Monday, March 31, 2014

The Rich Rule India

Author and social critic, Arundhati Roy, wants the world to know that India is under the control of its largest corporations. The 100 richest people in India control a quarter of the country's gross-domestic product. India's national politics are dominated by two parties, the Congress and the BJP. The Congress maintains a more secular stance and is often favoured by those who want more accommodation for minorities, be they Muslim, Sikh, or Christian. In American terms, the Congress is the equivalent of the Democratic Party. The BJP is actually a coalition of right-wing parties and more forcefully advances the notion that India is a Hindu nation. It often calls for a harder line against Pakistan. In this regard, the BJP could be seen as the Republicans of India.

"Wealth has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. And these few corporations now run the country and, in some ways, run the political parties. They run the media."

The Delhi-based novelist and nonfiction writer argues that this is having devastating consequences for hundreds of millions of the poorest people in India. In recent years, she has researched how the richest Indian corporations—such as Reliance, Tata, Essar, and Infosys—are employing similar tactics as the U.S.-based Rockefeller and Ford foundations. She points out that the Rockefeller and Ford foundations have worked closely in the past with the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency to further U.S. government and corporate objectives.

Now, she maintains that Indian companies are distributing money through charitable foundations as a means of controlling the public agenda through what she calls "peception management". This includes channelling funds to nongovernmental organizations, film and literary festivals, and universities. She acknowledges that the Tata Group has been doing this for decades, but says that more recently, other large corporations have begun copying this approach. According to her, the overall objective is to blunt criticism of neoliberal policies that promote inequality.

"Slowly, they decide the curriculum," Roy maintains. "They control the public imagination. As public money gets pulled out of health care and education and all of this, NGOs funded by these major financial corporations and other kinds of financial instruments move in, doing the work that missionaries used to do during colonialism—giving the impression of being charitable organizations, but actually preparing the world for the free markets of corporate capital."

One of her greatest concerns is how foundation-funded NGOs "defuse people's movements and...vacuum political anger and send them down a blind alley.It's very important to keep the oppressed divided," she says. "That's the whole colonial game, and it's very easy in India because of the diversity."

"I'm a great admirer of the wisdom and the courage that people in the resistance movement show" she says. "And they are where my own understanding comes from." Roy says that corporate India is backing Narendra Modi as the country's next prime minister because the ruling Congress party hasn't been sufficiently ruthless against the growing resistance movement. "I think the coming elections are all about who is going to crank up the military assault on troublesome people." In several states, armed rebels have prevented massive mining and infrastructure projects that would have displaced massive numbers of people. "The corporations are all backing Modi because they think that [Prime Minister] Manmohan [Singh] and the Congress government hasn't shown the nerve it requires to actually send in the army into places like Chhattisgarh and Orissa," she says. She also labels Modi as a politician who's capable of "mutating", depending on the circumstances. "From being this openly sort of communal hatred-spewing saccharine person, he then put on the suit of a corporate man, and, you know, is now trying to play the role of the statesmen, which he's not managing to do really," Roy says. He's a political darling to many in the Indian elite, according to Roy.

Roy claims that the high-profile India Against Corruption campaign is another example of corporate meddling. According to Roy, the movement's leader, Anna Hazare, serves as a front for international capital to gain greater access to India's resources by clearing away any local obstacles.  Hazare has received global acclaim by acting as a modern-day Mahatma Gandhi, but Roy characterizes both of them as "deeply disturbing". She also describes Hazare as a "sort of mascot" to his corporate backers. In her view, "transparency" and "rule of law" are code words for allowing corporations to supplant "local crony capital". This can be accomplished by passing laws that advance corporate interests. Hazare's high-profile allies, Arvind Kerjiwal and Kiran Bedi, both operate NGOs funded by U.S. foundations.
"For the first time, the middle classes were looking at corporations and realizing that they were a source of incredible corruption, whereas earlier, there was this adoration of them," she says. "Just then, the India Against Corruption movement started. And the spotlight turned right back onto the favourite punching bag—the politicians—and the corporations and the corporate media and everyone else jumped onto this, and gave them 24-hour coverage." She adds "Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, the Hazare movement did not breathe a word against privatisation, corporate power or economic 'reforms',"

 Roy says there is not a great deal distinguishing the Congress from the BJP. "I've said quite often, the Congress has done by night what the BJP does by day," she declares. "There isn't any real difference in their economic policy."

Whereas senior BJP leaders encouraged wholesale mob violence against Muslims in Gujarat, she notes that Congress leaders played a similar role in attacks on Sikhs in Delhi following the 1984 assassination of then–prime minister Indira Gandhi. "It was genocidal violence and even today, nobody has been punished," Roy says. As a result, each party can accuse the other of fomenting communal violence. In the meantime, there are no serious efforts at reconciliation for the victims.

However, she acknowledges that there is "some difference" in the two major parties' stated idea of India. The BJP, for example, is "quite open about its belief in the Hindu India...where everybody else lives as, you know, second-class citizens. Hindu is also a very big and baggy word," she says to clarify her remark. "We're really talking about an upper-caste Hindu nation. And the Congress states that it has a secular vision, but in the actual playing out of how democracy works, all of them are involved with creating vote banks, setting community against community. Obviously, the BJP is more vicious at that game."

Why do internationally renowned authors such as Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth or major Indian film stars like Shahrukh Khan or the Bachchan family don't speak forcefully against the level of inequality in India. "Well, I think we're a country whose elite is capable of an immense amount of self-deception and an immense amount of self-regard," she replies. Roy maintains that Hinduism's caste system has ingrained the Indian elite to accept the idea of inequality "as some kind of divinely sanctioned thing".

According to her, the rich believe "that people who are from the lower classes don't deserve what those from the upper classes deserve".

 She suggests that the concentration of media ownership in India makes it very difficult for most reporters to reveal the extent of corporate control over society. "In India, if you're a really good journalist, your life is in jeopardy because there is no place for you in a media that's structured like that," Roy says. Human-rights activists in India have had their offices trashed by demonstrators, and some have been beaten up or killed for speaking out against injustice. Thousands of political prisoners are locked up in Indian jails for sedition or for violating the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This is one reason why she argues that it's a fallacy to believe that because India holds regular elections, it's a democratic country. "There isn't a single institution anymore which an ordinary person can approach for justice: not the judiciary, not the local political representative," Roy maintains. "All the institutions have been hollowed out and just the shell has been put back. So democracy and these festivals of elections is when everyone can let off steam and feel that they have some say over their lives."

In the end, she says it's the corporations that fund major parties, which end up doing their bidding. "We are really owned and run by a few corporations, who can shut India down when they want," Roy says.

Re-edited from here



(The Home Secretary launches an enquiry into
the Met following revelations of corruption and
undercover activities in the Stephen Lawrence case.)

The average British Bobby with,
Size Thirteen plates of meat;
Steps into something nasty whilst,
He’s out upon his beat,
Which forces him to cover-up--
In cop-speak, “Be discreet”!

He’s not there for the public but,
To serve those in the Force;
And looking back to Dixon’s days (1)
May bring on some remorse,
But looking hard the other way,
Is now par for the course.

