Friday, October 31, 2014

Home care workers left out again while military spending climbs

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Three years ago Obama came out in support of a Department of Labor rule that would change labor law and would remove the exemption that prevents workers in the home-care industry from being covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The FLSA provides some legal protection for most American workers and was adopted in 1938 amid the rise of the CIO, the factory occupations (two years after the Flint 44-day occupation) and the growth of industrial unionism.

Under heavy lobbying (bribing), the Department of Labor is holding off on implementing the proposed changes which is pleasing the right- wingers who think the change should be scrapped, “The fact that the department plans to ignore its own rule after it goes into effect should be proof enough that it should be scrapped altogether”, says Lamar Alexander, a Senator from Tennessee, according to Business Week. This is the guy who, when he was Governor, “ paid $1 for an option to buy a Knoxville newspaper with a group of friends, and later traded the right for stock worth $620,000.” ( NY. Times.) That, my friends, is not work---it’s having connections and using public office for personal gain, it's how they build contacts.

When it comes to home care workers, Lamar and other wasters with their snouts in the public trough, have unusual partners. Disability rights groups are also opposed to home care workers coming under the FSLA.  Their argument is that if the health care worker is allowed to work overtime, receive the minimum wage and travel time that are provisions under the Act, without “increasing the amount of government money able to pay for them” BW writes, it will mean hours will be cut and services to the disabled will worsen. “In the absence of an increase in Medicaid funding to cover those costs, we are going to see people with disabilities have our services reduced in quantity and quality,” says Ari, Ne’eman, who is the president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

The ASA and Ne’eman are joined by the Center for Disability Rights and what the Journal describes as the “Grass roots” organization Adapt. Adapt organized a protest outside the home of Labor Secretary Tom Perez and though he supports the right of workers to paid “fair” wages (whatever that means. Fair to whom? The boss or the workers) Bruce Darling, an Adapt spokesperson argues that, “To pay those wages, people with disabilities are going to lose their freedom.” Why is that so? Is it in the Bible?

So Mr. darling and people claiming to be defending the rights of some of the most unfortunate among us, find themselves in bed with some of the most privileged among us in an offensive against another section of the working class that is extremely exploited and abused.  I have spoken to people that work with the disabled and those that are in such a condition that they need someone to wipe their own backsides.  Just lifting a human being takes a lot of work.It is not easy.

We know that capitalism doesn’t value social work because there’s no money in it unless your capital is tied up in private facilities that can profit from misfortune or simple old age while paying paupers wages.

My mother had a debilitating stroke, I am well aware of what home help does.  As the Journal puts it, they, “…help with daily activities like bathing, moving around the house, and eating meals, and with tasks like paying bills. They can also assist with medication, change surgical bags, and help with rehabilitation exercises.” Right, changing people’s waste bags isn’t worth paying much for is it? In Kansas, the Journal reports, Medicaid pays “….just $25 a night to workers who provide ‘sleep cycle support,’ which can involve turning clients and emptying catheter bags.”

Home help is a very lucrative business for private capital because it is the fastest growing industry in the US and a huge section of the industry is funded by the taxpayer through Medicare and other programs.

The average home care worker makes $17,000 a year and the BLS reckons there will be about three million of them by 2020. What an incredibly important and human role these workers play in society compared o Donald Trump say, or Lamar Alexander for instance.

What the disability rights people should be doing is joining with home-care workers to raise their wages and improve their working conditions.  Our taxes would be better used training them in all sorts of medical and health procedures that would help them improve care and they should be well paid for such socially important work.

Alexander and others like him want to keep pay low for everyone because he profits from it as an investor.  He opposes public expenditure unless it is to offer opportunities to the private sector to profit from public funds, like private toll-ways and the like. The offense industry gave a real boost to the economy in the last quarter and none of the small government folks have a problem with that.  “Government spending----the vast majority due to military expenditure----posted its largest increase since 2009.” the Wall Street Journal reports in a separate article.

The position the disability rights advocates are taking here is flawed in so many ways. They are allowing themselves to be part of the crowd that take from one section of the working class to give to another, in this case, they are accepting that it will be the health worker that will mired in poverty in order for the disabled to continue to receive what is already an inadequate service. They are accepting that there is no money available. But that’s not the case is it.  It’s a matter of priorities. These predatory wars of US capitalism are costing trillions of dollars and millions of lives.

We all know that poverty, insecurity, social alienation, low self esteem, all this contributes to drug and alcohol abuse, destroys personal relations and the family and leads to all sorts of medical problems.

Where is the outrage in this country that human beings are doing such important and laborious work for $350 a week. The sorters at our local dump, another crucial social function, have just been led out on strike for a week by their officials and voted to go back yesterday, the union leadership of other unions attacked them in the process.  They earn about $12 an hour and will receive (maybe) less than $2 an hour raise a year over the next five years bringing them up to $21 by 2019.  An official of the International union representing the workers says of the settlement that it will, “dramatically improve their wages”.  What do you think he earns?  There will be nothing “dramatic” about $21 an hour in 2020, it’s not enough to live ion here in California now.

This cannot go on.  This country will explode at some point.  The union leadership to be quite honest is ideologically bankrupt and we will not change the situation without removing them through huge internal political battles.  It is incredible that the likes of Lamar Alexander and all the 1% politicians in both parties that all get rich off the taxpayer can even get an echo in society, can even dare show their face for fear of being torn apart by their victims like the poor, disabled, workers who have lost jobs, homeowners who have lost homes, veterans whose lives have been shattered while the likes of Dick Cheney profit from war.

They are spitting in our faces.

British Miners' Strike: After 30 Years the Facts Finally Come Out

I was on the picket lines in Yorkshire for about a week.  I had never been to Yorkshire.  I stayed in Barnsley with a miner and his family, his wife was a teacher. We ate out of soup kitchens that were run by the NUM and the Labor Party I believe.  I had never seen such a thing.  I can't remember the name of the pit but 3000 of us or so walked up this narrow lane to the pit head where a few thousand the cops were fist fighting and beating with truncheons the miner's front lines.  I could see fists flying all over the place.  "If this was the US" I said to myself, "there'd be some shooting for sure"

As we walked up the lane I looked to the right and the left and there were rows of horses with their hot breath turning in to this thick mist as it fled their nostrils. There were police everywhere and vans with shields on the side that the workers said would drive at you and cops would emerge from behind the shields with batons.  The cops were making sure the one scab got to work, not that he could do anything but for Thatcher and her class it was the principle of it. She said people have a right to work, she didn't include the unemployed in that though.  The workers had marbles they threw down as horses were used to charge them, horses have a hard time walking on marbles. I heard they brought cops from Northern Ireland over, fresh from beating up Catholics and they had no ID's. I thnk they had about 18,000 cops on picket lines.

I was so proud and honored to stand with these workers.  Miners' wives groups were also impressive and some came here to the US to raise funds.  Businesses were very good to the miners as they knew no miners, no small business.  There were food packages from all over the world, the French workers, Polish workers.  Sikh businesses, Muslim businesses, all supported the miners. I will never forget that time and the heroism and courage of my class fighting for the right to be a productive human being, for their communities, for their families, for all of us.

