Tuesday, May 31, 2011

rich housing

More than 220,000 Britons own a property worth in excess of £1m – more than the population of Newcastle or Brighton and Hove.

Despite recent falling property prices, the UK still has 5,922 "million-pound" streets, where the average property costs more than £1m. London is home to the biggest number of expensive streets with 2,290, followed by Guildford, a popular commuter town, with 89. Nine out of the top 10 most expensive neighbourhoods are in London. Kensington is by far the most expensive neighbourhood in the country, with house prices averaging £1,737,862.

Kensington Palace Gardens, otherwise known as Billionaires Row – where the average property price is a staggering £19.2m. This exclusive gated street is home to Saudi and Brunei royalty, Russian oligarchs and Britain's richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, who owns not one but three properties on the street.


Growing a Better Future.

The prices of staple foods will more than double in 20 years. By 2030, the average cost of key crops will increase by between 120% and 180% Oxfam has warned. The World Bank has also warned that rising food prices are pushing millions of people into extreme poverty.It said food prices were 36% above levels of a year ago

"The food system must be overhauled if we are to overcome the increasingly pressing challenges of climate change, spiralling food prices and the scarcity of land, water and energy," said Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive.

In its report, Oxfam highlights four "food insecurity hotspots", areas which are already struggling to feed their citizens.

Guatemala, 865,000 people are at risk of food insecurity, due to a lack of state investment in smallholder farmers, who are highly dependent on imported food
India, people spend more than twice the proportion of their income on food than UK residents - paying the equivalent of £10 for a litre of milk and £6 for a kilo of rice.
Azerbaijan, wheat production fell 33% last year due to poor weather, forcing the country to import grains from Russia and Kazakhstan. Food prices were 20% higher in December 2010 than the same month in 2009.
East Africa, eight million people currently face chronic food shortages due to drought, with women and children among the hardest hit.

"We are sleepwalking towards an avoidable age of crisis," said Ms Stocking. "One in seven people on the planet go hungry every day despite the fact that the world is capable of feeding everyone."

From Stocking's statement it is clear now that, for every death from hunger, there is no genuine technical cause. For every child's life that has been lost through starvation, sufficient food has always been available. This system and its supporters are culpable of mass murder.

SOYMB find the usual disappointing "remedies" being proposed by Oxfam such as new market rules and regulation. But is it not an error in the market: the system is operating as it is meant to. The entire edifice of the capitalist system is not geared to satisfying the needs of the majority for even the simplest means of living, such as food. Instead the objective is nothing more or less than profit, and it is an objective shared by the small minority who own and control the means of producing wealth to the exclusion of the rest of us. This society offers very little security – food or otherwise – except, of course, security for those to make a profit. Some future !!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Keeping the addicts hooked

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the grandson of the founding king of modern Saudi Arabia and the 26th richest man in the world said Sunday that he wants oil prices to drop so that the United States and Europe don't accelerate efforts to wean themselves off his country's supply.

"We don't want the West to go and find alternatives, because, clearly, the higher the price of oil goes, the more they have incentives to go and find alternatives"

The bosses pay-packets

The pay increases that top UK chief executives receive rose 32% last year. The findings came as workers suffer the most prolonged squeeze in real wages since the 1920s. Average earnings grew less than 2 per cent last year, barely half the rate of inflation (The days when British workers could expect pay rises averaging 1.5 to 2 percentage points above inflation ended with the recession of 2008-09, as they did at least a decade ago in economies such as the US and Germany under the onslaught of competition from emerging markets. They may never return). FTSE 100 chief executives’ average total pay last year was 120 times that of the average employee, a multiple that has risen from 45 times since 1998, according to the report.

The top earner was Michael Spencer of Icap, the interdealer broker, on £23.7m, followed by Michael Davis of Xstrata, the miner, on £21.2m and Bart Becht of Reckitt Benckiser, the consumer goods group, on £17.7m

Total pay for executives had quadrupled over 12 years, whereas share prices had not increased in that time. HSBC chairman Flint admitted that his company's shareholder returns had been disappointing and inadequate yet chief executive Gulliver stands to earn up to £12.5m in 2011.

In Canada executive pay last year shows CEOs at Canada’s 100 largest companies saw their compensation jump 13 per cent last year, led higher by a 20-per-cent increase in annual cash bonuses.

In Australia the average pay of a top-100 chief executive has risen to $3 million, from $1 million in today's dollars in 1993, increasing about twice as fast as the pay of ordinary workers. Chief executives of the top 100 companies are, on average, paid about 45 times the average wage


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“There is an emerging livelihood gap across the UK that threatens the living standards of everyone bar the super-rich,” says Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress.

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Trade union militancy has almost disappeared from the private sector, where unions now represent just 15.1 per cent of workers, compared with 56.6 per cent in the public sector. Members of the Unite union at the Heinz baked beans factory in Wigan, north-west England, recently won a 3.9 per cent rise for each of the next two years after a series of 24-hour strikes, a rare example of successful industrial action. Last year just 365,000 working days were lost through strikes – and of those, only 52,000 were in the private sector.

Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight, the economic consultancy, says: “We expect wage growth to remain muted due to workers’ weak bargaining position, given high and likely to rise unemployment.”

The "Great Prosperity" to the "Great Recession"

During three decades from 1947 to 1977 everyone’s wages grew — not just those at or near the top. Almost everyone who wanted a job could find one with good wages, or at least wages that were trending upward. The pay of workers in the bottom fifth grew 116 percent over these years — faster than the pay of those in the top fifth (which rose 99 percent), and in the top 5 percent (86 percent). Expressed in 2007 dollars, the typical family’s income rose from about $25,000 to $55,000.

Productivity also grew quickly. Labor productivity — average output per hour worked — doubled.

Employers were required by law to provide extra pay — time-and-a-half — for work stretching beyond 40 hours a week. This created an incentive for employers to hire additional workers when demand picked up. Employers also were required to pay a minimum wage, which improved the pay of workers near the bottom as demand picked up. When workers were laid off, usually during an economic downturn, government provided them with unemployment benefits, usually lasting until the economy recovered and they were rehired. Government used Keynesian policy to achieve nearly full employment. It gave ordinary workers more bargaining power. It provided social insurance. And it expanded public investment. Government guaranteed the right to join labor unions, with which employers had to bargain in good faith. By the mid-1950s more than a third of all America workers in the private sector were unionized. And the unions demanded and received a fair slice of the American pie. Non-unionized companies, fearing their workers would otherwise want a union, offered similar deals. Through Social Security, insurance against disability, loss of a major breadwinner, workplace injury and inability to save enough for retirement. In 1965 came health insurance for the elderly and the poor (Medicare and Medicaid).

After 1977 output per hour — a measure of productivity — continued to rise. But real hourly compensation was left behind. Rather than be out of work, most Americans have quietly settled for lower real wages, or wages that have risen more slowly than the overall growth of the economy per person. Although unemployment following the Great Recession remains high, jobs are slowly returning. But in order to get them, many workers have to accept lower pay than before.

How Americans survived - The Three Coping Mechanisms

1. Women move into paid work. In 1966, 20 percent of mothers with young children worked outside the home. By the late 1990s, the proportion had risen to 60 percent. For married women with children under the age of 6, the transformation has been even more dramatic — from 12 percent in the 1960s to 55 percent by the late 1990s. The vast majority of women who migrated into paid work did so in order to prop up family incomes as households were hit by the stagnant or declining wages of male workers.

2. Everyone works longer hours. By the mid 2000s it was not uncommon for men to work more than 60 hours a week and women to work more than 50. A growing number of people took on two or three jobs. All told, by the 2000s, the typical American worker worked more than 2,200 hours a year — 350 hours more than the average European worked, more hours even than the typically industrious Japanese put in. It was many more hours than the typical American middle-class family had worked in 1979 — 500 hours longer, a full 12 weeks more.

3. Drawing on savings and borrowing to the hilt. During the "Great Prosperity", the American middle income saved about 9 percent of their after-tax incomes each year. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, that portion had been whittled down to about 7 percent. The savings rate then dropped to 6 percent in 1994, and on down to 3 percent in 1999. By 2008, Americans saved nothing. Meanwhile, household debt exploded. By 2007, the typical American owed 138 percent of their after-tax income.

