Sunday, June 30, 2013

Socialism - The Equality of Unequals

Recently on the World Socialist Forum someone posed a challenge: describe in no more than 12 words the essence of democracy. Some would say impossible, others would rise to the challenge and I would bet that quite a few would at least mull it over in their minds. I spent a few moments wondering whether to bother and remembered something I'd read which had caught my attention about what democracy, or maybe it was socialism, should be – an equality of unequals – or words to that effect, so I composed my reply:

“Democracy - an equality of unequals; equal voices, equal access, equal everything.”

This required a rider because without a serious amount of thought or a few explanatory words the message could be seen as too flippant, too simple, too unfocussed.

However, isn't this what most of our interpersonal lives are about – an equality of unequals? None of us can do everything for ourselves. None of us are experts in everything. None of us would have the time to do all that's required in our lives alone. Life is full of intermingled interdependent entities sharing the experiences of the many tasks we set ourselves in life. Friends and neighbours have no problem in helping each other out with no thought of material reward. Volunteers abound locally, nationally and internationally for all manner of tasks from the mundane to the positively exciting. Why do they do this with no hint of reward? Because the act is reward in itself, the act has a positive influence on the individual, the act is part of our social interactivity.

It's about structure. See how the world's all-encompassing system is structured. We have a system called capitalism which requires money for pretty well every transaction we need to make. Without money or with only a subsistence wage people become surplus to requirements, they can't fit in to the required norms but that doesn't stop them doing things to enable them to carry on living – scavenging, eating, procreating. Within society we find many levels of ability among the people which allow them to be active participants in capitalism. Some may have to spend many more hours every day than others to survive. Intelligence, education, innate ability or talent, individual circumstances, home environment, local conditions, national or international economic conditions, physical or mental ability or impairment are different measures of our 'unequalness' and they also are all factors contributing to the individual's ability to survive and, with good fortune, to thrive within the system. These recent years have been another of the recurring periods in capitalism that have seen huge numbers fall from reasonable comfort to a precarious existence.

So the system as it is structured now reveals the extent to which society is ruptured by a system of inequality – 'unequalness' - by sheer fact that there is no recognition of the innate differences rendering individuals unequal and that it is the structure of global financial organisation that determines the various levels of inequality.
Socialism - and democracy - embraces the equality of all humans whilst recognising the various unequal innate conditions peculiar to each individual. The structure of socialism will depend on the extraordinary talents of all its unequal individuals in communities world wide to contribute according to their ability. In essence an equality of unequals. That's democracy.

class again

As if we didn’t know, class is passed on through generations. Children's eventual position in Britain's class system is closely linked to that of their grandparents, not just their parents, academics say.

And where parents have "dropped down" the socio-economic ladder, the so-called "grandparents effect" often pulls them back up, research suggests. Where grandparents were from a high social class and the parents slipped down, the grandparents effect appeared stronger, "pushing the grandchild back up the social ladder" The passing on of wealth and property is thought to play a part.

Among men with both parents and grandparents in the highest socio-economic group, 80% stayed in those positions when they were adults. But among men whose parents had been upwardly mobile, only 61% stayed in the group they had been born in to.

Sunday Sermon. The Evil One v the Good One

Primitive man was surrounded by natural forces that had  both terrors and blessings. Thunder pealed and lightning flashed, splitting the rocks and trees. Flood, fire and earthquake gave added testimony to the existence of an evil-disposed power, always near, never seen, whose awful omnipotence was beyond mortal conception. Early man naturally ascribed these terrors to some powerful, malignant force often in human shape (for he was making God in his own image) who took delight in causing sorrow and distress. He was the “Evil One”, who needed to be appeased by bribes of good things to eat. (Primitive man’s idea of heavenly ecstasy being to gorge himself to repletion, he unconsciously endowed the figment of his brain with tastes that he himself possessed, and his conception of the attributes of his deity was necessarily drawn from the source of all his ideas – his own immediate environment. What he considered good was surely desirable to his God.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Socialist Party and "the Struggle"

Millions are turning away in disgust from the social and political status quo but, so far, only a tiny fraction of them are understanding the need for socialism. Discontent is mounting. Every day people are more repelled by the present political, economic, and social order, however, many fall into a cynical disillusionment and see no point to joining a party or in any point in voting.  It would be quite wrong, however, to believe that most people are apathetic about politics but when they look for solutions much of their  protest demands amount to mere appeals, petitioning the ruling class for more sops. Is it no wonder people quickly realise that the demands for reforms make little difference even if achieved. All the time they are campaigning for palliatives they never hear the socialist case, never discuss socialist ideas. The time spent making reformist demands is time not spent talking about the need for revolutionary change. We need to be positively advocating socialism as a practical possibility and an achievable one. The primary purpose of being a socialists is to raise people’s consciousness and to further social democracy. The organisational structures we are creating today and the means we opt to engage in will reflect the type of society the future will inherit so it is important that we should work out forms of organisation and strategies of mass action that are genuinely participatory and empowering. The question of class/party organisation and the question of class consciousness are inseparable, they are two aspects of the same development.

Some Perspective on the Capitalist Justice System - Us Against Them

As reported in an update to the San Diego city attorney prosecution of Jeff Olson, a San Diego Judge placed an unprecedented gag order on a misdemeanor trial -- in particular muzzling Olson. But it also apparently included witnesses, the jury and others.
Judge Howard Shore also chastised the Mayor of San Diego Bob Filner who apparently in the judge's eyes had the temerity to call the trial of Olson a waste of time and taxpayer money. According to the San Diego Reader, Filner sent out a memorandum on June 20 that read in part:

This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children's chalk on a City sidewalk. It is alleged that he has no previous criminal record. If these assertions are correct, I believe this is a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. It could also be characterized as an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment particularly when it is arbitrarily applied to some, but not all, similar speech.

Jeff Olson is the man who wrote messages in water soluble chalk on pavements outside three Bank of America branches to draw attention to questionable legal activities that had had no follow up investigations but resulted in bail-outs for the bank.

Some may dismiss this entire case as a farce unworthy of serious mention.  But the San Diego city attorney's office acquiesence, months after Olson scribbled his chalk protests, to prosecute him at the request of a top local Bank Of America security official is testament to the power of the oligarchy.
After all no Bank of America top officials were prosecuted for any number of questionable legal activities leading to this nation's taxpayers bailing out the banks too big to fail.

Why is the city attorney's office of San Diego publicly prosecuting Olson? If the bank has a grievance with Olson, let them pursue it. But, of course the Bank Of America won't file a suit against Olson, because then they might have to prove that Olson's opinions were wrong, which would mean exposing themselves to accounting for their banking practices.

Olson says he believes the trial is about much more than his chalk messages. He accuses City Attorney Jan Goldsmith of receiving campaign money from the big banks. “Jan Goldsmith has received campaign contributions from Bank Americorp and Merrill Lynch. I think this is mostly about Goldsmith for Mayor 2016,” he said. Olson also identified the crux of the injustice being done here: “My chalk drawings are clearly free speech and protected by the first amendment,” he told reporters outside the downtown court.

These comments were made, of course, before Judge Shore put a gag order on Olson.
Having prohibited Olson's defense lawyers from raising the issue of First Amendment rights, free speech, and other constitutional issues, justice now has duct tape over its mouth. Olson faces a possible 13 year jail sentence and a fine of $13,000, (one year and $1,000 for each of thirteen scribbles) but the Bank of America is open for business and apparently "owns" the public sidewalks.

The sheer hypocrisy and double standards on show for all to witness here are simply breathtaking and just one more reason why capitalism must be superseded.

In part from here

Armed Forces Day

Many today who will be “honouring” members of the military on Armed Forces Day are the very same politicians who sent troops into Iraq based upon a lie. Those politicians who voted for the Iraq War should be held accountable for their decision. In our own day-to-day lives, if we were a party to such horrifically wrong and deliberately destructive decisions, we would face punishing consequences, especially if we still tried to justify ourselves. We would face public scorn and humiliation. We would probably get demoted or fired. We might even face criminal prosecution. Why are the same standards not applied? Instead these people will be applauding the men and women they ordered into battle.

