Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Joe Kennedy, Patriotism and Transgender Rights.

"In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the People." Eugene Debs

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I see Democratic hopefuls are lining up. Joe Kennedy is looking toward 2020 as well. They are such slick characters these politicians of the ruling class. He goes on about patriotism, courage and worst of all, that Trump won't defend people in uniform that are "willing to sacrifice their lives to protect our freedom".

Workers repeat this all the time, they are defending our freedoms. No they are not, workers in uniform are defending US capitalism's interests, are fighting for Wall Street and US capitalism to dominate weaker nations and rob them of their raw materials and wealth or for access to cheap labor and crush any resistance that opposes this. In that sense when Kennedy uses the pronoun "our" with regard to freedom, he is correct, he is talking about himself, his family and the capitalist class of which he is a prominent member.

Patriotism, they love patriotism and use it when it suits them.  We are all in this together, we are all Americans. US president Theodore Roosevelt came from a wealthy family like most of them. His father never went to war, he paid to send some working class person like so many of them. Patriotism is the last refuge of a fool someone once said.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't support transgender people having the right to be in the military like anybody else. We must oppose the housing and employment discrimination they face and all the other social obstacles they face because of their gender choices and fight for decent, gratifying jobs.  We must oppose and actively stand against all forms of discrimination against sexual orientation, religion, and race.

They frame this term, "Support Our Troops" vaguely because they want to associate any opposition to their murderous and criminal slaughter of workers abroad in their rapacious pursuit of profits and plunder with not caring about our youth in uniform, of abandoning them to their fate without question. It is our duty to oppose imperialist wars, to save our children's lives and the lives of millions of others in weaker nations and not fight for the likes of the Kennedy's in their struggle against the elites of other nations.

Chelsea Manning heroically revealed the savage nature of US capitalism's criminal and unprovoked invasion of Iraq. For this she was tortured, labelled unpatriotic and  a traitor and driven almost to suicide. Then she was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Yet she did a great service to us. If you haven't seen collateral Murder see it. It's what got Manning in trouble. By showing this to us she allowed us to see not only the criminal nature of this invasion but also how this war dehumanized and transformed young American men and women in to savages, laughing as they took pot shots at civilians and their children collecting the dead already killed by their hi-tech helicopter gunship. What's heroic about that? What threat were these Iraqi's and their children to you and I? Is this what we want workers in other countries to experience when they come face to face with Americans like ourselves?  Remember the drone operators appeal to Obama.

Kennedy and his class need unemployment, low wages, lack of a future for a certain percentage of working class people so that the military is the only option. Workers do not need to be bribed with access to education or so-called skills training to defend and fight for our rights and the country or state we and/or our ancestors built.To defend our communities.

We should be insulted by Kennedy's phony appeals and talk of fairness and courage and all that. He is a liar, he is looking to advance his political career and be part of the next group that will govern and plunder US society for four years.  Like all of the ruling class and their offspring they allow people to die without health care, live without shelter, languish in prison and much more.

We want jobs for all, a future for all, and we want transgender people to participate in society free of discrimination and with the rights we all enjoy, and have all their needs met and to prosper along with all working class people. We fought for what we have despite the lies and propaganda that they were given to us.

One last note. Listen to Kennedy speak. He has watched Obama I can tell it. I haven't done it but the tone, the nuance, the stressing of certain parts of sentences; he's watched Obama and has picked up some of his style. Obama is a very slick, cultured and intelligent representative of the US bourgeois. They'd love to have him back. Maybe they will in the form of Joe Kennedy.

Profitability and investment again – the AMECO data

by Michael Roberts

Recently, Larry Elliott, the economics correspondent of the British liberal newspaper, The Guardian raised again the puzzle of the gap between rising corporate profits and stagnant corporate investment in the major capitalist economies. Elliott put it “The multinational companies that bankroll the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos are awash with cash. Profits are strong. The return on capital is the best it has been for the best part of two decades. Yet investment is weak. Companies would rather save their cash or hand it back to shareholders than put it to work.”

Why was this?  Elliott posed some possibilities: “corporate caution is that businesses think bad times are just around the corner”, but as Elliott pointed out the hoarding of corporate cash was “going on well before Brexit became an issue and it affects all western capitalist countries, not just Britain.” So he considered other reasons that have been raised before: “cutting-edge companies need less physical capital than they did in the past and more money in the bank unless somebody comes along with a takeover bid” or that “the people running companies are dominated by short-term performance targets and the need to keep shareholders sweet”.

So company managers use the cash to buy back their shares or pay out large dividends rather than invest in new technology. “Shareholder value maximisation has certainly delivered for the top 1%. They own 40% of the US stock market and benefit from the dividend payouts, and the share buybacks that drive prices higher on Wall Street. Those running companies, also members of the 1%, have remuneration packages loaded up with stock options, so they too get richer as the company share price goes up.”

