Thursday, June 30, 2011

Protest for the "Impossible"

We can take some heart from popular demonstrations . It is heartening to see so many , united in common voice - it reveals the workers can be mobilised around issues they feel are important. Our class is once again on the move, fighting to protect its interests, and talking about its future. This is a very good thing. We welcome any upsurge in the militancy and resistance and organisation of our class. People power is in evidence everywhere and more and more we see individuals and groups standing up for their "rights". These workers are members of our class, their problems are ours, their losses and gains are ours. Our future is inseparable from theirs, and in wishing them every success in their efforts to better their conditions of life, we trust that through the sharpening conflict of the days to come they will rapidly gain a firm grasp of the final and permanent solution to the whole of their troubles – in the abolition of the wages system.

Protests may demonstrate great strength of feeling but they will also demonstrate a great weakness and this is the lack of control of those who take part and their dependence on the decisions and actions of present power structures. Because of this, protesters can become victims of a seductive but deadly process. The capitalist system constantly throws up issues that demand action amongst those who are concerned and by many people who think of themselves as socialists. As a result, protest tends to become a demand for an “improved” kind of capitalism which leaves the long-term reasons for protest intact. This has been the history of protest. In this sense, protest tends to set a stage for further protest and further demonstrations. Though the issues may vary the message stays the same: “We demand that governments do this, that or the other!” The spectacle of thousands demanding that governments act on their behalf is a most reassuring signal to those in power that their positions of control are secure. In this way, repeated demonstrations do little more than confirm the continuity of the system. Demonstrations are displays of necessity, in that the state is reminded that it needs the support of those who are demonstrating.

Protests often claimed to be about opposition to capitalism but they were actually much more focused upon a particular element within capitalism. The point is to change society, not to appeal to the doubtful better nature of its power structures. It is a question of cause and effect; we can demonstrate against all kinds of things that we consider ‘unfair’ but unless we recognise and tackle their cause the problem will only remain. Demonstrators can at best hope to alleviate a problem, but the respite is only temporary. The world cannot be made ‘fair’. We must seek to stop the skirmishes by winning the class war, and thereby ending it. This is only possible if the capitalist class is dispossessed of its wealth and power. That means that the working class as a whole must understand the issues, and organise and fight for these ends themselves – by organising a political party for the conquest of state power that will convert the means of production into the common property of the whole community.

Worryingly, protest and dissent have themselves been criminalised, with police violence becoming more or less the norm, with prominent resisters being arrested on trumped-up charges and so kept out of the way during demonstrations, and with all civil disobedience being equated with violence. Demonstrators have been provoked and terrorised by armed police, ‘kettled’ for hours on freezing cold streets without access to food, water or toilet facilities, and then savagely beaten with truncheons. No one is spared this state thuggery. But surely in Britain, we live in a free society with the right to protest? It’s a democracy after all. We can demonstrate until we are blue in the face, but as long as the government keeps a firm hand on the state (the police and army), they will get their way in the end. When it is in the interest of the capitalist class for the state to appear strong in order to deter workers from taking action, then the full force of the state is put into operation. Socialist hold that democratically elected governments, when feeling threatened, will react as brutally as dictatorships. Nor do laws prohibiting certain acts of violence or infringing on civil liberties inhibit them.

Well-meaning people will protest their outrage at government policies. We advise demonstrators to invest in a sturdy banner and settle down to a life of campaigning. Demanding change from institutions whose sole function is to serve the interests of profit is like asking a hungry shark to consider a vegetarian diet. Protest endlessly or start campaigning for a new world of common ownership, democratic control, peace and human welfare.

It is only with the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialist society that worker servitude everywhere will end. This is achievable not by demonstrating for reforms to institutions of capitalist society. It is not enough to be "anti-capitalist". We must go far beyond mere protests, organise to abolish the profit system and replace it with a world of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for needs. We're not saying you are wrong. We're not suggesting you are demanding too much - in truth, you are not demanding enough! We are here today to urge you to stop belittling yourself and your class by making the same age-old demands of the master class. It is now no utopian fantasy – but a practical, revolutionary proposition – to suggest we can live in a world without waste or want or war, in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation. Demand what until now has been considered "the impossible"!

The Class Struggle — Onward to the Political Phase

While the government point to changing demographics – an increasingly ageing population – as a key reason for the pensions problem, there are several other factors impelling capitalists to try and cut back on their pension costs and liabilities. One is the problem of a fallen stock exchange. Public sector workers did not cause the current economic crisis but they are expected to make up for it.

The media is desperate to discredit them. The anti-public sector, anti-union campaign is vociferous once again. "Gold-plated pensions" is one battle-cry. That's the media’s job – to wage a propaganda war to make sure everyone’s ‘on-side’ and ‘on-side’ means (as if it’s not obvious enough ) on the side of the government and the bosses. Every strike of any size has been put down to the nefarious influence of "militants". But workers do not go to the lengths of striking just to please Machiavellian union bosses. The fact remains though that the unions remain strong enough within the state sector to resist attacks to a certain extent. The unions today may remain weak: membership but the membership is concentrated in the public sector (57 percent of public-sector workers are unionised compared with just 15 percent in the private).This means our unions can still ‘cause chaos’ to use the emotionally loaded language of the media. Strikers are never popular with government so they are libelled as selfish disrupters of the communal well-being. However, there would be no point in a strike which was not disruptive in some way. It is not illegal to go on strike. But the state only made strikes legal after the workers had demonstrated that the law wasn’t going to stop them striking. In other words, the state’s recognition of the “right” to strike was the state accepting that the workers had already acquired the “might” to strike. Anti-union laws do not stop workers taking action. It is, and always has been, the determination and consciousness of workers that guides their disputes. No law could stop people refusing to work. Trade unions are tools for the workers to engage in the labour market. Their memberships are of many different political persuasions, workers banded together for the purpose of protecting their interests.

The strike is the force behind all trade union organisation. A trade union is a combination for the purpose of making it possible to collectively withhold labour-power. If there is to be a battle against the government within capitalism for a better standard of living the wages front is the arena to fight it and where intervention by the organised working class can pay dividends. And this is the arena where the workers, democratically organised, are most likely to come into conflict with the government. Cameron and his government have been expecting us to accept whatever’s coming to us. We must try to prove them wrong. When trade unions take action on sound lines the Socialist Party heeds its class allegiance and gives them support. From a socialist perspective, it is good to see the working class fighting back. The gains made by wage and salary workers on pay, pensions and other related issues have not, after all, been granted by benevolent governments or employers – they have been fought for. If those gains are to be defended, democratic and unified action by workers is necessary. It is the business of the capitalists to set one section of the working class against another in order to prevent them perceiving who are their real enemies. For workers, the struggle is not only over the size of pensions, but over identity, security and, ultimately, working conditions too. If the government and employers win on pensions they will try it on something else.

Nevertheless, important as activity of this sort is today it still does not get to the crux of the question. The Socialist Party urges all workers to consider the position. They have to strike because they are slaves to the capitalist class. Workers, besides making the greatest possible use of the trade union, must also come to recognise that even at their best the unions cannot bring permanent security or end poverty. These aims cannot be gained within the limits of capitalist society. Workers need to remember one thing – while such action is necessary within capitalism, there can be no lasting solution to the problems the market economy creates within the market system itself. It is the task of socialists to help those struggling within the system to see the bigger picture and recognise that lasting solutions to the problems faced by workers everywhere can only lie in removing the market economy. The highest expression of the class struggle is the political organisation to gain the state machinery for the single object of transferring the means of living from the capitalist class to where it belongs, in the hands of society as a whole, i. e., to change the basic organisation of society to one of production for use. Austerity, in a world of potential plenty, is always the lot of the working class under capitalism. This is why, in addition to trade unionism, a socialist political party is needed. To achieve socialism there must be a breaking down of the rivalries and antagonisms between all workers in all industries and a unification, on the political field, on the basis of a clear understanding and awareness of their interests. Unions cannot make revolutions, only the working class themselves can through clear, determined political action.

