Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Soil of Socialism

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"The property in the soil is the original source of all wealth" - Marx

Food shortages are becoming a pervasive danger and food insecurity a constant worry. More than half of Pakistan’s population is food insecure, anaemic and malnourished. For those who are categorised as surviving on less than a dollar a day, a meal is just a naan or chapatti with a cup of tea, or maybe an onion or chillies. Even those on middle incomes are unable to afford meat every day

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has disclosed that up to 60 per cent of all the land in the world may soon become degraded unless urgent steps are taken to ensure sustainable management of land across the world. “More than 20 per cent of all cultivated land, 30 per cent of forests and 10 per cent of grasslands are under degradation,” FAO, headed by the Director-General, Jose Graziano da Silva, stated.

The UN agency stressed that land users around the world must understand that this resource is vital for the continued support of flora, fauna and human life and as such must treat it as a finite material.

Every minute, 23 hectares of land face desertification, 5.5 hectares of land are transformed by urban encroachment (severely disturbing soil functions), and 10 hectares of soil are degraded, causing the soil to lose the capacity to support ecosystem functions.

Paradoxically, there’s enough food in the world to feed everyone. Despite global food sufficiency, its inequitable distribution within countries and within households, affects individuals at every level, with too much for some and too little for others. Poor women and children suffer more from food insecurity and malnutrition. 60 per cent women in Bangladesh consume diets, which do not provide adequate micro- and/or macro-nutrients.

That capitalism degrades the environment in a way that disproportionately affects the poor was already being expressed in the 19th century by Marx and Engels. Marx argued that capitalism is inherently unstable, fraught with contradictions and prone to deep crises. Exploitation, war, hunger and poverty were not problems that could be solved by the market system, he said. Rather, they were inescapable outcomes of the system itself. This is because capitalism is dominated by the wealthy and devoted to profit above all else. Only  a democratic socialist society, where people are empowered to make the key decisions about the economy and society themselves, can open the path to genuine freedom and liberation. They were scathing of the capitalist economic notion that the air, rivers, seas and soil can be treated as a “free gift of nature” to business.

 In Capital Marx says “All progress in capitalist agriculture, is not only a process in robbing the labourer but robbing the soil. All progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the last sources of that fertility. The more a country develops its foundations of modern industry, the more the rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production therefore develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth, the soil and the labourer.” He writes "Large-scale industry and industrially pursued large-scale agriculture have the same effect. If they are originally distinguished by the fact that the former lays waste and ruins labour-power and thus the natural power of man, whereas the latter does the same to the natural power of the soil, they link up in the later course of development, since the industrial system applied to agriculture also enervates the workers there, while industry and trade for their part provide agriculture with the means of exhausting the soil."
 The rise of modern cities meant that food, grown in the country, had to be transported to the city. The mineral components of the food then were flushed into rivers as sewage waste, depleting the soil's fertility: the agricultural cycle of natural fertiliser was broken. Marx argued that soil nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) were sent in the form of food and fibre sometimes hundreds and thousands of miles to the cities, where, instead of being recycled back to the land, these nutrients ended up polluting the urban centres, with disastrous results for human health.  Marx stated that "Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias [good heads of the household]."

The market system is incapable of preserving the environment for future generations because in its drive for short-term profits it cannot take into account the long-term requirements of people and planet. The competition between individual enterprises and industries to make a profitable return on their investment tends to exclude rational and sustainable planning.

Engels warned  “Let us not however flatter ourselves over much on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and the third cases has unforseen effects, which only too often cancel out the first. With everyday that passes, we are learning to understand these laws more correctly (laws of nature), and getting to know more about the immediate and more remote consequences of our interference in the traditional course of nature. But the more this happens, the more will humans not only feel, but also know their unity with nature, and thus more impossible will become the senseless, and anti-natural idea, of a contradiction between mind and matter, man and nature, body and soul.”

When a peasant plowed a field with ox or horse-drawn plows, used an outhouse, accumulated compost piles, etc., the soil's nutrients were replenished naturally. As capitalist agriculture turned the peasant into an urban proletariat, segregated livestock production from grain and food production, the organic cycle was broken and the soil gradually lost its fertility.

Capitalism is a system based on competition and the production of profits for an elite. The foundation and maintenance of capitalist economies relies on the dual exploitation of the working class and the environment. Capitalism produces things, commodities, to be bought and sold on the market. This process divides nature into “things” to be exchanged on the market and in effect separates nature from itself—that is, it removes natural resources from their role in the ecosystem. Industrial logging destroys forests, industrial fishing destroys fisheries and industrial use of fossil fuels creates the greenhouse effect. The narrow-sightedness of capitalist production is a product of the system itself.

The root of environmental destruction is capitalist production. Creating a sustainable society requires the overthrow of the existing relations of production. Socialism is aimed to end class exploitation and also re-establish a blance between people and Nature. This is impossible unless the profit motive is removed from determining production in human society. As Marx said "To live on other people's labour will become a thing of the past. There will be no longer any government or state power, distinct from society itself! Agriculture, mining, manufacture, in one word, all branches of production, will gradually be organised in the most adequate manner. National centralisation of the means of production will become the national basis of a society composed of associations of free and equal producers, carrying on the social business on a common and rational plan. Such is the humanitarian goal to which the great economic movement of the 19th century is tending."

Poor news from Yorkshire

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Sheffield Council set up the specially convened Fairness Commission after some of its members voiced concern over the “unique” patterns of poverty and affluence which mean some citizens suffer much more. Prof Alan Walker, an expert in social policy at Sheffield University was appointed as the commission’s chairman and yesterday he and it showed Sheffield was a “divided city”. It drew attention to a “geographical split”, with the south and west enjoying living standards far above the national average, while neighbourhoods in the north and east fall well below. One way to demonstrate the problem is to get on the city’s number 83 bus which runs between the affluent south-west, where life expectancy is 86 years and the north east, where it falls to 77.

Sheffield now has 11 food banks dispensing free food for families struggling to pay for bare essentials. Two years ago, there were just three.

The commission’s report says Sheffield has high levels of deprivation in common with many other cities across the UK including Leeds, Bradford and Hull. It found that around 50,000 people, roughly a tenth of the city’s population, were on “out of work” benefits, with 45,000 of those people “long term unemployed”. 42,000, are living in fuel poverty, while nearly half the people in three of Sheffield's inner-city wards – Burngreave, Firth Park and Manor Castle – receive housing benefits. 20,000 and 30,000 Sheffielders are estimated to have turned to payday lenders, doorstep loan companies and even illegal loan sharks over the past couple of years. 2,000 under-16s with caring for an adult responsibilities. Troublingly, in a majority of cases their schools do not know about their domestic situation. These child carers have an average age of just 12.

Prof Walker said: “This means that too many lives have been lost prematurely and too many people have suffered needless hardship."


Children in less well-off areas of York are storing up major health problems for the future as figures show a clear link between poverty and obesity in the city.  The statistics for York appear to confirm comments made last week by junior Health Minister Anna Soubry, who said it was now possible to tell someone’s social background by their weight. The latest figures show that in less well-off wards, such as Clifton and Hull Road, obesity rates run at 21.3 per cent of 11-year-olds and 7.9 per cent of five-year-olds. In more affluent wards, such as Rural West York or Bishopthorpe, obesity rates are 13.8 per cent for those aged 11 and 4.7 per cent for five-year-olds.

 Councillor Tracey Simpson-Laing, said: “It is very clear that childhood obesity, and adult obesity, are linked to socio-economic deprivation, of which poverty is a major contributor. Poverty is a significant driver of longer-term health inequalities because of the range of diseases like heart disease and diabetes that are caused by obesity. It is clear that there is a rise in the cost of healthier food, and not in junk food."

Our class must struggle

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 Almost half (43.9%) of U.S. households are living on the edge of financial collapse with almost no savings to fall back on in the event of a job loss, health crisis or other income-depleting emergency, according to a report released today by the Corporation for Enterprise Development. These families as “liquid asset poor,” which means they lack adequate savings to cover basic expenses at the federal poverty level for just three months if they suffer a loss of stable income. The Consumer Federation of America and the Consumer Planner Board of Standards found last year that nearly 40 percent of American households live paycheck to paycheck. 

Wall Street is thriving. The stock market S&P index rose 13% in 2012, and JPMorgan Chase had its best year ever that same year, with Goldman Sachs close behind.  The rate of corporate profit is at its highest level in more than a century, according to Bloomberg. Corporate profits have increased 171 percent under Obama, the fastest profit growth since 1900. Corporations sit on vast amounts of cash liquidity – some $3.4 trillion, by last count. According to CNBC, corporate "cash balances have swelled 14 percent and are on track toward $1.5 trillion for the Standard & Poor's 500, according to JPMorgan. The 1% continues to accumulate vast wealth. These record amounts are not "trickling down" to the working class.