There is some element of truth in all these possible explanations for ‘the gap’ between corporate earnings and investment that opened up in the early 2000s.  But I don’t think that corporate investment is abnormally low relative to cash flow or profits.  The reason for low business investment is simpler: lower profitability relative to the existing capital invested and the perceived likely returns for the majority of corporations.

I have dealt with this issue before in previous posts and in debate with other Marxist economists who deny the role of profitability in directing the level of corporate investment and, ultimately growth in production in the major capitalist economies.

The point is that the mass of profits is not the same as profitability and in most major economies, profitability (as measured against the stock of capital invested) has not returned to the levels seen before the Great Recession or at the end of neoliberal period with the crash in 2000.

And the high leveraging of debt by corporations before the crisis started is acting as a disincentive to invest and/or borrow more to invest, even for companies with sizeable amounts of cash. Corporations have used their cash to pay down debt, buy back their shares and boost share prices, or increase dividends and continue to pay large bonuses (in the financial sector) rather than invest in productive equipment, structures or innovations.

For example, look at the UK’s corporate sector.  Sure the mass of profits in non-financial corporations has jumped from $40bn a quarter in 2000 to £85bn now.  And it may be true that “the return on capital is the best it has been for the best part of two decades”, as Elliott claims.  But it is all relative.  The rate of return on UK capital invested has dropped from a peak of 14% in 1997 to 11.5% now.  Profitability recovered after the Great Recession trough of 9.5% in 2009 but it is still below the peak prior to the crash of 12.3% in 2006.  And UK profitability has stagnated since 2014, prior to Brexit.

Thus it should be no surprise that UK businesses have stopped investing in productive capital.

It’s the same story in the US, where not only is the average profitability of US corporations falling, but so are total profits in the non-financial sector.  Profit margins (profits as a share of non-financial corporate sales) measure the profit gained for each increase in output and these have been falling for some quarters.

And more recently, total profits in non-financial corporations have been contracting.

So again, it is no surprise that business investment is also contracting among US corporations.

I have dealt before with the argument that Elliott offers again that companies are “awash with cash”.
First, it is only a small minority of very large companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft etc that have large cash hoards.  The majority of companies do not have such hoards and indeed have increased levels of corporate debt.  And there is a sizeable and growing minority that have profits only sufficient to service their debt interest with none left for expansion and productive investment.  According to the Bank for International Settlements, the share of these ‘zombie’ companies has climbed to over 10%: “the share of zombie firms – whose interest expenses exceed earnings before interest and taxes – has increased significantly despite unusually low levels of interest rates”.

But perhaps the most compelling support for my argument that weak business investment in the major capitalist economies is the result of low profitability is some new evidence that I have gleaned from the EU’s AMECO statistical database. finance/ameco/user/serie/ SelectSerie.cfm

Based on the simple Marxist formula for the rate of profit of capital s/c+v, where s= surplus value and c= constant capital and v= variable capital, I used the following AMECO categories.  s = Net national income (UVNN) less employee compensation (UWCD); c = Net capital stock (OKND) inflated to current prices by (PVGD); v = employee compensation (UWCD).  From these data series, I calculated the rate of profit for each of the major capitalist economies.

Of course, the AMECO categories do not match proper Marxist categories for many reasons.  But they do give cross-comparisons, unlike national statistics.  And my results seem reasonably robust when compared with national data calculations.  For example, when I compared the net rate of return on capital for the US using the AMECO data and Anwar Shaikh’s more ‘Marxist’ measure for the rate of profit in US corporations for 1997-2011, I found similar peaks and troughs and turning points.

The results for profitability in the major capitalist economies, using the AMECO data, confirm that the rate of profit is lower than in 1999 in all economies, except Germany and Japan.  Japan, by the way, still has the lowest rate of profit of all the major economies.  Indeed, the level of the rate of profit is highest in the UK, Italy and an enlarged EU (which includes Sweden and Eastern Europe), while the lowest rate of profit is in the US and Japan.

All countries suffered a severe slump in profitability during the Great Recession, as you might expect.  Then profitability recovered somewhat after 2009. But, with the exception of Japan, all economies have lower rates of profit in 2016 than in 2007, and by some considerable margins.  And in the last two years, profitability has fallen in nearly all economies, including Japan.
The table below shows the percentage change in the level of the rate of profit for different periods.

So the AMECO data show that profitability is still historically low and is now falling. No wonder business investment in productive capital has remained weak since the end of the neo-liberal period (graph below for the US) and now is even falling in some economies.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Personal reflections on the Rise of Zionism.

By Roger Silverman *
Scenes like these from Belsen gave Zionism new life.

Zionism today is one of the most virulent manifestations of racism. It is the ideology used to justify the existence of a state which openly denies equal rights to a quarter of its population on racial grounds, and rules over four million colonial subjects in neighbouring territories that it has occupied for half a century by military conquest. How is it conceivable that such an ideology could ever have been acceptable to anyone considering themselves socialists?

