Saturday, February 29, 2020

Refugees used as political weapon

Turkey claimed 18,000 migrants had crossed the border, without immediately providing supporting evidence, but many appear to have been repelled by Greek border patrols firing teargas and stun grenades. Thousands of migrants may be in no man’s land between Turkey and Greece after Ankara opened its western borders, as Greek troops attempted to prevent refugees from entering Europe en masse. Turkish police, coastguard and border guards had been ordered to stand down, meaning passage to Europe would be no longer prevented, refugees and migrants made haste to Turkey’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria.

Greek authorities said 52 warships and patrol boats were patrolling the seas around Lesbos, along with other Aegean isles, in an apparent show of force to deter clandestine voyages. Bulgaria has sent an extra 1,000 troops to its border with Turkey.

 ErdoğanTurkey’s president, has long threatened to allow refugees and migrants transit into the EU, with which Turkey signed an accord in 2016 to stem westward migration in return for financial aid. He stressed the frontier would remain open. “We will not close these doors in the coming period and this will continue,” he said in Istanbul on Saturday. “Why? The European Union needs to keep its promises. We don’t have to take care of this many refugees, to feed them.”

There are more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, along with many others fleeing war and poverty in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Turkey’s borders to Europe were closed to migrants following a £5.2bn deal with the EU in 2016 after more than a million people crossed into Europe by foot. As that policy was effectively reversed, Erdoğan claimed that the number of people entering Europe from Turkey could rise to up to 30,000 on Saturday. 
But the policy shift appears to be intended to force the EU and Nato to support Ankara’s new military campaign in Idlib, Syria’s last rebel stronghold, where thousands of Turkish soldiers are supporting opposition forces facing an onslaught from regime forces backed by Russian air power. The Idlib offensive has pushed almost a million displaced civilians toward the Syrian-Turkish border. In the largest single loss of life to Turkish forces since their country became involved in the Syria conflict in 2016, at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike on Thursday night in the north-western province.

Supporting Reforms

How would a candidate of the S.P.G.B. conduct him or herself if returned to a council chamber? would he or she vote for higher wages for Council employees and better housing of the people, etc., and what course would he pursue while in a minority ?
J. T. Tyson (Stoke-on-Trent).


The answer to this question was given in essence by the election address upon which S.P.G.B. candidates ran at local elections in London. This election address, the first in this country to lay down the Socialist position on municipal elections, was also printed in the October, 1906 Socialist Standard and should be referred to.

Broadly speaking, the attitude of a Socialist member of a municipal today only becomes doubtful when the object for which such a candidate stands, together with the essential fact of the class antagonism and the narrow limits of municipal action, are lost sight of, and in so far as the electors are not at one with their representative regarding these important facts. Hence at this stage how the representative is elected is of the greatest importance in determining his attitude.

It must, therefore, be clearly understood, 1st, that any reform worthy the name from a working-class standpoint involves the conscious taking from the capitalist class of, at least, part of the proceeds and power of robbery, and thus even genuine reform is conditional upon working-class supremacy, (2nd) That to wield in the workers’ interest even the limited and paltry powers allowed by the central government to the local bodies, it is first necessary to control the local bodies by a Socialist majority.

Consequently to promise immediate reforms that cannot be granted until the revolutionary step has been taken leads to confusion, disappointment and apathy, while it means a vote worthless for Socialism followed by desertion. But to insist upon the futility of reform, and the primary necessity of capturing political power means a sound vote, a solid backing, and a sure and steady growth of the class-conscious and revolutionary army.

That these facts are recognised elsewhere although in the rush for jobs they are not acted upon may be made clear by one or two quotations.

