Tuesday, March 26, 2019

High Pay Warning

Big companies should split their profits with staff and give employees a say in how chief executives are paid, or risk a complete breakdown of trust in the capitalist system, said a report by Parliament's business select committee. A series of “shaming” decisions – including a £75m bonus handed to the boss of housebuilder Persimmon – showed a need for fresh curbs on “executive greed … baked into the remuneration system”. The report found that executives were still enjoying pay packages that were often “patently unjustified.”

The committee said that without major reforms there would be a “perception of institutional unfairness that, if not addressed, is liable to foment hostility and undermine social cohesion and support for the current economic model”.

Luke Hildyard, the director of the High Pay Centre, a thinktank that researches executive salaries, said: “Excessive executive pay is a key driver of the painful economic divides that exist within the UK. When the typical FTSE 100 CEO earns the average UK worker’s annual salary in under three days, it shows that too many business leaders have lost their sense of fairness or proportionality.”

Proposals made in the report include:
  • Workers to join company pay committees.
  • Profit-sharing schemes to benefit staff.
  • Reducing “variable pay” bonuses.
  • An absolute cap on bosses’ remuneration.
  • A new financial regulator to monitor pay schemes.
“When the company does well, it is workers and not just the chief executive who should share the profits.”

As if we haven't been told this before so don't hold your breath for any change.




The US Presidential Election is scheduled for 3/11/20 & already,
the candidates are taking leave of absence from the asylums. 

I read The Beano yesterday,
Is it still on the case?
It's pages don't seem to include,
The Presidential race!
A game of such puerility,
It's hard to comprehend;
Why all the wise guy Yanks then go,
Completely round the bend.
Cheerleaders prance and voters sob,
Opponents cuss and curse;
Such candidates claim they will change,
The entire universe!
Jobs will appear so very soon,
(They've not done in the past)
But this time will be different as,
The jobs are gonna last!
State spending (for the rich) will rise,
Tax cuts are on the way;
So that the rich (but not the poor)
Get wealthier each day.
In the West's great democracy,
To finance their campaign;
The candidates need lots of bucks,
But few cells in their brain.
So if you're an oil magnate from,
Say Texas in the south;
You'll need a greasy pocket and,
A smooth and slippery mouth.
But if you're a dirt farmer from,
The Oklahoma Bowl;
You might as well just crawl right back,
Inside your dust-bowl hole.
For in this sham democracy,
The dollar sign is king;
And real democracy, you schmuck,
Don't mean a doggone thing!

© Richard Layton

Monday, March 25, 2019

From Planetary Community to Universal Community

Socialist Freedom

The workers of the world are yet to unite to accomplish their over-a-century-long pending task of overcoming what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. They have yet to move on to the phase of “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels), by transforming human society from “a planetary community of production and consumption” (Albert Einstein) into a Universal Community of Scientific Beings – star-trekking beings. With the disappearance of classes from within liberated humanity, humans will leave behind their prehistory and enter into the realm of free history, as Marx envisaged.

Material abundance has been knocking at our door since about the beginning of the past century waiting for us to accept it and create a fulfilling life for the whole of humanity. What is still lacking is the working class’s will, unity, and action country-wise and worldwide. Their social consciousness remains crippled by glorification of power and success and all-pervading competition. This ongoing alienated cultural constitution, “crippling of the social consciousness of individuals” (Albert Einstein), has kept us arrested in a devastating “Escape from freedom” or “Fear of Freedom” (Erich Fromm). In the name of “freedom” what we are preoccupied with is “freedom from” (“negative freedom”) – bourgeois freedom – vulgar freedom – while what we need is to get hold of “freedom to” (“positive freedom”) – Socialist Freedom – real freedom – freedom to lead a peril-free harmonious and luminous humane life. 

Progress in Science and Technology has given rise to Artificial Intelligence and Robotics which is making this freedom more and more viable nowadays.

Marx and Engels foresaw

As Marx and Engels foresaw in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto, “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.”

