Friday, August 31, 2012

Food For Thought

An interesting snippet, with two afterthoughts......

The LA Times takes note of a study on American food from the Natural Resources Defense Council with some eye-popping facts and figures on waste:
  • About 40% of food in the US supply chain goes uneaten
  • A family of four tosses $2,275 worth of food each year, which translates into 20 pounds per person each month
  • Americans waste 50% more food today than in the 1970s, and 10 times as much as people in Southeast Asia
  • Supermarket produce aisles are bountiful at a cost: Some $15 billion in fruits and vegetables goes unsold each year
  • Uneaten food is the single biggest component of municipal solid waste in landfills

Afterthought 1 - Taking the above into account, perhaps the defenders of the status quo can explain why millions therefore are still starving around the world INCLUDING America? Could it be the shortcomings of a system based on profit rather than need standing in the way?

Afterthought 2 - Do figures like these also knock the teeth out of the usual Daily Mail-esque 'over population' arguments and food shortage myths? It seems there is plenty of food available, but the system that distributes it is clearly not working.

Perhaps a system based on social need would work better........


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Google 1 God 0

A recent article on Slate website shows how the internet and modern techonology is dealing a well placed blow at the heart of the worlds stupidest religions, providing some individuals for the first time, access to knowledge and awareness of the real world about them.

"Once upon a time—say, in the 1990s—a Hasidic Jew looking for escape from her blinkered world might have gone to the library. But by the time F. Vizel, a Satmar Hasid, learned that the public library existed at the age of 20, she’d already made a far more critical discovery. She’d found the Internet.

Vizel, who grew up an hour and a half from New York City, started going online at 19 on her husband’s laptop. Within two years, she began exploring blogs by people who had left Hasidism, and had a huge realization: She wasn’t the only Hasidic Jew questioning what she now calls a "lifetime of indoctrination and being taught not to think." When she set up an anonymous Facebook account, she posted a painting of Eve in the Garden of Eden as her profile picture, implying that the Internet had become her tree of knowledge.

In time, Vizel became so rebellious—she asked to stop shaving the hair she covered with a scarf, flouting the standards for married women in her community—that she says she was asked by community leaders to hand over the laptop. By then, though, it was too late. Two years ago, she and her husband split, and some months later she left their community in Kiryas Joel, N.Y., taking her son with her."

Her story is familiar to others who have broken free of restrictive religious practices. The article continues:

" Ari Mandel, 29, who grew up in a community of Nikolsburg Hasidim in Monsey, N.Y., purchased a home computer because he was interested in breaking into graphics for work. Through the course of reading science blogs, as well as covert visits to the library—he went just before Shabbat sundown on Fridays, when he felt sure roving members of the "purity squad" wouldn't be watching—Mandel was shocked to discover an alternate version of the world's origins. He had been raised to believe that the world was less than 6,000 years old; he recalls his father telling him, on a rare family visit to the Museum of Natural History, that a dinosaur skeleton was "just rocks." "

What insanity drives the religious to such preposterous beliefs? The freedom to learn, to discover, to evolve as a human, to interact with the world about us are surely the most basic of all 'rights' - what kind of god demands otherwise? A socialist world would at last do away with such nonsense once and for all, if Google hasn't got there first!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

£20,000 Nuts!

The madness of the money system continues, and you really couldn't make this stuff up..........from Reuters:

" China is trying hard to revive interest in its ailing stock market, but some investors are instead shelling out big money on an asset they can hold in the palms of their hands - walnuts. With more traditional investments like stocks and property offering only small, or sometimes negative, returns over the last few years, a market in so-called "cultural playthings" has sprouted up, sending prices for large walnuts, for instance, into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Once the toys of China's imperial court, the walnuts -- which when rotated in one's palm are thought to stimulate blood circulation -- are making a comeback among the wealthy, some of whom see them as not only a place to put their cash, but as a distinctly Chinese status symbol. The bigger, older and more symmetrical, the better, says collector Kou Baojun in Beijing, who owns over 30 pairs of walnuts, most of which are over a century old and have taken on a reddish shine from years of polishing in the palm.

"Look how well these have aged. Playing with these kinds of walnuts isn't for ordinary people," Kou said. 

Interest from collectors like Kou has made walnuts big business for merchants like Hu Zhenyuan, who buys entire trees from farmers ahead of the harvest to supply his shop in Beijing.

"Walnut investments go up every year. A pair of walnuts at 350 yuan (£35) 10 years ago can sell for 3,500 yuan or even 20,000 or 30,000 yuan," Hu said.

The walnut craze peaked in 2010, as Beijing's steps to put the brakes on property market speculation left few places for the wealthy to park their money.
But with the stock market now down by nearly 40 percent over the past three years and few options for investing overseas, the market for walnuts and other trinkets, such as gourds to house crickets, continues to thrive. One pair for sale on a popular walnut trading website is listed at over £20,000."

Do you really think this is a sane system worth keeping when a pair of nuts can be worth a year's salary of many UK workers? And they tell us socialism is a mad idea.....


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Numeracy, Literacy and Idiocy

This post has been re-blogged from the Sussex Sedition blogspot HERE, with permission of the blogger.

There are many decisions this idiot government has made that have affected the lives of the young. The housing benefit cap and the reduction in child tax credits have undermined the stability of children and families; the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme and the sell-off of playing fields have reined in opportunities available to schoolchildren; and the raising of university tuition fees has restricted access to higher education. All of these have impacted on the start in life of countless young people; but the latest stupid move by the government has probably had the most immediate and pernicious effect of all.

This week’s GCSE results have revealed that the exam boards, under instruction from the regulator Ofqual, moved the grade boundaries for students sitting English between the January and May exams, without notifying schools. The result of this is that across the country, there are countless students who scored the same marks in May as their contemporaries did in January, but they have received a lower grade. The most marked effect of this has been on students who were expected to get a C grade and have now been awarded a D grade. Entry to sixth forms and colleges is dependent on at least a C grade in English and Maths. At the school in East Sussex where I teach English there are ten students who have been awarded a D grade when their marks were well within the grade boundary that would have secured a C grade in January. I understand that the position in some other schools across the county is a lot worse; this means that there are hundreds of young people in East Sussex whose immediate next steps in life have been severely affected at a stroke.

This has been done in the name of curbing grade inflation because it is widely accepted that GCSE students cannot continue to improve year after year. But why not? Why cannot success be extended to as many as possible? Because this is the nasty party and for people like Michael Gove equality of opportunity is anathema. And he can plead innocence as much as he likes but there has undoubtedly been government pressure brought to bear; I saw him on the news and he closed his eyes at the point he said he had not instructed Ofqual - sure sign of a lie. Years of improving state education and increasing numbers going to university have to be rolled back by the Tories. As Gore Vidal said, “it is not enough to succeed, others must fail”. Or, in other words, the lower orders must know their place.

The Sedonista

Monday, August 27, 2012

We're All In It Together, Right?

Well, then best someone tells the wealthiest in the UK then because whilst your local hospital/school/factory/day centre/old people's home/post office/life gets cut back and closed down, have some sympathy for the rest of those allegedly in the 'same boat' as us..........according to the Independent:-

"The pay of Britain's top company bosses has soared still higher, rising by more than five times that of ordinary workers, who have seen a decline in wages in real terms. The total pay package for the typical FTSE 100 chief executive hit £3m for the first time in 2011 – an average rise of 8.5 per cent – despite it being a brutal year for investors. The average pay rise for workers nationally was 1.6 per cent, less than half the pace of inflation, placing pressure on household disposable incomes and endangering growth prospects. The Chancellor, George Osborne, faces calls from businesses and the City to draw up a new growth plan when he returns from his summer holiday, and to reverse the Government's hard line on deficit reduction.

To add to investors' grievances, the FTSE 100 fell 6.5 per cent during 2011, leaving them considerably worse off than chief executives. The new research will add to the anger at boardroom pay that exploded earlier this year in the "shareholder spring" – the most febrile season of company AGMs in memory, with investors heckling directors and voting down their bonus packages. The scalps of three unloved bosses were claimed: at Britain's largest insurance company, Aviva, the drugs giant AstraZeneca and the publisher Trinity Mirror. Other firms to feel the heat included Barclays (the board was told it was "a disgrace to capitalism"), the advertising giant WPP, car dealer Pendragon, the miners Xstrata and Central Rand Gold, the oil explorer Cairn Energy, M&S, Premier Food and the hedge fund Man Group.

