Monday, December 31, 2012

Quote of the Day

"In the 19th century here, without any influence of Marxism or any European thinking, it was pretty much assumed that wage labour is about the same as slavery - it's different only in that it's temporary. That was such a cliché that it was a slogan of the Republican Party. And for northern workers in the civil war that was the banner under which they fought - that wage slavery is as bad as slavery. That had to be beaten out of people's heads. I don't think it's far under the surface, I think it could come back at any time." - Noam Chomsky

Government spies

In the "war against terrorism" the FBI have conducted a number of high-profile sting operations against "conspirators" who declared a willingness for violence, whereupon the FBI encourage the "terrorist" and since the "terrorist" lacked the wherewithal to carry out a terrorist attack, the FBI helpfully provided what they claimed were the explosives. Arrests then took place and prominently publicized to the media.

 It turns out that the FBI uncovered a group who were plotting to assassinate Occupy activists by snipers using rifles witrh silencers and instead of endeavouring to apprehend those conspirators, the FBI did nothing about it. No arrests. No warnings to the intended targets.Rather than protecting those at risk, the FBI chose to treat those targetted for assassination as the threat even though there is an admission that Occupy Wall Street was “a loose coalition of ongoing peaceful protests".  FBI domestic terrorism task forces were deployed to engage in surveillance and monitor the Occupy Movement. In reality, the only violent actions turned out to be perpetrated by heavily armed police clearing protests and evicting encampments. Occupy activists were the victims.

However, we should not be at all surprised by the state's use of government spies. In the UK, the intelligence services were fully involved to defeat the miners union and behind attempt to frame and discredit Arthur Scargill.

We are also aware from admissions that protest campaigns were infiltrated by undercover policemen who often instigated confrontations.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rape in India

The victim of a gang-rape on a bus in New Delhi died in Singapore and some may wonder why. Medical experts are of the view that the doctors at Safdarjang Hospital were doing an excellent job and were taking good care of her. The Government of India took the decision of moving her out of the country despite her fragile condition, against medical advice, must be held responsible for hastening her death.

Dr Samiran Nandy, a renowned transplant surgeon of the country, commented “I just can’t understand why a critically ill patient with infection in blood and body, high grade fever and on the ventilator is being transferred. It will take weeks in this case to even look into the possibility of an intestinal transplant, so why hurry and take the patient out from a facility which works so well. It seems more of a political move”.

Dr Kaushar Mishra of Primus Hospital has expressed similar views, “There is no question of a transplant at this stage. The infection has to be controlled first, and the patient stabilized. I do not understand what the hurry was to take the patient out. Safdarjang Hospital, like other major hospitals in India, has excellent medical facilities and doctors to take care of the critically ill’.

Yet another senior doctor has said, “When the Prime Minister can be treated and operated here, what is the specific medical need to move a patient to Singapore? What the government is saying does not seem to add up”
Indeed, at a time when India is promoting and advertising itself as a destination for medical tourism and does not tire of boasting of the excellent medical expertise that the country has, why  move the young woman out of the country on supposedly medical grounds of good treatment, and contrary to expert medical opinion?

Without minimalising the tragedy of this woman's brutal death, many may also be wondering why cases of sexual and physical attacks on Dalit-Adivasi women generally go unnoticed. It is a common happening in most of those villages. There are thousands of such incidents happening every day in a country like India. No outcry, no protests, no demonstrations. Caste-based and ethnicity based rape, molestation, attempts to rape, assault, violence, discrimination and dishonor has been over-looked by the mainstream organizations including women's organizations. The poor, working class, Dalit-Adivasi women's struggle to survive day to day with human dignity. A young Dalit woman said "there is no girl in our lane who has not been coerced or raped by the dominant caste men when they go to the fields to fetch water or for work”.  Which upper-caste young woman, rural or urban, has ever had to brave repeated rape without to keep her family supplied with water?  The Indian judicial system has always turned a blind eye in such cases when the offenders are from the rich and elite class and is deaf  to the cries of the victims if they are from the Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and the poor.

Arundhati Roy speaks unwelcome truths, truths that essentially do not go down well when she explained that while nearly 10 Indian industrialists make it to the first 50 in the Forbes World Richest Men List, the capital of India is dubbed as ‘The Rape Capital' and is a combination of incredibly crowded, ill-smelling slums; wide modern roads and elegant villas; the extremely poor and wretched; the fabulously wealthy and super-indulgent, and yet India is unable to protect its women traveling in buses. She asked why this case should be seen as an exceptional crime demanding widespread protests and demonstrations; something which didn't happen in many prior instances of violence against women meted out by the upper class/caste, police and army.

 The present case of the rape of a medical student is not essentially any different from the many of the rape cases but as Arundhati Roy points out, the victim was from the upper class and the perpetrators were poor. According to National Crime Records Bureau, around 17.6% of the rapes cases across India in 2011 happened in the national capital and more than 4489 cases of violence against women were reported in Delhi alone in 2011. The current is different though because of the numbers of people taking part in protests?  The important question here to be asked is that why were the protesters not able to raise their voice when countless women from Adivasis, Dalits, minorities and the poor were subjected to torture, gang rape and subsequently murdered in most inhuman conditions at Delhi and elsewhere around the country? What about the cases where rape was used as a means of domination by the upper caste or police. Soni Sori was an Adivasi school teacher and human rights activists in Chhattisgarh who was falsely accused for acting as a courier for Maoist Naxalites. She was subsequently arrested in 2011, stripped naked and tortured with electric shock at the orders of the then District Police Superintend. The torture was so cruel so that the doctors at Kolkata Medical College had to strenuously remove the stones that were forcefully inserted into her vagina and rectum by the state police.  Ankit Garg, the police officer who had Soni stripped naked in front of him and ordered three of his police men to sexually torture her was awarded the Police Medal for Gallantry while  Soni, whom Amnesty International has cited as a prisoner of conscience, still languishes in jail. 

Sixty five years since independence, caste and class divide still hold its clout in the Indian thought processes. It has now became the norm that you can get away with any crime against the poor including rape and murder if you have the clout of money or influence over the political system. The rich and elite have the laws and state machinery at their disposal, they could always get the tables turned in their favor. It is not that India does not have laws to protect women. There is no dearth of laws to prevent sexual offenses and to severely punish the perpetrators of such crimes, with new legislation on the way. The Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, 2012 is under discussion in the Lok Sabha. Another piece of legislation called the Protection against Sexual Harassment at Work Bill, 2010  But it is an issue of the lack of will power and the failure to enforce them.

Nor is not all about inflicting stricter punishments against the guilty but ending the way women are looked upon as a commercial commodity and the lower classes and castes as lesser human beings. 

That was the year that was

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census the median family -- that family exactly at the mid-point of the wealth ladder  --- saw its net worth collapse. (Net worth is all assets minus all liabilities.) In 2005, the median family's wealth was valued at $102,844 (in inflation adjusted dollars.)  By 2010, the latest Census figures showed a drop of 35 percent to $66,740. As of November, 2012,   20 million Americans without the full-time jobs they need of which 4,707,000 have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks, and 21 % of all U.S. children live in poverty.

Meanwhile, the super-rich are flying even higher.  Forbes Magazine reported that the richest 400 Americans increased their wealth by $200,000,000,000 (that's $200 billion), pumping up their collective wealth from $1,500,000,000,000 to $1,700,000,000,000 ($1.5 trillion to $1.7 trillion.)   On average, the richest 400 Americans saw their wealth go up by $500 million each in only one year -- a bad year, no less, for the economy.  All totaled, the 400 richest Americans have the same amount of wealth as approximately 25.5 million middle income families in the center of the wealth distribution. The 400 wealthiest Americans have more wealth than the bottom half (150 million) of all Americans.

