Friday, February 27, 2015

Labor Notes' Brenner doesn't inspire.


 
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired.

The speaker above, Mark Brenner, is the Director of Labor Notes, an organization that has annual conferences, quite often well attended by rank and file union members. It publishes some good material for activists.  When I was part of the leadership of Afscme Local 444 in the 1990’s we made Labor Notes’ material readily available to our members although some leading activists in LN were extremely sectarian toward other union militants. It was at a Labor Notes conference in the late 1980’s where two of us as delegates from Afscme Local 444 met Anthony Mazzochi* and asked him if our local organized a meeting for him to speak at in Oakland would he come. He did and we had a very successful meeting on the need for a Labor Party in the US.

I would argue that Brenner and the leadership at Labor Notes tend to tailor their views and general approach toward the left wing of the bureaucracy that sits atop organized labor rather than openly challenging and leading an organizing campaign against the disastrous pro business policies of this entrenched group.  It is these policies which flow from the bureaucracy’s adherence to the Team Concept----the view that workers and employers have the same interests---that are at the root of the disastrous decline in union membership and the accompanying decline in our living standards over the past period.

Brenner’s speech above is more of the same.  He talks of the need for the unions to meet the members “where they’re at” meaning the workplace.  He says correctly that we “Can’t expect workers to take risks if the union can’t show power on the job” and he makes it clear that this means the power to “disrupt” economic activity “hurting companies in the pocketbook.”

I agree with Brenner when he says that union needs to “organize the already organized.” and that we “ignore” this every day. His main focus is on democracy though and how democracy is power and that the role of the multitudes of staff should be to help workers learn the skills they need and so on.

He says, “It’s about more than paying dues and voting. Unions have to create the space for rank and filers to strategize and plan. Democracy can be a hot mess—but there’s no shortcut around building leaders who know what they’re fighting for.”

Of course we have to fight for democracy in our unions, but
--> Brenner talks about union democracy as he is sitting with people who strangle it and says nothing about this.  The AFT has total slate voting from what I understand and you cannot get on the union’s executive board without being in the leadership’s caucus.  Incidentally, the CTU leadership joined this caucus in order to get a seat on the board.
There is a reason for this obsession with democracy from Labor Notes and some other reform groups in the unions; it will not likely bring them in to a direct confrontation with the right wing, pro-management bureaucracy that is at the helm of our national organizations. Almost all of the present leadership will agree that we need democracy. The AFL-CIO executive committee that had only one election for President in 100 years would also agree democracy is important. So, incidentally, do Barack Obama and Rahm Emmanuel. And that raises another point that Brenner completely ignores.  The union hierarchy practices the Team Concept with the bosses on the job and practice it in the political sphere through an alliance with the Democratic Party.  Brenner consciously leaves this issue alone as that too would bring him and Labor Notes in to direct conflict with the AFT leadership and their co-thinkers at the AFL-CIO.  It is clear that it is not to the average dues payer that Brenner is orienting to but a section of the labor hierarchy, this imaginary left wing.

Brenner says, “The best leaders trust the members. They have faith that their co-workers, when presented with the same information and analysis they have, will reach the same conclusions. Their job is to get the ball rolling and get out of the way.”

For Brenner it’s all about “teaching” workers and “creating space” a very egalitarian term used by all sorts of liberal types. And it is important for workers to be able to understand organizational details. But his reference to “leaders” in the above quote is one of the few times perhaps the only time in his 13- minute contribution that he uses the word.

Brenner continually refers to “the union” or “unions” as if the folks that pay the dues and the stifling bureaucracy that receives them are the same and play the same role. In fact, a prominent leader of organized labor, an AFL-CIO executive board member is present and Brenner refers to him.

Brenner also talks of raising expectations.  The present leadership of organized labor supported by an army of staff, many of them highly educated as well as former members of left or socialist groups, steer very clear of raising expectations.  We see it in every dispute. The general strategy of the leadership is damage control, trying to convince the bosses to demand fewer concessions and if they have to eliminate benefits and other treasures won over decades, deny them to the new hires instead, they can't vote on a contract that will strip benefits for them.

So these two subjects, the leadership and demands, or what we should fight for, are absent in Brenner’s contribution.  Instead Brenner and Labor Notes says we need to teach workers the skills and then like good teachers, step out of the way.  Armed with the demand for democracy in the union and how to talk to each other, workers will bring organized power to the table.  Then we can return to the direct action tactics of the past..

But it is not because they don’t understand how to file a grievance that keeps workers heads down, it’s the fear of the bosses on the one hand and the lack of confidence in the present leadership doing anything about it on the other. In fact, time after time when rank and file members move in the direction of confrontation, of actually fighting back, the weight of the bureaucracy and its army of staff comes out on the side of the employer.  We have to be “reasonable”.  “Now’s not the time”. The present union leadership will do whatever it can to suppress any movement from below that threatens the relationship they have built with the bosses on the basis of labor peace.

There are too many examples of these betrayals to list them. Concessionary contracts forced down members' throats through all sorts of manipulative measures (Boeing is a good example of a recent one).   Check out the UAW local and its leaders known as the Cleveland Five that struck a Freightliner plant in North Carolina and the role of the UAW leadership there.  The SEIU contracts here in the Bay Area a couple of years ago that were voted down only to be forced through by a leadership that claimed the members were “confused”. 

Check out some of the commentaries on this blog with regard to recent disputes, like the Waste Management strike in San Leandro CA where the Teamster leadership told their members to scab on strikers at this facility. Or the Bay Area rail transit strike in 2013 where transit workers that operate the buses were told to pick up the slack due to the absence of trains despite being legally allowed to strike with their brothers and sisters on light rail. They are even in the same unions but different locals.  These disastrous polices are not a product of the “union” which includes the membership; they are the product of the leadership, a consciously designed failure.