Thatcher was a murdering bastard.
Richard Mellor
The piece below we reprint from the Socialist Network

After 30 Years the Facts Finally Come Out

Collage compressedUnder British rules the Government has to release its cabinet papers after 30 years. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Great Miners Strike and the publication of the Cabinet papers have revealed the true role of the Thatcher-led Conservative government in crushing the miners and destroying their coal industry. This led to a debate in the UK parliament which demonstrates that the scars of the cataclysmic miners strike are very much alive today.
… Thanks very much to Mike Phipps from the Labour Representation Committee, the left-wing movement inside the Labour Party, for compiling the following extracts from the parliamentary debate which appear on their blog.

On Tuesday October 28, the House of Commons debated the plight of coalfield communities 1. There was little coverage in the media, so below are reproduced some extracts from the debate:
Labour MP Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) [moving the motion]:

“That this House acknowledges the economic legacy of the pit closure programme in coalfield communities across the United Kingdom; notes that the recent release of the relevant 1984 Cabinet papers showed that the Government at the time misled the public about the extent of its pit closure plans and sought to influence police tactics; recognises the regeneration of former coalfield areas over the last fifteen years, the good work of organisations such as the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, and the largest industrial injury settlement in legal history secured by the previous Government for former miners suffering from bronchitis and emphysema; further recognises the ongoing problems highlighted recently by the report produced by Sheffield Hallam University on The State of the Coalfields, which revealed that there are still significant problems for the majority of Britain’s coalfield communities, such as fewer jobs, lower business formation rates, higher unemployment rates, more people with serious health issues, higher numbers in receipt of welfare benefits and a struggling voluntary and community sector; and therefore calls for the continued regeneration and much needed support for coalfield communities as part of a wider programme to boost growth in Britain’s regions.

… After 30 years under lock and key, the Cabinet papers and the Prime Minister’s private office correspondence, recently released under the 30-year rule, about the 1984 miners strike have exposed one of the darkest chapters in our history. Contrary to denial after denial from Conservative Ministers at the time and from the National Coal Board, the Cabinet papers show that the Government of the day did have a secret plan from as early as September 1983 to close 75 pits, run down capacity by 25 million tonnes and make 65,000 men redundant. Many people warned at the time that there was a secret plan, but it is no less shocking to see, in black and white, in official Cabinet papers, just how much the public were misled…

… One of the Cabinet documents was a record of a meeting the then Prime Minister held in Downing street on 15 September 1983. It states absolutely clearly that Mr MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB, “had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed”.
The final paragraph of the document reads: “It was agreed that no record of this meeting should be circulated.” What a surprise!

… We know that significant pressure was placed on the Home Secretary to step up police measures against striking miners to escalate the dispute, which again is something that is denied. Released documents from 14 March 1984 show that Ministers at the time pressured the Home Secretary to ensure that chief constables adopted “a more vigorous interpretation of their duties.
… At the time, it was claimed that the police were acting entirely on their own constitutional independence—what a joke.

Earlier this year, the National Union of Mineworkers, led by the excellent General Secretary Chris Kitchen, produced an impressive report, drafted by Mr Nicky Stubbs, following months of forensic analysis of the recently released Cabinet papers. The report has brought even more disturbing details to light. It shows that Ministers were even prepared to override normal judicial processes, and ensure that local magistrate courts dealt with cases arising from the dispute in a much quicker fashion. It also outlines how Ministers conspired to cover up the extent of their plans for the mining industry…

… Fundamentally, the Cabinet papers also show the true scale of the dishonesty in maintaining that the strike was about an industrial dispute based on economics, and it puts paid to the nonsense assertion at the time that Ministers were somehow neutral bystanders. The fact is that the Government of the day saw the strike in political terms. Far from Ministers being non-interventionist, they were in fact the micro-managers of this dispute.

… One paper from a Downing street meeting shows that Mrs Thatcher told Ferdinand Mount, a senior policy adviser, that her Government should “neglect no opportunity to erode trade union membership.”…

The Cabinet papers show that the public were misled about the plans for pit closures, there should be a formal apology for the Government’s actions during the strike. As for the revelations in the Cabinet papers, which show that the Government did try to influence police tactics, all the details of the interactions and communications between the Government and the police at the time of the strike should now be published.

… Thirty years on, we still need a proper investigation into what happened at Orgreave. It was welcome that South Yorkshire police referred themselves to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but we are still no closer to an investigation. There are serious allegations that police officers assaulted miners at Orgreave, and then committed perjury and misconduct in public office and perverted the course of justice in the subsequent prosecution of 95 miners on riot charges, all of which collapsed in court. What happened at Orgreave was not just a black day for South Yorkshire, it was a black day for this country. It is indefensible and completely shameful that there is still no investigation and the whole truth has yet to come out.”

Labour MP David Anderson (Blaydon): “My hon. Friend is right to mention Orgreave, but it was not the only place. In Mansfield, exactly the same thing happened when at the end of a peaceful demonstration police stormed into the crowds that were left, 45 people were locked up and were banned from picketing and that case fell apart. Up and down this country, the police rampaged through villages where people had a history of being peaceful, and men were locked up who should never have been locked up because they were deliberately attacked by police who were not even from that part of the world…”

Labour MP Jim Hood (Lanark and Hamilton East): “Margaret Thatcher commissioned Nicholas Ridley, her head guru, to devise a plan to run down the mining industry and destroy the National Union of Mineworkers. The 1979 Ridley plan was born. Its basis was to build massive coal stocks, double nuclear power stations, change trade union laws to weaken trade unions’ right to strike and defend their members, and to use the powers of the state to attack working people…

… The Prime Minister had tried that in 1981 but had to back off when her coal stocks were too low. The hapless Energy Secretary, now Lord Howell, was the fall guy for her failure, and she later sacked him, but her 1981 unpreparedness was not to be repeated in 1984, when she decided she was better ready to crush the miners and their union…

… The miners had been on an overtime ban for six months to oppose the declared NCB pit closures. The NUM did not want to go on strike and would have continued with the overtime ban indefinitely—the overtime ban was running the coal stocks down by the hour. Mrs Thatcher was facing another 1981 defeat and decided to provoke the NUM into taking strike action. On 5 March, the Tory Government announced an accelerated closure of five pits: Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire, Bullcliffe Wood colliery in Derby, Herrington colliery in Durham, Snowdown colliery in Kent, and Polmaise in Scotland. The NUM in those areas immediately went on strike, and Ollerton, where I was the lead official, was picketed by Yorkshire miners the very next day, fighting to defend their jobs.