The escalating anger over boardroom pay prompted the Business Secretary Vince Cable to announce that the Government will legislate to give shareholders binding votes on block executive pay rises. Executive pay did not rise as fast last year as it did in 2010 – when the rise was reported at 23 per cent in the equivalent research by Income Data Services – primarily because some chief executives saw their bonuses frozen or canned. The researchers attributed this to companies beginning to realise that their pay rises would not be stomached.
Annual bonuses actually fell 2 per cent in 2011 to an average of £669,00 across all FTSE executive directors. The fall can be attributed in part to bankers such as Barclays' Bob Diamond and Stephen Hester of RBS who were encouraged to give up their bonuses. The largest pay rises included substantial share awards to Phil Cox at International Power and the former boss of the chemicals giant Croda, Mike Humphrey.

Deborah Hargreaves, chair of the High Pay Centre, said: "This still means executive pay is rising faster than average wages. It's important to keep up the pressure to ensure that, at a time of severe austerity, bosses realise multimillion-pound pay awards are unsustainable." Steve Tatton, editor of the IDS report, said: "Remuneration committee members have now realised that their decisions will be scrutinised very closely. Shareholders are demanding to know what they are paying for." Union bosses railed against pay rises that they were said were disproportionate to performance. 

The Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "Executive pay is still outstripping the pay of ordinary workers who are struggling to keep up with rising prices. There is still massive inequality between workers and their bosses. Pay cuts and freezes for hard-working families are pushing many working people into the clutches of payday lenders." The TUC general secretary Brendan Barber added: "FTSE directors are still getting pay rises that the rest of their staff could only dream about. The gap between the very top and everyone else was a key cause of the recession, but no one seems prepared to tackle it." "


Ignoring the fact that the general secretaries of most unions and the TUC are earning nigh on what many company bosses are earning (the irony is not missed here lads...), the fact remains that depsite the Sun and the rest of the capitalist press assertions that we are in this together, it is patently clear we are not. WAKE UP fellow workers and see the truth - capitalism is screwing you over, time to look for something else!


Sunday, August 26, 2012


The US, UK, Russia, China and France have two things in common; Firstly, they are all permanent members of the UN security council. Secondly, they are the top five nations supplying weapons, on the planet!

Does anyone see a conflict of interest here? On the one hand, the leading members of an organisation created to prevent, or solve conflicts. On the other hand, the top suppliers of the means to start and perpetuate these same conflicts. The US is the top supplier of military hardware to Israel and have continually used their status as permanent members of the Security Council to veto any resolution brought before it, to oppose the actions of
Israel in their dealings with their neighbours.
Similarly, Russia and China have vetoed any attempt by the UN to rein in
the actions of Al Assad in the ongoing conflict in Syria. That Russia is one of the main suppliers of arms to the Assad regime has, of course, no bearing on their actions or stance does it? Nor does the US's supply of arms to Israel, in their decisions!
One more example, surely, of the obscene and insane nature of Capitalism....

Written by, and posted on behalf of, SC

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Explore space or swim in shit?

Sixty five years ago at the dawn of Indian "independence", we remarked that "..the Indian workers and peasants are going to be exploited under home-born instead of alien masters. Their craft skill and muscular energies are going to serve in the modernisation and industrialisation of India... " Today, socialists wishing to point out the gross inequalites of modern India have countless examples to choose from including perhaps the most graphic proof that capitalism does not exist to meet human needs: a mission to Mars alongside people swimming in shit.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sharing the austerity?

The Bank of England's quantitative easing (QE) programme, intended to revive economic growth ( the BofE prints money to buy up government gilts — effectively pumping money into the economy), has delivered a massive boost to the wealth of the most prosperous 10 per cent of households in Britain while delivering relatively scant returns for the poorest, a new analysis indicated. The wealthy have been the biggest winners from the decision to print an extra £375 billion

The Bank said it successfully pushed up share prices and other asset values, delivering an overall boost to the net financial worth of UK households of around £600bn. The Bank said this worked out at an average benefit of around £10,000 per person. But an analysis reveals that the wealthiest 10 per cent of households would have benefited from QE more than 240 times as much as the poorest 10 per cent.

In July showed that the wealthiest 10 per cent of British households held £2.5 trillion in pension wealth at the end of 2010, while the poorest 10 per cent held just £2bn. The ONS also estimated that the richest 10 per cent of households held £569bn in financial assets at that time, as against the poorest 10 per cent, who, in contrast, owed around £9bn. If the monetary stimulus programme successfully boosted asset values by 28 per cent over the last two years to the ONS data, it showed that quantitative easing delivered a benefit to the wealthiest households of £870bn, while the poorest households benefited by just £3.5bn.

With 2.5 million households in the poorest 10 per cent and the same number in the wealthiest 10 per cent, that means the richest households gained by an average of £350,000 each from quantitative easing, while the poorest benefited by an average of £1,400 – more than 240 times less.

Rich people have lots of assets and poor people don't. That's, of course, one of the things that makes the rich rich and the poor poor. The top 5% of households hold 40% of assets. So in that sense it's hardly a surprise that the Bank of England's money printing programme, which was specifically intended to boost asset prices across the economy, has ended up disproportionately benefiting the rich.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hunger - more in it for Glenmore

 The world's largest commodities trading company, Glencore, after it described the current global food crisis and soaring world prices as a "good" business opportunity. The USA experiencing a re-run of the drought "Dust Bowl" days of the 1930s and Russia is suffering a similar food crisis. The G20 is considering holding an emergency summit on the world food crisis.

Glencore's director of agriculture trading, Chris Mahoney, said: "“The US weather starting mid-May...has been among the worst three or four years of the century, comparable to the dust bowl years of the mid-30’s, In terms of the outlook for the balance of the year the environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities. [the sale and purchase of an asset to profit from price differences in different markets] "

 His boss, the Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg, described the current volatility of the food market as “a time when industry fundamentals are the most positive they have been for some time.”

Concepcion Calpe, the senior economist of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation,  explained that  "Private companies like Glencore are playing a game that will make them enormous profits." Ms Calpe said leading international politicians and banks expecting Glencore to back away from trading in potential starvation and hunger in developing nations for "ethical reasons" would be disappointed. "This won't happen," she said. "So now is the time to change the rules and regulations about how Glencore and other multinationals such as ADM and Monsanto operate. They know this and have been lobbying heavily around the world to water down and halt any reform."

 Jose Graziano da Silva, the director-general of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), has blamed food price volatility on “excessive speculation in derivative markets, which can increase price swings and their speed” while Argentina’s President Fernandez warned that “financial speculation is exacerbating market fluctuations and this exacerbation is generating uncertainty.”

 Bankers from institutions such as Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have collectively channelled $200bn of investment cash into agricultural commodities in the past decade.

Oxfam's Jodie Thorpe, said: "Glencore's comment that 'high prices and lots of volatility and dislocation' was 'good' gives us a rare glimpse into the little-known world of companies that dominate the global food system." Oxfam said companies like Glencore were "profiting from the misery and suffering of poor people who are worst hit by high and volatile food prices", adding: "If we are going to fix the ailing food system then traders must be part of the cure."

The World Socialist Movement and this blog are neither surprised nor disappointed by the normal behaviour of capitalist companies who are constantly in search for profits even if at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable. We have over the years highlighted the culpability of capitalism in causing hunger and starvation. The solution will not be in expecting the leopard to change its spots but a fundamental transformation of the current food production into one that provides for peoples' needs and not for a few's profi.

Meantime while hundreds of millions of people suffer globally from chronic hunger Americans throw away as much as 40 percent of their annual food purchases, equivalent to at least $165 billion worth of produce and meat, a study released by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says. US government figures indicate that supermarkets in the country lose $15 billion each year in unsold fruits and vegetables alone. Food makes up the largest content of solid waste in US landfills.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nuclear War Not Mad Enough?

Despite the end of the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of state capitalist USSR, the insanity of total war lingers on.

Niether the US or the USSR seemingly content with their abilities at the time to ensure that almost every living creature on the planet was destroyed in all out nuclear conflict, with the ravaged earth damaged for years afterwards, it seem accoridng to a new book that the Russians in particular wanted to ensure the survivors were as sick as possible too.

The Washington Post reports:

"The authors reveal new details about the deadly achievements of Soviet weapons scientists — from multiple-drug-resistant anthrax to “stealth” bugs that elude detection — and they say the strains probably still exist inside the freezers of military laboratories inside Russia. The book also suggests that U.S. intelligence operatives may have inadvertently fueled the Soviets’ experimentation with germ warfare, in part by spreading false stories that convinced communist leaders that the United States was also secretly making such weapons after the U.S. program was officially halted in 1969

 At minimum, Soviet officials appear to have increased production of an anthrax weapon because they falsely believed that the United States was doing the same, contend the authors of “The Soviet Biological Weapons Program,” an exhaustively researched, 890-page history of the Soviet Union’s 65-year effort to develop the tools for germ warfare. “It may have led to the massive expansion of the Soviet b. anthracis program,” write Milton Leitenberg and Raymond Zilinskas, scientists and biological weapons experts who interviewed some of the Soviet Union’s former top bioweaponeers during more than a decade of research for the book.

