Saturday, March 28, 2015

The American Inequality

Today, income inequality in the U.S. exceeds any other democracy in the developed world. Two-thirds of American families earning less than $30,000 a year are often in crisis mode when the bills come in, but the misery is conspicuously not shared. In 1944 the top 1 percent earned 11 percent of all income. By 2012, it was 23 percent of the nation’s income.

Real output per person from 2000 to 2011 rose nearly 2.5 percent a year, but real pay increased less than 1 percent over the same period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adjusted for inflation, incomes in 2014 are still roughly $2,100 lower than when President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and $3,600 lower than when President George W. Bush took office eight years earlier.

When we look at figures for average incomes we see a rise, but that’s misleading. The number is driven by gains for the wealthy, which is why median income is stagnating. Somewhat more than half the population say they are losing ground financially, their incomes unable to keep pace with the cost of living. Only 5 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center said their income is rising faster than the cost of living; 45 percent of Americans said they have lived through one serious financial hardship over the last year, an event such as a job loss or falling behind on bills or not being able to afford medical care. Two-thirds of American families earning less than $30,000 a year faced one of these economic challenges recently.

Nationally, inflation-adjusted wages at the median of the earnings distribution curve have either fallen or barely risen in 35 years going back as far as 1979. Thirty-five years! So when were the good times? It wasn’t so bad from 1947 to 1973. Labor productivity rose 2.8 percent per year but real hourly compensation was only a little behind then, rising 2.6 percent. But now we are well and truly in the age of inequality with little prospect of a high-pressure economy boosting the demand for labor, and hence pay.

There is a pattern of low-wage and, often part-time jobs, replacing high-wage, full-time jobs. The number of full-time jobs last year was still 2.3 million below where it was back at its peak in 2007. Today’s jobs are 23 percent lower in pay than the vanished jobs, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors and IHS Global Insight – a fact well known personally to workers in hospitality, health care and administrative support. Part-timers are a stunning 19 percent of the employed U.S. population. Alas, here, too, low pay is the new norm.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Price of your Summer Holidays

More than one million foreigners travelled to the Maldives last year. There are over 58,000 migrant workers in the Maldives, of whom more than a third worked on luxury resorts. A US government report has said the number of “documented and undocumented” foreign workers in Maldives could be as high as 200,000. Most are from India and Bangladesh.

Ahmed Tholal, vice-president of the the Maldives’ human rights commission, said there has been a recent spate of attacks of “hate crimes” and there was a background of entrenched discrimination and “inhuman treatment” of migrant workers in the Maldives, who he said “make an immense contribution to the economy” but had no one to defend them. Two men from Bangladesh have died from injuries in the last week. One migrant worker from Bangladesh, who said he would attend the protest despite the ban, said the community was “afraid to go out on the streets, they are stabbing us, beating us”. The US state department’s Trafficking in Persons report last year claimed that migrant workers suffered forced labour, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage. The report criticised local authorities for failing to “fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

Immigrant have been told they will be ordered to leave the island nation if they go ahead with a planned protest against alleged discrimination and violence. Mohamed Anwar, the controller of immigration and emigration, said any protest by migrant workers would breach the terms of their work permits, and participants’ visas would be cancelled without further warning. “The immigration department will not hesitate in penalising those who participate in protests,” Anwar said. On Thursday the economic ministry repeated the threat. “We believe the planned protest by migrant workers is a premeditated attempt to undermine the Maldivian economy and businesses,” it said.

Marouf Zaki, of the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives, said: “The current migrant workforce is very important for the economy but is facing a very worse situation. We are calling for a peaceful demonstration. We believe they have full rights to do that. To protest is a universal right.”

Ahmed Tholal said the country’s constitution guaranteed anyone on Maldivian soil the right to protest. “A clause in a migrant worker’s contract cannot override the constitution,”

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A New Way of Living

James Herod, author of “Getting Free, Creating an Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods” has suggested an interesting model for the structure of a future socialist society that is worthwhile quoting. 

A Notion of How We Might Want to Live
We can turn now to a notion of how we might want to live. Let’s assume, for the moment, that we could start from scratch to build a totally new social world, building up our neighborhoods just the way we wanted. What would they look like? What would the core social forms be? 

I have imagined a neighborhood with the following features:

Households are units of roughly two hundred people cohabiting in a building complex that provides for a variety of living arrangements for single individuals, couples, families, and extended families. The complex has facilities for meetings, communal (as well as some private) cooking, laundry, basic education, building maintenance, various workshops, basic health care, a birthing room, emergency medical care, and certain recreational activities. Households are managed democratically and cooperatively by a direct assembly of members (the household assembly).

