Saturday, June 3, 2023

After Congress Stops The Rail Strike. The SCOTUS Doubles Down.

Source Los Angeles Times


Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired




Back in November 2022, the US House of Representatives followed by the US Senate, at the urging of “Worker Joe” Biden, the most union friendly president ever, intervened in a labor dispute and quickly passed legislation forcing rail workers to accept a contract they had previously rejected. The US Congress, using one of the many weapons at its disposal, denied US workers the right to strike. Were this to have failed, the capitalist states’ other institutions of oppression, the police, the National Guard and even the army would have been called in to help. Note: The NG and the army can be a bit risky and the police would be preferable. In past disputes, private hired thugs like the Pinkertons were the norm.


Yesterday, another legislative body of old lawyers and Judges, a few serial sexual abusers among them according to reports in the media, took similar action. The US Supreme Court voted in an 8 to 1 decision to allow employers to sue unions for economic costs due to strike action. In this case, a group of Teamsters, drivers for a concrete company, went on strike and although they rotated the drums to prevent the concrete from hardening and damaging the trucks, the “company was forced to discard the unused product at a financial loss.” Read more here.


In the first political attack on the rail workers President Biden, formerly the Senator from Dupont Corp., was deeply sorry:

“As a proud pro-labor President,…..”, Biden said no doubt overwhelmed with emotion, “…I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,”, Biden explained in his statement, “….but in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.” Politico 11-29-22


Biden said more in his defense of a violent assault on workers’ and our right to strike:  “Communities will maintain access to clean drinking water. Farmers and ranchers will continue to be able to bring food to market and feed their livestock. And hundreds of thousands of Americans in a number of industries will keep their jobs,” PBS Newshour 12-1-22


Biden is pulling the old “rope a dope” on us. They do it all the time like when they oppose wage increases or a generalized increase in the minimum wage; it will mean a loss of jobs and will hurt workers, they argue. They make it about a workers’ suffering and loss like losing access to “clean drinking water” that already exists for many people in the US. Ask the people of Flint.


But it’s not about that at all, it’s about profits and capital accumulation and the wealth, lifestyles and political power of a small minority of people in society who do no productive labor. If they cared about workers or the millions of us that don’t live off the profit of capital, we would have mass transit, health care, housing or accommodation that doesn’t consume one third of a renters’ income;* or  a guarantee of clean drinking water.  We’d have a great education system that didn’t drive a student, (or their parents) in to debt peonage.


Yes, a strike can inconvenience other workers. That is why every strike cannot limit its demands to issues that only affect the workers or union members taking the action; workers as a whole must see that the strike will affect them, directly (more jobs) or indirectly increasing wages and benefits in the community.


As I write, a potentially powerful union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union that represents West Coast dockworkers, has been in contract talks with the port bosses for a year or so and we hear precious little about it though I received this report today which is very disappointing. But there is nothing in the mass media about this significant dispute between capital and labor, yet this union, in conjunction with other unions, working class communities and all victims of the so-called free market, could transform the balance of class forces in society.

Unfortunately the leadership of the ILWU, like all of organized labor, supports the Team Concept, the view that the bosses and the workers have the same interests, are on the same side ultimately. So this ideological trap prevents them from using the potential power they have at their command. Just the opposite, they hold back and suppress that power if it arises for to challenge the rule of capital can only lead to chaos.


For any strike to make real gains today, it can’t be just about the member (it never should have been).  Workers on strike live in communities, have kids in schools or at college, care about the environment have friends whose lives are also being disrupted by decisions made in corporate boardrooms and the state and federal legislatures. Organized labor has lots of allies.


After Biden and the other enemies of the US working class in the US Congress stiffed the rail workers, the US Supreme Court doubled down. And why not? The union hierarchy whined a little back then but did basically nothing. The big business press talks of “big Labor” and its power and all that but this is just propaganda. The bosses are not afraid of the trade union hierarchy organizing the potential power of the 14 million members in unions. They have shown time and time again which class they are loyal to when push comes to shove.


After yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, Teamsters General President Sean O'Brien said the Supreme Court had "again voted in favor of corporations over working people."  Are we supposed to be surprised about that? Sean O'Brien is part of the “new” leadership of the Teamsters that defeated the Hoffa slate in an election where only 14% participated. A militant new leadership according to Labor Notes and the TDU


Shawn Fain, the new leader of the United Auto Workers (UAW) that has been through a similar change in leadership as the Teamsters, was equally pathetic in his official response to yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling. Included in his statement is the threat that:

 “….in the course of fighting against poverty and for a decent standard of living for our members, these companies choose to file suit, we will turn the argument against the greedy enormously profitable companies.”


