Friday, November 30, 2012

Fact of the day

 In 1998, the bottom half of the German population owned 4% of all private wealth, while the top 10% owned 45%. By 2008, the lower 50% owned only 1%, but the upper 10% had increased its share to 53%

While wages have risen in the upper areas over the past ten years, lower wages adjusted for inflation have dropped.

Four million people worked in Germany for an hourly wage of less than €7.

Read more

The “poverty rate” in Germany in 2010 it was 15.8%. For single-parent households, it was 37.1%

Munich found that nearly a fifth of its residents lived in poverty.


Overproduction in the Container Shipping Industry

The‭ ‬Financial Times‭ ‬of‭  ‬19th November‭ ‬2012‭ ‬contained two articles‭ '‬Maersk to switch away from shipping‭' ‬and‭ '‬Sea freight trade still trapped in doldrums‭' ‬by Mark Odell and Richard Milne,‭ ‬which highlighted‭  ‬the current capitalist crisis of overproduction at the Maersk shipping line,‭ ‬and in the wider container shipping industry.

The Maersk Line contributed half of the revenue in‭ ‬2008‭ ‬to its parent company,‭ ‬the Danish business conglomerate AP Moller-Maersk Group‭ (‬in‭ ‬2011‭ ‬they had a profit of‭ ‬18‭ ‬billion Danish Kroner‭)‬.‭ ‬The Maersk Line is the largest container shipping operator in the world with‭ ‬550‭ ‬vessels,‭ ‬2.2‭ ‬million TEU's‭ (‬twenty foot equivalent units‭)‬,‭ ‬and accounts for a‭ ‬16%‭ ‬market share of the worlds container shipping industry.‭ ‬But in‭ ‬2011,‭ ‬Maersk Line had a net loss of‭ ‬$540‭ ‬million and only a‭ “‬modest profit‭” ‬is expected in‭ ‬2012.‭ ‬In the wider container shipping industry the‭  “‬market spot rates hit a rock bottom of‭ ‬$450‭ ‬per TEU in December‭ ‬2011,‭ ‬a long way below shipping lines‭' ‬operating costs‭”  (‬Financial Times‭)‬.‭

The Maersk Group plan to switch investment to other businesses in the group.‭ ‬They are keen to develop more in ports and drilling with an earnings target of‭ ‬$1‭ ‬billion a year each by‭ ‬2018,‭ ‬and development in oil production where they are aiming to increase from‭ ‬265,000‭ ‬to‭ ‬400,000‭ ‬barrels by‭ ‬2020,‭ ‬and increase annual investment from‭ ‬$3‭ ‬billion to‭ ‬$5‭ ‬billion.‭ ‬In‭ ‬2011‭ ‬the Maersk oil division made a profit of‭ ‬$2.1‭ ‬billion,‭ ‬and drilling and ports made profits of‭ ‬$500‭ ‬million and‭ ‬$650‭ ‬million respectively.‭ ‬Nils Andersen,‭ ‬Chief Executive of the Maersk Group‭  ‬announced‭ “‬we will move away from the shipping side of things and go towards the higher profit generators and more stable businesses.‭ ‬We are not going to invest significant amounts in Maersk Line.‭ ‬We have sufficient capacity to grow in line with the market.‭ ‬The industry is definitely not earning enough money to be able to invest going forward.‭ ‬We need to see better rates and higher profits‭”‬.‭  ‬The aim of the Group is to have the Maersk Line account for‭ ‬25-30%‭ ‬of‭  ‬revenue‭  ‬in contrast to the state of things in‭ ‬2008.

During the economic good times prior to the crash of‭ ‬2008,‭ ‬volumes of containerised goods rocketed and capacity struggled to keep up with demand,‭  ‬new tonnage was ordered during this boom time and are being introduced now such as the‭ ‬CMA CGM Line's huge vessel‭ (‬16,000‭ ‬TEU's‭) ‬ Marco Polo,‭ ‬but this will be overshadowed by the Maersk Line's own Triple E ships which will be‭ ‬18,000‭ ‬TEU's and introduced in‭ ‬2013.‭  ‬The‭ ‬Financial Times writes that in the container shipping industry‭  “‬an obsession with scale to drive down costs and the defence of market share,‭ ‬rather than a focus on the bottom line‭ (‬profit‭)‬,‭ ‬drive the desire for ever larger,‭ ‬more fuel-efficient vessels‭”‬.‭  ‬When the downturn hit in‭ ‬2008‭ ‬container rates fell off a cliff,‭ ‬leaving many in the industry struggling for survival as new vessels continued to arrive.

The container shipping sector is massively oversupplied,‭ ‬plagued by overcapacity,‭ ‬falling freight rates that regularly do not cover operating costs,‭ ‬consumer demand remains in the doldrums in a weak global economy.‭ ‬London Shipping Consultants Drewry believe‭ “‬at the moment,‭ ‬there is too much capacity in the market because there are too many ships being delivered and demand is weak and getting weaker‭”‬.‭  ‬Shipbrokers Braemar Seascope conclude that‭ “‬the market could be oversupplied by a third for the next three years‭”‬.‭

The container shipping industry is a good example of‭  ‬what Engels described in‭ ‬Anti-Duhring as‭ “‬the periodic alteration of speculative production booms and commercial crises,‭ ‬and to the whole of the present anarchy of production‭”‬.‭ ‬This‭ “‬anarchy of production‭” ‬in the shipping sector has led to overproduction which causes crisis in capitalism.‭  ‬Marx writes in‭ ‬Capital Volume‭ ‬3‭ ‬ that‭ “‬overproduction of capital always involves overproduction of commodities‭” ‬and‭ “‬overproduction of means of production...‭ ‬produces disruption and stagnation in the capitalist production process,‭ ‬crisis,‭ ‬and the destruction of capital‭”‬.‭  ‬The overproduction in the container shipping industry has seen a lowering of the rates of profit in what Marx described as‭ “‬the progressive tendency for the general rate of profit to fall is thus simply the expression,‭ ‬peculiar to the capitalist mode of production‭”‬.‭

When socialism takes over existing world production there will be a practical system of world production,‭ ‬distribution and consumption‭  ‬operating directly and solely for human needs.‭ ‬The world wide container shipping industry would be an integral part of world socialist distribution of goods.‭ ‬The capitalist‭ “‬anarchy of production‭” ‬in the shipping industry would be over,‭ “‬overproduction‭” ‬would not be a concept recognised in socialism when there is production for use and needs.

Steve Clayton‭

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Marx on Leveson

    Read the Socialist Standard
In 1842, even before he became a socialist, Marx had made a shrewd comment on the so-called "freedom of the press". He wrote here
"The primary freedom of the press lies in not being a trade."  This has also been translated as "The first condition of the freedom of the press is that it is not a business activity."
It follows from this that, since the newspapers today are profit-seeking businesses, they are not "free". Their wailing about the Leveson Report is not a defence of freedom of the press as they claim, but a defence of the owners of newspapers to have their papers say what they like in order to boost their circulation and make more profits. Which is not a "freedom" socialists care about.
It also follows that the only "free press" in Britain are journals and magazines such as the Socialist Standard which are published not to make a profit but solely to express an opinion. This is the free press socialists are concerned about, value and defend. 
Adam Buick

The 'Robin Hood' of Big Pharma

One billion people around the world are unable to afford the medicines they need.

For the last six years, Novartis has been fighting over a patent for its cancer drug Glivec. The drug has earned billions for Novartis since it was approved in 2001. Almost 40 countries, including China and Russia, recognize the company's Swiss patents, but India does not. The Indian Patent Office argues that the drug is not a true novelty, but rather a variation of an existing drug.

Non-governmental organizations, such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders), accuse Novartis of trying to extend its monopoly on Glivec for another 20 years by making minor changes to the drug. The price of the cancer drug Glivec costs 120,000 rupees a month (€1,700). MSF is already warning that India's role as what it calls the "pharmacy for the poor" will be in jeopardy if Novartis wins its case before the Indian Supreme Court. More than 80 percent of all the AIDS patients treated by humanitarian organizations like MSF get their drugs from factories in India.

Someone using the original drug Bayer's Nexavar will pay $5,200 per month, while using the Indian generic would only cost $160. Even that is expensive for Indians, whose average annual per capita income is only $1,514.

We all need unions

What happens when unions vanish? Workers lose their right to bargain collectively for their pay and benefits. Even those who have never bargained collectively feel the loss.