In Guesde’s new journal, “Le Socialisme” an editorial on “The Party and Municipal Elections,” states:—
  “The freeing of Society by emancipated labour, which is by nature national and international, is necessarily out of the power of that organised powerlessness of which the municipality consists at present, dominated as this is at the same time by economic necessities and by the arbitrary politics of the bourgeois state and its agents, but if the government—the central power—having passed into the hands of the proletarian class and remaining therein, is the indispensable instrument of the social revolution, if the municipal ground cannot in any way be anything but a field of manoeuvres and training for the Socialist army, the duty of the class-conscious workers is none the less to dislodge the industrial, landed, and financial feudalism from the town halls, and, turning these against the enemy, to use these as so many bases of operations in our march, forward.”
In the “Social Revolution,” Kautsky also states :—
  “In the same way, municipal Socialism finds its limits in the existing order of State and Society, even where universal suffrage prevails in the communes. The commune is always tied down to the general economic and political conditions, and cannot extricate itself from them singly. Certainly, in municipalities in industrial districts the workers may get the administration into their own hands before they are strong enough to capture the political power in the State, and they are then in a position to eliminate from this administration at least the most objectionable features of hostility to labour, and to introduce reforms which cannot be expected from a bourgeois regime. But these municipalities soon find their limits, not simply in the power of the State, but also in their own economic helplessness. It is for the most part poor districts, almost exclusively inhabited by the proletariat, which are first won by the Social-Democrats. Whence can they obtain the means for carrying out their greater reforms? As a rule they are limited in the levying of rates by the laws of the State, and even where this is not the case they cannot go beyond a certain limit in the taxation of the rich and well-to-do, without driving these, the only inhabitants from whom anything is to be obtained, away.”
In the face of these recognised and undeniable facts the long reform programmes of “palliatives” and “immediate demands” of so-called Socialist organisations can only be characterised as fraudulent. Upon all counts the first and essential step to secure genuine working-class amelioration is the control by the workers nationally and locally, and this must be made plain; and when the workers are the ruling class, lists of reforms suited to the continuance of capitalism become stupid, and entirely different revolutionary measures of transition become the order of the day. Thus reform programmes not only scatter and render mutually antagonistic the workers’ efforts, but they obscure and prevent concentration upon the essential step.

Once the Socialist position is grasped, the rest becomes plain sailing. The Socialist candidate is only the advance guard of the revolutionary working-class army and his attitude must be consistent thereto. He will, of course, work to wrest from the master class in open struggle any possible present ameliorations, but he did not seek suffrages for this but for Socialism, whilst neither he nor his electors are under any illusions on this head, for he has made plain how little is to be hoped from the enemy while entrenched in power.

Whilst in a minority the only effective political weapon of the Socialist in the obtaining of concessions is the relentless opposition, criticism and exposure of capitalist rascality, educating and organising the workers for Socialism and so striking fear into the exploiters, and causing them to throw out sops in order to maintain their position.

It would be the educational duty of the Socialist members even while in a minority to also propose measures embodying what should be done on any particular question in the interests of the working class. True, since a minority is a minority, he will be voted down, and any measure passed will surely be one which supports and strengthens capitalist interests, whether as working-class soporific or an aid to greater exploitation. Nevertheless, the work will tell, and therefore the consistent opposition of the Socialists to capitalist parties must be kept perfectly plain. Indeed, as Marx has said, the master class acting in its own immediate interests cannot avoid at the same time helping to dig its own grave.

And when as the result of this education and organisation among the electors, and training in administration, the majority are Socialist on the council, then—and then only—can such very limited powers as the local bodies possess be used as far as can be done to help strikers, children, and the workers generally, not alone by increasing the pay of municipal employees and housing the people, but even more important in the use of the power, funds, and organisation of the municipality, as far as is locally possible, in helping to complete the task of the workers in the capture of the central powers for Socialism. Indeed, the sound capture of a municipality by the Socialist workers can hardly occur without—owing to the similarity of capitalist development elsewhere— many other localities being also more or less ripe. While the continued financial and legal conflicts between such municipalities and the agents of the capitalist Government on the L.G.B., etc. can only help to make clearer and more pressing the only solution of the antagonism, and to hasten the day, as they make ever plainer the necessity, of completing the capture of the governmental powers in order to use them against the recalcitrant exploiters, and, backed by the whole of the organised workers, to transform Society by a series of transitional acts from industrial despotism into industrial democracy.