The Jews of Tsarist Russia and Eastern Europe were a monstrously persecuted minority, living in designated ghettos, speaking their own separate language, practising their own religious and cultural customs, denied civil rights, and subjected to periodic organised massacres in which thousands were killed: orgies of violence that acquired a special name of their own: pogroms. Those that had managed to flee to Britain before an Aliens Act was passed restricting further immigration were reviled by the establishment as a "dirty rabble".

Throughout the Russian empire, the Jewish working class was organised in a socialist movement called the Bund, a separate but integral part of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. Its aspiration was for cultural autonomy within a democratic socialist Russia. It was in opposition to this mass cultural and political movement that Zionism emerged as a reactionary sect, feeding on despair that Jews could ever attain their rights except within a separate state of their own. It can be compared with the rise of national-racial separatist movements among the black population of the USA; Marcus Garvey's "back to Africa" movement, for instance, closely mirrors the Zionist mirage of the re-establishment of a Jewish nation in a historic Biblical "homeland". In both cases, aspirations towards class unity with the majority ethnic population were cut across by a semi-mystical mythology.

Then came the rise of the Nazis in Germany, their conquest of Europe and their invasion of Russia. The Jewish population of occupied Europe was virtually annihilated. Six million were bludgeoned to death, forced to dig their own graves before being shot, or gassed on an industrial scale in specially constructed chambers.

In 1942, as head of the British section of the World Jewish Congress, Sydney Silverman received the first reports of the holocaust and alerted the world:
"It is certain that by a deliberate plan, the war on all Jews by Hitler and practised as a chronic psychopathic malady since he came to power nine years ago has become a raging tearing frenzy, acute in every part of Europe, where no one before was conscious of any so-called Jewish problem. They have been arrested, scattered, deported across Europe to strange and devastated areas and there murdered: men, women and children, without mercy, without discrimination of age or sex or strength, except some solitary few judged able for some months yet to work on as hopeless slaves. Certain it is that unless help comes there will soon be no Jews alive in Nazi-occupied Europe."

Even in these circumstances it is to his credit that he added a warning against any scapegoating of the German people, and a reaffirmation of socialist internationalist principles:
"It is so fatally easy to use their unimaginable horrors to play into the hands of those who would themselves use another kind of racial myth to destroy the greatest chance the world has ever had to reconstruct its life on saner, sounder principles, the recognition that we are all one human family and that our natural hates, fears, suspicions and oppressions arise, all of them, out of the failure to apply in comradeship and co-operation our human powers to the natural resources of the good earth so that all may live in peace together."

I have a small personal connection with this. He wrote:
"On April 15th 1945, my youngest son was born. That was the day Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the advancing British armies. But ten days earlier Eisenhower had freed Buchenwald. He was so horrified by what he saw, so terrified that nobody would believe it, that he invited the Speaker of the House of Commons to send an all-party delegation of MPs to come, to see and to testify. I was one of them, the only Jew - and even so I had to fight for my place. So I went, leaving my wife and three-day-old son in hospital. Two of the party had had, in pre-war days, pro-Hitler sympathies. One of them never recovered from the effects of his visit and died shortly after his return. The other committed suicide."

It was the rise of Nazism which strengthened Sydney Silverman's defiant reassertion of his Jewish identity, and the reality of the holocaust which confirmed his own illusions in Zionism. After the war, what had previously throughout Eastern Europe been a peripheral reactionary sect became a credible, if ultimately illusory, lifeline. Jewish survivors of the concentration camps were desperately seeking refuge somewhere they could begin to build a new life free from persecution and the threat of annihilation. To that generation, the reactionary nature of Zionism with its susceptibility to future exploitation by world imperialism to create an outpost from which to suppress the Arab national uprising had not become apparent. The rickety boats of these holocaust survivors were turned back or sunk by British colonial warships, deliberately drowning refugees. Their settlements were besieged by feudal kingdoms and sheikdoms and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In their desperation they were all too easily seduced by Zionist demagogy.

It might have been possible then to confront communal rivalry. In Palestine in the 1920s there had been 500,000 Arabs and 150,000 Jews, many of whom worked and struggled side by side. The heroic revolutionary Leopold Trepper, who was later to organise within Nazi Germany  the underground communist spy network the Red Orchestra, had organised in Palestine the Ichud/Itachak (Unity) movement, which brought Jewish and Arab workers under a single banner, organised joint strikes and challenged the power of the Zionist Histadrut, which only admitted Jewish workers.

Sydney Silverman retained to the end of his life misplaced illusions in the goal of a national homeland for Jews. In dispute with Stalinist critics, he argued that the reactionary policies of the Israeli government did not justify "pretending that Jewish people's national consciousness, pride in their language, care of their culture or faith in their future are more bourgeois, reactionary or capitalist than these things are when practised by Georgians, Uzbeks, Armenians or the Russians themselves."  