Russia maintains a policy of official denial with regard to Soviet-era production of bioweapons, which were banned by an international treaty signed by the Soviet Union in 1972. But former Russian president Boris Yeltsin confirmed the existence of a secret Soviet program to top U.S. officials in the early 1990s, and since then, defectors, former Soviet scientists, U.S. officials and journalists have published extensive accounts. Such reports revealed the outlines of a vast program that employed tens of thousands of people at its peak, and they also shed light on the 1979 industrial accident in a bioweapons plant in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk, in which anthrax spores spread through a residential area, killing at least 68 people.

Leitenberg and Zilinskas draw from hundreds of interviews, documents and intelligence files to generate a catalogue of the Soviet bioweapons arsenal and its intended use. Among their book’s revelations is an account of a largely successful Soviet effort to engineer deadly new strains, such as drug-resistant forms of the bacteria that cause anthrax and tularemia. In one of their more chilling accomplishments, Soviet scientists learned to alter microbes to give them stealthy characteristics, the authors say. The bacteria that cause plague, for instance — Yersina pestis — were modified so that standard medical tests could not detect an infection until the disease had progressed to an advanced stage, the authors say.

Similar changes were made to a strain of the bacteria that cause Legionnaire’s disease. In the altered state, the bacteria would stimulate the body’s immune response to conceal symptoms of the disease, while simultaneously secreting a toxin that attacks a critical component of the nervous system known as myelin.
“The destruction of myelin . . . induces an illness similar to multiple sclerosis, but with a quick death,” the authors state. Despite such achievements, the Soviet program suffered from deficiencies and gaps, including a failure to perfect delivery vehicles such as missile warheads.

The gaps suggest that Soviet leaders were conflicted over how and when to use such weapons. One theory, explored by the authors, is that biological weapons were “developed not for military purposes, but for sabotage or terrorism.”
Details about the dismantling of the bioweapons program after the Soviet Union’s collapse have been kept secret for two decades. Despite repeated requests, Russian officials also have refused to allow outside access to three biological laboratories operated by the Defense Ministry. The labs were part of the Soviet-era program, and it is “reasonable to conclude” that collections of microbes from the weapons program are warehoused there, in the same way that disease strains are kept in heavily guarded military and civilian laboratories in the United States, the authors say. They add that the lack of any transparency raises concerns about the security of the collections and the possibility of continuing research.

“One must assume that whatever genetically engineered bacterial and viral forms were created . . . remain stored in the culture collections of the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense,” the authors write."

Its a scary thought that these things may still be hidden somwhere especially given the unpredictability of capitalisms leaders in Moscow. It also shows the insantiy of system based on profit at all costs, even mutually assured destruction (MAD) and the ongoing battle for markets and raw materials, the basis for all conflict.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Trading Double Standards

Back in March I wrote a short blog (see here) on the impending changes to Sunday trading laws being introduced 'temporarily' for the Olympic games. I had an inkling at the time that these changes in law would stay and that Sunday trading laws would change permanently to satisfy the incessant need for profits. It seems I was correct according to this report from Sky News:

"Relaxed Sunday trading rules for the Olympics could pave the way for longer opening hours in future - despite assurances that would not be the case. MPs voted in favour of reducing the restrictions on large stores as a way of boosting the economy for seven weeks until after the Paralympics.

But now the Government has admitted it will consider just how successful the temporary relaxation has been - a move seen by many as a major breach of trust. As the rules usually stand, stores larger than 280sqm or 3000sqft can only open for six hours on Sundays at any time between 10am and 6pm. Owners who flout the rules could face a £50,000 fine. But for seven Sundays up until September 9, those shops can in theory trade 24/7.

The opportunity to open longer has been taken at Chapelfield Shopping Centre in Norwich. General manager Davina Tanner said: "Ultimately we're living in a world that's fast moving and for people to have more choice when they can shop on Sunday is a very positive thing." But what is good news for the big retailers is bad news for convenience stores.

Sales at the Stalham Shopper in North Norfolk have been down 20% on the past three Sundays. "We rely very much on our sales on Sunday," said owner Nigel Dowdney. "We open longer hours than Tesco do and it's a very important part of our earnings. Across my two stores I employ 42 people so that's 42 jobs that could be at risk."

Philip Browne, a menswear shop in Norwich, only trades for five hours on Sundays. If it was not for the pressure of competition, the owner says he would not open at all. "I really believe passionately that that day should be a day when people get together and spend the day together. The staff shouldn't be obliged to work within a seven day week," Mr Browne said. It is a view shared by the unions and the church.

But the Archdeacon of Norwich said concern over Sunday trading was about much more than people not coming to church. "It's about something much bigger than that," said The Venerable Jan McFarlane. "People need to have the chance to have time to reflect, relax and spend time with their family." But at Chapelfield most shoppers liked the idea.

"As long as it's helping people and keeping people in jobs and work and people making money, I think things could be relaxed a little," said Matthew Williams.
Busy teacher Hayley Reeve liked the idea of more chances to shop, but also had sympathy with the staff. "For the people who have to work, forcing them to have to do those hours as well, that's a bit unfair for them," she said."

Unfair is probably an understatement. This isn't about convenience, neither is stopping Sunday trading about religion, it is all about maximising profits for capitalism and especially the major corporations. Tesco and Morrisons and the rest don't give two figs for anything other than raking in profits, which is the real reason behind the proposed changes. The fall-out from the Olympics has started......


Monday, August 20, 2012

Lonmin Ultimatum

From AFP:

"Platinum giant Lonmin on Sunday ordered employees back to work at a South African mine where police killed 34 people, but miners remained defiant as a week of national mourning was declared. The London-listed company issued an ultimatum to workers to end a wildcat strike by Monday after the worst episode of police violence since the apartheid era, which President Jacob Zuma said will be officially mourned for seven days.

Lonmin said the call to staff was "a last opportunity to return to work" at its shut-down Marikana mine where union rivalry escalated into a police crackdown and more bloodshed on Thursday after 10 people died just days earlier. "Employees could therefore be dismissed if they fail to heed the final ultimatum," warned the world's number three platinum producer. But miners who first downed tools at the Marikana mine on August 10 pledged to press on with their wage demands, and called the order to return to work "an insult" to colleagues who were gunned down by police.

"Expecting us to go back is like an insult. Many of our friends and colleagues are dead, then they expect us to resume work. Never," said worker Zachariah Mbewu. "Some are in prison and hospitals. Tomorrow we are going back to the mountain (protest site), not underground, unless management gives us what we want."

The violence at the mine stems from a conflict between the powerful National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which is calling for a tripling of wages. Thursday's crackdown left 34 dead, 78 wounded and 259 detained, and boosted the death toll to 44 after the 10 earlier deaths which included two police officers.
The violent police action has drawn parallels to the brutality seen under apartheid and sparked debate over the living conditions faced by miners, who voiced indignation at Lonmin's ultimatum.

"Are they also going to fire the ones who are in hospitals and lying in mortuaries?" asked Thapelo Modima."It is better to be fired anyway because we are suffering, our lives won't change. Lonmin does not care about our well-being, they have so far refused to hear us out, only sending police to kill us."
Workers say they are waiting to hear from mine bosses, whose ultimatum Sunday was an extension of a previous order to return.

"Tomorrow we won't return to work unless they listen to our demands of salary increases," said underground supervisor Fezile Magxaba. "People have died, we are angry. If we return it will be like they died in vain," he said while doing his laundry at a communal tap. Churches in poor settlements surrounding the mine held services on Sunday, with relatives milling outside the hospital to check if their loved ones had been admitted there, or to find out if they had been arrested or worse were among the dead."


These kind of disputes show where the loyalty and true meaning of the state and its agencies like the police really lay, not just in South Africa but globally. All are merely agents of capitalism, there to protect private property and profits. We hope that South African socialists can use these events to illustrate to workers that only socialism can offer a future free of disputes over the fruits of the earth.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bread and Circuses


It’s been a difficult year for Socialists in Olde England. Hopefully the last of the little Union flags will flutter into obscurity after the ‘Paralympic Games’. This icon of patriotism can then return to business as usual as a symbol of the exploitation of the majority and the persecution of the poor. By coincidence in an attempt to escape the ubiquity of sport on TV I stumbled upon the movie ‘Spartacus’. In its depiction of one of history’s earliest class struggles ( the slave revolt in ancient Rome) it struck me as ironic that I had just been watching the raising of the Jamaican flag in victory at another gladiatorial arena - the London Olympics. Ironic, of course, because ethnically and culturally Jamaica was a product of the British slave trade. Africans were taken to the Caribbean to slave on the sugar plantations. Despite their ‘emancipation’ in the 19th century and Jamaican ‘Independence ‘ in the 20th (celebrated in parallel with the Olympics) here we still had the spectacle of gladiatorial competition in a vast arena - but are they still just slaves performing for their masters?

