Sunday, July 31, 2011

Remembering Refugees

The UN Convention for Refugees was signed on 28 July 1951.

The UN says there are now 43 million people who are forcibly displaced through persecution or conflict, the highest since the mid-1990s. Several million are displaced through natural disasters and 27 million by conflict in their own countries. They are the "internally displaced people". The world's major refugee populations include Palestinians (4.8 million), Afghans (2.9 million), Iraqis (1.8 million), Somalis (700,000), Congolese (456,000), Burmese (407,000), Colombians (390,000) and Sudanese (370,000). Children make up around 41 per cent of the world's total, with women making up about half of all refugees. Around two-thirds have been in exile for more than five years.

The UK currently takes in about 4 per cent of the world's refugees out of 14 million worldwide. However, only 4,175 people were granted official refugee status in the UK last year. The Refugee Council faces 62 per cent cuts to support services for asylum seekers. A survey of Britons earlier this year revealed that two-thirds are sympathetic to refugees coming to the UK. The Refugee Council poll found three-quarters of women and 61 per cent of men were sympathetic to those fleeing persecution. But the poll also revealed widespread ignorance about refugees: more than four in 10 believe 100,000 or more refugees were accepted by the UK in 2009. While many people surveyed confused workers from Poland and Eastern Europe with refugees.

Asylum-seekers have been blamed for the shortage of jobs and public housing, but a cursory look at the figures reveal that this problem already existed. Politicians have concentrated on nauseating nit-picking about refugees not staying in the “first safe country” they reach, accusing them of seeing Britain as a “soft touch”. Apart from the fact that no country is “safe” from capitalism, just as this economic system became global because that was beneficial to capital, so too has there been economic pressure for one global language to facilitate efficiency in the markets. And since America has been, and remains the dominant economic power — along with other significant economies also having English as their principal language — governments and astute parents in other countries with different native tongues have felt impelled to teach children to speak English in order to be able to compete. Hence, migrants with even a smattering of English, and a desire to work for a bearable living standard or to pay off debts to people-traffickers, choose countries like Britain. Or Australia, a country ironically founded by boatloads of undesirables, where the government panders to apparently widespread racist sentiment.

Sadly, under capitalism, artificial lines on maps divide the world into different camps, which enable those who own the earth to defend their bit of it and to make claims on other bits. A sensible society would have no concept of refugeehood or any of the other states of oppression so movingly described here. The answer to people fleeing conflict, deprivation and brutal regimes is to remove the root causes of such nastiness — minority ownership and control of resources which generates rivalry. It is this exclusive possession and control of resources that also divides the world into separate competing countries, and the need for associated borders to prevent others from attempting to acquire these valuable assets. And since these means of production responsible are possessed and run by ruling classes in all countries worldwide, worldwide socialism is the only solution. Socialists are often reviled for their unrealistic utopianism in opposing national divisions. Yet we will always maintain that workers have no country.

For some Win Some - Lose Some but for us we all lose

Britain's most powerful grain company, jointly owned by Cargill and Associated British Foods, bought and took delivery of all the available UK feed wheat last month. The series of purchases of approximately 225,000 tonnes of feed wheat now worth in the region of £40m by Frontier Agriculture, was described by a number of traders as "unprecedented".

But the move appears to have backfired. With wheat in short supply three months before harvest, an unusually dry spell combined with a Russian export ban imposed last August sent wheat futures spiralling. Frontier's purchase sent May Futures even higher compared with other contracts. This could have created millions of pounds in profit for Frontier. But the Russian government's announcement in May that it would lift its export ban, much-needed rain and the temporary closure of a major bio-ethanol facility on Teeside, which uses almost 100,000 tonnes of wheat each month, led to a sudden price drop. This meant Frontier could have lost between £5m and £10m on its acquisition.

Deborah Doane, director of anti-poverty campaign group World Development Movement, which has been a vocal critic of what it describes as opaque commodity markets, said: "The end result of trades like this is a volatile market that often has no connection to real supply and demand, wreaking havoc on consumers in the UK and in poor nations."

G20 agriculture minister have met seeking ways to curb food price volatility, with Bruno Le Maire, France’s agriculture minister, saying that an agreement is essential to stop the 21st century from becoming “the century of hunger.

I will not sign a deal that will not include the question of the regulation of financial commodities markets, let’s be very clear,” Mr Le Maire said. He added that the main opponents of such measure were Britain and Australia. “The fight against excessive speculation is a cardinal point for France,” the minister said.

Nor is speculation limited to the grain markets. Howard Schultz, president of Starbucks, the world's largest coffee chain, has attacked speculators for pushing up the price of coffee to a 34-year high. He said that the current spike in the cost of commodities such as coffee and other foodstuffs is "not based on supply and demand" but based on market speculation. He said that the farmers who actually produce the commodities are receiving a "de minimus" proportion of the price rises.

"Right now we are experiencing a very strange and almost inexplicable phenomenon in the commodities market. Without any real supply or demand issues we are witness to the fact that most agricultural food commodities are at record highs at once, and coffee is at a 34-year high," he said. "Through financial speculation – hedge funds, index funds and other ways to manipulate the market – the commodities market is in a very unfortunate position. This has resulted in every coffee company having to pay extraordinarily high prices for coffee."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

News of the World

200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank remain unconnected to a water network and 95 per cent of water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption due to high levels of pollution. Palestinians live on 50 litres of water a day while Israeli settlers enjoy 280 litres. Israel over-extracts water from underground aquifers located in the West Bank for its own citizens and also sells back some of the water to water-short Palestinians at a high price. Water is at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Water remains one of the five issues up for debate to reach a final peace agreement alongside the status of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and the Israeli settlements.

Three weeks ago, Israeli soldiers armed with a truck and a digger entered the Palestinian village of Amniyr and destroyed nine water tanks. One week later, Israeli forces demolished water wells and water pumps in the villages of Al-Nasaryah, Al-Akrabanyah and Beit Hassan in the Jordan Valley.

"The environment can't wait for a final peace agreement," declared Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of the environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME).

Mexico's poverty rate jumped from 44.5 percent to 48.8 percent from 2008 to 2010. The number of people below the poverty line in Mexico rose by 3.2 million between 2008 and 2010 to 52 million, or 46.2 percent of the country's more than 112 million inhabitants, the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy, or Coneval, said. The increase in poverty had to do mainly with a drop in income and reduced access to food, primarily due to the global recession and spikes in the price of commodities, Coneval's executive secretary, Gonzalo Hernandez, said. the poorest 50 percent of urban dwellers seeing their incomes fall by 7.2 percent between 2008 and 2010. The economic situation of Mexico's roughly 10 million indigenous people also deteriorated.
Coneval categorizes an individual as poor if he or she suffers deprivations in one or more indicators such as access to health care, food and housing, and earns less than 2,100 pesos ($179) a month in urban areas or less than 1,300 pesos ($111) per month in rural zones. People living in extreme poverty suffer deprivations in three or more indicators and have income of less than 978 pesos ($83.50) a month in urban areas or less than 684 pesos ($58.40) a month in the rural sector.

People living in Northern Ireland suffer some of the worst poverty in western Europe. The Price of Being Poor, a report released by the Consumer Council, revealed that those who earn the least are forced to pay more for everyday goods. Consumers living in Northern Ireland are forced to pay more for essential goods such as fuel, insurance, transport and heating oil, problems are compounded for working people who receive £39 less in average weekly earnings than people living in England, Scotland or Wales.
It reveals that one of the country's biggest problems is fuel poverty - of which Northern Ireland has some of the highest rates in western Europe. It is estimated the number of households affected has jumped to 300,000 (44%) in recent years. Consumer Council chiefs believe that figure may even have risen to over 50% this year and claim a lack of heating fuel could have led to the deaths of up to 950 people, mostly elderly, last winter.

Namibia and Africa at large, is characterised by huge gaps of inequalities, be it social or economic. The gap between the 'haves and have nots' is bigger than a giant elephant and continues to grow even bigger.
Namibia has a huge income distribution gap. The gap is likely to widen given that, according to the Labour survey of 2008, almost half of Namibian households (47%) rely on wages and salaries as their main source of income. In urban areas, this figure was as high as 74%, compared to 27% in rural areas, where 38% of households depend on subsistence farming as the main source of income. Inequality is also spread across other sectors such as gender. According to the Human Development report for 2010, "in Namibia, 27% of parliamentary seats are held by women and 50 % of adult women have a secondary or higher level of education compared to 46% of their male counterparts."