The richest 1% are households with incomes over $500,000 a year. The average income of the richest 1% is $1.5 million. Their average wealth (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc) of the richest 1% is over $5 million. The richest 1% have 36% of all private wealth, more than the bottom 95% combined. America's richest 1% have gotten almost all of the benefits of economic growth in terms of income and wealth, while at the same time paying a smaller share of taxes. Since 1979, the richest 1% have taken in almost 60% of national income gains. The inflation-adjusted average incomes of the 1% grew 224% during this period; the bottom 90% saw their incomes rise by just 5%. In 1979 the top 1% earned 8% of national income. Now they have about 22% of national income.
The London Inter-bank Offered Rate (Libor) is the rate that the largest banks doing business in London (which includes all the big American banks) charge each other for overnight loans. It sets the basic interest rate on many adjustable loans associated with credit cards, adjustable mortgages and other commercial loans. It is one of the most important interest rate in the world. By manipulating the Libor rates, the bankers could cash in on bets they were making on financial instruments that were sensitive to those rates. If they needed the rates to nudge up to win their bets, up it went. If the bet was on securities going down with Libor rates, down they would go. That's exactly like a bookie fixing the biggest horse races in the world after it starts so that he can win his bets. Who will be punished for this blatant financial crime? The banks will pay settlements from profits, not from the personal accounts of the bankers. And the fines will be moderate because "prosecutors are trying to strike a balance between putting a company out of business and letting it off," reports the New York Times.

Imagine what would happen to you if you got caught laundering cash for the world's leading drug cartels. Imagine further that you found ways to illegally facilitate moving money for countries under international trade sanctions. HSBC was fined $1.9 billion for just that, which amounts to approximately just 5.5 weeks of its 2011 reported profits.

Wall Street banks created hundreds of billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities that were toxic and often designed to fail. They knew that it was just a matter of time before mortgage foreclosures would destroy the value of those securities. Yet, all the largest U.S. banks packaged and sold toxic mortgages to investors all over the world, who were told these were sound investments. Sometimes the very same banks joined with hedge funds to profit by betting that the toxic securities would collapse.  Meanwhile, they pumped up the housing market until it burst all over us. "Regulators, prosecutors, investors and insurers have filed dozens of new claims against Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and others, related to more than $1 trillion worth of securities backed by residential mortgages." said the NYT. But as we have seen the authorities shy away from imposing meaningful punishment on banks from fear of the repercussions on the economy.

from here

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Human Toll

The toll the crisis has taken on Greece’s mental health tends to be overshadowed by more urgent concerns about hunger or poverty. Nonetheless, there is increasing evidence of the psychological strain on Greek society – from increased diagnoses of depression to an increase in suicides – and the human wreckage it may leave behind long after the economy has been mended. The suicide rate rose 37 per cent from 2009 to 2011, according to the Greek ministry of public order. From a psychological perspective, one of the most corrosive problems is the duration of the crisis. It has produced five years of recession with no end in sight – uncertainty is a psychological torment, say doctors.

“It doesn’t finish. It’s always there,”
says George Christodoulou, a psychiatry professor at the University of Athens and honorary president of the Hellenic Psychiatric Association. “This represents a chronic stress and chronic stress is worse than acute stress.”

“All types of psychological disorders have increased – anxiety, depression, abuses, somatisation, antisocial behaviour,”
says Argyro Voulgari, a clinical psychologist at the Hellenic Centre for Mental Health and Research. In Piraeus, a city that has been particularly hard hit by the crisis, the number of child and adolescent patients – who often suffer from their parents’ psychological strain – rose 51 per cent between 2006 and 2011.

“You can help someone with their emotions”, Andrew Armatas, an Athens psychologist says, “but practically, you know they will be unemployed for a very long time.”
He believes the crisis has played on a typical Greek neurosis: an ever-present fear – communicated by overbearing elders who suffered Nazi occupation, civil war and famine – that disaster is just around the corner.

The Indian Wars Continue

December 29th marks the 122nd anniversary of the Massacre at Wounded Knee when 370 Lakota Sioux men, women, and children were gunned down as they fled for their lives.

One year prior to the massacre, in Oct 1889, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas Morgan issued a policy paper regarding the native population.  “The Indians must conform to “the white man’s ways,” peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must. They must adjust themselves to their environment, and conform their mode of living substantially to our civilization. This civilization may not be the best possible, but it is the best the Indians can get. They cannot escape it, and must either conform to it or be crushed by it. The tribal relations should be broken up, socialism destroyed, and the family and the autonomy of the individual substituted.”

In 1891, reviewing the history leading up to the massacre, Morgan said “It is hard to overestimate the magnitude of the calamity which happened to the Sioux people by the sudden disappearance of the buffalo. The boundless range was to be abandoned for the circumscribed reservation, and abundance of plenty to be supplanted by limited and decreasing government subsistence and supplies. Under these circumstances it is not in human nature not to be discontented and restless, even turbulent and violent.”

In Canada we are currently witnessing a hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence who is  starving herself for her home community of Attawapiskat but more broadly for all indigenous first nations peoples in Canada. She is part of the Idle No More movement that started in early December 2012  in protest to Bill C-45 a budget which includes changes to the Canadian Indian Act regarding how reserve lands are managed, making them easier to develop and be taken away from the First Nation people. The bill also removes thousands of lakes and streams from the list of federally protected bodies of water. It is the abrogation of native peoples treaty rights.

“This is unacceptable. They have made a unilateral decision remove the protection of waterways... Shell Canada has proposed to mine out 21km of the Muskeg River, a river of cultural and biological significance. This ultimately gives the tar sands industry a green light to destroy vital waterways still used by our people,"
stated Eriel Deranger, Communication Coordinator for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

What the government has proposed is to allow the concept of private property onto tribal reserve lands. What they claim is that by doing so they will "create" wealth. What will really happen is a small group of natives will be granted title to the lands and then be able to sell the land off to developers. This is capitalism at work where one small group gets rich and the rest get nothing. By converting it into private property the land that could not be sold because it owned by the tribe as a whole, suddenly acquires monetary value under the capitalist system and this is pointed to as proof that they create wealth. That the tribe in the future might have no land base at all because the "wealth creators" sold it all off for personal gain to someone wanting to build ski lodges or condos is of no concern to the government. As Proudhon once said "property is theft." Take away that land and make it just another thing that can be bought and sold, where those with the most end up with the most will have an effect of taking away the identity of the people who presently live there.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International has stated that “By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis,”

In honour of the New Years Honours

What is a Peer?

What is a peer? A useless thing;
A costly toy, to please a king;
A bauble near a throne;
A lump of animated clay;
A gaudy pageant of a day;
An incubus; a drone!

What is a peer? A nation’s curse -
A pauper on the public purse;
Corruption’s own jackal:
A haughty, domineering blade;
A cuckold at a masquerade;
A dandy at a ball.

Ye butterflies, whom kings create;
Ye caterpillars of the state;

Now that your time is near!
This moral learn from nature’s plan,
That in creation God made man;
But never made a peer.

Northern Star 7 May 1842

Friday, December 28, 2012

grin and bear it

A report is warning of a "hard year of slog" for workers in the new year.

 Dr John Philpott, director of The Jobs Economist, believes workers can expect longer hours, a continued squeeze on pay and fewer jobs being created. His analysis suggests job insecurity will remain high, with workers having to maintain a "grin and bear it" attitude.

The outlook forecasts that pay deals would continue lagging behind inflation, leading to wage cuts for workers in real terms. The study also forecasts that the trend in falling unemployment will come to an end with the jobless total increasing by 120,000 to 2.63 million.

Mother India Starves Her Children

India's people are eating less now than they did two decades ago, even after record economic growth and bumper harvests. Food rots in warehouses stuffed with record crops. Politicians and criminal gangs loot billions of dollars of food aid from the system.

 The Indian budget for feeding children -- 4.4 cents for each per day -- have barely dented one of the world’s highest rates of child malnutrition. India has the highest percentage of malnourished children in the world except for East Timor, according to the 2012 annual Global Hunger Index. The report said 43.5 percent of Indian children are underweight. The dysfunction in India’s child food program, called Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), is just one example of how malnutrition ravages the country. More than three-quarters of the 1.2 billion population eats less than the minimum targets set by the government. The ratio has risen from about two-thirds in 1983.

India’s community of high net worth individuals is growing fast and, for them, the most favoured form of investment is gold. The HNI population in India rose by around 20.86% in 2010, and their wealth is estimated to have grown by more than 11%, to $530 billion. India is one of the fastest growing HNI segments in the world, currently contributing approximately 1.2% to the global HNI wealth. With an estimate that in the next five years, there would be about 219,000 such households, up from the current 62,000 households, their net worth is also expected to grow five times

Thai Inequality

Thais have a word for their modern, moneyed jet set: “hi-so,” inspired by the English term “high society.” From 1980 to 2011, Thailand’s per capita GDP soared from $680 to nearly $5,000. Forbes magazine ranked the Yoovidhaya family as the fourth richest family in Thailand this year, with an estimated net worth of $5.4 billion. The grandson of Red Bull creator Chaleo Yoovidhya was accused in the hit-and-run death of a police officer and had his father pay the officer's family $97,000 to stall the lawsuit. The car involved in the accident was a Ferrari and is valued at about $1 million.