Amid the euphoria of the heroic performances of ‘team GB’ many would be incredulous at the depiction of the Olympic Games as a continuation of the Ancient Roman policy of ‘Bread and Circuses’. If the Emperor could provide entertainment for the Roman mob in the gladiatorial arena they could be distracted and controlled. Similarly the original ethos of the Modern Olympiad (individual excellence and international brotherhood) has been perverted into a grubby orgy of nationalism and profiteering that through marketing has become just another agent of consumer distraction. The athletes have to prostitute themselves to nationalism and advertising to be allowed to partake. They are, like most of us, slaves to consumerism. Even the mighty Husain Bolt has to confine himself to meaningless macho poses rather than articulating anything of significance - such is the power of the authoritarian sports officialdom. What a contrast to the truly heroic activities of the likes of Jesse Owens and the black power salutes of the sixties (happy days!). Wouldn’t it be magnificent to see an athlete reject the geographical accident of his birth place and the commercial imperative as defining him or her. International sport has become entirely politicised as is clearly demonstrated by the insistence of the establishment that sport and politics don’t mix (whenever this kind of platitude is used you can be sure of its complete political integration with bourgeois values). And now we come to the ’legacy’ of the London Olympiad - the moral propaganda attempt to justify the vast cost. 
The reintroduction of the competitive sporting ethos to schools is one of the promised legacies of the games. This is to replace the perceived ‘prizes for everyone’ liberal ethos. To the surprise of some Socialists are not opposed to competition in sports. The infantile ego can be indulged as long as sport is seen purely as fun and entertainment. Any attempt to introduce such a relationship into adult life should be treated as ridiculous. Capitalist propagandists continue to infantilise human relationships in this way trying to convince us that we are all competitors rather than interdependent. Ever since mankind looked back at the ‘Earthrise’ from the moon in 1969 we see our shared home as hanging precariously alone in the awful emptiness of space. We had the chance to ‘grow up’ as a species and leave the our brutal childhood of international competition (war) behind us. That this has not been achieved is testament to the power of the propaganda machinery of capitalism. Every time a parent induces their child to identify with the flag and to see others as competitors they betray human potential. Because the ego of the young is so easy to manipulate in this way many of us never mature emotionally and are easy prey to consumerism and its sick competitive values so essential for the survival of capitalism. Unfortunately sport has become one of the most important elements in this perversion of human values. 

Spartacus may well recognise the slave mentality of many international sportsmen and women. We still await the arrival of a famous socialist sporting hero - but perhaps this is just a particular fantasy of mine that is in reality an oxymoron! 

Written by, and published on behalf of, WEZ. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

New Russia, Same Old Oppression

From MOSCOW (Reuters) -

Three women from the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail on Friday for their protest in a church against President Vladimir Putin, an outcome supporters described as the Kremlin leader's "personal revenge".

The group's backers burst into chants of "Shame" outside the Moscow courthouse and said the case showed Putin's refusal to tolerate dissent in his new six-year term as president. Dozens were detained as tensions rose and scuffles broke out.

The United States and the European Union condemned the sentence as disproportionate and asked for it to be reviewed, although state prosecutors had demanded a three-year jail term and the maximum sentence possible was seven years. But while the women have support abroad, where their case has been taken up by a long list of celebrities including Madonna, Paul McCartney and Sting, opinion polls show few Russians sympathise with them.
"The girls' actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church's rules," Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage.

She declared all three guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow's main cathedral in February to belt out a song deriding Putin. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, giggled as the judge read out the sentences one by one.
They have already been in jail for about five months, meaning they will serve only another 19, and could be released if Putin were to pardon them. The Orthodox Church hinted it would not oppose such a move by appealing, belatedly, for mercy.

Pussy Riot took on two powerful state institutions at once when they burst into Moscow's golden-domed Christ the Saviour Cathedral wearing bright ski masks, tights and short skirts to protest against Putin's close ties with the Church.
Putin's opponents depicted the case as part of a crackdown by the ex-KGB spy against a protest movement that took off over the winter, attracting what witnesses said were at times crowds of 100,000 people in Moscow to oppose his return to power.

"They are in jail because it is Putin's personal revenge," Alexei Navalny, one of the organisers of the protests, said outside the court. "This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin." Putin's spokesman did not immediately answer calls following the verdict, but the president's supporters said before the trial that he would have no influence on the court's decision.

Declaring the sentence to be just, Irina Yarovaya, a parliamentary deputy from Putin's United Russia party, said: "They deserved it."
A police source told Itar-Tass news agency 50 people had been detained by police near the court after scuffles broke out. Among them were Sergei Udaltsov, a leftist opposition leader, and Garry Kasparov, the chess great and vehement Putin critic.


Despite the fall of the so-called 'communist' block, or more correctly totalitarian state capitalism, the allegedly new found 'freedom' of Western style democracy has been revealed as the sham it is in every other country, a small token gesture that can be removed at any time. As with many countries, the accepted sense of 'freedom of speech' is often found wanting in practice, as underlined by this case.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Employ Prisoners, Sack Workers

From the Guardian:

A business is bussing in inmates from an open prison 21 miles away and paying them only £3 a day to work in its call centre. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed that dozens of prisoners from Prescoed prison in Monmouthshire, south Wales, had done "work experience" for at least two months at a rate of 40p an hour in the private company's telephone sales division in Cardiff.

People working in the prisons sector described the scheme as "disgusting" and a "worrying development". After establishing an arrangement with minimum-security HMP Prescoed late last year, roofing and environmental refitting company Becoming Green has taken on 23 prisoners. Currently, 12 are being paid 6% of the minimum wage.

When contacted by the Guardian last month, that figure was 17 – 15% of the company's call centre staff. The company confirmed that since it started using prisoners, it had fired other workers. Former employees put the number at 17 since December. However, the firm said firings were part of the "normal call-centre environment" and it had hired other staff in a recent expansion.

Becoming Green said the category D prison had allowed the company to pay the prisoners just £3 a day for at least 40 working days, but added that they could keep them at that pay level for much longer if they wanted. A company spokesman was unable to give the longest time a prisoner had been employed on token wages. The spokesman added that, under the arrangement, they were only allowed to take a maximum of 20% of their total call centre workforce from the prison.

The MoJ confirmed that there was no centralised limit on the length of training placements, which was for prison governors to decide. The ministry said it had sought assurances from Becoming Green that prisoners were put into "genuinely vacant" posts. At the start of the year, the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, announced an expansion of mainly manufacturing work inside prisons. Against a background of disquiet from unions, he has continued to stress that prisoners would not be putting other people out of work. Clarke said last month that such a development would be "a very serious downside" to the policy.

In a response to questions from the Guardian, the MoJ said: "HMP Prescoed works closely with the company, the probation service, local authorities and community groups to ensure that any impact on the local workforce is minimised." A young former employee of Becoming Green said that staff were told last November that prisoners, whose convictions are understood to range from murder to fraud and drugs offences, were going to start working at the company. "We got a message one day saying that ... [the company] was going to start hiring prisoners.
"So I thought, 'Oh right, people who have been released.' And [my friend] said, 'No, no, no, people who are out on day release.' I thought, 'Can they do that?'"
She said that just before Christmas, about 10 members of the call centre team were fired and then a further seven were sacked. She left a number of months ago after feeling pressured into quitting.

"As they started bringing more and more in, they started firing people … They would have kept their jobs if it wasn't for the prison thing. "They'd passed their probation period, they'd been there for several months. They'd maintained the level they were – that had been perfectly acceptable at that point. Then they [got] these people in for nearly free."

She described the prisoners as "quite nice people" and said that some were very good workers, but added that the wage difference caused resentment. "Everyone was pretty miffed because at the end of the day there's no way you can compete [with £3 a day]."

A second female employee who has been on the dole for almost two months said she was also pushed out of Becoming Green despite meeting all of her performance targets. She declined to be named, worrying about the consequences for job hunting. "I'm currently on jobseeker's allowance because I can't find another job because of all of this happening," she said. A former manager at Becoming Green claimed the company had been creating "reasons to … justify dismissing people from the company so they could get more prison staff in".
"The whole idea of what the company is doing is bringing in free labour for the business and relieving their employed staff of their responsibilities, because obviously it is more cost-effective for the business to have criminals working for them than paying a salary to each person. "I left because I didn't like the way the company was being run," the former manager said. "If people are rubbish in their jobs then get rid of them, I understand that.
"But if people are coming in every day, and are generating a lot of revenue … and the next thing you know is their jobs are on the line, there's no reason why these people should have been fired. I don't think it is right, just to save a few a quid. These people have bills to pay."

