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Anti-Capitalist Meetup: For May Day … Capitalism, Charity, Food Banks and Workers’ Rights by NY Brit Expat

2:56 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Most probably people have heard of the bizarre investigative journalism by The Mail on Sunday in an article which appeared on Easter Sunday (of all days in the year). The Mail on Sunday sent in a reporter, a wannabe Jimmy Olsen, to investigate provision of food by food-banks in Britain and that reporter literally took food out of the mouths of the hungry in order to prove some point. This provoked a backlash on social media that demonstrated that the neoliberal agenda seems to not have sunk too deeply in the hearts and minds of the British people. That is a relief and quite honestly more than I expected, given the constant barrage in the newspapers and on the news on telly that has never questioned the logic (forget the morality) of welfare caps and cuts to welfare benefits.

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ht: my sister Mia for comments and editing on this piece

However, the issue goes far deeper than the attempted neoliberalisation of the provision of charity in the context of the capitalist economic system in a Britain living under austerity; it actually raises issues of wages and incomes ensuring social subsistence in the context of capitalism and hence the reproduction of the working class.

The issue impinges upon the basic rights of human beings to be ensured their subsistence irrespective of the ability to work; this relates both to:

  1. Being unable to find work as there are no jobs due to laws of motion of the capitalist economic system
  2. Being unable to work due to disabilities, illness, or having caring responsibilities and the capitalist economy’s unwillingness to create social policies guaranteeing full accessibility for people with disabilities that can work and the full socialisation of care for children, the disabled, the sick and the elderly which would free women from caring responsibilities.

This then raises the question what are the moral precepts underlying our society in terms of guarantees to all members of the rights to a basic subsistence ensuring housing, food, heating, clothing, clean water and electricity?

The Attempt to Neoliberalise Charity Provision

In many senses, the article is rather chilling in terms of what was attempted. It is also way over the top; charity is private and individual by nature. One would think that would be sufficient to fulfil Tory fantasies of assistance for the poor and unemployed no longer provided by the social welfare state, but guess again.

An “investigative reporter” (and that is using the term very generously) goes to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (the go-to place when you need assistance to deal with an unfriendly and complex class society) and tells them that he is having trouble making ends meet due to rising fuel bills (this is a very common problem due to rising prices of energy, fuel and electricity). The Citizens Advice Bureau contacts the Trussell Trust who runs many food-banks in this country (along with community groups, other church groups and horribly enough the Red Cross who have been distributing food for the first time since World War II) and issue the “reporter” a voucher coupon).

As an aside, and, to add insult to injury, these vouchers to food-banks, appallingly, are also given by government Jobs Centres when clients come in and tell them that they have insufficient funds to purchase food. The provision of voucher coupons by the Job Centres is part of government policy … even worse, it is government policy to send the hungry and unemployed to food-banks instead of providing sufficient benefits income to those that come in for assistance which is also, disgustingly, government policy.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau then sent our intrepid reporter to the food-bank where he tells the same story. Correctly, the food-bank provides food and basic goods to this investigative reporter. They did not search his house, ask him for proof of insufficient economic means, demand evidence of any sort; they are a charity and their role is to provide food when people need it. Their job is not to shame people or investigate people or means-test people – their role is to step in to ensure that those that say they have insufficient income to buy food are covered.

That brings us to the first issue: due to government cutbacks in benefits, people cannot limit their use of food-banks to a disastrous situation; which was their original and sole purpose. Sometimes even with the best planning people run out of money; there are unexpected expenses (e.g., dentists, new school uniforms, higher utility bills than usual), which can blow a budget especially in the absence of credit cards and unwillingness to take out a usurious loan (which is impossible to get if you are unemployed anyhow). Food-banks are supposed to be a last-gasp resort for people. As the Trussell Trust (and various clergy have pointed out), the government’s attacks on the social welfare state are literally forcing people to rely on food-banks on a regular basis rather than in desperate circumstances!

For his Easter message, David Cameron enjoyed talking about what a Christian nation Britain is; ironically, he clearly does not want to hear members of the Clergy that came to talk to him about poverty caused by government policy as his staff called the police! Let’s give Cameron a round of applause, as his party seems to be the only one in Parliament that called the police on the Clergy. While extolling the principles of Christianity on the abstract level or when they are useful for anti-immigrant bashing, in actual practice concrete Christianity and David Cameron seem to be at odds.

In many senses, this appalling policy is reminiscent of the “Thousand Points of Light” nonsense promulgated by George HW Bush (the father, not the son) in his inaugural address where voluntarism and charity donations were supposed to replace a modern social welfare state. Thanks again to the US for exporting yet another failed and reactionary policy overseas to justify the destruction of a real social welfare state (as opposed to the rather pallid and anaemic imitation in the US)! In fact, I would argue that this nonsensical speech by GHW Bush was the beginning of the identification of the social welfare state with charity, while these two things are separate and distinct and should never be conflated.

The Response to the Maul on Sunday article

The response to the article by The Mail on Sunday was swift and angry. It spread all over social media and this was chronicled by The Guardian.

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According to the Trussell Trust:

Thousands of people took to social media to express their support for The Trussell Trust and its foodbanks. Well-known names like the author Mark Haddon, musician Billy Bragg, financial journalist Paul Lewis and comedian Jon Ronson donated to the Trussell Trust Easter appeal to show their support and encouraged others to do the same. Almost 5,000 people have donated to the Help Crack UK Hunger Justgiving page since the article was published, and donations to the appeal page rose from £2,000 before Sunday to over £60,000 to date.

Today The Trussell Trust says that since Sunday, donations to Help Crack UK Hunger, combined with donations to Trussell Trust’s general funds, have reached an incredible £97,673.57p. A large proportion of this amount can be attributed to reactions to the Mail on Sunday article and additional coverage.”

Trussell Trust Chief Executive David McAuley says:

“We have been moved, humbled and overwhelmed by the incredible generosity of the British public following the Mail on Sunday’s article. It’s been amazing to see thousands of people react in such a positive way, wanting to help people in crisis. I would like to thank everyone who got behind this campaign, not just for their donations, but also for the positive words of encouragement. It means a lot, and will make a big difference to lots of people who are struggling in the UK.”

The Trussell Trust team has been blown away by the generosity and support of so many people. All the funds raised will help The Trussell Trust to do more to help stop people going hungry in the UK (http://www.trusselltrust.org/latest-news#HCUKH).

As an understatement, I was extremely relieved that so many British people were so appalled by The Mail on Sunday piece and the attempted neoliberalisation of charity.

But, and this brings me to the main issue, I have been far more concerned about the acceptance of the argument that it is charity that needs to provide for those whose wages (whether wages or benefits; as there are working poor people in Britain that get help along with those that are unemployed) or whose benefits are now insufficient due to government economic policies.

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The essential problem is two-fold:

  1. To address the economic crisis, the government suppressed wages to keep profits up under the ideological position/obfuscation that higher profits would ensure investment and get the economy growing again; this is known as Say’s Law for those that know mainstream economic theory (which maintains that all economic growth derives from income saved from profits which is then invested leading to economic growth). This specifically was the case for wages of public employees whose increases were frozen at 1% (way below the rate of inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index which they substituted for the Retail Price Index which covered housing increases), state and public worker pensions were re-pegged to the Consumer Price Index to decrease future increases;
  2. The government then proceeded to cut income for the working class by cutting benefits. The social welfare system in Britain is different from that of the US. It does not only cover the unemployed and poor. There are elements that are cross-class, like child tax credits, child-care benefits, winter heating allowance, disability living allowance and incapacity benefit (that independent worker’s personal contributions), and, of course, the NHS which is available to all. It has historically also been used to prop up incomes of those earning insufficient income to cover general living expenses thus freeing capitalists from having to pay higher wages (e.g., child-care benefit, child benefits, housing benefits, etc).

What is really going on?

What we are seeing is a contradiction of the capitalist economic system manifesting itself. On the one hand, we have the introduction of austerity, the manner in which neoliberalism is attempting to deal with an economic crisis, which is lowering wages to increase profits and profitability. On the other hand, there is the need in the capitalist economic system to ensure the reproduction of working class as these workers are needed to actually work and to produce goods and services over and above the value of their wages to ensure the creation of surplus value (value of the surplus product over and above reproduction of the economy at the same level) which forms the basis of interest, profits and rents.

Moreover, wages need to be of a sufficient level for workers to actually purchase the goods and services in order for realisation of profits to occur; in the absence of sale at a price over cost of production, there are no profits. So, undermining the social subsistence level (and remember this is throughout the advanced capitalist world) could actually interfere with realisation of surplus value in the form of profits.

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That is why there is so much babble about export-led growth; they are actually hoping to ensure the sale of goods and services overseas whilst undermining social subsistence levels. However, what happens when all countries in the advanced capitalist world are all lowering wages to prop up profits? That means that sale of goods is not increasing sufficiently to keep the wheels of the system greased. Guess what, that also means that investment by capitalists to increase output (and employment) is not happening.

That is why economic growth in the advanced capitalist world has not been spectacular. It is also why so much attention is being paid to China to increase wages and create a social welfare state so that the Chinese working class will save less and spend more.

There is an inherent contradiction between the needs of labour (to subsist and reproduce; i.e., to cover housing, food, clothing, heating, water and to have families) and the needs of capital (to have continuous growth and rising profits and profitability) in capitalism.

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What is happening in this period (and this is the culmination of economic policy since the 1970s) is that the perceived needs of capital are increasingly in conflict with the needs of labour. As a result, not only is the recognised social subsistence level being eroded to prop up profits; the fact that the system (in the absence of a public or state sector to increase employment) cannot create full employment of labour is becoming more and more evident.

Essentially, under capitalism, the number of workers that are employed depends on the available technology that can be used to produce goods and services; and what is produced depends on expected profitability of these goods and services which depends upon the expected demand for these goods to be produced.

In capitalism, what is produced does not depend upon human need (it depends upon profitability and expected profitability); the manner in which these things (goods and services) are produced (i.e., technical choice: the use of labour, land and capital of varying types) does not depend upon ensuring jobs for all, but rather potential profitability.

Moreover, the needs of capital do not take into account the impact of economic growth on the planet itself; a planet that we all need to sustain life and not the needs of capital.

We need to understand that capitalism needs to be eliminated; it is sucking literally sucking the lifeblood out of the majority of people on the planet and the planet itself!

We deserve a world that does require the existence of food-banks, where everyone has what they need to lead a fulfilling life; this should not be a privilege granted solely to the members of the ruling class.

This means that we need to talk about what are our social responsibilities to each other as human beings. Yes, we can reform capitalism certainly; but those reforms will not change the basic nature of the system that depends upon wealth and income inequality and exploitation of the majority to fulfil the needs of the economic system of continual growth and profitability.

