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Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up: The Media Landscape After the Culture War by Annieli

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Every war seems permanent as does every revolution until it ends which requires much in the way of interpreting rather than explaining the victory to the vanquished, even in mediated spaces that can digitally define cultural landscapes. How possible is it to consider Walter Benjamin‘s point on the failure of historical materialism “To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was.’ It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger”? More specifically how do we treat cultural danger as presented in the meme of “Culture War” and how can we incorporate Marxist analysis to remediate or reconcile the memories that emerge in momentary crisis that obscure the critically real history embodied and assess their actual danger or risk. Landscapes have that same problem of memory, as actual experience of an expansive and contemplative view of a world or as saved representations of concrete and abstract journeys through those same worlds. The first is individually ontological whereas the latter is a social ontology representing and reproducing an historical relationship to others in a cultural context. Both involve human labor at various scales but it is the crises of value and meaning assigned to those experiences that inform global discourses of war and environment on an unprecedented scale and scope. Today’s culture wars find themselves waging these combative discourses in a media landscape or Medienlandschaft.

The phrase culture war represents a loan translation (calque) from the German Kulturkampf. The German word, Kulturkampf, was used to describe the clash between cultural and religious groups in the campaign from 1871 to 1878 under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of the German Empire against the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. In American usage the term culture war is used to claim that there is a conflict between those values considered traditionalist or conservative and those considered progressive or liberal. It originated in the 1920s when urban and rural American values came into clear conflict. This followed several decades of immigration to the cities by people considered alien to earlier immigrants. It was also a result of the cultural shifts and modernizing trends of the Roaring 20s, culminating in the presidential campaign of Al Smith. However, the “culture war” in United States of America was redefined by James Davison Hunter’s 1991 book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. In this work, it is traced to the 1960s. The perceived focus of the American culture war and its definition have taken various forms since then.

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge–unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.” Walter Benjamin (1940)

In such historical landscapes who are “cultural workers” and what does cultural work as contrasted with cultural objects look like, is it different of the same as all kinds of work and what kinds of value does it produce or more directly can individuals produce “particular kinds of independent and critical reflexivity modelled on the autonomy of the work of art” (Bennett 2011, and Bennett 2009) Societies exist in such landscapes and their collective experiences are often organized or reproduced as mass spectacles, either actual or mediated and consumed in a variety of ways, often driven by tragedy or circumstance.

A well-ordered society would like the bodies which compose it to have the perceptions, sensations and thoughts which correspond to them. Now this correspondence is perpetually disturbed. There are words and discourses which freely circulate, without master, and which divert bodies from their destinations, engaging them in movements in the neighbourhood of certain words: people, liberty, equality, etc. There are spectacles which disassociate the gaze from the hand and transform the worker into an aesthete.

What kinds of spectacles effect these transformations? Do they bear a family resemblance to the manufacturing of consent where spectacles include all forms of mediated politics and of course the intersecting claims of “entertainment” as with Limbaugh the entertainer (“Okay, so I am an entertainer, and I have 20 million listeners”) as a form of reactionary cultural work. It would be easy to say the following if we could identify the “concrete historical context” and since there are multiple mediations, how would a dialectical method of analysis explain rather than merely interpret such products of culture with multiple tropes of cultural war contesting for domination.

In short, mass-mediated products are determined by various factors—the systems of ownership, the process of cultural production, the level of struggle, the state of consciousness in society at a given time, and so on. A dialectical method of analysis would involve studying all these factors within a concrete historical context so as to explain the multiple mediations that infuse a product of culture

For example, while dystopian, there are multiple ideologies at work in the following example of spectacular speculation where doomsday prepping and its media representations are in reality a capitalist industry that exploits the potential danger of refugees coming from cities to attack rural preppers in a variety of romanticized post-apocalypse scenarios. These narratives have a burgeoning market appealing to a variety of religious and political secessionists all with disposable income or transferable construction skills for survival. They become amplified by the seasonal and media driven rise in firearms purchases. All of these actions represent desires for a kind of aesthetic autonomy, however driven by social underdevelopment.

Ron Douglas, for example, has gathered enough supplies to keep his eight person family (two parents, six children) functioning off the grid for a year. His supplies can be broken into four categories: food, energy, shelter, and protection. He’s become such an expert that he is one of the founders of Red Shed Media Group, a business that organizes Prepper expos (40,000 attendees at $10 a person), has a hugely popular podcast radio program, and owns the rights to successful survivalist books.

Under the fold the concrete becomes either more wet or more abstract.

Reproducing the fears of world wars and post-war nuclear holocaust remains a goal for many interest groups whether as video game or end-times political rhetoric and overdetermines as well as oversimplifies the dialectical conflicts by reifying a variety of Others. Predatory capitalism makes these fearsome representations of social life a means for stimulating the production of cultural capital. Spectacles help to mobilize the markets for the consumption of fear as mediated crises promote both the consumption of political capital and commodity fetishism. Such narratives become their own algorithmic commodity in a vast online war-gaming world. Imagining a post-apocalyptic world from one’s living room or basement implies a view of everyday life that returns the survivors to amore primordial “state of nature” even here represented as a prepper video game,

Are these Guy Debord‘s spectacles where “The Spectacle corresponds to the historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonisation of social life.” “Just as baroque culture created the spectacle as a means of suborning mass populations in order to induce them into conformity through pleasure, so the modern world of consumerism can also be seen as a spectacle.”…”In all its specific manifestations – news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment – the spectacle epitomises the prevailing model of social life.”

Mediation in Marxist theory refers to the reconciliation of two opposing forces within a given society (i.e. the cultural and material realms, or the superstructure and base) by a mediating object. Similar to this, within media studies the central mediating factor of a given culture is the medium of communication itself. The popular conception of mediation refers to the reconciliation of two opposing parties by a third, and this is similar to its meaning in both Marxist theory and media studies. For Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, this mediating factor is capital or alternately labor, depending on how one views capitalist society (capital is the dominant mediating factor, but labor is another mediating factor that could overthrow capital as the most important one).

To give a concrete example of this, a worker making shoes in a shoe factory is not only producing shoes, but potential exchange-value. The shoes are commodities that can be sold for cash. In this way, the value of the labor of the worker is the exchange-value of the shoes he or she produces minus his or her compensation. At the same time, however, the shoes produced have certain social or cultural values as well. If they are Nikes, for example, they may symbolize athletic prowess and style. In this way, the worker’s labor is mediating between the economic or exchange-value of the shoes, and their social or cultural, or symbolic value.

In the 19th Century shoe making was not unlike gun-making in the relatively small scale workshops that become eventually enlarged after wars and under Fordist production but ultimate outsourced in the latter part of the 20th Century as post-Fordism

Van Gogh and Warhol

This question of the social distribution of cultural practices in the 21st Century is not so dissimilar to the issues addressed by William Morris in the 19th Century. In the nineteenth Century the fear of industrialization and the decline in the quality of consumer goods created fragmentation in cultural work where design may have been seen as a remedy to dehumanization in industrial organization as well as the means for improving everyday life. The onset of larger scale national conflict created greater millennialist fears. Movements like the Arts & Crafts movements attempted to improve production by focusing on the quality of smaller batch production and to serve as exemplars for reforming the production process. A variety of idealisms are associated with this including a desire to replicate earlier modes of artisanal production such as those preceding the ear of the Renaissance artist Raphael.

Thomas Cole Destruction of Empire from the The Course of Empire (5 parts) 1836

The Arts and Crafts movement exists in overlapping parallel with
pre-raphaelitism in the latter half of the nineteenth Century to resist the tendencies of quality decline in the production of upper-class consumer goods since the prior century. The latter embraced the identification with a romanticized mode of production primarily due to the proliferation of narratives reviving a variety of genres sympathetic to the increased alienation of individuals in a early modern society.

The principles were deliberately non-dogmatic, since the pre-raphaelite brotherhood wished to emphasise the personal responsibility of individual artists to determine their own ideas and methods of depiction. Influenced by Romanticism, the members thought freedom and responsibility were inseparable. Nevertheless, they were particularly fascinated by medieval culture, believing it to possess a spiritual and creative integrity that had been lost in later eras. The emphasis on medieval culture clashed with principles of realism which stress the independent observation of nature.

Apocalyptic thinking in the 19th Century was at one level a consciousness of modernism and industrialization whose resistance was less machine breaking than understanding the conflict between the social organization of labor and the creation of surplus value and at another as economic development and urbanization promote new forms of consumer culture. So was Morris a DFH? Perhaps but as a political activist he embodied the concerns both for social change and a reconsideration of the role of the artist as a cultural worker in an age of mechanical reproduction where a broader understanding of the role of capital was necessary.

From a later perspective, Stansky concludes that:
Morris’s views on the environment, on preserving what is of value in both the natural and “built” worlds, on decentralising bloated government, are as significant now as they were in Morris’s own time, or even more so. Earlier in the twentieth century, much of his thinking, particularly its political side, was dismissed as sheer romanticism. After the Second World War, it appeared that modernisation, centralisation, industrialism, rationalism – all the faceless movements of the time – were in control and would take care of the world. Today, when we have a keen sense of the shambles of their efforts, the suggestions which Morris made in his designs, his writings, his actions and his politics have new power and relevance.

In ‘Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ (1898), Howard argued that the poverty and slum conditions suffered by many living in late Victorian Britain could be alleviated by building ‘garden cities’. These were to combine the best features of the town and country

Mass cultural consumption makes its workers into aesthetes and the arcade as a prototypical shopping mall facilitates that transformation in the urban context, a situation which has not changed as the Modern age has moved from the trade among regional market centers to broader markets for consumption and larger divisions of labor. We trace an ambulatory path through these new sites for consumption that are now documented by our cell phones.

The arcades are, certainly, a “primordial landscape of consumption” – temples of the commodity, with their seductively displayed, endlessly varied wares: “binoculars and flower seeds, screws and musical scores, makeup and stuffed vipers, fur coats and revolvers”. They were created for purposes of profit, or indeed sheer speculation, offering the buildings’ owners unrivalled financial opportunities by concentrating so many rent-paying undertakings within a small space. Seen from one point of view, then, they are archetypal manifestations of the expanding market economy – creations of private enterprise and sources of profit, and most certainly not part of any public works project. The goods displayed are commodities – objects existing for profit above utility, manifestations of exchange value rather than use value: for Benjamin, they participate in the “fetishism of the commodity”, the mystificatory conversion of human-made products into objects of irrational worship, which Marx classically analysed and denounced in the first volume of Capital. link

These are the spectacular sites of transformation an idealized place for Marx’s view of commodity fetishism now made more abstract by online capital exchange and mediated by spectacles for consumption as in the Superbowl advertising that depends on remediation for its effect in an advert that was aired only once

As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.
— Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I

Hyperrealism and hypercapitalism creates as did the mass production of print media in the 19 Century created new consumer markets and so does the digital networking of information at the 20th-21st Century. Media is no longer about medium in plurality but the praxis of mediation and remediation in more complex networks.

all mediation is remediation. We are not claiming this as an a priori truth, but rather arguing that at this extended historical moment, all current media function as remediators and that remediation offers us a means of interpreting the work of earlier media as well. Our culture conceives of each medium or constellation of media as it responds to, redeploys, competes with, and reforms other media. In the first instance, we may think of something like a historical progression, of newer media remediating older ones and in particular of digital media remediating their predecessors. But ours is a genealogy of affiliations, not a linear history, and in this genealogy, older media can also remediate newer ones

In this sense we are cursed with perhaps endlessly reproducing the sensibilities of genre driven notions of Romanticism as well as a media landscape that requires a more sophisticated understanding of social capital as a type of cultural capital produced and mediated by cultural work.

In The Forms of Capital (1986), Bourdieu distinguishes between three types of Cultural capital: embodied, objectified and institutionalised (Bourdieu, 1986:47). (Later he adds symbolic capital (resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition) to this list.)

Embodied cultural capital consists of both the consciously acquired and the passively “inherited” properties of one’s self (with “inherited” here used not in the genetic sense but in the sense of receipt over time, usually from the family through socialization, of culture and traditions). Cultural capital is not transmissible instantaneously like a gift or bequest; rather, it is acquired over time as it impresses itself upon one’s habitus (character and way of thinking), which in turn becomes more attentive to or primed to receive similar influences. Linguistic capital, defined as the mastery of and relation to language (Bourdieu, 1990:114), can be understood as a form of embodied cultural capital in that it represents a means of communication and self-presentation acquired from one’s surrounding culture.
Objectified cultural capital consists of physical objects that are owned, such as scientific instruments or works of art. These cultural goods can be transmitted both for economic profit (as by buying and selling them with regard only to others’ willingness to pay) and for the purpose of “symbolically” conveying the cultural capital whose acquisition they facilitate. However, while one can possess objectified cultural capital by owning a painting, one can “consume” the painting (understand its cultural meaning) only if one has the proper foundation of conceptually and/or historically prior cultural capital, whose transmission does not accompany the sale of the painting (except coincidentally and through independent causation, such as when a vendor or broker chooses to explain the painting’s significance to the prospective buyer).
Institutionalized cultural capital consists of institutional recognition, most often in the form of academic credentials or qualifications, of the cultural capital held by an individual. This concept plays its most prominent role in the labor market, in which it allows a wide array of cultural capital to be expressed in a single qualitative and quantitative measurement (and compared against others’ cultural capital similarly measured). The institutional recognition process thereby eases the conversion of cultural capital to economic capital by serving as a heuristic that sellers can use to describe their capital and buyers can use to describe their needs for that capital.

Our barbarism has placed humanity in a more perilous moment in global environmental history threatened not only by nuclear self-annihilation, but by our own mediated ignorance of ecological failure or as Benjamin uses the dialectic:

Dialectical images counter the threat of preservation (tradition) by virtue of the interruptive force they are understood to impart to experience as a consequence of the instantaneous temporality of the now, or what Benjamin famously called now-time [Jetztzeit]: “The dialectical image is an image that emerges suddenly, in a flash” (AP, [N9, 7], 473). It is this image of the image as a ‘flash’ [ein aufblitzendes] and the corresponding image of historical experience as the discharge of an explosive force—the explosive force of now-time, blasting open ‘the continuum of history’—for which Benjamin is probably best known. The philosophy of historical time which these images sum up was elaborated by him in two main contexts: the development of a new conception of cultural history and a political diagnosis of the historical crisis of Europe at the outset of the Second World War. Benjamin did not see culture as threatened by ‘barbarism’, so much as itself being implicated in it:
Barbarism lurks in the very concept of culture—as the concept of a fund of values which is considered independent not, indeed, of the production process in which these values originated, but of the one in which they survive. In this way they serve the apotheosis of the latter, barbaric as it may be. (AP = The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland & Kevin McLaughlin, Cambridge, MA. & London: Belknap Press, 1999. [N5a, 7] 467–8)

As a closing example of how so many of what counts as aesthetic are highly segmented and media information-driven commodities, the notion of a people’s art is reflected upon by two artists influenced by a youth spent in the Soviet Union.

Komar and Melamid’s http://www.diacenter.org/km/index.html

Dia Art Centre’s (USA) second artists’ project for the world wide web, begun in 1995, was created by the Russian emigrant artist team Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid. The Most Wanted paintings, as well as the Least Wanted paintings, reflect the artists’ interpretation of a professional market research survey about aesthetic preferences and taste in painting. Intending to discover what a true “people’s art” would look like, the artists, with the support of the Nation Institute, hired Marttila & Kiley, Inc. to conduct the first poll. In 1994, they began the process which resulted in America’s Most Wanted and America’s Least Wanted paintings, which were exhibited in New York at the Alternative Museum under the title “People’s Choice.”

Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up: Venezuela’s Chávez, A Revolutionary Empowered By Love and Kindness by Justina

12:00 am in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Here in Nicaragua, where this writer is now living, the news on December 8, 2012 that Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez Frias was to undergo yet another operation to fight the cancer which has plagued him since 2011 was reported in one of the country’s two major newspapers, “El Nuevo Diario”, under massive and thick black headlines, that in announcing his need for a 4th cancer operation, President Chavez had, for the first time, named his preferred successor to the presidency should he be unable to serve. Chavez asked the country to support his recently appointed vice president, Nicholas Maduro, should a new election be necessary.

Nicaragua, and much of the rest of Central and South America were stunned by the notion that President Chavez might be unable to serve out the new 6 year term to which he was re-elected on October 7, 2012. He conducted a physically vigorous campaign against the much younger opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, and had bested Capriles 55 + to 44 % with a more than 80% voter turnout.

The majority of Venezuelans were devastated by the news, and rushed into the streets do demonstrate their support and into the churches to pray for his recovery. Thousands of people, including many heads of states, in other Latin American countries did the same.

Most of the tattered opposition, including Capriles, had the grace to refrain from showing their glee at Chávez’s possible demise, some did not. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church which had long and viciously opposed Chávez, piously pointed out to their laity that Chávez was only a frail human being, like any other man. They likely highly resented that they had to open their churches and allow masses to be conducted for the heath of this man who had frequently criticized the hierarchy for its support of the wealthy oppositionists, while at the same time calling on Catholic saints for aid during his illness. Chávez had consistently identified himself as a Christian socialist.

In Nicaragua, front page headlines on the status of President Chavez’s operation and recuperation have taken precedence over everything (with the exception of the Newtown massacre) in Nicaraguan newspapers ever since the December 8th speech.

After Chávez announcement of yet another cancer operation in Cuba, Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega immediately used the occasion of a graduation speech at a police academy to honor President Chavez and indicate Nicaragua’s continuing support and prayers for his health. The Nicaraguan National Assembly passed an official bill thanking Chávez for his active assistance to Nicaragua. A large rock concert was sponsored by the government to show the nation’s solidarity with Chavez.

Nicaragua has benefited immensely from the policies of the Chavez government, not only because of the subsidized oil which Venezuela provides, but because President Chavez led the creation of the ALBA group of Latin American states which has invested heavily in Nicaragua’s economy. This year, that economy grew at the rate of 5%. Nicaragua’s agricultural exports have increased substantially. Venezuela’s needs for Nicaragua’s beef and grains and rice have contributed to the growth in exports, as have other ALBA countries needs.

Under Chavez’s international leadership, many countries in South and Central America have opened new paths to economic and social cooperation, such as CELIAC, from which only the United States and Canada have been excluded. These Latin American countries have a new strength in their unity to counter the whims of the U.S.’s massive economic and political power. Chavez’s visions for Latin American unity and independence from the U.S. behemoth are showing fruit.

But aside from gratitude for Chavez’s political and economic policies, why do the masses of people in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America demonstrate such a personal devotion to him?

Why is President Chavez so personally loved, as well as massively politically supported?

One can begin to understand this love and the extraordinary personality who has attracted it, thanks to a series of penetrating interviews published in August of 2004 by two Cuban journalists, Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Báez. For “Chávez Nuestro”, (Casa Editora Abril, Havana), Elizalde and Báez had interviewed those who knew Chavez well as he progressed in life from a poor child of Indian and Spanish blood living in the little village of Sabaneta, in cattle-producing Barinas state, to become president of his country and weather an opposition coup and oil company strike against his government in 2002. President Chavez himself contributed 6 hours of oral interviews to their collection, detailing critical events in his life from his own perspective

The interviews with family friends and relative about his early life reported in the “Nuestro Chávez” book, suggest that the deep love for Chávez, stems from the fact that Chávez genuinely loves the people of Venezuela and his policies and vision for Venezuela’s future physically demonstrates that improving the lives of his people are his highest priority.

Perhaps he is simply carrying out the dictates of his Indian grandmother, Rosa Inés. Based on interviews with neighbors, friends and family, Rosa Inés, despite her extreme poverty, was a respected force for human kindness in her little community. She demonstrated to the young Chávez boys the importance of treating others with kindness, helping others, and respecting the human dignity of every individual they encountered. Chávez has put these principles into action on a national scale.

The interviews with the family members, neighbors and friends from his youth, uniformly suggest that kindness and caring for others were his significant traits, while at the same time being very bright, studious and a natural leader among his playmates and fellow street baseball players.

Chávez had an absolute passion for baseball from a young age and his first dream was to become a professional baseball player. Politics only took the place of professional baseball it when it became obvious to Chávez as a student in the military academy and then graduate and military officer, that his government and especially their military leaders were only concerned with amassing their own personal wealth at the expense of the majority of the people, whose poverty and human needs the leaders ignored.

In the “Nuestro Chávez interviews, relatives and friends recount how Chavez loved to sing and could recount long, historical poems, often based on significant Venezuelano independence and freedom fighters, from memory, firing the imaginations of friends and family and teaching their history in the days before any of them had a television set.

For the last 13 years, President Chávez has done the same on Venezuela’s national television and radio. He treats the country like his extended family, seeking to inspire them to read, debate ideas and actively participate in the national political life on their own behalf.

We see from these interviews how Chávez became a socialist, not because he read Marx, although he has read Marx, but because he personally lived in the same conditions that impelled Marx to analyze conditions under capitalism and to call for its abolition. For Chávez, his Christian socialism was the way to share the work and the resources to improve the lives of everyone.

Chávez himself relates in the book that while a young military officer on patrol against “insurgents”, Chávez witnessed the torture of prisoners and personal corruption of his superiors, facts which fed his own rebellion. For attempting to stop the torture, he was officially reprimanded by his superiors and his military career damaged.

In 1989, when an extreme “austerity” measure imposed by the International Monetary Fund lighted the fuse of massive popular rebellion in Caracas, the government ordered the military to shoot its own citizens, thousands were killed or wounded. This horrible massacre is known as the Caracazo.

The Caracazo enraged Chávez and, together with the other young officers who shared his anger, they began to consider outright rebellion, which led to their aborted attempt at doing so in 1992.

Chavez frequently emphasizes that this poorly organized rebellion was an inchoate insurrection against corruption and injustice. It was not a coup to gain personal power or riches.

These interviews give a clue as to why Chávez, living in the presidential palace of Miraflores in the capitol in 2010, would have opened the palace to house refugees made homeless as a result of flooding from a series of rain storms. He had, after all, grown up with the practice of sharing, as he and his brother had shared their grandmother, Rosa Inés room in her tiny mud-floored, palm-roofed cottage. The Chavez government housed other refugees in government building and in private hotels, at government expense.

Although living only a block away from Hugo’s parents, the paternal grandmother, Rosa Inés Chávez, raised Hugo and Adam, the two eldest sons of Elena and Hugo de ls Reyes Chávez. Both were poorly paid elementary school teachers who ultimately had six children.

To support herself and her grandsons, Rosa Inés made candies from the fruit trees in her yard, while Hugo and his older brother, Adam, acted as her salesmen in their primary school and around the small town at social and sports events.

While grandmother Inés did the hot, sweaty work of cooking the candies, Hugo and Adam listened to her stories about the history of their family, village and country. Rosa Inés passed on the oral history she had learned from her own grandmother and grandfather, who had fought with the famed progressive General, Esquel Zamora in their own village of Sabaneta. The blood of those celebrated battles lay directly beneath the naked feet of the two Chavez boys. Their love for Venezuelan revolutionary history was born at home.

Hugo Chávez Frías was reported by his primary school teachers to be an excellent student. He wanted very much to go to high school, a desire Rosa Inés and his family shared. But, his first attempt to attend high school was a disaster when he was refused entry to the school because he did not have shoes. He had only rubber slippers which were not allowed. The usually stalwart and tough Rosa Inés broke into tears because she did not have money for shoes. Her extended family members came to the rescue, and Chávez, with shoes, was allowed to enter highs school.

In high school, Chávez was passionate about history and deepened his knowledge and respect for the actions and ideas of Simon Bolivar, who had successfully led the rebellion against Spanish rule in Venezuela, Colombia (which then included what is now Panama), Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Bolivar’s vision was for a free, independent and united Latin America without human slavery and poverty. Bolivar succeeded in abolishing slavery and attaining independence from Spain, but he could not keep the countries he liberated united or abolish the poverty.

When a young man traveling in Italy with his teacher, Simon Rodríguez,in the early 1800′s, Bolivar had taken a spoken vow to devote his life to winning freedom for his country from Spain.

In 1982, Chávez, then a captain in the military, gathered together three of his co-officers who shared his vision of liberating their country from dictators and their corruption. They took the same oath that Simon Bolivar had taken, but rather than freeing their country from Spanish rule, they vowed to free it from the hands of the rich and powerful.

Early during an abortive uprising by Chávez and other young military officers in 1992, Hugo Chávez was arrested. In face of government threats to bomb his own insurgent military unit in Maracoy (a parachutist brigade) the government allowed him to appear on television in order to call upon other officers in the rebellion to put down their arms and avoid getting bombed. Chávez spoke on TV and then was jailed, but his call to put down arms changed Venezuelan history.

Much of the nation heard Chavez say “It is over….. for now.” His statement inspired thousands with the hope that the fight was not over and they would eventually prevail, which they did six years later in 1998, when the nation overwhelmingly voted to elect Hugo Chávez Frías as president of Venezuela.

Upon taking office, Chávez proceeded to teach about Simon Bolivar’s actions and ideas on a massive scale. But first people had to be able to read them; so with the help of Cuba, whose own revolution had over-come a huge literacy gape, Chavez began a massive literacy campaign called Mission Robinson in honor of the pseudo name used by Simone Bolivar’s own teacher, Simon Rodríguez.

Mission Robinson sent thousands of high school and college students all over the country to teach everyone to read. According to United Nation’s surveys, that campaign has had great success: now some 99% of Venezuelans can read and write.

The Chavez government re-published in paper editions the works of major Venezuelan world writers, poets and political figures, which were then distributed free throughout the country. Chávez routinely reads to the country from his own significant reading, such as Noam Chomsky and Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan author of “Open Veins of Latin America”.

In “Nuestro Chávez”, President Chávez relates that one of the most significant events of his own political history came when he commanded a military unit in Elorza, where he lived for several weeks with an Indian tribe and personally experienced life in communal socialism.

While Chavez, who proudly shared their Indian blood, and his squad were investigating claims of Indian thefts from the white farmers in the area. On horseback, they encountered a group of Indians eating mangoes from a tree in the bush. The Indians reacted to the military presence with a hail of arrows against them, one of which nearly hit Chávez. He commanded his men not to fire back and ordered them to retreat.

Chavez himself retreated to a university to consult an anthropologist friend who had been working peacefully with Indian tribes in the area for twenty years. Discarding his military uniform and its identify, Chávez joined the anthropologist’s field researchers, living for three week with the same group of Indians who had attacked his military squadron.

While living daily life with the tribe, Chávez made many friends and learned about their principles of life. Several weeks after leaving the Indian group, Chavez returned – in uniform with his squadron — to the group. Upon seeing the group, Chávez called out to them. The Indians were paralyzed, caught between the impulse to fight and to acknowledge their friend. Friendship won out and soon the soldiers and the Indians were mingling peacefully with each other.

Thereafter the Indian group regularly visited Chávez and his family at their local home. His wife prepared food for the 60 or 70 Indians visitors, but later complained to Chávez that they returned her hospitality by stealing her children’s clothes that were drying on a clothesline. Chavez replied that, in their custom and communal practices, there was no such thing as private property; everything was shared; the Indians took the clothes like they would take mangos to eat from a tree.

Chávez had the benefit of living with native socialists, just as he experienced the poverty and its suffering that the capitalist dictators had visited upon his own village and state, while personally observing the cruelty and corruption in his military superiors and political leaders. Those experiences undoubtedly made him a socialist, but it was the loving kindness of his grandmother, Rosa Inéz, which he naturally radiates to all he meets and deals with that has made him a beloved socialist.

It is that mutual respect and love which has powered Venezuela’s march to socialism. Love continues to lead this revolution.

Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up: Life So Cheap & Property So Sacred by JayRaye

10:12 am in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

The Real Triangle by John Sloan
The Real Triangle by John Sloan
The New York Call, March 27,1911

January 10, 1910
Jewish Daily Forward

The “Triangle” company…With blood this name will be written in the history of the American workers’ movement, and with feeling will this history recall the names of the strikers of this shop-of the crusaders.

December 28, 1910
City Hall, New York City, NY
Testimony before the New York State Senate and Assembly Joint Investigating Committee
on Corrupt Practices and Insurance Companies Other Than Life Insurance:

Judge M. Linn Bruce, Counsel
Chief Edward F Croker, NYC Fire Department
Bruce: How high can you successfully combat a fire now?
Croker: Not over eighty-five feet.
Bruce: That would be how many stories of an ordinary building?
Croker: About seven.
Bruce: Is this a serious danger?
Croker: I think if you want to go into the so-called workshops which are along Fifth Avenue and west of Broadway and east of Sixth Avenue, twelve, fourteen or fifteen story buildings they call workshops, you will find it very interesting to see the number of people in one of these buildings with absolutely not one fire protection, with out any means of escape in case of fire.

Saturday at about 4:45 PM
March 25, 1911
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

In 1935, Mary Heaton Vorse recalled that terrible day:

“They’re burning!” “They’re jumping out of the windows!”

Screams of sheer horror came over the wires. I called police headquarters and found out that a shirtwaist factory just off Washington Square was on fire. The girls were trapped, the doors having been locked to prevent their going out for a breath of air. I hurried over to the Square, drawn by the contagion of disaster. I could not get very near; fire lines were drawn. People ahead of me were crying:

“Another’s jumped! Another’s jumped, all on fire!”

Like burning torches, girls jumped into the street….

March 29, 1911
Jewish Daily Forward

This poem by Morris Rosenfeld “Poet Laureate of the slum and the sweatshop,” was printed down the left side of the entire first page:

Now let us light the holy candles
And mark the sorrow
Of Jewish masses in darkness and poverty.
This is our funeral,
These our graves,
Our children,
The beautiful, beautiful flowers destroyed,
Our lovely ones burned,
Their ashes buried under a mountain of caskets.

There will come a time
When your time will end, you golden princes.
Meanwhile,
Let this haunt your consciences:
Let the burning building, our daughters in flame
Be the nightmare that destroys your sleep,
The poison that embitters your lives,
The horror that kills your joy.
And in the midst of celebrations for your children,
May you be struck blind with fear over the
Memory of this red avalanche
Until time erases you.

-translated from the original Yiddish
Entire poem here.

Sunday April 2, 1911
Metropolitan Opera House
New York City, NY

Mary Heaton Vorse remembered the meeting as a mass funeral:

A mass funeral was given for the victims. New York labor filled the Opera House from top to bottom, everyone dressed in mourning for their murdered fellow workers. A tiny girl with flaming red hair, Rose Schneiderman, made the unforgettable funeral speech.