Unions have been declining for decades. In the early 1950s, one out of three American workers belonged to them, four out of ten in the private sector. Today, only 11.8 percent of American workers are union members; in the private sector, just 6.9 percent. The vanishing act varies by region—in the South, it’s almost total—but proceeds relentlessly everywhere. Since 1983, the number of states in which at least 10 percent of private-sector workers have union contracts has shrunk from 42 to 8.  Unions are battling for their lives. The current recession has only intensified labor’s descent and business’s ascent.

Princeton economist Henry Farber concluded that the wages of non-union workers in industries that were 25 percent unionized were 7.5 percent higher than they’d be if their industry were union-free. When unionized companies were common, firms that were non-union had to mimic the wages and benefits of their unionized counterparts for fear that their employees would leave or, worse, organize. That was certainly the practice at General Electric and other largely non-union giants.

The key to the wage advantage is the percentage of union membership in a given industry or market. Union workers generally maintained a 20 percent wage advantage over non-union workers. In cities where nearly all the class-A hotels are unionized, as they are in New York and San Francisco, housekeepers make more than $20 an hour. In cities where roughly half of such hotels are unionized, such as Los Angeles, their hourly wage is about $15. In cities where all the hotels are non-union, such as Phoenix, housekeepers make little more than the minimum wage, if that.

From 1947 through 1973, when union membership in America was at its peak, real wages for non-managerial employees rose by 75 percent. From 1947 through 1972, productivity in the United States rose by 102 percent, and median household income rose by an identical 102 percent.

From 1979 through 2006, as union numbers collapsed, real wages for non-managerial employees rose by only 4 percent. In recent decades, as economists Robert Gordon and Ian Dew-Becker have shown, all productivity gains have accrued to the wealthiest 10 percent. In 1955, near the apogee of union strength, the wealthiest 10 percent received 33 percent of the nation’s personal income. In 2007, they received 50 percent. Today, wages and benefits make up the lowest share of America’s gross domestic product since World War II. Wages have fallen from 53 percent of GDP in 1970 to 44 percent today. Profits have been growing at wages’ expense. Michael Cembalest, J.P. Morgan’s chief investment officer, has calculated that reductions in wages and benefits were responsible for about 75 percent of the increase in corporate profits between 2000 and 2007. Unable to get a raise, American households maintained their standard of living during those years by women entering the workforce and by going into debt.

Union membership is just one element of unions’ ability to raise wages, however. The other is strikes. We look back now at the three decades of broadly shared prosperity that followed World War II as a time of union-management concord, when executives made their peace with unions and unions didn’t rock the boat. In fact, more strikes occurred from the late 1940s through the early 1970s than before or since. When union contracts expired, workers and managers fought pitched battles over the terms of the next contract. The largest strike in American history came in 1959, amid the Eisenhower years, when 500,000 steelworkers stayed off the job for 116 days. It was through such expedients that workers compelled management to let them share in their company’s proceeds. But as density declined, unions’ ability to win strikes declined with it. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, unions were striking less to win raises than to resist management proposals to freeze wages and cut benefits. The weaker unions grew, the fewer their strikes. In the early 1950s, there were roughly 350 strikes in the United States every year. Over the past decade, there have been roughly 10 to 20 per year.

According to a Wall Street Journal survey of the S&P 500, revenues per worker, which were $378,000 in 2007, grew to $420,000 in 2010. Businesses now produce more with fewer employees, but even those workers who’ve kept their jobs haven’t seen their wages rise. Workers are better educated and more productive. What they lack is power. In the Midwest manufacturing belt unions struggle to preserve at least some of the wage and benefit levels they enjoyed before they found themselves in competition with the non-union South and workers abroad. When the South and Southwest began to grow in the 1960s, unions couldn’t gain entry there, impeded by right-to-work laws that the federal government had allowed states to adopt when it passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. In 2001, 32 percent of the revenues of the S&P 500 came from abroad. By 2008, that figure had risen to 48 percent. Nearly six million factory jobs, almost a third of the entire manufacturing industry, have disappeared since 2000. And while many of these jobs were lost to competition with low-wage countries, even more vanished because of computer-driven machinery that can do the work of 10, or in some cases, 100 workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages. Companies would rather invest in technology and robots to reduce the need for labor, than to pay workers more money

While veteran workers in unionized plants still make $26 to $32 an hour, new hires in companies like General Motors and Caterpillar make between $12 and $19 hourly, with contracts that lock them into these lower levels no matter how long they may work there. In 2008, average hourly wage and benefit costs in the Midwest were $7 higher than they were in the South; by 2011, they were $3.34 higher. Fully 25 percent of all American workers make no more than $17,576 a year. The United States now has the highest percentage of low-wage workers—that is, workers who make less than two-thirds of the median wage—of any developed nation.

That’s what the disappearance of unions and the loss of worker bargaining power means. 

Adapted from here

At the altar of capitalism

There has been much discussion since the election about the general outlines the "grand bargain" and the pending "fiscal cliff" and all business is in favor of "shared sacrifice". But who is really being thrown of this cliff? The "Fix the Debt" campaign has raised $60 million and recruited more than 80 CEOs of America's most powerful corporations to lobby for a debt deal that would reduce corporate taxes and shift costs onto the poor and elderly. The 63 "Fix the Debt" companies that are publicly held stand to gain as much as $134 billion in windfalls if Congress approves one of their main proposals – a "territorial tax system. The CEOs backing Fix the Debt personally received a combined total of $41 million in savings last year thanks to the Bush-era tax cuts. Of the 63 "Fix the Debt" CEOs at publicly held firms, 24 received more in compensation last year than their corporations paid in federal corporate income taxes.

These days people may be led to think that the main cause of the economic downturn is the state benefits and pensions. Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, infamous for describing his financial activities as “God’s work”, talks about the need to cut Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age. "You're going to have to undoubtedly do something to lower people's expectations -- the entitlements and what people think that they're going to get, because it's not going to -- they're not going to get it." In case it’s necessary to remind people, the economy plunged due to the collapse of a Wall Street-fueled housing bubble. The loss of demand from the collapse of the housing bubble both led to a jump in the unemployment rate from which we have still not fully recovered and also the large deficits of the last five years. The reason that we suddenly got large budgetary deficits was the economic downturn, which caused tax revenue to plummet and increased spending on programs such as unemployment insurance.

Because of a bubble that Goldman Sachs helped to create it was facing a bank run that pushed the company to the edge of bankruptcy. It took a government bail-out to save it. Now its CEO wants to cut our living standards. Blankfein expains "Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career." When he refers to a "25-year career." perhaps some Goldman Sachs employees retire in their early 40s, but most workers do not--and they certainly don't get Social Security retirement benefits when they do so.

Another culprit of the recession, former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan who was insisting that there was no bubble, and that even if there was a housing bubble, its collapse would pose no special problem for the economy, is now telling us that another recession (albeit "moderate") would be a price worth paying, if it led to spending cuts on entitlement programs. Had the economy not collapsed, there would have been no reason for his policy.

To appease the God Mammon, human sacrifices are required. Socialists think we have already sacrificed enough, through the loss of our jobs, our health, our homes, our net worth, our drop in real wages and  from paying some usury-bank extortionate interest on our pay-day loans. The proper amount of additional sacrifice for us is, precisely, zero. There’s nothing to negotiate. Enough is enough!

Details from here

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gaza and the Bible

“I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.…I will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites; … I will drive them out little by little before you, until you have grown numerous enough to take possession of their land... I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River[Euphrates]... all who dwell in this land I will hand over to you to be driven out of your way. You shall not make a covenant with them or their gods.” Many Zionists accept the word of their Bible that their God has defined the true borders of Israel and determined how that land should be regained. The ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians for many is centred upon a few words found in the bible that proclaim the land was God’s gift to the Israeli people.

 Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman (The Bible Unearthed) suggests that the Biblical narrative of the Exodus did not happen. They conclude rather that both Egypt and Judah during the seventh century BCE was a time of great revival. “It was a time when Josiah embarked on an ambitious attempt to take advantage of the Assyrian collapse and unite all Israelites under his rule. His program was to expand to the north of Judah, to the territories where Israelites were still living a century after the fall of the kingdom of Israel, and to realize the dream of a glorious united monarchy: a large and powerful state of all Israelites worshipping one God in one Temple in one capital—Jerusalem—and ruled by one king of Davidic lineage.” Instead of the Exodus happening in the 13th century BCE, when the estimated population of the Israelites numbered somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000, it never happened as told about the Israelites. It was recorded in the 7th century BCE using ancient stories gathered together into a “history” of the Israelites to aid Josiah in creating his dream kingdom. The conclusion that the Exodus did not happen at the time and in the manner described in the Bible seems irrefutable when we examine the evidence. It will disturb many Zionists who justify modern Israel's existence and the proposed annexation of "Judah and Sumaria" based on the Biblical Texts. 

