Friday, April 16, 2021

A question on Northern Ireland’s Fragile Peace

Source

 

In response to the previous article on the riots in Northern Ireland, that stated:

"The key question that faces socialists in Northern Ireland today is essentially as it has been for the last half century – the unification of workers around a program of fundamental social change to address the day-to-day problems that all workers face, on both sides of the sectarian divide."

 

Earl Silbar , commenting on Facebook, asks,  “I assume that there still exists active discrimination, for example against Catholics in the north. A program that speaks only to the common situation workers face Would not speak to the special oppression. How could that ever appeal to the most oppressed group of workers?”

 

I asked Harry Hutchinson the author of the article to respond and his response is below. Mike Craig, also in Northern Ireland also commented and his remarks are below. Richard Mellor. ed.

 

In response to Earl.


Thank you for your comment on my article on the riots in Northern Ireland, specifically the program.

 

Since the downfall of Unionist control witch blatantly discriminated against Catholics in jobs, education, housing and elections came to an end after the civil rights movement in the 1960's and early 70's, discrimination against one section of the community is not like in the past,


Later, the Fair employment act of 1989, compelled employers to sign,, which most have done and equal opportunities in employment has been greatly improved due to this act.


It’s not so much discrimination, but segregation that is the main issue. First and second level education remains segregated and grossly underfunded for all schools.


Housing estates are largely segregated to Protestant and Catholic designated areas. The recent Loyalist violence was in these areas, according to the Guardian, one of the most deprived areas anywhere in the UK. This equals many in Catholic areas.


The government in Britain controls the budget in NI. This limits expenditure for much needed public services. Since the Good Friday Agreement it has been Stormont where Unionists and Nationalist have closed public services, particularly hospitals in all areas, both Protestant and Catholic.


At least these Capitalist sectarian Parties are fair on their discrimination of both sections of the community in NI.

 

Harry Hutchinson, member of the Labour Party Northern Ireland.

 

From Mike Craig in Derry Northern Ireland

Another form of discrimination against Catholics in the 60s was the use of an auxiliary police force - the 'B Specials'. Their official task was to secure the borders and look out for suspicious activity which might threaten the State. Off the record they spent much of their time harassing Catholics, reasoning that all Catholics were enemies of the State.


The B Specials were disbanded in order to meet the demands of the Civil Rights Movement.


Discrimination continued at the hands of the main police force, the RUC until after the GFA (Good Friday Agreement) in 1998 when it too was disbanded and replaced, but an unbiased observer would have to ask if this wasn't a reaction to the IRA's campaign which killed 100s of cops, which was backed by a significant section of the Catholic population?


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Northern Ireland’s fragile peace

By Harry Hutchinson, member of the Labour Party Northern Ireland.

A week of violence, on a scale not seen for many years, has escalated tensions in Northern Ireland. Loyalist youth, some as young as 12 years old, have attacked police, journalists, public transport and Catholic areas, at those places where the two communities interface. In one case, they breached the so called ‘peace wall’ between the protestant Shankill and the Catholic Springfield areas of Belfast.

A few nights ago, a bus was hi-jacked, its passengers terrorised, and the driver assaulted, before it was set on fire by gangs of youths. Now, for the first time in decades, water cannon has been deployed against rioters, although notably not against the Loyalist youth who have rioted for the best part of a week, but against Catholic youth rioting on the other side of the ‘wall’.

Tensions have been brewing for months because of trade restrictions on goods coming from Britain to Norther Ireland, as a result of the protocols agreed between the UK and the EU over Brexit. These trade regulations are seen by loyalists as effectively a trade ‘border’ down the Irish Sea (as indeed it is) and that is something they have long opposed. To them, it is a further step in the separation of Northern Ireland from Britain.

Sinn Fein members at funeral

Added to issue of the Protocols, which have been rumbling on for weeks, there has also been the issue of the Sinn Fein members who joined hundreds of mourners at the mass funeral for a prominent former IRA member, Bobby Story. The funeral was held without any adherence to Covid regulations, but it seems that no legal action is planned against the Sinn Fein members who participated, allowing DUP politicians whisper ‘favouritism’ into the ears of loyalist youth.

Most of the violence is being coordinated though social media and it is expected to continue throughout the coming weekend, including a Loyalist protest at Belfast City Hall. The loyalist paramilitary umbrella group, the Loyalist Community Council (LCC), set up in 2015 and consisting of the UDA, the UVF and the Red Hand Commandos, have already declared that they no longer feel bound by the Good Friday Agreement. As yet, they have not responded publicly to the violence, leading many to believe they are orchestrating it. On the other hand, it is possible these loyalist groups have, to some extent, lost control over the youth.

The parties at Stormont all claim to be powerless to quell the violence and can only call for the end to street unrest. But some of them are playing a double game. The DUP have never supported the Good Friday Agreement and they have ongoing contacts with the loyalist paramilitaries. DUP Assembly members and leading figures have been making incendiary speeches against the Brexit protocols in the period leading up to the riots – and more recently about the Sinn Fein funeral – and they bear a direct responsibility for the increased sectarian tension.