Employers remain intent to hold down wages. In 2011 the average non-supervisory worker in the United States earned $19.47 an hour (in 2011 dollars). This figure is 7 percent below the 1972 peak of $20.99 per hour (also in 2011 dollars). The long-term pattern for health and other benefits has broadly followed that for wages, so that total compensation for U.S. workers—including both wages and benefits—has stagnated for 40 years. But this is only half the story. While wages fell, average labor productivity in the United States rose by 111 percent. That is, the total basket of goods and services that average U.S. workers produced in 2011 is more than double what they could manage in 1972. Their reward has been 7 percent pay cut. According to the Census Bureau, one-third of adults who live in poverty are working but do not earn enough to support themselves and their families.  A quarter of jobs in America pay below the  federal poverty line for a family of four – $23,050.  Close to half of food stamp allocation goes to households where an adult is working full-time whose bosses won’t pay a living wage. 

Millions need jobs. There are a staggering  22 million adult Americans who are without full-time jobs today  and for whom the hardship of enduring unemployment is taking a terrible toll.  Some are recent college graduates, loaded down with debt from escalating school costs.  A Rutgers University survey found that half the college grads in this country over the last six years do not have full-time employment.

The U.S. Labor Department reported that the percentage of U.S. workers who were union members in 2012 had fallen to a 97-year low of 11.3 percent of the workforce. The total number of union members fell by 400,000 workers relative to 2011. In 2011, the unionization rate was 11.8 percent of the workforce. It also reported that  that, among full time workers, the average annual earnings of union members was $49,000, while that for comparable non-union workers was $38,600. That is, if you are a union member, you will be earning about 27 percent more than a non-union member doing a comparable job. The three states with union membership rates of 4 percent or less? North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia. Median hourly wages: $15.16, $14.45, $15.25. The three states with union membership rates of 20 percent or more? New York, Alaska, Hawaii. Median wages: $19.02, $20.65, $17.44.

That is the power of the union and why that business interests have advanced a campaign to weaken or destroy unions. Unions are attacked when they get in the way of profits. Union membership fell by 13 percent in Wisconsin and by 18 percent in Indiana last year. These declines are tied to the fact that Wisconsin passed a law in 2011 curbing the collective bargaining rights of many public employees, while Indiana enacted a right-to-work law, which enables workers to receive the benefits of union contracts without having to join the union. Michigan also became a right-to-work state. It means that you don't have to help pay for union representation in collective bargaining even when the majority of the workers in their company have democratically voted to be represented by the union. The union still bargains for you. It helps you get a good salary, paid holidays and a health plan. Members of the union sometimes even go out on strike to make sure you get these benefits. But when it's time to pay the piper, the piper pays you. If you have a grievance under a union-negotiated contract, the union has to pursue your grievance. You get all the benefits of union coverage without any of the costs of union membership. Over time, "right to work" laws destroy unions. That's their real purpose. It's no coincidence that 19 of the 20 states with union membership rates under 8 percent are all "right to work" states. "Right to work" legislation isn't driven by a groundswell of disgruntled union members chafing under union oppression. Workers who don't want a union can disband their union at any time. "Right to work" legislation is invariably driven by employers, industry associations and lobbyists. Employers love "right to work," because it really means "right to work for less."  "Right to work" laws drive down wages for everyone. It's a race to the bottom as any business that can move across state lines moves to the states with the lowest wages and easiest regulations. Such beggar-thy-neighbor development strategies are bad for everyone: bad for people in the job-receiving states (low wages), bad for people in the job-losing states (unemployment)

Of course, it's good for employers who skim a fortune off the couple of dollars lost every single hour by every single employee who has the "right to work." The U.S. labor market has exposed working people to increased competition from workers in poor countries—it has meant, effectively, an expansion of the reserve army of labor for the jobs done by U.S. workers, despite the fact that not all products on U.S. markets are imported from poor countries, nor are U.S. firms moving their operations offshore. The domestic U.S. economy remains a $15 trillion operation, employing 140 million people. But U.S. workers nevertheless face an increasingly credible threat that they can be supplanted by workers in poor countries willing to accept much lower wages. Employers can tell workers: “If you won’t accept a pay cut, we’ll move.” Or “If you want a union, fine. We’ll start buying what you make from China.”

The unions themselves are not above blame in the longer-term decline in unionization but socialists need to fight to defend the rights of workers to join unions and for unions to be able to function effectively as the chosen representatives of workers. Austerity is the policy of lowering spending via a reduction in the amount of benefits and services provided by the government. We must organize and mobilize against austerity cuts. We have the power, we must exercise it.

Adapted from here, here, and here

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

IMPOSSIBILISM

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THE ORIGIN AND MEANING OF THE POLITICAL THEORY OF IMPOSSIBILISM
by STEVE COLEMAN
PhD, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON,1984

CHAPTER VII - THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN 1904-1921: A BRIEF HISTORY

The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed on 12 June 1904. Its origins are to be discovered in the rise of the impossibilists and their split from the SDP; the latter is discussed in detail in chapter- I. This thesis is not primarily concerned with the organisational history of the SPGB., but with its intellectual development and its significance. A brief narrative history is provided so as to place the ideas of the impossibilists within the context of their active existence.
If a movement is to be judged by its membership, then as a proportion of the British population the SPGB was of negligible significance. It would, however, be fair to say that the SPGB made an initial impact- upon the population of London which was far in excess of its recorded strength. There are no reliable membership records which can provide a complete membership history for the period between 1904 and 1921. Three documents containing official statistics have been examined and these give as thorough a picture as can be obtained. Firstly, there are the Reports of the Executive Committees to Annual Conferences and Delegate Meetings. :Copies of EC Reports to- Annual Conferences are available (either in complete or abbreviated forms), but EC Reports; to the quarterly Delegate Meetings are available only for February, August and November- 1914, February, : August and December- 1915 and July 1920. In these Reports can be found details of the number of members joining and leaving. Secondly, there are minutes of EC meetings. Apart from EC minutes for the meetings between 17 August and 12 September 1915 (which are not in the bound volumes of EC minutes, but which did probably exist) and for 2 April 1918 (when the EC possibly did not meet) there are copies of the EC minutes of all meetings within the period under consideration. From these can be derived information concerning applications for membership and details of forms submitted from branches indicating that a member “has left”. A third source can be found in the two Membership Registers for the period which were kept by the General Secretaries of the period. The first of these runs from June 1904 to October 1911 and the second runs from late 1911 to beyond 1921. In these registers are the names, addresses, membership numbers, branches, dates of  joining and, where appropriate, leaving of all members.

According to A.E. Jacomb, who was one of the one hundred and forty two founder members of the SPGB, in a letter sent to the EC in November 1938, "In the first ten years of the Party's existence - that is, up to the outbreak af the war - the Party quadrupled its membership ..,"  On the basis of the available evidence, and of initial research which was carried out by Peter Rollings, it would seem that Jacomb's figure is a correct approximation and that by the outbreak of the war in 1914 the SPGB's membership was about five hundred. The most active period of recruitment seems to have been between 1906 and 1910: in November 1907 The Socialist Standard reported that the quarter ending in September 1907 "saw a record in the number of new members." The report of the fourth Annual Conference, in April 1908, referred to one hundred and seventy new members being recruited in one year. The fifth Annual Conference reported one hundred and fifty five new members over the year. Not only did membership increase, but new branches were formed. At its formation the SPGB's branches were mainly in areas where old SDF branches had been taken over, or where there had been splits from SDP branches. The first non-London branch to be formed was in Watford. The only significant area of growth outside London was in Lancashire: a branch was formed in Manchester in October 1907 which was to be very active. A branch in Burnley was also active, no doubt with the help of Manchester members. The only SPGB existence in Scotland, where the SLP had recruited most of the early impossibilists, was in the small north-eastern fishing town of Fraserburgh; the latter branch existed from August 1910 to May 1911. A few branches were formed outside London as a result of London members moving: for example, an active branch was formed in Gravesend as a result of a dynamic speaker called Dawkins moving there.

Complain and face the sack

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A Kentucky miner blew the whistle about what he considered unsafe working conditions, he was fired from his welding job and subsequently sued by his former employer for filing the complaint. Reuben Shemwell, a 32-year-old miner at the Parkway Mine Surface Facilities, the troubles began when he complained about the need for respirator protection from fumes generated during the welding process. Shemwell did not feel comfortable working in small, confined spaces overcome with fumes. Shortly after submitting his complaint with the Secretary of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in late 2011, he was fired from his job for “excessive cell phone use” at work. When MSHA officials tried to inspect Shemwell’s former work area, Armstrong Coal, the company that runs the mine, shut down the site and laid off ten workers rather than subjecting it to inspection – actions that suggest Shemwell’s complaints might have been legitimate.

Armstrong Coal, the company filed a lawsuit against him, claiming he filed a “false discrimination claim” against them, which would be a “wrongful use of civil proceedings”. The company claimed that this “frivolous lawsuit” cost them “unnecessary and substantial costs” in litigation fees – even though the company has an approximate annual revenue of $300 million.

“Miners who wish to avoid similar treatment, will be hesitant from asserting their rights,” the MSHA wrote in a separate complaint they filed against Armstrong, which alleges that the company’s lawsuit was an act of “retaliation and/or discrimination”.

