Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Afghanistan War - Dope and Hope

Victor Ivanov , head of Russia's federal drug control agency , said at least 30,000 people died in Russia every year from heroin, 90% of it from Afghanistan. Russia is believed to have around five million drug addicts, half of whom are addicted to heroin.

He accused Nato of not doing enough to curb the production of heroin in Afghanistan.He blamed the US administration for ending a military drive to destroy opium poppy crops in Afghan fields. According to statistics from UNODC, in 2001, Afghanistan produced 185 tons of drugs, in 2002 - 3,400 tons, in 2003 - 3,600 tons, in 2004 - 4,200, in 2005 - 4,100, in 2007 - 8,200, in 2008 - 7,700 tons.

"We are poor farmers,” said Sayed Wakhan “We grow opium to survive.”

An evaluation by the UNODC of its Alternative Development project between 1997 and 2000 in three districts of Kandahar found that though the project succeeded in raising yields of legal crops (like wheat, cumin, beans, onions and fruit) by about 90 per cent, these improvements would not have been sufficient to make legal crops more profitable than opium poppy. The poppy crop can also be harvested earlier than wheat, allowing farmers to double crop, growing maize after harvesting the poppies. Poppies being weather-resistant are also a more reliable crop than wheat. Opium is also easy to store, transport and sell, providing poor farmers a simple means to smooth income. The income per hectare from opium poppy in 2000 was an average of $16,000. As the UNDOC report on The Opium Economy concluded, “at these gross income levels, no other crop which could be planted on a large scale would be competitive vis-a-vis opium poppy in Afghanistan” For the warlords, who still continue to rule much of Afghanistan, the narco-economy continues to provide a rich source of takings. Opium purchased directly from the farmers could be used by the western development agencies to provide morphine for easing the pain associated with various terminal illnesses, including AIDS, in many parts of the Third World, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. WHO reports that 4.8 million people a year with moderate to severe cancer pain receive no appropriate treatment. Nor do another 1.4 million with late-stage AIDS. For other causes of lingering pain there are no estimates, but WHO believes millions go untreated. The vast majority are in developing countries.

"..this year we see also that there is a sharp decrease in the price of crops like wheat so it will lead the farmers to go more with illicit crops," said Angela Me, who is with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

"...Drugs and bribes have become Afghanistan's largest source of income," Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) wrote in the report.

“The people who really control Marjah will be the people who control the drugs,” an analyst in Kabul said. “So even if the Taleban fighters go, the criminal networks will still be there and maybe they are the same.”

The Dutch military contingent from the Afghan province of Uruzgan must be completely withdrawn by late 2010 based on its Parliament's decision. Gen. David Richards, head of the British army said British troops will likely remain in Afghanistan for five more years, and nation-building work will continue for 30 or 40 more years. A dire prospect for many.

Our own war ,the class war, needs no re-defining. The solution to the on-going insanity remains the same. There is one world and we exist as one people in need of each other and with the same basic needs. There is far more that unites us than can ever divide us along cultural, nationalistic or religious lines. Together we can create a civilisation worth living in, but before that happens we need to be united in one common cause – to create a world in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation, a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders and a world in which production is at last freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the good of humanity – socialism. This cannot be fought with guns and missiles, but using something more powerful – our minds, our imagination, our solidarity and preparedness to unite as the exploited class and to wrest control of the planet from the madmen before it is to late.

Bash the Ash

Tobacco kills more than 5 million people a year from cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, including about 600,000 from second-hand smoke, according to the World Health Organisation .

Developing countries are the new frontier for tobacco companies, which often target women and girls, and smoking rates remain high among poor people in affluent countries, it said. Many of the developing countries have little or no medical care to cope with the health consequences for smokers. Just slightly more than 5 percent of the world's population is protected by national smoke-free laws.Fewer than one third of treaty members restrict advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products.

"As we all know, the tobacco industry is ruthless, devious, rich and powerful" Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO director-general told a meeting "...If Big Tobacco is in retreat in some parts of the world, it is on the march in others"

Corporate Accountability International said in a statement."Big Tobacco promotes its addictive and deadly product to kids with images like Philip Morris's Marlboro Man, by sponsoring rock concerts and sporting events, and by putting tobacco brand names and logos on everything from T-shirts to patio umbrellas,"

Bash the Fash ?

With the approach of a general election and the likelihood of the British National Party featuring in some of the news headlines , SOYMB takes this opportunity to re-print an article from the days when the BNP were called the National Front .

The best way to oppose Fascism

Violence between the extreme Left and Right has been a recurring theme in British politics for nearly fifty years, with some of the most vicious outbreaks occurring in the 1930s. More recently there have been the punch-ups between supporters of the National Front and their leftist counterparts, and although these have died down lately we can expect fresh eruptions in the not too distant future.
In pre-war days the leftists were squaring-up to Sir Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirts. Then their declared intention was to "smash the fascists" and a so-called United Front was formed to bring this about. They failed and all that the violence achieved was to attract thousands of fresh recruits into the fascist ranks. The Mosleyites continued to march, hold meetings and contest elections until the outbreak of war.

Someone claimed that the lesson of history is that people never learn the lesson of history. Obviously this is untrue (otherwise there could never have been any progress, social or technical) but such a cynical view could be justified if it was based on the antics of the leftists, because they never learn. Now many of the current crop have formed themselves into the Anti Nazi League and are determined to re-stage the same useless battles that were fought long ago.

A glance at history shows that ideas which have some roots in existing social conditions cannot be stamped out by force. For example, in Hitler's Germany, the Social Democrats and the Communists suffered twelve years of being killed and jailed yet both those organisations re-emerged at the end of the war. Nor has more than sixty years of mass murder and repression eliminated the various nationalist and other dissidents in the USSR. More significantly, despite the killing of millions, of fascists- during the 1939-45 war and the vilification of fascism by Hollywood and the rest of the media for over forty years; the growth of fascist organisations and activity in Europe is front page news today. So the notion that fascism can be destroyed by violence has not a shred of evidence to support it.
Everywhere the leftists have tried this tactic it has failed disastrously - what happened to their "street-fighters" in pre-war Italy and Germany is proof of this. Ideas are rooted in the material conditions of life; people are influenced by the economic and historic situation they live in. It is no accident that fascism flourishes whenever capitalism is in one of its periodic slumps. Then fascist demagogues, by blaming problems like unemployment and bad housing on the failure of democracy and the presence of blacks or Jews, are more likely to be listened to.

Fascism feeds on poverty, insecurity and fear and since these are inseparable from capitalism then fascist ideas will persist as long as capitalism lasts, no matter how many heads are cracked or meetings broken up.
The claim made by the "Anti-Nazis" that they are defending freedom by preventing the National Front and similar organisations from holding meetings are absurd. Free speech can only exist when it is open
to all and it cannot be defended by those who in fact abolish it. Not only does political violence not preserve existing democratic rights, it positively weakens them by creating a situation in which the authorities may restrict or ban many forms of political activity. This much is certain: the chances of getting the socialist case across in such an atmosphere of intolerance will be considerably lessened.

The only way to deal with fascists is to demolish their obnoxious, anti-working class ideas at every turn. We would welcome any opportunity to confront them in open debate before an audience of working men and women. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from this because we are confident of the workers' ability to understand the socialist case and of our own ability to present it. Of course, this will not sound exciting enough for leftist hot-heads looking for trouble, but whatever the right method of dealing with fascists may be, theirs is absolutely wrong.
V.V. Socialist Standard December 1980

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tough Times for Black Americans

The unemployment rate for Blacks now exceeds 16 percent, when just two years ago it was 8.3 percent. But since that time, some 900,000 jobs have been lost among Blacks. According to one organization that focuses on world hunger, the loss of those jobs has led to a growing inability of many Black families to put food on their table.

In a new report commissioned by non-profit Bread for the World, one in four Black households are having difficulty feeding their families.
In addition, African-American children are experiencing hunger at a greater rate than their adult counterparts.

African-Americans tend to be less equipped to deal with the recession because they have less opportunities to build up savings and assets during better times. For instance, 48 percent of Blacks own their homes, compared to 68 percent for the general population.

The lack of education is also a major deterrent to economic prosperity.
“Adults without a high school diploma are three times more likely to be unemployed,” Bread for the World Director Asma Lateef said.

Right Rev. Don Williams, head of African-American church relations for the group, said that increased rates of hunger and poverty will continue to weigh heavily on the Black community for years to come, particularly its children.
“Poverty among African-American children is especially alarming,” Williams said. “It would hardly be an overstatement to say an entire generation is at risk of being set back due to the current recession.”