A new generation of youth

Since the Good Friday Agreement, which was supposed to bring in a new era of peace in the North of Ireland, the two main sectarian capitalist parties have only deepened the sectarian divisions between the two working-class poverty-ridden areas. The new generation of youth who have witnessed division, poverty, drugs and an utter failure of politicians to deal with these issues.

Unfortunately, these youth are being weaned, like their grandparents fifty years ago, on the poison of sectarianism, and some of them have now taken matters into their own hands and that might bring a summer of violence to Northern Ireland.

The Protestant youth, as it was in the past, rather than fighting for real and meaningful social change, are being urged to fight against the ‘creeping unification’ of Ireland and a perceived ‘bias’ in favour of Sinn Fein. The Catholic youth are likewise urged to support a border poll to unify Ireland, as the answer to their problems.

Sinn Fein are now actively supporting the idea of a border poll. Without in any way addressing the questions of low pay, housing, poverty, unemployment and other social questions, a border poll for the unification of Ireland, presented as a purely ‘constitutional’ issue, is a dangerous and divisive policy that threatens to multiply sectarianism ten- or twenty-fold. It is an irresponsible policy.

It doesn’t matter that a majority of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit, or that opinion polls point to a majority for Irish unification. The fact of the matter is that a significant – and armed – minority will oppose this if it is a sectarian question, as it is now being presented.

The key question facing socialists in Northern Ireland today

The key question that faces socialists in Northern Ireland today is essentially as it has been for the last half century – the unification of workers around a programme of fundamental social change to address the day-to-day problems that all workers face, on both sides of the sectarian divide.

The youth in the Protestant and Catholic areas should direct their protests, not though mindless violence, but against a Stormont system that has utterly failed them. They should direct their protests against the ruthless paramilitaries who, despite the Good Friday Agreement, still control their lives in drug racketeering and crime.

Nationalist and Unionist politicians and the police all work behind the scenes with these paramilitary organisations, to manage and control community unrest. Keeping communities divided on the constitutional issue of ‘Nationalist’ versus ‘Unionist’ is a part of this control.

Unlike the sectarian politicians, the Labour and Trade Union movement can play a leading role in uniting communities. The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish TUC has issued a statement in support of transport workers who are boycotting areas of Belfast.

Translink bus-drivers protest against attack

The trade union movement,” the statement says, “entirely supports this protest by our public transport workers. Theirs is an act of generosity towards their fellow bus driver who was shockingly attacked last evening…Workers across Northern Ireland will not accept being the subject of attacks when going about their duties. The Translink workers are standing up and proclaiming this loudly”.

This is all well and good, but the NIC should not limit itself to calls for ‘peace’ and ‘restraint’. It has to come out openly making political demands of the politicians. “Politicians”, they say, “need to come together, work together and make politics work in the interest of the entire community”.

That may be the case, but the NIC itself should now be demanding political and economic measures that would meaningfully address the problems of working-class people. The answer to the growing threat of sectarian violence is not appeals to restraint. It is for the labour and trade union movement to point the working class in an entirely different political direction, based on the common interests of all workers.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Amazon: Union Leaders' Organizing Drive Fails.

This folks, is not enough.

 

Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired

GED, HEO

4-10-21

 

Despite a powerful frontal assault on Amazon by Bernie Sanders, “Worker Joe” Biden and a number of other celebrities, the workers at the Amazon plant in Bessemer Alabama voted against unionizing by 1,798 against compared to 738 for as of the count by yesterday morning.

 

This comes as no surprise. Amazon is a global giant with many options open to it and the workers at Bessemer know this. Even if they had voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the war doesn’t end there, it actually intensifies.  Assuming Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and the world’s richest man, didn’t shut down the facility, the delaying tactics would have kicked in to high gear and the workplace violence in the form of coercion, threats, firings and so on would be used to hopefully defeat another vote even more significantly if that option arose. Workers know this, we understand through the education we get in the workplace, in the class battles on the shop floor if you like, what the boss can do.

 

Organized labor has suffered decades of defeat and setbacks due to the concessionary, pro-market policies of the trade union leadership at the highest levels and codified in the philosophy of partnership or the Team Concept; the argument that bosses and workers have the same interests. This has been a disaster for working people. The millions of non-union workers see this. We do not need Phd’s to understand this and recognize the consequences of challenging the boss.

 

The workers at Amazon voted with these attacks on organized labor and the trade union leadership’s pathetic responses to them in the background. In the case of a global giant like Amazon, trying to organize one small facility asking workers to put their material well being on the line promising that the union is “on your side” isn’t very inspiring. I am sure there were all the usual organizational failures that contributed to the defeat but the main problem is that the present heads of organized labor are incapable of winning such a struggle.

 

Workers’ organizations were not built by relying on friendly politicians, intellectuals or Harvard graduates who claim they have the skills to lead us to victory. The entire history of organized labor is based on the power of workers in the workplace and our communities; there are no saviors here.