The capitalist class are men who have traded their soul for the accumulation of profit. The world is not ruled by justice or morality, it is ruled by power. Capitalists control presidents and parliaments. They disdain the opinions of the common peoples of the world. They ridicule the organizations that have been established to protect the Earth and promote peace. Their end determines their actions; their laws supersede all others.

War is often depicted in films, books and TV as a heroic endeavour that brings out the best in human beings. We are taught to believe that war produces heroic bravery and sacrifice, but the realities of war are far from noble. Among these countless casualties in war is a small group who are not remembered s because they didn't die a "heroic" death at the hands of the enemy. They were shot by their own comrades because these unfortunate few knew fear and possessed a sense of self-preservation. The army has a special term for people who respond rationally to this entirely natural emotion: they are known as "cowards". Today, Britain has a professional volunteer army, and technical improvements in weaponry mean that modern warfare is a much more scientific affair. Remote-controlled unmanned drones have turned much combat into computer game style slaughter. Now there are no poorly trained conscripts, and no need for battalions of troops to go "over the top", and so there is no need for summary executions to enforce discipline. To some, war is heroic yet one thing that can be said for definite about wars: they are never fought in the interest of those who die in them. Nevertheless, post-traumatic stress disorder is suffered by many ex-servicemen and suicide has accounted for more Falklands vets than the conflict did and that was a fairly conventional war compared to Afghanistan.

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust have accused army recruiters of targeting children as young as seven. Advertising campaigns used by the Ministry of Defence "glamorise warfare, omit vital information and fail to point out the risks and responsibilities associated with a forces career", says the study. The report's author, David Gee, said: "The literature available to the young glamorises the armed services but does little to show the dangers recruits may face and even less the moral dilemmas they may face..."

One particularly successful advertising programme is "Camouflage", aimed at 13 to 17-year-olds, which includes a magazine, website and interactive games. The language in the recruiting literature and promotional DVD is so sanitised, a report says, that one brochure, "Infantry Soldier", does not even mention the words “kill” or “risk”.

A common tactic, is to “emphasise the game-playing character of battle to attract children by blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality”. The report, "Informed Choice? Armed Forces recruitment practice in the UK", says: “The literature rarely refers to the dangers of combat and never mentions the risk of being killed, seriously injured or chronically traumatised. The absence of the word ‘kill’ suggests a policy decision to avoid it.”

Potential recruits can also be confused or misled in other ways, it says: “A soldier is obliged to serve for at least four years and three months (or up to six years in the case of under18s) with no right to leave once three months have passed. [But] this is omitted from the brochure and video.” The differences between civilian and military life are not made clear, it adds. “Readers are told that there is ample free time and personal freedom.” In reality, the training programme involves “a tough regime of discipline. Trainees face relative isolation from family and friends for several months and can be posted to active service overseas immediately after training.”

Workers around the world share a lot in common. We all want peace and security for our families and a chance to participate in and share the production of wealth. In a conflict over which state and ruling classes should control a region, no working class interest is involved except in so far as it is they who are its innocent victims and need the killing, maiming and destruction to stop - without qualification or equivocation. Peace groups should be congratulated for their humanitarian outlook and attempts to stop the war but they must also be reminded to work to end the cause of all conflicts – capitalism.

The new slavery

 Temporary work has become a mainstay of the economy. The rise of the blue-collar “perma-temp” helps explain one of the most troubling aspects of the phlegmatic recovery. Despite a soaring stock market and steady economic growth, many workers are returning to temporary or part-time jobs. This trend is intensifying decades-long rise in income inequality, in which low- and middle-income workers have seen their real wages stagnate or decline. On average, temps earn 25 percent less than permanent workers. Even before “outsourcing” was  a word, the temp industry campaigned to persuade corporations  that permanent workers were a burden.

A whole system of contractors and subcontractors benefits from the flexibility of just-in-time labor. For example, Walmart’s two largest warehouse complexes are southwest of Chicago and in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. Both are managed by Schneider Logistics, which in turn subcontracts to an ever-changing cast of third-party logistics firms and staffing companies. Such layers of temp agencies have helped Walmart avoid responsibility when regulators have uncovered problems or when workers have tried to sue, accusing the company of wage or safety violations. For example, when California inspected Walmart’s Inland Empire warehouse in 2011 and found that workers were being paid piece-rate according to how many shipping containers they unloaded, rather than by the hour, regulators issued more than $1 million in fines against the subcontractors for failing to show how the pay was calculated. Neither Walmart nor Schneider faced penalties.

 The US Labor Department reported that the nation had more temp workers than ever before: 2.7 million. Overall, almost one-fifth of the total job growth since the recession ended in mid-2009 has been in the temp sector, federal data shows. But according to the American Staffing Association, the temp industry’s trade group, the pool is even larger: Every year, a tenth of all U.S. workers finds a job at a staffing agency. The overwhelming majority of that growth has come in blue-collar work in factories and warehouses. Last year, more than one in every 20 blue-collar workers was a temp. Several temp agencies, such as Adecco and Manpower, are now among the largest employers in the United States. One list put Kelly Services as second only to Walmart.

“We’re seeing just more and more industries using business models that attempt to change the employment relationship or obscure the employment relationship,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, a top official in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. “While it’s certainly not a new phenomenon, it’s rapidly escalating. In the last 10 to 15 years, there’s just a big shift to this for a lot more workers – which makes them a lot more vulnerable.”

The temp system insulates the host companies from workers’ compensation claims, unemployment taxes, union drives and the duty to ensure that their workers are citizens or legal immigrants. In turn, the temps suffer high injury rates, according to federal officials and academic studies. Unlike the way it monitors nearly every other industry, the government does not keep statistics on injuries among temp workers. But a study of workers compensation data in Washington state found that temp workers in construction and manufacturing were twice as likely to be injured as regular staff doing the same work. “Employers, we think, do not have the same commitment to providing a safe workplace, to providing the proper training, to a worker who they may only be paying for a few weeks.” the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration director David Michaels said in an interview. “I mean, we’ve seen just ghastly situations.” Many endure hours of unpaid waiting and face fees that depress their pay below minimum wage.

 Many economists predict the growth of temp work will continue beyond the recession, in part because of health-care reform, which some economists say will lead employers to hire temps to avoid the costs of covering full-time workers. As work is downsourced through a cascade of subcontractors, some workers have been paid wages below the legal minimum or seen their incomes decline over the years.  Temp agencies consistently rank among the worst large industries for the rate of wage and hour violations, according a ProPublica analysis of federal enforcement data. A 2005 Labor Department survey, the most recent available, found that only 4 percent of temps have pensions or retirement plans from their employers. Only 8 percent get health insurance from their employers, compared with 56 percent of permanent workers. What employers don’t provide, workers get from the social safety net, i.e., taxpayers.

It is not uncommon to find warehouses with virtually no employees of their own. Many temp workers say they have worked in the same factory day in and day out for years. In some lines of work, huge numbers of full-time workers have been replaced by temps. One in five manual laborers who move and pack merchandise is now a temp. As is one in six assemblers who work in a team, such as those at auto plants.

At least 840,000 temp workers  working blue-collar jobs and earn less than $25,000 a year, a ProPublica analysis of federal labor data found. Only about 30 percent of industrial temp jobs will become permanent, according to a survey by Staffing Industry Analysts. African-Americans make up 11 percent of the overall workforce but more than 20 percent of temp workers. Latinos make up about 20 percent of all temp workers. Agencies have flocked to neighborhoods full of undocumented immigrants, finding labor that is kept cheap in part by these workers’ legal vulnerability: They cannot complain without risking deportation.

There is a now an extension of the practice  in which longshoremen (dockers) would line up in front of a boss, who would pick them one by one for work on the docks.  Temp workers today face many similar conditions in how they get hired, how they get to work, how they live and what they can afford to eat. Adjusted for inflation, those farmworkers earned roughly the same 50 years ago as many of today’s temp workers. As before, the products change by the season. But now, instead of picking strawberries, tomatoes and corn, the temp workers pack chocolates for Valentine’s Day, barbecue grills for Memorial Day, turkey pans for Thanksgiving, clothing and toys for Christmas. Temp firms have successfully lobbied to change laws or regulatory interpretations in 31 states, so that workers who lose their assignments and are out of work cannot get unemployment benefits unless they check back in with the temp firm for another assignment.

