compensation, which has fallen from 64.3 percent in 1973 to 58.5 percent in 2011. The rise in the share of capital income in the corporate sector has been driven by a comparably large increase in “profitability,” or the return to capital per dollar of plant and equipment. The shift of income from labor to capital was most evident in the period of rising inequality of wages from 1979 to 1995 and again from 2000 to 2011, a period characterized by rising wage inequality and excessive unemployment. Therefore, the improved profitability and shift of income to capital has occurred alongside the general weakening of workers’ bargaining position in the labor market.

Consumer prices have risen faster than prices of what workers produce. The idea here is that workers’ pay is connected to what they produce, which includes some consumer goods and services but also a lot of things that consumers don’t buy, such as industrial machinery and business-to-business services. Prices of those things have gone up slowly, so the compensation of the workers that produce them has gone up slowly. Consumer prices, meanwhile, have gone up faster. So pay hasn’t kept up with inflation in the consumer’s market basket.

The “typical” worker is not benefiting fully from productivity growth. The author, president of the Economic Policy Institute, writes in conclusion "It is hard to see how reestablishing a link between productivity and pay can occur without restoring decent and improved labor standards, restoring the minimum wage to a level corresponding to half the average wage (as it was in the late 1960s), and making real the ability of workers to obtain and practice collective bargaining."



Real wages have stagnated and health and pension coverage has eroded is the fact that collective bargaining power has decreased, and remains under assault. Union coverage has fallen dramatically over the last 30 years, with the share of unionized wage and salary workers dropping 0.4 percent per year from 1979–2010. This falling rate of unionization has led to lower wages, as illustrated by the union wage premium, which is how much unionized workers’ earnings exceed those of comparable nonunion workers. In 2007, the premium was 14.1 percent. Additionally, unions have positive effects on the livelihoods of all workers by raising wages at the bottom of the wage scale more than at the top, thereby shrinking wage inequality.

Cutting to the chase and without the academic language - it means we have to escalate and intensify the class struggle and extract more in wages share from the capitalist's "profits" - surplus value. But we must be minded that it is low unemployment that boosts the  bargaining power at the middle and bottom of the wage scale which prompts employers to raise wages and offer better benefits to keep workers who may otherwise leave for other, possibly better-paying, jobs. Whereas for the capitalist, the recession may have waned,  for the working class there are still far too few job openings throughout the economy. Simply put, until the labor market is recovers the prospects for all workers, including low-wage workers, will be dim.


Sources: 1 2 3

The rich have no country

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An elite group of the world’s “stateless super-rich” is growing, and transcending geographical boundaries to purchase properties in major cities across the globe. With no strong ties to specific countries, these individuals lead nomadic, season-driven lives. Their choice of where to live at any one time is based on that location’s climate, their children’s education, tax constraints or which of their friends they want to lunch with on any particular day. This increasingly global lifestyle has led to the stateless super-rich buying a larger portion of the world’s most expensive homes as they look to park their wealth in perceived havens. On average they own four to five properties, usually consisting of two in their country of principal residence, one in a “global city” such as London, Paris or New York, and a holiday home in a hot climate – or one in the Alps.

“The more money you have, the more rootless you become because everything is possible,”
says Jeremy Davidson, a property consultant who specialises in properties that cost £10m or more in the most sought-after postcodes in London. “I have clients who wake up in the morning and say, ‘Let’s go to Venice for lunch.’ If you’ve got that sort of money the world becomes a very small place. They tend to have a diminished sense of place, of where their roots are,” he says.

 Research for the Financial Times by Knight Frank shows that foreign buyers now dominate sales of “super-prime” homes – typically defined as the top 5 per cent of the most valuable properties – in the world’s major cities.

“I am not surprised that these top-end markets are so international in terms of their buyers, the reality is the super-rich who buy these properties live increasingly global lifestyles,”
says Liam Bailey, head of research at Knight Frank. “The super-prime market wouldn’t exist without a global market – it only really got going in the past 15 to 20 years as Russian money poured into London and Monaco.”

Commentators say it is hard to know what further impact this dominance of the international rich will have in the coming years, but many believe some cities have already lost the strong “community feel” and public-spiritedness they once had as more and more properties are owned by people with multiple homes worldwide.

There is a lack of integration between the incoming stateless super-rich and the communities into which they are buying. “Some foreign nationals will come to London or New York because other wealthy individuals from overseas are buying there, but they are not interested in getting to know the local community in those cities. They also tend to bring their own domestic staff with them,” explains Rohit Talwar, chief executive at Fast Future, a research company that analyses future trends.

Davidson agrees. “The super-rich will often lead their lives quite in isolation. They are not going to be greeting fellow parents at the school gate as they don’t do the school run as the kids will be dropped off by a chauffeur in a bullet-proof Range Rover.”

To emancipate ourselves, the working class too must come to realise that we also have no country and come together to engage in a orld-wide class struggle against the capitalist class.

Friday, April 27, 2012

An Appeal to London Voters

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What is apparent in this election is the extent to which all the parties try and manage the agenda for the election. They all want to encourage the debate to be round the handful of high-profile issues where they feel on strong ground. The assumption is that voters are stupid and can only remember three or four things at a time, so why give them more than that to consider. What it all means is that the campaign may centre around a handful of issues only. That may appear to appeal to ourselves in the Socialist Party. After all we are the ultimate single issue party - Abolish Capitalism. But while this is a single issue no-one is pretending that it is a simple case. Sure its not complicated, the case for putting human need ahead of profit, but soundbites don’t do our case justice. We are also handicapped in the eyes of the modern voter by the fact that we are not in a position to make promises, and what’s more, we aren’t going to “do anything” for anyone. The other parties are falling over each other to be seen to be offering some immediate palliative or reform.

What is important to recognise is that those so-called “local” issues that are high on the agenda of many in the London elections (such as the NHS, local housing and transport) are pressing issues everywhere else. But these are not really local issues after all. Its just that many people (and all of our opponents) think the solution is usually a local one, so there is no point looking elsewhere for the answer. Unhappy with the plans for the local hospital ? Well don’t worry whoever gets elected will have a word with the local Health Board and try and clarify the situation. Concerned about fire-cover at the local fire station ? Don’t worry, one of the politicians will make sure you are consulted about it. Losing sleep over global warming ? No problem, I’ll just turn the thermostat down…

In fact the problem under-pinning most of the supposed “local” issues is usually much broader. Its not just specific local problems (like poor quality consultation documents, or ill thought through proposals). The whole issue of provision of essential services such as health care and fire emergency cover is dictated by the level of resources allocated . And whether it is London or Llannelli, the same picture emerges: social services are stretched. Public sector workers are under pressure to work harder, for less money. The capitalist class don’t want to pay any more than they have to; they don’t want public services that will be able to do anything more than the bare minimum. The reason ? - ultimately these costs come off the profits of UK Capitalism PLC . Let’s be in no doubt, despite the politicians platitudes, the reality is that profit does come before public health and and general welfare. Somewhere in the local authority, there is an accountant doing a cost-benefit analysis. They are working out how small a public sector department can be maintained, and at what point the cost savings from this are outweighed by the costs of the human suffering, which will surely follow.

 In reality, the governments are in control of the economy the same way a duck bobbing around on the ocean is in control of the tides - and the London Assembly even less so! You don’t need to be told not to place too much faith in whichever politician gets elected  - history would suggest that promises made before the election quickly get discarded when in office, and when the pressure of trying to run the profit system in the interests of humanity become too difficult.

Socialist sentiments lurk inside us all, often without us realising it. In the Socialist Party, we don’t just pay lip service to this basic principle though: for us its not just a nice idea - it’s the essence of our position. Only the Socialist Party has the practical case that is consistent with this idea. The Socialist Party advocates the abolition of buying and selling and money and wages. We want the replacement of the system where production is geared to profit, by a system where production is based on self-defined human needs. If in the admittedly very unlikely event that the Socialist Party candidates are elected on 3rd May, we ( as we are a democratic party it wouldn't just be up to the elected individuals to decide) would very probably give our support to any issue which we felt would advance the interests or conditions of the working class. But it is also reasonable for us to not want to allow this to divert us from the mandate we would have been elected on, to push for a world where the satisfaction of human need is the first and last and only consideration of society.

The Syrian Struggle for Democracy is on Two Fronts

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Back in August 2011, SOYMB carried a blog upon what we considered the positive part of the resistance to Syria's Assad regime which was that it was leader-less and the protesters refusal to be co-opted by exiled political dissidents, often with agendas sponsored by foreign powers. The World Socialist Movement understood that those who start such a progressive non-violent movement must be prepared for a long struggle, with setbacks and suffer casualties (after all, only one side is committed to non-violence). Nor was there any guarantee of success, even in the long run. All the same, violent resistance and militarising of it entails even larger casualties and has even less prospects of success. That is because it challenges the strongest point of a dictatorship – its capacity for violent coercion,  plus, of course, the fact that the government possesses the more potent weapons - the tanks, the artillery and the bomber aircraft, unavailable to the resistance unless supplied by other nations.