Letter to the Editors from the January 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Immigration Rules and Pay

Britain’s new, post-Brexit immigration system where people from European Union countries will no longer have the automatic right to work in Britain is unlikely to lead to a significant increase in pay growth for workers in the country, Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane said.

“Let’s see how that plays through,” Haldane said after a speech about the labour market at the University of Oxford when asked about the impact of the new system on wages.  “Perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on how big a dampening (effect) immigration has had on real pay in the first place. While pay in some sectors had been affected more by immigration, overall the impact was “pretty modest,” he said. 

While Britain now had the lowest jobless rate in nearly half a century, the problem of high unemployment of the early 1980s had been replaced by one of weak wage growth. Flexible working, including so-called zero-hour jobs, helped many people, including women and older workers, but many more worried about the insecurity of such work, Haldane said.

In his speech, Haldane said the rise of “flexible” work, where workers are often unable to choose their hours and their pay fluctuates accordingly, appeared to be contributing to Britain’s deep-seated productivity problem.  Figures from the Trade Union Congress showed almost 4 million people were in insecure work, or one in 9 workers, close to the scale of the unemployment peak in 1980s, he said, adding that the link between the poor quality of work and weak productivity was most evident among lower earners. 

“Perhaps this rise of alternative working, insecure arrangements may have contributed at least in part to that flat-lining of productivity,” Haldane said.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Free speech should be what is contagious

Our present social system comes in various guises.  Many countries have some form of dictatorship, others have freer systems with less restriction on free speech.

  In China, if you vote, you vote for the regime. Any kind of dissent or disaffection, you’re in trouble. So when Dr Li Wenliang (a doctor in Wuhan, in central China) decided some of his patients were showing symptoms reminiscent of the Sars epidemic of 2003, and warned others to take extra care, the police moved in.

 They told him about the nasty things which happen to people who “make false comments” and “disturb the social order”, and he had to promise to shut up.

  For some strange reason this vigorous police action didn’t kill off the virus, or stop the disease spreading.  More people fell ill with flu-like symptoms, including Dr Li, who died. 

 At the Lunar New Year, thousands of Chinese (or even millions – China is a big country) travel to celebrate the holiday with relatives.  All of this continued, and when the Chinese authorities finally had to agree that something was wrong, the virus had spread all over China, and to other countries. Now in China and elsewhere, there is an economic slowdown, and stock exchanges all over the world report sharp falls in the price of shares.

      In other words, if China had what is usually called democracy, so doctors were less likely to be told to “shut up or else”, it is likely that mass travel across the country could have been restricted much earlier, and probably coronavirus nipped in the bud.  If these crisis measures had been taken promptly, it would have been much better for the world’s share owners, and might have saved them from the losses which coronavirus is now imposing. This could explain why in some countries the people in power agree that there are benefits in free speech.

Alwyn Edgar

No Electoral Fraud - Bolivia

A study released by a pair of MIT researchers reveals that, contrary to claims from the US-backed Organization of American States, there was no fraud in Bolivia's October 20, 2019 elections—an accusation used by the OAS and others as a pretext for supporting the coup in the country that deposed President Evo Morales and replaced him with an unelected right-wing government. 

According to Curiel and Williams, "There is not any statistical evidence of fraud that we can find...The media has largely reported the allegations of fraud as fact."

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) co-director, Mark Weisbrot, said in a statement that the OAS has a lot of explaining to do after facilitating the coup through faulty information. 

"The OAS greatly misled the media and the public about what happened in Bolivia's elections, and helped to foster a great deal of mistrust in the electoral process and the results." 