Of course the other Forces are
No different to the Met;
It’s just the London boys in blue,
Especially seem set,
(When it’s corruption and deceit,)
Not letting us forget!

Enforcing laws makes one ‘The Law’,
A power in the land;
With the ability to bite,
Back at those in command,
Who normally in Government
Would have the upper hand.

The macho culture of the Met,
Attracts a certain kind;                        
Who when they act unlawfully,              
Are ‘right’ in their own mind;
Especially in the Lawrence case,
When they weren’t colour-blind.

(1) Dixon of Dock Green was a BBC TV series
between 1955 and 1976 that portrayed PC Dixon
as an old-style avuncular London Bobby.

© Richard Layton

NAFTA at 20: "No Success Story For Workers"

Thursday the AFL-CIO released a new report, NAFTA at 20. The report makes the point that, "On the whole, NAFTA-style agreements have proved to be primarily a vehicle to increase corporate profits at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself."
In a press release accompanying the report AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says that working people and democratic governance on all sides of NAFTA's borders are now worse off, and Congress should recognize this before approving any more "NAFTA-style" trade agreements.

"There is no success story for workers to be found in North America 20 years after NAFTA," said Trumka. "The NAFTA model focuses on lifting corporations out of reach of democratic governance, rather than solely reducing tariffs. This report should serve as a cautionary tale to the Obama Administration and Congress as they consider negotiating and implementing new trade deals."

Preceding the report, Trumka gave a major speech on trade at the Center for American Progress. He talked about the history of "a disastrous, outdated, failed model of global economic policies." He said that trade agreements should abandon the NAFTA model and instead offer a "global new deal ... to bring the basic infrastructure of modern society—electricity, water, schools, roads, internet access—to everyone on Earth."

A summary of the report contains these points about NAFTA:
  • It's a flawed model that promotes the economic interests of a very few and at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself.
  • While the overall volume of trade within North America due to NAFTA has increased and corporate profits have skyrocketed, wages have remained stagnant in all three countries.
  • Productivity has increased, but workers' share of these gains has decreased steadily, along with unionization rates.
  • NAFTA pushed small Mexican farmers off their lands, increasing the flow of desperate undocumented migrants.
  • It exacerbated inequality in all three countries.
  • And the NAFTA labor side agreement has failed to accomplish its most basic mandate: to ensure compliance with fundamental labor rights and enforcement of national labor laws.

The NAFTA architecture of deregulation coupled with investor protections allowed companies to move labor intensive components of their operations to locations with weak laws and lax enforcement. This incentivized local, state and federal authorities to artificially maintain low labor costs by ignoring–or in some cases actively interfering with–such fundamental rights as the rights to organize, strike and be free from discrimination. This dynamic undermined organizing and bargaining efforts even in areas with relatively robust labor laws. Today, it is commonplace for employers to threaten to move south—whether to South Carolina or Tijuana—if workers do not agree to cuts in wages and benefits.
See the report at NAFTA at 20.

Taken from here

Law and order or to protect the old order?

Brazil has relocated more than 15,000 families out of slums that have been evicted and destroyed to make way for sports-related facilities, and that number could increase to 100,000 by the end of the Olympics two years from now.

More than 130,000 people live in the Complexo do Mare. 1,000 military police began to occupy one of the many shanty towns in Rio de Janeiro, as dawn was breaking with  21 armoured vehicles in support. They were also accompanied by trucks deploying hundreds of police patrols; pickups carrying more officers with weapons held aloft; the mounted regiment and the dog unit. Thousands of troops are expected to arrive this week to continue the process, and will stay indefinitely. Authorities are hoping to prevent violence in the city’s favelas affecting the city during the World Cup.

With the World Cup just two months away, the favelas represent the biggest security crisis facing Rio since it launched the police pacification units programme five years ago. Authorities are hoping to prevent violence in the city’s worst favelas affecting the city during the World Cup.

The situation has been exacerbated by extra-judicial killings of slum dwellers by the police. Twenty-five officers will stand trial this year over the disappearance and murder last July of Amarildo, a labourer from the Rocinha favela; and another three officers were arrested this month after they were caught on camera dragging the body of a dying woman 350 metres along a road from the back of a police van. Witnesses from the Congonha favela where the victim, Claudia da Silva Ferreira, lived allege that officers shot her and tried to cover up the deed.

 The government and the olice blame drug traffickers for the new offensive. Others say the main problem is that pacification has not been followed by improvements in social services and infrastructure despite promises from politicians. Adding to the tension are human rights violations by police, which add to the widely held impression in the favelas that they are no better – and often a lot worse – than the gangsters they replaced.

Those in the favelas may be especially distrusting because of the “history of the police treating the people living in the favelas as if they are all criminals,” Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty wrote in August. Shetty also wrote that pacification has also threatened the basic rights of residents, as police “routinely invade people’s homes without a search warrant, destroy what they don’t want, confiscate that which may be of value and too often threaten or beat the residents.”

“Those of us who live here are stuck between the gangs and the police; we don’t know who is really going to control this place,”  one resident of the Mare slum told the AP.

Although the spotlight is on Rio, this is by no means the most dangerous of Brazil's cities. According to a recent study by the Mexico-based NGO, Citizen's Council for Public Security and Penal Justice, Brazil has 16 of the world's 50 most murderous cities – more than any other country. Six of those cities will host World Cup games – Fortaleza, Natal, Salvador, Manaus, Recife and Belo Horizonte. Rio does not even make the list.

The word “slums” conjures up certain images. The word ‘slum’ originated from the Irish phrase ‘S lom é’ meaning ‘it is a bleak or destitute place.’ According to the UN-HABITAT definition, a slum is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing, squalor and lacking in tenure security.  The Rio-based NGO Catalytic Communities, however, points out that “This description doesn’t apply to the vast majority of favelas in Rio: the primarily brick and cement houses are built well and to last; conditions are not squalid, with running water, electricity, garbage collection and Internet access, though of low quality, reaching the majority of homes. Anyone who has visited a favela can attest that they are for the most part vibrant places that buzz with life and activity.”

The Nation correspondent Dave Zirin explains the World Cup and Olympics were being used as a pretext to depopulate and then develop the valuable land where the favelas sit. “There is a real estate speculative boom taking place in Rio, and only so much land. Once unheard of, Rio’s wealthy are now looking at the hillside favelas and see the future of residential and commercial development. This is particularly true of areas that could be parking lots, athletic facilities, or security zones for 2016 Olympic construction. The problem is the pesky people who happen live there. Characterizing favelas as slums aids the depopulation effort. None of this is to romanticize the very real poverty, crime and challenges that do exist in the favelas. Yet it is difficult to grasp how military occupation helps improve these problems or further stabilize these communities. In other words, we have another war on poverty that looks more like a war on the poor.”