The company has itself confirmed that staff had been dismissed since prisoners were taken on in November, but countered that this was part of the normal attrition rate in a demanding business where "targets had to be met".
Nicola Vaughan, senior manager at Becoming Green, said that there had been "performance issues" with staff who had been fired.

"There have been a few people who have been dismissed for various reasons … but if you are trying to imply that we have replaced those people with prisoners then that is far wrong," Vaughan said. "I think perhaps the people you have spoken to are a little little bit disgruntled … At the end of the day the contact centre industry has a very, very high turnover … it's tough."

In January, Clarke laid out plans to double the numbers of those working inside prisons to 20,000 in less than 10 years. However, while convicts working inside prison manufacturing goods have been doing such work for many years, prison campaigners said that working at a £3-a-day training rate for private businesses for a minimum of eight weeks outside of prison walls was a new phenomenon.

"This situation, I haven't heard of before," said Andrew Neilson, from the Howard League for Penal Reform.
"We do welcome these opportunities [for prisoners to work], but it should be on the same basis as anyone else in the community."
"We don't want the issue of prisoners on day-release being employed becoming one that divides people and effectively people are turned against those prisoners because they're seen to be taking people's jobs. That's not what should be happening."

Chris Bath, executive director of reformed offenders' charity Unlock, said he had never heard of such a practice where prisoners were spending so long in the private sector doing work experience on prison wages, and called the move a "worrying development".

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA prison officers' union, said that for any company to rely on cheap labour of prisoners was "immoral and disgusting".
"The association wants to see prisoners working and leading law-abiding lives, but not at the expense of other workers being sacked or laid off to facilitate it.
"Some employers must be rubbing their hands and the shareholders laughing all the way to the bank," Gillan said.
"The ministers must be held to account if the factual position is this company has sacked workers to employ prisoners … The general public will be outraged if this proves to be widespread, and proper scrutiny of contracts needs to be made public to ensure public confidence."

The MoJ said that prisoners at the company who were being employed at above minimum wage were paying 40% of their salary into the victims' fund. Three of the prisoner employees were understood to be managers at the company.
Speaking about the expansion of prison work from 10,000 to 20,000 prisoners over the next decade, Clarke told the BBC last month: "It would be a very serious downside if we started replacing job opportunities for law-abiding people, and we've been conscious of that all the way through.

"Although we don't pay the prisoners the minimum wage, normally you can't start undercutting British businesses outside."
He added that the CBI was "totally supportive" of the work initiatives.
However, Clarke has not addressed the situation in open prisons, where inmates can still have months left on their sentences, but businesses can now pay them little more than a token wage for their labour.

A Prison Service spokesman said: "We want more prisoners to undertake challenging work, within the discipline of regular working hours, which will help them develop the skills they need to gain employment, reform, and turn away from crime." The spokesman added that prison work "helps to reduce the chance of re-offending by setting up appropriate employment and rehabilitation work in the community".

In a statement, Becoming Green said: "Corporations should have a social responsibility to help society. It feels that if they work with this attitude and behaviour it will help make a better society for all." The company added that this kind of work would "enable [prisoners] to resettle and integrate back into society and not feel the need to re-offend. By working, prisoners can repay the victims of crime rather than be unproductive in prison and by working potentially turn their lives around."

So the fact that you can sack workers on one rate and employ almost slave labour in a much lower rate is not an incentive for a company whose sole aim is to maximise profits? Riiiiigggghhht!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lonmin, Sharpville & Peterloo

Today has seen members of the working class, miners and police, killed at a platinum mine in South Africa.   The slaughter has echoes of earlier conflicts such as Sharpville and Peterloo, where on this day on 16 August 1819, troops attacked a radical meeting held on St Peter's Field in Manchester. At least eleven of the crowd were killed, and over 600 injured. Within a few days the massacre was being ironically styled 'Peterloo'. It was an event of enormous significance, not just for the north west area but for the history of working class struggle in Britain.
The back-ground to Peterloo can be traced within the development of industrial capitalism and workers' response. Trade unions, though strictly illegal, were active during the second half of the eighteenth century (primarily among skilled workers and organised on a purely local basis), and were of ten reasonably successful in defending wages. Political activity among artisans and other workers grew in the 1790s, mainly aimed at reforming the antiquated electoral system by introducing manhood suffrage and annual elections. Despite the mildness of the measures proposed, the government and ruling class were unable to countenance any independent political action by .workers, and they reacted with vicious repression, including charges of treason ( England being at war with . France). By 1799 all the most prominent activists were in prison or in exile.
The economic depression which followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars led to a growth of unrest and the passing of the Corn Laws to benefit the landowners by keeping up the price of wheat. From 1816 mass meetings of workers . resumed for the first time since the repression of the 1790s. The government fought back with spies, agent provocateurs, and prosecutions; Habeas Corpus was suspended for a while. By 1819 there were many outdoor meetings for parliamentary reform: this was seen, even by working class radicals, as a necessary means to the economic end of a more equitable taxation system.
The new industrial cities were the centres for much of the protest. The economy of the Manchester area was based on cotton, and there was particular support for radicalism from the hand loom weavers, who worked in their own homes (unlike the industry's other workers, the spinners, who worked in the mills operating spinning machines). As early as 1808, a weaver was killed by troops, at a Manchester meeting for a minimum wage bill. The depression hit the cotton trade especially hard, and by 1819 weavers could only earn half the wages of a few years before. 'Passages in the life of A Radical', by the Middleton weaver Samuel Bamford, gives a vivid account of working class political activity during this period; the clandestine meetings, the constant fear of informers, the effects of government repression. The 1817 Blanketeers' March intended to be from Manchester to London to petition for the relief of distress, was broken up by troops within a few miles of Manchester. By 1819 mass meetings were being held in Manchester as in other large Towns, and the city's magistrates were becoming alarmed, and making military preparations against what they feared might befall.  
The 16 August meeting on St Peter's Field was intended to be the largest gathering of all, and men and women and children came from the cotton towns around Manchester, eventually forming a crowd of around sixty thousand. The magistrates assembled in a house overlooking the site, and had fifteen hundred troops, both hussars (regular soldiers) and yeomanry (part-time force of local merchants and factory-owners), waiting on horse back in nearby streets, even though the meeting itself was illegal. When Henry Hunt, one of the prominent radical organisers, was speaking, the magistrates decided Manchester was in danger and ordered Hunt's arrest. Troops were summoned to effect this, and the yeomanry began to ride through the packed crowd, striking out with their swords when they could not make their way forward. The hussars were then called in to disperse the crowd. In ten minutes, among scenes of unbelievable chaos and carnage, St Peter's Field were cleared, leaving the dead and injured to be take n away as best could be arranged. Bamford provides a dramatic eye-witness description of the scene:
"Over the whole field, were strewed caps, bonnets, hats, and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress; trampled, torn, and bloody....Several mounds of human beings still remained where they had fallen, crushed down and smothered. Some of these still groaning, - others with staring eyes, were gasping for breath, and others never breathe more.... Person might sometimes be noticed peeping from attics and over the tall ridgings of houses, but they quickly withdrew, as if fearful of being observed, or unable to sustain the full gaze, of a scene so hideous and abhorrent." The rulers had replied as decisively as they knew to working class demands.
Eleven of the main radical leaders were arrested by the troops. They were originally charged with high treason, though this was later amended to conspiracy and illegal assembly. Hunt was sentenced to two and half years in prison, Bamford and others to one year. Further repressive legislation was passed, and by 1820 working class resistance was greatly reduced. Many radicals rejected the policy of peaceful agitation promoted by Hunt and turned to violent action; the same year, five men were executed for high treason in the Cato Street Conspiracy, when they plotted to assassinate members of the Cabinet. The Government supported the actions of the magistrates at Peterloo, and refused to hold an inquiry into their conduct. Some were even given financial rewards; William Hay was a clergyman and magistrate in Salford, he was awarded a sinecure worth £730 a year (at a time when weavers earned perhaps £25 a year).
It is impossible to believe, as has sometimes been suggested, that the events of 16 August were a chapter of accidents, leading to an outcome that no body wanted. In an atmosphere of government repression and provocation stretching back a quarter of a century, there can be no doubt that the massacre fitted in with the strategy of the ruling class. The use of state power against those who were unprepared simply to accept their lot continued: in 1831; at least two dozen workers were killed by troops after the uprising in Merthyr Tydfil, and in 1834 six trade unionists were transported from Tolpuddle, this even after the 'reform' of the House of Commons in 1832 (which still left the vast majority of workers without a vote).
But Peterloo is probably the clearest demonstration of the viciousness of ruling class politics in the nineteenth century, of the fact that the vote and trade unions' rights were not handed to workers on a plate but had to be fought for against savage repression. The courage and commitment of those in the early working class movement remains astonishing and humbling even now.
(Socialist Standard, August 1994)

Published on behalf of Hallblithe.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Segregated America

The bottom 40% of the USA's population has only 0.3% of the wealth, and the top 20% of Americans has 84%.