However, he condemned the reactionary alliance of the new Israeli state with Western imperialism. At the time of the Suez crisis, he was personally instrumental in forcing the Labour leadership to condemn the joint military action against Egypt by the British government in collusion with France and Israel; and when the Middle East came to war in 1967, he strongly opposed the Israeli occupation of neighbouring territories. It is beyond doubt that if he had lived beyond February 1968 he would certainly have denounced the continuing occupation and successive wars of colonial repression against the Palestinian people.

*Roger Silverman is a British socialist activist, member of the Labor Party and Momentum, and part of the Workers' International Network. The article was written in reply to a correspondent who had asked why a socialist like Sydney Silverman, his father, had supported the creation of the state of Israel.

Sydney Silverman  was a left Labour MP from 1935 until his death in 1968. He was an influential figure in the abolition of the death penalty in Britain though he would have wanted to be remembered for his uncompromising lifelong struggle for socialism, which extended well beyond his campaign against the death penalty.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Billionaire Threatens Violence after Seattle's Wealth Tax Passes

The passing of a relatively minor tax on higher earners by Seattle City Council has caused concern among the 1% and has been taken up by their media as I explain in the video.

I try to keep this things pretty short but as I say in the video the concern is driven by the fact that this is a shot across the bow electorally for the capitalist class, it is tax directed at them or a "wealth" tax as it has been described.

While the tax will undoubtedly include high earners who are not capitalists in the sense that they are not business owners or huge investors or landlords and don't get their means of subsistence from the profit of capital, it also hits the much wealthier as well. If you're an individual earning $5 million a year the tax is $125,000. Of course, the richer they are the more likely they will find some way to dodge it.

The worrying issue for them is it is directed at a class of people and that undermines their propaganda there is not really a working class at all. It's class warfare directed at them from their point of view.

Then the billionaire claims they will move jobs out from the state and there will be other threats toward people for exercising their democratic right to vote. This threat raises the question of democracy in wider society like the economy and how by exercising these rights one is threatened with unemployment.  It's seen for the blackmail that it is and what flows, what will inevitably be raised and discussed, is the idea that they should be prevented from taking those jobs and from that the idea of independent political action, a party of the working class will inevitably land on the table.

It's not a major deal in and of itself but for the 1% it's the implications; it is an attack on capital and they are concerned about opening up a can of worms.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What can they do about Trump?

Will he pardon himself?
 "We still have some reasonable people here. Some are just a little too quiet".
Sen Joe Manchin, West Virginia  Democrat

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Following Peggy Noonan these past 6 months or so has been interesting. Early on, recognizing the Predator in Chief for the buffoon that he is she called on the body politic, her class, to rally round the man, help him out. Like other bourgeois strategists she hoped Trump could be reined in, perhaps he would learn. She has had a hard 6 months of transition and uncertainty and now: "Republicans on the hill need a popular president with the quasi-mystical clout presidential popularity brings. Mr. Trump does not have it.”  she writes in her WSJ column this weekend*

Noonan says of Trump, “He is a man alone, independent and ungoverned. He freelances not because circumstances dictate it but because he is by nature a freelancer. He doesn’t want to ne enmeshed in an institution, he doesn’t want to have to bolster and defend it and see to its life. He wants to preserve his freedom to tweet, to pop off, to play this way or that.”

Oh my, it’s come to this.  But what can they do?  It’s hard to imagine Trump lasting four years, capitalism can’t abide by it surely. But what of the virus he’s implanted in to their precious state machine, the unqualified, the sycophants, the nepotism? Not the “Best and the Brightest” by any means from the bourgeois point of view.  “Baseline competence” will matter at some point writes Noonan, “But if the president continues to show he doesn’t have the toolbox for this job, he’s going to go from not gaining support, which is where he’s at now, to losing support. He’s not magic and they’re not stupid”

The health bill is dead. Much praise is being doled out to the women that halted it in Congress. But it is the fear of the working class that halts it. It is the fear of the working class, of social protest and upheaval that is behind it. They have seen and felt the anger at the town hall meetings, in the streets, in the occupations of politician’s offices and protests against austerity throughout the country.  They don’t need stuff like that to intensify and  come on the heels of the BLM movement and the war at Standing Rock. Their greatest fear is the linking up of these developments in to a more centralized national movement.

Both bourgeois parties in the US are in crisis, are more irrelevant as each day passes. Noonan’s argument that “Democratic presidential hopefuls, will be campaigning two years from now on single payer, whatever happens to this bill” is a good bet but the assault on the working class will continue, US capitalism is driven by the laws of the system to take back all we have won in the past.  Who they may be is anyone’s guess, the dashing former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, or the fraud Bernie Sanders? Who knows other than it will not be Hillary Clinton.

This won’t change the continued decline and fragmentation of the twin parties of capitalism that have dominated political life in the US for over a century.  That the present Democratic and Republican parties are consumed over health care legislation and unable to pass any due to a real fear of social protests says something about the absence of any real alternative politically.

Trump has accomplished nothing of any substance. His promise of a massive infrastructure investment has, as the Financial Times points out, ”…been punted off in to the indefinite future.”  

