Thursday, May 31, 2012

NHS Regional Pay

If regional pay was introduced it would replace the current NHS national pay bargaining model and the introduction of regional pay would see thousands of NHS staff in south-west England working longer hours for less pay, a leaked document has revealed.

The BBC has obtained a copy of a document outlining the scale of the possible changes, put together by a consortium of local health trusts. The document, by the newly-formed South West Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium, is marked "For discussion only, not to be forwarded".

A key objective is to reduce the pay bill from 68% to 60% of running costs. This could be achieved by cutting salaries, allowances, leave entitlement, sickness benefits and making staff work longer hours.

The document notes strong opposition to such changes from unions and raises the possibility that, to secure them, "trusts would be obliged to dismiss and re-engage staff".



Slavery has existed, in one form or another, through the whole of recorded human history — as have, in various periods, movements to free large or distinct groups of slaves.

There are more slaves today than at any point in history, remaining as high as 12 million to 27 million,even though slavery is now outlawed in all countries. Several estimates of the number of slaves in the world have been provided. According to a broad definition of slavery used by Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves (FTS), an advocacy group linked with Anti-Slavery International, there were 27 million people in slavery in 1999, spread all over the world. In 2005, the International Labour Organization provided an estimate of 12.3 million forced labourers in the world. Siddharth Kara has also provided an estimate of 28.4 million slaves at the end of 2006 divided into the following three categories: bonded labour/debt bondage (18.1 million), forced labour (7.6 million), and trafficked slaves (2.7 million). Kara provides a dynamic model to calculate the number of slaves in the world each year, with an estimated 29.2 million at the end of 2009.

The Middle East Quarterly reports that slavery is still endemic in Sudan. In June and July 2007, 550 people who had been enslaved by brick manufacturers in Shanxi and Henan were freed by the Chinese government. Among those rescued were 69 children.In response, the Chinese government assembled a force of 35,000 police to check northern Chinese brick kilns for slaves, sent dozens of kiln supervisors to prison, punished 95 officials in Shanxi province for dereliction of duty, and sentenced one kiln foreman to death for killing an enslaved worker. In 2008, the Nepalese government abolished the Haliya system of forced labour, freeing about 20,000 people.An estimated 40 million people in India, most of them Dalits or "untouchables", are bonded workers, working in slave-like conditions in order to pay off debts.Though slavery was officially abolished in China in 1910, the practice continues unofficially in some regions of the country. In Brazil more than 5,000 slaves were rescued by authorities in 2008 as part of a government initiative to eradicate slavery. In Mauritania, the last country to abolish slavery (in 1981), it is estimated that up to 600,000 men, women and children, or 20% of the population, are enslaved with many used as bonded labour. Slavery in Mauritania was criminalized in August 2007. In Niger, slavery is also a current phenomenon. A Nigerien study has found that more than 800,000 people are enslaved, almost 8% of the population. Many pygmies in the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo belong from birth to Bantus in a system of slavery. Some tribal sheiks in Iraq still keep blacks, called Abd, which means servant or slave in Arabic, as slaves.Child slavery has commonly been used in the production of cash crops and mining. According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 109,000 children were working on cocoa farms alone in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in "the worst forms of child labor" in 2002. Poverty has forced at least 225,000 Haitian children to work as restavecs (unpaid household servants); the United Nations considers this to be a modern-day form of slavery.

Trafficking in human beings (also called human trafficking) is one method of obtaining slaves. Victims are typically recruited through deceit or trickery (such as a false job offer, false migration offer, or false marriage offer), sale by family members, recruitment by former slaves, or outright abduction. Victims are forced into a "debt slavery" situation by coercion, deception, fraud, intimidation, isolation, threat, physical force, debt bondage or even force-feeding with drugs of abuse to control their victims. "Annually, according to U.S. Government-sponsored research completed in 2006, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include millions trafficked within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors," reports the U.S. Department of State in a 2008 study.

While the majority of trafficking victims are women, and sometimes children, who are forced into prostitution (in which case the practice is called sex trafficking), victims also include men, women and children who are forced into manual labour. Due to the illegal nature of human trafficking, its exact extent is unknown. A U.S. Government report published in 2005, estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people worldwide are trafficked across borders each year. This figure does not include those who are trafficked internally. Another research effort revealed that between 1.5 million and 1.8 million individuals are trafficked either internally or internationally each year, 500,000 to 600,000 of whom are sex trafficking victims.

Socialists view total and immediate wage dependence as a form of slavery - wage-slavery. Cicero wrote "whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and puts himself in the rank of slaves."
According to Friedrich Engels:"The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master's interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence."

Feeding our fears

In India, life expectancy is low, infant mortality high, education erratic, and illiteracy widespread, despite that country's status as the third-largest economy in Asia, behind China and Japan. India's annual economic growth rate has fallen from 9 percent to 6.1 percent over the past two and a half years.

Yet last year India was the world's leading arms purchaser, exemplified by a $20 billion purchase of high-performance French fighter planes. India is also developing a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, as well as buying submarines and surface craft. Its military budget is set to rise 17 percent this year to $42 billion.

Some 250 million Chinese officially are considered poor. Its economy is cooling and bottoming out. China, too, is in the middle of an arms boom that includes beefing up its navy, constructing a new generation of stealth aircraft, and developing a ballistic missile that is potentially capable of neutralizing U.S. carriers near its coast. Beijing's arms budget has grown at a rate of some 12 percent a year and, at $106.41 billion, is now the second-largest on the planet.

Taiwan is buying four U.S.-made Perry-class guided missile frigates, and Japan has shifted much of its military from its northern islands to face southward toward China. The Philippines are spending almost $1 billion on new aircraft and radar, and recently held joint war games with the United States. South Korea has just successfully tested a long-range cruise missile. Washington is reviving ties with Indonesia's brutal military because the island nation controls the strategic seaways through which pass most of the region's trade and energy supplies.

Australia is also re-orienting its defense to face China, and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith has urged "that India play the role it could and should as an emerging great power in the security and stability of the region."

Feeding our future

Nearly one in seven people suffer from malnourishment, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization said. hundreds of millions of people are not getting adequate nutrition because they lack the means to produce or purchase the foods required for a healthy and productive life it said [SOYMB emphasis] The FAO estimates that three fourths of the world’s poor and hungry live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, while forty percent of the world’s degraded lands are in areas with high poverty rates.

The report predicts that if current consumption patterns persist, the world will need to increase food output by 60 percent by 2050 from levels in 2005 and 2007 in order to feed a population that is expected to rise to 9 billion from about 7 billion now. However, experts say that it is possible to feed the population with a smaller rise in food production by making production and consumption more sustainable. The agency said that food consumption and production systems should "achieve more with less," and besides reducing their negative environmental impacts, including soil and water depletion as well as greenhouse gas emissions, governments should work on cutting down on food losses and waste.

Agriculture and food systems are major consumers of natural resources, using up over 30 percent of the world’s energy, while "crop and livestock sectors use 70 percent of all water withdrawals", said the report.

Access to natural resources – such as land, water or forests – is essential for the 2.5 billion people who produce food for their own consumption and income, according to the report. Farmers who run the 500 million small farms in developing countries – and the majority of them are women – face various resource limitations including insufficient access to food, land, water and nutrition.

Unless purposeful action is taken, the increase in food production of 60 percent needed to meet effective demand will still leave behind over 300 million people who are expected to suffer from chronic hunger in 2050 because they will remain without the means to access food the agency said.

Agriculture and the Environment

• Smallholders farm some 80 percent of arable land in Africa and Asia. • Livestock production alone uses 80 percent of global crop and pasture area. • Agriculture accounts for about 30 percent of total greenhouse emissions, and is projected to be a significant source of future emissions growth. • If women farmers were given the same access to agricultural inputs as men on the land women already control, they could increase yields by 20–30 percent, lifting 100-150 million people out of hunger. • One and a half billion people are now classified as overweight or obese. • Global food losses and waste are estimated at roughly 30 percent for cereals, 40–50 percent for root crops, fruits and vegetables; 20 percent for oil seeds; and 30 percent for fish. • The forestry sector provides formal employment for 10 million people and informal employment for an additional 30–50 million people in developing countries. • Aqualculture is the fastest- growing food sector with an annual growth rate of nearly 8 percent for the past decade and supplying 60 million tonnes, which is close to 50 percent, of the global food fish supply. • The potential net economic benefits from better governance and management of marine fisheries have been estimated at 50 billion dollars per year.


Cashing in on football

A Deloitte report  shows the huge growth in revenues since the Premier League was created two decades ago. Premier League clubs' combined revenue reached a record £2.27bn in 2010-11. In the same season, the 92 Premier and Football League clubs' combined revenues were £2.9bn, with average Premier League club revenues having risen to £114m.
Supporters of Newcastle United Average Premier League attendances were close to 35,000 in 2010-11. Average attendances were close to 35,000 in the Premier League in 2011-12, with more than 90% of seats sold.
"There is little doubt that the league is a tremendous success in revenue terms," said Deloitte.

