Monday, October 28, 2013

The Union Label

The old idea well worth returning to combat sweatshop conditions we buy our clothes. It is 2013 and yet slavery conditions still flourishes. The garment industry has been plagued by an “image problem” for a long time, and it’s gotten worse in recent years. The actual working people, as a class, are largely invisible except as fatality statistics in the tragic fires and building collapses.

The union label  is a label, mark or emblem sewn or pressed onto a garment which advertises that the employees who make a product are represented by the labor union or group of unions whose label appears, in order to attract customers who prefer to buy union-made products. It protects against anti- or non-union shops that might otherwise profess union working conditions.

These days it’s harder for unions to stamp their work, but it’s not impossible.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Selling cheap...going ...going...gone!

JP Morgan, one of the world's largest investment banks told ministers ahead of the Royal Mail flotation that they could sell the postal business for £10 billion, around two and a half times more than the government finally received for it. Others pitching to sell the Royal Mail on behalf of the government had also priced the mail company as high as £7bn.

The government sold shares in Royal Mail for 330p each, valuing the business at £3.3bn. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who are the Gypsies?

Although they have been living in our own continent for over eight centuries,  this is a question still widespread among European people, as an inexplicable enigma. In their  travels - often running away from the hostility of who, not knowing them, fear them and doesn’t  want to be their neighbours - when Gypsies arrive in a city and decide to settle in a district, people  immediately watch them with open hostility. In those eyes full of distrust and fear there is always  the same question: who are you?

Over the centuries Roma people have been defined by many names. Their assumed Egyptian origin is the reason of the name “gypsies”. Historians and linguists now agree on the Indian origin of Roma people. The Romani (or Romanes)  language is a neo-Aryan language related to the ancient Sanskrit, and it is now spoken, in different  dialects, in several Asiatic and European countries. It is undeniable that Roma have been subjected to prejudice and slander, sources of discriminatory  attitudes and violent persecution. Since their arrival in Europe, they have been received with  suspicion and irrational fear. Observing their nomad life, their  ethnic traditions and their religious costumes, they were assumed people with no law and no moral  code. They were supposed worshiping Pagan Gods and devoting themselves to divination and  witchcraft. It was said that, as the  Jews were responsible of Jesus’ death, the Gypsies, excellent smiths, forged the nails used to crucify  him; for this reason they were damned people, doomed to travel forever, without any homeland. Roma, as reported in the ancient chronicles, were greeted by European citizens with initial  suspicion mixed with curiosity, but soon their appearance, their clothes, their mysterious language  and their customs aroused irrational fears, followed by intolerance and rejection, as it still happens today.

In England, in 1530 the first laws  allowing the expulsion of Roma motivated only by their race were introduced. King Henry VIII was  not in a good mood that year, when the Pope forbade him to marry Anne Boleyn and demanded her  expulsion from the court. It was the straw that breaks the camel's back: Henry VIII declared himself  head of the Church of England and married Anna. It was one of those "epochal" changes, and it gave way to the Lutheran Reformation. However, this innovative spirit did not light the king when  he faced the issue of Gypsies. To correct what he considered an emergency, he forbade the  transportation of Roma to the UK, imposing a fine of 40 pounds for the master or the ship-owner  who would have disobeyed the decree. The penalty for Roma immigrants was the hanging. Some  years later, in 1547, Edward VI of England, after the death of his father Henry VIII, listened to his  advisers and changed the laws concerning Roma. The new rules, however, were equally ruthless, but the death penalty was cancelled: Gypsies had to be arrested and branded with a V on their  chest, and then enslaved for a period of two years. If they tried to escape and were caught, they were marked with an S and made slaves for life. On July 25th 1554, the day of  the marriage between Mary Tudor and Philip II of Spain, the terror of the Inquisition materialized  for the gypsies living in England and Ireland. Bloody Mary's commitment to restore Catholicism  also targeted Roma living in the territory of the kingdom. An act was issued which established the  capital punishment not only for Roma but also for anyone serving in their communities. Eight years  later, under the reign of Elizabeth I, a new law was enacted, under which the Gypsies born in  England and Wales had to leave the country, or waive their traditions and dissolve their  communities. All others Roma would have had suffer the confiscation of land and property and the  death sentence. In 1596, during the reign of Elizabeth I 106 travellers were sentenced to death in the city of York, with no indictment out of belonging to a race hated by the authorities and the public. Nine sentences were executed, while the  others managed to prove that they were born in England. Executions on the basis of race continued  until 1650, the year after the execution of Charles I, when the era of Oliver Cromwell began and the  English interregnum, first with the republic called the Commonwealth of England, then with the  Protectorate of England, Scotland and Ireland. Despite the atmosphere of political and social  change, that year a Roma was executed in Suffolk, while others were deported to America.