Projects include all cooperative activities (more than one person) in agriculture and husbandry, manufacturing, higher education, research, advanced medicine, communications, transportation, arts, sports, and so forth, plus cooperative activities undertaken within the household itself (cooking, teaching, child care, health care, maintenance, etc.). The buildings are designed and constructed for these various activities. Internally, projects are managed democratically and cooperatively by a direct assembly of members (the project assembly). Some projects, perhaps most, are controlled, in the larger sense, directly by the neighborhood, through the neighborhood assembly. Other projects are controlled by agreements worked out among several or many neighborhood assemblies.

Peer Circles
Peer circles are units of roughly thirty to fifty people. All persons in the neighborhood belong to just one peer circle, located at their primary project. For some this is in the household, but for most it is located at a project outside the household or even outside the neighborhood. All projects are broken down into such circles. These circles meet within the project to discuss issues and, where necessary, coalesce into projectwide general assemblies. Votes are taken within meetings, but they are tallied across meetings, within each project. Peer circle meetings are necessary because genuine face-to-face discussion and deliberation are seriously constricted in groups larger than fifty people.

Because households contain many persons whose primary project is not within the household, but who are nevertheless living there and will want to be engaged in the self-governing of the household, I will refer to the household assembly as a distinct entity, different from project (workplace) assemblies, even though the household includes peer circles for such projects as cooking, teaching, child care, and health care.

Neighborhood Assembly
The neighborhood assembly is the core social creation. It is an assembly of the entire neighborhood, roughly two thousand people, meeting in a large hall designed to facilitate directly democratic discussion and decision making. In practice, of course, the size of neighborhood assemblies will vary considerably. Yet its upper limit is determined by the number of people who can meet in one large hall and still engage in democratic, face-to-face, unmediated decision making.

An Association of Neighborhood Assemblies
Neighborhood assemblies join together, by means of a pact or a treaty agreement, to form a larger association. An overall agreement defines the association in general, and there are also specific agreements for particular projects.

The neighborhood assembly is the neighborhood governing itself. The neighborhood makes its own rules, allocates its own resources and energies, and negotiates its own treaties with other neighborhoods. The neighborhood controls the land on which it sits, and all projects and households within it.

Please note what this arrangement of social relations does not have: hierarchy, representation, wage slavery, profit, commodities, money, classes, private ownership of the means of production, taxes, nation-states, patriarchy, alienation, exploitation, elite professional control of any activity, or formal divisions by race, gender, age, ethnicity, looks, beliefs, intelligence, or sexual preference. This neighborhood, so organized, is the basic unit of a new social order.

Those familiar with radical traditions will recognize in this sketch a melding of the anarcho-commun­ist focus on community, the anarcho-syndicalist emphasis on workers’ control, and the feminist stress on abolishing the distinction between the public and private spheres of social life. It is my belief that each of these cannot be achieved without the other. The achievement of workers’ control alone would leave no way for the community as a whole to allocate its resources (e.g., to decide whether to phase out a project or start up a new one), whereas the achievement of community control alone, without simultaneously controlling the means of production, is meaningless, empty. And the failure to democratize and socialize households, including them (and hence reproduction) as an explicit and integral part of the social arrangements, would leave a gender-based division of labor intact, thus perpetuating the public/private dichotomy.

The actual task we face, then, is to transform existing structures (buildings and factories) and social relations (property, family, work, and play relations) into the desired ones. We need to try to imagine how our model neighborhood would look after having been converted from a typical urban neighborhood. Let’s see first if we can convert the existing physical plant into something more useful for democratic, cooperative living, keeping in mind that this is the easy part; the hard part is transforming social relations. I will deal with this more below in discussing how to get there.

Factories and shops would be the easiest of all to convert. These can be used pretty much as they are (after they have been seized, of course). Space will have to be cleared somewhere in them for peer circle meetings and projectwide assemblies.

More difficult is how to convert a street full of individual residences into households. This can probably be improvised as follows: build passageways and tunnels between the buildings; set aside certain rooms for workshops, child care, and health care; block off certain streets to enclose the unit; expand one or two kitchens into a communal unit; rearrange bedrooms; and clear an apartment for a meeting hall.

It will also be difficult to find a meeting space for the neighborhood assembly. There are options, however. There may be a union hall, church, roller skate rink, or high school gym in the neighborhood. But also, warehouses, supermarkets, and department stores have large open floors that could be cleared and made into meeting halls. Most of these spaces, though, could not hold two thousand people. It may be necessary to begin with smaller neighborhood assemblies - say, five households of two hundred each - for a neighborhood assembly of one thousand members, instead of ten households for a neighborhood assembly of two thousand members.