Them and Us

Pension pots of FTSE 100 directors reveals the widening gulf between boards and their workers. Directors in Britain's top 100 companies have accumulated final salary retirement pots worth £2.8m on average which could buy an employee a pension annuity worth more than £170,000 a year , Half of FTSE 100 directors still in final salary schemes that typically pay two-thirds of final salary as a retirement income. Directors earn full pension in 20 years, employees take 40 years.
Steve Tatton, editor of Incomes Data Services Executive Compensation Review explained, "While pension provision for board directors have remained generous, much of the workforce over the last few years have been going through a process of having the value of the payments into their scheme reduced."

MPs an work for just 15 years and build up a £24,000 pension, based on their salary of £65,738. A worker in the private sector would have to build up a pension pot of £700,000 over a lifetime to get the same income at age 65. MPs says they want reform but none says when. The Cabinet Office says it's a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the body created to police MPs pay amid the expenses row. The authority says it can do nothing until the leader of the Commons commences powers legislated for before the election but not yet "switched on". Even once it gets the powers, IPSA will be in no rush, saying it will take time to collate evidence and consult.

The government stopped using the retail prices index (RPI) to uprate public sector pensions each year. They decided to start using the more slowly rising consumer prices index (CPI) instead. CPI is not an appropriate index for inflation because it doesn't include housing costs. If those rates of inflation, with that 1.5% difference, were replicated every year for the next 20 years, then someone now receiving a pension of £10,000 would eventually get an annual pension of £18,415 with CPI instead of £24,583 with RPI. That is 25% less - a cash difference of £6,168 a year. BT revealed that the change has knocked £4.3bn off its deficit. At the Royal Mail, the change reduced its pension-scheme deficit by £3.5bn.

See Also no pension problem just a profits problem
and work til you drop

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Socialist Day School

Marx: A Vision for Today

Saturday, September 17,
11:00 AM

Head Office
52 Clapham High Street London SW4 7UN

Three talks, each followed by discussion.

Marx's Capital: A Satirical Utopia
Stuart Watkins

Why History Matters
Gwynn Thomas

Marx on "The Anarchists I Knew"
Adam Buick

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Equal Access to Justice

"There is a well-known ironic saying," said Lady Hale, the supreme court judge in a speech to the Law Society that "in England, justice is open to all – like the Ritz."
She warned legal aid cuts will hit poorest and have a "disproportionate" effect on the most vulnerable in society . She said "But it is not enough simply to have a system of law. You have to have access to it when you need it."

Solicitors warned that more than a third of law centres in England and Wales providing advice to the disadvantaged would be forced to close under the legal aid plans. Law centres help those who cannot afford to pay a solicitor to obtain legal advice and support in housing, welfare, medical negligence and many other areas that will soon no longer be eligible for legal aid. Figures provided by Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Federation, show that of 52 centres in England and Wales at least 18 will have no alternative but to shut down because three-quarters of their income comes from legal aid that will no longer be available. Last year, law centres helped 120,000 people, Bishop said. Soon, because of the government's determination to slice £350m out of its annual £2.1bn legal aid budget, the number who can be helped will fall by two-thirds to 40,000.

Proposals in the government's bill to introduce means-testing in police stations for those arrested to ascertain whether they are entitled to legal advice also came in for fierce criticism from the Law Society.

The flesh market

The World Health Organisation has estimated that about 10 per cent of organ transplants around the world stem from purely commercial transactions. A website in Philippines allows service providers and consumers to find and interact with each other. Naoval, an Indonesian man with "AB blood type, no drugs and no alcohol", wants to sell his kidney. Another man says: "I am a Filipino. I am willing to sell my kidney for my wife. She has breast cancer and I can't afford her medications." Then there is Enrique, 21, who is "willing to donate my kidney for an exchange".

Trade in organs follows a clear pattern: people from rich countries buy the organs, and people in poor countries sell them. Body parts from the poor, war victims and prisoners are bought or stolen for transplant into affluent ill people. Organ trafficking depends on several factors. One is people in distress. They are economically or socially disadvantaged, or live in war-torn societies with prevalent crime and a thriving black market. On the demand side are people who could die if they don't receive an organ transplant. Then there are organ brokers, who arrange the deals between sellers and buyers. Well-equipped clinics and medical staff are also needed. Such clinics can be found in many countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Ukraine, South Africa, and the Philippines. The Philippines is known as a centre of the illegal organ trade and a "hot spot" for transplant tourism. Some people live in such extreme poverty that they will do virtually anything for a chance to escape, however slim.

Trade in humans and their bodies is not new, but today's businesses are historically unique, because they require advanced biomedicine. One of the more obvious manifestations of treating the human body as a resource to be mined is the hospital waiting list, used in many countries. Says one organ recipient "I'm not the kind of man who uses other people, but I had to. I had to choose between dying and getting back my life." The biological imperatives that guide the priority system of waiting lists are easily transformed into economic values. As always where demand exceeds supply, people may not accept waiting their turn - and other countries and other peoples' bodies give them the alternative they seek.

Socialists often point out that the working class are exploited by the capitalist class but here is an example where capitalism not only live off the poor but actually use their body organs to profit!

Middlemen, beyond taking large profits, encourage the trade by assuring buyers that the transaction is conducted ethically. The dramatic medical benefits sanction what would otherwise be seen as exploitation.
"The crimes are covered up," Scott Carney writes in his book The Red Market "in a veil of altruistic ideals."
The economic promise of these compromised transactions is so often elusive. One reality is that people who sell bodies and body parts rarely see their lives improved. Many of these transactions are against the law, of course. Buying and selling transplant organs is illegal almost everywhere, for instance. The trade persists, according to Carney, as a result of two major flaws in the transplant system. First, while the law prohibits the buying and selling of organs, it does not prohibit anyone from billing for the services involved in transplanting organs. This provides doctors and hospitals with a financial incentive to perform transplants, while the costs of the organ are absorbed into the larger transaction and easily hidden from view. The second flaw is the practice of making organ donation anonymous. You can buy an organ without knowing where it came from, and it thus becomes mere tissue rather than part of a human being. Anonymity does not merely dehumanise donors, however; it also endangers them by making it easier for buyers and brokers to escape accountability for deaths and injuries.

Carney estimates he is personlly worth $250,000 if he was sold for body parts. "... bodies are unquestionably commodities... As a product, bodies aren't assembled new in factories filled with sterile suited workers; rather they are harvested like used cars at scrap markets. Before you can write a check and pick up human tissue, someone needs to transform it from a tiny piece of humanity into something with a market value..."

It is feasible to conceive of a system that allows for organ transplants. It would depend on the existing norms of altruism and education. I'll leave the readers of the SOYMB blog to deduce our proposed starts with an s...

why the welfare state?

The government “should cultivate the view also among the propertyless classes of the population, those who are the most numerous and the least educated, that the state is not only an institution of necessity but also of welfare. By recognisable and direct advantages they must be led to look upon the state not as an agency devised solely for the protection of the better-situated classes of society but also as one serving their needs and interests.”

In this 1881 statement, Otto von Bismarck, Germany 's chancellor was providing a rationale for a welfare state: a means to pacify the lower classes and secure the Kaiser's rule.

Monday, June 27, 2011

All work and no play - the speed-up

Webster's defines speedup as "an employer's demand for accelerated output without increased pay," and it used to be a household word. Workers recognized it, unions watched for and negotiated over it—and, if necessary, walked out over it. But now it is no longer even acknowledged it not in economics texts, and certainly not in the media. Now the word we use is "productivity," a term insidious in both its usage and creep. Americans don't just work smarter, but harder. And harder. And harder!

Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than the British, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. Worldwide, almost everyone except Americans have, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time, and paid maternity leave. (The only other countries that don't mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland. USA?)