To understand this point let us take a brief detour into the essence of capital. Capital as “self-expanding value” (V = c+v+s, where V = Value, c = constant capital, v = variable capital and s = surplus value), constantly coerces its personified functionaries, the capitalists, to look for maximum profit by raising the rate of surplus value (exploitation), i.e., by raising “s/v”, which pushes up the organic composition of capital or “c/v”, which reciprocally (tendentiously though) reduces the rate of profit “s/(c+v)”.

The very process that had given rise to value and exchange-value asserts itself via alienation and competition. The law of competition for accumulation leads to a progressively higher organic composition of capital (OCC), i.e. “c/v”, or a continual increase in its constant constituent “c” compared to its variable one “v”, a continual relative decrease in its variable vis-à-vis constant; or, to put it in a different way, a progressively higher technical composition of capital, i.e. “c/(c + v)”,  a continual increase in its constant constituent “c” at the expense of the total social capital “(c + v)”, constantly raising the social productivity of labour. “The immediate result of this is that the rate of surplus value “s/v”, at the same, or even a rising, degree of labour exploitation, is represented by a constantly falling general rate of profit “s/(c + v)”.” (Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow 1974, pp. 212-13) This leads the capitalists to go in for countervailing measures to reverse the tendency by unceasing technological advancement. It is inbuilt in the market system that the rates of profits globally tend to be equalized via an averaging process, giving rise to an average rate of profit. Without this the bigger and bigger the OCCs, the lower and lower would be their own individual rates of profits. But why should a firm go in for a higher OCC at all? The raison d’être is that this averaging means that they can go on accumulating by extracting a  portion of global profits over and above their own individual profits from the profits of the industries and agriculture having lower OCCs.

Marx's long-term prediction

True, Marx and Engels didn’t live to see the precise future course of scientific and technological developments and their specific forms of manifestation (artificial intelligence – robotics) which would emerge from the hectic pursuit of profit. They were dealing mainly with capital’s fledging period. So in capital’s ascending phase when the productive forces were developing within the womb of an expanding capitalist mode and relations of production, they could only anticipate the forthcoming historical trends. Marx’s materialist conception of history had imbued him with penetrating insight and profound predictive power whereby he brilliantly foresaw the impending state of affairs with their far-reaching consequences to occur. As he observed in 1858:

“Invention then becomes a business, and the application of science to direct production itself becomes a prospect which determines and solicits it. But this is not the road along which machinery, by and large, arose, and even less the road on which it progresses in detail. This road is, rather, dissection [Analyse] – through the division of labour, which gradually transforms the workers‟ operations into more and more mechanical ones, so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places. ... Thus, the specific mode of working here appears directly as becoming transferred from the worker to capital in the form of machine, and its own labour capacity devalued thereby. Hence the workers’ struggle against machinery. What was the living worker’s activity becomes the activity of the machine. ... the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. ... Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.) No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [Naturgegenstand] as the middle link between the object [Objekt] and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of production process instead of being its chief actor. ... his degradation therefore to mere worker, subsumption under labour. The most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools. ... As the basis on which large industry rests, the appropriation of alien labour time, ceases, with its development, to make up or to create wealth, so does direct labour as such cease to be the basis of production, since, in one respect, it is transformed into a supervisory and regulatory activity; but then also because the product ceases to be the product of isolated direct labour, and the combination of social activity appears, rather, as the producer. ... just as the conquest of the forces of nature by social intellect is the precondition of the productive power of the means of labour as developed into the automatic process, on one side, so, on the other, is the labour of the individual in its direct presence posited as suspended individual, i.e. as social, labour. Thus the other basis of this mode of production falls away.” (Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin Books in association with New Left Review, 1981, pp. 704-709)

Horrific catastrophe – only 12 years to go?