Many metro areas don’t have adequate transportation from the working-class neighborhoods to the former farmland where warehouses have sprouted over the past 15 years. So a system of temp vans has popped up, often contracted by the agencies. Workers in several cities said they feel pressured to get on the vans or lose the job. They usually pay $7 to $8 a day for the round trip. Workers describe the vans as dangerously overcrowded with as many as 22 people stuffed into a 15-passenger van. In New Jersey, one worker drew a diagram of how his temp agency fit 17 people into a minivan, using wooden benches and baby seats and having three workers crouch in the trunk space.

Some temp firms have even promoted themselves as experts at maintaining a union-free workplace.

Will Collette, who led an AFL-CIO campaign against the temp firm Labor Ready in the early 2000s, said it was nearly impossible to organize workers with such a high turnover.

“Unions have had two souls when it comes to temp workers,” said Harley Shaiken, a longtime labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley. One is to try to include them, he said, but “the other is circle the wagons, protect the full-time workers that are there.”

And recent rulings have tied union hands. A 2004 order by the National Labor Relations Board barred temp workers from joining with permanent workers for collective bargaining unless both the temp agency and the host company agree to the arrangement.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Workers 25% Worse Off than 2008

The basic cost of living has soared by 25% since the economic slump began in 2008.

According to social policy think-tank the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) families are facing an "unprecedented erosion of household living standards" because of rising inflation and flat-lining wages. The JRF report notes that while the Coalition has moved to take more people out of tax by raising the level of the personal allowance to £9440 in April, this has been more than cancelled out by the cuts to benefits and tax credits as well as the rising cost of essentials.

Katie Schmuecker, the foundation's policy and research manager, said: "Our research shows the spiralling cost of essentials is hurting low-income families and damaging living standards. The public have told us their everyday costs have soared above wage levels, driving up the amount they need to make ends meet."

Peter Kelly, chairman of the Poverty Alliance, said : "Combined with cuts in benefits and frozen pay for many, it is little wonder so many Scots are turning to food banks or payday lenders. Such a situation is both unacceptable and unnecessary. When the Chancellor turns the screw on those living on benefits or working in low-paid jobs he is doing nothing to help them or the economy.”

Katherine Trebeck, policy and advocacy manager at Oxfam, said: "The combination of spiralling prices – for essentials like food, fuel, housing, and childcare – alongside stagnant incomes, is pushing many people into even deeper poverty."

In 2008, a single person earning £13,000 would have reached the minimum living standard. If their wage had risen in line with average wage increases, they would today earn £14,000 – well short of the £17,000 salary needed to cover today's higher living costs. In 2013, to reach an adequate standard of living a single person needed to earn £16,850, a working couple with two children needed to earn £19,400 each and a lone parent needed earnings of £25,600.

 Childcare costs have risen over twice as fast as inflation at 37%, rent in social housing by 26%, food costs by 24%, energy costs by 39%, and public transport by 30%. The report explains how the freeze in child benefit, the decision to uprate tax credits by just 1% and the cost of essentials rising faster than inflation means a working couple with two children will be £230 worse off a year, a working lone parent £223 a year and a single person £49 per year.

Donald Hirsch, from Loughborough University, said that for the first time since the 1930s benefits were being cut in real terms by not being linked to inflation. He said: "This combined with falling real wages means the next election is likely to be the first since 1931 when living standards are lower than at the last one."

The Milk of Human Kindness ?

Supplementing with powdered milk formula unnecessarily can reduce mothers’ breast-milk flow.

Is there anything more despicable than stealing a baby’s milk? Danone appears to have no such qulams, according to The Independent. The company identified the baby-milk market in Turkey – with a population of 73 million, a relatively high birth rate and salaries on the rise – as one with major potential. But traditionally Turkey had high rates of breastfeeding – and no tradition of using formula milk. So it set about creating one.

In 2009 Numil, Danone’s baby nutrition arm in Turkey, enlisted 577 paediatricians to measure the breast-milk production of mothers of children aged six months.  The company then attempted to calculate a figure for the amount of breast milk a mother should be providing their child. Numil took a WHO bulletin, which referred to an independent research paper on the energy children need to get from complementary food after six months of age. The paper was not designed to prove how much breast milk a child needs, and the resulting figure is not recognised as a recommendation for a breastfeeding child by international authorities.

 Danone then launched a marketing campaign to promote the 500ml figure – which it inaccurately claimed was a WHO recommendation – with the slogan, “Half a litre every day”. The message was promoted on TV, online and in supermarkets. One television ad stated: “Your baby needs at least 500ml milk per day. If your breast milk is not enough, give Aptamil formula to support your baby’s immune system.”

At the same time, Danone publicised an online test it had developed so mothers could check if they were providing 500ml. The test asks mothers questions about the frequency and duration of breastfeeding. Thousands of women have filled it in – and according to Danone, most have so far been given the result that they are not providing 500ml. The advice to those who are deemed to be providing less than 500ml is to use formula.

Dr Colin Michie, chairman of the British Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s nutrition committee explained  “Mothers who follow Danone’s advice could end up moving their babies on to formula milk unnecessarily.”

 Dr Helen Crawley, director of First Steps Nutrition Trust, said. “The relatively high exclusive breastfeeding rates in Turkey may be undermined by any campaign which suggests a volume that may sound unachievable.”

Dr Gonca Yilmaz, director of one of the biggest paediatric units in Turkey, also condemned the campaign. “The health benefits of breast milk are enormous and mothers must not be pressured into buying formula based on inaccurate advice.”

Capitalism will do anything for profit, even as far as stooping so low as to pluck a baby from its mothers’ breast.

Same-Sex Marriage in Capitalist Society

The US Supreme Court has struck down a law denying federal benefits to gay couples and cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California.
The justices said that the Defense of Marriage Act, known as Doma, discriminated against same-sex couples.

Now the two sides of the marriage wars are gearing up to resume the costly state-by-state battles that could, in the hopes of each, spread marriage equality to several more states in the next few years, or reveal a brick wall of traditional values that cannot be breached. 

Twenty-nine states — not including California — currently have constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Some advocates expect that in the November 2014 elections, Oregon and perhaps less likely, Nevada or Ohio could become the first states to undo their amendments. At the same time, a court case in New Mexico could extend marriage rights.
Strategists agree they are unlikely to win over more conservative states in the South and the West in the foreseeable future. But, looking at the historical experience with issues like bans on interracial marriage, which the Supreme Court outlawed only in 1967, they feel confident that if equality spreads to more states and public attitudes continue shifting, a future Supreme Court will surely find that marriage is a right for gay men and lesbians as well as heterosexuals.

 New Jersey, like six other states, offers legal civil unions but not marriage to gay couples. According to a 2006 decision by the State Supreme Court, such unions must provide legal protections equal to those offered heterosexual couples. But even after Wednesday’s decision, the federal government will not recognize civil unions, said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality — thus bolstering the legal argument that unions and marriage are not equal. 

 In broader ways, the end of the Defense of Marriage Act’s ban on federal benefits for same-sex spouses will strengthen the gay-marriage cause nationally by highlighting inconsistencies and unfairness among the states, said Fred Sainz, vice president for communications with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington. Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings, he said, will shine a light on the “two Americas: one in which legally married gay couples live and the other in which unmarried gay families live,” with basic protections still out of reach. 

This latest information, above, from the BBC and the New York Times, whilst explaining some of the 'gains' for couples seeking same sex unions, reveals the inadequacies and hypocracies within the institution of marriage itself. Marriage is an economic institution historically and remains so till this day. It is about property and property rights and who owns what and about economic dependence based on patriarchy, not about love or intimate human relations. 

Notice the give away phrases from the reporting:  

'the two sides of the marriage wars are gearing up to resume the costly state-by-state battles'

' New Jersey, like six other states, offers legal civil unions but not marriage'

'such unions must provide legal protections equal to those offered heterosexual couples'

 “two Americas: one in which legally married gay couples live and the other in which unmarried gay families live,” with basic protections still out of reach.