Fain gets even more militant to show the auto bosses he means business:

“We have to shift public opinion at the criminality of the gross inequity of the wealthy few at the expense of the masses, the Supreme Court should be more concerned with the fact that 26 individuals have as much wealth as half of humanity, that is where lawsuits should be filed and laws should be changed.”


Has brother Fain bean living in isolation?  You don’t have to convince the public to “shift opinion”, you have to provide the leadership and the vehicle for change. Ever since 2008 in particular, the anger and outright hatred of the system has increased to the point that in 2016 almost one million people opted out of the electoral process. The problem is that the heads of organized labor have refused to tap in to that anger for fear of where it may lead.


It’s interesting to note that President Fain’s statement on the UAW website is considerably shorter than the one sent to me. Here is what I received.


“While the conservative supreme courts ruling is disappointing and I totally disagree with it, no threat of lawsuit from the wealthy class should deter our mission to deliver for the membership. We are demanding our fair share and if in the course of fighting against poverty and for a decent standard of living for our members, these companies choose to file suit, we will turn the argument against the greedy enormously profitable companies. Our fight is lifting up the standard for all, and I’ll gladly fight that battle in public, everyday of my life, law or no law. We have to shift public opinion at the criminality of the gross inequity of the wealthy few at the expense of the masses, the Supreme Court should be more concerned with the fact that 26 individuals have as much wealth as half of humanity, that is where lawsuits should be filed and laws should be changed. If labor doesn’t strike and lead the fight, no one will. Our founders laid down their lives for a better future and I’m willing to do the same!”

Well that will scare the auto bosses.

The right wing is not so cautious. Right wing forces are not afraid to skirt the law, anger the establishment and also tap in to the anger that lies beneath the surface of US society. They were not afraid to storm the US capital and their supporters sent money to help them with the lawsuits that followed; I would hazard a guess that many of them were working class. Let’s be honest, as socialists, we consider such an action to be a necessity and would welcome it if the forces involved were different than the overwhelmingly petit bourgeois right wingers and their working class allies that did so on Jan 6th 2021.


As I commented earlier, we have immense potential power. If we stop work, society and profit taking comes to a halt. We have the power. If you read any labor history at all, include the writings about the 1919 Seattle General strike and others. Particularly the minutes of the committee that ran that strike as it shows how self-organization arises during great class battles. Self-organization by working class people emerges every time at some point; it did during the Katrina events and it has to be suppressed and with violence if need be. This is who we are dealing with.


As workers whether organized or not, we have a problem. That problem is the leadership of our class and in the case discussed here, the heads of organized labor. Do we really think the comments above from these labor leaders when their corporate friends and their politicians shaft us are simply a moral failure?


Of course not; they are lying to put it bluntly. Consciously or not they are the agents of Wall Street, the Banks and big business inside our organizations and the daunting task is removing them and replacing class collaborationist policies with a program that responds to our needs and the needs of our children and grandchildren. We have to reject the dominant ideology in society in order to do this, the ideology that claims this is the end of civilization. That this is how it always has been and always will be and it’s the best form of social organization humanity can create. We have to overcome the stop in our own minds as the great English historian Christopher hill put it.


It action it means reaching out to all communities that suffer under the dictatorship of capital. And in the last analysis, workers, especially the organized working class, must take up the burning issue of the looming climate catastrophe that threatens humanity with extinction.


The present obsession with identity politics is a sideshow in this scenario and aimed at negating the class issue and rendering us weak and divided. In the most advanced periods of our history and class struggle there have been strong tendencies to unite and overcome the divisions our enemies use to keep us divided, racism, women’s oppression, xenophobia and so on. That is why we must combat them.


The right wing, and indeed, extremely right-wing forces are opportunistically tapping in to the mood that exists among working class people. They are sounding like the defenders of free speech. The defenders of culture and women’s oppression and so on. We must not be fooled by this. We must not forget that Hitler and the NAZI’s came to power through the electoral process and then banned elections. They defend the right to free speech in order to win power and deny us the right to free speech.


We have the power

We have the numbers

Rely on our own strength, the courts are not our friends.

Build our own party

Build International solidarity in ideas and action.

We had to break the law to build unions and defend our living standards

Slavery was legal

Racist Apartheid was legal in the US South


Win leadership of your local union and go on from there. If you fight for workers, for your class,  as hard as the bosses’ politicians fight for  theirs you’ll have a positive affect.