We also need to discuss how we can ensure that the basic needs of all human beings are covered and that we do not destroy the planet to ensure these things. We need to address how more than basic needs for humans to develop and create and advance themselves can be met. In order to do this, we need to understand that as human beings we have the right to what we need to lead fulfilling lives, irrespective of our ability to work. We also do not have the right to undermine others’ rights to the same fulfilling lives. To put it simply:

“From each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs.”

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Hoping everyone had a wonderful May Day! Please share photos (if you have them) of events where you live!

¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: IWD in Cardiff, Wales – a talk on Austerity and Women by NY Brit Expat

2:44 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

This year, I was invited to speak at an international women’s day event by the sisters of the Cardiff Feminist Network as part of a series of actions which included a Take Back the Night march, a pro-choice rally and then an event in a park in which there was poetry and various speakers addressing a number of topics including feminism, violence against women, the oppression of Palestinian women, and my talk on the impact of austerity on women in Britain. There was food, a wonderful audience of committed feminists taking place in a public park where in effect since there was no license or permission, the group had taken use of public land to have a celebration of International Women’s Day. My talk was kindly taped by a friend and comrade, Nick Hughes, who then posted it on facebook and on then youtube.

The talk was long, not because it was planned that way; but one person who was supposed to speak was late and the food was not ready to be served. So, since I carry around so much information with me when I am planning to speak, I was able to talk for almost a half hour.

So today’s anti-capitalist meetup will actually be like a meetup. That is, we will have a speaker (me), my talk (minus the spontaneous bad jokes and righteous anger) will be here to read. Then we can actually have a discussion on the topic, since the speaker is right here. This was supposed to go up on the 16th of March, but was preempted by the deaths of Bob Crow and Tony Benn which needed to be commemorated. The issues addressed in my piece, unfortunately, are still extremely relevant.

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To set the stage, here is the stage. Behind me is the Cardiff National Museum, the event took place in Gorsedd Gardens which lies to the left of the main lawn in front of the City Hall.

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Since the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition came into power in Britain, there has been a vicious attack on both the public sector and the social welfare state that is being justified as a response to the “high deficit.”

Austerity is being introduced for two interrelated reasons.

1) First, the low profitability and resulting stagnation following the economic crisis of 2008 has led employers to squeeze wage incomes in order to keep profits up. This is part of a long-term strategy to undermine workers’ incomes and working conditions in the face of continuing profitability problems outside of the financial sector that led to the shift of industry and manufacturing to emerging and peripheral economies;

2) Second, in the long-term, there is a move toward the privatisation of what are seen as potentially profitable parts of the public sector. This is not only being done to open up new areas of profitability for capital; it is also to undermine the last bastion of unionisation in the advanced capitalist world.

Privatization of these services means their being subject to profitability criteria so that in the future they will only be available only to those who can pay. This will affect both the supply of services to the working class and poor, as well as their demand to access them. Given generally lower incomes, services formerly obtained for free will not be demanded any more once they are privatised and thus may not be as profitable as anticipated. In the case of childcare and caring for the sick and elderly, this work will inevitably fall on working class women as part of caring for extended families for which they are still predominately responsible.

The impact of austerity in Britain, both in terms of the assault on the state sector and the attack on the social welfare state, has clearly substantially affected the working class. An ideological offensive based on the distinction between “the deserving and the undeserving poor” has been used as a stick to beat the unemployed in Britain, especially people with disabilities. Insistence that unemployment is voluntary is then linked to a criterion of less(er) eligibility whereby those getting benefits must receive lower incomes than those working to “incentivise people into work.” With general incomes falling, the logic of the argument is that government social welfare benefits must fall as well.

The direct ideological assaults against women as “undeserving” have been limited to the “welfare mother” arguments (e.g., having children to receive housing and child benefits). Only rarely has it been suggested that women are to blame for male unemployment. Generally, the depredations of women are more subtle and tied into women’s traditional roles in the labour market and in the process of social reproduction.

There are several reasons why austerity affects women so strongly:

1) Job losses in the public sector where women’s labour is predominant. 65% of public sector workers are women and almost a quarter of working women are in public sector jobs in Britain. Of the 6,798,000 people who viewed themselves as public sector workers in the second quarter of 2012, 4,439,000 were women and 2,359,000 were men.
It has been recently estimated by Jerome de Henau of the Women’s Budget Group that between the periods of March 2010 – December 2013, job loss in the public sector was at the ratio of 60:40 for men to women. This was not due to selective firing, rather it was due to which parts of the public sector were cut back.

However, men also accounted for 60% of total employment increase over the same period; Women’s unemployment increased by 5% while men’s decreased by 15%. Both have decreased since Dec 2011 but it has been faster for men (14% vs 9%) But both are still 50% higher than pre-crisis levels (41% for men). Although male unemployment is higher (incl. long-term) women are catching up. Share of long term unemployment shot up by 46% for women aged 18-24 (17% for men) and by 28% for women aged 50+ (18% for men), while the latter has decreased since 2011, it kept increasing for women;

2) Second, is the fact that women are more dependent on the social welfare state to top up their incomes;

3) And, third, the British state has historically failed to provide completely for social reproduction, especially in childcare and care for the sick and infirm, disabled people and the elderly.

With incomes falling in the advanced capitalist world as part of the general economic policy since the late 1970s, women face greater threats than men. Women receive lower incomes, lower pensions (due to historically lower incomes), and face the increasing reluctance of the state to support women in the workplace through the provision of childcare and after-school programs or by shouldering caregiver responsibilities for the elderly and disabled people. As the general pattern of work tends more towards increasing underemployment and part-time labour, we are already facing competition from men for part-time jobs we have traditionally held while at the same time benefits decline.

Women face increasing economic insecurity without sufficient state assistance to ensure that our children and families have a decent standard of living provided by our employment. No longer able to depend upon the fact that our low-paid labour is of sufficient value to capitalists, as men also face increasing precariousness in their employment, and in the absence of a strong labour movement and of left-wing movements, men will soon be playing the same role as women, that of an easily intimidated, and therefore, underpaid workforce.

Women’s Labour Market

Women have always worked under capitalism, but our working lives are affected by the primacy of our role in social reproduction. Women’s job choices are also constrained by segregated labour markets and they are trapped in jobs undervalued in the capitalist economic system. This is compounded by the discontinuity of our working lives due to social reproduction responsibilities — childbirth and nursing, child raising, domestic chores, care for the elderly — so that even if we get on an unsegregated job ladder, advancement is difficult due to time taken off to perform carer responsibilities.

While traditional women’s labour is necessary to the society to the society as a whole, its remuneration (that is, our wages) is low in the capitalist economic system as the work is seen as unskilled or low-skilled especially as it relates to social reproduction. This is probably because so much of it is still provided as unpaid labour in the home. Even tasks requiring professional skills, such as nursing and teaching are undervalued as “women’s work.”

Britain’s modern public sector developed after the Second World War and was largely staffed and to a great extent built upon the labour of women workers and immigrants from the British Empire’s former colonies who were overwhelmingly people of colour. The socialization of some traditional women’s work (e.g., education, nursing, social work, caring, cleaning) led to higher representation of female than male workers in the public sector. Women additionally found employment in administration and clerical work in both public and private sectors. The privatisation of potentially more profitable parts of the public sector will have an enormous impact on women as workers due to the wage gap between public and private sector. That is, women’s wages in the public sector from supervisory to unskilled labour are higher due to unionisation and collective bargaining possibilities.

Following the crash of 2008, men initially experienced more layoffs and had higher unemployment rates due to the decline in construction, manufacturing, and finance. Since the introduction of austerity, it is women that have been facing rising unemployment. Part of this is due to cuts in jobs, part of it is due to cuts in child-care benefits which force women out of the work-force as they cannot get the hours and cannot afford child-care and partly it is due to rising male participation in the part-time job sector.

Women’s labour is heavily based in part-time work which is lower-paid due to fewer hours, (even if the wages are equal to those of full-timers). In some cases, women voluntarily decide to work part-time so that they can care for their families, often preferring the flexibility that it allows them. What is happening is that women are unable to work full-time because of a lack of child-care and other caregiver services. We also see women relegated to the part-time sector due to the decrease in full-time employment possibilities, that is, they face a situation of involuntary underemployment (see: http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/25/5/31743836.pdf, page 3).

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From 2002-2011, we can see that the disproportionality of women working part-time has been consistent. There are some increases in men working part-time especially following the crisis in 2008, but not displacing women’s predominance in part-time work. So, in 2002, only 10% of men (1,493,000) that were working worked part-time (full-time, 13,604,000). This has risen to 13% (2,074,000) compared to 13,565,000 men working full time in 2012. In comparison, in 2002: 56% of women workers worked full-time (7,203,000) while 44% (5,620,000) worked part-time. In 2012, 7,668,000 women worked full-time (57%) while 43% (5,865,000) worked part-time. Of the total part-time workers in 2012: 73.9% were women.

David Cameron’s Conservative Party government has not created full-time jobs with good wages and decent working conditions. The vast amount of “increased employment” has been in low-paid jobs in retail, jobs that are often temporary and part-time. The International Labor Organization (ILO) definition of employment where to be considered as employed meant that you were in paid employment or self-employment either for one week or one day — it seems as though unemployment is falling (because more work temporarily or are in part-time jobs or have zero hours contracts); but that does not mean that the jobs that are being created are jobs that can keep people out of poverty.

According to the Jerome de Henau of the women’s budget group, if we examining changes in conditions of employment (2010-2013) we find:

• “Self-employment increased faster for women than men (16% vs 9%); women now account for 31% of self-employed, compared to 27% in 2008. (50% of women and 21% of men among them are part-time)
• Men took up many more part-time jobs than women but women’s share of part-time employment is still very high at 74%
• Same for involuntary PT employment (which has more than doubled since 2008 for men and doubled for women but women still 56% of all involuntary part-timers)
• Temporary employment also increased by about 10% for both men and women (with women’s share of temporary employment at 52%). ”

There has been a significant and deliberate destruction of wages, incomes, and conditions of work to maintain profitability of the private sector. The result has been an increase in the working poor who have suffered benefit cuts, though their incomes have not risen. Insultingly, Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary for Work and Pensions, recently blamed the working poor for not earning enough and threatened to cut their benefits even further; as though they set their wage levels and choose to not earn a decent income.

Patterns of underemployment show that it is those working part-time who are most affected. Rising underemployment, more precarious jobs, and zero-hours contracts – contracts with no guaranteed hours where workers are on-call waiting to hear from their erstwhile employers whether they are needed that day – are the result of policies in which the rights of working people, job conditions and wages have been undermined.

