Sunday, March 18, 2018

Iranian Students Jailed for Democracy Protests

It was the leftist students at Tehran University who stood in solidarity with the nationwide protests and chanted “Reformist or principalist, this story has come to an end!”, a powerful slogan that challenged party-centric establishment politics and immediately became popular across the country.

by Sina Zekavat
Reprinted from the Alliance of Midde Eastern Socialists
March 16, 2018

After a wave of popular protests began in Iran in December and called for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, the regime immediately arrested over one hundred leftist student activists in order to prevent the development of any organic relationship between the working-class protesters and the university students.  These students were mostly abducted from their homes at night, were charged with “endangering national security,” detained for up to several weeks, partially released and told to wait for their trials.

In early March, the first set of trials were held and issued the following verdicts:   A six-year prison sentence and an additional two-year travel ban for  Leila Hosseinzadeh, a Tehran University anthropology student and student council representative.    A one-year prison sentence and an additional two-year travel ban for Sina Rabi’i, a sociology student at Tehran University.  Other students such as Parisa Rafi’i, Marzieh Amiri, Zahra Ahmadi  are currently on trial or expect to be put on trial in April.

On March 11, a gathering by students at Tehran’s Polytechnic University to protest these verdicts,  was violently attacked by members of the government’s paramilitary Basij forces  who accused the students of being “Zionists” and severely beat them.  Other students at Allameh Tabataba’i University held a protest and carried the symbolic corpse of a student on their backs.

The long prison sentence given to Leila Hosseinzadeh seems to be related to the fact that she is an outspoken socialist feminist and student leader.

The latest revival of leftist demands and politics among university students across Iran started  a few years ago in reaction to the intensified imposition of fees on higher education and university services/amenities on the one hand, and an increasing use of security forces on university campuses on the other, by both political parties, i.e. reformists and principalists.

For a long time the reformists had held a rigid monopoly over campus politics and mobilization.  But it was during the December 2017 mass protests that this monopoly was profoundly challenged.  In fact it was the leftist students at Tehran University who stood in solidarity with the nationwide protests and chanted “Reformist or principalist, this story has come to an end!”, a powerful slogan that challenged party-centric establishment politics and immediately became popular across the country.

The student movement in Iran is regaining its independence and centrality in Iran’s domestic as well as foreign politics. It is of critical importance for other internationalist, progressive and anti-capitalist student movements across the globe to lend their support to this student movement and stand in solidarity with organizers such as Leila Hosseinzadeh and others.

Sina Zekavat
March 16, 2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018

An Irish Day. No St Patrick

James Connolly the Irish socialist leader. 

Note. We are republishing this from an earlier St Patrick's Day. We should recognize that the US VP Mike Pence was celebrating St. Patrick's Day in Savannah Georgia. If the revolutionary history of Ireland was being celebrated, the history of Connolly and Larkin and the heroic men and women that fought for centuries for Irish freedom----in other words Irish revolutionary history----Pence and people like him wouldn't be celebrating it, they'd be condemning it.
Green rivers, green clothes, alcohol, people dressed up as leprechauns, this is what they want. It's an insult to the Irish martyrs and to Irish revolutionary history and culture.

Sean O'Torain.

I do not call it St. Patricks Day as there are no such thing as Saints. I call it an Irish day. When christian ideas came to dominate in Ireland they crushed the more democratic society which was based on the Brehon laws. Women had more rights under these laws. Christianity imposed the male dictatorship of the Catholic church. It did so to grow fat and rich and also to try to impose its rule in England Scotland and Wales. The last few years have shown the disaster Catholicism has been for Ireland. Child abuse the economic collapse of the capitalist system, the Catholic church had its dirty fingers in these. If there ever was a Patrick he was a catastrophe for the Irish.

So what does somebody like myself do on this day, an atheist, a socialist, an Irish emigrant in Chicago, and somebody who misses my home land so much that there are times driving home after work that I howl in anguish. I cannot go to the Irish American societies with their nonsense of dying the river green and dressing as leprechauns and praying to priests. I cannot go for another reason. The Irish events are in the main parades and gatherings which spout right wing ideas. The Irish American organizations are dominated by right wing business people. They are trying to claw their way up in US capitalist society. To succeed in this they must abandon the best Irish traditions. That is the traditions of struggle, of Henry Joy and the United Irishmen, when was the last time you heard him mentioned on an Irish parade, of the Fenians, of James Connolly, of Jim Larkin, of Liam Mellowes. To mention these fighters and this tradition would damage their efforts to advance in US capitalist society. So not able to celebrate these they dye the river green wear green shirts and bow to the Catholic priests. This Irish day is not a good one for me.

Before my heath failed me I used to organize an alternative Irish day. The last one was with my friend and African American blues player Jimmie Lee Robinson. The theme was to thank the African American people for what they did to help Irish culture. The idea was that the black revolt in the US in the 1950's and 1960's inspired the civil rights movement in Ireland. In the initial period before nationalism took over, the movement there marched under the African American civil rights song "We shall overcome." The civil rights movement in Ireland inspired by the black revolt in the US in turn increased interest in Irish culture and revived it dramatically.

Jimmie Lee and I went to the theatre where the event was to take place. It was closed and the door locked. The people who had said they would get it for us and help us with the event did not turn up. I would later find out that they were close to the Daly machine and when they thought more about helping me and Jimmie Lee they thought it would not be good for their careers.

Not defeated we went on to an Irish pub where I knew there would be a session. Sure enough about a dozen people were sitting round playing and singing. I asked them could Jimmie Lee sit in. It was like I threw a grenade with the pin pulled in amongst them. They went into a frantic whispering huddle. Then they sent two of their number over and said that Jimmie Lee could not join because the rhythm of Irish music and African American music was different. I could see by their pathetic expressions and tone of voice that I was listening to lies. It was the different color of Jimmie's skin that was the problem.

I apologized profusely to Jimmie and turned to leave. As we went a man jumped up from the session and followed us. I know where you can play. At Mary's. Come on. Hesitantly as I did not want a repeat of the racist insult to Jimmie we followed our new acquaintance. Mary's was a tiny pub and was empty except for Mary who was behind the counter. Sure Sure set up in the corner there. Jimmie Lee with his guitar and spurs which he used for percussion and Neiley our new friend with his bodhran got going. With Jimmie leading and encouraging Neiley very soon the music was flowing. The blues with a whiff of the Irish now and then. It was beautiful.

Then the door opened and in came three bikers, leather, chains, big boots the lot. With my stereotype I thought ah no racism, trouble. I said to Neiley if they insult Jimmie Lee we will have to fight. I will not have him insulted twice in one night. Neiley momentarily went white and then recovered and said okay. I knew then I had made a genuine new friend.

The bikers came with their bottles in their hands and stood around the corner where Jimmie Lee and Neiley were playing. Watching. Listening. Then the most wonderful thing happened. After about ten minutes the bikers were singing and shouting and dancing to the music. Mary was clapping her hands behind the bar and laughing with glee. The music had done it.