 MSNBC journalist Chris Hayes tweeted "Given the fact the entire Morales government was toppled over accusations of election fraud, the OAS has a lot to answer for."

Jim Crow 2.0

The US was suppose to be founded on the promise of democracy and fair representation, but it is also the country where minorities are frequently disenfranchised for political gain. Among the most vulnerable are millions of Americans, disproportionately African Americans, like Tucker, who have been entangled in America’s racially biased criminal justice system, and lose civil liberties like voting as a result.

The barriers facing many Americans advocates say, are modern adaptations of poll taxes and other devices which were designed to keep people from the voting booths during the Jim Crow era – when white politicians used the law to curb the civil rights of African Americans. Alabama is one of 30 states that requires people with felony convictions to pay back the financial obligations associated with their sentence before they can vote again.

In 2018, with the midterm elections approaching, Alfonzo Tucker Jr was particularly eager to vote. The mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Tucker’s hometown, was running for governor, and the year before he had canvassed for Doug Jones, a Democrat running in a closely watched US Senate race. But Tucker wasn’t able to cast a ballot – state officials refused to even let him register. It wasn’t until weeks later that he learned why he had been deprived of the right to vote. He owed the state $4. Tucker’s case is particularly glaring. He lives less than a hundred miles north-west of Selma, the birthplace of the voting rights movement in America. This week, civil rights leaders are commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches led by Martin Luther King Jr and civil rights activists as they protested against laws preventing African Americans from voting. Many were brutally beaten in Selma during the protests. “I read about the challenges during the 60s, 50s, that black people had to overcome just to vote,” Tucker said. “It’s the same thing going on in 2020.”
The specific policy that had ensnared Tucker dates back to the turn of the 20th century when Alabama leaders, openly seeking to preserve white supremacy, stripped anyone convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude”, among other offenses, of the right to vote. “What is it that we want to do? Why, it is within the limits imposed by the federal constitution, to establish white supremacy in this state,” John Knox, the chair of the convention, said at the time. “If we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law – not by force or fraud,” he added.

Free Press?

You cannot hope 
to bribe or twist, 
thank God! the 
British journalist.
But seeing what 
the man will do 
unbribed, there’s 
no occasion to.

The silence of the UK media and its journalists is striking when it comes to reporting and supporting freedom of speech in the political trial or as the court prefers to call it - an extradition hearing - of Julian Assange so to face prosecution in the USA under the Espionage Act. The charges all relate to the release of government secrets, the sort of thing that all journalists should aspire to do,

The extradition treaty's Article 4 stipulates that, “Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which the extradition is requested is a political offense.”  
The team representing the US government suggested that the judge have recourse to substantive UK domestic law, not the Treaty itself.  Whether Assange was wanted for political reasons or not was irrelevant as he was “not entitled to derive any rights from the [US-UK Extradition] Treaty”. The prosecution effectively relied on a peculiarity of the Westminster system: the Treaty, ratified in 2007, had not been incorporated into UK domestic law.  That domestic law can be found in the Extradition Act 2003, which does not feature political offenses as a bar to extradition.  “There’s no such thing as a political offense in ordinary English law”, something that only arose in the context of extradition.
WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson reminded us that this is “journalism on trial” and stated that the US argument is repeating the same old line they used 10 years ago, while dismissing the importance of the harm the US was doing, as revealed WikiLeaks by in their 2010-2011 publications. Hrafnsson rejected the US government’s claims that WikiLeaks publications put lives at risk, stating that during the 2013 Manning Trial, the US government could not prove any harm, and had to admit that no physical harm had occurred to a single individual due to WikiLeaks revelations.

Rather than prosecute those who committed war crimes as revealed in the data released, it is the messenger who is placed in the dock. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) UK bureau director Rebecca Vincent noted, that Assange, “ has been targeted for his contributions to public interest reporting.”