Adding to the hunger

The suffering of the people of Haiti continues but this time it is not from the result of the earth-quake , but as a result of the capitalist market system .
We read here that after the Jan. 12 quake, 15,000 metric tons of donated U.S. rice have arrived.

Paul O'Brien of Oxfam America says the lessons of the harm of flooding a country like Haiti with subsidized rice should have been learned a long time ago.
"The days are gone when we can throw up our hands in terms of unintended consequences; we know now what these injections can do to markets," he said.

And what exactly are the consequences ?

Renan Reynold, a Haitian farmer explains - "I can't make any money off my rice with all the foreign rice there is now.If I can't make any money, I can't feed my family."

Women walk in fear

Another article from the Socialist Standard highlighting the treatment meted out to women in capitalism .

Women Walk in Fear

Everyone, whatever their political views, will have been disturbed by press reports of the brutal killings performed by the man the media have labelled "The Yorkshire Ripper". Since the murder of student, Jacqueline Hill on l8 November "the 4,000 women students at Leeds University were coming to terms with the fact 'that they must not walk alone at night". (The Guardian 21.11.80.)

The police warn that the killer's "record of street attacks shows that the main danger comes anywhere within dragging distance of a dark and secluded place-open land beyond the range of street lighting, a dark alleyway, backyards, a patch of wasteland. Those are the places to avoid, and there are far too many of them for a woman to walk safely by herself at night".

This restriction on the liberty of women to walk in safety after dark has been a feature of life in West Yorkshire since October 1975 when the "Ripper" first struck. For some working class women in the Leeds-Bradford area this has meant an almost total dependence upon male protection during the conventional leisure period of the day.

What has this insecurity got to do with socialists? Is it not simply an inevitable result of an inherent male urge to have their way with women? Should we not leave such cases to the police and confine ourselves to discussion of political economy? And aren't attacks on women an issue for feminists rather than socialists? We are obliged to respond to these questions and the only answer we can give is that the problems facing approximately one half of the working class are very much the concern of the only party which stands solely for the interest of the working class as a whole. The insecurity which women face cannot be solved within capitalism.

Capitalism has historically created a role for working class women as the attendants to male wage slaves. Not all working class women conform to this role, but most still do. This position has been sanctified by religion (it is the woman's holy duty to be a wife and mother); by morality (the unmarried woman is seen to be either promiscuous or incomplete); by the education system (girls are still segregated in terms of what they learn at school and what opportunities they have when they leave school); and by law.

The conditioning of male and female attitudes to womanhood goes on all the time. The adverts state what the ideal woman should look like; the fashion and cosmetic industry tell her what to wear; the cinema helps influence her speech and her style; women's magazines trivialise her experience; problem page hacks inform her as to whether or not she is a "proper" woman. Men's attitudes to women are similarly conditioned. Young boys soon learn to talk about females as sources of satisfaction. Notions of virility traditionally imply dominance, aggressiveness and ruthlessness –the very characteristics which, if frustrated in conventional social contact, can produce the brutality of a vicious attacker. Porn magazines and sex movies teach men to idealise a submissive, consumable womanhood. Women are to be won, bought or coerced: married, hired or raped. In a society where pleasure is a commodity to be bought, and sold what else can be expected than what Marx rightly called "a system of prostitution both public and private"? (The Communist Manifesto.). The private prostitution referred to was discussed in an article in the January 1980 Socialist Standard entitled, “No More Family Life":
"The present social system is based upon the ownership of private property, and the marriage contract is in essence a property contract. The single sentence from the Marriage Service, 'with all my worldly goods I thee endow' is indicative of this, especially as the recipient of this cornucopean shower immediately surrenders all control over it by promising to 'love, honour and obey' the benevolent 'bestower'."

The Guardian, reporting the recent murder of Jacqueline Hill, who was a religious Sunday School teacher, made an indicative comment:
"The killing points to a worrying change in the Ripper's victims. He first murdered a Leeds prostitute in October 1975, but the last time he murdered a known prostitute was two and a half years ago. His last two victims were both respectable girls" (20.11. 80).

The assumption here is that if women are not "respectable" it is less "worrying" for them to be murdered. Respectability through the editorial eyes of the Guardian, which supported two world wars in which millions of people were killed, is not the best criterion for the right to be free from sexual assault.

We would do better to think about the kind of sick society which produces men like the "Ripper". He has been driven to his perversely anti-social behaviour by a system of living which on the one hand treats sexual activity as a social taboo and on the other trivialises and sensationalises the sexual act, so producing neuroses in those who do not conform to the image. If you have a social order which glorifies war there is no point in crying out in indignation at the violence of modern youth; if you have a society which turns sex into a commodity, don't be surprised if some take without paying.

Feminists are mistaken if they believe that the need for social change is a women's issue. Not all women are in a position of social inferiority: capitalist women who travel about in chauffeur driven cars have no need to go on marches to "reclaim the night". The problems facing working class women are rooted in their class position. The basis of their insecurity is their alienation from the means of wealth production and distribution. Wage slavery is not in the interest of either male or female workers, although admittedly, for some women being the slave of a wage slave amounts to even greater insecurity and powerlessness than that faced by working class men.

To demand that male and female workers stand in equality as wage slaves is an impoverished and futile reform because wage slaves can never attain real social dignity, even if men and women workers are treated the same by their employers. It may be utopian to want a society in which people never offend against one another, but it is not utopian for socialists to want a society which does not give rise to the brutal behaviour which is an everyday feature of capitalism. In a society where all men and women stand in equal relationship to the means of life, where norms will not be dictated from above, where there will be sexual freedom and diversity, such cases as the Yorkshire Ripper will be a nightmarish reminder of an uncivilised past.


Whats Wrong with Prostitution ?

Do you consider that prostitution would be a good job for your daughter? The pay can be good but the career prospects are poor. She'd meet lots of people, but the hours would be anti-social. There’s a small risk of being murdered, but popes, Princes and Presidents share the same occupational hazard, so she’d be in good company. She would provide a valuable service breaking in the youngsters and catering for some pecu-liar personal prefer-ences. There's plenty job-unlike of variety in the most of the usual jobs for women, like typing and shop assisting. No you would not put your daughter on the streets because you see prostitution as sordid and shameful. As St. Paul wrote (Corinthians VII)"It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nev-ertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife for it is better to marry than to burn."

A prostitute is a living denial of the set of values carefully instilled in us from childhood. Sex is for making babies. "Daddy put a seed in mummy's tummy". How about that for a whole set of attitudes and prejudices neatly encapsulated? A caring parent explaining the facts of life often gets the reaction “you and daddy did that three times!" followed by "why don't you do it again and we can have a baby brother?" The caring parent, if she doesn't duck out of the responsibly at this stage is faced some time later with trying to explain contraception, abortion, extra-marital sex, VD, prostitution, pornography and rape, and has to add a whole new dimension, which is necessarily negative, to the “making babies” bit.

Do you want your daughter to marry? We all want affection, companionship and sex. Our society's approved provision for these needs is marriage, a formal, legal, sacred union of one man with one woman for life. We are taught from childhood to seek happiness in one exclusive relationship, and when we go into this full of expectation and are disappointed, we feel ashamed rather than cheated. For this reason much of the pain, loneliness and frustration which is the reality of marriage to many people is covered up and denied. The prescribed “Happy ever after" package handed out by society is a lucky dip - often dreary but bearable, sometimes full of cruelty and pain, seldom fulfilling, and never completely satisfying.

In real life the handsome princes turn into toads, pathetic frustrated toads some of them capable of extreme cruelty and violence. These are not, as is popularly imagined, all unemployed drunken labourers or immigrants with different marital practices than ours. A wife who is beaten by her respectable, educated husband, is no less trapped in her three-bedroom semi than a West Indian wife, supposedly accepting her customary beatings in her one room slum. A battered wife hides her bruises and smothers her screams to avoid the embarrassment of revealing her failure. When, in desperation, she leaves, she can lose everything - even her children. If a wife leaves her husband to escape his cruelty, she discovers the Catch 22 situation of a system geared to protection of men's rights. She may have to put her children into "care" or leave them behind, and then fend for herself. Her husband's assault, if not actually tolerated by the legal system, can result in his being bound over, fined or put on probation, given endless chances to undertake to reform even after years of perpetual violence. He may even be given custody of their children.