* When Moody’s started tracking housing affordability more than 20 years ago, the average household spent about 23% of its income on rent. A decade ago it was 26%. And at the end of last year is when that average hit 30%. Marketplace 1-20-23


Thursday, June 1, 2023

Afscme Local 444 History From a Participant #2

Richard Mellor

As I say in the video, it's not likely I will write about this history so I'll speak it for my own satisfaction and for my grandchildren and anyone else who might find it interesting. As far as workers as union activists go, it's pretty similar to all of them. It is, after all, working class history and that history belongs to the vast majority of us but it is hidden and ignored by the big business media. When we think about it, the 44 day Flint sit down strike should be labor's 4th of July. The regular 4th of July is the celebration instituted by the capitalist class of the British colonies on this continent, in particular the northern industrialists, honoring their break from the semi-feudal British Empire.

The first short I did is here.

Interesting Comments from Black American Radicals. Class Good Indentity Bad

Just had a quick look at this and I like it. We need more class politics and less identity politics. Just had a short look and will get back to it. Hopefully, I am not missing something but it is conducive to my way of thinking so far.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

US China Conflict. History Repeats Itself

US Cannot Stop China's Rise: Interesting Article


Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired



Use-values must therefore never be looked upon as the real aim of the capitalist; neither must the profit on any single transaction. The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he aims at. This boundless greed after riches, this passionate chase after exchange-value, is common to the capitalist and the miser; but while the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser. The never-ending augmentation of exchange-value, which the miser strives after, by seeking to save his money from circulation, is attained by the more acute capitalist, by constantly throwing it afresh into circulation. *


I was in my mid 30’s before I learned that Japan never simply woke up one morning and decided to bomb the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. There was a war that preceded this event; a trade war. The US and European powers were concerned about the growth of Japan as an industrial nation. In 1905 Japan had defeated Russia in a war as both nations were beginning to increase their influence in Asia and the world but by the 1930’s Japan was becoming a more serious threat.


No capitalist state appreciates a rival. After all, capitalism is a war to the death. It is a war that never ends as the capitalists of nation states are forced to do whatever they can to stay on top. In the Pacific, East Asia sphere, Japan was becoming a threat to western domination. Plus, Japan was an ally of Germany which had a long history of association with the Island nation. Japan annexed   Korea in 1910, occupied Manchuria in 1931 and in 1937 invaded China proper. My father was stationed in Hong Kong at the time and talked to me about that period.


But there was one positive aspect of this global competition that favored the western European powers; Japan imported most of its raw materials from Europe, or European colonies and the US. It also imported significant energy needs. It was this need for vital resources that drove the Japanese expansion.


The US was not about to yield its growing influence on the world stage and the Asian Pacific to Japan


By 1940, the situation had worsened. As Robert Higgs points out,  quoting George Morgenstern in The Actual Road to Pearl Harbor, “Roosevelt signed the Export Control Act, authorizing the President to license or prohibit the export of essential defense materials. Under this authority, o]n July 31, exports of aviation motor fuels and lubricants and No. 1 heavy melting iron and steel scrap were restricted. Next, in a move aimed at Japan, Roosevelt slapped an embargo, effective October 16, on all exports of scrap iron and steel to destinations other than Britain and the nations of the Western Hemisphere. Finally, on July 26, 1941, Roosevelt froze Japanese assets in the United States thus bringing commercial relations between the nations to an effective end. One week later Roosevelt embargoed the export of such grades of oil as still were in commercial flow to Japan.” 


Japan had to do something.


That capitalism is always in a state of war is not hard to see. The European states competing for the plunder of the African continent understood this violent self-destructive nature of their system and met at the Berlin Conference in 1882 to try and arrange some rules between this den of thieves. It was an attempt to divide the African continent up so everyone could get a share of the loot and avoid internal conflict.


Thirty five years later this so-called treaty entered the dustbin of history. Two world wars barely 20 years apart shows how impossible such treaties between capitalist states are. Their diplomacy is bogus, is a lie as all competitors for market share are enemies. Their talk of cooperation?  Perhaps on an individual level they mean it. Who’s to say?  Regardless, the reality is that capitalism has laws unto itself and no amount of promises can change that.  It is inherently a system of war and devastation as I pointed it with regard to Professor Richard Wolff’s recent comments on the Katie Halper show.


This is why Wikileaks is demonized and Julian Assange, its founder, is incarcerated and why the US wants him dead. He exposed this diplomacy to the world. The con we are all aware of to one degree or another became social fact.