“I’ve been representing miners in safety discrimination cases for more than 30 years, and this is the first time I know of anywhere in the country where a company has sued a miner for filing a discrimination complaint,”
said defense attorney Tony Oppegard. “We think the reason they filed [the suit] was to intimidate him and to intimidate other miners.”
Reuben Shemwell “We, as miners, have rights. They just don’t want us to know about them."

Charity - from the horses own mouth

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From the horses mouth

Food Banks Canada numbers show that 882,000 people accessed food banks across the country last year, an all-time high. More troubling, 11 per cent of those people used the service for the first time.

“It’s mopping the floor instead of fixing the roof,”
says Wilmot, a charity worker for Faith in Action in Victoria.

 Linda Geggie of the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable says food banks are a “Band-Aid solution”



Who takes what?

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In the UK we have a vindictive campaign against those claiming disability benefit who have been called "LTBs", lying thieving bastards, by the agency contracted to root out suspected fraud. In the US a similar purge is being promoted. American Social Security pays benefits to people who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, in his Wall Street Journal article “Yes, Mr. President, We Are a Nation of Takers.” is outraged by the specter of shiftless American males who have decided to ditch work and file for disability instead. Eberstadt believes many people filing for disability are faking it.

The number of working-age Americans relying on Social Security's disability programs has indeed increased over the past two generations. Jared Berstein, a former economist for the Obama administration, notes that much of the rise is due to simple demographics trends. As they age, baby boomers are more likely to have disabilities than they did when they were young. That’s one reason for the rise. Another is the fact that more women have joined the workforce and can receive disability. As Berstein explains, about half of the increase in disability rolls since 1990 is due to these factors. In additional more people onto disability rolls is the rising retirement age. Since the retirement age has been gradually rising since 1983, you thus get more people in their 60s applying for disability. Also, the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984 provided for certain revisions, including a change in the standards for determining mental impairments and more emphasis on the combined effects of multiple ailments in the absence of one severe impairment.

Could some of the low-income men who apply for disability actually work in the absence of benefits? In 2010, the rejection rate nationwide was 65 percent (although some claimants later succeed through appeals). Among older workers, the answer seems to be no. Researchers are able to determine this by looking at whether or not rejected applicants are able to find jobs. Older workers, they find, have a very hard time getting a job if they don’t get disability. Young workers have a better chance of getting employment some going back to the workforce with whatever disability they have often accepting whatever job they can find at lower pay.

Both in the UK and the US the real purpose of highlighting supposed benefit fraud is to shame and discourage genuine recipients from claiming.

The working class know who the real takers, the real thieves and the real liars are in society. The top 1 percent of earners’ real wages grew 8.2 percent from 2009 to 2011, yet the real annual wages of Americans in the bottom 90 percent have continued to decline in the recovery, eroding by 1.2 percent between 2009 and 2011. Almost a quarter of all jobs in America now pay wages below the poverty line for a family of four. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 7 out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage — like serving customers at big-box retailers and fast-food chains. The average pay of a Walmart worker is $8.81 an hour. A third of Walmart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits. Walmart earned $16 billion last year and plenty of that went to Walmart’s shareholders. The wealth of the Walton family now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined.

Capitalism used to sell us grand prosperous visions of tomorrow, full of leisure. But exploitation and oppression didn't disappear. Real wages have stagnated, debt soared, jobs have been lost and the prospects for the new generation are bleak. A far cry from the promised future

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Letter from Saint-Nazaire

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Saint-Nazaire is situated to the east of the city of Nantes, on the estuary of the Loire, the longest river of France, and flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of about 70,000, it is France’s fourth largest port, and the first on the Atlantic coast.

There is evidence that Neolithic tribes existed in the area. The Tumulus de Dissignac, with two funeral chambers, date from about 5,500 BC. And, in the centre of the town, there is a megalithic dolmen dated from 4,000 BC. In the area a little to the south of the estuary of the Loire, there are also a number of menhirs weighting up to five tonnes.

Ideally situated as a port for Nantes, it originated as a simple village around the beginning of the 19th century. By the middle of that century, and with the construction of a station in 1857, the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer d’Orléans brought the railway to the area, and to Saint-Nazaire. It soon became a port for transatlantic shipping to central and north America. With the development of maritime commerce, it was called “la petite Californie bretonne”. By the 1880s, along the seafront, and behind the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), smart hotels and “maisons bourgeoises” became a prominent residential quarter of Saint-Nazaire. In the 1920s and 1930s, however, the port was enlarged and greatly developed for the construction of such translantic liners as the “Normandie” and “France”. (Such construction continues: and I can see an enormous liner—like a floating skyscraper!—being built.) Such was, and is, Saint-Nazaire.

At the beginning of September 1939, following the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, Britain and France declared war on Germany. There then followed, at least in western Europe until June 1940, what was later termed the “phoney war”. The French had constructed along their eastern frontier, what they considered to be their impregnable defence—the “Maginot Line”, against a possible invasion by Germany. But the attack, not surprisingly, came from, and through Holland and Belgium to the north, where thee was no defensive Maginot Line; the same area of France which had suffered such death and destruction in the previous, First World War. Facing the German advance into France was the French army and the British Expeditionary force. The Germans swept all before them; and soon they were in Paris, and rapidly sweeping westward towards the Atlantic coast. They entered Nantes and then saint-Nazaire, to be occupied until towards the end of the war. For Germany, like Brest to the north, Saint-Nazaire was one of the most important prizes of the war, and the occupation of France.

Saint-Nazaire was the most import port, following possibly Brest, from which German U-boat submarines would attack transatlantic convoys bringing food, armaments and, later, the American forces to Britain. But the U-boats, which needed to refuel, were vulnerable to attack. They were not as large as some modern submarines. And they had to be protected in Saint-Nazaire harbour. The Germans, therefore, built what was possibly the most formidable fortifications of the last world war, of concrete, and composing 14 U-boat pens in the harbour, just opposite the left of Avenue de la Vieille Ville, where they can be seen from the windows of the apartment. They are not beautiful—but ugly and indeed quite brutal! It has been said that these pens were the key to the Battle of the Atlantic.

Of course, the British Royal Airforce (RAF) and the United States Army Airforce (USAAF) bombed Saint-Nazaire in general, and the U-boat fortifications in particular, many times. The town was almost totally destroyed, with many people killed and maimed; but the reinforced concrete construction was so strong that, despite more than probably 4,000 tonnes of high explosives, plus many tonnes of incendiaries, being dropped directly on it, there was hardly any real damage. Little damage can be seen even now.

After the war, much of Saint-Nazaire had to be rebuilt. Avenues such as the Rue du Général De Gaulle, and the commercial centres, “Le Paquebot” and “Le Ruban Beau”, are most attractive and functional. There is now a new Hôtel de Ville. The old railway station near the harbour and behind the U-boat pens, has been rebuilt into a modern theâtre. In 1975 a bridge, 3.356 metres in length, and one of the most famous in European, spans the estuary of the Loire between Saint-Nazaire and Saint-Brévin to the south, replacing the ferry boats used previously.

Today, Saint-Nazaire is still very much an industrial town and port, with shipping coming from and going to 400 ports worldwide. There are many large and small capitalist enterprises, including an Airbus factory. Unlike, for example, La Baule to the east and Saint-Brévin, where there are many empty “second homes” for much of the year, the population of Saint-Nazaire is predominately (probably more than 90 per cent) working-class. And, as elsewhere, some of the shops and factories have “gone bust”, and are closed. It cannot escape the slump,.
PETER E. NEWELL,
Saint-Nazaire, January 2013

Open Season on Workers

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Writer and artist John Berger noted, “The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied, but written off as trash.”

 Federal Food Stamp and free and reduced lunch programs shroud poverty from view. Because the cheapest food also happens to be the unhealthiest, malnourishment is more often draped in obesity rather than emaciation. There aren’t bread lines in the streets or folks in overcrowded welfare or unemployment offices – they are online, call-in only. The poor are rarely found lobbying inthe halls of government but they are plentiful in morgues and prisons.  Women and children make up the largest segment falling into poverty. One in four children under the age of five is food insecure. Poverty’s impact on children is immeasurable – how do you calculate immorality? Quantify psychological destruction? Measure the violence of broken families? Measurement don’t fix problems. You can only describe it. Anxiety isn’t always necessarily mental illness. Sometimes it is a normal reaction to life’s deprivations. Medicalising and pathologising what’s obvious and normal. People in desperate circumstance feel anxious, as they should.

In the United States today, there are millions upon millions of young people that can’t find jobs, that are living in poverty, that have no hope for a better future. African Americans, who saw their net wealth decrease at a rate more than four times faster than whites, according to a recent report by United for a Fair Economy. White families lost 6.7 percent of their average net wealth from 2007 to 2010, net wealth for black families dropped by 27.1 percent. The legacy of white supremacy in the United States, are among the largest, most persistent, and damaging aspects of racial inequality,” the report stated. According to the report, net worth of white families is more than six times higher than the average net worth of black families.