Lots of lovely money to be made by the legal professions from ongoing cases state by state and from couples entering into legal civil unions - not at all what it's about for the individuals concerned. Any two people can surely commit themselves to a permanent relationship if that's what they both choose without the intervention of the state or local bureaucracy dictating the terms of their union? Oh, no, maybe not. First we have to rid ourselves of the smothering tendrils of the capitalist system.

The Socialist Party's Democratic Demands

“It’s a truism, but one that needs to be constantly stressed, that capitalism and democracy are ultimately quite incompatible.” - Noam Chomsky.

 The capitalist system may have nominally democratic institutions, but it relies upon working class compliance, passivity and lack of involvement in the process to carry out its worst features. There is the old nationalist lie that we are one country, one people, working together for a common interest. This ideology allows politicians to present us as if we have one common interest. Nationalism allows the politicians to limit democratic choice on the grounds that there is only one national interest. The “national interest” is in fact that the interest of the capitalist class of a country, not of its population.

The government is implementing policies for which no one voted, or would vote for. No one voted to cut care services for the old and the disabled. No one voted to close hospital departments or to delay repairing schools or to close libraries and sports facilities or to reduce rubbish collection. People getting what they didn’t vote for also shows that capitalism is incompatible with democracy as an expression of “the people’s will”.

This is not because there are no procedures in place for people to decide what they want, but because the way the capitalist economy works prevents some of these decisions being implemented. Capitalism is not geared to doing what people want and no amount of making the decision-making process more formally democratic can alter this. It is the continual boast of modern politicians that we live in a democratic state. When they say “we” they mean, of course, “they”, the ruling class. But the so-called democracy conferred on the working class is not a semblance even of the real thing.

Fact of the Day

An estimated 323,684 homes across Britain are now worth more than £1 million.
 Kensington Palace Gardens in London, nicknamed the ‘boulevard of billionaires’ was the country’s most expensive street. It has an average price tag of £36 million.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Should we really just see the world as it is?

A letter sent by a Socialist Party member to his local evening newspaper. 

The Chancellor asserts "We must deal with the World as it is, not as we would like it to be". By 'the world' he of course means the 'Economy'. He speaks from the point of view of his Employers. The capitalist class: that tiny minority who use prices & wages to take rent, interest & profit out of the unpaid labour of the working class. Without necessarily having to lift a finger themselves. The economic 'world' is shaped in their image. From their point of view, the statement makes sense. Anything and everything goes to maintain and improve 'profitability' : austerity, cuts, unemployment and even war. For the Few, the owning class, those who hold all the resources of the world for their personal gain, it makes sense. Whatever the cost to the general population.

From the point of view of the majority of wage-earners the statement is nonsense. Albert Hall, (letters, June 20), points out that his 80-plus years have not seen a single day without war, somewhere. He confuses cause and effect when he blames the arms dealers for this. Capitalism only produces, it can only produce, for sale at a profit. Thus, there'll always be a market for arms. As arms are expensive, it's only the rich that can buy them. People, companies or nations with something to gain or defend fuel arms production.

Competition is the daily game of Capitalism. Companies and nations compete to sell their products. They compete for Ownership of natural resources, and dominance over trade routes and labour and other markets. War is nothing but the almost inevitable continuation of 'normal' commerce by more extreme means. It's the wage-earners who do the fighting and dying and have their communities destroyed. But always for nothing. Whoever ends up owning whatever in their Thieves' Quarrel it's guaranteed it's never you or I.

Boom then bust economics, (i.e. 'the world as it is'), is an equally inevitable outcome of competitive production for the profit of the Few. Marx pointed this out nearly 200 years ago. Modern economists have begun, albeit reluctantly, to acknowledge this. Of course, they are slower to admit that 300 years of all flavours of governments have already tried all possible permutations of 'cures' for the 'stop/go' nature of competitive market-production - and failed. The population always pays. It's paying again : it will always be paying. Austerity, cuts, unemployment and even war. Never in the history of social exploitation have so Many given so much to so Few. The only solution? Really?

Their money merely prevents or allows activity, according only to the prospect of their profit. Largely, as we see once again, it prevents. There's no shortage of money. It doesn't evaporate! It's safe in their pockets. Where it always is. Their banks won't lend to fund business because conditions aren't profitable. Not till wages and other 'costs' like health and social services are slashed. It's going on all over the world!

The Chancellor's statement is nonsense from the majority wage-earners' point of view. The capitalists' world is not forged in our image. Their world is not designed to run in our interest, for our benefit. We should never settle to deal - cope - with their world as it is.

We, the working class, the wage-earners, already cooperate fully and adequately amongst ourselves. Daily, every day, in our families and at our work-places, we organise to provide the necessaries of life. We arrange and do all the work. We should re-forge the world in our own image. We can, and indeed should, re-cast 'the world as we would like it to be'.

End the anarchy of competition that serves only the Few and blights the Many. We who built the world by our labour in common should now take back it's Ownership in common. Then we can self-organise production directly for use, only. Make labour voluntary and access free for all. As it is in every home. Make money itself redundant! Do away with the ridiculous and expensive paraphernalia of prices, wages, rent, interest & profit. Put a final end to war and crises. Only the conscious, political action of the majority working class, worldwide, can do this. That's something worthwhile to work for!

Perhaps we are always too busy struggling to survive capitalism to recognise it for the leech on our backs that is keeping us down?


The need for a revolutionary vision

Workers worldwide haven't had the true experience of having had their voices heard, at any significant level in the various processes of so-called democracy. Rather than an expectation of involvement there is apathy, cynicism or the familiar mantra heard far and wide that governments don't listen to the people. Many so-called democracies tend to breed apathy for a variety of reasons. Decisions have long been made for people not by people,  with electorates distanced from their representatives, decisions made with no consultation and “political leaders” believing they have been selected to take the reins and make all decisions on behalf of the voters. It's taken for granted that once elected the “politician” decides on behalf of the electors. There is no referring back to the masses an times of major decisions – where to cut public spending or how to deal with the effects of harsh economic downturn. Even our mass demonstrations against unpopular decisions can leave the elected unmoved and intransigent. As a result there has long been a culture of complaint, a collective feeling of impotence with no expectation of being heard, even if seemingly listened to. The process of making a revolution involves  reinventing a democracy fit for society on a human scale. A democracy that is free from the patronage, the power games and the profit motive that currently abuses it.

No doubt many workers are veterans of mass protests.  Undoubtedly, after years of campaigning you will be revolted by the incessant lies of the  government as it has tried to justify cutbacks on public services. Week in, week out, the government has distorted the truth and sunk to all manner of low tactics to justify its position. And now, after all of your campaigning efforts, the meetings and demos you have attended, the petitions you have signed, the umpteen arguments with your friends and neighbours, you are here protesting again. Years of protest marches and our cause is not one inch further forward!  But do you not think you're asking the wrong questions, making the wrong demands? Repeating the mistakes of the past? We're not saying you are wrong for asking questions, only that you do not ask enough. Indeed, question everything! We're not suggesting you are demanding too much - in truth, you are not demanding enough.

Cameron and GDP: The Destructive Approach

It may startle you. But the fact is that the more you destroy the environment (and the planet) the higher is the economic growth. You can bomb a city, and then rebuild it. The GDP soars. Similarly, if you allow the biotechnology companies to contaminate your food and environment, the health costs go up and so does the GDP. The more the spread of superweeds and superbugs, the more is the application of all kinds of deadly pesticides resulting in a higher GDP growth. And so on.

So when I read today in The Telegraph the British Prime Minister David Cameron openly welcoming the GM industry, stating: "I think there are a number of subjects there that we need to take on, I think it is time to look again at the whole issue of GM foods. We need to be open to arguments from science," I wasn't the least surprised. With the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicting that the UK economy will grow by a paltry 1.5 per cent in 2014, David Cameron is certainly bitten by desperation. He wouldn't like to go down as the Prime Minister who failed to prop up the ailing British economy.