Seventeen years after apartheid ended, miners feel little has changed to improve their lives and many live in debt. Miners in South Africa's biggest industry say their pay has not kept up with fast-rising food, fuel and electricity prices. Adding insult to injury, in their eyes, their raises pale in comparison to that of executives at the top 40 blue-chip companies. Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers said the median salaries of executive directors of the top 40 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange rose 23 percent to 4.8 million rand last year, while their short-term incentives rose by 58 percent to 3.8 million rand. South Africa's Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, stood at 0.67 in 2008, according to government figures, one of the highest in the world, and has worsened since white minority rule ended in 1994.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Price of a Puff

Ten years ago, only 11 per cent of the marijuana used in the UK was grown domestically. Now that figure has grown to nearly 90 per cent. Last year, UK law enforcement uncovered 1.3 million cannabis plants worth an estimated $410m. During 2010, the police found nearly 7,000 factories during raids - the number has increased by 900 per cent in the past six years. The UK authorities estimate that 75 per cent of the criminal gangs involved in this trade are ethnically Vietnamese

Vietnamese children now make up the largest group of children being trafficked into the UK, primarily for exploitation in the cultivation of cannabis. According to the UK government's CEOP organisation (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre), nearly 300 children per year are trafficked into the country - and nearly a quarter can end up on cannabis farms. Children forced to work underground in the booming cannabis trade, held hostage by debt and poverty, are often prosecuted as criminals rather than victims of trafficking when discovered. The exploitation of Vietnamese children for criminal profit in the drugs industry is a disturbing trend that shows no signs of abating. Vietnamese crime gangs often use children who are exploitable because their families are in debt bondage to moneylenders in their native country to work on a production process that exists to meet spiralling demand for the drug on the streets of Britain.

Boys and girls - some as young as 13, many not older than 16, are forced to work as 'gardeners', trapped inside the buildings, 24 hours a day, tending and watering the plants behind blacked-out windows with no ventilation. Eating, sleeping and working under heat lamps and exposed daily to toxic chemicals, they run a constant risk of electrocution and fire. And all the time they face the violence, intimidation and extortion of gang members who are determined to wring everything out of them until their debts are paid off - if that day ever comes. But when the police identify and raid the premises the plight of these young people is far from over. More often than not they are treated as offenders in the narcotics business, rather than as potential victims of trafficking. Many Vietnamese minors have been charged, prosecuted and sentenced for the production and supply of cannabis, but only 58 children last year were deemed trafficked when found in these environments. And to date, there have been no known convictions of Vietnamese criminals who have trafficked children into the UK for the purpose of cannabis cultivation. Moreover, as many of them are psychologically disturbed by the emotional and physical trauma they have experienced, they are often terrified of revealing their stories to the police - not least because of fears that if they talk, their family members back in Vietnam will be punished for their failure to pay off outstanding debts owed to moneylenders connected to the gangs. If they are recovered by authorities they are under extreme pressure to abscond from care, with traffickers often making threats. Once bailed or released from custody, nearly two-thirds of Vietnamese children go missing from local authority care soon after. According to anecdotal reports from care advisers, some are re-trafficked and return to a new cannabis farm, while others go back to their traffickers to pay off debts and avoid deportation. The threat of violence against a child or their family members is used as a powerful tool to ensure cooperation.

Vietnam is one of the poorest countries in south-east Asia, and the country is heavily reliant on an estimated $2bn worth of remittances paid by Vietnamese workers overseas. Last year, nearly 100,000 migrants went abroad for work. In these circumstances the door is wide open for exploitation, both by illegal labour agencies and traffickers posing as potential recruiters for overseas employers. It is not uncommon for Vietnamese labour export companies, most of which are state-affiliated, to charge workers well in excess of the fees allowed by law, sometimes demanding as much as $20,000 up front for the opportunity to work abroad. Paying such sums back is extraordinarily difficult and Vietnamese expatriate workers and economic migrants are consequently highly vulnerable to debt bondage and forced labour. On arrival in destination countries, many workers find themselves compelled to work in dangerous or substandard conditions for little or no pay with no credible avenues of legal recourse. When the work itself is illegal, as is often the case, then the authorities are the last people to whom the workers can turn for help. Debt bondage is common, with the trafficking and criminal networks determining the amount of money the bonded worker will have to pay off through unpaid labour. The debt notionally covers travel arrangements, accommodation, food and trafficker fees, but the sums are often inflated and can take several years to work off.
In the UK, debt bondage sums have been found to range from between $25,000 and $60,000. In Vietnam, traffickers, often posing as 'middlemen' for the export labour market, will target isolated children or vulnerable families living in relative poverty. They may make false promises about a better life for the child in the UK, with the opportunity of education or work for the child so that they can support themselves or their relatives back home. A debt will often be placed on the child or their family that cannot afford the travel costs, often secured against a relative's land. Some of the victims are sent to Russia with fake ID cards and then travel to the Czech Republic, Germany and France, entering the UK by clandestine methods via a seaport. Upon arrival, they are ripe for exploitation by the gangs who bring them straight to cannabis factories. They usually know their families back home and are aware of the debt that must be paid off. Agents often provide travel documents but then take these documents off the children once they have been used, recycling them for use with other children. Agents trafficking Vietnamese victims often take back or instruct the child to destroy documentation before entering the UK. Without documentation, it is difficult to question the true identity, age and origin of a child, preventing or delaying removal and protecting the traffickers, thus keeping their trade underground.

Up-coming Events

Saturday, 30 July at 2.00pm

"What is Socialism and how to get there?"

The Quebec Tavern
93-97 Quebec Road,
Norwich NR1 4HY

Speakers: Darren Poynton and Stair

Sunday, 31 July at 4.00pm

"Everything you know is wrong!"
Speaker: Simon Wigley

Head Office
52 Clapham High Street,
London SW4 7UN

Materialism does not mean an emphasis on those things in our experience that are big or heavy, such as factories and mines. It means that the mind is material. Our thoughts are not truths, they are data. We are prehistoric creatures thinking themselves gods. Our thought is developing, and has developed through history, not towards apotheosis but towards an understanding of our finity. We spend all of our time wondering what principles life is about when the only point of life is life itself. To make that a reality for ourselves the summation of those principles that say life should be about something other than the sheer living of it - Capital must be overthrown. The future, after revolution, is not a promised land, but merely life lived for the first time for its own sake - the beginning of our history as a conscious species.

Saturday, 13 August from 10.30am

Book Sale followed by barbeque and social

Head Office
52 Clapham High Street,
London SW4 7UN

Saturday, 20 August at 2.00pm

"Why you should be a Socialist"

The Unicorn
26 Church Street,
Manchester M4 1PW

Millions of people live in poverty and fear across the world. All other political parties try to convince us that capitalism is the only way to run society. We just need to make it a little bit fairer. The Socialist Party is different. It is the only political party that wants workers to unite for a revolutionary change to society. Socialists want a world where production takes place for use not profit. Here is an opportunity to come along to see if you agree.

Day School
"Marx: A vision for today"

Saturday, 17 September from 11.00am

Head Office
52 Clapham High Street,
London SW4 7UN

Three talks each followed by a question and discussion period. Break for light lunch before the second talk.
Marx's Capital: A Satirical Utopia - Stuart Watkins
Why History Matters - Gwynn Thomas
Marx on "The Anarchists I Knew" - Adam Buick

Saturday, 10 September at 2.00pm

"What will Socialism be like?"
Speaker: Paul Bennett

The Victoria Hotel
28 Great George Street,
Leeds LS1 3DL

Sunday, 27 September at 7.00pm

"Should workers support the Labour Party?"
Speaker: Paul Bennett

The Liverpool Pub (function room)
14 James Street,
Liverpool, L2 7PQ

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why Hunger?

Deprived of food long enough, the bodies of starving people break down muscle tissue to keep vital organs functioning. Diarrhea and skin rashes are common, as are fungal and other infections. As the stomach wastes away, the perception of hunger is reduced and lethargy sets in. Movement becomes immensely painful. Often it is dehydration that finally causes death, because the perception of thirst and a starving person's ability to get water are both radically diminished.
Thousands of Somalis have already suffered this tragic end, and it is likely to kill tens of thousands more in the coming months. The famine now starving Somalia affects 3.7 million people, according to the U.N. World Food Program. The U.S. Agency for International Development's Edward Carr, who works on famine response, estimates that on current trends Somalia's south could see 2,500 deaths a day by August.