Where is the Green Party at such a favorable moment in time? It cannot escape its irrelevance, the strong petite bourgeois influence and leadership within the party and its undemocratic structure. It is not taken seriously by working class people and why should it be?

The trade union leadership at the highest levels sits atop a potentially powerful organization ensuring that no real threat to the status quo arises from within their increasingly alienated and angry ranks.  The relationship they have built with the 1% based on labor peace must be maintained at all costs for the alternative, a militant working class and trade union movement can only lead to chaos as they see it.

The movement against the capitalist offensive in the US will not be a passive one, it will be confused and violent as the US bourgeois uses their heavily armed state apparatus to put down resistance. Organized labor will not be able to stand outside of these struggles but will also be consumed by them.

Peggy Noonan is in for a many more surprises including the growing working class resistance at all levels. We’ll see just how nasty her column can be then.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Grenfell Tower fire victims speak out.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire comment.

The fire was the result of social cleansing, just like ethnic cleansing, removing people from an area for economic and political reasons. I remember when my dad first got out of the army and some years later when we had moved to Oxfordshire my mum complaining that she felt military people were discriminated when it came to the council housing list. Back then she thought it was a great opportunity to get on it. I am not aware enough to know all of the pitfalls of the council housing project that began after the war but I do know that a lot of these homes were good homes.

With council housing, communities were secure, working class people grew up together, lived in one place for a certain amount of time. It wasn't like the US where living in social housing is considered charity, you are a failure, not owning your own home. Grenfell is in the richest borough in Britain, I think, the Queen lives there perhaps she never noticed the poverty and inequality in her neighborhood. The authorities dragged her down there for a bit, got on TV and that's probably the first and last time she'll visit that place. She would never make a decision to do such a think herself, she's oblivious to the real world.

The capitalist offensive needed to drive these people out, until that was possible, throw a few million taxpayer dollars at the building to pretty it up a bit so it doesn't affect property values too much or offend the rapacious middle class and the tourists.  Spent $13 million and never even put sprinklers in it. 

We always remind readers, and we should always remind ourselves that these tragedies, Grenfell, here in the US, Katrina, the West Texas explosion, the BP spill are market driven disasters, they are, as far as working people and the environment is concerned "system" failures, all of them the result of conscious decisions made by human beings and political parties representing class interests. 

In all of these situations, it is not legislation, the courts, the political representatives of the capitalist class that can resolve them or prevent them it is the direct intervention of the working class as a class for ourselves. We can  stop their system from functioning. We can shut down their profit making machine. We can and must in the last analysis own and control the mechanism's and resources that allow society to function. 

As the guy in the video says, only their community came to their aid.  This process has to be broadened so that the working class as a national and global community can come to the aid of humanity and build a safer, more secure and productive future for us all.

We have the organization and existing structures to take that road. We are burdened with a leadership that in its conservatism does not see another way, that in its own collective consciousness accepts the status quo. Most importantly, it  does not believe that the working class can govern, can build something different. Having no alternative to capitalism they suppress the working class, hold back the movement for fear it will shatter their world. For them, the working class in motion can only lead to chaos.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Brexit: Time to Correct the Error

by Finbar Geaney
member Irish Labor Party
Member, Executive Committee of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions

The leaders of the British labour movement, and unfortunately much of the ‘left’, are being led blindfold into a cul-de-sac. The proposed exit of Britain from the European Union has generated a procession of pilgrims that is shuffling slowly into the outer dark chanting meaningless phrases about ‘soft Brexit’, ‘hard Brexit’, ‘hard Border’, ‘soft Border’ and respect for ‘the decision of the people’.

There is no ‘Tory Brexit’ or ‘left Brexit’. There is only Brexit – a thoroughly reactionary movement, in every respect. The foundations of the process lie in a split within the British Tory Party. Some of the leaders on the left in Britain – including Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn – have always been confused on the question of Europe. It was their belief that being opposed to the EU was an essential component of being on the left. This confusion has only given succour to the right-wing Tories in their endeavour. It is time now to correct that error.

When the so-called ‘gang of four’ brought about a split in the British Labour Party more than three decades ago the issue was presented then as a dispute about the European Economic Community. In fact the principal aim of Jenkins, Rogers, Owen and Williams was to prevent the election of a left Labour Government. The question of Europe was but a dust jacket designed to present these individuals as people of principle who believed in internationalism and to conceal their essential purpose which was to facilitate a further victory for Thatcher as the better of the two options then available, an objective that they achieved. Jenkins himself went on to become President of the European Commission, which only added to the confusion allowing form and substance to be intermingled.

Jeremy Corbyn and co. now find themselves hoist on a hook about a phony democratic principle. ‘The people have spoken!’ Well the last time that the British people ‘spoke’ was last May when a Tory Government was cobbled together with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Does anybody seriously argue in that case the ‘decision of the people’ on that occasion should remain inviolate for a period of five years? Or what about Trump in the US! The people spoke there last November. Is that decision also beyond bounds! People can change their minds, and they do all the time.