According to US government figures, America’s wealthiest 20 percent control a bit more than half of the national income. The same is true in Thailand, according to the World Bank.

Rich Americans’ counterparts at the bottom, the poorest 20 percent, take in 3 percent of the national income. In Thailand, the corresponding figure is nearly the same: 4 percent. The world’s premier measure of income disparity, the Gini coefficient, suggests that Thailand’s nationwide wealth disparity is equivalent to that of Bridgeport, Connecticut, or Washington, DC.

As the nation grows more prosperous, the ranks of the superrich keep swelling. According to the Switzerland-based Julius Baer group, which tracks wealth, Thailand’s stock of 47,000 millionaires in 2010 could swell to as many as 136,000 by 2015.

The US saw the Occupy Wall Street movement that high-lighted America’s top earners as the 1%. Thailand’s have-nots are the Red Shirts faction which contends their nation resembles a feudal serfdom lorded over by aristocrats. The shopping commercial district, lined with Gucci and Burberry stores, was the Red Shirts’ chosen site for their largest-ever protest encampment. By the time the  movement was finally crushed by the military, nearly 100 dead, 2,000 injured ere left behind and a series of buildings, including the luxurious Centra World, in flames  widely assumed to have been torched by the Red Shirts’ embittered ranks. Since then the Red Shirt protests seems to be on the back burner. The movement was funded by ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire mogul ousted in a 2006 army coup and his younger sister, Yingluck, now serves as prime minister. 

“These hi-so people look down at us,”
Sawitseree Rorbruu, a 60-something Red Shirt sympathizer said. “If they see us crying out, they’ll say ‘These damned people, these weeds, they’re poor and stupid and have no schooling.’ We are not like them. We are the ones who eat curry by the roadside for 20 baht (65 cents). They eat their curry on the mall’s top floor for 60 baht ($1.95).”  Instead of lamenting their handbag shops going up in smoke, they should still be mourning the scores of protesters killed during Thai army raids, she said

See here for earlier comment

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Canada's Capitalism

In the battle between workers and Canada’s capitalists the latter gain and the former lose. The recession amounts to simply a natural disaster, not a man-made one and . nature has to be allowed to run its course, job losses, wage cuts and less welfare benefits. Workers have to gird themselves for sacrifices.

Between 1980 and 2010, according to Statistics Canada, the pre-tax median income of the bottom 20% of earners dropped by about 20%. During the same period, the top 20%’s median incomes rose. The result was an overall increase of 19.4% in pre-tax inequality, according to a study by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, an Ottawa-based think tank. Even after taxes and the distribution of benefits, the rate of inequality still rose during the period, only at a lower rate of 13.5%. Canada’s income inequality has increased faster than all except 5 of the 34 OECD countries, nearly doubling the rate of the notoriously unequal United States.

The top 60 Canadian-based firms make up 67% of all equity market capitalization and 60% of all corporate profit, and, given that “the entire Canadian political economy is driven by the performance of the equity market”, these firms are powerful. A Shrinking Universe: How Concentrated Corporate Power is Shaping Income Inequality in Canada by Jordan Brennan explains “Many important decisions made in the Canadian political economy are conditioned by their performance and their values" These include “decisions by businesses about whether to build new factories or expand the workforce; decisions by the Bank of Canada about interest rates and the money supply; decisions by commercial banks about acquisitions and lending; and decisions by governments about bailouts and stimulus,” and so on. These firms -- within which we’ll find many of the super rich -- have little incentive to close the inequality gap, raise wages, and reduce unemployment. “Contrary to the received wisdom,” the report asserts “a move towards full employment and unlimited industrial production will not be welcomed by business because it undermines the pricing power of large firms and leads to a reduction in the capital income share.” Companies are finding they can make record profits with far fewer workers.

A capitalist is not merely a term for the very wealthy. Capitalists rule by virtue of their wealth. Their goal is to steer the state for their own interests. 


Vermont Voice

The term “Northeast Kingdom” to describe the region encompassing Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties in Vermont’s far northeast corner. It has the highest unemployment rate in Vermont, the lowest wages in the state. The area has the highest number of government services and benefits for the poor in state history and the highest percentage of people living in poverty which keeps close company with addiction and criminal activity. The region is home to prisons in its two largest communities.

“People are kept in poverty because of the economic system we have,”
says Greg MacDonald, a retired 30-year veteran with the Agency of Human Services that coordinates public assistance in Vermont. “In order for capitalism to survive, you need poverty.”

Melissa Bourque of the Vermont Workers’ Center, says, “Poverty is not an accident, its part of a well-oiled system, with money the bottom line. It is not human-rights based.”

“We know about racism and other discrimination, but discrimination against the poor is not spoken about,”
says Paul Dragon, Vermont’s Reach Up director. “People are very quick to point the finger at the poor.”

More than 22 million Americans suffer from substance dependence or abuse due to drugs, alcohol or both. National data on the welfare population from 2000 shows about one in five recipients abuses drugs or alcohol. Is it the addiction that brought them to poverty, or the poverty that drove them to addiction?

Addiction is, “a symptom of those living in poverty,” Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA) director Jan Rossier says. “Often being less educated, folks are more susceptible to taking addictive medications prescribed by physicians, not knowing the risks. Initial use can result in a feeling of euphoria that is something they have never experienced, hence the desire for continued use.” Rossier also confirms drug commerce on the streets. “Pills are also viewed as a street commodity that generates revenue, and with limited options to make a livable wage, folks make desperate judgment calls."

A prosperous New Year for a few

CEOs are little more than modern day robber barons and scam artists. CEOs are authorizing dividend payments so they can avoid paying taxes on the dividends they allocate to themselves. In anticipation of higher taxes on dividends when the Bush tax cuts which capped tax on dividends and capital gains at the current rate of 15 percent and which now may rise as high as 43 percent if no special capital gains and dividend caps are part of the “fiscal cliff” resolution, corporations are paying out dividends early - even when they have to borrow to do so.

Walmart are moving up the payment of the quarterly dividends by a week which is about $1.34 billion in early dividends with roughly half of this amount going directly into the pockets of the Walton family. Corporations today have record amounts of cash on their books. Many businesses have been reluctant to re-invest income and are hoarding an exceptional accumulation of cash so there are a number of companies that could find it feasible to make such extraordinary cash distributions, without impeding their normal operational capabilities. Costco, however, has decided to issue a one-time "special dividend" of $7 a share. Costco is borrowing $3.5 billion to pay out $3 billion in early dividends, money it has not actually earned. The Washington Post Company are paying out the entire yearly dividend for 2013 in 2012 to avoid taxation, despite having negative cash flow of $75 million in the first 9 months of 2012. It will pay out about $70 million in early dividends which primarily benefits the Graham family and Warren Buffet. Buffet is the single largest shareholder. Oracle announced it would pay more than $800 million in next year's dividends this month. Ellison's share of the payout is $198.9 million, based on his ownership of 23 percent of the company's stock. Sheldon Adelson will be receiving $1.2 billion in dividends from the Las Vegas hotel, The Sands. His tax savings will be over $300 million, certainly enough for him to bankroll another election. Carnival CEO Mickey Arison will receive about $89 million in early dividend pay outs. The chemicals giant Dow Chemical Co has said in a statement that it will be distributing its dividend exactly one month before the previously announced date of 30th January 2013 despite a drop in profits, plant closures and job lay-offs.

“Because of the fiscal cliff, doing it this year makes sense,”
Ikonics President and CEO Bill Ulland said of the special dividend of $1 per share. “We have a lot of cash. The director’s job is to do what’s best for the shareholders. He decided the best thing was to give part of it to shareholders.”

Citizens Financial Services Inc. is an $880 million bank holding company will pay an accelerated dividend payment for the regularly scheduled dividend due for January 2013.