Scotland,  that in 1540 had allowed Roma to live within the country while maintaining their traditions, had a  sudden afterthought and the following year enacted laws against the Gypsies. In 1573, the Gypsies hiding in Scotland were ordered to get married and develop a  stable working activity, otherwise leave the country.

From nine to twelve million Roma are currently living in Europe. In Romania the estimated Roma  population is between one million and a half to two and a half; in Bulgaria from 700,000 to  800,000; in Spain - where they are called Gypsies or Kale - around 600,000; in France half a  million. In 2006, about 160,000 Roma lived in Italy, then reduced to less than half due to the  indiscriminate evictions and the institutional persecution, which forced them to seek refuge in other  countries, causing in the meantime a high degree of mortality within the settlements. Roma from  Eastern Europe constitute about 85% of the total, Kale - or Gypsies - 10%, Sintis (in France called Manouche) 4% and Romanichal in UK 0.5 %. In Europe Roma are primarily sedentary, although  the persecution often oblige them to a form of forced nomadism. The stereotypes on Roma community during a thousand years are always the same: they are  children rapers, thieves, lawless and dirty people etc. Most European citizens are frightened by misinformation concerning Roma people, and the role the  media play in this case, cannot be considered negligible. For centuries the marginalization and mistrust towards Roma people have not changed and Roma communities are quite always and everywhere discriminated, ghettoized and kept away from  citizens, mass media and often from public administrations also.The decades spent in this situation of neglect have brought communities to a complete isolation  causing distrust and rancor towards the host countries.

Crime Pays

JP Morgan was a 19th century robber baron born to a great banking fortune and, by hook and crook, leveraged it to become the “King of American Finance.” During the Gilded Age, Morgan cornered U.S. financial markets, gained monopoly ownership of railroads, amassed a vast supply of the nation’s gold and used his investment power to create U.S. Steel and take control of that market.  Morgan was a hustler who often traded on the shady side. In the Civil War, for example, his family bought his way out of military duty, but he saw another way to serve. Himself, that is. Morgan bought defective rifles for $3.50 each and sold them to a general in the Union Army for $22 each. The rifles blew off soldiers’ thumbs, but Morgan pleaded ignorance, and government investigators graciously absolved the young, wealthy, well-connected financier of any fault. He had a lifetime of anti-trust violations, union busting and  profiteering practices. He drew numerous official charges—but of course, he never did any jail time.

The banking giant JPMorgan Chase bears his name.  It too has committed multiple illegalities and walked away scot-free, except for a few fines. Not a single one of the top bankers who committed gross wrongdoing were charged or even fired—much less sent to jail. Fining banks is not a crime-stopper, for banks don’t commit crimes. Bankers do. And they won’t ever stop if they don’t have to pay for their crimes.

Regulators say it’s easier to get bankers to settle a case if they can hand the fine to shareholders, who don’t even get a say in the decision. But going after the bankers, they claim, would require a jury trial—and jurors might not convict. Wouldn’t every criminal just love to have such defenders of justice in charge.