 

There are 14 million workers organized in unions in the US. There are global organizations and regular meetings of unions in the various trades and professions. The Afl-CIO spends millions of dollars every election time throwing our hard earned money at Democratic Party politicians, a complete waste.  Relying on our own strength both at home and internationally is what will win at Amazon, but the trade union hierarchy is terrified of this as it threatens the relationship they have with the bosses based on labor peace and partnership. Increasing union membership is increased revenue for labor hierarchy who see the unions as employment agencies with them as the CEO’s. Yes, I’ve said that before.

 

I pointed out in an earlier piece on the Amazon organizing drive that Stuart Applebaum, the leading figure in the Bessemer drive , “….is a lawyer, a graduate of a fancy (Brandeis) university and has a resume that any head of a major corporation would be proud of. He’s deeply embedded in the anti-worker Democratic Party sitting on its Democratic National Committee, a friend of Barak Obama and NY Governor Cuomo and has been a member of the notoriously antidemocratic Electoral College. That’s the short list. You can check out this labor fighter’s resume here.

 

In the wake of the expected Amazon vote, the RWDSU response is the same old story. The union is going to “Hold Amazon Accountable For Their Actions” Sounds tough indeed but wait: “We demand a comprehensive investigation over Amazon's behavior in corrupting this election.”, the union’s website threatens., appealing to the employers’ agencies for justice and likely filing unfair labor charges with the NLRB. The union, “will request” a “hearing” on the unions’ objections, because, “….conduct by the employer created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees' freedom of choice. “

 

How dare Amazon do this! It’s just not fair.

Stuart Applebaum, the RWDSU President and leader of the organizing drive, adds his own statement, “We won’t let Amazon’s lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote.”, he writes. Jeff Bezos must be shaking in his boots.

 

Applebaum wraps up his analysis, “We won’t rest until workers' voices are heard fairly under the law. When they are, we believe they will be victorious in this historic and critical fight to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the United States.”

 

This is how someone who has never risked their job fighting for workers’ rights in the workplace sees the world. His comments are an insult to working people.  If you want to know why some workers voted Trump, here’s why. Did Trump give a damn about the law? Do bosses ever care about the law when they attack workers’ rights? The only force in society that has any respect for the law is the clique that sits atop organized labor except when it comes to betraying their own members.

 

The “experts”, on labor issues, many of them former union staffers, advisors and other functionaries who have at one time or another served the present union hierarchy with not hardly a public word of criticism, will be writing about this defeat at Amazon, offering themselves and their skills as the new wave of the future; the poor worker needs help look what they just did.

 

Jane McAlvey, one of the many experts on labor and our struggle against the bosses, is a former SEIU staffer with a Phd form Harvard. There is nothing innately wrong with a Phd, but the struggle against the bosses’ in the workplace is a great educator. Her attitude toward working class people and the rank and file worker is clear in this comment describing her thoughts on organizing workers:

 

“We need to have hard conversations with these people to help them come to understand that mass collective action is the only solution to any number of crisis in their lives.”  She adds further, “We must identify them and then test or assess whether they are indeed organic leaders.” 

 

Does she think workers don't know that our power or potential power lies in collective action, in working class unity and solidarity?

 

The leadership of DSA adopts and promotes this approach.

 

I wrote in a previous commentary on this subject:

Working as part of the union bureaucracy, selected to do such work by the union bureaucracy, is not working on the shop floor. In fact it is a prerequisite to being selected for a job in the union bureaucracy by the union bureaucracy, not to have led movements on the shop floor, not to have built a fighting movement in the workplace or in the union rank and file.

 

The Wall Street Journal, no friend of organized labor, points out in an article on the vote today that less than 16% of the plants total workforce voted to join the union. It added that, workers were “wary” and,  “….that the union would be able to add significantly to their pay or improve benefits.”.

 

The Wall Street Journal would not even hint that Amazon used terror tactics, but workers know that already and so does the RWDSU leadership and Stuart Applebaum. To call foul is dishonest and ultimately an attack on a workers’ intelligence. The Wall Street Journal is right in that statement. Given the failures of union organizing drives including by the UAW in neighboring states, and the passive whining of the labor hierarchy in the face of defeat due to the strategy and. tactics of Applebaum and the RWDSU, the workers protected what they have in the moment.

 

Workers have achieved the greatest successes not appealing to so called friendly politicians or relying on the government or the courts but relying on our own strength. The NLRB and government agencies of that kind, are just another hoop that is designed for us to jump through and glosses over the huge chasm that exists between the corporation and the worker. Much of the social legislation passed in the 1930’s that we benefit from today was simply codifying rights already won in the streets and workplaces of the US and it will be events like this that will change things, not professional organizers.  It will be the rank and file of the unions that will change them, we are in a war on two fronts, the bosses is the easier one, the struggle against the present union hierarchy and their policies is more difficult but we cannot avoid that fight and we owe it to those who built unions to defend them form the class enemies within.