For the next week, thousands of police were imported into Nottinghamshire to stop picketing. Hundreds of miners were arrested and imprisoned in Mansfield police station and other places before draconian bail conditions were imposed on picketing miners…”

Labour MP Ian Lavery (Wansbeck): “The Cabinet papers revealed something quite sinister—a Government controlling the police, insisting that the police move in against miners, insisting that the Army should be involved against miners, the likes of myself and other honourable colleagues here who worked in the coal industry. My father, my brothers, my friends, were all miners attacked by the police, yet the Government know that we were right. At the same time, Thatcher was prepared to bring the Army in against ordinary, hard-working people. What an absolute disgrace…

… We saw what happened in Orgreave, with the police deliberately attacking miners, but there were little Orgreaves all over the country. It was not happening only in South Yorkshire. We saw it in Ashington, where I lived; we saw it in Blythe; we saw it in Easington; we saw it all over the place where the police attacked ordinary hard-working people. Has anybody ever had someone spit in their face? I cannot say how bad it is. A policeman spat in my face, and I can tell you that I am never getting over that…”

Labour MP Pat Glass (North West Durham): “It is hard to fully measure the impact of Government actions on communities like mine in the 1980s and the years following. Those of us who lived through them were under no illusion at the time about the way in which the Government misled the public, vilified our people and attempted to politicise the police. It is good that a light is now being shone on this…

… My mother ran a miners support group in 1984. It was the forerunner of today’s Tory food banks. We supported 24 families throughout the strike. The miners we supported were good, honest, decent people who did not deserve what happened to them and their communities. They certainly did not deserve to be labelled the “enemy within” by the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the day. They were standing up for their communities, for their industry and for the dignity of the work that the Tory Government were taking away from them…

… We need to know exactly what went on between the Prime Minister’s office, MacGregor and the police in relation not only to Orgreave but to the hundreds of other state-sponsored illegal actions by the Government. I remember when my parents and my aunt and uncle set off from the north-east to travel to a brother’s funeral in Scunthorpe. They were turned back on the A1 by the police for no reason other than that my father was a trade unionist. They were dressed for a funeral, not for the picket line. As far as I am aware, my parents have never committed a crime. They have never been arrested and they do not have a criminal record, yet their movements were restricted because my father was a trade unionist. He was not even in the NUM…”

Labour MP Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): “Let us remember that it was a very honourable dispute; it was not about money, mammon and greed… Men at 60 were prepared to sacrifice the roof over their own head for a 16-year-old lad in a coalfield they did not even know existed. That was honour, and I am proud to have fought every single day. I would love to do it again…”

Labour MP Wayne David (Caerphilly): “I remember the strike, when I was a young man—a very young man—because I was involved in my local miners support group. We met in the local Conservative club, which nobody thought was strange because the whole community supported the miners in my village. We were absolutely clear that the fight was about defending jobs and communities. We were under no misapprehension at that time—it has been proven since: as far as the Conservative Government of the day were concerned, it was a political strike. They were out to break the trade union movement, and the vanguard of the movement was the National Union of Mineworkers…”

Labour MP David Hamilton (Midlothian): “There were sacrifices in my area of the Lothians: 46 men from one pit ended that strike sacked, 36 men were sacked from the pit up the road, and five were sacked from another. Let me tell you about victimisation: of the four branch officials at Monktonhall, three were sacked, and of the 12 committee members, eight were sacked, to make sure that when we went back to work we would toe the line…

… I worked in a colliery for 20 years and was there during the miners’ strike. Although this is my story, it reflects what happened right through the coalfield. I spent from October to December 1984 in Saughton prison. I was accused of assaulting a man who had been my friend for many, many years. I had a two-day trial by jury in Scotland, after which the jury took 20 minutes to decide that it was a stitch-up. It took them 10 minutes to elect the chairman of the jury, so it only took them 10 minutes to determine that it was a stitch-up. That is what was happening the length and breadth of the country. I only say that because many, many miners went to jail and were found innocent, but they never got to go back to work…”

Labour MP Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): “I was a plumber at the time of the strike. I was elected to the council in the middle of the strike in September 1984. I spent part of my time going round pro bono fixing the heating and plumbing systems of striking miners. I was repeatedly stopped by the police, both in the process of my election and going about my lawful business. That exemplifies the experience of many tens of thousands of people in the mining communities during that time…

… The Government launched a full-scale assault on the mining communities and, in doing so, destroyed the independence of the police force. There were trumped-up charges all over the coalfield communities. Criminal justice was reduced to a political instrument. There is even evidence that members of the armed forces were dressed in police uniforms by the then Government, all this to achieve Tory party political objectives.

… But we are not simply speaking today about history. The Tory attitude to the miners and the former mining communities is symbolic of a wider view that they have of working people as a whole. We need only look at the explosion in the use of zero-hours contracts, temporary work and false self-employment to see that the Conservatives have not changed. They are still the same old nasty party…”

The above is reproduced from ‘The miners’ strike 30 years on’ by Mike Phipps, 30th October 2014, published on the Labour Representation Committee’s blog:


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Western media's sexist media frenzy over Kurdish women fighters.

We reprint this piece from al Jazeera for our readers' interest.  It captures the Hollywoodesque coverage of the Kurdish  women battalions.  Another interesting point with regard to western coverage of the Kurds is that ISIS and other fundamentalist groups are referred to as "Islamists" in the western media. But Kurds are Muslims as well.  We have the bizarre situation here where the US taxpayer is arming two groups the US government claims are "terrorists" so they can  fight a third that the US government also classifies as terrorist.  US imperialism with its proxy, Israel is undoubtedly the most destabilizing force in the Middle East and the world today.

The media frenzy over the women fighting ISIL is bizarre, myopic, orientalist and cheapens an important struggle.


Last updated: 29 Oct 2014 10:20

Dilar Dirik

Dilar Dirik is a Kurdish activist and a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. Her research focus is Kurdistan and the Kurdish women's movement.
A young Kurdish woman called "Rehana" has garnered a great deal of media attention over the past few days, after reports emerged claiming that she had killed more than a hundred ISIL fighters - single-handedly. A picture of the smiling beauty, wearing combat gear and toting a rifle, is still making the rounds of social media. Even as Rehana's circumstances remain uncorroborated, the overabundance of attention she has received raises several important questions. It adds to the plethora of reports out there glamorising the all-female Kurdish battalions taking on ISIL fighters, with little attention to the politics of these brave women.

Preoccupied with attempts to sensationalise the ways in which these women defy preconceived notions of eastern women as oppressed victims, these mainstream caricaturisations erroneously present Kurdish women fighters as a novel phenomenon. They cheapen a legitimate struggle by projecting their bizarre orientalist fantasies on it - and oversimplify the reasons motivating Kurdish women to join the fight. Nowadays, it seems to be appealing to portray women as sympathetic enemies of ISIL without raising questions about their ideologies and political aims.

At the same time, critics have accused the Kurdish leadership of exploiting these women for PR purposes - in an attempt to win over western public opinion. While there may be an element of truth to such charges in some cases, those same critics fail to appreciate the different political cultures that exist among the Kurdish people as a whole, scattered across Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. They also ignore the fact that Kurdish women have been engaging in armed resistance for decades without anyone's notice.

'Badass' Amazons

Typical of western media's myopia, instead of considering the implications of women taking up arms in what is essentially a patriarchal society - especially against a group that rapes and sells women as sex-slaves - even fashion magazines appropriate the struggle of Kurdish women for their own sensationalist purposes. Reporters often pick the most "attractive" fighters for interviews and exoticise them as "badass" Amazons.

The truth is, no matter how fascinating it is - from an orientalist perspective - to discover a women's revolution among Kurds, my generation grew up recognising women fighters as a natural element of our identity. Although there is still a long way to go, what some now ignorantly call "tokenism", has in fact shaped the consciousness of millions of Kurds.

No matter how fascinating it is - from an orientalist perspective - to discover a women's revolution among Kurds, my generation grew up recognising women fighters as a natural element of our identity.