 Herman Miller or Steelcase, the furniture business, are also helping their shareholders avoid paying higher taxes by moving up its payment by more than two weeks to Dec. 27 in response to the "potentially negative impact on our shareholders from pending changes in federal income tax rates, on dividends"

They aren't alone. Others are Expedia, Cisco, McGraw-Hill, J.B. Hunt, Sotheby’s and Safeway are amongst the long list

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thoughts for the New Year

IN 2013
 The people express their power in elections. On election day, the working class is sovereign; they can impose their will by electing their representatives. On this one day, they are the masters. But woe to them if they do not choose the right representatives. People mistakenly think how easy it will be to put the right name into the ballot box to put a cross next to. They forget what deep inner revolution must take place in the minds and consciousness of the working class. Socialist MPs will be delegates, bound by mandate, they are sent simply to express the opinions of the workers' groups who sent them. Workers must themselves make history, or else history will be made by others for them. Of course, they cannot build without taking the circumstances into account. Without working class action, nothing happens; and the act of changing society is something very different and much greater than depositing a vote in a ballot box every five years. A new world cannot be created that easily and the Socialist Party has always fully recognised this. We also acknowledge that a clear conception of aims, ways and means will be acquired by the working class only during the process of revolution. But those who now believe that all one has to do is to wait for revolutionary action, because then economic necessity will teach the workers how to act correctly, are victims of an illusion. Communist society requires communist individuals, united through conscious social organisation. A revolution spirit in the working class is necessary. Socialist consciousness is not just the product of economic relations, but is also the cause of change in those relations. A revolution simultaneously involves a profound upheaval in the masses thinking, it creates the conditions for this, and is itself conditioned by it. Marxism has two parts: people are a product of circumstances, but people in turn modifies those circumstances. People are only the agent of economic needs; but these needs can only be changed thanks to their activity. Together they form a complete theory but what part must be emphasised changes according to the circumstances.

Certainly workers will learn quickly and act forcefully in revolutionary times but there will be a section who will say the "most capable leaders", the "best brains", and the "great men of action" should take charge. As Luxemburg pointed out part of the problem to achieve socialism is derived from the belief in leaders. In Berlin the Left leadership failed to lead and the workers were defeated. For Luxemburg this was further proof that the German workers were not ready for revolution; her comments were later paraphrased as "...the leaders were in conference, in conference, in conference. No, these masses were not ready for the seizure of power, or their initiative would have discovered others to stand at their head, and their first revolutionary act would have been to compel the leaders to stop their interminable conferences."

Otto Ruhl went further and declared dependency on the political party was the problem. Not just this party or that party, but all parties. But the Socialist Party would exempt itself from such critcism as it's conception of what a political party should be differs fundamentally from those that have existed.

Pannekoek explained "The function of a revolutionary party lies in propagating clear understanding in advance, so that throughout the masses there will be elements who know what must be done and who are capable of judging the situation for themselves. And in the course of revolution the party has to raise the programme, slogans and directives which the spontaneously acting masses recognise as correct because they find that they express their own aims in their most adequate form and hence achieve greater clarity of purpose; it is thus that the party comes to lead the struggle. So long as the masses remain inactive, this may appear to be an unrewarding tactic; but clarity of principle has an implicit effect on many who at first hold back, and revolution reveals its active power of giving a definite direction to the struggle. If, on the other hand, it has been attempted to assemble a large party by watering down principles, forming alliances and making concessions, then this enables confused elements to gain influence in times of revolution without the masses being able to see through their inadequacy."

Propaganda can be a thankless task during a period of political inactivity and apathy but clarity of principle will count powerfully in the inevitable periods of struggle. Opportunism waters down principles at such times with reformist demands instead of revolutionising ideas which is the prerequisite for gaining power.

"Let us develop new principles for the world out of its own principles. Let us not say to it 'Cease your nonsensical struggles, we will give you something real to fight for.' Let us simply show the world what it is really fighting for, and this is something the world must come to know, whether it wishes it or not. The reform of consciousness consists only in the world becoming aware of its own consciousness, awakening it from vague dreams of itself and showing it what its true activity is...Then it will be seen that the world has long been dreaming of things that it only needs to become aware of in order to possess them in reality."  Karl Marx to Ruge, 1843

The world is in constant flux, new changing and different impressions enter the mind which do not fit in with the old image. There then begins a process of rebuilding, out of parts of old ideas and those new experiences. Old notions are replaced by new ones, new ideas emerge. Not every member of a class or group is affected in the same way and at the same time but all the different individual lives are linked in diverse ways. New ideas arise from two sources: present reality and ideas transmitted from the past, the combination of the real material world of the present with the ideologies of the past (ideals and beliefs) determine man's mind and thus his deeds, and therefore, the future. The result -  revolutionary transformations, by which lagging minds are drawn along and are themselves revolutionized. A single individual worker is powerless; only as part of his class, connected by their habit of working and fighting together can they get power. They must see the truth that once they are  united they can produce abundance and liberate society from misery and want. This is part of the education necessary to bring mankind from class exploitation and misery into communism itself.  

"Critical communism does not manufacture revolutions, it does not prepare insurrections, it does not furnish arms for revolts. It mingles with the proletarian movement, but it sees and supports the movement in the full intelligence of the connection which it has, which it can have, and which it must have, with all the relations of social life as a whole. In a word it is not a seminary in which superior officers of the proletarian revolution are trained, but it is neither more nor less than the consciousness of this revolution and especially the consciousness of its difficulties."
wrote  Antonio Labriola "In Memory of the Communist Manifesto", from his Essays on the Materialistic Conception of History. 

Food for All

One of the biggest myths about the food system is that we don't produce enough to feed the world—and that food scarcity is the reason why nearly one billion across the planet are hungry. In fact, we produce enough calories to feed every man, woman and child—and that's on top of wasting roughly 1.3 billion tons of food each year world-wide.

Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, Americans will waste about five million tons of food—enough to fill 125,000 18-wheelers, which would stretch from Chicago to Seattle. In one year, Americans alone waste about 34 million tons.  In the United States, consumers throw away about one and a half pounds per person daily, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

One-third of all food in industrialized countries gets thrown away, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. In developing countries, the problems of poor transportation, lack of storage facilities, mold, pests and bad roads result in 40% of crops being lost. Ample enough to feed the 868 million people who go to bed hungry each night. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, where more than 265 million people are hungry post-harvest losses for grains, tubers, fruits and vegetables, and meat and milk amount to roughly 100 million tons each year, the FAO reported.

 There is also the contribution of food waste to climate change as it decomposes in landfills it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 26 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

There are ways to prevent waste. In Gambia and India solar-powered dehydrators are used to dry papayas and mangos, reducing fruit going to waste at the peak of the season and providing a great source of vitamin A throughout the year. In Bolivia, farmers are using driers to preserve a number of different crops, such as tomatoes and potatoes, throughout the year. In Africa, hermetically sealed bags—essentially really big Ziploc bags—protect crops from moisture, insects and fungus. In Pakistan, farmers reduced grain-storage losses by up to 70% just by replacing jute storage bags and mud silos with metal grain-storage containers that protect against moisture and prevent insects and rats from eating grain.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What's capitalism?

Under capitalism you can have either expansion or a recession. Welfare benefits and workers’ wages are being sacrificed to restore capitalism's growth.

Four dollars worth of food a day is what food stamp recipients get through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). To pay for rent and utilities, a family of three gets $400 per month from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which comes to another four dollars a day per person.

 American corporations' profits as a share of GDP is at an all-time high while wages and salaries are at all-time lows. Workers receive one cent for every $3 the richest 130,000 Americans make.

In America the richest 1% received over one-third of the total gain in marketable wealth over the period from 1983 to 2007. The next 4% also received about a third of the total gain and the next 15% about a fifth, so that the top 20% collectively accounted for 89%  of the total growth in wealth, while the bottom 80 percent accounted for 11 percent. The bottom 90% of households responsible for 73% of total indebtedness.

The 10 richest Americans made more than the entire US national housing budget in just one year. That's over $50 billion. The 20 richest Americans made more than the entire American education budget.