The impact of women’s responsibility for social reproduction is evident looking at economic inactivity in January-March 2013. Out of a total of 9,003,000 people who are economically inactive, 2,282,000 people cite household and caring responsibilities as the reason for economic inactivity (25%), 220,000 of them are men, while 2,063,000 are women (90%). Of the 2,299,000 of the “economically inactive” that want to work, 630,000 (27%) say that they are looking after home and family, of those 76,000 are men as compared to 556,000 women (88% are women).

Impact of Cuts to Pensions and Benefits

A) Pensions

In the June 2010 Budget, the Government switched from using the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to calculate increases in benefits and state pensions (including public sector worker’s pensions). According to the government’s own estimates, this move resulted in savings of £1.2 billion in 2011/12 and this will increase each year to £5.8 billion by 2014/15.The primary differences between the RPI and the CPI is that the former includes housing costs such as mortgage repayments and council tax and is an arithmetic mean, the latter is geometric and will always be lower; this means that increases in benefits and pensions will certainly be at a lower level as the CPI is lower than the RPI. This re-pegging of benefits accounted for the largest cut in government expenditure with real inflation climbing by 25% rather than the 17% increase judged by the CPI.

Increases in retirement age for women are being gradually phased in. Instead of being able to retire earlier than men, their retirement age is being increased from 60 to 66 by 2020. Combined with pay freezes, increased contribution to pension schemes, and the re-pegging of pensions (and for that matter, state welfare benefit increases) to the CPI, this means that public sector workers are working longer and harder, due to job cutbacks, for less pay, and for a pension that is actually going to be worth less.
Women live longer than men and have lower incomes (both in terms of pay for the same jobs and the fact that “women’s work” pays less). Consequently, their pension contributions and hence their pensions will be lower. Women who can retire will be living longer on lower pensions. Married women may get their husband’s higher pensions upon their deaths, but that does nothing for single women or single mothers. This means that more women will be living longer in poverty.

B) Dependence upon the social welfare state

Given their predominance in part-time and temporary labour and their lower incomes than those in full-time work, the destruction of the universal social welfare system has far greater impact on women who are inevitably more dependent upon social welfare benefits to cover living expenses. Single parent households are predominately female (92%) and they are feeling the impacts of the cuts far harder.

According to the Fawcett Society

“Single mothers will be hardest hit by the government’s programme of benefit cuts and tax rises. It estimates they will lose an average 8.5% of their income after tax by 2015. The gender equality charity said this compared with 7.5% for single fathers, 6.5% for couples with children and 2.5% for couples without children.”

Moreover, the government has been floating the idea, this absurd Malthusian idea, of limits to those on benefits who have more than two children, meaning that those with three or more children will obtain lower levels of benefits.

According to the BBC,

“Of the 7.8 million families receiving child benefit, 1.2 million have more than two children. Of the 5.2 million families receiving child tax credits, about 926,000 of them have more than two children (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20077758).”

According to the Fawcett Society, a British non-governmental organization that women’s equality and rights at home, at work and in public life:

“[…], on average, one-fifth of women’s income is made up of welfare payments and tax credits compared to one-tenth for men. Put another way, benefits make up twice as much of women’s income than men’s (http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/benefits/).”

The government’s cap on benefits at £500 (US$810) per week for households composed of couples and lone parent households (for single childless adult households, benefits will be capped at £350 (US$567) per week).

There has also been a further benefit cap of one percent introduced (so that benefits cannot increase by more than one percent each year 0 which is lower than the rate of inflation, even that calculated under the CPI; this is justified by arguing that the real wages of employed people are falling and that people on benefits should not get an increase in income greater than those that are working.

While the government claims that it is “helping people into work” that clearly does not include women as they cut the childcare portion of working tax credits from 80% to 70% in the 2010 budget. This particularly affects single working mother households as they are 60 percent of the recipients of the childcare element. The government has increased the number of working hours needed to qualify from 16-24 hours per week; finding eight additional hours where there is general rising underemployment is not easy.

To clear the poorest from the centre of London, government housing benefits are being capped at a maximum of £400 (US$637) per week for a four-bedroom property. Insufficient amounts of social housing mean long waiting lists; this is especially so for large families. 5 bedroom homes are no longer available for those on housing benefit. Elimination of rent controls in private housing under Thatcher and the rise of “buy to let” have led to the skyrocketing of rents in London. With housing benefits capped, there is a danger that people will take money from their other benefits to cover their housing.

Forcing the poor out of the centre of London will lead to the overcrowding of schools in accessible areas and will undermine existing support that families rely upon. Fifty percent of those receiving housing benefits are single women (often single parents) and there are one million more women than men claiming housing benefits (http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/benefits/). Additionally, the bedroom tax (an over-occupancy charge for extra bedrooms) for those in social housing is hitting people with disabilities and single mothers disproportionally, as they are primarily the people that live in social housing (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/04/benefits-housing).

Incomes for working people in Britain are being undermined. The fact that there is rising use of food banks and that agencies report that mothers are foregoing eating to feed their children indicate a serious erosion of standards of living. For the first time since WWII, the British Red Cross is planning on distributing food in Britain arising from the impact of the cuts and rising demand for food banks.

So, how do we address the problem?

From mainstream parties, at best, we hear the call for flexible working hours, we hear about tax credits for child care (which assumes that you make enough money to pay tax) and subsidised child care for those earning lower wages.

It is always assumed that addressing child care provision is the way to address this issue. Somehow, women’s general caring responsibilities, of our children, our sick family members, disabled people that are family members, our extended families, our parents, our spouses, are not addressed.

If we want to address job segregation, get women into the labour force, address unpaid labour at home, the wage-gap between men and women, we need more! We need socialisation of care … we need all care to be covered; we need job creation in the traditional areas of women’s caring responsibilities. This will free women to enter the labour market rather than provide unpaid labour at home.

This needs to be done in the public sector and/or with start-up funds from the public sector to set up cooperatives under workers’ control. In the public sector, with unions and the ability to bargain collectively, we can start to close the gap between provision of use values (what society needs) and exchange values (what capitalists will pay) to provide for the needs of society rather than line the pockets of the ruling class. These jobs will no longer leave women’s labour in a segregated market; men will do them as well. It is a transformative step in addressing the reasons for women’s inequality; actually ending inequality in wages, job segregation, and unpaid labour at home and hence in undermining the power of patriarchy that has kept us as second-class citizens.

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Undermining Our Past & Our Future aka Austerity is an Attack on Women by NY Brit Expat

2:40 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

This piece is a summary of a paper that I presented at the Left Forum in a panel organised by Geminijen. If you want to see a copy of the longer paper (which is being edited for English and clarity), send me a personal message here with your email and I will send it to you. Fran Luck who is the producer of the radio series “Joy of Resistance: Largest Minority” on WBAI was in the audience and asked us to appear on her show. If you would like to listen to Geminijen, Diana Zevala (who has written for the ACM on education), Barbara Garson and me, please click here: http://archive.wbai.org/files/mp3/wbai_130703_210001wed9pm10pm.mp3).

While in no way denying the impact of the introduction of austerity upon the working class, the disabled and the poor as a whole, there is no question that the impact of austerity on women is far greater. This is due to the job losses in the state sector where women’s labour is predominant, our historically lower wages due to the undervaluation of traditional women’s labour in a capitalist labour market leading to greater dependence upon the social welfare state, and our overwhelming responsibility for reproduction of the working class and how that impacts on our working lives. The failure of the state to provide completely for social reproduction especially in childcare and care for the infirm and disabled has resulted in women having: 1) discontinuous working lives; 2) and the predominance of our labour in part-time employment.

With incomes falling in the advanced capitalist world as part of general economic policy, women face greater threats than men due to our responsibility as primary caretakers of children, the disabled and the elderly. Women are facing lower incomes, lower pensions, and an increasing reluctance for the state to support women in the workplace through provision of child-care and after-school programmes and shouldering carer responsibilities for the elderly and infirm. Given the transformations in general employment possibilities towards increasingly underemployed and part-time labour, we will begin to face competition from men for the jobs we have normally held while benefits are increasingly run down.
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We face increasing economic insecurity without sufficient state assistance to ensure that our children and families can have a decent standard of living provided through employment. Women can no longer depend upon the fact that our labour is of sufficient value to capitalists as men also face increasing precariousness in their employment, and in the absence of a strong labour movement or left-wing movements, can serve the same role of an easily intimidated low-paid work force.

The destruction of the public sector enabling the weakening of the last bastion of trade union organisation to force through even lower wages and a reduction in social subsistence levels of wages along with a further deterioration in working conditions on the basis of non-competition with emerging and peripheral economies is nothing less than a race to the bottom and women will be the first, but not the last, victims of neoliberal economics in the advanced capitalist world.

This piece will be divided into 3 parts. The first is composed of some general statements on austerity. The second part will discuss the women’s labour market in Britain and the impact of austerity. The third part addresses the attack on the universal social welfare state in Britain and its impact upon women.

Part I: What is “Austerity” and why is it being introduced?

What is called austerity is not a new series of economic policies; these policies were introduced by the World Bank in Latin America and Africa and are now being introduced in the advanced capitalist world either voluntarily by governments in (for example, in Britain) or forced through by the Troika of the EU, European Central Bank, and IMF in Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, for example.

The term austerity is misleading implying that across classes the whole country is facing cutbacks and lower levels of incomes. That is false. Overwhelmingly, the burden of austerity falls on the working class and the poor; and of these, women and those with disabilities are impacted the most.

Austerity is not shared equally by all classes. A cursory look at Figure 1 below, demonstrates quite clearly that those that have been hit hardest are the two lowest incomes deciles which relate to those whose incomes derives completely from benefits (poorest) and the working poor (second lowest decile).
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(Source: http://www.ifs.org.uk/comms/comm124.pdf, P 52)
The formal excuse or justification for the introduction of austerity in Britain has been to cut the Deficit /GDP. While it is dubious economic policy to cut budget deficits in the middle of an economic crisis (as a grotesque understatement) and while there is no historical evidence that this is an effective way of stimulating the economy or economic growth, this is the neoliberal perspective that is justifying cutting the budget deficit. Instead of increasing government revenue through financial transaction taxes, increased taxation of corporations or higher personal incomes, this is done through cutting the state sector and by cutting expenditures. Increasing wealth and income differentials in a period of economic crisis is dubious and will definitely lead to increased financial and economic instability.

Its introduction is part of a longer term attempt to recover profitability in the advanced capitalist world. While the financial sector recovered very quickly from the crash due to the bail-outs and the resulting centralisation of capital eliminating redundant capital, the same cannot be said of other sectors in the economy.
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Its introduction is part of a longer term attempt to recover profitability in the advanced capitalist world. While the financial sector recovered very quickly from the crash due to the bail-outs and the resulting centralisation of capital eliminating redundant capital, the same cannot be said of other sectors in the economy.