Convention allows a man to treat a woman he "owns" as he pleases. This extends to women bought for his temporary use, the prostitute whose function is to provide sexual relief where a wife is unavailable or unwilling. Their very existence is an embarrassment to the system, pointing to its inadequacy, hanging out its dirty washing. They are regarded as less than hu-man and expendable. Peter Sutcliffe butchered eight prostitutes, merely thrilling and titillating the readers of trashy papers. Only when he murdered an "innocent" victim were the news-reading public directed to be outraged. Socialists are optimists. We insist that the mess that is human society today can be changed if we all decide to change it. We made it, no demented divine Power ordered it from above, so we can think it out and get it right. We assert that all the problems which need resolving are part of the property society that began in a simple way 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution. This is too short a time for evolution by natural selection to have advanced at all. Before then, from the early hominids twelve million years ago to modern people (homo sapiens) 50,000 years ago, the human race was evolving genetically. The characteristics which made them successful, and which are part of our genetic code today were the ability to organise into co-operating groups, dividing their labour to get sufficient for their groups and deliberately sharing it out. It is probable that the females, being perpetually sexually receptive, helped to keep the protecting, hunting males in the group, making sex a vital aspect of social relationship then as now.

The human brain developed the capacity to react and respond to the complex demands of social organisation and cooperative hunting. There it no reason to suppose that a hunting animal has a single gene for aggression, implying a natural hostility even towards its own kind. Other co-operating hunters, like man's best friend in its wild state, direct thei aggression only at their prey and are gentle towards all the members of their own group. Ten thousand years ago some of our kind stopped wandering, settled and farmed, grew crops and herded animals. The notion of ownership and prop-erty began at this point with the need to build defences and to keep out pilferers. The males, being larger and more mobile, did the protecting and the females became part of the property being protected, and thereby were re-duced to the level of the ox and the ass.

Consideration of our remote past has limited value. Socialists do not advocate a return to the simple life except for those who would like it. Learning from and building on others' experience is vitally necessary to our survival. We depend almost completely on other people's skills and knowledge, each of us contributes our little bit of effort and expertise to the joint endeavour. However, just as we are capable of learning and communicating, so we can analyse and criticise. We can probe to the root of the problems that beset us, below the network of daily irritations and frustrations until a pattern of causation is discovered. The cause is ownership and control, property, the fence around the settlement 10,000 years ago. A simple division between owners and "protected" exists today, but to no useful purpose. The owners have long since delegated even the protecting to the workers and sit se-curely, fattened parasites, while we meekly teach our children that this is how life is and must inevitably be. The suffering and abuse of women is inseparable from the social system in which we live. Prostitution in, for example, Hulme in Manchester, is a product of the system that builds slums in the skies where vandalism and muggings, alcoholism and drug dependence are part of the tawdry and squalid lives of the poor. A girl who kept the favour of a violent father by accepting his advances, leaving home for the big city to find work in hotels or bars, drifted naturally into prostitution. Though she is offensive to "respectable" conforming people, she provides a service which is human and valuable to emotional misfits who use her.
The rest of us, pushing pens and pressing buttons in our pointless, mean-ingless jobs, perpetuate our frustration, which we carry home and take out on our tired, boring, penny-pinching partners. Women, like some other groups in the working class, have a double struggle - to improve their position in relation to men, and with all workers, to hold their position in the quick-sand of the wages system. There is a difference of degree only between the housewife and the prostitute. Both are victims of the cockeyed algebra of the market system, the more personal the service, the less pay and status .

There is little value in diagnosis without a cure, but the cure has to come from awareness of the cause of the disease. It has to come through our glowing dissatisfaction, leading to questioning and consciousness. The worker, the wife, the prostitute, all innocent but jointly responsible for their continu-ing exploitation, must resist and rebel. The cure is far simpler than the disease. We will dismiss all manifestations of property and control, wages, money, law and state - take down all the fences and establish one world where all the human race will share the good things that we have learnt to make. Freed from the dictates of the law and the confines of convention, relationships between men and women will find harmony. Marriage and prostitution will have no meaning when people may work together, live together, love together in any way they choose. CHRIS MARSH August 1981

The Posh Poor

SOYMB have had a few posts now on those higher paid members of the working class that some seem determined to describe as another class . The Independent has an article that once again demonstrates that the so-called "middle" class share almost the identical social inequalities as the low-paid .

A "middle-class" couple would normally be seen as a success if they had their own large, detached home, two cars in the driveway, nice holidays, a golf course lifestyle and children lined up for private school. But when he handles middle class divorces, the family solicitor Andrew Newbury finds that a growing number of such couples have borrowed their way to apparent prosperity. Unbeknown to the wife,the lifestyle is built on credit cards.And, instead of sharing out the matrimonial assets,the couple will split the debts. The seemingly wealthy are suffering from the business downturn. And they will range in type from the flamboyant over-spenders to the lone mothers, the graduates who lose their good jobs and never get back on track, and the people who are derailed by ill health, divorce or some other problem and gradually sell off their bits of silver as they edge closer to poverty.
Financial adviser Garry Spencer of Wilbury Financial Management stands up for one group that few others would defend: solicitors.
"A lot of them are struggling," he says. "They got as big a mortgage as they could get, and now they are fire-fighting. A lot are having pay cuts. They are cutting their pension, the life cover and cashing in the ISA [Individual Savings Account]. Some of their kids are being taken out of private school. Many are borrowing again, and they are missing payments on their credit cards. That affects their future credit card rating. Poverty is a spiral, and you get deeper and deeper into debt."

Employment adviser Richard Lynch, formerly an official at the union Unite, believes that the combination of 3.7 per cent inflation and pay freezes across a third of employers will ratchet up the pressure. "It's going to be very difficult for people of all levels to keep up."

But those that do get laid off are likely to suffer more. The University and College Union predicted 6,000 job losses among academics and college staff last year, but has just upped that figure to 15,000. The specialists in this sector – like the experts on Romantic poetry may find it harder than others to transfer their skills to a different environment.

People get caught in a rut which wrecks the rest of their life or vastly reduces their enjoyment of it.Young blacks suffer 48 per cent unemployment rates, compared to 20 per cent for young whites, according to the Institute of Public Policy Research. Single parents of whom 57 per cent are unemployed, according to the Government and older, single women who "have a 24 per cent chance of living in poverty", according to the Fawcett Society. These groups are always vulnerable, but can suffer much more than others in a downturn.

Marx points out that the wage is the purchasing price of labour-power . One is paid so much as is necessary to reproduce that labour power in its "normal state" . Marx speaks of reproducing the means of subsistence, but clearly he means a historically produced subsistence as opposed to the minimum amount of food and clothing one could possibly live with. The means of one's subsistence can include sufficient wages to , purchase a car, mortgage a house , take foreign holidays , have the normal range of consumer durables, including any other labour-saving device that allows you to get to work on time and have sufficient hours after the working day to unwind and recuperate for the next eight hours. It would also include support for a family, which is after all the unit through which the labour is replaced. Those who some describe as middle class are now coming to the increasing realisation that they are indeed just workers and wage slaves.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wage slaves in pin-striped suits

SOYMB has posted a few times on what defines a person as working class and we have questioned the validity of the claims of the existence of a so-called "middle-class". The TUC , that organisation made up of the gnarl-handed , cloth-capped , overall-wearing proletariat has just exposed the exploitation of the higher paid members of the working class.

The TUC has found that almost a million workers are spending hours every week on an activity that may give them no pleasure and certainly no reward.

Five million including professionals and managers in both the public and private sectors are working an average of seven hours a week without extra pay — and a million of them are working 48 hours a week or more, which the TUC called extreme. Last year people clocked up an average of seven hours and twelve minutes of unpaid overtime a week — worth £27.4 billion, or £5,402 each. Official figures show that 2.8 million people say they want more hours in their existing job or full-time work instead of their present part-time job.

According to the TUC almost half of all lawyers report working unpaid overtime, with 18 per cent of them working more than ten hours a week of unpaid overtime. The average number of unpaid hours a week worked by legal professionals is 16 hours.The legal profession has long had a reputation for excessively long working hours, with staff routinely working through the night in order to complete deals. Despite job cuts and a dearth of deals during the recession and job cuts across the profession, a culture of presenteeism is still prevalent.Long-hours and a high-stress culture meant that alcohol abuse was “endemic” in law firms and that the use of hard drugs was increasing, particularly in big City law firms.

Managers in finance and industry — including corporate managers, managers in service industries and business managers — who are working long unpaid hours, the average number of unpaid hours worked each week is 20 hrs .