Robert Reich from testimony presented to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, on May 12


STEPHEN LONG: There's been a 75 per cent increase cumulatively in profits over the past year in the US whereas wages have gone backwards by nearly two percentage points. And of course that's the averages. It hides tremendous inequality and massive falls in wages for some workers. And if you actually look at it across the income distribution in the United States - you take a family right in the middle of the income distribution and on figures I've seen from the Economic Policy Institute in the US, the median family income, that's the family right in the middle of the income distribution, was lower in 2009 than in any year since 1997. And it's gone backwards since then.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: So why this big boom in company profits? What's driving that?

STEPHEN LONG: Well what we've seen is mass lay-offs in the United States, Brendan, with about 1.75 million workers losing their jobs and only 20 per cent replaced and an enormous boost in productivity in America because they're using less labour and massive jobs shedding, new technology.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: So the companies themselves are doing well. The workers not so well.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

capitalist cigarettes

We read in the Independent on Sunday that after more than half a century after scientists uncovered the link between smoking and cancer the tobacco business is still thriving. Despite the known catastrophic effects on health of smoking, profits from tobacco continue to soar. In 2010, the big four tobacco companies – Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco – made more than £27bn profit, up from £26bn in 2009. And sales of cigarettes have increased: they have risen from 5,000 billion a year in the 1990s to 5,900 billion a year in 2009. They now kill more people annually than alcohol, Aids, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. The price of their profits will be measured in human lives. In the 20th century, some 100 million people were killed by tobacco use. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill a billion people in the 21st century.

Anna Gilmore, professor of public health at the University of Bath, said: "What most people don't realise is that, although sales are falling in the West, industry profits are increasing. These companies remain some of the most profitable in the world. This is thanks in part to their endless inventive ways of undermining and circumventing regulation. They're trying to reinvent their image to ingratiate themselves with governments, but behind the scenes it's business as usual."

Tobacco firms have pushed the average price of cigarettes up in rich countries such as Britain – where 20 cigarettes now cost more than £6 a pack. Although around 77 per cent of the price of a pack is tax, the amount charged by tobacco companies has also increased. The Office of Fair Trading last year found that a dozen tobacco manufacturers and retailers in the UK had colluded in price fixing, ensuring that packs remained at higher prices to maximise profits. The largest fine was one of £115m for Imperial Tobacco, makers of Lambert & Butler and Golden Virginia. The fine made a minimal dent in its profits for 2010, which topped £4.39bn.

Meanwhile in Malawi, where tobacco farming is heavily relied upon for the economy, the country's anti-corruption bureau has accused tobacco companies of colluding to keep prices paid to farmers for the raw product low - a kilo of leaves plummeted from an average of £1.06 per kg in April 2009 to 47p per kg this year. The knock-on effect of this on farms is near-slave wages for workers and a temptation to use cheap (or free) child labour. (see Socialist Standard article here)

Although 172 countries have signed up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control since it was produced six years ago, 20 per cent of them have still done nothing at all to implement its recommendations.

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager for the WHO's tobacco free initiative, said: "We need to do more. We need to stop the tobacco industry promoting themselves as normal corporate citizens when they are killing people every day. We are lagging behind in establishing comprehensive bans on advertising, marketing, promotion and sponsorship."

But the cigarette capitalists are not bad people, we are assured. Yet they are capitalists and, as such, in search of profit and ready to reach for it wherever its source. They are not just human beings ; they are part of an economic category, driven without semblance of humanity to perform a function. Tobacco may bring lingering death but must not be hindered in any way that might interfere with mounting profits. Capitalism stinks. It stinks of corpses. Millions coughing out their final days, gasping for breath, dying of lung cancer from tobacco

Organising to change the world

In his Guardian article Adam Curtis raises the question of organisational structures. In regard to Uncut he explains:
"What you were seeing in that interchange was the expression of a very powerful ideology of our time. It is the idea of the "self-organising network". It says that human beings can organise themselves into systems where they are linked, but where there is no hierarchy, no leaders and no control. It is not the old form of collective action that the left once believed in, where people subsumed themselves into the greater force of the movement. Instead all the individuals in the self-organising network can do whatever they want as creative, autonomous, self-expressive entities, yet somehow, through feedback between all the individuals in the system, a kind of order emerges. At its heart it says that you can organise human beings without the exercise of power by leaders."

He goes on to compare the phenonomen with the hippie commune movement of the 60s:
"In many communes across America in the late 1960s house meetings became vicious bullying sessions where the strong preyed mercilessly on the weak, and nobody was allowed to voice any objections. The rules of the self-organising system said that no coalitions or alliances were allowed because that was politics – and politics was bad. If you talk today to ex-commune members they tell horrific stories of coercion, violent intimidation and sexual oppression within these utopian communities, while the other commune members stood mutely watching, unable under the rules of the system to do anything to stop it. Again, the central weakness of the self-organising system was dramatically demonstrated. Whether it was used for conservative or radical ends, it could not cope with power, which is one of the central dynamic forces in human society."

Curtis concludes:
"What the anti-cuts movement has done without realising is adopt an idea of how to order the world without hierarchies, a machine theory that leads to a static managerialism. It may be very good for organising creative and self-expressive demonstrations, but it will never change the world."

The Socialist Party is in existence to change the world and the importance of the means and methods of organising to achieve this objective is at its core. Uncut is of course no new manifestation of a style of organising.

In 2000 we had this -
"Reclaim the Streets is non-hierarchical, spontaneous and self-organised. We have no leaders, no committee, no board of directors, no spokespeople. There is no centralised unit for decision-making, strategic planning and production of ideology. There is no membership and no formalised commitment. There is no master-plan, and no predefined agenda. The direct action movement is an organic network of people taking responsibility for their own lives, expressed through local interventions, chaotic global connections and friendships. Reclaim the Streets spontaneously and temporarily emerges from a shared dissatisfaction with the way our lives are run for us, with the rat-race and a society based on exclusion and enclosure, profit and control. As a dis-organisation, RTS is mobile and furtive. It is there when people decide to intervene in public spaces, evoking the utopia of a better society."

Similar to Uncut, RTS were advocating spontaneous action of small groups acting on their own initiative without being answerable to anybody. The Socialist Party don't have any objection to the idea that any action that any group of people take to try to improve their lot should be under their direct control. It is the form of organisation we have always urged worker to adopt for waging the struggle against employers for better wages and working conditions—only we call it "democratic self-organisation" and extend it to embrace organisation on the political field to win control of the state with a view to dismantling it.

However when those who participate in Uncut use the word "self-organisation" they don't mean the same thing as people like us, namely, structured, democratic organisation, certainly without leaders, but not without some central decision-making unit such as a conference of mandated delegates nor without elected committees to plan and co-ordinate particular spheres of activity. The word "democratic" did not occur in the Curtis quote by the Uncut non-spokesperson and reflects the fact that Uncut rejects the idea of democratic control because this involves formal rules and permanent structures which they will see as bureaucratic restraints on the freedom of autonomous activists to act as they please.

This is the "ideology of structurelessness" described by the American feminist, Jo Freeman in her essay The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Like the 60s communes, cited by Curtis, the women's liberation movement of that time the same emphasis was placed "on what are called leaderless, structureless groups as the main focus of the movement" yet Freeman showed that there was in fact no such thing as a structureless group, only formally and informally structured groups. She writes:
"An unstructured group always has an informal, or covert, structure. It is this informal structure, particularly in unstructured groups, which forms the basis for elites...When informal elites are combined with a myth of structurelessness, there can be no attempt to put limits on the use of power. It becomes capricious...Informal structures have no obligation to be responsible to the group at large. Their power was not given to them; it cannot be taken away. Their influence is not based on what they do for the group; therefore they cannot be directly influenced by the group."

Lucy Annson of Uncut sees nothing wrong with some informal group of individuals taking the initiative, it being up to others to decide whether or not to go along with it. The latter seem suspiciously like followers to us. She may indeed argue that it was self-organised by empowered individuals in that there was no committee and no centralised decision-making, but there was some process by which decisions are made. There must be individuals or a group of individuals who did make these decisions, but as there is no formal structure they are in practice answerable to no one. They will be an unaccountable, self-appointed group of activists. Whoever they are, they will be, as Freeman pointed out, an informal elite, de facto leaders making decisions. In preaching that we don't need formal decision-making rules and structures those in Uncut are propagating a dangerous illusion, dangerous because it opens the door to groups of discontented people being manipulated by some self-appointed and non-accountable elite or vanguard. We insist that, on the contrary, "self-organisation" is only possible as democratic self-organisation, involving formal rules and structures, precisely to prevent the emergence of unaccountable elites. We are talking about structures that place decision-making power in the hands of the group as a whole, along the lines of the seven "principles of democratic structuring" listed by Freeman:

1.Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks by democratic procedures.
2. Requiring all those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible to all those who selected them.
3. Distribution of authority among as many people as reasonably possible.
4. Rotation of tasks among individuals.
5. Allocation of tasks along rational criteria.
6. Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible.
7. Equal access to resources needed by the group.