Unfortunately, developments did lead to the formation of self-appointed leaders from various organisations setting up a Syrian National Council, seeking support from such outside parties as "the Friends of Syria", (America's Hillary Clinton apparently laying claim to be such a friend but whose promotion of  “regime change” is done solely for strategic and economic reasons and has nothing to do with democracy whatsoever.) We have witnessed the birth of the Free Syrian Army, financed, armed and trained by Saudi Arabia as well as various Western powers, including Britain and France who have no recriminations whatsoever about there earlier instigation of civil war in Libya. There has also been a growth in the Muslim Brotherhood influence, creating a religious sectarianism division within Syria.

But, still, in the midst of this now increasingly bloody conflict with its rising casualties there continues within Syria a movement that believes the regime can be brought down without arms, and is committed to continuing the revolution using non-violent means alone. More than just bringing down the regime of Bashar Al Assad, Syria’s non-violent activists believe that the goal of the revolution is to bring a new spirit of democracy and freedom to the country and that the tactics used in the revolution are just as important as the goal. The opposition believes there to be the silent majority of Syrians – those in Damascus, Aleppo and other big cities, who agree with the cause but disagree with the current tactics, and who aren’t willing to sacrifice their lives for another form of dictatorship. "We are still many who want a peaceful revolution,” an activist who calls herself Celine says via Skype from Damascus. “But since it became an armed conflict, many people who were sympathetic to our cause have dropped out.”

“Peaceful resistance is a must; if we use weapons we will not be able to succeed as we do not have enough weapons or soldiers,” said Khalaf Ali Al-Khalaf, a Syrian activist from Aleppo. “The military option will increase people’s pain. Providing people with arms will only increase death. The opposition must convince those requesting arms that there is a different method of resistance. We are facing an unusual regime so we have to use unusual methods.”

"The SNC claims to be representative of the Syrian people. That’s just not true,"
says Ms. Nseir, a SNC's spokesperson in Lebanon but nevertheless a critic of it. "They talk only about arming the rebels. They never talk about nonviolent resistance and they certainly do not speak for the ramadieen, or grey people, the silent majority who support neither the regime nor the armed rebels.”

The activists are not naïve: they know they cannot turn back the clock to last summer, before the uprising turned violent. But they are still determined to work toward peaceful solutions. "There is no going back," says activist Alloush. "The Free Syrian Army is a reality and we have to accept it. But that does not mean that we have to accept them as the leaders of this revolution. I know these people, and I know that many of them want to turn Syria into an Islamic republic if they get the chance.”

A singer who uses the pseudonym ‘Safinas’ because she still lives in Damascus explains. "Our revolution has been stolen from us...We are fighting two regimes and two armies now."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

class war

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More than a third of British land is still in aristocratic hands, according to a 2010 ownership survey by Country Life magazine. In the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition cabinet, 15 of the 23 ministers went to Oxford or Cambridge.
"It is extraordinary that we are once again governed by the old landed gentry, the Bullingdon Club and Brasenose tennis club," said Timothy Garton Ash, the Oxford professor and prominent political writer, referring to an exclusive Oxford dining club and the college at Oxford University that Mr. Cameron attended. "The almost Darwinian ability of the old English upper class to adapt has been demonstrated once again."

France's corporate, political and administrative elite is groomed in a small number of exclusive schools, the grandes écoles. Just under half of France's 40 largest companies are run by graduates of just two schools: ENA, the national school of administration, and the École Polytechnique, which trains the country's top engineers. Together the schools produce only about 600 graduates a year. There are fewer than 6,000 ENA graduates alive today, compared with at least 160,000 Oxford alumni.
"The British elites feel superior because they were born superior; the French elites feel superior because they went to ENA," said Dominique Moïsi, a senior fellow at the French Institute of Foreign Relations.

Source/

Irish Child Poverty

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A new report by the Economic and Social Research Institute has found that over 25% of Irish children are affected by a form of deprivation.

Deprivation is measured by a household's access to basic items such as food, clothing and heating. Child-specific deprivation differs in being based on factors such as having adequate food and clothing, books, toys and games, as well as school trips and doctor/dentist visits.

In 2010, 8 per cent of children were in consistent poverty, compared to 6 per cent of the general population. Some 30 per cent of children were in households experiencing deprivation compared to 23 per cent of the general population. The report says 13 per cent of children aged two to 15 experience child-specific deprivation.

The Illusion of Choice

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Just ten companies control almost everything you buy
See better picture at:
http://i.imgur.com/k0pv0.jpg

growing old and growing poor

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Millions of workers will be forced to work past the age of 75 for a comfortable retirement. The Pensions Policy Institute 45 per cent of people over the age of 50s would have to work for an extra 11 years past the state pension age, currently 65, if they wanted to live a comfortable retirement.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK said: "Lower annuity returns and other factors mean that more and more people will have to work past their state pension age – and often for many years – if they are to have enough money to live comfortably."

Joanne Segars, chief executive of the National Association of Pension Funds, remarked “Millions of workers are in for a rude wake-up call when they find they can’t afford to retire and instead see their retirement date slipping away into the distance. Those who don’t want a fall in their living standards when they retire face a stark choice: work longer or save more, or do both."

Source
Yet a recent ruling by the Supreme Court gives employers the right to dismiss old people because they are old, or at least in certain circumstances. The judgment appears contradictory. Governments want to reduce youth unemployment, and one means of doing so is to get older people to retire, so that young people can climb on to the job escalator but on the other hand, they want to delay the retirement age because the cost of pensions on the economy.

The Maine union problem

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The so-called "right-to-work" act, L.D. 309, is bad news for all Maine workers. It aims to muzzle labor, not union workers alone. It strikes at the heart our right to organize, bargain collectively, have safe workplaces and a decent standard of living for our families.

Unions matter. Objectively, unions reduce income inequality and produce tangible gains for worker's wages, benefits, and working conditions. Unions matter to organized labor and non-union workers alike. Non-union workers benefit when their employers raise wages to compete with unionized companies for talented and productive workers. By improving the wages and conditions of work, anti-union employers try to prevent unions in their own company.

While many workers struggle with low wages and take significant financial and physical risks at work, by forming unions they have earned a measure of dignity in their relationships with their employers, supervisors, and co-workers. Individual workers are powerless in employer-employee relationships. History tells us that an imbalance in this relationship leads to abuse of authority.

L.D. 309 aims to undermine unions. The idea is to subordinate workers, without recourse, to a harsh and degrading market discipline, a set of rules from which businesses and business leaders often seek exemption. If passed, L.D. 309, would be a tragedy for Maine workers and their families. It would represent a betrayal of work by eroding the wages and conditions of employment. Union and non-union workers would lose.

Source
The rate of union membership in the U.S. fell to a record low in 2011 for a second-straight year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total union membership rate - reflecting both public and private-sector workers - was 11.8 percent

Royals flush

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Royal wealth derives from inheritances or positions of power. All of the richest royals on this list are monarchs and serve as heads of often extended family fortunes. Many times wealth is controlled by royal families in trust for their nations or territories.

In Jubilee year, just how rich is the Queen and the Royal Family. Forbes magazine estimates it at a net worth of $500 million that comes from property holdings including Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands, stud farms, a fruit farm and marine land throughout the U.K.; extensive art and fine jewelry; and one of the world’s largest stamp collections built by her grandfather. The Queen also receives an annual government stipend of $12.9 million. Not included are those assets belonging to the Crown Estate, but which she gets to enjoy as Queen, such as $10 billion worth of real estate, Buckingham Palace (estimated to be worth another $5 billion), the Royal Art collection.

Prince Charles, 62, got $28 million last year from Duchy of Cornwall Estate. He spends over half of after-tax income on official activities including more than $10 million last year on salaries of 150 staffers.

Diana reportedly left both Prince William, 28, and Prince Harry, 26, $10 million after taxes. They apparently started receiving annual dividends at age 25, estimated at $450,000 a year. They get the full sums when each turns 30. Prince William also earns between $68,000 and $74,000 a year as a flight lieutenant with the Royal Air Force while Prince Harry receives between $50,000 and $53,000 as a helicopter pilot for the Army Air Corps.