Historically, famines were sometimes the simple result of collapsed local food production, limited resources, and weak infrastructure to bring in food. But as infrastructure and markets have spread, the failure of local crops has become a contributing factor rather than a sufficient cause of widespread death by starvation. Famine deaths in the modern world are almost always the result of deliberate acts on the part of governing authorities.

Is it beyond government and institutions in the drought-stricken areas to find better ways of water management, including rain harvesting and irrigation, that would help the affected people cope and flourish? How about tested agro-ecological cultivation methods that small-scale farmers have used to great impact in parched parts of Africa, including the Tigray region of Ethiopia? Is it impossible for governments to provide basic infrastructure that would help move food from areas with good rainfall to areas that are deprived? An example is the situation in Uganda. The north eastern part of the country is currently faced with drought and crop failures while the western part is lush, green and with bountiful harvests.

Africa can feed not just itself but the world. This is the claim made by Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), a agency of the UN. Nwanze argues that Africa is facing the fallout of decades of neglecting agriculture, a fault that lies with African governments and aid donors. The Ifad president says Africa could easily increase the use of fertilisers without making a dent on the environment, because current usage is so low. And he cites the potential to increase irrigation – only about 7% of land in the whole of Africa is irrigated, compared with more than 30% of land in Asia – and the scope for farmers to use improved seed varieties that would dramatically boost productivity. "The potential is huge," said Nwanze. "... Africa can feed itself and it has the potential to feed the world."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Need for a Socialist Mobilisation

Following on from this

The Horn (which includes Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda) is the poorest region on the continent, with more than 40 per cent of its population of over 160 million living in areas prone to extreme food shortages. And while the population of the region has doubled since the 1970s, food production has not kept up with that growth, says Abbas Gnamo, an Ethiopian-born academic who teaches African politics and conflict studies at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University. "One of the problems for the Horn of Africa is the food crisis is becoming more or less chronic," Gnamo said. Although the majority of the region's population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, farmers lack access to machinery and fertilizers, and agricultural productivity remains low. This means that even in the years when farmers get enough rain, the amount of crops they produce is very small, and they don't have any food to put in reserve for the times when there is a drought or other unforeseen shock.

Although the immediate problem facing the 11 million people aid agencies say need help is a shortage of food, the causes of the crisis take in a broader spectrum of problems affecting the region, including climate change, agricultural policy, military conflicts and the effects of global markets on local economies.

In many cases, farmers have been disincentivized from growing food by cheaper imports and the dumping of surplus food aid onto local markets. Such a situation arose in Ethiopia in 2005-06, for example, Gnamo said, when the government didn't have the capacity to store surplus aid once the relief operation was over and ended up selling the food on the local markets or giving it away. "The peasants who invested and worked hard then had to sell their food at a lower price," Gnamo said. "Then, they lost incentive, and then they reduced production, because they felt if you cannot compete with imported food which is sold on market, then why should you produce more?"

In the current crisis, the drought and resulting failure of the harvest at the end of 2010 meant that pastoralists, the nomadic livestock farmers who number about 20 million in the Horn and account for as much as 70 per cent of the population in Somalia, began losing their livestock because they couldn't find water or pasture for them. That meant they didn't have any animals to sell and hence no cash or assets with which to buy food at market. "That happened first, and the farmers suffered next, because whatever crops they had left they were having to eat," said Austin Kennan, the Horn of Africa regional director for the Irish aid organization Concern. "It's this progressive loss of livestock, loss of crops, loss of food … people literally ended up with nothing, and then the deaths started. It has been a slow-onset crisis. It's not like Haiti or Pakistan with the earthquake and the flooding; it's not that sudden." Major contributing factors to the current crisis have been the increases in the prices of fuel and food that have affected the whole region. "Some areas of Somalia have seen price increases over the last year of 300 per cent," said Kennan, who returned from the Somali capital, Mogadishu, late last week. "The poorest people, they just can't afford that." Markets in Mogadishu are functioning and have enough imported food to provide the essentials. But Kennan explained "In the rural areas, the markets have been severely damaged. People don't have money, and they've lost their livestock, they've lost their crops, which is what's led to this disaster."

60 per cent of the Horn is classified as arid and almost 17 per cent as semi-arid. There is no irrigation, so when rain delays or simply comes too late or leaves too early, then they are, obviously, exposed to food shortage. Ethiopia has lost almost 19 per cent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2010, according to the Food and Agricultre Organization. "Deforestation means that many countries in the region are now becoming more or less arid," says Gnamo. "That means they don't receive rain, you don't have trees, you don't have grazing land, you don't have water. … The Horn is now more or less dry." That has made life difficult for the nomad pastoralists who need to feed their livestock and move freely through the region without regard for political borders. "You have, unfortunately, many conflicts between nomads who are fighting for grazing land and water," Gnamo said. "This is really one of the most important security issues in the border areas."

Another problem complicating life for farmers in the region is the selling off of farmland to foreign interests that use it to grow food for their own countries. Both Ethiopia and Kenya have sold or leased agricultural land to agri-businesses from China, Saudi Arabia, India and other countries with cash reserves. "One of the unfortunate sides of this is they are likely to produce not for the local market but for foreign markets. That is the trend," Gnamo said. In most cases, the local peasants are evicted from the land and although some are compensated, most have little choice but to become day labourers on the land they once farmed for themselves. In countries such as Ethiopia matters are complicated by the fact that all land is government owned and peasants only lease it from the state.

It's no accident that Somalia has suffered the brunt of the current food crisis in the Horn of Africa. The country of 9.3 million has been without a functioning government and riven by conflict since the overthrow of military dictator Siad Barre in 1991. There have been dozens of failed peace treaties signed among rival warlords. The current Transitional Federal Government is composed of unelected clan representatives and backed by Western powers, was first set up in 2004 through a peace process negotiated in Kenya. Its hold on power was tenuous from the start. The country remains fractured along clan and religious lines, with some parts, such as Somaliland, run by autonomous local administrations that oversee functioning economies and even elections, and others caught up in battles between warring clans and militia groups such as al-Shabaab. "The only thing that's going to stabilize Somalia is when the people in the south come to doing what the people in the north have already done," says Sally Healy of the British think tank Chatham House "which is to reconcile amongst themselves and agree … starting from a community base of pacts between each other, that they're going to stop the conflict and start to create administrations. It has worked in the north, and it's spreading in the north."

Extracted from here

In the view of the World Socialist Movement , the reason wars take place, the reason millions die of hunger, the reason the world's resources are plundered, is that we are living under an economic system that is geared to making profits rather than to satisfying people's needs. These problems are caused by the existence and the operation of the profit system. They are an inevitable consequence of that system and cannot be eradicated as long as it remains in being.
Wars arise out of a conflict of economic interest between the two sides resulting from their pursuit of profits. All modern wars have been fought over control of one or more of the following: sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets, and investment outlets – or control of strategic areas to protect or control any of these. If you've got no money, or not enough money, you're not part of the market, and production ignores you. That's why people starve today. We live in a world which has the potential to adequately feed, house and provide clean water and decent medical care for every single man, woman and child on Earth. The resources exist to banish material want as a problem for members of the human race. Yet millions throughout the world are malnourished, live in squalor or are actually dying of starvation or starvation-related diseases.

There is of course a case for the populations of the advanced regions giving aid and assistance to the people in areas where infrastructures, services, means of production and distribution are poorly developed. This is the compelling case that those with advantages should put themselves out to help those in need. Most people will accept this but it cannot happen under world capitalism which keeps even our ability to help others in economic shackles — or reduces it to the pathetic levels of charity. The things that are desperately needed — food, clean water, housing, sanitation, transport, medical services and so on — can only be provided by useful labour, of which there is an abundance throughout the world. Useful production must be freed from the constraints of profit and class interests. Only useful labour applied through world cooperation in a system of common ownership can solve the problems of world poverty and the Horn of Africa. The tragedy is made worse because it is all so needless. Within a short time, with co-operation and united action they would be able to provide every person with sufficient good quality food. It would do this by producing goods and services directly for need. World socialism will operate with one simple and ordinary human ability which is universal — the ability of every individual to cooperate with others in a world-wide community of interests.

In an age when the US can mobilise in a few months a mighty invasion force (and fully equip and supply it) thousands of miles away across the world, if the will was there, those unfortunate people suffering from drought and natural disaster could be rapidly rescued, fed and housed.