Yes, we need to “teach” workers.

We are where we are not simply because, as Brenner says the “union” is at fault.  We are at this point because of the role played by the trade union leadership from the top down. Present at the forum above was AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre. Brenner says of him,  “AFL-CIO Vice-President Tefere Gebre, for example, made a point of saying we can’t do anything without rank-and-file members at the center.”

But the entire leadership of the AFL-CIO has used the resources and power at their command to ensure that the members are not “at the center”.  What sort of campaign has Tefere Gebre waged inside organized labor against that policy? Tefere Gebre and the leadership he is a part of is a major part of the problem and that must be made clear by any labor activist bent on transforming our organizations because we have to have a strategy for dealing with their role., Brenner says there needs to be an “…overhaul of the relationship between members and the officers and staff down at the union hall”.  Well that’s a nice way of putting it. The leadership and the staff that carries out their policies will not take such an overhaul lightly. They will not sit idly by as we develop fighting caucuses and opposition groups within organized labor that can bring this overhaul to fruition.

The leadership’s role has to be brought in to the open and they have to be held accountable. Brenner covers this role up with his talk of the “union”.  And part of building an alternative from the ground up is having a program that meets the needs of the members and all workers. The disgusting silence of organized labor’s leadership with 12 million members  in the face of the events in Ferguson and throughout the country is criminal.

A small group of dedicated rank and file members can begin the process of changing the unions from employment agencies providing labor power to the bosses at profitable prices to genuine fighting organizations but they have to stand for something other than democracy in the abstract. In the public sector in particular, where there is somewhat more job security, opposition groups can be built in this way and challenge the present leadership for power.  But they have to openly state what they are going to do differently and what their program is, what they will fight for. By that I mean demands that speak to our needs, wages, jobs, more leisure time through a shorter workweek with no loss in pay, in many workplaces on-site childcare should be provided and other important demands that would improve the quality of life and give us more control in the workplace.

This strategy combined with democratic rights is what will draw the ranks in to activity. I’m sorry but the contribution above wouldn’t inspire anyone to take the steps needed to change the concessionary course of the present union movement.

* Anthony Mazzochi was a leader in the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) who was calling for a Labor Party in the 1980’s and 90’s. Afscme Local 444, organized a meeting for him to speak at in 1989, it was successful and Mazzochi himself said that it led him to form Labor Party Advocates.

Turkey: Violence Against Women Rockets to Top of the Agenda

Reprinted from the Socialist Network.

TURKEY-CRIME-WOMEN-RIGHTS-PROTEST 
Published: 25 February 2015
Author: Tayfun Hatipoglu


The gruesome sexual assault and murder of Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old female psychology student has sparked off a nationwide protest movement against the violent treatment of women in Turkey.

Ozgecan was travelling on a public minibus in the south central city of Mersin two weeks ago, when according to confessions by two of the suspects involved, she was targeted by the driver as the last passenger left on board. The driver then left the normal route despite Ozgecan’s protests and drove to a remote place. When he tried to rape her she bravely fought back scratching his face and using a pepper spray on him. In response the driver stabbed the girl several times and finally finished her off with an iron pipe. Then apparently the driver cut off the student’s fingers fearing that the police might find his DNA under her nails.

As if this wasn’t bad enough we are informed that the killer drove the vehicle back home where he persuaded his father and a friend to help him dispose of the body which they did by burning and burying it. Fortunately, the military police who had been alerted to the girl’s disappearance stopped the minibus when it was returning and discovered some of the student’s blood and clothing inside.

This case has many parallels with the rape and murder of a young woman just over two years ago on a public bus in Delhi which sparked off mass protests all over India. And in this case too the Mersin murder has ignited demonstrations and anger throughout Turkey.

Explosion of Protest
As the grisly details of the murder emerged angry groups of women vented their fury at this and other examples of the increasing violence being experienced by women in Turkey. The dead student’s funeral in Tarsus was attended by 5000 women who ignored the instructions of the Imam and carried the coffin themselves. Large spontaneous demonstrations of women took place in many cities across the country. Such was the public outcry, among both men and women, all the top political leaders of the country had to individually contact the student’s family and to promise to address the causes that lie behind the incident.

The extreme level of outrage at the murder was because it was not an isolated case but part of an endemic problem in the country. As Yasemin Yücel, from the local Education trade union explained: “Five women are killed daily in Turkey”. She accused the government of encouraging the murder of women by promoting a male-dominant rhetoric.

Sezgin Tanrıkulu, one of the leaders of the main opposition party, pointed out in parliament that since the governing AK Party had been elected in 2002 there had been a 400 percent increase in the incidences of sexual assault and rape of women, and a 1,400 percent increase in the number of women killed.

As if to confirm the widespread extent of the problem, just days after the Mersin murder a 28-year-old woman was stabbed to death by her husband in the South East, while a woman in the north of Turkey was attacked after walking home from her work shirt. Fortunately, with all the publicity about the murder in Mersin she was carrying a knife which she used to fight off her attacker. He was subsequently captured when he presented himself to a local hospital for the knife wounds. Then in the Southern city of Antalya a young woman fought off an attack by a stranger while his friend looked on and laughed and mocked him for being unable to subdue such a lightweight girl.

A Culture That Encourages Violence Against Women
Assaults on women have long been an ingrained problem in Turkey, ranging from domestic violence at one end of the spectrum to rape and murder at the other. In the case of the infamous honour killings where women are killed for daring to choose partners against the wishes of their family, some progress has been made. But too often other cases of violence against women in Turkey have not been pursued properly by the police and / or the perpetrators have been given light sentences by the judiciary.