An estimated 1 in 10 American workers are employed in the restaurant industry. It's been one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, even during the economic crisis. But it also has 7 of the 10 lowest-paying jobs in America. Actually, the two absolute lowest-paying jobs in America are restaurant jobs: fast food cooks and dishwashers. Largely due to the power of the National Restaurant Association, which has been named the tenth-most-powerful lobbying group in Congress, the minimum wage for tipped workers has been stuck at $2.13 at the federal level for the last 21 years.

Texas is one of the largest and most important construction markets in the U.S. and although the majority of workers labor at least 40 hours a week, 52 percent still live in poverty. Widespread payroll fraud of misclassifying workers as independent subcontractors, rather than actual employees, has become a common practice in the industry.

Wealth and education are "hereditary" in Germany, according to a study from Deutsches Institut für Wirschaftsforschung, which found that in 40% of cases, lower household incomes can be attributed to the family’s origins. In Chile: 1% of the population possesses one-third of the nation's wealth. Over the last three decades, 90% of society has increased their salaries by only 15%, while that proverbial 1% has increased by 150%, and the very top 0.1% by 300%. In 1990 the difference between the average income of the 1% and the poorest 10% was 158 times. In 2009 it was 260 times. In Canada the top 1% in 2010, account for 10.6 per cent of the nation's total income. The latest research suggests that inequality between income earners has increased, in some cases dramatically, over the past three decades. "One of the problems with a permanent upper class is that it doesn't have much stake in the public school system or public health care," Andrew Sharpe, executive director of Centre for the Study of Living Standard said.

It’s a common refrain in the media papers. Pension funding crisis! Retiree benefits out of control! Public pensions bog down taxpayers! Pension costs seem to loom over the economy like a sinister sword of Damocles. Politicians are inciting disgruntled citizens into a bitter rage toward civil servants and public sector workers who have managed to hold onto a modicum of hard-earned retirement security while secure pensions are going the way of the dinosaur in the private sector.

Monique Morrissey, an economist at Economic Policy Institute, explained  "With very few exceptions, all of the cities and states where there are severe problems, it's because the politicians for many years have neglected to make the pension payments. And this really doesn't have much to do with the pensions or the public sector workers. It doesn't reflect the pensions being too lavish or being expensive or being unaffordable or anything to do with that."

The bottom line is that pension reform is a political Trojan horse. The Communications Workers of America blasted pension proposals as “anti-worker and anti-union” because it not only attacked benefits, but contained provisions that eroded unions' collective bargaining rights, potentially undermining their leverage in future contract talks. The percentage of U.S. workers belonging to unions is the lowest it's been in 76 years, according to government figures recently released. The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the union membership rate in 2012 was 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent the previous year. That comes out to about 14.4 million wage and salary workers who belong to unions. According to CNBC, the last time the rate was so low was in 1936.  The report also found that full-time unionized workers made about 27 percent more in weekly earnings than those whose pay was not collectively bargained.

Robert Bruno, professor of labor relations at the University of Illinois, said a growing number of laws that make organizing workers more difficult were part of the reason for "an incremental erosion" of the labor movement. "It goes back a couple of decades, that there has been a growing number of anti-labor policies," Bruno said. "We have the weakest labor law and enforcement of labor law in the entire Western industrialized world," he said.

The market economy's ultimate goal is profit and personal enrichment of the wealthy few.  All of the profit from the efficiency and productivity go towards a small group of people. This elite profit off of our ignorance. They write the laws, one set for themselves and another set for you and me, laws which allow bankers who crash the economy to walk free. The rich minority run the corporations and the banks, they own and control the media. We are left with the feeling that nothing can really change. This is not by accident.

''God to Hungry Child''


Hungry child,
I didn't make this world for you.
You didn't buy any stock in my railroad.
You didn't invest in my corporation.
Where are your shares in standard oil?
I made the world for the rich
And the will-be-rich
And the have-always-been-rich.
Not for you.
Hungry child.

Langston Hughes
(1902-1967)




Monday, January 28, 2013

Jefferson Starship at the Borderline

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There was a rare London‭  ‬performance by San Francisco musicians Paul Kantner and David Freiberg in London in October‭ ‬2012.‭ ‬Kantner is the‭  ‬founder of Jefferson Airplane and later Jefferson Starship while Freiberg had been in Quicksilver Messenger Service before joining the Airplane/Starship.‭ ‬Jefferson Starship's singer is now Cathy Richardson who had success off-Broadway as Janis Joplin‭  ‬in‭ '‬Love Janis‭' ‬in‭ ‬2001.‭ ‬She is a powerful vocalist in the tradition of Grace Slick.‭ ‬Jefferson Starship played a set of two hours.

Their version of‭  ‬the‭ ‬1964‭ '‬Let's Get Together‭' ‬by‭  ‬Dino Valenti encapsulates the LSD-inspired Haight-Ashbury counter-cultural fraternity‭ (“‬everybody get together,‭ ‬try to love one another right now‭”)‬.‭ ‬They performed‭  ‬Airplane's‭ ‬1967‭ ‬hits‭ '‬Somebody to Love‭' ‬by Darby Slick which proposes free love to abolish human alienation‭ (“‬When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you dies‭”)‬,‭ ‬and‭ '‬White Rabbit‭' ‬by Grace Slick,‭ ‬which references Lewis Carroll's‭ '‬Alice in Wonderland‭' ‬and is a‭  ‬paean to psychedelic drugs‭ (“‬feed your head‭”)‬.‭  ‬Also from‭ ‬1967‭ ‬they performed‭ '‬The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil‭' ‬by Kantner which is influenced by A.A.‭ ‬Milne poems for children.‭  '‬Pooneil‭'  ‬is singer Fred Neil,‭ ‬and the song captures the magic of childhood and the psychedelic‭ ‬60‭'‬s‭ (“‬Love like a mountain springtime flashing through the rivers of my mind‭”)‬.‭ '‬Crown of Creation‭' ‬by Kantner from‭ ‬1968‭ ‬is based on the Cold War science fiction novel‭ '‬The Chrysalids‭' ‬by John Wyndham,‭ ‬and lyrics like‭ “‬life is change,‭ ‬how it differs from the rocks‭” ‬are reminiscent of Heraclitus,‭ ‬the father of dialectics.

Freiberg performed a powerful version of the‭ ‬1964‭ ‬Buffy Sainte-Marie anti-narcotic song‭ '‬Codine‭' (“‬I feel like I'm dying and I wish I was dead‭”)‬.‭  '‬Wooden Ships‭' ‬from‭ ‬1969‭  ‬by Kantner,‭ ‬David Crosby and Stephen Stills is an evocative song of the quest for human survival in a post-apocalyptic nuclear war world,‭ ‬and highlights the counter cultural desire to leave the bourgeois capitalist world of Nixon's AmeriKa‭ (“‬we are leaving,‭ ‬you don't need us,‭ ‬sailing ships on the water very free and easy‭”)‬.‭ ‬Kantner's‭ ‬1970‭ '‬Have You Seen the Saucers‭?'  ‬indicts US government cover up about UFOs‭  (“‬have you any idea why they're lying to you‭?”) ‬but there is the idea of exiting planet earth‭ (“‬open the door,‭ ‬don't you know that's what it's for,‭ ‬come on and join us on the other side of the Sun‭”)‬.‭ ‬The science fiction theme was continued with‭ '‬Have You Seen the Stars Tonite‭?' ‬by Kantner and Crosby which appears on Kantner's solo album of‭ ‬1970‭ '‬Blows Against the Empire‭'  (‬inspired by Robert Heinlein's novel‭ '‬Methuselah's Children‭')‬.‭ ‬The album describes the counter culture escaping the capitalist earth for a galactic world of free love,‭ ‬free music and free drugs.

Jefferson Starship closed the gig with the leftist‭ ‬1969‭ ‬anthem‭ '‬Volunteers‭' ‬by Kantner and Marty Balin‭ (“‬Hey now it's time for you and me Got a revolution Got to revolution‭”) ‬and reference is made to the potential of the Occupy Wall Street movement.‭ 

Steve Clayton

Condemned by its own statistics

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When she was‭ ‬Minister for Women and Equality‭ ‬in the last Labour government‭ ‬Harriet Harman set up a National Equality Panel to look into inequality in UK society.

The report,‭ ‬"An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK",‭ ‬came out in‭ ‬January‭ ‬2010‭ ‬in the period of the run-up to a general election at which Labour‭ ‬was desperately trying to cling onto their heartland support and produce clear red water between themselves and the Tories.‭ ‬But it‭ ‬is‭ ‬still‭ ‬useful and‭ ‬instructive reading.‭ ‬Although it mostly contained data that had been made available elsewhere,‭ ‬its focus on equality‭ ‬is worthwhile and it does draw all of the current knowledge on the state of equality in the UK into one place.‭

Income inequality

This graph tells a‭ ‬revealing tale:
Not only‭ ‬has the gap between the top and bottom earners widened over the last forty years‭ (‬quite radically‭) ‬but also it has risen quite markedly as compared to median earnings‭ (‬the red line‭)‬.‭ ‬It is also very‭ ‬striking that the lowest paid workers‭ (‬the‭ ‬bottom‭ ‬10‭ ‬percent,‭ ‬the‭ ‬orange line‭)‬ have barely gained any substantial increased over‭ ‬the whole of that period.‭ ‬So much for the idea propounded by Tories of the‭ ‬‘trickle down effect‭’‬ of gains for the rich‭ ‬eventually‭ ‬becoming gains for the poor too.‭ ‬Likewise,‭ ‬so much for the social-democrat notion that growth of the economy overall will abolish poverty.‭ ‬Through most of that period,‭ ‬the British economy‭ ‬grew,‭ ‬but clearly only‭ ‬to the benefit of those at the top.