Christopher Gaffney, Rio activist and former professional soccer player, said, “The continued expansion of Rio´s ‘pacification’ program in strategic areas pertaining to Rio de Janeiro´s tourist, sports and transportation infrastructure has the look and feel of a counterinsurgency. While there are undeniable benefits to expelling armed drug traffickers from low-income communities, the military occupation has not been accompanied by equivalent investments in other necessary infrastructures. A military police can only treat citizens as potential enemy combatants. The World Cup and Olympics are doubling down on this model, which has tremendous human costs that are borne by those least prepared to bear them.”

Then there was the site of the raid itself: Maré, a complex of 15 “slums”. Maré may be the most politically active of all of Rio’s favelas, with, according to Catalytic Communities, “more than 100 community organizations and NGOs.” Last June, after a deadly BOPE (Brazilian special forces police) raid into Maré, a series of protests and creative civil actions took place. This is not a community that will stand by silently.

 Brazil's government, in conjunction with FIFA, has chosen to turn a soccer tournament into a real estate land grab. They have done this without regard for the people who happen to be living on the land.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Visa rules 'license slavery'

 As previously blogged by SOYMB, the government is "licensing modern slavery" with its visa rules for domestic workers, campaigners say. Since April 2012 they have been tied to one employer upon entering the UK - meaning they cannot move jobs.

Charities say the rules must be reversed as they allow abusive employers to demand extremely long hours, and withhold pay and food. About 15,000 domestic workers accompany foreign employers to the UK each year. But since 2012 they have been unable to renew their visas or change employer if things go wrong.

 Human Rights Watch said it had found serious abuses of migrant workers by foreign employers in the UK."We have documented the forced labour of domestic workers; they have been made to work extremely long hours without breaks or days off, paid very little or not at all, psychologically abused and not provided with food," said Izza Leghtas, the author of a report shown to the BBC. "The majority of those under the tied visa had their passport withheld by their employer."

Kate Roberts, a community advocate for London-based charity Kalayaan, which helps migrant domestic workers, said: "The visa has definitely resulted in employers exercising more control over workers. We believe it facilitates and institutionalises the domestic servitude of workers."
The charity said it had evidence that migrant workers were facing greater levels of abuse in the two years since the rules changed.

"Alia", a Fiipina,  who came to the UK as a maid with her Arab employers. She said her passport was taken from her, she was made to eat scraps of food and sleep in a cupboard.
"They promised me they were going to pay me more, but they didn't pay me. I started in morning at 06.00 until midnight. I didn't have any break and they never let me go out," she said. "I feel I am a slave, they told me you have no right to be questioning us because you are just a housemaid," she recalled.

Alia eventually managed to escape, but by leaving her abusive employer she breached immigration rules and is now an illegal migrant. Her only option is deportation.

New Unionism

It’s very boring to have to repeat it, but repeat it we must: the agreement of individual workers to their pay and working conditions is virtually never truly free. Unless the circumstances are exceptional, they have to take what they are given. Corporate executives everywhere are desperate to find respectable arguments to justify their ability to pay workers whatever best suits them and their shareholders, which oddly enough is usually – admittedly not always, but usually – only just enough to allow workers and their families to keep body and soul together. Cutting workers out of decision-making about wages – deregulating the labour market and limiting workers’ ability to unionize and to take industrial action to press wage claims – has not led to increased wealth creation and the trickling down of that wealth to ordinary workers. It has simply meant productivity growth outstripping growth in real wages, which leads to excessive profits and increasing inequality.

The experience of the last 30 years has shown – as if any more evidence was really needed – that employers will not voluntarily increase their employees’ real wages to match productivity. We don’t need any more debate about whether we need collective industrial relations. Thirty years of neoliberalism has provided all the evidence we could possibly need that excluding workers from decisions about pay and conditions has seriously damaging social and economic consequences.

What we have to start talking about again is what kind of collective industrial relations we need. What kind of workers’ organizations are most effective where employment is largely informal? Is it better to try to organize bargaining at enterprise or industry level? How do we support the growth and development of democratic trade unions? Are there models of democratic workers’ organization that are different from the Euro-American standard and that are more appropriate (for example) in circumstances where workers are informally or precariously employed? What can unions in the global north learn from these organizations? What are the relative advantages and disadvantages of mandated as opposed to voluntary forms of worker representation?

They need to be encouraged to take that economically and socially responsible step – and who better them than workers themselves?

Abridged and adapted from an article by New Unionism,  an approach being developed by unions who want to make change and set agendas, rather than just reacting to them. The New Unionism network brings together supporters of these principles and seeks to encourage wider involvement in the change process. The network has no formal structure, no officers, no policies or meetings. New Unionism can be reached at:

The Millionaire Migrants

The world's millionaires, responding to a number of economic factors, including lower tax rates, are pulling up roots and hauling their money to new destinations.

The United Kingdom has ranked as the premier global destination for migrating millionaires since 2003, with a net inflow of 114,100 millionaires, according to a new report. London, which is often described as the financial center of the world, has the most millionaires of any city, with 339,300.

Singapore, which has seen 45,000 millionaires arrive since 2003, thanks in a large part to its modest tax rates, ranked second in attracting the world's millionaires.

The United States, where much of the world’s global wealth is created, together with the world’s currency reserve, ranked third, gaining 42,400 millionaires.

 Australia, while busy imprisoning "economic" refugees in detention camps in Papua New Guinea, welcomed an influx of 22,200 millionaire migrants.

According to the report, China – with a net outflow of 76, 200 HNFIs - have resettled the most millionaires during the 10-year period. The report revealed Chinese millionaires, which topped the migration list, were mostly migrating to Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom. Indian millionaires reportedly showed a preference for the UK, U.S. and Australia, while French and Italian millionaires were relocating their wealth to the UK and Switzerland.

“It is rather difficult to flaunt your wealth in China, so many wealthy Chinese choose to migrate,” Andrew Amoils, senior analyst of the New World wealth report, told RT. “Many go to Hong Kong, but since the special administrative district is still controlled by China, many opt to go elsewhere, oftentimes to the United Kingdom.”

 India came in second place with a net outflow of 43,400 millionaires.

Russia, with an estimated 82,300 HNWIs in 2013, saw some 14,000 millionaires leave the country in the 10-year period.

If you are rich, there is no problem re-locating around the world. It is only when you are poor that the border  gate is shut in your face.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

End of the Cuba’s “Socialist” Dream

Behind closed doors where foreign media were not given access  in an extraordinary session, more than 600 deputies replaced a 1995 foreign investment law that has attracted less overseas capital than the island's Communist Party leaders had hoped, contributing to sluggish growth.

 The new legislation would cut taxes on profits by about half, to 15 percent, and make companies exempt from paying taxes for the first eight years of operation (athough an exception for companies that work in the exploitation of natural resources, such as nickel or fossil fuels, would establish taxation rates in such cases as high as 50 percent.)

Foreigners doing business with the island would be exempt from paying personal income tax. Wholly foreign-owned investment projects would be explicitly allowed, a rarity for Cuba.

Foreign investment will reportedly be allowed in all sectors, except health care and education.

Reporting from Havana, Al Jazeera's Daniel Schweimler said "Cuban officials say that the economy as it stands at the moment is not working, it is not feeding its people, and it is not providing enough resources. There are still a lot of problems to overcome in Cuba, which will be a disincentive to marny foreign companies, such as the poor internet service and heavy bureaucracy, but it's also a country of 12 million people with huge potential."