The socialist justification for accepting majority decision-making is that people are not isolated individuals but only exist in and through society, and that when there is a genuine community (either society as a whole or some collectivity within society) the best method of deciding what it should do, on matters of common interest to it as a community, is by a vote of its members after a full and free discussion. Of course the field of community activity has its limits and some decisions should be left to the individual (what to wear and eat, for instance), but we are talking about matters which concern the community as a community with a common interest.

The SPGB shares Adam Curtis doubts about Uncut but claim for ourselves a solution. A supposedly spontaneous, unorganised anti-capitalist revolution such as advocated by Uncut would only end in disaster out of which either the present rulers would succeed in reasserting their control or a new set of rulers would profit from the chaos to seize power. If we are going to get rid of capitalism the majority is going to have to organise itself to do so—in a permanent organisation with a democratic structure. The very nature of socialism is one of a society of voluntary cooperation and democratic participation. People cannot be led into socialism or coerced into it. They cannot be forced into cooperating and participating; this is something they must want to do for themselves and which they must decide to do of their own accord. This is the basic principle that underlines the whole political activity of the Socialist Party. It commits us to opposing the whole concept of leadership, not just to get socialism but also for the everyday struggle to survive under capitalism. Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sheep in Wolff's clothing

"Economic democracy" - says Richard Wolff, professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is the solution. The workers themselves collectively operate their enterprises would immediately redirect enterprise profits in different ways, with very different social consequences. For example, according the bureau of labour statistics, during 2010, the pay for average workers rose 2% while the pay for CEOs rose 23%. Workers who collectively directed their own enterprises would distribute pay increases very differently and far less unequally. Likewise, to take another example, self-directing workers would allocate their enterprises' profits to the government (that is, pay taxes) but demand in return the sorts of mass-focused social programmes that the current CEOs and boards of directors want government to cut. Democratic enterprises would have to work out collaborations and agreements with democratically run residential units (cities, states, etc) where their decisions impact one another.

Wolff wants to create a different kind of capitalism. Workers,of course, can organise themselves and run production without bosses and employers telling them what to do and ordering them around but Wolff is advocating a democratic self-managed market economy, an unrealistic blueprint which would never work. He envisages that in a given factory, the workers would elect a council which would decide on the level of wages, the price of the product, the amount of profits to be re-invested, etc - a completely impractical idea of direct workers' control of a capitalist economy.

What would have happened if, for example, the General Motors car factories are taken over by the workers who worked in them and if we assume a situation where theoretically, the wage labour/capital relationship operating at General Motors would have altered and become a kind of workers’ cooperative, with all the affairs of this car production unit under the control of the workers.

The market would still be operating and these workers would be selling the cars which they put together in the factories and the sale of these cars would give them an income which would enable them to live, to support their families, to buy the food, to pay the rent and the mortgage and all the other costs involved in living in a market system. They would have a lot of other costs as well. GM cars are not simply made in GM car factories. In fact, in the main, these factories are only the places of final assembly. Of all the labour required for the production of a GM are only a small proportion is supplied in these factories where the final assembly takes place. General Motors would have hundreds of sub-contractors supplying components. (You only have to think of the materials in cars—various metals such as copper, aluminium and steel, glass, paints, plastics, rubber, to realise that the different kinds of labour required for the production of a car are dispersed throughout a world wide network of productive links. You’ve got copper mining in Zambia, the mining of iron ore in Australia, the plastics pre-suppose the world oil industry, the paints, the world chemical industry, rubber from Malaysia, allocations of energy and world transport.) Car production is social production and by that we mean production organised on a world scale.

What this means for these workers in America who have taken over factories where final assembly takes place is that they are the sellers of cars but they also constitute a massive market, a market for all the worked-up materials and components which they have to buy in. These workers will be in competition with other car manufacturers—Fiat in Italy — Volkswagen in Germany — Nissan in Japan — Volvo in Sweden — Renault in France — the British, the Korean, the Malaysian car industries... So in order to maintain their livelihoods they will be in intense competition with all these other companies, trying to sell as many cars as possible and trying to capture a bigger share of the market at the expense of the capitalists and workers in other sections of the world car industry. They would have to maintain rigorous efficiency in line with the efficiency of these other companies. In any situation where their costs were disproportionately high resulting in relatively higher prices they would lose sales and there would have to economise and perhaps some workers would have to go. Where there was overproduction in relation to market capacity again there would have to be cutbacks. They could not go on incurring the accumulating costs of producing cars which they could not sell. It would then be a matter of them democratically deciding which of them is going to be out of a job.

In the circumstances where these workers have been able to control a company like GM (or any other )— and succeeded in managing for their own gain as distinct from the previous owners — they would be responding to the same economic pressures faced by the previous capitalist board of directors. They would be acting as the functionaries of capital; different personalities maybe but exactly the same economic role. We have described the mechanisms by which the capitalist structure of production maintains itself as an exclusive capitalist structure. Goods are produced throughout a world wide division of labour organised in different production units. The process through which this structure maintains itself as an exclusively capitalist structure is a process of constant economic selection. Whether or not a particular production unit can continue to exist as part of the structure is constantly tested and is determined by the economic viability of the unit. In every day terms this is matter of income against expenditure. If income exceeds expenditure then the unit can continue to form a part of the whole structure. Conversely, if expenditure exceeds income then it must disappear from the scene. "Economic democracy" enterprises would remain subject to the same competitive pressures, to keep costs down and to to maximise the difference between sales revenue and costs. The particular ways in which a production unit is organised makes no difference whatsoever to this process of economic selection. It can be the usual capitalist company, it can be a so-called workers cooperative under workers’ control. The decision-making procedures can be authoritarian or "democratic" as Robert Wolff would prefer, but it makes no difference to the fact that whatever the production unit is, in order to exist it must be economically viable. This is the process of economic selection by which the present structure of production is maintained as an exclusively capitalist structure. Capitalism is a system of production, value accumulation can as easily be managed by workers as by private capitalists or state bureaucrats.

Socialism is not just concerned with emancipating workers as workers (i.e. wealth-producers) but as human beings (i.e. as men and women). Socialism aims not to establish "workers control" but the abolition of all classes including the working class. In socialist society there would simply be people, free and equal men and women forming a classless community based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by and in the interest of the whole people. To make decisions and exercise democratic control members of society need to set in place procedures which allow every member of society the chance to have an equal say in the way things are run, not simply at the work-place but in neighbourhoods and regions. A society where the means of production belong to everybody and run by democratic councils, that's socialism.

Theoretical speculations such as Professor Wolff's which relate to wages, prices, profits and taxes are ghosts from the past, as absurdly outdated as the quibbles about how many angels could dance on the point of a needle. Workers self-management of a market economy in the real world means workers self-exploitation.

The American Recession

The US economy is caught in serious stagnation, a situation flowing partly from the economic crisis that began in 2007 and partly from the way in which most governments responded to that crisis. US businesses and investors increasingly look elsewhere to make money. Growth-oriented activity is leaving the US economy, where it used to be so concentrated. The US was already becoming less important as a production centre as profit-driven major US corporations shifted manufacturing jobs to cheaper workers overseas, especially in China. In recent decades, those corporations' export of jobs expanded to include more and more white-collar and skilled work outsourced to India and elsewhere. Now, US corporations are also spending their money on office, advertising, legal, lobbying and other budgets increasingly where the expanding markets are – and not inside the US.

The most widely cited Americn unemployment rate remains at 9% for workers without jobs but looking. If instead, we use the more indicative U-6 unemployment statistic of the US labour department's bureau of labour statistics, then the rate is 15.9%. The latter rate counts also those who want full-time but can only find part-time work and those who want work but have given up looking. One in six members of the US labour force brings home little or no money, burdening family and friends, using up savings, cutting back on spending, etc.