The immigrant workers from the Lower East Side filled the galleries while the wealthy reformers decked out in their high hats, furs, and feathers took their seats in the orchestra, and boxes. The working people were skeptical of any promised civic-reform. Such promises, they knew, were seldom kept. Tensions between the two groups mounted as the meeting progressed and threatened to disrupt the meeting altogether.

Frances Perkins, who was sitting near Rose, described her as a pretty little (4’6″) girl with fiery red hair, and blazing eyes, and noticed that she was trembling as she waited to speak. Rose was there as a speaker for the Women’s Trade Union League. When she began to speak the hall grew silent. Her voice was low and quiet, but her words were heard in the hall, printed in the press and sent out all across the nation:

I would be a traitor to those poor burned bodies, if I were to come here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public—and we have found you wanting.

Rose Schneiderman, 1910
Rose Schneiderman, 1910
Source Credit: Kheel Center

The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today: the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch fire.

This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in this city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred! There are so many of us for one job, it matters little if 140-odd are burned to death.

We have tried you, citizens! We are trying you now and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers and brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable, the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.

Public officials have only words of warning for us—warning that we must be intensely orderly and must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back when we rise—back into the conditions that make life unbearable.

I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. And the only way is through a strong working-class movement.

Wednesday, April 5, 1911
One hundred thousand mourners
Followed those sad biers.
The streets were filled with people
Weeping bitter tears.
-Ruth Rubin

The day of the mass funeral for the seven unidentified victims of the Triangle Fire was described by the World as a day when “the skies wept [and] rain, ever and again descended in a drenching downpour.” The American fretted:

There was something ominous about the gathering, it was so silent and it was to march through a section of the East Side-the thickly populated foreign districts-where emotions are poignant and demonstrative. The police were plainly worried.

The working people marched from the East Side in silence, dressed in mourning, and carrying their Union banners draped in black. The police need not have worried; the marchers provided their own parade marshals from the Central Federated Union, the Socialist Party, the Bonnaz Embroidery Workers’ Union, and the Women’s Trade Union League.

The American continued:

It was not until the marchers reached Washington Square, and came in sight of the Asch building [the Triangle factory building] that the women gave vent to their sorrow.

It was one long-drawn-out , heart-piercing cry, the mingling of thousands of voices, a sort of human thunder in the elemental storm-a cry that was, perhaps, the most impressive expression of human grief ever heard in this city.

The Twenty-Third Street Ferry took eight hearses across the waters to Brooklyn. The unidentified victims of the Triangle Factory Fire were buried in the Evergreen Cemetery. There were seven graves for the caskets numbered 46, 50, 61, 95, 103, 115, and 127. An eighth grave was for the unnumbered casket containing dismembered body fragments found after the fire and never claimed.

The Aid-Campaign

Many of the grief stricken families were also left without a breadwinner. The City reached out with a massive relief effort. Being one of the few Yiddish speakers in the WTUL, Rose was able to lead relief teams into the East Side tenements. She later remembered:

We went to the East Side to look for our people. Our workers in the Women’s Trade Union League took the volunteers from the Red Cross and together we went to find those who, in this moment of great sorrow, had become oblivious to their own needs.

We found them.

You could find them by the flowers of mourning nailed to the doors of tenements. You could find them by the wailing in the streets of relatives and friends gathered for the funerals. But sometimes you climbed floor after floor up an old tenement, went down the long, dark hall, knocked on the door and after it was opened found them sitting there-a father and his children or an old mother who had lost her daughter-sitting there silent, crushed.

June 30, 1911
Albany, NY

Meetings and resolutions and committees of civic-reformers did produce results for the working women and girls of New York, for on this day the State Legislature created the New York Factory Investigating Commission. There were nine members, among them Robert F. Wagner, Sr, Alfred E. Smith, labor leader Samuel Gompers, and Mary Dreier, President of Women’s Trade Union League. Frances Perkins and Rose Schneiderman were among the corps of inspectors. By the end of 1914, the Commission had produced 36 new laws, marking the beginning of the “golden era in remedial factory legislation.”

March 25, 1961
Washington Place and Greene Street
New York City, NY

As the people of New York City gathered for the Fifty Year Memorial to honor the workers who lost their lives in the Triangle Fire, also on their minds were the twenty-five workers who had died in the Monarch Garment Factory fire just three years earlier. Meanwhile, on the desk of Governor Nelson Rockefeller lay a bill which favored the factory owners and landlords of the City with yet more time to comply with fire and safety regulations.

David Dubinsky, President of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, gave a speech opposing the delay:

Yes, they need more time. The three years since Monarch is not enough time. The fifty years since Triangle is not enough time,-and the lives that have been lost, the lives of garment workers and firemen, are not enough lives.
We say enough! We say no more Triangles or Monarchs! We say that the toll of life taken by industrial slums must end just as we are wiping out the human cost of residential slums. And we say that it is an outrage in this state that has pioneered so much labor legislation, to have its Industrial Commissioner take a stand that increases rather than cuts down the danger in the shop.
We want a fitting memorial to the martyrs we honor today. No better one can be found than to increase the respect for and the safety of workers. I call on each and every one of you to write today to Governor Rockefeller and to demand that he veto the Albert-Folmer bill. Write to him in Albany, New York. In memory of those who have already been sacrificed to greed – write.

Monday 27 November 2000
The Guardian
Arshad Mahmud in Dhaka

The death of about 50 workers – mainly women and children – in a Bangladesh garment factory on Saturday has refocused attention on the poor working conditions in the industry…
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association’s failure to protect the 1.2m workers, mostly women, who form the backbone of the industry, is causing growing anger.
About 300 have died since 1990, mainly in fires. People are asking how many more must die before something is done…
Few factories have an alarm system and the fire extinguishers rarely work. Staircases are invariably narrow, gates remain locked during working hours, and most factories lack emergency exits.
As a result, in an emergency – especially a fire – the workers often find themselves trapped, leading them to join potentially fatal stampedes or jump from the windows.

Nov 30, 2012
ANI
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Calling for better working conditions in the garment industry, protesters in Bangladesh took to the streets of Dhaka after 111 people perished in a factory fire last Saturday. Police watched from a distance as the protesters wearing Muslim white death robes lay down on the pavement in front of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BMGEA). The protest was organised by a group called “Magic Movement”.

The brave young woman speaking out at this protest is Sabhnaz Rashid Diya:

This incident has happened before, there were fires before, there were no reports. No proper jurisdiction, no proper um.. there was no law executed through the whole process and the families were not compensated enough. And this has been happening for year after year.

YouTube Video of Protest

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt5XaQqA_zk

Magic Movement on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/magic.movement?sk=wall&filter=3

STAND TOGETHER TO RESIST!
The girls and women by their meetings and discussions come to understand and sympathize with each other, and more and more easily they act together. So we must stand together to resist, for we will get what we can take – just that and no more.
-Rose Schneiderman, 1905

Sources:

Jewish Daily Forward
April 3, 1911: “Metropolitan Opera House Packed With Protest Meeting About the Fire
Jacob Schiff and Other Wealthy Individuals Speak — a Few Sharp Comments by a Representative of the Women’s Trade Union League” (translation)

The New York Times (pdf)
April 3, 1911: “Mass Meeting Calls for New Fire Laws”

A Footnote to Folly by Mary Heaton Vorse
NY, 1935

Speech at Memorial Meeting
by David Dubinsky, ILGWU President
Washington Place & Greene Street
New York City, NY, March 25, 1961

The Triangle Fire by Leon Stein
NY, 1962

Women and the American Labor Movement,
From Colonial Times to the Eve of World War I

by Philip S. Foner
NY, 1979

Reading American Art by Marianne Doezema
p. 319
Yale U. Press, 1998

Triangle by David Von Drehle
NY, 2003

For Further Study

The Diary Of a Shirtwaist Striker by Teresa S. Malkiel
-a novel written in 1910 about the Uprising of the 20,00
I cannot recommend it enough! Good for adults and older children.
With introductory essay by Francoise Basch
NY, 1990

There are many online sources available, this is my favorite:

http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/story/introduction.html

All for One by Rose Schneiderman & Lucy Goldthwaite
NY, 1967

Madam Secretary, Frances Perkins by Elisabeth P Myers
MY, 1972

And this excellent photo diary by Kossack, Eddie C
On the 100th Triangle Memorial

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/03/26/850933/-Yesterday-s-Memorial-for-the-Triangle-Factory-Fire-Victims

International Solidarity Action Resources

International Labor Rights Forum

http://www.laborrights.org/about-ilrf

International Labor Organization

http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/lang–en/index.htm

Worker Rights Consortium

http://www.workersrights.org/

Global March Against Child Labor

http://globalmarch.org/aboutus/who-we-are

International Trade Union Confederation/Child and Forced Labor

http://www.ituc-csi.org/forcedlabour.html

Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights

http://www.globallabourrights.org/

Child Labor Public Education Project
-no longer active, but good source for more links.

http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/

This diary is dedicated
To the men, women, and children who lost their lives while trying to make a living
Sewing the garments that clothe the world.
May we continue to fight for social and economic justice
That we might yet make sweet their resting place.
Solidarity,
JayRaye

Mayn Rue-Platz

Trillions in Capitalist Wealth: Where Does It Come From? by Justina

3:45 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Recently, Forbes magazine, a major tool of the capitalist class, reported that the “Super Rich” are hiding $21 Trillion dollars in off-shore tax-havens.  A single trillion dollars is a looooooooooo….t of money, and that amount pales besides the trillions the super rich are holding quite openly — in factories, equipment, office buildings, agribusinesses, stocks, bonds, derivatives and ownership of magazines like Forbes and all our media industries.

Where did all that vast wealth come from?  Why are so many impoverished under our capitalist economic system, while the few gain such tremendous wealth? Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), Hegelian philosopher, political economist and practical revolutionary, asked that basic question and provided the most definitive answer to this very day in his study, Capital published in 1867.

 

So why does this old book strike such fear today into the hearts and minds of America’s corporate owners that they virtually forbid its teaching in American universities’ economics and business schools?  

Some members of our Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up group hope to explore that question and the basics of Marx’s theories in a series of once monthly posts, of which this is the first, on surplus value.

We will explore other issues such as wages, profits and the falling rate of profit, accumulation of capital and the means of production, use value versus exchange value of a commodity, money as an intermediary between buying and selling commodities,  alienated labor, private property, private versus state capitalism, finance capitalism and globalization, the role of cooperatives versus unions, finance capitalism and like issues.  We’ll break it up into different diaries one a month. Maybe you’ll volunteer to write one too?  (Please do!).

Economics Professor Richard D. Wolff (University of Massachusetts and the New School for Social Research) provides, in his four part series of lectures on the basics of Marx’s economic analysis. available on his web site, www.rdwolff.com,  a solid, readily understandable and thoroughly enjoyable introduction to Marx’s economic theories which this writer uses as her departure point.

Wolff shows how Marx discovered, by analyzing its inner-most workings in detail, why capitalism is so de-humanizing and exploitative of its workers and produces such poverty and misery for the vast majority of the population.  Marx’s analysis is set forth in his “theory of Surplus Value”, which is the secret to where all the trillions of wealth, both hidden and open, came from.

Professor Wolff places Marx’s work into its historical and intellectual context.  Like other progressive intellectuals of his day, Marx was nourished on the slogans of the French Revolution of  Liberté, égalité, and fraternité.  He questioned why the transition from feudalism to capitalism had not brought the promised freedoms to the society.

Marx started out as academic philosopher of the Hegelian school, then applied Hegel’s dialectical method to analyzing the practical economic reality he saw around him.  Writing between roughly 1840 and 1883, when the capitalist economic system was gaining total dominion over economic life and  submerging the old European feudalism in the wake of the French Revolution of 1792. The aristocracy and the Catholic church were ousted from their hegemony, the industrial capitalists had taken over the reigns of economic and political power.

Professor Richard D. Wolff, in his lectures, demonstrates how Marx discovered, by analyzing its inner-most workings in detail in his work, Capital, why capitalism is so de-humanizing and exploitative of its workers and produces such poverty and misery for the vast majority of the population.  Marx’s analysis is set forth in his “theory of Surplus Value” within “Capital”, which is the secret to where all the trillions of wealth, both hidden and open, came from.

Marx looked at the actual production process in the average factory of his day and saw that this is where the pernicious exploitation process of capitalism has its start and its motive force.  The capitalists’  profits are generated from the stolen labor power of the workers.

First, the worker, no longer having land to farm as under feudalism, gives up his control over his own work day, selling his work day, his labor power, to the factory owner for a fixed sum, thus his labor has itself become a commodity.  The owner, depending on the vagaries of the supply of available workers, pays the workers as little as possible for his labor time, hoping to extract as much labor as possible in return.  In Marx’s time, 15 hour work days were not uncommon.

Let’s use a rug factory as our simplified example here to describe the process of extraction of this value.  In a 10 hour work day, the weaver, using the power loom machines  owned by the employer might produce 10 rugs. (The machines are one form of the “capital” owned by the capitalist.)

The owner, having bought the work day for sufficient to keep the worker fed and surviving, perhaps the equivalent of two rugs, now has 8 additional rugs to sell in the market.  The capitalist owner has effectively appropriated 8 rugs of “surplus value”  from the worker.

If he can, the owner will try to reduce the worker’s wage as low as he can, perhaps to the equivalent of one rug, but if there is shortage of workers in the town, he might be forced to pay the worker the equivalent of 3 or even 4 rugs, thus reducing the surplus labor he can appropriate.  Workers with specialized skills likewise may be paid more than unskilled workers as their skills may be harder to find.

Once extracted from the worker, the capitalist owner is free to distribute the value of his 8 rugs anyway he sees fit, and those decisions may determine whether the business thrives or declines, depending on the vagaries of the market and/or his competition in the rug business, but the theft of the surplus labor is complete upon the end of the working day for the worker.

The worker’s labor has produced much more than he has been paid, that is the “surplus”  in the Theory of Surplus Value.

Marx focused on the extraction of surplus value under capitalism because that was the critical aspect which determines all the other consequences and machinations.   It is precisely from this stolen surplus labor that the trillions of dollars in wealth owned or controlled by the wealthy, the big corporations or even the State,  derive.  It is simply the surplus value that has been accumulated over time as savings or turned into newer and bigger factories, machines, corporations.

Living human labor is the only source of value and the human being is the only “machine”  from which the capitalist can extract a surplus.  The capitalist may buy a new machine to add to his fleet of machines (his “means of production”), but that machine has a fixed price and a fixed operable “life”.  The owner cannot extract more use from that machine than it was designed to produce and what he paid for it.

 

A worker, on the other hand, can be made to work for forced over-time, forced to produce 15 rugs in a 15 hours day rather than 10 in a 10 hour day, or, with a superior machine, to produce 15 rugs rather than 10 in the 10 hour work day, at relatively little more cost  to the owner.

But the pernicious nature of capitalism extends beyond the mere economic deprivation suffered by the workers, its process of depriving the worker of the use of his mind and creativity, depriving him of control over the conditions of his work, depleting him of the energy to live a fully human life.