Single women are the biggest group of people working unpaid overtime. More than a quarter of single women work extra hours, with 5.3 per cent working 18.5 unpaid hours a week on average. More than a fifth of single men and more than a fifth of married or cohabiting people with no children also work unpaid overtime.

The TUC said that nearly half a million managers would be willing to work fewer hours, even if it meant a pay cut, and that there was a mismatch between the hours that people want to work and the hours that they are getting.

Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, questioned the need for such long hours: “There has been a surprise increase in people doing ‘extreme’ unpaid overtime, with nearly 900,000 workers giving away 18 hours of free work a week last year,” he said. “There is no direct link between excess overtime and underemployment, but those people who are struggling to find enough or, indeed, any hours to work must be wondering why some workers are doing so much for free.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hard-Wired to Share

The human brain is a big believer in equality . Humans experience satisfaction in sharing , even if this means giving away some of our own, according to an unusual study . Using 3-D hospital scanners, scientists say they have found the first evidence to show that the pleasure of helping others and of helping oneself both activate the same areas of the brain.It's long been known that we humans don't like inequality But what was unknown was just how hardwired that dislike really is.
"In this study, we're starting to get an idea of where this inequality aversion comes from...It's not just the application of a social rule or convention; there's really something about the basic processing of rewards in the brain that reflects these considerations."

O'Doherty notes, is somewhat contrary to the prevailing views about human nature. "As a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist who works on reward and motivation, I very much view the brain as a device designed to maximize one's own self interest," says O'Doherty. "The fact that these basic brain structures appear to be so readily modulated in response to rewards obtained by others highlights the idea that even the basic reward structures in the human brain are not purely self-oriented."

Camerer , co-author of the report said "We economists have a widespread view that most people are basically self-interested, and won't try to help other people...But if that were true, you wouldn't see these sort of reactions to other people getting money."

The scientist Carl Sagan put it very well:

"Humans have evolved gregariously. We delight in each other's company; we care for one another. Altruism is built into us. We have brilliantly deciphered some of the patterns of Nature. We have sufficient motivation to work together and the ability to figure out how to do it. If we are willing to contemplate nuclear war and the wholesale destruction of our emerging global society, should we not also be willing to contemplate a wholesale restructuring of our societies?" (Cosmos, Futura, 1987, p. 358)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dr. Doom

Marc Faber, the market pundit, who predicted the 1987 stock market crash and was among a handful who predicted the more recent financial crisis ,delivered a bleak warning of social and financial meltdown, in Tokyo at a gathering of 700 pension and sovereign wealth fund managers.

Faber said that investors, who control billions of dollars of assets, should start considering the effects of more disruptive events than mere market volatility."Buy farmland and gold,"

“The next war will be a dirty war,” he told fund managers: "What are you going to do when your mobile phone gets shut down or the internet stops working or the city water supplies get poisoned?” His investment advice included a suggestion that fund managers buy houses in the countryside because it was more likely that violence, biological attack and other acts of a “dirty war” would happen in cities.He also said that they should consider holding part of their wealth in the form of precious metals “because they can be carried”.
“When I tell people to prepare themselves for a dirty war, they ask me: “America against whom?” I tell them that for sure they will find someone.”

One of Dr Faber’s scenarios involves growing military tension between China and the United States over access to limited oil resources. Today the US has a considerable advantage over China because it has free access to oceans on both coasts, and has potential energy suppliers to the north and south in Canada and Mexico. It also commands an 11-strong fleet of aircraft carriers that could, if necessary, secure supply routes in a conflict situation. China and emerging Asia, meanwhile, face the uncertainty of supplies that must travel from the Middle East through winding sea lanes and the Malacca bottleneck. American military presence in Central Asia, Dr Faber said, may add to the level of concern in Beijing.

In Asia, particularly, he said, stock pickers should play on future food and water shortages by buying into companies with exposure to agriculture and water treatment technologies.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Corpses become commodities

People in the UK can decide in advance to donate their body or organs to medical science after their death. No payment is made to the person who donates their body, nor to the estate of the deceased.In the US, however, there is an increasingly commercial element to this supply and demand.

The Anatomy Gifts Registry charges fees for supplying bodies and tissues to medical companies and universities.
"We expect to recover between $5,000 and $6,000 per cadaver - either in its entirety or after the body has been divided"

In the US, it is a felony to actually purchase or sell a body, human tissue or organs.But the law excludes the payment for the removal, processing and preservation of cadavers.Getting reimbursed for such services opens up a huge window for commerce.

"The US is a wonderful place to see entrepreneurs in action and this is what they have done" Professor Michel Anteby at Harvard University said "About 15 years ago, some people decided that there was a niche for such services and these ventures have become extremely successful.Some of them get more than 1,000 donations a year."

Capitalism knows no bounds when it comes to making a profit .

“capitalism, oppressor of the living, is the murderer also of the dead” - Amadeo Bordiga

The True Levellers

SOYMB came across this interview featuring authors of a book called "The Spirit Level"

The authors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, British social scientists, say the severity of social decay in different countries reflects a key difference among them: not the number of poor people or the depth of their poverty, but the size of the gap between the poorest and the richest. It is economic inequality, not overall wealth or cultural differences, that fosters societal breakdown, they argue, by boosting insecurity and anxiety, which leads to divisive prejudice between the classes, rampant consumerism, and all manner of mental and physical suffering.

Reading that , SOYMB was minded of what Karl Marx remarked :-
"A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut. The little house now makes it clear that its inmate has no social position at all to maintain, or but a very insignificant one; and however high it may shoot up in the course of civilization, if the neighboring palace rises in equal or even in greater measure, the occupant of the relatively little house will always find himself more uncomfortable, more dissatisfied, more cramped within his four walls."

The Boston Globe interview continues :-

IDEAS: What are the psychological or sociological effects of inequality? Are you saying that the “social pain” you describe can be a cause of violence in unequal societies?
WILKINSON: I think people are extremely sensitive to status differentiation and to being looked down on, or disrespected, and those often seem to be the triggers to violence. We quote an American prison psychiatrist who goes so far as to say he’s never seen a serious act of violence that wasn’t provoked by loss of face or humiliation, and so on. And in more unequal societies, status matters even more. People judge each other more by status. There’s more insecurity. And people at the bottom are more often excluded from the markers of status, the jobs and housing and cars, so they become even more touchy about how they’re seen.
PICKETT: We want bigger houses and more cars, not because we need them, but because we use them to express our status. Material goods are how we show the world we’re keeping up, and in a more hierarchical society that’s more important. Status competition becomes more intense, and that increases our need to consume....We came across a website in England called “Ferraris for all” making the point that if everybody had a Ferrari, there would be no status in owning one.

Exactly! In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command, would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services . In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society.

There is in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. The prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class so then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted. It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. It does not matter how modest one’s real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism’s “consumer culture” leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchal culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalised envy and that will be unsustainable as more peoples are drawn into alienated capitalism .

The basic theme of Erich Fromm’s "The Sane Society" is that capitalism, because it encourages competition between individuals, pitting them against each other in a rat race for power, privilege and prestige, is a society that is incompatible with human nature. It is an “insane society”, a “sick society”. Only a society based on co-operation and community is a sane society as one which properly meets the psychological needs of human beings for a sense of belonging; not just a sense of belonging but a state of actually belonging to a real community. Only socialism can offer that .

In a society such as capitalism, people’s needs are not met and people feel insecure. People acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People trend to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner. Disappointingly , the authors of "The Spirit Level" offer no real solutiuon to the problem other than a vague call for re-distribution of wealth . As if this is something new , that we have never heard over and over again in the past. SOYMB doesn't expect the re-organisation of poverty .Socialism will not be about equal sharing. Nor do socialists advocate equal wages . People are different and have different needs. Socialism will be a society in which satisfying an individual's self interest is the result of satisfying everyone's needs. It is enlightened self-interest that will work for the majority. Socialism isn't based upon altruism.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This Day in History is bunk!...

"...By his death in 1884, communism had become a movement to be reckoned with in Europe. Twenty-three years later, in 1917, Vladimir Lenin, a Marxist, led the world's first successful communist revolution in Russia."

Two howlers in two sentences, a remarkable achievement.

"DICTATORSHIP of the PROLETARIAT": what did Marx mean?

"it would be nice if someone could explain WHY the
WSM and/or SPGB don't think a dotp is necessary. Surely a logical answer has
to be buried in the literature somewhere..."

"Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutonary dictatorship of the proletariat".