Moreover, the propaganda and mentality of the current pro-islamic government is making things worse, not better. For example, last November President Erdoğan who totally dominates the government publicly declared that women were not equal to men and has urged a range of retrogressive measures including supporting further restrictions on abortion and urging women to have at least three children.

The problem is not just restricted to government leaders. Their supporters in the media and cultural fields echo the same reactionary prejudices. One prominent columnist from a pro-government newspaper responded to the Mersin killing by writing: “If you, day and night, scream for sexual freedom, individualism, careerism and egoism, this is the end result.”

Meanwhile, the pop singer Nihat Doğan tweeted that “women wearing miniskirts and getting naked don’t have the right to make a fuss when they’re harassed by perverts deprived of morals due to the secular system.”

Such peverse reactions have only fuelled the anger of Turkish women further with an avalanche of social media messages coming from women telling of their own experiences of assault and rape. Traditionally, in Turkey women tended to keep quiet about such experiences so this a major development.

Turkey Not Alone
However, it would be a major mistake to pose this as mainly a problem for “backward” or “islamic” countries like Turkey. As major studies have shown this is a world-wide issue equally affecting the richer and supposedly more “enlightened” countries of North America and Europe. For example, the statistics of sexual assault in America with estimates of a rape every two minutes, have been been added to by recent revelations of the scale of the problem at US universities where one might think more “educated” attitudes would prevail.

In Europe, last year’s survey by the EU of 42,000 women and their experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence revealed shocking statistics on the widespread nature of the problem with one in three women reporting some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15. As the report demonstrated there “is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women’s lives but is systematically underreported to the authorities.” http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2014/violence-against-women-eu-wide-survey-main-results-report
Istanbul Convention collage
Fighting Back
This is not a situation that is inevitable. It can and must be combated. Towards this end, and as a result of determined efforts by feminists who have long sought to end the silence on this problem and to tackle it head on, at the end of last year we saw the ratification by enough European countries of the new Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. This Convention is a very radical and progressive charter to fight violence against women (see below) which offers women and all who support their interests the chance to demand major changes in the laws of each European country which are now legally obligated to introduce the measures of the Convention. Just as important we can now demand changes to the procedures and daily practice of all social institutions in order to regularly monitor the problem, effectively combat and punish abuse, and take serious measures to prevent it.

Legal Changes Not Enough
The adoption by nearly 40 countries of such an advanced Convention can only be the beginning. The fact that it was adopted in Istanbul and that the Turkish government was the first to formally adopt it contrasts spectacularly with the violence against women going on in Turkey today and the backward reaction of the same government towards women. As Ms Elda Moreno, the Council of Europe’s former Head of Gender Equality and Human Dignity, acknowledged, the ability of the Istanbul Convention to stop impunity depends greatly “on how governments, parliaments, experts and civil society are going to use it.

In addition to stiffening laws against violence on women, we need to start to change male behaviour at all levels of society starting with the way that boys and young men are encouraged from an early age to exploit girls and women without regard to their feelings or needs. The barrier here is that we don’t democratically control the schools, services, workplaces or media which constantly reinforce reactionary attitudes and behaviour towards women. Without such control we can only go so far in tackling the issues involved. As with so many other problems under capitalism we desperately need to replace this system which is based on capitalist exploitation and division with a democratic socialist society in which women and men can consciously work to overcome these problems and move forward together in solidarity and respect.

System Change Not an Excuse for Inaction
On the other hand, there has been a tendency in the past for some socialists to view attempts to change things within capitalism as reformist, or naïve and pointless. Rather they believe that to overcome sexism all we need to do is overthrow the current system and all problems will be solved in the promised land. In practice, such attitudes becomes a silent excuse for doing nothing on this issue.

Indeed, such a passive view would be tantamount to arguing that we cannot achieve any victories now, that all individual struggles are a waste of time, and that all our energies must be solely devoted towards the revolution and nothing else.

In contrast, we need to fight now to combat violence against women at the same time as striving to replace the capitalist system that in practice encourages it.

The Alternative in Greece

The following was originally published in Jacobinmag.com. We share it here for the interest of our readers.

The negotiation strategy of Syriza’s leadership failed. But it’s not too late to avert total defeat.


Let us begin with what should be indisputable: the Eurogroup agreement that the Greek government was dragged into on Friday amounts to a headlong retreat.

The memorandum regime is to be extended, the loan agreement and the totality of debt recognized, “supervision,” another word for troika rule, is to be continued under another name, and there is now little chance Syriza’s program can be implemented.

Such a thorough failure is not, and cannot be, a matter of chance, or the product of an ill-devised tactical maneuver. It represents the defeat of a specific political line that has underlain the government’s current approach.

Friday’s Agreement

In the spirit of the popular mandate for a break with the memorandum regime and liberation from debt, the Greek side entered negotiations rejecting the extension of the current “program,” agreed to by the Samaras government, along with the €7 billion tranche, with the exception of the €1.9 billion return on Greek bonds to which it was entitled.

Not consenting to any supervisory or assessment procedures, it requested a four-month transitional “bridge program,” without austerity measures, to secure liquidity and implement at least part of its program within balanced budgets. It also asked that lenders recognize the non-viability of the debt and the need for an immediate new round of across-the-board negotiations.
But the final agreement amounts to a point-by-point rejection of all these demands. Furthermore, it entails another set of measures aimed at tying the hands of the government and thwarting any measure that might signify a break with memorandum policies.