We know that extra-ordinary times require extra-ordinary decisions. That holds true for Statesman. But at a time when most political leaders across the globe are no better than corporate lobbyists the best they can do is to cling on to desperation. That's exactly what David Cameron has done.

Forgetting the scourge of mad cow disease and the foot-and-mouth disease that resulted in millions of cows being burnt, I wonder whether David Cameron even remotely understands the grave threat GM crops and foods pose to human health and the environment. And this brings me to the central question. If it is not proper for governments to do what business can do, why should Heads of State be allowed to do what Corporate lobbyists do? How long can democratic societies keep quiet while the Heads of State unabashedly promote the business interests of Corporations? When will the society stand up to put a curb on the abuse of power by the elected governments?

I see the argument. "Last year farmers lost 1.3 billion pounds Sterling from poor harvests and higher feed bills for cattle, making the need for new technology even more urgent," said The Telegraph report. While this may be true, the fact remains the poor harvests that were recorded across some of the developed countries were essentially because of the climatic changes, which is the outcome of the faulty agriculture practices that have been followed over the past few decades. It is the intensive agriculture that UK excels in that is causing the problem. Any sensible Head of State would have first tried to resurrect farming in a manner that it becomes truly sustainable and thereby results in less damage to the environment.

David Cameron was speaking on Beating Hunger through Business and Science at a pre-G8 event in London. Business and science can definitely do a lot to defeat hunger. With over 40 per cent of processed food being wasted in UK alone, I had thought the Prime Minister would direct the agri-business industry to ensure that not an ounce of processed food goes to waste. This measure alone would have drastically reduced the carbon footprint, saved British environment from further deterioration as a result of more intensive farming, and at the same time made billions of pounds of food available to meet the needs of the hungry millions.

Instead he took the desperate route that would result in a higher GDP which he can drum around. The more business and industry were to invest in developing risky and unwanted GM crops, the more will be the GDP. The more the sale of GM crop seeds, plus the increase in sales of chemicals to fight pests and diseases, the more will be the addition to British GDP. The more the resulting damage to the health of British people would mean more dependence on big pharma, which in turn would mean more spending on health. All this adds on to country's GDP growth.

What a remarkable growth formula, isn't it?

from here  Devinder Sharma, Ground Reality

Pro-austerity Media on the Wrong Side of the Class War

 In Britain, the economy has performed much worse than projected by the Coalition. In June 2010, just as it assumed power, it was forecast that real GDP would be 7.8% higher in 2012 than in 2009. However, this figure was revised in late 2012 to 2.5%, a shortfall of 4.7%, or about £75 billion. The Coalition's economic targets keep slipping away. Nevertheless, David Cameron's government has stubbornly pursued the implementation of austerity policies. As one senior Treasury official put it: "We do have a Plan B: it's to keep doing Plan A for longer."

In official declarations, fiscal consolidation is claimed to be the right policy to pull Britain and Europe out of the economic crisis. However, the evidence against this view is so overwhelming that austerity is better seen as a strategy by political and corporate elites for rolling back the welfare state. This benefits the wealthy, but not the rest of the population, and it is therefore to be expected that the public will resist such measures. 

The mainstream media play an important public relations role in presenting a positive picture of austerity. A study conducted at University College Dublin, Ireland, examines media coverage of austerity measures since 2010 in four leading British newspapers, namely, the Financial Times, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. The results clearly show the pro-austerity bias in the British press (with the exception of the Guardian). Out of a total of 347 editorials and opinion articles published since 2010, only 21% are opposed to austerity (46% explicitly support it while 33% are neutral). Moreover, if the Guardian, the most progressive newspaper in the sample, is excluded, only 13% of pieces are against austerity. Only 5% of articles in the Daily Telegraph, the most ideologically right-wing paper, oppose austerity, while 14% in the Times and 17% in the Financial Times adopt the same stance.

Another way to appreciate the biased nature of news coverage in the UK is to look at the background of "experts" commenting in the media, most of whom come from elite institutions or share their ideology. Among all contributors to the opinion pieces mentioned above, and excluding regular journalists, 54% are economists or working in the financial sector, 38% are politicians - virtually all from the establishment parties, namely, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour -, 6% are academics (excluding academic economists), and only 1% are from a trade union. It is thus not difficult to understand why media coverage gives prominence to pro-austerity viewpoints. It should not come as a surprise that news content is overwhelmingly favorable to corporate and political elites' interests.

News organizations' endorsement of the Coalition's program was made clear from the start in 2010. The Financial Times editorialized boldly that "There are alternatives to UK austerity, just not good ones" and called the Treasury's strategy "sensible." The Daily Telegraph congratulated George Osborne on his first budget, which it deemed to be "clever," an "excellent start," "fair and progressive," and one "of authority and intelligence." 
As the Coalition unveiled its plans in 2010, the Financial Times noted that one problem was that "Britons are unprepared" for fiscal consolidation, as there was "no nervousness" among the British population about the scale of the fiscal deficit. The newspaper predicted that as austerity would deepen over the years, "the pain from these changes will come in several waves" and thus George Osborne "will have to hold his nerve" and keep in mind that "Pushing through the coming squeeze requires smart salesmanship today and Churchillian resolve tomorrow."

Media coverage of the latest budget conforms to news organizations' record since 2010. For example, the press described the 2013 budget as "a move in the right direction." It was even criticized for being "far from radical enough or bold enough," as more cuts are deemed necessary because the economy allegedly "remains blighted by vastly excessive public spending." The media want even more cuts, asserting that "We're paying the price for not cutting harder," while they "disagree" that Britain should "pump-prime the economy."
In short, the corporate press circulates the Coalition government's viewpoint, and it seems that opposition to austerity will have to come from outside mainstream institutions if anything is going to change. 

from here 

Comment is hardly necessary. Questions are legion. Who controls the media and hires the workers to be compliant with their aims? Who benefits from promoting such measures? As pointed out in today's earlier SOYMB 'Fighting the Cuts' - now should be an auspicious point in time for many more of the working class to raise their level of awareness of why things are the way they are and to become actively involved in moving forward together to bring about the permanent change so sorely needed by all the workers in the world.

American "Freedom"

Jeff Olson, is being prosecuted for scrawling anti-bank messages on sidewalks in water-soluble chalk last year now faces a 13-year jail sentence. Olson will also be held liable for fines of up to $13,000 over the anti-big-bank slogans that were left using washable children's chalk on a sidewalk outside of three San Diego, California branches of Bank of America, the massive conglomerate that received $45 billion in interest-free loans from the US government in 2008-2009 in a bid to keep it solvent after bad bets went south.  Olson  stands trial for on 13 counts of vandalism. He had scribbled slogans such as "Stop big banks"

A judge ruled that Olson’s attorney is barred from "mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial,”

And the US authorities try to convince the world that the whistle-blower Snowdon will get a fair trial! 

Labi Siffre - 'Something Inside So Strong'

An anthem for the oppressed everywhere. Submit your own suggestions at comments.

Fighting the cuts

Millions of public sector workers face losing automatic annual pay increases as part of an £11.5bn cuts package unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne. They will also suffer a 1% cap on pay. The loss of a further 144,000 public sector jobsPublic sector workers must be wondering why they, and not the bankers, are paying the price of the financial crisis. The big challenge for public sector unions will be to demonstrate to the mass of employees who don’t work for the state that they can, and should, support those who are state employees in opposing public spending cuts.

Spending by government is the perennial problem of the capitalist class. All of the wealth that the workers produce is the property of the employing class. When the employers have succeeded in selling the goods produced by the workers they employ, and after they have paid wages and met all other expenses of production, they still have to meet the demands of the local and central government for rates and taxes of various kinds. All of the employing class have an interest—as they continually show—in trying to reduce the cost of government. As far as is politically practicable and militarily safe they try to reduce the amount the government raises as taxation and spends on civil service, military service, prisons, police, etc. If they succeed in getting taxation reduced it is in the hope of benefiting themselves; certainly not with the intention of passing on the benefit to the workers. The state, or government as it is more familiarly termed, exists for the purpose of maintaining the authority of the capitalist. It costs money to run a government. The capitalists do not like to pay taxes, but they must surround themselves and their property holdings with an extensive and expensive machinery. The complexity and functions of the state machine has grown enormously throughout the history of capitalism, so has the government spending. Banks and corporations on the brink of collapse were everywhere saved with cash from central government and temporary nationalizations by it. The ruling classes are now trying to do their best to solve the economic problems at the expense of the workers, at the expense of the wage earners. Austerity policies, anti-crisis measures, "cost saving" reforms aimed at dismantling the welfare state.