In 2010 the world’s 15 richest royals collectively possessed fortunes amounting to about $99 billion. Thailand's highly reveredKing Bhumibol remains the world's richest. Royal assets are held under Thailand's Crown Property Bureau. He is worth $30 billion. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei with a fortune of $20 billion coms second. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abul Aziz, Saudi Arabia has $18 billion and is in third place.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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From the Guardian 

"The ratio of the total rewards enjoyed by chief executive officers of FTSE 100 companies to the pay of the average UK employee rose from 45:1 in 1998 to 120:1 in 2010. By contrast, over the past 30 years the share of national income going to the bottom half of earners in Britain has fallen steeply. Real wages nearly doubled overall during those 30 years, but only 8% of that growth went to the bottom earners. The wages of the top 1 to 5% of the working population have gone on zooming into the stratosphere, recession or no recession, while wages at the bottom remain virtually stagnant.

At a time when average living standards are being severely squeezed, Incomes Data Services reported at the end of October 2011 that the pay packages of directors of FTSE 100 companies had soared by 49% in a single year, to an average figure of £2,697,644. Chief executive officers collected rather more, an average of £3,855,172. Some of their number soared far beyond that level: Mick Davis of Xstrata collected more than £18m, Michael Spencer of Icap more than £13m. ((By contrast, after the great crash of 1929, the salaries of the discredited and demoralised bankers and CEOs shrank rapidly, and remained in relative decline for several decades.)

If global competition levels down the wages of people who make trainers or motor cars – which it obviously does – then why doesn't it level down the wages of managers and the professionals, too? There are, for example, millions of well-educated Indians who can handle a spreadsheet and could easily acquire those precious managerial skills (if they haven't already), and who will travel anywhere in search of better opportunities. This sort of competition from the emerging nations ought to nudge top-level rewards downwards, just as it does for workers in call centres and car factories, other things being equal. The suspicion grows that perhaps other things are not equal. Are the markets for top talent genuinely free? Or are they constrained and distorted in various ways – by monopoly power, by professional cartels to keep wages high, by government regulation, by stitch-ups in the boardroom, by undetected market abuse, and by outright looting?

Some people would prefer to brush the whole question aside. "Surely," they will claim, "it is better to tolerate some degree of inequality if it energises the economy. A rising tide lifts all boats?" The truth is that wealth is not trickling down to anywhere near the bottom. Many of the worst off are sinking into a demoralised and detached underclass, just as the top earners are congealing into a super-class.

George Orwell said in 1946 that "for quite 50 years past the general drift has almost certainly been towards oligarchy." He detected then "the ever-increasing concentration of industrial and financial power and the diminishing importance of the individual capitalist or shareholder". In The Modern Corporation and Private Property, published in the depths of the great depression, Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means pointed out that the powers of shareholders to control runaway executives had already become an illusion. The concentration of power had brought forth "princes of industry", or as Tom Wolfe called them half a century later, "masters of the universe". Adam Smith warned us about the dangers of merchants conspiring together and of ownerless corporations."

We all know what Karl Marx advocated. The abolition of capitalism. A surer means of solution rather than more regulation (and consequently more loop-holes)
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After 64 years Israel's Independence Day as described in this article from Haaretz

"...small cliques of capitalists, the politically powerful and the media run the country and the business sector; inequality digs its roots ever deeper...Only a few hundred thousand Israelis enjoy true independence and equality of opportunity. They're the ones who have gained access to the public purse, control public resources and belong to powerful monopolies."

The Nuclear Apocalypse

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More than a billion people around the world would face starvation if India and Pakistan were to unleash their nuclear weapons – even if that war remains limited to the region. Combined, Pakistan and India are believed to have close to 150 nuclear warheads.

A report released by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and its U.S. affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). describes that following a limited regional nuclear weapons exchange (such as a clash between India and Pakistan) that would cause major worldwide climate disruption driving down food production in China, the U.S. and other nations and more than a billion people around the world would face starvation.

Dr. Ira Helfand, the author of "Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk--Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition," said: "The new evidence that even the relatively small nuclear arsenals of countries such as India and Pakistan could cause long lasting, global damage to the Earth's ecosystems and threaten hundreds of millions of already malnourished people demands that action be taken. The needless and preventable deaths of one billion people over a decade would be a disaster unprecedented in human history. It would not cause the extinction of the human race, but it would bring an end to modern civilization as we know it."

Working with data produced by scientists who have studied the climate effects of a hypothetical nuclear war between India and Pakistan, Dr. Helfand and a team of experts in agriculture and nutrition determined that plunging temperatures and reduced precipitation in critical farming regions, caused by soot and smoke lofted into the atmosphere by multiple nuclear explosions, would interfere with crop production and affect food availability and prices worldwide.

Corn production in the U.S. would decline by an average of 10 percent for an entire decade, with the most severe decline (20 percent) in Year 5. Soybean production would decline by about 7 percent, with the most severe loss, more than 20 percent, in Year 5. There would be a significant decline in middle-season rice production in China. During the first four years, rice production would decline by an average of 21 percent; over the next six years the decline would average 10 percent. Resulting increases in food prices would make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the world's poorest. Even if agricultural markets continued to function normally, 215 million people would be added to the rolls of the malnourished over the course of a decade. The 925 million people in the world who are already chronically malnourished (with a baseline consumption of 1,750 calories or less per day), would be put at risk by a further 10 percent decline in their food consumption. Significant agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead to panic and hoarding on an international scale, further reducing accessible food.

The IPPNW/PSR report concludes: "There is an urgent need to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons by all nuclear weapons states and to move with all possible speed to the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention that will ban these weapons completely."

Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a member of the governing board of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the former UN Under Secretary General of Disarmament Affairs, said: "Scientific evidence continues to confirm empirically what we already know - that nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapon of mass destruction ever invented with unrivaled genetic and ecological effects. And yet, unlike biological and chemical weapons, they have not been outlawed because of vested interests. Nine countries have 20,530 nuclear warheads among them 95 percent with the U.S. and Russia. As long as these weapons exist others, including terrorists, will want them. As long as we have nuclear weapons their use by intention or accident; by states or by non-state actors is inevitable. Their total elimination through a Nuclear Weapons Convention is therefore the only solution."

It however appears that the critics of nuclear weapons still possess illusions about the UN's or some other international body's effectiveness as an instrument for peace. Nor do they realise that even if the nuclear arsenals have been outlawed and the stocks destroyed, the knowledge would be there in the heads of the scientists and they'd be made again in a possible future conflict. It would start all over again...and again! Once nuclear weapons were discovered and became tools in this conflict, they were bound to threaten human survival. Our conflict-based system remains. So does the nuclear threat.Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that nuclear disarmament were somehow to be achieved within the existing conflict-based system. Many states would still have the technological capacity to make nuclear weapons again if they so decided. This is known as the “breakout” problem. It is hard to imagine countries resisting this temptation when at war or even under conditions of acute military confrontation. As we need not only to achieve but also maintain the continuance of nuclear disarmament, we therefore also need to abolish war in general, together with all weapons that can be used to threaten war. As this report suggests, however, society would not survive another war, it would be wiser to take sound political action rather than wait to see the awful results of a futile policy. 

Wars arise out of conflicts over the control of resources. Doesn’t this mean that an end has to be put to such conflicts? And how can this be done without placing resources under the control of a global community.

Socialists are not against nuclear (or any form of) disarmament within capitalism. We know that the world faces problems of the greatest urgency and we know that the global social revolution is not an immediate prospect. We have no wish to hold human survival hostage to the attainment of our ideals. We say,  please go ahead and prove us wrong by abolishing nuclear weapons without abolishing capitalism. Nothing, apart from socialism itself, would make us happier. The trouble is that we simply don’t understand how it can be done.

Click here for further information.

Political Apathy or Political Action - your choice

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Research by the Hansard Society shows that less than half the population is now interested in politics at all and one in three is unlikely or certain not to vote at the next election. Many voters see a strong disconnection between what happens in Parliament and its effect on individuals lives. Only 24 per cent of people think the system of governing works "reasonably well" while just 38 per cent agree that the Government is held to account by Parliament.

Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society's Parliament and Government programme, described the findings as "worrying".

"2011 was one of the most turbulent and momentous years in recent history," she said. "But it appears that the economic crisis, the summer riots and phone hacking did not lead to any greater interest in or knowledge of politics. The public seems to be disgruntled, disillusioned and disengaged. Only a quarter of the population is satisfied with our system of governing, which must raise questions about the long-term capacity of that system to command public support and confidence in the future."