 

More on unions and our ledership:


A Fighting Union Leadership Will be Built by Rank and File Activists


14 million Union Members: Why Their Leadership Won't Fight


Friday, April 9, 2021

Financial fiction part two: the new ones

Financial fiction part two: the new ones (SPACs, NFTs, cryptocurrencies)

by Michael Roberts

In my last post I discussed recent financial engineering and swindles that are traditional to the accumulation of and speculation in what Marx called fictitious capital, ie financial assets like bonds, stocks, property, credit and so-called derivatives of these.

Finance capital is ever-ingenious in inventing new ways of speculation and swindles.  In the past we have had the dot.com boom when the stock prices of many internet start-ups exploded upwards, only to crash when the profits of these companies did not materialise and the cost of borrowing to speculate rose.  That was in 2000 and followed by a mild recession in 2001. 

Then we had the huge credit boom in house prices, mortgages and the securitised mortgage packages and their derivatives that fuelled a huge property and stock market boom that collapsed into the Global Financial Crash of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession.  That was followed by a massive injection of central bank money with low to zero interest rates and ‘quantitative easing’ leading to a further rise in stock and bond markets up to record highs.  The COVID slump only led central banks to doubling-down on ‘quantitative easing’ to keep the prices of financial assets rising, while the ‘real economy’ based on the profitability and investment in productive assets stagnated.

In this 21st century world of easy money borrowing, there have been a spate of new fictions in the casino world of financial speculation. 

First, there are SPACS, Special Purpose Acquisition Vehicles.  These are so-called “blank cheque” companies e. banks and other hedge funds invest in a SPAC, which owns nothing, but promises investors that the SPAC will buy a privately-owned company, then take it to the stock market in what is called an Initial Public Offering (selling shares to the public). If the IPO leads to higher price than the investment in the SPAC, everybody makes a profit. 

SPACs have taken Wall Street by storm and become a favourite investment among hedge fund managers. As one SPAC explained, we have an “inherently investor-friendly structure” with little downside. In the US, which accounts for the bulk of SPAC activity, 235 vehicles have raised $72bn so far this year, according to Refinitiv. But is there ‘little downside’?  Supposedly there is little risk of losing the original investment because cash is put into a trust that invests in US treasuries and shareholders can ask for their money back at any point. But there is a potential to make lofty returns come from a unique quirk in the SPAC, which splits into shares and ‘warrants’ (options to buy shares) shortly after the structure starts trading.  And here there is substantial risk that things will go wrong.

A warrant, typically worth only a fraction of a share, acts as a sweetener for early backers, who can redeem their investment while keeping hold of the warrant. When the SPAC finds a company to acquire, the warrants convert to relatively inexpensive stakes in the new company.  But those who who did not take warrants but opted for a stake in the merged company (mainly small investors), bear the risk of both a potentially bad deal and significant dilution compared to the free warrants handed out to early backers.

And quite often it is a bad deal.  While the hedge funds buy the ‘warrants’ at a fraction of the SPAC share price and get out before the SPAC acquisition is completed, small ‘retail’ investors stay on the for the full deal and find that the acquisition IPO price drops very quickly, leaving them with significant losses.  The result is that small investors provide the money for the rich wide boys to take.  Nevertheless, while money is cheap and the stock market booms, the small-time bettor will go on hoping to make a killing.

Then there are NFTs, or ‘non-fungible tokens’.  What the hell as these, you might say?  NFTs are digital financial assets stored on blockchains (digital codes).  You can convert anything into an NFT to try and sell it. Christies has already auctioned an NFT (digitally coded) artwork for $70m. An Oscar nominated movie has been released as an NFT (digital code) and so on.  But what is being sold is just one unique, blockchained (digital coded) representation of the artwork, not the actual thing itself. It’s the ultimate derivative: a digital code derived from an object or even a person, but with no rights of ownership.  So what’s the point?  None really – it’s just a fad and the buyer of the NFT hopes that it can be sold on to another idiot for a profit.

A particular negative of the NFT craze is that encoding artwork or an idea onto a blockchain involves complex computations that are highly energy intensive. In six months, a single NFT by one crypto artist consumed electricity equivalent to an EU citizen’s average energy consumption over 77 years. This naturally results in a significant carbon footprint.

And this is an issue that applies to blockchain technology more generally. For example, the original cryptocurrency Bitcoin (BTC) has an estimated annual energy consumption in the range equivalent to about 0.45 percent of the world’s entire electricity production. 

And that brings me to the saga of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.  I wrote on blockchains and crypto craze over three years ago.  I argued then that Bitcoin aims at reducing transaction costs in internet payments and completely eliminating the need for financial intermediaries ie banks. But I doubted that such digital currencies could replace existing fiat currencies and become widely used in daily transactions.

Since then, the price of bitcoin in fiat currencies like the dollar has violently fluctuated but more recently has rocketed to stratospheric heights as cheap money and low inflation have pushed down the value of the main reserve and store of currency, the US dollar.  Whereas gold used to be the alternative store of value to the dollar, now it seems that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are taking over as the speculative money asset.  Why?  Well, most gold is the vaults of central banks and so the price is subject not only to the supply from gold mines but also the policy decisions of government-controlled banks.  Instead, Bitcoin has a clearly defined amount to digital supply and through blockchains, it can be mined and transacted without government controls.