 There wasn't actually an Exodus. The Jews were never slaves in Egypt and that the entire story of Exodus is fiction. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation. Margaret Steiner writes that from the tenth century B.C.E. there is no archaeological evidence that many people actually lived in Jerusalem, only that it was some kind of public administrative center. "We are left with nothing that indicates a city was here during their supposed reigns (of David and Solomon)...It seems unlikely, however, that this Jerusalem was the capital of a large state, the United monarchy, as described in Biblical texts."

The most sacred holiday in Judaism is Passover. This commemorates the day that the Jewish God killed the first born of the Egyptians while passing over the homes of the Hebrews, hence the name. In 1977, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin visited Egypt's National Museum in Cairo and stated "We built the pyramids."
We know quite a lot about the labor force that built the pyramids. The best estimates are that 10,000 men spent 30 years building the Great Pyramid. They lived in good housing at the foot of the pyramid. They ate well and received the best medical care. And, also unlike slaves, they were well paid. The pyramid builders were recruited from poor communities and worked shifts of three months (including farmers who worked during the months when the Nile flooded their farms), distributing the pharaoh's wealth out to where it was needed most. Each day, 21 cattle and 23 sheep were slaughtered to feed the workers, enough for each man to eat meat at least weekly. Virtually every fact about the workers that archaeology has shown us rules out the use of slave labor on the pyramids. Israel itself did not exist until at least 600 years after the completion of the last of Egypt's large pyramids. Thus it is not possible for any Israelites to have been in Egypt at the time, either slave or free; as there was not yet any such thing as an Israelite. The story of Jewish slaves building the pyramids originated with Herodotus of Greece in about 450 BCE. He's often called the "Father of History". Herodotus was also called the "Father of Lies".

 No Egyptian record contains a single reference to anything in Exodus despite the fact that the Egyptians kept many documented records, many of which are still in existence today. Not a shred of evidence discovered in the Sinai Desert supports the claim that a large number of Jews had wandered it for 40 years. It seems extremely unlikely for this many people to leave absolutely no trace, especially when traces have been found for smaller groups of people which predated the Exodus in that same desert. In Israel at that time, there was no sudden change in the kind or the volume of pottery being made. (If people suddenly arrived after hundreds of years in Egypt, their cups and dishes would look very different from native Canaanites'.) There was no population explosion. Most archeologists conclude that the Israelites lived largely in Canaan over generations, instead of leaving and then immigrating back to Canaan.

These conclusions would suggest that the Bible as the word of God is rather a fabrication created for the masses for political, religious and cultural reasons. There’s no story like the weak rising against the stronger foe and coming out the winner; the humble and oppressed Hebrew slaves rise up against mighty Egypt and escape to the Promised Land. Many Jews are led to understand that God's hand is in Israel's politics and is a pillar of belief for many.

 Israel's Supreme Rabbinical Council gave their endorsement to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, declaring that it conformed to the Halachi (religious) law and that participation in the war ‘in all its aspects’ is a religious duty. The military Rabbinate meanwhile distributed a document to soldiers containing a map of Lebanon with the names of cities replaced by alleged Hebrew names taken from the Bible. A military Rabbi in Lebanon explained the biblical sources that justify ‘our being here and our opening the war; we do our Jewish religious duty by being here.’

In 2007, Mordechai Eliyahu, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel wrote that “there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings”. His son, Shmuel Eliyahu chief rabbi of Safed, called for the “carpet bombing” of the general area from which the Kassams were launched, to stop rocket attacks on Israel, saying “This is a message to all leaders of the Jewish people not to be compassionate with those who shoot [rockets] at civilians in their houses.” he continued, “If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill 1,000. And if they don’t stop after 1,000, then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000. Even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”

An influential Chabad  Lubavitch Hassid  rabbi  Manis Friedman in 2009 was quoted as saying: “I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral. The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men.”
The current state of Israel uses passages from an ancient text, a series of myths, to rally its citizens. It resurrects the words of men who concocted these tales to unite against its current enemies. The recent offensive was called "Pillar of Cloud" although for foreign media consumption it is re-named "Pillar of Defense".  According to Exodus, the pillar of cloud guided the Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt.

Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, thinks Jews are neither a race nor a nation, but an invented people most likely made up of ancient pagans – in the main Berbers from North Africa, Arabs from the south of Arabia, and Turks from the Khazar empire – who converted to Judaism between the fourth and eighth centuries CE. There as forcible exile of Jews from the area now bordered by modern Israel. According to Sand, the Palestinians are probably descended from Hebrews who embraced Islam or Christianity. Sand doesn’t challenge Israel’s right to exist but he thinks that sovereignty is undermined by its exclusively ethnic base, which stems from the racism of Zionist ideologues. In other words, Israel shouldn’t be a Jewish state, but a democratic secular one which belongs to all its citizens. Socialists would go further, Israel should not be a state. Nor should there be a Palestinian state.

Based on this article

The Italian Rich Mobilise for Class-War

Capitalists to set up own Political Party in Italy to carry on Anti-Working class legislation

The capitalist class in Italy led by Piedmontese aristocrat and Ferrari boss Luca Cordero di Montezemolo‭ (‬net worth‭ ‬$400million‭) ‬are very keen to keep Mario Monti as Prime Minister with his unelected government to carry on the work of the capitalist class in‭ “‬national reconstruction‭”‬.‭ ‬Monezemolo held the first convention of his movement for Monti‭  ‬in Rome on‭ ‬17th November‭ ‬2012,‭ ‬attended by‭ ‬7,000‭ ‬people,‭ ‬mostly professionals and capitalist entrepreneurs and supported by ACLI,‭ ‬a Christian workers association.

Monti's‭ '‬bankers government‭' ‬of technocrats known as‭ “‬governo tecnico‭” ‬was installed by the capitalist class in November‭ ‬2011‭ ‬to introduce economic austerity measures and anti-working class legislation under the guise of labour market liberalisation.‭ ‬Monti,‭ ‬an economist and academic,‭ ‬formerly an EU commissioner,‭ ‬was also an international adviser to Goldman Sachs,‭ ‬member of the Senior Affairs Council of Moody’s,‭ ‬and is a member of the Bilderberg Group of world leaders and capitalists.‭ ‬Monti's appointed cabinet contains academics,‭ ‬a banker,‭ ‬a‭  ‬diplomat,‭ ‬and a NATO Admiral.

The Monti government has‭ “‬liberalised‭” ‬certain professions and jobs in the working class that the capitalist class see as‭ “‬restrictive‭”‬,‭ ‬and detrimental to the ethos of capitalist competition.‭ ‬These include taxi drivers,‭ ‬pharmacists,‭ ‬doctors,‭ ‬lawyers,‭ ‬notaries,‭ ‬dentists,‭ ‬local public transport,‭ ‬and petrol stations.‭ ‬The capitalist class want to‭ “‬reform‭” ‬the licensing systems for these workers and abolish minimum tariffs.‭ 

The most significant attack on the Italian working class by the capitalist class is the Monti governments attempts to‭ “‬reform‭” ‬Article‭ ‬18‭ ‬of‭  ‬Italy's‭ ‬1970‭ ‬Worker's Statute,‭ ‬a piece of social democratic legislation that the Italian working class consider their‭ '‬Bill of Rights‭'‬.‭ ‬The Worker's Statute has‭ “‬rules on the protection of the freedom and dignity of workers and of trade union freedom and union activity in the workplace and rules on the public employment service‭”‬,‭ ‬and stipulates that worker's contracts‭  ‬and wage rates are governed by collective labour agreements between national trade unions and employers organisations.‭ ‬Workers are protected by the statute regarding dismissals and redundancies,‭ ‬in fact to the capitalist class dismay the statute does not permit companies to lay off workers for the sake of increased productivity.‭ ‬The capitalist class want Article‭ ‬18‭ “‬reformed‭” ‬which at present requires companies to re-hire rather than compensate any employee who is found to have been dismissed without just cause.‭  ‬Basically,‭ ‬to make it easier to sack workers.‭ 

The Italian working class need to be aware of the fickleness of reformist measures in protecting their rights,‭ ‬and that only the replacing of capitalism with socialism can solve the issues facing them.‭ ‬Marx puts it in a nutshell in‭ ‬Value,‭ ‬Price and Profit:‭ “‬Instead of the‭ ‬conservative motto:‭ '‬A fair day's wage for a fair day's work‭!‬' they ought to inscribe on their banner the‭ ‬revolutionary watchword:‭ '‬Abolition of the wages system‭!‬' “.