THIS STATEMENT by Marx, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, has been seized upon by followers of Lenin to justify the idea of the existence of a coercive State machine after the establishment of Socialism. The leaders of Russia claim that Marx advocated the establishment of a "proletarian state" and that this now exists in Russia. The various Bolshevik groups in the advanced capitalist countries believe that we must go through a lengthy transition of "socialism" before "real communism" can be brought about.

Before these ideas are examined it must be clearly stated how we, along with Marx, envisage the establishment of Socialism. For Marx, there were two essential prerequisites. The first of these is a clear understanding of the principles of Socialism by the working dass and an unambiguous desire to put thern into practice. The second is an advanced industrial economy which has developed the forces of production to the point at which free access is technically possible.

Marx however was over-optlmistic on both these points, especially in his earlier writings. He assumed that developing a socialist consciousness in the working class was a relatively simple matter, that socialist ideas would arise more or less spontaneously out of a trade union conseiousness. It was not for some time that he grasped the extent to which capitalist ideas influenced the workers and the enormous task which faced Sooialists in winning over the workers.

On the question of the level of capitalist development, Marx was again somewhat mistaken. He studied the capitalist system largely in relation to the Lancashire textile industry, which was at the heart of the English industrial revolution. Today there appears very littIe modem about the textile industry - it tends to flourish in relatively backward countries with a predominantly agrarian population. Capitalism, in other words, had certainly not reached its zenith in the middle of the nineteenth oentury. Indeed it had hardly even begun.

Given, then, that Marx believed the means of production had been developed far enough to provide an abundance of goods, it therefore followed that the working class could not establish Socialism as soon as it captured political power. A transitionary period was necessary, in which the means of production would be developed as rapidly as possible. There would exist a coercive State. Consumption would be regulated by means of labour-time vouchers. This state of affairs would be replaced by completely free access as soon as possible.

Marx's idea of the form of this transition period did not remain static throughout his life. In the 1840's, he saw it as a Jacobin-style political dictatorship in the manner of Robespierre and St. Just. He later came to envisage a system of elected delegates to local committees, as in the Paris Commune. Towards the end of his life he saw it as a democratic republic based on a majority of delegates from a socialist party elected democratically to parliament.

It is perfectly plain, therefore, that Marx's views on the need for a transition between capitalism and communism was a product of the time in which he was living. From Marx's own point of view, it is only possible to see the world from a particular time and place in which one lives. Bearing in mind his over-optimistic view of the readiness of the working class to institute Socialism during his life-time, it is not surprising that he expected a lengthy transition would be necessary. Since Marx's death the forces of production have been developed immeasurably; the possibility of a world of abundance has long been technically feasible, held back only by the political ignorance of the working class. Although Socialism certainly cannot be established at the drop of a hat, there is no need any longer to visualise a lengthy transition.

Marx, then, did believe that a period known as "the dictatorship of the proletariat" would separate capitalism and communism. However, this phrase was consciously and dishonestly distorted by Lenin. Firstly, it must be understood what Marx meant by the word dictatorship. He used the word in an explicit sense to mean the domination of society by one class through its control over the state machine. He often, for example, referred to Britain as a "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie", though he was freely allowed to write and work in the country. Lenin, however, made what can only be construed as a quite deliberate play on words, using the term dictatorship in its popularly understood sense, to mean the denial of. basic democratic freedoms, the maintenance of rule by force and the ruthless suppression of political opponents. A year before the revolution of 1917 he wrote:

"And in the twentieth century . . . violence means neither a fist nor a club, but troops. Dictatorship is state power based directly on violence. (Collected Works, vol. 23, p. 95.)

Elsewhere, he wrote:

"Dictatorship is based directly upon force and unrestricted by any laws. The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is rule won and maintained by the use of violence by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie." (Collected Works, Vol. 28, p.236).

Lenin's conception of "the dictatorship of the proletariat" is not, therefore, based on Marx's, but is a gross perversion of it. The type of society which exists in Russia today is the logical outcome of Lenin's thinking. Though they may deny it, this is also the type of society advocated by leftists when they rant about "fighting for sociallsm", "socialism" being defined as the transition period before "communism",

Our case is clear and simple. Socialism (or Communism - we use the words interchangeably) is a society based on common ownership with free access, without money or wages. This can be established as soon as the working class see the need for it. Talk about "transition periods", based on Lenin's dangerous writings, does nothing to bring this end one minute nearer.


Socialist Standard, August 1973

Further reading: The Myth of the Transitional Society

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Richer get Richer

The percentage of the total national income that went to the top 400 families in the USA tripled, from .52 percent in 1992 to 1.59 in 2007.The top income earners received a total income of $138 billion in 2007. This figure is larger than the yearly output of most of the world’s countries, and is nearly as large as the GDP of Chile.

US super-rich get five times more income than in 1995.The incomes of the very rich in the US grew phenomenally between 1992 and 2007.The figures were published on the IRS web site in December of 2009, but received little notice because they were not announced. The report only became widely known when Tax Analysts, a news outlet for tax information, discovered the document.The report shows that the average income for the top-earning 400 families, denominated in 1990 dollars, grew from $17 million to $87million, representing a five-fold increase in real terms.The data shows that these families saw their incomes increase by 31 percent between 2006 and 2007 alone, while the average income of each family reached $345 million.
The amount of money earned by the group more than doubled from 2001, when its members earned on average $131.1 million. In 1993, the top 400 tax return filings amounted on average to $46 million. This means that there was an eight-fold nominal increase in the average earnings for this group between 1993 and 2007.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Capitalism and Michael Moore

Capitalism and Michael Moore

Like Michael Moore’s other films, 'Capitalism: A Love Story', is brilliant in its way, hard-hitting and funny. He strips away the lies and hypocrisy of “public relations” propaganda to expose the ruthless predators who dominate our society and profit from the misery of working people.

And at the same time he makes us laugh. So far so good. It’s fairly clear what Michael Moore is against. But what he is for? He doesn’t seem to know himself, as he admits in a recent newspaper interview:
“What I'm asking for is a new economic order. I don't know how to construct that. I'm not an economist. All I ask is that it have two organising principles. Number one, that the economy is run democratically. In other words, the people have a say in how its run, not just the [wealthiest] 1 percent. And number two, that it has an ethical and moral core to it. That nothing is done without considering the ethical nature, no business decision is made without
first asking the question, is this for the common good?” (Guardian, 30 January).

We too want democracy to extend to all spheres of social life. For us that’s what socialism is – the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life by the whole community. But genuine democracy will not be achieved by relying on economists or other supposed experts to design it.

By its very nature, democracy must be created by a conscious majority. Michael Moore seems to be saying that in his “new economic order” the wealthiest 1 percent will still exist, even though they will no longer have all the say. He also assumes that there are still going to be “business
decisions”. But business decisions are about making money, not serving the common good. Any firm run by managers who care too much about ethics and morality will soon go bust – unless the managers get sacked first!

On one key point, he is right. If the situation he exposes so well is to change, it really does require a “new economic order”. An end to production for profit. The alternative is a society in which the means for producing what we need are owned in common and run democratically. A society in which productive activity is no longer “business” but simply cooperation to
satisfy human needs.

This is much more than he offers on his website ( He says nothing there about any kind of “new order”. It’s all about campaigning for various reforms. These may well be of benefit to working people in the short term, but as they still leave capitalism in place there would always be pressure to reverse any gains made. Worst of all, and despite Michael Moore’s evident disillusionment with Obama, heurges readers to work for change through the Democratic Party – a recipe for endless failure and frustration.

One last point. Michael Moore talks only about changing things in the United States. This national focus makes it impossible even to conceive of a fundamentally new society. That’s because nowadays capitalism is a highly integrated world system and can only be replaced at the global level.

It is clear to us that society urgently needs a worldwide system upgrade…from capitalism to socialism!

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

the Falklands

We have noted the rumbles over underwater prospecting in the Arctic and southern Atlantic in previous posts. The news today shows the tensions are unlikely to abate.

Britain and the Falkland Islands today brushed off Argentinian moves to impede oil and gas exploration in British-controlled waters in the south Atlantic, saying there was no threat to shipping.

The Foreign Office and Falkland authorities said drilling for hydrocarbon deposits would go ahead without disruption despite an Argentinian effort to control traffic between its ports and the islands.

The rebuff came as critics in Buenos Aires accused Argentina's government of playing the nationalist card to distract from mounting domestic woes.

Yesterday President Cristina Kirchner issued a decree obliging all vessels using Argentinian ports to seek a permit if they enter or leave British-controlled waters, escalating a diplomatic row with London over a prospective "black gold" bonanza.