Outside of the top flight, Deloitte says that for many years the second tier of English football, the Championship, has struggled financially. This is due to a combination of clubs adjusting to the impact of relegation from the Premier League, and others attempting to to achieve promotion, often taking financial gambles to try and get to the top flight. It means that the Championship has delivered six seasons of increasing losses.

Of the "big five" leagues - England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France - all but Ligue 1 in France saw growth. Total collective revenues for the five leagues rose by 2% to 8.6bn euros.In Scotland, Celtic and Rangers, accounted for 67% of Scottish Premier League clubs' total revenues.

The proportion of income that Premier League clubs spend on wages hit a new high in the 2010-11 season, said the report, saying that control of wages "continues to be football's greatest commercial challenge". The Premier League's key wages to revenue ration, which had stood at around 60% for most of the 2000s, has risen sharply in recent seasons to exceed 70% for the first time. Total wages across the Premier League rose by £201m (14%). Manchester United, who won the league that year, spent 46% of revenue on pay, but Manchester City spent 114%.

    Chelsea - £191m (up from £174m in 2009-10)
    Manchester City - £174m (£133m)
    Manchester United - £153m (£132m)
    Liverpool - £135m (£121m)
    Arsenal - £124m (£111m)


Social (im)mobility

In a classic comedy sketch, a 6ft 5in John Cleese, representing the upper class, looks down on the Two Ronnies, who represent the middle and working classes. Ronnie Barker says: "I look up to him [Cleese] because he is upper class and look down on him [Corbett] because he is lower class." The tiny Ronnie Corbett says: "I know my place."

Although only 7 per cent of people are educated at private schools, they have a "stranglehold" on the top professional jobs

41 per cent of law undergraduates in 2010-11 were from the three highest socio-economic groups and only 21 per cent came from the five lowest groups.

49 per cent of journalism students came from the highest groups and 14 per cent from the three lowest.

57 per cent of medical students came from the top groups and only 7 per cent from the bottom, with 22 per cent of all medical and dental undergraduates being educated at private schools.

15 of the 17 Supreme Court judges and heads of division were educated at private schools before going on to study at Oxford or Cambridge. Of 38 justices of appeal, 26 attended private schools, eight attended grammar schools, only two attended state comprehensive schools and two were schooled overseas.

43 per cent of barristers attended a fee-paying secondary school, with almost a third going on to study at Oxbridge.

35 per cent of MPs elected in 2010 are privately educated compared with 30 per cent in 1997, with just 13 private schools providing 10 per cent of all MPs.

59 per cent of the 2010 Cabinet was privately educated, up from 32 per cent in Gordon Brown's government.

62 per cent of all members of the House of Lords were privately educated, with 43 per cent of the total having come from just 12 private schools.


the leopard can't change its spots

After repeated exposures in the press and just as many promises to mend their ways Foxconn working conditions are once more revealed as sweat-shop.

Gruelling workloads, humiliating punishments and battery-farm living conditions remain routine for workers assembling Apple's luxury electronics, according to one of the most detailed reports yet on life inside China's Foxconn factories.

The researchers claim that intimidation, exhaustion and labour rights violations "remain the norm" for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese iPhone workers, despite Apple efforts to supposedly clean up its act.

Punishments remain a key management tool.

Workers at the world's 10th largest employer have been told to clean toilets, sweep lawns and write "confession letters", which are then pinned up on noticeboards or read out to colleagues. When one female worker took the day off anyway, she claims her supervisor asked her to move 3,000 boxes a day for 10 days as punishment. On the first day, she suffered from backache and was unable to sleep.

Living conditions in Foxconn campus dormitories remain cramped, with 20 or 30 workers sharing three-bedroom flats, sleeping eight to a room in bunkbeds. They are forbidden to use power-hungry electrical items such as kettles or laptops on pain of confiscation.

Where most assembly staff were previously forced to stand, stools have now been introduced for some workers. However, they are under instructions to sit on only a third of the seat, so that they remain "nimble" enough to do the work.

Staff mistrust a counselling hotline introduced after a spate of Foxconn suicides. One Guanlan factory worker who rang after conflict with his supervisor was advised to resign if he was unhappy. Another rang to complain about unpaid overtime and the hotline diverted the complaint back to his irate supervisor.

The Hong Kong workers' rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom), believes injuries are under-reported: "The management simply negotiate with the injured workers for a settlement. According to the respondents, cases of industrial injuries have an impact on the annual bonus received by middle management. Therefore, the middle management are very reluctant to report all the cases."

Apple said in April that its suppliers achieved 95% compliance with the 60-hour working week specified in its code, up from 91% for March. But Sacom's findings fly in the face of Apple's figures. Foxconn employees interviewed in April were still working up to 80 hours of overtime a month at Longhua. A payslip from the plant showed overtime at 78.5 hours for April. In the runup to the release of the new iPad on 16 March this year, monthly overtime work for Apple production-line workers in Longhua was 80 hours a month, it was claimed. Line managers work unpaid overtime daily, often up to four or five hours a day. They claimed their administrative work was unpaid, and that shifts were usually followed by unpaid work meetings, at which frontline managers would be scolded by their superiors, causing them to "unconsciously vent their anger on the production workers".

Sacom is demanding the formation of genuine trade unions within Foxconn; a living wage for Chinese workers, whom it says are paid half the salary of workers in Foxconn's Brazilian factory, and receive five as opposed to 30 days' annual leave; and compensation for victims of labour rights abuses.

The mistreatment is not confined to Apple workers, but affects those making products for other western companies including Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Nokia, according to Sacom.

"The findings demonstrate that Apple and Foxconn have not turned over a new leaf,"
said a Sacom officer, Debby Chan Sze Wan.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jailing non-criminals

In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintained a record-high daily detention capacity of 34,000 beds, costing taxpayers $2bn. As of November 2011, the US government spent approximately $166 per day to hold one immigrant in detention. This is 18 times greater than the $8.88 per day it costs for more efficient, highly effective, and humane alternatives to detention.

The for-profit prison industry is the main beneficiary of the ever-expanding, unregulated immigration system in the US. Since 2001, private corporations have gained increasing control over immigration detention facilities in the US and continue to bring in record profits. In 2009, approximately half of the immigrant detainee population was housed in for-profit facilities as compared with 8 per cent of state and federal prisoners.

In 2010, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner and operator of privatised correctional and detention facilities in the US, grossed more than $1.7bn in total revenue. The GEO Group's contracts with ICE increased from $33.6m in 2005 to $163.8m by the end of 2010. These companies aggressively lobby DHS and Congress. CCA and GEO spent more than $20m on lobbying from 1999 to 2009.

Private immigration detention facilities are also particularly ripe for abuse, because there is little federal oversight to ensure that applicable standards are enforced. The 2011 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention standards in place to guide operation of these facilities are not binding regulations and have not been applied to many for-profit detention facilities under contract with ICE. Without the threat of sanctions, compliance with these standards has been low and violations of these standards are pervasive. Since 2003, there have been 24 deaths in immigration detention facilities operated by CCA. In May 2010, a CCA guard at the T Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas was convicted in state and federal court of sexually abusing female detainees while transporting them to the airport.

A major report recently released by the ACLU "Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia", documents serious violations of detainees' constitutional and human rights as well as ICE standards. The ACLU of Georgia report recommends that ICE stop detaining immigrants at the for-profit Stewart and Irwin County Detention Centers given the extent of the documented violations as well as the facilities' remote locations, which isolate detainees from their families and communities of support.

The private prison industry is committed to generating money for its investors. As a result, it feeds off of government policies that keep more people behind bars for longer periods of time and has incentives to cut corners.


What risk-taking?

Andrew Carnegie argued that average Americans should welcome the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, because the "superior wisdom, experience, and ability" of the rich would ensure benefits for all of us. More recently, Edward Conard, the author of "Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong, said: "As a society, we're not offering our talented few large enough rewards. We're underpaying our 'risk takers.'"

Does capitalism create jobs, stimulate small businesses and ultimately benefit society?

Apple claims to have added 500,000 jobs to the economy, but that includes app-building tech enthusiasts and Fedex drivers delivering iPhones. The company actually has 47,000 U.S. employees, about one-tenth of General Motors' workforce in the 1990s.

Marketwatch estimates that over 90% of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market, and real estate. According to economist Richard Wolff, about half of the assets of the richest 1% are held in unincorporated business equity (personal business accounts). The Wall Street Journal notes that over three-quarters of individuals worth over $20 million are invested in hedge funds.