Brunei and the Brits

The absolute monarch, who also serves as the country’s prime minister, the Sultan of Brunei, one of the world’s wealthiest rulers and a close ally of Britain, is introducing to his country a system of Islamic law with punishments that include flogging, the dismemberment of limbs and stoning to death. Offences include insulting the Prophet Mohamed, drinking alcohol, getting pregnant outside of marriage and “sodomy”. The latter will be punishable by stoning.

The decision to introduce sharia and reintroduce the death penalty has been condemned by NGOs and legal rights campaigners, who say the new rules will breach international laws. It has also triggered alarm among some of Brunei’s non-Muslim communities, who will also be subject to some of the rulings. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said it deplored the new rules, adding that, if implemented, they would lead to serious human rights violations.

There are around 30,000 Filipino citizens in Brunei, many of them Catholic, and the Philippine ambassador to Brunei, Nestor Ochoa, recently held a meeting at which he warned his countrymen about the implications of the new laws. Father Robert Leong, a Catholic priest in Brunei, said there were concerns that baptisms of newborn babies could breach the new rules, which prohibit the “propagation of religion other than Islam to a Muslim or a person having no religion”.

 A British regiment, 1,000-strong the Royal Gurkhas Rifles, in the country, – the last surviving UK regiment stationed in East Asia – is paid for entirely by the Sultan, who is said to be worth £24bn and lives in a 1,788-room palace. The British Army also runs a jungle warfare training school.  Royal Dutch Shell, an Anglo-Dutch multinational, also runs a major operation there as a joint venture with the Brunei government.

The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said Brunei invested “a significant proportion of the country’s wealth through the City of London”. It said the British Armed Forces garrison was a linchpin of  UK-Brunei relations. “The Government’s goal is to retain a dominant position in these key areas, and to maximise our share of influence as Brunei diversifies its economy and puts increasing emphasis on regional partners like Asean and China,” it said. “As it does so, Brunei will also provide a UK-friendly window into the key growth area of South-east Asia.”

From here

The Lucas Aerospace Plan

In the 1970s workers at the Lucas Aerospace produced their own alternative "Corporate Plan" for the company's future. In doing so they attacked some of the underlying priorities of capitalism. Their proposals were radical, arguing for an end to the wasteful production of military goods and for people’s needs to be put before the owners’ profits.  This Plan evolved as a response to the threatened redundancies resulting from cuts in defence expenditure. The plan promotes the idea of workers taking decisions about organising production and discussing the products to be made, environmental problems are taken seriously, and there is a vitality and enthusiasm about the campaign which is all too often lacking in other areas of activity.

It was the product of two years planning and debate among Lucas workers at its 15 different Lucas factories.  Everyone from unionised engineers, to technicians to production workers and secretaries was involved in drawing it up. It was based on detailed information on the machinery and equipment that all Lucas sites had, as well as the type of skills that were in the company. Its central aim was to head off Lucas's planned job cuts by arguing that the concentration on military goods and markets was neither the best use of resources nor in itself desirable. It argued that if Lucas was to look away from military production it could expand into markets for "socially useful" goods. According to it Lucas could eventually wind down its military production, keeping all its present workforce. Moreover, the production of high technology equipment like kidney dialysis machines would be of far more benefit than missiles to society.

 The 70s was a time where concern about pollution, de-forestation, the oil shortage, nuclear power, etc. became heightened  into what can loosely be called the alternative technology movement  and alternative technologies/products through being labour-intensive could be the salvation for workers made redundant by capital-intensive technologies. But the problem is not technology itself but capitalism and capitalist technology. It is capitalist relations of production, distribution and exchange which bring about redundancies, oil shortages, criminal violence and starvation. Different contraceptives, irrigation schemes, abundance of oil and alternative technologies do not change the structure and effects of capitalism. It is only when we have a socialist society that real choices about alternatives recyclable products and sustainable energy sources can be made. As Dick Jones, an AUEW member in Coventry, said at a conference in 1978: “Even if the Lucas Plan was emulated in every factory, every plant, it would not bring about socialism.”

Constructive it may have been if the world was being run along different lines - ones that valued people’s need for meaningful work and put social needs above military production. For the company capitalism was the order of the day and this meant profits first and foremost. Moreover it was their right to "manage” Lucas and to decide where its resources would be used. To them the people working at Lucas had no say in these fundamental matters. Control by management, often through the marketing division, of scientific and technical work presses science more and more closely into the pursuit of profit and away form serving real social needs. The job of the scientific worker is increasingly bounded by the fear of redundancy, the process of de-skilling, control by management and the routineisation of work. In short, scientific and technical workers were being proletarianised. Some became politicised and radicalised and expressed their change in attitudes and circumstances by becoming militant trade unionists.

What later became known as the Lucas Plan aimed to shift Lucas Aerospace away from the production of military goods, mainly for NATO (an emphasis that was capital intensive and had high profit margins for Lucas's owners) and towards the production of socially useful goods (which was a labour intensive field, relying more on the skills already in the Lucas Company). Such a shift would mean the preservation of jobs at Lucas and the fulfilment of some of the more pressing needs of society. It asked basic questions like what was the real use of missiles and high technology fighter aeroplanes to society. Their production gobbled up money resources and technical inventiveness, making those who owned the Companies richer and richer but society got nothing from them.

Medical Equipment:
- Increase production of kidney dialysis machines by 40% and look into the development of a portable model.
- Build up a 'design for the disabled' unit, with the Ministry of Health, to look into things like artificial limb control systems (which could use Lucas's control engineering expertise), sight aids for the blind,  sophisticated radar systems used in modern fighter planes being used in the development of an "alternative sight" aid for blind people. Such a thing is easily within human capabilities, but is not made or even developed as a priority now. Or developing the 'Hobcart'. This vehicle was designed in the 1970s by an apprentice at Lucas to give mobility to children suffering from Spina Bifida. Lucas management had refused to develop it on the grounds that it was incompatible with their product range.
- Manufacture an improved life-support system for ambulances. An ex-Lucas engineer turned doctor had offered to help design and build a prototype for this, using a simple heat exchanger and pumping system.

Alternative Energy Techniques:
Due to the finite availability of fuels like coal and petrol, they proposed that Lucas concentrate on renewable sources of energy generation and developing more efficient methods of energy conservation from fuel sources. Up to 60% of energy is lost with traditional forms of its use (car engines etc.). Moreover this would provide a real alternative to nuclear power generation which was unsafe and damaging to the environment.
- Development and production of heat pumps which were efficient in saving waste heat. Such heat pumps would be used in new housing schemes to provide a very cheap service.
- Development and production of solar cells and fuel cells.
- Development of windmills. Lucas's experience in aerodynamics would be invaluable.
- Development of a flexible power pack, which could easily adjust to people's situations allowing for small scale electricity generation using basic raw materials. Such instruments would be invaluable in under-developed countries where electricity provision is very poor.