After a sharp dip in 2008 and 2009, US economic output recovered nicely to near pre-recession levels. But not so American workers: Far more people lost their jobs, and fewer were hired back once the recovery began, than anywhere else. Even among college graduates, unemployment is twice what it was in 2007, and those statistics don't take note of all the B.A.'s stocking shelves and answering phones. McDonald's recently announced that it had gotten more than a million applicants for 62,000 new positions. A "jobless recovery". US workers are falling prey to what we'll call offloading: cutting jobs and dumping the work onto the remaining staff. A euphemism for employees doing more than one job's worth of work—more than half of all workers surveyed said their jobs had expanded, usually without a raise or bonus. US productivity increased twice as fast in 2009 as it had in 2008, and twice as fast again in 2010: workforce down, output up. Corporate profits are up 22 percent since 2007, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute.
University of California-Berkeley economist Brad DeLong notes "These days firms take advantage of downturns in demand to rationalize operations and increase labor productivity, pleading business necessity to their workers."

Erica Groshen, a vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York: It's easier here than in, say, the UK or Germany "for employers to avoid adding permanent jobs," she told the AP recently. "They're less constrained by traditional human-resources practices or union contracts."

Rutgers political scientist Carl Van Horn: "Everything is tilted in favor of the employers...The employee has no leverage. If your boss says, 'I want you to come in the next two Saturdays,' what are you going to say—no?"

This is not just a product of the recession. Throughout the past decade, salaries stagnated and workloads grew. Then came the crash, and the speedup...speeded up.

Multitasking seems the obvious fix. If you multitask constantly, your actual mental circuitry erodes, and your brain loses its ability to focus. If you multitask constantly, your actual mental circuitry erodes, and your brain loses its ability to focus. "Virtually all multitaskers think they are brilliant at multitasking," warns Stanford sociologist Clifford Nass. "And one of the big discoveries is, you know what? You're really lousy at it. It's been demonstrated over and over and over. No one talks about it—I don't know why—but in fact there's no contradictory evidence to this for about the last 15, 20 years." There's a growing recognition that unrealistic demands on time are destroying the souls of...the executives. "Always-on, multitasking work environments are killing productivity, dampening creativity, and making us unhappy," notes a recent article in McKinsey Quarterly, the research publication of the giant global consulting firm that has been corporate America's chief efficiency cheerleader. "These scourges hit CEOs and their colleagues in the C-suite particularly hard." McKinsey's advice to beleaguered executives? Do one thing at a time; delegate; take more breaks. But not for the millions of people whose work has been downsized, offshored, and sped up thanks to McKinsey.

For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they've ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top: By 2008, the wealthiest 0.1 percent were making 6.4 times as much as they did in 1980 (adjusted for inflation). All that extra duties workers taken on—the late nights, the skipped lunch hours, the missed soccer games—paid off. For them. This will keep up as long as we buy into three fallacies: One, that to feel crushed by debilitating workloads is a personal failing. Two, that it's just your company or industry struggling—when in fact what's happening to hotel maids and sales clerks is also happening to project managers, engineers, and doctors. Three, that there's nothing anyone can do about it.

But if you're in an abusive relationship—which 90-plus percent of America currently is—the first step toward change is to admit the problem.

Adapted from Mother Jones magazine here

Two more books

Here are two further works which this blogger considers wortjy additions to the top five socialist books thread on the WSM's Discussion Forum. Both Francis Wheen's Karl Marx and Robert Barltrop's The Monument (The Story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain) are exceedingly well written, compelling and sometimes colourful accounts of their subjects.

IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE for a Socialist to take up his pen to review the first-ever history of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, without a certain pleasure and sense of occasion. The task of writing such a history has been neglected by friend and foe for far too long. That the seventy-one years spanned have been eventful, interesting and challenging, as well as educational, can be seen from reading The Monument.

One could yield to the temptation to comment upon every point made; this, however, is not the purpose of a review. The task here is to assess the merits of the book and its account of the Party.

It is not easy to capture the mood of an era and to sketch in the many shades and subtleties, to look into personalities and situations and to express their contents and substance. This the author has done with a liberal measure of success. That the era and mood have changed repeatedly since 1904 (all within the context of developing capitalism) is brought out clearly.

The foreword says that the history of the Party has been a matter not so much of policies as of the kinds of men, often remarkable, who made it.

Whilst as Marxists we would not deny that men make history, the Party has an identity represented by its Declaration of Principles and the ideas developed in them. These stand regardless of the coming and going of individuals. That individuals who wanted to go off at a tangent - and take the Party with them - have appeared from time to time has mainly served to highlight the fact that the Party has never wanted to go. But to have tried to tell the story without the characters, would have been a gross error.

All the major (and many minor) milestones in the Party's history are there. What stands out through everything is the Party's commitment to its Principles and its objective, Socialism. The thrashing out of attitudes toward trade unions in the very early days, was guided by the determination to avoid opportunism and not to put Socialism into cold storage while other issues were pursued.

With hindsight, we in the Party today might regard the "WB of Upton Park" controversy, as a hypothetical debating point. The Party in practice has never supported any reform, and the possibility of a lone Socialist MP being elected in isolation is remote, to say the least. This kind of imbalance in the spread of Socialist ideas, does not really add up. The reply to WB (which is reproduced in full) makes this point. What is mildly amazing is that both the Party (in its reply), and the group that left, stressed that there could be NO COMPROMISE. When Harry Martin died in 1951, the SOCIALIST STANDARD published a tribute to him. Although he had left the Party forty years before, he had remained a staunch advocate of Socialism.

The statement issued at the outbreak of war in 1914 is there in full, and the extreme difficulties suffered by members for standing against the war are well detailed. How, in the course of allegedly fighting for freedom, freedom to dissent is trodden underfoot, often quite literally together with the dissenters. The upheaval of 1917 and the Party's rejection of its socialist pretentions. The fact that we alone published the Bolshevik statement against the war in March 1915 shows that we considered the Bolsheviks' evidence before rendering judgement.

The electoral campaigns the Party has fought are dealt with in some detail, from the first contests in Borough Council elections in Battersea and Tooting during 1906 up to the Bethnal Green parliamentary campaign in 1959. The Parliamentary and GLC contests since then are not mentioned but the most important point, namely our consistent appeal for only Socialist votes, is well registered.

The activities in the years of economic depression between wars are related with a wealth of colourful anecdotes and description. The second World War, and the controversy over democracy, still has a vital lesson for the working class to learn. The Party had said : "Democracy cannot be defended by fighting for it." One has only to read the extract from Jacomb's reply to see how the years since the war have vindicated the position taken by the Party. Jacomb said:

"If democracy cannot be defended by force then the power behind the machine-gun can (unless there is some other way of defending democracy) withdraw all democratic rights at will ..."

The fact is there are always more machine-guns and wars, but the cemeteries with which they have covered the world make no contribution to democracy.

In chapter twelve, which relates the story of the tribunals for conscientious objectors, there is a reference which says Clause Six of the Declaration of Principles is "a clear statement that the Party aimed at using the armed forces as an 'agent of emancipation'." However, that government machinery, including the armed forces must be CONVERTED from an instrument of oppression in to the agent of emancipation can be readily checked, as the Declaration of Principles and our Object appear in full on pages nine and ten.

The foreword makes clear that the greater part of the book was written while the author was away from the Party. The final chapter is a strong reaffirrnation of his own identification with the Party. The history he has written proves the "anonymous sage" in the foreword was wrong. We are much more a movement.


(The Socialist Standard, December 1975)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

To a supporter of capitalism

Of course the things we need to live will have to be produced by someone in socialism. The difference being that, in socialism, the means for producing and distributing these things will belong to us all. They will not be the possessions of a tiny minority of the worlds population. Moreover, our relationship to the means and instruments to this production and distribution will not be an alienated one. As we share in the productive and distributive efforts equally, we will share in the access to the same. As free and equal members of the human species.
Anything wrong with that? not from where I stand!

Capitalism, this society you seem so enamoured with, as in a Faustian otherworld, does not work for us, the majority.

Ever heard of the wealthy worrying about the price of energy, foodstuffs, housing, their "kids" futures, paying the bills, etc, etc, etc ad-nauseum? No.