Now that automation, artificial intelligence and robots are quite capable of performing almost all the world's necessary and useful laborious work, humanity is on the brink of a forthcoming Leisure Society, Marx's all-encompassing scientific society. Once we enter its knowledgeable domain, having emancipated mankind from their perilously degenerating slavery of capital, it will be indispensable for us to counter as far as we can the threat of extinction, especially in view of the catastrophic survival warning about having just 12 years in hand to deal with global warming, as reported on Monday 8 October 2018 by the Guardian, London: “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN – Urgent changes needed to cut risk of extreme heat, draught, floods and poverty, says IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. Overwhelmed by climate change? Here’s what you can do… The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of draught, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. … The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Monday say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C. The half-degree difference could also prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic, according to the 1.5C study, which was launched after approval at a final plenary of all 195 countries in Incheon in South Korea that saw delegates hugging one another with some in tears.” – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warning-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

 As also cited by the Bengali language newspaper in Kolkata the Anandabazar > International on 9 October 2018 (http://www.anandabazar.com/international/we-may-just-12-years-away-from-the-unprecedented-danger-1.878290#.W8gRT7dReSw.watsapp)

Save Earth’s environment

First, we are required to reduce and reverse the currently devastating emission levels of the  greenhouse effect gases – Water vapor , Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2 O), Ozone (O3), Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Hydrofluorocarbons (incl. HCFCs and HFCs)  – in order to avoid the threatening trends of ongoing global overwarming. The hostile climate catastrophe has to be dealt with by discontinuing uses of fossil fuels – coal, petrol, diesel, kerosene etc. and substituting solar and other forms of renewable energy. We have also to get rid of the perilous plastic pollution. We have to discontinue the destruction of forests together with their flora and fauna by substituting all the various uses of timber logs with fibreglasses and conserving and restoring our lost forests to create an eco-friendly atmosphere which will absorb and retard the swollen carbon emissions. This done, we will overcome the hazards over our present homeland – the planet Earth; we will be free from the fear of our species going the same way as the dinosaurs of extinction from the Earth’s environment. Not that global warming to levels, even well above the IPCC's threshold of a 1.5C addition to the current average global temperature, would threaten the human species with complete extinction. If high enough it would cause many millions of deaths but some humans would survive even if in very difficult conditions.

Circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances

Later, as necessity is the mother of invention, even if we remove the current threat from global overwarming, circumstances – the exhaustion of the Sun – will eventually prompt us to realise that we need to get out of the periphery of Earth to explore for new homes elsewhere. As said Marx, “Circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances.” Thus humans will have to make their circumstances anew once again. Just as our original hominid ancestors, after their emergence at c.300,000 to 200,000 years ago, driven by their survivalist exigencies had to migrate out of Africa into Eurasia and other lands, and eventually populate the whole of planet Earth, so, in view of our survivalist exigency, in order to shun extinction we will have to project a cosmic exodus as outer-space explorers in search of life-friendly environments  within stars with their planets, having to traverse the Universe to seek out suitable places for human habitations and build abodes away beyond the boundary of our planet Earth, transforming ourselves from a Planetary Community into a Universal Community.  Of course becoming star-trekking beings is a very long way off as it will be a few billions of years before the Sun begins to burn out. “Will the Sun Ever Burn Out? Yes, the sun will eventually burn out. But not for a long, long time. The sun has used up about half of its hydrogen fuel in the last 4.6 billion years, since its birth. It still has enough hydrogen to last about another 5 billion years.” (From space.com)  So this wouldn't be a way-out from a more immediate threat from global overwarming. But that time will eventually inexorably come.