Using the crisis as a justification for increasing income and wealth inequality, governments believe that it will enable economic growth; in other words, politicians and the IMF, EU and ECB are trapped in a delusional supply-side and monetarist economic policy mentality.

Essentially, the purpose of austerity is twofold and the reasons are interrelated:
1) Using the excuse of competition and economic stagnation, given low profitability outside of the financial sector, the economic crisis is being used to squeeze wage incomes to keep profits up. This is part of a longer term attack on workers’ incomes that began in the late 1970s and its purpose is to undermine workers’ incomes and working conditions in the advanced capitalist world due to continuing profitability problems outside of the financial sector which is what led to the shift of industry and manufacturing to emerging and peripheral capitalist economies;
2) Secondly, the privatisation of potentially profitable areas of the public sector is being introduced. Its purpose is to open up new areas of profitability for capital and also to undermine the trade unions in the public sector in the last bastion of unionisation in the advanced capitalist world.

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Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Austerity, Triple Dip Recessions and Economic Crisis by NY brit expat

1:00 am in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Sitting there looking vainly at the growth, or lack of it to be more precise, of the British economy quarter by quarter following the introduction of austerity measures is a dubious use of time. So rather than sit there each quarter and discuss a dismal economy, I think the first step is to understand that we are in a world-wide economic crisis of the capitalist system. We also need to understand that the policies being introduced are actually not only extending the current crisis, but given that they are leading to increased income and wealth inequality, they will have a devastating impact upon the working classes in the countries introducing these measures. Moreover, the impact of austerity is not accident, it is being introduced specifically to create the economic contraction and the increased wealth and income inequality in the hope that private sector will take over the state sector services being undermined.

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Triple-dip recession?

We need to understand that the introduction of austerity in an economic crisis does not lead to economic growth contrary to the absurd pronouncements of Prime Minister, David Cameron. Essentially, following a slight blip caused by the Olympics, I suspect we will be witnessing rather bad news. The combination of “beggar thy neighbour” low corporate taxation (to supposedly encourage investment in Britain) and cuts to public spending, services and benefits is not leading to a reinvigoration of the economy; rather the opposite is occurring.

Quite simply, the fall in service sector activity (which accounts for 75% of British economic activity) for the first time in two years (note that it was not in great shape beforehand) means that the economy is contracting.

“The closely watched CIPS/Markit purchasing managers index (PMI) for services dropped from 50.2 to 48.9 in December, below the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction. It is the lowest reading since April 2009 and substantially undershot analyst forecasts of a rise to 50.5 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jan/04/uk-service-sector-contracts-pmi).”

There are additional things that indicate future problems. The manufacturing sector is geared towards export; decreases in demand due to the introduction of austerity in the periphery in the EU are starting to be felt in Great Britain (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jan/11/honda-cuts-800-jobs-swindon), whether this will be balanced by increased demand for luxury cars in China (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21003670) is another important question depending on the amount of trade to each area.

The collapse into administration of three high street companies [Jessops (2000 jobs at risk), HMV (4500 jobs at risk) and Blockbuster (4190 jobs at risk) will clearly add to unemployment. The fact that the internet buying is replacing these businesses means that workers who have lost jobs will not be rehired by these companies and some of these companies pay minimal taxes in Britain (e.g., Amazon).

In Britain we are seeing declining productivity because businesses use cheap labour rather than making capital investments (it makes no sense to introduce capital and increase productivity both due to labour costs being so low and no demand for increased goods and services); it also indicates that they are keeping people on irrespective of declining demand for goods:

“Figures for the economy as a whole were not much better, with a 2.4% decline in productivity over the year. The figures take the sheen off supposedly buoyant employment statistics that showed companies continuing to create jobs throughout last year.
Some companies have retained staff by forcing employees to accept pay freezes, or in some cases a cut in wages. But, as productivity declined, labour costs per unit of output rose by more than 3% over the year to October (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jan/03/business-productivity-declines-demand-falls).”

If businesses are keeping workers on irrespective of demand for their goods and services and waiting for the economy to pick up, what will happen if the economy does not pick up? Clearly, they will sack workers if the economy contracts. Moreover, if the economy picks up, most probably, they will force an increase in productivity by using speed-up or forcing workers to work harder to raise productivity. In either case, it is not a good sign for employment possibilities for workers in the near future. Additionally, there may be some problems with the government’s argument that jobs are being created in the private sector as they seemed to have misused the employment statistics of Office of National Statistics by including as employed those in government programmes who are not being paid by employers but rather through benefits (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jan/15/uk-jobs-soar-real?INTCMP=SRCH) which are far lower than even the woefully inadequate minimum wage that is not a living wage.

Government concentration on the supply side of the labour market, as though people are lazy and do not want to work is the reason for unemployment is more than an obvious denial of reality. It is part of a divide and rule campaign demonising the poor and disabled as scroungers rather than addressing the fact that there are no jobs. This amounts to punishing the victims of the economic system (the poor and unemployed) and those that quite simply are unable to work due to illness and chronic health conditions. Cutting benefit will not force people into work, there need to be available jobs for that to occur; it will simply increase impoverishment and misery. An estimated 200,000 children are being pushed into poverty by the government’s policy of a 1% benefit cap over the next three years, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/17/benefits-squeeze-200000-children-poverty), a statistic not being disputed by the government.
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Quite simply, the attack is hitting the most vulnerable: the disabled, single mothers, the elderly and the long-term unemployed who are already barely surviving on benefits that are meagre to say the least. The government’s argument when introducing the 1% cap on benefits that benefits should not increase faster than wages (when stagnating and decreasing wages is part of government policy and benefits are so very low) is playing off the working class and the poor against each other. In a period of deliberately created increases income and wealth inequality fuelled by the incorrect view that profits and the income of the wealthy are the basis for economic growth, it is the majority in British society that are paying for the class warfare being waged in the advanced capitalist world.

Austerity and its impact:

While leading members of the IMF claim that they underestimated the impact of the introduction of austerity and pretend to be shocked at the situation in Greece, the British government pretends that it does not understand that austerity is introduced to contract an economic system in the short run; both claims are extremely dubious to any person that has studied mainstream macroeconomic theory.

So, why is austerity being introduced and how has the government (and the Troika for that matter) got the strange idea that austerity will lead to economic growth? This relates to the impact of these measures in the long-run which attempt to remove “imbalances” between the public and private sector in favour of the later; in fact, David Cameron alludes to this when he makes the absurd argument “that the public sector cannot create growth.” However, for those that have any memory of the post-war period, we are well-aware that the public sector can create growth; it does so in three ways:

1) Hiring people in the public sector (direct government job creation) creates jobs and income for those that did not have it who then use that money to buy goods and services from the private sector;

2) The social welfare state provides additional income for those that do not have it and also provides services so that income is not spent on things provided by the government (e.g., health care), this means that there is more income to buy goods and services from the private sector;

3) The government demands goods and services from the private sector; this removes uncertainty for the private sector in terms of investment, output production, and job creation.

All of these things benefit the private sector and are part of what enable economic growth especially following a bust in the economy; both government investment and higher incomes can create economic growth. Austerity measures will not do this in the short run and it is debatable whether this will be a successful strategy for economic growth in the long-term; the increasing instability introduced by increased wealth and income inequality and lack of regulation will certainly lead to deeper and stronger fluctuations.
However, the government and large numbers of people in extra-governmental agencies (e.g., the IMF and the World Bank) believe that it is the private sector that are so-called “wealth creators” and they believe that privatisation (which enables the private sector to make profits providing these services instead of the government) and squeezing wages will enable profitability leading to economic growth. What we are seeing is that while this ideological argument may sound wonderful, reality is quite another story.
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It is necessary to understand the interrelationships between production, consumption and distribution in the context of a capitalist economic system to understand what is happening today. The capitalist system hit a point of over-accumulation in the collapse of the financial sector in 2008 and we are still in an economic crisis. While the financial sector recovered from the crisis due to bank bailouts and centralisation of surviving capital, the rest of the economy is not faring as well as an understatement.

We are seeing the result of the long-term attack on the standards of living of working people in the advanced capitalist world from the late 1970s forwards, falling rates of profits in the industrial/manufacturing sectors in the advanced capitalist world due to high wages and decent working conditions leading to MNCs shifting production to the capitalist periphery to cut both labour costs and costs of raw materials has led to the creation of persistent unemployment in the advanced capitalist world and the shift of the economies in the advanced capitalist world to dependence upon the service sector.
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Instead of shoring up the social welfare state and the state sector to keep employment and income up following the crash to enable a recovery, austerity measures have been either forced upon so-called debtor countries or introduced by right-wing governments throughout the majority of the advanced capitalist world. Bailout of the financial sectors led to both rising government deficits and rising public debt/GDP, the introduction of “austerity measures” essentially forced the majority to pay for the crisis due to deficit and debt reduction policies that they had no responsibility in creating. Shrinking the public sector, privatisation of public sector services (e.g., public health services) and selling off of nationalised companies (e.g., Greece, Spain and Italy), lowering pensions directly (e.g., Greece) and through changes in inflation indices (e.g., Great Britain), decreasing benefits, and wage and pension freezes for state workers is a direct assault on incomes. The attack on the public sector has also led to increased unemployment and the ability to introduce a wage squeeze for those still employed. While theoretically this will cut costs and raise profits, the problem arises that decreased incomes means that demand has decreased and there will be no increased investment, employment and output in the absence of demand for these goods and services.
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While this has limited effect on the export-oriented manufacturing sector, that sector will certainly be affected by the introduction of austerity in the periphery of Europe.

Who are the wealth creators?

When Cameron (and other leaders in the advanced capitalist world) describe businessmen as “wealth creators” they seem to have forgotten the contribution of labour; land lying fallow creates nothing except spontaneously, capital does nothing in and of itself … it is the direct application of human labour (in combination with land and capital) that enables the creation of wealth. In the absence of sale at a price ensuring that profits are returned, profits remain unrealised. It is the incomes of working people that enable the sale of goods and undercutting their incomes means that goods and services will remain unsold. This deliberate inversion of the reality of the capitalist system serves them ideologically, but demonstrates a lack of understanding of the interrelationship between production, consumption and distribution.

So while privatisation potentially creates an area of profitable exploitation for the private sector, the decreased incomes of the majority means that they are unable to purchase services that were formerly socialised. For those on lower incomes and those on benefits, purchase of services is far too expensive and it is women that are filling in the gap in services (e.g., child-care, caring for the sick and elderly) in their homes. Contrary to neoliberal expectations, the private sector has not jumped into fill the gap, that is, because demand is not being matched by the income to pay for these things and the private sector will not create growth in the absence of perceived increases in demand and hence profitability. That means, that all these policies will do is eliminate access to services on the part of the majority as they cannot pay for them and further increase impoverishment. The so-called wealth creators cannot create wealth without labour both in production and in consumption.
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Perhaps, they are taking their inversion of reality too seriously … without demand there is no growth, without income there is no demand, without labour there is neither production nor consumption!