Getting employment, keeping it? No.

Paying the mortgage, or possible mortgage rate rises. Or being penalised for under occupancy of their homes if they happen to be recipients of what is laughingly called “the benefits” system? No, didn’t think you had.

Moreover, what gives a minority of individuals the right of ownership, of the things that are necessary for us all to live? Things, such as oil, gas, coal, land that existed long before the ancestors of modern man, crawled from the primordial slime?

A minority of people today, claim ownership of these things and more and a whole structure of laws and law-enforcement, has grown, to protect the rights of this minority of social parasites. 95 percent or more of laws, are to protect private property, not the person, why?
It is so that this minority can retain their minority ownership, at the expense of the majority of other people.

You and others, support a system, capitalism, that is antithetical to the interests of yourselves, your families and indeed to the majority of mankind, without even knowing how this system works and in whose interests. Indeed, workers go as far as laying down their lives to perpetuate this insanity.

And you to try to preach about how good this system is?

Tell that to the 30 to 40,000 kids under five, who die every day, of starvation or directly attributable disease.

The two billion of our fellow human beings who go to bed hungry every night.

The hundreds of millions who have no access to sanitation or clean water.

The hundreds of thousands of people, homeless, even in the so-called "civilised" west, in sight of empty houses.

A society, where it is more profitable to let fields lie fallow, rather than produce crops for the starving.

A society that destroys food, to keep prices high, rather than feed people.

You want this insanity? You've got it, it's called capitalism.



"Fellow-countrymen, when we contend for an equality of political rights, it is not in order to lop off an unjust tax or useless pension, or to get a transfer of wealth, power, or influence, for a party; but to be able to probe our social evils to their source, and to apply effective remedies to prevent, instead of unjust laws to punish…

And if the teachers of temperance and preachers of morality would unite like us, and direct their attention to the source of the evil, instead of nibbling at the effects, and seldom speaking of the cause; then, indeed instead of splendid palaces of intemperance daily erected, as if in mockery of their exertions – built on the ruins of happy home, despairing minds, and sickened hearts – we should soon have a sober, honest, and reflecting people."

(Address to the Working Men’s Association, from The Early Chartists, edited by Dorothy Thompson.)

The language is old but the intention is clear: society must be transformed. Central to this transformation is education, but of a quite specific sort: a critical understanding of the real factors, the causes, of industrial oppression, knowledge to be used to undermine the ruling establishment.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

one less plague

The scourge of smallpox was made history. Now for the first time an animal disease has been eliminated from its natural setting because of human efforts – achieved under an international programme coordinated by FAO since 1994.

The highly infectious viral disease, rinderpest, does not directly affect humans, but it takes just a few days for a sick animal to die and it can wipe out whole herds. The last known outbreak occurred in Kenya in 2001. The lessons learned from the elimination of rinderpest, a deadly cattle plague that has threatened the livelihoods of herders and rural families for millennia, can be applied to tackling other major challenges.

Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization described the eradication as a major success for humanity.
“Over the years I have frequently said that the world has the means necessary to eliminate hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty,” said Mr. Diouf. “The total eradication of rinderpest – a disease that decimated cattle, buffalo and many other animal species, both domestic and wild – is proof of this today.”

SOYMB would agree that this achievment indicates the possiblities and benefits when we decide to tackle social problems but unfortunately we do not share the optimism that capitalism is a system capable of such co-operation and co-ordination (except on very rare occasions.) Nor are we the only ones.

Beyond their control
We read here of the well-meaning G20 plan, known as the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) . The G-20 believes volatility in agricultural commodities results from irresponsible speculation and a lack of information on global food stocks and the supply and demand of crops. The G20 is betting that collecting that information from nations as well as private companies - and making it public - will help foil speculators and calm markets. It requires the full cooperation of nations and corporations. Yet French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire admitted that China and India have resisted disclosing details about their food supplies, citing national security. The private corporations present an even bigger challenge. The G20 can't force them to disclose their data, and they may resist revealing sensitive information to competitors. This isn't the first time the G20 has tried to exert some control over an erratic and troublesome commodity market. Back in 2002 the G20 launched the Joint Oil Data Initiative (JODI), an attempt to arrest volatility in the oil markets. Participants in the oil markets have been slow to cooperate, and a glance at any recent oil price chart will tell you that the oil markets are as volatile as ever. Similarly, the many pressures on agricultural commodities, most of which are beyond the G20's control, will keep the market volatile while pushing prices upward.

"Fixing the global food system and ending the food price crisis requires major surgery yet the G20 produced little more than a sticking plaster "Jean-CyrilDagorn, policy advisor for Oxfam's GROW campaign, said in a statement. "Crossing our fingers and hoping the crisis will go away is simply not good enough when millions of people are going hungry..."

The former UN secretary- general, Kofi Annan says "...If countries cannot come together successfully to deliver food security – this most basic of human needs – our hopes for wider international cooperation are doomed," He explained that "Africa is the continent which has perhaps the greatest opportunities to help find solutions to global food insecurity. Even within existing cultivated land, a doubling of cereal yields would turn Africa into a major food surplus region." He warned that the already shameful global record of the number of people living in hunger and poverty is likely to get worse instead of better.

too big to sue

Walmart is nothing if not a monument to the benefits of mass organization, an exemplar of all the good things that can be extracted by those who assemble themselves into a single large-scale entity. As the largest retailer on earth, the company is generally able to dictate the terms of trade with the thousands of merchants who keep the shelves of its stores stocked with cut-rate goods, tapping factories in China and middlemen traders in Latin America. Walmart has a habit of placing multiple orders with multiple factories for the same products, then forcing each to accept lower prices at the last minute or walk away with nothing. By dint of its scale, it is able to capture the lowest prices for just about everything, from shipping to labor to contracting services. This is the power of being not only huge but organized into one entity. Wal-Mart is the country's largest private employer. Apparently, once a company reaches such stature, its workers cannot claim common ground.

Stripped of technicalities what the Supreme Court essentially decreed this week is that Walmart's employees -- or really any group of people who happen to work for a colossal corporation -- are not entitled to organize themselves similarly to enhance their power to pursue their own interests. The court ruled that female workers may not be considered a class for the purposes of a lawsuit in which they accuse the company of years of gender discrimination, because they worked in many different stores in many different American communities, making their experiences effectively individual. Each Walmart is its own separate unit, for the purposes of the lawsuit. Walmart gets to be a behemoth when it is setting the prices for purchases from factories in Mexico and China, but when its employees want to band together to address alleged abuses in the court system, suddenly the Walmart corporation might just as well be a collection of little mom-and-pop shops that happen to have the same name. The court suggested that the Walmart workers could pursue relief to their claims by filing their own individual lawsuits, but that is no option for low-wage employees who typically earn so little that many rely upon food stamps say labor experts. But low-wage workers employed by large corporations typically lack the resources required to pursue a lawsuit, making the class-action a particularly fruitful avenue. Class-action suits were previously the best tool a worker had to fight discrimination at work. While individual suits are expensive and can be exceedingly difficult to prove, a class-action vehicle allowed workers to band together to fight the corporate powers that be. For the labor movement, this is a distressing development. Another crucial weapon in a diminishing arsenal -- the class action lawsuit -- has been effectively blunted. Big business won, workers lost.

Class actions have been employed by workers--particularly lower-wage workers--as a substitute for the force that collective bargaining wielded in an era of broader union representation. By banding together in large-scale lawsuits, workers have effectively organized themselves into unified, powerful voices, gaining leverage in negotiations with management. The class-action lawsuit was really a substitute for unionism. By blunting that weapon, the Supreme Court has truly left millions of American workers without recourse. In this case, the large voice of female workers was found to be too big to certify as a class, since they were spread out among as many as 3,400 stores and worked for a wide variety of managers. Walmart has never been unionized. But the content of the women's complaints were once the bread and butter of union collective bargaining agreements: equal pay and equal raises for employees. Beginning in 2001, more than 100 female employees accused Walmart -- which pulled in $14.1 billion in profits last year despite lagging U.S. sales -- of paying its female employees less than men in equivalent positions and favoring men in promotions at 3,400 U.S. stores since late 1998.