As I write, US capitalism, a declining super power, is waging a trade war of unprecedented proportions against its rivals, in particular Russia but most importantly, China; what John Mearsheimer calls a “peer competitor” in a way Russia is not. When we are told via the US mass media of China’s aggression, what they actually mean is China’s threat in the struggle for control of the world’s resources and the rapacious quest for profits. This has to be sold to us workers of course as a military threat alone. China wants to take our freedoms away like Iraq wanted to and Venezuela, and Iran and Cuba, and……


In this most recent trade war, the US has a blacklist Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports. The Commerce Department’s “blacklist” is called the “Entity list” apparently. I am sure all my working class brothers and sisters reading this are aware of what I am about to reveal here as we live in a democracy. This “Entity List” a relatively small affair, was directed at individuals and organizations that US companies could not export technology to without a license.


That list now includes some “600 Chinese entities”.


The US Commerce Department also has a special office that administers this “entity” list. I am sure there is no talk in Congress of shutting funding to this section of government and that workers reading this are already aware of it as we live in a democracy. In addition, there is a newly formed, “Disruptive Technology Strike Force” that will arrest and prosecute any Americans, or US companies that might consider selling technology to the Chinese or Russians. I am also sure workers are familiar with this government agency as we live in a democracy.


This development falls under the category called “Export Controls, a war strategy that precedes the military option that can have unintended consequences and also cost a lot of money and some lives as the victims tend to fight back.


Business Week, a serious journal of a section of the US bourgeois, points out that “since the Russian invaded Ukraine the number of Russian entities on the list has grown by more than 500 bringing the total to nearly 900………US shipments of all goods to Russia have plunged by 90% in value.”. The most disturbing thing about this development is that it has not worked other than increasing misery and starvation in the former colonial world in particular, and to a lesser extent in Europe. The irony of this is that one of the US’s major allies, Germany, is now in recession.


The US is applying the same trade restrictions on China.  But China is a different matter altogether. It is the world’s second largest economy after the US. Before the US trade war against Russia, the US exported a meagre $6.4 billion in goods to that country. US exports to China, on the other hand, amounted to $154 billion. China is an extremely important market for many US businesses, Tesla’s largest electric vehicle factory is in China.


China is close to becoming the number two exporter of passenger vehicles behind Japan ahead of the US and Chinese made car exports to the EU rose 156% in 2021 according to Eurostat. All of this is aggression as far as competitors are concerned.


The reality is that a country as large as China (or India or Russia or Brazil) inevitably wants its own industries to grow. Wants its own airline, rail system manufacturing, military, entertainment industry and so on. The high point in the US/China competition at the moment is technology. The US is desperately trying to prevent China’s rise in this sphere through trade wars, export controls and direct sanctions on individuals, businesses and countries that don’t comply with US sanctions. This is what the assault on Huawei is about.


In the end, barring military conflict of course, US politicians and business leaders know very well that China’s rise as an economic superpower can’t be halted, only slowed.  “While export controls may slow progress…” says Cordell Hull who led the BIS in the Trump Administration, “…it’s impossible to prevent China from developing its own capabilities in all areas.”


Meanwhile, what is apparently a fruitless war between capitalist states has devastating effects on human communities globally especially the poorest countries as the Ukraine war and the US sanctions show with regard to grain exports as bread is such a staple throughout the former colonial world.


China’s rise and its growing influence on the world stage as the US heads in the other direction is a result of state intervention and the ability to use the resources of the state to direct economic activity, even when the state is in the hands of a bureaucratic clique like the misnamed Chinese Communist Party. The decline of global poverty often boasted about in the big business press is overwhelmingly due to China’s rise. A workers’ state with a democratic plan of production under the control and management of the working class would be far more efficient (in terms of the production of social needs) and managed in a way that exists in harmony with our environment not at war with it. The Chinese workers will settle accounts with the bureaucracy at some point.


I like to think that a nuclear conflict is out of the question but unfortunately not. The capitalists are literally addicted to, drunk with the never-ending quest for profits. They are mad in a sense and let’s not forget that the US ruling class is the only ruling class that has dropped nuclear bombs on urban centers, not once but twice and on a nation already defeated militarily.


There are huge struggles taking place throughout the industrial democracies and also in the former colonial countries. The indigenous populations of the world are in the forefront of the struggle to defend the natural world and their place in it. They are fighting for all of us. These global battles require an international organization to tie them all together, capital is global and they have organizations like the G7, the G20 and others aimed at maintaining a relative peace among themselves and a stable economic environment necessary for it; it’s not going too well for them though as their system is unravelling.