In the Eurogroup’s Friday statement, the existing program is referred to as an “arrangement,” but this changes absolutely nothing essential. The “extension” that the Greek side is now requesting (under the “Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement”) is to be enacted “in the framework of the existing arrangement” and aims at “successful completion of the review on the basis of the conditions in the current arrangement.”
It is also clearly stated that
only approval of the conclusion of the review of the extended arrangement by the institutions . . . will allow for any disbursement of the outstanding tranche of the current EFSF programme and the transfer of the 2014 SMP profits [these are the 1.9 billion of profits out of Greek bonds to which Greece is entitled]. Both are again subject to approval by the Eurogroup.
So Greece will be receiving the tranche it had initially refused, but on the condition of sticking to the commitments of its predecessors.

What we have then is a reaffirmation of the typical German stance of imposing — as a precondition for any agreement and any future disbursement of funding — completion of the “assessment” procedure by the tripartite mechanism (whether this is called “troika” or “institutions”) for supervision of every past and future agreement.

Moreover, to make it abundantly clear that the use of the term “institutions” instead of the term “troika” is window-dressing, the text specifically reaffirms the tripartite composition of the supervisory mechanism, emphasizing that the “institutions” include the ECB (“against this background we recall the independence of the European Central Bank”) and the International Monetary Fund (“we also agreed that the IMF would continue to play its role”).

As regards the debt, the text mentions that “the Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely.” In other words forget any discussion of “haircuts,” “debt reduction,” let alone “writing off of the greater part of the debt,” as is Syriza’s programmatic commitment.

Any future “debt relief” is possible only on the basis of what was proposed in the November 2012 Eurogroup decision, that is to say a reduction in interest rates and a rescheduling, which as is well-known makes little difference to the burden of servicing debt, affecting only payment of interest that is already very low.

But this is not all, because for repayment of debt the Greek side is now fully accepting the same framework of Eurogroup decisions of November 2012, at the time of the three-party government of Antonis Samaras. It included the following commitments: 4.5% primary surpluses from 2016, accelerated privatizations, and the establishment of a special account for servicing the debt — to which the Greek public sector was to transfer all the income from the privatizations, the primary surpluses, and 30% of any excess surpluses.

It was for this reason too that Friday’s text mentioned not only surpluses but also “financing proceeds.” In any case, the heart of the memorandum heist, namely the accomplishment of outrageous primary surpluses and the selling-off of public property for the exclusive purpose of lining lenders’ pockets, remains intact. The sole hint of relaxation of pressure is a vague assurance that “the institutions will, for the 2015 primary surplus target, take the economic circumstances in 2015 into account.”

But it was not enough that the Europeans should reject all the Greek demands. They had, in every way, to bind the Syriza government hand and foot in order to demonstrate in practice that whatever the electoral result and the political profile of the government that might emerge, no reversal of austerity is feasible within the existing European framework. As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stated, “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.”

And the provision for this is to take place in two ways. Firstly, as indicated in the text: “The Greek authorities commit to refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions.”

So no dismantling of the memorandum regime either (“rollback of measures”), and no “unilateral changes,” and indeed not only as regards measures with a budgetary cost (such as abolition of taxes, raising of the tax-free threshold, increases in pensions, and “humanitarian” assistance) as had been stated initially, but in a much more wide-ranging sense, including anything that could have a “negative impact” on “economic recovery or financial stability,” always in accordance with the decisive judgment of the “institutions.”

Needless to say this is relevant not only to the reintroduction of a minimum wage and the reestablishment of the labor legislation that has been dismantled these last years, but also to changes in the banking system that might strengthen public control (not a word, of course, about “public property” as outlined in Syriza’s founding declaration).
Moreover, the agreement specifies that
the funds so far available in the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) buffer should be held by European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), free of third party rights for the duration of the MFFA extension. The funds continue to be available for the duration of the MFFA extension and can only be used for bank recapitalisation and resolution costs. They will only be released on request by the ECB/SSM.
This clause shows how it has not escaped the attention of the Europeans that Syriza’s Thessaloniki program stated that “seed money for the public sector and an intermediary body and seed money for the establishment of special purpose banks, amounting to a total in the order of €3 billion, will be provided through the HFSF’s so-called ‘cushion’ of around €11 billion for the banks.”

In other words, goodbye to any thought of using HFSF funds for growth-oriented objectives. Whatever illusions still existed regarding the possibility of using European funds for purposes outside of the straitjacket of those for which they had been earmarked — and even more that they should be placed under the Greek government’s jurisdiction — have thus been dispelled.

Defeat of the “Good Euro” Strategy

Can the Greek side possibly believe that it has achieved something beyond the impressive verbal inventiveness of the text? Theoretically yes, insofar as there are no longer any explicit references to austerity measures, and the “structural changes” mentioned (administrative reforms and a clampdown on tax evasion) do not pertain to this category, a modification which of course needs cross-checking against the list of measures that can be expected to emerge in the coming days.

But given that the target of the outrageous budgetary surpluses has been retained, along with the totality of the troika machinery of supervision and assessment, any notion of relaxation of austerity appears out of touch with reality. New measures, and of course stabilization of the existing “memorandum acquis” are a one-way street as long as the present regime prevails, is renamed, and is perpetuated.

It is clear from the above that in the course of the “negotiations,” with the revolver of the ECB up against its head and resultant panic in the banks, the Greek positions underwent near-total collapse. This helps to explain the verbal innovations (“institutions” instead of “troika,” “current arrangements” instead of “current program,” “Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement” instead of “Memorandum,” etc.). Symbolic consolation or further trickery, depending on how you look at it.

The question that emerges, of course, is how we landed in this quandary. How is it possible that, only a few weeks after the historic result of January 25, we have this countermanding of the popular mandate for the overthrow of the memorandum?