1.5-2m home foreclosures are scheduled for 2011, separating more millions from their homes. After a short upturn, housing prices nationally have resumed their fall.

The mass of US citizens cannot work more hours – the US already is No 1 in the world in the average number of hours of paid labour done per year per worker. The mass of US citizens cannot borrow much more because of debt levels already teetering on the edge of unsustainability for most consumers. Real wages are going nowhere because of high unemployment enabling employers everywhere to refuse significant wage increases. Job-related benefits (pensions, medical insurance, holidays, etc) are being pared back. According the bureau of labour statistics, during 2010, the pay for average workers rose 2% while the pay for CEOs rose 23%.

The US "middle class" – so celebrated after the second world war even as it slowly shrank – is now fast evaporating, as the economic crisis and the government's "austerity" response both favour the top 10% of the population at the expense of everyone else.

The largest corporations and richest citizens long ago learned that if you want to sustain an extremely unequal distribution of wealth and income, you need an equally unequal distribution of political power. Those corporations use their profits to pay huge salaries and bonuses to their executives, to pay big dividends to their major shareholders, and to "contribute" to politics. The corporations, their top executives and the major shareholders whom they enrich all regularly finance the political campaigns and politicians that perform that sustaining function. An unequal capitalist economy pays for the undemocratic politics it needs.

From here

Friday, May 27, 2011

Growth without gain

Growth without gain? : The faltering living standards of people on low-to-middle incomes

"In the US, the phenomenon of median wage stagnation is being interpreted by some leading economists as a `decoupling' of growth from gain. The productivity of labour – commonly understood as the key driver of rising wages – has continued to grow, but these gains have failed increasingly to feed through into pay packets. The effects of this `decoupling' on households have not been trivial; if US median household earnings had continued to track GDP per capita since the mid 1970s – as they had from 1945 to 1973 – the average household would not have earned $50,000 in 2008 but around $80,000, or 60 percent more."

In the UK:
"There is emerging evidence that wage growth has fallen behind growth in labour productivity. After a sharp fall as the result of the downturn, wages are now set to recover only very slowly. Based on current government forecasts, we expect that average wages will be no higher in 2015 than they were in 2001. In relative terms too, the position of the UK's 11 million people living on low-to-middle incomes has deteriorated. The stark increases in inequality that took place in the 1980s and 1990s have now levelled off – but only within the bottom half of the distribution. The earnings of those at the top have continued to move away from those in the middle, while the wage-characteristics of the bottom half have coalesced"

As the American example shows, this is a brutal amount fo theft from the working class. In money terms alone, the wealth is out there, and we are creating it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Israel and "The Jewish Question"

The State of Israel, which was proclaimed this month in 1948, differs in no essential way from other capitalist states, apart from its approximate 7.7 million popula­tlon being comprised of 76 per cent Jews, together with Muslims, Christians and other minorities. Capitalism's operation within its boundaries produces all the well known insoluble miseries that constitute the system's notorious trademarks found else­where - in Israel, however, one finds predominately Jewish capitalists exploiting Jewish workers. The country endures constant warfare, and military service is compulsory for people into their fifties.

When Israel was established in 1948 the nationalistic ideology of Zionism, together with similar viewpoints, hoped to solve, or substantially resolve, the so-called "Jewish question". We use the term "so-called" advisedly because the "Jewish question" cannot be considered as an entity unto itself, separated from present-day society's other problems. The pernicious doctrine of raclsm permeates the environment in numerous areas apart from Jews, and it will continue to thrive until its modern-day breeder, capitalism, is eliminated.

It is true that Nazi Germany's horrible extermination of 6 million Jews constitutes an outstanding historic atrocity, but it is politically essential to recognize that the conditions that give rise to "Hitlers" are contained within capitalist society, and they have not been removed. Further, in order for a balanced perspective to be maintained, it should be acknowledged that the racist philosophies, discriminations and enslavements practiced against black people have directly and indirectly probably produced deaths which numerically have either equalled or exceeded those suffered by Jews.

At this juncture it might be appropriate to mention, as an example of the hypocrisies and anomalies created by the existing system, and as an indication of the ineffectiveness of any cult of nationalism, be it Zionism or any other, to solve or ameliorate racist programs, that Israel, itself a country born with a back­ground of racial persecution, did substantial trade with racist South Africa - in fact, supplied them with arms!

On a Saturday, March 11, 1978 politically ignorant terrorists, belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organization, attacked two buses, loaded with people, on the Tel Aviv-Haifa road. As a result 33 Israelis, comprising men, women and children were slaughtered. Three days later, in what was described as a "reprisal action", equally politically ignorant Israeli military forces conducted a large scale invasion into Lebanon which resulted in more killing of civilian men, women and children, and reportedly 150,000 refugees sought sanctuary in Beirut. One atrocity triggered another - of much greater dimension.

When war is supported and prosecuted the actions involved, because of the very nature of modem warfare, must be in­discriminate in their toll of human lives. All defenders of militarism should be aware that modem warfare precludes the practicality of isolating targets; that inevitably such conduct must demolish, endanger or harm civilians, including women and children - regardless of whatever intentions are declared or precautions taken.

The socialist can offer no solution to eliminate the conse­quences of war after it has erupted. We can only put forward a case for socialism at all times in the hope that the working class will eliminate the cause of war before it happens.

The establishment of the State of Israel has, from a socialist standpoint, solved none of the basic problems that confront members of the working class, be they Jewish or otherwise. Obviously in a country in which the majority are Jewish one can be more or less assured that they will be protected from anti­semitism within their own borders, and from their own religious brethren. Although, even in this regard, there have been in­stances where light-skinned Jews have displayed prejudice towards Jews with darkened complexions. That some Jews have been anti-black, and vice-versa, is common knowledge. Be that as it may.

Unfortunately, however, freedom from the curse of internal racism has been more than offset by the continual state of warfare in which the Israelis have found themselves for over 60 years. Surely it is small consolation to find oneself in a geo­graphical area protected from racial persecution from within but vulnerable to the everIasting vicissitudes of military onslaughts and terrorist atrocities from without. In fact, a strong case could be presented to show that 7.7 million Jews all living together in one confined, strategically important area such as Israel, are in great danger of total obliteration should a nuclear war, directed specifically against them, occur - and this morbid possibility exists. It is strongly rumored that Israel possesses atomic capability.

As long as capitalism continues, all states, including Israel, are exposed to the danger of war, some more than others, and all minorities, including Jews, remain in danger of persecution. The creation of Israel has not eradicated the scourge of racism nor provided Jews with a haven of safety and security - capitalism can never furnish such "luxuries" to human beings of any denomination!

Racism springs from the lack of understanding that all major social evils are the result of the way in which capitalism operates coupled with political frustrations that become the sequel after past failures of reformist policies. Add to this some false patriotic mumbo-jumbo, a sprinkling of biological balderdash, and the "ingredients" for racism have been assembled.

Solutions do not reside in the creation of states nor in their retention, but rather in their complete elimination. World War II ended the German Nazi regime but not the conditions that created the monster - they are still with us, together with a host of countries with military juntas, dictatorships, and anti-social philosophies.
When an international community is established, without states, classes, and governments, in which men and women will have become the common owners and democratic controllers of all the means for producing and distributing wealth, artificial boundaries, deprivations and insecurities will have vanished. With them too will have disappeared the fantasies of religion and the bigotry of the oppressed and uneducated.

(The original version of this essay is to be found World Without Wages (Money, Poverty & War!) by Samuel Leight)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

taking on the axe-men?

In the struggle over wages and conditions, like the character in “Alice in Wonderland” we have to keep running in order to stay in the same place.

A leading British trade union has called for a 24-hour general strike in a show of opposition to the government's spending cuts program.The Communication Workers Union unanimously backed calls for the Trade Union Congress to co-ordinate a nationwide walkout against the government's "attacks" on pay, pensions and services. Delegates at the Bournemouth conference also agreed to moves aimed at coordinating campaigns and strikes with other unions. "We need to work together with other unions, and the TUC should co-ordinate a 24-hour strike”, said the union's general secretary. "If the Tories carry on it will be too late and we will be back to the levels of inequality not seen since Victorian times"

Trade union leaders are good at making speeches, but their words are worth nothing as long as the majority of workers are followers. Instead of assuming that great leaders are needed to force the workers into combat, it must be recognised that only on the basis of class consciousness will workers show their power. Class-conscious workers will no more need leaders than the sighted need guide dogs.