Angel investing (capital provided by affluent individuals for business start-ups) accounted for less than 1% of the investable assets of high net worth individuals in North America in 2011. The Mendelsohn Affluent Survey confirmed that the very rich spend less than two percent of their money on new business startups. The last thing most of them want, apparently, is the risky business of hiring people for new innovation.

CEOs, upper management, and financial professionals made up about 60 percent of the richest 1% of Americans in 2005. Only 3 percent were entrepreneurs. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds.

Nor are the very rich are not particularly patriotic when it comes to making money. 60 percent of investors worth $25 million or more are investing up to a third of their total assets overseas. The biggest investment by corporations is overseas, where they keep 57 percent of their cash and fill their factories with low-wage workers. Commerce Department figures show that U.S. companies cut their work forces by 2.9 million from 2000 to 2009 while increasing overseas employment by 2.4 million.
Paul Sheldon Foote, a professor at California State University explained “The middle class in America is shrinking rapidly because large numbers of factories were built in places such as China to the benefit of a small number of wealthy shareholders and company owners and not to the benefit of the American people and this nothing new.” 71% of Americans believe that outsourcing jobs overseas hurts the U.S. economy, and 62% say the U.S. government should tax or legislate to try to stop the job loss.

 They also tap into a "brain drain" of foreign entrepreneurs, scientists, and medical professionals rather than supporting education in America.

That is , if they are investing. According to Moody's, cash holdings for U.S. non-financial firms rose 3 percent to $1.24 trillion in 2011. The corporate cash-to-assets ratio nearly tripled between 1980 and 2010. It has been estimated that the corporate stash of cash reserves held in America could employ 3.5 million more people for five years at an annual salary of $40,000.
The top holders of cash, including Apple and Google and Intel and Coca Cola and Chevron, are spending their money on stock buybacks (which increase stock option prices), dividends to investors, and subsidiary acquisitions. According to Bloomberg, share repurchasing is at one of its highest levels in 25 years.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The South Korean economic miracle?

Korea’s meteoric rise to prosperity since the 1960s is often cited as an almost unparalleled example of success in lifting a population out of poverty. But despite a vast improvement in living standards since the aftermath of the Korean War, poverty remains an everyday reality for a significant number of Koreans.

According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 15.2 percent of Koreans earn below 50 percent of the median wage after taxes. Some of this poverty is relative, measured against the wealth of society as a whole, rather than reflecting people’s ability to make ends meet. Nevertheless, a widening gap between the richest and poorest has become a major concern. More than 45 percent of Korea’s elderly fall below the poverty line, compared to the OECD average of around 13 percent.

More striking for a developed country is the number of households in absolute poverty. According to a study by Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs covering the years 2004-2009, 27 percent of households had seen their income fall below the absolute poverty level for a least one year, meaning they couldn’t meet the costs of basic goods.

Another statistic puts it that 2.11 million workers earned less than the minimum monthly wage of 858,990 won (about $770) in 2010.

Only 5-6 percent of households or less can receive the benefits from the social security or social assistance programs.

The high percentage of irregular casual workers in particular as a major driver of poverty here. Last year, irregular workers made up more than 34 percent of the country’s workforce, according to official figures, high by OECD standards. Other estimates put the figure at more than 47 percent. With many low wage workers unable to make regular pension contributions securing their future financial security will be a particular challenge.

Kim Kyo-seong, a professor at the School of Social Welfare at Chung-Ang University writes "Our big companies like Samsung always make a big profit but we can never observe a trickle-down effect at all. They get everything. In that kind of economic world, growth means nothing.”


The private health service

Dentists are forcing 500,000 patients a year to pay for expensive private treatments by failing to tell them they are available on the NHS. The 18-month long inquiry, published today, finds patients are being “deliberately misled” and made to pay up to four times more for basic treatments such as fillings and crowns than they would on the NHS. The Office of Fair Trading, which enforces competition law, warns that in some cases the high cost of going private is discouraging patients from having necessary treatments, putting their health at risk.

Under NHS regulations, dentists must offer basic treatment on the health service and can only charge extra for cosmetics such as veneers and white fillings. A survey by the OFT, however, finds patients are routinely being told to pay for bridges, crowns, root canal treatment, silver fillings, dentures, extractions, check-ups and X-rays despite this work being covered by the NHS. A root canal treatment costs £48 per tooth on the NHS but up to £475 for private treatment, while a small filling costs £48 on the NHS but £80 for private treatment.

The report says: “As a result, such patients are likely to incur financial detriment, where they choose to have private dental treatment instead of NHS dental treatment, or may suffer harm to their oral health where they choose to forgo the dental treatment altogether or to opt for a less beneficial course of dental treatment.” Despite the routine breaches of NHS regulations, the OFT says regulators such as the General Dental Council and Primary Care Trust have taken little action. "... the GDC appears to have a notable and concerning low enforcement track record of pursuing instances of breaches, and so deterring future misconduct.”

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “It is an outrage that, because the focus has been on other aspects of the health and social care system, dentists have been able to get away with unacceptable practice. This must change, and the needs of patients must be put first.”

The wide-ranging report also criticises dentists for:

- The lack of information available on the potential cost of treatment, despite rules saying NHS charges should be displayed.
- Pressuring patients into buying expensive dental payment plans.
- Stopping patients from seeing hygeinists or technicians without referrals from dentists.
- Poor NHS contracts that mean it is difficult for new dentists to set up and successful ones to expand, meaning there is little competition.
- A complicated and time consuming complaints procedure.

Dentistry in Britain is worth £5.73 billion a year, with around 29,500 dentists practising.


The shooting season

Richard Benyon, the minister responsible for wildlife protection at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), is backing a plan to destroy the nests of protected birds of prey to reduce the alleged predation by buzzards of pheasant poults in the interests of pheasant shooters?

Poults are the young pheasants which are intensively bred elsewhere like battery chickens, and then released into woodlands on shooting estates so they can be shot when the season begins in the autumn. Forty million of them are released every year. A study carried out by the agricultural consultants Adas, commissioned by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, which found that on average, the number of pheasant poults taken by birds of prey (all birds of prey, that is, of which buzzards would be just one element) was 1 to 2 per cent, with far more dying as a result of road collisions. 15 million are eventually shot. The rest become wild, are run over, die of disease or are eaten by predators – of which the buzzard is only one of many. The non-native pheasants are bred in large numbers to be shot, generally by and for some of the richest people in the country. They are reared in pens, then released into the countryside. People then pay a fortune to line up in a field, armed with shotguns, while an army of beaters works its way through the woods towards them, driving the pheasants into the air and over their heads. This activity is classified as "sport". Pheasants are slow and clumsy fliers. Shut your eyes and fired randomly into the air and you can scarcely fail to bag one.

Richard Benyon, a millionaire landowner with a 20,000-acre estate in Berkshire and a strong sympathy for the shooting lobby, personally sanctioned research costing £375,000 of taxpayers' money to investigate buzzard control through measures which include "permanently removing" birds from sites, and giving them to anyone who will take them, and destroying their nests by "for example, using squirrel drey-poking pole, or shotgun from below". Richard Benyon is using public money to provide services for his aristocratic friends.

The RSPB criticised Defra for spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on the project when money was tight for genuine conservation measures.

Surreally, Countryside Alliance's David Taylor, shooting campaign manager for the group, said: "It is a shame the government have had to commission this expensive exercise simply to appease a group of people who believe that raptors have a greater significance than any other bird." He added that shooting estates generate billions for the rural economy and support thousands of jobs. Perhaps he could start compensating the many motorists smashed car windscreens caused by the birds of his industry

Only 20 years ago populations of buzzards were mainly restricted to the West Country, Wales and the Lake District as a result of generations of shooting on estates. Greater protection came into law in the 1970s and 1980s and numbers have soared, with a 72 per cent increase between 1995 and 2009. Recent estimates put the number of breeding territories at between 31,100 and 44,000, making the buzzard the country's most common and widespread bird of prey.

The landed rich just cannot conceive that their will and interest should come second to those pesky conservationists and environmentalists. They retain their faith in the holy rights of property, of the power of property to hold sway over society. They forget that the power of property rests upon the political power to enforce it, and now the law is against them, they don’t like it. The countryside should not be a preserve of a tiny minority. All of this just serves to show the influence  and privilege that is part and parcel of capitalism . The attempts of the rich and the powerful to maintain their power over making the rules and laws of society is an affront that serves to illustrate how shallow democracy under capitalism really is.