I still miss Ireland very bad but every now and then I get a moment like this and the US is bearable. Just as long as I do not go to the parades with their Chicago cops pipe band, these cops with their tradition of killing workers and African Americans, marching with their bagpipes wearing Scottish tartans and pretending to be Irish. It is a tough life.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

From Communism to Activism?

by Michael Roberts

Last week, to commemorate 170 years since Marx and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto, the editors of the UK’s Financial Times commissioned two executives of a ‘corporate advisory’ firm to consider what was right and wrong in that seminal work about capitalism and communism.  The two FT writers started by declaring that “as a partner in a corporate advisory firm and a professor of law and finance, we are true believers in free-market capitalism”, but nevertheless, the 1848 manifesto still had some value, especially “in the wake of a calamitous financial crisis and in the midst of whirlwind social change, a popular distaste of financial capitalists, and widespread revolutionary activity”.

But the FT authors wanted to convert the Communist Manifesto into what they call a “Activist Manifesto”.  They threw out the outdated concepts of two classes: capitalists and workers; and replaced them with the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.  You see, classes and crises are out of date as the main critique of capitalism now is rising inequality, which the FT authors claim the Communist Manifesto was really about.  “As in Marx’s and Engels’ time, economic inequality is rising, wages are stagnating, and the owners of productive capital are reaping the benefits of technological advances”.

But the solution to this, the FT authors are at pains to say, is not the confiscation of private property or communism – this only breeds “murderous tyrannies”.  And “we also think Marx and Engels would update their views about private property. While the abolition of private property was their first and most prominent demand, we think they would recognise that Have-Nots have benefited from property rights. Moreover, we argue that state-held property is problematic, leading to waste, inefficiency and the likelihood of being co-opted by the Haves in our societies today. As the role of the state has grown, inequality has also grown. And the Have-Nots have been the ones who have paid for it.”

Instead what we need is ‘shareholder activism’ in companies “shaking up complacent boards and advocating for changes in corporate strategy and capital structure.” This is the way forward, according to our FT authors 170 years after Marx and Engels’ manifesto.  And even the global elite recognise it: “many Haves too are activists already today… Think of the billionaires such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, who already support philanthropic efforts to alleviate inequality”.  So that’s all right then.

Should the Communist Manifesto be rewritten as a plea for ‘activism’ led by billionaires to reduce inequalities, rather than the abolition of private property in the means of production and the replacement of capitalism with communism?  While the FT was publishing its view on the Communist Manifesto today, I was delivering a talk on social classes today at the Metropolitan University of Mexico in Mexico City (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana – UAM) as part of my recent visit there.  I too started off with a reminder that it was 170 years since the Communist Manifesto was published.  But I emphasised that the basic division of capitalism between two classes: the owners of the means of production (corporations globally) and those who own nothing and only have their labour power to sell; remains pretty much unchanged from how it was in 1848.

Recent empirical work on the US class division of incomes has been done by Professor Simon Mohun
.  Mohun analysed US income tax returns and divided taxpayers into those who could live totally off income from capital (rent, interest and dividends) – the true capitalists, and those who had to work to make a living (wages).  He compared the picture in 1918 with now and found that only 3.8% of taxpayers could be considered capitalists, while 88% were workers in the Marxist definition.  In 2011, only 2% were capitalists and near 84% were workers.  The ‘managerial’ class, ie workers who also had some income from capital (a middle class ?) had grown a little from 8% to 14%, but still not decisive.  Capitalist incomes were 11 times higher on average than workers in 1918, but now they were 22 times larger.  The old slogan of the 1% and the 99% is almost accurate.

The class divide described in the Communist Manifesto is that between those who own and those who do not and Mohun’s ‘class’ stats confirm that.  For Marx and Engels, all previous history has been one of class struggle over the surplus created by labour.  In slave economies, the owners of capital literally owned humans as source of their surplus; in feudal society, they controlled the days of work and obligations of the serfs.

Under capitalism, the surplus was usurped in a hidden ‘invisible’ way.  Workers were paid a wage – a fair wage – but they produced more value in the commodities they made for sale and it was this surplus value realised in the sale of commodities (goods and services) that capitalists accumulated. 

The class struggle under capitalism thus took the form of a struggle between the share of value going to wages or profits.  As Marx put it in Capital: “In the class struggle as a finale in which is found the solution of the whole smear! From a struggle over wages, hours and working conditions or relief, it becomes, even as it fights for those things, a struggle for the overthrow of the capitalist system of production – a struggle for proletarian revolution.”

In my presentation to UAM in Mexico, I ambitiously argued that we can gauge the intensity of the class struggle from the balance of forces in the wage-profit battle.  I used statistics of strikes in the UK since 1890 against the profitability of UK capital (for more on this, see my paper, Mapping out the class struggle).  The first long depression of capitalism was at its deepest just as Marx died in 1883. It came to an end in the UK in the early 1890s: profitability recovered and the labour movement strengthened with the advent of new mass unions.  Labour disputes erupted for a while.  The fall back in profitability from 1907 then sparked a new battle over the surplus leading to intense levels of strikes just before the WWI broke out.

After the war, the class struggle resumed with some intensity, but in the UK that ended with the defeat of the general strike in 1926.  On the back of that defeat, UK capital recovered some profitability while the unions were weakened.  Strikes and class struggle were depressed by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The second world war drove up profitability and the labour movement also made a recovery.  It was the golden age of growth, investment, employment and the ‘welfare state’.  So when the profitability crisis of the late 1960s and 1970s commenced, British workers fought hard to maintain their gains.  Strikes were at a high level and there was talk of revolution.  That struggle came to an end with the defeat of the miners in 1985.  What followed was rising profitability in the neo-liberal period, along with weakened trade unions.  This was a recipe for low levels of class struggle.  With the Great Recession and the subsequent Long Depression, that low intensity continued.

I concluded from this short analysis that the class struggle as described in the Communist Manifesto has not disappeared and neither have the two basic classes, contrary to the amendments advocated in the ‘Activist Manifesto’ of the FT authors.  But the intensity of that struggle depends on the objective conditions of the profitability of capital and the strength of labour.  Class struggle is not always at fever pitch, revolutionary moments are rare.

The most intense periods of struggle appear to be when the labour movement is reasonably strong in incomes and organisation but when the profitability of capital has started to fall, according to Marx’s law of profitability.  Then the battle over the share of the surplus and wages rises.  Historically, in the UK that was from 1910 just before and just after WW1; and in the 1970s.  Such objective conditions have so far not arisen again.  So the spectre of Communism haunting Europe – the phrase that Marx and Engels started with their manifesto in 1848 (in a similar intense period as those above) – is not yet with us again.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Israel/Palestine: Capitalism Cannot Solve This Conflict. It Created It.

 Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired.

"We will never forgive the Arabs for forcing us to kill their children" Golda Meir.

I listened to a couple of speeches today. One was from the Cambridge Union debate on a proposal to declare the two state solution dead. The other is this presentation by Gideon Levy to the Israel Lobby conference last week. Levy has in the past been a big supporter of the two state argument and is a courageous and decent individual. All working class people that are concerned not just about what is happening here in the US----what directly affects them----should listen to Levy's speech here. Mr. Levy  lays bare the brutal violent truth about Zionism and counters the lies and propaganda about Israel being a democracy, about Israel being the victim, about Jews being the chosen people and that colonizers of the land have the same legitimate right to it as the colonized.