- The development of a road-rail public transportation vehicle which would be light-weight using pneumatic tyres on rails. Such a system would be cheaper, safer for use and more integrated. It would allow rail services to be provided in areas where they were being closed down, etc. The road-rail vehicle would be able to travel on rails mainly but also convert to road use when needed.
- A combined internal combustion engine/battery powered car which could give up to 50% fuel savings while reducing toxic emission from cars.

The Plan also proposed various other ideas in the areas of braking systems, undersea exploration technology and remote control devices. Basic needs in society are only filled inadequately, like for instance kidney dialysis machines, whose general shortage in society was then and still is a crying shame. Lucas, its workers argued, had the expertise to develop better, smaller and more mobile units which kidney sufferers were crying out for. Why shouldn't they do so? Under capitalism the world's resources and wealth is owned and used to make profit for the wealthy. Most money is invested where profit is highest. The fulfilment of human needs is always a secondary priority The Lucas Plan challenged many of the basic assumptions of capitalism: why should profits come before people? What value have military goods in a world with so many other pressing needs? As such it was important. But far more fundamentally it showed what capacity workers have to articulate their priorities and their values.

For the future it showed what enormous potential a society based on socialism could have. Such a society with real workplace democracy and the participation of all in the management of society would allow for the creative capacity of each individual to have its say while the real needs of society are met. But for this to be achieved as the Lucas workers learned, capitalism and its priorities must be overthrown. Socialists have always argued the case for alternative production in one sense: revolutionary propaganda and theory is based on the idea that in a socialist society production will be for need and not for profit. Devoting time, energy and resources to drawing up detailed plans for such production in a capitalist society will ultimately be disillusioning and demoralising at best or strengthen capitalism at worst. The Plan is subtitled “a positive alternative to recession and redundancy” – yet the only real alternative is socialism, not in one factory or every factory or even in one country but internationally. This is the task which raises the central question of dispossessing the capitalist class  –  unasked and unanswered in the Plan.

from here
Kevin Doyle of the Workers Solidarity Movementin an article first published by Workers Solidarity in 1988.
And also here International Socialism Journal

A documentary on the Lucas Plan, recorded in 1978, from the Open University's archive, is now available to watch online.

Wide Spread Wage Theft By Fast Food Franchises

The owners of 23 Domino's Pizza outlets in New York admitted to rampant theft of workers' wages and agreed Thursday to a nearly half a million dollar settlement with hundreds of employees for numerous labor violations.


 "Fast food corporations like Domino’s and McDonald’s cannot hide from their responsibility for these unlawful practices," said Naquasia LeGrand, a Brooklyn KFC employee and member Fast Forward. "They’re the ones in control of the daily operations of their franchisees."

The settlement was the result of an investigation by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman into allegations of wage theft. According to a press release from Schneiderman's office, between and 2013, the owners admitted to numerous violations, including: paying below minimum wage, refusing or underpaying overtime pay, and refusing to adequately compensate delivery drivers for their car expenses.

Multiple, nation-wide waves of fast food worker strikes and protests have forced into the national discourse problems of pay theft, "starvation wages," and poor working conditions that are rampant in the fast food industry.
According to a poll conducted last year by Anzalone Liszt Grove, 84 percent of current or recent New York City fast food workers say they have suffered some form of wage theft. According to the survey,  African-American "report wage and hour violations at a higher rate."

In addition to the financial component, Thursday's agreement settlement also requires that franchisees put in place "complaint procedures, provide bilingual written handbooks to employees, train supervisors on the labor law, post a statement of employees’ rights, and designate an officer to submit quarterly reports to the Attorney General's Office regarding ongoing compliance for two to three years," according to Schneiderman's office. The "most egregious" workers' rights offenders will be required to hire independent auditors.
The agreement follows a similar settlement last month with a Domino's Franchisee in New York agreed to a $1.28 million dollar settlement for withholding pay, stealing tips, and denying lunch breaks. Last week, seven McDonald’s franchises in New York City reached a $500,000 settlement on similar charges of wage theft. Meanwhile, several lawsuits across three states that could involve up to 30,000 workers are taking on McDonald's franchises and owners for wage theft.

"They’re the ones in control of the daily operations of their franchisees, and that’s why over 80% of NYC fast food workers report they’ve been victims of wage theft," said LeGrand. "That’s why we’re not stopping: we will continue holding these corporations accountable.”

From here

Whilst empathising with these NYC fast food workers being robbed by their employers, SOYMB recognises this as just another manifestation of the problems with wage slavery. Capitalism's raison d'etre is accumulation by any means and this includes exploitation of all workers. The only solution for all workers, whatever their work, wherever they are, is the abolition of the wages system.

The harder you work, the more a slave you are

It is not your imagination — you are working harder and earning less. This is a global phenomenon, not one specific to any country. It is not a matter of the viciousness of this or that capitalist, nor the policy of this or that government.

Freedom” is reduced to the freedom of industrialists and financiers to extract the maximum possible profit with no regard for any other considerations and, for the rest of us, to choose whatever flavor of soda we wish to drink. Having wrested for themselves a great deal of “freedom,” the world’s capitalists have given themselves salaries, bonuses, stock options and golden parachutes beyond imagination while ever larger numbers of working people find themselves struggling to keep their heads above water.

U.S. chief executive officers earned 354 times more than the average worker in 2013. And even with the bloated pay of top executives and the money siphoned off by financiers, there was still plenty of cash on hand — U.S. publicly traded companies are sitting on a composite hoard of $5 trillion, five times the total during the mid-1990s.

On the other hand, it is very different for working people. A study of four decades of wage trends in the United States, for example, revealed that the median hourly wage is less than two-thirds of what it would be had pay kept pace with productivity gains. During the 1973 to 2011 period, the real median hourly wage in the United States increased 4.0 percent, yet labour productivity rose 80.4 percent. If the real median hourly wage had grown at the same rate as labour productivity, it would have been $27.87 in 2011 (2011 dollars), considerably more than the actual $16.07 (2011 dollars).

Low-wage workers in the United States earn far less today than they did in 1968, despite their having a much higher level of education now as compared with then. There are nearly three job seekers for every one open position. The lack of jobs reflects larger structural weaknesses, not a “lack of education”.

The federal minimum wage is 23 percent lower than it was in 1968 when adjusted for inflation. A Center for Economic Policy and Research paper surveying two decades of minimum-wage studies concludes:
“Economists have conducted hundreds of studies of the employment impact of the minimum wage. Summarizing those studies is a daunting task, but two recent meta-studies analyzing the research conducted since the early 1990s concludes that the minimum wage has little or no discernible effect on the employment prospects of low-wage workers.
One of the demands of the March on Washington in 1963 was a minimum wage of $2 an hour. Adjusted for inflation, $2 an hour in 1963 would be worth $15.35 today. Yet the federal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 an hour, and the highest minimum wage mandated by any state government is Washington’s $9.32. The $10.10 an hour lately proposed by the Obama administration sounds like an improvement when compared with current rates, but in reality it is the usual crumbs on offer by the Democratic Party — the White House is proposing two-thirds of what was demanded 50 years ago!