From the Wall Street Journal:
"The Federal Reserve’s intensified campaign to push mortgage rates lower has hit a wall, in part because a shift in the lending landscape has made some banks unable, or unwilling, to pass along cheaper credit... While current rates are the lowest in generations, some economists argue that they should be even lower—perhaps 2.8% based on the historical relationship between mortgage rates and yields on mortgage-backed securities. The economists posit that banks are keeping the rates artificially high, boosting profits and depriving the economy of the full benefit of the Federal Reserve’s efforts...Commercial banks reported a record $9.4 billion in income from mortgage-banking during the third quarter of 2012, according to an analysis of data by Inside Mortgage Finance, which says it is the highest since it began tracking such data in 2002. The third-quarter figure was up 18.7% from the second quarter and 72.3% from one year ago, and it was more than what the industry earned in 2007 and 2008 combined.

That's capitalism

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Marxmas from SOYMB

Merry Xmas materialists, atheists, agnostics, secularists, humanists and all the other irreligious. The socialist advice at this festive time is enjoy life now because there is no after-life.

The usual Christmas joy is somewhat restrained this year because of the spectre of the recession with its wage-cuts and lower living standards. Preparations for a festive gorge are accompanied by the cry of the starving millions throughout the world. On the one hand, we have lavish luxurious feasting, without limit or restraint; and on the other hand, the starving and the famished deprived of even the meagre essentials for keeping body and soul together. Never a word said about the huge over-stocked warehouses and stores. No mention of the fact that those who created these stocks are compelled to go without a Christmas dinner. Not a slightest indication as to how to prevent a recurrence of the depression and more unemployment. Nothing, in fact, but to throw a scrap of charity at the hungry.

If we are to have capitalism, then there must be poverty; and to end the latter means to end the former, and to abolish capitalism means to organise and work for a social revolution. There is no other remedy, and every day spent in tinkering with false hopes simply delays the inevitable day.

Our greeting to our fellow workers on this Christmas is a message of hope. Our policy is clear. Away with capitalism and class exploitation. Away with palliatives of any sort, and on with the revolution. Until those who produce are prepared to control what they produce, things will get no better but only grow worse.

We live in strange times and new thoughts stir in the minds of men and women. Christmas is seen as the symbol of new birth. Let it symbolise the birth of the new communist world.

Christmas Greetings for the Revolution.

Commodity Christmas

Commodity Christmas Fetishism and Reification New Year

“On the other hand, because as a result of their alienation as use-values all commodities are converted into ... becomes the converted form of all other commodities, and only as a result of this transformation of all other commodities into … does it become the direct reification of universal labour-time, i.e., the product of universal alienation and of the supersession of all individual labour.” 
Marx 'A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy' 1859

TESCO magazine “For Real Living” Christmas Special 2012: “Win the cost of Christmas with your favourite brands”, “Festive Savings”, “How to be savvy spenders”, “ The secrets to family happiness”, “Top Products Picks”, “17 Pages of Clever ideas and great buys”, “The Real Living Section”, TESCO Clubcard Credit Card.

“Commodities, which exist as use-values, must first of all assume a form in which they appear to one another nominally as exchange-values, as definite quantities of materialised universal labour-time. The first necessary move in this process is, as we have seen, that the commodities set apart a specific commodity …  which becomes the direct reification of universal labour-time or the universal equivalent.” 
Marx 'A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy' 1859

Editorial by Tesco “this ordinarily overworked, ill prepared, harassed mother determined to leave the stress behind”: “ We've packed this issue with everything you could possibly need, find inspiration from the select group of celebrities”; “We know the whole festive season can be tough for some of us, with the expense, the exhaustion and perhaps even loneliness but hearing about the lengths some people would go for those in need certainly reminded us of what really matters like the Downton  Abbey Christmas Special”

“A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour. This is the reason why the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses. In the same way the light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself. But, in the act of seeing, there is at all events, an actual passage of light from one thing to another, from the external object to the eye. There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising there from. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.”
Marx 'Capital Volume 1' 1867

 “Thanks Mum – Make Your Teen's Christmas with VISA Debit Gift Card”,
“What do you get the person who has everything?”
“The New iPad – This Season's Must Have”, “Kindle Fire”, “Nabi Tablet”, “Windows 8 Pro”

“Just as the capitalist system continuously produces and reproduces itself economically on higher and higher levels, the structure of reification progressively sinks more deeply, more fatefully and more definitively into the consciousness of man.”  Lukàcs  'History and Class Consciousness' 1923

Steve Clayton

The Home Front

"In the name of freedom from militarism it establishes military rule; battling for progress it abolishes trial by jury; and waging war for enlightened rule it tramples the freedom of the press under the heel of a military despot" - James Connolly October 1915

The memory of ‘the Home Front’ plays an important role in the mythology of the Second World War and actual events are forgotten in the mist of time . Unlike some Leftist claims, it was not a “people’s war.” Workers did not just step in line behind the government. It required a massive propaganda effort. The dominant understanding of the war continues to be that of a conflict between good and evil. This propaganda systematically distorted the reasons for the war, making it out to be a noble, self-sacrificing endeavour for the salvation of fascism’s victims. Moreover, it was the working class that bore the brunt of the sacrifice. The vast majority of soldiers were working class. Workers at home “gave up” their right to strike and in return had their wages frozen, even as business profits remained high. Equality of sacrifice was a lie, necessary for the purpose of maintaining civilian morale. The view of World War II as a war fought for altruistic principles of democracy and freedom continues to prevail and has to be challenged.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Too Big to Jail

William James Rummel has been imprisoned since the late 1970s and will be there for the rest of his life. That is because he was convicted of three crimes. He used a credit card to obtain $80 worth of goods and services, a crime for which he served 3 years in jail. When he got out he passed a forged check in the amount of $23.86 which bought him 4 years in jail. He ended his career as an air conditioning repairman, charging a customer $120.75 for a repair with which the customer was not satisfied. He refused to return the money and was convicted of obtaining money under false pretenses. Since that was his third conviction he was sentenced to life in prison.  In reviewing his sentence the U.S. Supreme Court said his life sentence did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Stephanie George's boyfriend stashed a locked box with a half-kilogram of cocaine in her attic and when the police found it she was charged with its possession even though she claimed not to have known of its presence in her house.  The judge said he thought the sentence unreasonable but he was compelled by governing statutes to sentence Stephanie George to life in prison.

 Banks don’t go to prison  even when their offenses involve billions of dollars. Instead of HSBC having a 2011 profit of $22 billion it will only have a profit of about $20 billion after paying its fine for permitting narcotics traffickers and others to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through HSBC subsidiaries. Several banks operating as a cartel manipulated interest rates that led to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac losing more than $3 billion as a result. UBS and Barclays (other banks to foillow suit) paid compensation and won't face criminal charges.

You and I are not so lucky when we are unlucky enough to be caught. 

Taken from here

The Workers V The State

A former senior Scottish police officer has broken ranks to talk about how he was “so appalled” by the behaviour of colleagues during the miners’ strike that he refused to be part of the policing operation during the year-long dispute. The officer, whose 30 years of service included time in  Lothian and Borders and  Glasgow, said that fellow officers used to boast to him about taunting them during the bitter conflict in 1984-5 to  provoke a response that would lead to arrests. He claimed officers from the Metropolitan Police who were asked to work in mining areas in Scotland and northern  England had a “gang ment­ality” and admitted to him they enjoyed a “good battle” on picket lines. Some thrived on being known as “Maggie’s boot boys”. The officer said: “There were miners stood legitimately on picket lines and when they got pushed they’d end up getting arrested for breach of the peace..." The retired officer also claimed that miners who continued to work during the strike were the ones responsible for a breach of the peace, with large policing operations used to get them past the picket lines. He said: “My opinion was that the ones causing the breach of the peace were the ones still going into work and not the strikers..."

The anonymous police officers views are supported by another senior officer. A former Cleveland Constabulary officer said he was so disillusioned with the behaviour of a number of police towards striking miners that he also asked to be excused from attending picket lines during the 1984/85 dispute.

"I was appalled at the conduct of a number of officers, generally members of the Metropolitan police who we described as the Banana Squad – all bent and yellow,"
said the officer in a letter.

Our pamphlet on the miners strike of 84 , the Strike Weapon,  explained that the police and the judiciary were not neutral, nor impartial and were criminalising miners in a way meant to discredit them in the eyes of other workers whose only information was the distorted images fed to them by the media. Our pamphlet explained that the function of the state - the police and courts -  is to defend the interests of the capitalist class.