Currently, apart from the fight against ISIL and the Assad-regime in Syria, Kurdish women also struggle against regimes they consider oppressive, such as Turkey and Iran. There are many examples of women as warriors or leaders in Kurdish history.

For instance, in the late 19th century, Kara Fatma led a battalion of almost 700 men in the Ottoman Empire and managed to insert 43 women into the army ranks - very unusual for the period. In 1974, Leyla Qasim, at the age of 22, became the first woman to be executed by the Iraqi Baath party for her involvement in the Kurdish student movement.

Despite this legacy, it would be a stretch to call Kurdish society gender-equal, considering the prevalence of male-dominated rule and violence.

The People's Defence Forces (YPG) in Syria and the Women's Defence Units (YPJ) from Syrian Kurdistan have been fighting ISIL for two years and now lead an epic resistance in the northern Syrian town of Kobane. An estimated 35 percent - around 15,000 fighters - are women . Founded in 2013 as an autonomous women's army, the YPJ conducts independent operations. There are several hundred women's battalions across Syria's Kurdistan region. Meysa Abdo is the woman commanding the resistance in Kobane and hundreds of women have died fighting ISIL.

Parallel to the existential fight against ISIL, women in the Syrian Kurdistan region, including Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, and Armenians, lead a social revolution against society's patriarchal order through gender-egalitarian governance and a grassroots-feminist movement.

Real fighters

The YPG/YPJ fighters are closely linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). This guerrilla organisation is one of the strongest forces against ISIL, but due to hostilities with Turkey, it is classified as a "terrorist organisation".

Little known is the fact that almost half of the PKK ranks consist of women . The movement explicitly commits to women's liberation and enforces quotas, as well as "co-presidency" on all levels - one woman and one man share the chair. These policies were adopted by the Syrian Kurdistan administration and Kurdish parties in Turkey and Iran.

Influenced by the PKK's feminist stance, the majority of women in the Turkish parliament and municipal administrations are Kurdish. Together with the YPG/YPJ, PKK units were key to creating a safety corridor to rescue the Yazidis in the Sinjar Mountains in August. Some PKK women died defending Makhmour in Iraqi Kurdistan, alongside male Peshmerga fighters.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, several hundred make-up the all female battalion of the Peshmerga . Many of them complain that they are not deployed at the front. In the 1970s-80s, during the armed resistance against the regime of Saddam Hussein, Kurdish women took up arms alongside their husbands and even assumed noms de guerre .

Today, Iraqi Kurds enjoy a degree of autonomy and rights. Unlike the older generations, almost none of the women currently enlisted have actual combat experience and are often in charge of logistics instead. The feudal-patriarchal culture of the two dominant parties in northern Iraq is less permissible of women's participation in war.

Culture of resistance

If there is a strong women's movement among Kurds beyond the battlefield today, it has more to do with left-wing politics and the culture of resistance.

Those who see the Kurdish women's fight as PR either treat all Kurdish parties as one homogeneous group or ignore the social revolution that preceded the armed struggle, which gave Kurdish women a reputation as important political actors and equal decision-makers. After all, Kurdish women have been fighting this cause with little media attention for decades.

In fact, the mass-mobilisation of women in Kobane is the legacy of decades-long resistance of Kurdish women as fighters, prisoners, politicians, leaders of popular uprisings and tireless protesters, unwilling to compromise on their rights.

Lastly, it does not help Kurdish women to be glorified as enemies of ISIL, if their entire political struggle is not supported. Western media's white-washing of the Kurdish women's resistance sanitises a radical struggle in such a way as to suit the perceptions of a western audience. Rather than challenging the awkward fact that the movement that the vast majority of women fighting ISIL belong to is labelled as a terrorist organisation - by Turkey, the EU, and the US - they conveniently leave it out.

Appreciation for these women should not only praise their fight against ISIL, but it should also recognise their politics. Those seeking to honour the bravest enemies of ISIL can begin by actively supporting the resistance in Kobane, remove the PKK from the terror list, and officially recognise the Syrian Kurdistan administration.

Dilar Dirik is a Kurdish activist and a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. Her research focus is Kurdistan and the Kurdish women's movement.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Britain: Austerity, the hardworking and the feckless

by Michael Roberts

About two years ago, the current UK finance minister George Osborne commented that ‘hard-working people’ left for work every morning while ‘behind the blinds’ of the house opposite people on benefits were sleeping in. The ‘hard-working’ person was paying for the feckless “to stay at home and not work”.

At the time, I wrote a post that attempted to analyse just how many of these feckless layabouts there were that we ‘hard-working’ people were paying for ( Apart from the official unemployed, nearly all of those not working were disabled, lone parents without childcare, retired or students. Indeed, after excluding students, there were only about 250,000 adults out of a potential workforce of 41m who were ‘refusing’ to work for ‘no good reason’, or just 0.6% of the workforce.

Well, the latest work survey has been released ( In June this year, there were 3.3 million UK households with at least one member aged 16 to 64 where no-one was currently working. This represented 15.9% of households and was a fall of 1.4 percentage points, or 271,000 households on a year earlier. This ratio is down to its lowest rate since 1996. In 2014, there were only 226,000 households (excluding students) in which no adult has ever worked, or less than 1% of all households.
workless households
That is the extent of the feckless hiding behind their blinds each morning.

The number of workless households has fallen as employment has increased since the Great Recession. But we now know that most of these new jobs are either part-time, temporary (zero hours contracts) or created by people themselves through self-employment. And these jobs pay much less that full-time employment. Indeed, in 2014, for the first time, of the 13 million Britons officially living in poverty, there are more working households than non-working ones – according to the Joseph Rowntree Trust.

While the government boasts that it is getting people back to work at record levels, it fails to mention that this work is badly paid, precarious and often created by people themselves trying to scramble together a ‘business’.

As a result, tax revenues are just not rising anywhere near enough to enable to this ‘austerity’ government to meet its targets for reducing the annual government deficit and the overall debt burden.

In March, the government predicted that the budget deficit would shrink by about £12bn in the current fiscal year. Instead, it’s widening. Government spending exceeded revenue by £10bn in September. This leaves the shortfall in the first six months of the current fiscal year at £55bn, 5% more than in the same period of 2013.

The reason is much weaker tax revenue than expected because the extra employment is in low-paying jobs, part-time work replacing some full-time jobs and above all in self-employment.
Self-employment accounts for one-third of the 1.75 million jobs created since early 2010 as people hit by the recession turned to working for themselves in jobs from taxi driving to carpentry. And the proportion of self-employed workers reporting incomes below the tax-free threshold has jumped to 35% from 21% before the financial crisis.

The benefits bill is staying stubbornly high because, while people may be coming off unemployment benefits if they go into low wage work, they are likely to continue claiming some form of welfare (tax credits, child benefit, housing benefit, etc).

As nominal wages are barely growing, fewer people are moving into higher-rate tax bands. In March, the independent OBR forecast average incomes would grow 2.4% this year. Instead they rose just 0.7% in the latest quarter. Together, taxes on income and social security contributions account for almost half of government revenue. Osborne had been predicting about 7% more income tax this year. Between April and August, it fell 0.8%!