In the current fantasy world of casino financial investment, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies seem more attractive to currency speculators than even gold. And so the crypto boom continues.  For example, Coinbase Global Inc, the largest US cryptocurrency exchange, is now valued at around $68 billion, compared to just $8 billion in October 2018. The company now has more than 43 million users in more than 100 countries.

But cryptocurrencies are no closer to achieving acceptance as a means of exchange.  Bitcoin’s value is not backed by any government guarantees, by definition.  It is backed just by ‘code’ and the consensus that exists among its key ‘miners’ and holders.  As with fiat currencies, where there is no physical commodity that has intrinsic value in the labour time to produce it, the crypto currency depends on trust of the users.  And actually that trust for cryptocurrencies varies with its price relative to the fiat currency, the dollar. Its price is measured in dollars or in what is called a ‘stable coin’ tied to the dollar. 

Indeed, while the cryptocraze has exploded, the US dollar has entrenched itself ever more firmly as the world’s premier settlement currency (67% of all settlements, followed by the euro, the yen and yuan).

Bitcoin is no nearer universal acceptance than it was when it started. So while cryptocurrencies have increasingly become part of speculative digital finance, I still don’t think they will replace fiat currencies, where the supply is controlled by central banks and governments as the main means of exchange. They will remain on the micro-periphery of the spectrum of digital moneys, just as Esperanto has done as a universal global language against the might of imperialist English, Spanish and Chinese.

Moreover, there are already rivals to cryptocurrencies that carry the backing of governments: central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).  CBDCs have been discussed for years as an alternative to cash as many economies have witnessed a slump in physical money being used in transactions. Cash accounted for only 20% of payments in China – the world’s second largest economy in 2018, according to research published by the Bundesbank in 2019. This week, China became the first major economy to create a blockchain-based digital version of its currency, the cyber yuan, to be used in transactions.   Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank revealed this week that its current pilot project will take at least one more year to be ready for the e-krona. 

The US is more reluctant because American finance has the dollar as the world’s top currency. This week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said “that there’s no hurry to develop a central bank digital currency.”  Having trashed cryptocurrencies as “highly volatile and therefore not really useful stores of value and not backed by anything,” Powell went on “It’s more a speculative asset that’s essentially a substitute for gold rather than for the dollar.” Even so, the Boston Fed last year entered into a partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a multiyear study into developing a central bank digital currency. But the work is expected to take two to three years.

These CBDCs in theory provide a seamless and trustworthy way of doing digital transactions more or less instantaneously and as they ar backed by government, they make them attractive compared to gold, fiat currencies and crypto coinage.  But they also reduce the freedom of individuals to control their own ‘cash’ and they open the doors of personal financial activities to governments, supposedly reducing corruption, but also putting people’s livelihoods even more in the grip of governments.

In the last 20 years, financial fictions have been increasingly digitalised.  High frequency financial transactions have been superseded by digital coding.  But these technological developments have mainly been used to increase speculation in the financial casino, leaving regulators behind in the wash.  When the financial markets go belly up, which they eventually will, the digital damage will be exposed.

 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Housing is Human Shelter Wall Street Doesn't Agree

Image Source

 

Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired


Here we go again with the housing market. What is housing. It’s human shelter that’s what it is to millions of people. There are also millions who have no shelter even when houses, sit empty. And there’s millions more who can’t afford the cost of it. Human shelter, like all crucial social needs, is a business in our society and if you can’t buy it, profits cannot be made from it; then you do without.

 

People go to extreme measures to be able to buy a home; they put off having children. They work maybe two sometimes three jobs, all so they can borrow money from the moneylender and pay maybe two or three times for the home after interest payments. If they’re lucky, they may own it after 30 years or so.

 

The whole system is set up to function this way; a whole section of social parasites will get rich through it. It is a disgusting and without doubt, most barbaric way for society to house its citizens.  But it’s not about housing people is it. It’s about a few people getting very rich off of what should be a right; human shelter.

 

After the crash in 2008 when some five million people had their homes stolen from them by the moneylenders, (people didn’t “lose” them) huge capital management companies and private equity firms like Blackrock got in to the business of purchasing single family homes. These firms are among the largest landlords in the country and usually prefer their victims in one place like an apartment complex, but the rewards were too great and investors made a killing.

 

The housing market is ablaze once again and big institutional investors are now buying up entire subdivisions from home manufacturers. These firms and their investors have accumulated billions as the US working class and poor have seen their living standards decline and never being ones for actually “earning” money through hard work, the investors need to find a lucrative home for their profits.

 

By “selling entire neighborhoods to investors.”  the Wall Street Journal reported this week*, “The country’s most prolific homebuilder booked about twice what it typically makes selling to the middle class….”. (In the US, the mass media and the trade union hierarchy refer to workers as middle class. There are no workers here, just rich, poor and middle class.

