Sunday, May 31, 2020

Who Says Blue Lives "Don't" Matter?

Note: I posted this last September but think it's as relevant 8 months on and in the midst of the protests and riots in response to the murder of black people by the police. The same old racist arguments, couched as genuine criticism are flying around. White Lives Matter in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Then those that want to portray black folks as thugs and looters when the real thugs and looters carry out their looting under protection of legality. The critics, unable to overcome their own racial or color prejudice and the fear that instills in them are increasingly in a minority though I believe.

I did make a small error here saying "white" lives matter at one point when I meant "blue". The other thing is that the point I make in the video about the invention of the white race and what amounts to the white skin privilege conferred on the European workers by the white ruling class was clearly a concentrated effort to undermine working class unity and has been very successful.

However, things have changed dramatically as the assault on the white working class has intensified as well making this more difficult. We are in an era where life expectancy for whites is declining.

If we consider that 100 million Americans eligible to vote did not participate in the presidential election in 2016, a significant number of them must be white or workers of European descent. They are not all Nazi's and neither are a significant portion of them that did vote; life is complicated when choices are extremely limited and there's an absence of leadership. Also, the US workforce is more integrated than ever with more women in the workplace as well.

The ruling class will always use racism to undermine unity between workers, but it is definitely not as easy as it once was and would be harder still if the heads of organized labor had a serious strategy to combat it.

Feel free to comment or send me personal comments or questions or ask me to clarify what I meant by something I said.   The e mail is

Greece, Syriza and the Troika. Book Review From Michael Roberts

Greek workers vote "No" to Troika's Austerity Program 2015

Capitulating to adults

During the pandemic lockdown, I have been able to read a range of new economics books, some Marxist but most not.  It seems that many leading economists have published new stuff in the last two months. Over the next few weeks, I shall post some reviews of these.

I shall start with Sellouts in the Room by Eric Toussaint. Originally published in French and in Greek in March 2020 under the title Capitulation entre Adultes, the book will be available in English before the end of 2020.  Eric Toussaint takes us back to events of Greek debt crisis when the Troika (the EU Commission, the ECB and the IMF) tried to impose a drastic austerity programme on the Greek people in return for ‘bailout’ funds to cover existing debts owed by Greek banks and the Greek government to foreign creditors, as credit for Greece in markets dried up and the government headed for default.

At the beginning of 2015, the Greek people elected the left-wing Syriza party to power. Syriza pledged to resist austerity measures. The new prime minister Tsipras appointed the already well-known leftist economist Yanis Varoufakis as finance minister to negotiate a deal with the Troika.  As we subsequently know, Varoufakis was unable to persuade the Troika and EU leaders to drop the austerity demands. Tsipras called a referendum for the Greek people on whether to accept the Troika demands.  Despite a massive media campaign by the capitalist press and dire threats from the Troika and the strangling of the Greek economy and banks by the ECB, the Greek people voted 60% to reject the Troika plan.  But immediately after the vote, Tsipras caved into the Troika and agreed to their demands.

Varoufakis resigned as finance minister and later he wrote an account of his negotiations with the Troika, called Adults in the Room. Éric Toussaint was also in Greece at the time.  He was coordinating the work of a debt audit committee set up by the president of the Hellenic Parliament in 2015 to look at the nature of the debt that the Greeks owed to the likes of European banks, hedge funds and other governments. He “lived nearly three months in Athens between February and July 2015, and in the context of my work as scientific coordinator of the audit of Greece’s debt, I was in direct contact with a number of members of the Tsipras government.”  Toussaint has now written an alternative view of those events from that recounted by Varoufakis.  And it amounts to a devastating critique of the Syriza government and of Varoufakis’ strategy and tactics during 2015.

Does it matter what happened? Toussaint reckons it does because there are important lessons to be learned from the Greek debt crisis. The common view now is that Syriza had no alternative but to submit to the Troika as otherwise the Greek banks would have collapsed, the economy would have fallen down an abyss and Greece would have been thrown out of the European Union to fend for itself.  For example, Paul Mason, British leftist broadcaster and writer, wrote in 2017 that “I continue to believe Tsipras was right to climb down in the face of the EU’s ultimatum, and that Varoufakis was at fault for the way he designed the “game” strategy.”