However, the Socialist Party does not seek to direct attention to the monkey but to seek out the organ-grinder and in this article we said  "Obviously the government has instructed the police to use tough tactics in dealing with the strikers. The well-known television picture of a police officer beating a defenceless striker with a truncheon is but one of numerous examples of police brutality in a battle initiated by the state. But as ordinary workers, paid to do an unpleasant job, it is not the police workers on the picket lines who are to be blamed: the real culprits are the legally respectable and physically secure boot-boys who pull the strings of the state."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Encouraging the growth of Socialist ideas

The creation of a socialist society requires two preconditions; firstly that the means of production have been sufficiently developed to be able to meet the material needs of the whole of society and secondly that the majority of the population have an understanding socialist theory and want to put it into practice. Revolutionaries are painfully aware that the first condition has long since been reached and that the second is still far from being realized. Therefore, the task of propagating socialist understanding is not a mere intellectual diversion but our first and primary concern.

To effectively perform this task it is first necessary to consider not only what socialist ideas are but where they come from. It is wrong to think that they arise solely from socialist propaganda; if they did our project would surely be doomed to failure. It is through the alienating nature of life under capitalism that first seeds of socialist understanding are sown amongst the workers. Bitter and sometimes bloody experience of present society’s poverty – not just in the narrow economic sense but also in terms of the quality of lived experience – the germinating factor. But such understanding appears slowly and only in a fragmentary fashion.

As socialists we should be participating in the class struggle – though of course as members of the working class we are involved in this struggle whether we like it or not – to explain the background and mechanism of these struggles and to highlight their unifying points. By making clear the contradictions of capitalism and the fragmentary theories criticising it, we can hope to accelerate the process and act as a catalyst for socialism.

It is not enough to seek comfort in the trueness of our theories; we must return them to their source and test them in practice. Our subject must meet its object

“The role of socialists is not to say what should be done, [..] but it is to say what can be done. [..] In the borderless terms of the world working class we can be guided by the simple experience of our own activities and also by the pressures of political logic.

Let me pose the question: “How can we establish socialism without leaders and governments and vanguards?” The answer is not to do away with leaders, but to do away with followers. How can you have a movement without followers? The answer: by having a movement where everyone knows where they are going. If everyone knows where they are going there is no need to follow the one in front.

But how do you establish such a movement? The answer to that: by spreading political knowledge, ideas. [..] But nobody wants to sit around in rooms forever discussing theory, so what are you going to do about that? The answer is “No, not everyone does want to sit around in rooms forever discussing political theory” and that’s why it is time to take our theory and our knowledge and to pass it on to other workers – not packaged up in books but related to day to day working class experiences. So that people where they live, where they work, wherever they go are in touch with ideas which are not buried in the past but related to the future.

When a majority of workers understand and want the new system of society then – and only then – there will be a revolution the likes of which the world has never seen.”

– Steve Coleman “Julius Martov and the Anti-Bolshevik Approach to Revolution” (talk given at 52 Clapham High Street, 26.12.1982)

Marx’s commonly used “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” is open to many interpretations some of which are of relevance here.

Firstly, the vanguardist Leninist reading implies that a majority cannot come to a socialist understanding until the material conditions have been transformed. This position is to be rejected. Socialism – the global co-operation of all producers – can only come about through the conscious and willing action of the masses, not forced into existence by decree. The emancipation of the working class is the job of the working class itself.

The most common understanding of Marx’s phrase, that as the capitalist class own the means of mass communication (newspapers, TV channels etc), these are only used to express viewpoints that support the current order is certainly a truism. The main feature is as much a glorification of existing order as the advertisements. Despite its weaknesses (concentrating on the circulation of commodities – whilst virtually ignoring production relations) the work of Guy Debord and the Situationist International sheds some light on this – Gilles Dauvé provides a good critique of the concept of “the spectacle”.

Recent developments in digital media, most notably the rise of the internet, have begun to tip the scale a bit in our favour. Through the use of discussion groups and bulletin boards ideas can be discussed on an international scale and at a level that was previously impossible. To a certain extent this is the public speaking of today – though the importance of face-to-face meetings should not to be dismissed.

The relative ease of which film and audio can now be produced and distributed is another development which can be utilised. Pamphlets and journals are only read by a small majority of the working class, perhaps film and spoken word recordings can reach a wider audience.

There is no doubt that the traditional methods should be continued but we should be supplementing these with considered applications of modern technology.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Something to think about

The case for Socialism is simple. Anyone can understand it. Today you must work for a capitalist to get the money to buy your bread. In Socialism you will have access to everything you need without paying for it. Work will all be voluntary. There will be no money. Things will never be made for profit, but always for people to enjoy.

Socialism is plain and straightforward, but of course most people don't agree with it. They think it wouldn't work.

A lot of folk think we are after a perfect world, which is impossible. But Socialism will not be perfect. There will still be many problems, such as earthquakes or disease. We just think that some very bad problems (war and poverty, for instance) are caused by capitalism and can only be solved by getting rid of capitalism.

Then it is argued that "human nature" is against Socialism. This usually means that people will be too greedy and take too much. But people are not always greedy about everything, are they? Water, for example. Do you hoard buckets of water in your attic? Do you take as much water as you can possibly get? Of course not. Water is so cheap and plentiful that you don't think much about it. You just take as much as you need and no more.

But you laugh at this and say: "That's all very well with water. But some things are very scarce. There isn't enough to go round." You're right: there isn't. But why? It's strange that so much time and effort is wasted on useless things like H-bombs and moon rockets, while all the time people go short of important things like good food and a decent house. The reason for this is that under capitalism everything is made for profits, not for people to enjoy.

Many things which are profitable are harmful to mankind, and the most profitable way to make something is not the best way to make it. There could be enough to go round, but capitalism is very wasteful.

So we think that Socialism would work. But it must be world-wide: you cannot have Socialism in one country on its own. And we cannot get Socialism until most people want it, which means we must bring Socialism by a free and democratic vote. Our first job is to spread ideas about Socialism and convince people that they need it.

Everyone agrees that there is a lot wrong with the world today. But usually people believe that something less drastic than Socialism will be able to mend things. They think that nationalisation (state capitalism) will cure our troubles. Or they imagine that the rich people can be taxed so that there is more for us. Or they believe we can stop war by getting politicians to be more kind-hearted.

But all these plans have been tried many times, and have always failed. They will never work. For instance, in Britain now about 10 per cent of the people own 90 per cent of all wealth. This means that there are two classes—those who live off profits, and those who have to work for wages. Big money, when it is invested, grows so fast that taxation doesn't stop it growing. If taxes were raised so high that they did do this, the result would just be utter chaos, because nothing would be profitable any more.

In other words, you cannot abolish these two classes, the rich and the poor, just by controlling profits. You must abolish profits altogether. This means you must abolish wages as well, because wages and profits go together. You must make a clean sweep.

Some politicians, who want to make a career out of capitalism, will tell you that the cause of your troubles is your own laziness and greed. Others will tell you that old-fashioned trade unions, nasty communist agitators, wicked teenagers or immigrants are to blame. These politicians are all frauds who try to distract your attention from the real disease—capitalism.

Some of them pretend they are "socialists." Stalin, Hitler and Harold Wilson did this—though of course all three were capitalist politicians. Anybody can use the word "socialism", but you have to know what they're really after. Think for yourself, and you will understand.

Don't trust what anybody tells you, not even the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Please read our pamphlets, but think about them, criticise them, be suspicious of them.

If you find we are mistaken, please let us known, because we would hate to be wasting our time. If you decide we are right, join us and help us to get Socialism. You will be very welcome.

David Ramsay Steele

Socialist Standard, May 1968

Why we stand

The Socialist Party is standing a candidate (Danny Lambert) in the Brixton Hill by-election and so will the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which was set-up in 2010 "to enable trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists to appear on the ballot paper in elections as something distinctly opposed to the establishment parties and their pro-austerity agenda... At the same time, TUSC exists to aid those fighting the long-term battle that is necessary, in the trade unions in particular, to re-establish independent working class political representation." according to their web-site. Certainly the Socialist Party supports people opposing attempts to lower our standards of living and efforts to weaken our defensive organisations such as the trade unions. So why are we standing against the TUSC in this by-election? It is because we take issue with their "long-term battle", to seek a "socialist" society that they wrongly define as the nationalisation of the major companies and banks.