PMorgan has agreed a provisional deal with the US government to pay $14 billion to settle investigations into bad mortgage loans the bank sold to investors before the financial crisis.
Under the agreement, the bank will pay $9 billion in fines to the US government and $4 billion for relief for struggling homeowners. JPMorgan disclosed it had stockpiled $23 billion in reserves for settlements and other legal expenses to help cover the myriad investigations into its conduct before and after the financial crisis.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Roma Racism

The media has on a number of occasions provoked panic among the public about Roma immigration. Often the metaphors used (“deluge”, “flood”) have considerably distorted the scale of the issue, which frequently involves no more than a few score or several hundred persons. Discussion of  “floods” of Romani migrants arriving at Western European ports frequently masks the fact that what is at issue are human beings pursuing their own interests, rights and visions of a good life, acting on personal decisions as to how best to improve their personal circumstances, which are often extremely difficult and also considerably influenced by the fact or the probability of racial discrimination.

“Roma migration” frequently conjures up an image of unified masses of people. The impact of this media attention, as well as other factors, seems to have resulted in the authorities frequently regarding arriving Roma as “fraudulent” when they approach the public authority for legitimate entitlements, including social welfare assistance, access to refugee determination proceedings, etc. Finally, authorities at national level have come under pressure from the media and inflamed public opinion to undertake draconian measures to stop Roma from arriving.

It is now generally accepted by scholars that the Romani people of Europe are descended from groups which left India around 1,000 years ago and began arriving on the territory of today’s European Union in or around the 14th century. The history of Roma in Europe – and the Romani identity itself – is to a great extent bound up with ideas around migration, “nomadism”, diaspora and exile. Nevertheless, the great majority of the Roma of Europe is sedentary. Roma occupy a particular place in the European imagination as “nomads”, a fact many if not most regard as stigmatizing and erroneous. The abolition of slavery of Roma in Romania, and the subsequent destitution of the freed slaves and their descendents made the end of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century a time when many Roma fled South-Eastern Europe for points West and North, in search of a better life, and at times in search simply of food. Some Roma were excluded from citizenship of new states as the three major Eastern Bloc  federations – Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union – collapsed and new nation-states were formed. Following 1989, old ideas about “Gypsies” have been dramatically reawakened in Western Europe, in part as a result of the return of Romani migration from Central and South-Eastern Europe.

Today, more than ten million Roma live in Europe, a large proportion of them in the EU.  Most
 Austrian, German and Czech Roma were killed in the Holocaust. The Roma of Europe are an immensely diverse group of individuals and communities. Some speak Romani and their national language. Some speak only their national language, possibly together with second languages. Some may speak as a home language other minority languages such as Beash, Jenisch, Shelta or Pogadi Chib. Many Roma and others identified as “Gypsies” choose to conceal their ethnic identity – particularly when asked by a public authority.

The Romanian Embassy in London provided an unofficial estimate of around 100,000 Romanian nationals arriving in the United Kingdom in recent years. Romanian activists and journalists living in the United Kingdom believe that in reality only 50,000 to 60,000 Romanians arrived in the United Kingdom in recent years and that 5 to 10 per cent of them are Romani. The basis for both of these estimates is unknown. If the latter is the case, Romani migrants from Romania may comprise not more than 5,000 to 6,000 people. However, this may be an underestimate. Whatever the case, here again, the numbers of persons at issue is comparatively small: all told – including the much larger native Traveller and Gypsy community – Roma, Gypsies and Travellers make up 0.40 per cent of the general population in the United Kingdom.