To be fair to Labour,‭ ‬and this‭ ‬could be noted for much of their time in office,‭ ‬the most they‭ ‬sometimes‭ ‬achieve is a halt to the growth in the gap between rich and poor but not a reversal.‭ ‬Much of the reason they can do no more than that is down to the changes in the economy since the‭ ‬1970s,‭ ‬with the transfer of productive industry to the power houses of east Asia.‭ ‬Further,‭ ‬structural unemployment has persistently remained since the late‭ ‬1970s,‭ ‬effectively preventing any remedy through the labour market.

Labour has struggled to try and create conditions of social equality,‭ ‬but cannot and will not act against the very structures and systems that create it.‭ ‬It is like someone campaigning to mitigate the effects of slavery without trying to abolish slavery itself.

The report showed,‭ ‬but‭ ‬did not foreground,‭ ‬was‭ ‬that the top‭ ‬1‭ ‬percent of‭ ‬incomes‭ ‬got over‭ ‬£2,000‭ ‬per week.‭ ‬Indeed,‭ ‬it is notable on the graph of incomes‭ (‬below‭)‬,‭ ‬that there is a sudden and noticeable spike at the top‭ ‬of the graph,‭ ‬reflecting the small number of people who have astronomical incomes.‭ ‬The spike is almost a qualitative shift between the vast majority on a‭ ‬rising‭ ‬continuum of‭ ‬incomes and the‭ ‬3.3‭ ‬million,‭ ‬out of a population of around‭ ‬60‭ ‬million in the UK,‭ ‬with a weekly income of more than‭ ‬£1,000‭ ‬a week..‭

Figure S1:‭ ‬Equivalent net income,‭ ‬UK‭ ‬2007-08‭ (‬at‭ ‬2008‭ ‬prices,‭ ‬before housing costs‭)
(a‭) ‬Number of individuals with income in each range‭ (‬millions‭)
 The chart below demonstrates this further‭ ‬– the top‭ ‬1‭ ‬percent have more than double the income of those at the start of the top‭ ‬10‭ ‬percent of earners.


Wealth inequality


The statistics on total wealth are worth noting as well:

‭‘‬Median‭ ‬total wealth‭ ‬(including personal possessions,‭ ‬net financial assets,‭ ‬housing and private pension rights‭) ‬is‭ ‬£205,000.‭ ‬The‭ ‬90:10‭ ‬ratio is almost‭ ‬100,‭ ‬with the top tenth of households having wealth above‭ ‬£853,000,‭ ‬and the bottom tenth having less than‭ ‬£8,800.‭ ‬The‭ ‬90:10‭ ‬ratio is so high because the poorest households have such little wealth.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬even looking more narrowly at the top half of the wealth distribution,‭ ‬those in the top tenth have more than‭ ‬4.2‭ ‬times as much wealth as those in the middle,‭ ‬twice the corresponding ratios for earnings or household income.‭ ‬1‭ ‬per cent of households has total wealth of more than‭ ‬£2.6‭ ‬million.‭’


The authors of the report‭ ‬advocated reducing inequality.‭ ‬They addressed the various philosophies that claim that social inequality is necessary or even just.‭ ‬They maintained,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬that international comparisons of economic output do not correlate to great inequality,‭ ‬and‭ ‬claimed‭ ‬that some much‭ ‬less unequal societies than Britain are more productive and successful.

Further,‭ ‬although they noted that all the main political parties subscribe to‭ ‬‘equality of opportunity‭’‬ (as opposed to equality of outcome‭)‬,‭ ‬it‭ ‬is clear that the inequalities they discovered do not relate to life choices,‭ ‬but in fact reflected the cumulative effects of various advantages and disadvantages produced by background,‭ ‬and yes,‭ ‬class.‭ ‬Although most of the differences they highlighted were between different parts of what we would understand as the working class‭ (‬anyone whose main economic asset is their ability to work‭) ‬the conclusion that inequality at birth stays through life remains a stark and‭ ‬indefensible‭ ‬fact.

Despite the narrowing‭ ‬of wealth and income gaps towards the‭ ‬1960s,‭ ‬the strength of wealth is back.‭ ‬Very telling‭ ‬was their revelation that the share of‭ ‬income for the top two thousandth of the population‭ (‬the very,‭ ‬very,‭ ‬very,‭ ‬rich‭) ‬is back to where it was in the‭ ‬1930s.‭ ‬Since‭ ‬1969‭ ‬their share of income has trebled from‭ ‬0.5‭ ‬percent to‭ ‬2.5‭ ‬percent.‭ ‬For the top‭ ‬1‭ ‬percent they have gone from‭ ‬4.7‭ ‬percent in‭ ‬1979‭ ‬to‭ ‬10‭ ‬percent by‭ ‬2000.‭ ‬Put another way,‭ ‬a century of Labour and Labour governments has not dented the power and wealth of those at the top of society.‭ ‬That,‭ ‬as opposed to any specific failure of the current Labour administration,‭ ‬is the lesson that socialists‭ ‬draw from this report‭’‬s findings.

For those who would deny that inequality is a problem,‭ ‬it must be sufficient to show that inequality in wealth,‭ ‬income and social status translates into a shorter,‭ ‬less healthy life,‭ ‬with less knowledge and personal development.‭

Since‭ ‬2010‭ ‬the report‭ ‬has been gathering dust‭ ‬in some corner of Whitehall,‭ ‬but‭ ‬as the BBC‭’‬s Mark Easton noted‭ ‬commented at the time:
‘‬The problem for the politicians is that measures to reduce social or income inequality will always be controversial because they mean neutralising the advantages of wealth‭ ‬– a prospect that those with money and influence will fight hard against‭’.

For us socialists,‭ ‬on the other hand,‭ ‬it is‭ ‬a‭ ‬weapon to show the rotten truth of our present system of society and‭ ‬a‭ ‬spur towards working to overturn it in its entirety.

PIK SMEET

Pakistan's inequality

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5% of large landholders possess 64% of total farmland.  65% small farmers hold 15% of land. 50.8 % of rural households are landless

Tanveer Arif, Chief Executive Officer of Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (Scope) said “The large land holders have all political powers and economic advantages."

The UAE has purchased 324,000 hectares of farmland in the Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan in June 2008. Investors from Abu Dhabi bought about 16,000 hectares of farmland in Balochistan. Emirates Investment Group and Abraaj Capital are also investing directly in corporate farming. Such kind of purchasing is a land grabbing which will deprive local people of land and cause food insecurity.

Mehmood, a peasants leader, said that poor people had been compelled to compromise on education of their children, particularly girls due to food and other needs as they could not afford education expenses. He said that poor people in the country spend 60% of their income on food needs while the rich spend 2%. “

A Short Socialist Manifesto

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Visitors to this blog can be forgiven for believing that our case is complicated. For example, we sometimes get carried away discussing the intricacies of Marxism. But the solution to our problems is not complicated at all.

Here is an abridged version of the Socialist Party’s recent election manifesto. Please feel free to ask questions or comment on it.

Why, when the resources exist to provide a decent standard of living for everyone, are we going through “austerity”?

It’s because the present system is not geared to meeting our needs but to making profits for businesses and the rich people who own and control them. At the moment this capitalist system is in an economic crisis where profits have fallen. The only way out for the system is to restore profits at our expense.

That’s why what our wages can buy has shrunk. It’s why benefits are being slashed.

It’s the system that’s to blame, not those elected to run it. That’s why changing the politicians in charge makes no difference. As the saying goes, “changing governments changes nothing”. It will be like this as long as the profit system lasts. So there is no point in voting for parties that accept this system.

The alternative is to change to a new system based on satisfying our needs, where the places where wealth is produced will no longer be owned by profit-seeking businesses but will be owned and democratically controlled by us all.

Get in touch to help bring an end to the system that can never be made to work in your interest.

The Old Grey Whistle

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Paid less, Produced more, Bigger profits

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Workers get less of the pie. A ILO's report confirms the fact. The bigger slice is always for capital.

In 16 developed economies, the average labor share dropped from 75% of national income in the mid-1970s to 65% in the years just before the economic crisis, and in 16 developing and emerging countries, it decreased from 62% of GDP in the early 1990s to 58% just before the crisis.

Capital income shares increased in a majority of countries. In China , wages tripled over the last decade, but GDP grew at a faster rate than the total wage bill. This surge cut down the labor's share.