Every means that strengthen the workers in the class struggle are good in so far as they do so. The strike is the force behind all trade union organisation. Strikes are necessary if workers are to prevent themselves from being driven into the ground by the never-satisfied demands of profit: as workers we must organise to defend and improve our wages and conditions of work. The strike is one of the workers’ weapons and, within the confines of the profit system, is a weapon that can limit the capitalists’ aims. Those who tell us not to strike "for the good of the nation" are, whether they know it or not, mouthpieces for the good of the bosses. While we’re fighting these essential defensive battles, we must also lift our eyes from the present fight and consider whether it’s a fit one for us and our children and grandchildren. It is our job as socialists to stand with our fellow workers in their necessary battles to defend themselves, but to point out at all times that the real victory to be achieved is the abolition of the wages system. The easy way to behave when a strike is on is to shout pious slogans of support. There was no shortage of such "we’re with you brothers" condescension from so-called Marxists on the Left who accept the Leninist doctrine that workers cannot understand more than the struggle for crumbs. Only dishonestly can socialists tell striking workers that we believed in the possibility of forcing the state to ignore the dictates of the market and not act in accordance with the perverse, anti-working-class rationality of the capitalist system. This does not mean that workers should sit back and do nothing. Within capitalism the trade-union struggle over wages and conditions must go on. But it becomes clear that this is a secondary, defensive activity. The real struggle is to take the means of wealth production and distribution – the factories, farms, offices, mines etc. – into the common ownership and democratic control of the entire world community. We must organise to win political power if we want a new society.

Strikes can serve a useful purpose in resisting wage reductions or securing increases, but they cannot overthrow capitalism. To begin with, the workers themselves have not that purpose in mind. We know that desperate men and women will take desperate action when goaded to it by the hardships of their life under capitalism. But we have seen in the General Strike of 1926 and from revolts of workers attempted in many countries at different times how such spontaneous outbursts are always crushed by the forces at the disposal of the ruling class through their control of the machinery of government. So long as the workers are prepared to resign themselves to the evils of capitalism, and so long as they are prepared to place in control of Parliament parties that will use their power for the purpose of maintaining capitalism, there is no escape from the effects of capitalism. The workers will continue to suffer from the hardships of the capitalist system and from the aggravated hardships during trade recessions such as this one. To struggle for higher wages and better conditions is not revolutionary in any real sense of the word; and the essential weapons in this struggle are not revolutionary either. This is where socialists have their most vital contribution to make – a clear idea about alternatives is not mere utopianism, but an important ingredient in inspiring successful struggle. An upturn in class war, such as we’re seeing here and elsewhere is the basis on which socialism can begin to make sense and seem like a credible and possible alternative to capitalism for the working class as a whole. When trade unions take action on sound lines it becomes socialists to remember their class allegiance and give them support.

see our attitude to the 1926 General Strike

Union Maid

The Guardian makes an interesting comment upon the the head of the IMF's alleged rape of his hotel's chamber maid, "...it is likely that Strauss-Kahn's alleged victim might not have felt confident enough to pursue the issue with either her supervisors or law enforcement agencies, if she had not been protected by a union contract." The housekeepers at the Sofitel are members of the New York Hotel Workers’ Union. There is job security.

It is illegal for an employer to fire a worker for reporting a sexual assault. However, it is completely legal for an employer to fire a worker who reports a sexual assault for having been late to work last Tuesday or any other minor transgression. Since employers know the law, they don't ever say that they are firing a worker for reporting a sexual assault. They might fire workers who report sexual assaults for other on-the-job failings, real or invented. All the countries of western Europe afford workers some measure of employment protection, where employers must give a reason for firing workers. Workers can contest their dismissal if they think the reason is not valid, unlike the United States where there is no recourse.

Imagine the situation of the hotel worker had she not been protected by a union contract. She is a young immigrant mother who needs this job to support her family. According to reports, she likely did not know Strauss-Kahn's identity at the time she reported the assault, but she undoubtedly understood that the person staying in the $3,000-a-night suite was a wealthy and important person. In these circumstances, how likely would it be that she would make an issue of a sexual assault to her supervisors? Housekeepers are generally among the lowest-paid workers at hotels, often earning little more than the minimum wage ( Housekeepers perform the most physically demanding work necessary to operate a luxury hotel. Assigned 10 to 14 rooms a day on average, they strip beds, dump sheets down laundry chutes, remake beds, scrub bathroom floors, clean tubs and toilets, empty trash, polish mirrors, clean glasses, vacuum carpets.) It is a high turnover job, meaning that any individual housekeeper is likely to be viewed as easily replaceable by the management. If this housekeeper did not enjoy the protection of a union contract, is it likely that she would have counted on her supervisors taking her side against an important guest at the hotel? Would she have been prepared to risk her job to pursue the case? Housekeepers with the main hotel workers union, Unite Here, said that housekeepers were often too embarrassed or scared to report incidents to management or the police. Sometimes they fear that management, often embracing the motto “the customer is always right,” will believe the customer over the housekeeper, the guest’s opinion of the situation holds quite a bit of weight, and that the worker may end up getting fired. Union membership affords some protection and reassurance

The IMF has long pushed for reducing the rights of workers at their workplace. They have pushed countries around the world to adopt measures that weaken the power of unions. The IMF has urged western European countries to eliminate or weaken laws that prevent employers from firing workers at will. These laws, along with unions, are seen as "labour market rigidities" that prevent labour markets from operating efficiently. From IMF policies, all employers would have the ability to fire employees at will. There would be no protective legislation and no unions to get in the way. In that IMF's world, powerful executives could be fairly certain that they would have licence to molest hotel workers with impunity.

One is minded by this case and Dylan's song of The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.

The Pirates of Somalia

SOYMB has previously posted on the question of who were the real pirates off the coast of Somalia and once again the press features a story on the subject.

The closest Somali translation of the word is burcad badeed, which literally means "ocean robber". Boyah and his brothers-in-arms do not like to call themselves "pirates" in their native tongue. They referred to themselves as badaadinta badah, "saviours of the sea", a term that is most often translated in the English-speaking media as "coastguard". To him, his actions had been in protection of his sea, the native waters he had known his whole life; his hijackings, a legitimate form of taxation levied in absentia on behalf of a defunct government that he represented in spirit, if not in law.

In 1994, he still worked as an artisanal lobster diver in Eyl. Since then, the lobster population off the coast of Eyl has been devastated by foreign fishing fleets – mostly Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean ships, Boyah said. Using steel-pronged drag fishing nets, these foreign trawlers did not bother with nimble explorations of the reefs: they uprooted them, netting the future livelihood of the nearby coastal people along with the day's catch. Today, according to Boyah, there are no more lobsters to be found in the waters off Eyl. So he began to fish a different species.

From 1995 to 1997, Boyah and others captured three foreign fishing vessels, keeping the catch and ransoming the crew. By 1997, the foreign fishing fleets had become more challenging prey, entering into protection contracts with local warlords that made armed guards and anti-aircraft guns regular fixtures on the decks of their ships. So, like all successful hunters, Boyah and his men adapted to their changing environment, and began going after commercial shipping vessels. "There are about 500 pirates operating around Eyl. I am their chairman," he said, claiming to head up a "central committee" composed of the bosses of 35 other groups. The position of chairman, however, did not imbue Boyah with the autocratic powers of a traditional gang leader. Rather, Eyl's pirate groups functioned as a kind of loose confederation, in which Boyah was a key organiser, recruiter, financier and mission commander. "We're not murderers," he said. "We've never killed anyone, we just attack ships."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Clown must Go

Ad campaigns are used to hypnotize and deceive. 550 doctors have recently published open letter to McDonald’s to seek the end of longtime spokesclown Ronald McDonald.

“The rise of health conditions like diabetes and heart disease mirrors the growth of your business—growth driven in large part by children’s marketing. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics deems such marketing ‘inherently deceptive to children under 8,’ you continue to use it as a vehicle to grow your enterprise,” reads an excerpt from the open letter. “Today, your icon is as recognized as Santa Claus, and the McDonald’s model of marketing is used by a range of abusive industries.” The letter ends with a request: “Retire your marketing promotions for food high in salt, fat, sugar and calories to children, whatever form they take—from Ronald McDonald to toy giveaways.”