The answer is simple: what collapsed in the last two weeks is a specific strategic option that has underlaid the entire approach of SYRIZA, particularly after 2012: the strategy that excluded “unilateral moves” such as suspension of payments and, even more so, exit from the euro, and argued that:
  • On the issue of the debt, a favorable solution for the debtor can be found with the concurrence of the lender, following the model of the London agreements of 1953 for the debts of Germany — ignoring of course the fact that the reasons the Allies behaved generously towards Germany do not in any way apply to the Europeans today vis à vis the Greek debt, and more generally the public debt of the over-indebted states of today’s EU.
  • Overthrow of the memoranda, expulsion of the troika, and a different model of economic policy (in other words implementation of the Thessaloniki program) could be implemented irrespective of the outcome of debt negotiations and, above all, without triggering any real reaction from the Europeans, above and beyond the initial threats, which were dismissed as bluffing. Indeed, half of the funding for the Thessaloniki program was envisaged as coming from European resources. In other words, not only would the Europeans not have reacted, but they would have generously funded the opposite policies they had been imposing for the last five years.
  • Finally, the “good euro” scenario presupposed the existence of allies of some significance at the level of governments and/or institutions (the reference here is not to the support from social movements or other leftist forces). The governments of France and Italy, the German social democrats, and finally, in a veritable frenzy of fantasy, Mario Draghi himself were from time to time invoked as such potential allies.
All of this came crashing down within the space of a few days. On February 4 the ECB announced the suspension of the main source of liquidity to Greek banks. The outflow that had already started rapidly acquired uncontrollable dimensions, while the Greek authorities, fearing that such a reaction would mark the commencement of the Grexit, didn’t take the slightest “unilateral” measure (such as imposition of capital controls).

The words “writing-off” of debt and even “haircut” were rejected in the most categorical manner possible by lenders who became enraged even hearing them (with the result that they were almost immediately withdrawn from circulation). Instead of their overthrow, it turned out that the only “non-negotiable” element was that of keeping the memoranda and supervision by the troika. Not a single country supported the Greek positions, above and beyond some diplomatic courtesies from those who wanted the Greek government to be able, marginally, to save face.

Fearing the Grexit more than it feared its interlocutors, entirely unprepared in the face of the absolutely predictable contingency of bank destabilization (the system’s classical weapon internationally for almost a century when faced by leftist governments), the Greek side was essentially left without any bargaining tools whatsoever. It found itself with its back to the wall and with only bad options at its disposal. Friday’s defeat was inevitable and marks the end of the strategy of “a positive solution inside the euro,” or to be more accurate “a positive solution at all costs inside the euro.”

How to Avert Total Defeat

Rarely has a strategy been confuted so unequivocally and so rapidly. Syriza’s Manolis Glezos was therefore right to speak of “illusion” and, rising to the occasion, apologize to the people for having contributed to cultivating it. Precisely for the same reason, but conversely, and with the assistance of some of the local media, the government has attempted to represent this devastating outcome as a “negotiating success,” confirming that “Europe is an arena for negotiation,” that it is “leaving behind the Troika and the Memoranda” and other similar assertions.

Afraid to do what Glezos has dared to do — i.e. acknowledge the failure of its entire strategy — the leadership is attempting a cover-up, “passing off meat as fish,” to cite the popular Greek saying.
But to present a defeat as a success is perhaps worse than the defeat itself. On the one hand it turns governmental discourse into cant, into a string of clichés and platitudes that is simply summoned up to legitimate any decision retrospectively, turning black into white; and on the other because it prepares the ground, ineluctably, for the next, more definitive, defeats, because it dissolves the criteria by which success can be distinguished from retreat.

To make the point through recourse to a historical precedent well-known to leftists, if the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, under which Soviet Russia secured peace with Germany, accepting huge territorial losses, had been proclaimed a “victory,” there is no doubt that the October Revolution would have been defeated.

If, therefore, we wish to avert a second, and this time decisive, defeat — which would put an end to the Greek leftist experiment, with incalculable consequences for society and for the Left inside and outside this country — we must look reality in the face and speak the language of honesty. The debate on strategy must finally recommence, without taboos and on the basis of the congress resolutions of Syriza, which for some time now have been turned into innocuous icons.

If Syriza still has a reason for existing as a political subject, a force for the elaboration of emancipatory politics, and for contribution to the struggles of the subordinated classes, it must be a part of this effort to initiate an in-depth analysis of the present situation and the means of overcoming it.

“The truth is revolutionary,” to cite the words of a famous leader who knew what he was talking about. And only the truth is revolutionary, we may now add, with the historical experience we have since acquired.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Greece: the next four months

by Michael Roberts

What will happen to Greece’s public finances and economy over the next four months while the Syriza-led government negotiates fiscal and economic conditions with the Eurogroup in return for Troika bailout funds under the existing programme that has now been extended until end-June?

Under the provisional agreement with the Eurogroup, the Greek government will not receive any of the outstanding funds of €7.2bn still available (€1.9bn from ECB profits on its Greek government bond holdings made in 2014 and promised to the previous Greek government; €1.8bn from the Eurogroup’s EFSF and €3.5bn from the IMF) until the Eurogroup is happy with its fiscal plans.
And that could take until end-April. As German finance minister Schaueble made clear: Greece was not getting softer conditions, only more time. “Only when we see they have fulfilled this will any money be paid. Not a single euro will be paid out before that,” he said.

But between this weekend and the end of April, the Greek government is supposed to make repayments on maturing short-term government bills and loans back to the IMF. Greece has to pay back IMF loans of just under €2bn by April and it also has to redeem short-term debt of €4.4bn and €2.4bn in March and April respectively.

Where is the money to come from if the Troika won’t cough up on what it promised until agreement on ‘conditionalities’ with the Greek government? Well, before the election of Syriza, the government was running an annualised surplus before paying interest on its debt of about €1.9bn. And it had built up some cash reserves of about €2bn. So all is well, then?