Between 1999 and 2011, the report tells, average labor productivity in developed economies increased more than twice as much as average wages. In a number of larger economies including the US , Germany and Japan wage growth lagged behind productivity growth. In Germany , average wages declined in spite of positive average labor productivity growth in the years 1999–2007. In 2011, hourly wages were only marginally (0.4 percent) above their 2000 level while hourly labor productivity had grown by 12.8% over the same period. Real monthly wages remained flat although labor productivity soared by almost a quarter over the past two decades. The gap between hourly labor productivity and hourly compensation growth contributed to a decline in the labor share in the US, where real hourly labor productivity in the non-farm business sector increased by 85% since 1980 while real hourly compensation increased by only around 35%. In the UK , despite “productivity gains real average wages declined sharply. In a number of countries including Greece and a number of new EU member-countries, wages declined considerably more than labor productivity. In Greece average wages were forced down by austerity programs. However, in 2010-2011 cumulatively it fell down close to 15%. The minimum wage has been severely cut, losing 22 percent of its previous value. An IMF Fact sheet says “Wage cuts were necessary if the country was to regain competitiveness and growth.... The IMF also considered that the minimum wage in Greece was substantially higher than in other developed economies, even though ... it was not out of range.”

“Real average wage growth”
, the ILO report finds, “has remained far below pre-crisis levels globally, going into the red in developed economies, although it has remained significant in emerging economies…. Omitting China , global real average wages grew at only 0.2 percent in 2011, down from 1.3 percent from in 2010 and 2.3 percent in 2007.” This is the hard fact of 0.2 percent, and the fact turns harder if one casts glimpses on the company, especially bank balance sheets of loss and profit. The sheets show a higher profit, higher dividends.

In developed economies, wages suffered a double dip; in eastern Europe and central Asia, real wages contracted severely in 2009; in the Middle East, real average wages appear to have declined since 2008. In a number of Arab countries, the Arab Spring “seems to have prompted... to make further increases in wages for local people working in the public sector. But in the private sector, minimum wages and collective bargaining are underdeveloped in the Arab region.”  In Russia, the real value of wages collapsed to less than 40% of their value in 1990s. It took another decade before the Russian wages regained its initial level. In terms of real value of wages, is it a decade lost in Russian capitalist wilderness? In India, “Real wages declined in a majority of recent years, shrinking the purchasing power of wage earners. This would explain the many concerns expressed by workers in India about rapidly increasing prices, particularly food prices."

And there is cheap labor: Workers in the Philippine manufacturing sector were paid $1.40 for every hour worked. It was less than $5.50 in Brazil , $13 in Greece , $23.30 in the US , about $35 in Denmark .

Labor is made to move wheels with more speed, move its limbs and brain faster, stretch its muscles further but the number of coins that are thrown down on its frail hands increases with a slower speed. The gap widens. When necessary labor time is squeezed down further, wheels are turned speedier, and labor's bargaining power is weakened, the crueler reality declines to hide. It gets exposed. It's hard time for labor, a time of intensified exploitation of labor, a time for higher profit by capital. It's not “equitable growth”. In academic parlance what emerges is “working poverty”. Many waged and salaried workers in developing countries are in fact living with their families in poverty. Out of about 209 million wage earners in 32 developing countries from 1997 to 2006, about 23 million were earning below US$1.25 a day and 64 million were earning less than US$2 per day, the international poverty lines for 32 developing countries.

Labor's declining share in income means labor is paid less for its necessary labor time, and less payment for necessary labor time means labor is pressed down or squeezed out more for more profit by capital, which is labor's increased hardship, deprivation, suffering. Large numbers of employees are getting lower wages, finds the report. The reasons include reduced working hours and less overtime. In Ukraine, many employees had to go on unpaid leave.  Reducing working hours and the amount of overtime is no kind-heartedness of capital. The measure has been taken to avoid lying off labor as lying off labor creates risky situation for capital, especially during the period of increased social tension.

Companies need scope for making profit in times of crisis. So, austerity is imposed on labor. To sharpen competitive edge, press down, squeeze out labor, ask labor to “sacrifice”. Many companies adopted new working practices, and labor's hourly wage rates were changed. “The mirror image of the fall in the labor share is the increase in the capital share of income (often called the profit share), which is measured most frequently as the share of gross operating surplus of corporations as a percentage of GDP.... In advanced economies, profits of non-financial corporations have increasingly been allocated to pay dividends, which accounted for 35 percent of profits in 2007 and increased pressure on companies to reduce the share of value added going to labor compensation.” In Sweden in the period 1987–2008, a large part of the increased surplus of corporations went into boosting the dividends to shareholders. In France , total dividends increased from 4% of the total wage bill in the early 1980s to 13% in 2008. In the US , three-quarters of the increase in gross operating surplus went into the payment of dividends.

Taken from here

Empty words don't fill empty stomachs.

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"Enough Food for Everyone IF" campaign hopes to mobilise public support leading up to the scheduled meeting of the G8 in Enniskillen in June this year.

While the World Economic Forum launched "New Vision for Agriculture", to coincide with its annual meeting in Davos,Recognising that the planet is home to some 500 million smallholders - who support two billion people, account for 97 percent of global agricultural holdings, and produce food for almost 70 percent of the world's population - the report stresses the importance of "collaborative action" with smallholders to deliver food security, economic opportunity and environmental sustainability. Smallholders are identified as "change agents" and future "catalysts" in the business of agricultural transformation. The report insists that "smallholder-inclusive" projects can be devised in partnership with private sector investors, governments and civil society organisations.

David Nally is senior lecturer in human geography and Bhaskar Vira is senior lecturer in environment and development at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, describe it as "clearly a David-meets-Goliath type alliance. Though local businesses and indigenous farmers frame the picture, it is global agribusiness that dominates the view. Can smallholders really have a voice when faced with the collective bargaining power of Bunge, Cargill, Coca-Cola Company, Diageo, DuPont, General Mills, Monsanto Company, Unilever, and Wal-Mart - just a few of the 28 partner companies that drive the initiative? Genuinely inclusive "bottom-up" decision-making needs to be distinguished from the platitudinous rhetoric of development partnerships and participation, which all too often masks the vast asymmetries of power between participants." Several of the transnational corporations behind the Davos initiative have a sullied record when it comes to engagement with local farming communities. The "New Vision for Agriculture" clearly prioritises market-based approaches to food security and poverty reduction. Significantly the report asks: "With the models employed, are smallholders able fully to participate in the market, or are most still mainly at the subsistence level?" The contrast between subsistence agriculture ("bad") and market participation and commodity production ("good") is not, however, a straightforward one. A World Food Programme, published in 2009, noted that food markets "tend to fail most often and most severely for those who need them the most - the hungry poor". Nally and Vira explain "We should not romanticise subsistence agriculture - unquestionably it is challenging and often a brutal way of life - but it can be a safer bet when food markets are volatile, as they have been since 2007"

Public handwringing and future assurances and the fleeting media attention cycle that surrounds public campaigns on hunger are now part and parcel of the annual cycle of political life, with little tangible proof that this makes any difference on the ground, where it matters most.

The North Korean Wage-slave

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From an article by John Everard, former UK ambassador to North Korea

Many, even some experts, viewed North Koreans as identical automatons who obeyed unquestioningly every order of their leaders, this was simply wrong. North Korea is not like that at all. It is a real country with real people, whose everyday concerns are often not so very different from our own: their friends, how their children are doing at school, their jobs, and making enough money to get by. Above all, North Koreans are sharply differentiated human beings, with a good sense of humour and are often fun to be with.

By and large, these people did not eat well, but at least they ate regularly. Although they did not go hungry, their diet was certainly monotonous. They ate more rice than most North Koreans, but meat was a rarity. Many meals seemed to consist of rice and boiled vegetables, with the inevitable bowl of kimchi, the spiced cabbage without which no Korean, North or South, can exist. Their clothing was not smart, but adequate (although all of them had one special outfit for obligatory appearances at parades and other official events). And they lived not in the villas of the elite nor the hovels of the poor, but in cramped flats in respectable, if unprestigious, parts of Pyongyang.  Obtaining medicines – always in short supply – was a particular concern. This meant on occasion trying to get medicine for far-flung elderly relations

Their lives would seem very dull to most Westerners. They revolved around daily rituals of carefully phased breakfasts in overcrowded flats, tedious journeys to work (often prolonged because Pyongyang's rickety public transport so often broke down), and generally tedious work days.  It was important to them to keep good relations with their workmates, both to create a pleasant working environment but also to make sure they had as many friends as possible if they got into trouble.

After work, they might have to attend a political meeting. When I asked my contacts what these meetings were about they told me that they did not remember. At first, I thought they were politely saying that they were not going to tell me, but I once came across an open-air political meeting at which the audience all appeared to have glazed eyes, despite the best efforts of the speaker. Perhaps my contacts were telling the truth – that they effectively entered a kind of catatonic state in these meetings, simply switching off, and genuinely could not remember what they were about.

Their reaction to the propaganda that was incessantly blared at them varied. Some of it they just ignored. Some of it they accepted – they had no trouble, for example, in believing that North Korea was a heroic country battling a United States-led conspiracy to overthrow it. To some of it they reacted rather as pious but informed believers might do in a religious community.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

France protects its interests

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After invading Mali with over 2,000 troops of their Foreign Legion, and after the bloody hostage-taking incident and siege at the Armenas gas facility in Algeria, France has deployed its special forces troops to neighboring Niger to secure uranium mines run by the French state-owned nuclear power company Areva. The uranium extracted from the mines in Niger have been considered of strategic importance by successive French governments. The yellowcake produced from Niger’s uranium ore has been used to make France’s nuclear bombs as well as to fuel its nuclear reactors, which account for over 75 percent of the country’s electricity.