A Worthy Quote

"Whether it is atmospheric pollution, toxic pollution, genetic pollution or urban waste pollution, environmental pollution is an externality of a greed based economy which privatises profit and natural resources and socialises pollution. The rich accumulate the land, the biodiversity, the water, the air and the profits. The poor bear the burden of dispossession and accumulated pollution."

Dr Vandana Shiva
, founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology

Unity is Strength

Union membership in America has declined significantly since the early 1970s. According to Bruce Western, a professor of sociology at Harvard University and author of a new study in the August issue of the American Sociological Review. “Most researchers studying wage inequality have focused on the effects of educational stratification—pay differences based on level of education—and have generally under-emphasized the impact of unions.”

From 1973 to 2007, wage inequality in the private sector increased by more than 40 percent among men, and by about 50 percent among women. Focusing on full-time, private sector workers, Western and co-author Jake Rosenfeld find that de-unionization—the decline in the percentage of the labor force that is unionized—and educational stratification each explain about 33 percent of the rise in within-group wage inequality among men. Among women, de-unionization explains about 20 percent of the increase in wage inequality, whereas education explains more than 40 percent. While the purpose of unions is to standardize wages for their members, Western and Rosenfeld find that even non-union workers, if they’re in highly unionized industries, tend to have fairly equal wages, partly because non-union employers will raise wages to the union level to discourage unionization.

“For generations, unions were the core institution advocating for more equitable wage distribution,” said Rosenfeld. “Today, when unions—at least in the private sector—have largely disappeared, that means that this voice for equity has faded dramatically."

In another interesting article
on education and equality by John Marsh, assistant professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, SOYMB reads that the United States is the most unequal of all developed countries and growing more unequal more quickly than most other countries. According to the sociologist Mark Rank, by the time they reach age 75, a majority of Americans — 58.5 percent — will have been officially poor at least once.

Poverty and inequality problems for all of us. But education cannot make them go away: it is simply not possible for all Americans to earn college degrees, and even if all Americans did graduate from college, then college would no longer be any guarantee of a good job and a decent living.
"Today’s workers are more educated, more skilled, and work more hours — with no increase in real income. American schools are producing more educated workers than the American workplace can absorb." writes Hans G. Despain, professor in the Department of Economics at Nichols College in Dudley.

The U.S. economy will continue to produce many jobs that do not require college degrees. In general, those jobs pay low wages, and an education will not make them pay any more than they do. The U.S. economy has never produced anywhere close to the number of jobs, let alone decent-paying jobs, it would take to move the non-working poor into the ranks of the gainfully employed. Yet many Americans believe in the idea of a meritocracy in which those who work hard and get a good education will always be able to make it in life.

Increasing the number of college graduates is unlikely to have much of an impact on the number of people living in poverty or on economic inequality. Education is a route that can help some people escape poverty and low incomes, but that road will very quickly get bottlenecked. Education plays a role in where people end up on the ladder of incomes, but it cannot much change the distance between rungs on the ladder. By providing equal educational opportunity, good schools — the thinking goes — can combat poverty and economic inequality. People mean well, but they have chosen the wrong tool for the job, like trying to sweep your kitchen floor with a shovel. You will make some progress, but there are other, better tools for what you want to get done. We have other income-leveling tools at our disposal. That we choose not to use them does not mean they would not work.

A resurgence of organized labor would be the most realistic and effective way to combat income inequality. Their decline correlates with the increase in economic inequality over the last 40 years, and their resurgence would reverse that trend

Capitalism's Shame

Imagine a long, painful ache in your stomach; a constant feeling of weakness that no amount of wishing will help alleviate. Now imagine that your children suffer those symptoms and the cure is something as simple as a healthy meal. Too many Canadians don't need to imagine; they suffer through days of hunger and sickness, wanting nothing more than to be able to put food on the table and provide for their kids.

In fact, more than five million Canadians currently live in poverty. Of those, one million are children. Poverty and hunger happen every day in a country that from a global standpoint is as fruitful as they come. Yet, more than five million Canadians find themselves standing on the outside and looking in at Canada's bountiful harvest and offerings.

In New Zealand a 2002 Ministry of Health survey - the latest information available - found that 17 per cent of children - 83,000 - went to school without breakfast sometimes or always, and that 22 per cent of households with children sometimes or often ran out of food because of lack of money. "...children's hunger is often portrayed as one of individual moral failure and stigmatised accordingly." As a result, some parents keep hungry children from school to avoid being stigmatised. "If a few children go hungry in the morning then that suggests a temporary or perhaps ongoing problem within individual families. If hundreds go hungry morning after morning then the problem is structural..." Blaming parents "fails to address the causes of hunger and denies children the assistance they need".

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Supply and Demand - Tough to Chew Upon

Four grains - wheat, corn, rice and soybeans - are the basis of the global food system. We still produce enough food to meet the world's needs, but the margin of safety - the overall surpluses of grain - has shrunk. Like all other commodities, supply and demand influence grain prices. In reality, the level of grain in storage significantly determines those prices. These "stock levels" are quite well-known in the U.S. and Europe due to their regulations, but are less well-known elsewhere. A key trigger for determining whether or not prices will rise is grain stock levels falling to the point that people fear there won't be enough to supply the demand. For wheat, this trigger is about 75 days of supply. When stocks approach this level, prices start to shoot up. In recent years the changing balances between supply and consumption prices have become unstable and international grain prices swing wildly. This price volatility, for speculators, offers the potential for making a lot of money.

In developing countries, the implications are disastrous. Many of these countries rely on the international food market to provide the food they are unable to produce themselves. To do this, they must budget for these purchases. When international prices rise suddenly, the cost of their food imports skyrockets, stretching already limited resources. In some cases, they can't buy food at all -- their suppliers have sent the food to more lucrative markets elsewhere.

Well-equipped farmers in Canada or the United States can earn more income, if they time their sales right. For smallholder farmers in the developing world - people who own small plots of land, have limited resources and are most vulnerable to risks such as drought, floods or fluctuating prices - even high prices, if unstable and unpredictable, are bad news. They can escape poverty if prices and their production both rise, but are often reluctant to risk their limited resources by renting more land or planting more crops if they fear prices will collapse by harvest. Poor farmers in the developing world don't have bank credit or government programs to help them if prices suddenly collapse at harvest time. Their understandable caution means they often miss the chance to increase the local food supply.

Food security for all the people of the world will only be possible whem the profit motive is taken out of food supply. Food production should be about meeting the needs of people, not a profit-motivated venture for corporations and shareholders and hedge funds. Food security for the world is just not possible in a capitalist system. The iniquity of the market, in control or out of control, controlling or controlled – can have no moral or ethical standards, for these are human qualities to be included or discounted in the decision-making, policy-making processes. But isn't the market meant to send signals between consumers and producers? That is its claim to fame surely, that it efficiently lubricates supply and demand, matching the two. In reality the signal which the market often responds to is not one regarding supply and demand but the one identifying profitability. The entire edifice of the money system is not geared to satisfying the needs of the majority for even the simplest means of living, such as food. Those who need the food to live, rather than those who desire the profit to speculate, are the least likely to be consulted regarding the supply. The invisible hand of the market can send all the signals it wants, but there is often an invisible hand picking up a telephone to tell fellow investors to restrict sales and keep prices up. This society offers little security – food or otherwise – except the security to make profit.

inequality widens in the US

The wealth gaps between whites and minorities have grown, according to an analysis of new Census data. But across all race and ethnic groups, the wealth gap between rich and poor widened. The share of wealth held by the top 10 percent of U.S. households increased from 49 percent in 2005 to 56 percent in 2009.

The median wealth of white U.S. households in 2009 was $113,149, compared to $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks, according to the analysis released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Those ratios, roughly 20 to 1 for blacks and 18 to 1 for Hispanics, far exceed the low mark of 7 to 1 for both groups reached in 1995, when the nation's economic expansion lifted many low-income groups to the middle class. In 1984, when the white-black ratio was roughly 12 to 1.

"What's pushing the wealth of whites is the rebound in the stock market and corporate savings, while younger Hispanics and African-Americans who bought homes in the last decade, because that was the American dream, are seeing big declines," said Timothy Smeeding, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who specializes in income inequality, "There's a good chance the wealth gap will widen further".

Stock holdings play an important role in the economic well-being of white households. Stock funds, IRA and Keogh accounts as well as 401(k) and savings accounts were responsible for 28 percent of whites' net worth, compared with 19 percent for blacks and 15 percent for Hispanics.