Monday, May 28, 2012

"Black Wednesday" -the "killing season"

It is known as "Black Wednesday" – the start of the "killing season" in the NHS. The first Wednesday in August marks the arrival of 6,000 newly qualified doctors, quaking in their crisp white coats. As they take responsibility for patients for the first time, research shows that death rates rise by an average of six per cent. August is the NHS's cruellest month. 6 extra deaths within a week among patients admitted on first Wednesday in August (compared with those admitted on last Wednesday in July) 28 per cent increase of "undesirable events" immediately after the changeover

Now the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC), representing the 20 medical institutions responsible for maintaining standards in the NHS, has said enough is enough. It has called for more consultants to be on duty and a reduction in routine surgery to allow senior doctors to supervise trainees more closely during the influx. Rotas should be "more flexibly and intelligently designed" so more experienced doctors are on call for the first few weeks and trainees should be given "high-quality clinical induction" with an emphasis on patient safety. The proposals have been endorsed by Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, and her three counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Alastair Henderson
, chief executive of the AMRC, said the six per cent increase in death rates in August was a serious concern. "The problem has been been known about for a long time, it is an increasing anxiety and it isn't acceptable,"

NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh acknowledged that the changeover "puts patients at risk" and junior doctors under stress.


How much?

What Money Can't Buy is a book by  Michael Sandel, a Harvard philosopher who appears to be another who has re-discovered the basics of socialism.

"We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold," Sandel writes. "We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society," in which the solution to all manner of social and civic challenges is not a moral debate but the law of the market, on the assumption that cash incentives are always the appropriate mechanism by which good choices are made. Every application of human activity is priced and commodified, and all value judgments are replaced by the simple question: "How much?"
Sandel leads us through a dizzying array of examples, from schools paying children to read – $2 (£1.20) a book in Dallas – to commuters buying the right to drive solo in car pool lanes ($10 in many US cities), to lobbyists in Washington paying line-standers to hold their place in the queue for Congressional hearings; in effect, queue-jumping members of the public. Drug addicts in North Carolina can be paid $300 to be sterilised, immigrants can buy a green card for $500,000, best man's speeches are for sale on the internet, and even body parts are openly traded in a financial market for kidneys, blood and surrogate wombs. Even the space on your forehead can be up for sale. Air New Zealand has paid people to shave their heads and walk around wearing temporary tattoos advertising the airline.

According to the logic of the market, the matter of whether these transactions are right or wrong is literally meaningless. They simply represent efficient arrangements, incentivising desirable behaviour and "improving social utility by making underpriced goods available to those most willing to pay for them". To Sandel, however, the two important questions we should be asking in every instance are: Is it fair to buy and sell this activity or product? And does doing so degrade it? Almost invariably, his answers are no, and yes.

He certainly provides some fascinating examples of the market failing to do a better job than social norms or civic values, when it comes to making us do the right thing. For example, economists carried out a survey of villagers in Switzerland to see if they would accept a nuclear waste site in their community. While the site was obviously unwelcome, the villagers recognised its importance to their country, and voted 51% in favour. The economists then asked how they would vote if the government compensated them for accepting the site with an annual payment. Support promptly dropped to 25%.

Likewise, a study comparing the British practice of blood donation with the American system whereby the poor can sell their blood found the voluntary approach worked far more effectively. Once again, civic duty turned out to be more powerful than money.

Sandel writes about the wrongness of a medical system in which the rich can pay for "concierge doctors" who will prioritise wealthy patients. If the primary purpose of a particular hospital is to save lives, then if it treats a millionaire's bruised toe while a poorer patient dies of a heart attack in the waiting room, the marketisation has clearly not worked. But if the function of the hospital is to maximise profits, then treating the millionaire's sore toe first makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
"I suspect that you have – we have – a certain idea of what a hospital is for, such that a purely profit-driven one misses the mark; it's deficient in some way; it falls short of what hospitals are properly for. You would say, wouldn't you, that that hospital – that market-driven one – is not a proper hospital. They've misidentified, really, what a hospital is for. Just as if they were a school that said: 'Our purpose isn't, really, primarily, to educate students, but to maximise revenue – and we maximise revenue by offering certain credentials, and so on,' you'd say: 'Well, that's not a proper school; they're deficient in some way.'"
A free-marketeer would say the profit motive is in itself blameless, and pursuing it by mending people's bodies or expanding their minds is no different to making motor cars, as long as it works.
"My point is that the debate, or the argument, with someone who held that view of the purpose of the hospital would be a moral argument about how properly to understand the purpose of a hospital or a school. And, yes, there would be disagreement – but that disagreement, about purpose, would be, at the same time, a moral disagreement. I'd say 'moral disagreement', because it's not just an empirical question: How did this hospital define its mission? It's: What are hospitals properly for? What is a good hospital?"

Sandel makes the observation that what he calls the "market triumphalism" in western politics over the past 30 years has coincided with a "moral vacancy" at the heart of public discourse, which has been reduced in the media to meaningless shouting matches on cable TV – what might be called the Foxification of debate – and among elected politicians to disagreements so technocratic and timid that citizens despair of politics ever addressing the questions that matter most.


Give a kidney, Get an iPad

The illegal trade in kidneys has risen to such a level that an estimated 10,000 black market operations involving purchased human organs now take place annually, or more than one an hour.

"There is a growing need for transplants and big profits to be made. It's ever growing, it's a constant struggle. The stakes are so big, the profit that can be made so huge, that the temptation is out there."
Dr. Luc Noel, of WHO and runs unit monitoring trends in legitimate and underground donations and transplants of human organs.

Humanity itself is being undermined by the vast profits involved and the division between poor people who undergo "amputation" for cash and the wealthy sick who sustain the body parts trade.

Jim Feehally, a professor of renal medicine at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust, said: "We know of countries in Asia, and also in eastern Europe, which provide a market so that people who need a kidney can go there and buy one. ou are exploiting a donor if they are very poor and you are giving them a very small amount of money and no doctor is caring for them afterwards, which is what happens. The people who gain are the rich transplant patients who can afford to buy a kidney, the doctors and hospital administrators, and the middlemen, the traffickers. It's absolutely wrong, morally wrong."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The non-rise of China

SOYMB has reservations on the article's loose use of the term "middle class". "Middle income" may be a more appropriate term, but notwithstanding that, it makes interesting reading for those with an interest in Chinese society.

A  headline in Forbes proclaimed the rise of China’s middle class to be “The Biggest Story of Our Time.” Such a statement is an hyperbolic oversimplification. Although the U.S. middle class has been squeezed and manufacturing has been outsourced to developing nations such as China, there has not been a corresponding rise in the Chinese middle class like that seen in the United States after World War II. Rather than a middle class of laborers in the manufacturing industry, China has seen disturbing levels of income inequality and the emergence of a new “elite” class at the same time that the United States is experiencing similar shifts.

Rumors of a rising Chinese middle class have been touted widely. However, the evidence supporting these claims remains conflicting at best. The “middle-class” jobs outsourced from the United States have not necessarily translated to “middle-class” jobs in developing nations, especially in China. Defining the middle class has always been a difficult venture, but on several fronts the Chinese middle class remains nascent.

Using wages as an indicator, the manufacturing jobs in China fall far short of providing a middle-class lifestyle .Even in Shanghai, these wages are below middle-class. And while wages maybe are rising, they won’t reach middle class wages any time soon. Workers lack the human capital, access to healthcare or education, and consumer behavior that are generally indicators of a middle class.

Perhaps a more important indicator of middle-class status is consumption behavior. A 2010 OECD report using consumption as an indicator found that the Chinese middle class constituted only 12 percent of the population. This is simply not large enough and China still has a long way to go before it can claim a legitimate middle class capable of driving healthy economic growth through its own consumption, rather than relying on exports to other countries.

If China has been experiencing near double-digit growth in GDP yearly where has all the growth gone? In fact, rather than creating a new middle class in China, outsourcing has contributed to the rise of a new elite class. The disproportionate benefits of China’s near 10-percent  annual GDP growth over the last 30 years have been appropriated  by a small minority (not too unlike the current situation in the United States).

Though growth has benefited all Chinese citizens to some degree, wage inequality has exploded. China’s Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality) has increased to roughly 45.3, approaching levels of dangerous inequality (compared to the U.S. score of 46.8 in 2009). Thus, rather than replicating the middle-class growth of post-World War II America, China appears to have skipped that stage altogether and headed straight for a model of extraordinary productivity but disproportionately distributed wealth similar to the contemporary United States.

The arrival of a new elite class in China does not come from the throngs of factory workers, but on the backs of those workers.


A lost city

53.6% of all children in the city of Detroit are living in poverty

The real unemployment rate exceeds 50%

47 percent of all people living in the city of Detroit are functionally illiterate

The median price of a home in Detroit is just $6000.

 In Detroit, about 40 percent of the streetlights are already broken and the city cannot afford to repair them. So Mayor Bing has come up with a plan to cut the number of operating streetlights almost in half and leave vast sections of the city totally in the dark at night.