48% The percentage of the electorate who say they are certain to vote at the next general election, down 10 per cent on last year.
42% Proportion of population now interested in politics, down 16 per cent on 2011

Politics has become an increasingly dirty word. Mention politics and you'll probably get a shrug of the shoulders, a huff of contempt or a rebuff that tells you they're just not interested. And why would they be? Politics of any colour, as currently structured, equates to lies, corruption and furtherance of the aims of a minority elite. Politics is all about corruption, cronyism, nepotism and deceit - in-your-face, downright perversion whether for money or power. Political democracy, despite its advantages, has become an empty shell, with popular participation limited to giving the thumbs up or the thumbs down every few years to rival bands of professional politicians and with fewer and fewer people bothering to do even this .The system has developed as intended and has been shaped to be ideally suited to advantage the few at the expense of the vast majority so we really shouldn't be surprised. If you think you've been cheated over the years you're right; capitalism is nothing but a racket.


Most people are aware of this, but don’t think they can do anything about it. They don’t like it, but accept it as something they have to put up with as they try to make the best of their life and that of their family. This is what is being called apathy, but it’s really more resignation or fatalism.

For over a century we have warned of the dangers of political apathy, of trusting in leaders, of accepting all that governments say without question. Our silence is that same silence the master class toasts each day. Our inaction is an important element in our continuing exploitation, for the master class see in it our consent for their excesses. Politics, the activities associated with how a country or an area is run, is something which should engage the interest and activity of every citizen  as it bears directly on all aspects of life. The reason for contempt or indifference towards politics comes from a history of being excluded, the expectation of being excluded and the acceptance of being excluded. To be heard we need to be involved in the decision-making processes. Anger and outrage is not enough. Apathy is political suicide.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Crime Pays

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Crime generates an estimated $2.1 trillion in global annual proceeds - or 3.6pc of the world's gross domestic product.

"It makes the criminal business one of the largest economies in the world, one of the top 20 economies,"
said Yury Fedotov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

 The illicit income from human trafficking amounts to $32bn every year. "According to some estimates, at any one time, 2.4m people suffer the misery of human trafficking, a shameful crime of modern day slavery," Mr Fedotov said

He also cited a range of other crimes yielding big money.

He said up to $40bn is lost through corruption in developing countries annually.

Criminal groups have shown "impressive adaptability" to law enforcement actions and to new profit opportunities, a senior US official, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Brian Nichols, told the meeting in Vienna.
Source

Now That's What I Call Marxist

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 On the Menu

Occupy and We'll Arrest Stew

1. Take 5000 anti-capitalist protesters, crusty. Add 2000 police - grease their palms.

2. Mix in a large urban melting-pot. Stir up trouble thoroughly.

3. Sandwich protesters in one medium sized kettle.

4. Leave to stew until they begin to sweat.

5. Bring situation to boiling point. Tenderise with truncheons and beat throughly.

6. Grill the "ring-leaders" until well-done in.

7. Season with assault and pepper-spray.

8. Allow the media to serve it up liberally garnished with lies

 Sport

Prole Position

Fed up with Grand Prix Formula 1 and NASCAR. Try the new sensation sweeping the world - the Rat Race. Just like motor car racing contestants in in the Rat Race go round and round in circles without getting anywhere. But Rat Race dosn't use cars. We take ordinary people and we force them to compete against one another. Get a Job! Work Harder!! Faster! Faster!!

Each year as competition gets more and more intense, the contestants have to go faster and faster just to stay in the race. Watch how these machines handle themselves  as they go through recessions and redundancies. As they race the contestants produce a large surplus of profit - not for themselves- but for the bosses.

Safety provisions are minimal (basic healthcare, meagre benefits). Those who can't handle it crash and go to the wall. Only a few lap it up and go on to better positions. And that means having to race even faster.

And at the end of the race the contestants are sprayed by a warm golden liquid - and it isn't Champagne!

The Rat Race. Dangerous. Exploitative. Pointless.


Movie Reviews

Hammer and Sickle Productions available from Vanguard Films

Count Trotcula V
A mysterious force is sucking the blood of the workers' movement. Is it the sinister old man who lives in the castle on top of th hill? Or is it SPEW, again?

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Everything was going to well at the anti-war demonstration - until the SWP turned up for a party recruitment drive.

I Know What You Did Last Election

Six university student SWPers find themselves the target of a murderer who knows their secret - they talked about revolution but then voted Labour

Frankenstein's Monster
With Vladimir Lenin as the mad inventor and the Bolshevik revolution as the monster he creates and couldn't control

The Kronstadt Chainsaw Massacre
An authentic re-enactment of the 1921 workers' revolt and its brutal suppression by the Red Army - using chainsaws

Night of the Living Dead
A SPGB public meeting!





Thanks to Birmingham Branch magazine available to read here

Monday, April 23, 2012

The American Gulag System

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SOYMB return to the issue of prison labor, having previously posted upon it. From this report we read that nearly a million prisoners are working in call centers, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73. Penitentiaries have become a niche market for such work has meant the creation of a small army of workers too coerced and without rights to complain. Rarely can you find workers so pliable, easy to control, stripped of political rights, and subject to martial discipline at the first sign of recalcitrance. The Corrections Corporation of America and G4S (formerly Wackenhut), two prison privatizers, sell inmate labor at sub-minimum wages to corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM. These companies can, in most states, lease factories in prisons or prisoners to work on the outside. Convict labor has been and once again is an appealing way for business to to depress costs, especially labor costs. 

With images of the black chain gang in the American South, it is usually assumed to be a Southern invention. As it happens, the leasing out of prisoners to private enterprise, either within prison walls or in outside workshops, factories, and fields -- was originally known as a “Yankee invention.” First used at Auburn prison in New York State in the 1820s, the system spread widely and quickly throughout the North. Prisoners were employed at an enormous range of tasks from rope- and wagon-making to carpet, hat, and clothing manufacturing (where women prisoners were sometimes put to work), as well coal mining, carpentry, barrel-making, shoe production, house-building, and even the manufacture of rifles.  The range of petty and larger workshops into which the felons were integrated made up the heart of the new American economy.

After the Civil War, the convict-lease system became ubiquitous, one of several grim methods -- including the black codes, debt peonage, the crop-lien system, lifetime labor contracts, and vigilante terror -- used to control and fix in place the newly emancipated slave.  Those “freedmen” were eager to pursue their new liberty either by setting up as small farmers or by exercising the right to move out of the region at will or from job to job as “free wage labor” was supposed to be able to do.The Southern system stood out for the intimate collusion among industrial, commercial, and agricultural enterprises and every level of Southern law enforcement as well as the judicial system.  Sheriffs, local justices of the peace, state police, judges, and state governments conspired to keep the convict-lease business humming.  Indeed, local law officers depended on the leasing system for a substantial part of their income.  (They pocketed the fines and fees associated with the “convictions,” a repayable sum that would be added on to the amount of time at “hard labor” demanded of the prisoner.)  The arrest cycle was synchronized with the business cycle, timed to the rise and fall of the demand for fresh labor. Convicts were leased to coal-mining, iron-forging, steel-making, and railroad companies, including Tennessee Coal and Iron (TC&I), a major producer across the South, especially in the booming region around Birmingham, Alabama.  More than a quarter of the coal coming out of Birmingham’s pits was then mined by prisoners. All the main extractive industries of the South were, in fact, wedded to the system.  Turpentine and lumber camps deep in the fetid swamps and forest vastnesses of Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana commonly worked their convicts until they dropped dead from overwork or disease.  The region’s plantation monocultures in cotton and sugar made regular use of imprisoned former slaves, including women.  Among the leading families of Atlanta, Birmingham, and other “New South” metropolises were businessmen whose fortunes originated in the dank coal pits, malarial marshes, isolated forests, and squalid barracks in which their unfree peons worked, lived, and died. As one observer put it, “Felons are mere machines held to labor by the dark cell and the scourge.”

Moreover, totalitarian-style control invited appalling brutalities in response to any sign of resistance: whippings, water torture, isolation in “dark cells,” dehydration, starvation, ice-baths, shackling with metal spurs riveted to the feet, and “tricing” (an excruciatingly painful process in which recalcitrant prisoners were strung up by the thumbs with fishing line attached to overhead pulleys).  Even women in a hosiery mill in Tennessee were flogged, hung by the wrists, and placed in solitary confinement. Living quarters for prisoner-workers were usually rat-infested and disease-ridden.  Companies leasing convicts enjoyed authority to dispose of their rented labor power as they saw fit.  Workers were compelled to labor in total silence.  Even hand gestures and eye contact were prohibited for the purpose of creating “silent and insulated working machines.” Work lasted at least from sunup to sundown and well past the point of exhaustion.  Death came often enough and bodies were cast off in unmarked graves by the side of the road or by incineration in coke ovens.  Injury rates averaged one per worker per month, including respiratory failure, burnings, disfigurement, and the loss of limbs.  Prison mines were called “nurseries of death.”  Among Southern convict laborers, the mortality rate (not even including high levels of suicides) was eight times that among similar workers in the North -- and it was extraordinarily high there.