Steve Clayton

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Adventures on the China Seas

In 1935 Hollywood filmed an adventure called China Seas which portrayed westerners having 'exotic' adventures in the Orient, but today there is a real possibility of war breaking out over this same expanse of sea. There are territorial disputes between China and Japan, and also between China, Vietnam, and India over the natural resources in the China Seas. The China Seas which comprise the East China Sea and the South China Sea are geopolitically very significant.

The South China Sea is the second most used sea lane in the world; over 50 percent of the world annual merchant fleet tonnage, and 10 million barrels of crude oil daily passes through the Straits of Malacca. The South China Sea has proven oil reserves of 28 billion barrels, and natural gas reserves of 266 trillion cubic feet. Vietnam begin oil development there in 1986 and this has yielded 2,000 tons of crude oil yielding $25 billion in revenue. China has begun oil exploration south east of Hong Kong. In 2011 India's state-run oil company signed an agreement with PetroVietnam for oil exploration in the South China Sea. This prompted the Chinese Foreign Ministry to say ‘we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China's jurisdiction.’
China and Japan are currently in a bitter dispute over claims to some uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The dispute is actually about the natural gas resources in the East China Sea. In 1995 China discovered an undersea natural gas field which is estimated to hold reserves of 364 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The dispute has had a detrimental effect on Japan's economy. The Financial Times (22 November) wrote ‘the spat over a chain of islands in the East China Sea has deepened Japan's export-led downturn, potentially dragging the world's third largest economy into a technical recession.’ Citi estimates a 6 percent fall in export volumes in October 2012.

It is widely acknowledged that China will overtake the USA as the world's largest economy in the next few years. The USA has a 'security guarantee' with Japan which would put it in opposition to China over the East China Sea. Earlier this year President Obama announced a strategic 'rebalancing'; the Pivot to East Asia which militarily means America will deploy 60 percent of its Navy to the Asian Pacific region, and economically through the Trans Pacific Partnership aims to dismantle existing trade barriers.

The Financial Times (19 November) pointed out that ‘The US gets barely a tenth of its imported oil from the Middle East and that is set to shrink to zero by the time Mr Obama leaves office. China, on the other hand, gets half its oil from there, which will rise to three-quarters by 2020.’ It is acknowledged that the USA would like China to share the security burden in the Middle East region. Could China also get involved in war over resources in the Middle East?

Steve Clayton

The Irish Potato Famine

Ireland lost one in three people in the late 1840s. At least a million died in the famine and its related illnesses; another two million fled for Britain, Canada, the United States or other ports as refugees or as they are described these days, "economic migrants".

The colonial nature of the Irish economy exacerbated the food shortage.  Anglo-Irish landlords, given their land in “plantations” after decades of war in the 16th and 17th centuries to displace conquered Irish Catholics, were a big part of the problem. At least a quarter were absentee and only wanted the highest rents they could gouge; resident landlords preferred “conspicuous consumption” – Ireland enjoyed a million acres of deer parks and gardens – to building the infrastructure of modern agriculture.

So British leaders wanted to use the famine “to modernize the Irish agricultural economy, which was widely viewed as the principal source of Ireland’s poverty. The famine response was seen by some as a deliberate form of ethnic cleansing, driven by centuries of crippling prejudice against Irish Catholics but others say it isn’t genocide when authorities don’t act to stop the deaths of people we don’t care about in the first place.

 One of the main villains, Charles Trevelyan, the British Treasury assistant secretary whose anti-Irish moralism thwarted relief, old a colleague: God “sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson…and it must not be too mitigated.”

The Irish economy was backward and precarious, but for Trevelyan the failure of the potato crop presented not a life-or-death crisis but an opportunity to forcibly modernize it. He agreed to a limited public works program (in which out-of-work laborers were paid a pittance to build roads to nowhere) because he believed it would break the peasant class of its reliance on barter and subsistence farming. The idea was to sell them corn imported from overseas because the grain couldn’t be cultivated in Ireland, thereby accustoming them to using money. However, when Ireland’s mercantile men objected to the price-depressing effects of government-funded grain, Trevelyan vowed not to sell it too cheaply, claiming that high prices would promote foreign imports.

It was particularly easy to see the hand of God in the potato blight, because the potato was at the root of the lazy culture of the “aboriginal Irish,” according to Victorian moralists. “Why did the Irish have ‘domestic habits of the lowest and most degrading kind…more akin to the South Seas…than to the great civilized communities of the ancient world?” Potato dependency!” writes John Kelly, author of “The Graves Are Walking."
“The little industry called for to rear the potato, and its prolific growth, leave the people to indolence and vice,” wrote one man in charge of Irish relief.
“Food for the contented slave, not the hardy and the brave,” the Economist rhymed about the Irish staple. Thus the failure of the potato crop was God’s way of getting lazy landlords, and more importantly, the “aboriginal Irish,” into the modern age, where they’d either work harder for better crops, or preferably, leave the farm, enter the emerging industrial society and earn wages to buy food, rather grow their own. These strategies amount to the 19th-century version of what Naomi Klein has dubbed the “Shock Doctrine”: an attempt to force economic reforms on a population reeling in the aftermath of a disaster.

It didn’t work that way: relief efforts and public works projects were opened, and then closed, because of worries about “dependency,” that those starving, rag-wearing slackers might prefer the dole to working. To justify shutting down aid mid-famine, the London Times editorialized that it was to help the poor Irish themselves. “Alas, the Irish peasant has tasted of famine and found it good…the deity of his faith was the government…it was a religion that holds ‘Man shall not labor by the sweat of his brow.” 
“There are times when harshness is the greatest humanity.” The Times’ “chief proprietor,” John Walter said. He put it more crudely in Parliament (he was also a Tory MP).  ”The blacks have a proverb,” he explained. “ ‘If a nigger were not a nigger, the Irishman would be a nigger.’ ”
Anglo-Irish landlords evicted tenants rather than pay a higher poor rate for them; there was no one to plant the next season. Finally they opened the poor houses more widely, and they became teeming vectors for spreading disease, most notably “famine fever” and typhus, killing people more quickly.  some Irish leaders veered into crazy anti-British conspiracy theories. John Mitchel, who claimed the British government created typhus in laboratories and deliberately infected the Irish. Centuries of oppression can lead to some wild, intemperate ideas. Yet the culprit was capitalism. Irish grain was being loaded onto ships bound for England as Ireland’s starving masses watched  speaks of the landowners’ indifference to anything but their own income.

Adapted from here



Socialism is almost globally misunderstood and misrepresented. Socialism will be a basic structural change to society, and many of the things that most people take for granted, as “just the way things have to be”, can and must be changed to establish socialism. People tend to accept as true the things they hear over and over again. But repetition doesn’t make things true. Because the truth and the facts often contradict “common knowledge”, socialists have to show that “common knowledge” is wrong. The task of capitalist ideology is to maintain the veil which keeps people from seeing that their own activities reproduce the form of their daily life , the task of socialism is to unveil the activities of daily life, to render them transparent.

In socialism labour power will no longer be a commodity to be bought and sold on a market. Socialists seek a society of universal equality based upon the free association of producers working collaboratively to produce for each according to their needs. Socialism (and lets be clear, that does not mean government ownership or control of the economy) is the only system that can bring about what well-meaning folk seek – a self-sustainable where human needs are in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilised at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. There won’t be the blind pressure to do so that is exerted under capitalism through the market.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Farmers Markets

While many Americans are enduring joblessness and struggling to feed themselves, forcing them to rely on food banks for help this year has been a good one for American farmers. Between the bad drought and rising demand for food in other countries, U.S. food producers have enjoyed record high prices for their crops. The booming market means that the federal government does not need to buy as many excess crops from farmers, resulting in a precipitous drop in government donations to food banks. It’s bad news for the hungry. The Capital Area Food Bank, the central supplier of food for more than 700 pantries and nonprofit groups that help DC's needy, has seen government food donations plummet 38 percent this year — about 1.5 million pounds of food.  Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which serves Loudoun County and central Virginia. It ran the budget numbers in the spring and decided it could not buy turkeys for Thanksgiving this year because of a 43 percent drop in U.S. Agriculture Department food and other donations.