More Americans are segregated by income today, than they were 30 years ago. That's according to a new Pew Research Center study looking at U.S. neighborhoods. Income inequality in the United States has increasingly led to a larger number of people gravitating to neighborhoods. residential segregation by income increased during the past three decades across the United States and in 27 of the nation’s 30 largest major metropolitan areas.

Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University and the co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research explains "...people increasingly live in very separate worlds...  it's much easier in cities like Houston and San Antonio and Dallas to live in those gated communities, those master planned communities that bring people together all of the same socio-economic status...we have suddenly become part - not of a national economy, but of a global economy. Companies can produce goods anywhere, sell them everywhere. If you are doing a job that I can train a third world worker to do and I pay that third world worker $10 a day to do that job, I'm not going to pay you $10 an hour...The great danger for the future of America is not an ethnic divide. It's a class divide."
However, the findings reflect not only an increased level of segregation by income, but also by race. "Despite the long-term rise in residential segregation by income,” the report states, “it remains less pervasive than residential segregation by race, even though black-white segregation has been falling for several decades.”

Little change

French authorities have dismantled two makeshift Roma camps housing 200 people near the northern city of Lille. 150 people expelled from one camp and about 50 from another. On the same day around 240 Roma gypsies were flown from Lyon to Romania. It appears that this so-called "socialist" government is actively pursuing the same policies of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Roma rights groups had hoped for a change  under Hollande but Manuel Valls, France's new interior minister, has promised to take a "firm" line on the issue, insisting that "unsanitary" camps will continue to be dismantled.

An estimated 15-20,000 Roma live in France. There are some 12 million Roma living in eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary. SOYMB have previously blogged on the plight of the Roma.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Friendly Games

Now that the London Olympics have drawn to a close we can perhaps reflect on the sporting achievements. Women's boxing made its debut as an Olympic medal sport this year and Great Britain gained a gold medal. Another of the gold medalists was 17-year-old American middleweight Claressa Shields. The  NBC TV presenter asked her why she chose to become a boxer and her answer was as honest as they come.

"I just love fighting. And I love beating people up."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Drought

The first half of 2012 has been the hottest on record for the United States. More than 50% of counties in the United States are now officially designated “disaster” zones.  Memories of the US Dust Bowl era of the 1930s are recalled. The reason given in 90% of cases is due to the continent-wide drought that has been devastating crop production. 48% of the US corn crop is rated as “poor to very poor”, along with 37% of soy. 73% of cattle acreage is suffering drought, along with 66% of land given to the production of hay. With the US producing half of all world corn exports, as corn and soy crops wilt from the heat, without coordinated governmental action we can expect a replay of the disastrous rise in food prices of 2008, which caused desperate, hungry people to riot in 28 countries. In that instance, food was available, but hundreds of millions of people couldn’t afford to buy it. Should food prices increase to anywhere near the levels of four years ago, it will be a catastrophe for the 2 billion people who are forced to scrape by on less than $2 a day. With the possibility of food shortages, the vultures of finance, otherwise known as commodity speculators, will again begin to circle the food markets, looking for a killing. As the financial markets were not re-regulated after the economic crisis of 2008, hedge funds and short-sellers will inevitably be on the lookout for additional profits by gambling on the price of food, exactly as they did four years ago

Food producers – particularly large agricultural and food processing operations – grow for the market, not to provide food for a particular region. Their goal is profit, not nutrition, health, or taste. In practice, the priorities of capitalism dictate the solutions on offer.  The $383 million in emergency drought payments to farmers that was recently voted for in Congress is money directly from cuts to conservation programs designed to promote more sustainable farming practices.

 US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has resisted calls to reduce or eliminate the federal mandate that sees more than one third of the US corn crop diverted to ethanol refineries to make “bio-fuel” to burn in car engines. The federal government has mandated that over 13 billion gallons of ethanol be made from corn this year, which would equate to 40% of this year’s crop. Supposedly adopted to reduce demand for “overseas oil” and associated geopolitical concerns, after oil almost topped $150 a barrel in 2008, the Barack Obama administration raised the federal requirement to 36 billion gallons by 2022, with at least 15 billion coming directly from corn. Even on the best of days, turning corn into ethanol is an idiotic thing to do. Many studies have shown that it takes more energy to turn the corn into ethanol than is recovered when the ethanol is burnt in a car engine. Not only that, but ethanol doesn’t have the energy density of gasoline, so cars running on a mixture of ethanol and gasoline have to burn more fuel to go the same distance and the blended mix costs more to transport. In any year, this is bad policy: in a year of extreme drought, it should be a criminal offense to waste food resources in this manner.  One of the more ridiculous irrationalities to emerge from the anarchy of capitalist decision-making, the cost of ethanol-blended gasoline in the US is also on the rise. Growing crops in the West is heavily dependent on oil for fertiliser production and mechanisation — to the extent that it takes 10 calories of oil to produce 1 calorie of food, and because ethanol derived from corn — which in turn is derived from oil, is increasing in price because the corn is dying. Rather than downsize the powerful corn-to-ethanol industry, Vilsack has instead sacrificed 3.8 million acres of conservation land for grazing and the production of hay.

Driven by profit the agro-industry practice of feeding corn to cattle in huge, enclosed feeding lots to speed the fattening process also needs urgent re-examination. Apart from the misallocation of corn, the knock on effects of that decision for animal and human welfare, the incubation and mutation of pathogens, the disposal of huge volumes of toxic animal waste laden with antibiotics and growth hormones, all contribute to the incredibly wasteful, dangerous and unsustainable nature of capitalist agriculture.

 There is a continuation and extension of the policies of unsustainable food production practices that don’t even feed people successfully due to its inherently anti-ecological dynamic that is based on short-term measures and growth in the interest of profit. Around the world, there are no circumstances, even ones as cataclysmic climate change that brings droughts or floods that take precedence over the need to accumulate capital by the tiny segment of society that actively benefits from the process. If we are to survive at all on a planet that looks remotely like the one we were born on, we must confront the system that produces a society in conflict with itself and the natural world for the same reason — class ownership. That means building an organised resistance in every workplace, community, school and farm all across the world.  For the good of humanity and the bio-sphere upon which we depend we have to organise and not let the capitalist class get away with their predatations upon Nature.

At a press conference where Vilsack predicted food price rises, he offered his own personal solution to the drought crisis: “I get on my knees every day, and I'm saying an extra prayer now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.” That's the best the representatives of capitalism can do. Appeal to invisible beings in the sky.

Adapted from here

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Party And War

At midnight on the 4th August 1914 the war to end all wars began. Below is an article titled Members in the Great War, which first appeared in the Socialist Standard of September 1964.

WHEN conscription came into operation during the 1914-1918 war, members knew that they stood no chance of being exempted from military service on conscientious grounds. Nevertheless, some went before the tribunals whilst others went on their travels. Adolph Kohn went to America and landed into trouble there when America came into the war. He took part in the formation of our companion party over there and continued to send articles to the Socialist Standard. One of his articles was opened by the, American authorities and they tried to trace him.

As soon as he discovered they were looking for him, though he did not know why, he adopted various expedients to keep under cover. One of these was taking a job as a civilian auditor in a military camp. However, he succeeded in remaining free until the end of the war. At the behest of the American authorities the police over here made enquiries. In the course of their enquiries they interviewed Fitzgerald, whom they kept in prison for a night. On him they found an address book containing the name of Kohn's sister, Hilda. They also interviewed her without success. They did not even find out that she was a. member of the Party, although she was the General Secretary at that time, and also at the time when Head Office was raided by the police. Harry Russ had decided to sleep out in the open and keep away from towns. He moved about the country, wet and dry, and after some months reached the neighbourhood of Sheffield. He saw some placards advertising a meeting to be addressed by Ramsay MacDonald. Craving for company he resolved to risk attending just this one meeting. He did so. The meeting was raided and he was arrested, along with others, as an absentee from military service. He refused to be conscripted on the ground that, as a Socialist, he was opposed to the war. He was stripped of his clothes and presented 'with a uniform but refused to put it on.