Argentina lost a brief 1982 war over the archipelago, which it calls the Malvinas, but still claims sovereignty and describes the British presence as an occupation.

Phyl Rendell, the Falklands' director of mineral resources, shrugged off talk of a blockade. "There are very few implications for the Falklands regarding the presidential decree because there are no direct shipping links with Argentina anyway. All oil exploration supplies are being shipped out from Aberdeen. I do not see how the situation can escalate."

The Foreign Office also played down the possibility of conflict and said it wanted to co-operate with Buenos Aires over south Atlantic issues. "Regulations governing Argentine territorial waters are a matter for the Argentine authorities. This does not affect Falkland Islands territorial waters, which are controlled by the island authorities."
the Guardian

Socialism or Barbarism

Lord Cameron of Dillington’s assertion that we are “nine meals away from anarchy” is more than a soundbite. Lord Cameron, the first head of the Countryside Agency, the quango set up by Tony Blair, coined that phrase to describe just how perilous food supply actually is.

"He estimated that it would take just nine meals – three full days without food on supermarket shelves – before law and order started to break down, and British streets descended into chaos. Is his warning far-fetched? Probably not. In the United States, people looted to feed themselves and their families after Hurricane Katrina. "

The scenario goes like this. Imagine a sudden shutdown of oil supplies; a sudden collapse in the petrol that streams steadily through the pumps and so into the engines of the lorries which deliver our food around the country, stocking up the supermarket shelves as soon as any item runs out.
If the trucks stopped moving, we'd start to worry and we'd head out to the shops, cking up our larders. By the end of Day One, if there was still no petrol, the shelves would be looking pretty thin. Imagine, then, Day Two: your fourth, fifth and sixth meal. We'd be in a panic. Day three: still no petrol.
What then? With hunger pangs kicking in, and no notion of how long it might take for the supermarkets to restock, how long before those who hadn't stocked up began stealing from their neighbours? Or looting what they could get their hands on?
It was Lord Cameron's estimation that it would take just nine meals - three full days without food on supermarket shelves - before law and order started to break down, and British streets descended into chaos.

How SOYMB detests the use of the word "looted" in regard to the self-help efforts of survivors of a natural catastrophe . But , of course, in capitalist society the absentee owners of a supermarket still retains property rights to its food and that makes helping yourself into a crime .

Many studies indicate that widespread looting rarely occurs during a disaster yet the media frequently reports on looting during these events.An Amtrak police office , who was stationed at the Union Passenger Terminal in downtown New Orleans, which had been converted into a temporary jail for looters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina , commented that the majority of the looting involved the taking of need-based items rather than luxury items. He estimated that 75 percent of the cases involved individuals taking items necessary to stay alive.The majority in Katrina took care of each other, went to great lengths to rescue each other and were generally humane and resourceful.
(The Haiti earthquake resulted in the same dissemination of mis-information . Tales of “machete wielding gangs” looting Haiti’s rubble were widespread, from all the news outlets.)

Truth, the first casualty of war, is pretty imperilled in disasters, too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cutting the Hours

As a follow up to the previous post on work and working hours SOYMB re-publishes this article from the Socialist Standard in June 1980

A shorter working week?

In March last year one of the French trade union confederations, the CFDT, organised a forum of European trade union leaders in Paris to launch its
campaign for a "general reduction of the working week to 35 hours in order to create jobs". Albert Mercier, one of its national Secretaries, was reported as saying that "work-sharing through a reduction in working time was clearly one of the keys to solving the current employment problems" (European Communities Trade Union Information, No.3/1979).

The reasoning behind this proposal, which is popular among trade unionists in countries besides France, is that if the hours of work available were shared more evenly, instead of some people being unemployed while others work long hours then everybody would benefit: the unemployed would find a job while the employed would have more free time.
But this is to assume that capitalism is a system that has the aim of providing people with an income from work, whereas in fact its sole aim is making profits. And it is precisely because capitalism is going through a period of reduced profitability that unemployment is now so high. When as now, firms cannot sell profitably as many of their products as before then they cut back production - and so the number of workers they employ. Some firms have been so badly hit by the crisis that they have simply closed down or gone bankrupt, once again throwing workers onto the streets. This is all quite normal under capitalism since it is the only way in which it is able to function.
But unemployment not only rises and falls as the capitalist industrial cycle goes through its normal phases of crisis, slump, recovery, boom, crisis, slump, recovery and so on. There is also a permanent pool of unemployed, even in times of boom. This is because, without such a pool, the workers' bargaining position would improve to such an extent that the wage increases they could then extract from their employers would eat too much into profit margins. When the pool of unemployed workers in a particular country falls too low ( as it did in Britain in the 1950s) then the employers resort to importing surplus labour power from abroad, from the mass of unemployed who are vegetating in the undeveloped parts of the world. It is this that explains the presence in France of so many North Africans, in Germany of so many Turks and in Britain of so many West Indians and people from the Indian subcontinent.

So capitalism needs a certain level of unemployment in order to function as the profit-making system that it is. Unemployment is thus inevitable under capitalism and nothing can be done by governments or trade unions to prevent it. In the course of time, as the current slump gives way first to a recovery and then to a boom (as sooner or later it will), the present high level of unemployment will fall. But this will not be due to any government intervention or trade union action. It will be because profit levels have been restored as a result of the conditions created by the slump itself; in other words, once again, because economic laws of capitalism are functioning in their normal way.

A shorter working week will therefore not in any way lessen unemployment, if anything, from a strictly economic point of view it is more likely to have the opposite effect, since, to the extent that it increases labour costs, it will encourage employers to introduce labour-saving machinery. This is not to say that workers should not be struggling, through their trade unions, for a shorter working week. It is simply that the case for shorter hours does not rest on the possible effects, either way, on employment.
The struggle for a shorter working week is a part of the trade union struggle to ensure that workers are paid the full value of their labour power (not the same thing, of course, as the full value of what they produce). The value of a worker's labour power is determined, like the value of all other commodities, by the amount of socially necessary labour required to produce and reproduce it: by the food, clothing, housing and so on that workers must consume in order to maintain themselves in a fit state to work at their particular job.

Under capitalism workers are subject, as Marx put it, to the "never-ceasing encroachments of capital". One of these downward pressures exerted by employers is precisely to try to make workers work more intensely, through speed-up, new machinery, time-and motion and other measures aimed at increasing "efficiency". But, as we have just seen, unless this increased intensity of labour is compensated, either by a wage increase or by shorter hours or both, then it is the equivalent of paying workers less than the value of their labour power. Marx in fact noted:
". . . the immoderate lengthening of the working day produced by machinery in the hands of capital leads later on to a reaction on the part of the society, which is threatened in the very sources of its life; and, from there, to a normal working day whose length is fixed by law. On the foundation laid by the latter, something we have already met with, namely the intensification of labour, develops into a phenomenon of decisive importance" (Capital, Pelican edition, p. 533).

He based this observation on the experience of the Ten Hours Act of 1847 , as amended in 1850, which introduced a 60-hour week (5 days of 10½ hours and 7½ on Saturday!). The capitalists had bitterly opposed this Act and predicted that it would ruin industry. In fact, however, this did not
happen. As Marx explained, the capitalists compensated for the shorter hours by making their workers work harder: (p. 542).
Marx then commented:
"There cannot be the slightest doubt that this process must soon lead once again to a critical point at which a further reduction in the hours of labour will be inevitable."
In other words, as with trade union action generally, the workers have here to run fast just to stand still. The first effective reduction in working hours in 1850 was followed by an intensification of labour; this led to the workers demanding and eventually obtaining a further reduction in hours, followed by a further intensification, a further reduction . . . until today most people have a normal working week of between 35 hours (in some offices in Britain) and 40 hours (the legal basic working week in France).
The trade unions are right to demand shorter hours, but are wrong in
suggesting that this is a way of reducing unemployment. They are, in other
words, right but for the wrong reason.

From a trade union viewpoint this is not all that serious since what counts is the result (shorter hours so as to ensure that workers continue to be paid wages equal to the value of their labour power). But from a socialist viewpoint, it is important to be theoretically sound. To suggest that shorter hours could reduce unemployment is to encourage reformist illusions; is to sustain workers in their mistaken belief that capitalism can somehow be made to work in their interest, whereas just to ensure that they are paid the value of what they have to sell, just to try to maintain their living standards-workers have to keep on running fast.