Thus, in the auto industry in Detroit in its heyday, the workers not only had to work “forced”  over-time, but the speed of the assembly line was increased as much as possible to likewise increase the surplus produced.  Recently, with the help of the federal government and the UAW auto union, the company was allowed to pay new workers less than the former “union wage”, obviously increasing the amount of surplus value and thus profits available to the employer, a process that not only diminished the wages of the workers, but the very power of their union to protect them.

Clearly, putting a few workers on the board of directors of a company or giving workers minority shares of company stock will not fundamentally change the capitalist production process, nor will mandating that corporations give a certain percentage of their profits to charity, even expropriating companies and titling them in the name of the state will not do so– or  any of the other schemes that are touted in the attempt to make capitalism kinder or more equitable, none of this abolishes the extraction of surplus value, and thus capitalism exploitation and all the evils that flow from it, continues a pace.

Capitalism steals not only surplus value from the worker, but his very humanity, his energy, his autonomy, his right to think creatively, to determine the conditions of his work life, the right to be treated as a whole human being with a body and a mind.

In Detroit in the 1950′s and 60′s, the union fought only for higher hourly wages or related financial benefits while the rank and file workers were fighting for their humanity, for  control over the speed of the assembly line and an end to forced over-time.

These workers wanted better and more humane working conditions, not merely more money.  They objected to being turned into commodities themselves which were thrown away when their useful work lives were ended.  They objected to the fact that they were treated as things, not thinking, creative human beings.

For more voices direct from the auto assembly lines see the excellent booklet, Workers Battle Automation written by  Charles Denby, a Black auto worker and editor of Marxist-Humanist newspaper, ” News & Letters” , detailing the struggles of auto assembly line workers in Detroit in the 1950′s and 1960s.

Workers Battle Automation described in detail and the fight against the constantly increasing speed of the assembly line.  Obviously, by speeding up the assembly line, the bosses could increase the number of cars produced per hour, and thus the amount of surplus value extracted from their workers.  See also Denby’s autobiography,http://www.amazon.com/INDIGNANT-HEART-Charles-Denby/dp/0919618936. Indignant Heart., as well as his editorials published by News & Letters and preserved in their archives..

It is only when the workers in a given factory or workplace join together to re-appropriate the previously stolen labor in its machines and buildings, join together to  decide what to produce, how it will be produced, and how the proceeds will be distributed that their labor can cease to be a commodity, cease to be alienated from them.  It is critical to break down the division of mental and manual labor in the work place so that all the workers, democratically, control the conditions of their labor and the distribution of its proceeds.  It is crucial to abolish capitalist production and its consequences and create a human basis for not only production of goods but for our human communities.

 

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Working Class Self-Activity, Part II: The Soul & Spirit of Marxism by LeGauchiste

4:28 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

As I wrote a week-and-a-half ago (www.dailykos.com/story/2012/09/02/1107935/-Anti-Capitalist-Meetup-Working-Class-Self-Activity-Leading-the-USA-to-Democracy, the concept of self-activity was introduced to me by my first intellectual mentor, labor historian George P. Rawick, a lifelong left activist who edited The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, a definitive, 41-volume collection of oral history interviews with former slaves taken during the 1930s under the auspices of the WPA. In his book on slavery, From Sundown to Sunup: The World the Slaves Made, Rawick emphasized the self-activity of American slaves, which he defined as that which exploited people do in coping with and resisting the conditions of their exploitation. He was especially interested in their strategies to (1) undermine the system of exploitation (e.g., tool-breaking) and (2) assert their human dignity in the face of a system that denies it (e.g., slave family life).

As my study of Marxian socialism has progressed, I’ve come to understand that self-activity is central to the humanist core of Marx’s thinking, and that it represents nothing less than the active, creative aspect of humanity. Creative human activity, aka work or labor, is how we express our deepest selves and how we ensure our survival, but under capitalism labor becomes an activity alien to ourselves, directed and controlled by another, something that degrades us rather than exalting us.

Marx’s concept of man is rooted in Hegel’s Idealist philosophy. Hegel starts with the proposition that appearance and essence are not the same, and that the purpose of dialectics is to grasp the relations between the two, or in other words, between essence and existence.

How to do that? Unlike René Descartes, who wrote “cogito ergo sum” and thus embraced a proto-positivistic conception of thought-grounded identity, for Hegel, essence is realized not in passive contemplation, but through a subject’s active process of existence: “facio ergo sum” (I act therefore I am). (I’ve no idea if Hegel ever wrote that, but he could have.)

However, Hegel’s system is inherently abstract, as the Subject that actively unfolds its essence is the “Idea,” and its dialectical processes take place in the realm of the intellect, then to be expressed in the material world. Thus “Freedom” realizes itself through successive stages of history, but Hegel was not especially interested in the actual struggles of real people for freedom, and was politically quite conservative, supporting the Prussian state and its established Lutheran church.

Nevertheless, Hegel’s Idealist conception of “self-activity” formed the basis of Marx’s materialist dialectic and in particular his understanding of self-activity of the working class. It is not the purpose of this essay to explore Marx’s materialist dialectics in detail, nor to explore how he developed them out of Hegel’s Idealist system.

As a materialist, Marx took his subject to be humanity, i.e., human beings as intelligent mammals actively engaged in producing and reproducing the conditions of their survival: food, shelter, defense, child-raising. The activities in which humanity engages itself Marx called “labor,” synonymous with “life activity.”

“For labor, life activity, productive life itself, appears to man in the first place merely as a means of satisfying a need – the need to maintain physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species, its species-character, is contained in the character of its life activity; and free, conscious activity is man’s species-character. Life itself appears only as a means to life.

The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish itself from it. It is its life activity. Man makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity distinguishes man immediately from animal life activity. It is just because of this that he is a species-being. Or it is only because he is a species-being that he is a conscious being, i.e., that his own life is an object for him. Only because of that is his activity free activity.”

Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, “Estranged Labour” (1844).

Nor was this mere philosophical flourish of the young Marx. He wrote very similarly in 1867:

“Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway. We are not now dealing with those primitive instinctive forms of labour that remind us of the mere animal. An immeasurable interval of time separates the state of things in which a man brings his labour-power to market for sale as a commodity, from that state in which human labour was still in its first instinctive stage. We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention.”

Marx, Capital, vol. I, ch. 7, 1867.

Because under capitalism the labor process yields a wage to the worker but the product belongs exclusively and totally to capital, the latter also holds authority over the details of the production process. Whereas the pre-capitalist artisan or small farmer owned his own means of production (tools, raw materials, land, animals) he also controlled them and the labor process. Over several centuries prior to the last one, capital gradually took ever greater control over production itself, but even at the beginning, the initial development of the division of labor under manufacture, the alienated character of labor under capitalism became clear, and precipitated much of the labor activism from then on.

“This fact expresses merely that the object which labor produces – labor’s product – confronts it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor which has been embodied in an object, which has become material: it is the objectification of labor. Labor’s realization is its objectification. Under these economic conditions this realization of labor appears as loss of realization for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and bondage to it; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.

So much does the labor’s realization appear as loss of realization that the worker loses realization to the point of starving to death. So much does objectification appear as loss of the object that the worker is robbed of the objects most necessary not only for his life but for his work. Indeed, labor itself becomes an object which he can obtain only with the greatest effort and with the most irregular interruptions. So much does the appropriation of the object appear as estrangement that the more objects the worker produces the less he can possess and the more he falls under the sway of his product, capital.

All these consequences are implied in the statement that the worker is related to the product of labor as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful becomes the alien world of objects which he creates over and against himself, the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own. … The worker puts his life into the object; but now his life no longer belongs to him but to the object. … The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently, as something alien to him, and that it becomes a power on its own confronting him. It means that the life which he has conferred on the object confronts him as something hostile and alien.”

Marx, E&PM, 1844.

Alienated activity is thus the opposite of self-activity.

The same dynamic applies to political activity, for human beings engage in politics, understood broadly as power relations throughout a social formation, and create political movements just as they do everything else: via the materialist dialectic of making their life activity itself the object of their will and their consciousness as they engage & reproduce the world, both natural and social, around them. To oversimplify: learning by doing.

And what do working class women and men learn when they engage in politics, whether at the workplace, or at the ballot box, or in the streets? The dominant lesson throughout the history of capitalism has been that collective action is necessary for working people to have even a chance of success in pressing their interests, which are often learned to be collective in nature: higher wages, shorter hours, better working conditions, more control over the work process.

That is why, despite the forceful and fatal efforts by capitalist governments for centuries, workers spontaneously form unions and engage in collective action against capital: the nature of capitalism renders this the only possibly effective route to influence for the mass of people.

Such institutions and activism may become the schools for working class self-activity, where the ideological hegemony of capital may be challenged. However, as we have seen, the institutions of labor are quite vulnerable to capture, whether total (company unions) or partial (conservative trade unions). At such times, the union itself may temporarily become a more important locus for self-activity than the workplace.

For an excellent example of working class self-activity in relation to OWS, there is the recent struggle by restaurant workers at the Upper East Side location of the “Hot and Crusty” chain, who recently organized a union and extracted a promise from their employer to bargain in good faith.

“After enduring below minimum wage pay and verbal and sexual harassment, the workers reached out to labor organizations and began attending Occupy Wall Street meetings last fall. With the support of OWS and the Laundry Workers Center, a volunteer organizing group, the workers organized an independent union, the Hot and Crusty Workers Association, this spring. They won thousands of dollars in backpay and safer workplace conditions.”

According to Marx, human beings are productive and creative by nature, and when forced to produce and create under conditions that alienate them from the creative process and its results, they will create ideas and activities that are opposed to those alienating conditions and the economic system that requires them. It doesn’t mean they will win, but they will fight. That’s why the struggle continues. Not solely because of the imperatives of capital, but because the imperatives of the creative human spirit demand it.

Cross-posted on Voices on the Square

London Under Occupation: 0 Bread, + Circuses – by NY Brit Expat

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

People may be thinking that London under Occupation may be a little over the top to describe the situation for Londoners living under Olympic rule for the next 18 days, but that is in many way an understatement. Between the rights of corporate sponsorship, the occupation by security and armed forces, and a government that is hell-bent on prioritising the needs of sponsors and security concerns over the rights of citizens for freedom of speech and the right to live in peace, the term “under occupation” is an excellent description of the situation.

From the perspective of the population having the Olympic Games in London comes at a rather high cost. This is not only referring to access to tickets where few, if any, were set aside for those living in the boroughs (Newham, Waltham Forest, Hackney and Tower Hamlets) surrounding the main stadium. These boroughs are composed of mostly poor and working class people with large percentages of people of colour; they are incredibly racially and ethnically diverse boroughs.

Tickets were sold by bidding in a lottery which meant that locals could not afford to bid and win tickets. Moreover, given the fact that tickets are literally impossible to get and that there are large numbers of empty seats for venues which many people would love to get, one can only assume that these are in the hands of corporate sponsors whose workers were not interested in the seats. Supposedly, the locals’ gains would arise from the construction jobs (that didn’t work out) and now the many retail and part-time jobs the Olympics would provide. For all the talk about gains by small shopkeepers due to suspension of Sunday trading laws, in most cases this means that their families (they are often family owned and run shops) would need to work the extra hours. Also, they were unable to sell anything connected with the Olympics not obtained from corporate sponsors. No replications of Olympic materials could be sold unless they were able (at high cost) to open accounts with official sellers.

However, the general problem with the Olympics affects us on a daily level; this is due to the bombardment of corporate advertising, the creation of an up-market mall (where most locals can only look but not afford to purchase; certainly Prada is not hiring us), the introduction of special Olympic lanes where Olympic bigwigs can be ferried to and from events, overcrowded public transport, the militarisation of the city both due to the use of military and private security forces, the placement of SAMs in residential areas, the aircraft carrier stationed in the Thames and the pre-emptive arrests of graffiti artists, the arrests of protestors and the denial of protest permits. In a city where the poor and working class are facing cuts in benefits, the introduction of forced labour as part of welfare reform, job losses (being replaced by part-time low paid jobs), and service cuts (libraries, after-school clubs, cultural centres, education cuts, police department cuts), corporate sponsors were granted complete access and tax breaks as part of the deal for the Olympics being brought to the country.

According to the Financial Times (“A need-go-know guide to London 2012,” 27/08/12, p. 3 ) the costs alone of the Olympic venues start with £40m for a temporary Basketball arena (they are hoping to sell the materials onwards to Brazil), £87m for the Velodrome, £251m for the Aquatics Centre, £295m for the media and broadcast centre, £428m for the Olympic stadium and £935m for the Olympic Village (this will be reconfigured by a Qatari based consortium into 2,800 properties, some of which will be sold for housing for key workers and the rest to create a gentrified area complete with luxury mall; nothing for the desperately needed social housing in the area of Newham). The Olympics were originally set to cost £2.4bn, but it is now estimated that they will cost £9.3bn. According to Al Jazeera, the latest government figures on the costs of the 2012 London Olympics have now risen to $14.5bn of public sector money, and expectations that it could be far higher. Of that current amount, $860m alone will be for Olympic security and this includes the use of 18,200 soldiers to help with security for the games. Interestingly, according to the Financial Times, the public budget for the Olympics was provided by a combination of lottery (£2.2bn), central government (£6.2 bn) and the Greater London Assembly and the London Development Agency (£0.9 bn). British companies won contracts amounting to £7.3 bn and there have been 8.8m event tickets sold. In terms of human presence, there are 10,500 athletes, 70,000 volunteers (hopefully real volunteers, not poor people forced into service) and 21,000 journalists. This is a huge amount of money that is being made available for this event in a country where they are trying to force disabled people off of disability benefit to save money.
crippen_edit
The economic benefits of the Olympics look like they may restricted to the corporate sponsors than anyone else. But there is even more interesting news and that is from a business perspective; it seems that London’s top hotels and restaurants seem to find themselves with vacancies. This may be due to the fact that they have upped prices so much, that they cannot find people stupid enough to pay for them; 23% vacancy rates are nothing to sniff at (http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Trends-Reports/London-2012-Olympics-23-of-London-s-hotel-rooms-currently-vacant-for-The-Games; http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/blog/2012/jul/24/hotels-properties-olympics) especially in an economy which is currently continuing along in recession. In fact, it has shrunk by 0.7% between April and June … which of course they have absurdly blamed on the Jubilee (the extra bank holiday) and bad weather, and of course, Europe, rather than their economic policies. Since they had claimed that the former would be a boost, I am a bit confused again.

In Great Britain, the use of hollowing-out policies (introduced in the US under Bush) has been introduced as part of the austerity measures to destroy the state sector; as such, services that used to be performed by the state sector (like secretaries working for the police) are no longer done by civil servants, but rather private companies. This is affecting not only the NHS and local council provision, but also policing and the military. The number of police officers is at an all-time low due to cutbacks (down 10,000), but volunteer special policemen numbers are up 10.4% to 20,343; this is at the same time that they are being called on to do an increasing number of things, like help with the Olympics security. It is interesting in that most right-wing governments are usually aware that if they are going to introduce draconian economic measures on their populations, having the police and army on your side could prove extremely useful if inevitable problems arise (as they have in Greece and Spain for example); this may be a case of arrogance on the part of the government or again they simply think that the British poor, working and middle classes are so beaten down that nothing could get them angry enough to resist the destruction of their social welfare state; divide and rule is proving a useful tool in alienating private sector workers from the demands of public trade unions given that the former have already suffered substantially in terms of the attacks on their pensions.