 

Reading serious big business outlets like the Journal gives working people a glimpse in to the world of the big capitalists, the hedge fund managers, financiers and other coupon clippers who get rich off those that work for a living. “…yield chasing investors are snapping up single family houses to rent out or flip.” (my added emphasis) the Journal article states as if this is some sort of respectable activity.


For the uninitiated, the full term is “house flipping” It is one of the most disgusting terms and it sickens me when I see it written and think of the sacrifices working people make to own a home and the tragedy of homelessness. In my town, a closet costs $1000 a month; I feel sorry for young people. We should all be very angry at this crowd and the politicians and their two parties that allow it. When you hear the term, lobbying, in regards to politics, what it describes is people like those who get rich off your need for a home taking some of that money they rip from you and giving it to legislators to make laws that keep the ball rolling.

 

One head of a real estate consulting firm tells the Journal that in many of the major housing markets in the nation, “….about one in every five homes sold is bought by someone who never moves in.”. Not only that, even with very low interest rates how can an individual or a single family compete in this market with an organized gang of housing speculators. In Houston TX for example, 24% of homes purchased are bought by investors and the same head of the consulting firm admits that these developments will, “…. make US housing permanently more expensive.”, and that means more insecurity, more stress to gather the required capital and pay the moneylenders their interest. Consequences of this existence is domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, family fragmentation and in worst cases, total breakdown and the violence associated with that.

 

So as the “yield chasing investors” salivate at the chance of money without working, the consulting firm warns that the “institutionalization of real estate investors has set the stage for another speculative, investor driven home price bubble.” It’s not like they don’t know what their activity leads to but they don’t suffer in the way millions of working class and middle class people do and like the fox in the henhouse, can’t stop the killing; they are driven mad themselves by the laws of the system.

The consulting firm assures the investors that “The bubble has room to grow before it bursts…”, home prices rose 11% in 2020 and are expected to rise 12% this year so the danger is there, but as one of their own, Chuck Prince , the former CEO of Citigroup pointed out, “….as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.”. Prince is right about that from the capitalist’s point of view, what we have to do though is stop the music.


They know the consequences of this for millions of people but because most of them won’t experience it themselves it’s easier for them to put it aside. Anyway, what can they do, it’s a matter of life and death for them and there is no alternative. We are capitalists Nancy Pelosi, one of the most powerful Wall Street politicians in the US, told one na├»ve youth in 2019, that’s just the way it is.

 

There is an alternative though. How can there not be? Society has the resources; labor power, capital, and all the skills necessary to provide everyone with decent living conditions. No one need be homeless, no one should be without the best healthcare society has to offer. The problem is a political one. Housing is a private venture and in order for capital to be allocated and the resources cobbled together from architects and planners to skilled workers and designers, the process must yield profits. If housing doesn’t provide the required profits, the owners of capital will find somewhere else to put it. They do not produce for social need, they produce for personal enrichment; we all know that really and we will never fully resolve this or any other market driven problems until the wealth of society that is a collective product, is collectively owned and collectively allocated in a rationally planned way.

 

I certainly don’t have all the answers in the immediate. I am sure that there are many people, activists in housing struggles that have ideas about how we can make some changes within the framework of capitalism. We can expand the public sector and direct funds to build houses at affordable prices. Society can provide millions of decent apartments and any serious infrastructure plan would allocate money for that. The trade union apprentice schools can expand their trainings and millions of young workers can learn the skills society needs to improve living conditions for all.

 

The money is there, the obstacle is the private sector, the finance industry, the tech billionaires and the two capitalist parties that have a dictatorship over US political and economic life. This dictatorship and the refusal of the trade union hierarchy to build an alternative, is one of the reasons a degenerate like Trump was elected. Fortunately, this era of two -party domination is coming to an end.

 

So one important step in that direction is building an independent party of working people based on our organizations in the workplaces, the unions, and also our communities. Housing can just as easily be a public venture like the capitalist’s wars.

 

Municipal bodies are dominated by landlords and big business. What we build how we build it and when, is all based on how it best serves business and profit making. Building independent working class structures to the present political bodies and linking them locally, nationally and from there internationally, would be a positive step in the right direction.

 

As things stand, having owning a home is an important aspect of US life. But so were large cars. Americans used to laugh at us back home because our cars were so tiny by comparison. But economic necessity changes minds. Most people would be happy with a decent apartment. The state can provide the resources, employ the labor power and can even offer a selection of three or four styles just like the private builders do, the main thing is it would be subsidized, after all, we subsidize wars and all the other ventures the super-rich initiate like Elon Musk’s space game. He never earned the money he wastes in projects of personal gratification. As a white South African, he has had a very privileged existence, never had to do any hard work and his family’s wealth was robbed from the Black South African working class.