The dispatch of French commandos to the uranium mines in Niger only underscores the overriding economic and geo-strategic motives behind the French military intervention in Mali. Under the cover of a supposed war against Islamist “terrorists” and a defense of the central government in Mali, France  is using its military might to tighten its grip on its resource-rich former African colonies.

While vast profits have been reaped from Niger’s uranium, the mining operation has benefited only a thin layer of the country’s subservient bourgeoisie. According to the United Nations human development index, Niger is the third poorest country on the planet, with 70 percent of the population continuing to live on less than $1 a day and life expectancy reaching only 45.

The mining has exacerbated ethnic and regional tensions within Niger. Uranium production is concentrated in the northern homeland of the nomadic Tuareg minority, which repeatedly has risen in revolt, charging that whatever resources do accrue from the mining operations go to the southern capital of Niamey. One of the main demands of the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ), a largely Tuareg armed militia that has battled the Nigerien army, has been the more equitable distribution of uranium revenues.

Also the exploitation of uranium by Areva has created an environmental and health disaster in the mining areas. The environmental group Greenpeace found in a 2010 report that water wells in the region were contaminated with radiation levels up to 500 times higher than normal. In Arlit, site of one of the major Areva mines, deaths from respiratory diseases occur at twice the national average.

France has other reasons to flex its military muscle in Niger. In an attempt to increase its share of the uranium profits, the Niger government has recently issued exploration permits to Chinese and Indian firms. France is asserting its domination of the former colony as part of its African sphere of influence.
Source

Common sense

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The problems of the present day are not new. The socialist demand that all should have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that deprivation amongst plenty is not tolerated, that people do not die from preventable disease, or that we put the natural laws of the biosphere above economic “laws”,  is presented as unrealistic, as idealistic and utopian fantasies of those who are too naive to the “complexity” of the world’s problems. If people created to-day's world how is it absurd to believe we might actually re-create a better world. Subordinating every aspect of life to the “rules of the market” (i.e. the accumulation of profit  ) — has become today’s “common sense.”  We live in a world where nearly one billion people go hungry while we dump half of all food produced. Where is the common sense in that?

Many no longer believe that a better world, much less in a better life, is possible. Yet a yearning remains. Alhough many have an understanding of capitalism’s failings, there is a resignation towards its inevitability. Socialists must expose the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and widen the horizons of possibility.

 The case for socialism is simple. Anyone can understand it. Today you must work for a capitalist to get the money to buy your food, clothe yourself and provide yourself with a safe place to live. In socialism you will have access to everything you need without paying for it. Work will all be voluntary. There will be no money. Things will never be made for profit, but always for people to enjoy. Socialism is plain and straightforward.

The Socialist Party sets about making revolutionaries, not to make The Revolution - that is the task of the working class.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Egypts Class War

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 Thousands of Egyptians are expected to demonstrate across the country on the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak. 

Workers played a pivotal role in the mass uprising that led to Mubarak’s downfall. Now, two years on, the same labour movement that helped topple the dictator is locked in a stalemate with the government and employers over long-denied labour rights and untenable working conditions. The Muslim Brotherhood, the  Islamic movement that dominated last year’s parliamentary and presidential polls has a poor track record on worker rights, and a history of anti-union activities. In recent months, thousands of disenfranchised workers across Egypt have taken collective action to secure better wages and working conditions. There were over 2,000 labour protests in 2012, with the rate of protests more than doubling during the second half of the year. Labour Minister Khaled El-Azhary, a prominent Brotherhood member, has repeatedly urged striking workers to return to work while the government considers their demands. He says Egypt’s fragile economy cannot afford any more loss of production and must be given a chance to recover from the 2011 revolution.

 “We had a revolution but the only change is from
(Mubarak’s) National Democratic Party to the Muslim Brotherhood,” says labour activist Kareem El-Beheiry. “The Brotherhood has never done anything for the labour movement, and never supported workers or independent unions.”

Morsi’s government has also borrowed the old regime’s tactic of using state media outlets to smear labour movements and intimidate their leaders, says Hadeer Hassan, a local labour journalist. “The Muslim Brotherhood views strikes as undermining the economy and Morsi’s rule,” she says. “Rather than addressing workers’ demands, it has tried to turn public opinion against striking workers by using the press to portray them as traitors and thugs.” And where that fails, she adds, the same “lies and false accusations of worker sabotage” are fed to sympathetic courts. “The Muslim Brotherhood only wants unions it can control.”

“We cannot but notice the clear failure of Morsi’s administration to resolve these protests or even set a clear plan for dealing with their demands. Rather, the administration has continued to adopt the same old policies, which only aggravates the matter,”
a new study by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights said.

At least a dozen workers have been convicted under legislation passed by Egypt’s military-run transitional government in March 2011 that criminalises “economically disruptive” strikes. President Morsi has yet to strike down the controversial law or overturn the sentences, though he has the power to do so. The government is formulating new legislation that labour activists fear will restrict freedom of association and re-establish the state’s dominance over union activities. An early draft of the Trade Union Liberties Law, intended to replace antiquated and restrictive legislation on union organisation, would have enshrined the right to strike and legally recognised the hundreds of independent unions that have sprung up since Mubarak’s fall. The draft law was scrapped, however, in favour of a new bill drawn up by labour minister Khaled El-Azhary and other prominent Brotherhood figures. Their version proposes stiff penalties for striking workers who disrupt production. It also curtails union pluralism by requiring each enterprise to select just one trade union to represent its workers. The bill would complement “anti-union” articles in Egypt’s new constitution, which was passed last month in a highly divisive referendum. Article 52 affirms the right of workers to form syndicates, but another article stipulates that each profession can have only one trade union. The new legal framework threatens to eliminate many of the more than 1,000 independent trade unions that exist alongside their larger and more established state-controlled counterparts.

In the months following Morsi’s appointment, riot police broke up labour protests and arrested local strike organisers, while public sector employees found engaging in collective actions were fired, transferred or referred to disciplinary hearings. “More than 200 employees and workers were individually sacked during the first three months of Morsi’s term, and more than 100 others were subjected to investigation after they were arrested while peacefully protesting…In addition, many employees and workers were physically assaulted during their sit-ins by thugs hired by (their) employers and businessmen,” the ECESR report said.

Unions - the law and the struggle

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 SOYMB found this article to be an insightful and informative on trade unions, the law and the possibility of a future general strike. It is worth while quoting its salient  points extensively.

" ...Unions are far from being marginal organisations dominated by ‘labour barons.’ Although their ranks have undergone a significant thinning in the last thirty years, they still boast over 6 million workers (a quarter of the workforce). Between 2009 and the end of 2011, trade unions were threatened 40 times by employers with injunctions.

Since the 1980s, Unions have been subjected to a plethora of intrusive laws regulating every aspect of their activities, making Britain arguably the most restrictive country in the western world for trade union legislation. One of the proclaimed purposes of these laws was to foster greater democratic accountability, but the actual effect has instead been to furnish a fertile field for the type of legal chicanery, enabling employers to invalidate strikes on the most facile of grounds, whilst preventing unions from acting in accord with their members’ wishes. Trade unions are assailed with petty legal restrictions on their right to strike. The professed purpose of laws introduced in the 1980s and 90s had been to render unions more democratic, but they were in fact being used to prevent unions from realising the democratic wishes of their members. The code of industrial balloting required unions ‘to provide, for example, the exact number of trade union members who were to be balloted, details of their workplaces and the categories of those to be balloted. It also required the union to keep meticulous records of the members’ addresses, jobs and workplaces.’ As a result, ‘Failure to satisfy any of the conditions renders the union open to injunction.’ Britain has repeatedly been reproached for failing to live up to its international obligations and protect the right to strike. The European Committee of Social Rights, which monitors Britain’s compliance with the European Social Charter, has found that the UK is in breach of 10 of 13 obligations. In particular, the Committee thought that the requirement for unions to give notice of a ballot to strike, in addition to giving notice of the strike itself, was ‘excessive.’ Indeed, given that the point of strikes is to exert pressure on employers, this law seems designed to dull their effect by allowing companies time to prepare contingency measures.

American Austerity

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80 CEOs have started a $60 million campaign called "Fix the Debt". They plan to convince people in the US that not only are cuts to vital programmes necessary, but that such cuts will strengthen them. The public are to be persuaded through a strategic propaganda campaign to make demands from Congress that go against their own interests. These CEOs are members of the Business Round Table that claims $7.3 trillion in annual revenues. That gives them a lot of political clout. They  push to cut spending on programmes like Social Security and Medicare. They say Social Security and Medicare are running out of money and we must preserve and strengthen them. Social Security and Medicare were created as social contracts for a working population to provide for those who need help and for all to have access to income and health care when they retired. They push for corporate tax cuts comes although corporate profits have grown by 171 percent during the Obama presidency alone, the highest growth in profits since 1900. The 63 Fix the Debt companies that are publicly held stand to gain as much as $134 billion in windfalls if Congress approves one of their main proposals — a “territorial tax system.” Under this system, companies would not have to pay U.S. federal income taxes on foreign earnings when they bring the profits back to the United States.