According to the Pew study, the housing boom of the early to mid 2000s particularly boosted the wealth of Hispanics, who were disproportionately employed in the thriving construction industry. Hispanics also were more likely to live and buy homes in states such as California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which were in the forefront of the real estate bubble, enjoying early gains in home values. Those gains quickly shriveled in the housing collapse. After reaching a median wealth of $18,359 in 2005, the wealth of Hispanics — who had derived nearly two-thirds of their net worth from home equity — declined by 66 percent by 2009. Among blacks, who now have the highest unemployment rate at 16.2 percent, their household wealth fell 53 percent from $12,124 to $5,677. In contrast, the median household wealth of whites dipped a modest 16 percent from $134,992 to $113,149, cushioned in part by a stock market recovery that began in mid-2009.

About 35 percent of black households and 31 percent of Hispanic households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15 percent of white households. In 2005, the comparable shares were 29 percent for blacks, 23 percent for Hispanics and 11 percent for whites.

"The findings are a reminder, if one was needed, of what a large share of blacks and Hispanics live on the economic margins," said Paul Taylor, director of Pew Social & Demographic Trends. "When the economy tanked, they're the groups that took the heaviest blows."

"Typically in recessions, minorities suffer from being last hired and first fired. They are likely to lose jobs more rapidly at the beginning of the recession, and are far slower to gain jobs as the economy recovers," said Roderick Harrison, a former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau, who is now a sociologist at Howard University. "One suspects that blacks who lost jobs in the recession, or who have tried to help family members or relatives who did, have now spent whatever savings or other cashable assets they had."

Monday, July 25, 2011

the right wing terror

Neo-Nazi and former BNP member David Copeland, 35, was given six life sentences in June 2000 after he admitted to killing three people and injuring 139 attacks in blasts at the Soho pub and in Brick Lane and Brixton in 1999.

Robert Cottage, a former British National Party candidate, was jailed in July 2007 for possessing explosive chemicals in his home. The cache was "described by police at the time of his arrest as the largest amount of chemical explosive of its type ever found in this country". Robert Cottage was charged under the Explosive Substances Act 1883, not the anti-terror laws

Martyn Gilleard, a Nazi sympathiser, was jailed in June 2008 after police found nail bombs, bullets, swords, axes and knives in his apartment, as well as a note in which he had written: "I am so sick and tired of hearing nationalists talk of killing Muslims, of blowing up mosques, of fighting back ... the time has come to stop the talk and start to act."

Then there is Nathan Worrell, a "neo-Nazi described by police as a 'dangerous individual', who hoarded bomb-making materials in his home, and was found guilty in December 2008 of possessing material for terrorist purposes and for racially aggravated harassment".

February 2009, not a single national newspaper reported on the self-professed racist Neil MacGregor’s guilty plea to threatening to blow up Glasgow Central Mosque and behead a Muslim every week until every mosque in Scotland was closed. Neil MacGregor was tried in a sheriff’s court, rather than the high court. He was also tried on the charge of breaching the peace. It seems that in Britain, a white racist threatening to behead a Muslim a week is taken no more seriously than a man who is drunk and disorderly in public.

Neil Lewington preparing for a “campaign of terrorism” using tennis-ball bombs, convicted July 2009.

On January 15, 2010, Terence Gavan, a former soldier and British National Party member, was convicted of manufacturing nail bombs and a staggering array of explosives, firearms and weapons. It was, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said, the largest find of its kind in the UK in modern history.

Police discovered 12 firearms and 54 improvised explosive devices, which included nail bombs and a booby-trapped cigarette packet, “There is a growing right-wing threat, not just al-Qaeda,” said Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, in the wake of raids on a network of alleged far-right extremists in possession of 300 weapons and 80 bombs. It was the biggest seizure of suspected terrorist materials in England since the early 1990s, when the IRA was active.

Yet for those who saw the breaking news from Norway and heard all the media experts on terror, who would have believed it.

Cheers for capitalism

Dividends paid to UK investors have surged by more than a quarter in the past three months after big payouts from mining, life insurance and tobacco firms. Shareholders picked up £19.1 billion in the quarter to June, a 27% increase on the same period last year, said registrar Capita.

Miners were responsible for a large chunk of the £4.1 billion increase as they more than quadrupled their payouts. Chilean copper miner Antofagasta paid a special dividend of £540 million, South African giant Anglo American paid its first final for four years while other mining majors also announced big rises. Over the first half, dividends rose by 19% to £34.1 billion with underlying growth a "healthy" 10.2% after stripping out the impact of BP returning to the list, said Capita.

Charles Cryer, Capita Registrars' chief executive, said: "Shareholders have reason to cheer. Dividends are finally flowing freely again. Miners have taken the spotlight as they continue to make bumper profits from booming commodity prices, but growth is coming from almost all corners of the market."

Some Stategies for Survival

Taken from here

Living at home for longer
Moving out of the family home as a young adult, going it alone costs money. In 2007 over 1.6 new households were formed, which was more or less in line with the average of 1.5 million over the previous decade. Last year, however, only 357,000 new households emerged, “down 78% from 2007 and down 76% from the prior 10-year average.” New households being formed has hit its lowest level in 40 years. Young college grads, facing dismal job prospects, are also being forced to move back in with their parents in increasing numbers. According to CNN, “a whopping 85% of college seniors planned to move back home with their parents after graduation last May,” a rate that has “steadily risen from 67% in 2006.”

Sharing and taking a lodger
Facing layoffs and pay cuts more people have turned to shared housing to help make ends meet. Agencies that match landlords looking to rent out a room with tenants eager to find affordable digs are overwhelmed. Dennis Torres, a professor of real estate at Pepperdine University, said that this is probably the beginning of a long-term trend. "People who lost their jobs are renting out rooms in a last-ditch effort to save their property from foreclosure"

Second Jobs
With wages stagnant, more Americans are taking a second job to make ends meet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of U.S. residents who said they had two jobs because of tight financial times was 7.3 million in 2010, up from 4.5 million in 2007, the year the recession began. Twelve percent of workers plan to take a second job this year, according to a survey by Nor should we over-look the over-time and the extra hours many workers are now engaging in.

Living on credit
Households are again running up the credit cards, taking out lines of credit and sinking deeper into the red. “Consumers, particularly in the lower-income end, are being forced to use their credit cards for everyday spending like gas and food,” said Silvio Tavares, senior vice president at First Data, the largest credit card processor. “That’s because there’s been no other positive catalyst, like an increase in wages, to offset higher prices. It’s a cash-flow problem.”

DIY, now known as "insourcing", is doing yourself what you once gladly paid others to do. Sales of starter sewing kits have shot up by 30 percent. Landscaping companies have suffered a 7 percent drop in revenue over the past year. More Americans are also growing their own food. Forty-three million American households planned to grow at least some of their own food in 2009, a 19 percent increase from the estimated 36 million who did the year before. Sales of vegetables seeds and starter plants have jumped substantially with 30 percent growth in 2009 and another 15-20 percent last year

But people have a lot of needs that can't be addressed with a second job or a home garden. The Socialist Party doesn't presume to tell workers (including even our own members) what strategy to adopt to survive under capitalism—beyond, of course , urging them to fight back against downward pressures via trade unions, tenants associations and the like. We maintain with confidence that capitalism will not be able to resolve the problems it causes and it is the task of socialists to help create the arguments that keeps socialism relevant.

The Return of Rickets

Caused by a lack of vitamin D, rickets can lead to deformities like bowed legs and stunted growth, but it had largely disappeared last century.

Dr Elspeth Webb, a reader in child health at Cardiff University said "We're still seeing rickets in children in Cardiff in the 21st Century - which a lot of people might be very shocked and surprised by, thinking of it as a Victorian illness. But no, it's not. You get women living in certain communities that perhaps don't go out much because of religious, cultural traditions. They're covered up when they do. They don't get enough access to sunlight. So they get vitamin D deficient." Dr Webb says that poverty and poor access to services are also reasons why the disease is occurring. "You don't see rickets in rich, advantaged, educated, middle-class South Asian people. So it's a mixture of religious, cultural practices with poverty."

Gareth Williams, professor of sociology at Cardiff University said "Within Cardiff you've got quite dramatic contrasts between the northern area of Cardiff and the old docks area where life expectancy is considerably lower. There's a 10-year life expectancy difference. The life expectancy of people in poor communities has been getting better very slowly. Whereas the life expectancy of people in wealthier places is getting better quite quickly."