"We're talking about access to the courts: Very few people other than the super rich can afford the costs of litigation," said John Coffee, a law professor at Columbia University who specializes in class-action suits. "There are other mechanisms to fight discrimination: unions or a tight job market which gives workers leverage. But the employer has all the leverage in today's weak job market, and unions aren't quite the same force they used to be."

"This ruling really ensures the continuation of a kind of slow grinding immiseration of the whole private service sector workforce. And it's it's very difficult to see any remedy." said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sir! No Sir!

Up to 100,000 people are expected to descend on Edinburgh between now and Sunday as it plays host to the third annual Armed Forces Day. The biggest event of its kind, it will involve thousands of personnel from the army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy along with VIP guests including the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay. The day is designed to honour and celebrate those who serve and have served in the Armed Forces.

The killing machine that is the military always needs fuel , so tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent on the media convincing youngsters to (literally) sign away their lives. Our most dangerous enemies the world over are the insidious, manufactured histories refashioned and spun to keep us on-side and supportive of damaging, acquisitive foreign policies and unpopular domestic ones. Part-truths, withheld information and downright lies as opposed to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is the norm. The old soldier hopes for the end of all wars as promised in “the war to end all wars” and the would-be recruit hopes he can be one of the ones to finally put the world to rights.

No member of the Socialist Party is allowed to join the armed forces, since we are not prepared to kill and be killed for "Queen and Country", but we do not regard soldiers and so on as enemies of the working class. The armed forces exist to defend the interests of the ruling class of whichever country they serve. To do this, their members must be prepared to kill, injure, maim and torture, under the orders of their commanding officers. And soldiers don’t just kill: they also die in the interests of a class of parasites. Learning to be a good soldier, sailor or airman/woman involves unquestioning acceptance of orders and soul-destroying drills intended to inculcate discipline and obedience. The humanity of soldiers and their victims are both dismembered by war and their training that prepares them for war. The experiences of an old man in a long ago war are not that different from those the young are experiencing right now. The technology moves on but the physical and emotional effects on the human beings remain terrifyingly similar.

Here, in Britain, where there is no conscription, very few people join the army with a view to killing others. Most join because they see it as an alternative to the dole queue or because they seek adventure or believe the army can teach them a valuable trade but the job of an army is to do the state's dirty work, that is to plunder land, wealth and raw materials, as well as secure routes for international trade, or to prevent another state from doing same. The UK regular armed forces are the third-largest in Europe after Germany and France. Britain is the world’s largest military spender after of course the US, and its armed forces being the most stretched in the world, over £2 billion is spent each year on recruiting and training 20,000 new personnel to replace those who either leave or are wounded/killed on active duty. The armed forces, as the statistics show, draw their non-officer recruits mainly from among young people with low educational accomplishment living in poor communities. A large proportion joining for disadvantaged reasons, including the lack of civilian career choices.

We don't need to select between the false options offered by capitalism. We don't have to choose between, on one hand, supporting the British state's bloody efforts in Afghanistan, and, on the other hand, supporting those unlikeliest of freedom fighters that make up the Taliban. We don't have to choose between the old-fashioned barbarism of the semi-feudal Taliban tribal leaders and war lords, and the modern barbarism of capitalism. Socialists reject that choice. We support neither side. We denounce as obscene the calls to send more weapons to the UK troops in Afghanistan so they can kill more of the tribesmen they are fighting. More crucially, we express a clear and consistent opposition to war, based not merely on emotion or morals, but on recognition that no working class interests are ever at stake in the battles of our leaders or our employers.

The SPGB are not pacifists. Pacifist are in the position of accepting the competitive social system which necessarily breeds bitter rivalries and of thinking at the same time that the rivalries can be settled by amicable discussion at the council table. The Socialist Prty would countenance fighting should a pro-capitalist minority take up arms to try to prevent the democratic establishment of socialism. However, we say there is no such thing as a "just war". Wars are fought over markets, investment outlets, raw material sources and trade routes and strategic points to control them. Wars are inevitable under capitalism because of the economic competition between states that is built-in to it, but is normally only a last resort when a state's "vital interest" is involved. War produces inhumanity. To assert to the contrary is to pander to the tastes of the capitalist history mongers with their glorification of war and their whitewashing of atrocities of their own armies.

To some, war is heroic; to others, it is anathema. There is only one thing that can be said for certain about wars: they are never fought in the interest of those who die in them. Today, Britain has a professional volunteer army, and technical advances mean that modern warfare is a much more scientific affair. War within capitalism can only be fought on capitalist terms. You can't have a democratic army.
The anarchist writer, Agustin Guillamon, writes "The nature of military warfare is determined by the class directing it. An army fighting in defence of a bourgeois state, even if it should be anti-fascist, is an army in the service of capitalism...War between a fascist state and an anti-fascist state is not a revolutionary class war. The proletariat's intervention on one side is an indication that it has already been defeated."

Our attitude and the workers’ real interest calls for not merely anti-war, but anti-capitalism. The true anti-war movement, rather than an anti-this-war movement, is the movement to replace the war-generating capitalist system with socialism. We call upon the workers to join with us in the fight for socialism. Until the workers cease to respond to the call of false nationalist sentiment they will remain what they are - wage slaves in peace, cannon fodder in war. Imagine when the bulk of workers, soldiers included, want an end to capitalism and have a good idea of the sort of society that will replace it - the day when the capitalist class will become frustrated generals without an army.

“I do not know of a war for the last 300 years that was caused by a soldier or a soldier’s ambition. All wars have economic causes. Without a single exception, all wars are wars for trade. They are caused by bankers, merchants and business men.” said Frederick Dent Grant of the United States Army as long ago as 1909

For the personal statement of an ex-soldier who became a socialist read here

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Socialists and education

In the present society the main aim of education is to provide the knowledge and skills base necessary for employment in capitalism. We must first be educated (trained would be a more accurate word to describe what really goes on) to take our place in capitalist society. A workforce educated according to the demands of the profit system will then maintain and boost the wealth of the owners of the means of production. There is a conventional mythology surrounding the noble ideals of education. Schools are said to be places where young minds are nurtured, where boys and girls are prepared to become responsible citizens. Political leaders and mainstream educationalists usually claim that the purpose of education is along the following lines:
(1) Acquisition of knowledge, development of mental and physical skills and personality to enhance the life of an individual.
(2) The achievement of the above, it is then declared, will enable individuals to make a contribution towards the overall economic, social and cultural wealth of society.

Education for life has long been a goal set up and discussed by teachers and others. Capitalism is increasingly eroding that role, transforming it into education for employment. In a class-based society such as capitalism, education, like much else, is subordinated to the interests of the ruling class. Those interests fundamentally involve the creation of profit which is a vital source of the wealth of the capitalists. The reality is that schools, colleges and universities are not independent of society—they are an essential feature of it. It has taught students to accept the status quo and to fit into it. This lack of radicalisation of students has been maintained through the following factors: The very limited nature of the education received by many students. Most of that education is geared to the demands of industry and commerce. Capitalism has so far at least, managed to pressure most students into thinking more about getting employment at the end of their course, rather than to consider becoming radical. The prevalence of status quo ideas in the education system: the values of religious organisations in feudal times and, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the values of the capitalist class. In more recent times most people’s understanding of the society in which they live has been influenced hugely by an expanding media, much of which is controlled by wealthy corporate owners and other commercial interests. What is not considered, despite much rhetoric to the contrary, is that each child is an individual, ironic for a system that lauds individualism.