For corn growers, the vast majority of their yields don’t even go to feeding people. About 40% of the corn crop gets turned into ethanol, and another 40% is used as animal feed, leaving only 20% for people to eat. Food crises overseas prompted the United Nations in August to call upon the U.S. to cease using so much of its corn for biofuels. Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, 13 billion gallons of biofuel must be produced in the U.S. this year as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on imported oil. Critics of the fuel standard argue that the use of corn to make ethanol is a major factor in the tripling in the price of corn since 2005 and likely contributed to a food crisis in 2007-08.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack rejected this suggestion out of concern that to do so would cause higher gasoline prices and job cuts in ethanol production for Americans.

 the overall economic effect in the U.S. will be muted because American households generally spend only about 13% of their budgets on food and because so little of what we pay at the supermarket is actually for food. For example, the corn in a $4.00 box of corn flakes is worth about 7 to 8 cents. Most of the price is for processing, transportation, advertising, and an oligopoly premium. The poor and near-poor, however, will feel the price rise at the grocery store far more acutely. It is in the developing world, where many people spend 30%-40% of their income on food, that the impact will be greatest. Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of the FAO, argued the ethanol quota should be suspended to allow more of the corn crop to be used for food production, especially in light of an FAO report that world food prices soared 6% in July, with the price of corn up 23%.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

The IWW and the Abolition of Wages

"Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!" ( From Karl Marx's Value, Price and Profit and the preamble to the IWW constitution)

Though Socialism Or Your Money Back doesn't necessarily agree with every dot and comma of the following articles, we think it presents a clear and concise exposition of a central plank of revolutionary socialist politics: our commitment to the abolition of the wages system.

What Does The IWW mean by "Abolition of the Wage System"?

The Industrial Workers of the World believe in a better life for all. In considering what's right and what's wrong with our present society, the I.W.W. naturally includes how we are paid for the work we do: wages and salaries.

What are wages?
Wages or salaries are the money given to us by the boss in return for a set amount of time we spend at the job. We get so much an hour, or so much a month. Whether we've spent the day working hard or had to "look busy" much of the time, we receive exactly the same amount.

The blood price of capitalism

112 people are now known to have died in a fire that swept through a clothes factory in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka.  The fire started on the ground floor trapping many victims in the factory and some people died after jumping from the building to escape the flames. The factory had no fire exit on the outside of the building.

Fatal fires are common in Bangladesh's large garment manufacturing sector. In December 2010, a fire in another clothes factory in the same industrial zone, leaving at least 25 people dead.  Just weeks ago 11 people were killed in a fire in a shanty town outside Dhaka and destroying more than 500 homes. The shanty town is home to low-income people such as labourers and rickshaw-pullers, many of whom have now been left homeless. In June 2010 a fire killed at least 116 people in the old part of the capital Dhaka.

 It seems pretty clear that builders and landlords ignore Bangladesh's planning and safety regulations. Instead of installing a fire-escape, for example, they pay bribes to officials and politicians. As a result there are thousands of these death traps across the city.

Clothes account for up to 80% of Bangladesh's $24bn (£15bn) annual exports. There are around 4,500 factories in Bangladesh, employing more than two million people.

The Unions and Class Struggle

"The workers have discovered that the union is the only way for them to withstand the overpowering pressure of capital" - Marx
"Nothing is said about the organization of the working class, as a class. By means of trade unions. This is a very important point, because these, as a matter of fact, are the real class organizations of the proletariat, in which the latter wages its day to day struggle against capital; in which it schools itself, and which even today, under the most ruthless reaction (as now in Paris) simply can no longer be knocked to pieces." - Engels

What should be the attitude of socialists toward trade unions? Unions are the workers most effective means of defense under capitalism. In the absence of unions, the workers have no way of braking the downward pressure on their living standards and their working conditions. Only by means of their combined numbers in labor unions are the workers able to put up same form of resistance against the insatiable drive of capital for more surplus value. Only through unions can the workers ease the strain and stress on their nerves and muscles in the factories, mills, and mines. Since surplus value is produced at the paint of production, the most violent manifestations of the class struggle break out at that point. The history of the labor movement proves the Marxian contention that wages are not regulated by any "iron law" but can be modified by organized militant action on the part of the workers, the value of the workers labor-power is not only determined by physicall limitations of the human body, but also by what Marx calls historical and social factors. One of the most weighty of these factors is the class war. A comparison of the living standards of organized to those unorganized workers tells the story in a nutshell. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics issues statistics showing a breakdown of figures proving that wages are lowest in those occupations in which the workers are not organized or are at best only partly organized. American workers have long organized in unions to gain a share of their productivity increases, assure fair treatment on the job, expand benefits, and lay a foundation for a secure retiremen. For two generations, workers purchased cars and homes, sent their children to college, and enjoyed a genuine retiremen. As the unionized percentage of the workforce shrank from 30 percent in the 1950s to 20 percent in the 1980s to little more than 10 percent in the 21st century, unions’ ability to defend their members’ wages, benefits, work rules, job descriptions, and rights on the job melted away.

Poverty Pay UK

Britain's poorest families are facing hidden cuts worth more than 30% of their annual income by 2017 as public services are cut or withdrawn to meet the coalition's tough spending targets, new research commissioned by the TUC reveals. The TUC's analysis shows the hefty cost of austerity to low-income households.
Through detailed analysis of survey findings on who uses public services, and data from the Treasury, it has built up a meticulous picture of how planned spending cuts will affect households across the country. By 2016-17, the last year for which the government has so far issued spending plans, the cumulative cost of lost public services for the poorest 10% of households in cash terms will have been £3,995 – or 31.7% of their average annual income. For those in the top 10th of the income scale, many of whom may use public transport infrequently, opt out of public schooling and healthcare, and are less likely to call on services such as Sure Start centres for children, the impact will be much smaller: £2,805, or 2.5% of annual income. The TUC's analysis also suggests that much of the pain – in terms of reductions in public services – is still to come. The average household has already lost more than £1,200 in public services, but that's only about a third of the total cuts they are likely to experience by 2014-15.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation in its annual Monitoring Poverty report finds that 6.1 million people in working households live in poverty. The figure exceeds the 5.1 million poverty-stricken adults from households where nobody works. Roughly one-third of children in poverty, around 700,000, are now in working households, the Monitoring Poverty report found. There are 1.4 million people working part-time but wanting full-time work. Over the last four decades, hours per worker have fallen by 11 per cent.

Tom MacInnes, research director at the New Policy Institute and author of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation study "This is about people who are working but aren't bringing in enough money to lift their family above the poverty line. The high level of in-work poverty undermines any idea that better incentives to enter work are some kind of cure-all."

Julia Unwin, the foundation's chief executive, said: "The most distinctive characteristic of poverty today is the very high number of working people who are also poor."

The number of working families receiving tax credits – payments to top up low wages – has risen by 50 per cent over the last decade, to more than 3 million. One-fifth of women and one-seventh of men earn less than £7 per hour. Ruth Lupton, deputy director of the London School of Economics' Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion, the report shows that "People are cycling in and out of work, into low-paid jobs..."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Top Twelve Low-Paying Employers

The gap between rich and poor is well illustrated by the large multi-billion-dollar corporations employing thousands of low-wage workers. Not only are many of these companies now hitting record profits, but their executive pay remains spectacularly high. The current federal minimum wage the workers are often paid, is worth 30% less than it was in 1968 in terms of purchasing power. In addition to low wages, many of these companies have a history of poor labor relations that extends beyond underpaying their employees. Long hours, unsafe or unpleasant working conditions, limited benefits and restricting access to full-time work, often accompany minimum wage jobs in many of these companies. Many used the downturn to explain reductions in employee benefits, long hours, and continued low pay. However, the recession is over for a majority of minimum-wage employers. Nine of the 12 companies on this list have been profitable for the past three years. Of these 12 companies, a full ten had higher revenue compared to 2010. Despite this fact, improvements in employee benefits or an increase in pay have not materialized for workers at most of the companies on the list.

 These are the companies paying Americans the least.

1. Wal-Mart Stores
 U.S. workforce: 1,400,000
 CEO compensation: $18,131,738
 Revenue: $446.95 billion
 Net income: $15.70 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 3,868

The labor practices of Wal-Mart Stores have long received negative attention in the press, but that has not affected investors much. WMT’s share price rose more than 48% in the past five years. In 2008, Walmart agreed to pay $640 million in settlements of dozens of class-action lawsuits that claimed the company deprived workers of pay for time worked. In October a class action lawsuit was filed in a Chicago federal court alleging that the retailer had violated minimum wage and overtime laws. Walmart workers have begun to strike, and some plan to walk off the job on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Walmart has filed an unfair-labor-practic​e complaint against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to prevent this from happening.