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.
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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.
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“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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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!

Asperity, Austerity and 1984: Fulfillment of 1984 & the Replication Today By The Geogre

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

In the first part, I talked about the false comparison of Orwell to Huxley and how features of the writing made it easy to mistake each author’s purpose and scope. However, there is something else. Neil Postman was not alone in thinking, in 1984, that we dodged a bullet and instead took a pill. I understand the feeling and shared it. It seemed like, as Lord Boyd Orr had said in 1966, “Give the people a choice between freedom and sandwiches, and they’ll take the sandwiches,” but we had already been shot but did not know the blood stain.

We were aware, then, that the public of democratic nations was placidly accepting outrages that would lead to atrocities, but I would propose that it took 2003 and George W. Bush to demonstrate to us how well television and the fragmented Internet have made every year 1984. Indeed, the television, which Postman saw as an abstracted medium that forbade long-form discourse and non-pictorial conceptualizing, would eventually resemble the view screen of 1984 as much as the Soma of Brave New World, especially cable news, where anything not at full volume and alarm was mere caesura for a day of emotional extremes and informational abbreviation. The Memory Hole was far easier to achieve by accident than plan.

I criticized Postman for a misplaced emphasis on the fiction of 1984 whereby he missed the systemic critique of the novel. The novel’s appearance in the midst of a nation enacting a policy called Austerity, where everyone was to “pitch in” to get “England” back on its feet after the war, is conspicuous and screams out for a comparison. Specifically, within the fiction and outside of it, a System of power is above the people, and the people are the enemy of power itself. Big Brother is an image or visage for a system, but the true power is no person or party — just the continuing flow of resources and labor from the people to an indifferent end. This is what is frightening. The group in charge was never fascists or Stalinists or Churchill or anyone else: it was capital.

Austerity today (the “new Austerity” in Europe and deficit mania in the U.S.) is different in cause, but the same in effect. Both ask nations to turn their GDP over to repayment of debt rather than intervention in markets to stimulate employment. The language used in both instances is similar, too: “Get back on our feet” and “recovery.” However, nation states and capital have had quite a bit of time and learned a few lessons.

We can see, in the gap of attitudes and responses of the public, the effect of social and cultural mutation. If we can see a greater or lesser increase in the effects of social control, then we can understand, I believe, just how thoroughgoing Orwell’s book was a description of an ongoing project that has now succeeded.

“Our” responses: Then
Americans saw the problems of the U.K. in 1948/9 as “over there” and peculiar, but fundamentally a matter of our pity and compassion. Today, Americans see Europe as having a “Eurozone mess” and “austerity,” compared to the situation at home, where “we” have “deficits” and “debt” to pay down. In 1948/9 the difference was real, and in 2012 it is simply semantic, but the semantics connote blame. “Eurozone mess” and “sovereign debt crisis” contain, alternately, a parental scold and a technocrat’s dismissal of suffering.

In battlefield Europe, the post-war period was wretched beyond comprehension (see The Bitter Road to Freedom by William Hitchcock for the initial phases of denial, reiteration, and displacement, when nations had to reabsorb populations that had been taken as forced labor). North Americans, spared by their oceans, did not understand or consider post-war “retrenching” and what the governments were doing with their efforts at stimulating growth by paying down debts. The Americans who did understand what was going on were either collecting the debts or Keynesians who did not agree.

1948′s Life Magazine and Pathe newsreels shocked Americans with photographs of starving European orphans. Coincidentally, George Marshall sent his famous “hair on fire” memo. This memo, which launched the “Marshall Plan,” can be read various ways. Most people agree with Gary Wills’s view in Bomb Power that the plan was economic only via political. (He presents the primary documents and argues, from other historians, that Marshall was alarmed by the resurgent Communist Party and its ripe pickings among the depressed population. For an extremely interesting paper on how Eastern Europe was treated very differently by American neo-liberals, see this wonderful link.)

Marshall got the go-ahead because of the muscular anti-communism of his memo, but the plan also had an economic justification, and that was purely the Keynesian refutation of Austerity. It was Marshall versus the Austerity Games (1948 was also a London Olympics). If “Hunger Games” resonates today, it could well be that the atmospherics and politics of the banking crash were present before. The Marshall Plan argued for massive spending for stimulus (prevention/rescue were its terms), and consensus is that it worked. It did not go to the U.K. in any direct manner. (There are complex ways in which the U.K. benefitted, and London as a mercantile center certainly benefitted, but that is part of the problem.)

1948′s America, therefore, had a reaction of incomprehension and pity and largesse and oblige, but the mechanics of power were split between a dominant party in favor (in the U.S. and U.K.) of a capitalist rictus and a passing and resistant power structure of Keynesian (ameliorative and interventionist) power. The specter of international communism alone allowed the resistant philosophy to step back to the fore with the Marshall Plan.

Austerity’s response: Today?
Do American citizens recognize the term “austerity” has a history or know the heritage of the claim that prosperity comes from paying down debts? Does the claim have a separate cultural history in the U.S., where, as IMF bosses, the power elites have identified with the debt collectors, than Europe? Do American citizens have any way of knowing that the “Eurozone mess” was triggered by the subprime mortgage lending bonanza in the U.S. and a sudden market in trading those mortgage bonds in bundles that were fictionally and deceptively rated as trustworthy? Michael Lewis’s The Big Short documents how the Wall Street traders consistently sneered that “Dusseldorf” was the sucker bet at the table with these bonds. Do they have any ability to realize, if they wish to, the role that failures of debt obligations by Wall Street betting firms destroyed banks, and therefore currency value, across Europe?

The answer is a Mulligan stew of opinions and a desert of information. The Pew Research Center reports on economics tells us that the U.S. public “knows” what it has been told and what it believes, both, despite these being in conflict.

1. People disapprove of slashing government programs (or even “trimming the fat”) to get tax cuts or even low deficits.
2. In April 2012, 74% of voters said the deficit was “very important.” (Which deficit? The budget deficit or the trade deficit? Those of us old enough remember that the fear has switched objects more than once.)

However, when Dick Cheney said “Deficits don’t matter,” polling showed that the public agreed with him and thought the deficit was not an issue (see Carol Doherty, March 2006, “Do Deficits Really Matter Anymore?”)

This is not a riddle, though. According to Media Matters’s “If It’s Sunday, It’s Still Conservative” full report, a master analysis of speakers on panel shows on television tilted overwhelmingly toward the right on all broadcast and cable networks (found at this link). DailyKos readers know that there are plenty of other studies that show that every form of television discussion, regardless of its purpose, carries an over-representation of the voices of coercion and capital. Neil Postman had argued that television was infecting discourse with a headline and catchphrase virus, where facts were in the way of entertainment. 2012 would surely support that, as the public agrees with slogans but is unmoved when they can perceive the facts.

Soma/Big Brother/Television and the missing integer
Postman’s analysis explains the simplification and cognitive dissonance of the uninformed, but not the conservativism of the medium. His analysis can explain why television viewers understand little about government, but not why 63% of Republicans in 2012 believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but 15% of Democrats did.

There is no ideological purity, either. The coercive and capitalized interests have run the field, but by the methods Postman described explicitly and Orwell implicitly. Omnipresence, repetition, and simplicity are all that are required.

Take the most recent example: “America is a center-right nation” stated with an elected official during an election response interview. The interviewer never asked for verification or questioned the position, and then the statement was repeated several times over the next few days as a talking point. (I emphasize that term because I would like to highlight its age. Remind yourself of its vintage.) The claim has been debunked and accepted.

This is a pattern. Factitiousness is ideal, because the subject is the impossible: an explanation for American mood shifts. Truth is irrelevant before a simple, repeated slogan, catchphrase, or myth. It enters the conversation as something easily remembered and understood, something that ends a mystery. The ideal talking point is a myth because it aids a television/radio/newspaper audience’s and writer’s desire to have a simple explanation for a matter that can only be understood tenuously. (E.g. “The stock market fell because investors took the possibility of a Clinton presidency seriously” — Myron Kandel, 1992.)

We have read 1984 and “Politics and the English Language,” and yet how many people will unthinkingly use the word “unborn?” That word is a lexically nonsensical item from the arsenal of the anti-abortion forces, who are not conservative, but rather best spoken of as coercive (U.S. law is that abortion is freely legal, so these people wish to change from the status quo in a radical manner; that’s not “conservative”). “Climate change” is a partisan euphemism without meaning, and it is reported as a neutral and accurate term.

Postman wrote at precisely the time and place where we were beginning to feel the pain of capitulation to the talking point. This device – a simple declarative statement that all persons are to say, was a television strategy. In the days of radio, even when the Nazis were exploring radio hypnotism (really), such a concept was not possible. Parties would not obey leadership well enough until the 1980′s GOP, which controlled access to television interviews well. (Recall that the Nazi party preferred a single speaker. The Newt Gingrich whip era was marked by managing interview access and candidate access to election funds, and the RNC controlled the bulk of the funds.)

Neil Postman’s featured example was USA Today: it was sold in newspaper boxes that looked like pedestal television sets, and its format was in color, with breaks in coverage by boxes and sidebars that resembled the commercials and cut-aways. Its articles boasted an obvious thesis and then reiteration without development. He saw this model, whereby all political discourse would be thesis:illustration:diversion:thesis, as corrosive to political thought itself and suitable only to complacence. In a sense, his fears and his readership’s fears were founded on the new political reality. 1984 had been, after all, horrifying, but no one was yet sure how.

The actual 1984

1984 was a year of serious anger for the left in the United States. Ronald Reagan won a second term, despite alienating at least half of the nation. Furthermore, television, far more than newspapers or radio, repeated the political “spin doctor” line that the election had been a historic landslide. The whole of the left and moderate center was told that it neither mattered nor existed.

Like the 1972 Nixon re-election, which could be explained away, the Reagan re-election suggested that American voters were not capable of enlightened self-interest, that they would gladly vote for a catchphrase over sense. Reagan’s executive in the first term had been stocked with people who hated their jobs. His Interior Secretary was the infamous James Watt, who believed that the U.S. government simply shouldn’t have any public lands. His head for the Department of Education sought to eliminate his department. His Department of Energy official believed that there should be no governmental role in promoting an energy policy at all, that laissez-faire in an age of large oil corporations was best. His Labor Secretary was against unions. His Department of Transportation wanted to reorganize transportation so that rails (which were national) fell to disuse and long haul trucking supplied goods from ports, without dreaded union workers. In short, every single component of governmental function and contract with taxes, except the military, had been at least maligned, if not actively fought.