An international organization linking workers and all our struggles together is a vital necessity if we are to prevent an environmental catastrophe or the possibility of a nuclear one.


The trade wars we are witnessing (the economic sanctions are war too) are very similar to other economic warfare that preceded military ones. We must not assume the major players in a degenerating social system that has reached its historical nadir will lead us out of this.


* Karl Marx: The General Formula for Capital



Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Acemoglu, AI and automation

by Michael Roberts

There is a new burst of techno-optimism emerging over the application of ChatGPT and LLMs.  One analyst reckons that AI “has huge potential to boost economy-wide productivity” and cited a recent MIT study that showed a massive improvement in productivity while using ChatGPT. Also, much of the productivity gains were seen between 21 to 40-year-olds. 

ChatGPT has gained 100 million users faster than any other application in history and these fast adoption rates are not confined to individual users. Major corporations, such as Bain & Company, have entered into deals with OpenAI to use generative AI in their strategy consulting business, while companies like Expedia have integrated ChatGPT through plug-ins.

So is ChatGPT etc a game changer for capitalism?  MIT economics professor Daron Acemoglu is the expert on the economic and social effects of new technology, including the fast-burgeoning artificial intelligence (AI). He’s won the John Bates Clark Medal, often a precursor to the Nobel Prize. 

But he is no techno-optimist.  His research shows that major technological disruption — such as the Industrial Revolution — can flatten wages for an entire class of working people. In a recent interview in the Financial Times, Acemoglu said “capital takes what it will in the absence of constraints and technology is a tool that can be used for good or for ill.”  Referring to the technology in the 19th century onwards, he went on: “Yes, you got progress, but you also had costs that were huge and very long-lasting. A hundred years of much harsher conditions for working people, lower real wages, much worse health and living conditions, less autonomy, greater hierarchy.  And the reason that we came out of it wasn’t some law of economics, but rather a grass roots social struggle in which unions, more progressive politics and, ultimately, better institutions played a key role — and a redirection of technological change away from pure automation also contributed importantly.”

These comments echo the conclusions on the impact of technology that Friedrich Engels made during the height of industrial revolution in the mid-19th century. Back then, Engels argued that mechanisation shed jobs, but it also created new jobs in new sectors, see my book on Engels’ economics pp54-57.  Marx also identified this in the 1850s: “The real facts, which are travestied by the optimism of the economists, are these: the workers, when driven out of the workshop by the machinery, are thrown onto the labour-market. Their presence in the labour-market increases the number of labour-powers which are at the disposal of capitalist exploitation…the effect of machinery, which has been represented as a compensation for the working class, is, on the contrary, a most frightful scourge. …. As soon as machinery has set free a part of the workers employed in a given branch of industry, the reserve men are also diverted into new channels of employment and become absorbed in other branches; meanwhile the original victims, during the period of transition, for the most part starve and perish.” (Grundrisse). The implication here is that automation means increased precarious jobs and rising inequality for long periods.

Acemoglu reaches similar conclusions to Engels and Marx.  “I think one of the things you have to do as an economist is to hold two conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time,” he says. “That’s the fact that technology can create growth while also not enriching the masses (at least not for a long time). Technological progress is the most important driver of human flourishing but what we tend to forget is that the process is not automatic.”  Under the capitalist mode of production for profit not social need, there is a contradiction, so “mathematically modelling and quantitatively understanding the struggle between capital — which benefits most from technological advancement —and labour isn’t an easy task.”  Indeed.

Acemoglu’s own extensive research on inequality and automation shows that more than half of the increase in inequality in the U.S. since 1980 is at least related to automation, largely stemming from downward wage pressure on jobs that might just as easily be done by a robot. The result of automation in the last 30 years has been rising inequality of incomes.  There are many factors that have driven up inequality of incomes: privatisation, the collapse of unions, deregulation and the transfer of manufacturing jobs to the global south.  But automation is an important one. While trend GDP growth in the major economies has slowed, inequality has risen and many workers — particularly, men without college degrees — have seen their real earnings fall sharply. 

Moreover, under capitalism, Acemoglu adds that not all automation technologies actually raise the productivity of labour. That’s because companies mainly introduce automation in areas that may boost profitability, like marketing, accounting or fossil fuel technology, but not raise productivity for the economy as a whole or meet social needs. “Big Tech has a particular approach to business and technology that is centered on the use of algorithms for replacing humans. It is no coincidence that companies such as Google are employing less than one tenth of the number of workers that large businesses, such as General Motors, used to do in the past. This is a consequence of Big Tech’s business model, which is based not on creating jobs but automating them.”