The coalition government is way short of its target to ‘balance the books’ by the end of 2018, a target that has been slipping back anyway. Meanwhile, the gross government debt ratio inexorably rises towards 100% of GDP, a level not seen since the war debt levels of 1945.
UK govt deficits
What this means that the government’s drive to reduce welfare spending on the ‘feckless’ is not even achieving the government’s own professed aim of reducing the public sector deficit – although it is reducing real wages and the cost of labour for business to make more profit.  The House of Commons briefing on social security expenditure forecasts a rise in benefit costs in real terms through the whole period of the next parliament 2015-20.
SS spending
And it’s only going to get worse, whoever wins the UK general election next May, as all three main parties are pledged to ‘balance the books’ of the government as a priority.  And yet the Conservatives have announced more tax cuts for the rich if they win the election next year. But they cannot square the circle of cutting taxes and maintaining public services, even if they reduce welfare spending to zero! Austerity is not working, except to lower real wages and keep the poor even poorer. But then that is part of the reason for austerity.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Organized Labor's Crisis of Leadership

This is not because workers don't want unions
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

For years I have listened to labor officials from one union or another including my own,  claim that the reason concessions are necessary is that we are experiencing hard times.  “Now’s not the time” I heard many times.  The most common refrain was that we “Have to be realistic”.

But from the bosses’ point of view, times are never right. Unions were born out of heroic struggle and sacrifice and against the most brutal opposition from the bosses, their hired thugs and the state.  That we have unions at all is a huge accomplishment and over the past period, capital’s war against labor has intensified.  The bosses are determined to take back the gains workers have won over time.

During the 1980’s there were attempts to fight back on the national level.  There were huge strikes at Hormel, Eastern Airlines, Greyhound bus lines and a few others.  These were all defeated through a powerful combination of the employers and the passive role of the union hierarchy. Wages and working conditions in meatpacking deteriorated significantly after the defeat of the 1986 strike that was hastened by the UFCW international union pulling strike sanction from local P9. Meatpacking is still one of the most dangerous industries to work in when it comes to job injuries.

The strike at waste Management here in San Leandro California is another example of the crisis of leadership that exists within organized labor.  The reader should check out earlier reports we have on this blog but apart from fighting the boss, there are disputes between the various union leaderships involved that weaken the chances of victory.  From what I understand, Machinists are crossing picket lines as are other ILWU members and most importantly the Teamster who drive the trucks.

The members of local 6 that are out on the lines earn $12 an hour and are primarily Spanish speaking immigrant workers.  With all the name-calling and accusations being tossed around between the various union officials it is almost impossible to determine who is to blame for what is a nasty and unpleasant situation. 

But there is one thing I do know.  No worker in California should be earning $12 an hour.  This is poverty wages and these people are adults, human beings with families.  Putting it bluntly, their working day is spent sorting through the trash that a million people create. From what this writer was able to find out on the picket lines, the Local 6 contract for sorters expired in February 2011 and the local hasn’t ratified one in 8 years.  The clerical workers at the plant, also in the ILWU, the Machinists and the Teamsters have ratified contracts.

According to Craig Merrilees, an ILWU representative who I spoke to on the picket lines, the company wants these employees to increase their health insurance contribution to $35 a month from the present $25.  As I reported earlier, the workers also want a contract that will ensure the wage increases that were approved by the Oakland City Council that would bring them close to $21 an hour in five years. 

The workers told me on the picket lines of abuses and being treated differently than other employees.  They said the company did not treat them with respect and that this has been an ongoing thing. Is it possible that immigrant workers whose first language is not English would be treated disrespectfully?  Surely not, that would be illegal wouldn’t it?

According to reports in the mass media, both Teamster officials and representatives of the Machinist union have been quite clear about what they think. Rome Aloise, who is president of Teamsters Joint Council 7 and also an official in Local 853, told the San Jose Mercury news that the fight against Waste Management is “unrealistic” and that the workers were just “pawns” of the ILWU leadership and that the campaign for these workers , “…is based on a promise that cannot be met and is designed to create false hopes for the workers.” Well we agree that promises that one can't keep should not be made.  But what we can keep keep and what we can't is determined by the balance of forces, is determined by power.  Rome Aloise's comment that promises cannot be met is confirmation as clear day that the reason for the trade union leadership's concessionary policies is that they have accepted that the capitalist offensive cannot be stopped.

Don Crossato, an official with Machinists union doesn’t think the differences the sorters have with the bosses “warrants a strike”.  And both Crossato and Felix Martinez, of Teamsters local 70 made it clear that what the workers were asking was unrealistic. I would hazard a guess that Crossato is on a lot more than $12 an hour yet he and Martinez tell the Mercury News that, "Even in the heyday of the labor movement, no one got a 65 percent raise in three years. It's crazy to ask you to jeopardize your job for these kinds of proposals and we're not going to do it,"

Imagine how insulting this is to those immigrant workers on the picket lines.  To stand up against abuse, against discrimination and unfair treatment is “crazy” I have known Don Crossatto for years as we were delegates to the Labor Council together and have nothing against him personally, but, as long as you keep your mouth shut working for a union and tow the line, you’ll pretty much have a well paid job with good benefits for life.

And what proposals are so exorbhitant?  They should be on strike for an immediate $8 an hour pay raise.  It is $12 an hour that is “unrealistic”. That is “crazy”; they sort trash at a dump for God’s sake.  We can use all the nice terms like recyclers and sorters and all that but what they do is hard nasty work and they should be paid well for it.  There is also all the chemicals and other dangers they face.  The bosses’ realism and ours stem from two totally different views of the world and the role we play in the production of human needs. It is unfortunate that the comments form these union staffers reflect not the worker’s viewpoint but the bosses.

And 65% doesn’t mean much when you’re only earning $12 an hour, it’ slightly less than $8.  Rome Aloise, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 7 earned a Salary of $269,307 and total compensation of  $322,838 according to Teamster’s For a Democratic Union’s Oct report.  It shows that when considering raises of 65% as being unrealistic, union officials are probably thinking of management’s or union officials salaries.  65% of Rome Alois’s salary, never mind his compensation, assuming TDU ‘s report is accurate, would be around $174,000 according to my calculations. For a 40-hour week that’s about $125 an hour plus expenses I assume, and you don’t have to sift through trash for that. Facts For Working People also pointed out previously that According to PR Watch, “Waste Management's top executives combined made $119,201,381 from 2006 to 2012.

This is realism we need to change and can
Neither Teamster members or Machinists or any other union member can escape the capitalist offensive on workers.  We all feel it. Over the past 30 years and in the aftermath of the PATCO strike when the AFL-CIO did nothing, US workers wages have declined.  Our wages have fallen from about 70% of GDP to 64% according to OECD figures.  According to Popular Economics, “In 1979, the top 1 percent earned about 9 percent of all income; in 2013, they earned 24 percent. The incomes of the top 0.1 percent have grown even faster. More than half of all economic growth since 1976 has ended up in the pockets of the top 1 percent.” 

“The purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen by about 15 percent since 1979. One in five kids lives in poverty.” Reports show.  This is where the trade union leadership’s policies have brought us. The concessionary bargaining; the Team Concept-----this is the result of it.