The attacks on our earnings and employment  rights are so blatant, aren't they? One could hardly come up with a better test of the revolutionary potential of the masses of workers. Arguing with the Left is not always a useful way for members of the Socialist Party  to spend their time, "We've got the wrong leadership" is the perpetual cry of Leftists so they choose new ones, and , of course many political groups fancy themselves as those "leaders" of the working-class. We do not. We say that workers should spurn these would-be vanguards and organise democratically, without leaders.

It’s easy to dismiss demonstrations, especially peaceful ones, as futile. Back in 2003, over a million people marched against the Iraq invasion in the biggest popular demonstration London had ever witnessed. It didn’t stop Blair launching a war on the basis of weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there. In 2005, a quarter of a million people dressed entirely in white encircled Edinburgh in a largely peaceful attempt to Make Poverty History. It didn’t. World poverty is still with us. Protests, even peaceful ones, are a kind of surrogate warfare – a physical show of strength on the streets, and that is why they are so powerful. You can have any number of petition campaigns but it lacks the impact of actually getting out there and marching on the streets.

 Direct action, even non-violent civil disobedience, is a threat to public order, and the threat is generally met by a show of force. Kettling is, after all, a form of summary punishment where the police form a kind of impromptu prison to contain the demonstrators for up to seven hours and is the equivalent of thrown in the cells for a few hours. Many will be  radicalised on the spot, realising for the first time the reality of the state power.

Because of the crisis people are actually questioning capitalism, because they’re being forced to. Capitalist "truths" are being  delegitimatised by experience on the ground. People  are educating themselves but to paraphrase Marx; “It is not enough that theory seeks people, people need to seek theory”.  People need to use that education intelligently. If they do not become part of the solution, they may well become part of the problem. So-called ‘experts’ offer solutions to  the economic woes of capitalism. But many of the remedies and supposed cures are throw-backs to earlier populist movements during previous depressions. Why is it happening? Because those protesting make no attempt at challenging the basic  principles of the system and are quite satisfied with capitalism, and all they want is to have capitalism with a "human face". That means their protest is purely defensive (and even conservative where it comes to preserving the vanishing welfare state under capitalism), they think in terms of conformism and reformism.

It is highly demonstrative that the contemporary Left have failed to offer strategies for the struggle other than reformist ones aimed at improving capitalism partially not at destroying it. And certainly all this, does not pose any threat to the rule of capital. A socialist revolution, which can only be worldwide and which will not run in the same pattern common for the previous bourgeois and state-capitalist revolutions is not a matter of the distant future. The  Left, at best, talk of the need to "transcend" capitalism in general, in some distant future but do not call for immediate struggle for social revolution. There are those (although few in number and weak in influence) who do but somehow their calls fail to ring the bell with wide, and even narrow, masses of the workers. When the ruling classes are forced to take such a measures against the workers that will inevitably blow up the class peace, i.e. to terminate the benefits system, to actually eliminate the social infrastructure of the welfare state, or to crack down on protests, these circumstances may lead to the class organisations of workers (such as trade unions) radicalising, to the capitalist society betraying its class nature, to the general public opening up to the revolutionary propaganda, and consequently, to the class struggle reviving and then to a social revolution.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Speaking Truth To Torture


26th June

Today is International Day Against Torture.

By tragic irony, the Uruguayan military dictatorship was born the following day in 1973 and soon turned the country into one huge torture chamber.

For obtaining information torture was useless or practically useless, but it was very useful for sowing fear, and fear obliged Uruguayans to live by silence or lies.

While in exile, I received an unsigned letter:

Lying sucks, and getting used to lying sucks.
But worse than lying is teaching to lie.
I have three children.                                                            Eduardo Galeano

Postscript: an Orwellian touch of irony

Today we are engaged in a deadly global struggle for those who would intimidate, torture, and murder people for exercising the most basic freedoms. If we are to win this struggle and spread those freedoms, we must keep our own moral compass pointed in a true direction.
Barack Obama

Quote of the Day

Former Israeli ambassador to UN: 

'I think that if North Korea continues on this course, it should be wiped off the face of the map. It would be an excellent message, and a very clear one, to the rest of the world, and especially the Iranians.' 

Brasil Changes

All the media and political pundits are scrambling to understand how a 20-cent bus fare hike in Brasil turned into a social revolt and brought a million people demonstrating in the streets of cities.  Overall, it has become a broad-based mix of interests and people, with polls showing that the majority of Brazilians support the protests. People of all political inclinations have taken to the streets in major cities around the country. The various city authorities have rescinded the fare rises in an attempt to quell protests, but the demonstrations still continue. Broader demands to remove public transportation from the private sector, to fund schools and hospitals, and against the FIFA and corruption in general, among others, keep people in the streets.

The movement originally under the umbrella of the Free Fare Movement is so broad and amorphous that there isn’t a formal list of reform demands being used to petition the State and the President. Brazil has a long history of top-down reforms that have inadequately addressed the profound inequality that divides the country. The mass demonstrations are finally calling attention to issues that cannot be solved by minor changes, indicating things might be different this time. The protests now are to express discontent with a society that has seen its economy and the aspirations of its population grow, while generating a sense that the majority is not seeing the benefits it’s entitled to. The movement’s lack of leadership and coordination is seen by some as a risk factor and by others as an encouraging sign of citizens acting for a better society. This may be a movement of people full of cynicism for politicians but it is also a romantic movement for those who envisage a different type of future.

 No-one is quite sure why the protest caught on like it did. In an interview Caio Martins of the  Free Fare Movement replied that something had changed in people’s aspirations. “First, because it caught the people’s imagination.” He added, “To talk about the fare hikes is to talk about the situation in the cities, and transportation is an essential element.”

Brazil has among the most expensive public transportation systems in the world, as well as being aggravatingly inefficient. Privatized years ago, the buses get stuck in traffic and take up inordinate amounts of people’s time and money. Demonstrations started in Sao Paulo, the usually staid capital and financial center of the country. There the contrast between the majority of the population and the elite shows in their way of getting around. The rich fly in private helicopters that buzz through the airways over the congested streets below. Some Brazilians are among the richest people in the world, and live a life as if they were in Switzerland but there are also the poorest in the world—the majority that continues to live a life not substantially different from the times of Brasil’s slavery past.  A poor person that lives in the sprawling outskirts of São Paulo spends an average of three hours commuting to work every day inside noisy, packed, and expensive buses, subways, and urban trains. Transportation costs in São Paulo are the highest in the world relative to wages. Residents of São Paulo must work ten times as many hours as residents of Buenos Aires to pay for transportation, and more than twice a worker in Paris. With the privatization of the system, drivers lost their benefits, faced reduced compensations, and had their labor unions severely undermined.

The protests reflected the pandering to this privileged few. Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 have syphoned away billions of dollars of public funds. The billions of dollars spent  have rightly angered millions of Brazilians who live without social infrastructure and lack basic public goods. The new mega-stadiums, airports and hotels will not be shared by the masses of the soccer-loving public. They will accommodate an international elite that can afford to pay the high ticket prices for far fewer but more luxury seats. Not only do the poor receive little benefits from this expenditure, but the infrastructure projects have led to displacement of poor families, especially around the stadiums. The in-your-face inequality represented by the corrupt and wealthy soccer federation  provoked signs like, “We want schools and healthcare of the same quality that the FIFA bosses have” and, “The World Cup for whom?” The poor are paying a heavy price international sporting events for the elite. The FIFA has demanded the suspension of basic civil liberties for the games and imposed its own rules to monopolize sales and income related to the games as are the IOC for the following Olympic Games.