Acemoglu reckons modern automation, particularly since the Great Recession and the COVID slump, is even more deleterious to the future of work.  “Put simply, the technological portfolio of the American economy has become much less balanced, and in a way that is highly detrimental to workers and especially low-education workers.”  He reckoned that more than half, and perhaps as much as three quarters, of the surge in wage inequality in the US is related to automation. “For example, the direct effects of offshoring account for about 5-7% of changes in wage structure, compared to 50-70% by automation. The evidence does not support the most alarmist views that robots or AI are going to create a completely jobless future, but we should be worried about the ability of the US economy to create jobs, especially good jobs with high pay and career-building opportunities for workers with a high-school degree or less.”  His analysis of automation’s effects in the US also applied to the rest of the major capitalist economies.

As Acemoglu once explained to the US Congress: American and world technology is shaped by the decisions of a handful of very large and very successful tech companies, with tiny workforces and a business model built on automation.”  And while government spending on research on AI has declined, AI research has switched to what can increase the profitability of a few multi-nationals, not social needs: “government spending on research has fallen as a fraction of GDP and its composition has shifted towards tax credits and support for corporations. The transformative technologies of the 20th century, such as antibiotics, sensors, modern engines, and the Internet, have the fingerprints of the government all over them. The government funded and purchased these technologies and often set the research agenda. This is much less true today.” That’s the business model for AI under capitalism. 

Acemoglu baulks at conventional policy for dealing with tech-based inequality, such as universal basic income, because “it leaves the underlying power distribution the same. It elevates people who are earning and gives others the crumbs. It makes the system more hierarchical in some sense.” 

Instead: “I think the skills of a carpenter or a gardener or an electrician or a writer, those are just the greatest achievements of humanity, and I think we should try to elevate those skills and elevate those contributions,” he says. “Technology could do that, but that means to use technology not to replace these people, not to automate those tasks, but to increase their productivity by giving them better tools, better information and better organisation.”

But he has a touching belief in the current US administration. Biden is the most pro-worker president since Franklin D Roosevelt.”  Acemoglu reckons “We need to create an environment in which workers have a voice” — though not necessarily the current union structure.” He looks to the ‘Germanic model’ in which the public and private sectors and labour ‘work together’, rather than the US’s neo-liberal regimen.

But Acemoglu hints at a better alternative: You read evolutionary psychology or talk to many people who would say they want to be richer than you, more powerful than the other person and so on, and you think that’s the way it is. But then you talk to anthropologists, and they’ll tell you that for much of our humanity we lived in this egalitarian hunter-gatherer manner — so, what’s up with that?”  An egalitarian society where automation is used to meet social need requires cooperative, commonly owned automated means of production.  Rather than reduce jobs and the livelihoods of humans, AI under common ownership and planning could reduce the hours of human labour for all.  That would be the real game changer.


Sunday, May 28, 2023

Water is a Human Necessity. We Should Own it. But What sort of public ownership?

Source Image Not in the Original Article

 What sort of public ownership?

by Nick Wrack
Reprinted from the UK Website Talking About Socialism

Water is essential for life. Provided by nature, it should be accessible and free for all. A functioning system for treating sewage is also one of the most basic requirements for any society; without it we face disease and contagion.

Yet, in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, we see unknown quantities of storm waste and untreated sewage repeatedly dumped into our rivers, lakes and seas, turning them into open cesspits.1 They are not safe to swim in. It destroys the ecology. Just 14% of rivers and lakes, and 45% of coastal waters are assessed as meeting the minimum ‘good’ ecological status.2 

Since the 1989 privatisation of the water industry under Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the water companies have failed to invest, instead becoming fat on the revenues from consumers. English water companies upgrade only 0.2% of their assets each year.3 As a result, the present infrastructure is not fit for purpose.  

Government figures show that in 2022 there were a total of 301,091 raw sewage discharges from storm overflows into rivers and seas,4 an average of 825 a day. And that’s just the known figure, as many discharges are not monitored.  These discharges are not only in periods of heavy rain. They occur in dry periods as well. A fifth of our drinking water leaks out of the pipes due to underinvestment.

Water is a cash cow

Having bought a debt free industry in 1989 the companies have since accrued borrowings of £60 billion5 and have paid out an obscene total of £72 billion in shareholder dividends, money that could and should have been invested in improving the infrastructure and cutting consumers’ bills. It is estimated that between now and the end of this decade, a further £14.7 billion in dividends will be paid out,6 while customers will see their bills rise even more to pay for it. 