In the North, where 80% of all U.S. prison labor was employed after the Civil War and which accounted for over $35 billion in output (in current dollars), the system was reconfigured to meet the needs of modern industry and the pressures of “the long Depression.”  Convict labor was increasingly leased out only to a handful of major manufacturers in each state.  These textile mills, oven makers, mining operations, hat and shoe factories -- one in Wisconsin leased that state’s entire population of convicted felons -- were then installing the kind of mass production methods becoming standard in much of American industry.

Opposition to convict labor arose from workingmen’s associations and journeymen unions. The specter of proletarian dependency haunted the lives of the country’s self-reliant handicraftsmen who watched apprehensively as shops employing wage labor began popping up across the country.  Much of the earliest of this agitation was aimed at the use of prisoners to replace skilled workers (while unskilled prison labor was initially largely ignored). It was bad enough for craftsmen to see their own livelihoods and standards of living put in jeopardy by “free” wage labor.  Worse still was to watch unfree labor do the same thing.  At the time, employers were turning to that captive prison population to combat attempts by aggrieved workers to organize and defend themselves.  On the eve of the Civil War, for example, an iron-molding contractor in Spuyten Duyvil, north of Manhattan in the Bronx, locked out his unionized workers and then moved his operation to Sing Sing penitentiary, where a laborer cost 40 cents, $2.60 less than the going day rate.  It worked, and Local 11 of the Union of Iron Workers quickly died away. During the Coal Creek Wars in eastern Tennessee in the early 1890s, for instance, TC&I tried to use prisoners to break a miners’ strike.  The company’s vice president noted that it was “an effective club to hold over the heads of free laborers.” 
Worst of all was to imagine this debased form of work as a model for the proletarian future to come.  The workingman’s movement of the Jacksonian era was deeply alarmed by the prospect of “wage slavery,” a condition inimical to their sense of themselves as citizens of a republic of independent producers.  Prison labor was a sub-species of that dreaded “slavery,” a caricature of it perhaps, and intolerable to a movement often as much about emancipation as unionization. Observing a free-labor textile mill and a convict-labor one on a visit to the United States, novelist Charles Dickens couldn’t tell the difference, perhaps a more telling comment upon the factory wage-slavery system than convict labor !!

In addition, prisoners’ rebellions became ever more common -- in the North particularly, where many prisoners turned out to be Civil War veterans and dispossessed working people who already knew something about fighting for freedom and fighting back.  Major penitentiaries like Sing Sing became sites of repeated strikes and riots; a strike in 1877 even took on the transplanted Spuyten Duyvil iron-molding company. Political platforms, protest rallies, petition campaigns, legislative investigations, union strikes, and boycotts by farm organizations like the Farmers Alliance and Grange cried out for the abolition of the convict-lease system, or at least for its rigorous regulation.  Over the century’s last two decades, more than 20 coal-mine strikes broke out because of the use of convict miners. In the North, the prison abolition movement went viral, embracing not only workers' organizations, sympathetic rural insurgents, and prisoners, but also widening circles of middle-class reformers.  The newly created American Federation of Labor denounced the system as “contract slavery.”  It also demanded the banning of any imports from abroad made with convict labor and the exclusion from the open market of goods produced domestically by prisoners, whether in state-run or private workshops.  In Chicago, the construction unions refused to work with materials made by prisoners. Private leasing continued in the North, but under increasingly restrictive conditions, including Federal legislation passed during the New Deal.  By World War II, it was virtually extinct. In the North, the system of “hard labor” was replaced by a system of “hard time,” that numbing, brutalizing idleness.

Today, we talk about a newly “flexible economy.” The convict labor system of the nineteenth century offered a perfect example of flexibility. Today, the government is again providing subsidies and tax incentives as well as facilities, utilities, and free space for corporations making use of this abject dependent labor. The system of leasing out convicts to private enterprise has been reborn.  On the supply side, the U.S.holds captive 25% of all the prisoners on the planet: 2.3 million people.  It has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Convict leasing by private interests has now become an industrial sector in its own right, employing more people than any Fortune 500 corporation and operating in 37 states. 

Economic experts claim that the Great Recession is over, that we are in “recovery” (even though most of the recovering patients haven’t actually noticed significant improvement in their condition,) “Recovery” means that the mega-banks are no longer on the brink of bankruptcy, the stock market has made up lost ground, corporate profits are improving. However, the "recovery" being celebrated owes thanks to local, state, and Federal austerity budgets, the starving of the social welfare system and public services, rampant anti-union campaigns in the public and private sector, the spread of sweatshop labor, the coercion of desperate unemployed or underemployed workers to accept lower wages, part-time work, and temporary work, as well as the relinquishing of healthcare benefits and a financially secure retirement.

Such a "recovery", resting on the stripping away of the hard won material and cultural achievements of the past century, suggests a new world in which  prison-labor could indeed become a vast gulag of the downwardly mobile.

Adapted from Steve Fraser article at Alternet

Food parcel Britain

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The Trussell Trust charity has warned that 13 million of the UK population of 62 million live below the poverty line, as more Britons find themselves struggling to make ends meet due to the government’s benefit cuts.

According to the Trussell Trust, the number of people in need of emergency aid is predicted to increase, with 500,000 Britons expected to need food parcels just to survive by 2015.

“More and more people on low incomes are finding it impossible to make it to the end of the week. Across the UK the Trussell Trust food bank network is facing dramatic increases in demand for help as front line care professionals refer more of their clients to us,”
said Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust.

Food banks which are being opened in the UK at the rate of one every four days, fed more than 60,000 British people last year, but they expect at least 100,000 in 2012. The number of food banks in the UK has almost tripled from 79 when David Cameron came to power in 2010 to over 200. Food banks providing a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK.

Anastasia de Waal, a social policy advisor for think tank Civitas, said, "The food banks are an indicator of the pressures faced by people in a time of rising unemployment and changing benefits."


http://www.presstv.ir/detail/237609.html

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day

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For the last 42 years, Earth Day has called attention to some of the world's most pressing environmental and social problems, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and dwindling natural resources. Yet the problems remain unresolved. It is also just 2 years ago that the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico took place.

Capitalism is a blind process of profit accumulation. Capitalism without growth is impossible, so it’s the capitalist need for profit that is responsible for the poisoning of the planet and its people. The administrators of capitalism serve a supremely ignorant master. For all their hot air on how we can protect the Earth, they are never going to challenge the thing they most believe in. They will still be making speeches while the world fries and dies.

Some 1 billion people worldwide presently experience chronic hunger, and 98 percent of these people live in developing countries. Poor urban households spend from 60 to 80 percent of their income on food, putting them at risk of hunger or malnutrition when food prices rise or their incomes fall. Micronutrient deficiencies, including lack of vitamin A, iodine, and iron, affect 1 billion people worldwide and stem partly from a lack of variety in people’s diets. Roughly a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. Each year, more than 29 million acres, or enough land to grow 20 million tons of grain, turn into deserts. A quarter of the world’s known plant species, some 60,000 to 100,000 species. The FAO estimates that 21 percent of the world’s livestock breeds are at risk of extinction. An example, at a more local level, since 1921, Ontario has lost 9 million acres of farmland. In the last two decades, the province lost 25,000 farms through consolidation or transfer to other uses. 75 per cent of established farmers are expected to retire in the next 10 years. The only market that allows the farmer to retire is the housing development market or even larger farmers who can borrow against their own large holdings or quota. Or the land speculators.

Countless companies are co-opting the Earth Day message for good PR and to peddle new products. It has become just another marketing opportunity. The sad truth that "going green" on Earth Day has become another gimmick. What is behind this laudable concern for the environment, and how are they going to achieve their aims? Simple, the only way capitalism can think of doing anything. By making loads of money out of it. Green capitalism's basic idea is that if we just price the environment correctly—creating new markets for new “environmental products” based on monetised measures of environmental health and degradation—then everyone and the environment will win. All that amounts to the economic rationalisation of nature. Stock exchanges, dealing in new environmental ‘products’ have been set up; for example the Climate exchanges in London and Chicago. Carbon credits are the currency representing the emission of carbon. Once these credits enter the international financial system their future value can be speculated on (as with any other currency or commodity, including derivatives) and significant profits can ensue. Capitalist culture has ridden roughshod over biological and cultural diversity and has impoverished both people and the environment. Pricing something is not the same as valuing it. Capitalism is bound to come into conflict with nature. It cannot go green because it cannot change its spots. No company will take action which endangers their profits, just as no government will pass legislation that puts the capitalists whose interests they represent at a disadvantage. True, companies which are more efficient in terms of energy use than their competitors will have lower costs and so are likely to have higher profits. Thus simple economic arithmetic will lead to more sensible uses of energy. And more generally, there is profit to be made in industries which are ecologically-oriented, from the manufacture of reusable energy sources to biofuel companies. It might be argued, too, that international measures have been and can be taken to solve the worst environmental problems, from the banning of the pesticide DDT to the reduced the use of CFCs. However, energy production and global warming are far different, being integrated as closely as they could be in capitalist production in general. Combatting them would not be a mere matter of disrupting the manufacture of aerosols or weedkillers, but of changing something which is part and parcel of the capitalist system and on which all companies depend.