Later on, after the flow of wealth out of the neighborhood to the ruling class has been stopped, and after the stolen wealth of the ruling class has been reappropriated, neighborhoods will undoubtedly want and have the resources to build specially designed neighborhood assembly halls as well as new household complexes. But at first, we will have to make do with what already exists. The wealth of centuries is embedded in the existing architectural plant - a plant that reflects capitalist values, priorities, and social relations. It will take a long time to tear down and rebuild this physical world in a way that expresses the needs of a free people.

But when we do rebuild, the mark of our new civilization will be its assembly halls. Just as earlier worlds have been characterized by the temples and theaters of ancient Greece, the castles and cathedrals of medieval Europe, and the banks and skyscrapers of modern capitalism, so the new social world of a cooperatively self-governing people will be known by its meeting halls. They will undoubtedly come in all shapes and sizes. Besides the large general assembly chambers for neighborhoods (neighborhood assemblies), there will need to be small caucus rooms in every project and household for peer circle meetings as well as projectwide and householdwide assembly rooms. A deliberating people will design, build, and equip excellent and beautiful spaces for deliberation.

To complete this sketch, we would need to imagine at least two more arrangements, one for a typical small town and another for a typical peasant village - two rapidly disappearing social entities (given the continuing violent enclosures forced through by our corporate rulers). Peasant villages the world over, although under heavy attack, nevertheless still possess a basis for community, with many communal traditions yet intact. These traditions are not always and everywhere relevant to creating a free and anarchistic society, but some of them are. Karl Marx, after all, believed that Russia could skip capitalism and move directly to communism by building on the peasant commune. Small towns still exist too, in every country. Even in a highly urbanized country like the United States, there are still 20,000 towns with a population below 10,000 - 15,000 of which are below 2,500. There is no reason why these small towns couldn't switch to direct democracy right now if they wanted to.

It will be easier I think to transform small towns and peasant villages into our desired neighborhoods than suburbs or dense urban areas. But maybe not. Megalopolises and suburbia will surely wither away, decade by decade, into the new civilization, as the countryside is repopulated with livable, cooperative, autonomous communities of free people. (Needless to say, the vast shantytowns of the neocolonized world will be the first to go.)

A neighborhood is a small place, relatively speaking. Although there may be many villages or small towns left in the world with populations as low as 2,000, they are rapidly disappearing. Most settled areas are much more densely populated. Consider a town of 90,000, for example, which is a small town by today’s standards. An average neighborhood assembly size of 2,000 members means we will have 45 neighborhood assemblies in the town. A city of 600,000 will have 300 neighborhood assemblies. A city of 1,800,000 will have 900, and a city of 9,000,000 will have 4,500.

This shows us immediately the tremendous power of this strategy. For the people in a small town of 60,000 to reconstitute themselves into 30 deliberating bodies to take charge of their lives, resources, and neighborhoods is an unbelievably powerful revolutionary act. Just the mere act of assembling is revolutionary, without even considering all that these assemblies can do. Capitalists depend a lot on keeping us all isolated. Our assembling starts to destroy that isolation. It is an act that will be next to impossible to stop; it is an act that has the power to destroy capitalism and the potential to build a new civilization.

This is the way to think of the revolution. It is a people reassembling themselves (reordering, reconstituting, and reorganizing themselves) into free associations at home, at work, and in the neighborhood. Capitalists will fight this. They may outlaw the meetings, bust them up by force, arrest those attending, or even murder those in attendance. But if we are determined, they will not be able to block us from reconstituting ourselves into the kind of social world we want.

Basic Agreements of the Association
The basic social unit is the neighborhood assembly, as described above. For many purposes, however, these neighborhood assemblies will want to cooperate with other neighborhood assemblies. They will coalesce to accomplish certain objectives. In other words, they will sometimes form larger associations. They will do this by treaty negotiations, negotiating agreements to govern all supraneighbor­hood projects. Sometimes these agreements will involve just a few neighborhood assemblies, and sometimes many. That is, agreements will encompass larger or smaller numbers of neighborhood assemblies depending on the nature of the project. A telephone system will require a regional or even interregional pact. A local park may involve only three or four neighborhoods. The highway system will require regional agreements. A large manufacturing facility may involve fifteen or twenty neighborhood assemblies, and likewise for hospitals, large research facilities, orchestras, and so forth. A considerable amount of the activity in the world at present is governed by such treaties and not by legislation (for example, the worldwide postal service among nations). Also, contracts between corporations are more in the nature of treaties (mutually agreed on terms and conditions) rather than laws (although they are enforced by a nation’s laws). So we should not be frightened by this. The number of interneighborhood agreements that the neighborhood assemblies will have to work out to regulate our common endeavors will be well within the range of complexity manageable by human intelligence. It probably won’t exceed a couple hundred agreements (not counting trade agreements, which may run into the thousands).