When state education was established towards the end of the 19th century learning by rote, lots of copying. This reflected industrial processes for which those children were being prepared. Today the direct influence of capitalism is to be seen in the managerial approach; the setting and measuring of targets, a tightly controlled and prescriptive national curriculum, all inspected by OFSTED. School league tables are meant to indicate how well a school is "performing", but in fact help to instil "market discipline" as schools compete for pupils. The encouraged relationship of parents to schools is that of the marketplace. with parents as consumers, entering into a contract with the school that is itself, a self-run business. Here, the values of the market have been adopted. The marketplace frustrates rather than promotes self-improvement for the vast majority of people. The market is incompatible with any equitable sharing of society's wealth of knowledge and culture. As it stands, what is called education merely reflects the society in which it exists, divisive, demanding, pressurising, merely an alienating system, a vast factory, for turning out workers tuned to our masters' requirements.

Education of the young is the first way in which they are given a foretaste of what life will be like when they reach adulthood. The whole curriculum, from start to finish, is conducted within an atmosphere of competition and stress, together with a weeding-out process which segregates those with supposedly superior talents from those less fortunate. This is accomplished through the use of tests, examinations and grading, all of which have a direct bearing upon ultimate occupations and potential earnings. Such an environment prevents the pleasurable pursuit of education as a primary end in itself.

For the employer class the education of workers is a cost that must be borne as economically as possible. Universities are to be allowed to charge the going market rate for their courses. Once in employment, former students would begin to repay the cost of their loans (together with interest). Huge numbers of young people, on modest salaries will face these loan repayments, on top of either having to pay high rents for accommodation or taking out large mortgages.
The result of this is that most working class students will have an unenviable choice: either (1) to enter higher education and to be burdened with enormous amounts of debt, especially when accommodation and maintenance are considered, or (2) having to give up higher education altogether, with the probable consequence of stunted intellectual growth, temporarily, at the very least. This is all capitalism can offer the vast majority of people: a huge burden of debt which induces a form of enslavement or missing important opportunities in life in order to reduce the debt.
The rhetoric about the university is that it is a community of scholars. While some of the medieval universities were no doubt founded on this ideal, today the label "academic capitalism" seems more apposite. Academic capitalism denotes market behaviour on the part of universities and faculties. There has been a shift from state block grants to grants and contracts targeted on commercially useable results. Centres within universities that form government-industry-university partnerships are encouraged. Faculties are obliged to look for commercial research funding—projects that are applied rather than basic, that are tied to the needs of national or multinational corporations. Academics look for commercial funding for projects that are tied to national policy institutions and are partnered by prestigious firms, usually national or multinational in scope. Their own advancement is no longer dependent primarily on publications. Instead it depends at least partly on success in marketing activity.

The education system is a production line, vending skills for the jobs market; and like any production line, it must produce to follow demand.
Academic achievement is not the main goal of the education system, providing for the jobs market is. Low academic achievement is factored in, to supply the masses of jobs that don't need brain work. Only a few workers are needed to really think, thus the university system is set up to produce a small élite, to fill that niche market.
Their skills are valuable because they are rare: but, as in any other market, if the number of graduates available becomes too large—as it does as university education spreads—they are over-produced, and then their value drops. Sending more people to university does not guarantee more people with higher wages and does not guarantee more skilled jobs. Today people gain skills, and knowledge, only to be never able to use than when they find their McJob. There's little chance of enjoying the intellectual fruits of society when you're slaving for a living.

Education in Socialist Society
What would education be like in a socialist society? Socialism will put human need first. The welfare and needs of people, both as individuals and as a community will be treated as a priority. The importance of developing to the full, the mental, physical and social abilities and talents of everyone, as individuals, will undoubtedly be recognised. Most significantly, education will inevitably be considered a lifelong process and certainly not something to be compartmentalised into time slots, like happens under the present system. As a result of this, people will be able to lead far more satisfying lives than could ever be even remotely achieved under capitalism. This satisfaction would derive from the contributions to the overall material, intellectual social and cultural wealth of society which people would be able to make and, of course, from the fact that, as individuals, they would be able to enjoy the fruits of the common store. What can we say about education in socialist society? It is easier to foresee what will no longer take place than what will positively develop. With no employment, schooling will lose its function as preparation for employment. No more McDonaldisation of education, no more economics (though economy history, as part of history, may well survive). The knowledge and skills needed to run a society which inherits the best from the past and rejects the worst will be circulated and developed among adults, and the ability to think creatively and critically transmitted from generation to generation. There will surely be different approaches to—even controversies about—what task. Socialists have no difficulty with the concept of from each according to ability, an obvious recognition of difference, to each according to need, a guarantee no one can suffer or prosper due to congenital factors. Of course capitalism cannot act on this basis. The absolute need to produce for profit requires a trained workforce, why else make school attendance a legal requirement, pupils being the only members of our society forced by law into an institution without being convicted in court. Education has become associated with a punitive regime rather than a wide variety of ways everyone, whatever their innate abilities, could enhance their lives. Education will only be transformed along with society in general.

Marx’s concept of education was a polytechnic - the combination of physical, mental and technological education with productive labour (Instead of abolishing child labour, he believed that it should be regulated and combined with education. He divided children into age groups. The amount of time a child could work would increase with age.)
His ideas can be summarised as folows:
– A high level of education for everybody;
– Overcoming the division between manual and mental work: polytechnic education is pointless if one person spends a lifetime doing purely mental work, and another only manual labour;
– Removal of the distinction between working and learning, between school and work; every child should take part in socially necessary production from an early age; every adult should have the chance to go on learning, both at work and elsewhere;
– Everybody must participate in planning and decision-making; once polytechnic education has given everybody an understanding of social aims and technological problems, there can be no justification for excluding anybody from the organs of planning and decision-making: a society with polytechnic education cannot but be a democratic society.

Marx held that education should be a community function controlled by people in the locality. He writes in the Critique of th Gotha Programme "‘Elementary education by the state’ is altogether objectionable. Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches of instruction, etc., and, as is done in the United States, supervising the fulfilment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! Government and church should rather be equally excluded from any influence on the school."

Schools under capitalism resembles a factory in which materials are tested, classified and put through processes which will mould them into finished products for the market ranging from the cheap, mass-produced to the costlier high-grade article. In "The Education Dilemma" edited by J Simmons we read "It is true that schools have 'inputs' and 'outputs' and that one of their nominal purposes is to take human 'raw material' (i.e. children) and convert it into something more valuable (i.e. employable adults)."


Low earners face "potential poverty" in old age because they are not building up pensions or savings to supplement the state pension, a report has warned.

Just 16% of men and 27% of women in full-time employment on less than £300 per week belonged to a pension scheme. The Pensions Trends survey suggested that, despite wishing to save for old age, many employees are too stretched to meet day-to-day living costs and cannot afford to put money aside, the ONS said. Participation in private sector pension schemes is falling.

Financial advisor Mark Ryan said: “Because of the squeeze on income and inflation, the cost of living, it’s inevitable that people are struggling to fund the required contribution to build their retirement income because there’s more pressing things to secure their quality of life now. The problem we’ve got is many, many people are hanging on for dear life with regards to outgoings, as soon as interest rates start to go up it’s going to compound the problem."

Times may be tough for millions of Britons struggling with soaring living costs but that hasn’t stopped the number of super-rich from growing. There are now nearly 500,000 mega-wealthy people with plenty of liquid cash on top of their valuable property and pensions, according to the World Wealth Report. These ‘dollar millionaires’ have the equivalent of £625,000 in ‘investable assets’ or ready cash which is not tied up in their homes or pensions. The fortunes of the rich were swelled by the rising stock market prices which followed the recession.

Across the world 10.9million people have a mind-boggling $42.7 trillion between them in their bank accounts. America remains the bastion of the super-rich, boasting 3.4million people worth a total of $11.6 trillion.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Human Guinea Pigs

25 Indian women became volunteers for a clinical trial for breast cancer. Food every day and payment in thousands of rupees were the appeasements. After their three-month sojourn at a posh hotel in Hyderabad, enjoying old Telugu movies and no burden of hard labour, these women are now repenting that they had to pay a huge price for the luxuries offered by the multi-national pharma companies.