The Tories say that they will get some agreement following their discussions with EU bureaucrats. Well, let them bring that deal back for a fresh vote by the British people. And the next time that such a vote comes around hopefully the discussion will be on such issues as pay, conditions, protections for workers, employment opportunities and public services. And internationalism! The necessity for the organised labour movement to unite across national boundaries in a common endeavour against the depredations of capitalism, especially in its current destructive phase, is obvious. It is high time for a common programme of demands to be presented by trade unions across Europe in all of these policy areas. The campaign must start now with a series of international conferences of the labour movement.

There needs to be a public discussion, illuminated by socialist internationalism, on the issue of the free movement of people in Europe. Preventing workers of other EU countries from coming to Britain in search of work is the intent behind the drive to leave the Single Market.

The issue of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to escape the horrors of despotic rule and military dictatorship is not the consequence of EU actions as such but reflects centuries of colonial rule by European and other world powers and the continuing series of proxy wars cynically fostered by today’s major capitalist powers. This urgent matter of saving the lives of millions of impoverished people has to be addressed immediately but whether or not Britain leaves the EU will not itself be a determining factor in this. The cynical use in the anti-EU campaign by Farage and UKIP of photographs of masses of impoverished migrants is but a further illustration of the need to revisit the Referendum.

As far as countries of the EU are concerned there are two issues to be tackled. People should not be driven from their own countries because of poverty and underdevelopment. A socialist programme of public works and industrial development with the aim of raising living standards is essential across all the countries of Europe. Privately-owned banks and finance houses were principally responsible for the impoverishment of so many of the peoples of Europe in the most recent recession. They must be brought into public ownership. At the same time as fighting for the socialist transformation of society as the only alternative to poverty, trade unions in the advanced countries must insist on establishing minimum standards for all workers. Rates of pay, hours of work and safety conditions should be established in such a way as to eliminate super exploitation of poor immigrant workers in the metropolitan countries.

There is no doubt but the drift within the EU has been towards a consolidation of the power of capitalist industry and a diminution of the power of public bodies. But the same is true of every capitalist country. However within the EU such policies are the consequence of a series of Treaties that have been enacted since 1957. All of these Treaties have been voted upon by national parliaments or by popular vote. The European Court of Justice is charged with the legal enforcement of the terms of these Treaties. The Treaties must all now be reopened for public discussion and renegotiated. All measures that weaken public ownership and control must be repealed, as well as any legislative measures that weaken the power of trade unions to fight for improved working conditions.

Political clarity is essential in the EU debate in Britain. Even the term Brexit is problematic, as concealed within this esoteric term is the real process. It is being proposed that the United Kingdom leave the European Union. That has not happened yet. In what ways can it be argued that the UK leaving the EU will be of benefit to workers and their families? Better wages? Better and safer working conditions? A better and more sustainable environment? More jobs with long-term security and decent pay? A key phrase in the right-wing campaign against the EU is ‘restoration of sovereignty’. The Treaties of the EU have ceded sovereignty from national governments in certain areas such as health, safety at work, working hours and the environment. So when the Tories speak of the restoration of sovereignty, in which areas of endeavour do they want to reverse the process? No doubt they are not concerned about reversing measures that facilitate capitalist accumulation or inhibit the expansion of public services, ‘sovereignty’ or not. And what about the ‘sovereignty’ of their own Parliament which they have ceded to an unelected multimillionaire family that resides in Buckingham Palace, or the ‘sovereignty’ that they accord to a bunch of unelected bishops and hereditary peers in their House of Lords!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Film Review: Ilo Ilo, Not Just an Asian Movie

See it on IMDB
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Ilo Ilo, the story of a Filipina maid hired to care for the spoiled child of a Singaporian family may be difficult to get through in the first moments as the child’s behavior is so unpleasant, but this powerful story about a crisis-ridden family during the 1998 Asian financial crash comes though with flying colors.

Ilo Ilo is the first full-length feature for Singaporian director Anthony Chen and the interview with Chen and comments from the cast in the extras on the DVD is worthwhile.  Ilo Ilo is not a “localized” movie as one cast member pointed out. It is not an “Asian” film or a “Singaporian” one; it is about family life and the reality of it, the struggles, the tension, the goings on behind closed doors.

Ilo Ilo is about human relations, the day-to-day existence under pressure that is common to humanity. It is about class, struggles at work and the sacrifices workers in poor countries and communities make to feed their families and their own children by looking after the children of others. One cannot help being reminded of the brutal conditions Filipino and other maids have endured working for the wealthy in Saudi Arabia and other countries although there is no such comparison here.

It is somewhat autobiographical as Chen himself was raised by a maid from the age of 8 to 12 and he points out that by far, these experiences for the children of working parents are more often than not positive ones.

The cast, from the maid played by a well known Filipina actor to the boy and the parents, are real people living their lives as so many families do. The scene with the maid washing the young boy in the shower and the interplay between them, I am not sure they would have been the same if Ilo Ilo was an American made movie. We are known to blurr butt cracks here in the US, even of 10 year olds.