The industry’s trade body, Water UK, fronted by former Blairite cabinet minister Ruth Kelly, has pledged to invest just £10 billion to reduce (not stop) the outflows of raw sewage, which the companies will have to borrow. They will put the cost once more on the consumer. However, the government estimates that £56 billion needs to be invested to improve sewage outflows by 2050.

Neither the government nor the water companies are taking the dire situation seriously. All they care about is making as much money as they can. The industry is primarily a cash cow for its shareholders and, of course, for the big salaries of its executives. As with all such regulation, Ofwat has allowed the private owners of water to do what they want. The case for democratic public control, not superficial regulation, could not be clearer.7

Public support for public ownership

The idea of essential utilities and services being run in the public interest, rather than for private profit, is widely supported.  In October 2022, YouGov found that 63% supported water being in public ownership. Even a majority of Conservative voters believed that the utilities like water and energy should be run in the public sector.8

You would think, then, that Keir Starmer would want to keep the pledges he made when he stood to become leader of the Labour Party in 2020 – legacies from the Corbyn period. Starmer’s fifth pledge was, “Common ownership – Public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders. Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water; end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system.” The popularity of this, reflected in the YouGov poll, perhaps helps to explain the enormous support that Corbyn won.

Starmer, however, has ditched this pledge, along with others. He is determined to leave no trace of the Corbyn period. He is making the Labour Party a safe party for governing in the interests of big business, including those who profit from privatisation. Labour in government will extend the private sector further into the public sphere, especially into the NHS, creating new opportunities for profit for the capitalists. 

Corbyn the tinker man

It needs to be acknowledged that the Corbyn manifesto promises of 2017 and 2019 about water, energy, rail and mail were wholly inadequate. They were limited, partial, put off to some uncertain future date and destined to fail. The manifestos failed to identify the main problem as capitalism and its profit system. They aimed not to fundamentally challenge capitalism but to tinker with it here and there.

The introduction to the 2017 Manifesto stated, “Our entrepreneurs and managers are being held back from growing their business.” They are not ‘our’ entrepreneurs and managers; they exploit our class. It states, “Labour understands that the creation of wealth is a collective endeavour between workers, entrepreneurs, investors and government. Each contributes and each must share fairly in the rewards.” Again, this completely misunderstands that it is the workers who produce wealth, and profit for the bosses. We do not need entrepreneurs and investors; the majority, working class can decide democratically for itself how the resources of society should be organised. The owning class and the producing class have irreconcilable interests. The Labour Party cannot represent the interests of both. 

Nationalisation is not enough

While Socialists should champion the idea of public, or common ownership, and production for need not profit, and seek to build on the existing support for public ownership, a break from the old ideas of nationalisation is needed. 

Our aim is not to manage capitalism, as the 1945 Labour government did, or to make it more efficient, but to end it. Nationalisation by the existing state, whether it’s Conservative or Labour in government, will be nationalisation by the capitalist state, which is not a neutral actor in society but an instrument of minority capitalist class rule. We will still have the profit system. The major decisions about production will still be made in the company board rooms. Nationalisation within capitalism does not equal socialism, nor a step towards it. We need something much more fundamental. Rather than board room control we need genuinely democratic control and management of publicly owned services and industry, as part of an integrated democratic plan of production for need. All officials should be elected, accountable and subject to recall. 

Support for the public ownership of utilities and services such as water, energy, health and transport is perhaps explained by the fact that it is an obvious and common-sense approach to organising the provision of essentials upon which we all depend. But doesn’t this also extend to other sectors of the economy? 

The modernisation of the water infrastructure requires engineering, raw materials, building and excavating equipment. The same goes for construction of buildings, homes and public spaces. Food is as essential to life as water, yet we depend on the privately owned agri-businesses, the food producers and supermarkets, who adulterate our food with sugar, salt and other additives. Why should we leave our health in the hands of those who profit by turning us all into diabetics? The banking and finance sector is central to the economy, profiting at our expense. What about the pharmaceutical companies which make billions from producing medication needed by the sick?

All sectors, starting with the major companies who dominate production, should be brought into common ownership, without compensation. A socialist workers’ government would have to implement such a programme if it is to break the control of capital and remove exploitation of labour for profit. We need to aim for the abolition of capitalism entirely, with the creation of a new society based on the democratic shared ownership of the world’s resources, from the land and water to computer technology, with production planned to meet the needs of all, including the protection of the environment.