The women in the age group of 25 to 45 years were not aware of what drugs were given to them and opted to give blood in exchange of cash and became volunteers for a clinical trial. They were paid amounts ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 0,000 depending on the number of doses of drug they were ready to consume. After taking the drug, six women had to be hospitalised for complications.

"...the injections made me weak, and I am suffering from chest pain, body ache and nausea,” - Dhanalakshmi

"...I am not in a position to attend even to the routine household work,” - Ademma

Poor illiterate women being lured by money to come for drug trials. Brokers are used to lure people with money for clinical trials. In the case of what has happened in Andhra Pradesh, it's a woman from Guntur who hired the guinea pigs. There are rules against it, but companies blatantly flout it. Evaluating clinical trials of drugs for breast cancer, acute mania and schizophrenia, journalist Sandhya Srinivasan and researcher Sachin Nikarge found that the pharmaceutical companies took advantage of patients who were desperate for any kind of medical care and, in the case of psychiatric patients, probably incapable of providing genuine informed consent. A Center for Studies in Ethics and Rights report claims that psychiatric patients suffering from mania and schizophrenia were denied the normal treatment for their diseases and given placebos during clinical trials — likely because placebo-controlled studies are faster and more conclusive than studies that compare the experimental drug to an existing treatment. And, though the company concluded it was “not considered treatment related," one schizophrenic patient in the placebo group committed suicide during the trial of an anti-psychotic manufactured by AstraZeneca

Human clinical trials are conducted in four phases.In the first phase, an experimental drug is tested on a small group 0f 20-80 people. This stage is to evaluate how safe the medicine is and identify its side effects. Permission to carry out tests in phase 1 is given based on data of animal studies.In phase 2, the drug is given to a larger group of 100-300 people. This is to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety. The drug is administered to 1000-3000 people in the third phase. This is to confirm its effectiveness, side effects and compare the drug to other commonly used treatments. Post marketing studies are carried out in the fourth phase to gather additional information. Permission for each phase is given on the basis of data of the previous stage.

India is an easy target for clinical trials. It is a $400 million business in India -- and growing fast. Clinical trials are up to 60 percent cheaper to conduct in India than in developed countries, and companies are cashing in.

Poor unsuspecting people are easy meat for those trying out tests of drugs, which are in the very preliminary stage of development. More than 1,500 people have died in clinical experiments in the last 28 months. Last year, after seven young girls died during testing of a new vaccine for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer, Sama and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, another non-governmental organization (NGO), conducted a fact finding study. The NGO probe allegedly found evidence of serious ethical violations in the design and execution of the project — which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and carried out by PATH, an internationally respected nonprofit.


The real pro-life programme

Much as we read about the anti-abortion campaigns to protect the unborn , little do these groups draw from the reality of the real world in advocating change.

Over 7000 babies are stillborn, some 5 480 newborns die within 24 hours and almost 1000 mothers die every day in the world.

Ninety percent of all maternal deaths could be prevented if pregnant women were cared for by trained midwives, with specialised back-up in case of emergencies. This is according to the first-ever report on the State of the World's Midwifery released at the International Confederation of Midwives in Durban.

A woman's chance of dying as a result of pregnancy is one in 31 in sub-Saharan Africa and one in 4 300 in the developed world.

There is a global shortage of at least 350 000 midwives. The World Health Organisation recommends one midwife per 175 pregnant women, but in Rwanda, for example, there is one midwife per 8 600 births.

The five major causes of maternal death during 2005-2007 were non-pregnancy related infections, mainly AIDS (43.7%), hypertension (15.7%), haemorrhage (12.4%), sepsis (9.0%) and pre-existing maternal disease (6.0%). Some 38,4% of the 4,077 maternal deaths reviewed were avoidable within the health care system.

"Safe childbirth is not a luxury, it is a human right," said Bunmi Makinwa, the Africa Director for the UN Population Fund.

At Ola During Children's Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital city infants are crammed two or three to a bed, sometimes more. Since the introduction nearly 14 months ago of free health care for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five, the number of people coming to seek treatment has shot up. Staffing and equipment has not risen to match, leaving health workers struggling to deal with the influx. Sierra Leone's ambitious plan to tackle one of the world's highest rates of maternal mortality and infant death has garnered much praise. In a country where one in five children dies before their fifth birthday, and one in eight women dies from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, free health care is seen as a huge step forwar. But reports of corruption within the system are widespread. Patients recount being asked to pay for services and medications that should be free, or having to buy drugs when hospital supplies are said to have run out.

"People are still paying for a lot of drugs and a lot of services," says Birma Sheriff, Amnesty International's Sierra Leone country director. "This is not a secret. Everyone knows that people are still being asked for money, and it's going into the private pockets of someone, at the expense of the women. The free health care was supposed to be for women but cost is still stopping them."

Government-run hospitals saw about three times as many children under five - nearly three million - in the first 12 months of the program as in the preceding year. More than 126,000 women gave birth in hospital in the first year of the program, compared to about 87,000 in the previous year. The number of maternal complications treated in hospital increased from about 8,000 to over 20,000.

"Although the number of health staff has been increased since the launch of free health care it is still insufficient to match the service delivery demand," said a government report.

Dr. Mahmoud Idriss Kamara says the pressure on staff posed by the patient increase is wearing everyone down. Kamara sits behind a battered table, answering questions in between instructing staff, shuffling files, answering phones and signing the death papers for the child who'd just died. He has more than 24 hours left in his shift before he'd be able to get some sleep. Nurse Lucy Macauley says staff exhaustion leads to a poor standard of care for patients. She says they need help and the increase in workload should be accompanied by pay raises. "We're working harder, but for the same pay," says Macauley. Much of the equipment is obsolete and there are chronic shortages of supplies, she says, and the complex, which houses a maternity hospital and a children's hospital, has an inadequate water supply - often, there simply isn't any.

In Sierra Leone 70 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. There are fewer than 100 doctors for some six million people and most health facilities are poorly equipped and lack basics like water supply and electricity.

Capitalism is Carcinogenic

We have the ability to prevent thousands of cancers every year. It's not all biological. It's something we can change. We have been inundated with media reports telling us about the things that could cause cancer, what is bad for us and perhaps not so good for us. The fact is that if we did what we already know, at least 37% of cancer deaths in people between the ages of 27 and 64 could be avoided right now.

A report released Friday by the American Cancer Society echoes a 1989 statement by Dr. Samuel A. Broder, then director of the National Cancer Institute, who said that poverty is a carcinogen. The lower a person's socioeconomic status, the greater the risk of cancer. That's especially true for lung cancer. The report said that people who are lower on the economic ladder are more likely to engage in risky behavior —- partly because marketing for products such as tobacco is aimed specifically at them, and partly because of barriers —- societal and otherwise —- to opportunities for exercise and healthy food. And then impoverished people don't tend to engage in preventive medical care, which they can't afford, so that by the time they seek treatment, it's too often too late.

ACS has predicted that in 2011 around 1.6 million people will be newly diagnosed with cancers and around 572,000 people (more than 1,500 daily) will die from cancer.

The study looked at what would have happened in 2007 among adults ages 25 to 64 in the absence of socioeconomic and/or racial disparities. "If everyone in the United States experienced the same overall cancer death rates as the most educated non-Hispanic whites, 37 percent (60,370 of 164,190) of the premature cancer deaths could potentially have been avoided," the study stated. "This analysis suggests that eliminating socioeconomic disparities in African Americans could potentially avert twice as many premature cancer deaths as eliminating racial disparities, underscoring the dominant role of poverty in cancer disparities." If you are a poor African American and don't have an education, you are more likely not to be financially successful - and you have a much higher chance of dying from cancer than your ethnic counterpart who is better educated. Class trumps ethnicity.

Nearly two-thirds of deaths in the world are caused by noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart and lung disease. 36 million people died from noncommunicable diseases in 2008, representing 63 percent of the 57 million global deaths that year. Nearly 80 percent of deaths from these diseases were in the developing world, and 9 million deaths were of men and women under the age of 60, it said. In 2030, the report said, these diseases are projected to claim the lives of 52 million people. rheumatic heart disease, one of the most preventable of all heart diseases claims 200,000 lives annually in Africa alone.