Various manoeuvres were tried to get him to sign his name, but he refused to sign anything, He was then transferred to Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight. Whilst he was there, one of the buildings was occupied by soldiers who were going back to the front after their leave. One evening a warder who was taking him across the compound pushed him in with the remark, "here you are boys, here's a bloody conchie." He was knocked about and was so furious when he got out that he determined to complain to the warden. He crossed to the gate, which was open, went into the road and, finding it deserted, suddenly decided to walk off. He had the name of a sympathiser on the island who hid him and then provided him with money to get across to Portsmouth and then to London. On the platform at Portsmouth late that night he heard someone calling him. He turned round and found it was an army officer. He thought "this is it," but all the officer wanted to know was if the train in the station was bound for London!

When Russ arrived in London he lodged with other members, also "on the run," who pretended to be employed on jobs essential to the war. He succeeded in remaining free until the war ended. E. Hardy ("H" of the Socialist Standard) was working as a farm pupil when he was called up. He was offered exemption on the ground that he was engaged in the essential service of farming. He refused to accept this 'on the ground that it would have meant some other worker being called up. He went before the tribunal and was turned down, as he expected.

After some months in an army guardroom and a court martial he was put in Wormwood Scrubbs prison, where he remained for six months.Whilst in there he learnt from' the "old lags" the mystery of dealing with the burden of the bugs that came out and attacked him when he lay down on his plank bed. The method was to use his soap to fill in as many cracks in the planks as he could find. Incidentally he was glad that he had learnt poetry as he was able to while away solitary hours by repeating poetry to himself. In the Scrubbs there were other S.P G.B'ers. and lively discussion went on under the tolerant eye of a sympathetic warder. At one time in an army guardroom there were two other S.P.G.B.'ers., and one of them named Brooks, organised a class on Marxian economics among the military prisoners, more than a dozen who listened attentively. It went on for many nights until it came to the notice of the authorities and they separated Brooks, Hardy and the other member from the rest of the prisoners, Eventually Hardy was transferred to a Conscientious Objectors party working on construction in Wales. The first night in camp he climbed into the top hammock. There was an argument going on between two of the inmates. He intervened. Immediately a head popped out below him and a voice exploded "Well, gorblimey, we got rid of old Banks this morning and now we have another S.P.G.B'er." It appeared that Jimmy Banks had also been transferred there before Hardy and used to hold forth on the Party's position.

One morning, while Hardy was there, the foreman on the job complained about the appearance of one of the C.O.'s who used to turn up for work in a pair of dirty old trousers, supported by a string, a pair of old boots, a ragged shirt with no collar, and a dilapidated coat. The foreman appealed to the chap to dress a bit better. The next morning this man turned up in a clean shirt, collar and tie, a nice coat, hat and walking stick, but he still wore the trousers tied up with string and the dilapidated boots. Mick Cullen was a member of Birmingham Branch. When he was turned down by the tribunal he got half a column write-up in the Daily Mail 'headed "A class fighter, not a conscientious objector.' Cullen was handed over to the military who put him in a house with other prisoners for the night." He climbed through the window, caught a train to Holyhead and then the night boat to Dublin. At that time Irishmen who were prepared to work in England during the war, to make up for the shortage of manpower, were provided with a green ticket exempting them from military service.

The morning Cullen arrived in Dublin he applied for a green ticket, received it and took the boat back to England the same night. As he did not care to risk going back near Birmingham he took a train up the North East Coast. After he had travelled same way up the coast a man who was sitting opposite him in the compartment suddenly leaned forward and demanded to see his exemption papers. Cullen asked him what the hell he was talking about and who the hell he was, anyway, Then the man produced his warrant card showing that he was a police inspector. Cullen then went into action. "Oho," said he, exploding with wrath, " You're just the man I want to meet. I was told in Dublin that there were plenty of jobs over here but I have been traipsing around unable to get one.' And so he went on, going for the inspector in a fury. At last the exasperated inspector assured Cullen that he had been just unlucky; that there were plenty of jobs. He gave Cullen his card with the address of a factory in Newcastle and told him to present the card and he would be assured of a job.

At the next station the inspector hurriedly got out, obviously glad to escape the ravings of Cullen. However, finally the authorities caught up with Cullen again and he had to make his way back to Ireland and remain there for the rest of the war. There was a group of members imprisoned in Dartmoor and others in Scotland in C.O. camps where they distributed Party literature, The present writer also went to Ireland. I packed a kit-bag with so many books that I had no room for my clothes. On that account I had to cyce from Cork around the South and East coast to Belfast wearing two suits, a heavy overcoat, and a heavy kit-bag fastened to my back. I crossed over with a member who was a music hall juggler and was appearing for a week in Cork. I was supposed to be his assistant and he got me through. In Belfast, being somewhat unsophisticated, I tried to sell art postcards in the streets. I had to give up deciding, by results, that the Irish were not an art-loving nation. I then got a job with a dentist as a canvasser but later the dentist took me in to teach me dentistry. Finally he arranged for me to "walk the hospitals" so that I could qualify. Fearing this would reveal the fact that I was technically a deserter from the army, I told him I was not fitted for the profession and gave up the job. This was not much of a financial loss because, in order to get the job, I had pretended I had private means and the doctor had ordered me to take an open air job on account of my health. In fact I was half starved I then followed a number of occupations, including selling cattIe, horse and sheep medicine, dock labouring, working in a saw mill and driving a Foden steam wagon. Part of the time a friendly tailor let me sleep in his shop on the sewing board.

Finally I got a job cutting timber in the mountains for a lumber company. This lasted me until the war ended, when I returned to London. These are just a few rambling notes about what happened to a few members of the Party during the 1914-1918 war. Many other members could tell similar stories. Some went to different parts of the world and either remained there or only returned after the passage of a long time. As a result it was a sadly battered and reduced Party that gathered together after the war to continue the struggle.


child psychological poverty

How we spend our childhood and the experiences we gain at a tender age stay with us for the rest of our lives. A new study has linked childhood adversity to chronic stress during teenage, which could cause many a physical and mental health issues. According to the study, the more time spent during childhood in poverty, the greater the risks the children are exposed to and this is linked to increased markers of chronic stress by the time the children are 17.

According to the authors, all the risk factors put together can add up to levels of stress which could cause damage to the developing brain of the children. Along with physiological damage this can cause disorders in children later in life. 

"Poverty often leads to chaotic circumstances that make it more difficult for children to get what they need to develop optimally," Evans said. "Chaos makes it difficult to sustain predictable and increasingly complex exchanges between caregivers and the growing child. Furthermore, this chaos occurs across many of the settings in which the children's lives are embedded, such as neighborhoods and schools. Based on what we're learning about the harmful and long-term effects of chronic stress on child development, we need to broaden our thinking about how we can improve the life prospects of children at risk and we need to make these investments early in life before the adverse effects of stress are encoded in the developing child," he said.

Class struggle not class collaboration

America is the land of plenty. But for 1 in 6 people in the United States, hunger is a reality. Many people believe that the problems associated with hunger are confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country or to certain neighborhood, but the reality is much different. Right now, millions of Americans are suffering with hunger. These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days. Under the Supplemental Poverty Measure, there are 49.1 million people living in poverty, 2.5 million more than are represented by the official poverty measure (46.2 million).

In 2010, 46.2 million people (15.1 percent) were in poverty.

In 2010, 9.2 million (11.7 percent) families were in poverty.

In 2010, 26.3 million (13.7 percent) of people ages 18-64 were in poverty.

In 2010, 16.4 million (22.0 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty.

In 2010, 3.5 million (9.0 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty.

In 2010, 48.8 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children.

In 2010, 14.5 percent of households (17.2 million households) were food insecure.

In 2010, 5.4 percent of households (6.4 million households) experienced v very low food security.

In 2010, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.2 percent compared to 11.7 percent.

In 2010, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.2 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (35.1percent) or single men (25.4 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (25.1 percent) and Hispanic households (26.2 percent).

In 2009, 8.0 percent of seniors living alone (925,000 households) were food insecure.

In 2010, 4.8 percent of all U.S. households (5.6 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.

In 2010, 59.2 percent of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs –Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program), The National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

Feeding America provides emergency food assistance to an estimated 37 million low-income people annually, a 46 percent increase from 25 million since Hunger in America 2010.

One half of all jobs in the U.S. today now pay less than $35,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation, that's one of the lowest rates for American workers in five decades.