Almost every penny of the income generated by that extra work went into the pockets of high-level executives and financiers, not to the employees whose sweat produced it. Close to 60 percent of families below 200 percent of the poverty line have a family member who works full-time, year-round and 47 million U.S. residents rely on food stamps. At the same time, the world’s 1,645 billionaires have an aggregate net worth of US$6.4 trillion, an increase of $1 trillion in just one year.

Working people in Canada have fared little better. Labor productivity increased 37.4 percent for the period 1980 to 2005, while the median wage of full-time workers rose a total of 1.3 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Labor’s share of Canadian gross domestic product has shrunk. If median real earnings had grown at the same rate as labour productivity, the median Canadian full-time full-year worker would have earned $56,826 in 2005, considerably more than the actual $41,401 (2005 dollars.) In Canada, almost all income gains have gone to the top one percent.

 In Europe, a Resolution Foundation paper found a differential between productivity and wage gains for British working people, although smaller than that of the United States. It also found that British workers did not lose as much ground as did French, German, Italian and Japanese workers. That conclusion is based on a finding that the share of gross domestic product going to wages in those countries has steeply declined since the mid-1970s.

That German workers also suffer from eroding wages might seem surprising. But it should not be — German export prowess has been built on suppressing domestic wages. In 2003, the then-chancellor, Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, pushed through his “Agenda 2010” legislation, which cut business taxes while reducing unemployment pay and pensions. German unions allowed wages to decline in exchange for job security, which means purchasing power is slowly declining, reinforcing the trend toward Germany becoming overly dependent on exports. Average real wages in Germany declined 0.5 percent per year for the period of 2000 to 2008 while German labor productivity increased 1.3 percent per year.

While the article on the Counterpunch website reaches a conclusion that we should raise wages to boost consumer spending and create growth and declares that there is no individualistic solutions to structural inequality, the World Socialism Movement has a deeper, more radical analysis; that the capitalist system and its wages system has no solution. Full Stop!

Quote of the Day

Deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg has urged voters to resist the "lure of false patriotism", as he drew comparisons between the SNP and UKIP.  The Liberal Democrats’ leader would fight for "unity, togetherness and openness," adding: "We will give people a reason to resist the lure of false patriotism - wherever it rears its head.”

I’ll let the reknown author of War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy reply to Clegg.

"Tell people that patriotism is bad and most of them will laugh and say: ‘Yes, bad  patriotism is bad, but my patriotism is good!’ ” - Leo Tolstoy (his emphasis)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Toyota Strike And The Scourge Of Contract Labour

Originally posted at the Countercurrents website 

The stand-off between Toyota India and its 6,400 employees in Bangalore continues. Members of the Toyota Kirloskar Motor Employees Union have now downed tools. Toyota Kirloskar Motors Vice Chairman - External Affairs Shekar Viswanathan . He said the issue with the workers' union at the plant has now gone beyond the wage hike negotiations.

Toyota, halted production at its two factories in India and locked-out workers who have refused to sign an undertaking of good conduct but have now lifted the lock-out but workers declined to return to work. Besides company's security guards, state police personnel have been stationed around the twin plants in Bidadi industrial township to maintain law and order.

Negotiations over a wage increase have been taking place for the past 10 months. The union is demanding a wage rise of Rs 4,000 per month as against Rs 3,050 proposed by the management. So far 48 rounds of talks have been held with the management, which include 7-8 talks in the presence of state labour department and union lowered its demand from the original Rs 8000.

Toyota had said that "certain sections of the employees have resorted to deliberate stoppages of the production line, abuse and threatening of supervisors thereby continuously disrupting business".

The TKMEU general body met on Saturday and said they were ready to resume work on March 24 but would not sign any undertaking. The union had also sought withdrawal of suspension of 17 employees. Toyota ruled out compromising on discipline and said the suspension of some workers on disciplinary grounds would be withdrawn only if they apologise first.

"Discipline is required when you are in an industrial environment with a large number of workers. They need to obey rules. The words compromise and discipline don't go together," Shekar Viswanathan told PTI. We have suspended workers and inquiry will be conducted to decide what action must be taken...If they apologise, we are willing to take them back but if they don't, we have to take remedial action," Viswanathan said, without elaborating.

500 workers, who were supposed to enter the factory at 6 AM for the first shift, refused to do so because they were asked to sign the undertaking.

"We have not resumed work today. We had said the company should lift lockout unconditionally and we will not sign any undertaking as desired by the company," Toyota Kirloskar Motor Employees Union (TKMEU) President Prasanna Kumar told PTI. "We had gone there...but they have not allowed us in. They are insisting that we have to sign the undertaking," he said.

“As we are against giving or signing any undertaking, none of us has entered the factory for the first shift which began at 6.00am,” he told AFP. “The undertaking is against our rights as workers. We have a right to protect our interests and ensure that our welfare is not jeopardised.”

Kumar said, "The undertaking sounds like we are accepting the lockout notice that blames us for issues related to delay tactics in work, threatening supervisors.....It also asks us to follow all rules, regulations or orders laid upon us without questioning it. Whatever they say will be final. It talks about not using mobile phones and the installation of electronic devices and cameras, which shows least respect to our basic rights."

1,500 workers at the Toyota plants are contract workers. Today, contract employees account for about 34% of the total workforce in India's top publicly traded companies. The share of contract workers in the total workforce is as high as 47% in the automobile sector which has witnessed the most labour-related disturbance in recent years.

 In a background analysis of the situation observes that the preference of companies to employ contract labour is explained by India's labour laws, such as the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 that requires both compensation and prior permission from the government for laying-off of workers in firms employing more than one hundred workmen. This has led companies to hire labour through contractors, helping to keep many of their employees out of the regular payroll, thus escaping the provisions of the Act.

Effectively, contract labour provided companies with the flexibility to hire or fire based on business conditions, while undercutting the power of the unions. This presented companies with a luxury they could not afford otherwise, but more importantly it brought into focus the relationship between regular and contract workers. Contract workers could cooperate—or effectively unionize—with regular workers and demand higher wages and benefits. Or they could compete with regular workers, forcing them to perform better, accept lower wages, or simply perish.

During the previous 2012 Maruti strikes, the demand to offer regular employment to contract workers formed an important part of the agenda of protesting workers. Both regular and contract workers colluded to take on the management. But in the Toyota episode, there does not appear to be the same kind of solidarity. In fact, according to some Toyota union members, the management continued to operate the plant during the lockout with the aid of contract workers and management, undermining the power of the Toyota union.

The advent of competition in the labour market with the entry of contract labour has coincided with greater uncertainty in the power of the unions. Toyota's tale points to an underlying story of management taking advantage of decreasing labour union power, who fear a decline in the bargaining power from an influx of contract workers in a relatively open labour market.

As Kumar pointed, at the commencement of the dispute the company, was trying to bring in a new work culture "with more production for less pay". He had earlier explained.

As of the 28th, the workers have still not returned to work with management using office staff and contract workers plus apprentices to try and break the strike.