2. Yum! Brands
 U.S. workforce: 880,330
 CEO compensation: $20,411,852
 Revenue: $12.63 billion
 Net income: $1.33 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 16,006

 Because Yum! Brands, the operator of the Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC chains, is one of the biggest employers of low wage workers, it takes benefits seriously. According to watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, the fast food giant co-chaired the labor and business regulation subcommittee of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a "corporate-funded bill mill" that encourages laws that benefits its corporate members. At a 2011 meeting, attendees considered model bills designed to override paid sick leave legislation in the states. In 2012, following negative press over ALEC initiatives and the departure of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Yum! Brands became one of several large companies to abandon the council.

 3. McDonald’s

 U.S. workforce: 859,978
 CEO compensation: $4,073,748
 Revenue: $27.01 billion
 Net income: $5.50 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 14,098

 McDonald’s is the king of fast-food, with revenue greater than any other restaurant operator on this list, and far more locations as well. The company’s website offers a long list of awards and recognition for the diversity of its workplace. But even McDonald’s is not immune to economic pressures. The company just reported its first monthly drop in global revenue at locations open more than a year, down 1.8% in October. McDonald’s USA president, Jan Fields was subsequently ousted to be replaced by Jeff Stratton, who is currently global chief restaurant officer.

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The casualties of austerity

Suicides in Greece, which used to have the lowest rate in Europe, are rising rapidly and coincide with crushing austerity measures that have driven 20 percent of the population into poverty. The first pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions were imposed in 2010 but Greece has been in a recession for five years, with 25.1 percent unemployment and more than 68,000 stores closed.

More than 2,500 people have taken their own lives and attempted suicides are also soaring. Just this month, a young nurse who lost her job jumped out a window to her death. The first four months of this year saw a surge in the number of suicides among the poor and those older than 65. It has risen by more than 33 percent against the same period for 2011, with some 700 people taking their lives since January 1. The use of anti-depressants has also jumped some 25 percent,

Before the financial crisis began, Greece’s suicide rate was only 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat. Earlier this year the German news magazine Der Spiegel wrote that, “Most of the suicides were among members of the middle class and, in many cases, the act itself was carried out in public, almost as if it were a theatrical performance.”  People have killed themselves by jumping off balconies, hanging, and other methods. The most publicized was that of a 77-year-old pensioner who shot himself in the head under a tree in Syntagma Square earlier this year.

In Spain in less than a month, at least five people who were about to be forcefully evicted from their homes committed suicide. Unemployment that tops 25 percent and there is soaring poverty levels, mass emigration, and little sign of a turnaround. Spain’s welfare state and safety net is unraveling as the government cuts spending while raising taxes. The suicides catalyzed a popular backlash against government austerity and its consequences: evictions, chronic unemployment, rising poverty, and erosion of the prized free healthcare and education. Spaniards cannot understand how their pain and taxes are bailing out the country’s banks, while citizens are being left without recourse or aid, in many cases forcing them to become homeless. Civil disobedience is on the rise. Thousands have protested, and regional governments and courts are increasingly refusing to execute evictions orders. Some policemen are also objecting on conflict of conscience grounds.

Wage Slavery

Capitalist investors want to end up with more money than they started out with, but why? Is it just to live in luxury and consume? It is possible to envisage such an economy on paper. Marx did, and called it “simple reproduction”, but only as a stage in the development of his argument. By “simple reproduction” he meant that the stock of means of production was simply reproduced from year to year at its previously existing level; all of the profits would be used to maintain a privileged, exploiting class in luxury. As a result production would always remain the same and the circuit keep on repeating itself unchanged. This of course is not how capitalism operates. Profits are capitalised, i.e. re-invested in production, so that production, the stock of means of production, and the amount of capital, all tend to increase over time. The economic circuit is thus money-commodities-more money-more commodities, even more money. In order to make more money, money must be transformed into capital.

Ex-CEOs cash in

For those CEOs that exit their businesses semi-retirement can be an extremely lucrative second career. The size and frequency of consulting contracts for former executives are increasing.

For example, Samuel Palmisano, IBM's outgoing CEO, will earn $20,000 for any day he spends four hours at the company. That means hypothetically he could pocket $400,000 a year for 20 half-days of work. His predecessor, Louis V. Gerstner Jr., made $10,000 per day under a similar consulting arrangement AND who's 10-year consulting contract expires in March.
Boeing's ex-CEO Scott Carson earned $1.5 million over two years for no more than 75 hours a month. He never hit that maximum, and didn't show for the last 6 months, but still received the full fee.
Kimberly-Clark Corp. guarantees Jan B.C. Spencer $50,000 per quarter through mid-2014 for consulting services—and a maximum of 200 hours a year. He estimates he spent nearly 50 hours counseling former colleagues this summer.
Phoenix Cos. Dona D. Young received $300,000 for a year of consulting but was fully paid six months after she retired in 2009.
Acxiom Corp.departing Chief Executive Charles Morgan collected $1.5 million.
In some cases, the deals are so generous that they go beyond the grave—such as the consulting accord for Phillip "Rick" Powell, who stepped down as CEO of First Cash Financial Services  Under Mr. Powell's consulting contract, the operator of pawn shops and check-cashing stores was required to pay $3.5 million in consulting fees even if Mr. Powell had died. ( Powell, who has been fighting U.S. charges of illegal insider trading since last year, remains alive and well.)

 Boards dole out these agreements to guarantee smooth leadership transitions and prevent former bosses from joining a rival, poaching staffers or filing suit against the company. Consulting agreements are often are a hidden addition to severance pay and pensions. These contracts don't even require a minimum workload. A recent study found that only 7 of 174 recent agreements had such restrictions.

In the five years ended August 16 former leaders of the nation's 1,000 biggest concerns took home at least $500,000 in consulting fees.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Marx at McDonalds

 “Has anyone here ever worked for McDonald’s?”


“And the pay...How was it?”

“It was terrible, about $7.00 an hour...We were exploited, man.”

“Exploited? How so?”

“We should’ve been getting at least 9 or 10 bucks an hour,”

“You just have no idea! Let’s look at how Karl Marx saw it.”

The Walmart Struggle

For years, Wal-Mart has fended off repeated efforts by unions  to organize its workers. Now, that battle is once again escalating. SOYMB previous posted on the industrial struggle going on at Walmarts in America.

In October, workers at one Los Angeles Walmart walked out in a show of unity against what they called poor working conditions and retaliation by the corporation against employees sympathetic to union organizers. The spontaneous action spread to Walmart stores in 12 other cities. Unions, of course, were formed to fight for the rights of workers and to protect them from abuses by management. Workers got pissed off because of lousy working conditions.

Walmart is as big and successful as it is because they know how to save money, and cheap labor is necessary for such a large operation to function. With 1.4 million U.S. workers, Walmart is the country’s largest private employer, and the biggest in at least 25 states. It is also the nation’s largest of employer of women, African-Americans and Latinos. It is one of the top 20 largest companies in the world. Walmart is basically the 23rd largest country in the world. Walmart has 2.1 million global employees, or 7 times the population of Iceland.

As the largest private employer in the United States and the world, Walmart sets the standard for jobs. Such a large company could find the money to pay its employees a living wage and provide healthcare benefits. Walmart employees have reported that if they complain about their schedules, wages, or benefits, the company either docks their hours or fires them. A handful of labor organizations announced an ultimatum to Walmart – stop targeting its employees for retaliation, stop manipulating worker schedules to avoid providing legally-mandated benefits, provide health insurance instead of advising employees to go on welfare, and raise compensation rates to a livable wage. Walmart actively pursues an agenda which systemically reduces the standard of living for an entire area while increasing the corporation’s already astronomical profits in the process. The store routinely changes full time employees to part time employees, typically working just under 32 hours per week to avoid providing benefits. Walmart human resource managers have repeatedly been videotaped directing store employees to apply for welfare and Medicaid since the corporation pays such low wages, most employees qualify as living in poverty. WalMart has just announced that employees will pay between 8-36% more in healthcare premiums in 2013. Wal-Mart has vigorously resisted unionization drives, closing a store in Canada after workers there voted to unionize and arranging to have outside suppliers provide pre-packaged meat after the butchers at a store in Texas voted to unionize in 2000. For decades Walmart has escaped the danger of militancy through rampant outsourcing and a global supply chain that divides workers across the country.