Reagan’s rationale was not convincing, either. David Stockman’s “supply side economics” never achieved (and has not since) academic support, and the population soon saw it as “trickle down.” James Watt argued that the reason for privatizing all federal lands was so that the U.S. would use up all of its energy reserves, as God had granted him a vision of a coming civil war, when the western states had oil and the eastern states did not; it was his mission to divert that into a foreign war, where the United States would go to war with the heathen middle east at Armageddon, and Reagan had introduced us to government by saints and prophecy. That got re-elected?

What’s more, by 1984, and certainly by 1988, the mythic structures were in place in a media narrative that the 1984 Reagan victory was one of the greatest landslides in history and that all of America was with Mr. Reagan. A pre-condition of this narrative was accepting Reagan’s own talking point that Watergate had weakened American “character” and that Jimmy Carter had been “weak.” Once that bit of political campaigning became the Truth, then it was necessary to protect the president. Charles P. Pierce, speaking of Iran-Contra and the utter silence of newspaper as well as television on the subject, wrote

“by 1986 . . . our elite institutions formed an iron circle to keep [Congressional investigations] from happening to Ronald Reagan and his people because the country ‘couldn’t take another failed presidency.’ (As illustrated in On Bended Knee, Mark Hertsgaard’s essential account of the lapdog press under Reagan, even Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham . . . was concerned that the press might go too far.)” 

It’s fair to say that Reagan radicalized young liberals in the United States as much as Margaret Thatcher did in the U.K. — not only opposing the interests of the poor, but doing so with contempt and blame. The talk of the “strapping young buck” getting T-bone steaks with Food stamps (Reagan, 1980) not only invoked Klan language, but blamed the poor for poverty and accused all of the poor of moral defect. To the president, students were, as he had already said with protests in California, criminals or Communist dupes, and Reagan’s FBI had been instructed to infiltrate peace groups to find their Soviet backing. (Hadn’t Hoover demonstrated that the FBI would find what it was told to find, even if it wasn’t there?) His attorney general, Ed Meese, went through three different committees with stacked membership to prove that pornography caused rape. Thus, civil libertarians, international relations, and labor – all elements of the progressive/left in the U.S. were not merely opposed, but insulted and demonized during Reagan’s administration. In that respect, George W. Bush proved a worthy successor. Twelve years of the voices of capital and coercion followed 1980, at least.

1984 was a pivot when the more far sighted saw how the game was going to be played, and Neil Postman was one of them.

In 1984, anyone with a moderate or liberal stance not only felt disheartened, but was being told, daily, that she or he simply did not exist. What was on the air was the first national arrival of Roger Ailes. Ailes would institute the “repeat the talking point in response to any question” philosophy. He would engineer “deception on page one, retraction on B-10” media management strategy. He would work slogans. Old stuff, but he made it a playbook and learned how to feed television.

Ailes would play to the needs of the press. As the press needed a story – one with a beginning, middle, and end that fit in a two to five minute window so as to make room for commercials and tossing to Diane with weather on television or fitting between color graphics for the USA Today – Ailes learned and taught the micro-narrative. Each issue was really very simple, after all, and people needn’t bother with all of those contradictory details that East Coast elites were trying to bore them with.

He taught his clients to reshape reality to television. This made their reality persuasive and repetitive. That made it real. If television, by its nature, reduces reality to a transient image, Ailes taught his clients to reduce issues as diverse as taxation and endangered species to single frames of picture to be picked up by that format.

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death captures the first sores on the patient. It was hard in 1984 not to see the pock marks and bubos and not think that we had measles or plague. The observations in the book were valid, as political conversation was being dominated by a pictographic medium. He did not foresee the Internet, but the Internet, after the allocation of dot com domains, would grease the skids on existing trends by visualizing the communicative experience and encouraging discussions as long as a screen – with screens going from twenty-four lines up to sixty and then down to eight. (Please, no comments about how your Linux box has a super monitor that’s 25′ tall and more lines than a public toilet in Mexico City; I’m referring to averages.)

Postman was writing from the middle of a river of change. He was right about the change, but he didn’t note the real gravity behind the current: market capitalism and corporate capital accumulation. He never understood what Orwell had.

USA Today and its color blurb was bound to fail to fundamentally change writing. No medium can entirely ape another, after all. What Postman might have noticed, though, was what USA Today itself crowed about upon its appearance: the ability to spin off “local” editions from a central body as if a papier-mache hydra. It was going to achieve highest possible profits with the lowest number of “talent” workers. It was, in short, an announcement of a way to work around writers. Few thought, in 1984, that it would be followed, but this was an opening shot in the war on labor in service of investors.

(Newspapers, television, radio are capable of complexity, but the simple message won because a story without details is a story that no one objects to. Analysis is less profitable than press releases, and someone is always confused. With each media merger in newspapers, there was an intensification of the capitalist’s position (not management, but investor/stock) over the service or production’s. The number of newspaper owners reduced dramatically during the Reagan and Bush Pere years (link has tables but not directly to the point), and bottom line was best served by having one or two name writers (and opinion pieces, because those generate letters and anger) and eliminating the rest. The USA Today model has reliable costs and profits.

On television, twenty-four hour news seemed like a nominal innovation, but it never was. Even in the earliest Ted Turner years, CNN never devoted time to extended analysis, the way its founder had promised. Its opinion shows began as analysis, but we know what happened to “Crossfire” and the rest. The network found itself with repetition. It quickly became a thirty or sixty minute newscast repeated throughout the day and interrupted only by segments and shows. This made it, in effect, no challenge, no difference. Once it was purchased by a corporation with a ‘better idea’ of how to monetize the news, we saw the chyrons, imitations of Fox News programming, and opinion shows galore.

Once more, media ownership shrank in the Clinton years, and the result was, again, the very same simplification of the labor side of the industry. Even as story after story appeared on radio and in print about media consolidation, media consolidated anyway. Jobs, then papers, disappeared. Behind the desk at television, the same was happening. Why have multiple correspondents, when opinion shows allow a politician to serve his or her needs and work for cheap? Why have dozens of reporters, when an attractive desk anchor can read information derived from wire services? Salaries for these “hosts” went up while off-camera reporters disappeared, and the hosts were treated as special people. David Gregory at NBC may be the most notoriously self-involved of the group, but he is not alone. (After the New York Times revealed that NBC had hired “retired” generals as experts who were part of a Pentagon information control program, Brian Williams took ten days to respond to the piece, and, when he did so, on April 30, 2008 (quoted in Glen Greenwald’s column), it was with emphasis on how his detractors did not know staff rank generals the way he did, and that these were honest men, and his personal friends. That these were legal violations and that he inserted his own privilege above the public’s and identified himself with a particular class of “insider” was as notable as his contempt for the journalists who were calling on him to stop using paid informants from the administration.)

A prima donna is paradoxically easier for a corporate structure and the real Big Brother to handle than a host of reporters. The fewer “talent” and “labor” personalities, the less likelihood there is of organization or dissent, and, with sufficient pay, a host can identify with the corporation’s interests. Contemporary centerpiece anchors are ideologically more akin to actresses and actors than reporters. Asking them why their report used blind sources is no better than asking a stunt man why the hero drives a Mercedes. Asking Brian Williams why his show continues to call upon a general from a Pentagon propaganda campaign is like asking the actress why the director shot the scene with a hand held camera.

1984 breaks out of the brush: 2003

By 2003, the current had eroded the landscape of information in the U.S. The respite and false dawn of “citizen journalism” by the Internet had and remained difficult to assess. Even when there were palpable results, they were imperceptible to those outside of the immediate area (one reason we love our Internet meeting places).

In 2003, George W. Bush prepared to invade Iraq. We had Big Brother at this point, as we had only one point of Truth. It is fashionable and accurate to point at the mendacity and corruption of Judith Miller and Robert Apple at New York Times, both of whom appeared on the front page and above the fold, one newspaper should never have carried the sole responsibility for a nation of two hundred and ninety million people. Nor should two reporters’ failures have been sufficient to mask such obviously false pretenses for war. Twenty years earlier, it would have been inconceivable that New York Times would have been the only arbiter of objective reality. As we will recall, it is when one media service, no matter what it is, becomes the only place where something gets to be true that it gets co-opted. That is how Eric Blair’s BBC could be Big Brother, and it is how it was easy to control New York Times and four networks with generals who are Real Characters and Men of Integrity.

At one point (September 12, 2002), George W. Bush gave the Iraqi government forty-eight hours to prove that there were no weapons of mass destruction in the nation. This is an elementary fallacy. No one may prove a negative, and no one can prove that a nothing exists. However, there was no dissent inside the U.S. information analysis circles, and certainly none on television. This alone proves that there are no analysts on television. The Congressional Research Service saw the problem plainly enough, and yet members of Congress acted ignorant of the posture the U.S. had taken, and certainly spoke that way.

The day that best showed how gargantuan the power of capitalized media’s interest in the placation of the populace and iteration of corporate growth (ostensibly by grand new markets in democratic Iraq) was arrived on February 15th, 2003. That was a day when the full strength of Internet citizen journalism and activism met television. It is when Big Brother opened the memory hole.

On the day past Valentine’s Day, 2003, there were world-wide protests against going to war in Iraq. Almost every large city in the U.S. had significant protests. In New York City, five hundred thousand people marched against invasion. While Cheney, and sometimes Bush, would speak of Iraq as somehow linked to the attacks on New York, New Yorkers wanted none of it, and we made that clear. London and Berlin saw even more massive protests.

I ask you. . . any of you. . . to look through the archives of coverage for the 16th. Coverage of the protests revealed that television and newspaper reporting was serving some interest other than the public’s right to know.

The New York Times had a brief story by Brian McFadden emphasizing that the crowd did not have a permit and was just there. Network news said a “large group” marched, and the size of domestic crowds was not given. A person not inside a large city at the time of a protest would have gotten the story that “some people marched, but that’s all.” Even people in the outer boroughs of New York would have gotten the impression that, “Some law breaking leftists assembled.”

For those who took part, the consequences were different. The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition received full investigation, infiltration, and prosecution for its organizing. (They were linked to the KGB, I heard . . . while I was in the crowd at the march.) Thus, the punitive element of power showed up, and elderly were trampled by horses. I was an eye witness to horses trampling peaceful protesters. That story, due to law suits against the police, would appear in the New York papers. (It is hardly worth noting the coverage of Glenn Beck’s “rally” in 2011, which drew 2,000 – 10,000 people after weeks of promotion, was vast, despite its ideological content being incoherent.)

Merely Drugged?