Parallels have been drawn to the 1990s campaign to extinguish Joe Camel from the cigarette industry advertising. R.J. Reynolds for years denied that its cartoon camel was designed to appeal to kids, but a study found that children recognized Joe before other cartoons like Mickey Mouse and Fred Flintstone, and the tobacco company eventually caved to pressure.

Ronald McDonald have been around for 50 years. His campaign worked so well that many adults in the United States today are now lifelong fast-food addicts. Companies put billions every year into selling to children because it ensures a customer for life. Once the parent is addicted, the addiction is passed down from one generation to another. Ronald McDonald has successfully managed to weave his influence into the fabric of the family. The marketing team at McDonald’s, like all junk food sellers, creates a seductive demand that effectively makes parents choose not whether their kids will eat junk, but rather when and how often.

Kids meal toys which are often based on characters from recent movies or TV shows help drive a lot fast-food sales, experts say. In 2006, fast-food joints spent an estimated $360 million on the toys, according to a Federal Trade Commission report. But the industry more than made up for that investment with some $348.5 billion in kids meals sales. "The toys are a very powerful enticement," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The average McDonald's restaurant earned on average $2,313,000 in revenue 2010, according to Technomic's Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report.

Mollie Kerr, an 11-year-old girl, tells it like it is , "We have, like, problems, we have earthquakes and tornadoes, we have money problems and financial problems. But in Ronald McDonald World, we have no problems, it's just happy all the time."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Disasters are rising

The number of weather-related disasters reported each year in the world's poorest countries has more than trebled since the 1980s and the increase cannot be explained by better reporting or an increase in population, a study by Oxfam has found.

A previous report in 2009 by Oxfam found that in a typical year, some 250 million people worldwide are affected in some way by natural disasters and the vast majority, something like 98 per cent, are the result of weather-related phenomena. By 2015, the charity estimates that more than 375 million people could be affected each year.

It is easy to speak of natural calamities. But there is nothing natural about the way that a billion people in the world cling in this way to the extremity of existence.

"But there is nothing natural about poor people being on climate's front line," Dr Jennings said. "Poverty, poor governance, patchy investment in the preparation and prevention of disasters all stack the odds against the most vulnerable. The future is going to be very bleak for millions of poor people without a shake-up of the ways we prepare and respond to disasters, and without real progress on reducing poverty and addressing climate change."

Being poor means having very little control over your own existence. The decisions which govern the lives of the really poor are made by other people. The moneylender, the employer, the multinational company, the government, foreign governments, the international finance bodies – all often have more say than do the poor themselves. The weather – drought, flood, hurricanes and storms – is just for many the final straw.

It goes without saying that major disasters causing loss of life are always tragic. But while some disasters cannot always be avoided others are completely avoidable and there can be no excuse. It would hardly be controversial to argue that capitalism, with its emphasis on profit and short-term considerations, means that any disasters which do happen are likely to be more serious and harmful than would otherwise be the case.The real reason earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and floods kill so many people is that they live in known danger zones. In capitalism it is a question of livelihood and property, either or both of which prevent people moving. There is no way at present to predict population demographics in socialism, yet it must be obvious that nobody would choose to live next to a ticking timebomb, and given the freedom of movement implied by the abolition of land ownership we would expect the largest contribution to saving lives to come from populations spontaneously shifting away from high-risk areas. A massive mobilisation of people to other regions would be inconceivable today but not necessarily in socialism. Saving lives could become a new "un-armed forces" raison d’ĂȘtre. Bodies of fit, well-trained, well-resourced, motivated men and women available to deal with the effects of natural disasters and unexpected calamities would be one of a number of ways to deploy the willing volunteers, a civil action force for true humanitarian intervention.

poor kids

It is all so easy to blame poor people for being mired in poverty. They have character flaws such as laziness. Poverty is their problem, not ours.

It is easy to demonstrate how expensive it is to be poor. Poor people have to deal with old rust-bucket cars that are forever breaking down, resulting in costly repairs and sometimes loss of jobs for missing work. They have to pay fines for paying their bills late. They live in draughty, damp homes with little insulation, resulting in large utility bills. They pay huge amounts of interest on loans. Poverty breeds despair. Wouldn’t you despair if you couldn’t afford food, pay your mortgage or meet your utility bills? Despair leads to alcoholism and drug abuse, which can lead to crime and prison. Poverty is misery.

The Telegraph review of the BBC documentary, Poor Kids, (will be broadcast at 10.35pm on 7 June on BBC One) writes tht one in five families in poverty reports regularly skipping meals. It shows hungry children going to the fridge, only to be greeted by a single tub of margarine, a half-drunk carton of milk and an open tin of chopped tomatoes.

Sam is 12 years old and predicts that people will be starving in Britain soon. "They're raising the price of food and losing the jobs." He can't see how people will be able to eat. Sam mimes the endless juggling his father has to do, just to keep the family afloat. "Food-debt-food-debt-food-debt."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The fight back continues and grows

Protests against Spain's economic crisis took a new turn as social media networks fueled calls for demonstrators to take to the streets. Demonstrators are protesting Spain's 21% unemployment rate and a record 4.9 million jobless.Nearly 1 in 2 young people are unemployed. Protesters say a plethora of temporary labour contracts offer few or no job benefits. On 15th May 2011, around 150,000 people ( dubbed "los indignados" - the indignant) ,took to the streets in 60 Spanish towns and cities to demand “Real Democracy Now”, marching under the slogan “We are not commodities in the hands of bankers and politicians”. The protest was organised through web-based social networks without the involvement of any major unions or political parties and are now on their sixth day of demonstrations

Elena Ortega, who says she's managed to find only a part-time secretarial job, helped spread the word on Facebook about the protests .
"If this is happening, it's because the unions weren't doing what was needed, when it was needed. They haven't delivered," she said. She is worried about her 20-year-old son, who has only found temporary jobs in the past four years.

Alicia, an unemployed psychologist told Channel 4 News: "This is not specifically a movement against the current government. It's against the system. Against the way bankers and large businesses have been given carte blanche to do as they wish. It's a movement against politicians of any sign who look after their interests rather than ours, who embark on absurd electoral campaigns where they bring up irrelevant issues to try to win voters and attack their opponents, when we're more concerned about getting a job and getting back our earning power."

A regular WSM Forum poster describes how in Granada a relatively small city and traditionally somewhat conservative, "There were a succession of speakers making short snappy contributions. My Spanish is not great and my hearing is even worse but, from what I gathered. there was a very strong determination to ensure that the whole thing remained peaceful and democratic and not be subverted for violent purposes (interestingly enough, I only spotted a single cop car parked discretely in a back street). Something Ive never come before either was a form of instant feedback to speeches from the crowd by means of hand signals. Agreement was signified by raising arms and flapping hands, disagrement by crossing arms at the wrist and when you were really pissed off with the speaker and wanted someone else to speak you rotated your arms around each other. Really bizarre to look at - but effective."
He goes on to observe that
"The Real Democracy movement sweeping Spain is essentially a reformist movement but I think it is more than that. It is, or at least seems to be on the way to signifying, a cultural transformation - the utter exhaustion of capitalist politics compounded by years of city hall corruption that has engulfed both the main PSOE and PP parties (Spain has 3-4 millions homes standing empty, a living testament to the recklessness and stupidity of urban speculation). The Real Democracy strikes me very much as being a groundswell movement of ordinary people , not just students, who are just sick and tired of the empty platitudes of the politicans and grubbiness and greed of the banks."

The future is gloomy

Millions of people on low-to-middle incomes face years of declining living standards and are seeing their hopes of home ownership disappear, a major report by the independent thinktank the Resolution Foundation will conclude this week.

The report, Growth Without Gain?, will suggest that those in the "squeezed middle" are losing out in the post-boom era, as the highest earners take more and more from the proceeds of limited growth and so-called "middle-skilled" jobs are replaced by advancing technology. As a result, the current generation of hard-working individuals is being left dependent on lower-paid jobs in retail, hospitality and care and can no longer expect, as their parents did, to see their living standards rise as output expands.

The thinktank's chief executive, Gavin Kelly, an economist and former No 10 deputy chief of staff, says the assumption that growth will trigger a return to an era of abundant skilled jobs and home ownership for all is at best "contestable" and at worst "risible".

The report will show how earnings began to stagnate well before the banking crisis and now look set to worsen. It points out how median earnings (taking inflation into account) were flat in the UK from 2003-2008 but are expected to fall in the coming year, only returning to 2001 levels in 2015.