I. Commercialism and Branding

For those unaware of what happens when your city is “lucky” enough to win the Olympic Games, there are immediate rules that guarantee sponsors exclusive access to advertising and sales at the Olympics. In fact, you cannot “win” the Olympics without agreeing to these rules. These sponsors contribute money to the Olympics and get a lot of money back in return; Coke for example has contributed anywhere from £53-75m pounds, in return they get exclusive sale of their products at the Olympics and exclusive advertising rights during the Olympic games.
ronaldmcdonaldolympicflame_edit

“Corporations can legally become associated with the London 2012 Games in two ways: First, multinational firms may seek exclusive marketing rights through The Olympic Partner program (TOP). The other option is through agreements with the LOCOG, the local British organization. But plenty of non-sponsors will attempt to correlate their brand with the Games, which is widely known as ambush marketing—something the IOC and LOCOG take very seriously.

The Olympic Marks and Imagery Usage Handbook defines ambush marketing as “a planned attempt by a third party to associate itself directly or indirectly with the Olympic Games to gain the recognition and benefits associated with being an Olympic Marketing Partner.” To suppress this type of activity, the IOC established comprehensive guidelines and has engaged in several initiatives to enforce them. For instance, the IOC requires that the host city—London, in this case—takes special measures to control ambush marketing during the course of the Games in and around Olympic venues “in order to preserve the Olympic brand.”

When London was first appointed as the host city for the 2012 Games, the government passed a new law, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 (the Act), to supplement the existing laws relating to intellectual property in the UK. Together with the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act of 1995, these laws protect the sponsors and partners from unauthorized advertising. […] To ensure that local businesses comply with the trading and advertising laws and to protect the Olympic brand and sponsors, nearly 300 Olympic enforcement officers will patrol around venues before and during the games. But local, non-sponsor businesses aren’t the only ones who have to abide by strict rules. Even the paying partners who have privileges and rights have to comply with certain guidelines. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/07/24/olympic-hurdles-for-advertisers-the-games-unique-rules-and-restrictions/)”

There are several different types of Olympic advertisers depending on how much they spend, but in addition to exclusivity of sale and advertising, there is also the benefit of temporary tax “breaks” from UK corporate tax for foreign-based MNC sponsors and their workers (who are given a temporary UK income tax break.

This is happening in a country where austerity measures have been introduced by the government that are destroying jobs, the state sector and our social welfare state and that this is justified due to high levels of government debt; the decrease in corporate taxes and the elimination of the 50% tax on those with the highest income is reprehensible. But to add insult to injury, the fact that MNC Olympics sponsors had taxes on profits earned at the Olympics written off is not only pouring salt on the wounds of the majority, it is a demonstration that the needs of corporations and revenue of the Olympics takes priority over the needs of the citizens and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the government’s term of “The People’s Olympics” is not just a joke for people to laugh about, but a slap in the face of those facing impoverishment and job loss. The idea of corporations, those that work for them and Olympic athletes not having to pay taxes for their profits or advertising contracts is simply disgusting.

“New tax rules ushered in as part of the winning Team GB bid include ‘a temporary exemption from UK Corporation Tax and UK Income Tax for certain non-resident companies’.

The legislation is written to include ‘partner’ organisations such as McDonald’s and Visa. Both, along with other ‘partners’, look set to make a tax-free fortune. The former will a monopoly on vending branded food and the latter a total monopoly on venue and ticket payment methods.

The new legislation also exempts all foreign nationals working on the games in the UK from paying income tax on any earnings. Thousands will be exempt from taxation from competitors to media workers (including journalists, technicians and producers) to representatives of official Games bodies and technical officials (including judges, referees and classifiers) along with the athletes themselves (http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/commentanalysis/corporatewatch/thegreatolympictaxswindle.aspx).”

An incredibly successful campaign started by 38 Degrees was launched in response to this article targeting companies that were tax avoiding due to their sponsorship of the Olympics Games.

The responses to the campaign on the part of the targeted multinational corporate sponsors are telling as every corporation responded. All 14 multi-national corporations (MNCs) (including Coca Cola, Proctor and Gamble, Dow Chemicals, and McDonalds) that were targeted by 38 Degrees, have waived their Olympic sponsor tax break or explained that they were not eligible (http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/news/1143282/Adidas-EDF-join-top-sponsors-waiving-Olympic-sponsor-tax-break/; http://www.tax-news.com/news/(htOlympic_Sponsors_To_Turn_Down_UK_Tax_Breaks____56452.html).
The seriousness with which exclusivity of advertising is taken by the Olympics committee can be demonstrated in a row which erupted last week when the chair of The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), Lord Seb Coe, announced mistakenly that people who were wearing the wrongly branded clothing could be denied entry to the Olympics Games irrespective of their holding tickets to the various events (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/jul/20/coe-olympics-sponsorship-row; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2176383/London-2012-Olympics-Seb-Coe-lays-law-branding-Games.html). Having images of barefoot and bare-chested people at Olympic events going through my head upon hearing the story when it erupted, it was of little consolation that Seb was actually wrong about this absurd position. What actually concerned me was that clearly Seb Coe did not see a problem with the position he had taken on this issue; Seb has history of making absurd comments on things on which he has little or no information specifically when these relate to corporate sponsorship.
corporatetubemap_edit
One of the most contentious corporate sponsorships is actually Dow Chemical and a campaign has been waged on several fronts protesting their choice as an Olympic sponsor.

Last week, 6 protestors were arrested after a fake medal ceremony in Trafalger Square where green custard was poured on fake representatives of Olympics corporate sponsors BP, Dow and Rio Tinto that were chosen as the worst Olympics sponsors; clearly performances criticising Olympic sponsors are not deemed amusing .

Anger at the acceptance of sponsorship by a MNC in an Olympics in which supposedly ethical and environmental considerations are constantly talked about is not a small inconsistency. Opposition to Dow derives not only from the catastrophe in Bhopal in which there are lawsuits still underway. Raising the issue of Bhopal has run the gamut from petitions, to an exhibition to a staged die-in by members of the Bhopal Medical Appeal on July 26th.

The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam (of which there are estimated 4.8 m victims, many of them children) had also been raised to question Dow’s sponsorship of the Olympic Games. Seb Coe once again demonstrates his ignorance in response to an appeal concerning Dow by the Vietnam Women’s Union, as John Pilger reports:

“In his reply, Coe describes Agent Orange as “a highly emotional issue” whose development and use “was made by the US government [which] has rightly led the process of addressing the many issues that have resulted.” He refers to a “constructive dialogue” between the US and Vietnamese governments “to resolve issues.” They are “best placed to manage the reconciliation of these two countries.” When I read this, I was reminded of the weasel letters that are a specialty of the Foreign Office in London in denying the evidence of crimes of state and corporate power, such as the lucrative export of terrible weapons. The former Iraq Desk Officer, Mark Higson, called this sophistry “a culture of lying.” (http://www.opednews.com/articles/Blair-War-Olympic-Deals-by-John-Pilger-120719-735.html)”

As Pilger points out, there has been no constructive dialogue between the US and Vietnam on the use of Agent Orange, no recompense paid to the Vietnamese victims, no war-crimes tribunal for the use of chemical weapons that not only destroyed people’s lives over generations, but defoliated the rice bowl of Asia and poisoned the land and water tables. Really, the people that write PR should certainly be bothered to check their facts before letting Seb makes statements that are so blatantly inaccurate. When Seb Coe says things of this nature to justify the inclusion of sponsorship for one of the MNCs that manufactured dioxin for use by the US government, the terms ethical behaviour and environmental concerns are demonstrated as lies; it is money that is relevant and all other concerns not even of secondary importance.

II. Olympic Security and the Militarisation of London

A seriously disturbing thing has been the whole discussion on Olympic security which has several equally unpleasant components. In many senses the level of concern about London Olympic security is part and parcel of the legacy of the “war on terror” that has been used to justify so much of the attack on civil liberties and the strengthening of the power of the security forces both public and private (reading the Government’s security preparations for the Olympics is rather instructive). ”Security” is a big industry these days and Olympic security provides a perfect excuse for the suspension of civil liberties and the payment of big money. We are all hoping this will all go away after the Olympics like the government promises; but one must take into consideration the numbers of CCTV cameras all over Great Britain which record our every action and pray that the abnormal does not once again become “the normal.”

A. G4S

In March 2011, consistent with the whole neoliberal approach that defines recent British government policy, the government hired G4S to cover Olympics security. G4S is a private security concern with a questionable (let’s call this understatement) human rights record to handle security. It is a multinational corporation operating in a number of countries. In the UK, G4S runs 3 immigrant detention centres to house illegal immigrants before deportation (often taking quite some time to complete); it has received 700 complaints, including allegations of assault and racism. There is the additional “issue” of the death of an Angolan deportee, Jimmy Mubenga, in 2010 in their custody after being restrained by G4S agents in a BA flight (for more detail on their history, see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9405046/G4S-previous-controversies.html). They also run security in Britain’s private prisons and there is the story of the loss of the master keys leaving prisoners locked up for 24 hours in their cells in 2011; there are also more problems with which they have been associated in their running of security in private prisons.

Then there is their relationship with the Israeli government (http://www.whoprofits.org/company/g4s-israel-hashmira; http://stopthewall.org/g4s-israeli-occupation-palestine-and-emergence-g4s-brazil), Israeli settlers to whom they provide security for illegal settlements on the West Bank and the abuse of Palestinian prisoners.

Putting aside for this moment the obvious point about the privatisation of security, the choice of this company which has a notorious history combined with grotesque failures, is pretty impressive.

Part II of the G4S story is that they were unable to fulfil their contract which is an interesting story on its own.

“A confidential report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) warned about concerns over security 10 months ago, leading Games organisers Locog to increase the number of security guards to be supplied by G4S from 2,000 to 10,400 while the value of the contract more than trebled from £86 million to £284 million (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/g4s-cant-get-olympics-guards-to-turn-up-7946500.html).”

Reading through various accounts of allegations of responsibility for the insufficient numbers recruited and turning up for work, the cause of the difficulties in fulfilling their contract seems to be a combination of increased demands by the UK government in terms of numbers needed, the company’s insistence that while they trained sufficient numbers (reportedly 20,000 were accredited and trained to cover 10,400 posts), there was a failure on the part of the workers to turn up. The last is disputed by workers who claim that there was a lack of information from the firm telling these recruits where and when they were needed.

One additional point that has been raised is the pay rates for recruited workers: it is unclear who set the wage rates at £8.50/hour. The company insists it was the government that set the wage levels and the government insists that it budgeted for £9-12/hour depending on seniority and level of responsibility. The company insists that it was the government that pointed out the obvious that if you pay workers less, you get a higher profit. The question is whether that constitutes government advice or pointing out the obvious to a company that is in the business of providing labour (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-18898646). I find it odd, that they would not understand one of the basic rules of capitalism. You make more profit if you pay workers less (heck, that was obvious to Adam Smith in 1776), but the other part of the equation is if the job is really crappy, you may not get people to take the jobs irrespective of the level of desperation of the working class. Perhaps that is why the government is working so hard to lower the levels of unemployment benefits and introducing forced labour for the long-term unemployed. Removing as many possibilities of survival without having to work for wages that barely compensate effort and free training is clearly a problematic that must be solved if the flexible labour market that the ConDems are trying to consolidate can be a success.
dalekpolice_edit
An obvious question arises that no one seems to have discussed is whether this was a classic scenario which often occurs in a bad jobs market. The company claims to have recruited and trained 20,000 workers to cover 10,400 positions. Given that the jobs only last 18 days at a pretty basic pay for unpleasant work, one wonders if people knew that too many were recruited and trained, decided to cut their losses and try to find a job that they knew they could get and which lasted for a longer period. I was speaking to the cabbie driving me to escape the Olympic who told me a story about a woman that was applying for a job as a sales clerk at a low level retail firm specialising in baby clothes. After spending £400 for cab fares for various interviews and going through the training, it turned out that there were 25 different people recruited for a single job. After spending her savings trying to obtain a part-time minimum wage job, she simply gave up in disgust.

The last question that has yet to be answered by the government is how much G4S will lose from its contract for failing to provide what it promised. We are still waiting to hear clarification from the government about this little thing.

B. The British Military to the Rescue?! Of whom?!

The use of the British military as a component of Olympics security forces was planned in the beginnings; but they were supposed to be supplementary services for G4S and involved in very specific roles for London security (like manning the missiles that they placed in residential areas of London and on the attack helicopters and in the air in Typhoon fighters to shoot down invading Martians over residential areas of London). The fear that G4S would now run around willy-nilly and recruit just anyone to fulfil their security contract has prompted the government to draft in large numbers of British military forces as the main component of security. Many of these members of the armed forces were back in the country as part of a break from tours of duty overseas in Afghanistan.

“[…] British officials said they’d activate another 1,200 military personnel to fill the shortfall, bringing the total of British troops who will work the Olympics to 18,200. For comparison, Britain deploys about 9,500 in Afghanistan (http://www.stripes.com/news/europe/2005-attack-helped-shape-security-planning-for-london-olympics-1.183907).”

Having a choice of a private security firm with a dubious human rights record and the British armed forces to do security for the Olympic Games is truly being caught between a rock and a hard place. Does the consolation of the latter being forced to uphold the Geneva conventions make things better?! But there is an additional concern. On the day in which it was stated that there would be an increased military presence to cover for the failings of G4S, the following story (treated as unrelated) was also released raising increased violence on the part of soldiers returning home from war zones:

“One in eight soldiers has attacked someone after coming home from a combat deployment, according to a Ministry of Defence funded study of 13,000 personnel.
The study by Dr Deirdre MacManus, at The Kings Centre for Military Health Research, found an association between soldiers’ experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and violent behaviour at home.
A survey of around 5,000 Iraq veterans found that nearly 581 were involved in assaults, domestic abuse, and other violence soon after returning to the UK (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18965076).”

Given this report, perhaps it is better that these people are given support and assistance rather than being sent in as security at the Olympic Games? I surely cannot be the only person thinking that this may not be a good idea.

C. The Militarisation of London

Finally, there is the militarisation of London itself due to surface-to-air missiles being located in some residential areas, attack helicopters on standby, the aircraft carrier and other warships being stationed in the Thames in London, and the use of spy drones. As an understatement this has disturbed many.
missilesmarypoppins_edit
In the midst of all the insanity of the Olympics security plans, the one that disturbs me the most is the stationing of SAMs in 6 areas of London. Two of these are on top of populated housing blocks in the middle of residential areas. I am certainly not the only person truly concerned by this piece of insanity; a whole campaign built around stopping the placement of the London Missiles was organised. A lawsuit was filed trying to prevent the installation of missiles by residents of the Fred Wigg tower (just up the street from where I live) by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) making the obvious point that the introduction of these missiles literally turned these places into military targets if there was actually a terrorist attack and raised whether this was a violation of their human rights to live peacefully and securely.

David Forsdick, appearing on behalf of the MoD argued:

“The MoD, intelligence agencies and the Metropolitan Police do not consider there is any credible threat to the Fred Wigg Tower from terrorism (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-18765062).”