Toussaint’s denies the narrative of TINA (‘there is no alternative’), arguing that there was an alternative strategy that Syriza could have followed and, in particular, Toussaint singles out Varoufakis for failing to recognise or adopt this in his role as finance minister.  In Toussaint’s view, Varoufakis started from the premiss that he had to persuade the Troika to act as “adults” and aim to convince them to reach a reasonable compromise.  From the very beginning Varoufakis made extremely minimal counter-proposals to the Troika austerity measures: “Varoufakis reassured his opposite numbers that the Greek government would not request a reduction of the debt stock, and he never called into question the legitimacy or legality of the debt whose repayment was demanded of Greece.” He never asserted the right and the determination of the Greek government to conduct an audit of Greece’s debts, says Toussaint.

And Varoufakis not only said that the government he represented would not call into question the privatizations that had been conducted since 2010, but even allowed for the possibility of further privatizations.  Indeed, Varoufakis repeatedly told the European leaders that 70 per cent of the measures called for by the Troika’s Memorandum of Understanding were acceptable.  While Varoufakis discussed with these ‘adults in a room’, the Syriza government continued to pay off several billion euros in debts between February and 30 June 2015, while the Troika did not make a single euro available. The public coffers continued to be emptied, principally for the benefit of the IMF.

Varoufakis and the inner circle around Tsipras, in reaching an agreement with the Troika in late February 2015 to extend the second Memorandum of Understanding, never showed evidence of the slightest determination to take action if the creditors refused to make concessions. And the latter gave every evidence of contempt for Greece’s government.

Most important, says Toussaint, the Syriza government ministers did not take the time to go out and meet the Greek people, to speak at rallies where the Greek population was represented. They did not travel around the country to meet and talk with voters and explain what was going on during the negotiations or the measures the government wanted to take to fight the humanitarian crisis and re-start the country’s economy. They utterly failed to appeal to the working people of Europe and elsewhere for support. Instead, Varoufakis and the other Greek ministers involved to conduct ‘secret diplomacy’ in rooms, thus encouraging the Troika to “persist in using the worst forms of blackmail.”

The referendum of 5 July 2015 was the culmination of those negotiations. Clearly, Tsipras expected the Greek people to bow to the pressure of the media and the threat of economic disaster and expulsion from the EU by accepting the Troika demands. But they did not. Toussaint says that the referendum results was a perfect opportunity to mobilise the Greek people to reject the Troika’s blackmail, refuse their ultimatums and instead respond by suspending further repayments of debt pending an audit. The government should have announced the nationalisation of the banks and implemented capital controls to stop capital flight and take control of the payments system.

As Toussaint points out: “When a coalition or a party of the Left takes over government, it does not take over the real power. Economic power (which comes from ownership of and control over financial and industrial groups, the mainstream private media, mass retailing, etc.) remains in the hands of the capitalist class, the richest 1 per cent of the population. That capitalist class controls the state, the courts and the police, the ministries of the economy and finance, the central bank, the major decision-making bodies.”

That was ignored or denied by the Syriza governemnt, including its rockstar finance minister. They started from the premiss that representatives of capital in the Troika could be persuaded to be reasonable, to act as adults.  The class nature of the struggle was omitted.  As Toussaint says: “In reality, a major strategic choice of the Syriza government–one which led to its downfall–was constantly to avoid confrontation with the Greek capitalist class. It was not simply that Syriza and the government did not seek popular mobilization against the Greek bourgeoisie, who widely adhered to the EU’s neoliberal policies. The government openly pursued policies of conciliation with them.”

Toussaint offers an alternative strategy in his book.  The Syriza government “should have resolutely followed the path of disregarding the European treaties and refusing to submit to the dictates of the creditors. At the same time they should have taken the offensive against the Greek capitalists, making them pay taxes and fines, especially in the sectors of shipping, finance, the media and mass retail. It was also important to make the Orthodox Church, the country’s main land owner, pay taxes. As a means of reinforcing these policies, the government should have encouraged the development of self-organization processes in existing collective projects in various domains (for example, self-managed health dispensaries to deal with the social and humanitarian crisis or associations working to feed the most vulnerable people.”