What happened in 2003 was not a series of mistakes. No matter how frequently reporters say that the lead-up to the Iraq war was an aberration, it keeps happening, and along the same lines. After that “mistake,” all of the major television news services employed “military experts” that were supplied by the Pentagon as part of an information control program, which constituted overt propaganda against the U.S. population. The W. Bush administration sent out press releases that imitated, with actors and actresses, news “packages,” and television stations ran them as if they were wire service reports. The same administration had scrubbed information from the CDC’s website, had suppressed NASA global warming information, and had placed false reporters in press conferences (the “Jeff Gannon” episode was not isolated, we must recall; it was most comically salacious). “Transit packet” data became a necessity (war powers, you see (see James Riesen’s State of War), and so warrantless wiretapping went on, and then it expanded and expanded. FBI, three years later, would ask Sprint alone for the GPS location of customers nine million times. From the shooting of unarmed terrorists to the use of drones to the killing of U.S. citizens, today’s press, across the lines (with some small-readership exceptions like us), avoids any question that might be unpleasant and any answer that might be complex or ambiguous.

No, the lack of questions before Iraq was not a “mistake,” except in the past tense, the way all mistakes on television are — an hour filling self-analysis opinion show.

1984 is the story of a dissenter. It is the story of a person who keeps on looking and being baited down his journey. He finds himself eventually tortured to the point of a breakdown. Two plus two equals whatever the state wants it to equal, after all. By 2003, we had television reporters laughing that “Barney and Friends” was being used as psychological torture, and people who were “the worst of the worst” were finding themselves in “black site” prisons where they were in cramped, dark boxes with stinging insects on them (see Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side). By 2010, we would have Bradley Manning arrested but not found guilty of anything – charged with a crime that is questionable in and of itself – being kept awake, exposed to psycho-sexual humiliation, and, of course, in isolation as a matter of course.

What did the reformed, contrite television media say about that? What have they said about torture itself? “Some people say it’s bad,” they report, and yet “enhanced interrogation” is now in their style sheet. Like “center right country,” it has left the political agent’s desk at MiniTru and gone into regular parlance. Like “unborn,” it has become a common term. Who did the television networks ask when assessing the damage of the leaked material? The same men who had been the experts in Iraq and on the payroll of the information campaign. How did they assess whether “lives would be lost?” They asked the people who had said that lives would be lost. Repetition of the simple story.

Meanwhile, nations and nationals ask about personalities and the warring armies. They want to know who is up and down in the polls, whether this or that law will move forward. While those things are important, the message of 1984 was that the real power was the flow of power and capital.

The story of the debt goes on. Each nation must pay banks to have growth, because the banks are the center of all things. This is the simple story, the central story, the lie. So long as Greeks do without, Spanish suffer, Irish are unemployed, and all pay the banks to make them ‘healthy,’ then all shall be well, and the common man will benefit when those same banks feel like doing what the government could do without them: lend to business. This capital is not money; it is power. It is the ability to control the labor and life of the people, who must be kept at bay.

Now?

The difference between 1948 and 2012 is that there are no Keynesians around with power to point out the obvious: 2+2 = 4. The three sided conversation of 1948 had Marxists, Keynesians, and Capitalists. Today’s conversation has one voice repeating itself, like a boot stamping on a human face forever. We may feel that capital serves people, and people do not serve capitalists, may feel that we might sacrifice for common defense, but not the lies of common debt; no more is there a place for such a voice.

Nevertheless, we can rejoice, as I understand that the chocolate ration will be increasing from four grams to two grams soon, and I am told that gasoline prices have gone up from $3.84 a gallon to $3.35 a gallon and will unseat the chancellor.

The Mouse that Roared! Greece’s Struggle Against Austerity by New York Brit Expat

6:32 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

We live in interesting times … Those on the left following the situation in Greece were treated to an interesting spectacle in the last election in Greece on May 6th 2012. As expected, those mainstream parties that supported the EU/IMF/ECB memorandum (http://www.reuters.com/…) imposing even more harsh austerity on the country were punished: New Democracy’s (the conservatives, centre-right) votes from 33%-19%, PASOK’s (the Greek socialist party) share fell from 43%-13%, LAOS fell below the 3% needed for securing seats (right-wing nationalist party) all lost seats in the election (greek election results). This represents in many senses a significant rejection of the mainstream political forces that have been ruling Greece since the end of the rule of the colonels (1967-74, for a history of modern Greece see, History of modern Greece) and particularly of the austerity that they have been imposing on the people of Greece over recent months.

Cheat Sheet (to keep track of the players):SYRIZA: coalition of the radical left, led by Alexis Tsipras
New Democracy: Conservative, centre right neoliberals, led by Samaras
PASOK: Panhellenic Socialist Movement, Socialist party led by Venizelos
KKE: Communist Party of Greece
ANTARSYA: Coalition of Greek Anticapitalist Left, hard left
Golden Dawn: Chrysi Avgi, Greek Fascist Party, neonazis
DIMAR: Democratic Left, centre left to left wing, led by Fotis Kouvelis
LAOS: right wing nationalists
Independent Greeks: Right-wing split off of New Democracy, anti-austerity

 

But the most dramatic thing was the fact that the votes for the left rose significantly, even more so SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left which is composed of Marxists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Eurocommunists, left and moderate reformists, greens and a number of other tendencies) came in second place (For the 10 demands of SYRIZA which they campaigned on May 6th; see: http://socialistresistance.org/…).

“The vote for the broad left rose from a modest 12% in 2009 to an impressive 35.5% — 17% for SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left), 8.5% for the Communist Party (KKE), 1.2% for the anti-capitalist left party ANTARSYA, 6.1% for the moderate Democratic Left and 2.9% for the Greens. However, the prospect of a left government is doubtful since the KKE, an ultra-Stalinist party, ruled out beforehand any cooperation with “opportunists,” by which it means all other left parties except from itself. Moreover, the Democratic Left and the Greens are moderate centre-left parties that do not differ radically from PASOK. Even so, the collective result of the three radical left parties, SYRIZA, the KKE and ANTARSYA, was an impressive 26.5% (http://socialistresistance.org/…).”

On the other side of the political spectrum, the rise in the vote for the Golden Dawn fascist party which for the first time secured seats in the Greek Parliament (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/…; moreover, a video surfaced of Athens police and Golden Dawn members brutalising an immigrant: http://observers.france24.com/…).

Untitled

As first New Democracy, then SYRIZA and finally PASOK failed to pull together a government, the Greeks are headed back towards elections on June 17th 2012.

In SYRIZA’s case, the party leader Alexis Tsipras, who has conducted himself in an exemplary manner despite the massive witch hunt he and his party has been subjected to by both the Greek and the international media, put forward a five point plan on which to discuss with other parties (Syriza’s 5 point plan).

But the KKE, an ultra-Stalinist party, ruled out beforehand any cooperation with “opportunists,” by which it means all other left parties except from itself. They refused to even consider joining a coalition with SYRIZA; refusing even to meet with them and spoke with them by phone. The smaller far left coalition, ANTARSYA, also refused to consider participation – unless SYRIZA supported all its policies! Thus the mandate passed to PASOK.

A bit of excitement was added when speculation that DIMAR (the democratic left) would throw in with PASOK. DIMAR insisted upon a condition that could not be met to form a national salvation government; that SYRIZA would also join the coalition. So now Greece heads to elections again …

One worry that I have is that while there was no question that the votes of the left would be insufficient to form a government, the fact that the KKE and ANTARSYA refused to participate in a coalition could affect support for both SYRIZA and them at the next election in June as voters wonder whether the Left can overcome its sectarian nature to answer the desperate call of the Greek working class and poor. At the moment, it appears as though SYRIZA is picking up votes from other Left parties and those of the mainstream, hopefully this momentum will continue.

I.    The memorandum:

The mainstream in Greece and in Europe is trying to present these elections as a referendum on the euro; SYRIZA is presenting them as a referendum on austerity (http://www.guardian.co.uk/…). In the hard Left, two groups ran on an anti-euro stance, one was the KKE and the other Antarsya, while SYRIZA chose to run against austerity and specifically the memorandum in February (http://www.reuters.com/…) agreed between the EU, ECB and IMF and the Greek mainstream leaders.

This memorandum called for increased privatisation (both full and partial), reductions of the monthly minimum wage by 22%, 32% for those under age 25, 15,000 state workers being placed in labour reserve getting 60% of their salary and facing dismissal after a year, only 1 in 5 people retiring will be replaced, the civil service workforce is to be reduced by 150,000 by 2015, pensions over 1000 euros/month will be reduced to 1000 euros/month. Homelessness is rising, young people are moving back in with their parents, drug use and prostitution is rising and social welfare benefits, especially health and education are being completely undermined. Women are bearing the brunt of the austerity measures as unemployment has risen, social services are being privatised and too expensive and caring for children, the sick and the elderly is falling on them (http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/…).

 

There has been massive resistance to the austerity measures imposed by the Troika (EU, IMF, ECB) in February. There have been 17 general strikes and one fifth of the population of the country has been on the streets in recent months protesting against occupations. There are a number of workplaces in occupation – hospitals, newspapers, steel works. And on May 6 the population rejected the austerity programme of the Troika at the ballot box.

An obvious question arises, why is SYRIZA not running on leaving the euro? There is an obvious answer; specifically, the majority of Greeks do not want to leave the euro. At the same time, they also do not want to submit to austerity which has decimated the Greek economy and has literally destroyed the social welfare state, incomes (including pensions), benefits, and jobs of the Greek majority.

In this situation SYRIZA has continually made clear that it will not compromise on their programme even if it means expulsion from the Eurozone. This is tactically a much better way of posing the question given the concrete situation they face.

II.    The Powder-keg

The situation in Greece has been fuelling further problems in the Eurozone. Fears of Greece either leaving or being forced out of the Eurozone (which would require changes in the EU constitution as there is no formal mechanism for withdrawing or being forced out) has led to increased worries in Greece and in the stock markets. It is not really so much the problem of Greece leaving as it is a small economy, but the possibility of this being the beginning of the floodgates where other countries (e.g., Spain, Portugal) suffering from the agony of austerity also abandoning the Euro leading to the ship sinking. Given the manner in which the German economy has remained strong which is as an exporter of goods to the peripheries in Europe (enabled by undermining incomes in Germany, see e.g., http://researchonmoneyandfinance.org/…), an obvious question arises: is Germany cutting off its nose to spite its face? Impoverishing those people that actually purchase your goods is somewhat nonsensical and fears of hyperinflation in Germany cannot explain the level of agony being imposed upon the European periphery by Germany’s insistence upon neoliberal economic policies.

To add to the fuel on the fire there have been rumours of runs on Greek banks and the knowledge that the ECB will not lend to some Greek banks (see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/… and http://edition.cnn.com/…):

“The numbers on how much has recently been taken out of Greek banks by depositors have been much disputed – not surprisingly, when the official figures will not be published for weeks.Depending on who you talk to, anything from €700m ($892m; £560m) to €1.2bn was taken out of banks in the days after the election, out of total deposits of around €160bn. That total, in turn, is about a third lower than it was at the end of 2009.
At the same time, the ECB has apparently now said that it won’t directly lend to some Greek banks that it judges to be technically “insolvent”. These are banks that have holes in their balance sheets, because, thanks to the restructuring of Greek sovereign debt, they can’t now expect to get back all of the money that they lent to the government (http://www.bbc.co.uk/…).”