Social Impact Bonds - New Ways To Profit

March 24, 2014 - In 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that New York City would be the site of a new experiment very dear to his billionaire's heart. He declared that Wall Street megabank Goldman Sachs would provide a loan of nearly $10 million to pay for a program intended to reduce the rate at which adolescent men incarcerated at Rikers Island reoffend after their release (currently almost half reoffended within a year). The city government was short of money, so Goldman Sachs would step in to do what anemic public investment could not accomplish on its own: keep young men out of jail.
If the program succeeded, the giant bank would profit. The more recidivism dropped, the more taxpayers would have to pay Goldman Sachs. On the other hand, if recidivism didn't drop significantly, Goldman would lose its investment.
So far, it's too early to tell whether or not the program, which focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy, will meet its goals, but according to reports from the Department of Corrections, fighting has already been reduced at Rikers, so Goldman may just cash in.
The Rikers experiment is an example of a new trend in what are called "social impact bonds." Burning questions about who profits and who loses in these schemes have become the subject of debate as the trend catches hold. Let's explore.

 Here you can read all about the 'social impact bonds.'

And the final paragraphs:

Matt Taibbi, who memorably dubbed a Goldman a "great vampire squid" in a 2009 article in Rolling Stone, noted that a 650-page report on the financial crisis put out by the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations revealed plentiful details of Goldman Sachs' crime spree leading up to the disaster:
"...The mountain of evidence collected against Goldman by Levin's small, 15-desk office of investigators — details of gross, baldfaced fraud delivered up in such quantities as to almost serve as a kind of sarcastic challenge to the curiously impassive Justice Department — stands as the most important symbol of Wall Street's aristocratic impunity and prosecutorial immunity produced since the crash of 2008."
According to the report, Goldman Sachs executives viewed the impending financial crisis — which they helped create! — as an opportunity to enrich themselves both at the expense of clients and eventually of taxpayers through the bailouts. Yet in 2012, the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue criminal charges against the bank. Attorney General Eric Holder gave us a hint as to why when he explained to Congress in 2013 that some banks were too big to jail.
How many of the young men at Rikers Island ended up there in part because of the wreckage in the economy caused by that crisis and the subsequent cuts in services demanded by people like Lloyd Blankfein?
Perhaps we could create a social impact bond focused on sending criminal bankers to prison. The more who end up serving time, the more the bondholders will get paid. That would be a very interesting experiment. Any takers at Goldman Sachs?

Time To Put America First? Who Says?

Earlier today, the Senate and the House passed a bill that would give the new government in Ukraine $1 billion in loans and $100 million in direct aid.
Today's vote came just a day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would drop controversial IMF reforms from the Ukraine aid bill, guaranteeing Republican support.
Ukraine's new government has been in power a little over a month, and now it's secured itself a nice little lifeline from Washington.
That was fast.
Meanwhile, more than 2 million jobless Americans are still struggling to pay their bills after losing their unemployment benefits three months ago at the end of December.

Sure, a group of Senators have agreed to a plan to extend unemployment benefits by another five months, but there's really no guarantee that Republicans in the House will, you know, do their job and pass that extension.
Those Republicans are apparently all for forking over billions of dollars to an unelected government in Ukraine, but when it comes to helping out unemployed Americans, they're suddenly up in arms screaming about the debt and the deficit.
If you think this is insane, you're not alone.

If Republicans in Congress were as committed to helping out Americans as they are to helping out the Ukrainian government, they would have extended unemployment insurance months ago.
But instead, they've blocked extension at every chance they've had. And, of course there's still a very good chance that they'll block it once again when it comes up for a vote sometime in the next few weeks.

Republican obstruction looks even more ridiculous when you remember that those 2 million jobless people who are still without benefits paid into the unemployment insurance throughout their adult working lives.
By refusing unemployment insurance, Republicans, have, in effect, said to 2 million Americans, "No, you can't have your money back."

Congress' schizophrenic attitude towards Ukraine aid and jobless benefits is just one example of much bigger sickness festering in our political system right now.
When it comes to helping out giant transnational corporations, the military-industrial complex, or America's foreign policy interests, Congress will do their bidding at the drop of a hat.
But when it comes to helping out every day Americans by doing things like extending unemployment benefits, suddenly Congress can't do its job and there's gridlock.

Former GOP congressional staffer Mike Lofgren talked about this on a recent episode of "Moyers & Company," pointing out that this gridlock helps keep what he called America's "deep state" in power.

The preamble to our Constitution does not say that our government exists to promote the "general Welfare" of private corporations, standing armies, foreign governments, or Ukrainians. The preamble to our Constitution says that our government exists to promote the "general Welfare" of "We the People."
It's time for our elected representatives to start following the principles laid out in our Constitution and help everyday Americans struggling to make ends meet. A great first step would be to extend unemployment insurance right away.
But one piece of legislation isn't enough. In the long term, Congress needs to totally rethink its priorities and start, as Merle Haggard says, putting America first.

from here

Funny how some people just don't get it? Congress is full of Americans - they know how to put themselves first, that's why they work to get themselves there. Those making plenty from the transnational corporations, the military industrial complex, and America's foreign policy interests are in large part Americans and many of them are or were in Congress and are pretty adept at using the revolving door. The rule is 'PUT THE CAPITALIST FIRST' - if you can't get used to it then get stuck into doing something that really would make a difference for all the working class of the world, including, of course, Americans.

IMF, Ukraine, Austerity

The International Monetary Fund announced on Thursday a $14 to $18 billion "bailout" for Ukraine that is contingent on Kiev's imposition of stringent austerity measures.
The package, which is slated for approval by the IMF's board next month, will unlock credits of up to $27 billion from the United States, European Union, Japan, and other countries over the coming years if Ukraine imposes "economic reforms."

According to Reuters, the IMF's requirements include: "allowing the national currency, the hryvnia, to float more freely against the dollar, increasing the price of gas for the domestic consumer, overhauling finances in the energy sector and following a more stringent fiscal policy."
Ukraine's new government on Wednesday passed a drastic increase in domestic gas prices, to take effect May first, and pledged to gradually reduce energy subsidies — a widely unpopular move that former President Viktor Yanukovych refused to take.

The deal comes amid ongoing anti-austerity protests across Europe, including hundreds of thousands strong protests across Spain over the weekend. Critics charge that austerity measures, by eroding vital public goods and services, deepen crises of poverty and inequality.

Welcome to a sinking ship Ukraine! Oh, there will be plenty who manage to make themselves fortunes whilst wages go down, jobs are lost, pensions and services are cut. It's the same old capitalist merry-go-round of business as usual.
Sod the working class. Time for a meaningful revolution - a socialist revolution, All Workers Together!

Copied from here

North Korea - the Failed Stalinist Utopia

 In the late 1990s, North Korea suffered a major famine that, according to the most recent research, led to between 500,000 and 600,000 deaths. However, starvation has long since ceased to be a fact of life in North Korea.

This year, North Korea enjoyed an exceptionally good harvest, which for the first time in more than two decades will be sufficient to feed the country's entire population. Indeed, according to the recent documents of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), North Korea's harvest totaled 5.03 million tonnes of grain this year, if converted to the cereal equivalent. To put things in perspective, in the famine years of the late 1990s, the average annual harvest was estimated  to be below the 3 million tonne level.