Before I retired I was active in Afscme, the public sector union an editor of an opposition newsletter.  The newsletter’s position was that no paid union official should earn more than the workers they represent. That the unions should demand on site childcare so having a child would still allow a man or woman to work if they chose to and for an independent working people’s party as an alternative to the two Wall Street parties, the Republicans and Democrats. The Democrats too are complicit in our decline.

It is nothing less than criminal that the sorters at Waste Management are earning $12 an hour and it is a disgrace that union officials should tolerate it and actually undermine it through their actions and their claims in the press that the workers are pawns or crazy or jeopardizing their jobs by their actions.

There is nothing “fair” about earning $12 an hour in a community where one to two bedroom apartments can run from $1200 to 2500.

I am not interested in de-cyphering the squabbles between paid union officials.  If the ILWU leadership is responsible for this mess, the membership has to wage the internal struggle that is necessary to change it; the same with the Teamsters and all unions. A worker told me yesterday that “I’ll do whatever the union says”.  He is right to be loyal to unions, ordinary workers built these organizations at great sacrifice and against the most brutal ruling class on earth.

But being loyal to our organizations doesn’t mean we have to blindly follow those that lead them or tolerate their leadership for life. The head of Afscme international when I was still active was earning about $500,000 a year and was in the position for some 40 years, an organization with the same leader for forty years is not a healthy one. It’s the members’ duty to put a stop to that.

Meanwhile, in the struggle against the boss, we need to raise our expectations.  We need a shorter workweek. We need a minimum wage that provides a basket of goods that allows us to live a decent secure life, food housing, leisure, health care etc. In one area it might be $30 or more dollars like the San Francisco area, in other areas it may be different.  But the percentages should be the same.

We need to help the Waste Management workers win this strike as a first step.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More from the ILWU Local 6 picket line.

What you hear in this video was confirmed further after we sat and talked with some Teamster drivers after leaving the ILWU local 6 picket line.  There were a number of drivers who informed us that their officials had told them that the ILWU did not want their help.  This is not what Facts For Working People was told by a Teamster spokesperson. (See here).

No rank and file worker believed this to be honest.  Why would a worker on strike not want the support of another union or the members of another union who are their co-workers and whose support would increase their chances of a victory?

While leadership has an obligation to lead, and it is the most disturbing thing to have union officials telling their members to scab on other workers, it is also our responsibility, the member, the ones that pay the dues, to involve ourselves in our organizations. It is our responsibility to hold the leadership's feet to the fire or replace them.  We cannot continue to leave the running of our organizations to others whose policies lead to concessions and more concessions. 

None of the Teamsters who drove through these picket lines liked what they were doing, they know it is the violation of a principle.  They also know that they have to work together when this is over and are acutely aware of the consequences of their actions if things don't change.  There will be increased division in the workplace and the power of the boss will be strengthened.  The leaders whose policies take members down this road do not have to suffer the consequences of their decisions. It is a sad state of affairs but all too common.

ILWU Waste Management strike. Teamster drivers still crossing lines.

These documents are being handed out to Teamster Drivers by ILWU members
by Richard Mellor
 Afscme Local 444, retired

I only have a minute or two so this will be fairly short (for me).  I just returned from the ILWU picket line at the Waste Management recycle center in San Leandro.

The same situation exists in that drivers, members of the Teamsters Local 70, are still crossing the local 6 picket lines. A Teamster official was on the sidelines to make sure the drivers didn't act on their conscience and support their workmates.  There are also members of another ILWU local crossing the lines. 

Security are there to assist the scabs crossing, so we have a situation where union officials and company thugs are waving scabs across picket lines.  And we are told time and time against that it is the rank and file that need educating, the rank and file fail to understand what solidarity is all about.

The truck drivers don't like crossing it is easy to see that in their faces. They honk their horns in support but, as I wrote before, that doesn't pay the rent.  Workers cannot stay out on strike forever.

As a truck slowed the strikers were handing them the leaflet I have included here.  I approached one driver who had his window open and asked him how he felt about crossing the lines.  He replied that "I don't like it but our leadership says we have to."   He drove through and I turned and asked the striker for a copy of the leaflet.  The Teamster official then came scurrying over and told me to "Stop harassing my drivers, if you want to harass anyone harass me."

I answered him as I answer the bosses when they falsely accuse workers of this, that I wasn't harassing the driver.  But it's interesting how protective the labor hierarchy can be of their members when there is a danger they might not follow their lead.

The official had explained to me earlier why they had to cross the line, I wrote about this yesterday, and I explained that because there was some sort of written organizational obstacle preventing solidarity and united action between workers against the boss, doesn't mean we don't do it.  No matter which section of the trade union leadership is to blame for this disastrous situation, the main point is the picket line should be honored.  Beyond that, a powerful united strike could not only make huge gains for all workers at this corporation and beyond, it should also raise the issue of taking such an important social service out of the hands of speculators, investors and other wasters.  As I pointed out yesterday:

“U.S. taxpayer dollars contribute to making Steiner ‘America's Highest Paid Sanitation Worker.’ According to PR Watch “Steiner made an eye-popping $45,581,052 in compensation from 2006 to 2012. Waste Management's top executives combined made $119,201,381 from 2006 to 2012.

The union leadership hiding behind the bureaucratic red tape that restrains militant and united action from the rank and file, forces workers to scab on each other and causes untold hardship for workers, in this case, low paid and mostly immigrant workers.  I can only imagine the animosity and division that will be in the air when everyone is back at work. 

It is equally frustrating to see two company security waving in scabs with no attempt at all by the striking union to stop them.  It is the most frustrating thing to walk picket lines like this that are really just 24 hour protests. Frustration at some point will turn to demoralization, anger and a disgust at the Union movement.  The bosses, as they usually due will terrorize the workers by sending out notices that their health benefits will be eliminated in time, for us in our strike it was one month.

The Teamster rank and file  must organize and push their officials to get out from behind bureaucratic organizational barriers and help their brothers and sisters on the lines.  The rank and file is not bound by some holy edict to honor a leadership whose policies are detrimental to rank and file workers and the working class as a whole and should self organize to do what is right if their leaders refuse to do so.

Class conscious members of the communities of Oakland, San Leandro and the surrounding area should join these lines, these are some of the lowest paid and most exploited among us. and and all workers should take some time to swell the ranks. If you have a truck, put some waste in it, drive down there, honor the line and slowly turn round. At very least it will improve morale but in the last analysis if we want to win we must shut down production and we must raise our expectations, we must demand what we need now what is acceptable to labor officials, and their friends in the Democratic Party. I have written this fairy quickly so I apologize if it not the most detailed report.

Book Reviews: From establishment to anti-establishment

by Michael Roberts

I’ve been reading a few new books recently. The first is The Establishment by Owen Jones (Allen Lane, Penguin books). I reviewed Jones’ first book, Chavs, a perceptive account of the way the media turned the concept of the working-class into a bunch of feckless, benefit-seeking layabouts or ‘chavs’ (see my post, As Jones showed, the ruling class and their lackeys in culture want to obliterate the idea of the working-class in society, in a way that reduces social strata to just the middle-class (with just the elite above and ‘chavs’ below). Jones applied to this Britain but it had gone just as far in the US, where the term ‘working-class’ has totally disappeared and every politician and pundit now refer only to existence of the ‘middle class’, when they mean working-class.