Well, no. Since the election, taxpayers have stopped paying tax, particularly the most well-off and private companies. Tax receipts have collapsed and were 20% short of target. The government actually ran a deficit in January. The primary surplus achieved in 2014 has already been halved. The available money is disappearing to pay for the upcoming debt redemptions.

Now the €6.8bn of government short-term bills could be paid off by issuing new bills that would be bought by the Greek banks (they are already making good profits on these). However, the ECB is saying that the Greek government is already at its limit of €15bn in T-bill issuance outstanding – this is a limit set by the ECB, by the way. The ECB does not want the Greek government to finance its spending by using the Greek banks, in case the government defaults later.

So it’s getting tight to manage to fund public finances over the next two months, unless the IMF waives its debt repayment to help – unlikely! As Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis put it: “We will definitely have problems in making debt payments to the IMF now and to the ECB in July,” he told Alpha Radio.

So even before we get to a deal with the Eurogroup on what level of austerity measures the new Greek government is supposed to apply to meet fiscal targets, the possibility of default arises.
The four-month extension on the existing Troika programme has been cast by Prime Minister Tsipras and Varoufakis as the best that could be expected to avoid the ECB cutting off funds to the Greek banks and leading to a run on the banks and financial collapse. Tsipras and Varoufakis have argued with their Syriza MPs and followers that they have really got a good deal, in the sense that they can negotiate with the Eurogroup over the terms and measures that will be applied over the next four months. In other words, they have ‘wriggle room’ or ‘fiscal space’.

But as we can see from the latest revenue and spending figures for the government, even if the Eurogroup agrees to a lower primary surplus target than the 3% of GDP they wanted in the old programme, there may not be any surplus to spend at all if tax revenues are not collected.
Yes, the government aims to focus on getting tax arrears, getting taxes out of the oligarchs; and improving tax collection in general. The government claims it can get up to €7bn with its measures. But it will need it (and must convince the Troika too) because it also wants to stop further pension cuts planned under the existing programme (although it has backed down on increasing pensions and the minimum wage or in increasing public sector employment – or at least the wage bill).

Syriza has apparently agreed not to increase income or corporate taxes and yet this is precisely where the most progressive form of taxation could apply. Instead, Varoufakis appears willing to comply with the IMF’s longstanding demand that concessionary VAT rates charged on Aegean Islands should be raised to the standard level. VAT is the most regressive of all taxes.

As for privatisation, what is not commonly realised is that privatisation revenues were supposed to be used to pay down the debt bill and not used to bolster revenues and the primary surplus. The Syriza leadership has agreed to allow existing privatisations through. So Cosco, the Chinese state shipping company, and Maersk of Denmark, the frontrunners among bidders shortlisted for a two-thirds stake in Piraeus Port Authority, will take over. And a consortium led by Frankfurt airport is the preferred bidder for a 40-year(!) concession to run Greece’s regional airports.

Inviting in foreign investment to improve important state assets should not be shunned, in my opinion. After all, that is what the Chinese government does all the time. But they maintain a majority ownership and control the projects. Greece could do the same. Instead, foreign companies will get key sectors of the Greek economy over the next four months. At least, Panagiotis Lafazanis, the energy minister, will apparently stop the sale of the electricity grid and part of the state power utility.
Negotiations on the details of the four-month extension will be tortuous and it is an opportunity for the Syriza government to campaign openly within Europe against austerity measures that the Eurogroup wants to impose and also it gives Syriza time to mobilise the Greek people for the battle ahead.

As PM Tsipras said (wrongly), “we won (actually lost) the first battle and but the war continues”. Austerity must be reversed. Since 2009, successive Greek governments under the direction of the Troika have carried out huge public spending cuts worth 30% of GDP.  The public sector wage bill has been reduced by 29%, and now the government has agreed not to increase it. Social benefits have been cut 27% and again the government has agreed not raise this bill.

But Greek public finances at present do not allow for any fiscal space at all, even if the Eurogroup agrees to a lower fiscal target. Tax revenues must come in to meet upcoming debt repayments AND allow for dealing with the humanitarian crisis, boosting employment and wages. Can it be done?
And then what happens after four months? The Greek government and its people must reject any further Troika programme and its conditions (assuming it is offered). They must strike out on their own to control the economy.

That means taking over the banks and the major companies, introducing a plan of investment and growth that mobilises people to support and implement. If that brings the government into a final conflict with other Eurozone governments and the ECB and they threaten to cut off funds and throw Greece out of the Eurozone, so be it.

But there are four months available for the government to campaign within Greece and around Europe for the alternative to the neoliberal economic model and its policies. (see my post, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/troika-grexit-or-plan-b/)
See my facebook site https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-Roberts-blog/925340197491022

Police and the anti-trafficking movement.

This video is from a couple of years ago and was posted to Vimeo by Carol Leigh.  We are sharing the video with the permission of the speaker, Cynthia Chandler.  Ms Chandler has done extensive work around the sterilization of women in prison and the prison system in general.  (see below) Some of us associated with this blog have worked with Cynthia on some issues around the militarization of the police. She was also supportive of our efforts to raise money for the families of the South African miners murdered at the Lonmin mine in Marikana SA two years ago. We assume the author of the text below is Carol Leigh.
 

"Are the same police officers who are being evaluated for brutality and violence going to treat young girls who are basically expendable, who are on the street, part of the street economy? The way that prostitution and other kinds of status offenses are used and exerted is really about social control and about eradicating undesirables, much more so than it's about helping anyone."

"I see the anti-trafficking movement and the fervor around 'white slavery' as being part of a tradition of paternalism around criminal legal issues in general and, quite frankly, as part of a pattern of white supremacy and social control in the fabric of our culture."