Detroit announced that all police stations in the city will be closed to the public for 16 hours a day. Crime is exploding in Detroit and many families live in constant fear. Many have taken justice into their own hands. Justifiable homicide in Detroit rose by 79 percent during 2011. Murder is the number one industry, with drugs a close second.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Period Pains

The working class had been forced back on to the defensive in the wake of the defeat of the General Strike and the subsequent employers’ offensive, especially against the miners. Strike days, which had totalled 162,233,000 in 1926, fell to 1,174,0003 the following year. After 1926, the British trade union leaders looked to open class collaboration with the bosses as a way forward. In October 1926, at the Labour Party Conference, Robert Williams, the ex-communist transport workers’ leader, who had now moved sharply to the right, expressed the new line clearly: “Let us seek industrial peace through methods of conciliation. We cannot subvert or overthrow capitalism. We must supersede capitalism.” Another ex-leftwinger, George Hicks, raised similar ideas at the Edinburgh TUC conference, and invited the co-operation of the employers “in a common endeavour to improve the efficiency of industry and to raise the workers’ standard of life.” This invitation was warmly taken up by a group of twenty industrialists, led by Sir Alfred Mond of the giant ICI conglomerate, to discuss “industrial reorganisation and industrial relations.” In January 1928, the first meeting between the industrialists and the General Council – the Mond-Turner talks – took place gave rise to the National Industrial Council, on which both employers and workers were represented. However, while class collaboration remained the dominant philosophy of the TUC, the Industrial Council was in practice subsequently abandoned in the course of events. Its services was not required. The capitalist class was no longer interested in collaboration as they now had the whip hand, and were prepared to use it. They were not interested in compromises but in the merciless subjection of the working class to the rule of capital. But the arrival of the Great Depression began to restore hope of a new revolutionary upswing and an opening for a fresh offensive.

The introduction of the new approach was decided by  Comintern and became policy for every Communist Party in the world. In Britain two tendencies emerged within the party. Palme Dutt, Harry Pollitt, J.T. Murphy, Robin Page Arnot and the MP Shapurji Saklatvala, claimed that the Labour Party was no longer a workers’ party of any sort, and that it had been transformed into the third bourgeois party. The other faction  included such leading figures as T.A. Jackson, J.R. Campbell, Willie Gallacher, Wal Hannington and Andrew Rothstein, and stood by the existing line which can be described as "united front". Those who adhered to the earlier pro-Labour Party line were to be labeled "right deviationists"  In November 1928, the Central Committee of the CPGB unanimously agreed to drop the demand for the CPGB to be allowed to affiliate to the Labour Party, and to call for trade unions to disaffiliate from it. In March, 1929, the Central Committee of the CPGB voted in favour of abstaining in the forthcoming general election in seats where there was no Communist candidate. Workers in such constituencies should spoil their ballot papers by writing "Communist" across them [as does the SPGB]. This was historically the Third Period, the First Period being the revolutionary phase of post war militancy and then the Second Period was the time of capitalist stability of the 20s. The Third Period relates to the policies of the parties of the Comintern during 1928 and 1935, founded on the belief  that the proletariat would be pushed toward revolutionary politics by worsening conditions under capitalism. The job of organisations such as the CPGB was to denounce the existing organisations of the labour movement and, in some cases, split from them and form new unions free of reformist taint. Of course, many Communist Party members didn't need Comintern to stir up their loathing of officialdom: already disposed to that view from Labour Party with its careerists politicians and the TUC betrayal of the General Strike.

The name by which the Third Period new line was known as "Class Against Class". The Labour Party had become "the third capitalist party". and its leaders began to be described as "social fascists". The theory being that the "objective" role of social democracy was to sustain reformist illusions in the neutrality of the state, masking the fact that capitalism was turning into fascism and thus delaying proletariat revolutionary consciousness, and undermining the revolutionary struggle of class against class,  therefore social democracy was the main threat to socialist revolution. In trade union terms this meant the end of working within the reformist unions. Alternative strike committees were to be formed to become the basis of factory committees that would eventually be amalgamated to form new trade unions. But even so, as late as the Tenth CPGB Congress in January 1929 the CPGB adopted a trade union resolution that rejected new unions —which would "only lead to the isolation of the revolutionary workers from the great mass of the organised workers and play into the hands of the bureaucracy" — in favour of continuing the struggle for independent leadership within the existing unions. For the CPGB, "the enemy" was not the Trades Union Congress. After all, less than three years earlier it had called for "all power" to the TUC General Council. Nevertheless, Communist Party members, particularly leading ones, were instructed to form red (ie revolutionary) trade unions, separate from and critical of the traditional trade unions.

The Red Unions

Between September 1928 and January 1929 the Communist Party of the USA created the National Miners Union, National Textile Workers Union, and the Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union. The Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) was an industrial union umbrella organization of the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) between 1929 and 1935. Rather than "Boring from Within" - the policy of the "Second Period" that encouraged Communists to join mainstream labour unions and progressive organisations in order to move them to the revolutionary left, capitalism was entering a final death agony, its "third period of existence" and in the field of trade unions, a move was made during the Third Period towards the establishment of radical dual unions under Communist control rather than continuation of the previous policy.

  The Communist Party of Canada already controlled the Lumber Workers Industrial Union and held a strong influence in other unions, notably the Mine Workers Union of Canada. A major strike at General Motors' main Canadian plant seemed to confirm the Third Period thesis that capitalism was standing on the brink of a rising wave of class battles, and the CPC duly formed the Auto Workers Industrial Union. A few months later  it formed the second, the Industrial Union of Needle Trades Workers. The Workers Unity League was  created as a labour central operated by the Communist Party of Canada on the instructions of the Communist International. The WUL's first ever campaign attempted to use the "strike and split" line to form a single red Mine Workers Industrial Union  that was to sweep away the "social fascist" United Mine Workers of America [AFL] in Nova Scotia and the Mine Workers Union of Canada [ACCL] in Alberta. The policy rocked the two districts to their foundations. Many rank-and-file Party members — never mind rank-and-file miners — considered it foolhardy and unnecessary. Such was the opposition in Alberta that the policy was eventually abandoned, though not before several of the most influential comrades had been expelled for right deviationism and the party had split into sometimes physically warring factions. In Nova Scotia, "strike and split" was pushed through over the increasingly open opposition of local Communists and with even more disastrous results: the red union collapsed in a matter of weeks and the district Party went into a slump from which it never recovered.

As Moscow had declared that the world was entering a time of wars and revolutions, and that in this time of crisis, capitalist society was polarising. Not only would the open parties of capitalism gravitate to fascist solutions, but even the reformist labour and social-democratic parties were becoming tools of fascism. Ranged against all these reactionary forces were the militant working class and their Communist leadership. United front activity with the "social-fascist" reformists was no longer possible. The big problem with the ‘third period’ was the sectarian manner in which this was applied. Red unions were not models of workers' democracy. Party cadres often refused to fight around demands that actually came out of the rank-and-file, such as work sharing (the "stagger system") and seniority, which they deemed insufficiently revolutionary. Instead, in organising campaigns and strike struggles they tried to impose their own political agenda, often involving the imminence of imperialist war and the need to defend the Soviet Union, and they produced union literature that proclaimed the unions' party affinities (even attaching application forms). WUL membership cards came embossed with the hammer and sickle and stated that membership was open only to "those subscribing to the class struggle". 

Two red unions were duly formed in Britain in 1929: the United Mineworkers of Scotland*, which grew out of an authentic rank-and-file uprising against bureaucratic manoeuvrings by  officials in the Scottish Executive of the Miners Federation of Great Britain — and the rather flimsier United Clothing Workers Union, formed during a strike in North London. We can only ponder why they had "united" in their names when both were breakaways and very much not united!

The National Union of Tailor and Garment Workers was based in Leeds and dominated by Catholics of Irish descent. The largely Jewish and non-Catholic membership in London were, with some justification, afraid that their problems were not being properly dealt with by the Leeds leadership. The London organiser, Sam Elsbury, was a founder member of the Communist Party. When in October 1928 a dispute broke out over a non-unionist at the Rego factory in London, it was endorsed by the London District Committee. The union’s national leadership would not sanction the strike because, they said, it was prejudicial to a new national agreement they were attempting to organise with the employers’ federation. The strike was well run with the strikers, mainly young women, holding marches, manning pickets and making street collections. Public sympathy was gained and considerable trade union aid forthcoming. After nearly three months the strike was settled with Rego’s recognising the union, but not the union shop, and the reinstatement of most of the strikers. At this stage the Leeds cabal took action against Elsbury, expelling him from the union and forcibly taking over the London office. In other times the Communist Party would have mounted a full-scale campaign for Elsbury’s reinstatement in the union, with some possibility of success. Instead, following the new Party-line, on the 7th March 1929 the United Clothing Workers Union (UCWU) came into existence. The new union recruited a majority of the London membership rapidly and a substantial minority of the Leeds membership. Elsbury was well satisfied with his work. What the new union needed more than anything else was a little time to consolidate the organisation and to build up the funds. Unfortunately it is a feature of all dual unions that they are never afforded the time to consolidate their position.