Let me repeat that statement: he argued that the credibility of the threat of these buildings becoming military targets was not sufficient to warrant concern. Moreover, that this had been signed off by the Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, home Secretary Teresa May and the Defence Secretary (not certain whether this is the current one Phillip Hammond or the previous one Liam Fox) in “Defence of the Realm” is not particularly comforting as none of these people live anywhere near where these missiles are being deployed and quite honestly given the way they treat the poor and working class in Great Britain, they are the last people I would trust to cover our interests. If the threat is not credible, why the hell would anyone think that putting missiles on the top of residential blocks is a good idea?
missilesfredwigg_edit
The ruling on the part of the judge was rather interesting. On the one hand, he argued that there was not only sufficient consultation of residents, but what occurred was “immaculate” and that the military was under no obligation to do that anyhow. But the second point was more disconcerting, the judge, Mr Justice Hadden-Cave stated that the tenants had not understood correctly the situation. That is typical, clearly the stupid and uneducated working class simply are too unsophisticated to understand the notion of deterrance! What Mr Justice Hadden-Cave does not understand is that we most certainly do understand the notion of deterrance; however, we simply do not want them stationed on the roofs of our apartment buildings … perhaps they can put them in Westminster or in Mayfair where the rich live?! Perhaps the rich and famous can understand the need for deterrance more than the working class?

D. Civil Liberties

To end our odyssey into the nightmare of security measures of the London Olympics, we need to address the impact on our civil and human rights. We have already mentioned the arrests of protestors following the fake awarding of medals to the worst of the Olympic sponsors. There is the additional question of the policy of pre-emptive arrests by the Metropolitan and Transport Police. Announced on June 2nd, Scotland Yard has said that they are planning to pre-emptively arrest those that are planning “criminal activity” at the Olympics, specifically groups of thieves and pickpockets. However, the police said that this would not be used against lawful demonstrators asking them to notify them beforehand to protect their right to protest.

But that raises an interesting point which relates to the pre-emptive arrests of 4 graffiti artists to prevent damages to the city. One of those arrested, Darren Cullen, actually has done work legally for Adidas, one of the Olympic sponsors and for other major corporations. Mr Cullen also tries to get graffiti artists to work legally. Yet somehow he has been pre-emptively arrested, bailed, and forbidden from having spray paint cans, using public transport and going within a mile of the Olympics venues:

“These arrests come in light of Wednesday’s court ruling by Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Openshaw said that police pre-emptive strikes for Prince William’s wedding a year ago were not unlawful. Human rights activists have voiced concerns about what affect this ruling will have on Games security.

All four have been released on bail, with restrictions forbidding them from holding any spray paint, riding any of the public trains around London, or being within a mile of any Olympic Games venues (http://www.tntmagazine.com/news/london/police-raid-homes-and-arrest-graffiti-artists-in-pre-emptive-olympic-swoop). “

While the Metropolitan police have insisted that they will not stop legal protestors from stating their grievances using pre-emptive arrests, the arrests at Trafalgar Square and the extension of a banning order for two years prohibiting Simon Moore from going within 100 yards of the Olympic torch relay, the games themselves or anything relating to the diamond jubilee. The extension of Mr Moore’s banning order really belies the police’s claim that they will not infringe upon freedom of protest. Moore was originally arrested for blocking access to a building site while opposing the placement of an Olympic practice basketball court in Leyton marshes in April 2012. So, they won’t pre-emptively arrest you, they will arrest you after the fact and extend banning conditions against you.

Finally, remember the point about not stopping your right to protest when the police announced their pre-emptive arrest policy? Well, letting the authorities know when we are planning a protest is clearly insufficient to guarantee your right to protest; quelle surprise! The borough of Tower Hamlets had refused the Counter Olympics Network the right to make speeches at the end of the march scheduled for the 28th of July resulting in Tower Hamlets council being threatened with being taken to court. The march was able to go ahead as scheduled (with the final release of information on July 26th, two days before the demonstration (http://counterolympicsnetwork.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/final-arrangements-for-march-and-event-on-july-28th/), but the whole point of the council doing this is to disrupt the ability of organisers to coherently organise protests; the tactic of first giving permission, then taking it away the right to have speeches, then cancelling the demo and finally allowing it under pressure is all part of the game to prevent people from getting out large numbers as protestors do not know what will happen. Welcome to the games, they take all forms in Great Britain these days!

Mitt And His Fellow Vulture Capitalists See Venezuela As a Threat: It Is. by Justina

3:09 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Reposted from Daily Kos.

The likely Republican presidential candidate and quintessential vulture capitalist, Mitt Romney, chided President Obama for not being sufficiently fearful of Venezuela’s socialist president, Hugo Chávez Friás last week. In the conservative Daily Telegraph Mitt is quoted as saying:

“The idea that this nation, this president, doesn’t pose a national security threat is simply naive and an extraordinary admission on the part of this president to be completely out of touch with what is happening in Latin America,” Romney said of Chavez in an interview Wednesday with Fox News.

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Yes, socialist Venezuela, the country which was recently ranked the 5th happiest in the world, following four social democratic countries, presents a threat to Mitt’s vulture business model and his support base, who largely come from the 92,000 wealthy individuals who sequester their wealth in “tax havens” such as Switzerland the Cayman Islands. (See rt. com for its report on “The Price of Off Shore Revisited”.

After President Chavez was elected to office in 1998, Venezuela has had currency controls in place to prevent its national wealth from being looted and sent to extra-territorial banks, a model which defeats the efforts of would-be off shore tax evaders in Venezuela. Other countries have allowed themselves to be systematically raped of their needed tax revenues.

Venezuela also jailed its criminal banksters for speculating with their depositors money. Here, Mitt, you would likely be in jail for creating tax-evading investment vehicles in the Cayman Islands. No, socialist Venezuela, under President Chavez, is definitely not a vulture-capitalist friendly country. That is why it is now thriving.

But other countries are being systematically robbed. Thus, in a study commissioned by the The Tax Justice Network campaign group, leaked to The Guardian, and reprinted by today’s rt.com news cited above, we discover that:

Wealthy tax evaders, aided by private banks have exploited loopholes in tax legislation and stashed over $21 tn in offshore funds, says a report. The capital drained from some developing countries since 1970 would be enough to pay off national debts. The findings show the gap between the haves and the have-nots is much larger than previously thought…

The report provides the most detailed valuation of the offshore economy to date. The document cites the world’s leading private banks as cherry-picking from the ranks of the uber-rich and siphoning their fortunes into tax-free havens such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.

The wealth of the super-rich is “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy.”
Henry writes that a large part of the trillion dollar hoard belongs to around 92,000 individuals, an elite class of super-rich who make up 0.001 percent of the global population.

Romney, the consummate professional enabler, who has bragged about the efficiency with which his Bain companies have served his financial interests and those of his wealthy investors, has also been quoted as admitting that Bain created investment vehicles in the Cayman Islands, protected from U.S. taxes, in order to attract wealthy foreign investors, like those from El Salvador.

Indeed, Romney founded his vulture capitalist private equity investment firm, Bain Capital, largely on the wealth of elite foreign investors from impoverished South and Central American third world countries.

Some 40% of his firm’s initial funding came from the oligarchs of South and Central American dictatorships, those who with the help of U.S. funding, helped themselves to the resources of their fellow countrymen and countrywomen by using U.S. trained death squads (many graduates of the U.S.’s infamous “School of the Americas”) to kill off those in their countries who sought the equitable allocations of their countries’ resources and thus to terrorize the rest of the population into meek submission to their iron-handed rule.

<a href=”Tanfani, Mason and Gold report in a recent L.A. Times article that some of these Bain funders were the “powers that be” in El Salvador, well connected with the right-wing government, whose activities they funded:

The group (of Bain investors) included some of El Salvador’s wealthiest people: coffee grower Miguel A. Dueñas; members of the De Sola family, also coffee exporters; and Ricardo Poma, whose family conglomerate now owns car dealerships and luxury hotels across Central America. [...] Most of the money they put into Bain Capital was through corporations set up in Panama … Among the Bain investors were Francisco R.R. de Sola and his cousin Herbert Arturo de Sola, whose brother Orlando de Sola was suspected by State Department officials and the CIA of backing the right-wing death squads, according to now-declassified documents. Orlando de Sola, who has denied supporting the death squads, is now serving a four-year prison term for unrelated fraud charges.

Jon Wiener, writing in “Bain Capital’s Ties to Salvadoran Death Squads” in The Nation. reports that:

When Bain Capital was founded in 1984, Romney and his partners had trouble raising funds for their initial investments. “$9 million came from rich Latin Americans,” the Times reports, “including powerful Salvadoran families living in Miami.… At the time, U.S. officials were publicly accusing some exiles in Miami of funding right-wing death squads in El Salvador. Some family members of the first Bain Capital investors were later linked to groups responsible for killings…

The civil war in El Salvador lasted from 1980 to 1992 and killed more than 70,000 Salvadorans. It started after Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated while giving a mass shortly after he published an open letter to President Carter asking him to cut off US military aid to the Salvadoran military regime.

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Four members of the de Sola family were among the original Bain investors, or “limited partners” in the company, the Boston Globe reported. Their relative and “one-time business partner,” Orlando de Sola, was an important figure in El Salvador. A well-known right-wing coffee grower with an (in his words) “authoritarian” vision for the country, de Sola spent time living in Miami but was also a founding member of the right-wing Arena party, led by a U.S.-trained former intelligence officer named Roberto D’Aubuisson, also known as “Blowtorch Bob”, due to his frequent use of a blowtorch in interrogation sessions.

Justin Elliott, writing in the July 20, 2012 article,“The roots of Bain Capital in El Salvador’s civil war”, notes that:

The war, which pitted leftist guerrillas against a right-wing government backed by the Reagan administration, ultimately left over 70,000 people dead in the tiny nation before a peace deal was brokered by the United Nations in 1992. The vast majority of violence, a UN truth commission later found, was committed by rightist death squads and the military, which received U.S. training and $6 billion in military and economic aid.

Bain investor, Richard Poma, owner of the Roble Group, was likewise implicated in a series of tourist area bombings in Cuba in 1997 when his security chief was arrested for a series of bombings there. The bombings were planned by Luis Posada Carriles, 70, U.S. former CIA operative and longtime militant anti-Cuban exile, who openly admitted arranging the bombings. Posada was then living in El Salvador, which refused to deport him back to Cuba.

Thus Romney’s founding El Salvadoran investors, who likely had reached their power and wealth before 1984 by originally extracting it from the blood, sweat and tears of poor El Salvordoran workers, who used that wealth to gain political power and to remain in power by funding their chosen right-wing politicians, protected by military assistance and training from the U.S., including the U.S.’s “School of the Americas” (otherwise known as “School of the Assassins” and still in operation under a new, more neutral name), likewise funded the cruel “Death Squads” that tortured and assassinated anyone who dared to demand equitable distribution of their countries’ wealth.

Thus these founders were appropriate models for the cut-throat business decisions taken by Mitt Romney on behalf of his Bain companies, who bought up American companies, looted them, threw their workers into the street, and collected massive fees for Romney and Bain for their efforts.

True, Mitt’s efficient army of enablers, the lawyers, accountants and managers who comprised his “assassination squads”, didn’t have to stoop to using chain saws to decapitate and draw and quarter rebellious workers, as did the El Salvadorian death squads, they simply worked them long hours for low pay, raided their pension funds and then terminated them, leaving the U.S. taxpayers to clean up their deadly but bloodless mess by supplying the missing pension money.

Little wonder, with the biggest banks engaging in laundering the money from drug cartels, while the private equity funds like Bain, make vast profits for their tax-evading investors, that the U.S. has come to look just like the third world countries such as El Salvador.

The Washington Post reports:

The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate (In the U.S.) will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest since 1965.

Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.

“I grew up going to Hawaii every summer. Now I’m here, applying for assistance because it’s hard to make ends meet. It’s very hard to adjust,” said Laura Fritz, 27, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., describing her slide from rich to poor as she filled out aid forms at a county center. Since 2000, large swaths of Jefferson County just outside Denver have seen poverty nearly double.

In contrast, the people in Socialist Venezuela are seeing vast improvements in their living conditions.

Thus Eva Golinger, writing in today’s venezuelanalysis:

Poverty has been reduced by more than 50% since Chavez came to power in 1998. The inclusionary policies of his government have created a society with mass participation in economic, political and social decisions. His social programs – called missions – have guaranteed free medical care and education, from basic to advanced levels, and provided basic food items at affordable costs, along with tools to create and maintain cooperatives, small and medium businesses, community organizations and communes. Venezuelan culture has been rescued and treasured, recovering national pride and identity, and creating a sentiment of dignity instead of inferiority. Communication media have proliferated during the last decade, assuring spaces for the expression of all.

The oil industry, nationalized in 1976 but operating as a private company, has been recuperated for the benefit of the country, and not for multinationals and the elite. Over 60% of the annual budget is dedicated to social programs in the country, with the principal focus on eradicating poverty.

Caracas, the capital, has been beautified. Parks and plazas have turned into spaces for gatherings, enjoyment and safety for visitors. There’s music in the streets, art on the walls and a rich debate of ideas amongst inhabitants. The new communal police works with neighborhoods to battle crime and violence, addressing problems from the root cause.

As a five year resident of Venezuela, I have see that the government has invested billions of dollars from its oil resources into providing universal medical care, public education to the post-doctoral university level, subsidized food markets and restaurants, low (or no) interest loans to purchase new housing (the government is building two million new homes for those who are inadequately housed), financial assistance in starting worker-owned cooperatives and small business, government paid job training and placement, and massive programs to assist the elderly and disabled with a variety of social services, including in-home doctor visits, nursing assistance and home renovations and repairs.

All school children receive one or two free meals a day, and even government-provided computers and internet training. Stay-at home care-takers receive stipends and women are now protected under an extensive anti-domestic violence law which provides for psychiatric care and job training for abused household members. Social security has been extended to hundreds of thousands of people who did not previously qualify.

Yes, Venezuela is a real danger to Mitt and his fellow vulture capitalists. It presents a replicable model of a society that cares about the needs and aspirations of its members, rather than stealing labor from its people to generate profits for a few already wealthy individuals, those 92,000 people, the 0.001 percent who, like Mitt, make their wealth by stealing it from the vast majority of the world’s population.

Let’s Talk ‘Decolonization’ by Unaspencer

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

I write today to, hopefully, start a dialogue and ongoing series about the concept of decolonization. I’m fairly new to the term. Some of the concepts have been in me for a while, but I did not have connection to a philosophy or political movement, much less a name. So, I’ll share my entry point and early thoughts about decolonization. I invite you to share yours.

When I left my house in Boston and headed to New York City to be present in Liberty Square last September, I was going as an “Occupier”, I suppose, since the action was called “Occupy Wall Street”. So many of us felt so strongly that the message about the deep layers of corruption in our economic and political systems resonated, that we didn’t even think about the word defining this burgeoning movement.

For me, the Occupy movement was connected to Arab Spring and the Encampanadas of Spain and even the Green movement in Iran. And Palestine.

Palestine. How could I even think for one moment that “occupying” was a good thing? Well, clearly, I didn’t think.

It didn’t take long, though, for some to realize that the corruption wasn’t just about banking and money in politics. The corruption goes to the core of the culture we’re living in. Some of the very tenets we base our value system on are unjust. Built right into what we believe is an acceptance of being the generators of pain and suffering for others. What we’re seeing in the blatant exploitation and inhumanity of the financial crimes is reflective of something in all of us: a predatory nature. A predatory nature that we socially codify through memes such as “possession is 9/10ths of the law” and “survival of the fittest” and “competitive edge” and “independence” and “free market”. That it is radical to suggest that a culture, which measures profit-making as the key indicator of it’s health, is based on something ugly, tells us that we have deeply rooted ways of being which foster the corrupt systems we live within.