That brings us to the issue of Greece’s membership of the European Union.  Up to the point of the referendum, apart from the Communist party, no party stood for leaving the EU as a solution to the crisis. The vast majority of Greeks did not want this. After the capitulation of Syriza, the party leadership split and those opposed to the capitulation (with the exception of Varoufakis) called for Grexit as the main policy proposal and solution. In the subsequent election, these factions failed to make any headway into parliament and the Tsipras government was returned intact.

In his book, Toussaint reckons that the Syriza government should have opted for triggering Article 50 in the EU constitution as a way of getting out of the EU. This Article is what the UK government subsequently used to achieve its exit after its referendum to leave in 2016.  Toussaint reckons that using this instrument would have given Greece two years to argue the toss with the EU, while it refused to pay any more debt etc. I am not so sure that this would have been a good tactic.

As Toussaint points out, no EU member state can be thrown out and there are few sanctions that the EU could impose on a Greek government anyway, apart from the ECB blocking credit, something they were doing anyway. By applying for Article 51, Syriza would have been telling the Greek people that the government aimed to leave the EU voluntarily (something the majority of Greek did not want); and also giving the EU leaders an easy way out of getting rid of Greece, something that, as Varoufakis points out in his narrative, German finance minister Schauble was keen on doing.

In my posts during the Greek crisis
, I argued that the Syriza government should have refused to pay the debt; taken over the banks and large Greek companies, mobilised the people to occupy the workplaces and introduce workers control; blocked the movement of funds by the rich and corporates; and appealed to the labour movement in Europe for support against the policies of their governments.  Let those governments try to throw Greece out; but do not give them constitutional weapon to do so.

The main emphasis in Toussaint’s book is on the role of Varoufakis, not because of any personal animosity, but because this ‘erratic Marxist’, as Varoufakis calls himself, was at the centre of events and went on to write his best-selling personal account of what happened. Varoufakis then formed a pan-European wide political party DIEM 25, and was eventually re-elected as an MP in the Greek parliament in the recent 2019 election that led to the Conservative party taking back power.

Why did Varoufakis from the beginning as finance minister adopt the strategy of trying to persuade the Troika leaders to be reasonable, rather than mobilise the Greek people for a fight against the Troika demands? The answer, I think, lies in Varuofakis’ view of the possibilities for socialism. Before he was appointed finance minister by Tsipras, he had not been a member of Syriza; he had been an academic. Back then, he wrote, “You see, it is not an environment for radical socialist policies after all. Instead it is the Left’s historical duty, at this particular juncture, to stabilise capitalism; to save European capitalism from itself and from the inane handlers of the Eurozone’s inevitable crisis”.  He had written what was called a Modest Proposal for Resolving the Euro Crisis with Social Democrat academic Stuart Holland and his close colleague and friend, post-Keynesian James Galbraith, in which Varoufakis was proud to say “does not have a whiff of Marxism in it.”

This ‘erratic Marxist’ saw his task as Greek finance minister “to save European capitalism from itself” so as to “minimise the unnecessary human toll from this crisis; the countless lives whose prospects will be further crushed without any benefit whatsoever for the future generations of Europeans.” Apparently, for Varoufakis, socialism cannot do this because “we are just not ready to plug the chasm that a collapsing European capitalism will open up with a functioning socialist system”.  By ‘we’, he means working people, but in practice he meant himself.

Varoufakis went further. You see, “a Marxist analysis of both European capitalism and of the Left’s current condition compels us to work towards a broad coalition, even with right-wingers, the purpose of which ought to be the resolution of the Eurozone crisis and the stabilisation of the European Union… Ironically, those of us who loathe the Eurozone have a moral obligation to save it!”  Thus he campaigned for his Modest Proposal for Europe with “the likes of Bloomberg and New York Times journalists, of Tory members of Parliament, of financiers who are concerned with Europe’s parlous state.”