Introducing this panel was a movie, "Collateral Damage: Sex Workers and the Anti-Trafficking Campaigns" about the 'White Slavery' campaigns of the 19th and early 20th Century.
Featuring adjunct professor Cynthia Chandler, March 5th, 2013 at Golden Gate University organized by law student, Kristina Dolgin of SWOP Bay Area, Sex Workers Outreach Project

The GGU chapter of the National Lawyers Guild presented this panel on the consequences of mainstream anti-human trafficking campaigns and Prop 35. This panel is a "second opinion" in response to Human Trafficking Issues Facing the Bay Area. The panel hosted is by the ACLU among other organizations.

Cynthia Chandler is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Justice Now, a human rights organization building a movement among women in prison and local communities to build a safe, compassionate world without prisons. Before co-founding Justice Now with the support of Echoing Green, Cynthia founded Women's Positive Legal Action Network--the first organization advocating on behalf of HIV+ people in women's prisons. Women’s PLAN merged into Justice Now in 2000.

Cynthia has helped launch several other social justice organizations, including Critical Resistance; TGI Justice Project; and the Eviction Defense Center. She has worked on issues of women's heath, racial justice, and abolition for more than twenty years, and speaks and publishes regularly on these topics. In 2010, she was awarded a Gevelber Distinguished Lectureship on Public Interest Law from Northeastern University School of Law.

The Zionists crimes against humanity. US taxpayer funded.


Post by Breaking the Silence.

It has been 20 years since the Goldstein Massacre, and settler violence in Hebron has not stopped.

"We had the feeling that we were protecting the Arabs from the Jews."

The Goldstein Massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs serves as the climax of a long history of settler violence. Jewish terrorism is hardly a marginal phenomenon when one looks at its impact: graffiti, physical violence, harassment and abuse, destruction of property, violent takeover of land. In all these cases, soldiers are witnesses - including us and countless like us - but have their hands tied. The legal system in the Occupied Territories operates differently than in Israel proper. It enables settlers to act with the knowledge that they can, to quote a soldier's testimony, "stretch the law, the law will bend according to what we do."(read the full testimony here: http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/testimonies/database/49598)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Austerity- A fancy word for a vicious policy.

The capitalists alternative to austerity
Sean O'Torrain.

We hear all the talk about the need for an austerity solution to the economic crisis in Europe. Austerity is not a word frequently used amongst working people. This is why it is used in the capitalist propaganda media. The capitalist media is trying to hide the reality. Here is what it means to the lives of working people in Ireland.

It means forcing 31% of the population into deprivation up from 12% in 2007. It means cutting women's programs by 38%. It means cutting health care spending by 27%, drugs programs by 37% and community development programs by 44%. It does not mean austerity for the criminal owners of the big corporations. For them it means wealth unimaginable in their wildest dreams.

The capitalist governments and their corporate backers throughout Europe and internationally are all in favor of austerity programs. Not of course austerity for them. Only for the working class. They rant about the civil disobedience of the populations of the working class in countries such as Ireland and Greece. The problem is not civil disobedience. The problem is, as it is  here in the US,  too much civil obedience. What is needed is mass direct action against the offensive of capitalism, what they call their austerity policies. End all civil obedience to capitalism and its austerity programs, that is its attacks on the working class.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lynchings of African Americans.

Sean O'Torrain.

This is an excerpt from a recent speech by a judge in Mississipi when sentencing three European Americans for their murder of a young African American man. Just allow your imagination to work when you see the figures for how many African Americans were lynched. I have not got them here now but there were a lot of lynchings of Hispanic Americans also.

The judge said in his speech: "In Without Sanctuary, historian Leon Litwack writes that between 1882 and 1968 an estimated 4,742 blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs. The impact this campaign of terror had on black families is impossible to explain so many years later. That number contrasts with the 1,401 prisoners who have been executed legally in the United States since 1976. In modern terms, that number represents more than those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than twice the number of American casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom — the Afghanistan conflict. Turning to home, this number also represents 1,700 more than who were killed on Sept. 11. Those who died at the hands of mobs, Litwack notes, some were the victims of "legal" lynchings — having been accused of a crime, subjected to a "speedy" trial and even speedier execution. Some were victims of private white violence and some were merely the victims of "n... hunts" — murdered by a variety of means in isolated rural sections and dumped into rivers and creeks. "Back in those days," according to black Mississippians describing the violence of the 1930s, "to kill a Negro wasn't nothing. It was like killing a chicken or killing a snake. The whites would say, 'n........s jest supposed to die, ain't no damn good anyway — so jest go an' kill 'em.' ... They had to have a license to kill anything but a n......... We was always in season." Said one white Mississippian, "A white man ain't a-going to be able to live in this country if we let n.......s start getting biggity." And, even when lynchings had decreased in and around Oxford, one white resident told a visitor of the reaffirming quality of lynchings: "It's about time to have another [one]," he explained, "[w]hen the n........s get so that they are afraid of being lynched, it is time to put the fear in them."


Greece: ‘third world’ aid and debt

 by Michael Roberts

One of the cruel ironies of the last minute deal between the Eurogroup and the Greek government for a four month extension to the existing ‘aid’ programme monitored by the Troika is that in any sane meaning it is not aid at all.

In return for staying in the Troika programme for another four months to end-June and keeping to the still to be agreed conditions on fiscal targets, government spending and privatisations, the Eurogroup, the ECB and the IMF will disburse the outstanding tranches of loans under the existing programme. The FT might call this “aid” but it is nothing of the kind. It is not even bailout money for Greek banks. The €11bn funding for that has been returned by the Greeks to the Troika who are keeping it for ‘security’.