The CIA fact book estimates North Korea's GDP per capita to be $1,800. Even this estimate is probably excessively optimistic. There is a good reason to believe that the actual per capita GDP of North Korea is in the region of $800-900.

 Yet in recent years, one can see a proliferation of expensive boutiques in the North Korean capital. The North Korean new rich - both corrupt officials and successful black market entrepreneurs - can easily buy world-renowned luxury brands for their friends and family. While theoretically, trade in real estate is illegal, there is a growing property market in Pyongyang and other major cities.A good apartment in Pyongyang, which would cost less $10,000 just 10 years ago would now set you back between $70,000 and $100,000. There is the growing private restaurant trade. These businesses are nominally owned and operated by the state. In practice, however, wealthy private individuals set up restaurants and register them with state agencies in order to disguise the business from the potentially dangerous local and central government. A good meal at such places can cost as much as $15-20 (sometimes more) - enough for an entire family in a countryside village to live for a week or two. Nonetheless, many such restaurants are doing a roaring trade.

Why is North Korea's economy growing? It seems that the single most important factor is the gradual and seemingly unstoppable expansion of the semi-legal private economy. According to the most recent estimates, about 75 percent of North Korean household income now comes not from the state but from assorted private economic activities - activities that are now tacitly tolerated by the government. North Koreans today tend to their very own private plots, run their own food stalls, make clothes, footwear (and even counterfeited Chinese cigarettes) in unofficial workshops, and of course, they trade. This private economy is massive. Strictly speaking, most of these activities remain illegal under North Korean law, but the North Korean government is unable (and perhaps unwilling) to enforce many of the outdated rules and regulations. Indeed, it may have no other choice since if these laws were enforced another round of starvation (and even a massive rebellion) might ensue.

North Korean government's army of bureaucrats are not immune to the allure of the private sector either. Some are passive: They merely take bribes, leaching off the hard work of North Korea's entrepreneurs and private workers. Many, though, utilise their government positions more creatively (and less parasitically) by becoming de-facto entrepreneurs, by using the capital, land, equipment and/or people under its control to make goods and services for profit. Many government-appointed managers at North Korean state factories have basically become private entrepreneurs, and have made themselves rich (by this country's very modest standards).

When it comes to the economy, the market works in North Korea as well as it does in many other parts of the world. It brings growth, but it also brings a large amount of income inequality and social tensions with it too. In spite of North Korea's Stalinist rhetoric, North Korea is now a country in which there are rich and poor - and the gap between these two groups, already large, is widening quickly. A significant part of the population is still malnourished, and the average North Korean family considers itself reasonably affluent if they can afford a new bicycle. So, North Korea is very, very poor indeed. Nonetheless, it is clearly not a starving country anymore.

From here by Andrei Lankov, professor of Korean Studies at Kookmin University, Seoul,  author of "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia".

Football - fun or profit?

The number of adults playing football has gone down from 2.02m to 1.84m since 2005. The Football Association was punished for failing to reverse an ongoing decline in grassroots participation with a £1.6m cut in funding from Sport England. Sport England's chief executive, Jennie Price, said the funding cut should act as a "warning" to the FA that it had to do better in working with professional clubs, local councils and commercial five-a-side companies to encourage more people to take part in football for fun.

More than half of grassroots football leagues have experienced widespread disruption as a result of bad weather and poor facilities, leaving some facing an uncertain future, according to new research that highlights the scale of the crisis facing the game. Faced with rising costs and council cuts in the budgets for maintaining pitches, there are widespread fears that it will be hard to turn round the trend in declining participation figures across all forms of the game. Local authority cuts to sport and recreation budgets have led to increased charges.

Over half of all leagues have had to cancel more than 55 matches since October and a third had to cancel over seven weeks of fixtures entirely, says the survey by the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SRA). The same figures say that 55% had to cancel between three and seven weeks of fixtures and 33% between seven and 11. Six out of 10 leagues said that with better facilities or better drainage those postponements could have been prevented.

"We understand that many councils are under pressure from local funding cuts. But investment in sports facilities should be seen less as spending money to allow people to have a good time and more about making a long-term investment in the health and well-being of communities." said Andy Reed, chair of the SRA.

Back to jumpers for goals?

Is the USA a Police State (2)

The general trend within America’s police precincts has been toward greater militarization.

Keene, New Hampshire - A town with a murder count of two since 2009, Keene’s city officials surreptitiously accepted a $285,933 grant from the Department of Defense in 2012 to purchase a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, or BearCat. Unlike Keene’s BearCat, Columbia in South Carolina have a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP) is valued at $658,000, but was handed off virtually free to the Columbia Police Department  and it has a turret that can be armed with a 50-caliber machine gun. It’s also built to withstand any mine blasts it may trigger in the streets of the "Capital of Southern Hospitality.”

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Ethnicity" - clumsy and inaccurate

There was an interesting item in today's Times (whose site is behind a pay-wall so no link)  under the heading "Ethnic identity is now a multiple choice question"

“Just as the joyless trudge through a government form is almost done, one final question remains: "What is your ethnic group?"

Those who view officialdom's interest in their cultural background as an irrelevance — if not a downright impertinence — will take heart from a new study that claims the surveys are clumsy and inaccurate ways of measuring the population.

More than two million people, including a quarter of those who called themselves "White Irish", gave one ethnicity to the 2001 census and another in 2011, according to an academic at the University of Manchester.

Ludi Simpson, the university's honorary professor for population studies, said data from the diversity questions that appear routinely on many government forms were "always a bit behind the times" and should be "taken with a pinch of salt".  He said: "Ethnicity is a fuzzy concept used by government and sociologists to explain and support the diversity of our society, but as individuals we don't fit into neat boxes. In an age of diversity, most Britons now take it for granted any form will include a section on their cultural background and sexuality but the bureaucratic mind is getting increasingly bewildered by the range of races which the form is now expected to embrace."

Professor Simpson found that 4 per cent of all people had "switched" their ethnic group after the 2001 census. Many who had previously called themselves "White Irish" changed their answer to "White British" when the 2011 census noted that the latter could include Northern Irish people, he said.

As  British  people  from different backgrounds intermarry and raise children, he believes questions of identity will only become more complex and difficult to track with official forms.

 Nevertheless, Professor Simpson said the information could still be useful. "It is the only way of asking the question, but the trouble is we don't stick to the same answer every time we fill in one of these forms," he said. "You should take it with a pinch of salt."

These questions are not only irrelevant and impertinent but politically and scientifically wrong.  They are just a cover for trying to identify a person's so-called "race".  They say it is about a person's "culture" but the thing about culture is that this has nothing to do with "race" and anybody is quite capable of adopting parts of any culture.  This is why it is our official policy not to answer the question about this in the census, as in this Resolution voted at our 2000 Conference:

“For the coming census in 2001 the Party adopt the same policy regarding the question on so-called "race/ethnic origin" as for the 1991 census, namely that members and others should be urged to answer "Other – Member of the Human Race".