Beyond agreements governing particular projects, there will need to be a general agreement about the nature of the association. Becoming a signatory to this agreement or pact is what it means to join an association of democratic autonomous neighborhoods. There will need to be agreements about membership in neighborhoods, the basic structures of the neighborhood itself (households, projects, peer circles, and neighborhood assemblies), voting procedures within the assemblies, territory and resources, leaving the association, not joining the association in the first place, aggression and defense, and so forth. (See the appendix for a draft general agreement for such an association.)

Negotiating these treaties will involve a lot of work at first, but less so later on. Nevertheless, it will be an ongoing process. Procedures and facilities for negotiating will need to be established. These treaty negotiating procedures will probably not differ all that much from the way treaties are negotiated among states: delegates from each neighborhood will be sent to regional treaty drafting conferences, with the final ratification resting with the neighborhood assemblies. The main difference lies in the number of negotiating parties: less than two hundred nations versus tens of thousands of neighborhoods.

Although this may seem cumbersome, there is no alternative if we want to govern our own lives. The alternative is to relinquish control into the hands of regional or interregional elites, thus voiding our determination to be autonomous, free peoples. Besides, it probably sounds a lot worse than it will prove to be in reality.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

People and food first

Food Bank V. The Bankers

The Trussell Trust confirmed that its chairman Chris Mould had still not been granted a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, despite reports as far back as 2013 that he had requested one. Iain Duncan Smith has instead held discussions with an American investment bank JP Morgan Chase about tackling child poverty. Why should we be surprised?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Overpopulation Myths (1)

The Mass Manipulators

Solidarity Forever

More than 300 labourers, almost all of them indigenous Panamanians working on plantations for a branch of the U.S. corporation Del Monte Foods, have been on strike since Jan. 16 to protest harassment of trade unionists, changes in schedules and working conditions, delayed payment of wages and dismissals considered illegal.

“The company laid us off on Dec. 31 and when it rehired us on Jan. 3 it said we were new workers and that any modification of the work applied to us. But according to legal precedent, to be considered a new worker at least a month has to go by,” said Federico Abrego, one of the striking workers from Panama.

“The plantations that are on strike belong to Corbana (Corporación Bananera Nacional) and are leased to Del Monte,” lawmaker Gerardo Vargas, who represents the Caribbean coastal province of Limón, told Tierramérica. “Two years ago there was a big strike over the subhuman conditions, poor wages and immigration problems and a union was founded. In December the contract with Corbana expired, and when they renewed it, the company did something that infringed the rules: they set up a new union, dismissed all of the workers, and only hired back those who were in the new union. The new conflict broke out as a result,” said Vargas

Abrego and most of the more than 300 workers on strike on the Sixaola plantations 1, 2 and 3 belong to the Ngöbe and Bugle indigenous groups, who live in a self-governed indigenous county in Panama across the border from Costa Rica, where many go to find work. The plantations in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region are the scenario of frequent conflicts between workers and the big banana companies, and the current strike on the Sixaola plantations is just one example. A large proportion of the banana industry is in the hands of transnational corporations. Besides Del Monte, there are branches of other U.S. firms like Chiquita Brands, which controls 24 percent of the country’s banana exports, or the Dole Food Company. The banana industry carries a heavy weight in the country, especially the Caribbean coastal region. According to statistics from Corbana, it employs 6.2 percent of Costa Rica’s workforce and 77 percent of all workers in the Caribbean region. The industry represents seven percent of the country’s exports, and last year it brought in 900 million dollars.

Between 70 and 90 percent of Panama’s 417,000 indigenous people live in poverty, according to a 2014 United Nations report. Abrego is a classic example of these plantation workers. The 53-year-old Gnöbe Indian has been working on banana plantations in Costa Rica since 1993. He now lives with his wife and eight children, half of whom are still of school age, in a house that belongs to the Banana Development Corporation (Bandeco), a branch of Del Monte. “My fellow strikers ask me about the food and tell me the same thing my family tells me at home: that they don’t have anything to eat while we’re waiting to be rehired,” said Abrego, the leader of the trade union at the Sixaola 3 plantation. “I’m trying to get by without an income, with what I can scrounge up. But there are guys with small children who are having a harder time,” he said with a heavy heart, before explaining that the striking workers prepared communal meals to survive.