For the government and business the two things they care deeply about: the millions in foreign revenue that will supposedly pour in during the mega-events and the image of Brazil as a modern, upcoming leader in the BRICS industrial alliance. Police violence against demonstrators in São Paulo at the beginning of the protest triggered nation-wide mass demonstrations with a broad range of demands targeting all forms of social inequality. The state reaction to the movement has brought to the surface 500 years of repressed anger and frustration towards deep inequality. The rich and powerful have maintained their dominance through five centuries of Brazil’s history, managing challenges with a mix of repression and reform. After the backlash against police repression during the early marches, conservatives shifted quickly from repression to co-optation. Subsequently, virtually all the media and the right-wing parties have been in favor of the demonstrators, and attempt to use them to their advantage. There is a threat that reactionary groups could hijack this political moment to weaken the center-left Workers’ Party.

Despite these manipulations, the demands from the streets call for a rupture, and not reform of the old institutions. This is a rare cry. Brazilians finally appear to be tiring of minor cosmetic changes that have brought little benefit.

The present President promises more concessions to achieve class peace. The ex-president Lula endeavoured to shift income distribution to help the poor: more social programs, higher minimum wage, and higher employment rates. This was made possible by a favorable international scenario that allowed him to help the poor without confronting the interests of the rich. Brazil’s huge trade surpluses generated the funds to finance social programs without compromising the gains of the capitalist class . However, the world financial crisis beginning in 2008 undermined the conditions for this scenario. The current President Dilma Rouseff now faces a different challenge. To help the poor, she will have to confront the rich more. With recent cutbacks of government expenditures and low GDP growth rates the dispute between rich and poor becomes increasingly bitter. The poor want more social programmes and more income redistribution and the Dilma administration cannot realistically deliver, despite the pledges to do so.

For the Socialist Party what began as a campaign by what was originally translated in the British media as the "Free Access Movement" we speculate that this is how the socialist revolution may start, with people taking to the streets to demand Free Access to everything (and, then, consolidating this with an election victory.) We also consider the State’s response of offering conciliatory reforms to bribe and divert workers from their objective as the more likely scenario than one of the Iron Heel and totalitarian suppression.

Adapted from here and here

The Winnipeg General Strike and the OBU

Another page from our history that is often overlooked by our critics. 

On June the 26th, 1919, the Winnipeg General Strike that began on May 15, ended.

The authorities had declared that the Winnipeg general strike as the first stage of a revolutionary conspiracy. The New York Times had the headline “Bolshevism invades Canada”. But for most of the men and women, the Winnipeg General Strike was not an exercise in ideology. Instead, its roots grew from a yawning chasm of economic inequality that had become too impossible to ignore. The 1919 Royal Commission report on the causes of the strike explained, "There has been... an increasing display of carefree, idle luxury and extravagance on one hand, while on the other is intensified deprivation." The strikers sought only the right to collective bargaining and a wage increase. The evidence is overwhelming that the intent was not political revolution, and the great majority of Canadian workers, including most workers in Winnipeg, were not socialists in any meaningful sense.

The strike did demonstrate, however, that the workers were well capable of organizing and performing the jobs usually done by the representatives of the ruling class in the smooth running of a city. In essence, how the workers conducted themselves was the real lesson of the strike.

 Bill Pritchard's solidarity speech  to Vancouver workers sounded the appropriate defensive note: Their comrades were in the fight, and it was now a question of standing by them and, if necessary, going down with them - or, later, going down by themselves. His advice was:-
"If you are going to drown - drown splashing!"

The working class must stand united, however ill-prepared their forces and however badly chosen the field of battle.

The strike committee told supporters the next battle would be waged on a political level. The One Big Union was not expected to free the workers from wage slavery any more than the traditional trade unions were. There was no question of industrial versus political as in the 1908 Industrial Workers of the World schism. The two were complementary phases of the working class movement.

 The Socialist Party of Canada disbanded in 1925 and later re-constituted in 1931 but is still to regain its earlier strength and influence.


The remnants of the One Big Union became part of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) in 1956. The concept of the One Big Union was that all workers should be organised in one union - one big union, the OBU. Most notable was the attempt of the Industrial Workers of the World ("the Wobblies") to organise in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries. The debate was over whether unions should be based on craft groups, organized by their skill, the dominant model at the time, carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers, each into their respective unions. Capitalists could often divide craft and trade unionists along these lines in demarcation disputes. As capitalist enterprises and state bureaucracies became more centralised and larger, some workers felt that their institutions needed to become similarly large based on entire industries (industrial unions). The One Big Union movement supported the "entire industries" model over the "craft groups" model. The OBU organisation in Canada differed structurally from the IWW in that the IWW organised on industrial lines, the OBU in Canada focused more on organising workers geographically.

The One Big Union movement in Canada grew out of the discontent of the Western unions with the Trades and Labor Congress of the Dominion, On March 13, 1919, a conference was called at Calgary, Canada. The 237 delegates who attended immediately voted to sever connections with the old body and the A. F. of L. and to form a new industrial organization. They adopted the name One Big Union, along with resolutions demanding the release of political prisoners, the six-hour work day, five-day week, withdrawal of Allied troops from Russia, and a general strike begin­ning 1 June to enforce these demands. Delegates approved “the principle of ‘Proletariat Dictatorship’ ” called for “the abolition of the present system of production for profit,” and sent fraternal greetings to Russia’s Soviet government and the German Spartacists. A central committee was elected, consisting of five SPC members, three from BC, denouncing war profiteering and price fixing, an end to the sedition act (which had been used to ban the IWW and the SPC), equal pay for women as well as the right to vote, free public education, health and safety legislation for industry, the nationalisation of major industries especially railroads and utilities. The many members of the Socialist Party of Canada helped form the One Big Union movement. The SPC provided many of the activists of the OBU but they did not abandon the project of building the party for an anti-political syndicalist dream. The OBU stressed class organisation rather than industrial organisation.

 In pursuance of this class policy it did not condemn political action, but rather declared that the only hope for the workers was:-
 "In the economic and political solidarity of the working class, One Big Union and One Workers' Party." -The OBU Bulletin, Dec. 20, 1919.

The founding members of the OBU were determined to create an industrial union that would not discriminate between skilled and un-skilled, foreign-born or Canadian workers. A union that was opposed not only to capitalist war but to capitalism itself.

"It is not the name of an organization nor its preamble, but the degree of working class knowledge possessed by its membership that determines whether or not it is a revolutionary body.... It is true that the act of voting in favour of an industrial as against the craft form of organization denotes an advance in the understanding of the commodity nature of labour power, but it does not by any means imply a knowledge of the necessity of the social revolution." explained Jack Kavanagh, "There can be no question of industrial vs. political," he concluded in the fall of 1919, "the two are complementary phases of the working class movement."

The OBU at its peak had 101 locals and 41,500 members—almost the entire union membership of Western Canada. The OBU faced three very powerful opponents.

Employers blacklisted OBU workers and incited hysteria. A mine owner told the Calgary Herald, “One thing is for certain, and that is that we will have no dealings with the One Big Union nor officers of any organization representing that sentiment."

The CLC and its affilate UMWA which was anti-socialist and against militant industrial unionism. The OBU stood for everything it opposed.

The Communist Party following Comintern's orders began a campaign of disruption, forcing the OBU members back into the CLC unions or and working to destroy the organisation outright. Lenin argued against dual- unionism, against the setting up of revolutionary unions, and exhorted radicals to work in the mainstream of the labour movement in order to win the support of the majority of workers and to oust the various bureaucratic leaderships. In Canada, this meant rejoining the CLC.

Nevertheless, in 1925 the membership was 17,000 and grew slowly throughout the 1920’s to reach a maximum of 24,000 members. The year they joined the Canadian Labor Congress the membership stood at 12,000.

Today, union activists continue to strive for collective forms of organisation capable of superseding institutional barriers and a cumbersome legal apparatus. Driven by the same dreams that mobilised a generation behind the OBU, contemporary workers can learn something from the possibilities (and pitfalls) of the OBU. The OBU did not have all the answers by any means. But what they represented was a tendency that was stopped by so-called revolutionary proponents of Leninism and the reformist apologists of Labourism. Who knows what might have resulted had this development not been cut short by that informal alliance of employers, union bosses, Federal government and Communist Party.