Workers face more pain

Families are facing a crash in living standards as severe as the 1970s, a leading economist has warned. A grim cocktail of soaring inflation, tax rises and stagnant wage growth will put a huge strain on household spending power, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson .

According to IFS estimates, the average family will have £360 less to spend this year following a fall of ‘at least’ 1.5 per cent in household income compared with 2008. But with the prospect of years of paltry wage increases, the squeeze is set to intensify. By 2014, household budgets will ‘almost certainly’ remain below 2008 levels after taking account of inflation, and could ‘quite possibly drop’ to the 2002 level, the IFS warned.

A study shows that the share of national income going to ordinary workers has fallen dramatically over the past 30 years. The Resolution Foundation study found that inequality has increased in all sectors of the economy and was not the result of changes to the UK’s industrial structure, although the gap between top and bottom jobs was most pronounced in finance and business services and the growth of inequality was highest in finance. This rise in inequality accounted for two-thirds of the decline in the share of GDP going to employees in the lower half of the earnings distribution, with a quarter accounted for by wages and salaries accounting for a lower proportion of GDP, and a sixth by rising payroll taxes. The latter effect of a lower labour share in GDP was caused by “the shift in the economy from industry, where a relatively high share of value is distributed to workers, to the finance and business activities sector, where more value is retained as profits,” the Resolution Foundation said.

The bottom half of the earnings range have seen their pay as a share of GDP fall by a quarter – while the richest 1 per cent have seen their share shoot up by more than half. In 1977, of every £100 of value generated by the UK economy, £16 went to the bottom half of workers in wages; by 2010 it had fallen to £12. Inclusion of bonus payments reduces the bottom half’s share to just £10. ’ Workers in the top 10 per cent increased their share of value from £12 to £14 in every £100 (a 22% rise) – more than the whole of the bottom half. The share of the top 1 per cent grew from £2 in 1977 to £3.

The share of gross domestic product that goes to labour has declined relative to that which goes in profits to the owners of capital, the study says. Governments of both parties have raised employer national insurance, so more of the money paid by employers is not received by their workers. The demand for high-skill employees has risen, forcing up top wages, while those in the middle and at the bottom end have stagnated.

Gavin Kelly, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, said: ‘If these worrying trends continue in the decade ahead, it casts doubt on whether those on low-to-middle earnings will see their living standards rise in line with economic growth.’

New York Poverty

In the city with the country's greatest concentration of billionaires, the number of New Yorkers who cannot afford a meal is growing. New York has the widest gap between rich and poor in the country, 9.2% unemployment, 20% poverty rate and 10.5% living in deep poverty - those making less than half the poverty level of $21,000 for a family of four. 400,000 New Yorkers - 118,000 of them children - suffer from severe hunger because they can't afford a meal. St. John's Bread & Life, located in Bedford-Stuyvesant has seen the demand for food go up by a 30%. It serves 1,800 to 2,000 meals a day and served almost half a million meals last year.

"We see many young parents who have lost their jobs. They end up needing the services we provide," said Anthony Butler, the group's executive director. Most of them, Butler said, do not fit the traditional idea of what poverty-stricken people look like. "Many of these individuals have been working at good-paying jobs for years, but the state of the economy has caused them to fall on hard times,"

According to the Children's Defense Fund a child is born into poverty every 17 minutes in the city.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Israel's other war - the class war

What evidence is there as to whether Jewish workers are any happier in capitalist Israel than they are in capitalist Britain or America? Israel prioritises military and business spending. As a result vital services are no longer provided or only available privately at high cost, unaffordable for growing numbers, Jews as well as Arabs.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have marched in the coastal city of Tel Aviv to protest against rising housing prices and social inequalities. Demonstrators from all over Israel rallied in support of hundreds of people who have set up protest camps against the government's economic and social policies. The movement has gathered steam in recent days with protesters pitching tent camps across the country, including in Jerusalem, Beer Sheva and Ashdod.Public disgruntlement is growing, fuelled by almost-daily revelations of social inequality, injustice and corruption.

"This is just the beginning. The struggle continues," said Haim Nahon, married with two children, pointing to his makeshift home, one of 30 tents set up on a strip of grass at the foot of the walls of Jerusalem's Old City. He said that his income as a graduate in special education and tour guide did not allow him to keep up with spiralling rents, let alone dream of owning his own home.

"We are with you," called the driver of a tram passing close to the Jerusalem tent-dwellers.

"Today, it takes on average about one million shekels ($295,000 or 200,000 euros) to buy an apartment in Israel," Eli Melloul, a property agent, told the AFP news agency. "In one year, the average purchase price of housing has jumped 32 per cent in Tel Aviv, and 17 per cent in Jerusalem."

Rents are high too, with a family apartment easily reaching 5,000 shekels a month -- more than the minimum wage.

About 150,000 properties, very often owned by Jews living overseas, stand empty for most of the time.

1.77 million Israelis are poor. About 850,000 children live in poverty. As a result, 75% of those affected miss meals, a 21% increase from 2009. Moreover, 83% of poor children lack proper dental care. According to Central Bureau of Statistics data, the percent of poor households headed by a wage earner rose from 43% in 1997 to nearly 58% in December 2009. Employed Israelis work more weekly hours than counterparts in most other OECD countries, while "the country's average standard of living is lower" by comparison. Through the 1950s and 1960s, union membership was 70%. It's now from 25 - 30% and declining.

And the other settlement question

Nearly half of the entire Bedouin population in the Negev – approximately 80,000 people – lives in 45 Bedouin villages that are unrecognized by the Israeli government. Despite being Israeli citizens, the state views the Bedouin residents of these villages as illegal squatters and does not provide them with basic services or infrastructure, including electricity, water, sewage systems, roads, schools or hospitals. 300 Bedouin residents of the unrecognized village of al-Araqib have seen their rights trampled in order to make way for a forest sponsored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The village has been completely demolished nearly two dozen times, including the most recent demolition on June 21, and JNF bulldozers work the villagers' lands each day in preparation for planting.And so while Israel promotes Jewish residential and forestation projects, every Bedouin community in the Negev – whether recognized or unrecognized – struggles to meet the basic needs of its residents, all of whom are citizens of the state. "...They say that we are illegal, but then they will build 20 houses for Jews and call it a recognized village. Why do they recognize 20 houses, but not 5,000 people? You can't recognize us? Give us water, electricity, and streets?" asks Ibrahim al-Atrash

The extremely difficult conditions prevalent in unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev is being used as an excuse to promote the urbanisation of the Bedouin population. This effort comes despite the fact that the Bedouins have lived on their lands (considered state lands by the Israeli government) for generations. "The court took for granted that these people are land squatters when in fact, they are not. This is very, very problematic," explained Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which represented the villagers in their appeal to the Supreme Court. "It does not take into consideration that the Bedouins are living on their own lands, many of them before 1948, and many of them were moved onto the lands that they are living on now by an order by the Israeli military commander."

Prior to and during the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, approximately 85 percent of the Bedouin population in the Negev was expelled from their lands to surrounding territories, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan and Egypt. Of the original 95 Bedouin tribes that inhabited the area, only 19 remained. According to Ismael Abu Saad, the founder of the Bedouin Studies Center at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, after Israeli military rule was imposed on the entire Palestinian population that remained in the territory now known as Israel, the Bedouins of the Negev were deprived of the ability to travel with their herds and cultivate their lands. In addition, 12 of the 19 remaining tribes were forcibly displaced from their lands and confined to a restricted area in the northeastern Negev, which they could only leave with a special permit. Known as the Siyag, this area covered only ten percent of the land the Bedouins controlled prior to 1948, and was known for its low fertility.

"These restrictions represented a form of forced sedentarization, which virtually ended their traditional way of life," Abu Saad wrote. As most of the Bedouins of the Negev were forced into the Siyag and were therefore not occupying their original lands, they lost ownership claims to land that they had used for generations.

After Israel had expropriated 93 percent of the lands in the Negev for Jewish settlement, the state's next priority was the forced urbanisation of the Bedouins. "We should transform the Bedouins into an urban proletariat–in industry, services, construction and agriculture. 88 percent of the Israeli populations are not farmers, let the Bedouins be like them," stated Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan in 1963."...the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person who comes home in the afternoon and puts his slippers on..."