WSP (India)

The Global Supply Chain

Almarai is one of the largest food production companies in the world. The company sells milk, powdered milk and packaged items such as croissants, strudels and cupcakes in supermarkets and corner stores throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

With the Saudi Arabian landscape there being mostly desert and alfalfa being a water-intensive crop, growing it there has always been expensive and draining on scarce water resources, to the point that the Saudi government finally outlawed the practice in 2016. In the wake of the ban, Almarai decided to purchase land wherever it is cheap and has favorable water conditions to produce enough feed for its 93,000 cows.
In 2012, they acquired 30,000 acres of land in Argentina, and in 2014, they bought their first swath of land in Arizona. Then, in 2015, they bought 1,700 acres in Blythe – a vast, loamy, agricultural metropolis abutting the Colorado river, where everything but the alfalfa seems cast in the hue of sand. Four years later, the company owns 15,000 acres – 16% of the entire irrigated valley. Blythe is a desert, it is adjacent to the lower Colorado river, a river that supplies water to roughly 40 million people and irrigates 4m acres of land.
Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates’ healthy rivers program director, says that over the last 80 years, due to the growth of proximate cities such as Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix and the expansion of large-scale farms, demands on the river have steadily climbed. The river is also shrinking due to climate change. It has endured a nearly two-decade-long drought, with only waning rain and snowpacks to supply its flow. As a result, the river is at a record low. Blythe farmers are thus only charged to cover the water district’s overhead – $77 an acre a year, an astonishingly low rate. In other places, people are charged according to how much water they use and are thus incentivized to use less. In Blythe, no matter how much he uses, a farmer gets his water for a cheap, flat rate. It’s no surprise, then, that Fondomonte chose to set up shop here. While Saudi Arabia has enacted laws to manage their water resources. In Blythe, water is there for the taking.
What Fondomonte Farms, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabia-based company Almarai, is doing is one of the inanities of the global supply chains. Each month, Fondomonte Farms loads the alfalfa on to  shipping containers destined to arrive 24 days later at a massive port stationed on the Red Sea, just outside King Abdullah City in Saudi Arabia, 13,000 miles of land and sea away. It’s not just alfalfa, and it’s not just agriculture. People will find goods at the cheapest prices, and companies in areas with unstable resources will relocate elsewhere.

Ignoring the torture camps

Many refugees have been forcibly returned to Libya by the Libyan coastguard under policies endorsed by the European Union. 

In February 2017, Italy made a deal, backed by the EU, to spend tens of millions of euros funding the Libyan coastguard, which intercepts boats heading for Italy and returns those onboard to Libya.

From January 2017 to September 2018, the Libyan coastguard intercepted and forcibly returned more than 29,000 people. Many ended up in detention centres or disappeared altogether.
Refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa are being subjected to horrific and routine sexual violence in Libyan detention centres, a survey has found.

People arriving at the centres are “often immediately raped by guards who conduct violent anal cavity searches, which serves the dual purpose of retrieving money, as well as humiliation and subjugation”, the report by the Women’s Refugee Commission says.Among the forms of sexual violence described to researchers was anal and oral rape, forced rape of others including corpses, castration and forced incest. Much of the sexual violence described by research participants contained elements of profound psychological torture and cruelty.
Sarah Chynoweth, the lead researcher on the report, said: “Profoundly cruel and brutal sexual violence and torture are perpetrated in official detention centers and clandestine prisons, during random stops and checkpoints, and in the context of forced labor and enslavement. The fact that refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean are intercepted and forced back into this violence is untenable.”
A UN officer estimated that 90% of male refugees and migrants being hosted in the Italian reception system had experienced sexual violence during their journey. A local government official said that, among refugee and migrant boys, “although there are no real numbers, we know that a huge number of the minors have experienced sexual violence on the journey to Italy”.
The extent of sexual violence perpetrated against refugees appears in part to be contingent on their financial resources, their connections, and the year that they travelled – those traveling in recent years are seemingly more likely to have experienced sexual violence. In many cases, sexual violence and torture are filmed on Skype and used to try to extract ransom money from the victims’ relatives.
Refugees, migrants and informants told researchers that sexual violence was commonplace throughout the journey to Italy. “All along the journey they experienced sexual violence,” a health provider reported.

Automated to the unemployment lines

About 1.5 million workers in Britain are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation, according to government estimates, with women and those in part-time work most affected. “The analysis showed a higher proportion of roles currently filled by women are at risk of automation; in 2017, 70.2% of high-risk jobs were held by women.”