How is it that with the tremendous productive capability associated with capitalism - the amount of food grown is enough to feed the greatly increased population growth - that millions still suffer malnutrition? Why is it that with the accumulated wealth of knowledge and expertise in every field of food production that so much soil is degraded, the health of oceans and prospects for fishing are under threat, and large areas have lost the biodiversity which is so essential to the health of the planet? We need to look not at the technical questions such as how energy is produced and how crops are grown, important though these of course are. Rather, we need to examine the economic basis of society and see the implications of the ways in which production as a whole is organised and of how priorities are considered.

Shouldn’t we be celebrating Earth Day every day? For socialists writing about the environment every day, Earth Day is a bit of a strange concept. Socialists have for years railed at capitalist market production for being on a relentless collision course with the environment. Every day is Earth Day. The destruction wrought on the so-called natural world results from the false division between humans and it. We have this incredible capacity for co-operation that capitalism simply doesn't foster. The change to common ownership and production solely for use could provide the framework to enable the application of scientific and technological knowledge, together with human ingenuity, to the many problems; so that production is sustainable, damaged environment allowed to recover and the food supply ensured for all. The things that make a good community can only be created by the work of the people. We have an abundance of skills and energy. If we were free from having to work for the profits of employers we would be able to work for the needs of everyone.

Russian rich get richer

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Over the next five years, the number of rich Russians worth over $100 million is set to grow by 76 percent, ahead of the global figure of 37 percent. That’s according to a new survey by the Knight Frank real estate consultancy and Citi Private Bank.

 Given the bonanza for the super-rich, the negligible growth in real wages of 0.8 percent, coupled with the apparently underestimated official inflation rate, means that real living standards for the majority of Russians fell.

The wealthiest Russians are amassing capital also through the redistribution of income from the majority of the population. This widening income gap points to deep internal fissures in society. Since the era of privatization many of the wealthiest people in Russia are not “self-made,” but were either appointed “oligarchs,” as in the 1990s, or have been given access to the immense sources of profit in the country.

 Forbes magazine has prepared a new list of 200 richest people of Russia. The overall wealth of these businessmen is about 450 billion U.S. dollars.

Alisher Usmanov, the founder of Metallinvest, general director of “Gazprominvestkholding” and large share holder of Facebook, tops the list with a fortune of 18.1 billion U.S. dollars.

CEOs get richer

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The average CEO pay increased 14 percent to $12.9 million in 2011, 380 times that of the average worker, according to the AFL-CIO's annual Executive Paywatch.

 The report, called CEO Pay and the 99 percent, found that among the 300 firms of the S&P 500 companies that filed annual proxy reports, the average level of CEO pay rose 13.9 percent, following a 22.8-percent rise in 2010.

 12 million workers are without a job, and those with a job had a 2.8-percent raise.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Soccernomics

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Manchester United are named the world's richest club for an eighth year in a row.

Manchester United's global fan base of some 330 million also helps makes it the most valuable team in any sport, worth The Red Devils’ estimated $2.24bn ( £1.4 billion), $385 million (£240m) more than both Major League Baseball's New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League, the Forbes report said. "During the 2010-11 season Manchester United reaped $192 million (£120m) in broadcasting revenue, 22 percent higher than the previous season. The club's run last year to the final of the Champions League, where they lost to Barcelona, commanded an $80 million (£50m) payout from UEFA."

However both Real Madrid and Barcelona have higher revenues than United, due in large part to the fact they have negotiated their own individual television rights deals for Spanish football. Arsenal are fourth on the list, worth $1.29 billion (£800m), behind Real (£1.6 billion) and Barca(£816 million) but just ahead of Bayern Munich (£766 million). The Forbes list ranks Chelsea in seventh place, worth £474 million, and Liverpool eighth with a value of £386 million.

Football is a business like no other, but a business nonetheless.

Source

Militant Nuns

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The Vatican faces another public relations disaster after censuring "feminist" nuns in the US, allegedly for their support of the Obama health reforms.

Leaders at the Holy See are demanding radical change at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents the majority of women's religious orders in the US, after it backed the new health policy, including controversial rules on abortion and contraception, in what observers see as part of a growing crackdown on liberal dissenters. It also accused the group, which has around 1,500 members, of "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith". It noted the rebellious sisters were daring to "disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops... the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals".

The Vatican's watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that the LCWR "does not promote Church teaching" on questions of human sexuality, in addition to being "silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia". Archbishop Peter Sartain from Seattle had been appointed as a special delegate to review the rules, organisation and liturgical texts of the women's group, as well as scrutinise its affiliation to other organisations.

Vatican expert Robert Mickens of The Tablet newspaper said the situation followed attacks on dissenting Irish priests and formed part of "a crackdown against any forms of dissent particularly in the US and Western World".

"Make no mistake, these crackdowns come from the very top," he said. "And what's so frightening is that while these attacks on the liberal leftwing are going on, Pope Benedict continues to cosy up to the far-right, anti-semitic Society of Saint Pius X's."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The William Morris Pattern

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William Morris wrote to J. Bruce Glasier in December 1886: “I did not mean that at some time or other it might not be necessary for Socialists to go into Parliament in order to break it up; but again, that could only be when we are very much more advanced than we are now; in short, on the verge of a revolution; so that we might either capture the army, or shake their confidence in the legality of their position”

In 1887 to Dr. J. Glasse: “I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so: in itself I see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared by passing palliative measures to keep ‘Society’ alive. But I fear that many of them will be drawn into error by the corrupting influence of a body professedly hostile to Socialism”

Again to Dr. J. Glasse “Of course, it's clearly no use talking of parliamentary action now. I admit, and always have admitted, that at some future period it may be necessary to use parliament mechanically: what I object to is depending on parliamentary agitation. There must be a great party, a great organisation outside parliament actively engaged in reconstructing society and learning administration whatever goes on in parliament itself. This is in direct opposition to the view of the regular parliamentary section as represented by Shaw, who look upon Parliament as the means; and it seems to me will fall into the error of moving earth and sea to fill the ballot boxes with Socialist votes which will not represent Socialist men” (his emphasis)

In an unpublished lecture on "Communism": “I confess I am no great lover of political tactics, the sordid squabble of an election is unpleasant enough for a straight-forward man to deal in: yet I cannot fail to see that it is necessary somehow to get hold of the machine which has at its back the executive power of the country, however that may be done and that by means of the ballot-box will, to say the least of it, be little indeed compared with what would be necessary to effect it by open revolt; besides that the change effected by peaceful means would be done more completely and with little chance, indeed with no chance of counter-revolution. On the other hand I feel sure that some action is even now demanded by the growth of Socialism, and will be more and more imperatively demanded as time goes on. In short I do not believe in the possible success of revolt until the Socialist party has grown so powerful in numbers that it can gain its end by peaceful means, and that therefore what is called violence will never be needed, unless indeed the reactionaries were to refuse the decision of the ballot-box and try the matter by arms; which after all I am pretty sure they could not attempt by the time things had gone as far as that. As to the attempt of a small minority to terrify a vast majority into accepting something which they do not understand, by spasmodic acts of violence, mostly involving the death or mutilation of non-combatants, I can call that nothing else than sheer madness”

In an article in Labour Prophet in January 1894 “The workers have started to claim new conditions of life which they can only obtain at the expense of the possessing classes; and they must therefore force their claims on the latter. The means by which they will attempt this are not doubtful. To speak plainly, there are only two methods of bringing the necessary force to bear; open armed insurrection on the one hand; the use of the vote, to get hold of the executive on the other. Of the first method they are not even thinking; but the second they are growing more determined to use day by day; and it is practically the only direct means. And it must be said that, if they are defeated in their attempt, it means the present defeat of Socialism, though its ultimate defeat is impossible.”

In a lecture "What we have to look for" given in 1895 "Almost everyone has ceased to believe in the change coming by catastrophe. To state the position shortly, as a means to the realization of the new society Socialists hope so far as to conquer public opinion, that at last a majority of the Parliament shall be sent to sit in the house as avowed Socialists and the delegates of Socialists, and on that should follow what legislation might be necessary; and moreover, though the time for this may be very far ahead, yet most people would now think that the hope of doing it is by no means unreasonable.”