The TUSC was a spin-off from groups which had taken part in the No2EU coalition that fought the June 2009 European elections. In addition to a number of trade unionists involved in their personal capacity, not as official union representatives, the other prominent participants in TUSC are Trotskyist groups which include the Socialist Party of England and Wales (the TUSC candidate is a member of that particular orgainisation), Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Resistance, Solidarity [with Sheridan] and a variety of assorted independent "socialists". The divisions between SPEW and the SWP led to the collapse of the Socialist Alliance, yet an earlier attempt at Left unity. The Socialist Party is fully aware of  the constant in-fighting within the TUSC between factions for party-partisan dominance. We witnessed similar within Respect that led to the expulsion of the SWP.

Regardless of this by-election, workers will still fight even within the straight-jacket of anti-union laws, to protect wages and working conditions and people will join together to resist benefit and welfare cuts. Members of the Socialist Party(GB) engage in the struggle to stop cuts to their jobs, to their kids schools closing, to their university courses fees rising, to their hospitals shutting, as individuals and as local community members but we don't parachute in as an organisation to create and control such resistance - we do not offer ourselves up as the leaders of it. We do not seek to lead such struggles but limit ourselves to urging workers to organise any particular struggle in a democratic way under the control of those directly involved. Workers do not need any advice or leadership from socialists when it comes to struggling to defend their own interests within capitalism. They do it all by themselves all the time. However, such struggles have their limits within capitalism: they cannot go beyond the law of value, and the combined forces of the capitalists and the state can almost always defeat them if so determined. Workers who realise this tend to become socialists. As they become socialists, they see the necessity for going beyond such day-to-day struggles (these unavoidable and incessant guerilla battles, as Marx put it) and for the need for a political party aimed solely for socialism. This political party must not advocate reforms, not because it is against reforms (how on earth could a working class party be against reforms in the working class interest?), but because it wants to build support for socialism, and not for reforms.

We don't support TUSC (who some wags have re-named the Trotskyists United Supporters Club) because they are reformists. Either genuinely because they mistakenly believe that the minimum wage can be tripled, pensions doubled and a massive public works programme for paid from increased taxes on profits implemented under capitalism. Or because they are practising the Machiavellian Trotskyist tactic of "transitional demands", of trying to lead workers in reformist struggles which they (but not the workers) know are unachievable in the hope that when these reforms are not achieved the workers will turn to them who as a vanguard will lead them in an assault on the state, overthrow it and set up state capitalism. They are officers looking for infantry. The Socialist Party tell the workers the truth: that capitalism can never be made to work in their interest and that the only way out is the establishment of socialism as a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, production solely and directly for use and distribution on the principle of "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs". The TUSC position is that workers generally will not become socialists all by themselves, but will, at times, engage in struggle to protect their own interests. Therefore, socialists should organise into political parties that also engage in these struggles with the view of leading the workers to victory, in the first instance, and into support for the party in the second. As the party builds up such support, it will then be in a position to seize power on behalf of the working class and put in place "socialist" (state capitalist) measures.

Many of the trade-unionists in TUSC were supporters of Old Labour and seek a return to it. What's the point of forming a Labour Party Mk.2? It would fail just as the previous and existing Labour Party did, and for the same reason. Seeking support on the basis of reforms to capitalism, if it gets elected it will have no mandate for socialism and so will have no alternative but to run capitalism. But capitalism can run only as a profit-making system in the interests of those who live off profits. It can never be made to work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers. In the end instead of Labour-style parties changing capitalism, capitalism changes them so they eventually end as simple managers of capitalism. That's one of the mistakes the workers movement made in the 20th century. We don't want this to be repeated in the 21st. We think working men and woman are wise enough to know what to do to defend there position within capitalism. The point is such things do not get to the root to the root of the problem, and this the socialist party should explain and demonstrate so that workers choose to join us in the abolition of wage-labour.

The TUSC has the following policy: “Bringing privatised public services and utilities back into public ownership under democratic control.” This is a typical illusion of the left-wing of capitalism that services or industries owned and run by the government or local councils are supposedly “owned by the public”. The Left should remind themselves of all the workers in the nationalised coal, steel and railway industries who had to go on strike in the past in an attempt to protect their living standards, and of the thousands of these workers who were eventually sacked, just as would have happened under private ownership. That is the way capitalism works, whether it is run privately or by the state.

The Socialist Party is accused of splitting the vote but we require little lecture on political unity from adherents of Trotskyism who are well deserving of the title 57 Varieties, having mostly been created out of splits of splits of splits. Equally, we counter that if the TUSC are for socialism why are they not supporting the party that strives for socialism and nothing less.

Follow the election at our election blog

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Farm workers unite

Farmworkers in America are exempt from some of the nation’s most basic labor laws, like minimum wage and overtime pay, and work in one of the most hazardous occupations in the country. They face risks from strenuous physical labor, often for long hours in extremely hot climates; pesticide exposure; and their work often involves dangerous equipment, often without proper training or safety measures.

Most farmworkers are undocumented — estimates range from about 50 percent to more than 80 percent in the U.S. — or in some cases employed through a guest worker program that doesn’t get much government oversight, they are doubly vulnerable. Without immigration status, they have little or no leverage to speak out or fight against inhumane working conditions, and often lack any avenue for doing so.

Yet America faces a labor shortage in agriculture. In a recent California Farm Bureau survey, Sixty-one percent of the nearly 800 growers surveyed said they were shorthanded by a little or a lot this year. “One thing that I’ve been told consistently by growers this year was that if you needed 30 people, you had 25. If you needed five crews, you had four,” said Bryan Little of the California Farm Bureau Federation. Are wages going up to attract more workers according to the theory of supply and demand? No. Farmers are instead choosing to grow crops based upon the use of less labor.

The government solution is to reform the current regulation on immigrant guest working - temporary work visas.

“We vigorously oppose those kinds of guest worker programs,”
said Bruce Goldstein, president of the advocacy group Farmworker Justice.

“The biggest issue with employer-based programs is that workers don’t have guaranteed rights,”
says Lalo Zavala, chief executive officer of MAFO, a partnership of farmworker organizations nationwide. Zavala points to the fact that many workers are bussed to remote locations, where they become completely reliant on their employers for basic needs like food, water, and housing, and an internal economy that uses tokens rather than dollars. Reality has shown that under an ag card-type program, it’s very possible that workers would be vulnerable to neglect, price gauging, and unsanitary conditions.

 Opponents of improving basic contracts for agricultural workers argue that raising wages and providing overtime or workers’ compensation to farmworkers will be costly. But, Goldstein points out, “In most of the states where there’s a lot of farmworkers, like California and Washington state, there is workers’ compensation coverage and they are very successful agribusiness states. There’s no excuse for other states to deprive farmworkers of wages and medical care when they are injured on the job.” 

 Farmworker Justice and other groups want to see is, as Goldstein put it, “modernization of labor relations in agriculture and an end to the discrimination of labor laws against farmworkers based on their occupation.”

From here

Chart of the day

Into the postal maelstrom

Royal Mail: Profits, Modernisation, Bullying, Harassment and Planned Privatisation

Royal Mail: “the most familiar manifestation of the state in ordinary daily life” ( 'Masters of the Post' by Duncan Campbell-Smith)

'Royal Mail Group – Our Code: Code of Business Standards': “Our code: Code of Business Standards sets out the standards of behaviour that we expect from our people at Royal Mail Group. It is about doing the right thing: following the law, acting honourably and treating others with respect.
Royal Mail Group will protect individuals from inappropriate or bullying behaviour.
Part 2: Manager's duty of care: Manage employees appropriately and support employees in their day-to-day work, treating all employees as you would expect to be treated yourself”.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bagong Bayani - New Heroes

10 percent of the total Filipino population is either working or living outside the Philippines where 33 percent live under the poverty line, 17.4 percent of youth are unemployed, and 42 percent experience vulnerable and under-employment so the impetus to migrate for a better job and a better life remains strong. 4,000 workers leave the Philippines each day, state-sponsored migration has proven quite lucrative for the Philippine state and remittances remain a catalyst of economic growth. The Central Bank of the Philippines reported that total remittances received from Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) through official banking channels reached an all-time high of $18.7bn in 2010, roughly 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong are the top three destinations of newly deployed Filipino labour migrants. Many jobs in Hong Kong and Singapore are described as tickets to Canada, Australia and Europe, as workers find it easier to receive a contract in countries with lower salaries for a few years before attempting to land a job in countries that offer better pay. Women constitute the majority of newly hired OFWs, with more than half of Filipina migrants working as household service workers or performing other "3-D" (dirty, difficult and dangerous) jobs.