But as in the debate at the Cambridge Union, there is no clear path to a solution. It is clear that among those that thought there would be some semblance of peace and stability have lost confidence if not completely lost hope that anything can be done.  In the Cambridge debate and in this powerful contribution by Mr. Levy who does use the term colonialism, we never hear mention of capitalism or imperialism or the term working class.  I believe Mr. Levy is sincere when he says that Jews and Palestinians can live together and him and many others want this. But the reality is that there are some things, some social crises to which there is no solution within the framework of capitalism.

The major issues of course are environmental pollution, climate change, the threat of nuclear war or partial nuclear war and the many consequences of these such as global warming,  changing weather patterns and what are falsely referred to as "natural disasters". These issues are placing the real destruction of life as we know it on the order of the day.

But there are also other issues such as the increased regional conflicts, collapse of nation states and failed states that can hardly be called states at all. The Israel/Palestine issue just like the Northern Ireland Catholic/Protestant one, or the Korean Peninsula problem are examples of this.

The crisis in the Middle East and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a part of it has its roots in the capitalist system and its imperialist phase in particular. These ongoing crises cannot be solved by the same forces that caused them no more than global hunger can be.

Gideon Levy is trying to find a solution where one doesn't exist. Elon Musk, wants to save the human species by colonizing Mars making a healthy profit in the process.. For Musk, like Gideon Levy but without the integrity and courage,  there is no alternative to capitalism, the working class doesn't exist as a force for change.

But the only force of change is the working class.  The Arab masses are a potentially powerful force we have seen this already. It is clear that what was missing in the Arab Spring was a revolutionary leadership.  The only solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can be realized through a mass united working class in the Middle East and the world and the struggle to build a democratic socialist society, a world federation of democratic socialist states.

It is a radical thing to accept that only a socialist revolution and socialist transformation of society can not only resolve the Israel/Palestinian question but also prevent environmental catastrophe that is certain if capitalism is not overthrown. It is also for many, inconceivable that only the working class can achieve this. But the truth is concrete.  The consequence of non action, of not seeing that there is an alternative, that those whose collective labor power creates wealth can collectively own the means by which that wealth is created and allocated in society, is an end to life as we know it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Iran: Labor Strikes, Women’s Protests Continue

“The Free Union of Iranian Workers considers itself part of the movement for liberation from gender discrimination and any type of inequality in the social life of human beings.  Thus  we condemn the attacks on justice-seeking and freedom-loving women and men in front of the Ministry of Labor.  We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all who have been arrested in front of this ministry,  and the cancellation of  the judgments issued against the Daughters of Revolution Avenue,  an end to their prosecution and an end to all the forms of discrimination that have been forced upon the women of Iran during the past four decades.”

Frieda Afary

March 8, 2018

Ten weeks after a wave of nationwide popular demonstration called for the overthrow of the Iranian regime and an end to its military intervention in the region,  the  uprising is continuing in a different form:  Multiple labor strikes, labor actions,  women’s protests against the compulsory hijab and other discriminatory laws,  actions by families of political prisoners,  Sufi Dervishes, and  environmental protests.  The state has also stiffened its crackdown on women activists, workers, environmental activists and Sufis.   Several detainees,  including a professor and environmental activist, Kavous Seyed Emami,   a Sufi Dervish, Mohammad Raji,  and  young protesters such as Sina Ghanbari and Vahid Heydari   have been killed in state custody, and their deaths have been attributed to  “committing suicide.”

In this article, I would like to focus on labor protests, women’s protests, and ways in which international socialists and progressives might be able to  express their solidarity with them.

I. Labor Protests/Strikes Everywhere

Currently various labor protests and strikes in steel, sugarcane, oil and petrochemicals, machinery  production as well as telecommunications, railways,  construction, transportation,  education, healthcare, municipal services,  and carrying of cargo (by porters) are taking place on a daily basis.   

The protests also involve retirees,  the young unemployed,  and the disabled.

These labor actions are mostly demanding the payment of back wages and benefits (anywhere from one month to two years)  and oppose the lack of job security in an economy in which the majority of those employed are contract-employees with few or no benefits.   The employers are mostly either directly part of the state and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other parastatal foundations, or indirectly related to the state in the form of  contractors.

The  protests have mostly taken place in the province of Khuzestan in the south.  Khuzestan is one of Iran’s  industrial centers,  has a majority Arab population and has been experiencing severe environmental problems related to  the drying up of bodies of water and marshes caused by government policies aimed at maximizing short-term profits and the monopolization of resources for the capital and the provinces of Central Iran.     Strikes and labor protests are also taking place in the provinces of Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Lorestan, Isfahan, Fars, Markazi and Tehran as well as others.
The most prominent strikes are currently the following:
  1. National Steel strike in Ahvaz, Khuzestan over the non-payment of wages/benefits involves 4000 workers and is in its seventeenth day.   On Thursday, March 1,  security police attacked the homes of ten workers, arrested them for “illegal” protest activities and later set a $10,000 bail for each.  The strikers have been marching around the city of Ahvaz  to demand their release and have been joined by their wives and other family members at a protest in front of the state house.
  2. The Haft-Tapeh Sugarcane strike in Khuzestan over the non-payment of wages/benefits and the precarious conditions of contract workers and day laborers. This strike also demands the legalization of independent unions.   It involves several thousand workers,  including retirees and has faced multiple attacks by security forces as well as arrests of workers.  The Haft Tapeh workers have been some of the most militant during the past several years.
  3. The Hepco machine workers’ strike in Arak, Central Province, over the non-payment of wages/benefits, massive lay offs (reducing the number of employees from 4000 to 1000) and a major cut in production.
Women’s  presence in the ongoing  labor strikes/actions has not been limited to supporting male family members.   Women have been actively involved in  the protests of  education, healthcare workers and retirees.   A new and promising development  is  the expression of support from some  male workers for the rights of women as women.   On January 30, the Association  of Electrical and Metal Workers of Kermanshah issued a statement in which  they defended the actions of women who have been protesting the compulsory hijab:  “There is no doubt that the girls and boys who have become knowns as “those from Revolution Avenue,” also  include women and men workers,  and those from the lower  layers of society.   Therefore,  the Iranian working class,  half of whom are women,  considers this current movement against the compulsory hijab as related to itself and is obligated to support it with determination.” (

II. Women’s Protests Against the Compulsory Hijab and Other forms of Discrimination

Since December 7 when an individual woman,  Vida Movahed stood on top of a utility box in Tehran’s Revolution Avenue,  took off her headscarf and waved it on a stick as a sign of protest against the compulsory hijab,  at least 30 women have been arrested  for similar acts in Tehran and other cities throughout Iran.   Some were temporarily  released after posting heavy bails.  However, as these individual acts of protest continued to multiply,  the authorities became more and more violent.
Maryam Shariatmadari,  who was pushed off a utility box on February 22,  suffered a broken leg which requires operation.  She is currently being held in Gharchak prison (near Tehran)  where she has to climb up to the second level of a bunk bed in order to sleep at night.  Hamraz Sadeghi  who  stood on top of a utility box in Tehran on February 24,  was pushed off and  viciously beaten by a plainclothes officer,  arrested and taken to the Gharchak prison.   The  “Daughters of Revolution Avenue” as they have come to be known,  are now being charged with “inciting corruption and promoting prostitution” and face ten-year prison sentences.