There is a lot of fear-mongering of Greece either leaving or being forced out of the Euro, both on the impact on Greece and on the impact of the Eurozone. Are these being over-rated or is keeping Greece in more important to the stability of the Eurozone? Are these threats empty on the part of the EU or is this a real danger? Here is an analysis from BofA/Merrill Lynch on the impact on the Eurozone which is worth reading (http://www.morningstar.co.uk/…). Certainly, the situation for the Greeks is already extremely difficult; leaving the Euro will enable them to regain control over both their monetary and fiscal policy. The immediate effect of a loss of access to foreign loans to help them recover the economy will make things harder and a default on their loans will mean that exactly. Policies to stimulate exports and increase tourism will help them recover and rebuild. The austerity measures are literally creating a situation where the Greek economy will never recover; moreover the reduction of Greece to poverty is not only unsustainable but unnecessary (see for e.g., http://www.neweconomics.org/…).

III.    The dangers of sectarianism:

The KKE responded to Syriza’s vote on May 6 in the following way:

“Nevertheless a government, irrespective of its composition, must deal with the whole spectrum of the problems. It should not merely denounce the memorandum but return to the people the gains that were abolished before the memorandum – because most of the gains were lost before the memorandum- as well as many others abolished after the memorandum. A government has to manage everything and not merely the unemployment benefit, as was mentioned. It has to manage issues of economy, the stance of the business groups towards the working people, the list of the privatisations adopted in the previous years. It has to handle issues of foreign policy such as the general commitments that arise from the EU, NATO, from the strategic alliance with the USA. There is no government that tears the agreements into pieces, abstracts politics and only promotes the packet of measures of the next day.In order to agree with such a government the KKE needs to make a U-turn, a summersault and not merely a small retreat, a small turn. It must make a root and branch change. And above all it would have to make unacceptable compromises that have nothing to do with the people’s interests. Maybe the people are not interested in the ideological purity of the various parties, but in a party that all these years, from the very first moment of its foundation, has been in the frontline of the struggle does not want to abandon this position in order to gain some ministries. The people do not need this kind of KKE” (from the press office of the CC of the KKE, 06/05/2012, http://inter.kke.gr/…).”

In doing so it showed a complete disregard for the policies on which SYRIZA had stood in the election – and even worse a complete contempt for the thousands of people who had voted for them and their policies. It seems likely that they will be punished by some of their own traditional voters on June 17 and beyond – in subsequent opinion polls they have lost over 1% of their votes in less than two weeks.

To understand the situation among the Left in Greece, it is useful to understand the history of the Greek left. To help, I will present two different pieces discussing the history of the left in Greece and its currents transformations that have attempted to explain the current situation. The pieces are complementary, rather than contradictory, in terms of information and also express some of the fears of the Left with respect to SYRIZA in terms of carrying out its own minimum programme.

On the one hand, here is a piece from Socialist Resistance calling for a United Front of the Left and criticising the failure to form it in a period of intense need:

“In other words, in this situation – a “Year Zero” situation for the literally hungry masses – these masses handed their votes to SYRIZA, and secondarily to the KKE, with the mandate for them to take power, reject the memorandum, reject austerity, restore their livelihoods and do so by turning the tables on the Greek plutocracy, those who actually still have their bucket loads of cash despite the “crisis”, while telling the German-French plutocracy to shove off.
Yet it is in such a context that the Greek left now seems unable to form a united front for the salvation of the people. The responsibility for this lies mostly, if not entirely, with the spectacular sectarianism of the KKE, which has point blank refused to join a united front with SYRIZA. More than that – criminally – the KKE has refused to even talk about it.
In a quasi-reenactment of Stalin’s Third Period disaster in Germany – when the German Communist Party was ordered to refuse any joint work with the German Social Democrats against Nazism, indeed the Social Democrats were declared “social fascists”, allowing the Nazis to walk into power unimpeded – the KKE claims it will not work with SYRIZA who it denounces as social democrats who will inevitably sell out.
But if history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, then the tragedy being prepared by the KKE is based entirely on farce. For anyone aware of modern Greek history, the idea of the KKE having some principled left position opposed to collaborating with social democrats or even neoliberals and right-wing nationalists is a fantastic joke.
While there is much to validly criticise about the program of SYRIZA’s leadership group, as a whole the SYRIZA coalition is light years to the left of the German Social Democrats of the 1930s, let alone the neoliberal “social democrats” today, and the only actual revolutionary policy in such a dire situation is to “take the bull by its horns” and form a united front with SYRIZA around the most immediate needs of the working class, and work with the more radical left components of SYRIZA in a non-sectarian fashion to challenge its leadership to keep left and to move further left as the ensuing crisis will inevitably demand (http://socialistresistance.org/…).”

Paul Mason also has written an excellent piece discussing some history of the Greek left and the formation of SYRIZA which is very useful for those not well-versed in intricacies of the Left of Greece and also raises the fear of SYRIZA collapsing into social democracy rather than pursuing a more radical agenda. The following is a description of some of the history of the Greek Left (http://paulmasonnews.tumblr.com/…):

“Greek communism, like most of western communism after the 1970s, was split into two hostile parties: the KKE of the “interior” and that of the “exterior” – the latter denoting a Moscow-oriented party, the former denoting a Euro-communist, more parliamentary and socially liberal agenda. Initially Synaspismos was the electoral alliance between the two KKEs. But in the early 1990s the main Moscow-oriented KKE quit the alliance, purging about 45% of its members, who then stayed inside Synaspismos with the Eurocommunists. These included Tsipras.
Synaspismos then evolved in an interesting direction. Reacting to the rise of the anti-globalisation movement, first of all the party itself became a highly diverse left umbrella group: of Eurocommunists, left-social Democrats, far leftists, and ecologists. It played a significant role in mobilizations against summits, beginning in Genoa 2001 and beyond. Meanwhile the main KKE remained a traditional Communist party, rooted in public sector and manual trade unions. Then, in the 2004 election, Synaspismos came together with other small parties to form SYRIZA. These included a split-off from the British SWP, a split off from the main Communist Party and another group of eco-leftists.
Under Tsipras’ leadership, and invigorated by now including the entire left except the traditionalist KKE, SYRIZA grew the far left’s vote from 3.3% to 5.6% in the 2007 election – giving it 14 MPs. The crisis which broke out in December 2008, after the police shooting of a 15 year old schoolboy led to two weeks of rioting by the youth and poor of Athens, further strengthened SYRIZA as a left pole of attraction. Though the parties inside SYRIZA remained in the low thousands of members, many young people began to identify with them – above all in a country where Marxism has massive prestige due to its role in both the anti-fascist resistance and in the 1946-49 Civil War. In addition, those migrants with the right to vote, hearing a rising chorus of anti-migrant rhetoric from the centre as well as the right, have flocked to vote SYRIZA (http://paulmasonnews.tumblr.com/…).”

IV.    What is to be done?

From SYRIZA’s election manifesto we have the following:

“The incumbent economic and social system has failed and we must overthrow it!
The economic crisis rocking global capitalism has shattered the illusions. All the more people witness that capitalist speculation is an inhuman organizational principle for the modern society. It is also unanimously shared that that private banks function only for the benefit of the bankers harming the rest of the people. Industrialists and bankers absorb billions from Health, Education and Pensions.
The exit from the crisis entails bold measures that will obstruct those who create it from continuing their destructive work. We are endorsing a new model of production and distribution of wealth, one that would include society in its totality. In this respect the large capitalist property is to be made public and managed democratically along social and ecologic criteria. Our strategic aim is socialism with democracy, a system in which all will be entitled to participate in the decision-making process (http://socialistresistance.org/…).”

So given the election results in May, what can we expect in June? The situation in Greece is very dynamic; the ability of the mainstream to rally people to view this election as a referendum on the Euro rather than as a referendum on Austerity will probably be a prime determining factor.

The question remains whether the Left can overcome its sectarianism to do what needs to be done. No one is honestly suggesting  a true revolutionary programme can be carried out using only elections. But if the Left can not present the masses with a viable alternative, a serious danger exists of a shift to the hard-right.  If people vote for the mainstream because they think the Left cannot unite, and austerity continues under a mainstream government, voters may switch to the hard right.

Even if the Left wins, it is uncertain how long they will govern. Another subversion of the will of the people in Greece is definitely possible; Election fraud to outright coup d’etat could be employed to subvert the will of the Greek people. The rise in the fascist right presents a serious danger of the descent into barbarism. If the Greek left cannot unite, that danger increases.

In a move reeking of irony, Angela Merkel (http://www.bbc.co.uk/…) has suggested holding a referendum in Greece on whether or not they want to stay in the Eurozone; given that this brought down the elected government of Greece headed by Papandreou and resulted in a “technocratic” government headed by a former executive of Goldman-Sachs, Papademos, this is rather interesting. Separating remaining in the Eurozone from the elections may actually further undercut the mainstream parties, which somehow I do not think is in her interests.

Recent polls suggest that SYRIZA will win the election, but it is uncertain whether they will win a majority (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/…, http://news.sky.com/…).  They are moving to transform themselves from their current status as a coalition into a political party. This move is motivated by the recognition that many new people are flocking to join – and to join SYRIZA itself rather than one of its constituent organisations. This will mean that if they are the biggest party they will benefit from one of the most undemocratic pieces of electoral legislation which is that the largest party gets an extra 50 seats!

It seems that people are shifting from other Left parties towards SYRIZA. If they cannot win a majority, that means a coalition government and given the failure in May to rally around SYRIZA could mean a catastrophe. The most likely situation is that we will be back in a situation where a coalition is needed – with even more pressure on SYRIZA to compromise its principles.

What is needed is two-fold in many senses: 1) unity among the Greek Left and 2) a continuing movement to both continue building mass support and to keep pressure on SYRIZA to hold the course. The programme advocated by SYRIZA is a good minimum programme (http://socialistresistance.org/…). But it is throwing off the shackles of the capitalist system that has caused this crisis that is the goal.

That is why it is essential for the whole left internationally to demand the Greek left break with its sectarianism and do what needs to be done. If the Left cannot unite in coalition, this will be a catastrophic loss of opportunity for the left-wing anti-austerity forces in Greece – but also in Europe as a whole – which would be a serious defeat for the left internationally as well as one which would probably strengthen support for the far right in Greece.

At the same time the need for solidarity with the struggle of the Greek people against austerity has never been more acute. Calls from the May 15 movement in Spain and elsewhere for a day of action against austerity on June 16, with solidarity with Greece as a focal point should be supported extensively.