Supermarket checkout assistants have already borne the brunt of the phenomenon, the Office for National Statistics found, with 25.3% of jobs disappearing between 2011 and 2017. Other jobs where automation has taken its toll include laundry workers, farm workers and tyre fitters, among which numbers have dropped by 15% or more, said the ONS, as machines have replaced labour.


Why not build homes?

London councils are paying private landlords more than £14m a year in “incentives” simply to persuade them to house homeless people, the Guardian can reveal.

The sweetener payments of up to £8,300 each were made to landlords more than 5,700 times in 2018 to house people who were either homeless or considered at risk of homelessness. The payouts are made in addition to rent. The fall in social housebuilding and a widening gap between housing benefit and market rents appear to be fuelling the payments. 

Landlords said the payments compensated for accepting homeless tenants who were more likely to fall behind on their rent, especially if they received universal credit which makes payments at least a month in arrears. 

Councils claimed some landlords played different boroughs off against each other to increase payouts and that the system was vulnerable to abuse. It operates nationwide, but London accounts for almost 70% of the total number of homeless families in England

“It is ludicrous councils have to resort to handing out cash sweeteners to secure housing for desperate families, when there’s a much more sustainable solution: build social housing on an ambitious scale,” said Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter.

It could be “a waste of money”. 

David Smith, the policy director at the Residential Landlords Association, said: “Councils should be focusing more on supporting tenants [so they don’t become homeless]. Bribing people isn’t the answer. You end up with people taking tenants who don’t really want them and then evicting them later.” Smith said: “The government’s decimation of social housing stock, together with the punitive benefits freeze and its refusal to address the growing issue of evictions, has created an environment where some private landlords are using a council’s desperation to pocket huge cash incentives just to rent their property out.”

Cllr Darren Rodwell, the housing lead at London Councils, said the level of payments was “a symptom of London’s broken housing market...At a time when our funding from central government has been reduced by 63% since 2010, we would much rather be investing in frontline services,” he said.

A million new homes could be built on previously used land in England, with more than 2,600 new sites identified in the past year.
Additional brownfield sites with room for more than 18,000 new homes have been found in Barnet, north London, as well as sites with capacity for 19,000 homes in south Cambridgeshire, 3,000 in Sheffield and 4,600 in Bristol, according to research into public registers by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)
“Building on brownfield presents a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously remove local eyesores and breathe new life into areas crying out for regeneration,” said Rebecca Pullinger, the CPRE’s planning campaigner.

Platypus discussion panel (28/3)

'Democracy and the Left'
Platypus discussion panel
Thursday, 28 March @ 7pm

Richard Hoggart Building
Room 256
Goldsmiths College,
University of London, 
SE14 6NW

Contributors include:

Adam Buick (SPGB)

James Heartfield (Spiked, independent author)

Benjamin Studebaker (Graduate researcher at Cambridge University)

Tackling the Gig Economy

The government should take action to end the “rampant injustice” facing some workers in the gig economy, according to a report by the MP Frank Field, who is chair of the work and pensions select committee.
He is calling for a fast-track system for employment tribunals involving worker status cases, as well as the introduction of a single labour market regulator. The report says there is evidence some companies continue to exploit workers whom they had wrongly classified as independent contractors.
“Unions are caught up in court cases that are going on for seven years. The idea that the law is working is farcical,” Field said. “We want to build up a unit that is a ‘people’s friend’ that they can go to and they know they are not going to be passed on to somewhere else which has not got the resources” Field added. “The regulator should be able to keep its fines to pay for itself.”
Field said employment tribunals should be given powers to fast-track worker status cases and recommend their findings are applied on a company-wide basis. In a string of recent cases, companies have avoided widespread reform, arguing that tribunal findings relate only to the individuals involved.
“The laws governing work in the gig economy are inadequate,” the report says. “There is virtually no proactive enforcement mechanism to prevent workers being misclassified as ‘independent contractors’ and subjected to bogus forms of self- employment. The onus currently falls on individual workers to enforce the law.”