Socialists never supported Zionism but opposed it as yet another nationalist delusion. Socialists and Zionists have been opponents since the beginning. The establishment of Israel did not end anti-semitism. In fact it caused it to spread. Zionists are always protesting about anti-semitism, real or imaginary. They use such complaints to de-legitimise criticism of Zionism and Israel. The Zionist needs anti-semitism like junkies need their fix. Thoughtful Israelis, however, are now wondering just how much of the anti-semitism in the world today is generated by Israel itself through its mistreatment of Palestinians and of its own Arab-Israeli citizens. It seems a little naive to ask why Israel's ruling elite don't realise that by their own actions they are generating anti-semitism. They do realise. But they make it a point not to give a damn what the world thinks of them. Their version of apartheid remains and prevails.

In the insane world of globo-politics the real winners are never the oppressed or their alleged champions, but the powerful. The Socialist Party re-affirms that all peoples should seek their emancipation, not as members of nations or religions or ethnic groups, but as human beings, as members of the human race. To escape the vicious circle, we must respond to ethnic persecution not by promoting "our own" brand of nationalist or religious politics, but by asserting our identity as human beings and citizens of the future world cooperative commonwealth.

The Inside Dope

Four decades ago, on 17 July 1971, President Richard Nixon declared what has come to be called the "war on drugs". Nixon told Congress that drug addiction had "assumed the dimensions of a national emergency", and asked Capitol Hill for an initial $84m (£52m) for "emergency measures". Drug abuse, said the president, was "public enemy number one".

According to the United Nations, in an exhaustive report by a global commission on drugs published this summer, worldwide opiate consumption increased by 34.5% between in the two decades to 2009, and that of cocaine by 25%. The UN estimates the drug business to be the third biggest in the world after oil and arms, worth £198bn a year. Colombia's ambassador to London, Mauricio Rodríguez says "If you look at the trail of cocaine, you'll find that 5% of the profits remain in the producing countries; 95% is in the distribution networks and laundered. The big money is in the big banks in the big countries; the big money is in the US, Europe and Asia." The former head of the UN's office on drugs and crime, Antonio Maria Costa, posits that the laundered profits of the narco-trafficking underworld by the "legitimate" financial sector is what kept the banks afloat for years before they finally crashed in 2008.

Now President Barack Obama's drug tsar, Gil Kerlikowske, carefully describes America's own war on drugs as "unhelpful". Last month, former president Jimmy Carter wrote in the New York Times that "excessive punishment" has "destroyed the lives of millions of young people and their families"; drug policy, he said, should be "more humane and more effective". While in opposition David Cameron said: "Drugs policy has been failing for decades." Professor David Nutt of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, says that "the obscenity of hunting down low-level cannabis users to protect them is beyond absurd" In Europe, the Netherlands refuses to criminalise cannabis users, while Portugal became the first European country, in 2001, to abolish criminal penalties for personal possession of all drugs, sending addicts for counselling instead. Italy has decriminalised possession of less than half a gram of most illegal substances. Last August, Argentina's supreme court ruled it unconstitutional to punish people for using marijuana for personal use. Mexico, which has since 2005 been the theatre for a singularly vicious drugs war, has elected to legalise limited amounts of all drugs for personal use, for example: 0.5g of cocaine, 40mg of methamphetamine and 50mg of heroin. Felipe Calderón, the president, has called for "a fundamental debate on the legalisation of drugs". Three former presidents, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, César Gaviria of Colombia and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil in a joint statement declared that "Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalisation of consumption simply haven't worked … The revision of US-inspired drug policies is urgent in the light of the rising levels of violence and corruption associated with narcotics."

Extracted from The Guardian

"If prohibition does not work, then either the consequences of this have to be accepted, or an alternative approach must be found. The most obvious alternative approach is the legalisation and subsequent regulation of some or all drugs." - Richard Brundstrom, former Assistant Chief Constable, from a report published by Cleveland Police.

If there is indeed a "war on drugs" it is not being won. Drugs are demonstrably cheaper and more easily available than ever before. Whether it’s a pint in a pub, a joint at home, or ecstasy in a nightclub, many of us use drugs to unwind or enhance our experiences. However, there’s often a fine line between using drugs for enjoyment and using drugs to escape the pressures of society. Laws intended to restrict drug use only compound its problems. From Al Capone to Afghanistan, the history of drug prohibition by capitalism continues to represent one of the most bizarrely stupid aspects of a social system never notable for its good judgment. The lesson of America's prohibition period should have taught the world that if you banned coffee today, you would create a coffee mafia tomorrow, in the process creating an unnecessary and, from the ruling class point of view, expensive 'war on coffee' simply to deprive people of something harmless that they like. We would also see a crime problem at every scale from coffee barons and their private armies to burglaries and back-alley shootings over a jar of Nescafe in New York.

Most of the arguments against illicit drugs are bogus, unscientific and politically oriented. In particular, the idea that legalisation would create a massive social problem of a drug-crazed free-for-all is not borne out by the experience. Even if you accept capitalism's own profit-oriented logic, its attitude to illegal recreational drugs still fails to make any kind of sense. While the drugs 'problem' is not a make or break issue for socialists, it does illustrate how capitalism tends to operate in defiance of any logic, even its own.

Substance abuse will remain an integral part of capitalism's daily functioningas people in both economic classes feel the stress of coping with life under the profit system. We argue that socialism would fill up the gaps in people's lives making it less likely that they would turn to drugs to fill an empty life or escape from an intolerable one. One thing is for sure that there is no solution within capitalism. What we can say is in a socialist society , if people need a drug and there is no good, scientific reason for not manufacturing it, it will no doubt be produced.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hungry for change

Further to earlier blogs here and here

The famine in Somalia is now the fifth large-scale food crisis in Africa in this century. Compared to previous famines, the current situation in Somalia compares or exceeds those reported during recent years in Niger (2005), Ethiopia (2001), Sudan (1998) and Somalia (1992). However, this is the most severe food security crisis in Africa since the 1991/92 Somalia famine, according to the U.N.

Headlines tell us that a severe drought in the Horn of Africa is responsible for creating “the most severe food security emergency in the world today.” But is it? Two seasons of failed rain, leading to crop losses and the deaths of livestock, have certainly had an immediate impact on the lives of farmers and herders. More than 10 million people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are in need of assistance. Levels of malnutrition are rising rapidly. Scientists are debating whether this drought is a direct result of climate change or a natural progression of changes in the environment.

Regardless of the causes, the effects — the widespread hunger and food insecurity — are anything but natural. There is the larger tragedy of a failing humanitarian system built around responding to emergencies, not preventing them. The crisis in East Africa is another example of a food system subject to the economic laws of capitalism and stretched to breaking point. Droughts in this region may be inevitable, but humanitarian disasters are not. Famine only occurs with political failure. When famine still occurs, it is either a result of deliberate action intended to cause starvation, serious mismanagement, bad or nonresponsive government failing to respond adequately to natural disasters, or lack of sufficient international cooperation in redressing a threatening situation. Every famine transpiring in modern times has had a manmade element.

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In Somalia, decades of war and instability have destroyed infrastructure, driven millions from their homes and devastated livelihoods. In Kenya and Ethiopia, a lack of effective social protection programs means that the poorest are the most vulnerable to crises. Recent increases in food prices make it even more difficult for vulnerable people to cope, especially since poor families already spend as much as 70 percent of their income on food. Staple prices have risen by up to 240% in southern Somalia, 117% in south-eastern Ethiopia, and 58% in northern Kenya. The food scarcity is causing prices to soar. Whoever can't pay them starves. "Millet is a very important foodstuff in Somalia and is twice as expensive as it was just a short time ago," Ralf Südhoff from the United Nations World Food Program said. "The people don't have any choices anymore."

Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and recently returned from Somalia, where he visited camps, explained "...part of what’s happening is that there is a Somalia crisis industry that is profiting from this, largely based in Nairobi, people with large salaries and maids and nannies, living in nice apartments in Nairobi, that never step foot anywhere inside of Mogadishu, except within the protected confines of the African Union or U.N. presence there near the airport. "

Simon Levine of the Overseas Development Institute, a think tank in London, denounced the humanitarian aid system as "dysfunctional." He said "We have lots of humanitarian organizations who are partly in competition with each other, fighting for territory, all busy doing their own things,"

In Kenya it is a crisis of a people who survive by drinking the milk and selling the meat of their animals – their only source of food, wealth and income – and whose animals are now dead or worthless. Without those assets, families have lost a great deal of their purchasing power. A cow whose value last year would buy six large sacks of rice now barely covers the cost of one. Families are agreeing to give their daughters as young as 13 in arranged marriages just to earn money from the dowry. "People are desperate, they need any money they can find to buy food". World Vision has received similar reports of these early marriages from the other parts of Kenya

The immediate prospects for the future do not bode well. “We do not expect heavy rains until September and October and in the meantime the Somali peasants, if they do have the energy, are expected to till the arable land in anticipation of the rains. The harvests are poor because the people are too hungry, malnourished and sick to cultivate the land in the traditional manner. They are forced to increasingly rely on food aid. Yes, Somalis need high protein biscuits, food aid, flour, cooking oil, dried pulses and other foodstuffs of high nutritional value. They also need readily available potable water.” pointed out Moe Hussein the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Somalia advisor.