On March 8, International Women’s Day,  following a call by some women’s rights activists,  at least a hundred women and men attempted to come together to protest in front of the Ministry of Labor in Tehran.  Before they could even gather,  they were attacked and beaten.  At least 84 people (59 women and 25 men)  were arrested by the police.  Those who were arrested  were taken to jail by vans which were already there to transport them.

The call for this International Women’s Day action, had  demanded an end to gender discrimination in the work place, family and society as a whole,  including an end to the compulsory hijab.   Following the attempted protest,  the organizers  still issued a  statement demanding an end to workplace discrimination and sexual segregation as well as equal rights at work,  in marriage,  and the right to choose one’s own clothing.

A welcome development was also a statement of solidarity from the  Free Union of Iranian Workers,  the most outspoken labor union in Iran,  the most critical of capitalism,  and jointly led by a man and a woman,   Jafar Azimzadeh and Parvin Mohammadi.    In a statement in honor of  International Women’s Day,  the union stated:

“Women are not semi-humans.  They are human beings,  and for that reason,  the women’s movement is one of the most determinant social movements involved in the historical changes that  our country encounters.  It is a movement of millions and has a deep connection with human liberation.  That is why the women’s movement has had a continuous and unbreakable connection with the labor movement, its horizons and ideals in every era in modern history.”

“The Free Union of Iranian Workers considers itself part of the movement for liberation from gender discrimination and any type of inequality in the social life of human beings.  Thus  we condemn the attacks on justice-seeking and freedom-loving women and men in front of the Ministry of Labor.  We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all who have been arrested in front of this ministry,  and the cancellation of  the judgments issued against the daughters of Revolution Avenue,  an end to their prosecution and an end to all the forms of discrimination that have been forced upon the women of Iran during the past four decades.”

III.  How to Express Solidarity with Iranian Labor and Women’s Struggles?

For those socialists and progressives who wish to express their solidarity with these struggles, while also opposing any imperialist intervention in Iran, here are some ways in which you can make a difference:
  1. If you know someone who speaks Persian, ask them to help you follow  the website of the  Free Union of Iranian Workers  which has  been the best at reporting current labor struggles there.   Go to
You can also go to the weblog of the Association of Electrical and Metal Workers of
or the website of the Tehran Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate

You can also contact the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran which is an organization of socialist and labor activists based in Canada:
  1. You can join the campaign in solidarity with Middle Eastern political prisoners which is being promoted by the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists and  a diverse group of socialist and labor activists around the world.
Choose one or more of the political prisoners featured in this brochure and write about them in your individual or organizational website or blog.  At meetings or other actions related to labor, feminist and anti-racist causes,  bring up their names and talk about the connections between their struggles and those in your country or community.    Among Iranian labor activist political prisoners,  the most well-known  is  Reza Shahabi,  the leader of the Tehran Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate who has been in and out of prison for the past 8 years,  and is currently in the notorious Rajai Shahr prison,  suffering from a  prison-caused stroke.   Mohammad Habibi,  one of the leaders of the Tehran Teachers’ Union was  violently arrested in his classroom and in front of his students on March 3.  There is no information about where he is being held.  Two other imprisoned teachers,  Mahmoud Beheshti Langarudi and Esmail Abdi, are currently languishing in prison.   The above mentioned brochure   features two Iranian women political prisoners, feminist and human rights activists Narges Mohammadi and Kurdish women’s rights activist Zeynab Jalalian. You can also add the names of Atena Daemi and Golrokh Iraee, feminist and human rights activists who are currently on hunger strike.
  1. If you are interested in declaring your support for women’s protests against the compulsory hijab and other forms of gender discrimination, you can go to the socialist feminist statement below,  sign it, write about it on your website, demand the release of the women and men who have been arrested in the above mentioned protests:

You can also reach out to other socialist feminists and progressives  and explain that solidarity with the Iranian women’s protests against the compulsory hijab in no way promotes  Islamophobia or hatred for Muslims.  This struggle is about the right to choose,  the right to autonomy,  the right to have control over one’s own body,  all of which are among the most fundamental rights demanded by the feminist movement around the world.

Frieda Afary
March 8, 2018

Friday, March 9, 2018

West Virginia Educational workers defy union tops and defeat bosses. The shape of things to come.

West Virginia Educators show the way. 
Sean O'Torain.

There is an article in today's New York Times (NYT) Friday March 9th  page A 13. It is titled "Striking Teachers defied West Virginia, and their own union, too". The authors are Jess
Bidgood and Campbell Robertson. This article has useful information. 

The strike in WV and this article in the New York Times make it clear that the weakness of the apparatus of the union was initially a plus once the union membership took action, once the union membership had had enough. The more the bosses weaken the unions the more they weaken the pro capitalist privileged bureaucracy that presently control the unions and the more they open the door to rank and file movements from below. Consider a few quotes from teachers and education workers rank and file union members and union officials in West Virginia. A union official says her phone exploded with "We cannot go back to school. Our union sold us out." This bureaucrat of the union is quoted as saying when the members refused to go along that she was in tears and called the superintendent and "I had to ask him to turn around and call school off"!! This shows the way in which the union bureaucracy have come to see things from the side of the bosses. This bureaucrat was crying because she had to tell the boss the teachers and education workers were staying on strike!!!!!!!!!    

The journalists write that with no collective bargaining rights and their leaders against them the teachers and education workers mounted a "state wide stoppage anyway and made their demands heard and marshalled public support and stuck together until they won. And the rank and file, not union leaders, came to call the shots". Exactly. A labor historian, a bourgeois academic, is quoted as saying: "Unions have tended throughout most of their histories to be forces that seek stability, not unrest.When they are weakened, we're more likely to see the re- emergence of instability and militancy, and the kind of model we're seeing happen in West Virginia." This academic was talking about the union leadership not the unions. 

The Republican leader of the state senate in West Virginia said that "the decentralized aspects of the strike made it difficult to reach a settlement that would satisfy the teachers". He also said " There's just this sort of organic - I don't know what to call it. More like an uprising". Precisely. 

This is in line with what Facts For Working People (FFWP) the organizers of this Blog have been saying. That there will be huge movements of the working class in the US and the more the bosses weaken the union bureaucracies and the more the union bureaucracies cave to the bosses the greater will be the "organic"  as the capitalist politician says - "More like an uprising".   

The union leaders took a vote and calling for a limited state wide walkout. But as the article in the NYT says quoting a school superintendent: "It started out with the membership following their state leaders. But when the state leaders made a decision that the employees didn't like they took it in a different direction".  One union member, a bus driver, speaks of a meeting the workers held at the capital. He is quoted as saying: "None of our union reps were over there. We just did it as a whole, because we felt we were being lied to". One of the teachers unions is now talking further about a state wide lock out as its "leadership try to catch up with its membership". They will have a time catching up. As one teacher said " We have proven this is long overdue. The  union they don't know how to do this". Again as FFWP have been explaining there will be a great movement of the US working class in the coming period. The union bureaucracy will seek to prevent it. But they will be incapable. 

In considering the situation of US labor at this time we should remember that the biggest general strike and occupations ever in an advanced industrial country were in France in 1968 when only 10% of the workers in that country were organized. It is wrong to be pessimistic for the US workers movement.