Unless the working class takes power from the capitalist class, and creates a new, completely different state, a truly democratic state, representing the interests of the working-class majority in society, we will still have a capitalist state, and it will be a capitalist economy, even if it runs some services or utilities in the public sector. Those services and utilities will remain prey for a return to the private sector in the future, as we saw with the nationalised sectors in the post war period being privatised under Thatcher and Major. 

We cannot proceed on the basis of partial measures, leaving capital intact. We need a fundamental break with capitalism. We need both a social and a political revolution; not just a change of government from one party to another, but a transfer of power from one class to the other – from the minority capitalist class to the majority working class. 

Of course, none of this can happen without the building of a mass socialist party, with an internationalist perspective, that has won the argument about the need for fundamental change within society, and which has the backing of the majority behind it, prepared to implement these steps in their own interests. That is the task before us.

In their ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’, published in February 1848,9 Marx and Engels argued that, “the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery…Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.”

175 years later10 it is time we acted to remove the capitalists from every position of ownership and power. If they can’t look after our water, why would we trust them with anything else?

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  7. There are some further useful facts and arguments here: []
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Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Yes It's True. I Wish Bernie Sanders Would Just Bugger Off.


By Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired




A friend of mine was quite upset on hearing me say that I wish Bernie Sanders would just go away. I can understand that to a degree and there’s no doubt Sanders played a role in raising the concept or just the word socialism in US political life.


It’s clear to anyone that lives in the US or follows US politics, that the disgust with the two capitalist parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, has been increasing exponentially each election cycle. The trade union hierarchy has given hundreds of billions of dollars of their members’ hard-earned dues money to the Democratic Party over the years and we have some of the weakest workers rights in the industrial democracies. In California where I live, the Democrats have so much power it's almost a one party state. In addition, they have provided resources in the form of precinct walkers, phone banks and so on.


The trade union hierarchy does this despite having the resources to provide a genuine working class political alternative to these two Wall Street relics, because their greatest fear is the tremendous potential power that their14 million members represent; just one or two major unions could bring the US economy to a halt. Having the same world view as the captains of industry and seeing the trade unions as employment agencies with them as the CEO’s, when capitalism enters a crisis they move immediately to bail it out---at their own members’ expense of course.


They are aware of the anger and desire for change that lies beneath the surface in US society, the mood that Sanders tapped in to and then channeled in to the Democratic Party where such movements are laid to rest.  What is so disgusting about Sanders as far as I am concerned is that he betrayed people, especially young people.


This was still evident in a recent interview he gave to a British journalist. Sanders repeated all the rhetoric about the horrors of capitalism and has clearly been pretty much alone in putting forward a class oriented (less of the identity politics) program. But his position hasn’t changed one iota as he recommended a vote for the warmonger Biden, the former Senator from DuPont. It is the same as positions liberals, both genuine types and horrible left saviors of the working class, have put forward over the past period. The Republican is so bad we must vote for the lesser of two evils. This is a thoroughly defeatist and demoralizing position. How can only having the choice of two evils not be demoralizing.


When I pointed this out to my friend, his defense, of his position and Sanders’, was he had no choice.  Firstly, this is not true. He had a movement that could easily have played a different role in the 2016 election breaking from the Democrats and standing independent candidates on a class oriented program. Health care, education, housing, pay and benefits, jobs instead of incarceration, the unorganized, these are all strongly supported issues among workers, especially young workers. Who knows what the so-called “squad” might of done had Sanders took the lead instead of playing the same old game supporting the Democratic Party machine which he’s always done.


This would have galvanized millions and regardless of immediate victory, a vibrant growing movement from below in any situation places pressure at the top and brings more gains as opposed to sitting down with the power trying to make deals.


At very least Sanders could say and could have told his interviewer that it’s his personal position that Biden is the only choice given the alternative (least evil and usual excuse) but stress that we need a political party of our own based on workers organizations and our communities fighting for our needs not the needs of the investors and the “billionaire class” as he calls them.


But he can’t even say that as the fear of a conscious and active working class movement is so great; better not to give them any ideas. The idea is to convince us we cannot change anything. This is why we get almost no coverage in the US mass media of the French workers struggles or the mass. Strikes taking place in Britain. Why there are always these imaginary fears and countries we are supposed to fear on a daily basis, China, Russia, Iran, N. Korea Iraq, Venezuela, different ones at different times. If racism sexism, right wing extremism were as strong and ingrained in the US working class that we are led to believe in the capitalist mass media, they wouldn’t be so cautious.


This is why I just wish Sanders would go away. I’m sick of him.