Families are £13 a week worse off than they were a year ago as prices continue to grow at twice the rate of pay increases, research indicates. The typical family saw their disposable income drop by 7.1%, or £13 a week, during April compared with the same month of the previous year, according to supermarket group Asda. It warned that the situation looks likely to get worse. Price rises had led to people typically having just £167 a week left over once they had paid all of their essential outgoings, such as the rent or mortgage, utilities and transport costs. The steep price rises that families face are being exacerbated by the fact that wages are growing at only around half the level of inflation.

Charles Davis, managing economist of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which compiles the index for Asda, said: "Households are under significant financial duress at the moment and it looks like high inflation will keep up the squeeze throughout the year."

The Independent reports other research that Britain is one of the worst countries in Europe for families. High levels of debt and poverty, coupled with long and unsocial working hours, are major contributing factors, the report, Family Pressure Gauge, reveals. British families are among the most pressured in Europe, only ahead of Bulgaria and Romania. Stress from money and work worries, along with a lack of support for parents and poor living conditions, are all factors, the report finds.

The report also reveals that 14 per cent of families are suffering "critical" levels of debt. Almost a quarter of the average British working family income goes on childcare costs. One in seven families spend more than 40 per cent of their income on the rent or a mortgage. One in 20, or 340,800, British families live in "severe housing deprivation" – in overcrowded homes in poor condition, without a bath, shower or indoor toilet.

Britons working some of the longest hours in Europe – on average, 43 a week. Long working hours can affect health and time for family relationships, according to the report. It states that 78 per cent of British workers do not have flexible working hours.

A record 2.1 million children in Britain live in poverty, despite the fact that one or both of their parents work, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The figure has soared by 400,000 in the past five years, undermining the mantra that people can work their way out of poverty.

free open science

The ability to collaborate quickly and transparently online is just one facet of a growing movement in research known as open science.

There are many interpretations of what open science means, with different motivations across different disciplines. Some are driven by the backlash against corporate-funded science, with its profit-driven research agenda. Others are internet radicals who take the "information wants to be free" slogan literally. Others want to make important discoveries more likely to happen. But for all their differences, the ambition remains roughly the same: to try and revolutionise the way research is performed by unlocking it and making it more public.

"What we try to do is get people to organise differently," says Joseph Jackson, the organiser of the Open Science Summit, a meeting of advocates. Jackson is a young bioscientist who, like many others, has discovered that the technologies used in genetics and molecular biology, once the preserve of only the most well-funded labs, are now cheap enough to allow experimental work to take place in their garages. For many, this means that they can conduct genetic experiments in a new way, adopting the so-called "hacker ethic" – the desire to tinker, deconstruct, rebuild. Spurred on by the new-found ability to work outside the system, these biologists believe that the traditional way of doing science is not the most efficient and could even be holding back important developments. The first and most powerful change has been the use of the web to connect people and collect information. The internet allows like-minded individuals to seek one another out and share vast amounts of raw data. Researchers can lay claim to an idea not by publishing first in a journal (a process that can take many months) but by sharing their work online in an instant.

"The litmus test of openness is whether you can have access to the data," says Dr Rufus Pollock, a co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation, a group that promotes broader access to information and data. "If you have access to the data, then anyone can get it, use it, reuse it and redistribute it… we've always built on the work of others, stood on the shoulders of giants and learned from those who have gone before." He says that it is increasingly vital for many scientists to adopt an open approach. "We have found ourselves in a weird dead end," he says – where publicly funded science does not produce publicly accessible information.

It's a fundamental right to share knowledge, rather than hide it. The best example of open science in action is the Human Genome Project, which successfully mapped our DNA and then made the data public. In doing so, it outflanked J Craig Venter's proprietary attempt to patent the human genome, opening up the very essence of human life for science, rather than handing our biological information over to corporate interests.

The way most people conceive of science – as a highly specialised academic discipline conducted by white-coated professionals in universities or commercial laboratories – is a very modern construction. It is only over the last century that scientific disciplines became industrialised and compartmentalised. Some of history's most influential scientists and polymaths – people such as Robert Hooke, Charles Darwin and Benjamin Franklin – started as gentleman scholars and helped pioneer the foundations for modern inquiry at a time when the line between citizen and scientist was blurred.

Biophysicist Cameron Neylon, the conversion to open science came when he was working at the University of Southampton. He started publishing his lab notebook online. "Once you see how the web connects people and makes them more effective, it's a given," he says. "We can make research more efficient by making parts of the process more public.The sooner we can get to a point where people are rewarded for making more public their ideas, concepts, materials and data, the better off we'll be."

The idea of placing restrictions on the reproduction and distribution of information seems ridiculous . Indeed, there are countless ben­efits to th efreeflow of ideas. Information, as a buy and sell commodity and it is worth recalling what really makes a commodity—it is restriction of access. Inside socialist society the pursuit of knowledge will be free to all. There will be no restrictions on scientific investigation. This is impossible inside capitalism, with its copyright laws and its profit motive.

John Sulston, one of the leading researchers in the Human Genome Project has shown how powerful the profit motive is in science-based commerce. “We can't possibly prohibit discovery. But on the other hand to imagine that we should always exploit, especially if it makes extra money, is insane. I think most reasonable people, including those who run companies, would agree. The trouble is, once people get into a company boardroom, they have no other choice. They have shareholders. I am afraid you have to leave your principles at the door of the boardroom”, he says.” (Guardian, 2 February 2002).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

End of the World

“E-bible Fellowship is NO LONGER ACCEPTING DONATIONS due to the shortness of time until May 21 2011”.

When the website of a wacky Christian outfit ( not to be sent further donations you rub your eyes in disbelief and take a second look. But there it is in black and white. (At least it was when this article was being prepared, - of course now that 21 May has come and gone they may need your cash again). But what did they have planned for 21 May that meant they no longer wanted your money?

By the time you read this you will know. YOU ARE ALL DOOMED. It was the date of Judgement Day. After a massive earthquake all true believers in Jesus were carried up to heaven and the rest of you were sentenced to endure a final 153 days of “horror and chaos beyond description” before God ends the world on 21 October. Actually “horror and chaos beyond description” is pretty much what we’re used to under capitalism, but apparently it’s going to get even worse.

The date was worked out by the 89 year-old radio evangelist Harold Camping from California. This was his second attempt (he originally calculated that the world would end on 6 September 1994) but this time, he says, he is absolutely certain he has it right.

“God has given so much information in the Bible about this, and so many proofs, and so many signs, that we know it is absolutely going to happen without any question at all”.

However, in spite of the ‘proofs’ and ‘signs’ in the bible, and the mathematical genius of those who have calculated dozens of different doomsdays for us, the day of judgement has still not arrived. The ‘word of God’ doesn’t seem to be a very reliable document for prophesising the future. A few of the more interesting dates forecast for our demise so far have been :-

992AD. The arrival of the Antichrist was widely expected. In Germany a new sun rose in the north and 3 suns and 3 moons were seen fighting in the heavens.

1284. Pope Innocent III calculated this date out by adding 666 years to the date that
Islam was founded.

Between 1669 and 1690 20,000 Russian believers burned themselves alive in an attempt to escape the Antichrist.

1809. Mary Bateman, a fortune teller, had a chicken which laid eggs with the date of Christ’s return inscribed on them. She was later hanged. (Not because of her unreliable chicken, but for poisoning a client).

1830. Another prophetess Margaret MacDonald announced that Robert Owen, the social reformer was the Antichrist.

1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994. Each were predicted in turn as the date of Armageddon by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

1988. Edgar Whisenant a NASA scientist computed this date. (He of all people should have got it right. It’s not rocket science is it?)

1991. An Australian group worked out that Jesus would return via Sydney Harbour on 31 March 1991. (at 9.00 AM).)

Fortunately Isaac Newton calculated that doomsday would not occur until 2060. If we want a Socialist society we’ve got 49 years left to get it.


Also see The BBC report

Friday, May 20, 2011

The tarnished Golden State

California, the Golden State, has always seen itself as the best, the home of the good life.

"Some Californians are actually enjoying the highest levels of well-being in the world, where the rest of the world won't be for another half-century," said Kristen Lewis, one of the authors of "A Portrait of California." But the report by the American Human Development Project, which uses United Nations-based indicators of health, wealth and education rolled into a Human Development Index score, also sheds light on less fortunate parts of the state.