Gary Loveman of Caesar's Entertainment Corporation declared "Medicare and Social Security were not designed to cope with America's new demographic realities. CEOs are calling for gradual changes that will modernise these programmes and preserve the safety net for future generations of retirees."
The Business Round Table makes it sound as if the Social Security trust funds will be drained by 2033. They call for raising the retirement age to 70, restricting the growth of benefits and converting the Cost of Living Adjustment to a lower index. Their purpose is to push more people into private insurance and further privatise Medicare while keeping those who need health care services in public programmes. They would do this by increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 70 and opening Medicare up to more private health insurance plans that can be sold across state lines (code for allowing insurers to locate in states with the weakest regulations). Increasing the Medicare age will cause more deaths, especially in minority and low-income communities. And while it would save the federal government some money, it would shift even greater cost onto individuals who are unable to handle that increase. This means seniors would face greater difficulty meeting their basic needs. They also recommend that people save more. Many American families are struggling to meet basic necessities, let alone put money into savings. What they don't say is that modest changes such as lifting the cap on the Social Security tax or treating investment income the same as income from wages would make Social Security solvent for many decades after that.

We mustn’t be fooled by this Wall Street agenda. As in Europe, austerity measures are harmful to people.

Profits not peoples' needs

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Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies tells MPs of an "apocalyptic scenario" where people going for simple operations in 20 years' time die of routine infections "because we have run out of antibiotics". She also told the Guardian: "There are few public health issues of potentially greater importance for society than antibiotic resistance." More people died of infections than cancer in 2010.

The issue of drug resistance arises when drugs knock out susceptible infections, leaving hardier, resilient strains behind. The survivors then multiply, and over time can become unstoppable with frontline medicines. Some of the best known are so-called hospital superbugs such as MRSA that are at the root of outbreaks among patients Antibiotics are one of the few drugs that actually cure people rather than just holding symptoms at bay.

"In the past, most people haven't worried because we've always had new antibiotics to turn to," said Alan Johnson, consultant clinical scientist at the Health Protection Agency. "What has changed is that the development pipeline is running dry. We don't have new antibiotics that we can rely on in the immediate future or in the longer term."

The supply of new antibiotics has dried up for several reasons, but a major one is that drugs companies see greater profits in medicines that treat chronic conditions, such as heart disease, which patients must take for years or even decades. No truly novel types of antibiotic have come onto the market for 40 years. It is difficult and expensive to develop such medicines and because they are taken for short courses, unlike cardiovascular or cancer drugs, they do not generally generate a high income for a pharmaceutical company. "There is a broken market model for making new antibiotics," Davies told the MPs.

Another cause of increased resistance is the routine administration to farm animals to reduce the spread of infection in over-crowded farm-factory conditions. You can keep livestock alive in dreadful conditions if you throw antibiotics at them.  80% of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals. Half of all antibiotics manufactured are used for animals as "growth promoters". The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food told the UK government in 1999 that "giving antibiotics to animals results in the emergence of some resistant bacteria which infects humans".

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The big league rules

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 Real Madrid has remained football's biggest money maker for the eighth straight year. The Spanish champions became the first sports team anywhere to break the €500 million ($666 million) revenue barrier as they stayed ahead of Spanish rival Barcelona in the Football Money League compiled by accountancy firm Deloitte. Both teams saw their income rise by 7% during the 2011-12 season with Madrid taking in €512.6 million ($683 million) and Barcelona €483 million ($643million). Third-place Manchester United revenue's dropped, with a fall of 3 percent to 320.3 million pounds ($507 million) after exiting last season's Champions League at the group stage led to a reduction in television income.  Bayern Munich are on €368.4 million ($490 million), European champions Chelsea on £261 million  ($413 million) and Arsenal on £234.9 million ($372 million). These clubs have some of the largest fan bases and hence strongest revenues, in both domestic and international markets

Even four-time European champions Ajax Amsterdam and twice winners Benfica now find it impossible to compete with the financial clout of teams from England, France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Rangers and Celtic have often talked about packing their bags and exiting the Scottish league to join the English league. Frustrated with the growing gulf, some smaller countries have dabbled with the idea of merging their national leagues to increase the possibilities for sponsorship and television rights and to even things up.

Several top Russian clubs, including champions Zenit St Petersburg, big spenders Anzhi Makhachkala and CSKA Moscow, unveiled a plan to break away from Russia’s top flight and start a multinational league of up to 16 teams next year. The plan called for six or seven elite Russian clubs, such as Zenit, Anzhi, CSKA and their Moscow rivals Spartak, Dynamo and Lokomotiv, to join four or five top Ukrainian teams, such as Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev, plus one or two from Belarus, Armenia or Azerbaijan to make up the new Confederation of Independent States league.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter’s abrupt rejection of a proposed resurrection of the old Soviet league suggested that clubs will have to make the most of what they have got. "It’s impossible," he told reporters in St Petersburg. "It goes against the principles of Fifa, therefore Fifa would never support such an idea."

A similar plan was announced by clubs from Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Hungary and Bulgaria at a meeting in Sofia in 2011, but progress has fizzled out as they wait for approval from (European football governing body) Uefa. Plans for a Czech-Slovak league also appear to have hit the buffers.

Ten years ago, an attempt to form an Atlantic League involving teams from Portugal, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Netherlands also failed after Uefa warned that the winners would not be able to play in European competitions.

"I am a strong supporter of national leagues and totally against any combination of countries,"
Theo van Seggelen, secretary-general of the world players’ union FIFPro, said.

Syria - A Plague Upon Both Houses

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Many Syrians who had embraced the opposition now feel alienated by its drift toward extremism — and are aligned with neither side.  Support for the uprising that began in the spring of 2011 has turned to skepticism and fear. As much as they may hate the violent, repressive regime of President Bashar Assad, people are horrified by the opposition's alliances with radical groups such as Al Nusra Front. They feel caught between two unacceptable extremes. The opposition movement once offered hope of a more democratic future. Now, in much the same way that many "Arab Spring" sympathizers in Egypt feel betrayed by their revolution, many Syrians worry that they could be trading one repressive regime for another.

"We won't be with the regime, but neither are we with the opposition,"
said Ahmed, a journalism student at Damascus University. "People like me are still here," he said, "but who listens to the voice of reason when guns are shooting all the time?"

"Many don't know who they hate most, the opposition or regime, because neither is offering a way forward. As they see it, they are both part of a system producing an absurd level of violence and destruction,"
said Peter Harling, an analyst for the International Crisis Group. "A lot of people have paid a price and are not sure what it is for anymore."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

David Attenborough is wrong

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There are not many socialists who do not enjoy David Attenborough's nature documentaries but his talent in that area of expertise does not, however, qualify him as an expert on the economics of food production and population demographics.

 He recently has warned that humans have become a “plague on the Earth...It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change. It’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde....Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now...We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia – that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves – and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a co-ordinated view about the planet, it’s going to get worse and worse.”

The truth is that all those claims are actually wrong. It is helpful to set aside any preconceived notions about population and food. For example let us examine his claim about Ethiopia not being able to feed itself because too many people not being able to support themselves. Ethiopia's regions are as distinct as, say, Arizona and Minnesota.  According to Oxfam International, Ethiopia now supports the export of fruit, vegetables, and flowers worth $220 million a year. Malthusians like Attenborough argue that population growth inevitably leads to hunger, as the resource "pie" is divided into ever smaller slices. The most obvious flaw in this theory is that technology has thus far allowed the size of the pie to increase. The pie as a whole is big enough for everyone, but the slices for the poor continue to shrink. Africans suffer from hunger and thirst because they are victims of ruthless dictatorships! The Zenawi’s regime has transferred at least 3,619,509 hectares of land to foreign investors. Does it make sense to hand out the country’s most arable land to “foreign investors” to produce food for export and ensure food security in other countries when Ethiopians are dying from starvation?

The working poor

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Nearly a third of the nation’s working families earn salaries so low that they struggle to pay for their necessities, according to a new report.    The ranks of the so-called working poor have grown even as the nation has created new jobs for 27 consecutive months and is showing other signs of shaking off the worst effects of the recession.    “Although many people are returning to work, they are often taking jobs with lower wages and less job security, compared with the middle class jobs they held before the downturn,” said a report released  by the Working Poor Families Project. 70 percent of low-income families and half of all poor families were working by 2011, the report said. The problem is they did not earn enough to cover their basic living expenses. 37 percent of the nation’s children — 23.5 million — were part of working poor families in 2011.

Many of the occupations experiencing the fastest job growth during the recovery also pay poorly. Among them are retail jobs, food preparation, clerical work and customer assistance. In 2011, the top fifth of working families had incomes that were 10.1 times greater than those in the bottom fifth of income earners. The best means for climbing the income ladder — improved education — is growing more uncertain and more expensive, the report said.

Source