All Roma in Europe are covered by bans on discrimination yet many European states have resorted on a number of occasions to individual and collective expulsion as a means of addressing the arrival of Roma. Expulsions of Roma have been carried out by France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Despite the obvious impact of these actions on the human lives involved, as well as on communities and societies, few European states have resisted applying such measures with respect to Roma at one time or another. States have also exercised bilateral influence. For example Poland’s Roma policy came about as a result of pressure by the United Kingdom Government to stop Roma from migrating to the country. Romani migration has also sometimes threatened to derail EU expansion and/or integration. For example, when
scores of Roma from Hungary were granted asylum in France in 2000 in a high-profile case, questions were raised as to Hungary’s readiness for free movement. Similar discussions took place periodically in a number of EU Member States with respect to Slovakia’s then-candidacy for the EU. Canada also re-imposed visa requirements for Hungarian citizens, in order to stop Roma from emigrating from Hungary to Canada, and discussions about lifting the visa requirement centred primarily around “seeking guarantees that Roma will not
migrate to Canada”.

To make matters even more complex, a number of European states – including EU Member States such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Poland – have become both countries of migrant origin and countries of emigration for Roma. Roma  from the Czech Republic, for example, continue to migrate particularly to the United Kingdom, while Roma from Romania and Slovakia – also EU Member States – migrate to, among other places, the Czech Republic. Russia is a target country of migration for Roma from Moldova, Ukraine and the countries of Central Asia, as well as possibly from other countries; Ukraine is both a target country of Romani migrants (particularly from Moldova) and a country of Romani migrant origin. Like other Europeans, Roma have frequently exercised the EU right of free movement, and have also crossed the external Union borders or other third-country borders in Europe, either (i) temporarily; (ii) as migrants seeking to establish themselves in a country other than their own; or (iii) because they were fleeing persecution.

The ability of Roma to access goods and services is limited throughout Europe by factors including lack of educational qualifications among significant segments of the Romani communities, as well as by ethnic or racial discrimination, driven in particular by anti- Gypsyism -- that is, a widespread, deeply rooted prejudice and intolerance directed against Roma in Europe. Denial of access to key goods and services has concrete
implications notably for the exercise of the right to freedom of movement in the EU, where the Roma concerned leave one EU member State and arrive in another, as well as for the ability of Roma from outside the EU to arrive in and settle legally in an EU member state, or another state in the OSCE region. In addition, anti-Romani sentiment has in some cases resulted in an erosion of the right under international law to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

In some cases Roma are unable to prove their citizenship of any country, notwithstanding their genuine and effective links to particular European States, because of rigid legal practices, restrictive laws in the context of State succession, or for other reasons. Since 1989, the issue has been particularly pronounced in countries that adopted new citizenship laws in the context of State succession (particularly Croatia, the Czech
Republic, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia), as well as where other large-scale transformations of the legal regime governing citizenship and/or personal documents has taken place (Russia).

In addition to the absence of documents and statelessness giving rise to the denial of legal status, certain types of residence or protection status provided in particular European States are of concern. Authorities in some countries have apparently developed practices stopping short of deportation from the country, but which aim at making the lives of the Roma concerned miserable, in the hope that they may leave on their own. In Italy, for example, the authorities have regularly engaged in forced eviction of Romani migrants
from their homes, frequently in contravention of international law, as well as involving the destruction of property. In some cases, whole Romani settlements have been summarily destroyed, and the inhabitants simply left on the street.

Vigilante mobs have attacked Roma encampments. In May 2008, assailants burned the Ponticelli Romani camp in Naples, Italy, to the ground, causing the approximately 800 residents to flee, while Italians stood by and cheered. It is unclear what is preventing the Italian authorities from identifying and prosecuting perpetrators of the attacks. High ranking Italian officials have not spoken out to unequivocally condemn any of the recent attacks on Roma taking place in the country.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Selling cheap

In the first Royal Mail privatisation under Thatcher, the Post Office bank, a highly successful and innovative bank was sold off at 300-odd million pounds to Alliance and Leicester. Within a year, A and L were valuing Girobank at a billion.

We now know that the present Cameron government in its sale of Royal Mail has also undervalued it at between 650 and 700 million pounds.  A £1 billion profit for investors but prompting criticism that the company had been sold too cheaply. 
They never learn.