Hibaaq Osman, head of the Cairo-based NGO Karama and a Somali declares "Food aid is short-term and enslaves our people making them utterly dependent on foreign assistance for their sustenance. We want long-term solutions.”

Many aid organisations are already warning of the next famine - in South Sudan.

From any technical viewpoint, from the fact that abundant resources are available, and given the ability of every person to co-operate with others, the relentless horror story of men, women and children dying every day from hunger is so easily preventable. With the ending of rival capitalist states and the market system the world community in socialism would have the great advantage of being able to make the best use of the resources of the planet. The amount of food that can be sold on the markets is always much less than could be produced. Our inability to make full use of productive powers is a feature of capitalist farming but in socialism this restriction will be removed. Through voluntary co-operation and with the ability to freely organise and use all the factors of production and distribution, communities across the world will have no barriers against producing food in the amounts required for the needs of all, particularly those unfortunate to suffer from a localised catastrophe.

Industrial Unionism?

The RMT trade union announced merger talks with the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA). A combined RMT and TSSA would have 110,000 members and cover all roles across the rail network from train drivers to signallers. RMT has about 80,000 members compared with 30,000 at TSSA.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, welcomed "This is a historical day for the trade union movement. These talks will bring together two unions each with over a hundred years of specialising in the transport industry in the interests of workers." while his TSSA counterpart, Gerry Doherty, said bringing the unions together would "Today's decision will hopefully be the start of a process designed to serve the interests of future generations of transport and travel trade workers. We owe an obligation to our children and our children's children to leave better organisations that protect workers in the very uncertain future that they currently face.".

The official statement also referred to both unions working together through a "federation structure" that would allow much closer co-operation "with a view to moving towards a merger". The RMT and TSSA have worked together during last year's strikes over ticket office closures, despite tough rules on joint walkouts, by staging joint strike action on the London Underground.

The Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, TSSA, was founded in Sheffield in 1897 as the National Association of General Railway Clerks, being renamed the Railways Clerks' Association, or RCA, in 1899. It gained its present title in 1951. The RMT – the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers – was formed in 1990 from a merger of the National Union of Railwaymen and the National Union of Seamen. The NUR itself went back to 1913, the year that it was formed from a merger of three existing unions.

ASLEF (18500 members) would remain as the last separate union in the railways , although some other railway staff are now members of UNITE. Both RMT and TSSA agreed that the door will remain open for other smaller transport unions to join the discussions in due course.

The loss of union effectiveness arises from the way in which, historically, unions have come to be organised. Often the workers employed by a particular company and the workers in an industry are organised on occupational lines, in separate unions. This has the result that wage claims and strikes can fail to make maximum impact because not all the unions are involved in the action. Tying the unions to one or other of the parties of capitalism promotes division. Workers join trade unions in recognition of their common interest against the employers. They need to learn that no matter which political party is in power its weight will be thrown in support of the employers against them in their struggles.

The Socialist Party holds that the working class must be organised, both politically and economically, for the establishment of socialism. The trade unions will provide the basis of the economic organisation of the working class to operate the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution when the capitalist ruling class have been dislodged from political power.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The real fashion victims

War on Want campaigns and policy director Greg Muttitt said: “For years retailers have broken their pledges to ensure the workers behind their profits are paid a living wage, on which they can afford at least to meet their basic needs. Our new research shows that British high street fashion has still failed to clean up its act."

New research reveal that Bangladeshi workers making one of our new royal Kate Middleton’s favourite brands, Zara, earn under 6p an hour for night shifts. Leading retailers – including Zara, Gap, Marks & Spencer, Monsoon Accessorize, New Look, Primark, River Island and Tesco - have pledged to observe a code of conduct with the Ethical Trading Initiative which says that suppliers’ workers earn a living wage, do not work over 48 hours a week or face abuse

Findings reveal the vast majority of garments from Bangladesh sold in UK stores are made by women 18-32 years old - of similar ages to many British females who buy them – struggling to survive amid poor pay and conditions. Sewing operators’ pay starts at only 3,861 taka (£32) a month and for helpers at 3,000 taka (£25) a month. Yet women interviewed cited their average household expenditure on basic needs, like food and housing, as 8,896 taka (£75) a month.

Eight in ten women interviewed for the report said they worked between 12-14 hours a day - some 16 hours a day - with no overtime pay for the extra hours to meet production targets.

Seven in ten women claimed managers swore at them, around half had suffered beatings or been hit in the face, and nearly one in three reported sexual harassment.

One in two of the women told how they had to work overtime while pregnant, risking their child’s health as well as their own.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

California's Hidden Hunger Strike

Conditions in California prisons are so bad that a panel of federal judges ruled that they violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Inmates in a third of California's prisons are conducting a hunger strike in protest at the solitary confinement policy. As of Friday, July 8, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reports 6,600 prisoners in at least 13 state prisons joined the hunger strike. Recent reports show that many inmates, who are in their third week of the strike, have shown dramatic weight loss and are collapsing from starvation. The protesting inmates, who are most active at Pelican Bay State Prison, Corcoran State Prison, and the California Correctional Institute at Tehachapi, have been refusing meals since July 1. The prisoners have mounted a strike to call attention to the disciplinary and administrative abuse they are being subjected to. The hunger strike has transcended the gang and geographic affiliations that traditionally divide prisoners.

Many of the protesters are in solitary confinement, otherwise known as security housing units (SHU).The SHU is a “prison-within-a-prison”. It is a “cell block within a cell block”. They are 6x 10 foot cells. The walls are soundproof, the floor is cement, there cells are windowless, there are a few dime-sized holes in a metal door and prisoners in the SHU are locked down nearly twenty-three hours of the day. 69% of last year’s suicides occurred in units where inmates are isolated for 23 hours a day.

Protesting inmates have five core demands:
1. "Eliminate group punishments" and instead enforce individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race or ethnicity. The prisoners are asking that this practice stop and that those individuals that commit the infraction be the only ones punished.
2. Abolish debriefing policies, which dictate that inmates in SHU can only be released into the regular prison population if they provide information on gang activity. This "gang" could be a genuine criminal organization or a radical political group. It doesn't even matter whether the prisoner ever joined a "gang" or any organization the authorities label a "gang." However, once inmates have this label attached to their record, they are sent to a SHU where they can spend years in isolation unless they "debrief" (snitch). Prisoners unable to take the isolation units will either provide real information on a gang member or, if they are not gang members or unwilling to provide real information, they will make up stories to get out of isolation. This process ensures a never-ending supply of prisoners for the SHUs.
3. Make prisons comply with the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) to end long-term solitary confinement. Headed by a former US attorney general and a former chief judge of the US court of appeals it stated: "People who pose no real threat to anyone and also those who are mentally ill are languishing for months or years in high-security units ... In some places, the environment is so severe that people end up completely isolated, confined in constantly bright or constantly dim spaces without any meaningful human contact - torturous conditions that are proven to cause mental deterioration. Prisoners often are released directly from solitary confinement and other high-security units directly to the streets, despite the clear dangers of doing so."
4. "Provide adequate food" and sanitary conditions in solitary confinement.
5. Have the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation expand and provide education programs and other privileges for SHU inmates. SHU inmates in California prisons are not allowed to “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities...." This demand asks that they be provided such opportunities.

The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, both in numbers and as a percentage of population. As of June 2009, 2,297,400 people were incarcerated in the U.S., a rate of 748 inmates per 100,000 residents. The U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any country on earth, accounting for 25 percent of the world's prisoners, despite having just five percent of the world's population. There are at least 75,000 and perhaps more than 100,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day in America.

Prison is an indictment of the capitalist system. Prison means punishment, generally punishment for the infraction of property laws. In the more exceptional cases of punishment for personal crimes, it results in the further alienation of already psychologically damaged individuals, who need treatment not punishment.

The prisoners are demanding to be treated as human beings. Repression breeds resistance!