In News From Nowhere Morris describes democracy:

“ Said I ‘So you settle these differences, great and small, by the will of the majority, I suppose?’
‘Certainly,’ said he; ‘How else could we settle them? You see in matters which are merely personal which do not affect the welfare of the community – how a man shall dress, what he shall eat and drink, what he shall write and read, and so forth – there can be no difference of opinion, and everybody does as he pleases. But when the matter is of interest to the whole community, and the doing or not doing something affects everybody, the majority must have their way...in a society of men who are free and equal – the apparent majority is the real majority, and the others, as I have hinted before, know too well to obstruct from mere pigheadedness; especially as they have had plenty of opportunity of putting forward their side of the question.’ ”

The rich get richer...more evidence

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Since the recession ended nearly three years ago, Labor Department figures show the top 10 percent of earners in America have seen their pay rise 7 percent before inflation, while those in the bottom 10 percent have seen their earnings increase only 2.5 percent.

The growing gap between the highest and lowest-paid workers continues a pre-downturn trend, one that’s been widening for decades.

Source

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Obama V Romney

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When it comes to the presidential election, choice is governed by information and knowledge and like Henry Ford's Model T, which was available in any colour providing it was black, current “democratic” practice is to allow us the widest possible choice as long as it is for capitalism's representative.

Multi-billionaire George Soros thinks that, if Mitt Romney wins the presidency, there will be "little difference" between him and Barack Obama in the White House. SOYMB thinks that says it all!


Obama - the flip-flopper

Obama's commitment to the investor class was reflected among other things by his “yes” vote in the U.S. Senate on the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. A Republican bill backed and signed Bush, that favored banking, creditors and other corporate interests over and against workers, public consumer groups, by making it more difficult for ordinary people to sue corporate abuse. The bill had been long sought by a coalition of business groups and was lobbied for aggressively by financial firms, which constitute Obama’s second biggest single bloc of donors, a five-year effort by 475 lobbyists, in defiance of appeals from every major civil rights group. Thanks to the passage of that legislation, when defrauded homeowners of the housing bubble and defrauded investors of the bundled mortgages try to fight back through class-actions , they will come up against new corporate-friendly legal defences. Obama proved what his loyal supporters thought impossible on both domestic and foreign issues, he has governed to the right of George Bush.

At times, it has seemed that Obama went out of his way to prove he was truly the post-partisan president that he claimed to be. Obama’s willingness to bargain with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, willing to put them on the chopping block before he gained concessions or quid quo pro sacrifice from the wealthy and well-connected in the budget balancing debacle. Obama extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich (in exchange for Republicans allowing an extension of unemployment benefits and aid to cash-strapped states) and he promotes "shared sacrifice" to force ordinary people to sacrifice for his Wall St backers. He signed "Free Trade" Agreements designed to prioritise corporate "rights", reducing or eliminating protections for various developing countries and giving larger multinational companies a clear advantage, thanks to the backing of a majority of Republicans. Especially troubling was Obama's enthusiastic support for the Colombia FTA. because during the presidential campaign, Obama said he opposed a FTA with Colombia and proclaimed: "We have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn't perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organise for their rights". He has escalated the Afghanistan War, waging multiple wars and planning others. The harsh sanctions he imposed on Iran can be considered acts of war. He promoted regime change in Libya and now in Syria. After the earthquake, he militarised and occupied Haiti. He conducts illegal drone attacks inside foreign countries such as Pakistan,Yemen and Somalia. "A no greater friend has Israel got " Obama proudly claims, while pretending to be the honest broker in any Middle East peace talks. He authorised indefinite detention without trial and carried out summarily execution of US citizens, accepting Bush-era limits on civil liberties from the Patriot Act. He fails to defend the environment by withdrawing strong EPA rules on clean air and with his compromises with the oil industry concerning off-shore drilling. When the Obama Administration agreed to subsisise the auto companies, he did so on the condition that future worker wages and benefits would be substantially diminished, so what you now have in the auto industry is a two-tier wage/benefits scale, with older workers getting better wages and benefits than the new workers. No such wage or compensation limits were hoever placed on the bankers in return for their bail-out.

He hasn't given a single major speech on the subject of workers’ rights. Obama’s last State of the Union address did not mention the attacks on workers’ rights in places like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. He has instead actually questioned union rights and demonstrated that this is not man of the people but a representative of the corporations. United Electrical Workers union Political Director Chris Townsend argues that the most high-profile comments the Obama administration has made regarding labor law have been speeches attacking teachers unions. Townsend points to a speech by Obama at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in March of 2009 calling on teacher unions to allow more flexibility in their contracts; he also points to the president’s remarks endorsing the mass firing of unionized teachers in Central Falls, R.I., in March 2010. Townsend, (whose union is not endorsing Obama for re-election) worries that by white-washing Obama’s deficiencies, the unions hurt their own credibility with their members. The Communications Workers of America union leader condemned Obama legislation for making it harder to organize workers in the airline and rail industries. As here in the UK, Obama has increased federal workers pension contributions. Health and safety legislation has been delayed. Employee Free Choice Act which would have made it easier for all workers to unionize by allowing them to bypass secret ballot election if they so choosed, he allowed to die entirely. He to raises the issue of trust. “Why should union leaders—from shop stewards right up the national union president —why should we sacrifice our hard-earned credibility with our members for the sake of some politician? Do they sacrifice any of their precious credibility for us, in our battles with the bosses? Rarely, if at all, and only at election time. The membership knows this, and there’s no point in trying to conceal it or gloss over it with good-news-only press releases. It’s bad enough we are locked in this two party trap. We don’t have to make it all worse by not leveling with the members about what we are really facing.”

It is argued that Obama will be the lesser evil than Romney in regards to the unions, a view South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna Dewitt (who has refused to endorse Obama) disagrees and who again says that unions hurt their credibility with their own members when they go all out for Democrats, who are lukewarm at best in their support for organized labor. "I spend half of my time trying to talk to membership upset with their international. We have to act like labor leaders and not corporate labor leaders,” Dewitt says. “We don’t have strong labor leaders. They are always making a deal on something. I don’t know how we keep [union members] in places like South Carolina if we don’t truly represent them.” Voting for the lesser evil breeds illusions which ultimately leads to disillusionment.

In 1996, the Clinton administration enacted Temporary Assistance for Needy Families which created time limits and work rules, capped federal spending and allowed states to turn poor families away. Critics had warned that it would create mass destitution. To-day, nearly one in every four low-income single mothers is jobless and without cash aid - roughly four million women and children - and just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years. Paul Ryan the top Republican on budget issues, calls it “an unprecedented success.” Mitt Romney said he would place similar restrictions on “all these federal programs.” Rick Santorum, calls the welfare law a source of spiritual rejuvenation. Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, who helped draft the 1996 law as an aide to House Republicans argues that it has worked well. And, of course, Obama also spoke favorably of the program in his 2008 campaign, promoting his role as a state legislator in cutting the Illinois welfare rolls.

Obama has backed initiatives that Republicans in the past helped originate. Obama healthcare is a very conservative program, based entirely on Republican principles and ideas developed in conservative think tanks and endorsed by a long line of Republicans. Obamacare is based on the individual mandate, an idea pioneered by the Heritage Foundation and, of course, Mitt Romney. In fact, Obamacare is“remarkably similar to Nixon’s 1974 proposal. It provides a huge new client base to the insurance companies. It is a law that forces American citizens to buy a deeply defective product from private insurance companies. It is a law that is the equivalent of the bank bailout bill. And it is a law by which President Barack Obama, and his corporate backers, extinguished the possibilities of both the public option and Medicare for all Americans. It brings 30 million involuntary customers and $500 billion per year of new revenues to the private health insurance industry which will profit from it, with no public healthcare competition and no meaningful cost controls, a bonus for the drug companies, despite the fact that in 2008 Obama had campaigned against the individual mandate and for a public healthcare option. Obamacare will, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. The array of loopholes in the law means, in essence, that the healthy will receive insurance while the sick and chronically ill will be priced out of the market. But as long as corporations determine policy, as long as they can use their money to determine who gets elected and what legislation gets passed, we remain hostages. It matters little in our corporate state that nearly two-thirds of the public wants single payer and that it is backed by 59 percent of doctors.

The 99%, the unions, the poor and the minorities, in an economy of growing poverty and unemployment, Obama has thrown them all overboard and wages class war against them to serve wealth and power interests alone. The apologists for Barack Obama say forget the issues and actual performance, now is the time for cheer-leaders, not critics. Should we permit a similar courtesy to the Republican candidate and place expediency before principle.