I’ve had these thoughts for a long time. In my youth I was a very competitive athlete. I had a prosperous early career as a computer programmer in the 1980s. I have multi-faceted, ‘pedigreed’ American ancestry. A direct ancestor was celebrated for being the leader of the people who “forged the first great pathway west” through Kentucky and Tennessee. Family documents show them celebrating their colonizing efforts. (ironically, another branch of my family is quite likely related to Cherokee Chief Ross who led his people along the Trail of Tears.) In short, I was a yuppie, happily thriving in the world created by colonization.

I always had a bit of a “radical” edge, I suppose. Once, while I was at a business luncheon, in my fancy, $900, Donna Karn suit, a glass of champagne was sent to me with a note, “from one closet punk to another.” I looked around the room at all the other suits and knew who sent that drink. A moment of subversive solidarity. Still, I was pursuing “The American Dream” until I went to business school. There, when faced with the founding principles of capitalism, I wholly rejected them. Everything was cold and with zero concern for a just and sustainable existence for all people. War terminology applied to business practices. I could not adopt that. I had gone to school to “boost my resumé” and, presumably, my career. I ended up turning down offers to join venture capital firms. I would go on to run the first urban composting company in the United States, a very mission-oriented pursuit. Everything I have done since then has been mission-oriented.

Still, I didn’t have the words for how I perceived things. I no longer felt good about the concept of “competition”. Competitions have winners and losers. A society built on “competitive spirit” requires losers. Far more losers than winners. Only one person claims the title at the end of a tennis tournament. Everyone else is some varying degree of loser. It rankles me to no end that someone who is second best in the world at what they do is “suffering a disappointing loss” at The Olympics when they receive their silver medal. Moreover, I feel great pain about the history of our culture. It’s a living history. Here in the United States, we have committed and continue to commit genocide against The First Peoples. The early settlers came here for economic opportunity and they generated their successes by dragging millions from their homelands and enslaving them to get free labor and greater profits for themselves. Every single aspect of what this country is would not exist without slavery and genocide. Yet, we continue to call this “exceptional” and we continue to state that the lifestyle we have become accustomed to is a good and normal thing that we should continue to aspire to and convince, well force, everyone else in the world to aspire to.

I could articulate my perceptions, but I didn’t have a name for it until I entered the world of Occupy and encountered an already existing movement called “Decolonize”. (Though I can’t attend often due to a scheduling conflict, I am eternally grateful for the Decolonize to Liberate working group at Occupy Boston.)

Decolonize. That word seems to scare people. Almost every time I utter it in front of people, there is someone who will ask, “do you expect everyone to leave here and go to Europe?”

The political act of decolonizing is not about rearranging where everyone lives. Even if you did that, people would still have a mindset, an ethical compass, which would lead to new colonizing and new systems of oppression. Decolonizing is about rearranging the way we think and how we treat each other. What does “justice for all” really mean? Have the vast majority of people living on this land experienced justice?

We know the answer to that question. Injustice has plagued this land. “Freeing” slaves whilst keeping the rewards of their labor was not justice. Giving native peoples barely survivable land land that you claim they have sovereignty over, which you do not honor, is not justice. Breaching every treaty we ever made with those same people is certainly not justice.

Those are obvious examples of injustices and we do hear lip service given, culturally, to these “historical” events. (We’re breaching treaties to this day and the 13th Amendment has an exemption to the banning of slavery, which we are taking full advantage of in our private prison system. So, this is not just history. It’s contemporary.) What we don’t discuss much or in a way which might actually lead to justice, is how the very tenets of “The American Way”, the very things we honor as almost sacred truths, generated and continue to generate these injustices. We’re like the child who says, “Sorry for leaving my trash on the floor, mom”, but doesn’t pick up the trash and continues to leave trash on the floor. It’s a superficial acknowledgement of wrongdoing without any righting of the situation or commitment to prevention of further harm.

With our very ways of being, we cause harm and promote injustice every day. We cheer on the “winning” little league team without a concern for what the message of “life has winners and losers” implants in our children. We buy cheap food without making sure no one was abused to get it to us. We wear clothing made in sweat shops. We let children “cry it out” and put them in “time out” to show them they will be ostracized when they don’t ‘behave’, where ‘behaving’ means adopting the feelings and perceptions of an authority figure. We hug our children when they “make us proud” or “look so cute” or entertain us. Every aspect of our beings is shaped through a system of reward and deprive. And we’re willing deprive people of food, shelter, clothing and healthcare if they haven’t ‘behaved’. We are willing, in other words, to kill them. We kill people all the time. Our president now has a “kill list”. I don’t believe for a moment that we’re killing people as revenge for those killed in 2001. We’re killing anyone who dares to threaten the public perception that we are exceptional and democratic and harbingers of peace. We have the most weapons and an exponentially larger army than anyone on the planet has ever had and we dare to claim we are bringing peace. We are exceptional, yes. Exceptional at cognitive disconnect and self-deception in the name of glorifying ourselves and getting what we want, regardless of who pays what price.

But, it’s also micro. When we’re in a meeting and someone expresses a feeling about something and the first response is a rebuttal, we’re participating in the devaluing of someone. We tell them “don’t feel that. Don’t see that.” We do it to each other all the time. We compete over feelings. We compete over ideas. We normalize the concept that he who speaks with the most force gets to be ‘right’ and everyone else is silenced or ostracized. We see no room for simultaneous co-existence of multiple ideas, emotions and peoples. It happens in the workplace, in political dialogue, in families and even in the most intimate of relations. From the most subtle of interactions to the most tense, its all about who is best at dominating. We give up our agency in micro-moments everyday and hand our power to those who are most comfortable dominating.

Domination is the name of the game. It’s our “Manifest Destiny“. Our nationalism and self-proclaimed exceptionalism and sense that it is all part of a divine plan within which we are the chosen people, are all part of that ‘destiny’ and the Doctrine of Discovery. Most of us have probably never used those words. It’s not something we discuss often. We don’t have to. It’s the inherent axiom we embody. And it’s the sine qua non. We can’t generate a truly just and sustainable world until we purge ourselves of it.

That purge is supremely challenging. We must find a way to question every thing we do, the way we are in every moment, every assumption we have about what is ‘natural’ and ‘right’ and ‘acceptable’. We must do this without so destroying our own dignity that we either can’t bear to live or can’t bear to look or need to attack the dignity of others in order to feel better. Of any revolutionary movement out there, the resistance to this will be the strongest because we are rising up against ourselves.

I would argue that we are not rising up against our true selves, though. We are rising up against the selves we have been molded to become. From the moment we were born we were trained and brainwashed and ‘normalized’. A particular lens was fused to our eyes through which we are forced to perceive the world. Underneath all that is an original self, who can still look at the world in our innately natural way if we can remove those lenses. There isn’t a nice laser-surgery process to remove them in a few moments with some anesthesia to ease the way. It’s going to be painful. Yet, it will be freeing. We will be freed of the burden of supporting, and being weighed down by, the systems of oppression we’re existing in. And the connections we make to each other will be far more rewarding and joyous, as they are free of the guilt of achieving those connections at the expense of others. It will be liberating because we will not be forced to eradicate our true selves in order to survive.

I am trying to decolonize myself, my own mind. By doing so, I am creating space for something else. Cooperation. Collective. Interdependence. Exquisite joy.

In that vein, here are some of the ways I have challenged myself:

1) be willing to be wrong in every moment.
2) don’t allow someone to convince me I am wrong. If I don’t feel it, don’t just ‘cave’.
2) offer any power I have to those who have less
3) be willing to be threatened and to risk safety for the sake of justice.
4) always speak my truth with compassion, even if it creates tension with those I care about.
5) be willing to be uncomfortable in ‘mainstream’ society; reject coersion
6) be willing to share any material gains I may have

The list will grow, but those are a starting point.

Have you ever considered decolonization? What does it bring up for you? How do you challenge yourself?

Some links for your reading pleasure:
United Nations Declaration on the rights of inDigenous PeoPles

What UNDRIP can mean for the future

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues: Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery

Colonization of the Mind: Normalize This!

Colonizing and Decolonizing Minds by Marcelo Dascal, Tel Aviv University

Anti-Capitalist Meet Up: Part I, Unemployment and Workfare in the UK by NY brit expat

5:04 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

“The industrial reserve army, during the periods of stagnation and average prosperity, weighs down the active army of workers during the periods of over-production and feverish activity, it puts a curb on their pretensions. The relative surplus population is therefore the background against which the law of the demand and supply of labour does its work. It confines the field of action of this law to the limits absolutely convenient to capital’s drive to exploit and dominate the workers (Marx, 1867, Capital, volume I, Penguin edition, p. 792).”

Introduction

This post is part I of a series discussing the labour market under capitalism. In this part, I am addressing the issue of persistent unemployment in capitalism and the introduction of workfare in the UK specifically. I am addressing both economic and political inconsistencies of the introduction of workfare under Capitalism and Bourgeois Democracy. I conclude this post by addressing the crisis of bourgeois democracy that is exemplified by the contradictions between the introduction of forced labour and human rights, one of the strongest weapons belonging to the ideology of bourgeois democracy.

Workfare, a welfare to work scheme, which forces welfare recipients to work to earn their benefit, has existed for some time in the US (see: 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Act); and for a comparison between state workfare programmes in the US see: http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~gwallace/Papers/%288%29.pdf). Originally introduced in the UK by Labour in 1998 and insultingly called the “The New Deal” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal_%28United_Kingdom%29), it enabled penalties for those that refused “reasonable work” and established courses and volunteer work to get those on benefits into work and provided tax credits for working families to keep them working.

However, the attempt by the current government in the UK to extend it has led to both legal action and resistance on the part of those being forced to labour. The 2010 “Work for your Benefits Pilot Scheme” (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/1222/pdfs/uksiem_20101222_en.pdf) and the extension of the “Mandatory Work Activity scheme” (2011: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/688/pdfs/uksiem_20110688_en.pdf; 2012:http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-vote-office/June_2012/12-06-12/13.DWP-Mandatory-Work-Activity.pdf) which is supposedly for those that are not on board with the shift from welfare to work strategy of the government) in numbers of “customers” forced to labour without pay and in light of severe criticism in terms of the introduction of forced labour as well as the known ineffectiveness of these schemes is more than questionable. However, it is certainly consistent with the policies and beliefs of the current government.

The second part of this series will concentrate on workfare in the UK and the actions that are part of the fight-back against the extension of workfare and this will go up tomorrow at 12 noon eastern.

One of the most important contradictions in the capitalist economic system lies in the nature of the labour market itself. On the one hand, capitalism requires free labour; that is, free in the sense that it is no longer tied by law to specific aristocrats that provided subsistence in exchange for labour on their land as serfs or tied to specific masters as slaves. In fact, the existence of slavery and indentured servitude in the US arose initially due to the insufficient number of labourers; it continued due to racism and the usefulness of divide and rule amongst working people. While not denying the importance of morality and human decency, when it started to be an impediment with the development of the domestic market, capital moved to eliminate it. Free labour means that instead labour is free to sell its labour to obtain subsistence. On the other hand, the dependence upon wages earned through labour means that they are subject to the vagaries of the labour market itself and the needs of profitability and capital accumulation within the system itself. However, from its earliest, capitalism and unemployment go hand in hand. The numbers of workers needed by the system depends essentially on profitability criterion; full employment is a fantasy, even in periods of rapid economic growth.

I. Capitalism’s reserve army of labour

“On the basis of capitalism, a system in which the worker does not employ the means of production, but the means of production employ the worker, the law by which a constantly increasing quantity of means of production may be set in motion by a progressively diminishing expenditure of human power, thanks to the advance in the productivity of social labour, undergoes a complete inversion, and is expressed thus: the higher the productivity of labour, the greater is the pressure of the workers on the means of employment, the more precarious therefore becomes the conditions for their existence, namely the sale of their own labour-power for the increase of alien wealth, or in other words, the self-valorization of capital. The fact that the means of production and the productivity of labour increase more rapidly than the productive population expresses itself, therefore, under capitalism, in the inverse form that the working population always increases more rapidly than the valorization requirements of capital (Marx, 1867, op. cit., p. 798).”

This leads to a serious problem. On the one hand, the idea that labour must labour to earn its subsistence is a fundamental perspective that exists in ideology prior to the existence of capitalism; you can even find it in the Bible (see e.g., Genesis 3:17). It is based upon an essential truth that the majority somehow needed to labour in some way to survive. Perhaps one of my favourite defences of the link of labour with subsistence is from Bentham; in fact, he goes so far as to demand the linkage of relief to labour (in houses of industry, workhouses). Listening to what the current government is saying one cannot help wonder if Iain Duncan Smith (the secretary of works and pensions) got lost reading Bentham and never found his way out. In fact, there are strong similarities in Bentham’s discussion of deserving and undeserving poor (which he spends ages on differentiating and then proposes the same remedy to deal with; yep, labour):

“To a person labouring under total and absolute want of ability with regard to work, relief must be administered, without any condition in respect of work, since otherwise he must be left to perish.

To a person possessed of adequate ability, no relief ought to be administered, but on condition of his performing work: to wit such a measure of work as, if employed to an ordinary degree of advantage, will yield a return in value, adequate to the expence of the relief (Bentham, 1796, Essays on the Subject of the Poor Laws, Essay II, sec. III, pp. 44-45).”

Irrespective of his distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor above, Bentham says the following:

“A person deprived of all his limbs, or the use of all his limbs, may still possess ability sufficient to the purpose of serving as inspector to most kinds of work, so long as mental faculties, and sight for observing, and voice for questioning are possessed by him in sufficient vigour (Bentham, op. cit., pp 46-47).”

However, high levels of productivity under capitalism means that less and less labour is needed both relatively and absolutely to satisfy needs and wants. In fact, the introduction of machinery in production of workers consumption goods has reduced the amount of labour necessary to feed the population. The large majority of the working day and production is done for the purposes of production of surplus value, that part of the value of the product going towards profits and rents. However, it has created high amounts of unemployment of labour which cannot and will not be needed due to the profitability criteria under which capitalist production is undertaken.

If the system is such (and capitalism is unique in this sense compared to other economic systems) that persistent unemployment is a by-product of production decisions relying on profitability criteria, addressing unemployment and the subsistence of the unemployed becomes essential. Moreover, there are different forms of unemployment, some of which are essential to production; for example, agriculture has periods of seasonal unemployment and these people must be available for the periods in which they are needed. Additionally, unemployment rises and falls due to the cyclical periods of capitalist growth and crisis; people are drawn in and released from production … this is a relative reserve army of unemployed. They must be available to be drawn into production when needed. Then, there are those that are long-term unemployed that are victims of a system. Increasingly, these numbers are rising in the advanced capitalist world due to the impact of high levels of productivity, the introduction of machinery to replace labour, the decline of industrial and manufacturing sectors in these countries and the general lack of revival of employment due to the nature of economic growth following crises (those jobless recoveries).