John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said that by 2030 noncommunicable diseases are expected to cause five times as many deaths as communicable diseases worldwide. "it is the poorest people that suffer the most" because they can't afford early detection and quality care and must deal with overburdened and poorly equipped health care systems. 80 percent of noncommunicable diseases occur in low and middle-income countries. “Noncommunicable diseases perpetuate the poverty cycle"

“The main asset the poor possess is their labor, and that is the most threatened by the noncommunicable diseases,” David E. Bloom, professor of economics and demography at Harvard’s School of Public Health said.Link
The negative impact of urbanisation, and the globalisation of trade and marketing are some of the driving forces behind the spread of the unhealthy habits. For example, the vast displacement of indigenous and farming populations to the world’s mega-cities, who most often settle in slums, contributes to the degradation of a healthy, active lifestyle with minimally processed food. The displaced villagers often end up squatting in cramped quarters, in stark poverty but with all the trappings of Western “comforts” such as a television set, snack foods and the ubiquitous sugary sodas. People living in poverty do not know that they are part of a poverty culture. Poverty victims have no idea that they live in a culture that is different from the mainstream society, no more than a fish knows it lives in water, until it has been taken out of the water.

Meanwhile in Scotland government plans for welfare reform will plunge cancer patients into poverty simply "because they have not recovered quickly enough". Under the plans, many cancer patients will only receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for one year, worth £94 a week. Its loss will leave patients without financial support at a time when they are not well enough to go back to work or face barriers to employment, according to Macmillan Cancer

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

the perfect storm

Households were £14 a week worse off in May following a record squeeze on family spending power in the month, supermarket Asda said today. The £14 a week reduction equates to a £61-a-month drop and is the biggest decline since the survey began in January 2007.

The chain's latest Income Tracker found the average UK household had £165 a week left to spend in May, a fall of 8 per cent on the same month in 2010 after inflation remained at twice the Government's target at 4.5 per cent. Incomes have failed to keep up with the rising cost of living, with earnings growth of 2% in the three months to April.

Andy Clarke, Asda chief executive said the impact of increased living costs, record fuel prices and soaring utility bills was ''...creating the perfect storm for customers trying to make ends meet... The true cost of living is now beginning to take its toll. Inflation is rising twice the rate of earnings, petrol prices are at a record high and utilities bills are only getting steeper..."

The average family is £728 worse off than a year ago as wages fail to keep pace with the rising cost of living, the figures show.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Public Meetings

Let's make everything Free!
Tuesday, June 21,
8:00 PM
Chiswick Town Hall
Heathfield Terrace London W4 4JN

What is Capitalism?
Saturday, June 25,
2:00 PM
The Quebec Tavern

93-97 Quebec Road

Norwich NR1 4HY

The State of Palestine

Sunday, June 26,
4:00 PM
Head Office

52 Clapham High Street

London SW4 7UN

Is it OK to be patriotic again?

Monday, June 27,
8:30 PM
The Unicorn

26 Church Street

Manchester M4 1PW

No Borders - World Socialism

According to the UN high commission for refugees there were 43.7 million refugees and people displaced within their country by events such as war and natural disasters at the end of last year. More than half of the total are children. The report also reveals that there has been a fall in the number of returning refugees to 197,600, the lowest in two decades. The agency has also estimated that there are 12 million stateless people around the world.

Developing countries host 80% of the world's refugee population. Pakistan leads the rankings with 1.9 million people, followed by Iran and Syria, who host more than a million. Germany is fourth with 600,000 with the UK coming in tenth with 238,000 registered refugees, 26,000 fewer than the US in 9th place.

UNHCR UK spokesman Mans Nyberg said "Europe has the impression that the industrialised countries are being flooded. But the flood is into poorer countries. They can't cope."

One of the central fallacies, peddled by the gutter press, is that the asylum seekers to the UK are trying to get access to a “soft touch” welfare system. The report Understanding the Decision Making of Asylum Seekers refutes welfare as a basic motive for travelling around the world to come to another country. The majority of respondents had little or no knowledge of the UK welfare system (at most they had a vague idea that they would be “looked after”.) The report notes that “most wanted to find a job and did not want to live on state benefits.”

The chaos of global politics and repression drives the need to migrate, a global chaos born of the struggle between rival capitalist bands to access and monopolise the wealth of the world. The answer to people fleeing conflict, deprivation and brutal regimes is to remove the root causes. The problems we face are not caused by workers from other parts of the world migrating to this part, but by the capitalist system of class ownership and production for profit. Those travelling long distances through fear or desperation are people no different to ourselves. Why should something as arbitrary as where one is born determine where one is allowed to live? A sensible society would have no concept of refugeehood.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Canadian class struggles

Stephen Harper, Canada's Prime Minister, threat to legislate back Air Canada workers is a blatant interference in the right to free collective bargaining. It also sent a very clear message that this government would be using the power of its majority to violate the legal rights of workers. And then within hours of Canada Post locking out its 50,000 workers, the Harper government indicated it might legislate these workers back as well.

The issues in both labour disputes are the same. Both employers want to strip collective agreements, including pensions. Both want a two-tier system so they can pay new employees less. The message to the next generation of workers is dismal. War has been declared against them. It's open season on workers and unions

Under the surface of this story of working people struggling to protect a decent living and retirement for themselves is one of hypocrisy, a growing income gap between the rich and the rest, and government collusion. The CEO of Air Canada, Calin Rovinescu, has held the job for about two years. In that time, he has seen his salary increase by 76 per cent in a single year to $4.55 million. He will be also paid a $5 million bonus in a few months and his “defined benefit” pension plan is worth about $3.1 million. At the bargaining table, he is attacking the pension of plan of Air Canada employees, including a proposal to slash the pensions of recent retirees. This attack comes after a decade of concessions by Air Canada employees. The customer service workers returned to work after a three-day strike but pensions and wages, which prompted counter staff and reservations personnel to hit the picket lines, are expected to feature in up-coming negotiations with the airline's flight attendants, pilots, mechanics and baggage handlers. The union says the flight attendants could be in a legal strike position by mid-August.

Postal workers across Canada could be forced back to work under a proposed law. Union leaders denounced the potential back-to-work legislation as an overall trend to erode worker's hard-earned rights. Canada Post has shut down its operations nationwide.

No strike can stop a government determined to have its way. In the end the logic of capitalism will always win out. It is a recognition of the harsh fact that under capitalism the workers are a subordinate class with only limited powers to affect the course of events, certainly far less than those of governments - an unequal distribution of power that is at the very basis of capitalism. Trade union activity, including strikes, is necessary as long as capitalism lasts but it can’t work wonders. Strikes are essentially a trial of strength, testing the situation; once it has become clear what the respective strengths of the two sides are as can happen fairly rapidly, though not always then both sides know where they stand and a settlement can be negotiated on that basis. This would not have been cowardice or betrayal but is taking the government’s superior strength into account and settling on the best terms possible in the circumstances. The conclusion is that if the exploitation and oppression of the working class is to be ended, we need to win control of the machinery of government so as to at least ensure that it is not used against us. In other words, the way forward lies in political action. Industrial action is essentially only defensive and has limitations due to the subordinate position of workers under capitalism. The struggle on the economic field must be looked to and encouraged. But the workers must not be deluded into a false sense of power.

Socialists do not sloganise workers, nor do we use the union simply as a soap-box from which to harangue the membership. When issues arise we offer a class conscious interpretation of them, judiciously presenting the socialist analysis of day-to-day problems confronting labour. When workers are lock in combat with their employer, through strike action, socialists as an organised group should assist their fellow workers in whatever way they can. It is perhaps little known to a large majority of Canadian workers is the fact that what is now accepted without question – the principle of collective bargaining resulted from the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. The suppression of labour unions in any country usually signifies the suppression of all organised working class resistance. This fact alone should make apparent how deserving unions are of socialist support.