But this defensive struggle, though necessary, should not be all that
workers do. To adapt a phrase, instead of the conservative, defensive slogan of "a normal working day for a normal day's work", they ought to raise the revolutionary slogan of "the abolition of the wages system". Once the wages system has been abolished through the conversion of the means of production into the common property of society, then the "never-ceasing encroachments of capital" will cease and free men and women of socialist society will organise the necessary work of wealth-production to suit their convenience.

Work and working hours

SOYMB recently read that the working week should be cut to 21 hours to boost employment and the economy.The New Economics Foundation said the reduction in hours would help to ease unemployment and overwork, while helping staff to become more productive.New Economics Foundation, says that researh shows that since 1981 two-adult households have added six hours - nearly a whole working day - to their combined weekly workload. Meanwhile, nearly 2.5 million people are unemployed.
The report says the nine-to-five, five-day working week was "just a relic of the industrial revolution".
Anna Coote, co-author of the report, said: "So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume, and our consumption habits are squandering the earth's natural resources. Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We could even become better employees - less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive."

Some commentators can blame "consumerism" . No doubt there are those who overwork, often in two full-time jobs, for the sake of conspicuous consumption – "to keep up with the Joneses". But the usual pattern is probably for people to work more in an effort to preserve their accustomed standard of living despite another trend of the last quarter century: the decline in real wages. Many overwork to save for their children's education or for retirement, although the overwork makes it much less likely that they'll survive to enjoy their "nest egg". And many have to overwork just to make ends meet or under pressure from their employers (e.g., compulsory overtime). Workers are now especially vulnerable to such pressure: thanks to the mobile phone and the lap-top , they can be called upon at any time and are thereby deprived of any guaranteed non-working time.

SOYMB also noted that a record 2.8million workers are trapped in unsatisfying or lowly paid part-time jobs. One in ten of the workforce - including thousands of graduates with good degrees - settle for work which either does not match their skills or financial need, according to the Office of National Statistics. The number in so-called 'underemployment' has soared by 600,000 in just a year as the recession forces more people to accept fewer hours and take home less pay.

SOYMB also read that people who can choose their own working hours enjoy better physical and mental health, a report has suggested .Researchers for the Cochrane Library found employees who had control of their hours could have better blood pressure and heart rates. Its review of 10 studies of more than 16,000 people also said it might have a positive impact on mental health.The key was workers, rather than employers, having control over their hours.

Today's young wage and salary workers work longer hours than their parents and grandparents did at the same age. There is less time not only for relaxation, hobbies, self-education, and political activity, but even for parenting, family life, sleep, socializing, and sex – much to the detriment of our quality of life and physical and emotional health. It isn't just a matter of the number of hours per day, week, or year. Working time has been "rationalized" as well as increased. That means greater intensity of effort and reduced opportunity for rest, social interaction, and even going to the toilet during the workday . It means "variable" or "flexible" schedules – flexible for the boss, not the worker – with more night and weekend work to keep costly machinery in non-stop operation. Many couples now meet only to hand over the kids as they change shifts. And while some are mercilessly overworked, others are thrown out of work altogether, all in the name of profitability.

So could reforms change the incentive structure for both employers and employees in favour of shorter hours? Suggestions include improving the status of part-time work, abolishing higher rates for overtime, and banning compulsory overtime. Tax incentives could be devised for spreading available work more thinly. In principle such changes might have a certain effect. But if capitalists were to come under strong pressure from a reformist government in one country to shorten hours, they would surely move their assets elsewhere, as they already do to escape unwelcome regulation of other kinds.

Historical evidence does point to a clear relationship between working time and the willingness of workers and their organisations to fight for its reduction. Reduced hours have never flowed automatically from increased productivity. They have been won though long and intense struggle. And in today's world the struggle has to be waged on a global scale – not for the "right to work" but for the right to live, which includes the right to leisure. Or, to borrow the title of a classic pamphlet by Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafargue, the right to be lazy.

Redundant Managers

SOYMB continues its series of past Socialist Standard articles that explores what it means to be working class and dispelling the myth that a middle class exists .

Unemployment has particularly hit workers in manufacturing, shipbuilding, textiles and construction, but another section of the working class whose jobs have generally been protected until now has also suffered. This is the "executives", those workers who are employed as managers of one kind or another. The Professional and Executive. Register (PER), a department of the Manpower Services Commission, had 30,000 unemployed executives on its books in March 1974 but the total stood at 117,000 at the end of 1980 and is certain to be even greater now. Until recently companies which wanted to economise during a slack period would get rid of shop floor and clerical workers readily enough but would continue to carry managerial staff on the grounds' of "mutual loyalty". Nowadays, the slump is biting so hard that, just to stay in business, companies are compelled to have a clear-out right up to the highest level, even the boardroom, and the result is a flood of redundant executives.

Who are these executives, and can they really be classed as workers at all? The Executive Post, which is the PER's job finding magazine, is mailed to registered jobless executives each month and the advertised jobs are almost all for "managers", "officers”, "administrators" and the like, but this cannot hide the fact that these are merely fancy titles for what are, in the main, only higher paid workers . The truth is that they have to sell themselves on the labour market in order to live just as mechanics, shop assistants, bus drivers and bricklayers must. Incidentally, many of these executives are not all that highly paid; although the salaries advertised in the Post go as high as £30,000 they go right down to £3,000 and many shop floor workers earn a good bit more than that.

All these redundancies have given birth to a whole new industry in the shape of a horde of private agencies which, for a fee, will provide a course designed to teach jobless executives how to look for a new employer and maybe even find them one. Some of the "quality" newspapers regularly feature ads from these agencies in the job columns:
"We offer the UK's first Redundancy Counselling Programme designed exclusively for senior people. A concentrated, intensive programme to help you to resume your successful career path." (Daily Telegraph, 28 . 4. 81)

Help from such agencies. can cost as much as £2,000 so many of the jobless rely on the free course provided by the state-run PER or cheap courses run by other organisations like the Institute of Industrial Managers.

And how this help is needed! Many of the jobless executives have spent all their working life with one company and simply haven't a clue about how to look for a job. After all, getting the sack had always been something that happened to somebody else. The sacked executives are actually in a worse situation than their shop floor counterparts because they have further to fall. They will almost certainly have much higher financial commitments such as a huge mortgage and perhaps children at expensive private schools. With the job will have gone various perks like the company car, expense account or private medical cover. Also, their chances of finding a similar job are poorer. They can expect to spend six weeks job hunting for each £1,000 of salary they want, so a job at £8,500 a year will, on average, take a year to land. And because there are so many in the same boat they can also expect to follow up 200 leads with only one in ten of these producing any response.

So despite the ego-massaging and corner-cutting techniques of the agencies the prospects of finding a job at all aren't rosy because there are many more applicants than vacancies. According to the Sunday Times (14.12.80) all of his causes the redundant executives to suffer loss of confidence and become depressed and bad-tempered. All very well for the course organisers to tell them to "suffer no indignities" while job hunting, but how do you keep your dignity after you have attended several interviews, written dozens of letters and been either turned down or ignored? In any case, indignity doesn't end with landing a job: having to sell oneself to an employer is an indignity in itself.

The same article in the Sunday Times described how one redundant executive lost his £20,000 a year job. Having just planned the sacking of ten fellow executives and 750 other workers he found his own head was next on the block. How ironic that he had been employed as a "long range planning director": the anarchy of capitalist production means that it is nearly impossible to plan with any certainty what will happen next month never mind years ahead. How could he have forecast that the strength of the pound last year against the dollar would force his American employers to switch production back to the United States?

The popular notion that all redundant executives receive a "golden handshake" is untrue. For example, the chief executive of a big toy manufacturer which went bust last year earned d £25,000 a year but left with only one month's salary. The reason is that many executives are on a “service contract" which means they only get the outstanding amount of their salaries when they leave, just as sacked football mangers do, and are not entitled to redundancy payment. This wangle is gradually being introduced onto the shop floor. Marathon, the big oil-rig builder on Clydeside, employs its workers on thirteen week contracts which can be renewed at the end of the period but there are other companies whose workers are employed on contracts lasting as little as one week. That way you never qualify for redundancy payment. If the history of reform teaches us anything it is that a way can always be found round any reform which gives temporary benefit to the workers.

Doubtless, many of the redundant executives will find new, equally well paid jobs but many more will probably have to move down a notch or two on the salary scale. All of them, however, must be painfully aware that they are no longer a protected species where unemployment is concerned. Their position as members of the working class is being forcible demonstrated to them along with the fact that, just like any other workers, their future job prospects will depend less on their "loyalty" to the company than on whether or not it is profitable to employ.