In the North London factory of Polikoff the overwhelming majority of members joined the UCWU and the management recognised the union. When NUTGW members applied for jobs in the factory they were informed they would have to transfer to the United Clothing Workers. The NUTGW Federation who complained to the Wholesale Clothiers successfully brought pressure to bear to withdraw recognition from the UCWU. Elsbury attempted to stave off the inevitable trouble, for his union was in poor shape to win, by insisting that his members were prepared to work alongside any trade unionist. Polikoff nevertheless refused to permit the collection of UCWU dues in the factory. Elsbury called a strike for union recognition. Arrayed against the UCWU were not only Polikoff (who according to most testimony was quite prepared to recognise both unions) but also the NUTGW, the TUC – in particular the T&GWU who threatened to black deliveries to Polikoff if the UCWU were recognised – the London Trades Council and the Employers Federation. The NUTGW were sending down their members to break the strike. The strike started on May 4th. By May 9th Polikoff’s had applied to a magistrate for sixty-seven summonses against UCWU strikers for breach of contract. Polikoff also indicated that they might find it necessary to apply for 500 or 600 summonses in all. Polikoff’s manager explained to the bench the reason for his actions: "It is very difficult for me to say, but we want to teach these people a lesson. At the present time they are members of what is known as a breakaway union – a Communist organization – and they are not members of the orthodox union which is recognised by the Trades Union Congress. We want to recover from them the money they have lost us....The damages must be at least a week’s wages....They have practically shut our works."

Elsbury demanded a meeting of the Central Committee to enquire into the failure to provide the promised financial support which had turned out to be very minimal. The strike dragged on. Polikoff secured a conviction on May 23rd against one of the strikers, who was fined £4.15s.0d, and asked for a further eighty-eight summonses. The remaining sixty-six cases were adjourned for a fortnight, although there was little doubt as to their outcome. The same day Elsbury called a meeting of the strikers and confessed his inability to provide funds for the strike or to pay the fines. Amid tears and recrimination the strike was called off. Each returning worker was presented with a document to sign in which he or she promised not to join or pay subscriptions to any organisation not recognised by the TUC. Membership of an unofficial union would be punished by instant dismissal. The whole brave venture had resulted in nothing to either union and a massive increase in apathy. A situation that kept Polikoff’s an open shop for over seven years.

The Communist Party had got the United Clothing Workers involved in a strike that Elsbury would have preferred to avoid, on the promise of funds. Elsbury expected a party enquiry to exonerate him; in fact the reverse was the case. Elsbury was ordered by the party to relinquish his post as secretary and to hand over to Pountney, a distributive worker, drafted in during the Polikoff dispute to assist as an organiser. Elsbury refused and resigned from the party, a resignation that was subsequently made official by his formal expulsion. The CP-controlled Executive Board dismissed Elsbury from his post and forcibly expelled him from the UCWU office. The election of Pountney was achieved at the inaugural National Conference. But the failure of the Polikoff strike, the brutal expulsion of Elsbury and the hostility of NUTGW in particular and the trade unions in general, coupled to a chronic shortage of funds to pay provincial organisers, denied the union any effective future. Pountney and the Executive attempted to lay the blame on the "renegade" and "social fascist" Elsbury, but the impetus was spent. The UCWU declined into a small East London union of a few hundred dedicated adherents until, in 1935, it closed up shop completely.

The two red unions formed in 1929 were the only ones formed in Britain but there were attempts to create another out of the Seamen's Minority Movement but only after very careful preparation including the establishing on a wide scale of functioning "Ships Committees", a delaying tactic by Communist Party leader Harry Pollitt while still being seen to uphold the principle of red unionism. No red seafarers' union ever slid down the slipway and instead Pollitt secured the CPGB's endorsement of recruitment to the new seamen's section of Bevin's Transport and General Workers' Union

Comintern took stock, recognised that excessive sectarianism was having negative results virtually everywhere, and halted plans for the formation of a red United Mineworkers of Great Britain.


The turn away from Class Against Class and towards the united front is normally dated as beginning some time between the immediate aftermath of the German catastrophe of 1933. Comintern quickly ditched its policy of Class Against Class after Hitler came to power, Stalin's policy of the inevitability of revolutionary upsurge was replaced by the equally negative Popular Front, which subordinated working class power to that of alliances with "progressive" sections of the ruling class. With little or no explanation the "social fascists" became important figures to be courted and made much of in the anti-fascist front. The very notion of a militant, class-war oriented opposition within the unions was a thing of the past, best forgotten in the crusade to win friends and influence people in high places.  This was translated onto the shopfloor into an accommodation with the trade union bureaucracy.

The drive toward dual unionism alienated many trade unionists, particularly those in the MFGB. A.J. Cook, the secretary of the Federation denounced the United Mineworkers of Scotland. The most prominent disbeliever — and a victim of a politbureau purge — was South Wales miners' leader Arthur Horner, whose distaste for breaking away from the South Wales Miners Federation led to his summoning to Moscow for political re-education, then to Berlin to complete his penance working for the RILU Miners International Propaganda Committee. His reaction against Comintern policy was labelled "Hornerism". One of the attacks made on figures such as Horner was on the basis of his "legalism:" ie, a commitment to the existing bureaucracy of the labour movement as against "unofficial" rank-and-file movements. But given that trade unions are bourgeois institutions, albeit ones based on the working class, a union officials  job is ultimately to regulate and even discipline members and ensure that class struggles are kept inside the boundaries of wage labour.

In general the attitude of the Socialist Party has been against dual unionism and have always opposed to unions being organised and directed by a political party, arguing instead for the need to maintain the independent existence of the union.  From its foundation, the SPGB ere critical of the Socialist Labour Party's and Industrial Workers of the World's policy of withdrawing from the "yellow" pure and simple craft unions and create "industrial unions". However, the One Big Union was an attempt by members in the Socialist Party of Canada to develop a more class-based workers organisation. Later, some individual members of the Socialist Party were active participants in a breakaway London bus-drivers union in the late 30s. One of the problems breakaway unions face is the necessity to be nursed through its birth and early days without meeting disaster. Few have succeeded, especially since they are confronted by alliances of the established trade union and employers who delight in taking full advantage of a split, seeking benefit from divide and rule.

There is no reason in principle why socialists should be opposed to independent revolutionary unions, but it is difficult to conceive of the situation, while capitalism lasts, for them to encouraged. A trade union is, by definition, an all-inclusive organisation. It must take its members, whether by trade or industry, as they are, warts and all, not as some idealised image of the class-conscious card-carrying militant. The argument is made that in particular circumstances a union may be so corrupt, its rules so bureaucratised and the leadership so autocratic as to make membership impossible. The argument begs the question – what about the other members? Trade unions organise millions of workers, the majority of whom are at a low level of working class awareness (trade union consciousness) – a vague sense of solidarity. The task of socialists is by patient, painstaking work to influence and develop the consciousness of these workers. The nature and degree of the bureaucracy will determine the tactics but not the strategy of working in the trade unions and the call for breakaway unions is more often a desire for a short-cut.

 However, to win a union from a bureaucracy is not the main question, albeit an honest administration is better in pure trade union terms. The task is to explain the day-to-day struggles of workers and set it out in a political and economic context. In the final analysis the solution is to be found, not in one factory, not in one union nor a union federation but in the mass movement of the whole class acting a mass revolutionary socialist party.

*See Socialist Courier for a brief history of the United Mineworkers of Scotland

Reporting America

According to data from the United States Census Bureau, over 17 million women lived in poverty in 2010, including more than 7.5 million in extreme poverty and 4.7 million single mothers in poverty. The poverty rate among women climbed to 14.5 percent in 2010 from 13.9 percent in 2009, the highest in 17 years.T he data from the US Census Bureau also showed that more than 1 million children were added to the poverty population between 2009 and 2010, making the total number of children living below the poverty line exceed 15 million, the greatest since 2001. The number of homeless children has surged. In 2010, 1.6 million children in the United States were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, up 33 percent from that in 2007, the report said, quoting figures from the US National Center on Family Homelessness.

According to a Salvation Army report, a record 49.1 million Americans (16 percent) are living below the federal poverty line. A family of four earning less that $23,050 per year is considered living in poverty.

38 percent of Americans report receiving some form of charitable assistance, including food from food banks or financial assistance/housing support; 63 percent who earn less than $25,000 per year report receiving assistance; and among Americans ages 35 to 54, 46 percent report having received assistance at some point in their lifetimes.  Thirteen percent of Americans report having spent a night in a shelter or on the street due to loss of housing and 26 percent who earn less than $25,000 per year report sleeping in a shelter or on the street.

59 percent of Americans believing poverty is a trap that no matter how hard they try, those stricken by poverty cannot escape. 59 percent believe it is not possible to eliminate poverty altogether while 32 percent believe there is nothing much they can do to help poor people.