Quote of the Day

On the 10th November 2014, as the guest speaker for the annual Tom Olsen Lecture, Nigel Farage claims that the 1918 Armistice was "the biggest mistake of the entire 20th century. He said:

“I believe we should have continued with the advance. We should have pursued the war for a further six weeks, and gone for an unconditional surrender. Yes the last six weeks of the war cost us 100,000 casualties, and I’m prepared to accept that a further six weeks of war might have cost us another 100,000."

Such a low respect for the value of human life.  If this is his bellicose outlook towards the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles, how can we trust this man if he were to gain power; a man with so little regard for human life. If another war were to break out, would his answer be to just throw UK citizen after UK citizen into the fray. It also demonstrates Farage's actual lack of knowledge of history.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fighting for the Chagos

A UN tribunal has ruled the UK of creating a marine protected area (MPA) to suit its electoral timetable, snubbing the rights of its former colony Mauritius and cosying up to the United States. The ruling effectively throws into doubt the UK’s assertion of absolute ownership, restricts the Americans’ ability to expand their facility without Mauritian compliance and boosts the chances of exiled Chagossians being able to return to their homeland. The five-judge panel found that the creation of the MPA, announced by the former foreign secretary David Miliband in the final months of the last Labour government, breached its obligations to consult nearby Mauritius and illegally deprived it of fishing rights. The US was “consulted in a timely manner and provided with information”, all five judges state, whereas a meeting with Mauritius in 2009 reminded the tribunal “of ships passing in the night, in which neither side fully engaged with the other regarding fishing rights or the proposal for the MPA”.

Opinion from two of the five judges on the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague is even more scathing, stating that “British and American defence interests were put above Mauritius’s rights” both in 1965 when the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) was established and in 2010 when the marine zone, which involves a ban on fishing, was set up. The ruling, which was made under the 1982 United Nations convention on the law of the sea to which the UK is a signatory, is binding. It torpedoes the status of the MPA and orders the UK and Mauritius to renegotiate. (By coincidence, the government this week declared another marine protected area around Pitcairn Island in the southern Pacific.) A US telegram records a meeting with British officials in 2009 in which one is alleged to have said: “BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos archipelago were a marine reserve”. The main judgment says: “The UK has not been able to provide any convincing explanation for the urgency with which it proclaimed the MPA on 1 April 2010.” It adds: “Not only did the United Kingdom proceed on the flawed basis that Mauritius had no fishing rights in the territorial sea of the Chagos archipelago, it presumed to conclude – without ever confirming with Mauritius – that the MPA was in Mauritius’ interest.”

Mauritius has argued that the UK illegally detached the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 – before the country was given its independence – contrary to UN general assembly resolution 1514, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies prior to independence. The judgment declares: “The United Kingdom’s undertaking to return the Chagos archipelago to Mauritius gives Mauritius an interest in significant decisions that bear upon the possible future uses of the archipelago. Mauritius’ interest is not simply in the eventual return of Chagos archipelago, but also in the condition in which the archipelago will be returned.”

Modern Slavery

The Drug Traffickers

Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, according to WHO, and more than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Nearly 80 per cent of the world's one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. A new online WHO Global Report on Trends in Tobacco Smoking, launched today during the conference, finds that in 2010, there were 3.9 billion non-smokers aged 15 years and over in WHO member States (or 78 per cent of the 5.1 billion population aged 15 and over). According to the report, the number is projected to rise to 5 billion (or 81 per cent of the projected 6.1 billion population aged 15 and over) by 2025 if the current pace of tobacco cessation continues.
"This trend indicates countries are making inroads, but much greater action is needed to curb the tobacco epidemic if the global target to cut tobacco consumption by 30 per cent by 2025 to reduce premature deaths from NCDs [non-communicable diseases] is to be met," it said.

Countries wishing to protect their citizens through larger pictorial warnings on packages or by introducing plain packaging are being intimidated by tobacco industry threats of lengthy and costly litigation, according to the UN health chief. Dr. Chan noted that in the Philip Morris challenge to Uruguay's tobacco packaging laws, WHO has filed an amicus brief with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

She also said Australia's legislation that mandates plain packaging, designed to make tobacco products less attractive, is also being challenged in a dispute being considered at the World Trade Organization. Following Australia's lead, more than 10 countries are considering plain packaging, the WHO said. Ireland became the second country to introduce plain packaging as law. The United Kingdom, Burkina Faso and New Zealand are the next most advanced followed by Chile, Panama, France, Norway, and Turkey.

"Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship are not comprehensive as long as colour logos and other branding continue to operate as silent salesmen," she said.