When this becomes clear they will try to catch up with this movement to control this movement. When this is impossible there will be splits in the union leadership and some will seek to play a more positive role. However this cannot be depended upon. A rank and file movement must be built in the unions and the workplaces. It must be based on the following principles: End the so-called team work concept, that is end working with and capitulating to the bosses. For an independent fighting democratic union movement. Organize the unorganized. For this movement to fight for:  A living wage for all.  A $15.00 an hour minimum wage or a $5.00 wage increase for all whichever is the greater. Free health care and education for all and a cancellation of student debt. A guaranteed job for all, a job is a human right. Union rights and union organization in every workplace.

The capitalist parties are fragmenting. For the building of a mass workers party to represent working peoples' interests. For an end to racism and sexism, build a united working class movement. An end to all wars and occupations, use the military expenditure for human needs. An end to the destruction of the climate and the environment. An end to the dictatorship of the corporations over US economic life and society. For a democratic socialist society in which the collective power and the collective brain of the working class will own and run society on a democratic socialist sustainable manner. The West Virginia teachers and education workers showed that US workers will increasingly challenge the status quo which is in favor of and controlled by the corporations. The task is for movements such as these to build a different society.  

UNAM 3 – the robotic future *

by Michael Roberts

My third and final lecture at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) was on the impact of robots and artificial intelligence (AI). Are robots set to take over the world of work and thus the economy in the next generation and what does this mean for jobs and living standards for people? Will it mean socialist utopia in our time (the end of human toil and a superabundant harmonious society) or capitalist dystopia (more intense crises and class conflict)? Robots and AI Mexico

As readers of my blog know (only too often), I consider the current period in the world capitalist economy as a long depression, with low productivity, investment and trade growth.

One question is whether robots and AI can turn things round for capitalism and perhaps for us all. Robots have arrived. The level of robotics use has almost always doubled in the top capitalist economies in the last decade. Japan and Korea have the most robots per manufacturing employee, over 300 per 10,000 employees, with Germany following at over 250 per 10,000 employees. The United States has less than half the robots per 10,000 employees compared to Japan and The Republic of Korea. The adoption rate of robots increased in this period by 40% in Brazil, by 210% in China, by 11% in Germany, by 57% in The Republic of Korea, and by 41% in the United States.

Now all the talk is that the age of robots will mean the end of jobs for human beings. Two Oxford economists, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, looked at the likely impact of technological change on a sweeping range of 702 occupations, from podiatrists to tour guides, animal trainers to personal finance advisers and floor sanders. Their conclusions were: “According to our estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk. We further provide evidence that wages and educational attainment exhibit a strong negative relationship with an occupation’s probability of computerisation….Rather than reducing the demand for middle-income occupations, which has been the pattern over the past decades, our model predicts that computerisation will mainly substitute for low-skill and low-wage jobs in the near future. By contrast, high-skill and high-wage occupations are the least susceptible to computer capital.”

On the other hand, a study by economists at the consultancy Deloitte on the relationship between jobs and the rise of technology by trawling through census data for England and Wales going back to 1871. Their conclusion is unremittingly cheerful. Rather than destroying jobs, technology historically has been a “great job-creating machine”. Findings by Deloitte such as a four-fold rise in bar staff since the 1950s or a surge in the number of hairdressers this century suggest to the authors that technology has increased spending power, therefore creating new demand and new jobs. “The dominant trend is of contracting employment in agriculture and manufacturing being more than offset by rapid growth in the caring, creative, technology and business services sectors,” they write. “Machines will take on more repetitive and laborious tasks, but seem no closer to eliminating the need for human labour than at any time in the last 150 years.”

The story of bank tellers vs the cash machine (ATM) is an example of a technological innovation entirely replacing human labour for a particular task. Did this led to a massive fall in the number of bank tellers? Between the 1970s (when American’s first ATM was installed) and 2010, the number of bank tellers doubled. Reducing the number of tellers per branch made it cheaper to run a branch, so banks expanded their branch networks. And the role gradually evolved away from cash handling and more towards relationship banking.

So even if many of today’s jobs can be entirely replaced by machines, technology can also create new roles. At the end of the 19th century, half the US workforce was employed in agriculture, and this employment was rendered obsolete by technical change. But in that time a whole raft of new occupations – electrical engineer, computer programmer, etc – have been created.

Will the information revolution reduce working time under capitalism and thus lead progressively to post-capitalism? Well, previous technological changes have not done so. The average working week in the US in 1930 – if you had a job – was about 50 hours. It is still above 40 hours (including overtime) now for full-time permanent employment. In 1980, the average hours worked in a year was about 1800 in the advanced economies. Currently, it is about 1800 hours. So, since the great information revolution began under the ‘neoliberal period’ of capitalism, the average working year for an American has not changed. Indeed, hours of work have been rising since the 1970s in the US.

Then there is the great contradiction that I raised at UNAM on the question of robots – indeed with any technological revolution under capitalism. The aim of capitalist accumulation is to increase profits and accumulate more capital. So capitalists want to introduce machines that can boost the productivity of each employee and reduce costs compared to competitors. This is the great revolutionary role of capitalism in developing the productive forces available to society.

But in trying to raise the productivity of labour with the introduction of technology, there is a process of labour shedding. Yes, increased productivity might lead to increased output and open up new sectors for employment to compensate. But over time, a ‘capital-bias’ or labour shedding means less new value is created (as labour is the only content of value) relative to the cost of invested capital. So there is a tendency for profitability to fall as productivity rises. In turn, that leads eventually to a crisis in production that halts or even reverses the gain in production from the new technology. This is solely because investment and production depend on the profitability of capital in our modern (capitalist) mode of production.

What does this mean if we enter the extreme (science fiction?) future where robotic technology and AI leads to robots making robots AND robots extracting raw materials and making everything AND carrying out all personal and public services so that human labour is no longer required for ANY task of production at all? Surely, value has still been added by the conversion of raw materials into many more goods (but now without humans)? Surely, that refutes Marx’s claim that only human labour can create value?

But this confuses the dual nature of value under capitalism: use value and exchange value. There is use value (things and services that people need); and exchange value (the value measured in labour time and appropriated from human labour by the owners of capital and realised by sale on the market). In every commodity under the capitalist mode of production, there is both use value and exchange value. You can’t have one without the other under capitalism. But the latter rules the capitalist investment and production process, not the former.

Value (as defined) is specific to capitalism. Sure, living labour (and machines) can create things and do services (use values). But value is the substance of the capitalist mode of producing things. Capital (the owners) controls the means of production and will only put them to use in order to appropriate value created by human labour. Capital does not create value itself. So in our hypothetical all-encompassing robot/AI world, productivity (of use values) would tend to infinity while profitability (surplus value to capital value) would tend to zero.

This is no longer capitalism. The analogy is more with a slave economy as in ancient Rome. In ancient Rome, over hundreds of years, the formerly predominantly small-holding peasant economy was replaced by slaves in mining, farming and all sorts of other tasks. This happened because the booty of the successful wars that the Roman republic and empire conducted included a mass supply of slave labour. The cost to the slave owners of these slaves was incredibly cheap (to begin with) compared with employing free labour.