America's worst-off congressional district is in Fresno, California -- not the Mississippi Delta or Appalachia as researchers had expected.

Latino immigrants at the bottom of the pay and education scales. California’s Latina women earn the least, at $18,000—earnings on par with those of the typical American worker in 1960, half a century ago."The longer Latinos live in the United States, the shorter they live," Lewis said.

* Silicon Valley Shangri-La, HD Index score of 9.35, comprises the top 1% of the population in terms of well-being levels. These extremely well-educated high-tech entrepreneurs and professionals are fueling, and accruing the benefits of, innovation. Residents of these two neighborhood areas have highly developed capabilities, expanding their freedom to pursue goals that matter to them (Despite its overall high score, however, it is important to note that pockets of poverty exist within Silicon Valley). One in three in this California is foreign-born;
* Metro-Coastal Enclave California, HD Index score of 7.92, this group makes up 18% of the state’s population. They are located in upscale urban and suburban neighborhoods, chiefly along the coast. Residents of these areas are largely affluent, credentialed, and resilient knowledge workers enjoying comparative financial comfort and security;
* Main Street California, HD Index score of 5.92, this majority-minority group of Californians experience longer lives, higher levels of educational attainment, and higher earnings than the typical American. Yet these suburban and ex-urban Californians, representing 38% of the population, have an increasingly tenuous grip on middle-class life;
* Struggling California, with an HD Index score of 4.17, makes up 38% of the population across the state, from the suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas of the Central Valley to parts of major metro areas and the Inland Empire to swaths of Northern California. Struggling Californians work hard but find it nearly impossible to gain a foothold on security;
* The Forsaken Five Percent are residents bypassed by the digital economy and left behind in impoverished LA neighborhoods as well as in rural and urban areas in the San Joaquin Valley. The Forsaken Five Percent have an American HD Index score of 2.59. These Californians, of whom one-third are foreign-born, can expect to live nine fewer years than those in Shangri-La and face an extremely constrained range of opportunities and choices.

A good day at the office

Having previously blogged about Glencore here, the latest update is that Ivan Glasenberg is £7 billion richer - equal to the GDP of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Six Glencore chiefs will share £14bn (eclipsing the £700m held in stakes by eight senior executives at Goldman Sachs when it was floated in 1999.) and among the other big winners will be Daniel Mate and Aristotelis Mistakidis, who lead Glencore's zinc, copper and lead division. They now hold shares worth up to £2.4bn each. Tor Peterson, director of the firm's coal and coke division is now reported to be worth £2bn while Alex Beard, the London-based head of oil, saw the value of his shares rise to £1.7bn.

Glenmore already has access to half the world's supplies of zinc, lead and copper, 10 per cent of its grain and three per cent of the oil supply; and in recent years it has cemented its control of the supply chain by buying up mines and other plant outright.

envy and fear

Surveys show a substantial majority of the electorate agree that differences in income are too large and that ordinary people don't get a fair share.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that last year incomes among the top 1% grew at the fastest rate in a decade. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, the top 1,000 are £60.2bn better off this year than in 2010, bringing their collective wealth close to the record pre-recession levels. The High Pay Commission reveals that FTSE 100 chief executives are on average paid £4.2m annually, or 145 times the median wage – and on current trends will be paid £8m, or 214 times the median, by 2020. In the financial sector, even the CEO can seem modestly rewarded: this year, the top-paid banker at Barclays will get £14m, nearly four times the chief executive's earnings and 1,128 times more than the lowest-paid employee receives. The latest news is that Lloyds Banking Group plan a £2.57m final payday for Eric Daniels, the former chief executive, and a massive signing on deal for his replacement Horta-Osorio was given a £13.5m package to lure him from Santander to replace Mr Daniels, including £4.5m in shares for his first year. Later he will be eligible for a bonus of 2.25 times his £1.06m salary and up to 300 per cent of his £1.2m "reference salary" in long-term shares.

Meanwhile, once inflation is taken into account, most people's incomes are set to fall, after 15 years of virtual stagnation. Between 1996-7 and 2007-8, the earnings of someone in the middle of the income distribution rose (1997 prices) from £16,000 to £17,100 – barely £100, or less than 0.7% a year. Even the increase for those quite near the top of the income scale, better off than 90% of their fellow citizens, was unspectacular. Their inflation-discounted pay crept up from £36,700 to £41,500, or less than £450 (1.2%) a year. The top 0.1% scooped the jackpot. They got a £19,000 pay rise every year, taking their incomes to £538,600, a gain of 67% over 11 years. The commission gives no figures for the top 0.01%, but we can be confident they did even better.

In Britain and America during the neoliberal era: the very rich are soaring ahead, leaving behind not only manual workers but also the middle-income masses, including doctors, teachers, academics, solicitors, architects, Whitehall civil servants and, indeed, many CEOs who don't run FTSE 100 companies, to say nothing of the marketing, purchasing, personnel, sales and production executives below them. Many of the not-so-rich were born into the professional classes and high expectations. Now, to their surprise, they find themselves struggling. In income distribution, their interests are closer to those of the mass of the population than to people they once saw as their peers.

Why can't socialists harness workers' anger against the super-rich? One reason why is the working classes having little daily contact with the rich and little knowledge of how they lived, they simply didn't think about inequality much. Sociologist Garry Runciman observed: "Envy is a difficult emotion to sustain across a broad social distance." Even now, most Britons underestimate the rewards of bankers and executives. Top pay has reached such levels that, rather like interstellar distances, what the figures mean is hard to grasp. As psychologists will tell you, fear of loss is more powerful than the prospect of gain. The struggling "middle classes" look down more anxiously than they look up. Polls show they dislike high income inequalities but are lukewarm about redistribution. They worry that they are unlikely to benefit and may even lose from it; and worse still, those below them will be pulled up sufficiently to threaten their status.

This generation of the "middle classes" has internalised the values of individualist aspiration, as zealously propagated by Tony Blair as by Margaret Thatcher. It does not look to the application of social justice to improve its lot. It expects to rely on its own efforts to get ahead and, crucially, to maintain its position. This is exactly the mindset in the US, where individualist values are more deeply embedded. Americans accepted tax cuts for the rich with equanimity. Better to let the rich keep their money, they calculated, than to have it benefit economic and social inferiors.


blood for oil

Further to this earlier blog, more evidence that much of the motivation for the war against Iraq was indeed control of its oil resources.

MI6 plotted the toppling of Saddam Hussein nearly 18 months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, secret papers revealed. The intelligence service also made clear in newly declassified papers that the ‘prize’ for removing the Iraqi dictator was ‘new security to oil supplies’.

Tony Blair's special envoy to Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who as Britain's ambassador to the United Nations had made the case for invading Iraq, lobbied the Iraq's Prime Minister on oil contracts for BP just three months after leaving government service. He and the then BP chief executive Lord Browne, met Mr Allawi during his visit to London.

A Department of Trade and Industry memorandum claimed that Lord Browne was privately keen to do business in occupied Iraq while publicly denying that was the case. The company was particularly keen to develop Rumaila, near Basra, Iraq's largest oilfield.

Other released documents also contained an email from Sir Edward Chaplin, then the British ambassador to Iraq, to BP executive Tony Renton, in August 2004 showing that he lobbied the Iraqi oil ministry on behalf of BP. In the email Sir Edward mentions his meeting with oil minister Thamer Ghadban: "I raised the Rumaila bid at the end of our meeting, stressing the importance I saw in having a major British oil company involved early in the development of Iraq's oil industry."

In 2009 BP won a 20-year deal to manage the Rumaila field.

Evidence by Major General Michael Laurie, proves that Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell were slippery, unashamed and able to mislead not only the Inquiry but the families of about 200 British soldiers who laid down their lives in this illegal bloody war.

In a statement published on Iraq Inquiry website, General Michael Laurie who was in charge of commanding and delivering raw and analyzed intelligence, said, "I am writing to comment on the position taken by Alastair Campbell during his evidence to you … when he stated that the purpose of the dossier was not to make a case for war; I and those involved in its production saw it exactly as that, and that was the direction we were given." Laurie said "We could find no evidence of planes, missiles or equipment that related to WMD, generally concluding that they must have been dismantled, buried or taken abroad. There has probably never been a greater detailed scrutiny of every piece of ground in any country."