The right to strike is one thing, the power to strike is another. The weakness of the members of the OBU was not in daring to dream and to act on those dreams, but not realising how many and how powerful the guardians of capitalism were.

“Strikes may result in changes and even so-called improvements but this is but superficial. This will continue until the workers in sufficient numbers free themselves from the concepts of this society, from ideas that bind them to the notion that the present is the only possible social system, and recognize that under this system “the more things change the more they remain the same”; that even now in their struggles over wages and conditions, like the character in “Alice in Wonderland” they have to keep running in order to stay in the same place. But the Winnipeg Strike will go down in history as a magnificent example of working class solidarity and courage.” - W. A. Pritchard

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Savage, Unbridled Capitalism

The hundreds of millions of people around the world who are without medical care or food or work are the collateral damage of what Pope John Paul II once called 'savage, unbridled capitalism.' That damage is kept out of sight by 'the war on terror.' The war on terror not only provides huge profits to military contractors and power to the politicians but it also blocks out the conditions of people's lives.

What shall we do? We start with the core problem: there is immense wealth available, enough to care for the urgent needs of everyone on Earth and this wealth is being monopolised by a small number of individuals who squander it on luxuries and war while millions die and millions more live in misery and squalor. This is a problem understood by people everywhere because it has a simplicity absent in issues of war and nationalism.That is, people know with absolute clarity - when their attention is not concentrated on waging war by the government and the media - that the world is run by the rich and that money decides politics, culture, and some of the most intimate human relations.

While criticizing the war on terror and exposing its many hypocrisies we need to realize that if we do only that, we, too, become victims of the war. We, too, will have been diverted from an idea that could unite us as surely as fear of terrorists. The idea is a startling one but immediately recognizable as true: our most deadly enemies may not be hiding in caves and compounds abroad but in the corporate boardrooms and governmental offices where decisions are made that consign millions to death and misery as collateral damage of the lust for profit and power.

To overcome these enemies we will need the spirit of Seattle and Porto Alegre, a reinvigorated labour movement, a mobilisation of people across the rainbow, the beginning of global solidarity, looking to a long-delayed sharing of the fruits of the Earth.

Thanks to Howard Zinn for these words against war and his urging of people world wide to wake up to the reality of the horrors of globalised capitalist wars in particular and global capitalism in general. Recognition of and understanding our common enemy is the first requisite of worldwide citizens determined on bringing about the alternative world that we know is both possible and necessary for the good of the planet and all its inhabitants.

Minimum wage anniversary

Tuesday, June 25, marks the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, New Deal legislation mandating a federal minimum wage that now applies to most work, and most workers, in the United States. Originally set at 25 cents, the minimum wage has risen occasionally since 1938 to its current hourly level of $7.25, where it has been since 2009. The minimum wage for tipped workers has been frozen at $2.13 since 1991.

Today, a minimum wage worker lives on $3,000 less than the poverty line — and the minimum wage is worth only 37 percent of the average wage. In the 1960s the minimum wage was roughly half the average wage.

If the minimum wage had just kept pace with inflation since 1969, it would be around $10.70 today. If it had kept up with productivity growth, it would be $18.72. Meanwhile, if it matched the wage growth of the wealthiest 1 percent, it would be $28.34.

Wages grew and hours increased across the board between 1979 and 2007 — but hours increased the most and wages the least for the lowest income workers. The share of workers in “good jobs”– paying more than $37,000 a year and providing healthcare and retirement benefits — fell even though the average age and education level of workers rose.

 10.4 million individuals  were classified as the “working poor” in 2011. People who fall in the working poor category have been part of the labor force for at least 27 weeks, but their incomes are below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The wealthiest 1 percent are doing quite well, thank you. Their real earnings have skyrocketed 275 percent over the past 30 years.

In many US states, the minimum wage laws are but barely enforced, in part because there's little or no money budgeted for enforcement. But it's also because the government agencies charged with enforcing the laws are clearly not much interested in carrying out their mandate. Equally at fault are the governors and state legislators who've done virtually nothing to try to help their state's neediest workers earn a decent living. They have to be aware that no one can make a decent living at the current minimum wage rates. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi – have no agency assigned to enforce the minimum wage laws and other laws designed to protect workers rights. Employers have little or no incentive to obey wage and hour laws if the only repercussion for violating them is to have to pay wages owed in the first place.

In Alberta, Canada Dan Meades, director of Vibrant Communities Calgary, said “The question I would ask today is how many people have been lifted out of poverty as a result of the minimum wage increase? And the answer is zero,”

The Socialist Party has nothing against workers struggling for and getting higher wages if they can. We favour this, even if we don’t like the term “living wage” any more than “fair wage" and even if we think that ideally this should be tied to struggling to abolish the wages system altogether. What we criticise is to increase the present legal minimum wage and call the result a “living wage”

Let’s assume for a moment that a law forcing employers to pay a higher minimum wage was passed. What would happen?

First, a few employers would go bankrupt but probably not all who presently plead “poverty” profits!!. Other employers however would withdraw their capital from producing certain goods or services, so their price would rise. Eventually this would stabilise at a new, higher level at which employers would be able to make a profit even when paying the increased minimum wage. So the cost of living would go up, including for workers on the minimum wage. Second, given the increased labour costs, the introduction of previously unused labour-saving machinery would become cheaper vis-à-vis employing living labour. It is generally accepted that higher wages does lead employers to introduce machinery. Employers would do this. So there’d be job losses and unemployment, particularly amongst the unskilled, would grow.

Nor did Marx think much of such demands as “fixing the minimum wage by law”, which was one of the reform demands of the French Workers Party he had a hand in helping to set up in 1880. He wrote, referring to the proposer of this: “I told him: ‘If the French proletariat is still so childish as to require such bait, it is not worth while drawing up any program whatever.' "

Like all reforms of capitalism the minimum wage legislation leaves intact the basic mechanism wherein a small handful live of the surplus value produced by the working class. Socialism is not about redistributing income and wealth from the rich to the poor, but about establishing a society that would not be divided into rich and poor. To adapt Marx, workers should replace the demand for a “Living Wage” by the revolutionary demand for the “Abolition of the Wages System” Within capitalism, the fight to improve wages is indispensible but workers should take the next step - campaign to abolish wages .

BILL CASEY – The Seaman Philosopher

Originally published (now slightly adapted) in the November-December 1949 issue of the Western Socialist, the now defunct journal of the World Socialist Party of the United States, is an interesting piece for the insight and background history it gives on an early pioneer of what is now the World Socialist Party of Australia, companion party of the World Socialist Movement.  Proof if required that when the WSM described Russia as state capitalist, it was not from simply an abstract theoretical position but an empirical one of eye-witness testimony.

 It  especially interesting because it also goes a long way in correcting the old myth that members of the SPGB/WSM are not, and never have been active trade unionists, as that uninformed caricature goes: "If it doesn't involve the abolition of the wages system, you lot aren't interested."

 On January 22 1924, the  Socialist Party of Australia (later to change its name to “World Socialist Party of Australia) was formed. It is the story of a quite remarkable group of people. They included William “Bill” Casey, William “Bill” Clarke, Jacob Johnson, Barney Kelley, Marie Stanley, Stan Willis and, from Sweden, Charles Sundberg.

Casey had been a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, for whom he had composed songs which were sung worldwide. He was a seaman who, before emigrating to Australia, had been a member of the SPGB. He was also an active member of the Australian Seamen’s Union, as was Barney Kelley, also a former member of the SPGB. Jack Temple was a former member of the Socialist Party of Canada. Jacob Johnson was secretary of the Sydney branch of the Seamen’s Union, and a sympathiser of the SPGB. Bill Clarke, also a seaman, was Federal Secretary of the Australian Seamen’s Union, and editor of its official journal. At its foundation in 1924, the Socialist Party of Australia, unlike the previous SPA, immediately adopted the Object and Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and became a companion party of the SPGB.