A fully robot economy means that the owners of the means of production (robots) would have a super-abundant economy of things and services at zero cost (robots making robots making robots). The owners can then just consume. They don’t need to make ‘profit’, just as the aristocrat slave owners in Rome just consumed and did not run businesses to sell commodities to make a profit. So a robotic economy could mean a super-abundant world for all or it could mean a new form of slave-type society with extreme inequality of wealth and income. It’s a social ‘choice’ or more accurately, it depends of the outcome of the class struggle under capitalism.

But just how close are AI/robots to doing all human work? Not very. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Pentagon research arm, held a Robotics Challenge competition in Pomona, Calif. There was $2 million in prize money for the robot that performs best in a series of rescue-oriented tasks in under an hour. Robots had an hour to complete a set of eight tasks that would probably take a human less than 10 minutes. And the robots failed at many. Most of their robots were two-legged, but many had four legs, or wheels, or both. But none were autonomous. Human operators guided the machines via wireless networks and were largely helpless without human supervisors.

Little headway has been made in “cognition,” the higher-level humanlike processes required for robot planning and true autonomy. As a result, any researchers have begun to think instead of creating ensembles of humans and robots, an approach they describe as co-robots or “cloud robotics.”
So there’s still a long way to go. Indeed, as Professor Jose Sandoval, who commented on my paper at UNAM pointed out, American economist Robert J Gordon reckons that the great new innovatory productivity enhancing paradigm that is supposedly coming from the digital revolution could be over already and the future robot/AI explosion will not change that.

William Nordhaus from Yale University’s department of economics, has tried to estimate the future economic impact of AI and robots. Nordhaus says, projecting the trends of the last decade or more, it would be in the order of a century before growth in robot skills would reach the level associated with full automation.

Robots and AI will only really take off when the current depression enters a new phase. Marx noticed that “a crisis always forms the starting-point of large new investments. Therefore, from the point of view of society as a whole … a new material basis for the next turn-over cycle.” (Marx, Capital Vol. II, p.186). New and massive investments will take the form of new technologies, which will be not only labour-shedding and productivity-increasing, but also new forms of domination of labour by capital.

The key issue is Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. A rising organic composition of capital will lead to a fall in the overall rate of profit engendering recurring crises. If robots and AI do replace human labour at an accelerating rate, that can only intensify that tendency. Well before we get to a robot-all world, capitalism will experience ever-increasing periods of crises and stagnation.
I’ll be posting all my papers and the accompanying powerpoint presentations on my Facebook site.

Parts 1 ans 2 of this series from UNAM can be found here and here

Thursday, March 8, 2018

2008 Financial Collapse All Over Again…? We Need to Understand the Student Loan Speculation Bubble

by: Jason O’Neal, activist FFWP

For those who may have missed it, a major economic indicator emerged regarding student loan debt last week.  Excessive debt, like student loans, has become one of the biggest barriers to current economic growth in the United States.  On Thursday, March 1, 2018, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, appeared before U.S. Congressional representatives.  During this “meeting” between politicians and their private banking overlords there was discussion of the possibility of reversing federal legislation to allow student loan debt to be discharged through bankruptcy.  A move initially questioned by some lawmakers, as they set interest rates for those loans which allow schools to be federally subsidized, this topic is sure to spark further discussion in the weeks to come. 

            “Education debt swelled to nearly $1.38 trillion at the end of 2017, with 11 percent of borrowers 90 days or more delinquent, according to the New York Fed. Policymakers have sought ways to keep the student loan problem from swelling out of control but have struggled to come up with solutions.”

It appears the latest investment vehicle for private banking profits is running out of gas.  This is not a surprise for those of us who have been following the developments with student loan debt over the past few years.  Personally, I happen to be one of the more than 40 million Americans who are now in debt to a private capital lender for partially financing the last two years of my college degree.  Ironically, I went to a “public” university in California which was once a state that offered free education from kindergarten to college. 

As a first-generation college student, and military veteran, my personal story is not unique.  However, there are millions of Americans who received federal financial aid to attend a for-profit university with many “students” never setting foot in a classroom.  How that is even possible is baffling to me and calls into question the integrity for financing the nation’s higher education system.

Some points I would like considered in relation to the latest developments concerning student debt should be:

a)      how are higher education loans in the U.S. marketed and disbursed? 
b)      Who holds the paper on these debts?  What are their interests?
c)      Exactly who is ultimately financially responsible for repaying them?
d)      And, why is this particular form of debt exempt from “charge off” as bad debt for those who can no longer afford to pay, especially when one considers the number of bankruptcies declared by the current occupant of the Oval Office? 

Before we explore each of these questions, we must keep in mind how this pending crisis will affect the lives of working families and the poor and we must continue to ask ourselves—Are federal legislators our elected officials or are they just puppets for loan sharks?

Perhaps, you have been one of millions of Americans who have watched a television commercial with an advertisement about finishing your education or getting a college degree.  And, just maybe, you’ve called the toll-free number listed at the bottom of one because it sounded like a good idea.  If you are like me, you responded to an internet ad which asked for your email address and telephone number.  For those readers interested, I have included my own personal story at the end of this article, but for now I will continue to explain the student loan bubble from my own observations and experiences over the last decade.

Everyday, millions of people are on the receiving end of a booster campaign to get them to enroll in college.  Some ads are directly from one of the thousands of brick and mortar universities with an actual faculty.  Unfortunately, most of the professors in these public education institutions are part-time (at least in California) with no benefits.  Another story all together when one considers the amount of federal money being poured into the higher education system of the United States.  But, we must return this conversation to student loans and commercial advertising. 

What many Americans are unaware of is that for-profit schools are also getting checks from the government.  I am not referring to exclusive private or Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale, or even Stanford. I am specifically identifying schools like University of Phoenix and Kaplan College, or any other “college,” which sets up shop in an office park building and sells degrees.  To make matters even more incomprehensible is that many of these schools also have online study programs which are usually just internet “classes” with fast-paced lesson plans completed in 30 days.

These schools are in fact loan brokers masquerading as education systems and have become so widespread and corrupt that even small corporations are advertising college degrees and professional credentials through specific trade schools.  They also attract international students and receive federal education grant money for “scholarships.”  Over the past few years they have increasingly targeted low-income households in the poorest areas of the country to market their services and receive money earmarked for financial aid. 

Because many of them aren’t credentialed, or accredited by the Department of Education, most coursework from these schools is not transferrable to another college.  Sadly, many graduates from these types of universities receive no benefit from their “piece of paper” that says they now have a degree.  New graduates are finding it difficult to pay back their student loans with limited opportunities for employment and a significant number of them saddled with debt to private lenders.

This has become a major problem because over the course of the past two decades enrollment in these for-profit universities has increased by more than 225 percent.  This was according to a 2013 report published by the National Conference of State Legislatures.  States began taking a harder look at these “diploma mills” after a two-year investigation was concluded by a United States Senate Committee.  The resulting “Harkin Report” condemned for-profit colleges over costs and practices according to a New York Times article from 2012:

“Students at for-profit colleges make up 13 percent of the nation’s college enrollment, but account for about 47 percent of the defaults on loans. About 96 percent of students at for-profit schools take out loans, compared with about 13 percent at community colleges and 48 percent at four-year public universities.”