Between the beginning of March and the end of June, the financing institution of the Eurogroup, the EFSF, will release €1.8bn, while the ECB will return profits that it has made on maturing Greek government bonds that it purchased in 2014 worth €1.9bn and the IMF will disburse another €3.6bn in funds under its programme of ‘aid’ that lasts until April 2016. That’s €7.2bn.

But most of that will be immediately recycled back to the Troika as repayments of debt and interest for previous loans and government bonds that are maturing. In the upcoming four months, the IMF must be paid back €5.3bn while the Greeks must also roll over short-term T-bills bought by the Greek banks worth about €11bn. So the Troika ‘aid’ will just disappear and the Greek people will see none of it to help with government spending.
Greek debt redemptions
And what happens after the end of June? Any new programme with the Troika (if that is what Syriza decides to do) will involve yet more repayments, including €6.7bn to be paid back to the ECB on maturing government bonds in July alone, and with more to the IMF. It is never ending.

This is just like ‘Third World’ aid that used to be distributed by the World Bank and other international agencies back in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of this ‘aid’ ended up in corrupt dictators’ pockets or in repaying previous debt. The people never saw it. And the debt levels stayed where they were, as they do for Greece now.

Back then, eventually the international agencies agreed what was called a Brady debt swap that wrote off a portion of the debt that could never be repaid. No such plan is available to Greece, although Syriza asked for it in their negotiations with the Eurogroup.

The debt to the Troika remains fully on the books and, as a share of Greek GDP, is set to rise. Sure, the cost of servicing this debt is relatively low with repayments on the EU part of the loans put off until the next decade and interest on these loans at very low rates. But the debt liability is there forever – like the proverbial albatross on the back.

Dockworkers dispute reveals the true class nature of the media.


Source
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
2-21-15

I have been commenting on the media war the bosses are waging against the ILWU and the USW. Of course, this is no new tactic, the bosses have the police, the courts, the military and the media at their disposal when it comes to labor disputes.

Take a long slow look at this disgusting cartoon.  Imagine if this was a black person or a Jewish person or someone obviously gay that was portrayed in such a negative way, there would be outrage.  But it’s OK to portray a worker in this way and the heads of organized labor won’t say much about it I’m sure. This is an offense to all workers no matter what our background. They blame the auto workers for the crisis in auto, the steelworkers for problems in that industry or in the refinery dispute, they blame public sector workers and other workers' pensions for destroying the economy. But it is the bankers, speculators and other wasters that are destroying our well being, it is capitalism that is in crisis and they are shifting this crisis on to the backs of workers and youth.

The ILWU is potentially powerful trade union with a militant and rich history. The bosses especially have to demonize these brothers and sisters.  They attack them because they have relatively high pay and good benefits compared to so many workers including unionized workers.  Mouthpieces of the 1% like the woman who drew this cartoon cry crocodile tears for poor and low waged workers especially if they are workers of color because being accused of racism terrifies them. However, they are just as contemptuous of low waged workers as they are those of us on the higher end of the scale.

They want to bring us all down to the lowest pay. The weakness on our side has been that the union leadership has failed all workers not just those of us at the higher end and with better benefits than most. They have accepted the bosses argument that we have to compete which is nothing but a spiral down to the lowest common denominator as workers compete with each other for who can work fastest, cheapest and with the lest obstacles to profit taking. Safety, wages, benefits and eventually unions are all obstacles to the investors, big capitalists bankers and other wasters who profit off the labor of others. We serve our interests best not by attacking immigrants that come here looking for work, but by joining with them in the struggle against their own bosses for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

With some justification, the 95% of the working class that are not organized feel that unions only tend to fight for the immediate welfare of their own members. There is truth to this but in actuality, the present bureaucracy atop organized labor hasn’t fought for gains in decades, even for their own members---damage control is their strategy at best.  In the last set of negotiations I was in we had a demand for jobs on the table, union jobs for the community. The bosses told us we did not have the right to demand jobs, they do the hiring.  We told them to eff off, we demand what we want and for whatever section of the working class we want.  Every strike and labor dispute should put demands on the table that speak to the needs of all workers and the communities in which we live and work and the community should be active participants in the struggle.

This cartoon angers me. It was in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. It show me how right I am to oppose their predatory wars and all the patriotic flag waving when they want to send working class youth to fight for corporate profits abroad, to kill brothers sisters abroad or be killed for the Bush family, Bill Gates, Donald Trump and others. How many dockworkers have fought for this country? How many of their ancestors died doing so no matter what we as individuals might think of the imperialist wars the Pentagon wages, and this is how they portray them in their media. This cartoon from a mouthpiece of the 1% says it all. It is the real way the bosses sees workers. We are applauded when they want cannon fodder.  We are pampered when they want us to buy their worthless products, go to their obscenely expensive sports events and other venues where they can extract some money from our pocket and put it in theirs.

This cartoon is the truth, the real way they view workers. Warren Buffet says that he is fighting a class war and his class is winning. 

They are winning because the leaders of the working class in this country are not fighting back, they are entering the ring with one hand behind their backs, “I’d better not hit him or he might hit me back”., they say to themselves as they leave the dues payers on picket lines for months as they try to negotiate our livelihoods away.  But the bosses hit back no matter what; weakness breeds aggression in wartime. The bosses are serious, they are global, they care nothing about this country except when they make money out of it like any of them anywhere.  Our allies are workers no matter what their nationality, religion, color, you name it.  The Cambodian workers, Bangladeshi workers, those who have lost their lives fighting against the most horrific conditions, these are our friends, our class allies.

I am pleased this cartoon reveals the way the bosses really think.  It also reinforces that healthy class hatred that is needed if we are to turn this situation around.