In Sellouts in the Room, Eric Toussaint scathingly exposes this wrong-headed approach of the ‘erratic Marxist’. It’s a painful read in many ways, as Toussaint chapter by chapter recounts Varoufakis’ sorry progress, or lack of it. In a recent interview, Varoufakis was asked “what would I have done differently with the information I had at the time? I think I should have been far less conciliatory to the Troika. I should have been far tougher. I should not have sought an interim agreement. I should have given them an ultimatum: “a restructure of debt, or we are out of the euro today”.

Unfortunately, there is never much benefit in hindsight, except to to avoid the same mistakes when another opportunity arises. Toussaint’s book is a guide to that. In the meantime, the Greek people now face yet another round of austerity and depression after the coronavirus crisis, following the terrible years before and after the capitulation of 2015. The IMF forecast for 2020 would take Greek national income back to the level of 25 years ago!

Yesterday's Protests in Louisville.

Tense moments, broken curfew mark third night of Breonna Taylor protests in Louisville. From the Courier Journal.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

George Floyd's Murder Sparks Response. People Just Don't get up and Decide to go Looting Today.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

So I got corrected today because I didn’t stress on social media that the people gathering at a Target store in Minneapolis and others that took merchandise from another Target store in the area were “looters”. Well, technically, they were “looting” if we are to comment on this situation from the comfort of our homes.

I don’t know how black folks maintain their calm when someone (almost always a white person) says such things.  The eruptions taking place in US cities today, are in response to yet another another black man, George Floyd, murdered by the police while pleading for his life; “I can’t breathe” he said. The list of these murders is too long to go in to. But here in my area Oscar Grant was shot in the back laying face down on the floor, four or five transit cops over him.

Years ago I was closely involved in the case of Jerrold Hall who was shot in the back of the head by a transit cop here in the Bay Area. He was unarmed and walking away form the cop at the time. Here I am 25 years later and black people, especially males, are being murdered almost daily by state security forces.

In Louisville, just a short time before George Floyd was murdered by the police, Breonna Taylor was shot 8 times by Louisville police. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was asleep with her when the cops stormed in to their apartment under the protection of a “No knock” warrant. Despite having this type of warrant, the police say they announced their presence, Kenneth Walker and neighbors say they didn’t Consequently, the couple thought they were experiencing a home invasion and the boyfriend, Walker, shot at the intruders, wounding a cop. He was initially charged for this. In response, the cops fired, 25 rounds into the building, killing Taylor. Some rounds entered other apartments; they just don’t care.

A short time before this, a black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was basically assassinated by three white men in Brunswick Georgia, all connected in one way or another to the police.

There are too many incidents of this nature to list here but this is the environment in which the present protests are occurring. It is the most frustrating thing to hear people complain about looting and lecture the black community about the need to work within the established institutions. However, when they don’t work, other measures have to be taken.

In addition to this climate, we have right wing racist organizations becoming more open about their views bolstered by the racist and sexual predator Donald Trump who resides in the White House. As Martin Luther King pointed out, riots are the language of the unheard. When the so-called democratic institutions fail, then people have no recourse but to express their anger in another way. Even so, smashing up a corporation that, here in the US has the same rights as a person, is not the same as damaging a local hamburger joint or community business. The corporation is correctly seen as a representative of the system that that is at the heart of the matter, the institutionalized racism and violence that accompanies it.

I am an English immigrant. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I was reading about “English” people being killed by the cops as black people are; or if it was Catholics or Jews. The country would be in an uproar.

Of course, taking ones frustration out by attacking a corporation, even one like Target that is anti-union, anti-worker and abuses its employees is not the most productive way to deal with this situation. But being criticized by people who have said nothing about the objective situation that has brought this about holds no water at all.

I put this video on this blog and my Facebook page today showing a man dressed in black and his face covered by a gas mask smashing store windows. The difference I would have with the title is that the saboteurs may well be white skinned, But they are a certain type of white people. This one was confronted by a black person at the protest who asked if he was a cop. This guy is either a cop, a provocateur, or a member of white nationalist or fascist organization. The goal is to discredit those who are protesting the murder of George Floyd. This is why after the initial anger has died down some, it is important to organize and direct the resistance and use this power of workers and all oppressed people, organized and unorganized against capitalism and the perpetrators of racist violence. In this way we can also police ourselves and keep provocateurs out.