Meantime, for two years running Houston has added more millionaires to its population than any other city in the US. Near-millionaires are enjoying some nice upward mobility, especially those involved in the oil and gas industry.

Low-wage workers, on the other hand, aren’t faring too well in the city. In fact, a recent report from Houston Interfaith Worker Justice (HIWJ) estimates that low-wage workers lose $753.2 million annually due to wage theft. Wage theft can occur in many ways, including: workers being denied the minimum wage or overtime pay; stolen tips; illegal deductions from paychecks; people being forced to work off the clock; or workers getting misclassified as independent contractors so they aren’t entitled to overtime or benefits.

“We’re not talking about a worker here or a worker there...”
says José Eduardo Sanchez, campaign organizer with HIWJ. “It impacts families, communities, and local economies.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Poverty and teenage pregnancy

Why is a teenage girl in Mississippi four times as likely to give birth than a teenage girl in New Hampshire? (And 15 times more likely to give birth than a teen in Switzerland?) Why is the teen birth rate in Massachusetts 19.6 per 1,000, while it’s 47.7 per 1,000 in Washington, D.C.? Why despite a 40 percent drop over two decades are teen moms still far more common in the US than elsewhere across the developed world? It is not that American teens have more sex. Many studies have found that US teenagers have less sex than their counterparts in Europe.

The answer, according to a study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, may well lie in social inequality. A new study suggests American teens don't have more sex than teens elsewhere, but that they suffer more "despair" due to poverty. It has been known for decades that girls living in lower socio-economic circumstances are more likely than their wealthier peers to become pregnant. Anthropologists and social workers explain that teens who experience “despair” are more likely to turn to motherhood as a way to find meaning in a world where they see few other options. Professors Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland, College Park and Phillip Levine of Wellesley College adds a new twist to this theory, creating an economic model to show what this “despair” means, in measurable terms. They found that the truly at-risk teens are those who live in areas of great income disparity. Teens in the highest-inequality states are roughly 5 percentage points more likely to give birth as a teen than teens in the lowest-inequality states. They found the opposite pattern on teenage abortions  – much less abortions among teens with low socioeconomic status than in high-inequality states.

“No silver bullet such as expanding access to contraception or abstinence education will solve this particular social problem,”
they write. “Our view is that teen childbearing is so high in the United States because of underlying social and economic problems.” They say the true way to tackle teen pregnancy is to address the thornier issue of the “lack of economic opportunity among those at the bottom of the economic ladder.”
Policies targeted directly at teen pregnancy prevention – sex education, improved access to contraception, abstinence counseling, and the like – are unlikely to improve outcomes much for disadvantaged young women. Instead, with improved economic opportunities, reduced poverty, and improved prospects for other adult outcomes, teen pregnancy would also decline.

Freeing the farmers

 Never before has so much money gone into the industrial food system. The last decade has witnessed a spectacular increase in speculation on food commodity markets, increasing food prices everywhere. With today’s global financial and economic crises, speculative capital is searching for safe places to multiply. Food and farmland are such places. “Everyone has to eat” is the new mantra preached in boardrooms. People who just want to grow food and make a living from the land are being expelled, criminalised, and sometimes killed, to make way for land grabbers. It is nothing less than an assault on peasants.

 The global food system is in profound crisis. More than a billion people suffer from hunger, and their numbers are rising faster than the global population. Yet more than enough food is produced to feed everybody in the world. At the same time we are heading deeper into a global climate crisis, for which the industrial food system is to a large extent to blame. Meanwhile corporations are grabbing huge areas of land and water systems in poor countries, and displacing rural communities.

Ethiopia often in the midst of a severe food crisis and is heavily dependent on food aid to feed its people. Yet, the government has already signed away about 10% of the country’s entire agricultural area to foreign investors to produce commodities for the international market.

Over the past few years, nearly half a million hectares in Senegal have been signed away to foreign agribusiness companies frequently to grow sweet potatoes and sunflowers to produce biofuels for European cars.

We could go on and on with statistics of the appropriation of land throughout the orld

Today, over a billion people on the planet do not have enough to eat. Around 80% of these people are food producers living in the countryside. We are all acutely aware of the climate crisis. But how many people realise that the current industrial food system contributes around half of all global green- house gas emissions? You get this figure if you add up the emissions from agriculture itself, plus the change in land use when forests are turned into plantations, plus the enormous distances that food and feed are transported around the globe, plus the energy that goes into processing, cooling and freezing, plus the waste of energy and food in the increasingly centralised supermarket chains. GRAIN has calculated that just by focusing on soil fertility restoration in agricultural lands, we could off- set between one-quarter and one-third of all current global annual greenhouse gas emissions!

Small farmers can indeed cool the world. They can also feed the world. Earlier this year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food presented a report showing that agro-ecology, if sufficiently supported, can double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty. Others have shown that policies oriented towards promoting local markets, short food- transport circuits and peasant farming, all help to do the same. The issue is as simple as keeping food in the hands of people, rather than corporations. Still, peasants, fishers and other food producers have never been more in danger of extinction.

The race is on to take control of the world’s food-producing resources – seeds, water and land – and the global distribution of food. The corporate food system destroys food systems based on , local cultures, biodiversity and, most of all, people. It puts the profits of the few before the needs of people and leads to massive food safety incidents, environmental destruction, labour exploitation and the decimation of rural communities. Banks, investment houses and pension funds are actively buying up farmland all over the world. The data and the contracts are very hard to acquire, but current estimates are that 60-80 million hectares of land have fallen under the control of foreign investors for the production of food in the last few years only. This is equal to half the farmland of the EU! Most of this is happening in Africa, where people’s customary rights to land are being grossly ignored.

This latest trend in global land grabbing – that for outsourced food production – is only one part of a larger attack on land, territories and resources. Land grabs for mining, tourism, biofuels, dam construction, infrastructure projects, timber and now carbon trading are all part of the same process, turning farm- ers into refugees on their own land.

Taken from here 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

UN - Unfit for purpose

The U.N. Security Council has shown itself to be "unfit for purpose." as if most socialists require to be told this by Amnesty Internation!

"The language of human rights is shelved when inconvenient or standing in the way of profit"
Amnesty secretary-general Salil Shett said "In the last year it has all too often become clear that opportunistic alliances and financial interests have trumped human rights as global powers jockey for influence in the Middle East and North Africa,"

"Governments are willing to promote it when the country that they are being critical of either has no power or has no strategic importance to them. And at the same time are totally willing to bend the rules when it does,"
Amnesty's London-based senior director of International Law and Policy, said Widney Brown

"Ousting individual leaders - however tyrannical - is not enough to deliver long-term change,"
Amnesty declares in the report. Amnesty claims that a failure to intervene in Sri Lanka and inaction over crimes against humanity in Syria  have left the United Nations Security Council looking redundant as a guardian of global peace. The human rights organisation also claims that the emerging powerhouses of India, Brazil and South Africa have too often been "complicit through their silence" in weakening the Security Council's influence as a guardian of global peace.

"Of the top six arms dealers in the world, five of those top six are permanent members of the Security Council.  And there is a certain irony in the fact that the governments charged with international peace and security in fact are major arms dealers,"
Brown said, citing it as a a situation that can create a conflict of financial interest.

The report documents restrictions on freedom of speech in at least 91 countries as well as cases of people tortured or otherwise ill-treated in at least 101 countries.
Source 1
Source 2

wealthy women

In the half-hour it took you to get ready for work this morning, Gina Rinehart earned more than $1m. Her gross pay today will be nearly US$50m (£32m). The Australian mining tycoon is the world's wealthiest woman. Rinehart's fortune has nearly tripled in the past year, to $28.5bn.

Other wealthy women are Christy Walton, the American Wal-Mart heiress, who is worth $25.3bn. Liliane Bettencourt, the only child of the L'Oréal founder, Eugène Schueller.
 has $24bn. Susanne Klatten with $13bn, Germany's richest woman inherited a stake in BMW and other assets from her father, Herbert Quandt.

Copyright capitalism

Imagine a world where you weren't allowed to use powerful computers to use weather patterns and astronomical data – it's just nonsensical yet commercial restrictions from publishers of scientific papers is not only to be restricting access to the scientific community, but also hindering the work of researchers.