"this is bad stuff"

Climate change could become a "catastrophic" threat to global security, as people lose their livelihoods, fall ill and battle over scarce water and food, a host of U.S. security, military and intelligence experts warned. 

Pressures from global warming could intensify political tensions, unrest and conflict, fuel violent extremism and break down government security systems, the experts said in a report by the Center of Climate and Security, a nonpartisan policy institute. 

War-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East were cited as most at risk, but industrialized regions are vulnerable, it said.
"Even at scenarios of low warming, each region of the world will face severe risks to national and global security in the next three decades," the report said. "Higher levels of warming will pose catastrophic, and likely irreversible, global security risks over the course of the 21st century."

The research  warned of displaced populations driven from their homes by rising heat, drought and dwindling water and food supplies. Disease would spread, and border security and infrastructure would break down as resources grow more scarce, fueling extremism, crime and human trafficking, it said.

"We're really looking at a bleak future if we see more and more countries become fragile," said Rod Schoonover, a former intelligence analyst and co-author of the report.
The experts assessed threats under two scenarios - if the planet warmed by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius or by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius - by the end of the century.
The U.N. has warned that if emissions are not drastically lowered, the average global temperature will increase by 4 degrees Celsius by then.
"I don't mean to be a doomsayer, but this is bad stuff," said retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, a former U.S. Army chief of staff.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Raise wages, cut hours, double the work-load

Target increased their minimum wage then rolled out a “modernization plan” in 2019 to increase efficiency that cut workers' hours and doubled their workload.  Target reported record share prices at the end of 2019.

Adam Ryan, 31, has worked at Target in Christiansburg, Virginia, for three years. He works additional jobs whenever he’s able to, but is regularly scheduled only 20 hours per week at Target, despite having open availability.

“I have to live with my family because I can’t afford rent on my own. I don’t have health insurance. I’ve had a rotting tooth in my mouth for years that I haven’t been able to receive treatment. I’ve applied for Medicaid in Virginia and every time I’m told I make too much money, and Target has told me I don’t qualify for their benefits because I don’t get enough hours,” said Ryan, who is also an organizer with Target Workers Unite, an independent initiative of Target workers.
Some 54% of workers surveyed report management telling them not to discuss wages with other workers and 41.6% of workers report workers have been reprimanded by management for discussing workplace issues in the store or on social media.
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Bonnie Furlong has worked as a cashier at Target for about seven years, but still makes what starting workers make, $13 an hour.

“The last time they raised it, they cut our hours, so I’m basically making less than I was before they raised it to $13 an hour,” said Furlong. Her hours were reduced from 32 to 38 hours per week to around 20 hours per week. “If I wasn’t getting social security, which isn’t very much either, I wouldn’t be able to work there because I couldn’t afford it.”
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Bonnie Furlong has worked as a cashier at Target for about seven years, but still makes what starting workers make, $13 an hour.

“The last time they raised it, they cut our hours, so I’m basically making less than I was before they raised it to $13 an hour,” said Furlong. Her hours were reduced from 32 to 38 hours per week to around 20 hours per week. “If I wasn’t getting social security, which isn’t very much either, I wouldn’t be able to work there because I couldn’t afford it.”
A Target employee in Florida for six years also reported drastic cuts to their schedule.

“This year I am losing my health benefits in March because of cut hours and I recently found out I am pregnant so I’m stressed out about it all. I am given eight hours of work to do in a four-and-a-half-hour shift and expected to get it all done,” they said. “I went from 40 hours a week to 15 hours in January 2020.”

In Houston, Texas, a Target employee told the Guardian the modernization plan has significantly increased workloads that aren’t feasible to complete in the time they’re scheduled.

“I can’t get anything done in 12 hours. I can’t pay rent either. They’re trying to minimize the workforce but maximize what gets done, and it’s causing issues,” they said. “I have two jobs to make ends meet on top of college. I don’t really do anything other than work any more, but they keep us dangling on a string.”