Migrant workers enter receiving countries as non-citizens, performing work that is largely considered unskilled. Those with precarious "visitor" status are compelled to endure exploitative working conditions under the threat of deportation or sudden contractual termination. Filipinos, along with other migrant workers, are often the first to lose to their jobs in times of economic instability and are rarely afforded the opportunity to attain higher-status jobs. Many migrants pay unusually high recruitment fees or engage in labour that was not described in their contract, and some even endure slave-like conditions. Some are reluctant to report cases of malpractice, as they are afraid of losing their jobs and the prospect of returning home without repaying their debts. Recruiters market workers as submissive and industrious. Domestic workers abroad are especially at risk of isolation, sexual assault and abuse as their ability to work is tied to their employer, whom they are often required to live with.  An owner of a Filipino-run agency based in Hong Kong said of a potential domestic worker: "She is so desperate to leave the Philippines… as long as she has a place to sleep, if she’s already there you can do whatever you want… in other words, you are the boss."

 Ultimately, migrants and the Philippine state lack the fundamental ability to hold foreign employers and labour brokers accountable, as the state has no jurisdiction abroad. For migrants, the lack of jurisdiction in foreign countries is compounded by a largely unfair, ineffective, and unreliable domestic legal system. According to Hong Kong law, migrant workers must find a new employment contract within two weeks, or else they must leave. This is often not enough time to file and follow up with a legal complaint if the fault of termination lies with an employer or agency.

Quote of the day

Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the Civil Service, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, “It is absolutely clear that  we will have to work longer,”  told the House of Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change. “There are really only three things you can do about pensions: one is to pay more when you are in work; the second is to work longer; and the third is to live with less when you retire. Probably all three are going to have to come into play here.”

Modernism and the Architecture of a Future Socialist Society

Memorial for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (1926) by Mies van der Rohe
In the obituary of Oscar Niemeyer, Modernist architect (1907-2012) Marc Rattray writes in The Financial Times, 7th December 2012: “Oscar Niemeyer, who has died at the age of 104, was first catapulted into the international limelight in the 1950's by his designs for the main public buildings of Brasilia. His use of reinforced concrete often verged on the futuristic and his buildings in many cases came to resemble sculptures.  He wrote: “The straight line, hard, inflexible, created by man does not attract me. What does draw me is the free and sensual curve that I find in the mountains of my country, the sinuousness of her rivers, in the clouds of her sky and the waves of the sea. The whole universe is made of the curve.”  His works represented nothing less than a belief in Brazil's future.
Niemeyer's socialist political beliefs were formed early in life. Even as a child he felt disgust at the way his family's servants were sometimes treated and at the social divisions that scarred Brazilian society. This ultimately led to his lifetime membership of the Brazilian Communist Party.
Niemeyer was much influenced by Le Corbusier, the world-renowned Swiss-born architect who derived a bold new architecture out of reinforced concrete for the industrial age.  The Corbusian style is particularly evident in the early works of Niemeyer and they were to work together on the UN headquarters building in New York.
In the 1940's Niemeyer was commissioned by Juscelino Kubitschek , mayor of Rio to design a leisure complex. Kubitschek and Niemeyer formed a strong friendship. After becoming president in 1956, Kubitschek began an intense period of industrialisation and modernisation, which saw the building of Brasilia, under the motto of “50 years in five”.
Kubitschek's determination to build what he called “the most beautiful capital in the world”, led him back to Niemeyer who shared his communist beliefs. The aim was to build a capital that would symbolise the future and open up the centre of the country. The work was completed in three years at great expense. Niemeyer accepted civil employee wages and life in a zinc cabin in return for the chance to design buildings of reinforced concrete on a scale that has never been equalled. In all, he designed five palaces and a cathedral.
The finished products would contribute to a new sense of collective identity and hope for the Brazilian people. Niemeyer's  vision was that Brasilia should be built for “free, fortunate men, without racial or social discrimination”. Through his design of simple, low-rise housing blocks, he hoped to produce a non-hierarchical civic life.”

Niemeyer's 600 plus architectural projects in a 75 year career included the Secretariat building and domed general assembly of the United Nations headquarters in New York City (1952),  many modernist curving concrete and glass structures in Brasilia in the period 1956-62: such as the  Brazil National Congress, the presidential palaces (Palacio da Alvorada, Palacio do Planalto, Palacio do Jabura), the Cultural Complex of the Republic, and the Supreme Federal Court.
In 1964 bourgeois democracy in Brazil was overthrown in a military coup d'etat and the military would rule until 1985. Niemeyer went into exile and would return to Brazil after 1985 where he continued his work of modernist architecture with such buildings as the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum (1996)  whose saucer-shaped design resembles a UFO, the Novomuseum in Curitba (2002) with its lenticular eye tower, gallery space, and reflecting pool (“a place for education, culture and peace”), and in 2011 in Aviles in Asturias, Spain he designed the International Cultural Centre.

The Curves of Time: The Memoirs of Oscar Niemeyer, 2000
"Our concern is political too – to change the world, ...Architecture is my work, and I've spent my whole life at a drawing board, but life is more important than architecture. What matters is to improve human beings."
"It's a fantastic Universe which humiliates us, and we can't make any use of it. But we are amazed by the power of the human mind … in the end, that's it—you are born, you die, that's it!".
“I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein” 

The architecture of a future socialist society has already been built. We already have the models and templates. Bourgeois capitalist society has already done a lot of work for us.

Architecture is a profession that has produced many socialist and visionary practitioners who wanted to build a better world for the future. Modernist architecture, the 'International Style', Brutalism still appear “futuristic” and science fiction today, and surely would be ideal templates to how we could physically build the environment in a future socialist society. Aesthetics married to functionality would be a keystone. Building for human needs and use and not for profit and not to house governments and political leaders.

William Morris, John Ruskin, Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus will have their place in a future socialist society.  Marxist architect Hannes Meyer, appointed Bauhaus director in 1928 moved away from aesthetics and artistic intuition towards functionality and building theory. He believed buildings should be low-cost and fulfil social needs: “the people's needs instead of the need for luxury”.  In the 1930's exiled German Jewish architects built 4,000 fantastic Bauhaus and international style buildings in the White City of  Tel Aviv  in what was then the British mandate of Palestine.  In the USA Frank Lloyd Wright's house 'Fallingwater', Mill Run in Pennsylvania (1937) must be one of the greatest residential designs ever, and surely the template for organic building in harmony with nature in a socialist society.

Le Corbusier's government buildings in Chandigarh, India (1952-59) can serve as structures for the “administration of things” in a socialist society.  Saarinen's TWA Terminal at JFK Airport (1962) and the Washington Dulles Airport Terminal (1958) are superb aviation buildings. Museums, art galleries, cultural centres, libraries have already been built; Niemeyer's Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum (1996),  the Novomuseum in Curitba (2002) and the International Cultural Centre in Aviles, Spain (2011);  Alvar Aalto's  Viipuri Library (1935) and Finlandia concert Hall (1971). In London we have the Royal Festival Hall (1951), Hayward Gallery (1968), Queen Elizabeth Hall (1967), National Theatre (1976), and the Barbican Centre (1982). The Egg Building (1978) is a futuristic structure which is a performing arts venue in Albany in up state New York.  At the present time Ove Arup's brutalist Preston Bus Station (1969) is under threat of demolition. Ove Arup built the Sydney Opera House which was designed by Jorn Utzon.

These are all fantastic architectural achievements of capitalist society.  Marx and Engels wrote that the capitalist class  “has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals”.

Memorials to socialists and the working class were once built in Germany; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed the Memorial to Socialists Rosa  Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht  (1926) who had been murdered in 1919 during the 'spartacist' uprising in Berlin, and Walter Gropius designed the Monument to the March Dead (1921) which commemorated workers who had died in fighting the right wing Kapp putsch of 1920. Both these monuments were torn down by the Nazis.

The architecture of the future socialist society will be a world of function and beauty in accordance with the needs of people living in harmony with the earth. The modernist architecture of the capitalist  20th century has already showed us the way we can design the built environment in socialism. 

Steve Clayton