This is a wonderful, powerful film that will not be contained by borders, nationality, language or other social obstructions. It is however in Mandarin and Tagalog so the viewer is faced with subtitles which will unfortunately, along with limited circulation as there’s not enough explosions and violence in it, mean millions of Americans will never see this film.

If we want to “Make America Great Again” it might help if Americans watched more movies like Ilo Ilo.

Wall Street Journal Savages Trump

A quick comment:

We reprint this commentary below from the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board.  We will have more on this subject but this is a significant development coming from the most important journal of the US ruling class.  It is important for workers to grasp the underlying forces at work here and the reason for the assault.

Facts For Working People has pointed out in previous posts that while all the details about Trump's life and behavior are relevant, they are not what lies at the root of the growing disdain among the US bourgeois for the Administration or Trump himself. The fact that a paper like the WSJ or the mass media in general rarely, if ever refers to Trump as  misogynist or racist, which is clearly what he is, proves this.

What has forced the dominant sections of the US capitalist class to take Trump to task through the medium of the WSJ editorial board is his continued and extremely dangerous undermining of the system they govern, of bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois democracy is the most favored form of governance for the capitalist class as opposed to military dictatorship. 

In previous posts we pointed to Trump's threat during the debates with Clinton that he might not abide by election results were he to lose. This caused a furor. The propaganda is that bourgeois democracy is the only form of governance and the capitalist mode of production the only one that works.  Trump's statements threatened this and the consequences it might have if such an idea takes root among significant sections of the working class is what concerns the unelected minority that run the country.  The constant sexist and other ignorant remarks and the inability of the government to function, the non-stop leaks reflecting deep divisions within the state, is not just a domestic threat but also undermines US power and influence on the global stage at a time when US capitalism globally is threatened by the rise of China, Russia, and to a lesser extent Brazil and India. The constant insulting of important allies like Germany and other European states as well as S.Korea, and his antics in the Middle East also contribute the extreme concern about the damage his administration is doing to the system. Bourgeois democracy is supposed to work, it has to have legitimacy among the masses. 

What the dominant US bourgeois have done here through its main journal is basically throw Trump to the wolves. The call for complete transparency would not be made if it were not that Trump's demise is far more preferable to the undermining of class rule in the form of bourgeois democracy.  RM

The Trumps and the Truth

The best defense against future revelations is radical transparency.
 WSJ 07-18-17

U.S. President Donald Trump in the Blue Room of the White House, July 17.

The Editorial Board Updated July 17, 2017 9:27 p.m. ET

Even Donald Trump might agree that a major reason he won the 2016 election is because voters couldn’t abide Hillary Clinton’s legacy of scandal, deception and stonewalling. Yet on the story of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Mr. Trump and his family are repeating the mistakes that doomed Mrs. Clinton.

That’s the lesson the Trumps should draw from the fiasco over Don Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russians peddling dirt on Mrs. Clinton. First Don Jr. let news of the meeting leak without getting ahead of it. Then the White House tried to explain it away as a “nothingburger” that focused on adoptions from Russia.

When that was exposed as incomplete, Don Jr. released his emails that showed the Russian lure about Mrs. Clinton and Don Jr. all excited—“I love it.” Oh, and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Beltway bagman Paul Manafort were also at the meeting. Don Jr. told Sean Hannity this was the full story. But then news leaked that a Russian-American lobbyist was also at the meeting.

Even if the ultimate truth of this tale is merely that Don Jr. is a political dunce who took a meeting that went nowhere—the best case—the Trumps made it appear as if they have something to hide. They have created the appearance of a conspiracy that on the evidence Don Jr. lacks the wit to concoct. And they handed their opponents another of the swords that by now could arm a Roman legion.

Don’t you get it, guys? Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating the Russia story. Everything that is potentially damaging to the Trumps will come out, one way or another. Everything. Denouncing leaks as “fake news” won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36% approval rating shows.

Mr. Trump seems to realize he has a problem because the White House has announced the hiring of white-collar Washington lawyer Ty Cobb to manage its Russia defense. He’ll presumably supersede the White House counsel, whom Mr. Trump ignores, and New York outside counsel Marc Kasowitz, who is out of his political depth. 

Mr. Cobb has an opening to change the Trump strategy to one with the best chance of saving his Presidency: radical transparency. Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. Mr. Cobb and his team should tell every Trump family member, campaign operative and White House aide to disclose every detail that might be relevant to the Russian investigations.

That means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or email. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years. This should include every relevant part of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, which the President will resist but Mr. Mueller is sure to seek anyway.

Then release it all to the public. Whatever short-term political damage this might cause couldn’t be worse than the death by a thousand cuts of selective leaks, often out of context, from political opponents in Congress or the special counsel’s office. If there really is nothing to the Russia collusion allegations, transparency will prove it. Americans will give Mr. Trump credit for trusting their ability to make a fair judgment. Pre-emptive disclosure is the only chance to contain the political harm from future revelations.