“Enrolling students, and getting their federal financial aid, is the heart of the business, and in 2010, the report found, the colleges studied had a total of 32,496 recruiters, compared with 3,512 career-services staff members.

Among the 30 companies, an average of 22.4 percent of revenue went to marketing and recruiting, 19.4 percent to profits and 17.7 percent to instruction.

Their chief executive officers were paid an average of $7.3 million, although Robert S. Silberman, the chief executive of Strayer Education, made $41 million in 2009, including stock options”.

Public outcry was almost nonexistent in the major news media, but demands were made of these schools which have remained exempt from regulation and a series of standards were recommended by the government.  If they wanted to continue to receive federal funds by enrolling students, the for-profit colleges had to provide statistics on registrations and student performance.   Companies, many of them publicly traded on Wall Street, which owned underperforming schools closed them down and funneled resources to prop-up their best schools to keep the billions rolling in from the government coffers.  According to a National Public Radio announcement in 2011, many of the companies controlling the finances of these colleges had already ramped up recruiting efforts which targeted those who could not afford it.  The first wave of customers were military veterans, but know these schools are going after communities of low-income families and students of color. 

“Many of these students drop out before graduating or can't find the types of jobs that will allow them to repay their loans, leaving them with staggering debt.”

In 2014, U.S. News and World Report printed an article which revealed enrollment costs at for-profit universities averaged more than fifteen thousand dollars a year.  A significant markup in price from the national average for community colleges ($3,264) and four-year universities ($8,893).  And, a crippling cost for students, many who are military veterans using their G.I. Bill benefits.  The same article stated the following:

“Nearly 90 percent of 2012 for-profit graduates had student loans​, with the average debt among for-profit college graduates who borrowed reaching nearly $40,000.”

Graduates typically are 20 percent less likely to be hired with their degree, and three times as likely to default on their loan, when compared to nonprofit colleges.  Yet, why has nothing been done to address this issue years later?  Courts all over the United States are handing down decisions in favor of the for-profit schools who don’t want to be held accountable to oversight on budgets, loans issued, graduation rates, or employment statistics for graduates.  State legislatures are scrambling with the threat of regulation over these companies, however, many friendly votes have already been secured through campaign contributions to keep the standards from changing.  This is not a new battle, but it is one that has been fought for the past fifty years as the two cartels of political power and money in the U.S. have always sided with the bankers.  First, the cut funding for schools.  Then, student "consumers" are forced into a loan market.  Finally, this allows private capital to issue loans and collect interest on the debt.

Back in 2012, Time magazine wrote an in-depth piece on regulation of the student loan industry in the United States.  They wrote, “before 1976, all education loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy. That year, the bankruptcy code was altered so loans made by the government or a non-profit college or university could not be discharged during the first five years of repayment”.  That stayed in place until 1984 when private student loans were excepted from bankruptcy protections.  The scales tipped in favor of the banks again in 2005, when Congress passed a law titled the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act.  The law made it so that NO STUDENT LOAN could be charged off through bankruptcy as bad debt, whether it was federal or private.  Student loans are now in the same class of debt as child support and criminal fines.

Taking into consideration the political trend in controlling this speculation market which exists within the student loan industry, it is not a distant leap to the conclusion that the government will try to get the people to agree to another round of taxpayer-funded bailouts for private bankers and their bad education loans.  We saw this in the 2008 home mortgage crisis as Congress voted to give $12.9 trillion dollars in tax money to private banks to cover their financial losses after the economic collapse of the real estate bubble they helped create.  How much longer will the people of this country agree to go along with these concessions to private capital before they say they’ve had enough?

Public universities are not too far behind when it comes to providing funds for their degree programs.  Case in point, I had to finance nearly twenty thousand dollars of my education to supplement my Stafford and Pell Grants provided through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  Some of the loans were federally subsidized at a lower interest rate, but the rest were locked in at the going rate.  I went to a university in California where out of the 41,000 students in attendance nearly 40% are on financial aid.

The fact that nearly 43 million Americans are burdened by some form of student loan debt must be connected to the next pending market “correction.”  It will be a financial crisis similar, if not worse than, the one in 2008.  The ripple effects will spread throughout society.  The history of student loan debt also has much to do with the current assaults on education in the United States.  We have covered the recent West Virginia Teachers' Strike and have discussed how their struggle is linked to the pillaging of state resources by big oil and coal companies who control the courts, legislature, and political bodies in that state.  It is a crisis created by capitalism.  The teacher's fight is also linked to legislation that pushes for charter schools to receive tax money while cuts are made to funding public education systems around the country.  The battle shaping up is also a result of so many states passing “right to work” laws which attack public sector unions.  Rank and file union members are under the gun and labor leadership is running out of options on how to keep them contained and pacified.

What to do with student loan debt, however, is a simple solution.  Abolish all of it.  One might ask, “where will the money come from?”  But I ask readers to consider this: If the U.S. government can continue to fund a fighter plane which Scientific American has labeled the “greatest boondoggle in recent military purchasing history” at a price of $1.5 trillion, then there is enough money to forgive student loan debt.  And, if we push the conversation further, the U.S. has spent more than three times that amount on the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Sadly, like what is happening in West Virginia, the politicians from both parties refuse to upset their campaign contributors and go after the industries that have taken the tax money in the first place.

My own story…

I came across what is called a “lead capture” advertisement with some catchy phrase like “interested in getting a degree?”, or something like that, while I was surfing the web back around 2004.  It interested me at the time, but I didn’t really know much about the way student aid worked.

I was a federal law enforcement officer and getting kind of burnt out on my job.  I processed pedestrian and vehicle traffic through a Customs and Border Protection facility in San Diego, CA.  It also happened to be the busiest land-border crossing in the world and, although grossly compensated for my work, I just didn’t want to do it anymore.  I didn’t have a college degree, so I toyed around with the idea of going back to school.  Throughout the next few months, I endured the constant phone calls and junk email letters from those for-profit university representatives.  They were given, and probably purchased, my information from that same internet ad I responded to months before.  They promised easy classes and the convenience of online lecture sessions.  Some even claimed they could get me college credit for skills I picked up while serving in the military.  The catch was they were very expensive.  I remember one guy actually told me that at his school, a name I can’t even remember, a bachelor’s degree was going to cost me about fifty thousand dollars.  But, I didn’t have to worry because I could get loans.  I decided that for a price like that I should try going the “traditional” route. 

Ultimately in the fall of 2006, I enrolled at my local community college in San Diego.  After taking the proper assessment tests to begin classes, I successfully registered my corresponding veteran benefits, given through the G.I. Bill.  I was getting paid about $700 a month to go to night school.  This was on top of my federal salary, which at the time I was averaging about sixty thousand dollars a year including overtime, and I had benefits.  All initial out of pocket expenses I incurred through enrollment were also reimbursed.  I completed a total of seventeen units over the next three semesters before I had to stop classes.  I was receiving a decent amount of money from my veteran benefits because tuition, fees, and books only ran me about $500 a semester.  Each semester is about four months long, so I made a few thousand dollars a semester.  I had no financial difficulties, so to speak, and I was even able to buy a house in September of 2007.