The cities and economy can be shut down easily but it takes organization. This would be the way to deal with any social injustice but in the absence of a powerful independent social force based on working people, the marginalized and specially oppressed sections of the working class, the initial response is anger and lashing out. This is to be expected and we should take no criticism of this from armchair social critics or racists.

In the aftermath of the Katrina events which was a market (capitalist) driven catastrophe, we witnessed the beginnings of working class communities and working class self organization and defense teams developing. The state fears this.

US working class history is a rich and militant one.  We have not had national working class parties like workers in other countries have. We have won what we have through direct action and battles in the streets against the most brutal bourgeois or ruling class in history. Native Americans are still here and fighting despite the genocidal wars against them. The Africans that were brought here have fought since slavery and on in to the modern era to be free from one of the most brutal and violent regimes that ever existed. And the great battles to unionize and win the right to organize from the early days of the formation of the AFL to the rise of the CIO on the 1930’s is out history and the struggle is not over yet.

I spoke to a friend in Louisville very briefly tonight. At times, I have sensed a tone of desperation in her voice as the attack on people like her, on black folks just doesn’t let up. Many black friends share this view including some small business people,  they are just so accustomed to it they wonder if it will ever end.   “Don’t you know I’m in the middle of a social disturbance” she said.  “Oh dear…,” I replied,  “…I’m so privileged, I’m sitting on my porch drinking a beer.” She laughed. But there was excitement in her voice, she was in a good mood. This is what happens when we fight back, even when the strategy isn’t always the one we’d choose. But when one is in a war, all is fair, as the saying goes. We don’t always get to choose the path.

For that glorious moment we are not the victims. That will move us forward but we should etch Malcolm X's statement toward the end of his life when he had many experiences under his belt and had drawn certain conclusions about the world. He said that "you can't have capitalism without racism." He was a person that thought about his words and we should heed them.

Video: Geoge Floyd Murder. Beware agent provocateurs discrediting protests.

This guy is either a cop, a provocateur, or a member of white nationalist or fascist organization. The goal is to discredit those who are protesting the murder of George Floyd. This is why after the initial anger has died down some, it is important to organize and direct the resistance and use this power of workers and all oppressed people, organized and unorganized against capitalism and the perpetrators of racist violence.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Public Sector Woes. Trump Blackmails North Carolina.

From yesterday May 26th.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for decades to come. US capitalism will shift the cost of saving the economy on to the backs of the US working class, our children and our children's children. Trump is threatening to pull the Republican National Convention from North Carolina if the governor does not abolish social distancing measures. He is willing to let people die to open the economy as the economy is the only issue he feels will save him from defeat in November.

I read this morning some expected news, the heads of organized labor in the US, the top international presidents and officials that make up the leadership of the AFL-CIO have endorsed Biden. Once again, the US working class has no voice in the upcoming elections and the labor officialdom once again pushes on the working class a political party that tens of millions abandoned long ago. Not form some personal whim, but because history has taught them that both these parties of capitalism, Republicans and Democrats are against their interests. Our material well-being and living standards have suffered no matter which party is in power.

The failure of the labor hierarchy to fight has not only delayed a mass movement to change society or improve our lives, it bears much of the responsibility for the rise of Trump and the increase in racial attacks that we are witnessing at the moment.

I should add that I do not consider the police, who are in the public sector officially, are workers. The police are a social force under control of the capitalist state whose primary function is to defend capital and the capitalist system

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Home Care Workers and the Elderly Are Being Sacrificed

Michael Bloomberg Loves Home Care Workers Now.  Don't Buy It


Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

So Trump is desperately trying to cover his ass over his pathetic response to the coronavirus pandemic. He’s blaming Obama, blaming Pelosi, blaming the Chinese threatening sanctions against Beijng in response to the undemocratic response to the protests in Hong Kong. And no doubt there will be more sanctions. To any observer, Trump and his folks in Washington DC are making the word less safe and pushing China in to a new cold war. Trump, a slumlord, sexual predator and racist is concerned about democracy in China. This is the guy who told the world that among Nazi’s and the KKK, there are some decent people.