Jones’s new book is a well-written, even racy, account of how the British ruling class know each other and work together in all the ‘estates’: monarchy, capital, media and politics. What Marx used to call the ‘executive committee of the ruling class’ is not just the state or government, but all the layers of CEOs in business, newspaper moguls and editors, and government ministers and MPs. They all went to broadly the same schools and universities, belong to the same clubs and meet each other on a regular basis, both formally and informally.

Of course, as Jones says, there is nothing new in this idea of ‘the establishment’, but Jones brings it up to date with plenty of facts, observation and interviews with establishment figures and their hangers-on. He reveals the interconnected nexus at work to preserve and promote the interests of the ruling orders in Britain. Jones perceptively observes that the establishment find nothing wrong with this control of our lives and interests that bears no relation to ‘democracy’ – indeed subverts and by-passes it. Instead, our rulers feel they are ‘born to rule’ and deserve the power, privilege and wealth they accumulate. It is an exercise in unbridled hubris.

This weave of scratch-backing relationships really expresses the power of capital over the majority. ‘Follow the money’ is the cliché. And the establishment that Jones describes in shocking detail, in the final analysis, is glued together by the drive to accumulate profit and wealth for all in the hallowed groupings that constitute it. However, this is the slight weakness in the book. As one reviewer has pointed out, Jones “doesn’t say that corporate welfare is needed because of the weakness of capitalism; a falling profit rate and dearth of monetisable investment opportunities means that capitalism cannot stand on its own two feet.” But then this book is not political economy, but social investigation.

And Jones pulls his punches on what can we do about not letting the establishment “get away with it”. He calls for public ownership of the utilities and the railways, but not big business in general. He wants democratic control and planning of Britain’s state-owned banks, but not ownership of the big five. He wants all sorts of controls and taxes mainly on foreign businesses, as the radical Keynesian New Economics Foundation proposes.

Jones’ hope for a ‘democratic revolution’ along these lines would not be enough to break the establishment. That requires the end of the capitalist mode of production and the power of capital. Even so, Jones provides the reader with the most insightful dissection of Britain’s modern ruling class and all its corruption, venality and contempt for the rest of us. If every potential voter in next May’s general election were forced to read this book in order to vote, the incumbent government would lose by a landslide – and not necessarily to Labour.

Martin Wolf is definitely part of the British establishment: he was even a member of the recent UK banking commission, set up to consider how to improve the solidity of the banking system and avoid another collapse. As one reviewer put it: “Wolf has had top-level access to economic policy makers for decades now, seeing generations of finance ministers and central bank governors come and go. All of them care, deeply, about what he thinks and what he writes, and they tend to spend as much time as they can trying to persuade him of their point of view. The result is a classic virtuous cycle: He’s well informed because he’s extremely influential, and he’s influential because he’s extremely well informed.”

Wolf has a new book out, called The shifts and the shocks: What We’ve Learned — and Have Still to Learn — From the Financial Crisis. ( It has received the accolades from Krugman and others in the Keynesian stable.
Krugman in his review of Wolf ( points out that mainstream economics signally failed to forecast that a major credit and banking crisis was coming, then underestimated its depth and length in the Great Recession and since then have been unable to explain it. Krugman reckons that this was because mainstream economics was wedded to the neoclassical model of equilibrium and Says law, that supply will create its own demand, so anything that is not in equilibrium is a temporary ‘shock’.

It is rather ironic that Krugman and Wolf should paint this picture of failed neoclassical models, because neither of them forecast or predicted that a crisis was brewing from the development of capitalism in the 1990s onwards. Indeed, in 2005, before the global crash, Wolf had written a book, Why globalisation works, arguing that globalisation was beneficial to the world economy, raising living standards through the expansion of international trade and unregulated capital flows in the best of all possible worlds. Krugman won his Nobel prize for economics from expounding models of beneficient international trade.

In his new book, Wolf grudgingly admits that he was wrong about globalisation and the Great Moderation, as Ben Bernanke termed those years of ‘equilibrium’ and growth in the 1990s. It was merely disguising terrible imbalances and inequalities that eventually broke the bank, or banks.  But still, in the title of his new book, Wolf talks of the global financial crisis in terms of a ‘shock’, (a surprise), just as neoclassical economic models do.

Krugman said in his own book on the crisis (End depression now! –see my post, that anyway it does not matter what caused the crisis, let’s get on with fixing it. And he reckons that mainstream (Keynesian) economics has a Standard Model that does just that. Wolf’s book is “best viewed as an extended, learned, and well-informed exposition of this Standard Model and what it implies about where we should go from here.”

What is this Standard Model to which Krugman and Wolf subscribe? Well there was “a long period of relative economic stability which fueled complacency in both the private and public sectors, leading to an unsustainable rise in debt. Meanwhile, free-market ideology blinded policymakers to the dangers of growing financial debt, as with the vast number of underfunded mortgages, and in fact led them to dismantle many of the protections we had. And there was, inevitably in retrospect, a day of reckoning, in which the bubble of complacency burst and the fragility of our financial system turned that bursting bubble into catastrophe.” (Wolf).

So there it is again. There is nothing wrong with the process of capital accumulation and a profit-making economy. What is wrong is distribution of those profits. Rising inequality led to a lack of demand among consumers and imbalances in a globalising world. This led to an excessive expansion of debt that eventually burst. But the real problem was the fragility and weakness of the banking system to cope. Krugman comments: “Wolf’s essential story remains that of Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis: stability begets complacency, complacency begets carelessness and hence fragility, and fragility sets the stage for crisis. It’s a good story. But is it good enough?”

No, it is not. Wolf ignores the failure of productive sectors of the capitalist economy and so rests his explanation purely on the financial sector, for which the policy solution is ‘more regulation’. For him, even Thomas Piketty’s recommendation of a global wealth tax to deal with the cause of the crisis, inequality, “is unquestionably too ambitious.” Instead, he wants all kinds of regulatory measures, including equity-like mortgage contracts so that borrowers and creditors bear equal risk on loans, something advocated by Mian and Sufi in their celebrated book, House of Debt (see my post,

Above all, for Wolf, any policy changes will have to be made “without eliminating those aspects of an open world economy and integrated finance that are of benefit.” So reform will have to done without affecting the banking system too much – so no real reform then.

James Galbraith is altogether more radical because he is not part of the American establishment. Indeed, he has been confined to the ‘backwater’ (as he puts it) of economic thought and policy by the established mainstream. Son of the famous JK Galbraith of the New Deal and 1960s institutional radical economics, who was also consigned to the economic rubbish bin by dominant neoclassical economics, son James also has a new book on the crisis called The End of Normal (
Galbraith’s main argument is that after the Great Recession, there will be no ‘return to normal’ – a theme that I have also pushed in this blog (see my post, For Galbraith, the ‘market system’ does not tend naturally toward a state of full production and high employment. That’s because there is no free market, but really a series of oligopolies.

Galbraith is convinced that the crisis of capitalism lies in the fast exhaustion of natural resources by rapacious multi-nationals. Large companies have stopped investing in technology etc because of the lack of good growth opportunities, caused by scarce or expensive resources. The crisis came about because capitalists speculated and fraud took over because it was expedient to allow the financial system to make up for lack of growth opportunities elsewhere. He concludes that “fixed capital and embedded technology are essential for efficient productive operations, but that resource costs can render any fixed system fragile, and that corruption can destroy any human institution.”