Each week, nearly one-third of the entire US population visits a Walmart store. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the biggest busiest shopping day of the year. During the shopping rush, Walmart will need all hands on deck, giving the striking employees the most leverage they’re going to get. Not to mention that, striking employees and a picket line will surely put a damper on prospective shoppers. Workers at key points in the supply chain can create massive disruptions in the process. We have a company in Walmart, that’s not producing anything, but is selling things. Walmart is the master of lean supply, they are known for squeezing every cent out of their suppliers. Walmart depends on daily deliveries, and if workers can throw a monkey wrench in that, it will cause them significant problems.

The strike, backed by Making Change at Walmart (MCW), a coalition of Walmart employees, union leaders, and other supporters, will be the first in the company’s history. Aside from targeting individual employees, Walmart has also enlisted its army of corporate attorneys and PR professionals to fight the Black Friday Boycott movement. Walmart sent letters to a number of labor organizations mentioned above threatening legal action against any individuals caught trespassing on store property. An ex-Walmart employee was handcuffed when he visited his old store to talk to workers about “Black Friday” strike.  Alex Rivera, who was fired in September, Walmart has also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the United Food and Commercial Workers Union of unlawfully organizing picket lines, in-store "flash mobs" and other demonstrations in the past six months, actions that violate the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits picketing for any period over 30 days without filing a representation petition.  Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar warned "If the store employees are scheduled to work, we expect them to show up and do their job. If they don't, depending on the circumstances, there could be consequences,"

"Wal-Mart is in effect firing a shot across the bow of the UFCW, essentially saying 'Look, you can expect this and more unless you desist,'"
said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in labor issues.

OURWalmart organizers say they have 1,000s of actions and events planned in support of the campaign, which has been gaining momentum across social media platforms. The organization's Facebook page now has more than 28,000 'likes' and its accompanying YouTube video has been watched over 103,000 times.

Depending on the scale and success of Friday’s action and on what happens afterwards, the strike could provide unions with the impetus to kick-start the class struggle. Walmart workers are organizing by just doing it, without even trying to certify union locals under the Wagner Act. Effective action can be achieved by not by "working within the system" meaning the NLRB rules. The resurgence of wildcat walk-outs certainly brings more aggressive tactics to the fore once again. This tactic is an example of the way workers can circumvent legal constraints. The Coalition of Immolakee Workers — an uncertified union of agricultural laborers centered in Florida — has over the last several years won a string of major victories against fast food chains. Relying entirely on boycotts, solidarity movements and boycotts that give negative publicity to  their corporate targets (what the Industrial Workers of the World call “the open mouth”), CIW  forced Taco Bell, Burger King, KFC and Chipotle to raise wages for farm workers.

"There's nothing to lose when you're up against the wall,"
said Emily Rosenberg, director of the labor education center at DePaul University.

The courts are against us. The politicians are against us and the boss tells us there are tens of workers waiting to take your job at a lower rate of pay. There is no other answer than to organize.

Hostess Brands, makers of Twinkies, says a worker strike is shutting them down with a loss of over 18000 jobs when the  Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers union rejected the company's' offer, which included 27 to 32 percent cuts to wages and benefits. A bankruptcy judge imposed the contract anyway so union members responded by walking out. An employee who walked out at a Hostess plant in Seattle, told reporters that "we know we will probably lose our jobs, but if we accept these concessions, standards for bakers and other workers will keep going down. We are taking it on the chin for workers all over." That kind of unity is creating a new wave of worker activism. Was the union to blame for the demise of Hostess? Not according to Adam Hartung at Forbes, who says it's scapegoating. The collapse is the result of the company trying to sell the same old products with the same outdated business model for too many decades. People bought Twinkies but NOT at a price which would cover costs and return a profit. "Labor, like other suppliers, has a 'market rate,'" he writes. To demand  is tantamount to management saying to those who sell wheat they expect to buy flour at 2/3 the market price – or to petroleum companies they expect to buy gasoline for $2.25/gallon.. That management was unable to run a company which could pay the market rate for its labor is not the fault of the union." Striking workers accuse the company of diverting funds intended for capital investment, product development, plant improvement and new equipment into executive bonuses and Wall Street investors instead.

Workers feel they've had enough when it comes to issues over pay, hours and benefits and that it's time to fight back. During the 1970s, there was a yearly average of 289 major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers in the U.S. By the 1990s, that had dropped to some 35 each year. In 2009, there were just only 5. But in 2010, there were 11 major work stoppages in the U.S. That climbed to 19 in 2011. What we need some sort of organization that can fight for all workers.

Go here to find a Walmart action near you

What makes the rich richer? Surplus-Value

Marxism is not directly about the powerful v powerless’ or the ‘rich v poor’ (“it was in general a mistake to make a fuss about so-called distribution and put the principal stress on it. Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves". - Marx). Workers are exploited by virtue of the fact that we produce surplus value for the capitalists which is appropriated and used for their own ends. Nothing to do with low wages or being harshly treated. Exploitation is something which is built into the very nature of the employment relation itself which implies the division of society into employers/owners and employees/non-owners.  It is about who produces surplus value and who appropriates it. Capitalists often hide behind arguments about who is poor and who is rich. Who is powerful and who is powerless? These are important but secondary considerations. What they don’t want you to focus on is where they get their money/capital from in the first place. YOU are the source of their wealth! Workers’ labour produces everything under capitalism — including the bosses’ profits. Whether you work in a factory, an office or a shop, if you’re not a boss then you’re part of the working class. The whole system rests on your work. We can see it every time workers strike. A strike, workers collectively withdrawing their labour and shutting their work-place down, proves that without us the bosses are nothing. By exploiting workers, the system creates profit, and therefore grows.

Thanksgiving Day

Many Americans are planning for the Thanksgiving feast but many other Americans don’t have enough to eat on a regular basis, never mind a holiday feast. Right now, millions of Americans are struggling with hunger.  Millions of Americans have shopped in supermarkets (the average price for 15 items used in a traditional Thanksgiving meal increased 3.5 percent over 2011. The cost of the 15 items, which includes a 20-pound turkey, totaled $57.97) for the food to be prepared and consumed in a bountiful Thanksgiving feast, yet the destination for millions of others is food banks for a basic holiday meal. How can anyone in the richest country on the planet, home of the mightiest farmers, the breadbasket of the world, be hungry?

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.

"Low food security” is the label the U.S. Department of Agriculture currently uses to describe households that report reduced quality, desirability, or variety of diet. This used to be called food insecurity without hunger. ”Very low food security” means that households report “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.” This used to be called food insecurity with hunger.

The percentage of food-insecure households has jumped since the start of the recession in 2008, according to the USDA. From 1995 onward, the percentage had been dropping. The average percentage of food insecure households from 1995 to 2007 was 11.1% and the percentage of households with very low food insecurity was 3.7%. The averages from 2008 to 2011 are higher: 14.7% of households were food insecure, and 5.6% of households experienced severe food insecurity. Overall, 50.1 million Americans live in food-insecure households. More than one out of five children lives in a household with food insecurity, which means they do not always know where they will find their next meal. 16.7 million children under 18 in the United States live in this condition – unable to consistently access nutritious and adequate amounts of food necessary for a healthy life. Seniors citizens also have unique nutritional needs. For seniors, protecting oneself from food insecurity and hunger is more difficult than for the general population.  In 2009, nearly 4 million people over the age of 60 lived in food insecure households.

One of the myths about eating in America is that poor people prefer junk food over healthy food. The reasons poverty and unhealthy eating go together have little to do with tastes or preferences or even knowledge. Fresh food tends to be too expensive for those who work for low wages. Typically healthy food is not available in poor neighborhoods. Preparing fresh food takes time, but working long hours leaves little of it for making healthy meals. Another myth is the assumption that if someone is hungry, that means they do not have a job and are living on the streets. What most people don’t understand is that anyone can experience hunger. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2010, 21 million people lived in working-poor families. This translates into nearly 9.6 percent of all American families living below 100 percent of poverty have at least one family member working. In fact, 36 percent of client households served by the Feeding America network have one or more adults working. For families in America, the source of hunger is an absence of a living wage, a lack of decent paying jobs to afford food security throughout the year.