Romney - the American Patrician

Mitt Romney is a rich man. A very rich man. Last year, he spent most of his time campaigning, and he still had pretax income of $42 million. Every day of the year, he had another $115,000 to spend. He dismissed his speaking fees for one year as “not very much,” although they turned out to be $374,000. Yet his wife Ann Romney can assert “I don’t even consider myself wealthy”. Romney is solidly within that elite 0.006 percent of all U.S. taxpayers. How does Romney stand next to an average voter? He’s roughly 1,800 times richer. A wealthy financier becomes a major presidential candidate in a nation of extreme inequality. How surprising, whatever next?

Romney earned most of his $21 million 2010 income, not from direct earnings, but from gains accrued off his investments. Romney make his millions by something called "leveraged buyouts". Romney, at Bain Capital, a private equity firm, knows little other way of doing business. Bain Capital's sole aim was to maximise shareholder value. If workers needed to be laid off to make a profit, then so be it: those workers were laid off. Nothing personal. What made him a success was an ability to make heartless decisions in the pursuit of profit. Unlike Obama he'd screw the poor and the powerless, but he'd do it without telling them it's for their own good. Romney wants spending on anything that's not defence and not Social Security to be 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product by 2021 - half of current outlays. It's reminiscent of Wall Street firm flipping a company for profit. You can take Mitt Romney out of Wall Street but you can't take Wall Street out of Mitt Romney

Economist Dean Baker explains the process.

"It's standard practice that they buy a firm, they borrow against the firm, so it's not their own borrowing... then they pay themselves back from the borrowing." This is the key: the company bought pays back the buyer, even while taking on debt itself. (And the key to the key is that debt payments are tax-deductible.) But then it gets worse, Baker said, "Then they sell off assets, so they sell off their real estate, and they often set up a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) and that will hold the real estate and then they rent it back to the stores. So here, they have these stores, they have been a viable, profitable company, now they have all this debt, plus they don't have any assets. They have to come up with the rent each month to stay in business. At the end of that, if they still have a company they can sell off, they're golden. If they don't, well, they just go into bankruptcy, and they tell the creditors: 'Hey, too bad, you're out of luck.' And if they've already gotten their money out, the private equity company's OK. So what they manage to do is create a heavily leveraged bet where they pretty much could only win. It's a one-sided bet."

Indeed, it's so attractive that private equity firms frequently buy and sell companies back and forth to one another, making money with each transaction underwritten by taxpayers. Brand-name companies, with decades, even a century or more of public goodwill, have been taken into bankruptcy, then purchased by another private equity firm multiple times.

As already indicated, there's a huge political/tax policy point to all this, Baker explains. "A lot of what's going on is that interest is tax-deductible, whereas dividends are not. So a lot of their gains are simply replacing dividend payments with interest payments. Which comes from the taxpayers. You're not creating value. Mitt Romney - if he loads up a company with debt - he hasn't created value, he's just basically found a way to bilk the taxpayers. You can get rich, but that's not creating value for the economy." That's the initial stage, the tax law that gets the ball rolling. The second stage, the asset stripping, which frequently leads to bankruptcies, involves ripping off creditors. "There, too, it's not a case where you're creating value. You're basically creating risk for other people, getting rich in the process."

Financial journalist Josh Kosman wrote a whole book on the topic. "The original leveraged buyout firms saw that there were no laws against companies taking out loans to finance their own sales, like a mortgage," Kosman said. "So when a private equity firm buys a company and puts 20 per cent down, and the company puts down 80 per cent, the company is responsible for repaying that." It became common practice to use short-term profits to take on more debt, while paying dividends to the private equity firm. "If you look at the dividends stuff that private equity firms do, and Bain is one of the worst offenders, if you increase the short-term earnings of a company, you then use those new earnings to borrow more money," Kosman said. "That money goes right back to the private equity firm in dividends, making it quite a quick profit. More importantly, most companies can't handle that debt load twice. Just as they are in a position to reduce debt, they are getting hit with maximum leverage again. It's very hard for companies to take that hit twice.".

Mitt Romney berates the concept of “class warfare.” According to Romney, the nation's growing focus on income inequality is all about envy.The idea that the U.S. is a full-blown meritocracy is at the center of Mr. Romney’s belief system. Romney like most wealthy individuals believes that their personal fortitude, grit, and savvy made them rich. It is uncomfortable for many of the capitalist class to admit that family connections, inherited wealth usually play far more substantial roles. It is undeniable that wealth and family privilege were vital to his eventual success.

Let’s look at some facts about Mitt Romney. His father was a wealthy and well-connected man: CEO at American Motors Company (AMC), Governor of Michigan, a presidential candidate, and eventually a member of Richard Nixon’s cabinet. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney was able to attend a private prep school, which in the present day has nearly one-quarter the size of the endowment for the entire University of Alabama system. From there, he attended Stanford and the Mormon Brigham Young University for undergraduate and a joint law and business professional program at Harvard. Romney was clearly blessed with an elite and expensive education. Did he get there solely on intelligence and hard work? Or did issues of opportunities by social class contribute to Mr. Romney’s success story?

Research suggests that private prep schools have an extraordinary track record of graduates’ eventual placement in elite positions of power. 3 of our last 4 presidents attended one of these schools. The overwhelming majority of those attending come from privileged social backgrounds. Research shows that there are massive disparities in who goes to the most elite universities. If intelligence and merit were randomly distributed across the social class spectrum and the U.S. were a true meritocracy, we would expect that 25% of students enrolled at the most elite universities would come from the top 25% of the income distribution, just as 25% would come from the bottom 25% of the income distribution. However, the truth is that data from the past two decades suggest that nearly 80% of the students enrolled in elite universities like Stanford, Harvard, and Yale come from the top 25% of the income distribution. Only 5% of students come from the bottom 50% of the income distribution at these schools. The most unfortunate part of this “meritocratic” process is that the advantages and disadvantages afforded to individuals through the system are compounded over time, both within and across generations.

Let’s consider a hypothetical John Doe. John is just as intelligent and hard working as Mitt but his father was not a CEO, governor, presidential candidate, or cabinet member. John’s family can’t afford an elite prep school and the scholarship slots are so few and the applicants so many that he misses the cut based on statistical probability and bad luck rather than merit. Thus, as opportunities close for John at the high school level, such as attending an under-funded high school instead of an elite prep school, the opportunities at higher education levels slip further out of his reach. Although John goes on to obtain a community college degree, works hard for his family, and hopes for a better life for his children, how can the children of John Doe's compete with the children of the Mitt Romneys of our society? From the second these children are born into their respective families, their opportunity structures are completely different. How do merit and envy explain that?

The Romney campaigners run continuous advertisements telling the same big lies over and over, such as “don’t tax the wealthy because they create the jobs” and “don’t tax corporations or they’ll go abroad” and “government is your enemy” and “Obama wants to turn America into a 'socialist' state.” And because big lies told repeatedly start sounding like the truth and many citizens begin to believe them. A politician’s trade is to get into power to run the administrative side of capitalism. To do this, they must get elected and, to get elected, they must promise to do things for people; they must find out what’s worrying people and then promise to do something about it. This is why parties don’t need principles. Or, put another way, they only need one principle (if it can be called that) and that’s “get elected”.

Romney has been called a vulture capitalist. He counters by accusing Obama of being a crony capitalist. Both men are simply different cheeks on the same capitalist butt. It is the job description and not the person appointed to do the job which is the real issue. Just as there is no substantial difference between Obamacare and Romneycare, there is no substantial difference between Obama and Romney. They are abject servants of the corporatist state. And if you vote for one you vote for the other. Both have been pimping their policies for drooling billionaires to purchase by means donations.

But there’s a real alternative. People have increasingly awakened to what is happening to the economy and democracy. It has ignited a movement among the citizens to take it all back. They repudiate the politicians and the parties that nominated them. Things can change but it’s not going to be through conventional politics, only through a quite different kind of politics. A politics which rejects and aims to change the status quo. A politics which involves people participating and not leaving things up to others to do something for them. When more and more people realise this they will begin organising for it, in the places where they work, in the neighbourhoods where they live, in the various clubs and associations they are members of, but, above all, they will need to organise politically. If you want a better world, you are going to have to bring it about yourselves. That’s our basic message. It’s no good following leaders, whether professional politicians or professional revolutionaries. In fact, following anybody (not even us) won’t get you anywhere. The only way is to carry out a do-it-yourself revolution on a completely democratic basis. Democratic in the sense that that’s what the majority want. And democratic in the sense that that majority, rather than following leaders, organises itself on the basis of mandated and recallable delegates carrying out decisions reached after a full and free discussion and vote.