Following his father, Galbraith reckons that it is not some law of falling profitability that pushes capitalism into crisis, but that large monopoly organisations are not only not efficient but also rigid and so destabilise when conditions become adverse. This theory suggests that a freely competitive economy without monopolies would be stable or that it is not the exhaustion of profit that causes an investment strike, but the exhaustion of natural resources, Ricardian or Malthusian style.  But has capitalism collapsed because populations have rocketed or oil has disappeared? No, oil production has rocketed with the expansion of shale in North America and population growth has slowed in most major capitalist economies. Capitalism continues to exploit resources successfully (and rapaciously) at the cost of planet and climate.

Galbraith really denies that there are any laws of motion in capitalism; it is all a question of institutions. Get rid of ‘cronyism’ and get more democracy in industry and commerce and all will be well?  Recently Galbraith spoke at the Rethinking Economics conference in New York (see my post, in which he argued that economic theory was too embedded in models and not in the history of institutions. Look at correcting institutions and not at models of economies, says Galbraith. But in doing so, Galbraith seems to reduce recurrent economic crises to just the ‘fragility of complexity’. What about the contradiction between private profit and social need under the capitalist mode of production? In another place, Galbraith has dismissed the Marxist view (see his paper, as one that “lacks interest in policy: at the heart of things, they (the radicals/Marxists) don’t believe that the existing system can made to work”. Indeed, but it seems Galbraith does.

This brings me to the only new book with a Marxist perspective and by definition part of the backwater and anti-establishment. In Deciphering Capital (, Alex Callinicos analyses Marx’s method in reaching an understanding of the laws of motion of capitalism. And such laws do exist.

It is said that everybody reckons that they have a novel in them waiting to come out. It is also said that is just as well that most people don’t get round to writing it. Unfortunately some do. Near the beginning of his new book, Callinicos refers to a comment by David Harvey, who in the preface of his book, The limits of capital, says “Everyone who studies Marx, it is said, feels compelled to write a book about the experience”. Somehow I doubt that is true, but certainly Callinicos has wanted to complete such a book, particularly on Marx’s Capital. And on this occasion, it was worth doing.

Callinicos aims to identify the purpose and structure of Marx’s Capital with the central idea of capital as a social relation. In particular, he cites early on the confusions created by Michael Heinrich, an eminent scholar of Marx’s writings, about Capital. This is a critique that I can chime with as I (with G Carchedi) only last year spent some time dealing Heinrich’s attempts to rubbish Marx’s law of profitability and its relevance to crises of capitalism (see my posts, and our paper,

Callinicos correctly isolates the key double relation of capital as a mode of production. It is first the exploitation of wage labour by the owners of capital; and at the same time, a competitive battle among capitals. The first is an analysis of ‘capital in general’ and the second is one of ‘many capitals’. Both are necessary to a clear understanding of capitalism’s laws of motion.
In trying to explain how this double relation works, Callinicos seeks to dissect the structure of Capital, the book. His first insight is to argue that, while Marx owes a huge debt to Hegel, the philosopher of dialectical thought who brings out the contradictions in society, Marx transcends and leaves Hegel behind, both in his materialist conclusions and in the structure of Capital, the book.
Callinocos takes some space to explain the connection between Marx’s method and that of Hegel.

These can be difficult chapters for the uninitiated but worth pursuing. Callinocos reaches the original conclusion that Marx transcends Hegel not just in ‘turning him upside down’ from idealism to materialism, a well-known insight, but in the dialectical structure of Capital itself.

As Callinicos perceptively points out, Marx dealt with problems by working them out as he went along. Indeed, Marx forges his own ideas ‘in dialogue’ with Hegel on the one hand and economist David Ricardo on the other. For example, it is not just noting that value is to be found in the substance of labour as Ricardo had realised. For Marx, it was that the capitalist mode of production had become the driver of all human labour power.

The biggest problem for anybody trying to grasp where Marx is going is that his work is so vast and often just sheafs of notes not worked out in a final text. Marx never seemed to finish anything before he was onto to the next subject or sidetracked into a different path, apart from facing permanent problems of money, living and health for him and his family. As a result, even Capital is unfinished and left for Engels and others after him to edit and interpret. Engels comes in for a lot of stick for ‘editing’ Marx into distortion – a charge Heinrich and others have levelled. But as Callinicos points out, Engels did the best he could and in reality he was the only one who could read and edit Marx’s manuscripts. Later editors like Kautsky have much more to be criticised for.

Whatever the failure of editors, it is clear that a reading of Capital in its three volumes and the Theories of Surplus value provide an overall theory of the capitalist mode of production, which “had taken definite shape in the course of the 1860s that Marx does not seem to have subsequently abandoned”. Thus Callinicos confirms the conclusions of Henryk Grossman and Rodolsky before.
Marx’s method is to proceed from the abstract to the concrete, from commodity to value and surplus value and then to capital, and from production to distribution. In other words, the essence of capitalism is then added to with “increasingly complex determinations”. Or as Henryk Grossman argued back in 1929, ‘[t]he construction of all three volumes of Capital was carried out methodologically on the basis of the meticulously thought-out and actually implemented procedure of successive approximation [Annäherungsverfahren]…. Each provisional simplification correlates with a later, corresponding concretisation.’ So the initial abstract treatment of capitalism is made progressively more concrete. Or as Callinicos puts it, Capital is structured like a “chain of problems, the solution to each of which drives us onto the next”.

Why is this method so important? It avoids crass empiricism by providing a theoretical framework for analysing data or phenomena (it sets up some ‘priors’ if you like), but it also avoids arid theory by connecting all the surface appearances of Capital. Thus a stock market crash can be seen in the context of the law of value and Marx’s law of profitability. Callinicos brings that home in an excellent chapter on Marx’s theory and explanation of crises.

Callinicos accepts that Marx does not present “an articulated and finished theory of crisis” but cleverly identifies six ‘determinations’ of crisis in Marx’s writings. There is the formal possibility (or enabling factors) of crisis in commodity exchange and the credit system (the area so beloved by Keynes and Minsky). Then there are the conditioning factors of the accumulation of capital and the generation of the reserve army of labour. And finally there are the contradictory conditions invoked by the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the profit and credit cycle.

In his early works, Marx had really only conceived of the enabling factors in crises: the separation of purchase and sale in commodity transactions and the disruption of money’s role through credit. It was only from Grundrisse onwards that he develops his fully fledged theory of crises based on the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as the “most important law of political economy”.

Callinicos deals well with the alternatives to his interpretation of Marx’s crisis theory that are based on underconsumption (overproduction), disproportion of sectors, or intense competition or stagnating monopoly. In contrast, for Marx, crises are a “necessary violent means” for a “restoration of a sound rate of profit” and because the tendency is for that to fall over time, crises continually reoccur. And thus there is no way out of exploitation and continual, and ever more devastating, slumps in the employment and incomes of the majority except through the replacement of the capitalist mode of production – contrary to the views of Wolf, Krugman or even Galbraith.