 

I cannot help wondering to myself when the US working class will put a stop to this abuse by US capitalists. When will we cease falling for the same old propaganda that the world hates us that the Iranians are on the verge of destroying our way of life (now Washington’s old friend Saddam Hussein has gone) and that economic refugees coming in to the country from our southern border are our enemies, are the cause of our misfortunes and declining living standards. These immigrants are a by-product of US imperialism’s intervention in Mexico and Central America. NAFTA alone drove millions of Mexican farmers from their land and their means of subsistence. People do not leave their homes because they don’t like where their roots are. The reason there are so many people in the US with Irish names is they were fleeing the same horrors that Mexicans and Central Americans are.

 

There is a great US union slogan, “An Injury to one is an injury to all.” It refers to workers of all types and countries. It is not workers from other countries that are the cause of the housing, transportation, health crisis or any other problems we face here in the US. We don’t have to look far to see who’s ripping us off. We simply have to get up and stop the damn music from playing. Elon Musk, Chuck Prince, and the other coupon clippers like them won’t be dancing then.

 

* Big Firms Crowd in to Market For Houses, Driving Up Prices WSJ 4-5-21

 


Monday, April 5, 2021

Trump Fleeces Supporters

by Jack Gerson


The lead story in Sunday's New York Times exposes yet another scam by Trump and his crew, this one shaking down his supporters.


Last fall, the Trump campaign was running out of cash while being badly outspent by the Democrats. So Trump got his media megaphones -- Rush Limbaugh et al -- to urge all Trump supporters to dig as deep as they could to donate online to bail out the Trump campaign. Ten of thousands did. Most thought that they were making one-time donations. But the Trump campaign and WinRed, the for-profit company that handled its online donations, set up recurring donation to be the default for new online donors. So unless donors chose to opt out of recurring donations, they were unknowingly agreeing to donate every week until the November election. Consequently, many of Trump's most earnest supporters got trapped into this cold-hearted schemes that emptied their bank accounts and caused some real hardship.

By now, no one should be surprised that there's no depth to which Trump and his cohort won't stoop. The wonder is that so many Trump supporters still look to him for leadership, and that so many continue to fall for Trump's confidence game.

Here's that NY Times article, which provides the gory details.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Karl Marx on Abraham Lincoln


 

Marx writes of Lincoln:

 

“His latest proclamation, which is drafted in the same style, the manifesto abolishing slavery, is the most important document in American history since the establishment of the union, tantamount to the tearing up of the old American Constitution.

 

Nothing is simpler than to show that Lincoln’s principle political actions contain much that is aesthetically repulsive, logically inadequate, farcical in form and politically contradictory as is done by the English Pindars * of slavery, The Times, The Saturday Review and tutti quanti. But Lincoln’s place in the history of the United States and of mankind will, nevertheless, be next to that of Washington! Nowadays, when the insignificant struts about melodramatically on this side of the Atlantic, it is of no significance at all that the significant is clothed in everyday dress in the new world?

 

Lincoln is not the product of a popular revolution. This plebeian, who worked his way up from stone-breaker to Senator in Illinois, without intellectual brilliance, without a particularly outstanding character, without exceptional importance—an average person of good will, was placed at the top by the interplay of the forces of universal suffrage unaware of the great issues at stake. The new world has never achieved a greater triumph than by this demonstration that, given its political and social organization, ordinary people of good will can accomplish feats which only heroes could accomplish in the old world!”

 

Hegel once observed that comedy is in fact superior to tragedy and humorous reasoning superior to grandiloquent reasoning. Although Lincoln does not possess the grandiloquence of historical action, as an average man of the people he has its humor. When does he issue the proclamation declaring that from January 1,1863, slavery in the Confederacy shall be abolished? At the very moment when the slave owners of the border states believed that the invasion of Kentucky by the armies of the South had made, “the peculiar institution” just as safe as was their domination over the compatriot President Abraham Lincoln in Washington”

 

From Marx writings October 7 1862 Marx wrote for the US paper The New York Tribune as a foreign correspondent. From K Marx and F Engels Collected Works Vol 19 page 249-51. This excerpt from Marx and Engels writings on, The Individual and Society  


Marx's Letter to Lincoln can be read here.

 

Some thoughts on Lincoln’s politics from, James H Nolt Professor of International Relations at New York University (2015-present)

 

“Lincoln was a socialist or even knew of socialist thought. I do not think he did. By profession he was a lawyer and close to some of the railroad magnates who wanted to government help to finance and build a trans-continental railroad. He and the Republican Party had lots of business support. Organized labor and socialist movements barely existed in the USA at that time, so it is very doubtful they had much influence on Lincoln compared to the many powerful business influences that we know he responded to or worked for. From his humble beginnings he did seem to sympathize with ordinary people, but he also was a very savvy politician who knew the importance of lining up powerful donors and supporters on his side to win.”

 

*Pindar (518–c. 438 bce) was a Greek Poet


Saturday, April 3, 2021

Space…the final junkyard

Space…the final junkyard

by John Pickard
Reprinted from the UK Socialist Website Left Horizons

In the two centuries since its rapid development of industry, capitalism has developed science and technology as an integral part of its commercial and productive capacities. But in the age of the decline of capitalism, both science and technology are facing an impasse.

This is evident in many different spheres of life – such as climate change, species extinction, pandemics, global pollution, scarcity of resources, just to name a few – and most of these are saving up their real impact for major crises in the future.