There's a common perception that somebody who's poor or living below the poverty level is lazy or simply living off government handouts. The actual average poor person is working. Since the 1970s hourly wages have declined by more than 7 percent.
"And working as hard as she or he possibly can," he says. "And particularly in the recession, not able to get work or steady work. There are certainly people who make bad choices, but the fundamental question in our economy is the number of people who are doing absolutely everything they can to support their families — and they just can't make it." says Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University and an expert on poverty 

Thanks to the Occupy Movements slogans, many working people are well aware of the growing inequalities in wealth. But former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich provides a useful overview: “…the rich have been getting a larger and larger portion of total income. From 9 percent in 1980, the top 1 percent's take increased to 23.5 percent by 2007. CEOs who in the 1970s took home 40 times the compensation of average workers now rake in 350 times.”

Manufacturing jobs have migrated overseas. Technology has replaced many other jobs. More importantly, across the country many unions have been  willing to accept concessions without waging a struggle, thereby contributing to the growing inequalities. This willingness to give up hard won gains in turn has resulted in the continuing decline of union membership, which now stands at 8 percent. Who would want to join a union and pay dues only to make concessions? (In contrast, in the 1930s when unions were staging all-out fights for better pay and working conditions, and winning, union membership surged.) The decline of unions signifies the loss of a powerful weapon that can be used to defend the standard of living of the working class. It is time for the union movement to reclaim its historic role as the defender of working people and rise up to create a movement —independent of the politicians. Today’s labor struggles are occurring in the context of a severe systemic crisis of global capitalism. Employers seek to protect the surplus value (profits) they extract from workers by cutting wages, benefits and working conditions.  Class conflicts will increasingly arise under capitalism in this phase. The workers’ fight is not just against the bosses and their government but sometimes also the trade union bureaucracy that attempts to mediate between labor and capital. When the trade union bureaucracy is unwilling to fight the bosses on behalf of workers’ interests, they may resort to repression of the rank and file unofficial resistance.

Statistics from here

Supermarket Sweep Spanish Style

From Libcom:

The Spanish field workers union the SAT has gone en masse to two supermarkets to take food by direct action. Unemployed fieldworkers and other members of the union went to two supermarkets, one in Ecija (Sevilla) and one in Arcos de la Frontera (Cadiz) and loaded up trolleys with basic necessities.
They said that the people were being expropriated and they planned to “expropriate the expropriators”.
In Arcos the police blocked the doors of the supermarket and prevented them from leaving, but in Ecija, due to other demonstrators creating a diversion, they managed to leave with twenty trolleys of food. The foodstuffs, including milk, sugar, chickpeas, pasta and rice, have been given to charities to distribute, who say they are unable to cope with all the requests for help they receive.

Unemployment in the Sierra de Cadiz is now 40%. The union say that Mercadona, one of the supermarkets concerned, has a huge number of complaints against them for bullying and persecution of workers.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Workers Take a Lynch Break

Libcom reports:

Following the unfair suspension of a worker, Suzuki management hire hundreds of goons to attack workers. The workers respond by lynching and hospitalising over 40 managers, killing at least one. India’s largest car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki has closed down one of its two factories after a labour dispute boiled over into riots that have seen at least one person dead and scores of others injured.
The factory closed its doors on Wednesday night due to a serious fire started by workers. A badly charred body found in the conference room is waiting to be identified. A statement released by the company (a subsidiary of Japan’s Suzuki) reports that over forty managers and executives have been hospitalised with a variety of injuries. The dispute is generally a result of rising inflation, reducing wages, attacks on terms and conditions, and the use of causal labour to bypass labour laws.

Things came to a head on the 18th July when a supervisor verbally abused a worker. Without no investigation or evidence of wrongdoing, the management decided to suspend the victimised worker. Workers became angry at the suspension and got the union involved. As the union attempted to negotiate, the bosses brought in hundreds of hired bouncers, who locked the factory gates, and on the behest of the management, attacked workers with weapons.
A union official reported that:
“They [the bouncers], joined by some of the managerial staff and police later, beat up a number of workers, who have had to be hospitalised with serious injuries. The bouncers … also destroyed company property and set fire to a portion of the factory. The gates were later opened to oust the workers and enforce a lockout by the company.”
The government and police has shown no interest in pursuing any of the hired thugs who started the violence, but are instead hunting over 3,000 workers on the charge of murder (91 arrested so far). The bosses have now locked out all workers at the Manesar plant, which along with its sister plant, produces over 40% of India’s cars. Working conditions at the factory are horrendous. A car is produced every 38 seconds. If a car is a second late, workers get a pay cut, if they are a second late clocking in they lose a day’s pay, if they are a second late back from a break, they have their salaries reduced.

India’s auto industry is no stranger to this type of dispute – in 2008 a group of workers at Graziano Transmission, lynched the Chief Executive and crushed his skull with hammers and metal bars. Honda, Ford, General Motors, and Hyundai have all seen serious labour unrest over the last few years. In India, the car industry is booming. In 2011, Maruti Suzuki made over $65,000 profit per employee. Despite unprecedented profits, workers in the industry have seen their wages reduced by 25% over the last ten years, whilst directors have seen their pay skyrocket.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Future of Our Youth Sold For Profit

From The Observer:

"Serco, a leading private contractor, is in line to win a multi-million pound contract to run the National Citizen Service, proposed by the prime minister as a "big society", non-military version of national service for youngsters aged over 16.
 The company, which recently announced global revenue of more than £4bn, has joined four charities in a controversial bid to run what has been described by the government as a key part of David Cameron's big society vision. Serco and its partners hope to win eight of the 19 contracts currently up for tender, with an estimated value of nearly £100m over two years. The development has raised concerns that the National Citizen Service (NCS) will become another way for private firms to make money from the public sector as charities and voluntary organisations find themselves without the resources to bid for large contracts amid the economic squeeze. Pilot NCS programmes, aimed at bringing together 16- and 17-year-olds from different backgrounds to undertake character-forming community work, have been run by around 60 charities over the last year.

However, Justin Davis Smith, chief executive of Volunteering England, has warned that England's network of volunteer centres is at risk of "fragmentation" because of an average 12% local authority funding cut from 2009-2011, raising concerns that only private firms will be able to deliver such large community projects in future. One in 10 charities told researchers for a report by New Philanthropy Capital that they could close within the year due to cuts.
Gareth Thomas, shadow minister for charities, said he had concerns that private firms were proving to be the winners from the big society agenda. He added: "Far from creating the big society, it seems that once again Cameron is going back to his roots and creating the privatised society instead, with charities and voluntary groups used as mere 'bid candy' for the large corporate outfits going after public sector contracts."

Serco has joined Catch22, a charity for poor children that was paid £2.3m last year for its work on the NCS, and three other charities to take over the running of the scheme in the north-east and north-west of England, Yorkshire and Humberside, the West and east Midlands, the east, south-west and south-east from 2013. Independent research into the NCS by NatCen found that 81% of those who signed up for the pilot programmes completed them, and 92% of those said they would recommend NCS to their friends. However, the research also raised concerns about the ability of its providers to expand the service nationally.

The programme, which provides a combination of residential weeks and volunteering projects, was attended by 8,500 young people last year at a cost of £14.2m. The number of places is expected to rise to 30,000 this summer and 90,000 by 2014. Sir Stephen Bubbs, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said the model of a private firm providing assistance to charities could work, but it depended on the contract between the parties. Under the government's work programme, where big companies have formed partnerships with not-for-profit organisations, charities have complained that they have been used to give credibility to contract bids but then not benefited financially.

Bubb added: "If you are trying to scale this up, then involving a partnership can be good. What I think wouldn't work was if they did it on the model of the work programme, with Serco as a prime contractor. But if it's a partnership, then it probably can." Serco is one of the leading outsourcing firms, but has faced criticism of some of its operations. Its staff assisting border controls have been found to have missed security alerts and to have left their stations unmanned. The company was recently found by the health regulator to be failing to meet legal requirements to provide enough staff, to train them properly or monitor their performance in the out-of-hours GP service that it runs for the NHS in Cornwall.

Jayne Colquhoun, from vInspired, one of Serco's charitable partners in the bid, said: "Having worked with local partners across the country to deliver NCS since 2011, we are keen to continue our involvement over the years to come and to provide a high-quality, exciting programme for 16- and 17-year-olds. Given the government's ambition to scale up the programme from 2013 onwards, we have joined up with Catch22, NYA, Serco and UK Youth to form the NCS Network. We hope this will enable us to continue our work with existing local partners and bring on board new delivery organisations."

Another scheme whereby young people will be co-erced into wokring for free or very little under the guise of 'training' and the real winner will be the private sector shareholders fo the companies providing such 'training'. Young people under socialism would be treated the way everyone should be and given the opportunites to learn and develop at their own paces free from the pressures of commercial greed.