VV Socialist Standard June 1981

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Being Poor Does Cause Cancer

SOYMB have posted here upon how being poor is a contributing factor for developing cancer.Now experts say there is a genetic explanation for why women from poor backgrounds are less likely to beat breast cancer.The study, published the British Journal of Cancer, found women in the lowest socio-economic groups were "significantly more likely" to have a relapse and die from breast cancer compared with those in more affluent categories.

The p53 gene is a "tumour suppressor", telling cells with cancerous or pre-cancerous changes to self-destruct before they can thrive. However, when it mutates, that ability is reduced or removed, making the appearance of cancer far more likely. Women from deprived postcodes were more likely to have a p53 mutation, and were less likely to have survived cancer-free.It is thought that lifestyle factors associated with poverty, including smoking, drinking and an unhealthy diet, could make the p53 mutation more likely to occur. In healthy humans, the p53 protein, which suppresses cancer, is continually produced and degraded in the cell but if the gene becomes damaged, or mutates, then the body's ability to suppress tumours is severely reduced.

Dr Lee Baker, who led the study, said: "This research makes a strong link between p53 and deprivation, and then between p53 mutation and recurrence and death.As a social issue, it shows that if we lift people up the deprivation scale they will be less likely to have problems with their p53 gene, and go on to develop breast cancer. Deprivation alone doesn't cause breast cancer, but can affect prognosis when p53 is damaged as a result of lifestyle choices commonly associated with deprivation."

Food For Thought

Lord Boyd-Orr, the first Director-General of the FAO, once stated:

'There was no difficulty about producing enough food for the present population of the world, or even twice that number, but the problem was, could politics and economics arrange that the food that was produced was dispersed and consumed in the countries that needed it?' (The Times, 22 July 1949)

Over sixty years later, we still have the same 'problem' and its soultion remains unchanged, as this old essay explains.

During his directorship of the United Nations' Food and Agriculturist Organisation Sir John Boyd Orr won the approval of many people for his work in organising the supply or food to the devastated countries of Europe. Since his retirement from that post he has been tackling the problem of food production for all the peoples of the world. His approach is the direct one; his ideals mere wishful thinking, because conflicting interests in capitalist society, national and international, permit of no direct methods for the provision of a full life for all.

Among many other things he said (Daily Herald, 29/7/48):

"A world of peace and friendship, a world with the plenty which modern science had made possible was a great ideal. But those in power had no patience with such an ideal. They said it was not practical politics."

Within the structure of capitalisrn it is possible that the politicians are right. Inside the nation a capitalist is guaranteed protection while accumulating wealth by exploitation, providing he observes the rules of the game. Between nations the case is different. The right to trade, to colonise, and to have access to raw materials and natural resources outside their own boundaries must be wangled, bluffed or taken by force of arms. A nation having taken possesslon can only hold its gains by superior strength. Consequently it is futile to suggest, as Sir John does that:

"If half the effort being spent making tanks, guns. aeroplanes or atomic bombs was diverted to producing the primary necessities of life, gross poverty would be eliminated for the world within the lifetime of our children."

For each nation to cut its fighting forces by half, to convince the governments of all nations of such a necessity, while each is suspicious of its neighbours and scheming to over-reach them, such an idea is, to say the least, laughahle. Moreover, Sir John only suggests a reduction in armed strength - or equipment - by half. Even he could hardly visualise capitalism being run without armed forces to deal with dissatisfied secticns of the workers from time to time.

Next Sir John says:

"A world government may evolve from the United Nations' Food, Economic, Financial and other organisations."

But he gives no hint as to which nation will be at the head. Nor does he show how the differences between nations can be reconciled to bring about collaboration in a common policy that would be of lasting benefit to the workers. He says:

"Politics was but the shadow of economics "

but overlooks the fact that all the power is in political control of armed force. Those who control the political machinery of any nation make the laws designed to regulate production and exchange; and by tariffs, taxes and subsidies encourage or hinder trade in the various industries according to the interests they represent.

In one of his broadcasts Sir John suggested tnat the agriculturists and food producers of the world should get together and tackle the problem of world food production by mutual agreement, on the principle that they are the actual people concerned with the production of these commodities. But the very fact that these people are concerned with commodity production makes them suspect. In the past such collaboration between the captains of industry has invariably resulted in limitation, or restriction of output in order to control prices in their own interests. Rings and combines are just as common among agriculturists as other interests. They are not philanthropists but capitalists, in business to make profits. They hold the community to ransom whenever their products fall behind demand. In the past they burned millions of tons of wheat and coffee. Even since the war vegetables have been ploughed back into the seil, fruit has been allowed to rot, and hundreds of tons of fish thrown back into the sea or sold as manure to keep up prices.

But Sir John still has hopes, in spite of the callous indifference to the needs of the people that is so prominent a feature in the normal life of those with guaranteed incomes derived from industrial enterprise, or to be exact, exploitation. He says:

"These United Nations' organisations throw a light along the road to world peace and plenty ... Have we the common sense, the decency, the moral purpose to follow the light?"

Unfortunately these qualities have little or nothing to do with the question. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Sir John hasn't even mapped out a road to his Utopia; while facing him is the inexorable machinery of capitalist finance and power-politics, blind and deaf to common-sense appeals, in their lust for power.


"If the decision lay with the people, he had no doubt what the answer would be. Where they had not been too bedevilled to think for themselves, they all wanted the things the organisation stood for."

To bedevil means to confuse, and the vast 'majority of the workers are in a hopeless muddle of confused thinking on political and economic questions. The class that appropriates the major portion of the wealth produced, without contributing towards its production, must be deeply interested in obscuring the method by which it is achieved. The majority of capitalists are, no doubt, quite ignorant of the scientific explanation of surplus value. Yet they all know that the system in some way guarantees them wealth and privilege without effort on their part. Consequently they welcome any theory that keeps clear of this fact, and encourage any shallow, but plausible ideas that only deal with day-to-day occurrences on the surface of capitalist events, This flood of bedevilment is a free-for-all. Politicians, economists and journalisrs all take a band, many of them finding it pays extremely well; especially the politicians. The so-called Labour, Fabian and Communist parties are responsible for much of the confusion.

Next Sir John says:

"The carrying out of a world food plan alone would bring a great expansion of world industry and trade such as occurred in the 19th century."

That possibility should certainly gain capitalist support for Sir John, because the more work there is for the workers, the greater the amount of surplus value from which capitalist incomes are derived, while the workers still only get wages that barely cover their cost of living. But Sir John overlooks one important factor. During the 19th century Britain had a flying start in the raca for markets. Today every capitalist country is in the race, and the share of each will diminish with the ever-increasing fierceness of the international race for markets.

" If food production could not be doubled in the next 25 years," warned Sir John, "we were heading for disaster." Due presumably, to the estimated enormous increase in the world's population on top of tbe present food shortage. We are not told the nature of the disaster that threatens, but unlike Malthus, who visualised the time when there would only be standing room on the earth, Sir John reveals the forces already operating to avert the disaster - whatever it is - when he says:

"Of every three families in the world today, two suffered premature death for lack of adequate food and shelter."

Sir John may hope that a world government might set a limit to the process. But such a government, especially by agreement, is just a dream, while world government by conquest is a nightmare even to the capitalist and his political stooges.

Next he says:

"The first right of man was food and shelter to maintain life. The masses today demanded this. And they would get it because they were in a vast majority."

Not merely because they are in a majority, nor because they demand them, will they get these things. They have first to understand why they lack them now. At present the workers, between them, possess all the scientific and technical knowledge, and actually carry out all the work of production and distribution. Their failure to satisfy the needs of all is due to the incubus of trade, commerce and finance; the capitalist machinery of appropriation, that limits production to what the market can absorb. The workers must get rid of this incubus. To do so they must organise politically as a class, in opposition to all parties which maintain the present system. Only when they contral the political machinery through their delegates, pledged to carry out the wishes of the workers, will they be enablecl to control production and distrlbution in accordance with their needs.

One of the greatest obstacles to a clear understanding of their position by the workers, is the bedevilment, or confusion, much of it considered and deliberate, referred to by Sir John Boyd Orr. However laudable his ideals and aspirations his assumption that they can be realised by a world government of capitalists is a false and dangerous fallacy. It is the working-class that suffers under capitalism, and it is only by the conscious and organised efforts of that class that emancipation can be achieved.

The Socialist Standard, October 1948