“We can now understand the foolishness of the economic wisdom which preaches to the workers that they should adapt their numbers to the valorization requirements of capital. The mechanism of capitalist production and accumulation itself constantly effects this adjustment. The first word of this adaptation is the creation of a relative surplus population, or industrial reserve army. Its last word is the misery of constantly expanding strata of the active army of labour, and the dead weight of pauperism (Marx, 1867, op. cit., p. 798).”

II. Dealing with Persistent Unemployment:

In many senses, the discussions on how to deal with poverty and unemployment created by the capitalist system have gone in waves. For those that do not outright reject public relief for the poor (like Malthus), there are essentially two main positions:

  1. there is either an assertion of the insistence between the link of labour and subsistence (e.g., Bentham, 1834 Poor Law Reform);
  2. or there is a recognition that unemployment of various forms exists and provision for the poor and unemployed must simply be provided (e.g., 1795-7 Poor Law Amendment, Social Welfare State).

At the moment, we are going through a period both in the US and UK where there is an insistence (irrespective of reality) of the link between labour and subsistence. This has introduced further contradictions in terms of the political dynamic of bourgeois democracy and the discussion of human rights and economic contradictions between free labour and forced labour that has been and continues to be introduced.

A possible way to deal with persistent unemployment is, of course, permanent job creation programmes by the state sector, including nationalisation of not only key industries (like health, agriculture, energy, water, electricity, and natural resources) but other sectors like airlines, and automobiles. Again, these are essentially subsidised sectors that should be expected to be non-profitable as their purpose is to provide jobs and incomes for working people as well as the goods and services themselves. Of course, these types of policies have been progressively abandoned in the advanced capitalist world by countries that initiated them in favour of privatisation from the late 1970s forwards to give the market alternative potential areas of profitability as the profitability in industry and manufacturing in the advanced capitalist world has waned and to destroy the power of the unions in these sectors. Essentially, the need for profitability and growth which are the motivating forces of the capitalist system did not, and could not allow, these sectors to exist outside of the control of the market.

The other obvious solution of reduction of working hours while maintaining incomes is inconsistent with profit maximisation criteria and has not led to increased employment in places where this has been done (see France for example); capital moved overseas to where wages are lower and/or machinery was introduced rather than labour employed. For this solution to work, we need to abandon profit maximisation criteria and capitalism. Without the need of production of surplus value and surplus products to sustain growth and profitability in the context of capitalism, high levels of productivity of labour can easily satisfy the needs and wants for all worldwide and the impoverishment of the majority and destruction of the planet can be ended.

III. The Workhouse and Workfare

I will conclude the economic part of the piece with a discussion examining the similarities and differences between the current workfare system and the 1834 Poor Law Amendment which forced the poor into workhouses.

People have questioned the legitimacy of raising the old workhouses for the poor when discussing workfare. Unquestionably, there are differences between the two systems of dealing with the unemployed through forced labour. No one’s liberty in terms of where they reside is at stake in the modern version; workfare is outdoor relief in the sense that no one is forced into a workhouse to obtain it.

While acknowledging the loss of liberty by the poor, Bentham notes that being confined to a specific place arises due to many types of employment; it holds for those that work in the military and as domestic servants in that they are specifically tied to the physical places of employment. He raises that loss of friends and community would arise if they needed to take a job in another location. Finally, he also states that the loss of individual liberty occurs simply due to being part of society or to the existence of government (Bentham, op. cit., pp. 35-36). His justification for forcing people into the workhouse relates to the importance of maintaining control over the poor and the dispensation of relief ensuring that it was tied to labour. For anyone that has read Bentham’s Panopticon (http://cartome.org/panopticon1.htm), control is very important for Bentham; given that he is a liberal, his lack of trust in human nature is impressive and hearkens back to Hobbes rather than to later enlightenment thinkers:

“Where, in a house where no food can be obtained which is not administered by, or by order, of a master, the administering of a meal’s meat is postponed till the work in consideration of which it administered is done, whether the motive employ’d in this case be the nature of a punishment or the nature of reward, or of both together, is a question of words, not worth insisting on for the present purpose. […] What is more, it is consonant not only to the meaning, but to the very words of scripture, letter as well as spirit. ‘Even when we were with you,‘ says St. Paul to the Thessalonians, even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that, if any would work, neither should he eat.’ Is there any place in which the expedient is more certain in point of efficacy or more practicable than in a House of Industry? (Bentham, op. cit., p. 32)”

Following WWII, forced incarceration if one has not committed a crime (and being poor is still not a crime) is considered unacceptable on a moral level. Irrespective, there are strong similarities to the arguments that underlie and justify the two systems.

The most important similarity is the assumption that people are unemployed voluntarily; that humans are inherently lazy, dissolute, immoral. The fact that the vast majority of the unemployed are so due to lack of employment opportunities does not seem to matter to these people. A second similarity is the notion of deserving and undeserving poor which is being used to adjudicate those that are capable and incapable of labour. Finally, there is the insistence of the linkage between labour and subsistence. The modern system replaces the threat of being in a workhouse with loss of benefits to compel labour and it is done under a system of private employers being subsidised by the government while also gaining unpaid labour (see here for the amount of subsidy they obtain for getting people into work: http://www.cesi.org.uk/keypolicy/work-programme). In many senses, workfare creates far more problems for waged labour than the old workhouse system.

While in the 19th century, putting people in workhouses did not impact upon the general labour market in the sense of lowering wages, the modern version of forced labour in the US prison system and in workfare at least in the UK is directly impacting upon the market for waged labour.

In order to obtain benefits, unemployed people are being forced to work under the lie that this is training for work as they do not have the discipline learned by regular labour due to long term unemployment. As a result, companies are using forced labour instead of hiring new workers or granting overtime to those already employed. These forced labourers do not have the job protection of paid labour, they do not have the rights to refuse to work or not, the safety conditions afforded to paid labour are not guaranteed to these people. Given that the labour is unskilled, the argument that this is work training is absurd; how much training is needed to learn to stack shelves? Moreover, studies have indicated that being forced to work does not improve your chances of finding paid labour, so that argument is also fallacious (http://unfairworkfare.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/government-report-concluded-that-workfare-reduces-chances-of-future-employment/). In fact, it is worse than that, participation in workfare can reduce chances of finding paid work and it is extremely ineffective for those with multiple barriers (think of those with disabilities, single mothers, parents with children to support, and caring for extended families). A report commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2008 concluded the following in terms of effectiveness of workfare programmes in the US, Canada and Australia conducted by Richard Crisp and Del Roy Fletcher of The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR):

  • Effectiveness in improving employment outcomes
    – There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.
    – Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes.
    – Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.
    – Levels of non-participation in mandatory activities are high in some workfare programmes.
  • Effectiveness for clients with multiple barriers
    – Workfare is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to work.
    – Welfare recipients with multiple barriers often find it difficult to meet obligations to take part in unpaid work. This can lead to sanctions and, in the most extreme cases, the complete withdrawal of benefits that leaves some individuals with no work and no income.
    – Some states in the US have scaled down large-scale, universal workfare programmes in preference for ‘softer’ and more flexible models that offer greater support to those with the most barriers to work. This includes a greater reliance on subsidised jobs that pay wages rather than benefits to participants (http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2007-2008/rrep533.pdf).

Forced labour is being compelled to compete with free waged labour and is being used to undermine wages and it is undercutting paid employment in a situation where there are larger numbers of unemployed people both due to the economic crisis as well as long-term unemployed due to the destruction of the manufacturing and industrial sectors.

This is creating serious inconsistencies and they do not only have economic implications, they have serious political implications for bourgeois democracy and the ideological legitimation of the system in the face of measures being used to support the capitalist system itself.

IV. A political crisis

The resort to forced labour is creating a political inconsistency with bourgeois democratic notions (or ideology) of liberty and rights of citizens. The notion of human rights is intimately connected to the development of bourgeois democracy; indeed, forced labour is inconsistent with Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the following:

• (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
• (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
• (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
• (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a23).

In the European Convention on Human Rights, there is a clear divergence from the noble principles espoused above, but Article 4 prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour with the following exemptions:

Article 4 prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour but exempts labour:
• done as a normal part of imprisonment,
• in the form of compulsory military service or work done as an alternative by conscientious objectors,
• required to be done during a state of emergency, and
• considered to be a part of a person’s normal “civic obligations” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Convention_on_Human_Rights#Article_4_-_servitude).

It is the definition of forced labour (or unfree labour) that is important for the discussion of workfare and it is that which calls into question the introduction of workfare and also raises the issue of prison labour which is considerably more difficult to address due to civil law in countries where it exists contradicting human rights law:

Unfree labour[…] is a generic or collective term for those work relations, especially in modern or early modern history, in which people are employed against their will by the threat of destitution, detention, violence (including death), lawful compulsion, or other extreme hardship to themselves or to members of their families.

Many of these forms of work may be covered by the term forced labour, which is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as all involuntary work or service exacted under the menace of a penalty. Unfree labour includes all forms of slavery, and related institutions (e.g. debt slavery, serfdom, corvée and labour camps) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_labour).

So theoretically, forced labour is forbidden by the EU convention on human rights. But if you think about it seriously, the linkage between labour and subsistence that underlies workfare (and for that matter, forced labour in prisons) is based exactly on the notion of people being employed against their will by threat of destitution and extreme hardship to themselves or members of their families. While people are not being forced into workhouses, their ability to refuse to work is prevented by their fear of destitution and hardship. Yet that has neither stopped signatories to the UN Declaration on Human Rights (e.g., the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK), or the UK which is a member of the EU introducing workfare.

Moreover, in many senses, the whole capital-labour relationship is based upon the fact that if people do not work they will be destitute in the absence of a social welfare state. In fact, the social welfare state itself broke the link between subsistence and labour; these policies which attempt to revive it on the backs of the poor and unemployed are reintroducing something which is essentially inconsistent with both notions of bourgeois democracy as well as the idea of free labour: forced labour. Even more so, the introduction of these policies in the context of both an economic recession and the existence of long-term unemployment due to capitalist profitability criteria demonstrates clearly both the political and economic crisis that we are experiencing.

The threat to paid labour of forced labour is clear to the British trade union movement which has strongly opposed workfare (http://www.tuc.org.uk/economy/tuc-21054-f0.cfm).

“Unions believe that workfare is a failed policy. It exploits the people who take part by paying them much less than the minimum wage. It is unfair to other workers because it threatens their jobs and pay rates. It is unfair to other businesses if their competitors are being subsidised by the government in this way. […] All workers are threatened by workfare but the poorest and weakest are threatened most because it is at the bottom end of the labour market that workers in real jobs are most likely to find themselves in competition with those on workfare, as the Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow has pointed out (http://www.tuc.org.uk/economy/tuc-21054-f0.cfm).”

For those who are tied to the rights and obligation perspective, the question arises whether labour is a civic obligation; that is, is your right not to be forced to labour counterbalanced by your civil responsibilities? But that raises the exact point as to whether your lack of labour is your choice or is a result of the economic system, such that your responsibilities are counterbalanced by the fact that there is no paid labour? If unemployment is involuntary as the vast majority of the unemployment actually is, can it be said that the unemployed are not fulfilling their civil responsibility or rather is it the case that civil society is actually failing in its responsibilities to them?

There is an even more fundamental question at stake which I want to raise here; this relates to the inalienable right to life (for human beings) which is independent of the question of rights and responsibility. If people are ineligible to get welfare benefits because they refuse to participate in workfare schemes are you condemning them to either slow death or forcing them to theft to ensure their lives? This will be addressed in more detail in part II of this series where Locke, for example, links the right to subsistence to the inalienable natural right to life in early bourgeois democratic theory.

References:

Bentham, Jeremy (1796) “Essays on the Poor Laws” in The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, Writings on the Poor Laws, Volume I, Oxford, 2001.

Marx, Karl (1867) Capital, Volume I: A Critique of Political Economy, Penguin, 1990.

The Cooperative Movement and the “Big Tent” Approach by GeminiJen

2:57 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

As I entered the reception for the opening evening of the 5th National Worker Cooperative Conference (as compared to consumer cooperatives which most of us are more familiar with) I experienced a kind of euphoria.

peg_walmart1

After all, we had just finished the keynote speech by Congressman Chaka Fattah, a nine-term progressive leader from Pennsylvania, who introduced The National Cooperative Development Act into Congress. When passed, the bill will considerably improve government support for developing a cooperative economy here in the States and bring us more in line with Europe. Moreover, the Small Business Administration had just agreed to provide some funding for cooperatives and –wait for it — the UN had declared this the UN Year of the Coop! We had arrived! No longer were we a little side note of Utopian idealist organic food coops — we had gone mainstream!

The creation of a society based on democratic, grassroots cooperatives as an antidote to capitalism has been a dream many of us have worked toward. The cooperative movement began with the 1844 Rochdale cooperative experiment in England (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochdale_Society_of_Equitable_Pioneers), continued through the anarcho-syndicalist cooperative movement beginning in the 1880s (frequently associated with Emma Goldman and the IWW), was energized by the farmer’s populist rebellion in the 1930s in the United States, and in recent years the Mondragon model formed in Spain in the 50s (100,000 workers and 12 billion in assets) and the industrias recuparadas in Argentina in the 1990s. But for the first time– perhaps more through objective necessity as we globalize and shift from an industrial economy to a digital economy–it seems to be a vision whose time has come and is actually within our grasp.

So I was prepared to enjoy the kind of movement simpatico and joie de vivre that revitalizes all us activists when we get away for the weekend with like minded souls when we are in a period of radicalization– and, to manage, of course, to gather new information and contacts to bring back to the struggle.

After Rep. Fattah’s presentation — which he finished by noting that both he and his wife were active supporters of REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated which is a world famous consumer cooperative geared to hikers, runners, and other outdoor types) — I sat down with a plate full of delicious organic and vegetarian food. Next to me sat an enthusiastic young blonde who just happened to be the treasurer of the finances at the Occupy Wall Street site. She was discussing an educational cooperative venture that she and her boyfriend were planning to establish on their farm in New Hampshire. They would bring inner city kids out for an educational experience combined with a practicum in farming to help counteract the decaying educational system in New York City. How wonderful I thought.

But be careful what you wish for. It was just at that point that the discussion started to get tricky. The first group of kids for their cooperative project, it turns out, were going to be from a charter school in New York City. The school was given $250,000 by Walmart. When I and another community organizer sitting next to me seemed taken aback that they would partner with the charter schools and Walmart, the woman acknowledged the problem but noted that they would not be in any way beholden to Walmart and they hadn’t been able to find any other way of funding the project.

Forget the fact that one of Walmart’s primary goals is to privatize education while still ripping off public resources (private charter schools, which have no accountability or oversight, are frequently housed in public school buildings at public cost, leaving less room and resources for the “less fortunate” who did not get into a “charter” school). Forget that this mirrors Walmart’s modus operandi in their stores where Walmart bad mouths unions as it accumulates its billions, yet pays it’s employees so little that the employees must apply for Medicaid and Food Stamps to survive (government programs which Walmart also bad mouths).

The young couple seemed unaware that by simply accommodating Walmart’s funding of the charter school model, they were furthering privatization of public education. Before we condemn the ignorance and gullibility of the young couple too much, we have to remember that Bill Gates, Obama and Al Sharpton support the charter school program as well. However, the young woman’s general lack of awareness of the struggle over Walmart and her obliviousness to the consequences of their choices did make me question how their coop project would fit in with the broader intent and principals of the cooperative movement.

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