In all, I cruised on the extra cash for a little more than a year before I had to resign my federal job in January 2008.  I had also decided to stop taking classes until I was earning a more stable income.  Another reason was because my G.I. Bill benefits expired the semester before.  The particular federal program I was entitled to required veterans to enroll in school within ten years of separating from the military.  I had waited more than eight years to go back to school and my time had run out. 

With no job and no income, I took work at the loading dock of the San Diego Convention Center.  I was also receiving supplemental unemployment when there were no trade shows or events in town.   Having trouble keeping up with my house payments I needed a boost and I started working in the local real estate market. 

At the time, the community where I lived, was the epicenter for the entire state of California when it came to the number of homes which were in foreclosure or with delinquent mortgages.  Chula Vista is a town with a population of about a quarter of a million people and, in the early summer of 2008, the old neighborhoods and new housing developments further east had more than 50% of its homes worth less than the loans owed on them.  The financial collapse fueled by speculation in mortgage backed securities happened that September.  It was nearly two months before the 2008 Presidential Election, which saw Democrats return to the White House by the way, and I was only upset that I lost my commission checks.  Memorable moments from those few days, when capitalism wrecked the lives of millions while robbing the citizens of this country out of billions of dollars, was the political theater.  Both the sitting Republican administration’s Secretary of Treasury, Hank Paulsen (a former CEO of Goldman Sachs), and his “prospective” replacement should the other capitalist political party win, Tim Geithner (President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York), were involved in negotiations between the United States government and private investment banks.  The deal was negotiated by Ben Bernanke, who was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve at that time.  Private banks were to be given federal tax money to make them solvent.  This would be like a gambler going bust and the casino giving them their money back.  Only the money came from the pockets of the housekeepers, cooks, and desk clerks.   

My own class consciousness had not been lifted during that part of my life.  I was unable to see the destructive path cut by capitalism and its need to create markets.  These opportunities are designed to attract investors so banks can generate money by transferring property.  I was oblivious as to how money in an economy is created through loans and promissory notes (debt).  I had my own problems to worry about. 

I had bought a home the year before and needed to make my own house payments.  Because I was only receiving commission, I had already started to rent out two rooms in my house to make just enough money to even do that.  I didn’t understand the danger of negative amortization and interest only loans when the price of a home drops in value.  I had a fixed-rate mortgage, but after I lost my job, I couldn’t make payments and my house lost 25% of its value over the next two years.

After the economic collapse of 2008, and during the Great Recession which followed, I took up bartending to make my way through the next few years.  Eventually short-selling the house in 2010, I returned to renting small apartments or rooms from friends.  Although the house sold for nearly $150 thousand less than my loan, I didn’t have to pay taxes on the charged off amount.  Usually, a homeowner in my situation would have to may income taxes on capital gains, but for a couple of years millions of former homeowners were given a reprieve.  Realizing that I had no real skill set, other than enforcing the law, I decided to return to school to at least complete an associate degree. 

I have explained my personal situation to give readers the opportunity to see what economic conditions I was living under when I decided to return to college.  The second time around, I qualified for financial assistance because I made so little money on payroll that I was considered low-income.  I took it.  I figured if I didn’t make some changes I was going to have to accept that job as the pinnacle of my existence.  An honorable trade in a country which consumes so much alcohol, but not really a job cut-out for a long-term career.  The hospitality industry in food and beverage has such a high turnover that workers have very little chance of unionizing and end up competing with one another.  The drive to provide the best service is fueled by a desire to make more tips that the other guy.  Never mind trying to fight for anything higher than minimum wage.  Also, benefits and retirement are practically unheard of in this line of work, while age and gender are factors which determine longevity and “appeal.”  Bartending and serving alcohol is an industry which is exceptionally brutal on its female employees who must endure all varieties of sexual harassment.  Not just from intoxicated customers, but also from co-workers and management.

I had saved up enough tip money to re-enroll at the same community college in the fall of 2012.  I was eligible for the Board of Governor’s fee waiver and Cal Grant, which was linked to the FAFSA.  When my financial aid was processed and disbursed, I ended up receiving a few thousand dollars extra every semester for the next three years.  I remember the first time I opened the mailbox and it had check inside for more than two thousand dollars.  That was just a partial payment and I’d get another $800 before the end of the semester. 

It was during this time while I was at community college that I began to learn and understand how the political economy functions and works in the United States.  It was also when I met some influential friends and professors who have been actively engaged in discussing the role of trade union leadership in a new American labor movement.  Many encouraged me to continue my education and to finish my bachelor’s degree.  I would need to complete my lower division courses before I could transfer.  My school had only a 23% graduation rate, with even fewer who successfully moved on to graduate from a four-year school.  I was determined to be one of them.

During my second year in community college, I began writing for the campus paper.  I wrote opinion pieces and stories which focused on financial aid, immigration, and the environment.  I also became aware of some inefficiencies and, at many times, the negligent nature of this system of higher education. 

Public colleges, with limited funding from the state, were and are being overrun by capitalist interests.  To complete building projects, not to mention recreational facilities, schools must rely on local voters to approve the solicitation of capital bonds.  Communities promise away future tax revenue to cover payments and interest on private loans given today for temporary improvement funds to public education systems.  Sometimes, as in the case of the Poway Unified School District in San Diego, they will be forced to pay back almost ten times what was borrowed.

To make matters worse, it was also during my second year that my community college began using the “financial technology services” of Higher One, a holding company which according to its own website promises to “streamline the processes of financial aid disbursement.”  Started by three Yale students in 2000, Higher One has grown to dominate the college debit card business.  They have been subject to numerous investigations and penalties for overcharging on students’ transactions and they disburse financial aid in increments holding on to students’ money sometimes for months.  I remember that every student had to create a customer profile through the school’s website to have Higher One send them their financial aid.  They offered bank accounts and direct deposit services, for a fee of course.  And, at the time I enrolled, Higher One was publicly traded on Wall Street with a presence on hundreds of campuses across the country.  They also had more than 2 million students paying them an average of $49 a year to access financial aid money faster.

When I transferred to a four-year university after my third year, I saw Higher One was used there, too.  My school I.D., used to access the library and administrative services, was in fact a Higher One “debit card.” 

I spent two years completing a double major, before I graduated last spring and I now live in Phoenix, AZ.  Working for a little more than minimum wage, I have made only one payment to my student aid loans.  Ironically, one of the jobs I recently interviewed for was an admissions counselor for American Intercontinental University and their sister school, Colorado Technical University.  They are an online outfit, with a few branch “campuses” and are owned by Career Education Corporation.  I was going to have to sell students on the benefits of enrolling in this school, mainly the convenience of taking classes from home.  The average class enrollment period is every five weeks and most of my days were to be spent making telephone calls and sending out emails to prospective students.  To fill the rosters every five weeks we would have to collect and process hundreds of applications.  According to Wikipedia, and something I confirmed during my interview is, AIU receives more than 90% of its funding from the U.S. government, $29 million from the G.I. Bill alone.  I am happy they didn’t call me back for the job, but I am ashamed to admit that I almost considered it.  Where does desperation lead us sometimes?

I have recently been hired by a political consulting group advocating for clean energy initiatives in local government and the state legislature.  After a few paychecks clear, I might start paying for my student loans soon.

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