The scale of new information in modern science is staggering: more than 1.5m scholarly articles are published every year and the volume of data doubles every three years. Two new pieces of research are uploaded to UK PubMed Central every single minute of the day, how can researchers possibly sift through, understand and make new discoveries from the torrent of data in their field? The simple answer is that they can't. But computers can. No individual can keep up with such a volume, and scientists need computers to help them digest and make sense of the information. A technique, called text mining uses computers to look for unseen patterns and associations across the millions of words in the articles. Computers have an almost limitless capacity to “read” and can be programmed to analyse enormous datasets, identifying links, trends or patterns in data which reveal new scientific discoveries, create new products or services, develop new medicines more quickly   Unfortunately, in most cases, text mining is forbidden. Bergman, Murray-Rust, Piwowar and countless other academics are prevented from using the most modern research techniques because the big publishing companies such as Macmillan, Wiley and Elsevier, which control the distribution of most of the world's academic literature, by default do not allow text mining of the content that sits behind their expensive paywalls. Current copyright law limits the possibilities of text mining for unlocking science

Professor Peter Murray-Rust was looking for new ways to make better drugs. Dr Heather Piwowar wanted to track how scientific papers were cited and shared by researchers around the world. Dr Casey Bergman wanted to create a way for busy doctors and scientists to quickly navigate the latest research in genetics, to help them treat patients and further their research. These are discoveries that a person scouring through papers one by one may never notice. Bergman, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Manchester, used text mining to create a tool to help scientists make sense of the ever-growing research literature on genetics. Though genetic sequences of living organisms are publicly available, discussions of what the sequences do and how they interact with each other sits within the text of scientific papers that are mostly behind paywalls. Working with Max Haeussler, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Bergman came up with Text2genome, which identifies strings of text in thousands of papers that look like the letters of a DNA sequence – a gene, say – and links together all papers that mention or discuss that sequence. Text2genome could allow a clinician or researcher who may not be an expert on a particular gene to access the relevant literature quickly and easily. Haeussler's attempts to scale up Text2genome, however, have hit a wall, and his blog is a litany of the problems in trying to gain permissions from the scores of publishers to download and add papers to the project. "If we don't have access to the papers to do this text mining, we can't make those connections," says Bergman.

Murray-Rust, a chemist at the University of Cambridge, has used text mining to look for ways to make chemical compounds, such as pharmaceuticals, more efficiently. "If you have a compound you don't know how to make and it's similar to one you do know how to make, then the machine would be able to suggest a number of methods which would allow you to do it." But, although his university subscribes to the journals he needs to do this work, he is forbidden from using the content in what he calls "a modern manner using machines". A member of his research group accidentally tripped the alarms of a publisher's website when he downloaded several dozen papers at once from journals to which the university had already paid subscription fees. The publisher saw it as an attempt to illegally download content and immediately blocked access to its content for the entire university.

A recent JISC, ‘Joint Information Systems Committee’  report shows that such techniques could enable researchers in UK universities to gain new knowledge that would otherwise remain undiscovered because there is just too much relevant literature for any one person to read. Such discoveries could lead to benefits for society and the economy. Current copyright law is also imposing restrictions, since text mining involves a range of computerised analytical processes which are not all readily permitted within UK intellectual property law. In order to be ‘mined’, text must be accessed, copied, analysed, annotated and related to existing information and understanding.  Even if the user has access rights to the material, making annotated copies can be illegal under current copyright law without the permission of the copyright holder. There is a real risk that we will miss discoveries that could have significant social and economic impact unless the text is freely available and unencumbered.

The restrictions placed by publishers on text mining has led campaigners to view the issue as another front in the battle to make fruits of publicly funded research work available through "open access", free at the point of use. That would allow researchers to text-mine the content freely without needing to request any extra permissions.

Freedom from patent and copyright restrictions, which are forms of private ownership will  will almost certainly unlock a tidal wave of new development which may revolutionise areas of science

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The new tech ball and chain

What is work these days? How do you define it? Is it work when you're at the beach thinking you have to check your e-mail?" In one survey of 1,600 managers from multiple companies, about half checked e-mail continuously while on vacation or just before bedtime. 26 percent admitted to Perlow that they brought their mobile device into bed with them.

The blurring of work and personal life doesn't only affect highly paid white-collar workers. Union workers, or those with regulated work hours, are also using mobile devices.

 That is raising new legal questions: Brazil, for example, just passed a law requiring employers to pay overtime when employees use smart phones at home to answer messages from work.

Chicago police sergeant Jeffrey Allen is suing because he was not receiving overtime for checking and answering work-related e-mails, calls, and texts at home on his department-issued device. The lawsuit, now awaiting a trial, is among a few emerging cases testing how the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act applies to smart phones.

"If an employer wants you to wear the ball and chain, and work during your off hours, I think they should have to pay something for that,"
says Paul Geiger, Allen's lawyer and also a counsel for the city's police union.

The Fall of Facebook

According to this report Facebook, with its 900 million users, valuation of around $100 billion, with the bulk of its business in traditional display advertising, is now at the heart of the fallacy.

Facebook is, everyone has come to agree, profoundly different from the Web. First of all, it exerts a new level of hegemonic control over users' experiences. And it has its vast scale: 900 million, soon a billion, eventually two billion (one of the problems with the logic of constant growth at this scale and speed, of course, is that eventually it runs out of humans with computers or smart phones). And then it is social. Facebook has, in some yet-to-be-defined way, redefined something. Relationships? Media? Communications? Communities? Something big, anyway. The overt subtext of the popular account of Facebook is that the network has a proprietary claim and special insight into social behavior. For enterprises and advertising agencies, it is therefore the bridge to new modes of human connection. Really, we know what people are thinking about—sometimes before they know!

Facebook currently derives 82 percent of its revenue from advertising. For all its valuation, the social network is just another ad-supported site. The reality for everybody building businesses on the strength of web advertising is that the value of digital ads decreases every quarter, a consequence of their simultaneous ineffectiveness and efficiency. The nature of people's behavior on the web and of how they interact with advertising, as well as the character of those ads themselves and their inability to command real attention, has meant a marked decline in advertising's impact.

 At the same time, network technology allows advertisers to more precisely locate and assemble audiences outside of branded channels. Instead of having to go to CNN for your audience, a generic CNN-like audience can be assembled outside CNN's walls and without the CNN-brand markup. This has resulted in the now famous and cruelly accurate formulation that $10 of offline advertising becomes $1 online.

The result is that the ad-Web business is engaged in a relentless, demoralizing, no-exit operation to realign costs with falling per-user revenues, and manically inflating traffic to compensate for ever-lower per-user value. Facebook has convinced large numbers of otherwise intelligent people that the magic of the medium will reinvent advertising in a heretofore unimaginably profitable way, or that the company will create something new that isn't advertising, which will produce even more wonderful profits. The company makes a pitiful and shrinking $5 per customer per year, which puts it somewhat ahead of the Huffington Post and somewhat behind the New York Times' digital business. Facebook is mired in the same relentless downward pressure of falling per-user revenues as the rest of Web-based media.

Facebook's business only grows on the unsustainable basis that it can add new customers at a faster rate than the value of individual customers declines. It is peddling as fast as it can. And the present scenario gets much worse as its users increasingly interact with the social service on mobile devices, because it is vastly harder, on a small screen, to sell ads and profitably monetize users.

If you're inside the Facebook company  there is endless chatter about a near-utopian (but often quasi-legal or demi-ethical) new medium of marketing. "If we just ... if only ... when we will ..." goes the conversation. If, for instance, frequent-flyer programs and travel destinations actually knew when you were thinking about planning a trip. If a marketer could identify the person who has the most influence on you ... If a marketer could introduce you to someone who would relay the marketer's message ... get it? No ads, just friends! My God! But so far, the sweeping, basic, transformative, and simple way to connect buyer to seller and then get out of the way eludes Facebook. So the social network is left in the same position as all other media companies. Instead of being inevitable and unavoidable, it has to sell the one-off virtue of its audience like every other advertizer on Madison Avenue.

Another worrisome point: Facebook is a company of technologists, not marketers. If you wanted to bet on someone succeeding in the marketing business, you'd bet on technologists only if they could invent some new way to sell; you wouldn't bet on them to sell the way marketers have always sold. But that's what Facebook is doing, selling individual ads. From a revenue perspective, it's an ad-sales business, not a technology company. To meet expectations—the expectations that took it public at $100 billion, the ever-more-vigilant expectations needed to sustain it at that price—it has to sell at near hyperspeed. The growth of its user base and its ever-expanding  page views means an almost infinite inventory to sell. But the expanding supply, together with an equivocal demand, means ever-lowering costs. The math is sickeningly inevitable. Facebook will look forward to slowing or declining growth in a tapped-out market, and ever-falling ad rates, both on the Web and especially in mobile.

n its Herculean efforts to maintain its overall growth, Facebook will continue to lower its per-user revenues, which, given its vast inventory, will force the rest of the ad-driven Web to lower its costs. The low-level panic the owners of every mass-traffic website feel about the ever-downward movement of the cost of a thousand ad impressions (or CPM) is turning to dread, as some big sites observed as much as a 25 percent decrease in the last quarter, following Facebook's own attempt to book more revenue. As Facebook gluts an already glutted market, the fallacy of the Web as a profitable ad medium can no longer be overlooked. The crash will come. And Facebook which is, in reality, only an ad-driven site—will fall with everybody else.

Facebook's answer to its critics is: pay no attention to the carping.

Taken from  here