This is the opposite of the Clinton stonewall strategy, which should be instructive. That strategy saved Bill Clinton’s Presidency in the 1990s at a fearsome price and only because the media and Democrats in Congress rallied behind him. Mr. Trump can’t count on the same from Republicans and most of the media want him run out of office.

If Mr. Trump’s approval rating stays under 40% into next year, Republicans will begin to separate themselves from an unpopular President in a (probably forlorn) attempt to save their majorities in Congress. If Democrats win the House, the investigations into every aspect of the Trump business empire, the 2016 campaign and the Administration will multiply. Impeachment will be a constant undercurrent if not an active threat. His supporters will become demoralized.

Mr. Trump will probably ignore this advice, as he has most of what these columns have suggested. Had he replaced James Comey at the FBI shortly after taking office in January, for example, he might not now have a special counsel threatening him and his family.

Mr. Trump somehow seems to believe that his outsize personality and social-media following make him larger than the Presidency. He’s wrong. He and his family seem oblivious to the brutal realities of Washington politics. Those realities will destroy Mr. Trump, his family and their business reputation unless they change their strategy toward the Russia probe. They don’t have much more time to do it.

Appeared in the July 18, 2017, print edition

China: Strikes at German Firm End in Defeat.

This report is from the China Labor Bulletin. News from China is often scant but we know there are hundreds of thousands of protests as well as strikes that take place annually. There are no independent unions in China and strikes like this one below are common. The Stalinist bureaucracy will not be able to contain the Chinese working class, hundreds of millions strong, indefinitely and many strikes in auto and other industries have been very successful in raising wages and improving conditions. These are heroic actions under an oppressive dictatorship. There is overcapacity in Chinese industry and increasing debt. Like here in the US, there will be huge explosions in China in the period ahead especially when the next recession or slump comes on the scene most likely before the end of 2018.

And so much for the UN/ILO's so-called global code of conduct rules. Militant independent unions and political organizations, part of a global workers' movement must be built in response to global capitalism's assault on workers rights. RM

Workers at unsafe jobs left with nothing after strike

After two weeks on strike, Mr. Wang has been left with no job, no severance, and a splitting headache.

He was until last week one of nearly 2000 workers at Zama Precision Industry in Shenzhen, wholly-owned by German power tool giant Stihl. Mr. Wang and more than one hundred of his colleagues at unsafe jobs are still campaigning for medical treatment after working for years at dangerous painting jobs without proper safety equipment.

Workers meet to gather demands and discuss strategy 

Zama workers ended their two week strike in early July demanding severance and compensation during the factory’s relocation to Huizhou, around 100 kilometres to the northeast.

Zama workers had been organising through the factory since April when they heard of the factory’s plans to relocate. Workers from across the factory collected various demands, including health and safety grievances, social insurance, and severance payments; they approached management for negotiations, demanding compensations be paid to them in full before the factory relocation.

Mr. Wang worked at Zama for five years, and for the last year and a half as a painter. He and and 150 of his colleagues worked under dangerous conditions and were exposed to harmful chemicals on a daily basis. “At my post there was absolutely no safety equipment, no masks, no gloves, and no special subsidies like there are at other factories,” said Wang.

The workers suffer from persistent headaches and fear they have incurred occupational illnesses while at Zama. They selected 10 representatives and demanded management pay for medical examinations to check for occupational injuries before the factory relocated.

With worker demands
building up, management refused to pay compensation of any kind before workers either signed new contracts with the company or voluntarily resigned. Zama workers rejected the proposal and went on strike on 26 June. Workers demonstrated within the factory grounds and blocked exits to prevent the shipment of goods and relocation of equipment.

The following day, riot police with dogs arrived at the scene. Five workers were arrested, and over a dozen injured with pepper spray. “It was probably management who called the police” said Mr Wang.

Police intervene in Zama strike: police with riot gear rush toward factory (left) police dispatch canine units (upper right) one Zama worker arrested by police (bottom right)

After the police intervention, management made a final offer at a rate far lower than workers could accept. In response, hundreds of workers resigned en masse, among them Mr Wang and most of his colleagues at dangerous jobs, still nursing headaches. They are now looking for work. “The factory promised us a medical check before we left, but now we haven’t gotten anything. We have heard nothing from them,” said Mr Wang.

In 2015 Stihl signed a
Code of Conduct for its suppliers under the UN Global Compact and International Labour Organization, committing them to a “safe and hygienic working environment” that meets national standards. Article 37 of China’s Work Safety Law clearly stipulates that employees should be provided protective equipment on the job.

Mr. Wang and many of his coworkers have yet to receive their severance payment and promised medical check, and have resolved to fight for their rights, “We are following up, but so far nobody has listened to us,” he said.

This year’s strike was the latest of three strikes in four years at Zama. In 2013,
1000 temporary workers at Zama went on strike, where two rounds of failed negotiations resulted in police intervention.