No wonder he is worried. He is prepared to risk more US lives opening the economy up in such a way that keep it going until November. The economy is his only hope he believes. He has threatened to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if the Democratic governor won’t guarantee that the state’s social distancing rules will be removed and the Convention can take place “at full capacity”. He is also opposed to mail in balloting because it increases his chance of losing.

Trump has a lot of blood on his hands. COVID-19 is ravaging US society with over 100,000 deaths so far. The vast majority of these deaths are poor people, essential workers and disproportionately people of color. Poor people can’t usually work form home.

I have seen more than one estimate but somewhere between 25% and 40% of the deaths are in nursing homes. But as Bloomberg/Businessweek pointed out in its current issue, “The true figure might be a lot higher.”

The virus has spread to 7000 nursing homes the magazine adds, and long-term care facilities are a hotbed of coronavirus activity. Older people are more vulnerable, and like hospitals in general but more so, people are crammed in to these facilities. The saying that hospitals are not healthy places to be in was never truer than it is today.

I remember years ago walking many picket lines as Service Employees (SEIU) local 250, at the time, the largest local union in the Califoria, was aggressively trying to unionize nursing homes. Had the entire labor movement thrown its weight behind organizing these places, things would be different today. But these are old people, many dying already, they don’t spend money so are not really worth the effort.

So we have a situation where some of the lowest paid workers are to be found in these places. What does that say about our society? Consequently, care workers more often than not work two, sometimes three jobs. This also means that they work in more than one facility spreading the virus from workplace to workplace.

BusinessWeek points out that nursing assistants earn around $13 an hour, a number that has , “…barely budged over the past decade.”. The pandemic has shaken capitalism to the extent that Michael Bloomberg (he owns BusinessWeek) who has a net worth around $30 billion, thinks that brothers and sisters working in nursing homes are underpaid and overworked.

“They are the backbone of any functioning nursing home, making up nearly 40% of all staff….” BW continues, “…..yet many struggle to stay out of poverty. One in 3 nursing assistants receives federal benefits; 1 in 4 receives food stamps. Some 40% have no employer-provided health insurance, and 15% have no insurance at all.”

It’s nauseating in a way to read articles like this that only appear because capitalism is in crisis and the shabby state of affairs in capitalist society are threatening to eat in to profits and halt further capital accumulation.  The US is so business friendly that in Texas, care workers tare encouraged to work at only one facility but how disconnected is that given that these workers can’t live on the wage of one job. Some Canadian provinces have banned long-term care workers from working more than one job and are at least covering their income losses.

After a decades long assault on workers living standards, smashing the private sector unions, cutting public sector services and jobs, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg and others like him want to “ensure that care workers are paid fairly.”.   Well isn’t that nice. “Front-line nursing-home employees — and the 1.4 million Americans they care for — deserve nothing less.” Bloomberg writes ending on a high note.

However, Medicaid is the largest funder of Long-Term Care facilities but Medicaid, like Medicare and other social programs are under assault. The economic fallout from the shutdown means that states and cities are not only losing revenue, but are being hit with massive unemployment costs, health care costs and so on. Another problem is that states and cities can’t run deficits like the federal government can, so, as the Wall Street Journal reminds us today, “…the gap must be filled by spending cuts, tax increases or both.”  

To get some idea of the level of attacks that US capitalism will be forced wage against its own working class in the coming period, no matter under Trump or Biden, consider that we are looking at a trillion dollar bill for the pandemic, a market induced crisis that is ushering in a new era, and estimates of $500 billion in cuts over the next two years according to Moody’s Analytics. What chance spending cuts or increased taxes in this scenario without major social turmoil.

As with the airlines, retailers like Amazon, UPS, and Federal Express, the care of society’s infirm, sick and aged, should not be left to the market and hedge fund managers. The entire health care industry has to be taken out of private corporate hands, from investors and social parasites like Trump and Bloomberg, and made public institutions, serving the needs of a society not profiting from it.

This, my friends, is not civilization. 

German Workers Bail Out Lufthansa. Why Not Nationalize it?

I got the info from the Wall Street Journal but my subscription has run out and I cannot afford to renew it at this point but here is an article on the same subject.