Artificial satellites are another example. Since the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, tens of thousands more have been sent into orbit. The ubiquitous mobile phone, internet links, TV and radio, weather forecasts, vehicle, aircraft and shipping navigation – all of these rely on satellites of one sort or another.

Redundant satellites decommissioned

Since the first launch over sixty years ago, the space above the planet has become crowded with old defunct satellites, as well as many bits and pieces of that have just broken off. Satellites that have become redundant have been simply decommissioned and mostly left there. Many of the later stages of the massive ‘vehicles’ used to launch satellites, especially in the early days, exploded through the presence of excess fuel and the shattered remnants of these are still out there.

The result is that space is full of junk, millions of pieces of it, from large items perhaps the size of a fridge-freezer, to nuts and bolts and tiny objects. The point being, of course, that they all pose a danger to other functioning satellites and the International Space Station, which is still functioning.

Sputnik has long since burned up on re-entering the atmosphere after its orbit gradually decayed, but just to show how long satellites can hang about, another early satellite, the US Vanguard 1 is still up there, because of its high orbit. It was launched in 1958 and is now the oldest piece of space junk there is. Some bits will continue to orbit for millions of years.

Three categories of junk

According to a study by Bologna University eight years ago, there were already millions of pieces of junk even then.  The amount of junk and the danger to other satellites depends on the height of the orbit. The higher the orbit, the less crowded the junk is, and therefore the less danger there is. On the other hand, material orbiting at, say 1,500km above the Earth, might stay there for millions of years.

Bologna defined three categories of junk. The largest, capable of destroying a working satellite, are all those pieces larger than 10cm. Although these are ‘trackable’ – and indeed are tracked by space agencies – there are at least 19,000 of them.

Russian Sputnik, launched in 1957

The next largest, over 1cm in size, are only ‘potentially’ trackable and may cause serious damage to a working satellite, but there are ‘several hundred thousand’ of them. Finally, there are the ‘untrackable’ bits and pieces, less than 1cm is diameter, of which there may be millions or even billions. Even these, however, travelling at up to 8km every second, can cause damage.

The Bologna University study highlighted a number of significant events that have increased the amount of space junk. For example, in 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite test, in which a missile was used to destroy an old weather satellite, adding over 3,000 new pieces of debris. Then two years later, a defunct Russian satellite accidentally collided with and destroyed a US commercial satellite, adding another 2,000 trackable bits of debris.

Since then, the European Space Agency Awareness programme has started and a number of US commercial players have started putting up new satellites in their thousands.

Elon Musk aims for thousands of satellites

Elon Musk, using his SpaceX programme, has already launched 60 ‘Starlink’ satellites. He can boast, the Financial Times explained (March 31) “that in 22 months his constellation has put almost as many small satellites into “Low Earth Orbit” as were launched globally in the decade to 2018.” 

His rival Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, is also talking up his own Space programme. Like Musk, Bezos will be aiming to put his own satellites into Low Earth Orbit and many other programmes around the world are aiming to do the same. Musk and others are arguing for the LEO ‘licences’ to be widened on the grounds that these satellites are so low (no higher than about 600 km) that eventually their orbits decay and the satellite burns up in the atmosphere – thereby being ‘environmentally friendlier’.

The problem is that if all the agencies and companies do the same, it makes for a lot of satellites. There are as many as 90 different companies and governments with the same ambitions of putting up LEO satellites. Musk is talking about 12,000 satellites from his company alone. His Starlink programme already has 1,320 and he aiming to add around 120 a month.

Then, the Financial Times adds, there is Amazon’s Project Kuiper “with its 3,200 satellites, Britain’s OneWeb with about 700 and Telesat of Canada with 298. The EU, too, is talking about its own constellation while China is planning multiple systems”.

It will only get more crowded

Over the next decade, Euroconsult plans to put up over 10,000 mini-satellites into LEO, more than five times more than in the whole of the previous decade. China and Russia will no doubt be sending up thousands more of their own. It is already crowded up there and it will become more crowded. There are no international laws or treaties that govern the use of satellites or the clear up of debris when something goes wrong.

At the moment, this problem is not seen as ‘acute’, because even with tens of thousands of satellites, the perception is that space is a big place. As indeed it is. However, the more crowded it gets, the more that the likelihood of accidental damage increases. And it must be borne in mind that every collision with space debris multiplies the number of pieces of debris up there.

This is not a ‘technological’ or a ‘scientific’ question. It is political. If we lived in a society in which the resources and technology of the world were planned in a rational way, including use of space and space technology, it is the kind of issue that would be factored into space and communication programmes. But given international geo-political rivalries between the great powers, and the inevitable commercial competition between big corporations, there is almost no chance of that happening.

If science and technology were properly planned, as in a socialist environment, far better use could be made of satellite programmes and space research, without simply using the sky as a vast junkyard. But until there is a complete change of system down here on Earth, the chaos and anarchy above our heads will continue…while we all wait with fingers crossed.