Nationwide, consumers will purchase around 736 million pounds of turkey this Thanksgiving, of which about 581 million pounds will be actual meat. The USDA reports that 35% of perfectly good turkey meat in the U.S. does not get eaten after it is purchased by consumers (and that’s not including bones). That’s enough turkey to provide each American household that is food insecure with more than 11 additional servings, and 17.9 million American households suffer from food insecurity. Along with trashing uneaten turkeys, they’ll be wasting the resources necessary for its production -- meaning 105 billion gallons of water (enough to supply New York City for over 100 days) and greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 800,000 car trips from New York to San Francisco. And that’s to say nothing of the vast amounts of antibiotics used to produce turkey meat, leading to antibiotic resistance  Per pound, the resources needed to produce that turkey are equivalent to driving your car 11 miles and taking a 130-minute shower (at 4 gallons/minute)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why localism won’t change the world

Many critics of present day society, including within the Occupy movement, seem to have given up on trying to change society as a whole and argue that the way forward is activity at local level; if this works, they claim, this will show people that there is an alternative way to capitalism of organising things. But it won’t work and can’t work, as is explained in a book published last year by Greg Sharzer, "No Local. Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change the World" . In the opening chapters he makes the same basic point as we’ve been making that “… while small-scale alternatives can survive and occasionally flourish, they won’t build a new equitable society.”

We reproduce below some of the passages in which he develops this argument (the sub-headings are ours).

What localists claim

“Localism has developed into many different streams, which can be roughly grouped into localists who support capitalism and those who want to overcome it. Pro-market localists suggest that market regulation can create ethical local capitalism. Some build small businesses, while others promote non-profits and cooperatives. Locally-owned businesses are supposed to keep money in local communities and, since they're small, treat workers and the environment better. Residents care more about what goes on, participate in local issues and send their kids to local schools. Personal connections can overcome the impersonal, alienating power of the marketplace.
Anti-market localists blame capitalism for separating and isolating us. Instead, people who live close together can create a healthy balance of community, individual and environmental needs. By bartering, creating alternative currencies and local credit, localists can create a cooperative, decentralized economy. Participatory Economics (Parecon) and Libertarian Municipalism (LM) create plans for self-governing communities. The perma-culture and appropriate technology movements advocate using smaller-scale, accessible tools in those communities' economies. Taking inspiration from pre-colonial societies, bioregionalism uses the land's ecological limits to plan community self-reliance in every area of economic life, reducing and balancing growth. If these measures were generalized, the homogenizing, alienating forces of capital and the nation-state could eventually disappear. We can start small, with community gardens and cycling, but put together, all these measures can create a postcapitalist future.”
(p. 20)

Limits of ethical consumerism

“First, wages don't create all demand: they're just one way for capitalists to realize the capital invested in commodities (…) Most people encounter the market when they shop, so it seems natural to believe that capitalism exists to satisfy our consumer needs. But while the market in consumer goods is constantly on display, exploitation is hidden. Workers matter as workers, the source of surplus value: they're only able to receive and spend a wage if their employer makes a profit first. Moreover, capitalist production creates capital goods that only business buys: the machinery and building materials that go into factories, offices and other sites of exploitation. Capital has to consume materials at all stages of the production process. Machines increase production, making more machines necessary and increasing the importance of industries producing the means of production. There are huge areas of the economy off-limits to workers' spending power. (…) Even if localist missionaries convinced all workers that local consumption could change the world, workers could, at best, change the conditions of production for their own housing and durable goods, a small portion of the capital circuit.”
(pp. 32-3)

What’s wrong with high-tech?
“Although mineral deposit and agriculture-based economies are heavily place-dependent, extracting, creating and transporting market commodities across vast spaces have shaped economies for thousands of years. Production has never been entirely local; trying to force it to become so creates serious problems.” (p. 39)

“ISI [Import Substitution Industrialization] encounters even more problems in advanced capitalist economies that, unlike poorer states, can't import existing production and distribution models and must establish new ones to remain competitive. Governments can nationalize existing industries or set up new ones, but capital is just as interested in retaining control in rich nations as in poor ones. Setting up national industries, to say nothing of local ones would require restricting private property rights. ISI was a partial, temporary de-linking from the global market to establish a more competitive national economy. These plans failed even with vast amounts of capital and power behind them. Localism aims to recreate this autarky on an even flimsier basis, as a moral rather than nationalist project.” (p. 41)

“Consumer goods, let alone mass public transit systems and high-speed internet, are impossible without a highly-developed capacity to source materials, process them into finished products and distribute them across large distances. For example, making solar panels involves advanced machinery and massive financing that would be impossible to muster locally
. (…) Even localism’s direct democracy needs high-tech to reduce people’s workload and allow them time to participate.” (pp. 44-5)

Capital’s drive for profits rules
“… localism sees capitalism as a market to trade things. The social relations of power disappear, and any remaining problems are technical. This lets pro-market localism portray capitalism as ethical and build small businesses that won’t have to play by the rules of big capital. But small business isn’t a check on capitalist development: it’s another form of it. Small firms provide a vital, risk-taking function for capitalism as a whole, introducing new technologies and inhabiting margins of their own, opening ground for larger businesses. Even small firms must lower their costs by reducing the amount of value embodied in their commodities, leading to larger firms and often larger machines. Anti-market localism suggests that we can replace big industry and high-tech to create a new, cooperative society based on direct, non-capitalist trade. But these plans are stymied by the law of value. By focusing on technical relations both pro- and anti-market localism miss the power of capital to dominate the market. Capital's inherent drives to profit expose local alternatives to ruthless market discipline.
(pp. 53-4)

“… localist reform schemes run up against the limits of capitalism: its incessant devouring of workers and smaller competitors in a bid for temporary stability. It wouldn't be capitalism without a drive to expand, centralize and control. Localists have trouble acknowledging this, and it's easy to see why. For the pro-market localists, people can be empowered through ethical market choices; admitting the market destroys individuals would be contradictory. Anti-market localists are clearer on how capitalism works but believe we can step outside the market to defeat it. Both are wrestling with powerlessness: faced with the unpalatable conclusion that small alternatives won't outcompete or destroy capitalism, localists cling to a fierce faith in communities to band together and do it yourself.”

A word of warning is now in order. Sharzer is not a socialist but a Trotskyist who favours workers’ democratic control of money and praises Lenin “whose movement inspired millions to take up arms for socialism.” This is likely to put off many who might otherwise gives his views a hearing.

Adam Buick

Karl Marx - labour educator.

Capitalism is the “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, torment, slavery, brutalization and moral degradation at the other…” Capitalism, Marx says, "converts the laborer into a crippled monstrosity. by forcing his detail dexterity at the expense of a world of productive capabilities and instincts…. The individual himself is made the automatic motor of a fractional operation."

Karl Marx may not have referred to the 1% and the 99% when he wrote of those extremes in the 19th century, but he certainly captured the essence of the Occupy Movement. Marxism is not just another school of economics analysing the ills that plague the present society but it a theory of how to end them. Capitalism is not a place (‘financial centres’) nor a thing (‘multinational corporations’ ), it is a social relationship dependent upon wage labour and commodity exchange where profit is derived from capital’s theft of unpaid labour.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Factory Floor Talk

Does the employer himself want to work, to do something useful? Far from it. His money works for him, his money makes money, as the saying goes, his money is the channel through which the earnings of other industrious people flow into his pockets. Socialists call all kinds of property in this respect “capital,” this expression comprising all productive machinery. And because one class of the people possess, by their wealth, these means – that is, capital – another, and by far the largest class, have only their physical or mental strength and skill for labour. Hence capital becomes a means for enslaving workers forcing them to give up the greater part of their produce to him who owns the capital. They themselves obtain hardly enough to support themselves and their families, while the capitalists enjoy life and get richer without working at all.

What right has the owner of a bee hive to rob the bees of the fruit of their industry and labour? They are his property, his is the might. What right has capital to rob the working class of the greater part of the fruit of their industry and labour? The wage-labourers, the mechanics, the farm hands, are they the property of the capitalist? Are they his slaves? As things stand to-day, they are!

Might is right, and by the title of such right the slave-owner considers the fruit or the work of his slaves his property; by this right, in former times, the feudal landowner made his serfs work for his employment and benefit. Slavery is injustice; serfdom is injustice; so the right which capital claims to the work of the worker which imposes wage-slavery is injustice.

 As far as anything is the personal property of a person he may enjoy it as he chooses; nobody has a right to interfere. But as soon as he tries to use this property to enslave other people, he steps over the line. No-body has a right of ownership over others. Slavery has been abolished, serfdom has been abolished, so the power which capital exercises now will be abolished.

Individuals may be deceived, classes rarely.